Tag Archive | Herbs

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?

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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.

Drying Herbs

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Herbs and flowers drying in a warm, dry spot

All herbs can be dried, but not all of them are worth the trouble. Parsley, chervil, chives, and coriander, to name four popular favorites that are widely marketed in dried form, taste more or less like hay that way, no matter how carefully they have been processed. Most of the others, including basil, dill, thyme, rosemary, sage, and tarragon, come through very nicely — changed, to be sure, but still useful.

I’m a bit of a romantic so I like to dry my herbs the old-fashioned way: hanging them in bunches in my dry basement. The scent is heavenly when several different bundles of herbs are drying together.

Most herbs have the strongest flavor right before they start to form flower buds. They should be freshly picked, preferably in the morning as soon as the dew has dried. (Basil, however, is an exception. It’s more flavorful at the end of the day.)

If the herbs have long stems with sparse foliage at the bottom, you can hang them in bunches. Use rubber bands or twine to tie loose bundles of eight stems or so. Hang them in the chosen spot (dark, dry, warm area that gets plenty of air circulation), and keep checking on them. If the herbs have tightly packed leaves (or flowers) that might rot before they could dry, strip them from the stems and spread them on screens. Prop the screens on piles of books or bricks so air can circulate.

Over the past several years, many methods of drying herbs have arisen (including spreading them on a towel in the back seat of your car when it sits out on a hot day). I found a website that details six methods of drying — depending on the amount of time and money that you want to spend. Visit Mother Earth News for some ideas.

No matter which way you dry them, the herbs are ready to store when they are brittle and should be removed from the drying area as soon as this happens. Strip the leaves from the stems, but leave them whole. Store in air-tight glass jars in a cool, dark, dry place for up to a year. Color is a clue: a pale look probably means a pale taste.

 

Try Freezing your Herbs

Drying herbs is pretty commonplace and, for me, there’s nothing better than the fragrance of herbs drying in my basement. However, herbs that have been frozen taste fresher than dried herbs, but only for the first 4 months or so after freezing. After that, flavor declines rapidly, so freezing should be an addition to drying.

To freeze lemon verbena, lovage, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, and tarragon, use whole leaves (discard stems). To freeze dill, fennel, and thyme, use tender sprigs. Basil discolors when it is frozen, so if you want it to stay bright green, dip branches in boiling water, just for a second or two, then remove, discard stems, and gently dry the leaves.

Whatever you’re freezing should be completely dry. Spread it out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place it in the freezer. As soon as the herbs are frozen, usually in no more than an hour or two, pack them in heavy plastic freezer bags and put the bags in freezer-safe glass jars (canning jars) for storage.

Chives don’t freeze well; they don’t dry well, either. Use them fresh or substitute green onion tops.

Another popular method for freezing herbs involves chopping them and adding them to liquid (water or olive oil), freezing them in ice cube trays, and pulling out just what you need to add to soups, sauces, gravies, etc. There are many places on the web with instructions on how to freeze herbs in liquids.

Remember: freezing herbs won’t help you any if you forget to use them, something all too easy to do. As a reminder, post an inventory of frozen herbs where you will see it when you reach for the seasonings.

 

Next time:  Drying Herbs

Lucy’s Corner

 

Middle_Eastern_Kimchi_Vegetables_(8629557191)Our friend and Master Gardener Lucy Valitchka has been successfully growing vegetables longer than many of our members have been gardening. Each year, we ask Lucy to teach our new class the section on Vegetables, and she also graciously supplies an article for our Summer Newsletter. Because that information is too valuable to keep to ourselves, we’re reprinting it here.

“During the growing season gardeners know that timing of jobs in the garden impact the final produce harvested. That is the reason behind these calendar jobs listed in each newsletter. Maybe some people remember it easily, but I need a reminder just to make sure the job gets done in time. For new readers of this column, I try to include a calendar of garden tips for each month. This is taken from Madison Area Master Gardener’s Association garden journal no longer published.

June Week 1

  • Control anthracnose and other disease problems by staking plants, maintaining optimal plant spacing and using mulches.
  • Tie tall crops, such as tomatoes, or cage them, to support as they grow.
  • Before setting out tomato cages, disinfect them with a 10% bleach solution or spray cages with rubbing alcohol. (I do that before I store them for the winter.)
  • Start seedlings of brussels sprouts to transplant in mid July.
  • Plant peppers, eggplants, sweet potatoes and late potatoes.

June Week 2

  • Plant successive crops of beans, beets, carrots, kohlrabi, corn, turnips, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
  • As soil warms apply a mulch after deep watering or heavy rain.
  • Control leaf blight on tomatoes by disposing of diseased foliage or plants immediately or planting disease-resistant varieties.
  • Control cabbage worm and cabbage looper on cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

June Week 4

  • Thin vegetables for proper spacing.
  • Plant rutabagas, late cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.
  • Mulch tomatoes and water them, if necessary.
  • Stop harvesting asparagus. Weed asparagus bed carefully after harvesting to avoid damage to roots.

July

  • Renew mulch if it starts to decompose.
  • Make daily inspections for pests, and treat, if necessary.
  • Control garden weeds to prevent them going to seed.
  • Harvest onions, garlic, and early potatoes when tops begin to shrivel.2593250285_343710da83_b

July Week 1

  • Plant lettuce and spinach for fall crop. Pre-germinate seeds on moist towel, or plant deeper than spring planting. Mulch thinly.
  • Watch for squash vine borer. Remove floating row covers from cucumbers and melons as soon as they begin to bloom so that they can be pollinated. Use a reflective mulch such as aluminum foil to repel squash vine borers.
  • Plant collards, kale, bunching onions and cucumbers for fall harvest.

July Week 2

  • Plant beets, Chinese cabbage, rutabagas and turnips for fall harvest.
  • Fertilize asparagus beds. Mulch with straw.
  • Keep tomatoes mulched and watered to prevent blossom end rot.

July Week 3

  • Transplant broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower seedlings for fall crop.
  • Plant chard for fall crop.

July Week 4

  • Plant fall crop of peas. Keep plants picked to maintain productivity.

August

  • Sow cover crops in garden areas not in use.
  • Pick herbs just before blossoms open for best flavor.
  • Inspect corn regularly. Corn pests become abundant in mid-August.

August Week 1

  • Keep eggplant and peppers picked so younger fruit develops.
  • Plant late crops of radishes, lettuce, spinach and beets.

5835401559_94b5856885_oSome parting wisdom taken from an article about Gardening in Grandfather’s Time by Jerry Minnich in the 2012 Wisconsin Garden Journal: Connections Through Time “Sometimes it’s true: The more things change, the more they stay the same. And despite all the new wrinkles in gardening, our greatgreatgrandchildren will probably be planting potatoes just as we do, hill by hill, row by row, eyes always up. Through the generations, gardeners will always be connected.” Jerry Minnich is the author of several gardening books, including The Wisconsin Garden Guide, published in 2010. “

Planting Companions

Companion-PlantingThe interactions between garden plants have not been extensively studied in carefully controlled trials, so there isn’t much hard scientific data on the abilities of different species to help (or hurt) each other when they’re grown close together. But over the years, gardeners’ observations have formed a body of advice that’s impressive enough to be worth some consideration.

A lot of the tried and true is just common sense. Plants with strong odors — such as basil, rue, marigold, scented-leaf geraniums, and garlic — repel or confuse many insects that rely on smells to find their targets. Herbs and flowers loved by bees — such as borage, thyme, and bee balm — help attract these pollinators and thus improve fruit-set on many vegetables, including summer and winter squash, tomatoes, peppers, and beans.

There are also many specific combinations that are famous, at least in folklore, though as the diet advertisements say, “results may vary.” Much will depend on climatic conditions, the nature of the soil, and the overall health of the plants in question. Nevertheless, more than a few gardeners swear by rules like these:

  • Plant parsley near asparagus to improve vigor
  • Radishes grown near lettuce are more tender
  • Petunias help repel bean beetles
  • Beets interplanted with onions will help stifle weeds
  • Carrots will grow larger if interplanted with chives
  • Dill or caraway will help repel cabbage moths
  • Tomatoes hate fennel; keep them apart
  • Beans don’t do well near alliums (garlic, onions, chives)
  • Nasturtiums attract aphids and deter cucumber and bean beetles

In nature plants are gregarious, living in complex communities. Short, early bloomers share space with tall species that leaf out and flower late; shallow-rooted types cozy up to deep-rooted neighbors. Heavy feeders benefit from association with plants that make more nutrients than they themselves need.

And because each piece of ground hosts a diversity of species, pests and diseases (which tend to target particular groups of plants) are naturally limited; there’s never enough of any one thing to support major infestation.

Vegetable gardens can’t be as intricate as the natural patchwork, but they can take a lesson from it, and the more diversity they support, the more productive they will be.

  • Plant vining crops like squash in the corn patch; the sprawling vines will provide a living mulch that conserves surface moisture (corn has shallow roots) and keeps down the weeds. Don’t plant the squash until the soil warms and the corn is about a foot tall. Corn likes toasty toes, and baby plants will be smothered unless they get a head start.
  • Plant heavy feeders like squash, cucumber, corn, and celery next to — or right after — peas and beans, which fix nitrogen through their roots, improving the fertility of the soil under and around them.
  • Once summer heat strikes, plant greens like lettuce and spinach on the shady side of tall pea and bean rows. The soil will be cooler there, and the extra nitrogen in the soil will help the leaves grow swiftly.
  • Instead of planting a large bed of one crop, consider planting alternate rows. Bush beans work well with members of the cabbage family, for instance, and carrots get along well with determinate (short-vined) tomatoes.