The scent of lemon balm is warm, citrusy and soothing, a fistful of good cheer on a cloudy day. This resilient herb will thrive in any garden and it is not fussy about the soil, sunlight or water, which is why some came to see it as a symbol for overcoming difficulty. Read more…
Goldenrod starts blooming in late August and it is seen as a signal that the season is changing, hence one of its common names “farewell summer”. It is a graceful tall perennial with tiny and fluffy yellow flowers. Read more…
As we were exploring the wild shores of lake Michigan I stumbled upon large clumps of tansy. This bitter plant, despite its rather unpleasant aroma, was so popular during the Middle Ages that dishes were named after it. They used it in practically any recipe, from egg custard to pancakes. As with many old herbs, a lot of medicinal properties were associated with tansy, some real, some mistakenly inferred. It is a mild digestive and becomes quite toxic in large quantities, especially to pregnant women.
The real gift of tansy is that it is a great insect and pest repellant. It can be very successfully used around vegetable beds to eliminate the Colorado beetle and makes a surprisingly effective mosquito repellant. People used to keep dried tansy bunches on the window sill to keep ants and flies away.
Tansy belongs to the asters family and is quite striking with its round yellow flowers aptly called bitter buttons. It can be used to extract orange coloring.
The plants in the picture looked very happy growing in the sun-drenched sand on the lake shore but I’m sure that regular garden soil will do them just fine. If the bitterness doesn’t phase you, try sprinkling a small amount of finely chopped tansy on a beef casserole or in a batch of pancakes and experience the palate pleasers of ages long ago.
If you haven’t cooked with lovage before I can tell you that you missed out on a very flavorful herb. Even though some people like to compare lovage to celery, it is almost like saying that an apricot tastes like a smaller denser peach. Lovage’s flavor is distinct and greatly appreciated by food aficionados, especially those who claim southern European heritage. This perennial herb brings fresh taste to soups, beans, fish, tomato sauces, pickles, etc. You name it, it goes with it. The Greeks and Romans used it regularly, that’s how old it is, and during the middle ages different healing properties have been attributed to lovage, some real, some not so much. It is true that it is mildly diuretic and vasodilator. This latter quality brings with it a warning: increased blood flow encourages bleeding, so it can create problems for pre-menopausal women and in very large quantities can cause miscarriage. I’m just writing this out of an abundance of caution, because in my many years of familiarity with this herb I never heard any story to back up the previous comment.
If you like lamb soups or stews, cook them with lovage once and you will not consider missing it again. Lovage and lamb is one of those never questioned combinations, like peas and carrots, cinnamon and brown sugar, or pickles and dill.
Lovage is one of the few herbs that don’t mind a little shade. Give it enough water and a rich soil and it will live in your garden for many years. It reseeds easily and mature plants will tower over your herb garden, so be careful where you plant it. It will grow over your head in just a few months.
If the previous qualities were not enough, here comes the icing on the cake. Lovage is a magnet for pollinators and makes a great home for the Black Swallowtail butterfly.
Well, I guess that pretty much wraps it up.
The easiest way to dry herbs is to tie them up in bunches and hang them in a hot dry place with good air circulation, like a well vented attic. When they are dry, crush them into a powder and store them in paper bags, properly labeled. Flowers like goldenrod, calendula and chamomile should be dried on a paper towel placed on top of a grille or rack, so that there is good air circulation underneath. These dried plants are the basic components of your teas, balms and infused oils, so make sure to select clean healthy plants
Basil is a special sacred herb, with uses from scenting of holy water and dressing up icons to seasoning tomato sauces and filling fragrant sachets for linen closets. Girls of older times used to place basil flowers under their pillows to dream who they would marry. This sun loving annual plant with its intense incense aroma has been traditionally used to infuse cooking oils, which is a healthy way to spice up your salad, since basil provides excellent benefits for your digestive tract. It is a wonderful companion plant for tomatoes and peppers, plant them together and they will all thrive and become more flavorful. Pick up the flowers before they ripen because after growing and spreading its seed, the plant will die. The highly fragrant basil flowers, which range in color from white to pink to lavender and purple, will spice up a bath sachet or a linen closet and keep moths away. Keep reading the “Fragrant Sachets of Dried Herbs” section for ways to dry and use basil.