Grow healthful year-round seasonings

The benefits of preserving fresh herbs for the winter extends beyond just good flavour, it offers us a healthy alternative...

Credit: Gardenwise Online

Gardenwise Online

The benefits of preserving fresh herbs for the winter extends beyond just good flavour, it offers us a healthy alternative…

Fall is a time of harvest and preservation, when we turn our attention from the garden to the kitchen. Bunches of fresh carrots are settled into jars of vinegar with pickling spices, blackberries are transformed into jelly and freezers begin to fill up with bags of fresh peas, corn and tomatoes – all to be enjoyed as a reminder of summer in the winter months to come.

In this busy season, preserving fresh garden herbs, or, for coastal gardeners, planning a winter supply of fresh herbs, is often overlooked. Herbs add flavour, nutrition and fragrance to a multitude of dishes, and they are a healthy alternative to processed and artificial seasonings. Sage offers magnesium, calcium, potassium and vitamin A, for example, and basil provides vitamin K, iron and fibre. Lemon thyme can be used in baking as an alternative to sugar-enhanced candied lemon or artificially preserved lemon concentrate. And with a little planning and preparation, these homegrown seasonings can be more than a summer pleasure – they can extend to your winter kitchen as well.

In general, herbs require full sun, adequate moisture and well-drained, slightly alkaline, loamy soil. Herbs can be grown in the garden or in a container; if space is limited, a hanging planter is a creative alternative.

There are three classes of herbs:

Annual, evergreen and perennial. Annual herbs grow for one season; they need to be replaced every spring and can be harvested and stored for winter use. Evergreen herbs live for about five to seven years and retain their foliage for harvest year-round (though they require protection in colder climates). Perennial herbs tend to offer a few more seasons than their evergreen cousins, providing fresh soft foliage every summer, then dying back for the winter; the leaves of these also have to be stored for winter use. To maximize your enjoyment of kitchen herbs, plant a combination of annual, evergreen and perennial herbs, and plan to harvest annual and perennial herbs for the winter months. Fall is a fantastic time to fill a few bottles with preserved herbs to be enjoyed in your favourite recipes over the coming months.

Annual herbs include basil, cilantro, dill and parsley. Annuals present a great opportunity to add variety in the culinary garden. Along with the standard old favourites, try experimenting with something new and different each year. There have been many new basil introductions in recent years, such as lemon, Thai, purple, spicy and cinnamon basil, and other new herbs coming on the market offer gardeners a wide range of choices. Annual herbs are best used fresh and are added at the end of cooking to maximize flavour. For winter use, they can be blanched and frozen or dried. Garlic, an annual as it needs to be replanted each fall, is best stored dried in whole heads in a cool, dry, dark area.

Perennial herbs include sage, peppermint, savory and chives. They offer a variety of flavours and textures and are excellent for cooking. Many, such as peppermint, make a fine tea. Experiment with different varieties of sage, including pineapple and purple sage. Perennials are best used fresh, but may be dried, then stored in labelled glass jars.

Evergreen herbs include rosemary, thyme and bay. If baking is part of your kitchen experience, be sure to grow lavender and lemon thyme. Evergreen herbs can be used fresh year-round in milder areas or dried. They vary in tenderness, and in cooler climates need to be grown in a sheltered location or brought into a conservatory or greenhouse during cold weather. 


Dry your perennial, annual and evergreen herbs and store individually, or combine to create herbal themes; add as desired to meats, stews and sauces. Creating diversity at mealtime has never been so easy – or healthy! Combine all herbs equally, unless noted:

Intriguing Italian: Rosemary, oregano, basil, sage (½ amount) and thyme.

Gratifying Greek: Cinnamon basil, parsley, mint and rosemary.

Tantalizing Thai:
Garlic, lemon grass, dried hot pepper and Thai basil.

Fancy French: Thyme, marjoram, savory, chervil and rosemary.

Magical Mexican: Cilantro, dried hot peppers (½ amount) and lime basil.

Marvellous Mediterranean: Cinnamon basil, garlic, dried hot peppers and basil.