Category Archives: landscape edible

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.

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

You Can Grow That: Hyssop for the Fourth of July

hyssopToday’s “You Can Grow That” falls on July 4. “You Can Grow That” is a collaborative effort by gardeners across the nation to encourage others to grow something by posting about a plant on the fourth day of the month. Because today is Independence Day, I chose to write about hyssop, a popular colonial herb. Hyssop, Hyssopus officinalis, was introduced to the Americas by John Winthrop, Jr., in 1631. It is documented that he brought hyssop seeds, along with other herb seeds, from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It is also documented that Quaker farmer and America’s first botanist, John Bartram, grew hyssop in Philadelphia. George Washington grew this herb at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s records mention hyssop at Monticello. Bernard McMahon, a Philadelphia nurseryman, included hyssop in his list of kitchen herbs in his book, The American Gardener’s Calendar, published in 1806.

Traditionally, hyssop has been grown for medicinal and culinary qualities. Hyssop tea helps with chest congestion. As an antiseptic, hyssop has been used to heal wounds. The leaves have a menthol taste and can be used to flavor green or fruit salads, make tea, or used in preparing meat or game dishes. Flowers are used as a garnish or in salads. The leaves and flowers can be used fresh or dry (they dry well). Hyssop also is used in perfumes, liqueurs, and wines and as a strewing herb.hyssop

Today, hyssop is popular as a landscape edible and beneficial plant for pollinators. Hardy to zone 3, it is a perennial in my Virginia garden which is partly why it was so popular with the colonists. It comes back year after year and seems to be deer and pest resistant. I certainly have had no problems with mine. Hyssop has dark green, lanceolate leaves that are opposite to each other on the stem and each pair is at right angles to the one above, giving a whorled appearance. The plant is bushy if left to grow to its height of 2 to 3 feet but can be clipped to be a border plant. Mine rewards me with purple flowers from June through August but there are white flowered and pink flowered types as well. The flowers are small but many on a stem, which can be cut for flower arrangements.

Hyssop can be grown in full sun or morning sun to afternoon shade, in well-drained soil, with little or no fertilizer. It is easy to grow from seeds, cuttings, or division and usually the large nurseries will carry it in the herb section in the spring to early summer.

Day Seven of National Pollinator Week: Grow Marjoram to Attract Pollinators

marjoramToday is Sunday June 26, the last day of National Pollinator Week.  To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, I have posted short articles daily about culinary herbs in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators. Today’s last herb is marjoram. To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,  Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife FederationU.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.

Monday June 20, Cilantro

Tuesday June 21, Dill

Wednesday June 22, Sage

Thursday June 23, Chives

Friday June 24, Basil

Saturday June 25, Thyme

Sunday June 26, Marjoram

My marjoram is like an old friend, it has been in my garden for a long time, very reliable. I have read that it is hardy to Zone 8, but I have had no problems with it in my Zone 7, Virginia garden. The plant sits in a well-drained, full sun area, next to the driveway so between the warmth of the sun and the warmth of the car, it probably thinks it’s living in the Carolinas.

I trim it back in the spring or fall, depending on how scraggly it gets, and dry the leaves for cooking. It becomes bushy in the summer in a messy way. Although I could call it a landscape edible, really it is a wildflower – a wild looking plant that flowers. In the summer the green stems produce small knots at the ends that open to reveal white flowers. The flowers are insignificant to me but the bees and other pollinators love them.

Marjoram has history, mythology and folklore; it has been used for 3,000 years for culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, and aromatherapy but in my family, we only use the herb in the kitchen. The leaves add a sweet pungent flavor to tomato-based dishes and soups, flat breads and focaccia, cheese dishes, bean stew, beans, potatoes, corn, and corn muffins.  It can be a substitute for oregano, which I also grow very close to the marjoram. The marjoram has a sweeter flavor that does well with baking, while the oregano is spicy, with a zing.

Day Six of National Pollinator Week: Using Thyme to Attract Pollinators

thymeThis week is National Pollinator Week.  To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, each day of the week I will post a short article about a culinary herb in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators.  Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of flowering plants.  It is especially vital for gardeners who are growing fruit and vegetables.  There are many plants that attract pollinators but it is also important to reduce or eliminate pesticides, provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season, create large pollinator targets of native or non-invasive plants, and situate the plants in sunny areas with wind breaks.  Culinary herbs are often harvested for the foliage but if left to flower they can attract beneficial insects and pollinators.  Plant several of one type of herb so you can harvest some to use in the kitchen while letting a few flower.  Or, plant perennial or shrub herbs in your landscape to add flowers to your garden.

To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,  Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife FederationU.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.

Monday June 20, Cilantro

Tuesday June 21, Dill

Wednesday June 22, Sage

Thursday June 23, Chives

Friday June 24, Basil

Saturday June 25, Thyme

A landscape edible, thyme is actually quite versatile in the garden. Thyme can be grown as a groundcover, small shrub, edging, or topiary or used in a rock garden or in a variety of containers such as hypertufa and hanging baskets. Thyme is a drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, full sun, woody shrub that prefers well-drained, slightly alkaline soil.

I have three types in my garden. The English thyme serves as a groundcover to prevent erosion on a slop and it has spread to cover the soil, thus preventing any weeds. I use the leaves in tomato-based meals, such as pasta and lasagna, and beef, chicken, potato, and bean dishes. I have a lemon thyme shrub that looks like a round, mound about 8 inches tall. It adds a lemon scent/flavor to baked goods such as pound cake and quick breads. My silver thyme is my most recent addition; its white/silver variegated leaves contrast nicely with my dark sedums.

Thyme leaves dry very well and dried leaves have a more concentrated scent or flavor so I tend to use dried thyme but fresh leaves can be used as well. I harvest and dry leaves in the spring and then let the shrubs flower in the summer to attract bees and other pollinators. Bees love thyme, apparently they make a very tasty honey.

There are many different types of thyme: different scents and different shapes. DeBaggio’s Herb Farm and Nursery in Chantilly, VA, sells over a dozen varieties including golden lemon, green lemon, orange balsam, caraway, coconut, spicy orange, woolly, and silver thyme. Add thyme to your garden for your kitchen and to attract pollinators.

Day Five of National Pollinator Week: Using Basil to Attract Pollinators

thai basil

Thai basil flower heads

This week is National Pollinator Week.  To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, each day of the week I will post a short article about a culinary herb in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators.  Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of flowering plants.  It is especially vital for gardeners who are growing fruit and vegetables.  There are many plants that attract pollinators but it is also important to reduce or eliminate pesticides, provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season, create large pollinator targets of native or non-invasive plants, and situate the plants in sunny areas with wind breaks.  Culinary herbs are often harvested for the foliage but if left to flower they can attract beneficial insects and pollinators.  Plant several of one type of herb so you can harvest some to use in the kitchen while letting a few flower.  Or, plant perennial or shrub herbs in your landscape to add flowers to your garden.

To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,  Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife FederationU.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.

Monday June 20, Cilantro

Tuesday June 21, Dill

Wednesday June 22, Sage

Thursday June 23, Chives

Friday June 24, Basil

Basil is a member of the mint family but should be treated like a tomato plant. It thrives in warm weather, full sun, with plenty of air circulation and moisture. Basil comes in a variety of scents and shapes from cinnamon, anise, lemon, and lime scents to green or purple colored leaves to large or small plants. Some plants will produce small, white flowers while others produce showy purple flowers.

Easy to grow from seed, basil can be grown with other vegetables in the garden bed, in the ornamental bed with perennials and annuals, or in containers. Here in Virginia, basil is treated like an annual and will turn black with October’s frost. Basil’s purpose in life is to produce flowers, which you want for pollinators, but you don’t want if you plan to use the foliage in the kitchen. Instead of nipping the tips to prevent flowers, cut stems of leaves at a time. When there are six to eight pairs of leaves on the plant, cut the plant back and the remaining stems will re-grow and branch out, making the plant bushier. Strip the leaves off your cut stems and wash. Use the fresh leaves in cooking or preserve in a vinegar (for salads), pesto or pasta sauce, or in ice or oil in the freezer. Usually the flavor in dried leaves is greatly reduced but you can hang the stems upside down to dry, then mince and store in a glass container. Always plant enough basil to allow some plants to flower and set seed. The flowers will attract pollinators; the seed will attract birds.

I grow lemon, lime, sweet, and Thai basil from seed. Every summer I harvest some plants to cook white fish with the lemon basil leaves; stir minced lime leaves into fruit salads; add the sweet basil to pasta sauce; and cut the Thai basil leaves into ribbons for chicken stir fry dishes. I leave some plants to nature; I am sure the bees, butterflies, and birds appreciate the basil in my garden.

 

Day Four of National Pollinator Week: Using Chives to Attract Pollinators

chive blossomThis week is National Pollinator Week.  To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, each day of the week I will post a short article about a culinary herb in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators.  Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of flowering plants.  It is especially vital for gardeners who are growing fruit and vegetables.  There are many plants that attract pollinators but it is also important to reduce or eliminate pesticides, provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season, create large pollinator targets of native or non-invasive plants, and situate the plants in sunny areas with wind breaks.  Culinary herbs are often harvested for the foliage but if left to flower they can attract beneficial insects and pollinators.  Plant several of one type of herb so you can harvest some to use in the kitchen while letting a few flower.  Or, plant perennial or shrub herbs in your landscape to add flowers to your garden.

To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,  Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife FederationU.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.

Monday June 20, Cilantro

Tuesday June 21, Dill

Wednesday June 22, Sage

Thursday June 23, Chives

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 are narrow plants, about a foot tall, so they can be tucked in between ornamental shrubs and flowers as long as they receive full sun. We cut the leaves for scrambled eggs, chive butter, and mashed potatoes.

To keep up with my family’s demand for fresh chives, I have several plants so after I cut the leaves back on one, I leave that plant alone until it rejuvenates and then harvest the leaves of another plant. In the spring, I divide my current clumps to create more plants, both for the garden as well as for friends. Chives can be grown from seed but it may take a while for the plants to mature to harvest so it is best to buy a few small containers and tuck them in different places in the garden (near the door so you can pop out with scissors before dinner).

In June the pink, clover-like flowers appear, which are edible and pretty in a wildflower-country-garden-way. These attract pollinators such as bees so always leave a few for them.

Day Two of National Pollinator Week: Using Dill to Attract Pollinators

dill flowerThis week is National Pollinator Week.  To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, each day of the week I will post a short article about a culinary herb in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators.  Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of flowering plants.  It is especially vital for gardeners who are growing fruit and vegetables.  There are many plants that attract pollinators but it is also important to reduce or eliminate pesticides, provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season, create large pollinator targets of native or non-invasive plants, and situate the plants in sunny areas with wind breaks.  Culinary herbs are often harvested for the foliage but if left to flower they can attract beneficial insects and pollinators.  Plant several of one type of herb so you can harvest some to use in the kitchen while letting a few flower.  Or, plant perennial or shrub herbs in your landscape to add flowers to your garden.

To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,  Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife FederationU.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.

Monday June 20, Cilantro

Tuesday June 21, Dill

Dill 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. 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.

Dill is an annual, but it may re-seed in the garden. Dill foliage, also called dill weed, can be used fresh or dried. We tend to use fresh in the summer for egg dishes, fish, tomato salads, cucumber salads, cooked carrots, fresh veggie dishes and even dill butter. In the winter, we use the dried dill for canned veggies, egg dishes, and tuna salad. It is easy to dry the foliage, just wash and let dry flat on paper towels for a few weeks, then store in a glass jar.

Dill tends to flower quickly in the summer so it is best to sow seed several times to ensure a continuous supply of dill weed. By summer, I simply sow seed directly into the garden bed, making sure the seeds do not dry out. The flowers are actually beneficial to the garden, they attract the good bugs and the pollinators. However, once the plants flower, they set seed and the plant itself starts to put energy into the seed and not the foliage. It is easy to save the seed because they are all in one structure called an umbel. When the seeds are brown, simply cut the stalk to the umbel into a large paper bag. Let dry for a few weeks, then put the umbel on a plate or in a large bowl and rub the seeds off. Store seeds in a glass jar and either use them in the kitchen or plant them next year.

Walking Onions on the Loose!

walking onionYesterday I took a few photos of my walking onions just as the flowering scapes were emerging like aliens from glistening pods. You can chop up and cook the scapes for a garlic taste. I wrote about them last year for April’s You Can Grow That article. walking onion scape

 

You Can Grow That: Lemon Balm

lemon_balm (2)You can grow lemon balm. One of the easiest herbs to grow, lemon balm is a perennial bush grown for its lemon scented leaves. Lemon balm thrives in morning sun and afternoon shade in my Virginia garden and comes back in the spring, reaching about 2 feet tall by early summer. Hardy to zone 4, lemon balm co-exists well with other plants in the garden, serving as a beautiful green “landscape edible” but also as a pollinator plant. Its botanical name, Melissa officinalis, refers to the bee attracting white flowers (“Melissa” is Greek for “bee”) and long-serving medicinal qualities (“officinalis” refers to historical medicinal value). Actually, lemon balm’s medicinal value dates back over 2,000 years but for my family I tend to focus on lemon balm’s culinary uses. Fresh leaves add lemon flavor in baked goods such as pound cake, muffins, scones, and cookies; fruit salad; sorbets; butters; cheese; and fish and chicken dishes. Plus, the leaves’ wrinkly texture provide visual interest as a garnish in fruit salads, drinks, and desserts.

Out of all the herbal teas, lemon balm tea taste most like black tea, without the caffeine. I use the dried leaves for hot or iced tea either alone or as a base to which I add more pronounced fruity flavors from other plants. In the spring and summer, I pick the leaves as I need them or shear the entire plant down.  The plant revives quickly and a second shearing can be done before the fall.

Lemon balm is easy to grow from seed but also cheap to buy as a small plant. If a friend has it, get a stem cutting and root it in water. As a member of the mint family, lemon balm roots easily but this species is not as invasive as mints because it spreads by seed instead of runners. Mine has never spread but I have used it to make great gift plants.

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ for more entries on the fourth of the month.

Youcangrowthat