Saturday

How to Make Passion Flower Tea

How to Make Passion Flower Tea
Passion flower (Passiflora incarnate) is a very effective sleep aid. You can make a soothing, sedative passion flower tea in just a few minutes. You’ll be surprised at how well it works.

It can cause a different reactions in different people, but for me, it's a great mind and body relaxer.  I fall asleep more easily and am more likely to sleep through the night if I make an evening cup of passionflower tea. I don't like to take prescription drugs, and being able to head out to the garden to pluck a few plant leaves as sleep aids is a very, very nice alternative. You should seriously consider trying it if you're having trouble sleeping.  (You can also purchase passion flower tea or the loose leaves at your local health food store or online.)

Special note:  If you grow lemon balm, it's a sleep aid too, and makes a nice add-on ingredient in the tea.  It also contributes a pleasant aroma. To adjust the recipe, use three-quarters of a teaspoon dried passion flower to one-quarter teaspoon dried lemon balm (or 2 teaspoons to one of fresh herbs). The easiest way to do this regularly is to mix up a big batch and store it.

Passion Flower Tea Recipe

Ingredients

8 ounces of boiling water
1 teaspoon of dried passionflower leaves (or 1 tablespoon fresh)

Directions

Put the leaves in a muslin bag or tea infuser and then add them to the hot water. Let steep for five minutes or so. Take this tea about an hour before bedtime and limit yourself to one cup within a 24 hour period.

Caution: Medicinal passionflower should not be ingested by pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding. Don’t take passionflower if you are on anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication. Avoid driving or operating heavy machinery until you know how your body will react to using passion flower. Some people have reported fogginess and an inability to concentrate after taking this herb, so take it only before bedtime – don’t change your mind after drinking the tea and decide to party or go for a drive.

For more information on growing and using passion flower.  Visit my post: How to Grow Passionflower

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Image: PassionFlower1.jpg
By Audrey from Central Pennsylvania, USA (Passion Flower Uploaded by Fæ) [CC-BY-2.0 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Passion_Flower_(2).jpg (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday

How to Revive Wilted Greens and Herbs

Wilted Greens
If you've ever opened your refrigerator's vegetable crisper only to discover that "crisp" is a relative term, you can understand the value of being able to do a little quick first aid on your limp cilantro, parsley or dill. Even better, these strategies can also work on veggies like lettuce and celery.

Reviving Wilted Greens and Herbs

Vegetables have stems and veins designed to deliver moisture and nutrients to the plant (usually). You can piggyback your efforts to revitalize your herbs and vegetables onto this natural nutrient delivery network. Here's how:

Make a diagonal cut across the stems of your cut (wilted) produce. This will hopefully make it possible for the plant to take up water. Once that's done, give the herbs a cold water bath in your sink. It's a good idea to add a little crushed ice or a few ice cubes to the water, too. Time is your friend here, so give the leaves time to rehydrate - fifteen minutes or longer is a good rule of thumb.

If you are successful in getting your herbs to firm up, but don't plan on using your refreshed produce right away, then place the stems in a cup of cold water. It's best to do this without taking the stems out of the water bath first because exposure to air can cause bubbles to form on the ends of the stems that block continued water uptake to the leaves. One solution is to dunk the cup in the water bath too, and place the stems inside the cup while both are submerged. It sounds more complicated than it is.

After the restored veggies are in the cup, blot the tops dry and put them in your refrigerator. After wetting them, it's best to use them within a day or so. Another option is to place them in a salad spinner to spin off the excess moisture. (This last method works very well with lettuce.) The principles here can be a little counterintuitive: water inside the plant is a good thing; water outside the plant is usually a bad thing.

When the Prognosis Looks Bleak

If your veggies are really distressed, there may be a last ditch option you can try: Create an ice water bath in your sink and prep the veggies as outlined above, but add a tablespoon of salt and a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to the water and swirl it around before adding the vegetables. I'm guessing that the amount of water for this is roughly a gallon and a half. Sometimes this method works and sometimes your poor produce is beyond reviving.

Saturday

What Is Lemon Balm


What is Lemon Balm
For such a wonderful and popular herb, it's surprising more people don’t know about lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). I recently blogged about making lemon balm liquor and received a puzzling number of emails from people who wondered what lemon balm is and what makes it a keeper in the garden.

I forget sometimes that there are lots of folks around who do their herb shopping in the produce department of the market and not the local nursery. For a few herb newbies, if you can't eat it, it must be a landscape plant. That's okay fine, but there are thousands of herbs around, and only a fraction will be straggling along the shelves of your market -- usually next to the mushroom bin or the tofu display. Parsley, sage, dill, cilantro, thyme, tarragon and chives are good eating herbs that can add a lot of flavor value to your recipe repertoire, but there are many other herbs that can pack a power wallop, too.


What Is Lemon Balm, Anyway?

Lemon balm is a plant in the mint family. It doesn't smell like a mint, though. It has a light, sweet, lemony fragrance that most closely resembles the perfumes used in many furniture polish products (which I think are sometimes made with a similar aromatic herb, lemon verbena). It is sometimes marketed as: Sweet Mary, Melissa, Dropsy Plant, Sweet Balm or Honey Plant.
What is Lemon Balm
In the garden, lemon balm likes regular watering. It can exist in poor soil, but it does like a little soil amendment papering now and again. It can thrive in dappled or full sunlight (if it's protected during the hottest part of the day in sweltering areas). Like other herbs plants in the mint family, lemon balm can be invasive, so contain it in a pot or put it in a location where it can sprawl. If you do let it go native, you probably won't be sorry. The light green leaves and wonderful aroma of lemon balm make it a good addition to the garden.

What is Lemon Balm
In cooking, lemon balm isn't a super star. Unlike the herbs mentioned above, it loses its strong fragrance when cooked, so it plays better when used in cold dishes or as a garnish. I add it to salads, especially fruit salad. I also make a refreshing tea with lemon balm (the aroma survives a dunking in boiling water), include it in casual summer flower bouquets and use it to make a very refreshing liquor (with the help of lemons, sugar and vodka).
Although the official word hasn't come in yet, lemon balm may have some effectiveness in treating the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and a number of stomach ailments and sleep disorders.

Honestly, lemon balm is one of my absolute favorites. It's friendly. If you have a garden favorite inhabiting a shady spot on your property, you probably know what I mean. If you're new to gardening -- wow, you have some fun surprises in store. Make lemon balm one of them.

To learn how to grow and use this fun and interesting herb, visit my post: How to Grow Lemon Balm

Sources:

"Drug and Natural Medicine Advisor." Time Life Books. 2003.

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

Wolters Kluwer Health. "Lemon Balm." 2009. (7/20/11).
http://www.drugs.com/npc/lemon-balm.html

University of Maryland Medical Center. "Lemon Balm." 3/22/2009. (7/20/11).
http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/lemon-balm-000261.htm
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Photo 1
448px-200707_x_Mélisse_01.JPG By I, Semnoz [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:200707_x_M%C3%A9lisse_01.JPG
Photo 2
Lemon_balm_(2).jpg By Datkins (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lemon_balm_(2).jpg
Photo 3
800px-Lemon_balm_2.JPG By Datkins (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wiki http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lemon_balm_2.JPG

Wednesday

How to Make Lemon Balm Liquor (Liqueur)

Lemon Balm Liquor
This citrus liquor really benefits from the addition of lemon balm leaves. It gives the bouquet a light, sweet lemony fragrance -- one thing that is so appealing about this herb.

Lemon balm liquor is best served chilled from your freezer -- and use some caution because it packs a wallop. It's like lemonade for grownups.

Instructions for Making Lemon Balm Liquor

Glass jar with a tightly fitting lid (I use a gallon jar, but you can certainly go smaller.)
3 cups fresh lemon balm leaves
12 lemons (Using organically grown lemons with no pesticide residue is a good idea.)
1 cup sugar
1 bottle (80 proof) unflavored vodka (750 ml)

Instructions

Wash and bruise the lemon balm.

Zest the lemons (you'll be using the lemon zest only). Include as little of the white, spongy pith as possible.

Combine all ingredients and add to the jar. Shake vigorously and place the jar in a warm, dark location for two to three weeks. Give the jar a shake every couple of days. The warmer it is in your home, the shorter the curing time.

Lemon Balm LiquorStrain the liquid through a length of cheese cloth into a display bottle, or use a funnel to return the mixture to the original vodka bottle.

That's it.

Serve this brew chilled.

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Photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian stock.xchange http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1257492

Monday

How to Make Rose Liquor

If you've been babying your roses through the summer season, now's the time to reap the rewards. Well, you've probably displayed your budding babies in a few flower arrangements, but now you can bottle your season's best into a rose liquor that's delicious and easy to make.

How to Make Rose Liquor


This is a two part process, so plan on starting now and finishing up around the middle of September. It takes a while, but the rose petals do all the work.

Ingredients

A quart sized jar with a tight fitting lid
A decorative display bottle
6 cups rose petals (Avoid roses that have been sprayed with pesticides.)
2 cups granulate sugar
1 bottle brandy (The better the brandy the better the liquor will be.)
1 cup of water

Directions for Rose Liquor

Wash and rinse three to five cups of rose petals and place them in the quart jar. They should fill the container but not be so closely packed that there's no movement when you jiggle the jar back and forth.

Add enough brandy to cover the petals completely. This is important or the mixture could get moldy.

Cap the jar and place it in a warm spot for a month to six weeks, shaking it every few days.

At the six week mark, combine the sugar with a cup of water and heat on low, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Add a cup  of fresh rose petals to the sugar water (use a cup and a half if the petals are small) and continue stirring until you can smell a strong rose aroma. Sorry. I'll take a thermometer reading next time.

Strain the syrup through a length of cheese cloth, cool and add it to the brandy mixture.

Let the batch sit on your countertop for another two weeks -- again, shaking every few days.

Strain the brandy through cheesecloth and into the decorative bottle. It should smell strongly of roses and taste wonderfully summery and sweet.

Notes on Making Rose Liquor

You can use any scented rose variety.

The jars and lids should be very clean.

The longer you let the mixture infuse, the more flavorful it will become.

If you have plenty of roses, this makes a nice holiday or hostess gift. Just dry a rose bud and tie it to the neck of the bottle with a pretty ribbon.


Drink rose liquor as a decadent dessert, use it as an ingredient in baking (it's delicious in brownies or chocolate cake), or add a little to your next pork roast.

How to Make a Lavender Sachet

How to Make Lavender Sachets
I'm here today to share a simple secret: Many herb projects that make great gifts go together fast and are inexpensive. You don't even have to grow the ingredients yourself. You can buy four or five herbs in bulk to make culinary blends, potpourri or bath infusions to keep or give away. Fill decorative jars (or bags) with them for office gifts or hand them out at your next family reunion.

Making Gifts with Herbs Is Easy and Can Be Inexpensive

People like it when you give them something you've made yourself. It creates a bond. A few generations ago, care and effort meant spending valuable resources to ride into town and buy something ready-made. These days, care and effort means expending time more than spending money. It's always about giving what's most precious.

How to Make Lavender Sachets
Using Lavender in Fast, Simple Herb Crafts

I like to make crafts with lavender because lavender isn't a strictly girlie scent, so men are more likely to appreciate it. It makes a nice air freshener because it covers other odors without leaving a cloying, flowery fragrance behind. It's a flower, but after being used in soap for generations, it's most often associated with freshness and cleanliness. Among other things, lavender is a muscle relaxer. Drinking lavender tea or just smelling the fragrance is a good precursor to bedtime, and may even be one of your best friends in bed -- when you put a lavender sachet under your pillow.
Lavender for Sachets
Closeup of twine drawstring

How to Make a Lavender Sachet


The following visual tutorial will show you how easy it is to make an attractive lavender sachet -- in less than three minutes. It uses  2.75" x 4" muslin bags. You can buy them in bulk in multiple sizes. These are from a bulk bag of 50 that cost around $10.00. I purchased the lavender buds in bulk to supplement what I grow myself. It's culinary grade (you can use it in cooking and tea). A pound costs around $12.

Tying the ribbon and twine
I'm replacing the inexpensive twine drawstring with a ribbon. This will make the bag more suitable for gift giving. The ribbon roll cost 50 cents at a local variety store. The process is simple:

Clip the twine drawstring that comes with most muslin bags and tie one end to the ribbon. Pull the other end of the twine, drawing the ribbon through the track in the bag. Once in place, snip off the twine end of the ribbon and tie a knot in each end of the new ribbon drawstring to keep it from accidentally slipping into the track when you open the bag.

After the ribbon is in place, fill the bag with about two tablespoons of lavender buds or flowers. Close the bag with a knot or bow.

Lavender for Sachets
Pulling the ribbon through
That's it.

Uses for a Lavender or Other Herb Sachet

You can place the bag under your bed pillow to help you sleep, slip it in an empty suitcase (or a drawer of lingerie) to keep it smelling fresh or add it to your bath water for some natural aromatherapy (it is reusable). (If you reduce the quantity of lavender to a single tablespoon, you can even use it as a teabag -- although there are smaller bags available for that).

The scent should last for a month or more and can be renewed with a couple of drops of lavender essential oil. You can also just replace the lavender in the bag.

Lavender for Sachets
Finished lavender sachet
Variations on a Lavender Sachet

Make blended recipes for your sachets using rosemary, rosebuds, orange peel, sage or dried lemon balm. You can add a decorative gift card to dress it up. Make multiple sachets: some for teas, some to tuck under your pillow for a better night's sleep and some to add to the bath. It's up to you.

If you purchased the bag of lavender, muslin bags and ribbon above, you could make thirty lavender sachets and have bags left over for other things. The project would cost under $30 and take less than 90 minutes. I know. I've done it.

You can buy more expensive, larger or smaller bags,  make your own bags (or pillows) using gauzy fabrics or lace, embroider names or motifs on the bags - whatever you want. These are fun, attractive, quick and inexpensive.

Fast and easy -- but a rather charming grace note -- don't you think?

Friday

How to Grow Mojito Mint (Mentha x villosa)

If you're into sunny latitudes and an afternoon pause that refreshes in a big way, you've probably tried a mojito -- one of the most popular new tropical beverages around. It's made with mint, and the directions require "muddling" or crushing the leaves in the bottom of the glass.

Mojitos are tasty, but if you're a mint connoisseur, you may not be able to place that light aroma and mild but satisfying bite. That's because the Cuban origins of this drink call for a special mint unique to the island. The mint question can get dicey. Some references cite spearmint as the first mint used for the classic mojito, while others are adamant it was the milder Mentha x villosa. Mojitos are pretty tasty either way, and I even like them with peppermint, chocolate mint or apple mint.

How to Grow Mojito Mint

Where a few years ago it was rare, you can find Cuban mojito mint through most online herb suppliers these days. Give it a loamy spot that gets good morning light and some afternoon shade (or dappled light). It likes soil that drains well and remains uniformly moist during the hottest part of the day.

Many mints prefer similar conditions, which makes mojito mint pretty predictable if you've grown mint before. I keep mine around our home's downspout. When it rains, the mints are the first to receive the bounty, and the addition of sand to the soil insures good drainage. Mojito mint can spread out quite a bit, becoming invasive. One way to control the sprawl is to give this plant a big pot and then bury the pot in your flowerbed. You'll have decent growth but less risk of its taking over your landscape. If you think providing consistent moisture will be a problem, mulch the area around the pot in summer and fall.

Harvesting and using Mojito Mint

Harvest leaves once the plant is 8 to 10 inches tall. A good rule of thumb is to limit harvesting to a third of the plant at a time. Wait for at least that much growth before harvesting again. Once the plant is established in the garden, this shouldn't be a problem. For the best flavor, harvest leaves in the morning before the hot sun hits them. You can keep stems in a glass of water until you're ready to use them.

Mojito mint is popular, so don't be surprised if your friends, even the plant assassins you'd never expect it of, ask you for a plant start.

If the idea of making a mojito sounds downright inspired, you can find my recipe here: The Magnificent Mint Mojito

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Image 1 - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:Mojito_made_with_rum,_lime,_sugar,_mint,_club_soda,_served_
By Evan Swigart from Chicago, USA (Mojito) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons MojitoWiki.jpg
Image 2 – Mojito Mint - Photo courtesy of Bad Alley and taken on July 1, 2009 using a Panasonic DMC-FX33. http://www.flickr.com/photos/badalley/3679303213/ mojitomintflickr.jpg

Saturday

Zucchini Problems - Beating the Bugs


Round Zucchini Photo
I'll tell you, growing squash can really teach you about guerrilla warfare in the garden. It seems as though just about everything is out to get your gourds, and if you don't like resorting to pesticides that kill the good bugs (think bees, ladybugs, praying mantis and butterflies) along with the greedy, pesky bad bugs, you can have a daily struggle on your hands.

In my ongoing effort to protect my zucchini plants (I planted some charming round ones this year), birdhouse gourds and other squash varieties, I've tried these tricks with varying degrees of success. In any given year, some tactics seem to work better than others.

Zucchini Tips and Tricks

Use aluminum foil - Place small strips or squares of aluminum foil around the base of the plants. It repels squash bugs. It won't get all of them, but every little bit helps. This works with cucumbers, too.

Dust with diatoms
- Diatomaceous earth looks like powder, but from a bug's perspective, it's really a pile of very tiny razor blades. It slices up bug bodies as they crawl around your plants. It's pretty safe to use. (It may cause skin reactions and you should strap on a mask before apply it.) Dust diatomaceous earth around the base of your squash plants to discourage vine borers (slugs and snails, too). It'll last until the next drenching rain. Diatoms are the skeletal remains of minute sea creatures. You also see them used as a super effective filtering medium.

Lure bugs with yellow - Place or paint something yellow in your garden away from the vegetable patch. Squash bugs are attracted to yellow and will flock to your lure, leaving the vegetables alone -- for the most part. In years past, I've strung yellow plastic tape or ribbon along the fence and it seems to work pretty well. If I place a couple of sacrificial squash plants under the ribbon, it works even better. It's probably also a good idea to keep plants with yellow flowers away from your squash -- their own yellow and orange flowers are problematical enough.

ZucchiniUse companion planting - I think of this as the art of placing a plant bugs hate next to plants they love. For squash, I interplant with marigold, lavender, dill and catnip. I also whip up bug sprays using those and other herbs. The idea is to make the squash plants so fragrant with other aromas that vine borers (and others) won't smell them and decide to lay their eggs in the middle of your crop.

Catnip grows fast and tall in my garden, and long about the beginning of July, I start pruning it back and sticking the stems among the squash plants for extra insurance -- just a suggestion.

Use row covers - This nonwoven fabric is available in 25 and 50 foot lengths (by 5 to 6 foot widths). It's very sheer and gauzy, but many bugs can't get through it or find their way around. You can leave row covers in place and tack them down for added security, but I find that's more of a hassle that it's worth. I drape the fabric over my squash plants in the evening and take it off before I water in the morning. The idea is that vine borers and some other nasties shop for new real estate late in the day. If you cover plants then, you'll be keeping them safer during the riskiest time. You can buy a 5 ft. by 25 ft. length of row cover fabric for around $12, and it's cheap at the price. If you don't poke too many holes in it, you can use it year after year.

Water in the morning - If you're having problems with powdery mildew, avoid getting plant leaves wet just before the temperature drops in the evening. Water in the morning instead, or water around the bases of your plants and keep the leaves as dry as possible.

If you're not sure who's nibbling on your greens but you know it isn't you, visit the National Gardening Association's Pest Identification Library for some great photos that will help you recognize and put a name to the culprits.

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Image 1 ZucchiniRoundMF
http://morguefile.com/archive/display/751277
Image2 BigZucchini_WikiCommons
By Michelvoss (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bf/Zucchini_ausgereift.JPG
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zucchini_ausgereift.JPG
Image3 ZucchiniBlossom_WikiCommons.jpg
Fir0002 at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baby_zucchini.jpg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/Baby_zucchini.jpg