Winter Holiday Herbs

Monthly Feature DECEMBER 2014

Holdiay Collage

The holiday season is upon us!

 

Shopping, decorating, getting those handmade gifts and cards ready, cleaning for company, cooking and baking cause a flurry of activity. If you have young children, their excitement can be contagious, making the upcoming holiday even more fun for the whole family.

The stories of the holidays make great telling or reading, too. Some families read ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’ every Christmas Eve, other families tell the story of Hanukkah each year, while still other families cherish the meaning of Kwanzaaor other winter holiday celebrations.

These celebrations are what help us connect to our history, our families and cultures.

Winter Scene

Spending time with your herbs is a perfect way to slow down, catch your breath and become involved in age old traditions. Whether you’re cutting herbs for drying and making into bundles to decorate your packages or to give as culinary gifts or you’re making herb tea and cookies for a small gathering, just having the herbs around you, smelling them and handling them can help you relax, remember your summer garden and think about next year’s growing season.

Holiday Candle
I like to incorporate herbs in all I do for the holidays. I add herbs to sugar cookie and shortbread recipes, give gifts of herb vinegar, serve herb butter with holiday meals and of course use herbs in stuffings, soups and other main dishes. Decorating with herbs adds fragrance and history to your winter holiday. Herbs are a connection to our past. They have nothing to do with crowded malls, shopping, over used credit cards and canned holiday tunes coming out of loudspeakers.

Continue reading “Winter Holiday Herbs”

Books!

Monthly Feature NOVEMBER 2014

Book

As many of you know, if you’ve been following The Herb Cottage for a while, I like books!

I especially like books on plants and gardening. And, it will come as no surprise to you, that I especially like books on herbs. I keep finding myself adding to my book collection, even though the volumes I have would likely comprise the foundation of a good herb library. Each person who sets out to write a book on herbs brings something different to the project than anyone else. At least, that’s my excuse for having so many good books on herbs!

As I have done in past years, I’ve decided to review some herb books that you might find interesting for gifts or for yourself. Some of these are new titles, some are new to me, but published earlier, and some are my favorites for the study of herbs. So, settle back and enjoy the journey through some books on herbs. A cup of herb tea would be just the thing to accompany you.

The Lavender Garden

The Lavender Garden by Robert Kourik, Photographs by Deborah Jones, published 1998

This book has been reviewed many times since its pubication. It is a lovely and useful book on growing lavender, one of the most popular herbs, if my sales are any indication. It covers the main species and many of the cultivars available. The information on growing deals with soil, light, climate and what types do best in what growing conditions. There is a section that will introduce you to the many varieties of lavender- all lavenders are not created equal, you might say- and the pictures are beautiful and helpful. Harvesting and pruning of the plants is also included.

If you are not interested in growing lavender, only in using it for crafts or cooking, you will still find this book helpful. There is considerable information on using lavender in crafts, toiletries and cooking. Mr. Kourik even talks about using the leaves of the lavender plant for flavor, not just the flowers or buds.

You can’t go wrong with this book for a lavender lover! It captures the essence of lavender and is a useful book to have on the shelf. The photographs are divine!

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Dental Herbalism

Dental Herbalism, Natural Therapies for the Mouth by Leslie M. Alexander, PhD, RH(AHG) and Linda A. Straub-Bruce, BS Ed, RDH, published 2014

I saw this book at our local library and thought I would scan it, reading bits here and there to add it to this newsletter. Much to my surprise, I’m quite fascinated by it. Dental Herbalism has an introductory section on the physical characteristics of the mouth including teeth, gums, bone, etc. Then, the book opens up into why our oral health is so important. How the mouth is key to our total good health.

As the book continues, various strategies concerning the health of the mouth, teeth, etc. are discussed with the focus being on using herbs to maintain good oral health. There’s a mini herbal encyclopedia with herbs listed that are beneficial to the care of the mouth. Alternative methods for oral care are discussed, giving the reader choices other than the commercial products available.

All in all, this is a valuable approach to wholistic health with the care of the mouth as the focus. A good reference for anyone interested in a healthier body aided by the use of herbs. Even with so much technical information, the book is easy to read and comprehend. It’s written in a very friendly style.

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Southern Herb Growing

Southern Herb Growing by Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay, published 1997

If you live and want to grow herbs in South Texas or elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, this book is a must-have. Written in 1997 and updated a couple of times since then, it was the first book that really addressed growing herbs in Texas, which many people said “couldn’t be done”. The book is a wealth of growing information in the Southern climate, when to plant which herb, which ones are easy and which ones are more difficult to get to thrive. It’s useful for anyone along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida.

There is a Recipe Section with absolutely mouth-watering photographs accompanying each recipe, a section on planning your herb garden, preserving and crafting which makes the book really complete.

Even with all the books in my library, this is still my go-to book for growing herbs here in Texas.

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Continue reading “Books!”

Chamomile

Monthly Feature SEPTEMBER 2014

Chamomile Patch

Chamomile is a fragrant, flowering herb, generally used as a relaxing tea. 

But, did you know there are beneficial uses in the garden and for your plants? 

There are actually two types of Chamomile, German and Roman. 

German ChamomileMatricaria recutita, an annual type, is the most common variety used for tea and as seed or transplants for the garden. This is the variety commonly found in seed packs and here in The Herb Cottage seed collection.

Roman ChamomileAnthemis nobilisRoman Chamomileis a perennial type and grows differently than the German variety, closer to the ground. The flowers are more difficult to pick and the taste is stronger. It’s used as a fragrant, flowering groundcover as well as a medicinal herb. It is quite cold tolerant, but not terribly heat tolerant.
Picture courtesy of Nicky’s Garden in the UK.

 

In the Garden

Here in South Central Texas, German chamomile is considered a cool season annual.

It grows from fall through mid-spring, flowering ending when the extreme heat arrives. Chamomile PatchUntil then, I can harvest chamomile continuously. The plant will keep producing flowers as long as I keep harvesting them.

Pic courtesy of Osbourne Company Seed Trials

Another aspect of chamomile I especially like is that, for me, it reseeds.

It’s never invasive, but starts to pop up here and there as the weather cools down in the early fall and we start to receive some rain. As I love the flowers for tea and other uses, I’m happy to see it anywhere it decides to grow. It’s such a cheery plant. And, the aroma of the whole plant when brushed up against is of apples and springtime. Very fresh and invigorating.

Continue reading “Chamomile”

I Like Tea!

Monthly Feature AUGUST 2014

I like tea! I like iced tea and I like hot tea. I like black tea. I like green tea. I like mint tea, hibiscus tea, tea with lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon basil, lemon thyme, fennel, lavender thyme, olive leaf, holy basil, licorice root, chamomile, rose petals… you get the idea. 

Properly, only an infusion of leaves from the Camelia sinensis plant is to be called “tea”. That is the plant black tea, green tea and white tea is made from. This includes all the variations of black tea such as Oolong, Darjeeling, English Breakfast and Earl Grey, any green tea variety and the delicate white tea. All other drinks made with herbs and spices infused in water are officially called “tisanes”.

Botanical Print of Camellia sinensis
Botanical drawing from 1896 in the Wikipedia article on Camelia sinensis.

For the sake of ease and modernity, I call all infused drinks “tea”. OK- that’s settled. 

As any experienced herbalist or novice herb grower knows, making herb tea is a simple way to use herbs, to enjoy the flavor and aroma of a particular herb or blend of herbs and to extract the health benefits of an herb.

This is a terrific time of year to collect herbs for tea. Whether you live in the northeastern U.S. and are looking at a cold, snowy winter where your outdoor herbs are no longer available, you live where your herbs still look great and are full and lush looking, or you live in Texas where we’re experiencing great heat and drought right now, this is a good time to harvest and dry your herbs for winter use.

Tulsi, Holy Basil Plant

Holy Basil, aka Tulsi, growing at The Herb Cottage. A wonderful, healthful tea herb!

Continue reading “I Like Tea!”

Botanical Names

Monthly Feature JULY 2014

BOTANICAL NAMES

Why they’re important to learn

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It might seem like too much work, unneccesary and even downright pretentious to call your plants by their botanical name.

Chamomile

Chamomile, Matricaria recutita

But, think about it. Botanical names are very specific. Each name refers to only one plant. Especially when discussing herbs for medicinal or therapeutic use, knowing the botanical name is vital. It is a matter of safety. 

Nicknames for plants are fun, descriptive and for many people easy to remember. They can evoke childhood memories, an admired plant in a friend’s garden or conjure up the picture of the plant in your mind. But, they can cause confusion.

Gomphrena Cornflower

Both the flowers above are known as Bachelor’s Buttons…. confusing, isn’t it?

Continue reading “Botanical Names”

Beyond Basil Pesto

Monthly Feature JUNE 2014

 

Fresh Basil in the garden.
Fresh Basil in the garden.

Pesto made with fresh basil leaves is an easy and quick way to preserve the summery goodness of basil. Frozen, it keeps for months and has so many uses. In our household, fast food is cooking some pasta and tossing it with thawed basil pesto, leftover veggies- especially roasted or grilled- and adding a green salad. Voila! Supper!

If you like using pesto to mix with pasta, to top bruchetta, add to vinaigrette salad dressings or to flavor grilled or roasted vegetables, expand your choices by making pesto with other herbs, nuts, seeds and even leafy greens. Try different combinations such as basil with parsley, parsley with spinach, cilantro with parsley, lemon basil alone or mixed with standard basil or parsley… get the idea?

You can add different oils, nuts, seeds and cheese to alter the flavor to your liking.

You don’t absolutely need an electric food processor or blender to make pesto, but it really speeds up the process. Any of the following recipes can be made with a morter and pestle. And, a food processor with its wider, shallower bowl works more easily than a blender. Either will do, though. With a blender, you just have to stop and push the food back onto the blades more often than with a food processor. Just be sure the blades have stopped turning before you stick a scraper or spoon into the jar.

Don’t do what I did one time…. and stick a wooden spoon in the jar before the blades stopped turning. The spoon was jerked from my hand, bounced out of the jar, sprayed oil and basil everywhere and broke the spoon inside the jar. I threw the whole mess away and had to start over so I didn’t have splinters in the pesto. Plus I had to wipe up oily basil from the counter, floor and other surrounding surfaces. I reiterate…. wait until the blades have stopped turning before sticking the spoon in!!! 

Any of the tradtional dairy cheeses in the following recipes can be replaced with vegan varieties, just so long as the cheese is hard enough to be grated. Seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin can be substituted for the nuts. Roasting the seeds or nuts before use will bring out their flavor.

To roast raw seeds or nuts, spread them on a cookie sheet and place in a 350 deg. oven for 10 minutes, stirring and checking frequently to avoid over toasting. Or, place the seeds or nuts in a dry fying pan, I use cast iron, on a hot burner and stir around until you can smell aroma from the oils released from the the seeds or nuts. Do not over brown. Roasted nuts and seeds can be stored in an air-tight container or frozen.

You can make fresh pesto every time you need it, but it’s very easy to make a bigger batch when the basil or other herbs and greens are at their peak.

Pesto freezes wonderfully. I like to freeze it in ice cube trays overnight then transfer the cubes to a big plastic freezer bag. One cube is one serving of pesto to mix with pasta.

Be sure to mark the bag with the type of pesto inside. Parsley, basil, cilantro, spinach and arugula can all look alike after they’re frozen!

Some people leave the cheese out when freezing pesto and mix it in after the pesto is thawed. I’ve never done that. My pesto is ready to go when it’s thawed. It tastes great and the texture and color is perfect!Following are some recipes to get you started, along with info and ideas for uses of pesto, storing and freezing. Continue reading “Beyond Basil Pesto”

Summer Drinks with Herbs

Monthly Feature MAY 2014

With the warm weather on the way and herb gardens beginning to produce lots of those flavorful fresh herbs, it’s time to get creative using more of your herbs. Why not create refreshing summer sodas or cocktails with your herbs? It’s as simple as combining some sugar and water, heating the mix until the sugar melts then adding herbs to steep. That’s it!

Here are more detailed instructions:

Simple Syrup:

Equal parts sugar and water
Combine sugar and water, heat and stir to dissolve.
When sugar has all dissolved, remove pan from heat, cool and store in fridge until needed.

Herbal Simple Syrup

After syrup is made, add coarsely chopped or torn herbs and steep until the syrup is cool.
For a stronger infusion, add more herbs or steep longer.
Strain, label and store in fridge.


Picture courtesy of Oh My Veggies Blog– great ideas for using simple syrups

 

 

 

Summer Herbal Soda:

Add about 1 tablespoon Herbal Simple Syrup (or to taste) to an 8 ounce glass
Fill glass with ice and sparkling water, tea or juice. Garnish with herb or a piece of fruit.

The possibilities are endless. Any herb you like the flavor of can be used.  Continue reading “Summer Drinks with Herbs”

Lemon-y Herbs for Summer

Monthly Feature APRIL 2014

Last month I wrote about Lemongrass, so this month I thought I’d continue with the lemon theme and discuss a few other lemony herbs. Lemon flavored herbs are great for summer: they make light and refreshing iced tea, add bright notes to grilled fish and seafood and combine well with salads.

Here are my favorites!

Lemon Verbena, Aloysia citrodora

Lemon Verbena Flowers

A perennial shrub from 3 to 6 feet tall, Lemon Verbena is also known as Lemon Beebrush due to its attraction to bees when in flower.

The leaves will freeze and fall off the plant at 32 deg. F, but the wood is said to be hardy to -10 deg. F. Since I don’t live where it gets that cold, I have no experience with such low temperatures. I do know, my Lemon Verbena comes back every Spring on the old wood. So, if yours freezes, do not prune the woody stems all the way down. Prune for shape, if you like, but know new leaves will soon populate the old, woody stems.
In containers, I’ve found the smaller woody stems to also freeze, but new growth reliably comes from the root system.

Lemon Verbena can be a bit of a lanky, leggy grower and a bit of Spring pruning can help shape the plant. Left on its own, it’s not the most attractive plant in the herb garden. The flavor of Lemon Verbena, however, easily makes up for any lack of physical beauty.

In the garden in the Southern US, give Lemon Verbena some afternoon shade and it’ll be very happy, providing you with lots of leaves for tea and cooking. If you have a bee garden, Lemon Verbena is a good addition. The flowers are very attractive to our little pollinating friends. It makes sprays of white to pinkish flowers. Very attractive in arrangements, too.

I like to refer to Lemon Verbena as The Queen of Lemon Herbs! It’s flavor and scent is most like a real lemon, giving it the ability to make terrific tea, hot or iced. Used in cakes and cookies, it adds a distinct lemon flavor.

Here’s a recipe I found using Lemon Verbena in a muffin recipe with another summer favorite, zucchini:

Lemon Verbena and Nut Muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 cup packed shredded zucchini – do not drain
  • 12 lemon verbena leaves, sliced finely

Into a large bowl, put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, lemon peel, cinnamon and nuts.
In another bowl, beat the eggs with a fork, beating in the milk and the oil.
Add to the flour mix and stir well.
Then add the zucchini and lemon verbena and stir all together.
Grease mini-muffin tins and then fill 3/4 full.
Bake at 400 deg. F for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the tins.
Test with toothpick.

Glaze: juice the 2 lemons from above and add enough confectioners sugar to make a thin glaze. While the muffins are still hot, dip the tops in the glaze and set on wire rack to drain.

Recipe from In the Kitchen at Shale Hill Farm Continue reading “Lemon-y Herbs for Summer”

Lemongrass

Originally Published March 2014

Lemongrass Plant

Lemongrass

  • Botanical Name: Cymbopogon citratus (sim-bo-PO-gon si-TRA-tus)
  • Family: Poaceae (Gramineae) (Grass)
  • Hardy in Zones 8 – 10. Note: I am in Zone 8b and have lost lemongrass over the Winter. Most years the tops freeze back and new shoots emerge from the root zone when the soil warms up sufficiently. But, not always. So, if you live in an area where the hardiness is questionable, grow your lemongrass in a pot and protect it during the Winter.

Lemongrass is a tropical grass native to India and Southeast Asia. It has ornamental, culinary, cosmetic and medicinal value. It likes lots of sun and water. Even here in Texas where many plants wilt in our hot late summer sun, Lemongrass thrives, given enough water.

It is a clumping type fountain grass. It is not a running type grass, so it is non-invasive. The clump can grow 3 – 4 feet across and up to 5 feet tall. Attractive in containers, it can be grown anywhere as an annual. Use it in combination planters for its dramatic effect. Protect it during the Winter for continued growth. It certainly can be grown as a houseplant with good drainage and lots of light.

One caution: the blades are very sharp, as with many grasses… that’s why they call them blades! So, when pruning or tending to your Lemongrass, gloves are useful. Always rub the leaf from the bottom up to prevent being cut by the blade. Continue reading “Lemongrass”

What Do I Do With Rose Hips?

February 2014

Ripe Rose Hips
Ripe Rose Hips

My friend Karen Ribble, Hair Braider extrordinaire and long time friend asked me about Rose Hips last month, so I decided to write this month’s newsletter to answer some of her questions and to refresh my own memory about how to harvest, use and store them. Since it’s February, the month of Romance due to Valentine’s Day, I thought this aspect of roses would be very appropriate. 

Roses have been used for flavoring, ceremonies and health for centuries. Evidence of the use of roses dates back to 2000 BCE in Crete where drawings of roses appear on the walls of the Palace of Knossos.

fresco at Palace of Knossos, Crete
You can see the roses in the upper right of the picture.

 

From that period forward to today, roses are evident in many cultures, including ancient Rome, Persia, India and China, to name just a few. Here is a short article on some of the ancient history of the Rose.

In America, fossil evidence of the rose has been dated to some 40 million years ago. It was then that a rose left its imprint on a slate deposit at Florissant, Colorado. Fossilized remains from 35 million years ago have also been found in Montana and Oregon. Here is further information on the Rose in Amercia from Texas A&M Horticulture.

Now that we have determined Roses are a fabulous flower, some originating in the United States, wtih myriad uses, let’s concentrate on Rose Hips, the seed pods of the Rose. Oh, you didn’t realize Roses produce seed? Of course they do. Just like any flower. It’s just that mostly Roses are grown from cuttings or, now, tissue culture, that we rarely think of growing Roses from seed.

Not all Rose Hips are created equal. If you notice the pods or hips on various rose types, some are very large while others are much smaller. The large hips are the ones prized for collecting for tea and other uses. Many people think the rose that produces the best hips is the common wild rose, also known as the Dog Rose.

rosa rugosa with hips
Photo courtesy of Maine Organic Farmer and Gardeners Association

 

 

Other roses produce hips, of course, some larger or smaller, some tastier than others. As always with collecting plant parts from the wild or your own garden, make sure they have not been sprayed or treated with an insecticide or pesticide.

Rose hips are traditionally collected in the fall, after they turn red. They’ll be sweeter after a frost, but it is not necessary to wait for a frost to collect them. Many people who grow roses never see the hips or seed pods because they dead head the flowers when they fade. To produce the hips, the flowers must be left on the plant to wither and die on their own so they produce the seed pod.

immature rose hips
Immature Rose Hips- you can see where the flower was on the end of the hip. Don’t they look like little green apples? Well, Roses are related to apples, so it’s no accident!

 

immature rose hips

Ripening Rose Hips

Photos courtesy of CharmaineZoe

Ripe Rose Hips. You can see the seeds inside.

ripe rose hips with seeds
Photo courtesy of Mother Earth Living

Now that we’ve established what Rose Hips are and where and when to collect them, what the heck do you do with them? Are all parts of the Hip edible? Well… not really. The seeds generally have lots of little hairs around them that are irritating to the mouth and can cause internal itching if quite a few are ingested.

Most people rid the seeds of the hairs by first drying the hips. Then, pulse them in a blender or food processor- or if you don’t have one, you’ll have to pound them a bit. The idea is to break up the dried hips into pieces about the size of coarse sea salt. Then, place the broken pieces of the hips in a strainer and shake it. You’ll see dust and the little hairs fall out. That’s it! There may be a few hairs left, but that won’t hurt you. Just keep shaking and stirring the dried hips in and around the strainer to get out as much of the dust and other parts that will fall through the strainer as possible. Then, you can store the hips in an air-tight container for later use.

Recipes using Rose Hips

Continue reading “What Do I Do With Rose Hips?”