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WISDOM FROM THE WILD CHILD GARDEN: DECEMBER 2023: HERBS FOR WINTER SOWING

HERBS FOR WINTER SOWING: Get a head start on spring by sowing herbs in winter!

WHY SOW HERB SEEDS IN WINTER? Planting herb seeds in a container during the winter months and setting them outside allows for germination, and seedlings emerge naturally when the weather warms. The container stays outdoors until the seedlings emerge in spring, it protects the seeds from animals and harsh weather, and it provides the perfect environment for germination in the spring.


Winter sowing is usually successful with seeds that require a period of cold stratification which takes advantage of natural temperatures rather than artificially refrigerating seeds. The exposure to colder temperatures is what breaks the seed dormancy and allows the seeds to germinate. This gives the plants a head start and allows seed starting in the midst of winter while the landscape is frozen. Once temperatures rise and the soil thaws, seeds germinate and sprout naturally at the ideal time for growing.


Winter sowing usually starts on or after the Winter Solstice which falls on December 21st. January and February are the best times to winter sow milkweed seeds and perennial herbs. Not all herb seeds are suitable for winter planting. Tender annual herbs are not likely to do well if planted in winter as their seeds do not require cold stratification and may not survive the exposure to cold temperature. To sow seeds in winter, look for herb seeds from plants that self-seed. If the herb is hardy in the garden, its seed can be sown in winter.

ADVANTAGES OF WINTER SOWING:

• The process is easy for beginners and seasoned gardeners.

• No need for seedling trays and supplies, so it is less expensive.

• Hardening off is not necessary and plants can be sown sooner.

• The container keeps the seeds safe from the elements.

• The container can be reused or repurposed.

• Dampening off, a deadly fungal disease, is less likely.

STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS:

• Choose a container that is clear enough for light to pass through, can have drainage & vent holes installed, has a lid, and can hold 3-4” of soil. Options include plastic jugs, water or soda bottles, take-out containers, disposable foil pans with plastic covers, disposable beverage cups, and plastic tubs.

• Fill the bottom of the container with 3-4” of moistened potting mix.

• Spread the seeds over the soil and slightly cover.

• Water the seeds with a spray bottle.

• Cover the container, make sure the cover has ventilation holes, and secure it with duct tape. If using a milk jug, remove the cap.

• Label the container with a waterproof marker.

• Set the container outside on a flat surface so that they are exposed to the elements.

• Once the weather warms and the seeds germinate, remove the duct tape and top of the container.

• Leave the container open until transplant time.

• Transplant the seedlings when they are established and have developed true leaves.

HERBS TO SOW IN WINTER: some culinary perennial herbs are reliably cold hardy and can be sown in the winter months. Examples include chamomile, chives, dill, echinacea, fennel, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, milkweed, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, summer savory, thyme, & yarrow.

CHAMOMILE: There are two types of common chamomile. German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is commonly used to make herbal tea, and since it self-seeds readily, it usually comes back every year. Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) returns yearly and is often used as a ground cover or creeping plant. Both are easy to care for in a garden and require very few extras to thrive. German chamomile produces more abundant flowers, and Roman chamomile has more fragrant blooms. The tiny daisy-like flowers have white collars circling raised, cone-shaped, & yellow centers that are less than an inch wide and grow on long, thin, & light green stems.


The plant's healing properties come from its daisy-like flowers, which contain volatile oils as well as flavonoids, and a compound called apigenin. Chamomile has been used for centuries in teas as a mild, relaxing sleep aid, treatment for fevers, colds, stomach ailments, and as an anti-inflammatory. As a salve, Chamomile can be used for hemorrhoids and wounds. As a vapor, it can be used to alleviate cold symptoms or asthma, relieve restlessness, teething problems, and colic in children, and relieve allergies. It can also be used as a wash or compress for skin problems and inflammations.

CHIVES: (Allium schoenoprasum): have slender, round, hollow, & grass-like leaves that are 6 to 10 inches long. Globe-like pinkish-purple flowers shoot up in spring on stalks to 12 inches tall or more. Leaves rise from small scallion-like bulbs that grow in clumps. Once established, a chive plant will grow for many years. Garlic chives grow just like onion chives, but they have flat leaves and white flowers.


Chives are good companion plants that improve the flavor of carrots, celery, tomatoes, cress, mint, and grapes. Chives inhibit the growth of beans and peas, deter Japanese beetles, black spots on roses, scabs on apples, and mildew on cucumbers. Chive plant flower heads attract pollinators to the home garden.

DILL (Anethum graveolens): has delicate & feathery foliage and lovely golden-yellow flowers that bloom in mid-summer. It’s one of the easiest herbs to grow, readily self-sows by dropping seeds in the garden which will pop up again next year, and it attracts pollinators. Dill is a host plant for the black swallowtail caterpillar which will munch on the foliage, but the plant will recover once they move on to their next stage of development.


Dill leaves, seeds, and flowers are edible. This tall and leggy plant is popular for pickling, soups, salads, breads, party dips and fish dishes.


Dill has been used for centuries for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It contains a wide variety of nutrients including vitamin A & C, folate, and riboflavin. It is also a good source of minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus, and it contains flavonoids and monoterpenes, two compounds that are known to have antioxidant properties.

ECHINACEA (Echinacea purpurea): is a perennial herb that grows to 2 feet tall. It has a woody rhizome, rough and hairy stems that are mostly unbranched, basal and lower leaf blades that are ovate to lanceolate with serrate edges, and are slightly heart-shaped at the base. The flowers are in heads like sunflowers with the disk up 2 inches across. The drooping ray florets have ligules that and are reddish, purple, lavender, white, and pink. The disk florets are situated among stiff bracts, and the flowers bloom from June to August.


Prevention and treatment of upper respiratory tract infection are the most common uses for this plant, however, echinacea is also an immunostimulant, and is used for a wide variety of infectious and immunological diseases. Topical preparations are used to enhance wound healing and for other skin conditions.

FENNEL (Foeniculum vulgare): has sweetly aromatic foliage and a flavor similar to anise. It contains the aromatic compound anethole, which gives the plant its taste and aroma. It can grow up to 6 feet tall and has smooth and dark green leaves that are finely dissected with very narrow lobes, giving a feathery appearance to the foliage that is similar to that of dill. Plants produce a deep, large white tap root, and often do not bloom until its second year. The small, bright yellow flowers are produced in a terminal compound umbel at the top of the smooth, jointed, hollow stems. Each umbel section has 20–50 flowers on short pedicels. The flowers are very attractive to many beneficial insects including bees, small wasps, lacewings, and syrphid flies, as well as butterflies.


Fennel leaves, tender young shoots, stems, and seeds are used in various cuisines for flavoring and food. The fresh leaves are often used to flavor fish, egg dishes, or salads and can be used to make a tea. The leaves do not retain their flavor when dried. The young shoots or “bulb” stem bases of Florence fennel, which have a texture similar to celery, are eaten raw or cooked in salads or as a vegetable. The seeds are commonly used whole in Italian sausage and various pastries or confections. The ground seeds are a key ingredient of Chinese five-spice powder and Indian garam masala.

HYSSOP (Hyssopus officinalis): is a semi-evergreen perennial that is cold hardy and grows 1 to 2 feet tall and 1 foot to 18 inches wide. It performs best when grown in a location that provides some shade from the hot afternoon sun, and it prefers well-drained, fertile loam soil. Trimming in the spring is best and will aid in the overall health of the plant. Plants naturalize easily in the landscape and can be propagated via seed, stem cutting, or division in the spring. Well-established plants are drought tolerant as well as resistant to browsing by deer.


Purple to blue fragrant flowers appear all summer and are attractive to butterflies. Hyssop is a self-fertile plant that has both male and female organs and is pollinated by bees. It can be grown as a low hedge or planted along a slope to help with erosion management. Hyssop works well in containers, mass planted along an edge, used in small groups in a cottage garden, or planted in an herb garden along the front of a border or tucked between boulders in a rock garden.


The flowers, leaves and oils from this plant are used as culinary flavoring. The foliage is used as a flavoring in stews, soups and sauces, and the oils are used in Chartreuse liquor production.

LAVENDER (Lavandula angustifolia): a bushy perennial, English lavender grows from 1 to 3 feet tall, bears small blue-violet flowers on spikes with blue-green needle-like foliage, and the flower oils give a distinctive balsam-like fragrance.


Called “English” lavender because it proliferates in the English climate, this plant’s main requirements are lots of sun and good drainage. It is not fussy about soil, and its presence lures bees, butterflies, and pollinators to the garden.


The name lavender comes from the Latin root lavare, which means “to wash,” because it was used in baths to purify the body and spirit. Today, it’s often used in soaps and shampoos.


In addition, lavender has proven medicinal uses. When the essential oils are inhaled, lavender has calming properties that reduce anxiety and are a gentle sedative for insomnia. In ancient times, lavender flowers were sewn into sachets to aid with sleeplessness.

LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis): can grow 24 to 36 inches tall and makes a nice green clump of medium-textured leaves among the other herbs and flowers in the garden. It has the scent of lemon with a hint of mint. Lemon Balm prefers partial shade and fertile and well-drained soil.


Lemon balm can lose its flavor when cooked, so add it near the end of the cooking process. The fresh lemon fragrance and flavor go nicely with both chicken and fish dishes, fruit and fruit juice drinks, and as an herbal tea. Create a lemon balm herbal tea by cutting a few stems, putting them in a pitcher, pouring boiling water over them, and allowing them to steep for about 15 minutes.

MILKWEED (Asclepias syriaca): is an important food source and host plant for the Monarch butterfly. It is a perennial and reliably cold-hardy native plant that has clusters of tightly-closed lavender buds that open to reveal sweetly-fragrant pink blossoms, and attracts a menagerie of local pollinators to the garden. These long-lasting plants produce spectacular interest at every stage of growth.


Common milkweed grows 36-48" tall and 24-30" wide. The foliage is thick and glossy so it adds texture to help the garden look lusher even in the peak of the summer. Planting this perennial is a wonderful way to bring more excitement to the garden while also helping native pollinators to thrive!

MINT (Mentha piperita): is an herbaceous perennial that grows to an average height of 18 inches depending on the species. The inflorescences are usually false whorls, which are characteristic of mint family plants, as are the bell-shaped, tubular individual flowers. Depending on the species, mint flowers between May and October in white, pink, or purple. Mint flowers have a medium to high nectar value and are particularly important for butterflies. After flowering, the flowers produce seed pods, which open when ripe to reveal four individual seeds. Peppermint stands out from the other mint species because it has a sharper flavor.


According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “mint has been long known as an herbal remedy, easing queasy stomachs, calming stress and anxiety, and promoting restful sleep. Peppermint tea has long been viewed as an excellent way to ease an upset stomach, calm the digestive tract and alleviate indigestion, gas, and cramps.”

OREGANO (Oregano vulgare): used in herbal medicine to treat many ailments, including: skin sores, aching muscles, asthma, cramping, diarrhea, indigestion, colds, fighting bacteria, relieve inflammation, and regulate blood sugar and lipids.


Oregano provides antioxidants that help the body eliminate free radicals, which are toxic substances that result from natural processes and environmental stresses. A buildup of free radicals can trigger oxidative stress, which can lead to cell damage that may result in various diseases, including cancer and diabetes.


The main components of oregano essential oil are carvacrol and thymol. These have antimicrobial properties, and studies show that these oils prevent various strains of Staphylococcus bacteria from developing in meat and dairy products, and help control bacterial growth in foods. Oregano essential oil shows significant antibacterial activity against as many as 11 microbes, making the constituents found in Oregano excellent for fighting diseases that no longer respond to antibiotics.

ROSEMARY (Rosmarinus officinalis): is a fragrant evergreen shrub with needle-like leaves and two-lipped, purplish-blue and white flowers. New growth is soft and flexible but older stems become woody and form trunks with time. Rosemary requires only sunlight, good drainage, and ample air circulation to thrive. A sandy, well-draining soil and 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight daily will have the plants off and running in no time.


Rosemary is used as a spice and flavoring agent in food processing for its desirable flavor, high antioxidant activity, and as an antimicrobial agent. Rosemary plants are rich sources of phenolic compounds with high antimicrobial activity against bacteria. A high percent of the antimicrobial activity in Rosemary is attributed to carnosic acid and carnosol. It is used as a folk remedy for anxiety, depression, insomnia, lethargy, nervousness, fatigue, exhaustion, stress, headaches, and migraines.

SAGE (Salvia officinalis): In herbal folk traditions, sage has historically been used as an herb that increases wisdom, such as giving a person the title of a “wise sage.” In the sixteenth century, John Gerard noted sage’s affinity for the head and the brain, remarking that sage quickened the senses and memory. Modern research has revealed that sage has the ability to enhance cognition. Compounds found in sage act on the muscarinic and nicotinic cholinergic systems that are involved in cognition and memory processes.


Sage inhibits acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, and helps improve memory recall, and improves mood and overall cognition. Studies show that a single dose of sage extract or dried leaf is capable of increasing memory capacity and improving mood. However, sage doesn’t have to be taken internally, as the aroma alone can help to promote mental alertness. Sage has also been shown to inhibit lipid peroxidation, a biomarker of oxidative stress and damage, in the brain, therefore, it protects brain tissue, and acts as an antioxidant that promotes the scavenging of free radicals.


Common garden sage is the most widely used species, and this herb has a surprising number of uses in herbalism. It’s easy to grow in almost any climate, as long as it gets plenty of sun, and it draw bees and other beneficial pollinators to the garden!

SUMMER SAVORY (Satureja hortensis): also known as St. Julian’s Herb, stone basil, and Satyricon, summer savory is a hardy annual herb that is compact, grows 12-18 inches in height and spread, and has bronze-green leaves on green-burgundy stems and whorls of small white flowers tinged with pink in summer.


Summer savory is used in herbal medicine for cough, sore throat, abdominal cramps, indigestion, gas, diarrhea, nausea, and poor appetite. It can also be used by diabetics to treat frequent thirst. The flavor and aroma of summer savory is spicy and peppery with notes of thyme, marjoram, and mint, and it is less potent than winter savory.

THYME (Thymus vulgaris): is a low-growing woody shrub with tiny grey-green leaves that persist throughout winter. There are many types of thyme, including lemon, English, German, & creeping, and each one has subtle flavor variations. The plants grow up to a foot across and six to ten inches tall.


With its antifungal, antispasmodic, and expectorant effects, thyme leaf fights agents that cause bronchitis, helps to subdue coughs, soothes a sore throat, and relaxes bronchial muscles. Thyme leaf relieves cough by relaxing muscles involved in coughing, thins mucus, making it easier to expel, decreases mucus associated with allergies and upper and lower airway infections, and reduces inflammation in the airways.

YARROW (Achillea millefolium): a hardy perennial, yarrow has showy flower heads composed of many tiny, tightly-packed flowers rising above clusters of ferny foliage. The flowers may be yellow, red, pink, purple, or white and they bloom in densely arranged clusters. Yarrow is pest-resistant, drought-resistant, attracts butterflies, and is excellent for cutting and drying.


Yarrow is an aromatic herb that has many healing properties. It has styptic, vulnerary, and antimicrobial properties that contribute to its ability to stop bleeding and heal wounds, and it has been used to treat soldiers wounded on the battlefield for centuries. Yarrow has antispasmodic effects that make it useful in the treatment of IBS, and it can be used to treat colds and flu.


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