Five Herbs to Plant in December
With the holiday season in full swing, it's easy to forget about updating the garden. However, your herb garden can help you spice up your holiday meals and even provide some health benefits. These five herbs are easy to plant, thrive in cool weather, and make delicious additions to holiday recipes.
Cilantro is an excellent winter herb to grow in Florida because it waits to flower until the warmer weather of spring. You should plant this herb somewhere that gets full to partial sun and has excellent soil drainage. Harvesting can begin once it reaches six inches in height and can continue until it finally dies. Although the leaves of cilantro are most highly valued, all of the plant is useful. The roots can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. You can also dry the seeds to make your own spice: coriander. Learn more about cilantro on Gardening Solutions.
Like cilantro, parsley loves the cool weather and doesn't bloom until spring. You can either plant parsley in your garden beds or in containers. Parsley also enjoys some afternoon shade, so it does well in partial sun or on a windowsill. Seeds may take up to two weeks to germinate. If you decide to grow your plants from seed, you should soak them in water overnight to help speed the process. Be sure to keep the soil moist and remove any weeds that may sprout. Parsley root has an even stronger flavor than the leaves and it works well in holiday recipes. Grate the root fresh or cook it as a vegetable. Parsley is also beneficial to your health, containing vitamins A, C, and K as well as several B vitamins, calcium, and iron. Learn more about parsley on Gardening Solutions.
Fennel is a fantastic herb to have on hand because the shoots, leaves, and seeds are all useful in cooking. This cool-season herb needs full sun and moist soil to thrive. Do not plant this herb near dill or cilantro; it will cross-pollinate and reduce seed production. Black swallowtail caterpillars, too, will love your fennel and use it as a host plant. After about three months, your herb will be ready for harvest. The herb works well as an addition to sauces, fish, bread, and salads. A tea is often made of the leaves that people drink for digestive health. Learn more about fennel on Gardening Solutions.
(Photo of fennel flowers by Joseph M. DiTomaso, University of California-Davis, Bugwood.org)
Thyme is another herb that enjoys full sun. It is also extremely drought tolerant and does best in well-drained soil. Like parsley, thyme makes a fantastic addition to your windowsill herb garden or garden beds. If you choose to forgo the traditional methods, you can also grow thyme in a hydroponic unit. If you are interested in beekeeping, thyme is highly attractive to bees and creates a delicious honey. Learn more about thyme on Gardening Solutions.
Chives grow well in the winter months and can be harvested at any time. They prefer plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil. They tend to grow in clumps of multiple plants. You will need to divide them every couple of years to give them enough growing space. Depending on the variety you choose, your chives can add subtle onion or garlic flavor to a dish. Unlike most other herbs, they are not often used dried. Simply chop the fresh leaves and add them to any recipe. Mix this herb into butter or cream cheese to make a flavorful spread.
Tips for Cooking
- When gathering herbs for a recipe, choose the youngest and most tender leaves for best flavor.
- If you want to preserve your herbs, harvest them as soon as they begin flowering and either dry or freeze them. To dry them, leave them in a dark, well-ventilated room until they are completely dry. Store your dried herbs in tightly closed containers. To freeze them, place them on a baking sheet in the freezer. Then transfer to air-tight plastic bags once completely frozen.
- Dried herbs can be used to make herbal vinegars that will add extra flavor to your holiday marinades and dressings.
- Refer to the UF/IFAS publication "Cooking with Fresh Herbs" for best handling practices.