Thursday

The History of Tussie-Mussie

Have you heard of the infamous and misunderstood tussie-mussie? Currently thought of as a nosegay, or compact bouquet of flowers and herbs, it has a colorful, if obscure, past with hilarious connotations. In light of its modern bridal and festive associations, I really couldn't pass on the irony.

The language of flowers, having robust historical and literary antecedents, includes this little gem, or a form of it (tuzzy-muzzy), as the possible title of a vulgar 19th Century songbook espousing portions of the feminine anatomy best left to the imagination.

I suppose most things can be traced to some possibly shady origin, and flowers, frequently the subject of speculation about their colors, features, and uses, are no exception.

The part that entertains me is that site after site that I scanned this afternoon was overrun with soft pastels and florid text interspersed with the terms "quaint" and "lovely" and "delicate", when, for longer than a generation, tussie-mussie was a phrase shunned by polite society as too crude to utter in mixed company.

It looks like we've recycled and refined the term for a new age. So here's to tussie-mussie, hugger-mugger, and their ilk. May we all manage to reinvent ourselves as successfully.

If you want more information about this colorful hyphenated word, please visit World Wide Words, a site that is well worth a visit if you are a lover of language.

Wednesday

Growing Your Own Saffron


Saffron is an expensive spice that has a very distinctive flavor and aroma. It is prized throughout the world, but often only used for special-occasion dishes because it is so expensive.By weight, saffron is the most expensive spice on the planet.

Where Does Saffron Come From, Anyway?

Saffron comes from the three stigmas of an autumn blooming crocus plant, the Crocus Sativus. The Crocus Sativus is hardy from zones 6 through 9 in the United States, and it can be grown in colder climates if removed to the indoors in winter.

Is Saffron Difficult To Grow?

A good bloomer, the saffron crocus needs well drained, rich soil in a sunny but sheltered location. It is a reliable producer, creating its best crops during hot summers when it has had a chance to dry out a little.  Plant new corms in August at a depth of 4 inches. Flowers should be ready to harvest around Halloween.

Harvesting Saffron

Pick the red stigmas (not the yellow parts) of the plant, and dry them in your oven or in a dehydrator. Store saffron in a dark, cool location in an air tight bottle (brown or cobalt tinted bottles are best).  When properly stored, saffron will stay potent for five years or possibly longer. 


How Much Saffron Will You Need to Grow?

About 40 bulbs will yield a tablespoon's worth of stigmas in a season. (You'll use about 10 stigmas per recipe. At three stigmas per plant, that's enough for 6 good recipes using saffron.) The plants propagate quickly, too, so your yields will grow fast. By the third year, you'll probably be giving saffron threads away to neighbors and friends.

Can You Grow Saffron Indoors?

You can grow saffron indoors, but the plant requires lots of light and a dry period before blooming.  Use soil that drains well, and supplement the light from a sunny window with grow lights if you can't provide around eight hours of sunlight a day. Saffron crocus is poisonous, so use caution of you have young children or pets around, too.

Using Saffron

Now that you have a saffron crop, what's the best way to use your spice? The saffron you use for  culinary applications (it's also used in perfumery) should have a vivid orange/red color. Crush stamens thoroughly (I like using a mortar and pestle), and disperse it in liquid like water before adding it to other ingredients.

Make Saffron Tea

Saffron makes a relaxing ingredient in tea. Add a thread of saffron to a single serving of tea (a strong black tea works well) and prepare according to the tea manufacturer's directions. For a spicy lift, include two whole cardamom seeds to the mix. Add sugar to taste. This kind of gourmet indulgence is possible when you grow your own saffron.

Want to learn more about how I grow this special plant in pots? Visit my second post on the subject: Let's Grow Saffron

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1 - By Photographer: User:Velela (File:Safrron stigmas crocus sativa.JPG) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

2 - 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

Tuesday

Using Herbs for Dental Care

Because commercial toothpastes and other tooth cleaners and whiteners contain harsh abrasives, detergents, and bleaches, you can give your teeth a break by buying herbal toothpastes, or making your own. Here are some tips for quick, effective tooth care:

A sage leaf rubbed over the teeth and gums will help clean them and make them feel smooth and fresh.

Alpine strawberry rubbed over the teeth can remove stains.

Fresh parsley, lavender water, or mint tea will work as a quick, effective mouthwash.

Oil of clove will ease the pain of a toothache.

Often problems with your mouth are precursors of illnesses in other parts of the body, and infections of the teeth and gums can have an impact on your major organs. If you are having problems with your teeth or gums, notice sores, or your breath smells different, contact a dentist, as this may be a sign of a larger problem.

Sage, alpine strawberry, thyme, parsley, aloe vera, lavender, and mint are easily grown in the garden, and can be useful herbs in maintaining a healthy mouth and gums.

Monday

Do Poppy Seeds Contain Drugs?

Poppies The poppy is a red flower with a thick seed pods that carry the popular poppy seeds used in cooking. Although there's been a great deal of misinformation about the ability of poppy seeds to create false positives in drug testing, more modern testing does not confuse culinary poppy seed ingestion for drug use, and you shouldn't refrain from eating or using poppy seeds in cooking because of it. If you would like to try your hand at growing your own poppy seed crop, the propagation of the culinary poppy (this is also the opium poppy) is strictly controlled in the United States. So save the gardening space for other herbs and spices. How about saffron?

Sunday

Make Lavender Sugar

English LavenderFor an unexpected and rich taste, try making your own lavender sugar. This is a unique treat that's easy to make and fun to use.

Uses for Lavender Sugar

Lavender sugar is a great alternative to vanilla sugar as a topping for candies, cakes, and other pastries. It's also a wonderful sweetener for tea. You can leave your lavender sugar white, or use food coloring to give it a slight tint. Either way, using lavender as a flavoring will give your sugar added zest and gourmet appeal.

If you are a gardener and have a ready supply of fresh lavender, making and giving batches of lavender sugar is a great way to showcase your hobby. If you don't have a fresh supply, you can easily find lavender buds online.

Try making lavender sugar part of a lavender themed basket, with lavender bath salts, herbes de Provence, lavender hand cream and lavender facial scrub. Lavender is a favorite with both men and women, and your homemade lavender creations will be a hit for everyone on your shopping list.

Lavender Sugar Recipe

2 Tbsp. Dried lavender flowers
1 C. White sugar
Red and blue food coloring (optional)
Jar with a tight fitting lid
Muslin fabric

Place two tablespoons of lavender flowers in a length of muslin and wrap securely. Place lavender packet in a jar and cover with a cup of white sugar. Seal the jar and set it aside for two weeks, shaking it occasionally. After two weeks, the aroma of the lavender will have permeated the sugar, and the lavender packet can be discarded.

If you would like to color the sugar, create a shade of lavender you like using red and blue food coloring.

Once mixed, add the coloring slowly to the lavender sugar, stirring well to incorporate. Place the slightly moist sugar mixture on a cookie sheet to dry. If you live in a humid area, the sugar may be dried in the oven. (Use the lowest setting you can.)


For more information on lavender, visit my lavender page:

Saturday

Herbs for Oral Health

If you've had concerns about the use of strong mouthwashes and toothpastes, consider their safer and gentler alternatives. Herbal oral products provide antibacterial protection without the fillers and stabilizers associated with major manufacturer's brands. They also often drop the strong bleaches, chemical antibiotics, and dyes that you've come to accept from the more common drug store offerings.

Look into Herbal Toothpaste and Mouthwash

You have to ask yourself, do you really need harsh ingredients to keep your mouth healthy? A study at the University of Rochester's Dental Center found that herbal rinses are effective in reducing the inflammation of gingivitis, providing breath freshening power, and packing an antibacterial punch without many of the harsh additives.

The next time you're headed to the store for toothpaste or mouthwash, think about trying a healthy alternative. If this sounds interesting, read on:

Friday

It's Not Too Late to Protect Your Plants from the Cold Weather

The cold weather is upon us, and if you live where there's a freeze, be kind to your plants. Check to make sure that plants that are borderline for your growing zone are well mulched and protected from the wind chill and freezing temperatures. A Calla lily that survived last year's mild winter may not make it to spring this year without a little help. Be good to your plants when the temperatures drop; they can't help themselves. If you don't have any mulch around, use a layer of shredded newspaper covered with dead leaves from your garden.

If you were too rushed to get everything prepared for winter last year, it may not be too late. Get some mulch or burlap to cover your flowerbeds, robust root systems might still survive if you help them now. Don't give up yet. You might be surprised in the spring. Oh, and while you're scurrying, be careful of icy patches.

Salt and Your Plants

This is particularly true of plants that border areas near a road or driveway that receives salt de-icing treatment. Make sure to protect these areas with a layer of much in order to avoid salt contamination. If you have concerns about the amount of salt those areas are receiving, be sure to water them thoroughly when the temperature rises above freezing to dissipate the effects of the salt.

It's hard to get out into the garden when the temperatures are brutal, but you'll thank yourself when spring rolls around and all your favorite plants are still alive.

Thursday

Make Lavender Bath Salts

Bath Salt Ingredients
Reduce stress by bathing with lavender. Lavender aromatherapy can help you relax and regroup. Use your bath to get the aromatherapy benefits of lavender while enjoying the natural muscle relaxers in Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate). Magnesium sulfate has also been proven to reduce your blood pressure and adrenalin levels.

When you have a few moments, make some lavender bath salts to use or give away. They are an easy and thoughtful gift that will be sure to please.

Basic Lavender Bath Salt Recipe

2 Cups Epsom salt
2 Cups coarse salt or sea salt
5 Drops of lavender high grade essential oil
5 Drops of blue food coloring
4 Drops of red food coloring
Ceramic or glass mixing bowl

Combine all ingredients except food coloring and stir. When working with essential oils, always wear rubber gloves and work in a well-ventilated area.

Combine both food colorings in a small dish and blend. Incorporate the food coloring into the salt mixture, stirring thoroughly. More coloring can be added if a deeper hue is desired. Spread bath salts on a length of wax paper to dry. If you are in a humid environment, the mixture can be placed on a lined cookie sheet and dried in an oven set on warm. The drier the salts are, the less likely they are to clump.

Lavender Flower Bath Salts (This is a good way to make something beautiful and useful from your fresh lavender flowers.)

For a more decorative presentation, lavender buds can be added to the salts after you have prepared them according to the recipe above. When using flowers, remember to place them in a small muslin bag in order to avoid clogging the drain. (See the link below if you can't find muslin bags locally.)

A lavender bath is a great way to relax before bedtime. If you have been having trouble sleeping, give it a try.

Special Note: You can easily triple or quadruple the recipe. Epsom salt and sea salt are readily available through your grocery or variety store and can be purchased in bulk.


For more information on lavender, visit my lavender page:


Wednesday

Homemade Ginger Beer

Homemade Ginger Beer
Ginger beer is a light, refreshing ale that you can easily make at home. Brewed with yeast, it is a unique beverage that will become a summer tradition at your house. It's great to make with the kids, and there's something magical about waiting for it to be "done" and ready to drink. Create a memory for your children this season by making ginger beer.

Ginger beer recipes are plentiful on the web, and many of them are handed down via a favorite grandmother's handwritten notes. I've found that the easy adaptation below will fill about seven bottles. Once you get a rhythm going, you can make two or three batches without much fuss.

This Is What You Will Need to Make Ginger Beer


Non-reactive pot. Enamel or glass would be excellent
6 to 8 bottles with removable caps
Small funnel
Hand held strainer
Towel or length of muslin
4 oz. (two large pieces) of fresh ginger (Found in the produce department of most large grocery stores.)
20 whole cloves
1 whole star anise
2 Cup of sugar, plus 3 tbsp.
2 lemons
1 tbsp. of dry yeast (about half of a yeast packet)
1 gal. water, plus 1/2 cup
Instructions for Making Ginger Beer


Place water in a non-reactive pot and bring to a boil (less the 1/2 C).

Thoroughly clean the ginger root and slice it into large pieces. Smash the pieces with a meat tenderizing mallet or the side of a knife. (A hammer will work, too.)

Slice the lemons.

Add the sliced lemons, ginger, cloves, star anise, and 2 cups of sugar to the pot of boiling water, and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Take the pot off the heat and let cool.

Combine dry yeast with 3 tbsp. of sugar and 1/2 C. of warm water (about 105 degrees F.). Mix until the sugar dissolves.

Add the sugar mixture to the pot once the ginger liquid has cooled to under 105 degrees F. If the ginger water feels about room temperature, it's probably okay.

Cover the pot (a towel or length of muslin will make a good cover that will allow the yeast to breath), and let it sit in a warm spot overnight. The top of a dryer, over a heat register, or near a water heater would be good choices.

Check the beer periodically and remove the accumulating scum from the top. This can be done easily with a hand held strainer.

Strain the ginger beer into the bottles, using the funnel. I strain the beer from the pot into a glass carafe using the hand held strainer, and then from the carafe into the bottles via the funnel. Although not necessary, a large ladle can be useful, too.

Cap the bottles, leaving a gap of about one inch at the top, and place them in a warm spot for two to three days. That's it! When they're ready you can refrigerate them. Drink them as you would a carbonated beverage.
The first couple of times I made this basic recipe, it was summer and I placed my prepared bottles in the garage to cure. I would recommend putting them in a spot that is out of the way. Three or four days shouldn't be long enough for the fermentation process to get out of hand, but you may get busy and forget about them, so put them in a safe place. Using plastic bottles with screw or EZ-caps is helpful, too.

Special Note About Handling Homemade Ginger Beer:

There is pressure build up in the bottles, so open them carefully. They will probably foam on opening, so be sure to hold them over the sink, or open them out of doors.



Tuesday

Free Herb Catalogs

Below is a listing of free herb catalogs; some are snail mail and some are PDF files. Happy Shopping! Click on the name to go to their request pages.

Horizon Herbs

Mountain Valley Growers

Mountain Rose Herbs

Nichols Garden Nursery (PDF Download)

Richters

Prairieland Herbs (PDF Download)

Medicinal Herb Plants

Sand Mountain Herbs (online only)


Review these Free Seed Catalogs for Spring Garden Planning 2012

Medicinal Herb Plants (Click the link in the sidebar.)
Nichols Garden NurseryPark Seed (online catalog or a $1 charge for a hard copy)
Pinetree Garden Seeds (Thanks David!)
Planet Natural
Prairieland Herbs ( PDF only)
Sandy Mush Herb Nursery (Download only)
Seeds of Change ( PDF Catalog)

Using Herbs for Breast Enlargement

I am asked this question frequently, and there is no easy answer. Although I do recommend herbs to relieve the symptoms of menopause, my feeling about using bulk herbs for this purpose is pretty negative. The idea of increasing breast size without surgery is, I'm sure, attractive, but realistically, the impact herbs can have on developing your breasts without having serious side effects is limited.

Herbs for Breast Enlargement

Any plan to embark on an herb supplement regimen with breast enlargement in mind should be discussed with your doctor. Hormones, even vegetable hormones, have complex interactions in your body, and you shouldn't take using them lightly, ever. The following list of herbs have been linked with breast augmentation, but I reference this list for research purposes only, not as a recommendation. I will provide additional details about them as I am able:

Fenugreek Seed
Saw Palmetto
Blessed Thistle
Fennel Seed
Wild Oats
Lady's Mantle


One last thought, I love herbs and herb related topics, in part because they are empowering. For thousands of years, women have been growing, gathering, and using herbs to make their lives and the lives of their loved ones better. I can't help but think that part of empowerment is embracing and accepting yourself, regardless of the size of your breasts.

Monday

Four Thieves Vinegar

In my explorations of the history and uses of lavender, I came across some interesting information about Four Thieves Vinegar. I'd heard of it before, but didn't know what it meant:

The Legend of Four Thieves Vinegar

One version goes that in the 1630's, when the plague was raging in France, the town of Toulouse was beset with looters. Four looters were apprehended, but rather than punish them, the judge offered them a deal. Amazed at their continued health after wandering though homes and businesses abandoned by their terrified (or dead) owners, the judge offered to let the thieves go if they gave him the secret of their resistance to the plague.

What was their famous secret? It was a vinegar made from thyme, rosemary, sage, and lavender. This infusion was termed thieves vinegar. Although garlic was added to the mixture later, this basic infusion became famous and was used for hundreds of years across Europe, both internally and externally, to provide protection from the dreaded plague.

How to make Four Thieves Vinegar


There are a number of recipes available for four thieves vinegar, but the original probably went something like this:

Use equal parts thyme, rosemary, sage, and lavender. Place herbs in a jar and cover with vinegar. Seal and place in a cool, dark place for six weeks. Strain into a spray bottle or clean jar and use as a disinfectant.

The original herbal ingredients are all strong antibacterial agents, as is the vinegar.

Variations on the recipe add sweet smelling herbs like mint and lemon balm to the mixture. Garlic was also added, and although it was probably an excellent addition from an antibacterial standpoint, it was not one of the original herbs used.

Cautions for Using Sage in Herbal Preparations: It is contraindicated if you are currently taking diabetes, anticonvulsant or sedative medications. For more specifics about drug interactions involving sage, the WebMD Sage page (yes, there is one) has useful information you'll want to review: Sage Interactions

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Photo: By OttawaAC (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0f/Vinegar_creuset.jpeg






Make Your Own Herbs de Provence


Herbs de Provence is a robust mixture of herbs made popular in the southeastern region of France. It is often used in the preparation of grilled meats, fish and vegetable stews, and is usually added before or during cooking.

Changes in Herbs de Provence Over Time

The ingredient ratios have altered over the years, and ingredients like tarragon, chervil and fennel have been added to some versions, but the basic recipe uses rosemary, savory, marjoram, and thyme (with the noted addition of lavender flowers). The individual herbs were staples to the French grandmothers of the region, although the blend that we now know as Herbes de Provence wasn't sold until the 1970's.

The following recipe is as close to the original as I could find. Note that oregano can be substituted for the marjoram (they are cousins), but cut the requirement in half as oregano is stronger in flavor.

Basic Herbs de Provence

5 tablespoons dried thyme
3 tablespoons dried savory
2 tablespoon dried marjoram
5 tablespoons dried rosemary
1 ½ tablespoons dried lavender flowers

This mixture can be made ahead and kept in an airtight container in a dark place.

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Photo courtesy of French Tart-FT),  Photo may be viewed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/frenchtart/ ) are credited French Tart-FT. Photo taken at the photographer's home--the Auberge de la Fontaine bed and breakfast--which is located in the village of Montpellier-de-M├ędillan, in the d├ępartement of Charente-Maritime, near Cognac and Saintes in the Poitou-Charentes region of southwestern France. Photo taken with a Nikon Coolpix L1 digital camera, on March 23, 2007. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Herbesdeprovence.jpg

Hops - More than Just an Ingredient in Beer


Picture of Hops on the vine The history of hops can be traced back to first century (A.D.) Rome, where it was used as a vegetable and as a decorative plant. Several hundred years later it had spread throughout Europe and was in widespread use in brewing.

Healthful Benefits of Hops

The xanthohumol in hops is showing promise in preliminary trials in inhibiting the growth of breast, ovarian, prostate, and colon cancers, and may be able to help the body deal with LDL (bad) cholesterol. Researchers in Germany are hard at work developing a super beer that will maximize these healthful benefits. If you are interested is this aspect of growing or using hops, take a look at the Oregon State University fact page.

Growing Hops (Humulus lupulus)

This plant needs a sunny spot with support. It will grow well along a wall, fence, or arbor. Hops like rich, sandy soil that has been turned to a depth of 10 inches or more. This one goes down deep, so get out your spade.

 Plant related hops rhizomes of the same variety four inches deep and three feet apart during early spring, and provide a layer of mulch.

As much as they like a well worked, deep soil, hops also like to climb.  You should make plans for a vertical support or climbing space of from 10 to 20 feet. Hops plants can grow 25 feet in a season, so keep an eye on them.  Overcrowding can lead to problems with mildew, so it's better to thin plants than deal with overcrowding issues.  Because mildew is always a potential threat, water plants during the morning hours.

Hops is sensitive to too much watering, so be consistent but don't overdue it. Letting young plants dry out a little between waterings is probably a good idea.  It will encourage their roots to venture deeper into the soil.

Propagating Hops

Propagate hops by root division (rhizomes) or cuttings. Sowing seeds can be problematical because gender can't be determined for a couple of years.

Harvesting Hops

Flowers and stems from female flowers which have not been pollinated should be gathered in autumn and dried. Don't keep dried hops longer than one season as it becomes bitter as it ages.

Uses For Hops

Hops flowers can be used in home brewing (beer making, which is lots of fun). They can also be infused in a relaxing tea. Hops contain potent phytoestrogens, vegetable estrogens that can help relieve the symptoms of menopause. The young leaves can also be used in soups. Young shoots can be steamed and eaten as you would asparagus spears.

Hops are also very attractive dried. They can easily be made into attractive garlands and wreaths, too.

For more detailed information on growing hops, or if you have home-brewing in mind, becoming a hops expert might not be a bad idea, visit: Deer Island Brewery's Site.

Sunday

Herbs and Foods that Can be Toxic To Your Pets

For many of us, our pets are members of the family, and there are unpublicized hazards that can impact their health.

Household Dangers to Your Pet

You may not know it, but using high heat with your non-stick pans can be toxic to your birds, that aspirin and aspirin-like pain relievers can kill your cat, and onions can be toxic to your dog.

Chocolate and raisins can also be harmful to your dog, and cats can have bad reactions to the use of aromatherapy oil (concentrated essential oils).

I receive a high volume of traffic to this site from people who are looking for alternative methods of treating their pets for illnesses. I don't pretend to be an expert, but I rely on experts when it comes to the health of the animals in my care.

If your pet is sick, please see a veterinarian. Many vets have flexible payment plans, or there may be community outreach programs that can help you get your pet the care it needs.

The following link will give you additional information on plants that are toxic to pets: Plants That are Toxic to Your Pets

Special Note: A while after this post, I wrote an article on pet gifts for a holiday blog that I maintain. The blog describes some of the new and interesting pet products on the market, complete with links. If the idea of pet essences to calm your pet's nerves, or a staircase to help your ailing pet make it to his favorite spot on the bed appeals to you, please check it out: Pampering Your Pet

Lavender in Literature (Quotes about Lavender)


SpanishLavender
Lavender has a long literary past. With a fine fragrance, medicinal and culinary value, and a history of favor at court, lavender waxes poetic in these memorable quotes and passages:

Lavender and Culpeper
(The Complete Herbal, 1652)

Being an inhabitant almost in every garden, it is so well known, that it needs no description.

Lavender and John Gerard
(Herball, 1597)

The floures of Lavender picked from the knaps, I meane the blew part and not the husk, mixed with Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Cloves, made into powder, and given to drinke in the distilled water thereof, doth helpe the panting and passion of the heart, previaleth against giddinesse, turning or swimming of the brain, and members subject to the palsie.

French Lavander hath a body like Lavander, short and of woodie substance, but slenderer, beset with long narrow leaves, of a whitish colour, lesser than those of Lavender, it hath in the top bushe or spikie heads, well compact or thrust together, out the which grow forth small purple flowers or a pleasant smell. The seede is small and blackish: The roote is harde and woodie.

Lavender and Alice Hoffman
(Practical Magic )

There's a few things I've learned in life: always throw salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for good luck, and fall in love whenever you can.

Lavender and Shakespeare
(Winter's Tale, iv. 4)

Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi' th' sun,
And with him rises weeping; these are flow'rs
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age.

Lavender and Clement Robinson
(Handefull of Pleasant Delites, 1584)

Lavender is for lovers true, Which evermore be faine; Desiring always for to have Some pleasure for their paine: And when that they obtained have The love that they require, Then have they all their perfect joie, And quenched is the fire.

Lavender and Turner
(Herbal, 1545)

Field of Lavender
I judge that the flowers of lavender quilted in a cappe and dayly worn are good for all diseases of the head that come of a cold cause and that they comfort the braine very well.

Lavender and Tennyson
(Ode to Memory, 1830)

Opening upon level plots Of crowned lilies standing near Purple spiked lavender. Lavender and Yardley Soap Ad The soap that’s kept women in hot water for 200 years—and they’ve loved every minute.

Lavender and Alice Walker
(In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, 1983)

Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

Lavender and Cervantes
(Don Quixote, 1804)

. . .but to go round the world and play at give and take with giants and dragons and monsters, and hear hissings and roarings and bellowings and howlings, and even all of this would be lavender, if we had not to reckon with Yanguesans and enchanted Moors.

Lavender and O'Keeffe
(A Beggar on Horseback, 1798)

My dear, have some lavender, or you'd best have a thimble full of wine, your spirits are quite down, my sweeting.

Lavender and Joanne Baillie
(The Election, 1798)

Oh, they are such savages! I'm sure if I had not put lavender on my pocket handkerchief, like Mama, I should have fainted away.


For more information on lavender, visit my lavender page:

For more herb quotes, visit: Rosemary Quotes From Literature

Saturday

Lavender History and Lore


If you are a lover of lavender, then its associations with luck from the early St. John's Day festivals, and its reputation as an anti-plague herb, are tidbits you'll enjoy with your morning coffee.

Books like "The Book of Herb Lore" by Lady Rosalind Northcote, with its historical and literary references, add another dimension to the herb-keeping hobby. Lavender is one herb with a rich and colorful history to draw from.

Have a seat and let's take a look at some interesting lavender lore from around the world:

Where Did Lavender Originate?

Lavender, a staple of the English countryside, is not native to England. Originating in the coastal hills of the Mediterranean, lavender was probably spread throughout Europe by the Romans.

Where Does the Word Lavender Come From?

This is an easy one: From the Latin word lavare, lavender was named by the Romans, who used it in their famous baths. Lavare literally means "to wash."

Why Was Lavender a Popular Anti-Plague Herb?

A natural bug repellent, lavender was used extensively in the Middle Ages as an anti-plague herb. It was effective because it successfully repelled the fleas that carried the disease. It was one of the essential herbs in traditional Four Thieves Vinegar.

Lavender and French Perfume

Lavender was an important ingredient in the beginnings of the perfume industry in France, but French lavender (Lavendula dententa) is not the fragrant perfume variety of lavender. That award goes to Spanish lavender (Lavendual stoechus).

How Many Varieties of Lavender Are there?

The history of lavender can be traced back 2500 years, and there are now over 115 varieties of lavender cultivated around the world. They are primarily derived from basic English, French or Spanish lavender.

Lavender and the Evil Eye

At one time, Christians believed that lavender placed at the entrance of a home or in a keyhole would repel ghosts and protect against the evil eye. That reputation as a talisman against evil extended to lavender being a popular herb for festivals like the St. John's Day Festival.

Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Lavender

It was long believed that Cleopatra's secret weapon -- in love -- was lavender. She is said to have seduced both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony with its sultry scent. The asp that killed her may have been hiding in one of her lavender bushes.

For more information on lavender, visit my lavender page:

Friday

Keep Lavender Indoors

Lavender makes an attractive and useful indoor plant. When kept in a sunny window, it brings its unique fresh fragrance to your living space. A lavender plant requires little care, preferring to dry out between waterings, although it needs good air circulation, so don't crowd it with other houseplants.

The Best Lavender to Pick as a Houseplant

French lavender (Lavendula dententa) adapts well to an indoor environment, remaining slightly smaller than its outdoor counterpart (about two feet, if that). Be sure to add lime to your potting mix, and introduce eggshells (dried and ground) to the pot occasionally, for extra lime.

Potted lavender can be a part-time visitor to your living room, spending the winter indoors and the summer on you deck or patio. French lavender is only hardy from zones 9 – 11, so bringing it indoors in areas that have harsh winters is a happy solution all around.

For more information on lavender, visit my lavender page:

Propagating Lavender

Lavender can be propagated from cuttings, seed, or division.

Propagating Lavender from Cuttings

Lavender is easy to grow from cuttings in spring or fall. Take young stems with a heel attached and dip them in rooting compound. Plant the stem cuttings in sandy soil in a sunny spot that's sheltered from the wind. Lavender is also easy to propagate indoors if you have a sunny window.

Propagating Lavender From Seed

Set lavender seeds beginning in summer and through the fall months. Slow to germinate, lavender seeds require patience. It will take about eight weeks for the seeds develop enough to transplant to their final location. The fresher the seeds the better, so don't use last year's leftovers. Plant more seeds than you think you'll need, because you'll probably have some losses.
Special Note: Lavender seeds don't always breed true, and propagating from seed can sometimes yield surprises.

Propagating Lavender By Division

Larger lavender plants can also be divided, which is a good way to keep them from getting too woody. Be careful to make sure that the roots are evenly allocated, and be sure to replant the resulting "bibs" at the same depth as the original plant.

If you are keeping lavender indoors, it needs good air circulation, so give it plenty of space. Let it dry out a little between waterings.


For more information on lavender, visit my lavender page:

Understand the Different Types of Lavender


English Lavender
English Lavender

Lavender is enormously popular, but not all lavender is created equal. Using different varieties of lavender will yield different results, and knowing the right lavender for your garden or intended use will help your project be more successful. Lavender flowers can be large or small, and lightly shaded or vivid, depending on the variety you choose. There are even lavender flowers that are white, pink or yellow.

Lavender Varieties

  • Lavender likes a sunny, open location in which to grow, and thrives on well drained soil. It is drought tolerant, and naturally pest resistant.
  • English Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)

    English lavender is the most popular lavender grown today, and has the bouquet and appearance you probably associate with this classic herb. It has a strong scent, and its fragrance is used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. It is a common base for aromatherapy oil, and with Lavandula x intermedias, is the variety of lavender most often selected for culinary applications.

    English lavender is a hardy perennial from zones 5 – 11 with medium purple flowers, and typically attains a height of two to three feet. It is the variety you should choose if you are planning on using lavender for culinary or craft projects.

    A number of the newer English lavenders are smaller in size, with a mounding habit that makes them good edging plants. Varieties that make good multiple groupings would include:

    Melissa (pink flowers),
    French Lavender (L dententa)
    Baby Blue (purple flowers),
    Nana Alba (white flowers), and
    Martha Roderick (blue/lavender flowers).
    • French Lavender (L. dententa) 
     
  • French lavender is not particularly fragrant. Largely used for decorative purposes, its blooms are a less vivid violet in color. *It has serrated leaves, grows to a height of three feet, and is a perennial in zones 8 - 11. The plant most associated with "French lavender" is actually the Mediterranean or Spanish variety discussed below.

  • Spanish Lavender (L. stoechus)

    Spanish lavender has a distinctive deep purple flower with a pinecone shape and upright flower petals. It is native to the Mediterranean and northern Africa, and is a good choice for humid climates.

    Typically growing from 18" to two feet, and a perennial in zones 8 to 11, Spanish lavender gives very good spring color, and is a favorite of bees. After flowering, it gets leggy, so trim it back. This isn't a good culinary lavender, but it is very attractive in the garden, particularly when planted out with marigolds.

  • Specialty or Unusual Lavenders
    Spanish Lavender
    Spanish Lavender

    Lavender cultivars based on the three varieties described above sport different colors and leaf shapes. There are dozens of them if not more. The most popular lavenders have silver-green foliage with sharp, spear shaped leaves and vivid lavender to purple flowers, although pink, white, blue, and yellow flowering varieties are not uncommon. 
When evaluating lavender cultivars for your garden, check the scientific name.  It's one of the best ways to determine whether the plant you have in mind is best for culinary, fragrance or landscaping applications. Check with your local nursery, too. Most regional gardening shops understand what grows best locally and can offer unique insights into the types of herbs and other plants that will thrive in your area.

For more information on lavender, visit my lavender page
*There is a great deal of confusion in the literature regarding which species is actually French lavender.  Some experts maintain that it's L. dententa, easily distinguished by it's "toothed" leaves. Others, including Wikipedia, take a broader approach and group L. dententa and L. stoechus both as  French lavender. When you shop, pay attention to the scientific name of the plant you have in mind. It will give you an idea of it's origins, habit and environmental preferences.
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Photo1 - EnglishLavenderWiki.jpg By Rillke (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4b/Lavendula.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALavendula.jpg

Photo 2 - SpanishLavender1Wiki.jpg By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/Lavandula_stoechas_JPG1b.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALavandula_stoechas_JPG1b.jpg


Monday

Remove Mineral Deposits and Sterilize Your Plant Pots


Remove Lime Deposits From Plant Pots
When I can't work in the garden, most of the houseplants are dormant, and the new season's seed catalogs haven't arrived yet, I turn to cleaning.

One of my regular winter chores is to remove scale and mineral deposits from my plant pots and trays. I used to live with the chalky waterline that marked most of my pots, but now I use vinegar to clean them before spring.

Clean Mineral Deposits From Your Plant Pots

Soak your pots in a mixture of half water and half white vinegar for a couple of hours. After they've soaked, wipe them down with a paper towel. For stubborn mineral deposits, brush them with an old toothbrush or plastic scrubby. This usually works fine for me. I pour my vinegar in the sink and turn the pots half-way through soaking so everything makes good contact with the mixture.

Clean Those Tough Mineral Deposits With a Strong Vinegar Solution

If the spots still won't come out, sponge a three-quarter strength vinegar/water solution on the spots and let them sit under a damp cloth for an hour; then scrub. This will also work for spot cleaning pots that are housing your plants indoors over winter.

If you are cleaning clay pots, soak them in plain water first so they don't absorb too much acidic vinegar (they're porous).

Sterilize Your Clay Pots in the Oven Remove Lime Scale From Pots

I usually go the extra step of cooking my clay pots in the oven on high heat in order to kill any bacteria or fungus. I've also known people to run them through their oven's self-cleaning cycle.

Sterilize Your Plastic Pots in the Dishwasher

I run my plastic or aggregate pots through the dishwasher if they'll fit. If I think there might be a problem with them, I'll even turn the water heater up so they'll get a hotter bath.

Buy Your White Vinegar in Volume, It's Cheaper

White vinegar is available in a half-gallon jug. I keep one under the sink for descaling, cleaning the coffeemaker, and for washing the wood laminate floor in my kitchen.

Clean Your Garbage Disposal While You're at It

Once you've cleaned your pots, pour a half-cup of baking soda down your garbage disposal, followed by your leftover vinegar. This solution will clean and deodorize your disposal and pipes.

After a good pot cleaning and scrubbing, I start getting into the spirit of spring planting.

Saturday

The Healthful Benefits of Cranberries

Cancer Fighting Cranberries also Lower Cholesterol
You may not be growing them in your garden, and they may technically be a fruit, but cranberries are proving to be very beneficial to your health.

I didn't design this blog to discuss current medical research, but time to time some things just jump out at me. I figure, like me, you enjoy understanding the uses of your herbs better. I think this leads naturally to an interest in the uses and benefits of vegetables and fruits. In the spirit of a free exchange of information, I will continue to include this type of material in my blogs, unless I hear loud objections (Author puts hand to ear).

Cranberries May Help to Treat Heart Disease, Cancer, and Reduce Your Risk of Stroke

Recent research is showing that cranberries have uses in treating some impressive illnesses, including: shrinking breast cancer tumors in animal testing, reducing bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol (Plaque buildup in your arteries is a precursor of both heart disease and stroke.), killing gum disease and peptic ulcer bacteria, and, of course, combating urinary tract infections.

Additional Information

If you're skeptical, try visiting some of the following sites for interesting information on cranberries and ways to easily add them to your diet. You'll notice that, in addition to my summary article, there is some good reference material suggesting that cranberries are good for you, possibly very good for you. With the holidays in mind, try making some Cranberry Pumpkin Bread too. It's low in fat and high in fiber:


Cranberry Institute's Research Page (Check the comprehensive Bibliography for additional sites and research.)

The Health Benefit of Cranberries (My summary)

Friday

Growing Lavender

Grow LavenderLavender is one of the most easily distinguished, popular, and restful of fragrances. It is attractive to both men and women, and is the main fragrance in a wide range of beauty and home products.

Lavender Planting Tips

Lavender likes a well drained, sunny spot, and can tolerate dry conditions. It prefers sandy soil to which lime has been added, and will grow from 18" to three feet. New plantings should be separated by a distance of two feet (12 inches if you are planning a hedge).

Lavender prefers good air circulation, but keep it in a sheltered spot if you live in a windy area. In zones where humidity is a problem, increase the distance between plants and keep them well pruned.

Frost tolerance varies by variety. For background and instructions about specific varieties, see my blog lavender varieties

With delicate small flowers on gray green stems, lavender is as interesting in the garden as it is in many of our favorite beauty aids, and a few lavender plants can make an attractive focal point while providing a storehouse of flowers for craft applications.

Lavender is Naturally Pest Resistant

In folklore, lavender is considered lucky, and for the gardener this is particularly true because common garden pests like snails, slugs, and aphids studiously avoid it.

One of its historical uses was as a plague herb because it repelled plague infested fleas. It is an effective flea deterrent today, which makes it a good choice for areas where you keep your pets, either indoors or out. Dried herb sachets in a dog's bedding, or a potted lavender near your cat's litter box are good flea management solutions. Near or around litter, lavender is also a good cat box odor inhibitor.

Some lavenders can thrive indoors or on a seasonal rotation where frost is a problem. Take a look at my blog, "Keeping Lavender Indoors" for more information.

For more information on lavender, visit my lavender page:

Tuesday

Log Under Interesting Gadgets - The Neti Pot



If you are one of the few people who hasn't heard of the neti pot (also referred to as the salt lamp or nose bidet), it is an ingenious Indian device used to irrigate nasal passages. A "do it yourself" appliance, the neti pot can give you relief from cold or allergy discomfort without drugs.

The neti pot has a pour spout and handle, and is a little larger than a tea cup. It's a great solution if you want to avoid taking cold medication because of high blood pressure, or want to avoid developing a dependence on nasal spray.

There Are Things You Should Know Before you Buy a Neti Pot

Without being indelicate here, you use a neti pot to pour a small amount of saltwater solution into your nose to irrigate your nasal passages and remove impurities. The goal is to introduce the water into one nostril and tilt your head so the liquid will drain out of the other nostril. As the salt water makes its circuit, it loosens and removes particulates and mucus.

Neti Pots Spike in Popularity

Concentrations of mucus and foreign matter you inadvertently introduce into your system when you inhale, clog your sinus passages, causing headaches, making it harder to breathe, and creating a breeding ground for bacteria.

Sufferers of chronic nasal problems have traditionally used the nose dropper method of saltwater irrigation to find relief, but the neti pot is making the practice of nasal irrigation downright cool. Since its debut on the Oprah Show in 2007, the neti pot has become a popular alternative to over-the-counter nasal remedies. Once consigned to import and health food stores, neti pots are now sold almost everywhere, including a pharmacy near you. They're a pretty natural solution with few interaction or use problems.

Tips on How to Use a Neti Pot

If you're still interested, here are some tips on using this handy tool read on:

  • Make sure you follow the package directions, including all cautions.

  • When making your salt solution, use sea salt and/or non-iodized salt.

  • Use distilled, sterilized, warm water (this is important)

  • Dissolve all salt thoroughly. Partially dissolved salt crystals can cut or score your delicate nasal tissues.

  • Go slowly at first. This is a new experience and feels a little strange. Don't rush it.

  • After flushing, be careful to lean forward to avoid swallowing water.

  • Don't let your distaste for the process make you lose sight of the benefits.
  • After using, always wash the pot in warm soapy water and let it air dry

You can buy neti pot irrigation solutions at your local market or pharmacy, but it's just as easy and a lot less expensive to make your own. A good basic recipe is: 1/4 teaspoon of of baking soda and 1/4 of sea salt mixed with enough water to fill the pot for each application.