Tag Archive | Herbs

Learn about Herbs: Homegrown Herb Tea

Long day, sore feet, tired of noise: a nice cup of herbal tea is just what the doctor (should) order. Herbal teas, also called tisanes, differ from “real” tea (Camellia sinensis) in that they rarely contain caffeine. Made from herbs, spices, and other plant material, tisanes are soothing and, in some instances, medicinal.

Good herbs for tea that should grow well in your garden include chamomile (leaves and flowers), fennel (leaves and seeds), hyssop (leaves and flowers). For just their leaves, you can grow bergamot, aka bee balm (Monarda didyma), betony (Stachys officinalis), lemon balm, applemint, peppermint, spearmint, and sage. All are hardy to at least zone 5. [Note: watch the spread of any of those plants in the mint family.]

Lemon verbena and scented-leaf geraniums should also thrive to zone 5 in the summer, though they are not frost hardy. And don’t forget rose hips, raspberry and blackberry leaves, and the flowers or elderberries and linden trees (Tilia spp.). Though not usually grown in vegetable gardens, they too are valuable additions to the homegrown tea lover’s pantry.

Remember to dry all of your ingredients well, then store them (as whole as possible) in a dark, cool place until you’re ready to use them, preferably in glass jars.

I’m partial to this post which combines flavor ideas as well as focusing on the healthy aspects of herbal tea: https://www.thewellessentials.com/blog/how-to-make-your-own-homemade-herbal-tea-blends

Harvesting Herbs

Every spring we start with beautiful and fragrant herbs, with visions of cooking up pots of flavorful stews and healthy salads. What I generally end up with, though, are tons of healthy herbs that I dry and use all winter. Either way, it’s good to understand how to use your herbs for the best flavor.

The best time to pick herbs for daily use is when it’s time to use them. Herbs for storage, on the other hand, should be harvested right before the plant flowers, since that’s when the leaves are likely to be most flavorful.

Gather all herbs except basil in mid-morning, shortly after the the dew has dried. Gather basil in the late afternoon; it has better storage properties after a day in the sun. Washing is NOT recommended; it bruises leaves and leaches flavor, but that means the herbs must be grown clean — never treated with pesticides, and protected from splash-ups of soil with a layer of mulch. (If necessary, use a soft brush to remove the occasional aphid or crumb of dirt.)


Cut stems of branching types like basil by a half to two-thirds of their length, making cuts right above joints where you see healthy growth buds. Take outer stems of base-branchers like parsley, cutting them right at ground level. You can continue harvesting annuals until frost takes the plants, but be sure to let a few flowers form on chervil, coriander (cilantro), dill, and borage if you want the plants to self-sow.


Cut as you would branching annuals, but be sure to stop about six weeks before frost so the plants have time to toughen up for winter. (Taking a sprig or two every now and then won’t hurt anything; you just don’t want to force a lot of frost-tender new growth.

Drying Herbs:

You’ve seen the pictures a million times: bunches of dried herbs hanging from the beams in a country kitchen, a beautifully arranged wreath of dried herbs and flowers (or bright red chilies) within snipping distance of the stove. It looks easy and practical, as well as cosy and homelike.

But it’s not really a good idea — unless you plan to use up the goodies in a very short time. Dried foods left exposed in a working kitchen will be magnets for grease and/or dust, and their quality will be degraded by light, heat, and steam. The old-time farmers whose kitchens inspired this look had airier kitchens (no insulation) and lower expectations about cleanliness of the food.

For information on drying your herbs, refer to our earlier post: https://gardensnips.wordpress.com/2016/07/18/drying-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.



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


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


    Ripe tomatillos


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


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


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

  • Bitter melon


    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.


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.


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


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.