Tag Archive | Herbs

Grow Your Garden to Match Your Cuisine

Whether you have a large plot or a small patio garden to work with, fresh veggies and herbs that highlight different countries around the globe are both fun and functional. Some tips:

  • When designing a cultural garden, choose only a few edibles — specifically the ones you cook with most. You can always add on or switch out plants.
  • Consider how much sun the proposed site receives in a given day. Most edibles need around eight hours a day to thrive.
  • Edge edibles with ornamentals to keep the look pleasing and pretty. Just consider any ornamental plant’s growth habit, so they don’t end up eventually overshadowing low-growing vegetables and herbs.
  • Include one vertical grower, which provides interest. Cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, and pole beans are good considerations.

French

chard2

Beautiful Rainbow Chard

Ooh la la. A high-style potager (kitchen garden) featuring these favorite French goodies is tres magnifique!

  • Alpine strawberry
  • Chard
  • Chervil
  • Culinary lavender
  • French green bean
  • Garlic
  • Leek
  • Savory
  • White asparagus

Mexican

Cook up the freshest fare around with these must-have ingredients. The number of chili varieties out there is endless — choose a few to spice up your life.

  • Chili pepper (jalapeno, po
    tomatillos

    Ripe tomatillos

    blano, 
    serrano)

  • Cilantro
  • Epazote
  • Heirloom corn
  • Heirloom squash (summer and winter)
  • Red Mexican bush bean
  • Tomatillo

Italian

The vegetables and herbs in this region are as varied as the cuisine itself.

  • Broccoli raab
  • Cipollini onion
  • Fava bean
  • Fennel
  • Heirloom cantaloupe
  • Italian parsley
  • Roma tomato
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Savoy cabbage
  • Sweet basil

Asian

These exciting vegetables may be used in stir-fries and salads, or to accompany Chinese dishes. Use fermented cabbage in kimchi.

  • Bitter melon

    how-to-grow-bok-choy-slide3-1000

    Bok Choy in the garden

  • Bok choy
  • Daikon
  • Edamame
  • Green onion
  • Lemongrass
  • Napa cabbage
  • Snow peas
  • Thai basil

If you get a chance, visit the Cleveland Cultural Garden in Cleveland, Ohio. Featuring 31 gardens that are each inspired by a different ethnic group — Polish, Greek, Italian, German, Hebrew, Irish, Chinese, African-American, and Indian, to name a few — the Cleveland Cultural Garden in Rockefeller Park is a must-stop destination in Ohio. For more information, visit culturalgardens.org.

 

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Herbs and Butterflies

Bees, birds, and butterflies adore blooming herbs. They’re easy to grow from seeds and add color and interest to your gardens — and you’ll enjoy having those fresh herbs for cooking! You can scatter the seeds in a sunny spot in early spring, cover lightly with soil, and keep moist until they sprout. Want to experiment? Try growing them straight from your spice rack! Use organic whole seed, rather than ground or powdered spices. Their ability to sprout will also depend on how they’ve been stored and processed.

Here are a few to try:

Fennel (foeniculum vulgare) – fennel is a fast-growing herb that adds delicacy and height to flowerbeds. It reaches 3 feet tall and has abundant clusters of tiny, buttery yellow flowers. Many butterfly species, including black and anise swallowtails, flock to fennel both for its nectar and to use it as a host plant for their very hungry caterpillars.

Caraway (carum carvi) – the crescent-shaped seeds are produced by a plant that looks a lot like Queen Anne’s lace, thanks to its clusters to tiny white and pinkish flowers. This biennial reaches 2 feet tall and may not flower until its second year. As a host plant, it’s fantastic for black swallowtail eggs, while yellow-green sulphurs and metalmark butterflies stop by to snack on its nectar.

sesame

The flowers of the sesame plant

Cumin (cyminum cyminum) – with delicate white bloom bursts, cumin looks like a smaller, daintier cousin of Queen Anne’s lace. The ridged seeds grow into branching annuals that stand 18 inches tall. Soak seeds overnight before planting for faster germination. Small to medium-sized butterflies love to land on the flowers.

Sesame (sesamum indicum) – humans have been using sesame seeds for more than 4,000 years, making it the oldest known oil crop. This robust and drought-tolerant plant has tubular flowers that resemble foxglove blossoms and dangle from leafy stems that can reach up to 3 feet. Sesame flowers can self-pollinate, but they still produce sweet nectar to tempt wandering pollinators such as butterflies and bees. Monarchs and fritillaries visit, as do sphinx moths and hummingbirds.

Dill (anethum graveolens) – this annual adds appealing contrasts of color and texture to

Dille

Lacy dill in bloom

flowerbeds thanks to feathery fronds and bright yellow flowers. Not only is dill irresistible to anglewings, tortoiseshells, and sulphers, but it’s also a favorite host plant of black swallowtails.

Coriander (coriandrum sativum) – this plant has a split personality. It’s round seeds are common to Indian cuisine, but its fresh leaves are what we know as cilantro. Clusters of delicate white, pinkish, or pale lavender flowers top these 2-foot annuals. From New England to Montana, naturalized coriander grows across the United States.

 

Learn about Herbs: Bountiful Borage

The holidays are behind us, the garden catalogs are arriving, and it’s time to start thinking about planting! It seems like gardeners tend to fall into one of two categories: vegetable gardeners (who don’t mind also having beautiful flowers), or flower gardeners who tuck in a few veggies and/or herbs here and there. To encourage everyone to add some edibles to their garden spaces (no matter how small), I thought we’d learn about herbs.

Borage_(Borago_officinalis)The little blue flowers of borage (borago officinalis) are favorite edible garnishes, adding color to everything from salad to cake. The taste is very delicate so you can use lots, assuming you have the patience to pick them. And borage leaves are delicious, tasting mostly of cucumber with a hint of lettuce sweetness. But the fine white hairs that give them their silvery glow are not so pleasant on the palate. To get around the problem, cooks either use very young leaves in salads, or employ larger ones as removable seasonings — stepping them in white wine punches is classic.

You can also add them to cooked dishes such as chicken soup, since heat destroys the prickly quality. And borage leaves are very tasty prepared like spinach or other tender greens. That sounds like a way to use up your whole windfall: creamed borage all around! Unfortunately, borage deserves its reputation as a natural laxative, so it can’t really be used as a solo vegetable. A handful of leaves mixed with other greens is the largest amount that is wise.

Borage_Plant_-_geograph.org.uk_-_217039This is one of the most persistent self-sowers known to gardening so you’ll want to control it. The upper sections of full-grown borage plants, sparse of leaf and rich with flowers, make very pretty fillers for country-style bouquets.

The Learning Garden “Asian Garden” and “Herb Garden”

Asian Garden by OCMGA Master Gardeners Anne Anderson and Tom Wentzel

Tom and I did the square garden with Asian veggies. What I learn from the square garden is how much you can plant in one square. It’s amazing if one is limited on space how square gardening would be beneficial. The only problem was after the garden started to grow I was not sure what were weeds or the growing vegetable. Asian vegetables to me, looked like weeds or maybe they were! LOL!!! What I would do different is if there is more than one square with the same veggie, I would not have put them next to each other. Lastly, I should have brought my cats to clean up since watching them chase the mice would have been so entertaining!

Herb Garden by OCMGA Master Gardeners Mary Learman, Sue Mings, and Maureen Flanagan-Johnson

We continued the original theme by planting the more common herbs used in Greece, France, Italy and England. Since most herbs do not like wet feet, it took a little while before we saw any real growth. Then they did not stop. We framed each of the four plots with marigolds and made a Marigold Henge in the center. A couple of notes for next year will be to not to over-plant, plus to harvest more often. It actually needed little upkeep apart from the occasional pruning. But with schedules and the vagaries of the weather, they were not harvested often enough. One unexpected problem turned out to be that the voles had built a metropolis under the herb garden and it collapsed in several places. They also ate some of the roots. Ninja tactics will be employed next year.

Reprinted from the OCMGA member newsletter from the winter of 2014

The Scent of Improved Health

The following article is taken from “Renew”, a UnitedHealthcare magazine. The source quoted is The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.

Chamomile: relieves anxiety; promotes sleep; is anti-inflammatory

For thousands of years, the medicinal benefits of

Lemon: energizes and uplifts the mind; detoxifies; repels viruses

inhaling aromas of certain essential oils have been known by many cultures around the world.

Today, aromatherapy — using plant extracts and essential oils for their scent — is used in some hospitals and clinics as complementary medicine.

Eucalyptus: relieves congestion; clears and energizes the mind; helps with brochitis

A 2013 study published by Bentham Science in Current Drug Targets has indicated certain health benefits of aromatherapy — from killing bacteria to improving mood disorders to combating insomnia. In 2014, a review of several studies published

in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found a positive effect from essential oils on sleep disturbances with no adverse reactions. Plus, for more than a decade, essential oils have been studied for use in cancer therapy (in tandem with conventional treatment), and the results of more than 100 studies have been promising to doctors and other health practitioners.

Lavender: reduces anxiety; produces a sense of calm; promotes cell regeneration (which is good for wounds and burns)

What’s wonderful about aromatherapy is that you can experience it at home. Essential oils are widely available for purchase, so check you local grocery or health foods store. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, naha.org, also has tips to get you started.

Here are a few ways to use aromatherapy essential

Peppermint: relieves nausea; is an analgesic for aches and pains; reduces migraines; energizing

oils at home:

  • Dilute into a spritzer and spray a room
  • Add drops to your bath water
  • Add drops into boiling water or a steamer

Planning for next year

When growing season is done and the garden has been put to bed, it’s time to start planning for next year! I love tea and drink it the way many other people drink coffee. I have an area in my flower garden devoted to herbs, and I’m thinking about adding something new:  tea.

downloadTrue tea (white, black and green) comes from one plant species: Camellia sinensis, hardy in Zones 6 to 9. This plant isn’t finicky (slightly acidic soil, a sunny location and plenty of water will keep it happy), but it grows slowly from seed. It can take three years to get a harvest and cuttings are challenging, so purchasing a plant seems like the right approach. Like me, you may already have herbs in your garden, such as mint and lemongrass, that you can use for tisanes, or herbal teas.

When using herbs for tea, it’s important to research which part of the plant is used for making tea, such as the leaves of the mint plant, the buds and flowers of chamomile or the outer stalks of lemongrass. Freshly picked herbs can be brewed right away. You can also dry herbs to keep the cupboard stocked.

Herbal tea

imagesThis hot beverage is not actually tea (not being made from the Camellia sinensis plant, but from herbs), but is called tea and is wildly popular. Some of the possible plants to use:

  • Bee balm
  • Bergamot
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Raspberry
  • Rose Hip
  • Sage
  • Strawberry
  • Yarrow

Gently tear or crush herbal leaves, buds or roots to release essential oils and boost flavor, and you might consider a tea infuser or ball instead of a strainer for a simpler brewing process to avoid having a cup full of leaves.

Pharmacy in your Garden?

Xi'an_traditionnal_medecine_market_(20)

Traditional Medicine Market in China

There is no doubt that many plants are useful medicinally, just as there is equal certainty that many of them are poisonous. The problem is that these are often the same plants. The vast array of widely available herbal supplements and the equally huge assortment of books on herbal healing reinforce a general sense that natural products are safer than manufactured ones. But the truth is a resounding “sometimes yes and sometimes no.” Herbal medicine is a huge and complicated subject, well worth investigating but by no means something to plunge into incautiously. Things to bear in mind:

  • Very few scientifically rigorous studies have been done, largely because almost all such studies are underwritten by drug companies, and herbs, which cannot be patented, could never return the investment involved.
  • There is no way for the home gardener to standardize dosage: plants produce different amounts of active chemical agents depending on how and where they are grown, when they are harvested, and the variety characteristics of the particular plant.
  • Herbs may interact badly with other drugs, rendering them less effective or more toxic, in unpredictable ways.
  • Like other drugs, many herbal toxins are cumulative. Small doses may produce no adverse symptoms but become dangerous in the aggregate.

The don’t-mess-with-in list. A sampling of herbs that have historic reputations as medicinals but are potentially deadly: aconite (Aconitum napellus), deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), lobelia (Lobelia inflata), May apple (Podophyllum peltatum), and pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides and Mentha pulegium both go by this common name, and the oils of both are toxic). Note: for an interesting literary exploration of some of these poisonous plants, check out our upcoming August 9, 2016 blogpost on the natural poisons found in Agatha Christie’s books.

In addition, many well-known herbs appear to be carcinogenic (sassafras, coltsfoot, and comfrey); cause abnormal heart rhythms and/or violent gastrointestinal symptoms (tansy, broom, and blood root); or have other downsides that make freelance experimentation unwise.

The give-it-a-whirl list. A sampling of herbs that are very unlikely to hurt you and may well do some good, assuming you use only small amounts: agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), catnip (Nepeta cataria), chamomile (Matricaria recutita and Chamaemelum nobile), echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium), garlic (Allium sativum), hops (Humulus lupulus), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), and valerian (Valeriana officinalis). Be careful with Borage as it absolutely deserves its reputation as a natural laxative; a few leaves go a long way!

In addition, there are herbs that emphatically should NOT be ingested but do have strong healing properties when used externally. First and foremost is aloe, most commonly Aloe vera, which deserves its high reputation as a healer of burns. [Personal side note: I incurred a really, really bad sunburn on my lips in late June of this year — I’m talking second degree burns. Since I have a lovely pot of Aloe growing in my house, I thought I’d smear a little on my lips to make them heal. I have NEVER tasted anything worse in my whole life!! I couldn’t wipe it off fast enough and it took forever for the taste to go away.]

Another healing herb to be used externally is arnica (Arnica montana) which is right up there as an easer of aching muscles, and comfrey (Symphytum officinale) does seem to promote the healing of wounds when applied as a poultice.