Category Archives: herbs

Discovering the Many Uses of Sage: Sage Butter Pats

washed but not quite dry sage leaves

For those of you who reach for that jar of dried sage once a year, I encourage you to grow the sage plant in your garden. You will discover that sage is a wonderful plant to have in your garden – its foliage adds texture and interest and you can pick the leaves to use in the kitchen whenever you need them.

Sage is a perennial plant, it will survive our zone 7 Virginia winters. It is an inexpensive plant to purchase in the spring from local garden centers. Mine have lived for many years and are drought and deer resistant. Sage prefers full sun and does not need a lot of care or fertilizer.  Although sage is not grown for its flowers, it does produce small lavender-colored flowers that attract beneficial insects and pollinators. There are many different types of sage but Salvia officinalis is the best one for culinary and medicinal use. This type has green, textured leaves that inspired me to make butter pats.

To make the butter pats, I clipped leaves from my sage plant and immersed in a large bowl of cool water to clean. Although I do not use sprays in the garden, I always submerge my herbs in water for at least 20 minutes to drown out any type of hidden pests. While the leaves were soaking, I took a quarter of a stick of butter out of the fridge and placed in a bowl to come to room temperature. When the leaves were “air dried” (not dried for preserving but dry as in no water left on the leaves) and the butter was soft, I put the butter in a bag, clipped the corner, and spread the soft butter on a leaf. I then put another leaf on top, much like a sandwich. These were placed on parchment paper on a tray and put inside the fridge to harden.

sage “sandwiches” with butter inside

The next day I experimented with a baked potato but these sage butter pats could be used for other vegetables or rolls, as a garnish, or for actually serving butter. The top leaf pulls off easily revealing the leaf pattern on the butter.

top sage leaf removed to reveal pattern on butter

Because the sage leaves have long stems, the entire sandwich leaf could be placed on a potato for guests to pull the top leaf back. Guests can pull the leaves off and place aside or fork the entire sandwich into the potato to have a buttery, sage-flavored baked potato for Thanksgiving dinner. Try sage butter pats to “wow” your guests!

sage butter sandwich on baked potato

Aloe Vera: The Plant That Keeps on Giving

Every May, I put my aloe plant outside on the deck to enjoy the summer sun and warmth. Aloe vera thrives despite my neglect, I barely remember to water her. By autumn, she has produced many “pups,” crowding inside the small pot, eager to escape. When the nights get too cold for them, I upturn the entire the pot, gently pull apart each pup, and nestle each into a small container of soil.  I replant the mother and move her in to my house while I box up the pups to bring to the office. Within hours of placing the box in the office kitchen, colleagues have helped themselves to a new plant, armed with growing instructions I have printed on strips of paper. My colleagues love free plants, needless to say it is much like leaving cookies in the kitchen. I have brought in baby aloe plants each fall for several years now and it is a joy for me to share as it is for my coworkers to receive.

Aloe vera is a succulent, perennial herb well known for healing burns. Snapping a leaf in two reveals a gel-like liquid that when applied to the burn offers pain relief and a fast healing process. The leaves actually have three sections: a thick outer rind, a thin slimy layer of cells, and the inner gel. Just beneath the rind is a bitter yellow substance called aloin, which causes intestinal irritation creating a laxative effect.  The inner gel is used to help with burns, sunburns, or as a skin moisturizer. Diluted with water, this gel can be ingested to sooth intestinal irritation. Although aloe’s beneficial effects have been documented for thousands of years, it was not until U.S. researchers discovered that aloe gel could quickly heal burns caused by x-rays and ultraviolet rays in the mid-1930s that interest soared. Today, aloe is recognized as an excellent first aid kit for disinfecting minor cuts, insect stings, and burns but researchers are still studying the plant. Aloe gel has more than 75 nutrients and 200 compounds.

Growing the plant is simple as long as you give it warmth and sun and good drainage. It can be grown indoors as a houseplant provided it gets sun, as in a southern exposure window or a sun room. It needs little water, I just let the rain water it outdoors. It will not tolerate the winters here in Virginia so in the fall before the nights hit forty degrees and below, bring it back indoors and then back outdoors in May. I have not fertilized mine but then I am a lazy fertilizer. I don’t try to ingest the leaves but I do use my plant for kitchen burns — I just cut off the outer leaf and slice in half to release the gel.

 

 

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Pineapple Sage

Currently, my pineapple sage plants (Salvia elegans) are blooming in my garden, their bright scarlet flowers are attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. Members of the salvia or sage family, pineapple sage plants are herbaceous, tender perennial herbs. I have two pineapple sage plants, which I bought last year as tiny babies, and I often use their leaves and flowers in the kitchen.

From spring to fall this year, these plants grew fast, developing many lateral branches. Now they are 4-foot high shrubs, several feet wide. All season long, I harvested the leaves and used them fresh as well as dried them to store them. The leaves add a fruity flavor to many different types of beverages (makes a great hot tea), jellies, baking (line a pan with leaves before pouring the pound cake batter or cut leaves and add to batter), muffins, cookies, chicken dishes and chicken salads, butter, cream cheese, ice cream, sorbet, smoothies, etc.

From September to now, these large shrubs are blooming beautiful edible flowers that can be cut for a vase or used in the kitchen as well. Interestingly, the buds begin upside down. Red petals poke through a nodding green flower stalk and then as the stalk moves up more petals poke through until the stalk straightens up to be raceme of bright red tubular flowers. Pineapple sage flowers have the same type of sage or salvia bilabiate (two lips) flowers but larger. The flowers can be used as a garnish, frozen in ice cubes, beverages, fruit salads, butters, cookies, cupcakes, muffins, baked goods, and cream cheese.

In my garden, nothing seems to bother my pineapple sage plants. They are in moist, well-drained soil but one gets more sunlight than the other and I noticed that it has grown much bigger. They seem to prefer light dappled sun or morning sun and afternoon shade. They need space so they it is best to plant them in the back of the garden as long as there is a path to be able to pick the leaves and flowers. I have read that they are hardy to zone 7 and I have also read that they are hardy to zone 8. Surviving the winter is a 50-50 proposition here in my zone 7 Northern Virginia garden. Last winter, I did not do anything to protect them but the winter was mild so I was lucky that they survived. This year, after the frost kills the leaves, I will cut the plants back to stubbles and put down several inches of mulch to ensure their survival. If I had a sun room or a greenhouse, I could have taken cuttings a few months ago to pot up and bring inside.

If they don’t make it, I will buy more next year and will keep an eye out for cultivars such as Golden Delicious, which has golden yellow leaves; Tangerine, which has rounded leaves and a citrus scent; Frieda Dixon, which has salmon pink flowers; and Honeydew Melon, which has melon-scented red flowers with lime green leaves. Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD, has a stand of Golden Delicious plants that are blooming right now.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day occurs on the 15th of the month. Garden bloggers around the world post their articles about blossoms in their garden. #gardenbloggersbloomday

Letting Your Herbs Flower to Attract Beneficial Insects

My first guest post for the Herb Society of America’s blog appeared yesterday. I was inspired by the numerous beneficial insects hovering around my herbs in my Virginia garden. Often my herbs flower before I ever get to harvest the leaves but that’s okay because their tiny flowers attract the “good” bugs. If you are interested in growing and learning more about herbs, contact the Herb Society of America (I belong to the local Potomac Unit).

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Feverfew

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is an old herb once thought to treat fevers but actually is helpful in preventing migraine headaches. I first saw the plant blooming at a demonstration garden a few years ago and liked the small, daisy-like flowers, similar to chamomile. I sowed seed late last summer and transplanted the seedlings in the ground before frost. They weathered the mild winter in my zone 7 Virginia garden but remained small. When the temperature increased in early spring, the plants grew up very fast and started blooming as early as . The plants are several feet tall now in full sun, oblivious to our current dry spell. I do not use feverfew medicinally but as a summer flowering perennial. Because they are small white flowers, they are great by themselves in a vase or as a filler with other flowers.

I read that the plant has a strong and bitter smell but I don’t notice it. I have also read that feverfew has mosquito repelling qualities but there are still the same number of mosquitoes in my garden.  However, I have noticed that nothing goes near it, no deer and no rabbits.

My variety is Heirloom Double White Wonder from Renees Garden but there are other cultivars on the market such as Aureum, White Bonnet, Golden Ball, Crown White, and Ultra Double White. You may not find this in your local nursery as a plant; you may have to purchase seed but the seed germinates easily. Feverfew is known to be a short-lived perennial but it will be a summer-long success in my garden this year.

The 15th of the month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day where garden bloggers post photos of plants that are blooming in their area across the country.

An Entertaining Lecture on Herbs at Merrifield Garden Center

Yesterday I attended Merrifield Garden Center’s free lecture on herbs and was pleasantly surprised by the great speaker and the event itself: part entertainment and part educational. Merrifield is known for its free seminars in the spring, which I have promoted on my website for years. The herb lecture was at the Fair Oaks location, which has a spacious room on the second level of the garden center. I arrived early and was surprised to find pastries, brownies, fruit, cheese, crackers, and coffee! Sarah, a Merrifield employee, created this lovely feast and topped it off with an eye-catching display of herbs. Apparently she is known for making such creative displays and generous offerings of refreshments. Sarah was a hoot!  She talked to everyone and encouraged people to submit their drawing on time!

I discovered that at each seat there was a handout on herbs, a 15% discount coupon to use that day or the following day, and a form to complete for the drawing. I did not know there would be a coupon and a drawing but I could tell there were plenty of “regulars” who knew the drill. They seemed to know each other and had been there many times. The mood was so friendly and jolly I almost thought they were part of a gardening club. Filling up on pastries, we completed our forms and dropped them in a large glass container.

At 10:00 am, right before the lecture, Peg Bier, also a long time Merrifield employee, drew slips of paper several times. I did not keep count but was surprised that there were several drawings, not just one. Winners could have their choice of circus tickets or a Merrifield gift card. I did not win but I did use my coupon to buy something after the event.

Peg then introduced our speaker, Nicole Schermerhorn, co-owner of A Thyme to Plant at Lavender Fields Herb Farm (wearing dark brown in the photo). A Thyme to Plant is a wholesale operation near Richmond, growing and selling USDA-certified herbs and vegetables. Her nephew manages Lavender Fields Herb Farm, the retail garden center that focuses on herb classes and demonstrations. Nicole was very entertaining and down to earth – I could have listened to her for more than an hour. She sprinkled her slide presentation with funny learning experiences and witty conversations with her husband. Nicole provided a lot of detail on cultural requirements, including growing herbs in raised beds, while her handout had information on specific herbs. She was very nice about answering everyone’s questions and offered to stay afterward. A few of the interesting tips I learned were: there are 200 varieties of rosemary but only a few are hardy in Virginia (Arp, Salem, and Hill Hardy); Vietnamese coriander is a heat-loving substitute for the cool-loving cilantro; and parsley is the most nutrient-packed herb one can grow (does not matter if curly or flat leaf). I liked the fact that there was a handout to take home about specific herbs and recommended varieties plus cultural requirements on the backside. If you are new to gardening or new to Virginia, I recommend attending Merrifield Garden Center’s free seminars, especially Nicole’s talk on herbs.

Growing Your Own Thanksgiving Herbs

As I prepare for Thanksgiving this year, I can’t help but think of the beautiful Simon and Garfunkel song “Scarborough Fair.” I grow parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme in my Northern Virginia garden and today, the day before Thanksgiving, I can walk outside and harvest these herbs for my holiday meal. These are very easy to grow here and blend well into the typical suburban landscape. All of these with the exception of parsley are perennial shrubs that will remain in the garden year round.

Parsley

I use the curly parsley as a garnish and the flat leaf type in the Thanksgiving stuffing. Placing a heaping mound of cooked potatoes on a platter of green curly parsley makes the dish colorful. Fresh flat leaf parsley adds flavor to stuffing as well as to turkey leftover dishes such as turkey soup.parsley

In Northern Virginia, parsley can stay green above ground all winter long (I took this photo in January 2016). I always use parsley fresh; it does not dry well. Parsley is a biennial plant that will grow the first year from seed and bloom and set seed the following year. To create the illusion of having parsley in the garden every year all you have to do is scatter seeds every year. I started growing parsley years ago and now I have a string of plants just beneath the deck, in a place that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Parsley likes organic matter, moisture, and morning sun or dappled sun. To harvest the leaves, cut outer, older leaves at the base with scissors (don’t pull), leaving the core or inner, younger leaves.

Sage

For Thanksgiving, sage can be used fresh or dried. I use it dry in the stuffing and biscuits, but I also use the fresh leaves as a garnish. Placing a ring of green sage leaves on a plate topped with cut up citrus fruit is a wonderful dessert after such a heavy meal.

variegated sage in September, changing from light green to gray

Sage is actually a small drought resistant shrub that remains above ground all year long in my garden. In the summer, it blooms small, purple flowers that attract beneficial pollinators. I use both the leaves as well as the flower spikes for flower arrangements. Leaves can be solid green, variegated with cream or yellow, gray, gray/green, blue/gray, purple, or tricolor (pink, green, and white leaves). No matter what the color, all the leaves are edible. You can pick leaves when you need them without altering the shape or you can take a branch from the back and strip and dry the leaves for the kitchen, including making tea. Sage plants prefer full sun and well-drained soil on the dryer side.

Rosemary

rosemaryI use dried rosemary in the stuffing and biscuits but I cut fresh branches for the turkey platter. I either put slices of turkey directly on the branches or place the branches on the side as a decoration.

Rosemary grows well in my garden because my plants are in full sun in a well-drained, terraced site. They want to grow into large shrubs but since I cut the branches throughout the season for drying, cut flower arrangements, or for garnish, I am able to keep them small. The woody shrubs remain above ground in the winter and tends to bloom when you would least expect it. My shrubs have been covered in small purple/blue flowers in December but just a few blossoms during the rest of the year.  There are many different types of rosemary; some more cold tolerant than others; some prostrate and some are upright. If you have had trouble growing rosemary in the past, Debaggio’s Herb Farm & Nursery in Chantilly, VA, suggests the following as cold-tolerant: ‘Arp’, ‘Hill Hardy’, ‘Salem’, ‘Nancy Howard’, and ‘Dutch Mill’. Once established, rosemary is drought resistant and deer resistant.

Thyme

I use dried thyme in the stuffing, biscuits, potato dishes, and green beans. Thyme can be used fresh or dried but if dried, the leaves have a more potent flavor. Drying herbs concentrates the oils, thus a stronger flavor.thyme

Thyme can be grown as a groundcover, small shrub, edging, or topiary or used in a rock garden. Thyme is a drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, full sun, woody shrub that prefers well-drained soil. In my garden, my English thyme serves as a groundcover to prevent erosion on a slope and it has spread to cover the soil, thus preventing any weeds. It remains above ground in the winter and blooms in the spring/summer, attracting bees.

Growing herbs is very easy. To be able to harvest fresh herbs for next Thanksgiving, consider buying these plants in the spring at your local nursery.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;

Remember me to the one who lives there,

For once she was a true love of mine.