Easter Odds and Ends

I couldn't let Easter slip by without wishing everyone a wonderful holiday. Whatever your religious persuasion, Easter is the beginning of spring activities in the garden and out, so start your -- lawnmowers -- and get ready for another season of flowers and fun in the sun.

I was planning a new herb profile for today (valerian), but I think I'll settle for sharing a few odds and ends that I've been tracking lately:

Hot pepper wars -- According to The Wall Street Journal, the race to develop the hottest pepper is heating up for real. If you've ever tried a Scotch bonnet pepper (habanero) you know it's a scorcher, but it pales in comparison to the capsaicin busting varieties being developed today. Here's an example: The newest (hottest) pepper on record is the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T. It rates a 1.464 million on the Scoville heat scale (concentrations of capsaicins). Compare that to the habanero -- which can be plenty hot. It rates a mere 100,000 to 300,000 on the Scoville scale. Yikes. For a rundown on the latest and hottest in peppers, you can find the article here: The Arms Race to Grow World's Hottest Pepper Goes Nuclear

Here's another goodie you may want to track over the course of the year:
Example of an Indoor Vertical Garden
Vertical landscaping Italian style - If you've been toying with the idea of vertical gardening, there are some really fun and satisfying projects out there that focus on herbs, succulents, vegetables and even mosses. From expensive setups that pump water through a series of plant kiosks, to DIY approaches that uses discarded shoe caddies and old tires, there's something downright clever about making use of wasted space to create a tiered landscape. Hey, I applaud any strategy that makes room for more plants.

The idea of making cityscapes a little greener with vertical gardening is catching on, too. In Milan, Italy, they're embarking on a pilot project that will add exterior plant landscaping to a couple of skyscrapers. Actually, the idea began back in 2008. You can see some of the spectacular artist depictions of what they want to achieve here: Vertical forest’ Skyscrapers Coming to Milan.

The project is slated for completion this year, so you'll probably be hearing more about it as the drama unfolds. Now, wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall as they're installing all those hundreds of trees, shrubs and plants?

Before I sign off to baste the ham and start preparing deviled eggs, I wanted to thank you all for being regular visitors to The Herb Gardener. You make writing a pleasure.

Last minute tip:   Don't toss that decorative parsley. Chop it up and place it in ice cube trays.  Fill the trays with water and freeze.  When frozen, remove the parsley cubes to a freezer bag and use them in your recipes.  No waste.

Photo 1 - By Scott Bauer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 2 - Par Spaceo (Travail personnel) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( ou GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons


How to Grow and Use Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium)

Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) is actually a member of the sunflower family, but it doesn't look it. It's a medium-tall plant made up of many, small, feathery leaves and tiny grouped flowers that have a peppery, sweet scent. Yarrow is an ancient herb with a distinguished worldwide pedigree. In the Americas, native peoples like the Iroquois, Micmac, Mohegan and Cherokee use yarrow in medicinal preparations; the Chinese art of divination, the I Ching, was traditionally cast using yarrow stems; and the herb is named for Achilles (Achillea), the almost invulnerable hero of Greek legend. Before the widespread use of hops, yarrow was used as an ingredient in beer making, and was also one of the ingredients in spells designed to ward off evil spirits. That's a lot of traction for one plant.

Yarrow is hardy, drought resistant and dries well. You've probably seen it in mixed fresh flower arrangements as well as in dried wreaths and arrangements. Although the most common flower color for yarrow is probably yellow, cultivars are available these days in lots of colors from white to pink to peach to deep red. Yarrow is attractive in potpourri and has a number of interesting medicinal uses, too. If you're looking for a new herb to add to your garden collection, consider adopting yarrow. This is a low maintenance plant that has herbal applications and makes a nice addition to the suburban landscape, too.

How to Grow Yarrow

Yarrow is a perennial (zones 3 to 9) that can reach a height of around 60 inches. It flowers in mid-summer and will keep flowering until well into fall. It's a good candidate for any sunny but neglected spot in your garden that's plagued with poor soil and dryer conditions than your pampered flowerbeds. Yarrow spreads quickly too, making it a good fill-in plant where you would usually see weeds sprouting by the end of June.

To give yarrow a good start, loosen the soil to a depth of around 10 inches, and plant seedlings 24 inches apart or so. Although it tolerates neglect, yarrow does prefer soil that drains well, so include sand and other soil amendments if necessary. Fertilize plants in spring, and add a layer of mulch to new plantings if you experience long dry periods during the summer months. After the first killing frost in fall, prune plants by removing most of the top growth, leaving an inch or two if stubble. (Plants will become crowded by the third year and should be thinned.)

Newer yarrow cultivars may be somewhat shorter and more compact. Be sure to check the informational material on the variety you have in mind. Yarrow is typically pest resistant but can be susceptible to powdery mildew. Deer don't like it much, either.

Yarrow Flowers

Yarrow makes a nice addition to a fresh flower bouquet during the summer months. From a distance, white yarrow looks a bit like baby's breath when added to roses. White and pink yarrow are both lovely in mixed bouquets with sage, lavender and calendula, and yellow yarrow is nice in a sunflower bouquet.

Drying Yarrow

Yarrow is easy to dry in batches from late spring to early fall. Here's how: Remove the bottom from a brown paper bag and place flower stems (loosely) inside. Put the bag outdoors during two or three warm afternoons. The bag will keep the flowers shaded, while the open ends will encourage airflow and drying. You can also:

  • Hang bunches upside down in a dark, warm shed (try using a rubber band to snug up the stems)
  • Dry yarrow in a warm (not hot) oven
  • Dry stems in a dehydrator

Dried Yarrow

Using Yarrow in Crafts and Bouquets

I like to use yarrow in wreaths and swags. This is typically a mid to late fall project and uses fresh yarrow stems that dry (with other herbs) right on the wire backing or form I'm using. You can take a look at my wreath making tutorial for more information.  

Dried yarrow also looks pretty added to a simple vase. The flowers retain their color indefinitely.

Individual flower clusters look very nice in potpourri, too -- they're also sturdy and dense enough to retain any added essential oil for quite a long time.

Tincture of yarrow also makes an effective mosquito spray.

Medicinal Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium)

Yarrow is a natural anti-inflammatory and may have some ability to help control blood pressure. It also contains salicylic acid, a drug closely related to modern day aspirin. Historically, yarrow leaves have been used successfully in first-aid (topically) to help staunch bleeding (hemostatic).

Over the years, yarrow has been known by many common names, including: carpenter's weed, wound wort, bloodwort, plumajillo (little feather), thousand leaf, soldier's woundwort, nosebleed plant and sanguinary.

*Herbal yarrow is used to treat a number of minor medical conditions today. Its effectiveness in these treatments is still being evaluated by the medical community:

  • Cramps (sitz bath)
  • Diarrhea
  • Flatulence (with other herbs)
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Hay fever
  • Hemorrhoids (topically)
  • High fever
  • To induce sweating
  • Toothache (by chewing the leaves)

In cosmetics and personal care, yarrow is sometimes used in cleansers and shampoos, too.

In herbal remedies (to treat stomach upset, cold or inflammation), yarrow is sometimes combined with herbs like:

  • Peppermint
  • Ginger
  • Sage
  • Echinacea
  • Lemon balm
  • Elder flower
  • Mullein

*Although yarrow is generally considered safe, it should not be ingested by women who are pregnant or nursing, or by people with kidney or liver problems. It is also contraindicated for individuals who are allergic to plants in the Asteraceae/Compositae family or who are taking lithium. Yarrow may interact adversely with medications that affect blood clotting, or increase or decrease stomach acid. After surgery, yarrow may cause the blood to clot more slowly than normal. Ingesting yarrow can cause increased sensitivity to light. Yarrow also contains small amounts of the compound thujone, which can be toxic in large doses. Check with your doctor or other medical caregiver before making changes to your current course of medical treatment. For more information about side effects and interactions associated with yarrow, visit (see link below).

Yarrow Tea Recipe

The flowers, leaves and stems of yarrow can be used to make a medicinal tea to treat mild respiratory infection and fever. It was once a popular home remedy for colds and flu. The plant can be used fresh or dried. Although yarrow tea is considered bracing, it can taste bitter. Most recipes, like the one below, include sweeteners like honey or sugar.


  • 1 tsp. of dried yarrow (or 3 fresh leaves)
  • 8 oz. boiling water
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice (or one lemon slice)
  • 1 tsp. sugar (or slightly more honey)

Steep yarrow in boiling water for 10 minutes. Add lemon juice and sweetener. Stir.

Drink while hot.


Flora of North America. " Achillea millefolium."

Medicinal Plant Image Database - School of Chinese  Medicine. "Achillea millefolium L."

Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. "Yarrow."

University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. "Growing Yarrow." (7/29/09).

University of Maryland Medical Center. "Yarrow."

WebMd. "Yarrow.">

Photo 1 -
By AnemoneProjectors (Flickr: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) flowers) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 2 -
By Matt Rogers (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 3 -
Rillke [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (, GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons 

Photo 4 - Courtesy of


Tuesday Odds and Ends

You all probably know I write for a living. This requires long hours in front of a computer screen, either typing or researching. It's not too surprising that when I take a break, I head over -- to

If you haven't checked out Pinterest yet, give it a look see. It's a photo based social site that offers a visual peek into what other folks are reading and talking about. You can join for free and set up topic based boards that function like bulletin boards. The site is intuitive and easy to use. You add "pins," or photo links (with captions) to your boards, where they stay until you remove them. Others can take a look at your boards and pin your picks onto their boards if they like what they see. It's easy to develop a core group of people you're following -- or who follow you because you share interests or a point of view. If you want to keep up on the latest in beekeeping, nutritional supplements, gardening, wedding prep or the hijinks of your favorite celebrities, is a great place to do it.

One of the nice things about the site is that you can click on your main page to see at a glance what's new. Whether you have five minutes or an hour to spare, there's almost always something fun on offer from other pinners. It's a passive (and relaxing) way to get the most active access to current information about what interests you.

Check the bottom of this page for links to a couple of my Pinterest boards. They'll give you a good idea of what I'm talking about.

Since the last Odds and Ends post:

Gum may help you think - A study released by the British Journal of Psychology suggests that chewing gum may help in memory retention, especially when remembering a series of things over time (like names or lists). In cognitive tests, participants who chewed gum were better at retaining information. The take away is that you may remember the directions to that new boutique or all the ingredients in a recipe if you chew gum while processing the info. The mechanism responsible for this boost in memory is still being researched. I plan on chewing gum the next time I put my glasses or keys down somewhere.  If this works, it could save me an hour a week, at least.

Grab a tomato to avoid a stroke - Lycopene, an ingredient found in tomatoes, grapefruit and watermelon, may help reduce stroke risk. Lycopene concentrations actually increase when ingredients are heated, so tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce and ketchup are all high in lycopene, too. This is just another instance where eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables (and fruit or vegetable products) will keep you healthier.

The nice thing about adding lots of natural ingredients to your diet is that future research is bound to find more beneficial correlations between wholesome ingredients and good health, so you'll be way ahead of the game.  Don't wait for the press release, start eating smart today. (BTW, you can grow a lot of very good-for-you foods right in your own backyard.)

Hide a house key in your garden - Here's another one you'll like. If you worry about that extra house key you've hidden under the back door mat (or over the door molding), here's a safer solution. Glue a small stone (about the size of a walnut), to a pill bottle. Put the key in the bottle, and then bury the bottle in the soil, leaving the stone in view. The key will be safely hidden in plain sight and virtually undetectable by anyone but you. (This is actually a borrowed Pinterest tip.) I like this recommendation better than buying one of those faux stones with the hidey-hole in the bottom you see in catalogs -- more unique and harder to spot.

Cleanup for spring with vinegar - I wrote a post recently about a safe, ecofriendly cleaning solution using vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Cleaning with vinegar alone is also a good option for removing mold, mildew and that musty smell associated with both. If you dislike vinegar because it smells so sour, don't worry. The odor dissipates as the vinegar dries. It's an effective way to clean your patio furniture, especially cushions that may have a musty odor from overwintering in storage. When you prepare your deck for spring entertaining, don't forget to buy a gallon of white vinegar.  Use it in a 50/50 solution with water. Apply it with a sponge and air dry.  (For dyed fabrics, test a small area for colorfastness before treating.)

Have a great week.


Discovery News. "Gum Helps You Think."

Prevention. " Eat This To Slash Your Stroke Risk."


The Difference Between French Marigold and Pot Marigold (Calendula Officinalis)

I love marigolds. They're cheerful, hardy and colorful. As herbs go, when I find one with relatively large, appealing flowers, it's a keeper. There's some confusion where marigold is concerned, though.

This happens with plants from time to time, which is one reason every plant has a specific scientific (Latin) name. Depending on its geographical origins, a plant may have a dozen or more common names, so common names can be -- confusing. Many plants can have the same name, whether they look alike or not.

The Difference Between Calendula and French Marigold

In the case of marigold, pot marigold (Calendula), a native to Europe, and French marigold (Tagetes), an American native in the same family as the daisy, are very different plants. Calendula is edible and often appears on lists of attractive edible flowers. *Most French marigold varieties are not edible.

Calendula is also a common herbal remedy used in skin preparations (among other uses). French marigold is a nice companion plant in the garden, makes an effective bug spray and looks lovely in a border. It doesn't have the herbal range of calendula. Depending on the cultivars involved, both pot marigold and French marigold can look pretty similar.

If you're filling a flat with spring flowers at your local nursery and come upon a display of wonderful plants marked "MARIGOLDS," you're probably looking at French marigolds (Tagetes).  They're very popular annuals in gardens across the country. They aren't fussy and bloom throughout the summer months. There are also many French marigold cultivars that can look like anything from intricate lemon yellow puff balls to russet daisies.

Your best bet if you're looking for pot marigold is to search for it by its scientific name, Calendula Officinalis. In all likelihood, if your nursery carries it, you'll find it in a small display of herbal or specialty plants.

How to Grow Marigold Calendula

Calendula is also an easy to grow annual. It reaches a height of about 18 inches and has longish, medium green, slightly hairy leaves. Although you can purchase plants, pot marigold is easy to direct sow from seed in spring after the last threat of frost has passed.

Provide calendula with a sunny location and soil that drains well. Although it's tolerant of neglect, when you fertilize it as you would other spring annuals, you'll have brighter, more prolific blooms. Calendula is somewhat drought tolerant, but if you experience punishing summers in your area, provide plants with a little afternoon shade and a layer of mulch. Dead-head plants regularly (remove spent flowers) to encourage flower production. Once calendula is established in the garden, it self-seeds readily and comes back year after year.

When thickly planted, marigold looks attractive and cheerful. It is also available in multiple shades from buttery yellow to dark russet, and with somewhat different petal configurations depending on the cultivar. Online suppliers also offer pot marigold "variety" seed packs with multiple cultivars represented in one packet.

Using Marigold Calendula

Calendula was named for the Virgin Mary, and was once commonly dried and added to winter dishes to give them color and enhanced aroma. It was often added fresh to salads, too. This was at a time when manor house salads could number 100 ingredients or more. It's also a culinary coloring agent. A calendula rinse will color Easter eggs and tint rice and mayonnaise an attractive yellow. It's sometimes called "poor man's saffron." Whole dried flowers retain much of their color, too, and look attractive in potpourri or added to decorative candles.

Medicinal Uses for Marigold Calendula

Calendula is an antibacterial, antiseptic and antifungal. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. You'll find it as an ingredient in herbal skin ointment recipes to treat:

  • Dry skin (It makes a nice moisturizer.)
  • Minor skin irritations
  • Chapped lips (Tried this and it is great)
  • Diaper rash
  • Insect bites
  • Eczema
  • Sunburn

Although research is still ongoing, calendula has been used to treat conditions like fever, nosebleeds, varicose veins, muscle spasms and hemorrhoids, to name a few. At this writing, there isn't enough evidence for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the National Institutes of Health to rate its effectiveness in these treatments. Follow the links at the bottom of this page for more information about other medicinal applications for calendula.

Even though calendula is considered safe, it is contraindicated if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, sensitive to plants in the Asteraceae/Compositae family or are currently taking sedative medications like CNS depressants. For updated information about the safety of herbal preparations, please visit MedLine Plus (a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) or WebMd.

If you think you'd like to make a calendula moisturizer or lip balm, the recipes for both are easy and fun. (I'll walk you through them in an upcoming post.) You might want to try growing your own calendula this season and then supplement your harvest with purchased (dried) calendula flowers, if necessary. If you're just getting into making herbal remedies, dried marigold and dried lavender buds are two versatile ingredients you can use in lots of preparations.

French Marigold
I'll leave you with a quick literary reference. Marigold petals open at sunrise and close at dusk, a habit Shakespeare describes in A Winter's Tale:

    The Marigold that goes to bed wi' the sun
    And with him rises weeping.

*French marigold has a few edible cultivars. If the French marigold you have in your garden -- or are interested in planting -- is not marketed or labeled as edible, then it is probably not safe for human consumption. Don't confuse it with edible calendula.


Clevely, Andi, Katherine Richmond, Sallie Morris, Leslie Mackley. "Cooking With Herbs and Spices. Hermes House. 2003.

 Discovery Health. "Calendula Herbal Remedies." Brett, Jennifer, N.D.>

Garden Guides. "Calendula Flower Information."

Houdret, Jessica. "Practical Herb Garden." Hermes House. 2002.
MedLine Plus. "Calendula." Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health.

WebMD. "Calendula Overview."


Photo 1 -
Wouter Hagens (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 2 -
By Wouter Hagens (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 3 -
By Wouter Hagens (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 4 -
By Johann Georg Sturm (Painter: Jacob Sturm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 5 - By Andrew Bossi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons