Tag Archives: herb

Anise Hyssop: Culinary Herb of the Year

anise hyssop at the National Herb Garden in July

The International Herb Association has named the Agastache genus as the 2019 Herb of the Year. There are about 20 species, all native to North America. Of the agastache plants, anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is the most well-known for culinary uses in Europe and America.

Anise hyssop is an herbaceous perennial hardy to zone 4. It is a short-lived perennial but it self-seeds and spreads a bit by rhizomes. In March, the leaves emerge with a purple hue. As the plant grows the leaves become green (although there is a golden cultivar). A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), the leaves have scalloped edges and look like catnip leaves. Anise hyssop grows a few feet tall and about one foot wide. In the summer, there are small lavender-blue flowers on 4 to 6-inch terminal spikes, creating fuzzy wands. The flowers attract beneficial pollinators, including butterflies and hummingbirds. Because the foliage is so fragrant, deer do not seem interested.

Anise hyssop is a full sun to part shade plant tolerating a wide range of soils in a well-drained site. In addition to its culinary use, anise hyssop is an asset in the garden as an ornamental. It provides contrast to orange and yellow flowers and complements purple foliage plants.

purple foliage of anise hyssop in March

Anise hyssop is harvested for its leaves as well as its flowers. Although the aroma is categorized as anise or licorice, some might say anise with a touch of basil or anise with a touch of tarragon. The most common use of the leaves is tea but you can also add the leaves to lamb or pork dishes, to the milk for making ice cream, sugar syrups and/or sugar syrups for cough drops, cocktails, honey, butter cookies, and sugar to make flavored sugar. The leaves dry well, retaining their taste and fragrance.

Use the flowers as a garnish for desserts, add to a salad, or add to a beverage such as ice tea. The flowers also dry well, retaining their color and aroma.

You can find small plants in the nursery in the spring or you can grow anise hyssop from seed. Sow the seed indoors under lights in order to transplant outside after the last frost or sow outside in the summer. Anise hyssop can also be propagated by root division.

This summer, grow anise hyssop in your garden for beauty as well as flavor.

Parsley: A Landscape Edible

parsley

parsley in January 2016

Parsley is one of those easy to grow landscape edibles that adds beauty to your garden and flavor to your cooking.

Here in Northern Virginia, parsley can stay green above ground in the winter.

Parsley is a biennial, it produces foliage the first year and flowers the second year. I have set aside a small area in the ground I call the parsley patch. There are enough plants so that some are in the first year (when I want to harvest foliage for the kitchen) and some are in the second year (when I want them to flower, develop seed, and drop the seed to the ground to create new plants for next year). Just for extra luck, I also scatter seeds every spring. This way I can harvest fresh parsley year round.

Parsley likes organic matter, moisture, and morning sun or dappled sun. My plants are in the ground but parsley can be grown in containers and window boxes for the summer. I grow flat leaf or Italian parsley, which is best for culinary purposes. There is a curly leaf type that is best used as a garnish.

curly parsley in summer

To harvest parsley, cut outer, older leaves at the base, leaving the core or inner, younger leaves.  Cut with scissors (don’t pull) and put in a large bowl of cool water for about 20 minutes (to wash the foliage and drown any bugs). Pat dry and cut the leaves and stems into small pieces with scissors or a knife.

I use parsley for my bean stew, roasted vegetables, roasted potatoes, pasta, and salads. I have used leaves for garnish for holiday dinners and plates of fruit. In addition to its flavor, parsley has high levels of vitamins A, C, and K, plus a high level of chlorophyll that freshens your breath!

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.

 

Aloe Vera: The Plant That Keeps on Giving

Every May, I put my aloe plant outside on the deck to enjoy the summer sun and warmth. Aloe vera thrives despite my neglect, I barely remember to water her. By autumn, she has produced many “pups,” crowding inside the small pot, eager to escape. When the nights get too cold for them, I upturn the entire the pot, gently pull apart each pup, and nestle each into a small container of soil.  I replant the mother and move her in to my house while I box up the pups to bring to the office. Within hours of placing the box in the office kitchen, colleagues have helped themselves to a new plant, armed with growing instructions I have printed on strips of paper. My colleagues love free plants, needless to say it is much like leaving cookies in the kitchen. I have brought in baby aloe plants each fall for several years now and it is a joy for me to share as it is for my coworkers to receive.

Aloe vera is a succulent, perennial herb well known for healing burns. Snapping a leaf in two reveals a gel-like liquid that when applied to the burn offers pain relief and a fast healing process. The leaves actually have three sections: a thick outer rind, a thin slimy layer of cells, and the inner gel. Just beneath the rind is a bitter yellow substance called aloin, which causes intestinal irritation creating a laxative effect.  The inner gel is used to help with burns, sunburns, or as a skin moisturizer. Diluted with water, this gel can be ingested to sooth intestinal irritation. Although aloe’s beneficial effects have been documented for thousands of years, it was not until U.S. researchers discovered that aloe gel could quickly heal burns caused by x-rays and ultraviolet rays in the mid-1930s that interest soared. Today, aloe is recognized as an excellent first aid kit for disinfecting minor cuts, insect stings, and burns but researchers are still studying the plant. Aloe gel has more than 75 nutrients and 200 compounds.

Growing the plant is simple as long as you give it warmth and sun and good drainage. It can be grown indoors as a houseplant provided it gets sun, as in a southern exposure window or a sun room. It needs little water, I just let the rain water it outdoors. It will not tolerate the winters here in Virginia so in the fall before the nights hit forty degrees and below, bring it back indoors and then back outdoors in May. I have not fertilized mine but then I am a lazy fertilizer. I don’t try to ingest the leaves but I do use my plant for kitchen burns — I just cut off the outer leaf and slice in half to release the gel.

In a Vase on Monday: Small Flowered Zinnias and a Surprise Herb

I like to grow different types of zinnias each summer, particularly old-fashioned species. This year I grew a yellow-flowered Peruviana (Zinnia peruviana) and multi-colored Persian Carpet (Zinnia haageana). Tucked in this arrangement is a yellow-flowered herb, can you guess what it is? Here is a clue: This herb grows as a tangled perennial in my zone 7 Virginia garden and is just now blooming in July. #inavaseonmonday

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Feverfew

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is an old herb once thought to treat fevers but actually is helpful in preventing migraine headaches. I first saw the plant blooming at a demonstration garden a few years ago and liked the small, daisy-like flowers, similar to chamomile. I sowed seed late last summer and transplanted the seedlings in the ground before frost. They weathered the mild winter in my zone 7 Virginia garden but remained small. When the temperature increased in early spring, the plants grew up very fast and started blooming as early as . The plants are several feet tall now in full sun, oblivious to our current dry spell. I do not use feverfew medicinally but as a summer flowering perennial. Because they are small white flowers, they are great by themselves in a vase or as a filler with other flowers.

I read that the plant has a strong and bitter smell but I don’t notice it. I have also read that feverfew has mosquito repelling qualities but there are still the same number of mosquitoes in my garden.  However, I have noticed that nothing goes near it, no deer and no rabbits.

My variety is Heirloom Double White Wonder from Renees Garden but there are other cultivars on the market such as Aureum, White Bonnet, Golden Ball, Crown White, and Ultra Double White. You may not find this in your local nursery as a plant; you may have to purchase seed but the seed germinates easily. Feverfew is known to be a short-lived perennial but it will be a summer-long success in my garden this year.

The 15th of the month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day where garden bloggers post photos of plants that are blooming in their area across the country.

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.

You Can Grow That: Chervil

chervilChervil 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. It is not as well known here in America but it is easy to grow for culinary use. A cousin of parsley, chervil’s leaves are similar but more finely cut and the overall height is smaller, about one foot tall and wide. If left to flower in the summer, the compound umbels display small white flowers, again, similar to parsley or carrot. Because chervil is a hardy annual, seeds should be sown every few weeks in early spring here in Virginia and then again in late summer for a fall crop. Chervil prefers moist soil and partial or afternoon shade.

Leaves can be harvested fresh and taste like a combination of parsley and anise (licorice). Wash and finely cut the leaves to add to egg dishes, fish, fruit salad, cream cheese, cream sauces, cheese dishes, and butter. Add to vegetables such as carrots, beans, corn, and peas during the last few minutes of cooking. It is best to add chervil at the end of hot dishes such as soups and stews because the lengthy heat will make it taste bitter.  The leaves can be dried as well, simply wash and lay flat on paper towels for a few weeks or hang upside down.

You can grow that is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Click on the logo below to read more posts.

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You Can Grow That: Parsley

parsleyParsley is one of those easy to grow landscape edibles that adds beauty to your garden and flavor to your cooking. Here in Northern Virginia, parsley can stay green above ground all winter long (I took this photo in January 2016).

I always use parsley fresh, not dried, partly because I have several plants in my garden, year round. Since it is a biennial, I sow seeds every spring to ensure that I have plants. Mine are Italian Gigante from Renee’s Garden  which is a type of flat leaf or Italian parsley, best for culinary purposes. There is a curly leaf type but that is best used as a garnish. Parsley can be grown from seed or can be bought as a small plant from the local nurseries in the spring/summer. Sometimes, if a plant begins to flower before I am able to harvest the leaves, I let it flower and set seed so the seed can drop and germinate next year. I started growing parsley years ago and now have a string of plants just beneath the deck, in a place that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Parsley likes organic matter, moisture, and morning sun or dappled sun. My plants are in the ground but they also can be grown in containers and window boxes.

To harvest, cut outer, older leaves at the base, leaving the core or inner, younger leaves.  Cut with scissors (don’t pull) and put in a large bowl of water for about 20 minutes (to wash the foliage and drown any bugs). Pat dry and cut the leaves and stems into small pieces with scissors or a knife.

I harvest leaves for my bean stews, roasted vegetables, pierogis, pasta, and salads. I have used leaves for garnish for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and on plates of fruit.

Known for vitamin A, C, and K, parsley’s high level of chlorophyll also freshens your breath!

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Click on the logo to read more posts.

Youcangrowthat

You Can Grow That: Dill!

dill flowerDill 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 Northern 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. Although dill weed’s claim to fame is pickles, we tend to use fresh leaves 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

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. 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. Seeds can be used in baking, breads, or crackers, but I have not tried this personally yet (that will be this winter’s project).

dill (2)

So much has been written about this old herb, one can easily search for information on the internet or in herb books. My favorite dill booklet is Dilly Bits, published by the Herb Society of America, copyright by the HSA, see the link below. It is a compilation of HSA members’ experiences with dill across the country. http://www.herbsociety.org/herbs/documents/DillyBits5-Final.pdf

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. To read more posts, visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/Youcangrowthat