Good Reasons to Grow Aromatic Herbs

One of the aspects of herbs that many people, including me, enjoy is their aroma. Working in the garden with herbs, weeding and pruning, we are surrounded by their fragrance. 

The aromatic aspects of herbs isn’t simply pleasing, however, it’s also beneficial. The graphic below gives an overview of some of the many reasons to appreciate aromatic herbs. 
The Healing Power of Scents

 

Tea Growing in the U.S.

Tea Cup
Tea from Golden Feather Tea in California

As many of you know, I love herb tea. I like making tea with mints, lemon-y herbs like lemon grass, lemon verbena and lemon balm. I love Hibiscus tea made with the Roselle or Jamaica plant, Hibiscus sabdariffa. I also enjoy green and various types of black tea. 

So, I was happy to read this article in the trade publication called American Nurseryman Magazine about a fellow growing tea or Camellia sinensis in the U.S. Mike Fritts operates Golden Feather Tea in California, an artisan tea company with all product being harvested by hand and lovingly turned into tea. Here’s a link to the Facebook Page.

Mike Fritt of Golden Feather Tea
Mike Fritt of Golden Feather Tea

I did a little more research and learned there is quite a bit of tea being grown in the U.S. Many of the farms are in Hawaii, but there are others scattered around the country. Here is more information.

The next time you are buying tea, look for some grown in the U.S. It looks like an up and coming product for us!

Wild Spring Herbs

Monthly Feature APRIL 2013

Spring is one of the most exciting times of year for gardeners and herbalists. We watch leaves break dormancy on trees and shrubs, bulbs start to show new shoots, perennials return and it’s time for working the soil in our garden beds and containers from last year. New plants are seeded and we are optimistic about the future! 

Herbalists and others in the know also watch for certain wild herbs that can be used for our health.

For centuries, as we know, plants have been used for health and medicine. No herbs are more useful than the ones that show up in Spring and are used to reinvigorate our bodies after the Winter. In countries with very cold winters and limited food availability, Spring Tonics were especially important.

Today, of course, we have a wide range of produce and other foods available to us year-round. That doesn’t mean, however, that our bodies don’t still react in a positive manner to the Spring herbs for good health and nutrition.

Some of the most common, healthy Spring herbs are Dandelion, Nettles, Cleavers and Chickweed.

greenyellow line

Dandelion- Taraxacum officinale

 

Dandelion

Dandelions are ubiquitous. We’re seeing them now, as Spring is in full swing here in my part of Texas. Folks up north, where the weather is still cold, will have to wait a bit for their spring Dandelions. Why Dandelions? They are considered a mild bitter herb used to stimulate the appetite and promote digestion, as a blood cleanser and diuretic. Dandelions can be harvested from areas where you know no pesticides have been used and cooked like any leafy green- steamed, braised or used in soups, pesto and soups.

You can also make a Dandelion Tea using about 1/2 tsp. freshly dried leaves per cup of water. Steep for 10 minutes and drink about 3 times throughout the day to stimulate digestion and aid in liver function.

There are cultivated varieties of Dandelion bred for food. I’ve grown Italian Dandelions from John Sheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds: Catalogna Dandelions: 60-65 days Catalogna is an early open-pollinated variety with long, deeply-cut, bright green frilly leaves. If you want to harvest it as a ‘cut and come again’ crop, sow heavily and thickly. But be forewarned, they will bolt in hot weather and become unpleasantly bitter. We enjoy pairing it with other greens in rustic salads topped with a warm, pancetta balsamic vinegar reduction dressing and homemade croutons. (OP.)

Continue reading “Wild Spring Herbs”

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!

green line

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!”

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?”

Herb Tea- Beyond Mint

Originally Published April 2014

Spring has come to most of the U.S. by now, with gardeners busily planting new gardens and tending perennials that overwintered.

peppermint

 Even here in my part of Texas where winter is but a shadow of the sesason much of the country experiences, Spring excites gardeners. Markets that I’ve attended this year have shown herbs to continue to be very popular. Many people are planting them for the first time, so I answer a lot of questions about harvesting and use of culinary herbs.

Herbs growing at The Herb Cottage
Herbs growing at The Herb Cottage

One of the most enduring questions I receive from new herb enthusiasts is “Can I make tea from Orange Mint or Basil Mint or Pineapple Sage or Lemon Thyme or Lemon Verbena or….? ” Of course, you can, I always answer. Why not? You can make tea from any herb whose flavor you like, even if it’s not considered a “tea herb”, such as mint, lemon balm or lemon verbena, for example.

 

Keeping that in mind, I thought I’d review some of the tea herbs I grow and enjoy. Even those of you readers who have grown and used herbs for years may find some combinations you haven’t tried. So, read on!

 

This is what makes Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger Tea red!
This is what makes Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger Tea red!

One of my favorite summer tea blends is a sun tea made with Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers, also known as Roselle or Jamaica, Lemon Grass, Orange Mint and a little Fennel. Many people are surprised to learn I add Fennel to this tea blend. It adds an unusual flavor that cannot be readily identified as anise if it’s used sparingly.

Another anise-flavored herb that can be added to a tea blend is Mexican Mint Marigold, also known as Texas or Mexican Tarragon, Tagetes lucida. If you live where French Tarragon grows well and you have it, you could use that, too.

Fennel growing at The Herb Cottage
Fennel growing at The Herb Cottage

 

 


I use fresh ingredients in my sun tea, except for the Hibiscus flowers or if I’m adding green tea, and the proportions vary somewhat from batch to batch,  as I simply go clip the herbs I want, add them to the gallon jug, add water and set it out in the sun for about 4 hours.

That said, here’s my recipe for a gallon of sun tea with the ingredients mentioned above (amounts are approximate!):

 

  • 1/2 cup dried Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers
  • 1 large handful of fresh Orange Mint
  • 2-3 stalks fresh Lemon Grass, either clipped into 3-4″ sections or simply folded so it fits into the jar
  • 1 leaf stalk fresh Fennel, about 6″ long, unless you really like the anise flavor, then add more
  • 3-4″ stem of fresh Stevia- more if you like it really sweet. Optional

Crush the fresh herbs a bit with your hands or clip them into smallish pieces – 2-4″ – long and add them to a gallon jar. Fill the jar with water. Set out in full sun for about 4 hours. Strain the herbs out, chill and enjoy, garnishing with mint or any of the other herbs you used and/or fresh fruit.

Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans

Pineapple Sage likes to grow in part shade in my climate
Pineapple Sage likes to grow in part shade in my climate

 

is a shrubby plant that, in my garden, grows best with part shade. I find it a bit of a water hog in the hottest part of the summer, but I grow it anyway because I love the bright red flowers and I like to use it in tea. The flowers and leaves can both be used for tea. The flowers can also be used in baking and add a festive touch to pound cakes, sugar cookies and other light colored baked goods. Pineapple Sage makes a wonderful tea by itself and as part of a blend.

 

 

 

 

We don’t usually think of the savory herbs so much for herb tea. But, I find the flavored Thymes make a delicious addition to herbal tea blends. Lemon Thyme adds a bright, deep lemony note to teas with mint or standard green tea.

You can also use Lemon Thyme when brewing tea from “regular” black tea such as Lipton’s, Luzianne or any other black tea.

Lime Thyme adds a mild savory, citrusy flavor to tea
Lime Thyme adds a mild savory, citrusy flavor to tea

Lime Thyme is not as popular an herb as the lemon variety, but it packs a fresh, citrusy flavor. It’s wonderful used with green tea, or with any of the mints or Pineapple Sage. Hint: try it on chicken, fish or in a fruit salsa.

Another Thyme I like for tea is Lavender Thyme- did you even know there was such a plant?

Lavender Thyme has a big flavor in a small package!
Lavender Thyme has a big flavor in a small package!

 

This low growing plant has very tiny, fleshy leaves with an aroma like a savory lavender. It’s terrific added to mint tea or with a blend of lemon herbs.

 

 

 

I hope I’ve sparked your imagination a bit and you’ll try some of these herbs- and more- in your own herbal tea blends this summer. If you like sparkling beverages, make your tea extra strong by adding more herb material- not by steeping it longer- you want to avoid bitterness- and then dilute the tea with sparkling water. Yummm… refreshing and flavorful. 

For an adult beverage, try adding rum to a tea made with Mints and Pineapple Sage, with or without sparkling water. Vodka or gin goes well with any of the minty, lemony herb blends.

herbtea_graphic

QUOTE FOR THE MONTH

Smaller than a breadbox, bigger than a TV remote, the average book fits into the human hand with a seductive nestling, a kiss of texture, whether of cover cloth, glazed jacket, or flexible paperback.

-John Updike, writer (18 Mar 1932-2009)