Saturday

Planting Lavender in the Garden

Planting lavender is a nice way to start an herb garden. Lavender is one of those magical herbs that seem to invoke images of a more gracious time. Think of ladies walking through cottage gardens with baskets of herbs and flowers, or garden parties on miles of groomed lawn where water sparkles in nearby fountains and stone birdbaths. In these idylls, lavender is everywhere, and attended to diligently by busy bees that never sting.

Growing lavender in your garden can be another matter, especially if you don't have a full time gardener, and the part time gardener in your universe is you. If you want to grow lavender, keep these things in mind, especially if you haven't had much success in the past.


Foolproof Tips for Planting Lavender in the Garden

English_Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia),Hidcote

Prefer young plants to planting seeds - Lavender seed is slow to germinate (think 2 to 4 weeks, if then), and the sprouts are small and delicate (needy). You'll have much better success choosing a variety you like (there are lots to choose from, but that's a different post), and taking cuttings to create clones. You can do this pretty easily, especially with an inexpensive cloner, and the process is less frustrating than dealing with lavender seed.

Sun and soil - This plant likes full sun and moderately rich soil. It can stand drought conditions, but only after it's established. For the first year, baby young lavender plants by making sure they don't dry out, and if high summer brings punishing heat, provide a little shade.

Dig a big hole - Lavender can send out an impressive network of roots, so give it a large, deep hole. I'm not going to get too specific, but whatever hole you think is large enough, make it half again larger and deeper.

Pay attention to soil depth and consistency - Once you have a few plants, prep your soil carefully. Lavender needs good drainage. Let me say it again for emphasis: Lavender needs GOOD DRAINAGE. Sorry for the yelling, but nothing kills a nice lavender plant faster than wet roots. You can increase your chances of succeeding with this herb by making sure you give it the right soil.

I've written "provide soil that drains well" at least a hundred times on plant posts and in articles, but this time take it as gospel. Most gardens have clay soil, which can be a death sentence for lavender. Add sand, perlite, vermiculite, pot shards, pea gravel or pebbles, but make sure lavender's roots don't stay wet after watering or a good rain. Another option would be to plant on a hill or gentle slope that has good drainage naturally. You will still have to add loosening agents to the soil, but some of the work will be done for you and will act as added insurance.  If you can't easily crumble and flip the soil in the planting hole you're using for lavender, it isn't porous enough.

Wait for warmer weather - Lavender really takes off when the soil warms up in spring. If you're trying seeds or have seedlings from your grower ready to go, keeping them on a heated plant mat will make them happier, as will transplanting them about a week after you install your tomato plants, which should be after the frost free date for your area.

Spanish Lavender (Lavendula Stoechas)  - Also known as French lavender
Air flow can be important, too - Placing plants where there's a breeze but no major buffeting will help insure good air circulation and less chance of mildew growth. You can help this along by keeping plants pruned with a somewhat open shape. Since every part of the plant smells wonderful, pruning shouldn't be a problem. If all else fails, add snipped stems to potpourri.

Give lavender room -  Most lavender varieties can grow to a height of between 14 to 32 inches and reach 14 to 32 inches across. Check the listing on the plants you purchase for a better idea of how large they'll grow. Crowded plants become stressed and are more susceptible to mildew, insect predation and all manner of diseases. Thin seedlings to allow plenty of space between plants: This is important because it encourages good air flow, too.

Humidity can be the enemy - Lavender plants need water, sure, but excess moisture and sometimes even high humidity can be a problem. If you live in a humid location, there are lavender cultivars that are more tolerant of muggy summer days, and your best option is to stick with them. Phenomenal (Lavandula x intermedia, Phenomenal) is one of the more popular, but every year sees new hybrids designed for heat, cold, moisture and pest resistance, so check your seed and plant catalogs for what available this season.

Water wisely - It also helps to water plants in the morning, not in the evening or during the hottest part of the day.

Once established, lavender is pretty hardy, so it won't be a prima donna in the years to come. For the first year or so, though, give it special attention. You'll read that lavender is a pretty indestructible, and that can be true if the above conditions are met. With this classic herb, good prep is the secret to great plants. Planting lavender and cultivating a nice bed of purple blooms can be fun and rewarding. Give it a try.

Photo Credits

Photo 1 - LavenderField  PUBLIC DOMAIN By Dripping artist (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALavendel100%25.JPG http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b0/Lavendel100%25.JPG

Photo 2 - 450px-Lavandula_angustifolia_'Hidcote'_'English_Lavender'_(Labiatae)_flower_Wiki.JPG  By Magnus Manske (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 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ae/Lavandula_angustifolia_%27Hidcote%27_%27English_Lavender%27_%28Labiatae%29_flower.JPG http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALavandula_angustifolia_'Hidcote'_'English_Lavender'_(Labiatae)_flower.JPG

Photo 3 - SpanishLavender_Wiki.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

Spring Garden Prep and More

Catnip emerging after a few warm days
I'm tending indoor seedlings and laying out the garden -- in my head -- this weekend.  It's pretty amazing how nature managed to surrender itself to an impressive deep freeze and an equally amazing turnaround. Lemon balm, catnip, chives, oregano and peppermint are all up in my garden and looking pretty happy.  I'm not taking any chances, though. I've started more seeds than I have in past years in case of losses from the heavy late winter cold weather.


I've included a photo of my seed starting setup.  This is the first year I've found an incubator with such a tall hood (7 inches). Together with a heated mat, it offers plenty of growing room and the warmer soil temperature roots like: Hydrofarm CK64060 Hot House, withHeat Mat A fluffy towel keeps the soil temp in the safe range

The frost free date for my area is the first Saturday in May (the running of the Kentucky Derby). I'm getting some of my seeds in a bit late for that planting date, but that's partly because of shipping delays from one of my suppliers.

Kitchen Scraps and Spring Planting


A big bag of frozen egg shells
For this post, I thought I'd share some tips for spring planting, starting with what I call lazy composting.  I didn't start a compost pile last autumn, so I've begun saving useful kitchen scraps for the garden, including:

  • Banana peels - potassium
  • Egg shells - calcium
  • Shellfish exoskeletons - crab and shrimp shells mostly, for an organic boost
  • Coffee grounds - acid for azaleas and others

Dry banana peel has a tree bark texture
I started my collections right after Christmas. As I accumulated the above, I added them to freezer bags, one for each type (banana, egg, etc).  When I have a goodly amount, I'll dry them in a dehydrator and grind them up. That way they'll be ready to go.

I'll just place a couple of spoonfuls in the planting hole with some potting soil and fill the rest of the hole with regular potting mix and a lucky seedling. I've done this a couple of times, and it works well. The roots grow into the extra bounty, like a care package from the garden, sometime in June. I alter the mixture for different plants, giving more of the shellfish, say, to heavy feeders. You get the idea.  The process isn't very labor intensive, and it's pretty fun.

I make use of my veggie and herb patch year after year, so a little giving back to the soil is in order. I especially like the idea of replenishing trace elements that aren't well represented in most potting mixes and many other additives. My short-cut composting helps, along with regular composting when I can get around to it.

Chives are up
I also add Epsom salt (hydrated magnesium sulfate) to my tomatoes, peppers and roses. A combination of magnesium and sulfur, Epsom salt is a cheap additive. The magnesium can be particularly beneficial to vegetables like tomatoes and peppers, and is easily absorbed when diluted and applied directly to plant leaves (2 tbsp. per gallon of water). Epsom salt enhances photosynthesis, for greener leaves and more robust plants, and helps reduce the occurrence of blossom end rot in tomatoes.

Additives change soil composition, so it's always a good idea to have your soil tested before you start tinkering with it. If you have an overabundance of calcium, for instance, adding egg shells is just silly, same for adding potassium if you have plenty.

Catnip Defense


Rosemary is moving outside after a long winter
Take look at the catnip photo at the top of this post. That tiny mound is my secret weapon against all manner of pests. Fresh catnip smells a little like skunk, and most insects really do not like it. When you plant it downwind of your garden, you'll have fewer insect visitors, and those that do venture in won't be as enthusiastic about staying. Once dried, catnip loses the funky aroma, which is great if you love catnip tea. I have catnip plants all around and through my vegetable patch. If I'm having a particular problem later in the year, I'll even cut long catnip stems and place them around vulnerable plants, or blend fresh catnip and water into a smoothie and pour it on and around plants.

If you have problems with mosquitoes near your deck or patio, a little catnip can help there, too. In some tests, catnip has outperformed DEET 10 to 1 at repelling mosquitoes. Although it can be invasive, and self-seeds readily, I let catnip grow where it wants and just relocate (or discard) any extra. This herb in the mint family doesn't root very deeply and comes up with a simple twist of the wrist.

Here are a few more random thoughts:

  • In a walk around the garden, I took a few photos and have included them. Reemerging plants are pretty beguiling, even for a seasoned gardener.
  •  
  • Here's an oldie, but a goodie: Soak your seeds overnight before planting them. They'll sprout faster and may even be more robust, especially if you've hand them over a year.
  • I'm using craft sticks and permanent marker for my plant identifiers (cut in half crosswise) this year. They seem to be working, with fewer ink (running) problems this time around.
  • Calendula seeds after a long soak
  • Oh, I did want to mention that I had some good luck with early tomatoes last season.  The two varieties I tried, Fireworks and Siletz (60 to 65 days, I think), were either open pollinated or heirloom varieties. I liked them so much, I'm using them again.

Have a great week.

Peppermint is just peeking through a drift of leaves




How to Grow Herb Microgreens and Other Plants


Have you heard of microgreens? They're a little larger than sprouts but not full-fledged seedlings, or what growers call baby greens. When harvested after developing their first true leaves, these tiny, tiny plants are, well, delicious. They have all the delicate flavor of their gown up counterparts, without the bitterness or woodsy, earthy or sometimes smoky flavors herbs and other edible plants develop as they mature. They're light, bright flavors and refined textures exhibit the best traits many of these plant varieties have to offer.

Unlike sprouts, microgreens are really popular in culinary circles right now. If you've been dining in restaurants with fabric tablecloths and mood lighting (lucky you), chances are your side salad or fusion entrée sported a microgreen or two.

As a little background, sprouts have lost favor in recent years because the humid growing conditions they require can also be the perfect breeding ground for bacteria like Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. Actually, there have been food poisoning outbreaks here and in Europe from sprout consumption, and a particularly virulent outbreak in Germany resulted in fatalities.

Microgreens carry some of the nutrient concentrations that made sprouts so attractive, but without the health risks.  Although not true for all plants grown as microgreens, it appears many varieties contain adult concentrations of nutrients compacted into their tasty, tiny leaves -- for up to 5 times more nutrient concentration than you'll find in a like serving of the mature plant. This is nice if you're looking for more bang for your veggie buck, or want your kids to get maximum value in that forkful of salad they're choking down.

Some Reasons to Grow Microgreens


I first found microgreens attractive because the basil and other herbs and vegetables I grew in the garden produced more seeds every year than I could possibly use. Turning the extra into tiny greens was a nice way to avoid wasting the excess. I can grow these greens indoors in winter when my garden is under a foot of snow, while at the same time saving myself a trip to the produce department of my local supermarket (so hate driving in the snow). It's a win, win as the advertising folks say. 

From seed to table ranges between one and five weeks depending on plant variety, which is usually less time than it takes for problems to develop in most indoor seedlings (in my experience, anyway). I can also schedule staggered plantings, so I always have some nice salad or soup ingredients ready to go. From last summer's basil plants, for instance, I harvested enough seed for spring starts and for five microgreen harvests over the fall and winter.

It's a neat way to grow herbs and vegetables that doesn't require a green thumb, a big garden, a huge investment or much know how. It's fun, too. If you like (nearly) instant gratification, growing microgreens is for you. 

What Microgreens Can you Grow?


There are a surprising number of plants that make delicious, tiny greens. Although this list isn't exhaustive, it will keep you busy for a few seasons.

Let's begin with the herbs. These are great candidates:


  • Basil (sweet)
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Dandelion
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek
  • Lemon balm
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Mustard
  • Parsley
  • Rocket
  • Sorrel
  • Tai basil


Other plants that make good microgreens:


  • Amaranth
  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Buckwheat
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Chervil
  • Chia
  • Cress
  • Cucumber
  • Flax seed
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Millet
  • Mustard
  • Pak choi
  • Peas
  • Purple cabbage
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnip
  • Wasabi

How to Grow Microgreens


To grow microgreens, you need:

  • A sunny window that gets at least four hours of bright light a day - For our purposes, "bright" means you can place your hand in the light coming through the window and it casts a hand print shadow. If you don't have enough light, a grow-light setup will also work. Because you will be growing plants only to the seedling stage, fluorescent light works great. Fluorescent fixtures are typically the least expensive plant lights around, too.
  • A pot or tray - I like to use flat seedling trays. In spring, I grow my garden plants in them, too. (Although it isn't essential, especially if you keep your home warm, I like to use a heated mat. Seedlings sprout sooner that way. I remove the mat once plants develop their first two leaves and harvest after the next two or so appear robust and ready.)
  • Potting mix - Just about any variety will work. You can also use vermiculite or coconut (coco) coir.
  • Water mister - You want a variety that produces a very light spray and distributes water evenly.


*You can also purchase microgreen growing kits. These kits eliminate the guess work of starting an indoor microgreen garden, and usually provide a few of the easiest to grow plant varieties to start out with:


This growing strategy works for me:
  • Choose your seeds and distribute them evenly in the potting mix to the depth recommended by the seed supplier.
  • You can plant seeds closer together than recommended -- but don't overlap them.
  • Place the tray in a sunny window and water the media twice daily until ready to harvest. (You want the soil surface to stay moist but not saturated.)
  • To harvest microgreens, snip them just above soil line with a pair of scissors or shears.

 You can certainly start microgreens outdoors in spring and early summer, too. Just follow the instructions on the seed packet, with the small change of being able to plant seeds closer together. Harvest often and enjoy.

I like to add microgreens to bean dishes, soups, stews, salads, omelets and use them to top or garnish casseroles and baked potatoes. They are truly yummy.

Once harvested, rinse and use or refrigerate microgreens immediately. You can store them for up to four days in your refrigerator's vegetable bin, but they will typically begin to lose color and texture within a couple of days. They're delicate.

Note: Many experts recommend using your own garden seeds or organic (untreated) seeds when growing microgreens. This is because there is some concern any fungicide or pesticide applied to the seed may linger on the plants at this early stage of their development.

*As full disclosure, the above are paid links where a commission accrues to The Herb Gardener for any purchase you make.

Photo:

Microgreens_WIkI.jpg   By Lufa Farms [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/Lufa_Farms_Microgreens_in_Trays.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALufa_Farms_Microgreens_in_Trays.jpg

What are the Best Herbs for Chicken



Best Herbs for Chicken
Roasted chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and fiddlehead fern
 So, you have a cut up fryer (which you don't intend to fry), a family pack of split breasts or some boneless chicken thighs. Now what do you do? Why, use the best herbs for chicken to make a memorable meal, that's what!

Chicken with Herbs Can Make a Meal


If you have chicken in your fridge or freezer, you're in good company. In 2013, chicken officially became America's favorite meat, surpassing beef for the first time. The average American consumed nearly 60 pounds of chicken in 2012, and that number is likely to grow as the cost of beef keeps spiraling into the stratosphere.

Sometimes mild ingredients like chicken need a little help to shine, and because many of us eat a lot of this friendly fowl, it can present a challenge coming up with new ways to prepare chicken so it doesn't feel like déjà vu all over again.

That's where herbs and spices come in. They provide the surprise in the mix -- an explosion, fusion or flood of flavor that enhances other ingredients.   Add a strategically placed sage leaf and you have chicken saltimbocca, marry pounded breasts with wine, thyme and mushrooms and you have chicken Marsala. Sure, other ingredients, notably acidic ingredients that can travel deep into meat fibers taking a freight of herby, nutty, smoky, salty or sweet flavor with them, do help. But never forget that the simple addition of herbs provides the easiest, fastest and often most effective way to enhance chicken and create a pretty decent main course for the effort.

Content about herbs can seem little backward to me, like a cook is going to head to the spice cabinet, pick a spice and then figure out what types of dishes he or she can make with it. The situation I usually find myself in is a little different: I open the fridge, remember I've defrosted chicken breasts and then try to discover some new way to prepare them that won't feel like just another Wednesday night dinner at my house. Armed with lots of herbs, it's an exploratory mission -- and usually pretty fun, too.

Let's take a look at some of the herbs that know and love chicken. You'll recognize many of them because they're likely staples in your spice cabinet right now. This year, try planting a few in your garden, too. Fresh is best -- but you probably already know that.

Chicken Herbs
Sage leaf

The Best Herbs for Chicken Dishes



Chives - With a mild onion flavor and delicate leaves, chives work well in almost any savory dish. Sometimes paired with chicken, a top dressing of sprinkled chives makes even fried chicken taste fresher and -- um, onionier.  For the best results, add chives just before serving.

Cilantro - Love it or hate it, cilantro is here to stay. A Tex-Mex staple, the flavor of cilantro wakes up recipes by helping to make the ingredients taste brighter, fresher and more complex than the addition of this frilly leafed green would appear to warrant.

Like many, I enjoy using cilantro -- sparingly.  A little of this herb goes a long way. If you're not sure how you, a family member or guest will respond to cilantro in a casserole, salad, salsa or other dish, cut the amount stated in the recipe in half. You can always add more.

Cilantro seed is known as coriander, which can be confusing. They are rarely used interchangeably. Cilantro is typically called out in Mexican, Tex-Mex and some Asian recipes, and fresh cilantro is overwhelmingly preferred over dried options. Once dried, cilantro loses most of its flavor and nearly all of its distinctive aroma.

If you're a fan, the idea of substituting something else for cilantro may seem like sacrilege, but cilantro detractors will typically substitute flat leaf parsley for a hint of green without the sour foretaste.

Garlic - What can we say; garlic isn't called the king of herbs for nothing. When paired with chicken, it brings out the natural sweetness of the meat. It also manages to turn what could be a one note bird base into a richer, more robust dining experience. Garlic can be used alone in hot and cold chicken dishes, or can be paired with favorites like thyme, sage, rosemary or tarragon. 

Marjoram - A mild cousin to the more popular oregano, marjoram is a savory herb that's well-mannered enough to work well with chicken, and can be paired with other chicken friendly herbs like thyme or rosemary.

Best Herbs for Chicken
Fresh Rosemary and garlic cloves
Paprika - This red pepper with (often) European attitude has more going for it than you may realize. It's probably your default garnish for deviled eggs, but paprika releases much of its rich flavor when it's heated, not sprinkled on cold. That's one reason your fried chicken flour mixtures, chicken barbecue sauces and marinades should contain this complex but not overpowering herb (spice, whatever). If you've ever wished for a hearty, peppery presence, but without the breathtaking heat, give paprika (Hungarian, smoked or Spanish) a try.

Parsley - Parsley is a mild herb often used as a garnish. It's known as a makeshift breath freshener (just chew a few leaves), and as a colorful accompaniment to potatoes and stuffing. Parsley isn't the most exciting of herbs, but it has an interesting ability to bring out the flavors of other ingredients without making a strong statement on its own. I like to add it to the last few minutes of cooking time for stews, soups and sauces that feature chicken, pork or beef. It looks good, smells good and doesn't interfere with the stronger aromas and flavors of herbs like tarragon, sage and rosemary. When added to soups that are heavy on legumes or grains, it has a garden fresh appeal, too.

If I'm experimenting with a recipe for the second time (the first time I follow the directions), I always keep fresh or dried parsley out on the countertop just in case my efforts appear too bland. Flat leaf varieties are preferred. Oh, and parsley has a useful freight of vitamins, minerals and other goodies to offer. They include: calcium, copper, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, protein, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamins (A, B6, C, E, K) and zinc. Making parsley a go-to herbs wouldn't hurt.
 
Rosemary - You love it on roasted fingerling potatoes, but the resinous aroma of rosemary mixes remarkably well with chicken. Especially tasty with skin on chicken recipes, rosemary helps cut the fat and gives chicken (and often gamier dark meat pieces like thighs and legs) an unexpected richness not often found with fowl. Use it under the skin when roasting whole chickens, and try using rosemary stem skewers when grilling chicken or turkey kabobs.

Sage - The go-to herb for sausage and stuffing recipes, sage and chicken are blissful plate mates. The woody taste and somewhat bitter aroma of sage marries well with the neutral flavor of chicken, so much so that most chicken seasoning blends include at least a little ground sage.

Chicken saltimbocca is a classic chicken and sage recipe that uses the whole sage leaf for a pop of flavor. It’s a dramatic example of why these two ingredients work well together to produce dishes that are: mild, woody, subtly rich, tender and juicy.  You'll find sage in powdered, rubbed and fresh forms. With this herb, it's often best to use whichever version a recipe recommends.

Tarragon, French- (Artemisia Dracunculus) - I came to tarragon late in my herb sampling career. I've never been a lover of ingredients that taste like licorice, especially when they're used in savory dishes.  Tarragon is different though: the licorice is a whisper, and blends with earthy notes that are mildly like thyme. Where I thought tarragon would overpower chicken, it actually enhances chicken's creamy texture. I'm a big fan these days, especially for using tarragon in cold chicken dishes and those paired with mustard, mayonnaise or wine.

Best Herbs to flavor Chicken
Tarragon
Here's an easy one. Use this tarragon mustard spread with leftover chicken. Just cube cold, cooked chicken (grilled, boiled or fried) and toss it with the mixture. Add it to your favorite veggies and serve in a pita or pile it onto a green salad.

Easy Tarragon Mustard Mayonnaise Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp. fresh tarragon leaves, minced (*if using dried, 2 tsp.)
  • 1-1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Dash salt
  • Dash pepper

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients, stir and chill.

*Note: You can substitute dried tarragon, but use a third of the quantity, and let the flavors develop in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight before using.

You can also make your own mayo from scratch. I like doing that around the holidays, but usually use prepared mayonnaise and the easy recipe above.

Fresh thyme
Thyme - Pungent and slightly minty, thyme is often used to flavor fish, eggs, pork, poultry and vegetable garden staples like tomatoes and squash. Because it's so versatile, it's easy to forget how important thyme can be for bringing out the earthy qualities of the ingredients it's paired with.  A bit of chameleon, it can be hard to pick out the flavor of thyme in a recipe, but you'll notice when it's not there. Consider using thyme in any chicken dishes that call for wine or include mushrooms.

Although we've hit the highlights, many herbs work with chicken, especially when combined with ingredients like hot peppers, citrus, fish sauce, or hot, sweet ginger. Here are a few others you may want to explore: lavender, dill, savory, bay leaf, saffron, turmeric and cumin.



 Photos

Chicken - By John Herschell [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/db/Pan_Roasted_Chicken_Breasts%2C_Garlic_Mashed_Potatoes%2C_Fiddlehead_Ferns_and_Sauce_Supreme.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APan_Roasted_Chicken_Breasts%2C_Garlic_Mashed_Potatoes%2C_Fiddlehead_Ferns_and_Sauce_Supreme.jpg

Thyme - By THOR (Leeks and Thyme) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALeeks_and_Thyme.jpg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b1/Leeks_and_Thyme.jpg


Tarragon - By Veganbaking.net from USA (Vegan Garlic Tarragon Bread Spread) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a1/Vegan_Garlic_Tarragon_Bread_Spread_%286495779399%29.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVegan_Garlic_Tarragon_Bread_Spread_(6495779399).jpg

Rosemary - By Lan Bui (Flickr: Garlic and rosemary) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d8/Garlic_and_rosemary.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGarlic_and_rosemary.jpg


Sunday

Should you Use Medicinal Comfrey?





Comfrey (Symphytum officinale or the Symphytum uplandica x.)  has received bad press in recent years, but it can still be an herbal secret weapon. The trick is in using it with care, somewhat as you would a prescription medication.

Although the entire plant has been used as a remedy since before the Middle Ages, ingesting comfrey is now considered unsafe. It contains potentially toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids that have been linked to a number of nasty disorders, including cancer and liver damage. It is even considered dangerous to apply comfrey topically to open wounds, or to use it for longer than 10 days in a row, or for long periods, even with breaks in between. The recommendations vary somewhat, but the take away is to use comfrey carefully, only externally, for short periods, and even then only occasionally.

Hmm, sounds scary. Before you set comfrey aside as a bad bargain, though, read on. Allantoin is the beneficial chemical present in comfrey. It's a compound associated with very effective cellular regrowth and repair. Actually, allantoin is used extensively in the cosmeceutical industry today, but that type of allantoin isn't extracted from comfrey. It's produced synthetically.

Recommended Uses for Comfrey


At this time, it's considered okay to use comfrey leaves and leaf extracts topically on small areas of unbroken skin. Comfrey will help reduce pain, inflammation and bruising. It will also speed healing.

Here's an example


Condition: You strained your back and have minor but very distracting and inconvenient lower back pain. Not wanting to visit the doctor to get another prescription for an anti-inflammatory, you apply a comfrey ointment or poultice to the area, replacing it every few hours.

Result: The comfrey reduces the swelling which was placing pressure on your nerves, and the pain dissipates to manageable levels. This happens surprisingly quickly.

Conclusions: Should you check with a doctor if you think an injury may be something more than an uncomfortable inconvenience? Definitely.

Should you take care not to overtax your back (or other area of your body) until it's had a chance to heal completely? Absolutely.

The option of having an herbal aid to help you manage the discomfort is pretty empowering, though -- and convenient, too.

More About Comfrey


Historically, one of comfrey's popular common names was "knitbone," a nod to its ability to reduce the discomfort and healing time of conditions like sprains, strains and even broken bones. A simple comfrey poultice or salve can help treat:

  • Lower back discomfort
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Minor sprains and strains
  • Redness
  • Bunions
  • Dry skin
  • Rash
  • Inflammation
  • Bug bites and stings

As with other herbs with a long history of use that somewhat contradicts current scientific thinking, you're likely to find differing, often passionate, points of view about using comfrey. Health food stores, Amazon.com and others still sell comfrey tea, for instance, even though taking it internally is almost universally discouraged today. It's interesting to note that Comfrey products are available in the U.S., but are now banned in Canada, Australia, Germany and a number of other countries.

For practical purposes, use of comfrey is contraindicated if you are currently taking prescription medications (especially those which pose a risk of liver damage if abused), are pregnant, breastfeeding, are treating a young child or the elderly, or currently have liver problems. One major concern is that comfrey could team up with other meds to cause liver damage where one or the other alone would not. As an example, acetaminophen, the main ingredient in pain medications like Tylenol, is one common over-the-counter drug that's contraindicated when using comfrey.

Rather than list all the possible interactions and other cautions, I'll direct you to additional content you may want to review:


If you still feel using comfrey may be right for you, I recommend trying it to treat a minor strain or back pain using a very simple ointment.

Simple Comfrey Ointment


There are lots of ways to use comfrey externally: You can add it to lip balm, make a cream for burns and inflammation or whip together a compress. You can dry it and add it to a DIY tea bag as a mini poultice for a bunion or bee sting. For your first comfrey experiment, though, I'd recommend an ointment. It'll keep a while, and you can try a comfrey cure for a sting, burn or inflammation easily once the concoction is sitting in your fridge ready to go.

Although the best comfrey ointments include other helpful ingredients (like calendula) and often have a smooth consistency, thanks to the addition of beeswax, our simple two ingredient comfrey ointment recipe uses good old petroleum jelly. I recommend it to newbies because it's stable, easy to work with and convenient.

The best recipes are the ones you actually use rather than just peruse, and nothing makes an interesting recipe more doable than having the ingredients on hand. If you find you like using comfrey, you can move on to other, more ingredient dense preparations later. Consider this a test to see if comfrey lives up to the hype.

This recipe uses dried comfrey. If you don't have any around, you can find it at your local health food store or online.

Simple Comfrey Ointment Recipe

 

For this one, you'll need a double boiler or small crockpot, a couple of heatproof jars, a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth, petroleum jelly and dried comfrey.

 

Ingredients


  • 1 ounce comfrey (about 30g)
  • 1 cup petroleum jelly (250g)

Directions


  1. Melt petroleum jelly in a small (appetizer sized) slow cooler set on low, or use a double boiler.
  2. Add comfrey.
  3. Continue heating the ingredients for a couple of hours. If you are using a double boiler, the water should be at or just below a simmer.
  4. Strain the hot oil through a fine mesh strainer or three layers of cheesecloth. (Take care. The oil will be hot and stick anywhere it lands.
  5. While still warm and liquid, pour mixture into heat resistant containers. (I use 4-ounce canning jars if nothing else seems sturdy enough.)

Keep comfrey ointment in your refrigerator. It will stay viable for six months or so. (Be sure to label it for external use only.)

Apply sparingly, and repeat application every few hours. Take for no more than 10 days in a row.

Growing Comfrey


A winter hardy perennial, comfrey is easy to grow. It does prefer rich, moist soil and full sun, and also tends to hog as much space as it can, so it's a good idea to contain it in a large pot buried in the ground. Growing to a height of about three feet, comfrey's large, hairy leaves can become heavy and tip the plant, especially after a rain. Its lavender to cream colored flowers and deep green foliage make it a nice backdrop for shorter herbs and colorful annuals.

Note: Comfrey will often grow in areas where other, more demanding herbs, will not. So, even if it doesn't get the soil conditions it likes, there's a good chance comfrey will still succeed in your garden without much help. People typically have more trouble getting rid of comfrey than getting it to grow in the first place.

Oh, and planting a little comfrey has more than just medicinal merit. Comfrey grows very quickly, producing an abundance of leaves. When turned back into the soil, those nice, fleshy leaves have nitrogen fixing properties and stores of potassium other plants will appreciate. This means comfrey will help reenergize your soil and encourage other plants to grow better.

Note: A blog post is a snapshot in time intended for entertainment purposes only. Please research this and all herbal topics thoroughly, and consult with your doctor before trying any new herbal or other medical treatment.

Photo Credits

 In the Garden - Trish Steel [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACommon_Comfrey_(Symphytum_officinalis)%2C_Bishopstone_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1360418.jpg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9b/Common_Comfrey_%28Symphytum_officinalis%29%2C_Bishopstone_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1360418.jpg

Plant Specimen - Kate Jewell [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AComfrey_(Symphytum_officinale)_-_geograph.org.uk_-_472623.jpg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/08/Comfrey_%28Symphytum_officinale%29_-_geograph.org.uk_-_472623.jpg

Leaves - Anne Burgess [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AComfrey_-_geograph.org.uk_-_418933.jpg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/11/Comfrey_-_geograph.org.uk_-_418933.jpg

Flowers - Mary and Angus Hogg [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/20/Common_Comfrey_-_geograph.org.uk_-_464218.jpg Mary and Angus Hogg [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons