With truly warm (dare we say “hot”?!) weather arriving soon, we are reminded that it is almost time to plant basil. Basil has been a favorite herb of cooks for centuries. It is a window sill herb in many Mediterranean households. Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is an annual from the Mediterranean region that grows 1 to 2 feet tall. It is genus name is the ancient Greek word for “king”. This small bush, deep green plant prefers full sun and warm temperatures to grow well. It is commonly associated with Italian cooking, especially pesto, but there are many more uses beyond the kitchen.
Many herbs get added to our herb beds by serendipity. While perusing the farmers market or a plant sale, there is often an herb that jumps out at us – one that we haven’t seen before, and are intrigued by. We may not know anything about it, but our plant senses tell us it needs to be ours. So we take it home, find a spot for it and then watch it grow, all while learning as much as we can by observing it and also doing research. This is how anise hyssop came to join the farm and her herb sisters.
Anise Hyssop is the herb of the year as selected by The International Herb Association for 2019 and then be recognized by the Herb Society of America as the Herb of the Month last year in anticipation of its big year in 2019.
Getting Ready to Spring into Action!
Spring for the herb gals at Garden Delights means we are getting ready not just to begin harvesting and finalize some cleanup but to set and get started on our yearly class series. Our classes are a time to share information and to answer burning questions about all things herbal, secretly one of things we like to do best. We sometimes make presentations to local groups and at once such recent event we were asked about fertilizing herb plants. Most of us think of our perennial herbs plants as sturdy hardy souls who require little attention. That’s part of the beauty of growing them. We did answer the question presented to us and would like to share that information with you.
Herb plants are kind of stuck in one place, unless we move them, so consequently over time they use all the nutrients in their soil. To keep plants healthy and maintain growth for continued harvests, we have to help them have a good source of nutrients which means a shot of fertilizer. A great time for this nutrient shot is in spring which will officially occur this month, so read on to get all the info on how to renew our hardy herb friends with some nutrients.
In bygone days herbs and flowers were used to send messages to ones loved ones. They had symbolic meanings attached to them and the person receiving the bouquet would understand the hidden meaning in the blooms and leaves. If a young woman received a bouquet of red roses, it was a symbol of romantic love, much as it is today. The romantic use of herbs was at its height during Victorian times, when herbs and flowers were combined to create romantic success and contentment. Communicate your feelings of love with some of the herbs described here.
Basil — Originally the Romans associated basil with hatred, only meant to drive men crazy. Eventually it became a symbol of love in Italy, and has retained that symbolic meaning ever since. In the folklore of Moldavia, a young man who accepts basil from a young woman is destined to fall in love with her.
Raindrops on rosemary
And thyme in the breeze.
Bright purple sage flowers so loved by the bees.
Bunches of savory tied up to dry,
These are my favorite perennials under the sky.
Ok, so this may not be the finest poetry but with a nod to Rodgers and Hammerstein, our favorite perennial herbs are indeed rosemary, thyme, sage and winter savory. As many of you know we like perennial plants because they typically require less work than annuals. Not because we are lazy, but because they are durable and seem to take care of themselves which gives us more time for other activities in the garden. All four of these herb plants are native to the Mediterranean region so were well known to the Greeks and Romans whose knowledge of herbs was spread throughout the world.
Ah, the aromas of the holiday seasons. Those earthy savory smells of turkey and stuffing or ham and the sweet spiciness of pies. Herbs of every kind flavor holiday meals from sage and thyme in the turkey rub to nutmeg in the pies. Wait a minute, that nutmeg is not really an herb.
Herbs and spices are quite different. Herbs are plants used for flavoring, texture, fragrance or dyeing that grow in a temperate zone. They are plants that have a culinary, medicinal or practical use that you would expect to find in a traditional herb garden. That temperate zone is one reason we all have so many wonderful herbs in our gardens. Spices on the other hand, tend to come from woody plants in tropical zones, a reason why the majority of spices are imported. The Mediterranean region brought us herbs as the Romans conquered the world and the south Asian area brought spices along Marco Polo’s spice trail.
Often we associate herbs with savory flavors found in daily cooking while spices go with sweet delectable desserts. We are of course big advocates for the culinary use of herbs. However, we do also use spices and think there is no reason herbs and spices can’t go together. The holiday stuffing could have shredded or chopped apples and/or cranberries added and along with the sage-y Poultry Blend seasoning sprinkle in a little cinnamon and/or ginger. Winter squashes of all kinds pair well with the traditional French Herbes de Provence Blend and a little nutmeg and cinnamon.
The seasons have turned, moving into fall. You may have noticed some of your herbs changing colors just like the trees or not putting on new growth, well, here's some sage advice for fall thyme cleaning.
Prune - More woody herbs such as sage or thyme may require some actual pruning. Look for dead branches and cut them away and give winter savory, thyme and lavender (if not already done from summer harvesting) a short haircut to be ready for winter hibernation. Unless your rosemary is overgrown or a very large bush, it is best to just leave it be. Prune it as you use it throughout the summer and fall. When things are looking pretty good, a good dose of organic fertilizer will have your herbs ready for spring growth.
The kids will be heading back to school this month ready and eager to get back into the academic groove. In honor of National Kid Month – September- we present some herbal ideas that will get the young ones involved with herbs, maybe the outdoors and putting those academic skills to use in practical fun ways.
The young one in our family is well aware of herbs and even has several of his own favorites. He has been stung several times this summer by the abundance of yellow jackets. Although his first response is a lot of loud hollering, through all the noise he yells “Get Mom!” He knows that mom will get a poultice of plantain (once chewed and slapped on the sting while in the garden) which will pull out the poison and relieve the pain. So this summer he may say that plantain is a favorite herb. He knows about the herbs we grow and use in our food everyday something we talk about all the time. He has learned about herbs from his very beginning. Something we encourage everyone to do.
Begin with food. If you grow herbs, take your children into the garden and let them feel, taste and harvest herbs. Name the herbs and tell them what you do with them. Take some pictures or press some leaves and let them start a scrapbook. Then let them help use those herbs in some cooking. This is a simple and good place to start kids out with herbs easily. Our kiddo enjoys making dill pickles every year, and the umbrel flowers of the dill make for fun and easy harvesting. We have also made pesto from a wide variety of herbs - what fun to chop the herbs roughly so they fit into the food processor (scissors work great for this) and then whirring them up into a lovely green paste with some oil and then mixed with pasta!
Since basil is enjoying all the sunshine, no doubt more than we are, and growing in leaps and bounds, for many cooks thoughts turn to pesto. Traditional pesto is a colorful sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy where it is known as pesto alla genovese. Typically it is made from crushed basil leaves, pine nuts and garlic with added olive oil and parmesan and/or Romano cheese. The ingredients were ground with a mortar and pestle hence the name pesto. It has a distinctive green hue and a light texture. The Italians used pesto on pasta, of course, but it can have many other uses.
Any herb may be substituted for basil and even kale and spinach have been known to turn up in a pesto. Be creative and use your pesto with more than pasta. Making pesto with different herbs uses the typical basil recipe but sometimes with a few changes for the nuts or cheese or change things up your own way. Here are some other herbs to use in pesto and ideas on how to use them.
Basic Fresh Herb Pesto
Prep and Cook time: 20 min Yield: about 1 C
2 C fresh basil leaves or any other herb or combo of herbs, packed (can sub half the herb leaves with baby spinach)
1/2 C freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese (about ¼ C)
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1/3 c pine nuts (can sub other chopped nuts or leave out)
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 3 tsp)
1/4 tsp salt and pepper
Place the basil leaves and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times. Add the garlic and cheese and pulse several more times. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a small steady stream. Adding the olive oil slowly while the processor is running, will help it emulsify and help keep the olive oil from separating. Occasionally stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor. Stir in salt and black pepper. Store in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Put a thin layer of oil on the top to keep it from turning brown.
Companion Planting with Herbs
One of the things we love about herbs is the many uses they have: beauty, flavor, medicine, and food. One additional benefit they have, is as good companions for your other plants such as flowers and veggies.
Beebalm – very attractive to pollinators such as bees, bumbles, hummingbirds and butterflies. We have our beebalm planted in the middle of our winter squash and pumpkin patch – while it can be a bit of a pain to rototill around it in the spring, we’ve found it to be so valuable to leave it there for the benefit of getting all our squash and pumpkins well pollinated. It blooms later in the spring and early summer, so matches up well with the bloom time of our winter squash and pumpkins, while also provide another later source of nectar for our resident hummingbirds.
The youngest member of our farm family has a favorite restaurant and it serves Mexican food. His dad likes his Mexican food a little on the hot spicy side. Their whole family enjoys their “taco” Saturday nights. This opportunity to enjoy Mexican food comes to them in part from a group of immigrants who played a vital role in our region. As they came here they brought many elements of their culture including culinary styles and ingredients
Camarones a la Diabla - a favorite spicy meal at our local Mexican restaurant.
Alternatives to Grass for Lawns
To lawn or not to lawn? That is the question! Mowing and watering season is upon us. Do you feel put upon every time you have to start up the lawn mower? Wouldn’t you rather use that time to do anything else! I for one would rather do just about anything besides mow the grassy lawn. We don’t water or fertilize our lawn so that eliminates some of the chore and by mid-summer what was green is a lovely taupe shade so requires less mowing time. Almost every year I look for ways to decrease the amount of grass I do have to mow. More and more lawn has gone into herb and vegetable beds or native plants. In the southwestern U.S, many people have replaced grass lawns or never had any to begin with. Granted they often use gravel, but here in the northwest most of us like our green lawn areas. Maybe we could take cues from our southwest neighbors though and try plants other than grass for our lawn landscaping.
Roman Chamomile makes a carpet behind one of our outbuildings, near the greenhouse and rain barrels. This is mostly gravel, with a bit of bark chips near the bottom of the picture. So this is a great groundcover plant that is not picky!
At our farm in Brush Prairie, Washington we are active recyclers, composters and thrift store shoppers. We use cardboard regularly to suppress grass when starting new herb beds and weeds are hoed and pulled not sprayed. And of course we herbs daily in our cooking instead of lots of salt. But have you thought about what herbs can do for you besides flavor your food? Some of you may have taken herb usage one step further by doing some herbal healing, but herbs have such a diversity of uses from household to bath and beauty, let’s give some thought to some of those other uses as well.
Four Herbs for Pollinators
Spring equinox is just around the corner and with every sun break we’re out in the herb beds. We’ve noticed tiny shoots pushing up through the soil and soon bees will be out doing their work as buds break out on trees and bushes. So as you are cleaning herb beds and looking at possible new areas for planting, keep in mind the pollinators (bees of many varieties and butterflies of all sorts and hummingbirds) that we depend on. Most herbs develop flowers which could certainly be beneficial to pollinators. This month we offer some herbs which are great for pollinators for consideration as you visit spring plant sales. Most of them will be available in our booth at the Home and Garden Idea Fair on April 28th or the Camas Plant Sale on May12th.
These herbs are all perennials with the exception of borage which is a prolific self-seedin biennial. Because the low lying areas of Clark County are in hardiness zone 8, these plants shouldn’t require any special winterization. For those of you who live in the outlying hills, rosemary especially could use some mulching to get through the hard periods of winter we’ve had the past few years. This group of herbs will also supply flowers in a variety of colors beginning in late spring and continuing through early fall. The cool thing about not only these herbs but herbs generally is they have so many uses and these in particular will be well liked by pollinators.
Beebalm is a lovely garden addition - it comes in various shades of purple, pink and red. All sorts of pollinators love it - including hummingbirds! Bonus - it makes a terrific tea!
We often get people meeting us at events and letting us know that they need more herbs, as they’ve used up the jar they purchased a year ago. Some can’t remember what they purchased last, since it was some time ago. We thoughtfully provide suggestions on how to use the various blends and what herbs might go best with which type of food. We help them hunt for just the right herb blend that they want. It never ceases to surprise us that it takes them the length of a year to use up the jar. We often are refilling our own jars at least once every few months and occasionally we are in need of just a single herb for a special dish or baked good (bonus for the herb grower – free herbs!). Now at this point you may be thinking, “Well, now the herb ladies are just trying to sell more herbs!” Well of course we would love to get more of our delicious herb blends into people’s kitchens and meals. But what we really want to share is our deep appreciation for herbs and their benefits for our health. We truly want people to incorporate herbs into their everyday lives, for flavorful and healthful eating.
Warming winter tea tonics
Winter has settled in for real, with chilly weather and a bit of ice scattered here and there. It’s the perfect time for warm winter tea tonics. Whether in an elegant tea pot, steeped to perfection served with tasty scones, or your everyday morning cup to drink in haste as you head out for your day, herbal teas will hit the spot. Herbal teas are much more than a traditional hot drink, they provide healthy benefits as well. Herbs are full of vitamins and minerals; can soothe an upset tummy or calm jangly nerves. They are also quite tasty and the combinations are limited only by your imagination.
Common black and green teas are often flavored with herbs. There are a big variety if these found on store shelves, so no need to stick to one kind. Eloyce prefers green tea with different herbs such as peppermint or lemon grass. Erin has quite a stash of different teas in her cupboard as well but usually sticks to straight herbal tea blends (naturally caffeine free). Other members of the family drink tea as well, with peppermint making an appearance after Christmas dinner to soothe an upset tummy for Travis. Nettle tea is popular on the farm for Al. He wild harvested the nettle from an area where he hunts after Erin told him it would be helpful for lung and breathing function. We also made a special blend for a customer with a consistent cough. She was often embarrassed in church or other gatherings because even the slightest tickle would produce a cough. Her tea is made from sage and anise hyssop which she sips as needed to alleviate the cough.
You can make right now with simple ingredients you've got on hand
The holidays are coming, which means lots of gatherings, parties, and gifts to share with teachers, instructors, care providers and other service providers (we give gifts to our vet and postal office every year). So now that you dried all those herbs this summer, what to do with them? Here are five quick and easy herbal gifts to pull together, using ingredients from your pantry that most people should readily have on hand. If you don’t – they should be easy to find on your next grocery shopping trip.
Herbal sachets and eye pillows: these can be as easy as simple muslin drawstring bags, or if you are a bit of sewer like us – from your lovely fabric stash. Eye pillows should be about 3” wide by 8” long, while sachets can be any size. Sachets can be used in cars (especially good for those with long and stressful commutes), linen closets, tucked into a pillow, or anywhere a bit of herbal fragrance is needed or even in the bath. Bath Sachet – use a muslin, cheesecloth or plain cotton fabric bag or (a rather large infusion); can be reused; tired travelers will find this relaxing and soothing.
Herbs to use: lavender (soothing, relaxing, and slightly floral; it also is a good pest deterrent), mint (cool, refreshing scent; cleansing; help keeps mice away), chamomile (soothing and calming, said to help people fall asleep; a common strewing herb used as a disinfectant and freshener), lemon balm or lemon verbena (retain their fragrance when dried, old saying claims “it makes the heart merry”; stimulating).
Soothing Herb Blend for eye pillow – 1½ C rice, 1 part lavender, 1 part mint (heated or chilled a great eye soother)
Sachets – 1 part mint, 1 part lemon balm and 1 part lavender
OR 2 parts lavender, 1 part chamomile, 1 part lemon balm
Bath Bag – 1 part chamomile, 1 part mint, 1 part lemon verbena
The final harvests of herbs often occur during these lovely fall days and may include some initial pruning. Many herbs are not as lush in the fall and you may see some rust or powdery mildew. You probably won’t want to use those herbs, so prune them now if you have the time. Harvest what you can and use the “less than best” leaves and flowers in some fall crafts which may make great holiday gifts.
Here are a few suggestions:
Create a simple kitchen herbal hanging that you can use throughout the winter. It will bring brightness to your home while also providing practical herbs to use in your cooking and more!
These room fragrances are not your grandmother’s potpourri sitting in a basket on the coffee table for years covered with dust. Purchased potpourris often have wood chips which overpower the fragrance of the herbs. Use whole herb leaves and flowers in a bowl with a lid that has holes. The fragrance flows out but the “less than best” herbs aren’t seen. If you want to add a very few drops of essential oils that would be okay.
The potpourri can become the basis for other crafts for yourself or as gifts for the upcoming holiday season. Such as sachets, which is just potpourri in a fabric bag. The ingredients aren’t seen, so again the herbs and flowers from your fall harvest with work fine. Little bags can easily be sewn or not. Tie squares, circles or any shape with pretty ribbon and all is good or sew them if you like. Use fabric pieces (recycle-reuse!) in fancy or no so fancy colors and styles.
Want some specific recipes? Here's a good place to start. There are many others so give it a try. Potpourris will not work for everyone (as I was reminded) so be sensitive to those with sensitive noses and respiratory systems.
Plants, particularly some of the woody herbs, are still growing and the sap is flowing- even if ever so slowly. Many insects and birds are still depending on these plants for their fall sustenance, so prune lightly and save the best for your use and finish the job later this winter.
Sometimes, we find our inspiration for our writings from the myriad suggestions for different celebrations, and informational months. This month, we were pleased to find out it is Better Breakfast Month! We’ve got two herbal inspired recipes for you, to help create an easy, healthful, and herbally good breakfast.
No doubt nutritionists thought about September being better breakfast month because it is typically when kids (young and old) return to school. We should probably think about “better” breakfasts all the time. Those same nutritionists tell us that we should have some kind of protein at this meal. But this also the meal that is probably the most hurried as those same children are hustled out the door and harried parents get their day going, too. (Oh, to be retired!)
Here is an easy (ie- no fancy ingredients, and a must in our households for nearly all recipes!) make ahead recipe that contains protein and along with some fruit, glass of milk or juice will get your breakfast into the “better” category. Make extra and freeze them ready to heat, serve and eat, on the run if necessary. Our littlest farmer loves a good muffin, and often spends quite a bit of time in the kitchen baking with Grandma Eloyce. This recipe was one she adapted from the internet. Feel free to do the same – adapt and add what you think would be tasty for veggies, use gluten free flour (we will definitely be doing that), or even vegetarian breakfast sausage!
Savory Breakfast Muffins
Prep and Cook Time: 49 min
2 tsp olive oil
12 oz bulk breakfast sausage – any variety
½ C diced red bell pepper
1 C all-purpose flour
1 C corn meal
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp Garden Delights Savory Onion Herb Blend
1 C milk
1 C fresh sweet corn kernels
½ C chopped green onions
½ C grated sharp Cheddar cheese, plus more for sprinkling on muffins
¼ C melted butter
Preheat oven to 375°. Place paper liners in 12 muffin tin cups. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and place sausage in skillet. Cook until the sausage is crumbly and thoroughly cooked, about 7 minutes. Add bell pepper; cook for about 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Push sausage mixture to one side of the pan and blot up some of the rendered fat with wadded paper towels leaving about 1 tablespoon. Let mixture cool. Place flour, corn meal, baking soda, salt and herb blend in a mixing bowl. Whisk until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and milk together. Add egg/buttermilk mixture slowly to flour/cornmeal mixture. Add fresh corn kernels, green onions, Cheddar cheese, and reserved sausage mixture. Stir in melted butter; mix just until flour is mixed in. Divide batter among cups in prepared muffin pan. Top with a few shreds of Cheddar cheese. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.
Around the Yard, Garden and Home
From ants to mosquitoes and even squirrels our gardens (and sometimes ourselves) are besieged with pests of all sorts. Herbs have been used since ancient times to help alleviate especially insect pests around the home. Certain herbs have been known to be companion plants helping to scare away pests from their neighbor plants.
Here are a few tips for using herbs, instead of chemicals, to keep your yard, garden and home pest free.
Moths find another home when southernwood is strewn about. Lay branches in a closet or cupboard to protect clothes and linen.
Plant marigolds and garlic among your vegetables. Their roots secrete an enzyme that many insect pests find toxic.
Deer are often more than just pesky critters, they can do real damage to gardens and yards. Here are a few tips from Jessica Walliser at TRIB Live about some characteristics of plants that may help deter the deer because they won’t eat them. Plants with hairy, fuzzy or prickly foliage are avoided by deer. This would include lambs ear, yarrow, sedges and ornamental grasses. Deer like plants that smell good to them so they turn up their noses to plants that are heavily fragranced. Ornamental and culinary sages, rosemary, thymes, oregano, lavender and catmint are good choices in this category. If all else fails, the best bet is to build a tall, strong fence.
Squirrels are not fond of peppermint according to Mike’s Backyard Nursery. Keep a few live peppermint plants positioned around the yard and garden to dissuade the squirrel invasion. If needed, put 2-3 drops of peppermint oil on cotton balls and place around plants to be protected. We found squirrels to especially enjoy tulip bulbs.
There must be thousands of methods for deterring slugs and maybe they all work but the problem is slugs are so plentiful they just keep on going and going like that TV bunny. Look for natural tips at www.organicauthority.com. We are also trying southernwood laid around our catnip plants to keep slugs away. Oh, those nasty slugs. We’ll let you know if it is at all helpful.
Any standing water is a mosquito breeding ground. Check your yard regularly for water that may have collected in pots or other outdoor containers. Refill birdbaths every couple of weeks to discourage mosquitoes. Here at the farm we keep goldfish (I think maybe they’re “herbal” fish) in our large watering tanks to remove the mosquito larvae population.
Mosquitoes are kept away with a combination of rosemary and catnip which you can weave together and attach to your hat or wear as a necklace. We provided this combination to some food vendors and they said it was very helpful. Using a double infusion of feverfew to bathe arms, face, neck and exposed skin, then letting it dry, will provide protection from gnats, mosquitoes and flies. Pennyroyal and southernwood as well as rosemary and catnip, grown in pots on patios help to keep mosquitoes at bay.
Here are three herbs that are known to repel insects. They are all perennial and typically grow well in our area. (Exceptions are 2 weeks of temperatures in the teens and freezing snow like last winter.) They can all be dried and used in the home for a variety of purposes.
Catnip – a member of the mint family, catnip is well known to cat lovers as the “drug” of choice for kitties. It is a hardy perennial that grows 1 to 3 feet high in a bush type plant. In a tea, it is soothing and helps sleep to come more easily.
The essential oil in catnip that gives it that special odor, is also known to repel mosquitoes according to the American Chemical Society. Often better than commercial products. The extension office of the University of Illinois indicates that catnip repels a large variety of insects and sachets around the kitchen help keep flies and ants away.
Rosemary – grows wild along the warm Mediterranean coasts. But it can be a somewhat tender plant and freezing temperatures can kill it even in our somewhat temperate climate. It is a perennial that in sunny well drained soil can grow quite large, as much as 4 – 6 feet. The roots are susceptible to rot and somewhat fragile. Mulching over the winter might provide some protection.
It has a very long history of multiple uses. Its strong taste has made it a favorite flavoring herb for centuries. The pungent odor makes it useful in moth repellent sachets and room potpourris to keep insects away.
Southernwood – is a member of the artemisia family. It is a hardy bush and can grow to 3 feet. The leaves are fragrant and feathery and need a trim in the spring. There are three varieties: lemon (the most common), tangerine and camphor. It dries well and maintains its fragrance. Just cut a few small branches and hang upside down in a brown paper bag. It has no known culinary uses but is well known for keeping ants and moths out of a house. It makes a lovely ornamental addition to any yard.
All information on this website is for educational purposes only and is not meant to help you diagnose, treat, or cure any illness. It has not been evaluated by the FDA.