Plants are entering their dormant state now. We can see trees dropping their leaves and herbaceous plants starting to die back, but all plants, even if looking lush and green, are starting to slow right down. So, although it’s ok to still harvest from evergreens like rosemary, thyme and sage, do it in moderation, as they won’t be actively growing over the next few months.
Roots, however, are at their peak! As plants start to die back, they shift all their energy to the roots, which can be harvested now for optimal goodness. Dandelion, burdock, horseradish, valerian, marshmallow and elecampane are some examples of roots used widely in herbalism.
Now is also the time of mushrooms! Although technically not herbs, mushrooms are just as useful and amazing both for culinary and medicinal purposes. If you don’t have much experience with these wonderful gifts of nature, guided mushroom walks and forays are a great walk to start learning about the fascinating world of fungi.
A lot of those roots we mentioned above are perfect ingredients for herbal preparations that help us stay healthy throughout winter, so make and stock up on herbal tonics and remedies such as Fire Cider and Marshmallow syrup.
IN THE GARDEN
The ‘growing season’ might be over now, but there’s still a lot that can be done in a garden:
Cut back perennials that have died down, but leave those with upright stems. Dried seed heads look beautiful in winter, and hollow stems provide valuable habitat for insects.
If you haven’t got a compost pile going yet, now’s a good time to set one up using the green waste generated by plants dying back and being pruned back.
It’s also the perfect time to start a leaf mould pile. Gather all those fallen autumn leaves in a breathable bag or a chicken-wire frame and let them be. In time they’ll rot down to a crumbly material which works great as a mulch and soil texture improver.
If growing in pots and containers, raise them off the ground (onto pot feet, crates or even a pallet) to avoid water logging over the next few (wet) months.
Although now is not really the right time of the year to start herbs from seed, if you have a sunny windowsill, you can still grow leafy culinary herbs such as basil, dill, chives and parsley indoors. They'll grow slower than usual, so try to be patient and enjoy their company as they grow.
Something really fun to try in the winter months is growing herbs as microgreens. Simply sow a small tray or container quite densely and harvest the whole plant while it's still pretty young. Microgreens are packed with nutrients and have the intense, concentrated taste of the original herb that is somehow quite delicate at the same time. A real treat!
As the cold weather settles, the seasonal wheel has turned and there’s no doubt we’re moving from a balmy autumn into a cooler winter. The seasonal shift this time of year can be difficult for folks as the days are noticeably shorter and darker and 4:30 feels like 9pm! Low moods, feeling fatigued, irritable and uninspired are common in this transition. It can be powerful to remember that all life cycles through transitions and reflecting on the cyclical nature of things can help us keep half an eye on the bigger picture. Here are some questions to consider:
What cycles have you observed in nature over the past year? Perhaps you’ve noticed the leaves grow from buds into lush greenery to complete their cycle, yellowing and falling off? Have there been any particular herbs you’ve seen or grown from seed, watched flourish and harvested before they’ve gone back to seed?
What cycles have been completed in your life, work or relationships? Perhaps there’s been something you’ve been working on which you can now look back on and see has been resolved, understood or put down? Only for something new to come up?
Have you noticed any circles around you? Look out for circles in nature or cyclical movements in the turn of a bicycle wheel or stirring water in a pan.
During this transition we can trust that the wheel will turn once again and we are invited to enjoy what’s here now because it too will change. Thankfully ‘the one thing that is constant is change.’
Words Camila B & Amy B