by Sonoma County Master Gardener Steven Hightower
Edited by Kim Roche
Thyme is a cooking staple, and completely necessary year-round. Fortunately English thyme, silver thyme and creeping thyme all seem to do just fine over the winter. Rosemary has somewhat more limited usefulness in the kitchen (as opposed to on the summer grill), but looks great, and the different varieties flower over the winter, providing food for bees and hummingbirds. Culinary sage, salvia officinalis, seems to do pretty well, although I’ve heard that the purple and variegated do less so.
I don’t have any bay laurel in the herb pots, because I have bay trees in the woods, both the California Bay, Umbellularia Californica and the European, Laurus nobilis. Both are useful for the soup-pot, although the California is a bit more pungent.
Winter savory is slightly peppery, traditionally used in beans and sausage making, and works well with poultry—added late in the cooking with some oregano and just a bit of mint to a chicken sauté, for example.
Not strictly speaking herbs, but both arugula and sorrel perform well over the cold season. Sorrel is a bit strong for salads to my taste, but sorrel-arugula soup is spicy, peppery and sour at the same time—a nice tonic on a chilly gray day. The same combination, a bit thicker, makes a fabulous sauce for grilled or poached salmon.
A winter herb salad of arugula, mint, parsley, and a small amount each of oregano and thyme, simply dressed with a bit of lemon juice, salt and extra virgin olive oil makes a nice accompaniment to a rare-grilled skirt steak, or even ground beef patty.
Chive plants need several weeks of dormancy every winter. I don’t bother to try and keep the dormant plants, but simply replace that herb in the spring, along with the basils, tarragon, chervil and summer savory.
If you need to replant at this time of year, your selection of herbs is necessarily more limited than summer, but a spot-check yesterday of my local nursery found 4 inch pots of most of these herbs, as well as rue, Berggaten sage, golden oregano, and a half-dozen or so mints.
©Sonoma County Master Gardeners