Category Archives: herbs

Monarda: Native Herbs with Beautiful Flowers

Lately I have noticed more hummingbirds in my garden. I’d like to say it is because of the Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’ I planted but really, I have so many flowering plants it is hard to say. I purchased ‘Jacob Cline’ because a Mt. Cuba Center report said that out of all the Monarda plants in their trial, this one was visited the most by hummingbirds. Although hummingbirds love large-flowered, red cultivars of Monarda in general, they seem to prefer Jacob Cline because (researchers theorize) the plant is taller than the others, thus easier to find.

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The Many Uses of Thai Basil

Although I grow different types of basil in my Virginia garden, last year was the year of Thai basil for me. Thai basil is a variety of sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) but the flavor is spicier and more pungent — like anise and clove combined. I grew a couple of varieties for the culinary and beverage aspects as well as for landscape value.

Thai basil gets its name from its popularity in Thai cuisine, but it is equally popular in Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Laotian cuisines. Thai basil can withstand prolonged cooking heat so the leaves work well with chicken or beef stir fried dishes. Thai basil also is used in Pad Thai, Vietnamese Pho, spring rolls, curries, and noodle dishes. Continue reading

Angelica: Adding the Angels to the Garden

Angelica archangelica in shade

Last August, a fellow member of the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America had fresh angelica seeds to give away (Angelica archangelica). She warned that the seeds had to be sown immediately–fresh seed is best for successful germination. I quickly sowed several seeds and ended up with 10 plants! I transplanted them in several places in my Virginia garden, some in part shade and some in full sun. They overwintered well here in Zone 7 and emerged in the spring. Today, at the end of July they are all doing well except one that is a little chlorotic (yellow leaves). Continue reading

Garden Staple: Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil

lemon basil flowers

Lemon basil flowering in August

Every summer I grow Mrs. Burns lemon basil, a lemon scented type of sweet basil. Like all basil plants, Mrs. Burns lemon basil prefers warm weather, full sun, and plenty of moisture. I grow mine from seeds in large containers and in the vegetable garden.

Throughout the summer I harvest the leaves and use them fresh in fruit salad; with seafood, chicken, and vegetable dishes; as garnishes for drinks, desserts, and salad; and in syrups and vinegar dressings. My family particularly likes using the fresh leaves for tilapia and other white fish fillets. We layer a bunch of leaves and stems on aluminum foil on a broiler pan, then layer the fish fillets on top, drizzled with butter and chopped scallions or bread crumbs, and broil. The leaves turn black, which is fine because you can throw them away before you serve the dish but the fish is infused with a unique smoked lemon flavor.

We also like to make a simple syrup with the leaves. Bring one cup of sugar, one cup of water and about one cup of loosely packed leaves to a boil in a saucepan, smashing the leaves against the side of the saucepan with a spoon. Then reduce the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. After straining and removing the leaves, let the syrup cool and pour in a glass jar. We like to drizzle the sweet lemon liquid over fresh fruit, cold lemonade, or ice tea.

lemon basil plants

Lemon basil plants in containers

Mrs. Burns lemon basil is an heirloom cultivar of a sweet basil and yes, there really was a Mrs. Burns. Mother to Barney Burns who co-founded Native Seed Search, Mrs. Burns and son moved to Carlsbad, NM, in 1951. Mrs. Burns received the seed from Mrs. Clifton, a local gardener who had been growing it since the 1920.  Because they noted that this particular variety had a great lemon flavor, they saved the seed each year to preserve the trait. In time, other learned of this fabulous plant and shared the seed so now one can often purchase this through various seed catalogs as well as Native Seed Search.

In addition to its culinary uses, Mrs. Burns lemon basil can be cut for floral arrangements. I always like to add an herb to my cut flowers that I bring indoors. If left to flower, the small flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects. I deliberately do not harvest some of my plants to have a stand of tall flower stalks with whorls of small flowers by August. In September, yellow finches flock around the plants for the seeds. In October, before the first frost, I cut the stalks and put them in a large paper bag. Later, while watching PBS Masterpiece, I pull the stalks out of the bag and extract the seeds to plant next year in May. It’s a full circle but then so is gardening.

Fennel Finds its Place in the Garden

fennel in the summer with caterpillar in right corner

I grow fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, in my Virginia garden for many reasons. First of all, it is easy to grow from seed. In the garden, the plants can be showstoppers at five feet tall but sometimes they bend from the weight to weave among the perennials and shrubs. Their tubular stems mingle with the pumpkin vines on the ground or rest on top of the chrysanthemum shrubs while their green, fern-like foliage peak through the zinnias.

Throughout the summer, I can harvest the foliage for use in the kitchen. The leaves have an anise flavor and are good for flavoring fish and chicken dishes and root vegetables. Snips of the foliage can be sprinkled on salads, soup, eggs, and tuna salad sandwiches. Continue reading

Dill: Easy, Versatile Herb to Grow

dill flower headsDill (Anethum graveolens) is easy to grow from seed. I just throw a few seed in a large plastic container on my deck in late March. I don’t worry about frost or cold nights but I do make sure the top of the soil is moist until I see the leaves come through the soil and then I water a little less often. Here in Virginia, we seem to have plenty of rain or snow in March so the seeds do not dry out. Now, when the garden soil is warmer, I will gently lift the seedlings out with a trowel and plant in the garden bed in full sun.

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Marvelous Mint

peppermint

peppermint

Mint is a great plant to have, as long as you grow it in containers. It is very versatile — there are so many uses plus it is easy to propagate and make gift plants. Hardy to zone 5, they survive the winters well in containers here in Virginia. Continue reading

Breeding Better Herbs

basilHappy Days! My breeding better herbs article was just published in the March/April issue of the American Gardener, the magazine of the American Horticultural Society (AHS). AHS is a great organization to join plus they have a bimonthly magazine, webinars, events, trips and a reciprocal admission program to public gardens. Here is the article and here is a link to the entire issue. Thank you AHS for publishing this!

Growing Ginger, Turmeric, and Lemongrass in the DC Metro Area

lemongrass

Bunch of lemongrass culms wrapped in plastic

Every year at this time, I visit a local Asian supermarket and pick up a few turmeric and ginger rhizomes and a couple of lemon grass stalks. For a few dollars, you can grow these tropical herbs for the summer. It is important to start early inside as ginger and turmeric have very long growing seasons. It can take 8 to 10 months for the plants to fully develop in order to be able to harvest the rhizomes. Fortunately, they do not need the type of light structures you use to start seeds indoors. Continue reading

Herbs Support Pollinators Too

anise hyssop

Anise hyssop (Agastache) is a pollinator magnet.

As you peruse the seed catalogs and plan your garden for 2022, keep the herbs in mind. There is sage advice that gardeners must plant native plants to support pollinators. While that is not bad advice, I have noticed that the culinary herbs I grow in my Virginia garden, the majority of which are not native to this country, attract bees, butterflies, and moths.

I have a few native herbs such as bee balm (Monarda) and hyssop (Agastache), which I grow for tea and edible flowers. But most of my culinary herbs, my garden staples, originate from abroad. Rosemary and lavender are from the Mediterranean area, lovage and salad burnet are from Europe, and oregano and savory are from the Middle East.

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