5 Herbs That Thrive in Winter

A BIG disclaimer to start with: I live in coastal BC, Zone 7b to 8b (depending on your micro-climate). So we have a big advantage when it comes to herbs–most common herbs will survive, even thrive through our rainy but seldom frosty winters (today notwithstanding).

1. Basil

I’ll start with basil, because it’s a favourite, and because it WON’T survive outside, so needs to be brought inside and placed in a full sun window. I’ve seen recommendations to dig up your outdoor basil plant and bring it in as a houseplant, but here’s what happened when I did that:

Not happy basil dug up from the Fall garden
Not happy basil dug up from the Fall garden

This is not how you’d like your basil to look. So if you plan to salvage it from the garden I suggest you dig it up when it still looks big and bushy. Preferably I suggest buying a new one and keeping it inside.

2. Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis is a Mediterranean herb that loves full hot dry sun, but will usually tolerate our cold wet cloudy winters if placed in a spot that won’t get too cold or too windy. Your best bet is to plant it on the sunny (south) side of the house/balcony, close to the wall. The warm building will provide some protection as well as reflecting the sun toward the plant. We’ve certainly had rosemary-killing frosts here in Metro Van, but they only happen every 5-10 years. And the older your rosemary is, the better it will tolerate the cold.

Rosemary--Rosmarinus officinalis
Rosemary–Rosmarinus officinalis

3 , 4 and 5. Oregano, Thyme, Sage

Origanum vulgare, Thymus vulgaris, (I guess you have to know Latin to understand why one is a female herb and the other a male herb?–Latin scholars, please enlighten me here…), and Salvia officinalis, are also Mediterranean herbs that like the same conditions as Rosemary, but are much more cold-tolerant. Whether potted or ground-planted, very wintery and less-wintery winters, my oregano sage and thyme have weathered them all. Oregano and thyme are what some call “thugs”–they self seed like crazy and are hard to kill. But they’re also easy to pull up if they’re in the wrong place, and don’t really crowd out their neighbours. Sage grows like a small shrub similar to rosemary or lavender.

6. Parsley

Petroselinum crispum is a biennial, which means it grows leaves its first year, and a flower stalk in its second year. After flowering and setting seed, the parent plant dies, but the following year the seeds that fell the previous year will germinate and lo!, another new parsley plant! Does very well in coastal BC. Grow your parsley room where it will have room to sprout new babies, and you’ll have a continuous supply of parsley, even through the winter.

Don’t confuse Parsley with Cilantro, aka Chinese Parsley, which is an annual. It needs to be re-grown every year from seed, but self seeds very well. If you allow the flower heads to set seed and mature before you cut it down (or don’t–see my post about Fall clean-up), new cilantro will start to grow in mid spring.
And if you collect seeds instead of just letting them fall, you can succession-sow them and have fresh garden cilantro right up until the hot days of summer start. Then start to sow them again and when it gets a little cooler, they’ll germinate and give you more harvests.

5 Herbs — Happy Plants in Winter

There you have 5 winter-happy herbs and 1 winter-sad herb. Next year start early and you’ll discover the fun of harvesting your own herbs for cooking, teas, candies, whatever.

Leave questions and comments. Oh, and all you Latin scholars, I really want to hear from you! Don’t forget to click on the Follow button.

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