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

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.”

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)

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?”

Preserving Your Herbs

Herb bundles hanging for drying
Hanging Herbs for Drying

There are several ways to preserve herbs for later use. Drying may seem like the easiest, but it isn’t always the most effective to maintain the fine taste of culinary herbs. Freezing herbs is a most effective, easy, and quick method. 

If you would like to dry your herbs as a quick way to preserve them, you can hang them in an airy place away from direct sunlight. Or lay them out on a screen or even use a cookie cooling rack with a towel over it. The idea is to get airflow around the herbs.

To make sure the herbs are completely dried, crumble them between your fingers. They should be completely dried and crumble easily. Then, store them in an air-tight container away from direct sunlight. If you’re unsure whether or not your herbs are completely dried, just store them in the freezer to alleviate any worry.

How to Freeze Fresh Herbs-  click here for a complete video tutorial.

For either of the following methods, use just the leaves and soft stems, woody stems should be discarded and used elsewhere, in the fireplace, for example, or in tea. 

Probably the best method is to freeze herbs in oil, (although there are numerous opinions on how to freeze fresh herbs). Use about 2 cups chopped herbs, singly or in combinations, to about 1/2 cup of cooking oil. Using either a food processor or blender, gradually add the oil to the chopped herbs. The mixture should be fairly thick. Pack the herbal oil into small glass or plastic containers or ice cube trays and freeze. To use, just scrape or chip the amount needed and add to your favorite recipe. These oils should last up to about 2 years in the freezer.

To freeze herbs in water or stock, chop herbs, either one herb alone or make a combination of your favorites. Fill the sections of an ice cube tray as full as you can. Simply pour hot water or stock over them and freeze. When frozen, remove from the trays and store in plastic bags for later use. Use the “herb cubes” in soups, stews, sauces or anywhere you would use fresh herbs.