I love to grow culinary herbs, and I'm quite good at keeping a nice stand of mint, basil, rosemary and oregano in my landscape.
But in an on-air discussion several years ago with my go-to herb experts Beverly Welch from the Arbor Gate and Ann Wheeler from Log House Herbs, I noted my basil not looking very good because of a recent cold spate and asked, “What herbs can be grown successfully in Texas during the winter?”
I was actually assuming there was little beyond basil that could handle our winters, but that's when they dropped the bomb. "Anything but basil."
My heart sank. But then it rose again with the realization I could get back to homegrown cilantro! A similar rule can be applied for Houston's hot summer months, April to October ... "anything but thyme and cilantro."
So, while I can never get enough basil, Ann and Beverly opened my eyes to the fact that we can have fun with some very interesting culinary herbs over the next several months. Then, when winter is over, I'll see how much of my basil comes back.
I already knew that cilantro had a hard time June through October, our hottest months. But now is the time to get cilantro going gangbusters. And our experts came up with a list of additional herbs you can get started now. For the record, there are many great medicinal benefits provided by these herbs, but for this piece I'm keeping things strictly focused on culinary uses.
- French sorrel – This is my replacement for lemon basil. Mine croaked with the last freeze. French sorrel has tart, lemony leaves to flavor sauces and salads. Sorrel leaves partner well with avocado in a salad or on a sandwich. Quinoa salad loves the tangy addition of sorrel, as do seafood and tomato dishes. Don't cook sorrel in aluminum pans, though — the oxalic acid reacts and gives it a metallic taste.
- Lovage - It resembles celery leaves and is recommended for breads and butter, chicken soup, and teas — even in cookies, according to Ann and Bev.
- Cilantro - C'mon ... if you love making homemade salsas, Thai or Vietnamese foods, you have to have some cilantro ready at all times.
- Bronze fennel - Use it just like regular fennel in sausages and other meat dishes. It can also be used in salads and cucumber- and onion-based dishes.
- Salad burnet - These leaves add a cool, cucumber flavor. They can be tossed into salads or used on sandwiches. They also make a nice addition to cold drinks like lemonade and wine spritzers. Use it to flavor dips and vinegars, too. Or toss leaves into soups. And Ann and Bev claim they are great in eggs and other hot dishes at the last minute.
- Rosemary - Of course you can use this with all kinds of meats, sauces and soups, but don't forget its great benefits in little potpourri sachets.
- Creeping winter savory - Although it tastes and looks nothing like parsley or chervil, you can add this savory herb in their place if need be. But it is best known in for use in fish dishes, especially trout, as well as in all kinds of soups and stews. It's also the perfect herb for cooked cabbage or grape-leaf dishes, such as those from Greece and other European countries.
- All parsleys - Mostly known as a garnish, it's a shame more people don't cook with parsley because of its vitamin and mineral content. I say find ways to incorporate it in salads, and cook with it in the oven on meat dishes.
- Chervil - While you may have heard Bev and Ann laud it as a great ground cover in the winter landscape, in the kitchen the subtle flavor of chervil is often used fresh-chopped and sprinkled on salads, white fish, potatoes, mild cheeses and egg dishes.