Tag Archives: herbs

Celebrate National Hot Tea Day with Lemon Balm

lemon_balm (2)Out of all the herbal teas, lemon balm tea taste most like black tea, without the caffeine. I use the 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. The leaves dry well so I can make lemon balm tea all year round.

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. 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 has been known for more than 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 like pound cake, muffins, scones, and cookies. Lemon balm can also be added to fruit salad, sorbets, butter, cheese, fish, and chicken dishes.

Lemon balm is easy to grow from seed but also cheap to buy as a small plant in the spring. 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 invasive. Try growing lemon balm to brew a hot cup of tea to celebrate National Hot Tea Day!

Local Resources for Gardeners Interested in Culinary Herbs

According to the Herb Society of America, herbs are “plants (trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, biennials, or annuals) valued historically, presently, or potentially for their flavor, fragrance, medicinal qualities, insecticidal qualities, economic or industrial use, or in the case of dyes, for the coloring material they provide.” I am particularly interested in “plants valued for their flavor,” i.e., culinary herbs. This is a work-in-progress guide to culinary herbs resources in the Washington DC metropolitan area.

The following are the local public herb gardens, sources for buying herbs, societies, magazines, and books. The asterisk indicates that the locations listed also offer herb events, classes, and workshops. This is not all inclusive, there are other groups and businesses such as master gardeners and nurseries that provide herbal presentations. These are listed on my local monthly events tab on pegplant.com.

Public Herb Gardens

National Herb Garden, U.S. National Arboretum, Washington DC*

National Library of Medicine’s Herb Garden, Bethesda, Maryland

Green Spring Gardens (Potomac Unit donated the Doris Frost Herb Garden in 1995), Alexandria, Virginia*

Meadowlark Botanical Garden’s Herb Garden, Vienna, Virginia*

U.S. Botanic Garden and the Bartholdi Park, Washington DC*

The Bishops Garden at the National Cathedral, Washington DC.

The Franciscan Monastery’s garden, Washington DC (annual plant and herb sale in April)

The Green Farmacy Garden, Fulton, MD*

Plant and Seed Sources

See pegplant.com for a list of nurseries and a list of seed sources. Most local nurseries sell herbs in the spring. Two nurseries that specialize in herbs are Debaggio’s Herb Farm and Nursery in Chantilly, VA, which is only open from spring to mid-summer; and Willow Oak Flower and Herb Garden* in Severn, MD.

The Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America sells herbs at the Friends of the National Arboretum plant sale at the U.S. National Arboretum in DC, in April.

The Franciscan Monastery has an herb and plant sale in April.

The Baltimore Herb Festival is in May at the Leakin Park, Baltimore, MD.

Blooming Hill Lavender Farm specializes in lavender and has an annual lavender festival in June as well as other herb-related events throughout the year, Purceville, VA.*

Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD.*

Societies

The Herb Society of America, Ohio. The website has many resources and a library of webinars.

The Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America is the local unit for the Washington DC metro area. There is a membership form on the website or come to a meeting as a guest.

Magazines

The Essential Herbal magazine (a website, blog, magazine).

Herb Companion was bought by Mother Earth Living which keeps the content on their website. Herb Quarterly, can subscribe or buy at Barnes & Noble.

Culinary Herb Books, chronological order

Botanical Baking: Contemporary Baking and Cake Decorating with Edible Flowers and Herbs by Juliet Sear, 2019

The Herbalist’s Healing Kitchen: Using the Power of Food to Cook Your Way to Better Health by Devon Young, 2019

The Kitchen Herb Garden: Growing and Preparing Essential Herbs by Rosalind Creasy, 2019

Grow Your Own Herbs: The 40 Best Culinary Varieties for Home Gardens by Susan Belsinger and Arthur O. Tucker, 2019

Beyond Rosemary, Basil and Thyme: Unusual, Interesting and Uncommon Herbs to Enjoy by Theresa Mieseler, 2019

The Herbal Kitchen: Bringing Lasting Health to You and Your Family with 50 Easy-to-Find Common Herbs and Over 250 Recipes by Kami McBride, 2019

A Taste for Herbs: Your Guide to Seasoning, Mixes and Blends from the Herb Lover’s Garden by Sue Goetz, 2019

Herbal Handbook for the Homesteaders: Farmed and Foraged Herbal Remedies and Recipes by Abby Artemisia, 2019

The Art of Edible Flowers: Recipes and Ideas for Floral Salads, Drinks, Desserts and More by Rebecca Sullivan, 2018

The Herbalist’s Kitchen: Cooking and Healing with Herbs by Pat Crocker, 2018

The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion: The Ultimate Guide to Growing, Preserving and Using Herbs by Amy K. Fewell, 2018

The Art of Cooking with Lavender by Nancy Baggett, 2016

The Culinary Herbal: Growing and Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs by Susan Belsinger and Arthur O. Tucker, 2016

Homegrown Herb Garden: A Guide to Growing and Culinary Uses by Lisa Baker Morgan and Ann McCormick, 2015

Cooking with Flowers: Sweet and Savory Recipes with Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender and Other Edible Flowers by Miche Bacher and Miana Jun, 2013

Edible Flowers: 25 Recipes and an A-Z Pictorial Directory of Culinary Flora by Kathy Brown, 2012

Eat Your Roses: … Pansies, Lavender and 49 other Delicious Edible Flowers by Denise Schreiber, 2011

Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs by Herb Society of America, edited by Katherine K. Schlosser, 2007

The Edible Flower Garden by Kathy Brown, 1999

Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy, 1999

Edible Flowers: Desserts and Drinks by Cathy Wilkinson Barash, 1997

Living with Herbs: A Treasury of Useful Plants for the Home and Garden by Jo Ann Gardner 1997

Edible Flowers: From Garden to Palate by Cathy Wilkinson Barash, paperback 1995; hardback 1993

Herbal Treasures: Inspiring Month-by-Month Projects for Gardening, Cooking and Crafts by Phyllis Shaudys, 1990

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, edited by Claire Kowalchik and William H. Hylton, 1987

The Pleasure of Herbs: A Month-by-Month Guide to Growing, Using and Enjoying Herbs by Phyllis Shaudys, 1986

Fennel: A Multitasking Herb

fennel in the summer with caterpillar in right corner

I grow fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, in my Virginia garden for many reasons. As an accent in the garden, fennel grow easily from seed to a few feet tall. Sometimes, they are erect and sometimes they bend from weight to weave among the perennials and shrubs. Their tubular stems mingle with the pumpkin vines on the ground or rest on top of the chrysanthemum shrubs while their green, fern-like foliage peak through the zinnias.

Throughout the summer, I can harvest the foliage for use in the kitchen. The leaves have an anise flavor and are good for flavoring fish and chicken dishes and root vegetables. Snips of the foliage can be sprinkled on salads, soup, eggs, and tuna salad sandwiches.

In the summer, the fennel blooms with large, star-burst like structures, comprising many small yellow flowers. These attract beneficial insects and pollinators, good for the rest of my garden. Sometimes, I clip the flower heads for floral arrangements but I always let some flowers go to seed.

In the fall, I clip the seed heads and put them in a paper bag. I save some seeds for sowing next year and some for the kitchen. The seeds have medicinal qualities (the foliage does not) and are often served at the end of the meal in restaurants to help with digestion and to freshen the breath. Eating the seeds or making a tea from the seeds can relieve flatulence, bloating, gas, indigestion, cramps, and muscle spasms. Fennel seeds are also called “meeting seeds” because when the Puritans had long church sermons they chewed on the seeds to suppress hunger and fatigue.

fennel as a filler in the garden

In the kitchen, seed can be used whole or ground or toasted in a dry frying pan. Seeds can be used as a spice for baking sweets, breads, and crackers, or in sausage, or herbal vinegars and pickling. The seeds have the same anise flavor but are so sweet, they taste like they are sugar-coated. For me it is like eating small candies, especially tasty after drinking coffee.

I also grow fennel for the caterpillar form of the black swallowtail butterflies. The caterpillars love to eat the foliage and it makes me happy to grow food for them and to support the butterfly population.

Sometimes the fennel comes back the next year, it really depends on the winter. I have heard that in warmer climates it gets out of control but in my zone 7 garden, it has not been an issue. After a hard freeze, when I am cleaning up the garden, I cut back the old fennel stalks revealing new foliage at the base. In December, the new foliage is just as lush and green, providing me with more fennel for my recipes as well as a nice garnish for holiday meals.

fennel seeds in the fall with the mums

Fennel is easy to grow from seed and should be sowed directly in the garden. The plants have a tap root and do not like to be transplanted. The plants prefer full sun but can tolerate some shade and they need well-drained soil. Treat them like summer annuals and sow seeds every year.

fennel in December

I should point out that there are two types, Foeniculum vulgare, which is the leafy one I grow, and Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce, which is the bulbing type. I have grown the bulbing type before but not for the accents it provides in the garden bed. The bulbing type is a shorter plant with a bulbous base so it is harvested for the bulb before it flowers and sets seed. The bulb is often sliced fresh for salads or cooked with fish and vegetables. One could consider the bronze fennel a third type, it grows like the leafy fennel only it is a dark bronze color, not bright green. Bronze fennel also can be used in the kitchen.

In the kitchen, use the foliage for:

  • green salads
  • fruit salad (nectarine/apricot)
  • egg dishes
  • soup and chowders
  • chicken salad or tuna salad
  • Dips and cream sauces
  • yeast breads
  • fish, put a fish filet on bed of leaves and broil or mix leaves with butter and drizzle over the fish
  • vegetables such as root vegetables, peas and potatoes
  • Combine with parsley, chervil, and thyme or make a fennel, parsley, thyme and lemon juice rub for white fish

Seeds can be used for:

  • Fish soup/stock
  • Cucumber salads
  • Soft cheeses
  • Bread/biscuits/crackers
  • Sausage mixtures and pork dishes
  • Pickling vegetables
  • Marinades for meat
  • Bean, couscous, lentil or bulgur wheat dishes
  • Potato salad
  • Dry rubs or spice blends/powders

Celebrate National Cookie Day with Herbal Cookie Recipes!

December 4 is #nationalcookieday so here are three recipes for cookies that include herbs!

Lemon Thyme Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup sugar

2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

1 egg

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Optional Icing: 2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest, 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, and 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

thyme

Directions: In large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt, set aside. In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar with mixer and then beat in thyme and 2 teaspoons lemon zest. Add egg and vanilla. Reduce mixer speed and add flour mixture. Roll dough into 1 ½ inch diameter logs, wrap, and place in freezer for 30 minutes. Line baking sheets with parchment paper, slice 1/8-inch rounds and place on sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

When cookies have cooled, can top with icing. Mix the confectioners’ sugar, fresh lemon juice, and 2 tsp. of lemon zest and spoon over cookies.

Herbal Shortbread Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, cut up and at room temperature

½ cup sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp salt

1 tbsp. herb of choice: try calendula petals, lavender flowers, rosemary, or lemon balm

calendula

Directions: Beat together butter and sugar, add flour, salt, and herb. Mix and then roll out onto floured surface, so is about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Cut shapes such as circles and then put on ungreased baking sheet, bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Lavender Cookies

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 ¼ cups self-rising flour

1 tbsp dried lavender flowers, crush with mortar and pestle

Pinch salt

lavender

Directions: Cream butter, sugar, and salt and then add flour and lavender. Mix and let sit in fridge for a few hours. Then place dough onto floured surface, roll to 1/3-inch thick Cut into circles and place on greased baking sheet, bake at for 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

lemon thyme cookies courtesy of Tonya LeMone at Perennial Gardens, Utah.

Chives: A Perennial Herb for the Kitchen

chive plant in November, after hard freeze

We had a hard freeze a few days ago and my chive plant still looks great. I cut some foliage, washed with cold water, and snipped little pieces to add to our pierogies. That is what I love about herbs: you can just pop in to the garden, cut a few leaves, and add a punch of flavor and a dash of color to your dishes.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are a must in the garden. They are foot-tall, perennial herbs that can be incorporated within a garden bed, taking up little space. Although chive foliage will die back in the winter, they are one of the first herbs to emerge in early March and are still looking good now in November despite the freeze. Chives are also easy to grow and easy to divide. From one plant, you can divide again next spring to create more for the garden or to give away to friends.

chopped chives on pierogies

Although chives can be grown in a container in the summer, I have mine in my garden bed, which is in part shade with soil that is on the moist side. Usually we are harvesting the foliage for the onion flavor but the pink-lavender, clover-like flowers are edible as well.

In my family we prefer to cut fresh chives for potato and egg dishes, rice, chicken, tacos, quesadillas, and tomato soup. We also make chive butter by stirring in chopped chives to soft butter – butter that has been sitting at room temperature. We refrigerate the herb butter in a container or wrap into a log and freeze. This can be done with soft cheeses as well.

about to mix chopped chives with butter

The chive foliage can be preserved in the freezer, dried, or in ice cubes. Chive foliage and flowers can be used in herbal vinegars. Chives are so versatile in the kitchen and so easy to grow in the garden, there is no reason not to have them in your garden.

chive butter, rolled for freezing and to later give as a gift

The Magical Flowers of Butterfly Pea Plants

In August 2017, I visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It was beautiful and I took many photos. As always the plants that stayed with me were the ones I had not seen before. I remember vines with beautiful pea-like flowers, about 2 inches wide, wrapped around dead trees, which were painted (“art”). The flowers were blue/purple with a yellow inner strip and the green leaves reminded me of Kentucky coffee trees. Obviously it was a tropical vine in the legume family (Fabaceae) but I could not find a sign. Later when I got home, I stumbled across the same plant on Facebook only with cobalt blue flowers. Its name, I learned, was butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea).

The Facebook post said the flowers were used for an herbal tea. I had no idea this pretty vine had herbal qualities.  I researched online and discovered that the cobalt blue variety is well-known in Asian countries. The flowers are dried and sold in bags but one can purchase a powdered form or an extract. The flowers can be brewed alone or combined with other herbs such as lemongrass, ginger, and mint. The blue comes from anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds, similar to blueberries.

When brewed with water the tea is cobalt blue. However, when an acid is added, such as lemon juice, the tea turns purple. When an alkaline liquid such as roselle tea is added, the tea turns red. Apparently butterfly pea tea acts like a litmus strip, the color of the drink changes with the pH of what it is mixed with. This does not affect the taste but has transformed butterfly tea into a novelty cocktail drink. The cobalt blue flowers also are used to dye food such as custards, puddings, rice dishes, and sticky rice.

Butterfly pea is native to Africa. Here in Virginia it would be grown as an annual. The vine grows rapidly in the summer and needs support so an arbor is ideal but would be interesting to try it in a hanging basket. As a member of the pea family, the plant fixates nitrogen and is good for the soil. The vine can take full sun to light shade and is drought tolerant. There are several varieties, some have cobalt blue, lavender, or white flowers in single or double flowered forms.

This is not an easy plant to find here in Virginia but it seems that once you have the plant, you can let some flowers go to seed and collect the pods for next year. Last week I was in Florida and toured a friend’s garden. He was growing this plant in a large container with a trellis. I was so excited to see the butterfly pea again and explained how I was interested in growing it. He had a plastic bag full of the seed pods and offered me some. I took a handful of pods which by now had dried and split open and brought them home. This week, I plan to sow the seeds outside and grow butterfly pea plants in order to experiment with novelty drinks!

Winter Savory: A Beneficial Herb for the Garden

Winter savory blossom, up close

Winter savory (Satureja montana) has been a member of my Virginia garden for a number of years.  My plant is in full sun, in poor soil, and has never been bothered by diseases or deer. Hardy to zone 6, my winter savory has grown to be a short, woody shrub, about a foot tall. The green, needle-like foliage is less than an inch long, with many leaves per branch. Now, in February, the leaves are bronze-purple because of the cold. In the summer, the green plant is covered in small, white flowers, attracting beneficial insects and pollinators, including bees.

Winter savory in winter

I like winter savory for two reasons. It retains its leaves and transforms color in the winter, adding interest to the garden. It is a great pollinator plant, which I need for my summer veggies. Although winter savory foliage can be used for cooking, I tend to leave it alone and let it flower. For the kitchen, I grow its cousin, summer savory (Satureja hortensis). Summer savory is an annual herbaceous plant with similar foliage only a bit longer and not as woody. It is easy to grow from seed once frost has passed. Since I harvest the leaves for cooking I tend to disrupts summer savory’s ability to flower. Although it produces similarly shaped flowers, it is not grown for its flowers.

Savories are very old herbs, used for more than 2,000 years. Interestingly, there are two theories for the “Satureja” name. One is that it is a derivative of za’atar, a general name of eastern Mediterranean herbs with oregano-like aroma. The other theory is that Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, called the plant “satureia,” meaning “of the satyrs.” The satyrs are the mythical half horse/half man animals who eat plants such as savory to achieve a great level of sexual stamina (thought you might find that handy since Valentine’s Day is this week).

Winter savory blooming in August

Today, savory is known as the bean herb. Chefs tend to use the summer savory leaves to flavor beans, stews, tomato-based sauces, vinegars, stuffing mixtures, vegetables, meat marinades, chicken salad, and soups. They are an ingredient in herbes de Provence and fines herbs. They blend well with other herbs such as parsley, marjoram, oregano, basil, rosemary, and thyme. Both summer and winter savory have thymol and carvacrol, the characteristic aromas of oregano and thyme. However, winter savory is more pungent and has been used as a pepper substitute.

This summer, buy both and grow them for the garden, the pollinators, and for zest in your meals!

Free Culinary Herbs Presentation

Join me as I talk about 10 culinary herbs at the Merrifield Garden Center. I will cover cultural requirements, harvesting and preserving techniques, inspiring ways to use the herbs in the kitchen, and local herb resources. Don’t worry if you don’t have land or a garden, these 10 herbs can be grown in containers. Everyone will receive a handout to take home. No reservations required, this is a free lecture on Sunday, March 24, 1:00 to 2:00 pm, at the Gainesville location, 6895 Wellington Road, Gainesville, VA.

February Pegplant’s Post Giveaway: Italian Herb Seeds

Every January I attend the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (MANTS) in Baltimore. MANTS is a trade show serving the horticulture industry. It is a green industry marketplace for finding plants, nursery stock, and garden items wholesale. I attend as press to meet new people in the horticulture field and to learn of new businesses and products. This year, I met Joe Salerno, the owner of Salerno Seeds, a 40-year-old, family-owned New York business that imports seed packets produced and packed in Italy. The herb and vegetable seed packets are sold in a few New York retail locations and online. Joe has kindly sent me five packets for my February 2019 Pegplant’s Post giveaway: oregano, thyme, borage, arugula, and wild chicory.

This giveaway opportunity is for subscribers of Pegplant’s Post, an online, free gardening newsletter for the Washington DC metro area. Each issue provides 50 to 100 gardening events; newly published gardening books; local tips, advice, and articles; and a monthly giveaway contest.

To subscribe, click here or visit pegplant.com and enter your e-mail address in the box above “subscribe!” on the right column. Pegplant’s Post is issued on the last weekend of the month.

 

New Herban Lifestyles Series of Classes at U.S. National Arboretum

Interested in learning more about herbs? Check out the new Herban Lifestyles series of presentations at the U.S. National Arboretum. This series of presentations is designed to help you learn new ways to incorporate herbs into your everyday life. You can register for all the events or just select particular events. Some are free, some require a fee. Some are in the National Herb Garden while others are in the Visitor Center Classroom at the Arboretum. Below is the list for this year.

Herbal Bitters: Sweeter than You Think!
August 4, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
National Herb Garden

Discover the benefits that bitter herbs offer, from jazzing up your favorite cocktail to aiding digestion after a heavy meal. A variety of hand-crafted bitters will be available for tasting. This program is part of the Under the Arbor series and is free. No registration required.

Herbal Salves: They’re the Balm!
August 11, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Visitor Center classroom

Learn how to make herb infused oils for use in soothing salves. The healing properties of various oils and herbs will be covered, and participants will get to take home a jar of salve made in class. Fee: $35 ($28 Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) members). Registration required.

Hot, Hot, Hot! The Secrets of Herbal Aphrodisiacs
August 18, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Visitor Center classroom

Herbalist Joan Greeley, owner of Plant Wisdom Within, will instruct participants in the creation of mojo-enhancing herbal concoctions. The weather isn’t the only thing hot this summer! Due to the mature nature of this program, registrants must be at least 18 years old. Fee: $35 ($28 FONA members). Registration required.

Cold Comfort: Herbs to Aid Immunity during Cold and Flu Season
October 20, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Visitor Center classroom

Join herbalist Whitney Palacios as she teaches participants how to make syrups, teas, and other herbal preparations that fortify and nourish the immune system during the winter months. Fee: $35 ($28 FONA members). Registration required.

Herbs – They Make Scents!
October 27, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Visitor Center classroom

Learn how to harvest and prepare herbs to create fragrant herbal incense cones and powders. Participants will create their own blend to take home. Please bring a small container to safely transport your freshly made incense. Fee: $35 ($28 FONA members). Registration required.

Additional herb presentations by Herb Society of America units:

Under the Arbor: Lemon Herbs
September 8, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
National Herb Garden

A refreshing drink on an early autumn day. Tasty citrus cookies after a light lunch. What could be better? Discover how the South Jersey Unit of the Herb Society of America creatively incorporates lemon-flavored herbs into every day culinary fare. Free, drop-in, no registration required.

Under the Arbor: Chile Pepper Celebration
October 6, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
National Herb Garden

The weather may be cooling down, but the National Herb Garden will turn up the heat during its annual Chile Pepper Celebration. Join Herb Society of America members and National Herb Garden staff as they present chile peppers at their finest. Experience the fire with colorful varieties that don’t hold back! Free, drop-in, no registration required.

Under the Arbor at the National Herb Garden, U.S. National Arboretum