Category Archives: herbs

Support Pollinator Week: Plant Herbs in Your Garden

anise hyssop

Anise hyssop or Agastache is a pollinator magnet.

This week, June 21-27, is Pollinator Week. Pollinator Week is an annual event celebrated internationally to support pollinator health. It is a time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what can be done to protect them. Here in the United States, people are often told to 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, let alone Virginia, attract bees, butterflies, and moths. Continue reading

Growing Cilantro From Seed in the Summer

cilantro

Cilantro in early spring

I love cilantro and I plant it every year. It is easy to grow from seed although one can find small plants at local nurseries. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a member of the carrot family. Because of its tap root, it is best to sow seeds directly in the garden bed or in a container. Often called Chinese parsley, the leaves do look like parsley but if you rub the foliage you will smell a citrusy/woodsy scent.

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Lemon Verbena: Queen of Lemon-Scented Herbs

lemon verbenaKnown as the queen of lemon-scented herbs, lemon verbena has the clearest, sharpest lemon scent in the world of herbs. Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) is a tropical plant that we grow as an annual in the mid-Atlantic area. Native to South America, the Spanish brought the plant to Europe where it was primarily used in perfume. In fact, lemon verbena is mentioned in the famous book/movie, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Scarlett O’Hara’s mother Ellen used lemon verbena as her signature fragrance: “The faint of lemon verbena surrounded her, floating gently from Eleanor Butler’s silk gown and silken hair. It was the fragrance that had always been part of Ellen O’Hara, the scent for Scarlett of comfort, of safety, of love, of life before the War.” Continue reading

Herbs Attract and Support Beneficial Insects in the Garden

Small thyme flowers

The herbs in my garden live among the annuals, perennials, vegetables, and shrubs. I do not have a separate, formal herb garden.  Every new herb plant gets tucked in any space I can find. I harvest them to use them fresh in the kitchen and for floral arrangements. By summer, many of my herbs are blooming along with everything else but that’s okay, they still serve a purpose. Even if I didn’t get to harvest them, they are helping the rest of the garden by attracting and supporting beneficial insects. Continue reading

Chives: Culinary Herb, Landscape Edible

chives coming back in early March

chives coming back in early March

Chives are a great addition to the garden, any garden, does not matter what is growing already, add chives. These perennial herbs are great landscape edibles; they come back year after year. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are narrow, foot tall plants that can be tucked in between ornamental shrubs and flowers. Continue reading

Culinary Herb Recipes

parsleyNo doubt you will be buying herb seeds and plants for this growing season. To know how much to purchase, think of how you may use them in recipes and how often you and/or your family will use them in the kitchen. Here are a few simple recipes to try this summer. 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. To learn more about growing and using culinary herbs, including sharing recipes, join the Culinary Herbs and Spices Facebook Group. For more information on herbs in the DC metro area, check out the page entitled Culinary Herb Resources.

Herbal vinegar

tarragon is often used in herb vinegars

Wash one cup of herbs, allow to air dry. Pack leaves (can use stems too) in quart glass jar with wooden spoon. Fill with 3 to 3 ½ cups vinegar to one inch from top. The vinegar should be 5% acidity and best types of vinegar are white or red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar. Push down with spoon and bruise leaves. If a metal lid, first cover with plastic wrap, if plastic lid, just close. Store in dark place for 4 to 6 week, shaking every few days. Taste to see if too strong, add more vinegar, or too weak, add more herb. When done, strain leaves out and pour liquid into clean bottles and add a sprig of fresh herb for decoration. Label.

Butter

Wash herbs, let dry. Take a stick of unsalted butter out of the fridge, put in bowl, and let come to room temperature so is soft. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the chopped herb, do this to taste. Depending on the leaf, may have to cut into small pieces. Can put in a container to keep in fridge for 2 weeks or roll into saran wrap like a log and freeze for up to 6 months.

Syrup

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

mint has a variety of uses in the kitchen including sweet syrups

Pesto

Pulverize in the blender 2 cups washed fresh basil, 4 cloves of garlic, (chopped), and ½ cup olive oil until pasty. Add 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, blend again. Can freeze in plastic ice cube trays or flat in plastic bags.

Marinade for meat

Depending on the amount of meat can change the quantities but the ratio is 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of vinegar like a wine vinegar, ¼ cup water, a dash of salt (like soy sauce), a dash of sugar (honey or brown sugar) and about a cup of fresh herb leaves (tear leaves apart if large). Have meat sit in this mixture for at least 30 minutes. Drain and cook meat.

Herb paste

If don’t need pesto, make basil paste to preserve

Can use this as a frozen base for pesto and then add the fresh garlic and Parmesan cheese to the thawed paste or a frozen base for stew or soup. Clean herbs but make sure are completely dry as water and oil do not mix. Blend in the food processor 4 cups of herb leaves to ¼ to 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil to make a paste. Freeze in bags or plastic ice cube trays. There should be some texture to herb so is a paste and not pureed like liquid. Good with savory herbs such as basil, parsley, and cilantro. If using a “sweet” herb like mints, may want to try sunflower seed oil instead.

 

Growing and Cooking with Oregano and Marjoram

Flowering Greek Oregano

When I give my presentation on culinary herbs I always talk about oregano and marjoram together. I treat them as cousins, and in this country, they are most known for the “oregano” flavor. Although we use the term “oregano” for a specific type of culinary herb, it really is a flavor produced by different types of plants. Some of these are not related to what we think of as the oregano plant.

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Herbs for Holiday Cooking, Baking, as well as Decorating

pie

pumpkin pie with sage and mums

When I think of herbs for Christmas, I always think of the Simon and Garfunkel Scarborough Fair song:  “Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.” Sure there other herbs and plenty of spices but these herbs seem to be the most popular during the holidays. I think it is because these plants are still green in the garden. In my zone 7 Virginia garden, I can still harvest in December to use in the kitchen. I also use mint for the holidays which overwinter well in containers. Continue reading

Culinary Herbs and Edible Flowers Decorate Pumpkin Pies

Yesterday I made pumpkin pies using Libby’s can of pumpkin and recipe (the one on the can). This is a traditional recipe I have used every year and the pies taste great. This year however I decorated the pies with fresh sage leaves and chrysanthemum blossoms from my garden. Keep culinary herbs and edible flowers in mind during the upcoming holidays as you bake and cook. Right now, mums, pineapple sage, rose, calendula and signet marigolds are blooming and can be used to garnish dishes. Perennial herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano can be used when preparing dishes and also to garnish and decorate. Remember to always wash your herbs and flowers before you put them on food.

Marvelous Mint

peppermint

peppermint

One of the herbalists I follow is Jekka McVicar, an organic grower of herbs, horticulturist, author, and designer who owns Jekka’s Herb Farm in Bristol, England. If I lived in England, I would be working at her herb farm, learning everything there is to learn. Recently the Royal Horticultural Society featured a short video of her and Michelin chief Nathan Outlaw about mint. Continue reading