Harvesting herbs fresh from your own garden is easy, fabulous and provides unlimited flavour potential. Even over winter you can grow herbs outdoors to add flavour and depth to winter dinners.
Winter savory (Satureja montana)
This is one of my all-time favourite winter herbs. It is an evergreen perennial, with woody stems, short aromatic leaves and in summer small white flowers. The leaves have a strong, warming, almost peppery flavour and they add a distinctive taste to soups and casseroles. It grows well in a sunny, well-drained site and needs a cutback after flowering to encourage new growth.
Like its summer relative, the annual summer savory (Satureja hortensis), it is a wonderful flavour companion for broad beans and other pulses. I add a couple of sprigs of either summer or winter savory to the water when I am cooking broad beans.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is one of those herbs that seem destined for the kitchen in some way or other, but mostly as an ingredient of stuffing or for flavouring. There are so many different thymes, but the basic species and any of the lemon-flavoured forms such as T. x citriodorus ‘Silver Queen’, are my choice for use in winter.
You can either use twiggy sections of stems and leaves as a bed on which to cook and flavour roasted meat and vegetables, or shred the leaves off the woody stems and add them to stews and soups.
Thyme grows best in sunshine in a well-drained soil. Regular trimming back keeps the leaf production going, but you will also need to regularly trim back plants that are getting woody. Keep harvesting for the very best results.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Chervil’s leaves transform an omelette into something sublime and are also useful for a light aniseed note in salads and anywhere that you would use parsley. Chervil is a hardy biennial herb, and if you make a late sowing in summer it will provide you with wonderful leaves during winter.
Cover with fleece if temperatures fall or it is very wet. It does best in partial shade; in full sun it will run quickly to flower and seed. I find that if I leave some plants to go to seed then I will have a good start the following spring with self-sown chervil.
Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
This is a hardy, evergreen perennial herb with young foliage that offers a fresh cucumber-like flavour to salads. It is also useful in omelettes and in fish dishes.
Salad burnet grows well in the ground and in containers. Its indented leaves are soft and green, but it is the very youngest leaves that have the most aroma, so cutting back before it flowers in summer is essential – it also keeps the plant from producing flowers too early. Once it has flowered, cut back the flowering stems to encourage fresh shoots. In winter keep it well trimmed and top-dress the compost with fresh compost, if growing it in containers.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley is everywhere and in everything… it is a hardy biennial, so a late summer sowing will offer you abundant leafy material through the winter. Curly or moss-curled parsley and flat-leaf parsley (you can get seed of Italian or French versions) have similar flavours. Both can be used in many different cooked and salad dishes, but curly parsley is the traditional one for a bouquet garni.
Grow parsley in a sunny or part-shady site, in a well-drained soil. It can be used as an informal edging in a kitchen garden, and also grows well in pots.
Often swept aside as a mere garnish, its good flavour should ensure that it is more widely used in cooking. Pick as you need it and snip it into omelette mixes, bread sauce and into soups and casseroles.
It is also useful as a breath freshener, especially popular for cleansing the palate if you have been celebrating too liberally!