Scout and I are hoping that you have a safe and sane New Year's celebration. Remember to pick a designated driver, or catch a ride if you have any doubts about getting behind the wheel. I have lots of good posts coming up in the new year, and I wouldn't want you to miss a single one of them. Happy New Year.
I like rosemary. It smells clean and refreshing to me. When I lived in California I saw it used frequently as a hedge, or as an indestructible shrub around business parks. I often used it as a base for wreaths because it dried beautifully and was easy to find.
Since moving to Kentucky, I keep my rosemary bushes indoors during the winter months and move them onto the deck in May (on Derby day). Because of the low winter temperatures, it's not abundant here, so I've switched to sage and other herbs for wreaths, but rosemary is still a good friend.
I'm a lover of lamb and eggplant, so my fresh rosemary comes in handy. I also like to dry the stems as an aromatic for summer grilling and smoking.
Rosemary for Remembrance
I mention it today because of its association as the herb of remembrance. The famous line from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance;", and it's inclusion as a memory enhancer in medical journals dating from the 1600s gives it a poignant significance to me on this the eve of the new year.
While looking around for references to rosemary, I found an article on rosemary and Alzheimer's disease that you might find interesting: Rosemary, The Herb of Remembrance for Alzheimer's Disease, but if you look, you'll find research on the connection in many locations on the web.
After I made my comments about the wonderful house and garden used in the movie "Practical Magic", friends started talking about other great houses and gardens. The series "Charmed", now off the air, had one of the most beautiful conservatories I've seen outside of Monticello, and I remember that I visited a website once that had a virtual tour of it.
This link isn't the site I remember, but it has photos and a tour. I've had trouble getting the video to run consistently, it's notional, but keep trying: Visit the Charmed house.
There's also a second video with a mock up of the house with some interesting shots of the back garden and attic. Check that one out too: Haliwell Manor Tour
If you brought any unwelcome freeloaders in with your plants this fall, I have a great safe way to deal with them. I'm not sure where I saw this, but for years I've been afraid to spray pesticide indoors because of my pets. So, to treat any insects that may have come inside on my plants' leaves, I place a flea collar around the base of the pot. After a few days, I move the collar to any plant that looks like it's in trouble.
It works like a charm. Many of the outlet stores carry private label flea collars that are very reasonably priced.
This method is safe for your animals and also for you. Change out the collars in spring and fall, and you can rest easy. Give it a try.
I have been trying to find a link to lavender and luck since reading the novel "Practical Magic". I can locate many references to luck associated with planting lavender with roses. The earlier sources for lavender as it relates to attracting good luck, or possibly repelling misfortune, are linked to its association St. John Day where it was burned in bonfires when evil spirits were said to walk among men.
Origins of Lavender
I thought it was very entertaining that the word comes from the Latin: "Lavare", meaning to wash, and was used extensively in Roman baths. It may have even been the Romans that introduced lavender to Britain. (Remember Yardley soap?)
Practical Magic House and Garden
In any event, I located some interesting material on the history of lavender, as well as a great site for Practical Magic (the movie), which I stumbled on. It has photos of the interior kitchen set used in the movie as well as sketches and photos of the garden. I love looking at old houses, particularly the kitchens and gardens. I thought you'd enjoy it too. I've lusted after the stove ever since I saw it.
More About Lavender
For more lavender information visit my other lavender blog posts:
Herb Blends are a Kitchen Staple
I wanted to take a moment to mention some of the blends that I do like and use. Over the years, my husband and I have purchased many packaged herbs. Before we had a garden, we had a whole cabinet dedicated to herbs for cooking. I have to admit that most of them were disappointing and expensive, but a few have stayed on our shelves over the years (replenished of course). I have always been a fan of Lawry's seasoning salt. There are lower price imitations, but I still think that Lawry's has it right, with just a hint of sweetness.
1Step Herb Blends
In recent years I've also taken a liking to the McCormick 1Step spice blends. They are available in a number of varieties: Sloppy Joe, stir fry, etc., and they have good flavor; coupled with the convenience, I think they're winners. My only problem with them is the high sodium, but that's usually the case with blends, sodium as filler, I suppose.
Ruta graveolens) are a distinctive addition to the garden. This herb is not as popular as it once was, but it still has its uses.
The Many Faces of Rue
The shape of the rue leaf was used in the original design of the suit of clubs on playing cards.It has a unique curved shape and delicate appearance that's attractively petite when planted with other herb varieties.
It was a common ingredient in counter-spells as a defense against witches, too.At one time rue was even thought to inspire creativity, which made it a favorite with artists.
Rue as an Insect Repellent
Rue has woody stems and a bushy habit. It thrives in poor soil as long as it has good sun (at least 6 hours a day). It's an excellent insect repellent both in the garden and in the home. It was once used to control fleas, and has a long history as an anti-plague herb. Rue can be used in companion planting with garlic to keep Japanese beetles away from roses pretty effectively. Use it in your vegetable patch with catnip as a general bug repellent. When plants get leggy, whack off a bouquet of stems and use them indoors to discourage pests.
Tips for Growing Rue
Rue is slow to germinate, so purchase seedlings. Keep plants trimmed back because they can get spindly fast if not actively pruned.
Rue is hardy from Zones 4 through 9.
By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/31/Ruta_graveolens_001.JPG
After the holiday, don't toss your candy canes in the dumpster! Put them in your medicine cabinet in a tightly sealed bag. Peppermint is a great treatment for stomach upset, and you can keep a few of your Christmas candy canes on hand throughout the year to help you combat a tummy ache. It really works. Oh, and peppermint tea works great too.
One exception to this is stomach upset due to acid reflux. Mint can increase stomach acid, so take an antacid instead if you're plagued with this condition.
If you are a cinnamon lover, try grinding your own. Ground cinnamon will lose its flavor pretty quickly, within a few months; but cinnamon sticks can retain good flavor for a year or more.
In order to get the best cinnamon flavor, buy sticks and grind them in a quality coffee grinder in small batches. Many foodies believe that Indonesian cassia cinnamon has the best flavor. It's the cinnamon used in many high end confections - like the Cinnabon cinnamon rolls.
Try buying a special coffee grinder for exclusive use with your herbs and spices. Prefer one with an all-metal interior, too. This will avoid the flavor transfer that sometimes occurs with plastic. Coffee grinders have sturdy motors that can stand up to cinnamon bark without a problem.
Special note: Current research is finding interesting medical uses for cinnamon. I have an interesting article on current research showing promise in treating Type-2 diabetes with cinnamon that you might enjoy: Natural Herbal Treatment for Diabetes
Photo - www.aziatische-ingredienten. nl [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e9/Cinnamon_Variaties_-_Robin.jpg
Dehydrate Your Leftovers
I have two, and use them throughout the year. They are inexpensive, safe, easy to use, and they can help you save money and eat healthier. If you like herbs, having one is a necessity.
After a few hours in a dehydrator, your leftover parsley will be completely dry, have good color, and be available for your cooking projects in the New Year.
Drying Herbs – Dry Your Store Bought Herbs
If you go through lots of parsley, drying can be a cost effective and efficient solution to the parsley-wilt dilemma. Fresh parsley has a short shelf life, but dried, it can keep its flavor for a number of weeks. Parsley is high in vitamin C and iron, and it may also have cancer-fighting and antioxidant properties, so incorporating it into your diet is a good idea.
I'm trying to go green, and this is my health and conservation suggestion for the week: Use more parsley in your diet, and dry what you don't plan on using immediately.
Drying also works great with cilantro and dill, other herbs that you might buy cut fresh at the store.
Tasty Dried Fruits you Wouldn't Have Expected
Dried fruit has struggled into the 21st century, however, and I thought that I'd mention some dried fruits that I've tried that might make a good addition to your snack list - maybe even take the place of some unhealthy processed snacks. Have you tried dried cherries or blueberries? Dried blueberries are good memory enhancers, and dried cherries are just plain delicious.
So Where Do you Find Dried Fruit
Dried fruit can usually be found in the produce department of your grocery store - I haven't quite figured out the logic of that. They are naturally sweet, often have no added sugar, and they are packed with nutrients. Lower on my list of favorites, but still good, are dried cranberries (a little tart). I also enjoy banana chips, papaya, and pineapple, but these do have sugar added.
Oh, and I do like raisins, although they don't seem to be very popular these days. I really don't understand why. They're sweet and natural, easy to transport, and don't need refrigeration. What's not to like?
Dry Your Own Fruit
Why not start the kids on fruit roll ups and then move up to dried fruit. You might even consider stopping at a local orchard to buy your own fruit to dry. It's easy to make roll ups in your dehydrator. It's even easier to dry small fruits. Make eating better snacks one of your New Year's resolutions . . . eating more dried fruits would be a good place to start.
Easy to grow, dry, grill, and freeze, peppers are inspired food enhancers. They are aids to digestion, can have pain relieving properties, and . . .well, they're pretty, too. Become a pepper lover with this easy pepper primer.
Spring is just around the corner, so check out the pepper page of your seed catalogs and have a fiesta.
Peppers are Easy to Grow
I've grown peppers in pots and in the ground for years. They are one of the easiest and most rewarding vegetable/herbs to grow. They need regular watering, but are forgiving of being a little crowded. They do, however, need strong sun in order to thrive and set fruit, and they are very susceptible to frost. They have a low, bushy habit, which means that they don't get too tall. They are very colorful, and one plant can give you a good harvest if you fertilize it well and pick the fruit as it ripens.
Peppers Are a Wonder Vegetable
Ripe peppers can be dried, powdered, frozen, or pickled. They are equally tasty when eaten fresh, as in Pico De Gallo, or cooked, as in stir-fry or chili. They have curative properties, and the capsaicinoids in peppers, (the stuff that makes them hot) are used in pain relievers. With all this going for them, you'd thing they'd be more expensive.
I grew up around lots of ethnic food that was highly spiced. As an adult, it surprised me that people would dare one another to try hot pepper sauce, or eat whole hot peppers to see how much heat they could stand. I've seen grown men doing this in restaurants and been totally bemused by their pained, sweaty faces.
I can't remember not eating hot pepper or using them in cooking. When I was a kid there were always at least a couple of pepper plants behind the house in summer, and a dish of pickled hot peppers accompanied most meals.
Tone Down the Hot in Your Hot Peppers
When selecting a pepper for cooking or eating, pay attention to the seeds and interior veins (the white stuff inside). This is where most of the heat is. The Scoville Test rates the presence and concentration of capsaicin in order to determine how hot a pepper actually is, but the age of the pepper and the pepper-part you're eating has an impact on how hot a bite you're going to get.
If you want the flavor but need to tone down the heat, avoid the veins and seeds, and select your pepper when it's not quite ripe. As a rule of thumb, go for green and not red.
Behold the Bell Pepper
Paprika is more versatile and interesting that I'd ever suspected, beginning with the fact that it's actually ground capsicum annuum, or peppers in the same family as the bell pepper. The bell pepper carries a recessive gene that stops the development of the heat producing capsaicin, so many paprikas are mildly flavored.
The Color of Paprika
The color of the paprika is a good tip as to how hot it will be. The bright reds are usually the mildest, getting hotter as they get browner or yellower. This is a bit counter intuitive. Paprika is relatively tasteless as a garnish, and needs to be heated in order to release its spicy flavor.
You can purchase seeds or seedlings for what are marketed as paprika peppers, They are smaller and longer than the traditional bell pepper, much like the ones shown in the the photo accompanying this post. In many areas of the USA, they are abundant in local gardening outlets in spring.
Paprika is More Versatile Than You May Think
I began developing an interest in paprika when the cooking shows started recommending it for flavor as well as color, and it was through these shows that I realized that two of my favorite sausages, chorizo and linguisa, both rely heavily on the spice for color and flavor.
Paprika Cooking Tips
Although paprika releases most of its flavor when heated, overheating will cause its sugars to burn and make it taste bitter, much like garlic.
Paprika and Your Health
Paprika is naturally high in Vitamin C. Even better, the drying process retains the vitamin's potency, making paprika an excellent supplemental source. Paprika is useful in thinning the blood (an aid to circulation), and current testing suggests that it has value in regulating blood pressure. A natural aid in digestion, as are most peppers, paprika also helps stimulate your salivary glands, aiding in the production of saliva.
One of my planned projects for this summer will be to plant out enough peppers to make my own paprika. I'll bring you along on that adventure.
My next post will discuss cultivating peppers in the garden as well as an explanation of the "hot" in hot peppers.
Free Seed Catalogs
If you aren't signed up for all of the seed catalogs you want this year, About.com has a listing of great free catalogs you can request: Free Seed Catalogs
For free herb catalogs go to my updated catalog post: Herb Catalogs
I have some Amazon links to seed starter kits at the bottom of this post. I'm a real softy when it comes to little pots and enclosures, so I usually by at least a couple each season, as well as saving egg shells and egg cartons (the old fashioned approach). Yes, I also use peat pots from the local garden store, but the prepared kits get me in the mood for spring, and for filling every lighted space in my house with seedlings.
Let me know if you are aware of a good web seed exchange. I know that I'll have some seeds to share.
The Cook's Garden folks were nice enough to send me an advance copy of their catalog. Check out their small bush "Pistou" basil on page 3. I also like some of their variety seed packs. If you would like to request your own catalog, visit them at: http://www.cooksgarden.com/. They're nice people.
There are rewards to using ginger in your cooking and gardening. Ginger is an underrated spice. I think that might be because the prepared ginger powder available in most grocery stores is pretty flavorless.
The drying process robs ginger of most of its flavor, but there is a clever way around it. If you've ever come across or purchased ginger root, it can be preserved indefinitely. This is true of your home grown ginger, too. The root can stay viable and flavorful for many months in your refrigerator. Here's how:Preserving Ginger
Select and clean a piece of ginger root. I don't peel the outer skin off mine until I'm about to use it, so leave that intact. Place it in a glass jar and cover it completely with sherry. Any grade of sherry will do, but if you're a sherry purist, by all means use the good stuff. The sherry will saturate and preserve the ginger. Slice the amount you need, then peel and mince it.
The only problem I've ever had with this process is getting the lid off the jar. Be sure to use a non-reactive lid. Replace the sherry in the jar every month or so. Ginger-sherry makes a great addition to any soy based marinade.
If you are interested in trying some summer fun from days gone by, make a batch of ginger beer. Check out my post on making this old time favorite: Making Ginger Beer
Special Notes: If you've never used fresh ginger, mince it fine, it's made up of woody threads that aren't pleasant to bite into.
Another benefit of the process is that you can use the ginger infused sherry in your cooking. It will give your sauces and marinades a subtle ginger flavor without having to chop or mince the root. Just remember to always keep enough sherry with your ginger to completely cover it.
When I buy green onion, I always try to pick bunches with roots on the ends. If I don't use the whole bunch, I plant the extra. Even after being in the refrigerator for over a week, I can still get most of them to root, either indoors in winter or outdoors in summer.
Since green onion doesn't keep well in the refrigerator, or dry well, this is my solution to the problem of waste. Try it. If nothing else, it will give you a greater appreciation for nature.
If you have a cold, are cold, or are feeling blue, start a fire in the fireplace and have a toddy.
If you have an interest in grinding your own spices, be sure to use a grinder with an all metal grinding chamber. I use a coffee grinder I reserve for herb use. It works great for me.
Make some refreshing bath salts to help you relax after a long day's work or shopping. Bath salts are easy and relatively inexpensive to make. Most recipes are a blend of Epsom salt and coarse sea salt. I recommend mixing them 50/50 your first time. After that you can make adjustments as you see fit. Some recipes will use either one or the other exclusively, something you might consider if price is a factor.
Bath Salt Recipe
After you've blended your salts, for the sake of our discussion, lets say a cup of each, scent them with an essential or scented oil. The concentration and blending of oils is an art as well as a science, and should reflect your personal taste. Any aromatherapy text will give you an idea of what a particular scent or combination of scents will do. For a total of two cups of salt, start with ten drops of essential oils. Work from there. You shouldn't need more than 15 drops.
For your first time, I'd start with lavender. Orange, geranium, and rosemary have also worked well for me. I've blended them and also used them alone.
There are oils that don't work well in the bath. A partial list would include oregano, basil, bergamot, and cinnamon. For more information about oil blends for the bath visit: Aromaweb for a primer on essential oils and how to use them.
Color Your Bath Salts
Once you've applied the scent, you can blend food coloring to add a splash to color. This isn't necessary, but you might like to make a nice presentation if you are giving your bath salt creations away as gifts. A drop of food coloring goes a long way, so use some restraint. When blending and mixing, use gloves in order to avoid direct contact with the oils, which can cause skin reactions in their concentrated form.
Your finished salts will be wet, so spread them out on a piece of aluminum foil to dry before placing them in a container. In humid areas, you can dry them in the oven on low heat . Once dry, place your bath salt in a glass jar(s). Your homemade salts will last indefinitely.
You will find many variations on this basic recipe, but this simple approach will make attractive, aromatic bath salts that you will be proud to use or give away.
Note: Since writing this post, I've made bath salts five or six times. I keep some for myself, and prepare the remainder as gifts. I've bumped up the recipe to six cups each sea salt and Epsom salt, with 25 drop each of rose geranium and lavender essential oils. This oil blend is popular with everyone, and I find it very relaxing. I blend blue and red food coloring to make a subtle lavender tint, starting with a half teaspoon of each color for a large batch (Remember to blend the red and blue before adding them to the salt mixture).
Parsley was also the first herb that I came across that was biennial. It has a two-year life cycle, setting seed in spring of the second year the way an annual would set seed in the summer or fall of the first year. Parsley makes a good indoor plant if you can give it enough light.
Parsley has small seeds that can be hard to get to germinate. Before you plant them out, try soaking them for a few hours in hot water. Once planted, keep them warm.
I have used parsley in herb wreaths, but I have never been satisfied with its color or texture as a decorative herb, so I dry most of my fall crop in a dehydrator, grinding it to give away in Christmas herb blends, the rest I keep in the ground for next year’s seed.
Chives are a personal favorite of mine. This herb was the first that I
regularly went out in the garden to snip in the evening when I first started growing herbs. I keep a special pair of "herb" scissors in a kitchen drawer, together with a small wicker basket to help me harvest the night's herb choices. I have lots of snipping herbs now, parsley, oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil, lemon balm, and rosemary to name a few, but chives were the first.
An Onion in Disguise
Chives are a member of the onion family and impart a mild onion flavor when sprinkled fresh on meats and vegetables. They will grow easily where you have well drained soil, and will survive a hard freeze if mulched in the fall. Every year I bring a few chive plants in the house in fall to overwinter on a sunny windowsill.
|A New Batch of Chive Vinegar|
I think of chives as a staple herb; it doesn’t retain much flavor when dried (my dried chives are usually only flavorful for about a month), so I always have some fresh on hand. I use chives regularly as a seasoning and garnish on almost all the vegetables I prepare. It makes a good stand in for green onion, and I throw some into my mashed potatoes and as a finishing touch for my cream soups and sauces.
Easy to Grow
In spring, chives produce attractive purple flowers. They'll also fill a neglected corner in the garden, producing a good crop on very little real estate. They ask very little. I give them some attention in spring with compost, and make sure not to cut them too close to the soil when I harvest them (a third of the plant per cutting).
In spring I like to harvest chive flowers, too. These small lavender flowers make an amazing chive flavored vinegar that's cherry red in color and delicious on salads. It's an easy project.
How to Make Chive Vinegar
|Spring growth of lemon balm|
Easy to Root and Grow
It does well in partial shade, preferring well-drained soil. Keep lemon balm moist. I prefer to keep mine near downspouts and around outdoor faucets. Lemon balm is easy to grow from stem cuttings rooted water. It's also a prolific self-seeder.
Try A Relaxing Lemon Balm Tea
Lemon balm tea has sedative properties, as does its essential oil when used in aromatherapy. (See note below.)
Lemon Balm Is a Pet Friendly Cleaner
One of my favorite uses for lemon balm is as a floor cleaner. I have pets, so when I clean the kitchen floor I try to avoid harsh chemical cleaners. I make up a cleaning solution of three-parts water to one-part white vinegar. To this I add a few sprigs of crushed lemon balm. In some recent studies lemon balm has displayed mild antibacterial properties, so it makes a good accompaniment to the white vinegar and masks the vinegar smell. I let the lemon balm infuse for a few days, and then remove and discard it. The resulting cleaning solution can be kept in a spray bottle for weeks.
To learn more about this useful culinary, medicinal and craft herb visit: How to Grow Lemon Balm
Special Note: If you are currently on thyroid medication, avoid taking lemon balm as it may cause interaction problems with your prescribed medications.
Around the holidays, we see a lot of mistletoe and holly. Although these plants are not on many herb lists, I was curious to know about their curative properties if any. I'm always interested in the plants around me. It seems that every plant I investigate has a colorful history, as well as some useful purpose or other.
Processed European mistletoe has shown success in killing cancer cells and strengthening the immune system, and is currently undergoing clinical trials. (This is a highly processed derivative, and unprocessed mistletoe should never be taken internally.)
Holly (Box Holly or Butcher’s Broom)
Box holly has been used effectively as a mild diuretic, and has show promise in treating orthostatic hypotension associated with illnesses like diabetes and Parkinson's disease. More commonly used in Europe and South America, it is typically sold in capsule form.
Just a note of caution about bringing mistletoe and holly in to use as decoration over the holidays. Pets and small children are always putting unexpected things in their mouths. These traditional plants can be dangerous if ingested, so be careful to keep them out of reach.