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medicinals

opal basil

Speaking of purple plant pigments, the ones in opal basil are responsible for turning aromatic vinegars a beautiful shade of rose, I always look forward to preparing them during the summer.

For all of us who enjoy this lovely plant it will come as a shock that the Greeks believed the herb to be driving men to madness. It is associated with the basilisk and folk tales say one needs to curse and rant when planting it in order for it to grow, because it embodies hatred and anger and it’s born of scorpion’s poison.

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herb harvesting

For a good part of the summer the house is strewn with bunches of herbs hung up to dry. The children disapprove. The cat is reluctant to approach them. The surface below them gets messy.

I keep gathering the fragrant greens, excited by their fast growth in June, and tend to put off grinding and storing them in jars, a task which gets tedious after ten minutes.

By the time I finally resign myself to processing them, the bunches are crunchy and the herbs release their scent freely when crushed, trying to assert their flavors from a distance. The kitchen smells like mint, then thyme, then dill, then lovage, while, slowly, the jars get filled, labeled and stored neatly on the shelves in the pantry. Read more…

herbal cosmetics

I am surprised that yarrow is not used more often in skin care, because it can hold its own with calendula, lavender and chamomile. Yarrow has three qualities that make it useful for beauty regimens: it stimulates superficial circulation, it mends minor injuries and it is astringent.

This gentle cleanser is particularly useful for treating oily skin and hair, and yarrow tea makes an excellent toner or hair rinse. Way back in the day people even believed it to be a cure for baldness, but I wouldn’t go that far. Read more…

goldenrod

I always thought of goldenrod as a dyer’s plant and was surprised to learn that it has medicinal properties.

Its Latin name, Solidago, literally means “to make whole”, and puts goldenrod squarely in the wound healing category. It has other medicinal properties, too, mostly related to improving the kidney and circulatory functions.

Apparently it is edible, but I wouldn’t know about that and will refrain from testing this hypothesis on my long suffering stomach. Read more…

how to grow herbs

You decided to start an herb garden? Here are a few tips. Most herbs like full sun (except a few, like mint and lemon balm) and a sweet soil that keeps moist but drains properly. If your soil is acidic, improve it with lime.

If you decide to grow a perennial herb garden, it is easier to start it from seedlings rather than seed, for two reasons. First, some of the perennial herbs, like rosemary and tarragon need to be started from cuttings anyway, germination is not always reliable and very young sprouts are vulnerable to anything from a late frost to dry spells or unseasonably warm weather. Read more…

working with herbs

Working with herbs is an art and small details in the practice of harvesting and preserving them make the difference between success and failure.

Harvesting:
Always harvest herbs in the morning, right after the dew has dried up but before the heat makes the plants release their volatile oils. Harvest fresh young leaves free of blemishes from areas away from roads and traffic. If you grow herbs for their flowers, always pick the flowers before they fully open. Never harvest plants on rainy days.

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rosemary

When you start looking into its qualities, rosemary can be quite intimidating, it seems to be good for everything: it makes hair grow strong and shiny, rejuvenates skin, boosts memory and concentration, sharpens eyesight, thins the blood and helps lower the risk of cancer. The impressive resume is due to the fact that this blessed plant is rich in iron, calcium, phosphorus, vitamins A, C and B6, folate, and some other plant specific compounds that act synergistically. Read more…

yarrow

A resilient weed, native to the northern hemisphere, yarrow grows wild in open fields and along the sides of the roads, and had only recently gained the privilege to be cultivated in flower gardens.
Don’t judge this humble herb to be ordinary, Achillea millefolium is a well documented medicinal plant, astringent, anti inflammatory and tonic, but above all it has a special gift: it is a hemostatic agent. Read more…

tending the herb garden

All the medicinal plants are in bloom, a rare sight for the herb patch, whose blossoms are usually scarce and short lived.
One might think the herb wheel is a happy go lucky mish-mash of perennials that take care of themselves and require minimal interaction, when in fact it is the exact opposite. You can’t grow an herb garden without giving it your whole heart and your full attention. It needs meticulous care, constant trimming and weeding, it needs to be pristine. Read more…

nature’s antiseptics

There are two strong antiseptics directly extracted from plants: one is tea tree oil, only found in the leaves of the Australian plant, and the other one is thymol, a potent antimicrobial found in thyme and oregano, a substance bee balms also have in abundance.

If you ever brushed against a clump of monardas you surely noticed that their leaves’ spicy fragrance is stronger than any other plant’s from the mint family, mint itself included. Read more…