Some herbs need to be planted anew each year, a few live on a specific two-year cycle, and others will outlive you, all of which depends on your zone and freezing temps.
What are Plant Lifespans?
- Dies after frost or setting seed. Replant or let self-seed.
- Examples include calendula and dill.
- Returns each year. Most herbs are perennial, including lemon and bee balm.
- Produces only herbaceous growth the first year, flowers and fruit/seed the second year, then dies.
- Examples include burdock, mullein, and the deadly foxglove.
- Survives winter only in warm climates, otherwise treated as an annual or brought indoors in cold climates.
- Examples include lemongrass, lemon verbena, gotu kola, bacopa, ashwagandha, and rosemary.
- Dies off easily or within about 3 years.
- Examples include artichoke (in warm climates), Korean mint, St. John’s wort, and some mallows.
In It for the Long Haul: Some Medicinal Plants Take Longer to Establish
Most of the plants discussed in Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies by Maria Noël Groves can be harvested the same season you plant them, but a few take longer to get established. This might be a deciding factor for whether or not you want to grow a particular plant, especially if you want to make medicine pronto or don’t anticipate being in the same place for very long. In some cases—like wild cherry bark and birch—you can usually find established wild trees to prune instead. Generally speaking, while you could harvest the roots of most perennial plants within the first year or two of planting, some take longer to “ripen.”
It can take several years for shrubs and trees to begin producing flowers and berries. This will depend on the age of the plant you planted as well as the species and growing conditions. (Pay more for an older tree, and it may produce more quickly than a spindly bare root sapling.) Most will grow faster and produce more flowers and fruit with full sun, good soil, and regular moisture.
Medicinal Plants That Take Longer to Mature
Here are a few examples of popular medicinal herbs that take more time to mature.
- Planted in fall, harvest the following summer.
- Fall of first year or spring of second (before it flowers).
- Examples: mullein, burdock.
Most Perennial Roots
- 2–3+ years (but if you’re weeding babies out, use ’em).
- Examples: yellow dock, marshmallow, valerian, elecampane.
- 3–4 years
Black Cohosh Roots
- 3+ years
- 2+ years
- 3–5 years
- 3–5 years
- 3–10 years
- 5–10 years
- 2–5 years (or as soon as they’re big enough to prune).
- Examples: cramp bark, wild cherry, mimosa, birch.