There are many ways to enjoy your edible garden in winter. Along with what’s still growing outdoors and indoors, such as my microgreens, I have cured squash, onions and garlic in my cold room; tomatoes, tomatillos, blanched zucchini, pesto and veggie soup in the freezer; and air-dried herbs hanging on hooks. And filling several decorative glass bottles are tasty, healthy, organic edible seeds from three prolific plants — bronze fennel, cilantro and lovage.
While each year’s food garden has both its dynamic and dodgy moments, there is invariably a particular high spot July through September when bronze fennel (the herb Foeniculum vulgare‘Purpureum’) blazes upward, a mass of ferny garden architecture, culminating in mustard-yellow crowns of blossoms followed by star-like webs of green and yellow seeds. This self-seeding perennial has found its way into dusty, deer-trodden corners of my yard where previously nothing dared to grow, surviving periods of sustained drought despite never being watered.
Planting and growing bronze fennel
Sow seeds or tuck in seedlings in spring after frost has passed. Give it space — this statuesque beauty will grow to seven feet (2 m) tall and looks wonderful wherever you want a focal point in your garden. You can also allow a mature plant to self-seed in a barren area of the garden — just don’t let it get carried away. Bronze fennel thrives in sun, but can tolerate partial shade. It also needs good drainage and is drought tolerant due to its long taproot. This herb returns every spring after dying back for the winter. Cut it down in the fall to harvest the seeds and foliage—but leave a few of the hollow stems partially intact for beneficial insects to hibernate in.
How to eat bronze fennel
Magnesium-rich, digestion-enhancing fennel has been used for centuries to improve human well-being. Bronze fennel’s foliage, flowers and seeds are all useful in the kitchen. In late fall, when the seeds have mostly turned brown, snip the fennel stems and place them upside down in paper shopping bags. Come winter when the seeds are dry, gently thresh the seeds into a bowl and bottle them for culinary use. Foliage can be air-dried or chopped finely and frozen in ice cubes.
The cilantro/coriander plant (Coriandrum sativum) provides us with two harvests — the greens we call cilantro and savoury seeds we call coriander. A powerful natural body cleanser that binds to toxic metals within our systems and helps to flush them out, this annual herb is worthy of superstar billing. Plus, its spicy white flowers attract beneficial insects to our gardens and support bees.
Planting and growing cilantro
Cilantro does best summer through fall, so tuck in seeds July through early September. It doesn’t respond well to being transplanted, so direct-sow into a pot or (ideally) your garden soil. Snip away at your plants for tasty additions to salads and stir fries, but leave some plants to flower and set seed. Gather the mature brown seed as you see it; seed you don’t harvest will likely sprout prolifically. Cilantro can tolerate some partial shade, but basically needs a bright spot and rich, moist but well-drained soil.
How to eat coriander and cilantro
When collecting seeds, snip the seed heads into a paper bag. When they dry, gently thresh them into a bowl. Bottled and kept in a dry and cool place, coriander seed lasts for years. They’re best freshly ground, either with a mortar and pestle or in a clean coffee grinder. In addition to the little round seeds (coriander), cilantro’s leaves, flowers and roots are all delicious. Puree and freeze the plant as pesto if you can’t eat it fast enough while fresh.
Giant lovage (Levisticum officinale) deserves a place in every garden. Edible from root to leaves to its umbels of seeds, this seven-foot (2-m) perennial herb tastes like celery and is a fabulous befriender of beneficial insects that flock to its giant cartwheels of greenish-yellow flowers.
Planting and Growing Lovage
Sow seeds or tuck in a couple seedlings in the springtime after frost has passed.
Lovage returns every spring after dying back for the winter. Cut it down in the fall to harvest the seeds and leaves, but let some of the hollow stems remain intact to provide hibernation spots for beneficial insects. Lovage is deer resistant and thrives in partial shade. It needs rich, well-drained soil and is drought tolerant due to its long taproot, although it will droop if growing conditions become too dry. It grows easily from seed and self-seeds prolifically.
How to Eat Lovage
Like fennel, lovage is an excellent booster of digestion. The seeds and leaves bring the taste of celery to the kitchen—use sparingly because it is strongly aromatic. In late fall, when the seeds have mostly turned brown, snip them into a paper bag. However, allow a few of the seed-laden stems to remain standing in the garden through winter for feathered friends. When the seeds are dry, gently thresh them into a bowl and bottle for culinary use. Foliage can be air-dried or chopped finely and frozen in ice cubes.