What to do with your herbs?

The infographic below is from the fix.com blog, an informative site with lots of easy to read information about herbs and gardening. 

Here’s what Chris McLaughlin has to say:

“When beginner gardeners ask me which plants are hardy and forgiving, my answer is always herbs. If a busy gardener asks me which plants will thrive in near-neglect, my answer is herbs. When a foodie gardener asks about fast-growing plants that will feed both people and bees, my answer is herbs

Herbs are the answer to many gardening questions for good reason: they’re an incredibly versatile and prolific group – almost to a fault. In fact, many herbs can be compared to cucumber plants. By the end of the summer, they’re being given away by the bushel because no one is sure what to do with them past some basic dishes. This doesn’t have to be the case for your abundant herb garden this year. We’ve got better ideas.”


Source: Fix.com Blog

What is a Posset?

I came across the following post today and thought I’d share it with you.

A Super Easy Old-Fashioned Creamy Dessert

It is from a blog called Gather: Wild Food, Magical Cookery.

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

“Be cheerful knight: thou shalt eat a posset to-night at my house”  William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Dating back to the middle ages, the posset is making a comeback. Perfect for when you want to whip up a special dessert with minimal effort, it’s made with three ingredients, honey, cream and lemon juice. These are boiled together and chilled overnight. That’s it. And if that isn’t wonderful enough, try infusing your posset with spring flowers like lilac, wild rose or elderflower. Simply divine.

Easy Pickling!

Food preservation is a skill somewhat lost in our modern lives. It is, however, a handy skill to learn. If you’re concerned about the future of our modern civilization, learning to store food without refrigeration or freezing is essential. Even if you don’t think we’re facing the next apocalypse, pickling is a fun and easy way to preserve food.

Homemade pickles make great gifts and there’s nothing like gracing your table with homemade pickles to make you feel like a culinary super star!

Here’s an easy to understand graphic that gives all the basics.

 

Source: Fix.com

Peppermint

Candy Cane
Candy Cane

Peppermint, Mentha piperata.

Peppermint doesn’t really get the respect it deserves, in my estimation. It’s commonly found in most herb collections and many people eschew it due to its invasive habit.

Peppermint Leaves
Peppermint Leaves

And, it’s not new! Or exotic! Or called a SuperFood.

But! Peppermint is a herb for all around use! I hope you long-time herb lovers will find new information here. And for those of you who have recently discovered the wonderful world of herbs, you will find some ways to use peppermint you weren’t yet aware of, growing tips and other useful information.

Description

Peppermint is a perennial mint with coarsely serrated leaves which can reach more than 2 inches (5 cm) in length. The stems are square and can be from green to reddish in color. The flowers are pink to red, form in the leaf axils of the upper leaves and are placed in whorls of loose spikes. The whole plant can reach to 36 inches (1 m) high in a favorable environment.

peppermint
Botanical Drawing of Peppermint

 

True Peppermint is a sterile hybrid between Water Mint, M. aquatic and Spearmint, M. spicata.

This means that Peppermint does not produce viable seed. So if you see Peppermint seed for sale, you will not get true Peppermint by growing it out, but, rather, a form of Spearmint with, often, a less than pleasing aroma and taste.

 Because the mints which make up Peppermint are themselves somewhat variable, not all Peppermint smells or tastes the same. If you find a Peppermint that you really like, the best way to keep it going is through vegetative propagation: stem or root cuttings, ground layering or division.

Other Mints in the Peppermint Family

Mints in general are very promiscuous, crossing with each other when in flower at the same time. This habit can cause your mints to lose character over time, so if you have a mint you especially like, keep it isolated from its brethren, or you may lose the properties of it that you like the best. The following are either found cultivars or man-made ones that are popular.

Orange MintMentha piperata f. citrata ‘Orange’– Hardy perennial grows up to 32 inches (30 cm) with an indefinite spread. Small, pale pink flowers. Large rounded leaves, oval, dark green, can be tinged with purple. Citrusy scent.

Black PeppermintMentha piperata– Hardy perennial grows up to 2 feet, (60 cm), leaves pointed, oval and toothed on the margin, dark plum brown tinged with green.

Grapefruit MintMentha X piperata var. citrata has very rounded, fuzzy leaves, grows taller than many other Peppermints and has a citrus-like flavor.

Chocolate Mint, is a cultivar of Peppermint that smells and tastes somewhat of chocolate. It is a favorite for sauces to be served over ice cream. It has shiny, dark green leaves and dark stems.

Cultivation

Most mints are easy to grow and Peppermint is no exception. In fact, many people consider it a garden pest if it escapes into the landscape. Of course, that definition is in the eye of the beholder. If you really like Peppermint Tea or want to make Peppermint Essential Oil, you’ll need lots of Peppermint leaves, so a rambling plant may be just what you need. If not, mints grow quite well contained in pots or hanging baskets.

Peppermint likes cool moist roots and to grow into the sun. If you live in a desert area or the hot, humid Gulf Coast South, as I do, mints can tend to fail in the heat of the summer. My recommendation is to grow your mint where the plant gets morning sun and afternoon shade, especially in the summer. Under a deciduous tree is perfect- Winter sun, Summer shade.

If you’re growing your mint in a container, you can give it lots of Winter and early Spring sun, then move it to a spot where it’s shaded from the searing late summer sun. Or… you can move to Seattle or Milwaukee or Pittsburg and grow your mint in full sun where it will thrive and try to take over the neighborhood.

Peppermint is hardy to Zone 5 and grows in a wide range of soils. It likes water and does well where herbs that need better drainage will not do well. I’ve seen it growing happily under the drip of a room air conditioner or near a faucet in the garden. In containers, it still needs decent drainage. Don’t neglect to water it.

For best results with Peppermint, it’s best to divide and replant an established plant every 3 to 4 years. Cut plants back after flowering to encourage new leaf growth. Leave the flowers until they fade, though, as they attract butterflies and beneficial insects such as hover flies to the garden. In high heat areas, cutting your Peppermint back in late summer will cause fresh, new growth to come out once the fall weather arrives and you’ll have a new crop to harvest.

Healthy Peppermint Plant
Healthy Peppermint Plant

Continue reading “Peppermint”

Chia Seeds- Tiny Powerhouses!

In keeping with my attempt to bring healthy eating and living to readers, I thought the article on Chia Seeds would be of interest. Chia seeds are not exotic nor hard to find, nor expensive. They are grown here in the U.S., are not endangered or imported. And… they have myriad uses.

I like them sprinkled on my homemade cereal and in muffins and quick breads.

This article from Organic Authority has the scoop on Chia Seeds. 

Here’s more on Chia Seeds from Health Ambition.

Here’s another, more in depth, article on Chia Seeds from Positive Healthwellness Blog.

Happy Reading!

Herbs in the Kitchen

Originally Published October 2004

Fall….. autumn….. vernal equinox. To me, fall brings images of the late afternoon sun slanting into the chicken house with a warm glow as I close the flock up for the night. Darkness falls earlier and earlier. It’s always surprising to me how fast the days shorten once the equinox passes. It’s a time of thinking about colder days ahead, comfort foods in the kitchen and baking to warm up the house a little.

I do very little baking in the summer. In our farm house with an air conditioner used only in the bedroom when it’s extremely hot and sticky over night, the kitchen (and the rest of the house) stay very warm for about 3 or 4 months. We do lots of outdoor cooking and quick meals. But, during the cooler months, the kitchen again releases those wonderful aromas of bread, cookies, stews, bean pots and sauces.

Many people don’t think of herbs as an ingredient in dessert food or sweet treats. We all know herbs are used liberally in dishes like stew, casseroles, pasta sauce, soup and roasted fowl or meat and, of course, tea. But, baked goods are a perfect place to incorporate more herbs in your meals. And, remember, herbs are not used only for flavor. Many of the common culinary herbs we use every day have health benefits. The seemingly small amounts of herbs used daily add up to give the body added immune properties, vitamins and other health benefits.

I have favorite herbs for desserts and sweet treats and like to experiment, too. An easy way to incorporate herbs in baking is to find a quick bread recipe that is rather plain. Then, chop some lemony herbs to add to it. Or, if you don’t want little green specks in the bread, steep your lemon herbs in the required liquid over night, remove the herbs and use the flavored liquid. I think either lemon balm or lemon verbena works best for this type of recipe. For a holiday splash, instead of using lemon herbs, use the flowers and leaves of pineapple sage. You’ll have red and green speckles throughout the bread.
Continue reading “Herbs in the Kitchen”

Shungiku, Edible Chrysanthemum

Monthly Feature JANUARY 2013

Even though it’s winter, we have been having a warm spell for weeks. I know there is cold weather yet to come, so I’ve continued seeding some cool season crops as well as the warm season crops for Spring. Lettuces and salad greens make quick crops here in our cool winters- most varieties can be harvested in as little as 25 days, for baby leaves. Combined with hardy herbs such as parsley, chervil, salad burnet and cutting celery and colorful edible flowers, it’s easy to make an attractive, tasty and healthy salad from the garden.

Shungiku

Since I’m always looking for additional greens to add to a salad, I thought you might be, too. A couple of years ago I discovered a versatile green known as Shungiku, Edible Chrysanthemum, Garland Chrysanthemum, Chop Suey Greens and many others. This is a salad green that can grow in the cool of our winters as well as into the warmth of Spring. The bright yellow flowers add a splash of color to the mix. These greens can also be lightly steamed, braised or added to soups as well as eaten fresh.

Shungiku
Pic courtesy of Dave’s Garden

Shungiku is easy to grow in ordinary garden soil or a container. It grows to about 20 – 24 inches tall and covers itself with the cheery little flowers. You can direct sow it or start it indoors for transplanting when ready. It can tolerate a light frost. For a constant supply of the tender, young leaves, sow every 3 weeks or so, with your other succession planted salad greens and you’ll have an unusual, tender and flavorful addition to your cool season salads.

Like many vegetables, Shungiku is good for us. Along with the various lettuce varieties, this edible Chrysanthemum is considered a bitter herb. Bitters aid digestion by stimulating bile production in the intestines. Heavy and fatty foods are better digested when bile is present upon ingestion. Hence, the practice of serving a salad course before the entree– to allow the body to become ready for the heavier course which in Western European tradition would include meat, gravies and potatoes.

Continue reading “Shungiku, Edible Chrysanthemum”

Wild and Weedy Apothecary

If you saw a book with the above title, would you pick it up and look at it?

Well… I did and now I have it here with me.

Here’s how I acquired the book- I attended the Texas Renaissance Festival with my sister-in-law earlier this month. One of our favorite shops is Creative Life Booksellers, not too far inside the front gate. The shop is filled with books, calenders, coloring books, cards, book marks, tarot cards and more on subjects as varied as dragons, faeries, pirates, Celtic history, the Renaissance and, of course, herbs.

The herb book selection is small, but there are always books I don’t have, and such is the case with The Wild and Weedy Apothecary by Doreen Shababy.

Book Cover

The book contains “recipes” for healing uses of herbs, simple teas, food recipes using herbs and a lot about harvesting and using herbs found in your own area. Then, there is an encyclopedic listing of herbs with remedies and recipes for each listing. For instance, under A, you will find the following– Alliums, Anise, Apple, Aromatherapy and Aunt Carols’s Manicotti– each with a recipe or useful commentary

The aspect of this book I like most, besides the content itself, is the tone. It’s friendly and helpful rather than pedantic or authoritative. It feels like you’re sitting at the kitchen table with Doreen over a cup of herb tea, discussing the herbs you’ve used, have growing in your yard or nearby outdoor area and herbs you’re interested in but have yet to grow or try. There’s no feeling of having to rush through this book. The information is easy to access and to use. It’s one to keep handy and think of when you’re feeling a cold coming on, flu-like symptoms, have irritating bug bites or one of your kids has a sore throat.

The recipes for food are for wholesome dishes with easy to find ingredients- or with ingredients right out of your own garden. There’s lots of family history tied up in food and recipes in general, and Ms. Shababy generously shares some of her family with us.

All in all, I consider this book a great find. I’ve been slowly going through it skipping from section to section as I think of herbs to look up or recipes to try.

If you’re into reading blogs, Ms. Shababy has one here.

One more book that is a little unusual that captures my imagination is an Almanac, as it follows the Calendar, rather than an alphabetical pattern. It is by Susan Wittig Albert, author of the China Bayles herbal-infused mystery series set in a fictitious Texas Hill Country town called Pecan Springs.

Book CoverThe book is called China Bayles Book of Days.

Each day of the year has a discussion of a particular herb, usually with a recipe or two to accompany it, often with gardening advice. There is a wealth of information in this book. You can read it year after year as the entries follow the calander and thus, the seasons, rather than any particular year.

There are myriad herb books that have been published, from Culpepper’s Herbal published in 1649, to the many colorful books of the present. Some are herb growing guides, some are food recipe books using herbs, some are strictly medicinal, some are about crafting with herbs, while many are a combination of the varied aspects of the world of herbs. Whichever is your choice, there are books to help you learn more and deepen your knowledge and appreciation of this vast world. Whatever your interest in herbs, it is all rooted in the plants, the soil, the natural world around us.

I hope you’re enjoying the holidays with family and friends.

CELEBRATE THE SEASON!

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QUOTE FOR THE MONTH
C.S. Lewis said “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

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!”

Drying Herbs in the Fridge

Monthly Feature OCTOBER 2009

Fall or early winter, whatever you like to call it, has definitely come to much of the U.S. Snow and cold weather has already visited some parts of the nation, and here in my area, the terrible heat and drought of summer has broken to bring us cooler temperatures and much needed rain. The gardens at The Herb Cottage looked so sad all summer with droopy leaves on large plants, very few flowers for the butterflies and little growth on even the most heat tolerant herbs. Since the rains and moderate temperatures everything has grown so quickly.

Podrangea in yard

One pathway is almost blocked now by branches arching into the walkway, and the climbing rose, Little Pinkie, has almost completely hidden the trellis it’s on. Herbs have put on lots of new growth as well.

little herb bed

So, what to do with so much new growth on the herb plants? And, what about those of you who had the good fortune to harvest before freezing temperatures hit your area? Or, those of you who have yet to see a freeze, but know one is coming? Do you dry your excess herbs for winter use? Do you make Pesto with the abundant basil crop many of us have here in south Texas? Do you make wreaths to celebrate the change of season? Do you make herb vinegar to give as gifts? How about fresh herb bouquets for the table? Or dried ones if your herb plants have already frozen back?

There are so many ways to use both fresh and dried herbs this time of year. I recently attended a Wine and Herb Festival in Corpus Christi held at the South Texas Botanical Gardens. There were many talks on the different aspects of herbs, using herbs, growing and drying them. One talk I found interesting demonstrated a method to dry herbs I had never seen. Rather than just hang them to dry the herbs were wrapped in paper toweling and placed in a frost free refrigerator to dry.

The idea is to harvest the herbs, wash them if necessary and make sure they are free of water. Take about 6 sheets of paper toweling and lay the herbs out on one end of the long sheets of toweling. Roll the herbs up in the toweling. Write the variety and date on the package and put it in a frost free refrigerator.

Do not put the package in a plastic baggie as that will retard the evaporation of the water from the leaves, but leave it as is on a shelf in the fridge. The layers of paper toweling help absorb the moisture in the herbs and the frost free feature of the fridge evaporates the water out of the toweling. Eventually- in 3 or 4 weeks- you have nicely dried herbs that have retained their color and a lot of their fresh flavor.

oregano ready to roll
Here’s the oregano I picked clean and ready to roll up in the paper toweling
oregano being rolled
You can see the edge of the rolled bit at the bottom.
folding in the sides
After you get the roll going, fold the sides in so the herbs are completely covered inside the package.
ready for the fridge
Here’s the finished package ready for the fridge.

What I also liked about the presentation is the way the herbs were used after they were dried. The dried herbs were finely chopped in a coffee grinder designated specifically for use with herbs. Then, blends were made and put in shaker jars that had been saved from perhaps, purchased dried herbs.

The blends you could do are nearly endless: Italian- oregano, rosemary and basil, Greek- dill, oregano, parsley, one for poultry using sage, marjoram and thyme, one for fish using dill, lemon peel, fennel… the list is only restricted by your imagination and the type of food your family likes. Citrus peel can also be dried using the above method and you can make lemon pepper, orange basil or mint with grapefruit.

The herbs dried in this manner seem to keep more of their essential oils and color somewhat better than herbs air dried. The flavor is very fresh and pungent. Another benefit to drying herbs with this method is they stay very clean. And, they dry to a nice, crisp state.

Something that also surprised me is how the presenter dried celery leaves and ground them up and used them in a blend. If you’re not growing the cutting or leaf-type celery herb, this is a great way to get a celery flavor into an herb blend or into soup, salads and salad dressing.

I’m thinking drying some herbs this way and making special blends for gifts would be fun. Especially if you know someone who is trying to wean themselves from a diet high in salt and/or fat, a gift of a savory, tasty herb blend from your own garden may help that person on their way to a healthier diet. When drying herbs, none of the beneficial elements, including taste, are lost because those elements are in the essential oils of the leaf. And, the essential oil is what is preserved through drying. Only the water is taken out.

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QUOTE FOR THE MONTH

Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible. -Frank Zappa, composer, musician, film director (1940-1993)