Six of the best herbs to grow in winter

Living Well | Jane Canaway | Posted on 15 May 2019

Many hardy herbs still thrive in the cooler months.

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.

Even in winter, when fragrant basil fades, many hardy herbs keep going. 

“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.” 

Growing herbs near the house is not only cheap and convenient, but can give a much-needed boost to your winter health. A light garnish of parsley can bring a good serve of vitamins A and C, while rosemary contains many B-complex vitamins, as well as minerals. Many herbs contain antioxidants, which may help protect the body against cancer.

Sprig of fresh rosemary against a white background

Rosemary is excellent with lamb, potatoes, chicken and soups.  


Sprig of fresh sage set against a white backdrop

Sage and burnt butter make an easy sauce for pasta or white fish.


Fresh thyme against a white backdrop

Thyme can be used in casseroles, on fish or pizza, or in herbal teas.


Six herbs for winter 

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.
Care: Plant in a protected spot to avoid heavy frosts. Likes full sun or light shade.
Eat: 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.

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.
Care: Full sun in well-drained soil.
Eat: 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.
Care: Needs excellent drainage; tolerates poor soil.
Eat: 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

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. 
Care: Sunny, well-drained spot. May need extra water in extreme heat. 
Eat: 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.
Care:  Likes damp soil and doesn’t mind sitting in water.
Eat: 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.

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. 
Care: A sunny spot in moist, well-drained soil.  
Eat: 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.

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.