Gardening Tips: Herbs in Winter

Editor’s Note: We’re reaching into Michelle Smith’s archive to provide gardening tips as timely now as when they first appeared — which today’s column did on 17 October 2018.


What to do this week

This is a great week to pot up a few of your herbs, if you have room in the house, or to preserve some of them for great winter soups and stews. Your basil may still be fine in the greenhouse, and parsley doesn’t even mind the frost it seems, so you may be able to pick it still, and preserve it for winter.

Personally I don’t see the point of drying herbs, although some people do manage to get results. I am so enamored by the delightful taste of fresh herbs I always end up disappointed with the dried version. Madeline stuffs paper sandwich bags with herb cuttings such as oregano, sage and tarragon, folds over the top of the bag a few times to keep the dust out, and sticks them on the fridge with a magnet. Even she says she would prefer fresh, but this works in a pinch. I prefer to keep as much alive in pots as I can so I have the real thing.

Left to right: Basil (Photo by Cchatfield, CC BY-SA 3.0), Thyme (Photo by Jeffery Martin, CC0); Winter Savory (Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0) All via Wikimedia Commons

Basil doesn’t do well in the house, even if you have it in pots already, unless you are willing to put a lot of extra effort into adding light and heat. I did have reasonable results one year when I used an old aquarium to house mine, but otherwise I have not found it to be useful to bring potted basil inside. My current method with basil is to put it in the food processor or blender with a good amount of olive oil. Garlic too if I am going to use it for pesto. The oil preserves the flavor and bright green color. Once frozen you can take the cubes from the trays and store them in larger freezer bags or containers. You can pop one or two cubes out of the freezer whenever you need basil during the winter.

Chives and parsley both do well overwintering indoors in pots. It is such a treat to mix up a batch of tabbouleh mid-winter with parsley you pick from your windowsill, or to always have fresh chives at arm’s reach. Parsley is biennial, so it will live to flourish another year outdoors too. If you don’t have chive or parsley already in pots, it might not be too late to dig some up and pot it. It is worth a try.

If you have a lot of chives but little room to bring some into the house to overwinter, you can chop it and freeze it. Be careful not to mash it or damage it beyond what is necessary. I use scissors. Chives are hollow tubes, and freeze better if you chop them into very short bits as if you were making very tiny onion rings. Put the chopped chives into freezer bags. You can roll the bags before freezing if you don’t have a lot of freezer space. Mid-winter it will be quite easy to break off what you need, keeping the rest safely frozen.

Chives don’t need oil like basil does. I find that basil turns black and unpleasant if frozen on its own. Madeline stuffs freezer bags with fresh leaves, sucks out all of the air before finishing the zip seal, and finds that it doesn’t blacken. It could be the lack of air or the fact that she doesn’t chop it.

Pesto being processed (Photo by Paul Goyette ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Pesto being processed (Photo by Paul Goyette CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Parsley is very easy to freeze. It doesn’t need oil to stay fresh and green. Just finely chop it and put it into a plastic bag. I roll the bag very tightly so there isn’t much air in it. It will be like a parsley log that you can actually cut chunks from during the winter. I freeze large quantities of parsley this way. Parsley is very good for you. It has vitamin C and iron and a wonderful taste that makes even the most bland winter soup taste fresh. You can harvest parsley even when there is already snow on it, so don’t leave it in the backyard. Go out and get it now. It may be late to pot it at this point, but you can pick it to freeze, and think about planting it in pots or window boxes next year so you will be able to take it in. Herbs planted in pots are acclimatized to that growing confinement, and can be brought in even this late.

Two other herbs that maybe aren’t worth the trouble to pick and preserve, but do well if you dig them up and pot them, are thyme and winter savory. They are both perennial so are not expecting to end it after one summer season. You don’t have to dig up the entire plant if you can isolate a bit with root for a small pot. It will do very well in a south window. Don’t forget that you will be needing that window space in a few months for your seedlings, but meanwhile you can have a little winter herb garden. If you happen to have pepper plants in pots, and you heeded my suggestion a few weeks back, you will have a little herb garden with pepper plants.

And with all that finished we may just curl up indoors with a good book, eagerly awaiting the seed catalogs and the delight of starting over shortly after the holiday season. Gardeners think about their gardens all year, but things should wind down for a few months now. We will be back next week with a summary of things to remember when it comes to putting your garden to bed for the winter.




Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.





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