Top 5 Herbs to Enjoy ALL Winter!
A fresh kitchen herb garden in winter is a real treat for the senses. As you put your garden to bed in the fall, consider bringing in your herbs to enjoy their fresh culinary uses and health benefits all winter long.
There are many herbs to choose from. I know you will have your own favourites but here are our top 5 favourite herbs to winter over in the house. Rosemary, chives, oregano, thyme, and curly parsley. More about each one later…….
But first, here are some tips on how to make the most of those herbs and be successful when you do grow them inside your home.
In the past I have planted mixed herb containers in spring and had herbs in the ground as well. The mixed containers will not winter over unless sunk in the ground pot and all, separated and replanted in the ground or separated and repotted into individual pots for the indoor kitchen garden. If they are going in a new pot, cut back the top growth to a manageable size for repotting, transplant and keep the herbs isolated in a separate room for one to two weeks. A few sprigs of the top growth can be washed, dried, bundled and hung upside-down to dry for a few weeks or can be used as propagation material. Again, most herbs can be started by cuttings in water!
Dried herbs are ready for use when the leaves crumble easily. Strip them from the stem, crumble thoroughly and store in an airtight container.
Sprigs of herbs can be frozen. Wash thoroughly, dry, and package in a zip-lock freezer bag.
Perennial herbs in the ground can be lifted, divided, and replanted as well. Water thoroughly before the ground freezes.
Herbs, indoors or out, love lots of sun. Four to six hours plus of full sun is ideal. If you do not have an sunny spot for them in the house, consider buying a grow-light setup.
Use pots with drainage holes and catch basins. Always throw away any excess water in the catch basin after watering. And while I’m on the topic of watering, most herbs can tolerate some drought once established and do not need constant watering. Especially in winter! If your herbs are over-watered, you will see their leaves turn yellow. Stick your index finger into the soil to check the soil moisture. The top inch or two of soil can be very dry, but is moist further down.
The soil for your winter pots should be a mix of tropical plant soil, cactus/succulent soil and perlite. Rapid drainage is your goal when mixing herb soil. Most packaged soils have three months of fertilizer in the soil already. You can also put a bit of blood meal in the mix as it is a slow- release natural nitrogen fertilizer for good leaf growth.
Always check for insects before you bring your pots inside. Water them thoroughly and wash off the leaves. Do isolate them in a separate room in the house for about a week.
Do be aware that the move indoors can be stressful. Your plants may drop some leaves but this is normal. They will recover. Do not put them into direct sun right away. After a week or two move them to their permanent winter home.
Turn the herb pots once a week so all sides of the plants catch the sun’s rays. Do not let the leaves touch the cold windows.
Prune off all flower buds and flowers when they appear. This forces the plant to continue growing leaves.
A perennial member of the onion family.
Chives are used in salads, sauces, and on assorted vegetables such as baked potatoes. Chives are a good source of riboflavin, vitamin A and C., iron, thiamine, beta carotene and potassium. Their purple flowers are edible. Chives are drought tolerant, once established. Harvest by snipping the leaves close to the base of the plant. Propagate by division. A clump of chives can be separated into many young chive plants. Drying chives is not advisable as dried chives lose their flavor. Deer tend to leave them alone.
Oregano is a very hardy, tough herb that is used mainly in Italian cuisine. It is rich in antioxidants. Greek oregano is especially good for cooking. This herb requires a lot of light to do well and is easy to grow. The flowers are rose-purple or white in color. Snip off entire stalks at the base of the plant, then strip the leaves off the stalks. Oregano must be regularly trimmed to avoid legginess. Propagation is by division or cuttings. It will readily root in water.
Thyme is used with fish and poultry. Like oregano it needs a lot of sunlight. To harvest, entire stalks can be snipped off at the base of the plant, then strip the leaves off the stalks. Thyme is a biocide which is in a class of compounds that can destroy harmful organisms such as infectious bacteria. Thyme can be hung to dry. In recipes, use about one third as much dried thyme as you would use fresh.
Rosemary is a fragrant evergreen herb native to the Mediterranean. This plant will live for many years. It is used with meat such as lamb, in sauces, vinegars, and oils. Its health benefits are many; a source of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and improves memory. It also is a source of iron, calcium, and vitamin B6. Give rosemary at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. To harvest, snip the stalks back with scissors, shaping the plant as desired. Sprigs of rosemary can be hung to dry, stripped of leaves and kept in an airtight container. Rosemary can grow into a woody, shrub-like plant so eventually plant it in a container that you can wheel in and out with the seasons.
Parsley is a biennial herb so it will be two seasons before it flowers. It is used with chicken, roasts, potatoes, fish, steak and as a garnish. Toward the end of winter, the leaf quality of your parsley will decrease. I usually freeze whole sprigs of parsley in the fall, but it can also be hung upside down to dry. Propagation is by stem cuttings rooted in water. Once the roots are about one to two inches long, transplant it into a four inch pot.