herbs for winter

Must have herbs for winter

In May the herb garden undergoes a change in character. The focus is more on health and the menu switches from carefree summer salads to nurturing comfort food. But there is still room for a light touch: decorative frilly greens that tingle the taste buds and pair perfectly with edible winter flowers. Here are some must have herbs for winter!

3 must-have healing herbs for winter

Plant thyme, parsley and calendula and you’ll have a winter pharmacy at your fingertips. Between them they support the immune system, act as a tonic, and help to clear chest and throat infections so prevalent in winter.

Common thyme and lemon thyme have strong antiseptic and tonic properties, making them a useful tonic for the immune system as well as a remedy for chest and throat infections.

How to use: make a tea using a sprig of thyme (½g) to one cup of water. Pour water that has just boiled over the thyme, cover (to retain the volatile oils) and allow to infuse for 5 minutes. Remove the thyme and drink. Honey can be added. Drink 3 – 4 cups a day if dealing with an infection.

Parsley is generally regarded as a garnish but the fresh leaves are a very good source of vitamin C, as well as vitamins A and E, and iron. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and is a detox herb that clears toxins and helps lift fatigue.

How to use: two tablespoons of parsley a day (chopped, infused or added to salad) provides strong protection against colds and flu. Also make a parsley tea from the fresh leaves and drink three times a day.

Calendula is useful for its petals, which have an antiviral action that helps clear infections, and detox and balance the digestive system, liver and gall bladder.

How to use: iInfuse 2 teaspoons of petals in 750ml of just-boiled water for 10 minutes. Strain and drink up to five cups a day.

Try This: all three the above herbs for winter grow well in pots and will thrive in a space that is sunny and sheltered. For ease of use, plant all three in one large pot or large hanging basket. Position the calendula as the main plant, fill in with parsley and plant the thyme around the edge. Use a good quality potting soil or special herb potting soil and make sure the pot drains well. Water regularly and feed twice a month with a liquid fertiliser.

Greens to keep the blues away

As kids we were told to eat our greens because they were good for us. And they are, because the chlorophyll that gives greens their green colour is rich in antioxidants as well as essential vitamins and nutrients needed for cardiovascular, muscular and neural health. Greens that grow in winter are the mustardy Asian greens, such as tatsoi, pak choi, mizuna and various mustards (‘Red Giant’, ‘Red Frills’ and ‘Green in Snow’). They are frost hardy and a good substitute or companion for lettuce in salads. ‘Red Frills’ mustard adds both colour and texture. The leaves can also be steamed or stirfried, and the strongly flavoured mizuna and ‘Red Giant’ mustard can be added to stews that need a tang. Pak choi leaves are rich in beta-carotene and Vitamins B and C, to help ward off winter colds and flu. To grow Plant in full sun, in well-drained, fertile soil. Water regularly and fertilise once a month to maintain growth, especially if picked. Pick fresh leaves when necessary and new leaves will continue to develop. The more you pick the better they perform.

Don’t forget about rosemary; a definite must have when it comes to herbs for winter

No winter herb garden should be without rosemary. Besides its culinary qualities, rosemary is good for the soul! Its magnificent fragrance lifts the spirits, and helps relieve mild depression and stress, especially after flu or other winter ailments. Add it to bathwater for a reviving soak, hang up bunches to freshen the home, sow it into herb pillows, or make a tonic in the form of a rosemary tincture. Take 2ml twice a day in water. When roasting chicken, lamb or pork, lay a few sprigs on the bottom of the roasting pan. As you baste, the pan juices mixed with rosemary will give the meat a delicious flavour. Also add a sprig or two to oven-roasted vegetables, roasted potatoes or baby potatoes.

Pretty frilling

Frilly-leaved edibles are decorative as well as healthy. Combine them with edible flowers in the herb, veggie or flower garden, or make a feature of them in patio containers. Two candidates for prettiest edible on the block are ‘Green Wave’ mustard and Kale ‘Storm’.

Mustard ‘Green Wave’ has dark green leaves with frilly edges and a spicy flavour that mellows with cooking. Use baby leaves for salad and more mature leaves for cooking or braising. It likes plenty of sun, consistently moist soil (don’t let it dry out) and monthly feeding.

Kale ‘Storm’ is part of the Simply Salad range and is a medley of purple-, green- and blue-leaved kales with curly leaf edges. The plants stay compact, performing like Swiss chard, and are harvested by removing the young leaves as needed, making sure to leave the developing centre buds alone. The leaves are very nutritious and can be used in salads, soups, sandwiches, and smoothies, or as a substitute for spinach/Swiss chard in any cooked dish. It is cooked just like spinach. Kale ‘Storm’ can be grown in sun to semi-shade, needs moist soil and regular watering.

Slowly does it: A tasty trio of herbs for winter stews

These are called ‘robust’ herbs because their flavour develops and mellows with long, slow cooking. Bay, oregano and thyme are all frost-hardy perennial herbs for winter and work well together, despite having distinctive flavours. Bay and oregano combine for tomato-based dishes while bay and thyme, together with parsley, make up the traditional bouquet garni that’s added to stews, soups and casseroles.

Bay leaf

Bay leaf adds a deep, spicy note to slow-simmered red-meat dishes (with lots of red wine added), and soup too. Our own bobotie and classic French dishes like Boeuf à la bourguignonne and pâtés are flavoured by bay leaf. A bonus is that bay leaves stimulate the secretion of digestive juices, which aids digestion, helping to breakdown heavy food, especially meat. Bay leaves can be used fresh or dried, but many cooks believe the drying takes some of the bitterness out of the leaves.

To grow: In our climate bay leaf is a frost-hardy evergreen perennial shrub or tree. However, in very cold areas it should be a sheltered herb for winter. A mature tree can reach up to 15m, but it grows slowly and can be clipped as a topiary or shrub or grown in a container. Plant it in a position that receives full sun.


Oregano’s frost-hardy nature means that we can enjoy hearty Italian or Greek food all year round. It also can be used fresh or dried in cooking. Dried oregano is more pungent so should be used carefully.

Winter winner: Braise neck of lamb in white wine with oregano and bay. Coat the lamb with seasoned flour and brown. Remove from the pot and sauté onions, garlic and bay. Return the lamb to the pot and add oregano (fresh or dried), allspice, a pinch of sugar and tomato paste. Add dry white wine (a generous 500ml) and bring to the boil. Let it cook away a little and then add stock and passata, and simmer in the oven for about two hours. Add more stock if necessary. A handful of breadcrumbs scattered over the top helps to thicken it.

To grow: Oregano is a herb for winter that thrives in full sun and likes fertile, well-composted soil that drains well. Besides the standard oregano, other varieties of oregano include ‘Hot and Spicy’ with chilli-flavoured leaves; ‘Greek Oregano’ with very aromatic leaves and mauve flowers that attract butterflies; ‘Golden Upright’ that grows 30cm high and wide and is ideal for containers; ‘Golden Creeping’, which is a groundcover that has bright, lime green leaves in spring and autumn; and ‘Country Cream’, also low growing with variegated green and cream leaves.

Lemon thyme

This is the best thyme choice for cooking, imparting a subtle lemon flavour and fragrance. Use it to flavour chicken, pork and beef dishes, as well as mince. Strip the leaves off the stems and chop finely, or put in whole sprigs that are removed at the end of cooking.

The Gardener