Preparing your winter herb garden
- Pull up summer annuals like basil, dill, borage, to make space for winter herbs or veggies.
- Add borage plants to the compost heap; the leaves are full of minerals and also act as a compost activator
- Replenish the soil with compost, adding it to beds where summer annuals have grown and work it in around hardy perennial herbs.
- Protect sensitive herbs like mushroom plant and columnar basil with frost cloth.
- Give all winter hardy herbs a light prune to keep them in shape.
Try this peppery combination: Plant alternate rows of Tatsoi, rocket, radish and Pak choi. Start with young Tatsoi or Pak choi plants and sow the rocket and radishes in between. The latter two germinate quickly and it won be long before there are plenty of peppery leaves to eat. Young rocket plants are also available from herb stands. If May is unexpectedly hot, make sure the plants get plenty of water so that the leaves are not too pungent.
Getting the best from end-of-season Basil
- Before the frost arrives or temperatures drop, harvest healthy green basil leaves for pesto or freeze the leaves in ice cubes for use in sauces.
- Allow plants to flower and pick the flowers for the home.
- To save seed, let the flowers dry and then hang up the dried flower heads encased in brown paper packets to catch the seed.
- Chop up plants that have been pulled out and use them as insect repelling mulch around the cabbages.
Division and multiplication
Divide lovage, echinacea, and horseradish in autumn, saving young roots to make new plants and using the rest for medicinal or culinary purposes. Use echinacea roots to make tinctures or decoctions to boost the immune system, and horseradish roots to make a hot, piquant sauce that acts as a stimulant and helps the body to absorb other vitamins and minerals. When dividing lovage roots makes sure each division has some new buds showing. Infuse lovage roots and drink to reduce water retention as well as to cleanse the system. In all cases, plants should be three to four years before dividing.
Plant your winter pharmacy
Flu, coughs, colds, and sore throats are common winter ailments and these five herbs are all effective in treating them. They require full sun, well drained soil and fertilising once a month in winter.
Calendula officinalis is grown for its petals that are infused for drinking as an anti-viral to help clear infections, and to detox and balance the digestive system, liver and gall bladder.
Remedy: Infuse 2 tsp of petals in 750ml just boiled water for 10minutes.Strain, and drink up to five cups a day.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a good source of vitamin A and C, which supports the immune system as well as acting as an anti-oxidant.
Remedy: Prepare an infusion from fresh leaves or eat two tablespoons of chopped fresh leaves a day over food or in a smoothie
Caution: Do not use parsley in medicinal dose during pregnancy or if you have a kidney disease.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) has aromatic leaves that are strongly antiseptic. Make sure to never over-water, as especially in winter.
Remedy: an infusion can be used as a gargle for throat and mouth infections, also for coughs, colds and influenza. Infuse 3 teaspoons fresh leaves in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes, strain and cool. Gargle three times a day.
Caution: Avoid heavy dosage or prolonged use of Sage. Do not take in medicinal doses if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you suffer from any seizure disorders.
Thyme(Thymus vulgaris)andLemon Thyme has strongly antiseptic leaves that contain thymol (an antifungal) which helps treat throat and chest infections, such as bronchitis and whooping cough. It is also a tonic herb that strengthens the lungs and the immune system.
Remedy: Use the leaves to make an infusion and drink three cups a day, not for longer than a week as it may affect the absorption of iron.
Yarrow (Achilleamillefolium) has pink flower heads and feathery, fern like leaves that are both used to promote sweating that helps to break fevers.
Remedy: Make a tincture or tea of the leaves and flowers. The leaves are rather bitter when used as a tea, so add a teaspoon of honey.
Caution: Avoid during pregnancy and avoid extended use.
The easiest method of taking these life giving plants is to make a Power C “smoothie” every day.
1/2 a tomato
1/2 cup real orange juice
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp honey
1 tsp raw ginger root (peeled) (about 1 large slice)
1 tsp spoon parsley – or sage, thyme, lemon thyme, rosemary, (Try a different one each time)-
Place all these ingredients in a blender and liquidise. Add extra water (to get the best effect, make a herb tea and use this) to thin if necessary and extra honey to taste.