Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bountiful Basil Harvest

Ocimum basilicum 'Minette' basil has to be a staple in the herb garden. This is a harvest I got yesterday from ONE plant! It made four quart jars of vinegar. Yes, my house is full of canning jars. That can be good and bad. Mostly good. The nurseries around my house do not offer this particular basil variety. I had to go to Ohio to find it. So if you are fortunate enough to live near a good nursery that carries a variety of herbs, you may be able to get 'Minette'. It is better than even 'Spicy Globe'. It keeps its shape and is very prolific! Here is the 'Minette' early on in the garden. It's the fourth plant from the left. The little round mound.

Monday, September 29, 2008

What's in an Herbal Name?

Several years ago when we opened e-mail addresses, I decided that I would not use my real name, but an herb. It was easy to pick the herb, lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) was it. Cedron is Spanish for lemon verbena. It was the herb of the princess (Maria Louisa, wife of King Charles IV of Spain). Don't confuse it with lemon grass. It is a plant of American origin (that is Chile). It is a perennial in tropical areas that can reach to ten feet high. It is a tender perennial for us in the north. We always have it on our kitchen windowsill in the winter. When you bring it in, it will play dead and lose its leaves. Use them for tea, in a tea bread (recipe follows) or in potpourri. You should water it every week to ten days. Then in December cut it back to about three or four inches. In February it will resprout and by the time it is ready to go outside in May, you will have a plant like the one in the photo above.

Here are some of my favorite thoughts about lemon verbena.

In The Herbal Home Companion, Theresa Loe writes that "In Gone with the Wind, lemon verbena was mentioned as the favorite cologne of Scarlet O'Hara's mother."

"Can be used in place of lemon juice in hot tea and iced drinks."

In The Best of Thymes, Marge Clark talks about using dried lemon verbena leaves. "I treat dried lemon verbena leaves like bay leaves. Since the leaves are rather coarse and dry. I try to use them whole-leaf so they can be removed at the end of cooking. If leaves are not or cannot be used whole, then chop them fine or, better yet, whirl in food processor or blender to make a powder. Fresh leaves are best for cooking."

In Growing & Using Herbs with Confidence, Bertha Reppert talks about the history of lemon verbena when she writes "Housewives once sewed lemon verbena leaves into the darts of their Sunday dresses, replacing them when necessary--a fragrant, natural deodorant."

Here is my favorite lemon verbena recipe. It comes from the February/March, 1990 The Herb Companion magazine:

Lemon Verbena Bread

1 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup fresh lemon verbena leaves chopped
1-1/2 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
Grated rind of 1 lemon
3/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Cream butter with verbena leaves in mixer or food processor. I use my food processor. Add sugar and beat well, then eggs, salt and remaining ingredients. Grease loaf pans: 1 large, 2 small or 4 minis and pour in batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 to 65 minutes. I usually bake it in one large pan. Bake until bread tests done with a toothpick or cake tester. Meanwhile, prepare glaze. (I usually don't use the glaze.) I'm giving it to you because every person's taste is different. Leave loaf in pan. While it is still hot, pour glaze over it and let sit several hours. Remove loaf from pan. Wrap in foil to ripen overnight before serving, or freeze immediately.


1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon verbena leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon

This is what lemon verbena looks like in the garden. The flowers are insignificant. The leaves are why you are growing this plant. The clear and crisp flavor of lemon is another reason you will want this in the garden. Give it well-drained soil and full sun and you will be rewarded with a four-foot gem. So what's in an herbal name? The best herb in the world!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another Favorite Annual Peruvian Flower

This is a favorite edible flower from Peru, the nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) flowers and leaves are both edible. They were grown by kings such as Louis XIV of France and President Thomas Jefferson grew them also. The flowers and leaves have a peppery taste. The flowers shown in the picture below are from the 'Whirlybird' series because they do not have a spur. A little crook in the back of the flower is the spur. It can hide insects taking a nap, small ants in particular! They grow very easily in well drained soil and do not need fertilizer because that will lead to more leaves than flowers. The plants are very easily grown from seed so it would be a good one to plant with your kids. The variegated leaf is from the 'Alaska' series. Sometimes the leaves get as big as doilies and I have used them as such on an appetizer platter. One of my favorite ways to eat the flowers is filled with guacamole. Don't forget to take out the reproductive parts of the flower before eating and only eat organically grown flowers. They are a great fall flowering plant until a hard frost comes along.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

One of My Favorite Annual Peruvian Flowers

Here is one of my favorite annual flowers from Peru. They are on British time because instead of blooming at 4:00 o'clock as their name implies, they bloom at 11:00 A.M! Four o'clocks are fragrant, easy to plant from seed and are a staple in our garden. They would be a good flower for children to plant and grow. They come in white, yellow and this magenta color. They bloom from late July through frost. The seeds are big and black, drop to the ground and reseed easily if they like the spot. Annuals bridge the gap between perennials in the garden. Don't forget to plant them!

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm Obsessed with My Hummingbird!

Well, the hummingbird has continued to visit the pineapple sage and butterfly bushes in our garden. She even tried to get something from the tansy! I hope you can see it in the bottom left of the picture on the butterfly bush 'Black Knight'. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Herbal Volunteers

We welcome most herbal volunteers in the garden. This salvia seeded itself in our rock wall. I think it is a pretty addition. Leave some volunteers to mature in the garden.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Monarches in the Garden

Here in the garden we have many insects and birds and also butterflies. I always look forward to seeing monarches on the butterfly bushes in the front and back gardens. It means the end of the summer because they are off to faraway Mexico. They are a great addition to the garden.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Herbal Tea Harvest

I think this blog has helped me be a better herbalist. I have always drank herbal tea, but it was something that someone else put together. This year I'm going to work on my own blend and to that extent, I have started to dry herbs like peppermint, orange mint, spearmint, sage and pineapple mint. They are in that order from left to right in my photo. I have the self-seal tea bags that once the herbs are dried, I will mix the herbs together along with other herbs to be named later. Until next time.

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Herbal Dream Come True!

I came down our driveway today and the pineapple sage was in full bloom. Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) flowers are edible. I actually said to myself, it's too bad the hummers aren't around any more. It happens every year, the pineapple sage blooms and the hummers are gone. Well, not this year! It may be tough to see, but trust me it was there. Here is the largest photo I can give you. It's right here in the middle.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Salvia Needed in the Garden

I am an herb plant collector. We have a lot of herb plants that reside in our basement and garage in the winter. This is a Peruvian salvia called Salvia discolor 'Andean Silver'. The blooms are black and the leaves are green with a white backing. It may be one that is dug up and placed in a pot for the winter. Not what my husband wants to hear! You can find this plant at Companion Plants and Well-Sweep Herb Farm.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

An Herbal Annual Powerhouse-'Lemon Gem' Marigold

I just love this annual flower. It is an edible form of marigold and the only one I would suggest you eat. It is 'Lemon Gem' marigold, Tagetes tenuifolia. They come in other colors, including 'Tangerine Gem' and 'Orange Gem'. I bought one of the other varieties. The 'Lemon Gem' was the runt and it has come on gangbusters over the other variety. They are as I mentioned an edible flower. I decorate my pasta salad with cherry tomatoes and 'Lemon Gem' marigold flowers. A very pretty combination. You need to remember to eat only organically grown flowers and only eat the petals, not the pollen in the center of the flower. This flower also makes a lovely hedge of flowers when placed together in a row. Enjoy these last days of summer!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Is The Fairy in Your Garden?

There is a beautiful rose bush that I love and couldn't be without in my garden. It is called 'The Fairy'. I got mine through Heirloom Roses in Oregon. I looked at their website and found they have two sports of 'The Fairy'. One called 'Crystal Fairy' that is a white sport and the other is called 'Lovely Fairy' which is a lightly fragrant deep pink or light red (in cool weather). There was a third called 'Fairy Queen' which is a double dark pink to red polyantha rose. Here are a couple pictures of my 'Fairy'. They are wonderful in a tussie mussie and also to decorate a cake or a dessert platter. Remember they are an edible flower. Make sure you remove the pollen and other reproductive parts and the white heel at the base of the petal.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Great Day for Herbal Salad and Herbal Vinegar

It has been beautiful weather since Ike blew through on Sunday. We were out collecting the bounty in the garden this morning, including beans, tomatoes, peppers and basil since we had reports that the temps may be in the forties tonight. Basil doesn't like those temps.

It was a great day for a tomato, basil and avocado salad for lunch.

The tomato at the base of the salad is a Cherokee Purple, my favorite heirloom tomato.

It is a very beautiful and meaty tomato. Yummy!

I also thought it was a good day to make some herbal vinegar because I had some extra cinnamon basil and purple basil. I added parsley, tarragon, chives and oregano to the mix.

Sterilize a quart jar for 10 minutes with boiling water, then add your herbs and white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar. I would not use white distilled vinegar. Only use that kind of vinegar for cleaning. I also would not use apple cider vinegar either.

After putting your herbs and vinegar in the jar, put plastic over the jar in between the lid and jar. Place it on a sunny window sill for at least 2 weeks and after that I would test it periodically until you like the taste and then strain out the herbs and store in a cool, dry spot.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

One of My Favorite Herbal Flowers

As I was wandering in my garden the other day, I came upon one of my favorite herbal flowers, bee balm Monarda didyma. It is also known as bergamot and oswego tea. It is a native American herb. It is a hardy perennial that grows to about 3 feet tall. It likes full sun, but it can take partial shade. It comes in several different colors, pink, purple, magenta, red and white. I have red in great numbers because it is a favorite of the hummingbirds. When the kids trick or treat at my house, their parents want to know what the lovely smell is and it is usually the bee balm. It has very fragrant leaves that you can use in tea, fruit salads or potpourri. Its roots are rhizomes and are very easily divided and moved when you want it in several different places in your garden. It can be cut back once it blooms and it may rebloom. It can get powdery mildew. The bee balm in the picture is 'Jacob Kline' not as prone to mildew. Enjoy these last days of summer!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Favorite Annual Flower

We have a very international garden. My husband enjoys the morning glories each morning as he sits in his office. He brought the seeds back from Chile several years ago. You can find morning glory seeds everywhere. It is wonderful because they reseed themselves each year since they were first planted.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wish You Could Smell This!

Several years ago I was visiting Well Sweep Herb Farm in New Jersey and brought home a Cestrum nocturnum (Night Blooming Jasmine). It has been glorious all summer and then my husband transplanted it just after it bloomed the first time and it set all new flowers and it has been blooming since. It is a very special plant. Just close your eyes and imagine the most wonderful jasmine smell in the world.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Day of Canning Tomatoes

When I wrote about having a miracle steamer to extract grape juice from the grapes, I didn't give you much detail only where you could buy it online. Now I am going to show you how it works. I had never tried anything but grapes, but you can steam meat, a whole chicken, make wine and make applesauce. It is a very useful tool in the kitchen. It is called Mehu-Liisa Juice Extractor & Steam Cooker from Finland. Again you can find it online at Lehman's, the Amish store in Kidron, OH. I hear it is a very interesting store about one acre in size and usually surrounded by horses and buggies. I hope to visit one day soon. Here is the steamer itself.

It is made up of stainless steel and has three components. The base that holds water, the middle section where the juice collects and the basket is the top section to hold whatever you are going to steam. I used the recipe for making Tomato Bouillon and Tomato Paste. It takes 12 pounds of tomatoes, quartered. I used a mix of Juliet, Bush Goliath, Patio, Celebrity and Early Girl from our garden. One small bunch of carrots, diced (about 1 pound), I used a white French carrot called Carotte Hybride Blanc from our garden, 4 onions, sliced (store bought), 1 bunch celery, cut in 1-inch pieces (store bought) and 3 green peppers, cut in pieces. I used a pepper called San Marco from our garden. The recipe also called for a teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar. You just remove the stems and ends and layer vegetables into steamer basket and sprinkle the salt and sugar over the top of everything. I divided my vegetables into two batches. I have a pot that collects the juice from the tube. Steam over rapidly boiling water for 60 minutes.

At the end of the time you stir the vegetables to get some of the tomato pulp and color into the juice. It is pretty watery as you will see, but it can be used where broth is needed in a recipe or as a simple soup with maybe some herbs that you freeze for the winter to brighten the flavor. The "paste" left in the basket can be strained through a food mill, but I just put it in pint jars as it was like very chunky stewed tomatoes.

The jars were all processed for 35 minutes in a boiling water bath. A wonderful way to enjoy the garden in the middle of winter!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Beautiful Herbal Treasure

I don't always get around to my front garden too much. It's mostly on auto pilot as they say. But the other day when the sun was out, (it isn't now) I spotted my favorite rose in full bloom and fighting for position in the garden. Remember all roses are edible and you just have to take off the white heel at the bottom of the petal before eating it Remember only eat organically grown flowers. If you get a dozen roses from the florist, make potpourri, don't eat them. Here are some photos of one of my favorite roses, Graham Thomas. Very fragrant!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Surprise Sunflowers

Because it was such a crappy day of rain (although we need it), I'm giving you a treat. That rock wall we have in the back of my herb garden creates all sorts of possibilities for chipmunks to reek havoc in the garden. They annoyingly place sunflower seeds in ALL of our containers. The seeds, of course, all grow extremely well. If we try to grow the sunflowers in our garden, the birds and others eat them! You can't win! So even though it wasn't planned, this cute sunflower is a winner in my herb garden. Remember sunflowers are a true native American flower and edible. You can eat both buds (boil them twice in water to remove the bitterness) and the petals. Here when the colonists came. A native of Peru so it has to be in our garden. I married a Peruvian almost 21 years ago. Hope it is dry where you are. Until next time.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

That Mystery Herb-Stevia

During my herbal cleanup day, I came across a layer of herbs that I didn't recognize right away. I broke my cardinal rule of not labeling a layer when it was different than the rest. I came to my senses and remembered what it was. It is stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), the sweet herb of Paraguay. It has been used for hundreds of years by the Guarani Indians of Paraguay. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar. I did a little experiment today and brewed seven leaves in a cup of hot water. I don't usually like sugar in my tea or coffee, but it was slightly sweet and minty. It was quite good. I may use it this winter in a mix of herbs for tea. My plant is just about to bloom. I guess I need to start cutting it and drying it for winter use.  This is the one herb that is OK to cut after it has bloomed.  You know I always preach, cut before it blooms for best flavor.  Stevia is an exception.   I bought it to use in an herbs in container class I taught earlier in the year. If it had stayed in the container, I probably would have had to pot it up to the next size or keep it clipped back during the season. Here is a picture of stevia in my herb garden.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Beautiful Day in the Herb Garden!

I just love this time of year! I know I keep saying this but today was an outstanding day in the herb garden. I talked briefly about the beneficial insects in a previous post and there is no other group that is more beneficial than bees. Here is a bee enjoying the tansy in my herb garden. We keep the tansy in check by taking most of it out late in the year each year so it doesn't have a chance to take over. It works quite well. I haven't forgotten about the mystery herb. I'll talk about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Herbal Cleanup Day

We had a rainy day today and so I got to work inside at my work table in the basement. People ask all of the time how I much of my herb garden I use each season. I never get a good answer out of that question. The answer should probably be not enough. I dried my dill using paper towels. It is a very reliable way and you get to reuse the towels with a bonus of a dilly smell to them.

Because I live with canning jars everywhere. I placed the dill in a jar and placed a label with the date on it because you ideally what to use the herb within a year. Also, check out the tomatoes are finally coming in! Nothing like a peanut butter and tomato sandwich!

You want to label the herbs you are drying because you never know when you get to the end of the season and you find this herb at the bottom of the dill pile! Yikes! What is this herb? Believe it or not, I remember and I will share my answer with you in the next posting.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Holy Bloomin' Rosemary, Part II

This rosemary just keeps getting better! Here is today's photo. I'm going to be making rosemary garlic jelly in the next few days. This is one of my favorite times of the year in the garden. Until next time.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Thyme for Grape Jelly

This weekend was grape weekend in our house. My husband cut the grapes and in the past I have struggled with the jelly bag, burning my hands and trying to get the clearest grape juice. Now I have this great invention that I found on Lehman's website. Lehman's is a store located in the heart of Amish country, Ohio. They have the greatest selection of non-electric products including a Finnish juice steamer. It is the best product I have ever purchased. I'm going to use it on the tomatoes next making boullion and paste. More about it in future posts. Here is a picture of the jam and jelly I have made so far this season. On the top row there are Thyme for Grape Jelly and Raspberry Jam. On the bottom row from left to right are Rose Geranium Jelly, Cinnamon Basil Jelly and Lemon Basil Jelly. I love this time of year! Until next time.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Chives for All Times

I was in the garden the other day and snapped this picture of the garlic chives, Allium tuberosum and the curly chives, Allium senescens var. 'glaucum' just to the left with the pink flowers. You can eat the flowers of the garlic chives. The curly chive flowers are more ornamental. Regular chives have a round leaf that is hollow and garlic chives have a flat leaf. Regular chives have a mild onion flavor and garlic chives have a mild garlic flavor.
When the regular chives are blooming in the spring (photo below), my husband makes me a chive blossom omelet. Don't do what he does! Break apart a blossom and sprinkle on the egg mixture. He has put NINE blossoms in an omelet on several occasions. He has to be reminded every year! Maybe more about my statue named Mary next time. Until then.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Purple Angelica

I promised to post some pictures of the purple angelica or Angelica gigas or Korean Angelica. It has been just amazing! Hope you enjoy it.

You can find purple angelica online at Companion Plants or Mulberry Creek Herb Farm. Here is a closeup picture of the flowers. They were just full of beneficial insects.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Making Raspberry Jam

We have had a beautiful stretch of weather here in western Pennsylvania and yesterday morning we picked raspberries. There were just enough to make raspberry jam this morning. I need seven cups of raspberries and three cups of sugar.

They are layered together in a big bowl wrapped in plastic overnight.

Then I placed the raspberries and sugar in a saucepan and cook them down. You want some not so ripe berries or add two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice to the mixture to help in the set up process.

You start the mixture on high and when it starts to produce foam, you turn it down to second and skim off the foam. You will lose a few berries in the process. Continue cooking for about 20 or 30 minutes. Until it starts to set up. You don't want it to be completely set up because it will continue to set after you finish cooking it. In the meantime sterlize your jars in water for 10 minutes and place lids in hot water, but do not boil.

You want to put the mixture into your sterilized jars soon as you can.
It will look like this. I fill to the top. Not what they tell you to do, but it works for me.
You want to process the jars in the hot water bath for at least 7 minutes 30 seconds. Once you take the jars out of the hot water, the tops will gave a "click" to tell you they are sealed. If they don't seal by the next day, put them in the refrigerator and use them promptly.
I have a recipe for Lavender Raspberry Jam and I may try it before the end of the season this year. Until next time.