Heather Neikirk

Herbs are one of my most favorite and flavorful additions to the backyard or indoor winter food garden. According to a 2013 Michigan State University Extension post (hard for me to write that after the Buckeyes’ recent loss to the Spartans), growing herbs throughout the winter season is a great way to beat those doldrums, use fresh local seasonings in our cooking, and experiment and practice new gardening techniques.

A winter indoor herb garden can be cultivated in several different ways. One way is by dividing a small part of the plant, from the backyard garden, landscape or container, and replanting it as an indoor start. Another method involves taking cuttings of outdoor herbs to start indoors as the traditional growing season comes to an end. Seed production or starter plants are the most common method, and work well with herb garden favorites like basil, parsley, cilantro, sage and oregano.

Some herbs are hardy well into the winter season and make excellent landscape plants, according to an October post on the Garden Diaries website. Winter savory (Satureja montana), a member of the mint family, is an easy to grow perennial and hardy to zone 6. Known for its aromatic, culinary and medicinal uses, this herb makes a great companion plant for other herbs. It is blessed with a strong odor that is said to repel harmful insects and pests while attracting bees and other pollinators.

Coined by the Roman writer Pliny, the herb’s name comes from the word satyr, the mythical half-goat, half-man creature who owned the savories. With a flavor similar to, but stronger and sharper than its cousin summer savory, this herb is used widely in the dried leaf form as a culinary accent to poultry, stuffing, sausage, beans and eggs, imparting a spicy, peppered flavor. It is most commonly blended with thyme, sage and rosemary, but also is tastefully compatible with most mints.

The plant ranges in height from 10-24 inches, and spreads up to 3 feet when planted in a location with full sun and well-drained soils to avoid winter rot. It offers shiny, bright to dark green foliage with branching roots, a woody base and bush-type form. In some areas it can be semi-evergreen.

It produces delicate white blooms with a pink tinge in October and November, which offer a very nice late-season color addition to the winter garden and food source for pollinators when little else is in bloom. Gardeners will want to prune out woody stems to encourage vigorous new growth of young, tender shoots.

The University of Illinois Extension Herb Gardening Guide suggests harvesting young stems and leaves throughout the growing season. The herbs can be hung in small bunches or spread on screens to dry. Once dry, the leaves can be removed from the stems, and stored in closed containers. Trimmings harvested throughout the season can also be used in cooking or to flavor soups.

Check out these great resources to get started growing your own “local flavor” this winter:

Michigan State University Extension, Fresh Herb Gardening in Winter: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/fresh_herb_gardening_in_winter

Penn State University Extension, Growing Herbs Indoors: http://extension.psu.edu/plants/gardening/fact-sheets/herbs/growing-herbs-indoors

Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, Herb Culture and Use: https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/ 426-420/426-420.html

Ohio State University Extension, Selecting, Storing and Using Fresh Herbs: http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/pdf/5520.pdf

Ohio State University Extension, Top 10 Tips for Planting Herbs: http://cfaes.osu.edu/news/articles/horticulture-educator-offers-top-10-tips-for-planting-herbs

Heather Neikirk is a Stark County Extension educator in agriculture and natural resources for the Ohio State University. Neikirk also serves as co-leader for Extension’s Local Foods signature program. If you have questions about local foods, farm to school, food production, or food gardening, contact her at 330-832-9856 or neikirk.2@osu.edu.