Tidbits From Around the Web

If you're growing basil in your herb patch (and we hope you are), there have been problems the last couple of years with basil blight, and this invasive threat is on the move. The East and Midwest have been affected so far, and the airborne spores of this downy-mildew pesto killer are devastating.

If you notice yellowing on the leaf tips of your basil plants, check the back of the leaf. If you see a purplish-grey powdery substance, your plant is affected. There is no effective treatment at this time.Check your stock often and destroy affected plants immediately. Margaret McGrath, a plant pathologist at Cornell University suggests that you spare the healthy leaves and make pesto on the spot. You can freeze your early harvest and hope for a better outcome next year. Read more at: Basil Blight Threatens Pesto Lovers

 Outdoor Vertical Gardening on the Cheap

When you want more room for plants but every available space is home to a leafy green growing thing, grow up instead of out. Vertical gardens are all the rage, and you can hang them outside too. Take a look at a homemade solution that will elevate your landscape: Pocket Gardens Grow Up


Hyssop Tea Recipe

Have a sinus headache? Allergies have you sniffling and miserable? Got a cold you just can't shake? Feel better with a steaming cup of hyssop tea. Hyssop has been the herb of choice in treating upper respiratory problems for centuries. It can clear you sinus passages, sooth a sore throat and relax tense and frazzled nerves.

Hyssop Tea Recipe (Not for use by pregnant or nursing women)

1 Tablespoon dried hyssop (or three tablespoons fresh)
8 oz. boiling water
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
1 Tablespoon honey

Pour boiling water over hyssop leaves and let steep in a covered container for 10 minutes. Add lemon and honey. Drink slowly and inhale the hyssop steam deep into your lungs. You can repeat twice daily.

How to Grow Hyssop

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) is a hearty perennial shrub in the mint family that has a spiky, upright habit and narrow tongue-like leaves. It's a dark, vibrant green when it gets enough nourishment, and sports small, vibrant blue flowers (some variations produce pink, lavender, purple or white flowers). It has an attractive appearance in the garden, but where it really shines is as an herbal remedy. It's also a flavorful addition to salads, soups and stews.

Bees love hyssop and it's also a favorite with butterflies and hummingbirds. As a companion plant, it can help keep a few unsavory visitors from the garden too. It repels flea beetles and cabbage moths, so keep it around your cabbage crops and grape vines.

Growing Hyssop

Hyssop loves hot, strong sunlight and plenty of it. It needs well drained soil and likes dryer conditions. If you have a rocky spot that bakes in the afternoon sun, it's probably a good location for a hyssop bush as long as you loosen the soil well and add some sand. Growing to about two and a half feet tall and 15 inches across, hyssop has narrow, upright, woody stems.

Plant seedlings two feet apart, and halve that if you'd like to train your hyssop plants into a border hedge. As herbs go, hyssop is one of those reliable performers season after season. The plant gets rangier and woodier as time goes by, so plan on replacing plants every four years or so.

Propagate Hyssop

Propagate hyssop by starting seeds indoors eight weeks before the last frost date in your area. You can also create new plants easily by root division in fall.

Harvesting Hyssop

Dry stems indoors and harvest only the leaves. The woody stems lack flavor. To harvest seeds, let the seed pods brown and dry out completely. The seeds will be easy to remove and store in a dry, dark place over the winter months.

Uses for Hyssop

Hyssop leaves are high in volatile oils that give the plant a distinctive camphor scent and slightly bitter taste. Hyssop has been used traditionally in the production of liquors and perfumes. It's has culinary applications both fresh and cooked, but hyssop's strong flavor can be an acquired taste.

Medical Uses for Hyssop

Hyssop is an antibacterial that's sometimes used to treat upper respiratory ailments, like nasal congestion, asthma and bronchitis. It's also an astringent (used in skin care products), expectorant, and may help reduce the symptoms of rheumatism. If you're planning on using hyssop for medicinal purposes, check with your doctor and always start with a small dose. Some potential side effects are: nausea, dizziness and diarrhea.
Special Note: Hyssop, a native to the Mediterranean, has been naturalized in the U.S. and Canada. A number of native American plants also go by the name hyssop but aren't related to Hyssopus officinalis. Verify that you have the right plant before you use it in your recipes and other preparations.


How to Grow Pineapple Sage

The trumpet-like red flowers of pineapple sage.
Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is an underrated herb in the garden. It doesn't need much attention, but has a lot to offer. It will grow up to five feet tall, and its bright leaves are a delicate shade of green all summer long. It produces slender, trumpet shaped red flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds, too.

Did I mention that it really does smell like pineapple? You may be skeptical about the fragrance. After all, the orange and chocolate mints may smell like their namesakes, but only if you concentrate really hard and use your imagination. Pineapple sage, on the other hand, really smells pineapple-y, and it's also an attractive plant in its own right.

Uses for Pineapple Sage

It has quite a few uses, too. It makes a very tasty cold or hot tea. It can be chopped into fruit and vegetable salads (yum). It also has beautiful, edible flowers with a sweet taste. A sprig of pineapple sage as a garnish can make a dish of ice cream or slice of cheesecake look almost decadent. I like to chop it into mild bell pepper salsa and mince a little on pizza.

Growing Pineapple Sage

A half hardy perennial (all weather in zones 8-11), pineapple sage likes well drained, rich soil and lots of light -- six hours a day or more. It needs regular watering. If you do forget to water it, or it starts to droop on brutally hot days. It will sometimes recover, unlike, say, catnip, which is usually down for the count once it begins to show signs of stress.

Give pineapple sage plenty of room to grow. Four feet spacing between plants isn't too much. After it matures, it'll make a nice backdrop for your other herbs. It might also need staking, especially in areas where it's exposed to windy conditions now and then. You can cut it back any time during the growing season if it starts to get rangy (which it will).

Growing Pineapple Sage in a Patio Pot

A potted pineapple sage on my back deck.
Potted pineapple sage can make a dramatic statement on a deck or patio. That's one in the picture.  Just remember to use a large pot, 12 - 14 inches, and provide good drainage.  If you're temps get into the 90s in summer, mulch the plant and consider giving it partial shade if it starts to droop in the late afternoons.

Growing Pineapple Sage Indoors

You can bring pineapple sage indoors in the fall to overwinter in a sunny window. It won't tolerate a hard frost, so put it on your watch-list when overnight temps start to drop. To prep it for the move, cut it back by two-thirds. Don't harvest leaves over the winter months, either. You should be able to keep it indoors through the summer months too, but don't expect the plant to reach its full size.

Propagating Pineapple Sage

Propagate pineapple sage from cuttings whenever possible. They'll root quickly and easily. Take four inch cuttings and remove all but the top two leaves. Almost any growing medium will work, but I prefer sand. I just place the cuttings in a plastic bag a third full of sand. I put the bag in an eastern facing window for a few weeks and make sure to keep the sand moist at all times. Some of my cutting have rooted in as little as four days. If  I think about it, I roll the cut ends in cinnamon (the poor man's rooting compound).

Photo 1 - By Eric Hunt (Own work (own photo)) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons


A Late Spring Saturday in the Garden

This late spring Saturday is pretty hectic around the old homestead. What with putting up floating row covers to foil squash beetles and keeping a keen eye out for Japanese beetles, not to mention the hordes of other insects that persist in behaving as though my precious acre is an all you can eat buffet, I'm tuckered before noon. The homemade bug sprays are working, but it's been raining almost every day, so my spray bottle and index finger are getting a workout.

I can't complain, though. Every day something new is happening. Vegetable flowers are opening and most of the herbs are finally fragrant and beginning to look worthy of a salad or marinade. Life is hectic -- but good.

If you have a few extra minutes, I've got a couple of site recommendations for you. When I'm not writing or weeding, I'm surfing the vastness of cyberspace for interesting herb tidbits and tips. My chive blossoms are up and heavy with dew every morning, and I was delighted when I discovered a Veggie Belly blog entry about turning them into a delicious tempura salad topping. Even if you're not planning on pulling out the fryer tonight, visit for the amazing photos: Chive Blossom Tempura Salad

When I pull out the lavender bath salts for a long soak in the tub, I like to take a book with me, and no one is more entertaining than Susan Wittig Albert and her China Bayles herbal mysteries. If you love herbs and enjoy a good read with wit and some mystery, give them a try. They're almost better than a cup of sassafras tea. You can visit her site at: About Thyme. While you're there, take a look around. There are fun herb recipes and other hidden gems on offer.

Speaking about recipes, as long as you're growing marigolds for your herbal insect sprays (You are, aren't you?) why not sprinkle a few petals on your side salad tonight? Your marigolds should be blooming shortly if they aren't already, and that pop of bright orange or yellow will give your greens a sunny spring makeover.


Herb Fun From Around the Web

Just so you have all the information you need to make the best medicinal use of your herbs and spices, I have a few web pages for you to look at. Tape copies of these to your fridge. They'll be useful year round:

Surprising Healing Benefits of Spices

10 Healing Herbs Used in Teas

11 Medicinal Uses for Food

Healing Herbs: The 15 Most Powerful Healing Herbs in Your Kitchen

We all run across nifty uses from herbs thinking we'll remember them the next time we need a quick antacid or headache remedy. Chances are those great ideas will be long forgotten by the time a sour stomach or sour throat hits, though.

Keep a list of medicinal herb recipes nearby, and store the herbs themselves in your kitchen cupboard or medicine cabinet.

Oh, and get used to drinking a restorative tea every evening. You'll be developing a relaxing habit you can refine to suit any occasion. An aromatic lavender tea will relax your muscles, and ginger tea will settle your nerves and stomach. If you want mild relief for hot flashes, try sage tea. Need a quick fix for that ringing in your ears? Give fenugreek tea a try (but not while you're pregnant or nursing).

Relief is just a cup of boiling water away.