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9 Benefits of Cooking with Herbs and Spices

“Good cooking is an art, as well as a form of intense pleasure… A recipe is only a theme, which an intelligent cook can play each time with a variation.” – Madame Jehane Benoit, chef

a mortar and pestle with fresh herbs1. The first and most obvious reason for cooking with herbs and spices is that they can transform your ordinary recipes into exciting culinary experiences. But there are even more good reasons to master the magic of cooking with herbs and spices.

2. They will stretch your budget. By using herbs and spices in your everyday cooking, you can turn cheap staple ingredients into tasty dishes.

3. They offer you variety and gastronomic delight for every individual in the family.

4. You can easily make your own connoisseur pantry products like herb oils, vinegars, and mustards, which make great gifts. You can even turn this into a part-time or full-time business venture.

5. It is always a pleasure to receive compliments for our culinary creations. Herbs and spices will certainly earn you compliments when entertaining friends and family. Used skilfully they really are the ‘cherry on the cake’ for all your dishes.

Then for the more health conscious amongst us, there are many more advantages:

6. Fresh herbs especially are wonderful sources of concentrated micro-nutrients, like antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. All of these are in an unadulterated natural form.

7. In these times of ‘instant’ vegetables – in tins and frozen packs – it is clear that herbs and spices can do much to improve the taste and nutritional value of our veggies.

8. Certain herbs and spices will stimulate your appetite and improve your digestion and general health and well-being.

9. They are vital in special diets such as low salt and low fat diets.

One can truly say that herbs and spices give your cooking that ‘something special’!

What do you regard as the most important benefit of cooking with herbs and spices?

This article is also available in Afrikaans.

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9 Proven Herbal Cold Remedies and A Treatment Plan

herbal cold remedies
Most people are content to let the common cold run its course. My granny used to say that “If you take medicine for a cold, you will be cured within seven days, and if you don’t, you will be cured within a week.”

The common cold is the cause of considerable misery. Searches for its cure are like searches for the Holy Grail. Fortunately herbs have much to offer.

What To Do When You Catch a Cold

If you have a healthy, functioning immune system, your cold should not last more than three or four days. Do not expect miracles or immediate results from natural remedies. In fact, since most of these remedies will assist the body, as opposed to suppressing the symptoms, your symptoms may temporarily worsen.

Base your primary treatment on helping your body to detoxify and support its natural defense mechanisms (your immune system). Avoid trying to include as many remedies as possible, it seldom works, and if it does, you will not know which remedy actually did the job. By selecting herbs that fit your individual needs and addressing immune support, diet and lifestyle, the common cold should not present you with a problem.

You can include one or two herbs to help relieve your symptoms, especially if they make your life miserable. Although this may sound contrary to the advice that you should not suppress your cold symptoms, most of the herbal remedies you have at your avail will alleviate your symptoms without suppressing them. Remember, they are Nature’s Little Miracles.

A Sample Herbal Cold Busting Treatment Plan

  • At the first sign of a cold decrease your food intake, or eliminate it completely for the first 24 hours.
  • Take an Epsom salts bath and consume lots of liquids – water and/or lemon balm tea.
  • Get sufficient rest. Even if it means staying in bed for a day or two. Your health is your most valuable asset.
  • Avoid sugar (even natural sources) as it can impair immune function. Orange juice for example contains a much higher level of sugar than it contains vitamin C. Therefore consuming lots of orange juice during a cold may do more harm than good.
  • Increase your intake of vitamins A and C and take supplemental zinc. There is good scientific data to support this practice.
  • Use one or more of the herbs discussed below. A proven combination is equal parts of yarrow, peppermint and elderberry. If you can tolerate cayenne (chillies) increase your daily intake to your individual maximum tolerance.
  • Lastly, use your common sense. If your symptoms persist, or become worse, consult your doctor or health care provider.

Herbal Cold Remedies

Cayenne (Capsicum sp.)

Chillies, especially Jalapeno, are probably the best, most available and most effective antiviral. Unfortunately, unless you are used to taking it, your digestive tract won’t tolerate enough cayenne to treat your virus infection. Try to integrate more chillies into your diet before you get sick. Then, when you need it, you’ll have a better tolerance for high doses. To get accustomed to the heat of chilli try a glass of water or milk with a few drops of Tabasco sauce on a daily basis. Gradually increase the drops. You can grow your own chilli plants or you can buy chillies from your green grocer.

Echinacea (Echinacea sp)

Taken frequently, and in sufficient quantities, this is undoubtedly the best herb to take during the early stages of your cold. It is not an antibiotic – it does not kill germs. Instead, it works by stimulating the production of white blood cells, accelerating their maturity, and speeding their travel to the area of infection where they fight off the invaders. You can also take echinacea in small quantities before you get a cold (especially when everybody around you is getting sick) to help build your immunity. Take echinacea as an infusion or as a tincture. Both are available from health shops.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Elderberry has been used for centuries to treat colds and flu. Recent research indicates that elderberry fruit extract may de-activate cold and flu viruses by preventing them from replicating (they must reproduce or else they can’t infect the body.) Although this finding is exciting it only proves what millions have known for ages – it works for colds and flu. It is best taken at the first signs of a cold either as an infusion, tincture or capsules. Discontinue use as soon as your symptoms subside. Available from health shops.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Garlic is sometimes referred to as a truly natural antibiotic as it can destroy foreign bacteria without any side effects. Its antibiotic properties stem from the substance allicin, a potent antibacterial agent that is released when garlic cloves are cut or bruised. The volatile oil containing the allicin is excreted via the lungs. This explains why garlic is so successful in combating respiratory infections such as chronic bronchitis, catarrh and recurrent colds and flu.

Garlic is best when fresh but it can also be taken in capsule form. But make sure that the capsules contain natural allicin – the synthetic alternatives are useless. Many people use it daily as a tonic to maintain health and to prevent recurrent respiratory infections. About 4 g fresh garlic (one medium sized clove) daily is recommended for tonic use, or if you prefer capsules, one capsule twice daily. For a therapeutic dose use one clove three times a day. Obtain it from your grocer or try and grow your own.

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)

Ginger, either freshly grated or powdered, taken as a tea induces sweating and elimination. Hot ginger tea (or my favourite – ginger brandy made with 10 year old KWV brandy and fresh ginger root) also supports and tonifies the stomach, spleen and large intestine and it improves bowel function. It is a classic immune system and respiratory tonic. Ginger will also provide relief for virtually all of your cold symptoms – fever, sinus congestion, sore throat, stomach ache and nausea. Available from you grocer or supermarket as fresh root, ginger powder or tincture (Lennon’s Jamaica Gemmer.)

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

Hyssop is specifically indicated for bronchitis and it has some properties that make it a very valuable herb for treating colds. It has diaphoretic properties, loosens mucous and is a demulcent (membrane soother). The nervine properties are also very valuable in the treatment of colds. You can easily grow your own hyssop and plants are readily available. Take it as a standard infusion made with 3 – 6 teaspoons fresh herb (use a third of that for dried herb) three times a day.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon Balm is an excellent carminative, anti-depressive and nervine. It is mostly used for stress and tension related problems but is often found in cold formulas for feverish conditions. It is an excellent remedy to take in the wake of a cold to nurture the nervous system and to expel feelings of lethargy. Best used fresh, you should grow your own supply. Plants are readily available and dried material can be obtained at health shops. Make a standard infusion with 4 – 6 teaspoons fresh herb. Take a cup three times a day.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)

Peppermint is most valuable in the treatment of fevers and especially colds and flu. When viral illness involves stomach trouble, you may not be able to eat much, or keep down your remedies. Peppermint is a good, cooling stomach soother that will help with nausea. It also relieves pain. It should preferably be used fresh and is very easy to grow. Take a standard infusion made with 4 – 6 teaspoons fresh herb, three times daily, or as needed.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow is one of the best diaphoretic herbs available to us and has become a standard remedy for aiding the body in dealing with fevers. For colds it is best combined with other herbs such as peppermint and elderberry. Yarrow is easy to grow and plants are freely available – so grow your own. Make a standard infusion with 3 – 6 teaspoons fresh herb, or 1 – 2 teaspoons dried herb. Take one cup three times a day.

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Borage (Borago officinalis) – Nature’s Best Stress Tonic

Whenever something is looming large, or your work’s revelries have put you into reverse mode, reach for the BIG B: Borage (Borago officinalis) it is one of the best natural tonics for stress and depression.

photo of borage (borago officinalis) flowers

In medieval times Borage (Borago officinalis) was infused in wine as a tonic to banish melancholy. The Romans used it as cure for hangovers. And, I must confess, it works wonderfully for both.  icon-thumbs-up

How To Make Borage Tea

Simply pour a cup of boiling water over a quarter cup of freshly picked leaves, steep for five minutes, drain and sip a cup twice a day.

For a non-stop supply of leaves plant your own Borage. It is by far one of the easiest herbs to grow in pots or in your garden

Borage Medicinal Uses

The bright blue flowers are a bonus and yummy in salads. The leaves are seriously nutritious – full of calcium, potassium and minerals. Shred fresh leaves into salads, cream cheese or cook like spinach and eat it with everything.

Contemporary European herbalists use Borage tea to restore strength during convalescence and as an adrenal tonic to balance and restore the health of the adrenal glands following periods of stress.

Borage is of particular benefit during recovery from surgery or following steroid treatment. It also promotes lactation, relieve fevers, and promote sweating. The soothing mucilage in borage makes it a beneficial treatment for dry cough, throat irritation, chest colds and bronchitis. Borage tea is also a good remedy for such digestive disturbances as gastritis and irritable bowel syndrome.

A poultice of crushed Borage leaves will relieve insect bites and stings, reduce swelling and bruising and is also helpful for clearing up boils and rashes.

How To Make a Borage Poultice

To make a poultice, chop fresh borage leaves and stems in sufficient quantity to cover the area being treated. Cover with a strip of cotton gauze to hold the poultice in place. The poultice is soothing and healing to skin inflammations, though the prickly hairs may be irritating.

Borage (Borago officinalis) Side Effects

No known side effects have been reported when Borage preparations are taken internally in appropriate forms and in therapeutic dosages. External contact with fresh Borage leaves may cause skin rashes in sensitive persons. No interactions between Borage and standard pharmaceutical preparations have been reported.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2007 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

Organic borage seeds available in our shop – Click here!

 

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How To Over-Winter Your Herbs

Over-winter herbs to add soul to warming winter cuisine. With a little bit of care you can keep a fresh supply growing through frosty winters.

potted herbs lighten up a doorway over-winter herbs
Potted herbs and flowering plants lighten up this doorway .

 

While it’s goodbye to summer favourites like basil, mint and chillies there are many other herbs that can happily survive through winter if they are cared for correctly.

Robust culinary herbs like thyme, oregano, marjoram, parsley, chervil, and even sage, are hardy enough to survive our dry, cold and even frosty winters provided you find a sunny, sheltered spot for them.

In winter, herbs need at least four hours of sun a day, and they should be kept out of cold winds, especially if the soil becomes too wet. The best way to ensure this is to pot up a few of your favourite herbs and move them as the sun moves.

Sage is probably the least hardy of the herbs but leaves can still be harvested up until the end of July even though they get smaller and smaller. Sage is also the most sensitive to over watering so the potting soil should drain well. In spring they will sprout again and throw up lovely spikes of mauve flowers.

Sage, parsley and thyme also have medicinal properties for treating winter ailments like coughs, colds, and sore throats. By adding hyssop, which has expectorant properties for relieving bronchitis, and yarrow for lowering fevers, it is also possible to have home-grown winter remedies on hand.

If there is not an area in the garden that receives consistent winter sun, then containers are the best option. Choose containers that are at least 20cm in diameter (larger is better) have drainage holes and are deep enough for the herb’s roots to develop. Use a normal commercial potting soil that drains well.

Generally potted herbs only need to be watered one or twice a week in winter, preferably in the morning. Check the soil moisture levels daily because the soil should not dry out completely. Herbs don’t like wet feet so don’t put saucers underneath the pots.

Another option, especially for apartment dwellers, is to grow herbs on a windowsill that receives winter sun.

Ideally herbs are meant to be grown in full sun, in well-drained soil. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow them on your windowsill. You just need to adjust your expectations.

Don’t expect them to act like perennials. Treat them like any other flowering pot plant that you buy for the house and discard when it has finished flowering.

The same applies to herbs. Use them and when they start looking sickly, turf them out and buy a new pot. It doesn’t mean you have failed as a gardener.

The reason why such herbs have a limited lifespan is that the windowsill pots are actually too small for sustainable growth and they are probably not getting enough light. It is also possible that the air may be too hot or steamy and that the temperature changes are too extreme.

Try grouping the herbs close together so that the transpiration from the massed leaves creates some humidity. It’s also an idea to stand the pots on a layer of gravel as this helps retain moisture and keeps them cool without the plants becoming waterlogged.

Their life can also be extended by feeding with a liquid plant food at half the strength. Also, don’t over water. Once a week should be enough.

Keep the soil feeling slightly damp, but not sodden or bone dry. Check that they aren’t sitting in a saucer of water. This causes the roots to rot and the plant to die very quickly.

When harvesting collect small quantities at a time and always leave two growth points on the twig for re-shooting. Instead of cutting at random rather use the opportunity to pinch out or prune the plant to encourage bushiness

Once picked handle the herbs as little as possible because the subtle nuances of flavour are lost if handled or allowed to wilt.

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How To Start Your Own Herb Garden

rasied herb garden - start your own herb garden
This raised herb garden looks great and it makes harvesting easier.

The rewards of growing herbs are far greater than with other plants. Other plants in the garden are mostly planted for their decorative value. Herbs, on the other hand, can also be used for a myriad of other purposes that stretch from flavouring your food to curing your flu to ridding your home of insects.

Herbs are some of the easiest, most grateful plants to grow. If you follow the following basic guidelines for how to start your own herb garden in this article, they will richly reward you with their flavours and aromas.

Location: Where to Start Your Own Herb Garden

The ideal site for a herb garden is a sunny, open but sheltered spot with well-drained fertile soil. As far as possible it should be free from weeds and overhanging trees and have good access to the house so that the herbs can be harvested in all weather.

Most of the herbs that we can successfully grow in South Africa originated in the warmer climates of the world where they grow in full sun. It is these conditions that we must create for them. The minimum requirement is four to seven hours of direct sun per day.

Remember that your herbs will grow well even if they get less sun. They may tend to grow scraggly and will be more susceptible to diseases, but with a little extra attention they will still be successful.

Herbs are like most people: they do not like to have ‘wet feet.’ It is very important that your soil have good drainage. Most herbs will survive in poor sandy soil, but few will tolerate wet clay soil.

Culinary herbs should be planted away from possible contamination by pets, roadside pollution and agricultural sprays.

Herb Garden Ideas

The appeal of a small formal herb garden remains timeless. Formal designs are based on geometric patterns, which are framed by low hedges and paved paths. For maximum impact each bed is planted with one kind of herb, giving bold blocks of colour and texture.

Paving is an essential element, accentuating the formal lines and geometric design. Natural shades, like sand, terracotta or grey, contrast beautifully with the herbs, adding to the design element. The pathways and stepping stones also provide access to the herbs for ease of harvesting.

Herb Planting Tips

Prepare the ground well in advance, remove weeds (they compete for nutrition), fork in organic matter, such as compost, and rake the soil so that the bed is level. You don’t need to add large amounts of manure or fertiliser because that produces soft growth. The article on site preparation will give you some additional tips on the preparation of your herb garden.

Before transplanting herbs out of their “nursery” pots into the ground, water the pots well because a dry rootball is difficult to wet thoroughly once it is in the ground.

Because “nursery” pots are small, herbs tend to become root bound. To encourage new root growth gently loosen the root ball before planting in the ground. Pinch out the tips of shrubby herbs, like thyme, to encourage bushy growth. Add some bone meal or fishmeal at the bottom of each planting hole.

If you are using a planting plan, first set the herbs in their positions. It is easier to move them around while they are still in their pots, rather than having to transplant them later. Space them according to their expected height and spread so they have room to develop.

After planting firm the soil gently around the plant and water thoroughly to settle the soil and give the herb a good start.

Some herbs, like spearmint, can be invasive. Restrict their spread by planting them in sunken containers. Remove any spreading material immediately. Repot them yearly with fresh soil.

Caring for Your Herb Garden

Water newly planted herbs regularly but once they are established, they are naturally drought resistant. Watering and drainage goes hand in hand. Rather give your herbs too little than too much water. After a good soaking, allow the water to drain away and the soil to dry off. Water again when the top 2 or 3 cm of soil is dry to the touch.

Mulch your herbs once a year with bulky organic material, such as shredded bark.

Fertilizing is very important, especially if you intend to use your herbs on a regular basis. During the growing season (August to April in the Southern hemisphere) fertilize at least once a month. During the winter months one or two doses will be sufficient. Inorganic fertilizing and heavy composting is not recommended because this produces sappy growth that’s more prone to disease and pests.

Use any balanced fertilizer like 2:3:2. Always halve the dosage given on the packaging. The reason for this is that the essential oils of herbs that ‘suffer’ a bit are more concentrated, increasing their flavour, aroma and medicinal value.

If your herbs get too much fertilizer they will grow scraggly and be more susceptible to pests and diseases. Please note: If you are growing herbs for medicinal purposes do not use chemical fertilizer. Use organics. You can also make your own compost tea.

Pruning is essential to encourage healthy, bushy growth. Remove dead leaves and flowers on a regular basis. Should you frequently use your herbs, pruning may not be necessary as you would be pruning automatically.

Herbs are not very prone to pests but if you do have an infestation (aphids, red spider, white fly) either cut back the herbs or use an organic pesticide.

Harvesting Your Herbs

Collect small quantities of herbs at a time and handle them as little as possible.

Do not cut herbs at random. Take the opportunity to pinch out or prune the plant at the same time, removing unwanted shoots and encouraging bushiness. Use a sharp knife or scissors, do not break, bend or tear off the branches. Always harvest from clean, healthy plants in peak condition.

Visit the Green Living Store for a range of organic herb and veggie seeds.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2015, and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.

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7 Herbs and 7 Veggies to Grow in Autumn and Winter

The ability to pick fresh herbs, or lighten a winter meal with a crunchy home-grown salad from your food garden, makes winter feel a lot less drab, grey and long.

winter herbs and vegetables

General Tips for Growing Winter Herbs and Vegetables

Growing herbs and vegetables in winter does take a bit more effort and care; after all its not their natural growing season. But growth does continue, although at a slower pace and by choosing hardy herbs and vegetables that prefer cooler conditions it is possible to keep a supply of fresh greens on the table.

In summer rainfall areas where there is frost you need a sheltered, draught-free area that catches the sun. Watch the movement of the sun and move your pots accordingly. Most kitchen courtyards are south facing and cold during winter so you need to seek out north facing patios and balconies or corners that are east or west facing and receive at least four hours sun a day.

In winter rainfall areas there is less need for protection, especially with herbs because most are indigenous to the Mediterranean so they prefer hot dry summers and cold, wet winters. Here the challenge is to make sure that the pots have good drainage and the potting soil is fairly light. Although growth slows down it is still important to fertilise monthly, especially if you are harvesting continuously.

 

7 Herbs to Grow in Winter

The first step is to pick herbs that are hardy enough to weather cold high-veld winters. We recommend thyme, oreganum, chervil, parsley and sage for culinary use. Thyme, sage and parsley also have strong medicinal properties and to complement them you can grow hyssop (for bronchitis) and yarrow (for infections and fevers).

Herbs like sweet basil, borage, lemon balm and the various mints are too tender and will die down so its worth treating them as summer annuals.

Herbs need at least four hours sun in winter and a sheltered position. For this reason they should be grown in pots so they can follow the sun.

Choose containers that are a minimum of 20cm in diameter, have drainage holes and are deep enough for the herb’s roots to develop. Use a normal commercial potting soil that drains well.

Herbs don’t like wet feet so don’t put saucers underneath the pots. Check the soil moisture levels daily because the soil should not dry out completely. Generally potted herbs only need to be watered one or twice a week in winter, preferably in the morning. Feed once a month with a liquid fertiliser, like Multisol General, Nitrosol or Multifeed, at half the required strength.

When harvesting collect small quantities at a time and always leave two growth points on the twig for re-shooting. Instead of cutting at random rather use the opportunity to pinch out or prune the plant to encourage bushiness. Once picked handle the herbs as little as possible because the subtle nuances of flavour are lost if handled or allowed to wilt.

Thyme/Tiemie (Thymus vulgaris)

Thyme is one of the hardiest of all the herbs. It makes a small, bushy potplant and the more the leaves are picked the better it does. An infusion, especially of lemon-scented thyme, helps relieve coughs and colds. In the kitchen thyme can be used, in casseroles and stews, to garnish roasts or added to salad dressings and salads. Thyme is also an excellent anti-oxidant and tonic, supporting the body’s normal functions, building the immune system and countering the effects of aging.

Sage/Salie (Salvia officinalis)

Sage needs a little more nurturing than thyme and its growth tends to slow down and the leaves get smaller in winter. It needs full sun, must not be over watered and should be kept out of draughts. In the kitchen Sage is a robust herb that stands up well to cooking, especially in slow simmered casseroles, roasts and grills. It also combines well with cheese.

An infusion of sage leaves can be used to treat colds and coughs and it also makes an excellent gargle for sore throats. To make a Sage gargle infuse 3 teaspoons fresh leaves in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes, strain and cool. Gargle three times a day.

Parsley/Pietersielie (Petroselinum crispum)

Parsley needs full sun if grown in a pot in winter and the soil should be kept moist. Regular feeding encourages the production of leaves, which are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and Iron. Even better, parsley has anti-oxidant properties that neutralise cancer-promoting agents.

Build your immune system by eating two tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley each day. Sprinkle it on salads, add it to meat, pasta or cheese sauces at the end of cooking or juice it up in a blender with apple or tomato juice. Always pick the outer leaves, and extend the plant’s life by cutting off the flowering head. The flat-leaf Italian parsley is even easier to grow than the moss curled variety and it has a more distinctive taste.

Chervil/Kerwel (Anthriscus cerefolium)

Chervil is a hardy annual that actually prefers cooler weather and not full sun conditions. Its delicate, fern like leaves make it a very attractive container plant. The leaves are full of vitamin C and have a slightly aniseed taste. It’s best used like parsley, chopped as a garnish or added to salads, soups, sauces, vegetables and meat dishes at the end of cooking.

It loses its taste when dried so use fresh. An infusion of the leaves stimulates digestion, relieves head colds, and acts as a blood cleanser.

Oregano/Oreganum (Origanum vulgare)

Oregano is one of the more robust winter herbs, easily withstanding winter frost. It likes full sun. The more you harvest oregano the better it grows. It has a strong aromatic taste ideal for rich winter food, but use sparingly or it can be overpowering. An infusion of oregano can be used to treat coughs, tiredness and irritability.

Hyssop/Hisop (Hyssopus officinalis)

Hyssop is a lesser-known herb that grows well in pots and tolerates quite cold weather. It has a bushy form and attractive spikes of blue flowers. Both the leaves and flowers can be used in an infusion to treat bronchitis and loosen mucus. The leaves have a peppery taste and are a good addition to thick soups and stews.

Here’s 7 hyssop recipes you can try.

Yarrow/Duisendblad (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow is a hardy perennial makes a beautiful pot plant with its feathery leaves and pink flowers. Grow in a sunny position in deep, wide pots and keep the soil moist. Yarrow is a good indicator plant because it’s always the first to show that watering is needed.

It’s principally a medicinal herb can be used to bring down fevers, and helps relieve infections, influenza, and sinusitis. Both the leaves and flowers of the plant are used as an infusion. Add peppermint or a teaspoon of honey if you find the leaves a bit bitter.

 

7 Vegetables to Grow in Winter

Don’t try and sow vegetable seed outdoors during June and July because the ground temperatures are too cold for germination. Sow them indoors in pots or seedling trays. Lettuce, broad beans, kale, radishes, sugar snap peas and spinach are available as seedlings from nurseries. Once germinated, plant them in pots in a sunny, sheltered position. They should receive at least four hours of sun a day.

Although growth is slower because the lower temperatures reduces the uptake of fertilizer, it is still important to fertilise.

Sprouts

Sprouts can be grown all year round because they can be sprouted indoors and grown on a sunny windowsill. Margaret Roberts and Kirchhoffs have put together a special sprouting mix consisting of Mung beans, Chickpeas, lentils, Alfalfa and Soya beans.

Sprouters are available from health food shops but a quick sprouter can be made from a wide-mouthed glass jar covered with cheesecloth tied with a rubber band.

Place seeds into the jar, cover with water and leave overnight. Pour the beans into a sieve the next morning and rinse under running water. Rinse bottle and return beans to the damp bottle. Cover with cheese cloth and secure. Tilt jar to get rid of excess water, otherwise beans will rot and go sour. The washing procedure must be repeated every morning and evening – in three days the beans will be ready to eat.

Lettuce

Lettuce is an easy vegetable to grow in pots. It needs a rich potting soil mix and should be watered regularly. Plant a row of lettuce in a window box or encircle a standard or tree topiary. Varieties with interesting or coloured leaves are very decorative.

The loose leafed varieties are the most practical because you can harvest the individual leaves for up to three months before replanting. Others, like the butterhead or iceberg, are picked when the heads form so its best to sow seed at sow at three to four weekly intervals to have a constant supply. Fertilise monthly with Multisol P or Ludwig’s Vigorosa. Strawberries and marigolds are good companion plants.

Suggested varieties: “Salad Mixed” (a variety of loose leafed and crisp lettuce), ‘All Year Round’ (Butterhead), Lollo Rossa and Lollo Biondo (Loose Leafed).

Spinach or Swiss Chard

Spinach or Swiss Chard also needs full sun and a potting mix that is rich but drains easily. Spinach needs regular watering and frequent feeding to produce lots of lush green leaves. It will produce over an extended period if the leaves are picked regularly. Spinach is ideal for pots because the plants only need to be 20cm apart. For something different and colourful, try the new ‘Bright Lights’ with its red and yellow stems and different coloured leaves.

Suggested varieties: ‘Bright lights’, ‘Swiss Chard Lucullus’, ‘Fordhook Giant’.

Radishes

This zesty little vegetable adds colour and a tang to salads. It is ready for harvesting within a month so seedlings should be planted at regular intervals to ensure a yearlong supply. Radishes can be grown 3cm apart so they are ideal for small, sunny spots in between other plants or in pots.

Suggested varieties: ‘Red Cherry’ and ‘Cherry Belle’.

Broad Beans

Broad beans thrive in well-fertilised and well-drained soil so it is important to plant them in deep, wide containers at least 40cm in diameter. They are climbers so the growth needs to be supported and trained. Make a pyramid from stakes tied together or buy a more ornamental obelisk and turn your bean plant into a garden feature. Water regularly especially during flowering and when the pods are developing. For larger pods pinch out the growing point when the lowest pods are 75mm long. Young beans, no thicker than a finger and 75mm long are the most delicious and can be cooked in their pods. A word of warning, do not disturb the plants when in flower as this may result in failure to set pot. For an optimum harvest, fertilise with Multisol K once a month.

Suggested variety: Aquadulce

Kale

Kale is a valuable winter vegetable that is extremely hardy. It likes rich soil so potting soil should be enriched with an addition of compost and plants should be fed monthly with Multisol N or Ludwigs Vigorosa. Plant seedlings 40cm apart, which means that a large, deep pot should accommodate about five plants which should provide a regular harvest of leaves. Cut the centre of each plant first to encourage the production of fresh side shoots. The leaves are rich in vitamin C and iron. To prepare Kale for cooking strip the long leaves from the tough stem, shred them away from the white midribs and cook like spinach.

Suggested variety: Chou Moullier Marrow Stem

Sugar Snap Peas

Sugar Snap peas should be planted 40 cm apart and staked for a tidy effect and for ease of picking. Plants grow between 75 to 100cm high and the first fruit should be ready for harvest within 120 days. Water regularly especially when in flower. Pick regularly so that the pods do not become tough. Petunias are good companion plants as they deter caterpillars.

 

Visit the Eco Herb Store for a range of organic herb and veggie seeds.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2015, and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.