Six of the best herbs to grow in winter

hand touching sprigs of rosemary

Jane Canaway

Posted May 11, 2021


Many hardy herbs still thrive in the cooler months. These are six winter superstars.

If there’s one group of plants that every garden should have, it’s herbs. That’s the advice from horticulturist Jane Edmanson, who has presented garden advice on the ABC’s Gardening Australia program for 30 years. 

“Herbs are one of the best plants for beginners because they rarely fail or have pest problems and they look good,” Jane says. “Herbs are also great to squeeze in between other plants or keep in a pot. Every garden should have two or three just for the fragrance, I reckon.” 

But which are the best herbs to grow in winter? Here's Jane Canaway's guide to six of the hardiest.


Six of the best herbs to plant in winter
 

Rosemary

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), a medium shrub that can be grown as a hedge. “If you have a retaining wall that needs covering, look for the prostrate form,” Jane says. 

  • When to plant: Take cuttings in autumn.
  • Where to plant it: Full sun in well-drained soil.
  • How to use it: The aromatic leaves are often used to flavour lamb but are also excellent with potatoes, chicken and soups, or infused in oil or vinegar.  
  • Look out for: Don’t over water.
  • Level of difficulty: Easy

Thyme

Thyme (Thymus spp.) is a great edging, rockery or pot plant, growing 30 centimetres high with pink or white flowers in spring. There are also lemon-scented and variegated varieties.

  • When to plant: Spring, autumn or any time in a pot. Grows easily from cuttings.
  • Where to plant it: Needs excellent drainage; tolerates poor soil.
  • How to use it: In casseroles, on fish, pizza, in pasta sauce or add to herbal teas. The leaves contain thymol, an antiseptic. 
  • Look out for: Does not like cool, wet or humid conditions. 
  • Level of difficulty: Easy
     
person cutting onion next to a soup pot and other ingredients

These herbs are ideal for immune-boosting soups and other wholesome recipes.


 

Sage

Sage (Salvia spp.) is a small shrub with soft grey leaves (there is also a purple-leaved variety). The Latin name - Salvia - is derived from the word salvere, meaning ‘to feel well’ or ‘heal’, which reflects its traditional use as a medicine. Jane also grows the fruit-cup (also known as fruit salad) sage, Salvia dorisiana, which needs more water and less sun than culinary sage, but adds a fruity tang as a garnish or in herbal tea.  

  • When to plant: Sow seed in autumn. 
  • Where to plant it: Sunny, well-drained spot. May need extra water in extreme heat. 
  • How to use it: Delicious in sauces with burnt butter. It is also widely used in stuffing mixes, with pumpkin, in sausages and to flavour cheese. 
  • Look out for: Prone to mildew in shade or damp conditions.
  • Level of difficulty: Easy.

Mint

 Mint (Mentha spp.) is a fragrant, perennial herb that grows to about 30 centimetres, depending on the species, and has a highly distinctive menthol smell and taste.

  • When to plant: Can be planted at any time. Spreads by underground roots and can become invasive; for this reason, it’s best grown in a pot.
  • Where to plant it: Likes damp soil and doesn’t mind sitting in water.
  • How to use it: Goes well with lamb, in yoghurt sauce, in Greek or Middle-Eastern salads, and in drinks.
  • Look out for: Will need extra water in summer and prefers afternoon shade. There is also a native Australian species,  Mentha australis.
  • Level of difficulty: Easy.
     
variety of herbs planted into grey pots

Try growing multiple herbs at once for some garden (and flavour) diversity.


 

Coriander

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is a highly fragrant herb that can grow to 50 centimetres tall.

  • When to plant: Sow seed in autumn or spring; avoid hot, dry weather. 
  • Where to plant it: A sunny spot in moist, well-drained soil.  
  • How to use it: Use leaves as a garnish with Asian cuisines. The seeds (whole or ground) can also be used to flavour stir fries or other aromatic dishes. 
  • Look out for: On rare occasions, it can cause an allergic reaction. Plant will bolt to seed if water or heat stressed. 
  • Level of difficulty: Moderate.

Curry leaf

One of Jane’s winter favourites is the curry leaf plant (Murraya koenigii), a small evergreen, tropical tree with fragrant leaves, related to citrus. It contains alkaloids that are being tested for use against cancer. 

  • When to plant: Plant seed in autumn.
  • Where to plant it: Plant in a protected spot to avoid heavy frosts. Likes full sun or light shade.
  • How to use it: A handful of leaves in a warming curry adds wonderful fragrance. 
  • Look out for: Avoid the seeds, which are poisonous. In cooler areas the plant may lose some leaves over winter. It can be weedy further north.
  • Level of difficulty: Easy.
     

If you only have room for pots in your garden, all of these herbs are still an option; however, you will need a larger pot for both curry leaf and rosemary.  


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