Category Archives: herbs

Culinary Herb Recipes To Try This Summer

parsleyThis summer, as you cut and harvest your culinary herbs from your garden, try using them in a variety of basic recipes. Here are a few simple recipes — the herb you use depends on the flavor you want so try experimenting. For easy reference, print this article and tape it on the inside of your kitchen cabinet along with the list of herbs you are growing. Continue reading

Cutting Celery: A Kitchen Staple Growing in the Garden

cutting celery foliage

Foliage of first year’s growth of cutting celery

Cutting celery is a great culinary herb to have in your garden. Unlike stalk celery from a grocery store, cutting celery is full of flavor, reminiscent of black pepper. Cutting celery (Apium graveolens var. secalinum) looks more like parsley than stalk celery (Apium graveolens var. dulce). This foot-tall, bushy plant has short, hollow stems and green, finely serrated leaves about one-inch wide. Continue reading

Chervil: A Culinary Herb with Ephemeral Grace

Chervil is ephemeral grace. Its finely cut, green leaves emerge during cool spring months, dissipating quickly with summer’s heat. Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is a very old European herb, one of the components of fines herbs of French cuisine. Continue reading

There’s More to Basil Plants Than Pesto

Pesto Perpetuo basil

I cannot imagine a garden without basil plants. Basil is the essence of summer. I don’t limit myself to just one — I grow lemon, lime, sweet, Thai, holy, and cinnamon, just to name a few. It seems that most people only know sweet basil and only one use for it: pesto.  Granted sweet basil has become the poster child, but there are many different types of basil plants to explore.  Continue reading

Celebrate Herb Day with Lemon Balm Cookies

Today is Herb Day, the internal celebration of herbs and herbal products. Always on the first Saturday in May, Herb Day was created in 2006 by a coalition of five organizations: American Botanical Council, United Plant Savers, American Herbal Products Association, American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, and American Herbalists Guild. Usually there would be herb-related events across the country but today let’s celebrate by making lemon balm cookies! Continue reading

Perennial Herbs for the Garden

I love being able to step out into the garden and snip fresh herbs whenever I need them. Yesterday, I was making ham and bean stew in the crockpot. I was inspired to add thyme so I cut off a few sprigs from the thyme growing in the front of the house. I looked around and snipped even more herbs: cutting celery, oregano, sage and rosemary. Continue reading

DeBaggio’s Herb Farm and Nursery in Chantilly Is Closing

It is sad news that DeBaggio’s Herb Farm and Nursery in Chantilly, VA, is closing. It was a great place to visit for buying herbs and other plants. Because it was far from my home, I would make an annual trek in the spring to buy unusual culinary herbs to try in my garden. Years ago, I used to go to the location in Arlington, home of Francesco’s father, Tom DeBaggio, who started the business.  I have fond memories of picking few quite a variety of herbs in his driveway and bringing my mom and future mother-in-law (must be over 20 years now). I want to wish Francesco and Tammy good luck in their new adventures but I will miss the best herb specialty nursery in the area. I have updated two tabs on my website to reflect this change: the list of nurseries and the culinary herbs resources.

Celebrate National Chocolate Mint Day!

Today is National Chocolate Mint Day and for gardeners that translates into the chocolate mint herb (Mentha x piperita forma citrata ‘Chocolate’). Mints are herbaceous perennials. They are extremely hardy but must be grown in containers. All mints will take over your garden if you plant them in the ground.

Chocolate mint has textured leaves and dark brown to purple stems. The leaves are green but the new growth is darker, with veins that are brown to purple. The leaves really do taste like chocolate mint, which kids love. In my family, we make a syrup out of the leaves and pour it on fresh strawberries (see recipe below). We also put minced leaves in a store-bought brownie mix, chocolate cake, and chocolate chip cookie dough to add the mint flavor. The leaves are great for garnishing fruit salads, desserts, cakes, and cupcakes. They can be used fresh or dried for making tea, or adding to coffee or hot chocolate.

This is a great plant to have in order to make gifts. The stems root very easily in water so you can either pot up the rooted stems or just give cuttings to friends. We have given away pots of chocolate mint with a recipe card attached. Because the cost is minimal, pots of chocolate mint make a great gift for your children’s teachers.

Mints can tolerate shade and prefer moist soil. They can be grown in dappled shade or morning sun and afternoon shade. If there is a dry period in the summer, make sure the container is receiving enough water. They grow to a few feet tall and flower in the summer. The small flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish. They also attract beneficial insects, bees, and butterflies. Deer leave the plant alone. Chocolate mint also can be used as the “spiller” in a container with summer flowers.

Syrup

Put one cup of water and one cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. When the sugar dissolves, turn off the heat, and add a large handful of chocolate mint leaves. Bruise with a wooden spoon by smashing leaves against the side of the pot. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. When cool, strain leaves out and pour syrup in glass jar. Store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Some Like It Hot and Some Like It Cold

warm season tomato plants for sale in March will not like the cool evenings if planted in the ground

One of my first lessons in growing vegetables and herbs is learning the plant’s preference for temperature. To keep it simple, there are cool season and warm season crops. Getting to know what the plant prefers determines when to buy/plant, what to buy/plant, where to buy/plant, and when to harvest/eat!

In the mid-Atlantic area, typical cool season plants are anything in the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, collard, Brussels sprout), lettuce, pea, kale, chervil, dill, cilantro, leek, scallions, radish, spinach, arugula, beet, pak choi or bok choy, carrot, mustard, parsnip, turnip, and Swiss chard.

cool season lettuce for sale in March will like the cool temperatures if planted in the ground

Some can continue to grow well during the summer such as spring onions and Swiss chard. Other cool season lovers “bolt” when it warms up in May/June. For example, cilantro will bolt, that is, flower and set seed, in May. This is good if you want the seed, also known as coriander, but bad if you want to continue to harvest the leaves. When the plant bolts, the leaves become bitter and eventually the plant will die because it is an annual.

Most people associate the warm season edibles with summer itself. These include tomato, basil, fennel, eggplant, pepper, corn, summer/winter squash, zucchini, melon, watermelon, cucumber, okra, and pumpkins. These will not tolerate the frosts we may get in the spring evenings so it is best to start them outdoors after the last average frost date in mid-May.

Frequently you will see both types of plants for sale as early as March. These photos were take at a local hardware store in March last year. Basil, a summer lover, is especially sensitive to cold. If one were to purchase these basil plants and put them in the garden unprotected they may die because there is still the likelihood of frost in early spring.

basil plants for sale in March may even die from a late spring freeze

In my zone 7 garden, the cool season plants/seeds should be started outside in mid-March to the beginning of April. The warm season plants/seeds should be started in early May to the end of May. If you do not know what your vegetable or herb prefers, there are several ways to figure this out:

Read the seed packet or label
Read seed catalogs
Research on the internet
Read local gardening books
Visit garden nurseries and ask knowledgeable staff.

The books I found most useful books for this area are listed below and are easy to get from the library or bookstore. Knowing the plant’s preference will help you figure out when to start your seed and/or when to purchase plants.

The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook by Ron Kujawski & Jennifer Kujawski (Storey Publishing, 2010)
The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast by Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange) (Timber Press, 2013)
The Year Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour (Storey Publishing, 2011)
Gardening in the Mid-Atlantic, Month-by Month by Andre and Mark Viette with Jacqueline Heriteau (Cool Springs Press, 2008)

broccoli for sale in March will thrive in the cool season

A New “Orange” Lemon Balm: Mandarina

Lemon Balm ‘Mandarina’

Three weeks ago I posted an article on lemon balm to celebrate National Hot Tea Day. Lemon balm is an herbaceous perennial herb with a lemon flavor that makes a great hot tea. Out of all the herbal teas, it is the one that tastes the most like black tea, very much like Lipton. Since then, I have been reading the incoming seed catalogs to plan my 2020 Virginia garden. Much to my surprise, the Burpee catalog is offering a new lemon balm called Mandarina. This is a lemon balm with an orange flavor. Think Constant Comment. I can’t wait to try this. Although they are selling plants, I ordered the packet of 100 seeds so I can divide and share with my friends. The catalog description says it is hardy to zone 4 with an “alluring fragrance and attractive foliage. Perfect for large, mixed patio containers.” I suspect Mandarina is grown much like my lemon balm plant: morning sun and afternoon shade. My lemon balm is a perennial bush in the garden bed but these plants could be grown in a container as a filler or spiller. Both would make great caffeine-free teas but think of the possibilities in the kitchen! Mandarina would give an orange twist to stir fry chicken, fruit salad, pound cake, sugars, syrups, and more! Try Mandarina this year for an orange twist on an old lemon favorite.

Lemon Balm ‘Mandarina’

Photos courtesy of W. Atlee Burpee Company. This is not a paid advertisement and no products were received free with this article.