Tuesday

Grow Herbs That Attract Hummingbirds to Your Garden

Herbs that attract hummingbirds
You may already know that hummingbirds are attracted to the color red (orange too), especially when red blossoms have a deep, trumpet or tubular shape.

Herbs That Attract Hummingbirds

Herbs have gourmet fragrance hummingbirds love, too. If you enjoy having fast fliers around your patio, deck or garden, make them welcome with a few strong scents and colors they'll appreciate.

Hummingbirds aren't noted for their sense of smell, so the stronger the herb scent is, the better they'll like it.

You can attract them with:
  • pineapple sage
  • cat mint
  • common culinary sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • lavender
  • bee balm
  • globe thistle
  • goldenrod
  • mint
  • mallow
These common flowers will get their attention too:
  • snapdragon
  • shasta daisy
  • sweet alyssum
  • aster
  • clove pink
  • fuchsia
  • trumpet vine
  • zinnia
Hummingbirds can be fun and funny in the garden. When I lived in Northern California, they were common garden visitors. They tantalized the cats by staying only just out of reach. When the cats started to lose interest, the birds would come in a little close or bob back and forth to get their attention again. I never saw one nabbed by a feline, but they did inspire lots of exercise. I've also been out gardening in a bright tee and had them zoom in to investigate.

Although you may find hummingbirds in most U.S. states, they are seasonal and only occasional in some areas. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Office (it's free) for more information about humming birds specific to your area.

Friday

Lemon Sugar Recipe

How to Make Lemon Sugar
Let's talk about sugar for a minute. White granulated sugar tastes plenty sweet, but it doesn't have much flavor. That's one reason flavored sugars are so popular. Pair a favorite flavoring with sugar and you have an ingredient that adds depth to your dishes without extra last-minute effort. It's more than a time saver, too.

Culinary garnishes like flavored sugars, oils and vinegars give you an edge in the kitchen. They rev up your recipes while incorporating some fun and excitement into the process. Lemon sugar on a plain sugar cookie will enhance its flavor and make a subtle but real difference in the batch -- something that says no one but you could have made them that way. Adding, say, lavender sugar to your cupcakes may not win you a gold medal, but it's a nice touch too, and delivers a unique flavor, giving your cooking an individual stamp.

How to Make Lemon Sugar

Sugar Pairings


Pair sugar with cinnamon and you have a quick way to add extra appeal to your morning toast (bagel or English muffin). The latest sugar combo on our list is lemon sugar. It's sweet with just a hint of tart that makes the sweet, sweeter and the tart (sour) more interesting.

Two Basic Lemon Sugar Recipes

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Lemon
Optional - 4 Lemon balm sprigs cut into three inch pieces

Lemon Sugar Recipes - Version 1

Zest the lemon by removing the thin, colored skin (not the spongy white part called the pith). Combine the lemon zest, herbs and sugar. Spread on a cookie sheet and let sit in a warm spot to dry for six hours or more. Pour all ingredients into a wide mouthed jar and cure for three weeks, shaking daily. After curing, strain the sugar to remove the lemon and herbs.

Lemon Sugar Recipes - Version 2

Another option is to grind the zest of one lemon into the 1 /12 cups of sugar using a spice or coffee grinder. Dry for a few hours or overnight before placing in a container. You'll have a speckled yellow and white product with bright, lemony flavor that won't fade (not as good with beverages).

Flavored Sugar Refinements and Quick Facts

Sugar is a natural antibacterial agent making it a stable and easy ingredient to work with. In some areas, it's even used to treat surgical wounds. It also declumps easily (using a spice or coffee grinder if necessary).

Lemon sugar will keep indefinitely and retain its flavor as long as you keep the jar lid on tight. For more visual appeal, you can stir in a few drops of water to which you've added food coloring and leave the sugar on your counter until the water evaporates. Stir or give it a twirl in the grinder to eliminate the clumps

I have quite a few herbs and like to use lemon herb varieties to add subtle flavors to my sugar. If you only have access to a lemon, it will imbue your sugar with nice lemony fragrance and flavor all by itself -- although you might want to try growing a few lemony herbs next season.

Give flavored sugars a try. They'll enliven your morning coffee. If the economy is limiting your java to the stuff you brew yourself, it's a nice way to give yourself a treat without paying a fortune or spending precious morning minutes in the kitchen. Flavored sugars are also good with tea (especially ice tea) and all manner of desserts.

In the next couple of weeks we'll explore a few other flavored sugars, along with some hints for turning your sugar pairings into distinctive gifts.

How to Grow St. John's Wort


St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a perennial (zones 4-9) native to Europe but naturalized (and quite a pest) in places as far flung as Canada, South Africa, California, Colorado, Arizona and Australia. It likes sun (but will tolerate partial shade) and thrives in poor soil. Plants grow to about three feet and produce lots of bright, yellow flowers in summer. If you hold the small leaves up to a strong light, you'll see that they have tiny dimples or perforations, hence the "perforatum" in  the plant's name.

St. John's wort is so easy to grow that it's considered a pernicious weed in many locations. You may find it thriving wild in a meadow or ditch near you. If you try cultivating it in the garden, keep a close watch over it. Given a chance, it'll crowd out more delicate herbs. You may even want to consider growing it in a pot and then burying the pot in the soil to overwinter in cold areas.

How to Propagate St. John's Wort

The best times to propagate St. John's wort are in spring and fall, from either seed or stem cuttings. To help seeds germinate more quickly, soak them in warm water for a few hours or overnight. If you're in Zone 4, protect plants with a layer of mulch over the winter months.

Harvesting St. John's Wort

This is one herb you should let flower before you harvest. In the second and subsequent years, wait for blossoms to appear in July, and then harvest around a third of the plant, including flowers. Dry leaves and flowers by hanging stems in a cool, dry, dark place for a week to 10 days, or hasten drying with a dehydrator (or on a cookie sheet in a warm oven).

St. John's Wort and Depression


St. John's wort has gotten a lot of press for being a mood regulator that may have the efficacy of an antidepressant without some of the side effects. After dozens of studies -- over 30 at last count -- the jury is still out on claims that St. John's wort can be used as an effective treatment for depression. Current popular opinion is that it may be useful when dealing with mild to moderate depression like seasonal mood disorder.

According to the health division of the Consumer Reports website, St. John's wort may make you feel better by dialing down the anxiety. It may also increase appetite and concentration, and make it easier to sleep.

Apparently St. John's wort is a complex little plant containing a dozen or more chemical compounds that may (or may not) impact brain chemistry -- or possibly -- regulate hormone levels in the body. Before you give it a try, though, there are some cautions you should consider carefully:

People taking St. John's wort have reported side effects: nausea, diarrhea, dry mouth, dizziness, reduced sex drive, headache and confusion.

Photo of St. John's WortOne of the most troubling side effects of St. John's wort is that it interferes with other drugs. If you're taking high cholesterol medication, birth control pills or  any of a number of other drugs, St. John's wort can potentially reduce their effectiveness. Before you make a decision about taking this herb, talk to a professional. It may be a boon and just what you're looking for; then again, it may be the last thing you need.

Beyond its applications for the treatment of mood disorders, St. John's wort has also been used to treat pain, nerve damage, insomnia, inflammation, as a diuretic and to promote the healing of bruises, burns and lacerations.


References

Consumer Reports Health. "St. John's Wort Natural Therapy." 5/28/10. (5/5/11).
http://www.consumerreports.org/health/conditions-and-treatments/depression-in-adults/treatments/st-johns-wort.htm

"Drug and Natural Medicine Advisor." Time Life Books

Houdret, Jessica. "Practical Herb Garden." Anness Publishing Ltd. 2003.

Discovery Health. "How St. John's Wort Works." Undated. (5/5/11).
http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/natural-medicine/herbal-remedies/st-johns-wort1.htm/printable

USDA Plant Profile. "Hypericum perforatum L. - Common St. John's Wort." Undated. (5/5/11).




Photo1 - St.John'sWort1_Wiki.jpg Anne Burgess [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/St_John%27s_Wort_-_geograph.org.uk_-_522 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASt_John's_Wort_-_geograph.org.uk_-_522493.jpg

Photo2  St.John'sWort2_Wiki.jpg  Glyn Baker [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ad/Common_St_Johns_Wort_-_geograph.org.uk_- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACommon_St_Johns_Wort_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1382488.jpg


Photo3 - Courtesy of Morguefile.com
This information is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Before making any change in lifestyle, seek out the guidance of a physician or other health care professional.

Wednesday

How to Grow Clary Sage

Clary Sage Photo
Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) is a unique member of the mint family related to common sage. It's a biennial (It flowers and sets seed the second year and then dies back like an annual -- so it has a two year life cycle). It can tolerate some cold, but is only hardy to Zone 6 and possibly protected areas of Zone 5.

Growing Clary Sage

Growing to a height of about three feet, clary sage likes rich soil that drains well. It's a sun lover too. Relatively undemanding, if you have enough room for lots of herbs in your garden, clary sage is an interesting little plant worth trying once. It has large, fuzzy, dark green leaves and produces white to pale lilac colored flowers (with some pink or pale blue tints out there too).

For the best results, start seeds indoors and plant them in the garden when overnight temperatures warm up in spring -- about the time you plant out tomatoes.

Clary Sage Uses

Clary sage has a medicinal pedigree going back to the ancient Greeks, but it's probably not the first herb you think of to treat complaints like hot flashes, indigestion and anxiety. It's used as a flavoring in some alcoholic beverages (and bitters). It's also a stabilizing agent and preservative in perfume and soap making. It has a strong fragrance -- or odor -- depending on your point of view. In the garden, my cats hate it, but the dog thinks it may have potential.

Essential Oil - Clary sage essential oil is used to reduce high blood pressure and inflammation. It may also be effective in the treatment of anxiety, PMS and hot flashes. It's occasionally marketed as a mild euphoric and aphrodisiac.

If you want to increase your inner vision, it has been used to heighten meditation and focus, and if you enjoy vivid dreams, clary sage may be for you: It's considered an excellent dream enhancer that also helps you remember your dreams afterward.

Eye Problems - Historically, clary sage has been associated with the eye because clary seed was once used to trap and lift foreign matter from the eyeball. If you caught a speck of dust in your eye that just wouldn't wash out, a sticky paste made with clary seed and water would have been a godsend. Clary has antiseptic and antibacterial properties that made it an effective eye wash and throat gargle too.

Culinary Uses - This sage variety isn't considered much of a culinary herb, but the leaves have been used to flavor salads (in the old days when salads contained 50 to 100 ingredients or more), and its unique flavor has also been added to jellies, aspics and conserves.

Other Names - You may also find clary sage sold under these names: Clary, Clear Eye, Clary Wort, See Bright, Eyebright, Salvia sclarea, Muscatel Sage or Sauge Sclarée.

One of the best descriptions of the early uses of clary sage comes from Culpeper's Complete Herbal, written in 1653:

  • The seed put into the eyes clears them from motes, and such like things gotten within the lids to offend them, as also clears them from white and red spots on them. The mucilage of the seed made with water, and applied to tumours, or swellings, disperses and takes them away; as also draws forth splinters, thorns, or other things gotten into the flesh. The leaves used with vinegar, either by itself, or with a little honey, doth help boils, felons, and the hot inflammation that are gathered by their pains, if applied before it be grown too great.

Caution: Avoid clary sage if you're pregnant.
It may also cause confusion and dizziness when used in combination with alcoholic beverages.

Special Note: Culpeper's Herbal is available free online. It's a hoot, and if you like herbs, language or history, consider diving into some reading you can really sink your teeth into: Culpeper - Complete Herbal from Bibliomania


References:

"Drug and Natural Medicine Advisor". Time Life Books

Houdret, Jessica. "Practical Herb Garden". Anness Publishing Ltd. 2003.

Grieve, M. "Sages." Undated. (5/2/11).
http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/s/sages-05.html

A Frances Tenebaum Book. "Taylor's Guides - Encyclopedia of Garden Plants."  Houghton Mifflin Company. 2003.

"Culpeper's Color Herbal". Sterling Publishing. 1993.

Consumer Reports Health. "Clary Sage" Undated. (5/2/11).
http://nmcd.consumerreports.org/nd/Search.aspx?pt=100&id=407&ts=1305134253

Photo courtesy of Molly Wick at Flickr

Thursday

Pardon My Attitude

I've never been the most optimistic person in the room. If there's a sale, I'm pretty sure the items I want most will be out of stock by the time I make it to the checkout counter. If I sneeze, I start inventorying my stock of herbal teas, and if I'm getting low on gas, like as not it's on a holiday weekend when gas prizes head into the stratosphere. On a good day, I'd claim to be a realist. On a bad day, I'd probably admit, looking into space pensively, that I'm inclined to be glum -- maybe even morose.

The one exception to my dour leanings is the garden: I doubt I've ever planted a seedling thinking it wouldn't sprout. In the garden, I'm faultlessly hopeful. In the garden, I've always had a bright and positive outlook -- bourn, I think, of the notion that I'm not alone in wanting things to work out just fine -- that the cosmos will line up in quantum harmony, and my sorrel or cress or meadowsweet will clamor out of the dirt somehow.

I can be a careless gardener, forgetting to water the corner behind the garage or next to the deck, but it usually turns out okay. I have help. I could get sentimental here and start talking about the wonder of plant seeds, staggeringly small replicating factories much more deserving of our time and attention than anything on the SyFy Channel. I won't, though. Suffice it to say that in the garden, nature is usually on my side, and that's cause for a little zeal.

Tuesday

How to Make Sage Tea

Sage tea will calm your frazzled nerves, provide relief to aching gums, help heal a sore throat -- and it even offers a reliable reprieve from hot flashes. Making the tea is easy:

Sage Tea Recipe

Pour eight ounces of boiling water over ten large, fresh, sage leaves (or a heaping teaspoon of dried sage). Steep for five minutes and strain.

Sage tea may taste astringent (this is a polite word for bitter). It's an acquired taste, but you'll be surprised at how effective it can be. Sweeten it with sugar, honey or my favorite, home grown stevia. I also like to combine sage tea with other tasty blends like Darjeeling or English Breakfast.

Note: Avoid using sage tea medicinally if you're pregnant.

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


The most reliable and fun source of sage for tea is to grow it yourself: Sage Tips

Growing Sage - Sage Advice about a Very Useful Herb

Growing Sage
courtesy of Beatlemac @ Stock.xchng
Sage is an old friend. I've grown it for years and know it can take some abuse. This makes it a good plant for a beginner. Common sage ((Salvia officinalis) is a sturdy perennial that will overwinter in the snow, suffer through a blustery spring, withstand 100 degree F days with good grace (if a little temporary wilting) and still come through it all looking pretty darned good.

Growing Sage

Tri-colored, yellow and purple sages are pretty to look at, and even common sage is an attractive plant when it's young -- the leaves are soft and a bit fuzzy with subtle grey-green colored leaves with a pebbly appearance. The leaves also have a nice, long taper that looks dramatic when included in a cut flower arrangement.

Sage is beneficial in the garden too. It repels cabbage moths and those pesky hopping black flea beetles. It's useful in the kitchen: You probably know that it's a basic seasoning for holiday stuffing. It's also a main ingredient in most poultry seasonings. It makes a good pork rub, and it contains natural estrogens that can help control hot flashes and night sweats when brewed into tea. (One cup before bedtime and you'll be less likely to wake up on a moist sponge instead of your trusty mattress.) If you're one of those women who can feel a hot flash coming a few minutes before it hits, having a cup of sage tea may stop it cold (pun intended).

There are also sages like the Russian varieties (Perovskia atriplicifolia), that are low maintenance landscape staples for difficult locations (honeybees love it).

Sage Truths You May Have Missed


Growing Sage -The Plant

Older culinary sage plants get woody and start to disintegrate from the center outward. After about three years, replace plants to keep them looking tidy.

Sage likes full sun and can't tolerate boggy soil for long.

Many sages grow tall, up to a couple of feet, so keep them well back from shorter plants.

Sage can also get unruly. The stems look sturdy and thick, but it doesn't take much to knock them over, and they take umbrage at the assault and just lie there. If you have sage in a windy or vulnerable location, be prepared to stake it.

If you have a pineapple sage (which isn't winter hardy), you can overwinter it indoors. You'll need: a sunny window (6 hours of sunlight a day) or be willing to supplement your available light with a grow light.

Sage In the Kitchen

Sage is most popularly used with fowl or pork: turkey, chicken, goose, pork sausage.

You can find prepared sage either ground or in a fluffy rubbed variety.

Once harvested, fresh sage will last up to four days, but you can extend is life by freezing individual leaves or immersing them in olive oil and refrigerating them. I like the oil route because the leftover oil will take on a sagey flavor you can use sparingly in salad dressings and egg dishes.

To optimize the flavor, add sage during the last half hour of cooking when making long simmering dishes like soups or stews (or anything in a crockpot).

The ratio of fresh to dried sage is roughly three to one: Three teaspoons of fresh sage (about 12 leaves) to one teaspoon of dried sage called for in your recipes.

When using sage in combination with other herbs, it plays well with: thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, fennel, cilantro, paprika, parsley, bay leaf and garlic.

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

Sunday

How to Make a Quick Vanilla Sugar Substitute

Vanilla Sugar

You should really try making vanilla sugar with genuine, aromatic vanilla beans, but if you're in a hurry and need some vanilla instilled sugar for a recipe, you can perform some wizardry with vanilla extract. Here how:

Vanilla Sugar Substitute Recipe

2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Sprinkle extract on sugar and stir thoroughly.

Spread in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and air dry for an hour or more in warm, dry spot.  You can use your oven set on warm with the door slightly ajar (or a gas oven using the pilot light only).

The resulting vanilla sugar will have clumps, but you can stir them out easily.

This method of creating vanilla sugar tends to lose flavor where if you make the real deal, the flavor will become richer and deeper over time.

Plant Keeping Mistakes Happen

If you've ever planted a potato upside down, cooked a seedling in the sun or neglected a houseplant so completely it looked like a wilted spinach salad, welcome to the wonderful world of plant keeping.

Finding an amazing new plant is like falling in love, there's some initial euphoria before reality sets in -- with its compromise and more than a little trial and error. If you've made a bad call or two, don't beat yourself up about it -- too much.

A green thumb is more about perseverance than being a plant whisperer. I've killed so many plants over the years that I'd be on the ten-most-wanted stupid humans list of the plant cosmos -- if there was one. I learned from each mistake, though. I'm not sure which august personage said it, but the adage that: You don't know a plant until you've killed it at least three times can be a comfort. It has been for me, anyway.

Have a great Sunday in the garden.

Sara
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