Category Archives: Edibles

The Magical Flowers of Butterfly Pea Plants

In August 2017, I visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It was beautiful and I took many photos. As always the plants that stayed with me were the ones I had not seen before. I remember vines with beautiful pea-like flowers, about 2 inches wide, wrapped around dead trees, which were painted (“art”). The flowers were blue/purple with a yellow inner strip and the green leaves reminded me of Kentucky coffee trees. Obviously it was a tropical vine in the legume family (Fabaceae) but I could not find a sign. Later when I got home, I stumbled across the same plant on Facebook only with cobalt blue flowers. Its name, I learned, was butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea).

The Facebook post said the flowers were used for an herbal tea. I had no idea this pretty vine had herbal qualities.  I researched online and discovered that the cobalt blue variety is well-known in Asian countries. The flowers are dried and sold in bags but one can purchase a powdered form or an extract. The flowers can be brewed alone or combined with other herbs such as lemongrass, ginger, and mint. The blue comes from anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds, similar to blueberries.

When brewed with water the tea is cobalt blue. However, when an acid is added, such as lemon juice, the tea turns purple. When an alkaline liquid such as roselle tea is added, the tea turns red. Apparently butterfly pea tea acts like a litmus strip, the color of the drink changes with the pH of what it is mixed with. This does not affect the taste but has transformed butterfly tea into a novelty cocktail drink. The cobalt blue flowers also are used to dye food such as custards, puddings, rice dishes, and sticky rice.

Butterfly pea is native to Africa. Here in Virginia it would be grown as an annual. The vine grows rapidly in the summer and needs support so an arbor is ideal but would be interesting to try it in a hanging basket. As a member of the pea family, the plant fixates nitrogen and is good for the soil. The vine can take full sun to light shade and is drought tolerant. There are several varieties, some have cobalt blue, lavender, or white flowers in single or double flowered forms.

This is not an easy plant to find here in Virginia but it seems that once you have the plant, you can let some flowers go to seed and collect the pods for next year. Last week I was in Florida and toured a friend’s garden. He was growing this plant in a large container with a trellis. I was so excited to see the butterfly pea again and explained how I was interested in growing it. He had a plastic bag full of the seed pods and offered me some. I took a handful of pods which by now had dried and split open and brought them home. This week, I plan to sow the seeds outside and grow butterfly pea plants in order to experiment with novelty drinks!

Pegplant’s Post April Giveaway: 21 packages of seed!

Cosmos, one of the flowers of the flower seed collection

For years I have been receiving the Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog as well as the newsletter. John Scheepers is a family-owned seed company that sells a large collection of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. They produce a beautifully illustrated free catalog with detailed information on the plant itself and the varieties. This catalog is a great resource for beginner gardeners. Their website has horticultural information, an e-cookbook, and a blog. You also can subscribe to their free newsletter featuring particular vegetables, flowers, or herbs with sowing and growing information.

Borage, from the herb seed collection

The giveaway for the Pegplant’s Post April issue is three seed collections: vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Each collection has 7 packets for a total of 21 packages of seeds valued at $65.95. Only subscribers can enter the giveaway so subscribe now to Pegplant’s Post, a free gardening newsletter for the Washington DC metro area.

 

Photos courtesy of John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds

All-America Selections: Clancy Potatoes From True Potato Seed

Clancy potatoes, photo courtesy of All-America Selections

Last week, I received seed packets of various All-America Selections (AAS), both National and Regional 2019 winners.  All-America Selections are plants, flowers and edibles, tested for garden performance by a panel of expert judges. The varieties that perform best over all of North America become AAS National Winners and the ones that perform well in certain regions are AAS Regional Winners. This is an independent trialing process to offer gardeners reliable new varieties. AAS has an excellent website devoted to gardeners, detailing each plant with growing instructions and beautiful photos.

All the seed packets that I received look very exciting–I cannot wait to plant them this year in my Virginia garden. However, the one seed package that really was different and new to me was Clancy potato seeds, bred by Bejo Seeds. Not seed potatoes mind you but actual seeds. These seeds are so tiny they are coated to make them easier to handle. Clancy is the first potato from seed that is an AAS winner. Clancy grows to about 3 feet in height with blue flowers and produces rose-blush to red skinned tubers with a white to yellow interior. These round to oblong tubers are about 4-5 inches in length and are good for boiling and mashed potatoes.

True Potato Seed is so small, is coated

Usually potatoes are grown from “seed potatoes” which are either very small tubers or parts of a tuber. These are planted in March in our area and eventually a bushy plant appears that produces more and larger tubers to eat. True seed comes from the resulting fruit of a potato flower. True potato seed (TPS) is resistant to diseases especially viruses and lasts much longer than seed potatoes.

Last year I grew seed potatoes in fabric containers from small tubers but I have never grown potatoes from TPS before. TPS needs to be started indoors under lights about 6 weeks before the average last frost (end of April in Northern Virginia). They are sown with a very thin layer of seed starting mix on top of the seed as light inhibits germination. The surface of the soil must be moist until seedlings poke through and then watering can decrease. After the seedlings have produced four true leaves, the plants can be set outside to harden off. I harden off my plants by putting them on the deck in the daytime when the temperature is about 50 degrees and back inside if frost is predicted or the evenings are too cold. When there is no more danger of frost, the plants can be planted in containers or in the ground. All potato plants need to be “hilled” which is a process of covering the plant with soil as tubers form so the tubers are not exposed to light. The top 6 inches or so of the plant is not covered to allow leaves to continue to photosynthesis. Potatoes require full sun with good drainage and loose soil which is easy to provide in a large container where I can add bags of potting soil. In the summer, the plants must be well watered. Clancy will probably be harvested in mid to late summer.

I am truly looking forward to growing Clancy but I am also looking forward to the other AAS winners such as Big Duck Marigold Gold, Viking Begonia XL Red on Chocolate, Holi Scarlet Zinnia, Melon Orange Silverwave, Pepper Just Sweet, and the many tomatoes cultivars! If you are looking for new plants to try with a seal of approval, look to AAS for flower and vegetable winners.

Various All-America Selections to try this year

Winter Savory: A Beneficial Herb for the Garden

Winter savory blossom, up close

Winter savory (Satureja montana) has been a member of my Virginia garden for a number of years.  My plant is in full sun, in poor soil, and has never been bothered by diseases or deer. Hardy to zone 6, my winter savory has grown to be a short, woody shrub, about a foot tall. The green, needle-like foliage is less than an inch long, with many leaves per branch. Now, in February, the leaves are bronze-purple because of the cold. In the summer, the green plant is covered in small, white flowers, attracting beneficial insects and pollinators, including bees.

Winter savory in winter

I like winter savory for two reasons. It retains its leaves and transforms color in the winter, adding interest to the garden. It is a great pollinator plant, which I need for my summer veggies. Although winter savory foliage can be used for cooking, I tend to leave it alone and let it flower. For the kitchen, I grow its cousin, summer savory (Satureja hortensis). Summer savory is an annual herbaceous plant with similar foliage only a bit longer and not as woody. It is easy to grow from seed once frost has passed. Since I harvest the leaves for cooking I tend to disrupts summer savory’s ability to flower. Although it produces similarly shaped flowers, it is not grown for its flowers.

Savories are very old herbs, used for more than 2,000 years. Interestingly, there are two theories for the “Satureja” name. One is that it is a derivative of za’atar, a general name of eastern Mediterranean herbs with oregano-like aroma. The other theory is that Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, called the plant “satureia,” meaning “of the satyrs.” The satyrs are the mythical half horse/half man animals who eat plants such as savory to achieve a great level of sexual stamina (thought you might find that handy since Valentine’s Day is this week).

Winter savory blooming in August

Today, savory is known as the bean herb. Chefs tend to use the summer savory leaves to flavor beans, stews, tomato-based sauces, vinegars, stuffing mixtures, vegetables, meat marinades, chicken salad, and soups. They are an ingredient in herbes de Provence and fines herbs. They blend well with other herbs such as parsley, marjoram, oregano, basil, rosemary, and thyme. Both summer and winter savory have thymol and carvacrol, the characteristic aromas of oregano and thyme. However, winter savory is more pungent and has been used as a pepper substitute.

This summer, buy both and grow them for the garden, the pollinators, and for zest in your meals!

Anise Hyssop: Culinary Herb of the Year

anise hyssop at the National Herb Garden in July

The International Herb Association has named the Agastache genus as the 2019 Herb of the Year. There are about 20 species, all native to North America. Of the agastache plants, anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is the most well-known for culinary uses in Europe and America.

Anise hyssop is an herbaceous perennial hardy to zone 4. It is a short-lived perennial but it self-seeds and spreads a bit by rhizomes. In March, the leaves emerge with a purple hue. As the plant grows the leaves become green (although there is a golden cultivar). A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), the leaves have scalloped edges and look like catnip leaves. Anise hyssop grows a few feet tall and about one foot wide. In the summer, there are small lavender-blue flowers on 4 to 6-inch terminal spikes, creating fuzzy wands. The flowers attract beneficial pollinators, including butterflies and hummingbirds. Because the foliage is so fragrant, deer do not seem interested.

Anise hyssop is a full sun to part shade plant tolerating a wide range of soils in a well-drained site. In addition to its culinary use, anise hyssop is an asset in the garden as an ornamental. It provides contrast to orange and yellow flowers and complements purple foliage plants.

purple foliage of anise hyssop in March

Anise hyssop is harvested for its leaves as well as its flowers. Although the aroma is categorized as anise or licorice, some might say anise with a touch of basil or anise with a touch of tarragon. The most common use of the leaves is tea but you can also add the leaves to lamb or pork dishes, to the milk for making ice cream, sugar syrups and/or sugar syrups for cough drops, cocktails, honey, butter cookies, and sugar to make flavored sugar. The leaves dry well, retaining their taste and fragrance.

Use the flowers as a garnish for desserts, add to a salad, or add to a beverage such as ice tea. The flowers also dry well, retaining their color and aroma.

You can find small plants in the nursery in the spring or you can grow anise hyssop from seed. Sow the seed indoors under lights in order to transplant outside after the last frost or sow outside in the summer. Anise hyssop can also be propagated by root division.

This summer, grow anise hyssop in your garden for beauty as well as flavor.

Parsley: A Landscape Edible

parsley

parsley in January 2016

Parsley is one of those easy to grow landscape edibles that adds beauty to your garden and flavor to your cooking.

Here in Northern Virginia, parsley can stay green above ground in the winter.

Parsley is a biennial, it produces foliage the first year and flowers the second year. I have set aside a small area in the ground I call the parsley patch. There are enough plants so that some are in the first year (when I want to harvest foliage for the kitchen) and some are in the second year (when I want them to flower, develop seed, and drop the seed to the ground to create new plants for next year). Just for extra luck, I also scatter seeds every spring. This way I can harvest fresh parsley year round.

Parsley likes organic matter, moisture, and morning sun or dappled sun. My plants are in the ground but parsley can be grown in containers and window boxes for the summer. I grow flat leaf or Italian parsley, which is best for culinary purposes. There is a curly leaf type that is best used as a garnish.

curly parsley in summer

To harvest parsley, cut outer, older leaves at the base, leaving the core or inner, younger leaves.  Cut with scissors (don’t pull) and put in a large bowl of cool water for about 20 minutes (to wash the foliage and drown any bugs). Pat dry and cut the leaves and stems into small pieces with scissors or a knife.

I use parsley for my bean stew, roasted vegetables, roasted potatoes, pasta, and salads. I have used leaves for garnish for holiday dinners and plates of fruit. In addition to its flavor, parsley has high levels of vitamins A, C, and K, plus a high level of chlorophyll that freshens your breath!

New Apple Variety Bred Specifically For Local Pick-Your-Own Orchards

We are in luck, a fresh apple experience is coming our way. University of Maryland has released the first apple variety developed for the mid-Atlantic region called Antietam Blush. Six more varieties will follow, all adapted to the area’s summer heat and humidity, with increased drought and disease resistance. Antietam Blush is the first apple variety bred specifically for this area.  The trees are shorter, thus eliminating the need for ladders, and designed to be picked in October (good for pick your own orchards). The stronger tree architecture makes it easier and less labor intensive to maintain plus this variety is bred to be resistant to the fire blight bacterial disease.  Because the trees are smaller, they can be planted closer together without support, which means more apples can be produced. The apple is blush red, sweet and slightly tart, with a high sugar/high acid fruit content that stores well. Dr. Christopher Walsh, Professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Maryland, says that Antietam Blush combines the tartness of its parent, Cripps Pink, with the champagne fizz of its grandparent, Gala.

Dr. Walsh and then-graduate assistant Julia Harshman worked on this new kind of apple tree for nearly 30 years. When they started the main university apple breeding programs were at Cornell University, Washington State University, and the University of Minnesota. No one had bred an apple specifically for the mid-Atlantic region.  They recognized the need for an apple tree that would tolerate the hot, humid summer climate. Over time they bred trees to combine a heat tolerant fruit with a tree architecture that reduced the need for hand pruning and ladders. Dr. Walsh received the University’s first ever apple patent for Antietam Blush. Currently, several Maryland growers are growing Antietam Blush, which will be available to the local markets very soon. Check out the University of Maryland’s short video about Antietam Blush.

All photos by Edwin Remsberg, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Maryland

Grow Your Climate Victory Garden to Help Fight Climate Change

Modeled after the World War II Victory Gardens, gardeners can do their part to fight climate change by planting Climate Victory Gardens. Climate Victory Gardens focus on rebuilding and restoring soil health and employs regenerative agriculture principles at home. Regenerative agriculture is a type of farming that turns dead or degraded dirt into rich, biodiverse soil that acts as a carbon sink. Healthy soil sequesters more carbon than dead dirt. A worldwide switch to regenerative farming could reverse climate change.

Ron Finley and Rosario Dawson teamed up to narrate a video explaining the Climate Victory Garden. Produced by Green America and Kiss the Ground, the video highlights five gardening practices. Together, Ron and Rosario explain the importance of growing food, not using chemicals, composting, keeping the soil covered, and encouraging biodiversity. Although the Climate Victory Garden principles are in alignment with sustainable gardening, Ron explains that sustainable gardening just leaves you in the same place. Regenerative gardening helps reverse climate change by building and restoring soil which can then help pull carbon from the air and store underground.

In order to create a Climate Victory Garden, gardeners are encouraged to commit to the practices mentioned in the video and a few more for a total of eleven. More detailed information on these eleven is on Green America’s website:

  • Grow edible plants
  • Keep soils covered
  • Encourage biodiversity
  • Plant perennials
  • Ditch the chemicals
  • Compost
  • Integrate crops and animals
  • Use people power
  • Rotate plants and crops
  • Get to know my garden

American Heritage: Native Paw Paw Trees

Paw paw flowers in the spring

It’s paw paw season! Paw paws (Asimina triloba) are native trees that bear fruit in August, September, and October. Fruit of cultivated trees look very similar to mangos—green, kidney-shaped, and about 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. They have a variety of common names such as Indiana banana, poor man’s banana, and bandango. When cut in half, the interior reveals a yellow, custard-like pulp with two rows of large seeds. Paw paws can weigh from ½ to 1 pound. Technically a berry, they are the largest North American edible fruit. Paw paws taste like a cross between a banana and a mango with a splash of pineapple. They can be eaten raw or used in ice cream, pudding, smoothies, butter (such as apple butter), baked goods like cookies and pies, and even beer, brandy, and wine!

From Florida to Texas, north to New York, and west to Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska, paw paws are native to 26 states and grow as understory trees in hardwood forests near streams and rivers. In the wild, the trees grow to 15 to 30 feet and sucker, creating colonies. Reminiscent of cucumber magnolias, they have foot-long, dark green leaves. Unlike other fruit trees, paw paw trees are not subject to a high level of pests and diseases.

Paw Paws in American History and Folklore

Paw paw trees are part of American history and folklore. Jamestown colonists wrote about them in the 1600s. John Lawson, an Englishman, described them in his travels in the Carolinas in the 1700s. Danielle Boone enjoyed eating them. Members of the Lewis and Clark expedition ate paw paws for pleasure as well as sustenance. George Washington grew paw paw trees at Mount Vernon and ate the fruit as dessert. Thomas Jefferson grew them and sent seeds to his colleagues in Europe.  William Bartram, a naturalist, described the trees in Bartram’s Travels. His father, John Bartram, a botanist, sent seeds to Europe. During the Civil War, soldiers as well as African American slaves collected the fruit in the wild to supplement their meager diets. There is even a popular folk song called “Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch” about collecting ripe paws paws from the ground and putting them in a basket.

Paw paw fruit develop in clusters

Finding Paw Paw Trees and Fruit

Currently, Washington DC residents can see paw paw trees in the wild along the C&O Canal and Potomac River and as native plant representatives in public gardens. There are paw paw trees at the Smithsonian Pollinator Garden, next to the National Museum of Natural History, and at the U.S. Botanic Garden’s newly renovated Bartholdi Park and their National Garden’s Regional Garden of Mid-Atlantic Native Plants. 

Although paw paws are part of American heritage, you may not find them in grocery stores. When the fruit is ripe enough to eat, it drops to the ground and is highly perishable. The thin skin bruises easily, discoloring to black. Paw paws are best eaten immediately or preserved by removing and freezing the pulp. You may find them at local farmers markets in peak season and you will definitely find them at paw paw events across the country in the fall.

Growing Paw Paws in the Home Landscape

Paw paw fruits can be eaten raw

“There is a paw paw renaissance now,” said Michael Judd, owner of Ecologia, an edible and ecological landscaping service in Frederick, MD. Author of Edible Landscape with a Permaculture Twist, Michael currently is writing a book about paw paws and hosts an annual paw paw festival that will be on September 22 this year at LongCreek Homestead. “I call the paw paw an edible landscape all-stars because the tree is very attractive, low maintenance, and very fruitful.”

As native, hardy trees, paw paws can be grown in typical suburban plots. “Paw paws grow easily here,” said Michael. “This is paw paw country.” Although they are not self-fertile, that is, there must be two trees to cross pollinate to produce fruit, one can trim the trees to fit in residential properties. Michael recommends growing the trees in full sun, 10 to 12 feet apart, and cutting the central leader back to keep the trees at 8 feet. This shorten stature also makes them easier to harvest the fruit. Therefore, homeowners could have two 8-f00t trees in the yard producing 50 pounds of fruit each year. If full sun is not possible, they can grow in part shade but will produce less fruit.

Paw paw trees have a pyramidal shape

Michael recommends purchasing either a grafted tree, a select seedling, or a specific cultivar. Starting from seed takes years to produce fruit. Also starting from a wild paw paw seed will result in less than desirable fruit. The taste of wild paw paws varies plus the fruit is small with a poor pulp to seed ratio.  Breeders spend years selecting desirable characteristics such as large fruit, a high pulp to seed ratio (more pulp, less seed), and good flavor.

You can’t go wrong planting paw paws. They are native, deer resistant trees that provide fruit and pretty yellow fall color. “Paw paw trees are very ornamental, they have a beautiful pyramidal shape,” explained Michael. “The leaves turn to a beautiful yellow golden color in the fall and when the leaves drop they reveal a tree with nice architecture in the winter.”

All photos taken by Michael Judd.

Pegplant’s Post Giveaway: Botanical Interests Seed Sprouter and Seed Sampler

I am so excited about the giveaway for the September issue of Pegplant’s Post. Botanical Interests, a Colorado-based seed company with a fantastic catalog, has graciously offered to send to one winner two products: their signature Seed Sprouter with instruction booklet (valued at $24.95) and the Sprouts Sampler (valued at $28.50). The Seed Sprouter is an easy way to grow sprouts indoors for salads, sandwiches, and stir fry. The Sprouts Sampler is a collection of 6 seed packets: alfalfa, broccoli, fenugreek, mung bean, radish, and sandwich seeds. These are organic seeds especially selected for their delicious sprouts, in a drawstring bag.

This giveaway opportunity is for subscribers of Pegplant’s Post, an online, free newsletter for people interested in gardening in the Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC area. Each issue provides:

  • Monthly events. Plan your social life with gardening events in the NoVA, MD, DC area. Depending on the season, there can be over 100 events, many of which are free.
  • New books. Stay abreast of gardening trends and practices with newly published books. Use this list for ideas of gifts to buy for birthdays and holidays.
  • Tips and advice. Learn timely tips and advice relevant to the current gardening season in our area.
  • Giveaways. Enter the monthly giveaway contest to win items such as seed packets, books, tools, and plants.
  • Articles from pegplant.com. Catch up with articles from my website, pegplant.com, about plants, gardens, and resources.

To subscribe, click here or visit pegplant.com and enter your e-mail address in the box above “subscribe!” on the right column. Pegplant’s Post will be issued on the last weekend of the month.