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Most herbs in this post prefer shaded areas, and they spread to cover the ground attractively and are all delectably edible or medicinal in their own way.
If you are looking for a mix of common and unique herbs to add to your space, you’re in the right place.
Plenty of herbs don’t need direct sunlight. Some of these choices may be familiar to you and many you’ve likely not seen or heard of—until today!
Plenty of detail for each plant is included so you can make easy decisions in one place.
You can grow these herbs in all the nooks and crannies—beside walkways, in dark corners, rock gardens, or replace your organic mulch with living mulch between taller herbs, shrubs, or trees. Hopefully, you can pick multiple plants on this list to diversify your forest garden.
Disclaimer: Food Forest Living or its authors are not responsible for what you choose to consume. Do your own research before consuming as an “edible” or using any herb for medicine. Before planting any of these options check with your local invasive plant council or regional extension office for guidance on plants that may be invasive in your area.
Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica)
Labrador violet is a low-maintenance herb that can thrive in full shade and is good for filling spots between stepping stones. Small areas are easily consumed when left undisturbed in well-drained and moist soil.
This plant will spread quickly but takes a season to fill in. Moderate weeding maintenance may be required until established as a thick ground cover.
If you want a gorgeous yet hardy low-grower; this violet only reaches 1-3 inches tall and has attractive dark-colored heart-shaped foliage. The flowers aren’t a letdown either, for both you and the butterflies!
Grow this winner in zones 3-8.
Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum)
Greek oregano is a fragrant part shade ground cover for zones 4-8. While oregano does prefer full sun, numerous gardeners have it succeeding in partial shade.
Oregano herb is used often for flavoring tomato-, olive oil-, and Italian-based recipes. This herb often improves the flavor of nearby crops making it a good companion in food gardens and cucurbits.
The purple flowers attract bees and butterflies and the plant is usually left alone by deer.
Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) Vs Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
Both of these herbs thrive in sunny areas and partial shade. Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) is better grown in shade than Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) since the berries are less palatable and the overall plant is more medicinal and better used sparingly.
They both make great ground covers, but if you don’t plan on eating the ground cover often and have a shadier space, then Mitchella repens is a better choice.
Mitchella repens is an evergreen that grows in zones 4-9 and prefers moist soil, good drainage, and lighter soil types. As a ground cover it’s suitable in a rock garden, or under trees. This plant attracts birds and has sweet fragrant flowers. Once established it can spread invasively which is a good thing for an attractive, low-maintenance, and dense ground cover. It only grows up to 4 inches tall and wouldn’t compete or overcome your taller plants.
This herb can be used to support the urinary tract, alleviate menstrual cramps, and ease labor.
I added this in here because the two of these plants are often confused since the names are used differently in separate regions.
(Vaccinium vitis-idaea) lingonberry grows well in semi-shade, but if you want berries; the sunnier the better (but not necessary!) The leaves are not recommended to drink too often as they have medicinal characteristics as well.
This herb has been used for UTI’s and kidney stones, and general immunity.
Lingonberry is also an evergreen that grows in zones 3-8 and prefers moist, lighter soils for borders. If you want to try berries from your ground cover and your space is only semi-shaded; choose lingonberries. Attractive flowers provide nectar for bees, and berries cling to the bush for a long time. Lingonberry grows up to 1 foot in height and has a more limited spread to over 3 feet wide.
In general, Mitchella repens and Vaccinium vitis-idaea have different-looking leaves, dissimilar-tasting berries, and varied medicinal qualities. Both are attractive ground covers for part shade, but lingonberry is best for edible uses and easier to harvest as the berries grow in denser clumps.
Mitchella repens is lower-growing and faster at spreading. Vaccinium vitis-idaea is taller with more limited spread.
Jerusalem Sage or Lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata)
Lungwort is an attractive slow-creeping medicinal semi-evergreen herb for zones 4-8. People grow this herb to attract pollinators with nectar-filled flowers. Deer also resist the fuzzy foliage so it’s a suitable border ground cover.
While lungwort can grow in full sun, it prefers full shade or part shade. Any moist and rich soil will work and droughts are disliked but tolerated.
This herb grows well in heavy clay, and if that’s the soil you’re working with, here are 27 more ground cover options for you.
Creeping Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
Wintergreen is a low-growing evergreen herb with glossy foliage hardy to zones 3-6. It thrives in full shade or part shade with dry or moist non-heavy soils. Droughts are tolerated.
It can become invasive in ideal conditions, but it is only 8 inches tall, making it a sufficient ground cover carpet under taller plants.
Wintergreen essential oil can be made from this herb or the leaves used to make tea.
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Sweet woodruff is a scented herb with a medium growth rate and ground-hugging spread for zones 5-9. It stays around 8 inches tall with sweet-smelling and edible white flowers.
Grow this cool-shade-loving ground cover between shrubs, as a carpet for bulbs to pop through, or for show in a rock garden. Full shade and part shade are preferred as too much sun damages the plants, especially in hot or prolonged hot weather.
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)
A slow and low-growing evergreen herbaceous shrub for zones 4-8 provides delicious herbal teas, flavorings, and medicinal remedies.
Full shade or part shade with well-drained moist light soils are ideal.
This is a more difficult herb to establish and grow but provides beauty, fragrance, and ground coverage for shade.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
An essential fresh ingredient to bouquet garni for flavoring stocks or soups. Chervil is a biennial herb for zones 3-6 and grows well in full shade or partial shade.
Its mild aroma is best used fresh and ready to eat after 2 months from the date sowed.
Snake Root (Asarum canadense)
Also known as wild ginger, this herbaceous perennial grows in zones 3-9. The leaves are poisonous but the underground roots are an edible ginger substitute.
This ground cover grows in full or partial shade and spreads by its roots. Prefers moist well-drained soils. It grows up to 4 inches in height and flowers in May.
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Bearberries are a hardy pioneer for soil stabilization and make great ground covers for full and partial shade. This herbaceous evergreen keeps to 4-10 inches in height and spreads as a lush carpet with edible berries and foliage for tea.
Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii)
Zones 5-9 are blessed with the cutest ground cover foliage from the Corsican mint herb. This mint tastes similar to peppermint and can be used to flavor salads, and jams, or to brew the best mint tea you’ve ever had—tea bags just no longer compare.
Semi-shade and moist soil are preferred conditions and can even grow well in heavy clay. It stays under 4 inches in height and attracts plenty of bees and butterflies. This mint also tolerates light foot traffic and is perfect for filling in the gaps between stepping stones or stairs.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
The flowers come in several colors and young leaves are a flavorful and nutrient-dense addition to salads. Tea can be made with leaves or flowers and a little bit goes a long way since the flavors are so potent.
This plant is fast-growing and stands around 2 feet tall and foliage spreads 2 feet outward per plant. The spreading roots system can become invasive but makes an excellent addition to the compost pile since this is a nutrient accumulator. Although it can invasively spread it is generally a beneficial companion plant with various functions.
Grows well in partial shade.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
French tarragon grows in zones 5-8 and is a common culinary herb for cooking dishes like béarnaise sauce, flavoring asparagus, soups, or dressings.
Semi-shade and dry or moist well-drained soil are the best conditions for this tasty herb.
Rupturewort (Herniaria glabra)
A medicinal and skin-cleansing herb that grows in zones 4-8 in part shade. It does thrive best in full sun but part shade is acceptable. Bulbs are a good companion or you can grow this in rock gardens or as a “carpet” in a bed.
Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum)
This lemony herb is used as tea, or flavorings for dressings and vinegar. Growing in zones 4-8 this perennial can grow in partial shade and spread 4 feet wide and grow up to 4 feet in height.
Southernwood makes a good pest-repellent hedge and is a popular choice for general herb gardens. It’s wide growth habit covers plenty of ground.
Shallon (Gaultheria shallon)
This nutrient-dense ground cover shrub offers a pleasant herbal tea from its leaves and plenty of uses including raw eating of the fruit.
With a medium growth rate, this evergreen spreads horizontally up to 4 feet wide and also grows up to 4 feet tall. A perfect way to functionally fill a full-shaded or part-shaded corner or fence line.
Italian Honeysuckle (Lonicera caprifolium)
Honeysuckle grows in zones 4-8 and is a climbing vine but can also sprawl as a ground cover. The plant has several medicinal qualities and the flowers can be infused for a fragrant herbal tea. I added this plant to the list because it thrives from partial shade to deep full shade spaces.
Disclaimer: Food Forest Living or its authors are not responsible for what you choose to consume. Do your own research before consuming anything as an “edible” or using any herb for medicine.
How to choose ground cover herbs for shade
First, consider the height you want. After all, you want a “ground cover” many are low-growing, but sometimes ground covers are large bushy wide-growing shrubs too!
Second, consider the water. Shaded areas tend to have less evaporation or possibly receive less rainfall due to obstruction above, or slope. Is the area dry most of the time? Or moist?
Third, consider the soil. If you have clay soil, you’ll want to look at 16 Plants for Wet Clay Soil and Shady Areas (Confirmed)
Finally, consider what you’ll use. Many of the herbs will need to be tasted before you know you’ll use them for flavoring. But if you’re into your own herbal teas and herbal medicine-making, then consider a variety of herbs or herbs that have a variety of healing benefits.
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