The Winter Healing Garden

Winter is all about slowing down and going inward.  With the shorter daylight hours, the fresh frosty and misty mornings, the trees have lost their leaves and the garden is in a dormant phase of its cycle. The still, stark landscape reminds us to pause, reflect and rest.

Winter is known as the ‘hungry gap’, where the autumn harvest is finished and the garden has gone into dormancy. There is minimal growth and production, before the beginnings of spring growth where the cycle of abundance begins again.

We are now turning to the freezer and the bottled preserves from our summer and autumn harvests. Even though the winter garden has slowed down, there is still much to be eaten from our garden, including the abundance of fresh leafy greens, root vegetables and many herbs to bring variety and healing properties and balance to the cooking.

This year we have four varieties of Kales: Calvo Nero, Russian, Green Curly and Red Ruby Kale, all offering quite different tastes for different dishes. The Ruby Red Kale is super high in antioxidants; you can actually see and taste the goodness.

The root vegetables deep in the ground, protected from the frosts also continue to provide for us with carrots, parsnips, beetroots and daikon radish. This year we have an abundance of little red radishes that went to seed in the pathways, making great fresh radish pickles.

bunch of radish

There is always a fresh supply of herbs. In winter we use a lot of parsley, garlic chives, chervil, marjoram/oregano, thyme, and rosemary which is a my feature herb for this winter.

Coriander is one of our most used herbs and is a wonderful herb in Ayurvedic cooking both in its fresh leaves and dried seeds.  Coriander is now a prolific weed in our garden, welcomed by randomly letting it go to seed every season, so it continually pops up everywhere ensuring an ongoing supply of fresh coriander.

Whilst the garden is dormant, there is still a lot happening in preparation for spring.

  • garlic and onions are planted, whilst growing slowly will be ready for harvest in spring and summer.
  • peas and broad beans are growing ever so slowly through the winter and will provide an abundance of broad beans and peas in late winter and spring. These legumes also have the added benefit of feeding the soil by adding nitrogen, through the nodules in their roots.
  • green manure crops are ‘fumigating’ the soils from the Solinacea (tomato and potato family) in preparation for spring planting of these summer crops.

Free Food Foraging in and around Taradale

We have also turned to the abundance that is offered more broadly through foraging in our local region, including Wild Mushrooms and Rose hips.

Here in Central Victoria the two easiest edible mushrooms to find, identify and eat, are pine mushrooms Saffron Milk Cap (Lactarius deliciosus) and Slippery Jack (Boletus portentosus).

We are cooking up an abundance of mushrooms on toast, risotto and soup. In this winters Healing Recipes I share with you a Cream Wild Mushroom Soup that is a perfect recipe for the Saffron Milk Caps.

We have dried the surplus Slippery Jacks to be used in our cooking throughout the  year. Slippery Jacks are from the same family as Porcini mushrooms so make a great addition to to Italian soups, rice and pasta dishes.

This year I have harvested an abundant crop of Rosehips from a friend’s property, as well as from the roses running wild in and around Taradale. Rosehips are best harvested after the first frost, then dried, and stored. They are delicious as a refreshing tea, and are a valuable source of vitamin C. This year has been a wonderful season for these wild ‘hips with the unusually high spring, summer and autumn rains.

drying rosehips.jpg

In winter, one of our most used herbs would have to be rosemary which has many healing and magical qualities and is my feature herb for this winter.

Rosemary: the Healing Herb of Remembrance 

Rosemainus officinalis is in the Lamiaceae mint family and has long been valued in the home for its antiseptic and antibacterial properties and as a useful digestive aid. It is rich in antioxidants making it a rejuvenating brain tonic. It is probably best known as a culinary herb to complement meats and stews. It also can be a wonderful herb to use topically as an oil on the body or in the hair and as well as around the home.

Growing Rosemary

Rosemary is a bushy (1-2 metre high) evergreen semi-prostrate erect shrub with needle-shaped aromatic leaves. There are also low prostrate cultivars now available that are ideal for rockeries and walls.

Rosemary has pale blue (or less commonly pink or white) flowers in the winter through to spring. It is a valuable plant for bees at this time of year, when other nectar is scarce.

rosemary flower with bee.jpg

Native to the Mediterranean, rosemary is a hardy drought tolerant plant, that likes dry hot climates, and fairly dry, rocky to sandy soil in full sun.

Rosemary is very easy to grow and is a common plant now in gardens all over the world. It can be propagated by seed, cuttings or layering. Slow growing at first, rosemary can live to a great age, over 30 years or more.

A rosemary shrub makes a handsome and hardy landscape plants especially for the warm dry climates here in Central Victoria. Use it in rock gardens, in containers on porches and decks. Plant the trailing forms where you can cascade over the edge of a stone-wall, hanging basket, window box or pot.

Rosemary is a good companion in the garden. It attracts predatory insects and repels sap-sucking pests. It is useful for repelling carrot fly. Tall bushes can be grown around the garden and prostrate rosemary on paths and between fruit trees. Rosemary and Sage enjoy similar growing conditions and it is said that they stimulating effect upon each other. Rosemary supports carrots, cabbage, cauliflowers and beans. Potatoes do not like to be grown near rosemary.

Harvest fresh sprigs as needed throughout the growing season. To dry rosemary, hang in small bundles, upside down in a warm, dark location for 1-2 weeks. Strip the needles from the stems, then store them in an airtight container.

Myths and meaning

Rosemary is often considered a ‘head’ herb. Rosemary has long been associated with memory. Its qualities have the capacity to strengthen memory. You will often see it grown at war memorial as a symbol of remembrance.

Rosemary and Taradale memorial

Taradale War Memorial

Students in ancient Greece twinned rosemary around their heads to stimulate memory and recall. Herbalists today recommend rosemary tea to strengthen the memory. Traditionally at funerals, mourners tossed fresh sprigs of rosemary into the grave as a sign that the departed would not be forgotten.

Rosemary is a symbol of love and fidelity, so it can be worn by the bride and groom.

Folklore says that rosemary placed beneath the pillow can help drive away nightmares. Rosemary, when burned, emits powerful cleansing and purifying vibrations. It is one of the oldest incenses. If you wish to receive knowledge, or the answer to a question, burn rosemary on charcoal and smell its smoke.

Healing qualities

Rosemary leaves have antispasmodic, carminative (gas relieving) antioxidant and anti-inflamatory properties making it a valuable herb for digestive, circulatory, respiratory, immune, urinary and reproductive systems; and the mental and emotional body (McIntyre, 2010).

Digestion: The apothecaries of the 16 and 17 Centuries prescribed rosemary to treat poor digestion and appetite, for the relief of intestinal gas and as a general tonic and digestive aid.

The tannins in rosemary can protect the gut lining from irritation and inflammation, reducing diarrhoea. It can stimulate appetite, digestion and absorption, and relieve flatulence and distension. It can enhance elimination. The bitters stimulate bile flow from the liver and gall bladder, aiding digestion of fats and the clearing of toxins.

Mental and emotional body: rosemary oil contains natural camphor, which benefits the nervous system. It is an excellent brain tonic, improving concentration and memory. It can also calm anxiety, lift depression and relieve exhaustion and insomnia.

Joint, muscle and nerve pain: The oil of Rosemary can also be used externally as a topical application for muscle and nerve pain, such as sciatica.

In Ayurveda healing, Rosemary is a stimulating pungent. It promotes digestion, increases appetite, promotes circulation, acts as an expectorant (removes phlegm) and is vermicidal (kills parasites) (Frawley and Lad, 2001). It is heating and decreases kapha and vata, and increases pitta.

Uses of Rosemary

Rosemary is a wonderful culinary herb which is invaluable for flavouring food and as an aid to digestion, particularly for starchy or rich foods. Because of its strong flavour and aroma, it should be used sparingly in dishes so as not to overpower the other flavours. Cut the leaves finely, otherwise sharply pointed, woody leaves can be difficult to swallow.

Rosemary’s flavour is pungent, somewhat piney and mint-like. Cooking with Rosemary can be a wonderful way to include its healing qualities in your daily life, particularly in your digestion. There are so many creative ways to add rosemary into your cooking.

The fresh and dried leaves complement many dishes, soups, pasta and stews, breads marinades, sauces and dressings. Rosemary is a wonderful complement to meats, especially roast lamb.

Rosemary enhances eggs, cheeses and many vegetables including tomatoes, spinach, peas, mushrooms, squash and lentils. It combines well with other herbs including chives, thyme, parsley, chervil and bay.  Rosemary is a wonderful addition to the Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup made with freely foraged Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms.

Fresh sprigs of rosemary and its flowers can be steeped in vinegar, wine or olive oil to infuse a subtle flavour.

Rosemary Infused Olive Oil for cooking

Coarsely chop two handfuls of fresh or dried rosemary sprigs and leaves and soak them in 500 mls of olive oil in a well sealed jar for 1-2 weeks. Strain and store the oil in a cool dry place. Since rosemary is a natural antioxidant, it should keep the oil from turning rancid.

I have found this oil to be a multi purpose oil in the kitchen and bathroom (see below). Use it in cooking as the cooking oil for oven roasted potatoes or wild pine mushrooms on toast!

For a creative touch, you can use the woody branches of the plant as Rosemary Skewers for grilling meats and vegetable kebabs. Or make a small Brush for Basting meats out of small posies of rosemary sprigs and stems.


Multiple uses for Posies of Rosemary including basting of meats, mice deterrants and insense.

Skin and hair care

Rosemary’s pleasant fragrance and antioxidant properties make it a beneficial addition to cosmetics, skin creams, soaps and lotions. It is particularly good for the hair and the skin and it is easy to make hair and skin care products in the home.

Rosemary Infused Hair Tonic

A strong infusion of Rosemary is an excellent herbal rinse for hair. It is a wonderful conditioner rinse, that will brighten the hair, bringing a natural shine. It can help reduce dandruff and folklore says it can thicken and re-grow hair. Use the following proportions. I usually make approx. 4 cups, which gives me 2 rinses.

  • 1 handful of rosemary leaves, crushed
  • 1 cup of boiling water

In a stainless steel pot bring the water to the boil. Once boiling, take off the heat, and add a large handful of rosemary leaves cut or bruised, cover with a lid and leave to cool. Once cool, decant into a container to take to your shower to use as your final rinse of your hair.

Rosemary Infused Oil for the Body

Rosemary infused oil (see Olive Oil recipe above, or use any other oil of your choice, e.g. coconut, sesame oil) makes a beautiful massage oil.  I have used this for my Abyanga self oil massage this winter, where I could certainly feel the healing and warming properties of this amazing herb.

The oil can be massaged into sore muscles to dissipate stiffness and pain.  Rosemary infused oil massaged on the stomach can help soothe stomach ache and offer pain relief from indigestion or menstrual cramp. Rosemary infused oil can also be used as an intensive treatment for bad dandruff. Massage the oil into the scalp, leave for at least an hour and wash out.

Other home recipes include:

Air freshener

Create an easy natural air-freshener by putting a small handful of rosemary leaf, 1 sliced lemon or orange, into a pot and simmer on low all day (watch the water level – you may need to add more water). It smells amazing and freshens the house for days. If you have a wood heater that is burning through the winter, place on the top to release a gentle fresh aroma to the room.

Pest deterrents

Rosemary can be an easy way to deters small pests like mice, flies and moths.

For mice, tuck small sprigs of dried Rosemary into the backs of cabinets to ward of mice during the winter. We did this, and noticed a reduction in numbers of mice coming into the house. It feels like a nicer way to keep mice at bay, encouraging them to stay outside, rather than trapping or poisoning them.

Other ways to use Rosemary for pests:

  • Hang up bunches of rosemary in areas where flies are gathering.
  • Use dried rosemary leaves in sachets in cupboards to deter moths.

Rosemary drinks and tonics

Rosemary tea can alleviate headaches and calm taut nerves and is also a lovely tea to have when studying or concentrating. Steep approx. 1 tbsp of fresh or 1 tsp of dried rosemary in a cup of hot water. Sip and enjoy!

To lift the spirits, a daily nip of Rosemary Tonic is perfect in the winter. It is very easy to make. In a bottle of jar add the following:

  • A handful of fresh rosemary, crushed
  • 1 Cinnamon Quill
  • 3 Cloves
  • 2cm fresh ginger
  • 1/2 bottle of red wine

Leave to stand in a warm place for 10 days. Straining liquid from herbs, bottle and seal.

making rosemary tonic

Rosemary’s diverse array of healing properties make it a must in any garden. It is easy to grow, easy to harvest and has so many simple uses that bring the healing qualities of this herb into your home throughout the year.


Balick, MJ (2014) 21st Century Herbal. Rodale.

Cunningham, Scott (1997)Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Llewellyn, Minnesota.

Frawley, D and Lad, V (2001) (2nd edition) The Yoga of Herbs: an ayurvedic guide to herbal medicine. Lotus Press.

Heinerman,John (1988) Heinerman’s Encyclopedia of Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs, Parker Publishing company, New York.

McIntyre, A (2010) The Complete Herbal Tutor. Gaia.

Readers Digest (1994) Magic and Medicine of Plants. Readers Digest.

Shipard, I (2009) How can I use Herbs in my daily life? 4th Edition. David Stewart, Nambour, Qld.

The health information presented on this site is provided for educational purposes only. It is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis provided by your medical or other health professional. Do not use this information to diagnose, treat or cure any illness or health condition. If you have, or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your physician or health care provider. 

© 2017 Jane Mallick. All rights reserved.





Leave a Reply