Tag Archives: culinary herb

Cutting Celery: A Cold-Tolerant, Neglected Herb

In November, when I was pulling out the blackened tomatoes and peppers, I noticed a spot of green to the right of the veggie bed. One of my favorite herbs was still going strong despite the frost.  My three cutting celery plants were green with beautiful, feathery leaves.

I use cutting celery in the kitchen quite frequently – unlike celery you buy in a store, cutting celery can add a spicy, pepper-like flavor to meals. Cutting celery (Apium graveolens var. secalinum) looks more like parsley than the stalk celery (Apium graveolens var. dulce) that one purchases in a grocery store. This small, bushy plant has short, hollow stems and plenty of parsley-like leaves. Cutting celery is a very old herb, more popular in European and Asian countries (sometimes it is called Chinese celery). It is not difficult to grow but probably difficult to find as a plant here in the Washington DC area. I start mine from seed under lights, several weeks before the last frost in the spring. I then plant them outside in May, in a very moist area. This particular area is a depression in the veggie bed where rain water collects making the soil moist enough to keep the celery plants happy but too wet for my other vegetables and herbs. Celery needs a constant supply of moisture and a few shots of nitrogen in the summer.

I cut the stems as needed, leaving the plant in the ground. After washing and chopping, I add leaves and stems together to stir fry dishes, soups, stews, and egg and potato dishes toward the end of the cooking period.  Cutting celery has a very strong flavor, more pungent and spicy than stalk celery, much like black pepper. Sometimes I add about a spoonful to a green salad to add that peppery flavor in small amounts. I also sauté chopped celery with diced green pepper and tomato to add to fish or chicken. The leaves can be used as a garnish, either in a drink like a straw or under the entrée, like a roast, on a platter.

A member of the carrot family, cutting celery is a biennial but in my zone 7 garden, I treat it as an annual. Although it is hardy, it sits in a very wet area that will freeze soon, which could kill the roots.  It is better for me to treat my plants as annuals and plan to start a few more from seed each year. If we had an unusually mild winter and my plants did survive, they would flower and set seed, which I could save to grow the following year.

 

Day Three of National Pollinator Week: Using Sage Blossoms to Attract Pollinators

variegated sage in May with purple flowers

variegated sage in May with purple flowers

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

Most people know about sage, it’s that dry, gray, crumbly herb you use when you make stuffing for Thanksgiving stuffing. True enough, the plant is an herb but it also adds beauty in the garden. Re-think culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) as a landscape edible: drought tolerant, pest resistant, and full season interest! Sage plants grow like small woody shrubs, up to a few feet tall, and their leaves remain all year long in my zone 7, Virginia garden. Sage plants are usually grown for the leaves, but the summer brings small, purple flowers, attracting pollinators for the rest of the garden. Both the leaves as well as the flower spikes can be cut 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 cooking or tea. Sage plants prefer full sun and well-drained soil on the dryer side, think Mediterranean. Although you can start the species from seed, check out the many cultivars that are available now for the full spectrum of foliage interest.