Herbs of Winter

January 1, 2018

Indoor herbs needn’t be limited to the usual thyme, oregano, mints, and parsley lined up on the kitchen windowsill. There are some that make attractive, if not exotic, houseplants.

One such herb is borage, also known as “beebread” for the numerous bees that it attracts to the garden. In the home, its fuzzy green foliage and nodding clusters of sky-blue, star shape flowers will attract nothing but compliments. Use its tender young leaves to add a mild cucumber flavor to salads and cold soups, or steam them up as you would spinach. The colorful flowers can be used to decorate cakes or frozen in ice cubes for festive drinks. Borage is easily started from seed, or small volunteers can be potted up from the garden.

The hollow, spiky leaves of chives are wonderful for adding a sweet, oniony flavor to soups and sauces. Diced up, they give zip to omelets, dips, and salads. You can also use the spicy, lavender-color blooms as a cut flower or garnish. To prepare chives for wintering indoors, first divide a clump in late summer or early fall and plant in a pot. Chives need to go through a dormant period, so leave the pot outside to experience temperatures near freezing for a month or two. Then, trim back the withered foliage and bring the plant inside to a sunny location. The bulbs will think that it’s spring and send up tender new shoots. Bring your chives back to the garden in the spring to repeat the cycle.

Bay makes a handsome potted patio plant with a Mediterranean flare that must be brought inside in the winter in all but the warmest climates. It was once believed that a bay tree protected anyone near it from devils, witches, thunder, and lightning. Nowadays, it protects its owner from the high cost of bay leaves at the supermarket. Bay trees can reach 40 feet tall in their native habitat but seldom grow too much more than three feet when confined to a pot. The dark-green, leathery leaves are highly aromatic. Use them fresh or dry to spice up meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, soups, and sauces. But go light with this powerful herb—too much can cause a bitter flavor.

Any of these unique houseplants are sure to spice up a bland winter day and always make good scents.

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I've learned so much reading your columns! I love the small details in these written treasures, that make me want to research more for creating a better garden.