There are plenty of hardy herbs that can withstand the elements during the autumn and winter months. Each of these herbs has its own unique properties: some are medicinal, whilst others have more practical qualities that mean they can be used around the home. Many would consider plants like thyme and bay to be useful purely in cooking. However, all of the hardy herbs discussed in this guide have uses beyond the culinary sphere.
Salvia rosmarinus, often referred to as rosemary, is a hardy perennial herb with a distinctive aroma. Although relatively common in the UK, the plant is native to Asia and the Mediterranean. In colder climates, rosemary blooms in spring and summer to produce purple, pink, blue, or white flowers. However, the herb can be found in constant bloom in hotter climates. Although difficult to grow initially, rosemary plants can live for up to 30 years.
On account of its bug repellent and aromatic qualities, rosemary is particularly good for making:
- Mosquito repellent: boil some rosemary in water and store in squirt bottles for later use.
- Potpourri: heat rosemary and lemon slices in water on low heat, allowing the fragrance to fill your home.
- Tumble dryer sheets: place dried rosemary in a mesh bag to use instead of tumble dryer sheets.
- Rosemary aromatherapy oil: add dried rosemary to olive oil and heat on low heat, then strain and place in a sealed bottle for later use.
Mint plants belong to the Mentha genus. The exact number of mint varieties is not known, but botanists believe that between 13 and 24 species exist. It grows in many different climates and thrives particularly in wet conditions with moist soil. Mint is a fast-growing plant, so it is considered to be invasive in some parts of the world.
Mint’s soothing and aromatic properties mean that it is useful for making:
- Digestion-aiding and breath-freshening mint tea: boil mint leaves in water, strain the leaves out, then sweeten with honey to taste.
- Mint lip balm: layer dry, crumbled mint and sunflower oil in a mason jar (65% oil to 35% mint), then leave to infuse for a month. Mix 2.5 tablespoons of strained mint oil, half a tablespoon of castor oil, one tablespoon of cocoa butter, and one tablespoon of beeswax in a heatproof jar, then melt the mixture in a pan of water on low-medium and stir well. Once it has solidified, it is ready to use as a lip balm.
- Strawberry mint face mask: finely chop six mint leaves and six strawberries, then mix with two tablespoons of honey and one cup of yoghurt to make a soothing face mask.
Relatives of oregano, the herbs of the Thymus genus are commonly known as thyme. Thyme has been put to a variety of uses throughout history: the ancient Egyptians used it for embalming; the ancient Greeks burnt it in temples as a form of incense, and the Romans flavoured liqueurs with it. A perennial plant, thyme grows best in hot climates with well-drained soil.
The antiseptic and antibacterial qualities of thyme make it a useful medicinal herb that can make:
- Cough syrup: add plenty of thyme to boiling water and cover for 20 minutes. Strain the mixture, add half a cup of honey, then store in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to two months.
- Acne treatment: boil a bowl of water, fill it with thyme, then allow the thyme-infused steam to pass over the affected areas (for example, put a tea towel over your head and lean over the bowl to use on your face).
Bay leaves can come from a variety of different plants. Laurus nobilis, or bay laurel, is the common form that can be found in the UK – there are, however, Californian, Indian, Indonesian, West Indian, and Mexican variants. Each of these types of bay leaf has its own distinctive aroma and taste when used in cooking. Native to the Mediterranean, bay laurel is a hardy, aromatic evergreen.
Given the aromatic and astringent properties of bay leaves, they can be used to craft:
- Healing paste for cuts, bruises, and insect bites: dry out bay leaves and grind them into a powder. Mix water and bay leaf powder in a 2:1 ratio to make the paste.
- Incense for aromatherapy: take five bay leaves and dry them out thoroughly in the sun. Place the leaves in a bowl and burn them during aromatherapy massages.
Salvia officinalis – the culinary herb commonly known as sage – is an evergreen that’s native to the Mediterranean. Sage was revered by the Romans, who named it the ‘holy herb’. Its medicinal value was frequently remarked upon during the Middle Ages: it was used to stop bleeding, ward off the plague, and has long been thought to be good for the brain.
Due to the antioxidant and cognitive-enhancing qualities of sage, it can be used to make:
- Cognitive-enhancing sage oil: heat two cups of olive oil and mix with two cups of dried sage leaves, then leave to cool and infuse for three weeks. Strain the mixture before use.
- Antioxidant food additive: dry out sage leaves and crumble them into foods such as meatballs to benefit from the plant’s antioxidant effects (antioxidants help to defend your body from harmful molecules known as free radicals).
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is native to the Mediterranean, yet has become widespread across many parts of Europe. The herb grows best in full sun with well-drained soil. Curly leaf parsley is frequently used as a form of garnish. Another common variety is root parsley, which is eaten in soups and as a snack in some parts of eastern Europe.
Parsley contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, so it can be used to make:
- A garnish that reduces swelling: simply chop parsley and add it to a meal to benefit from its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Antioxidant-rich oil: blend equal parts parsley and olive oil, adding salt and pepper to taste. The oil can be consumed on its own or used as a salad dressing.