Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Herb of the Week - Culantro

No I did not spell that wrong, I really mean that we are highlighting 
CULANTRO (Ergyngium foetidum) as the Herb of the Week.

Culantro is not cilantro. It has long leaves with tapered tips and serrated edges. When it comes to flavor, culantro is like cilantro, times ten.

In warmer climates, above Zone 7, the actual cilantro plant can be reseeded and grown commercially, harvesting the leaves as they appear. In zone 7 and below the climate is seasonally ideal for Cilantro so many people buy the plant expecting it to bear leaves for an extended period, but it will not. The reason is true cilantro, in heat, is working to expend it's energies to go to seed, coriander. Leaves are herbs, seeds are spices as a general rule in understanding the difference between the two.

Richard Jung /Getty Images

The solution to a perennial heat bearing cilantro is to plant, Culantro - Ergyngium foetidum. Culantro is a biennial herb grown throughout the Caribbean and Central America, and is a key ingredient in Puerto Rican cooking. It is relatively unknown in the United States, and is often mistaken for its relative cilantro (Coriandrum sativum L.). It is also known by many other names, such as Puerto Rican coriander, Black Benny, saw leaf herb, Mexican coriander, Saw tooth coriander, long coriander, Spiny coriander, Fitweed, and spiritweed. In Puerto Rico it is known as recao. 

It belongs to the same plant family as cilantro, but looks quite different. The long, tough leaves smell very similar to cilantro (with much more flavor) thus making it a respectable summer substitute for cilantro, which prefers cooler weather.
Unlike cilantro, culantro doesn't bolt, it will produce seeds, but the foliage stays aromatic and tasty. It is a tender perennial that can be wintered over in a pot or cut back and mulch over in the fall.

Culantro is the answer for those who enjoy cilantro but live in a hot/warm climate and want fresh all spring/summer and fall.

To Grow

Culantro can be planted in pots or on the ground. If planted in the ground, this herb will continue to reproduce for an almost endless supply. Culantro is relatively pest and disease free. It is rumored to be attractive to beneficial insects such as ladybugs, green lacewings, and to provide an excellent defense in the garden against aphids. 

Growing culantro is like growing lettuce. You plant after frost in the spring, then pick individual leaves until summer’s long days and high temperatures arrive. At that point, culantro, like lettuce, will grow out of its rosette, stretching upward with a fast-growing stalk that will bloom and set seeds. Soon afterward, the plant is usually exhausted and dies. If the seeds are allowed to drop into the soil, it may reseed. However, in areas that experience freezing temperatures in winter, this tender tropical will be killed. Your best bet is to grow it in spring and cut off the flower stalk when it appears in order to encourage continued leafy growth, rather than flowers. It will eventually succeed in flowering, and when it does, the leaves will become somewhat tough and less appealing.

When cultivated, culantro thrives under well-watered, shady conditions. Grown as an annual, it is actually biennial in areas warm enough to let it overwinter.

To Use

In cooking it is used to flavor salsa, softrito, chutney, ceviche, sauces, rice, stews, and soups. To harvest, remove the oldest leaves all the way down to the base of the plant leaving the young new leaves to grow. The leaves can be chopped and used fresh or frozen to keep their flavor.

The appearance of culantro and cilantro are different but the leaf aromas are similar, although culantro is more pungent. Because of this aroma similarity the leaves are used interchangeably in many food preparations and is the major reason for the misnaming of one herb for the other. While relatively new to American cuisine, culantro has long been used in the Far East, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In Asia, culantro is most popular in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore where it is commonly used with or in lieu of cilantro and topped over soups, noodle dishes, and curries. In Latin America, culantro is mostly associated with the cooking style of Puerto Rico, where recipes common to all Latin countries are enhanced with culantro. The most popular and ubiquitous example is salsa, a spicy sauce prepared from tomatoes, garlic, onion, lemon juice, with liberal amounts of chiles. These constituents are fried and simmered together, mixed to a smooth paste and spiced with fresh herbs including culantro.

Equally popular is sofrito or recaito, the name given to the mixture of seasonings containing culantro and widely used in rice, stews, and soups. There are reportedly as many variations of the recipe as there are cooks in Puerto Rico but basically sofrito consists of garlic, onion, green pepper, small mild peppers, and both cilantro and culantro leaves. Ingredients are blended and can then be refrigerated for months. Sofrito is itself the major ingredient in a host of other recipes including eggplant pasta sauce, cilantro garlic butter, cilantro pesto, pineapple salsa, and gazpacho with herb yogurt.

Culantro is rich in iron, carotene, riboflavin and calcium. This plant is widely used as food flavoring and seasoning herb for dishes and chutney in the Caribbean; it is popular in Asia for food use. And to use cilantro solely as a substitute for culantro in your sofrito will only result in an inferior, soulless green paste with no Caribbean whoomph! 

The culantro plant is used in traditional medicines for fevers and chills, vomiting, diarrhea, and in Jamaica for colds and convulsions in children.  The leaves and roots are boiled and the water drunk for pneumonia, flu, diabetes, constipation, and malaria fever. The root can be eaten raw for scorpion stings and in India the root is reportedly used to alleviate stomach pains. The leaves themselves can be eaten in the form of a chutney as an appetite stimulant.


Sofrito is a versatile, aromatic mixture of herbs and vegetables used as the foundation for many Latin Caribbean dishes. There are many variations of this recipe. If you wish to prepare your sofrito with ingredients that are easy to find in any grocery store try the basic sofrito recipe. Store sofrito in a glass container in the refrigerator for immediate use or freeze sofrito in 1/4 to 1/2 cup portions for use at any time.

Basic Sofrito
2 medium green peppers, seeds removed
1 red sweet pepper, seeds removed
2 large tomatoes
2 medium onions, peeled
1 head of garlic, peeled
1 bunch cilantro leaves
1/2 bunch parsley leaves

Chop and blend all the ingredients in a food processor or blender.

In the recipe below ajíces dulces (also called cachucha or ajicitos) are small sweet peppers with a hint of spice. They look very similar to habaneros, but aren't spicy.

Special Sofrito

2 medium Cubanelle peppers, seeds removed
4 to 6 ajíces dulces, seeds removed
1 red sweet pepper, seeds removed
2 large tomatoes
2 medium onions, peeled
1 head of garlic, peeled
1 bunch cilantro leaves
4 culantro leaves

Chop and blend all the ingredients in a food processor or blender.

Green Rice
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno chile pepper, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh culantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsely
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup long-grain white rice

 Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and jalapeno and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, salt, culantro, and parsley and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender with 1/2 cup of broth. Blend until smooth and set aside. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until translucent, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the herb puree and cook, stirring, to evaporate most of the liquid, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups broth, stir, cover, an reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, without stirring, until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve, garnished with additional cilantro.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

8 Herbs and Spices for Herb and Spice Day with recipes

My long held belief that cooking with herbs and spices is a great way to add new life to any dish, is finally gaining ground. In fact we now have a national day to celebrate Herbs and Spices. Today, June 10, is National Herbs and Spices Day, the perfect time for me to advocate the growing and using of herbs and spices.

I have been telling people in lectures and programs that a hint of herbs or the flavor of spices will make someone’s feel more satisfied with less food.

I stumbled over a recent study funded by the McCormick Science Institute found that replacing sodium with other seasonings is much more effective than trying to cut out salt by willpower alone. Participants in a trial were able to reduce sodium intake by nearly 1,000 milligrams per day if they substituted different spices. No specific type was studied, but simply adding flavor alternatives allowed people to cut back on salt without sacrificing taste, making it easier to stick to their diets.

A similar study from the University of Colorado used herbs and spices to fix up low-fat meals. Volunteers rated the low-fat but high-flavor meals about as highly as the full-fat varieties. Interestingly, they did not enjoy individual pieces of the meal as much, but taken as a whole they were still satisfied. These studies show that seasoning can make food as appealing as more decadent ingredients, without the added guilt.

So today I am sharing  8 of my favorite herbs and spices each with a recipe you can enjoy this summer.

Rosemary – a great roasting herb, this time of year rosemary is gentler with a lot of green growth, and older plants are in need of trimming which can be used to make flavored smoke on the grill. Rosemary is a woody herb with fragrant evergreen needle-like leaves that are very aromatic and has a faintly lemony piney scent. The fresh and dried leaves are used in meat dishes and also sauces and frequently found in traditional Mediterranean cuisine; they have a bitter, astringent taste, which
complements a wide variety of foods. A tisane can also be made from them. When burned they give off a distinct mustard smell, as well as a smell similar to that of burning which can be used to flavor foods while barbecuing. Rosemary is extremely high in iron, calcium, and Vitamin B6. Avoid consuming large quantities of rosemary if pregnant or breastfeeding. Delicious in lamb dishes, in soups, stews and to sprinkle on beef before roasting.

Rosemary Lemonade
Lemons, sliced

A few sprigs of woody-piney rosemary highlight a pitcher of regular spiked lemonade with the enchanting scent of the forest. Steep rosemary in lemonade spiked with gin to make this gorgeous beverage. It's a simple, straightforward crowd-pleaser that's low on kitchen time and still high on the wow factor. Serve garnished with sliced lemon and a rosemary sprig to use as a stirrer. 

Cilantro – An herb that is also a spice.  Once spicy flavored cilantro it makes seed the seed is known as coriander, a spice.  This time of year the cilantro is growing bushy and is perfect for making a fresh salsa. Coriander is probably one of the first spices used by mankind, having been known as early as 5000 BC. The Romans spread it throughout Europe and it was one of the first spices to arrive in America.  Coriander is not interchangeable with cilantro, although they are from the same
plant. Ground Coriander seed is traditional in desserts and sweet pastries as well as in curries, meat, and seafood dishes with South American, Indian, Mediterranean, and African origins. Add it to stews and marinades for a Mediterranean flavor.  Available whole or ground, this warm, aromatic spice is delicious with most meats, particularly lamb.

  • 1 (12-ounce) can stewed tomatoes with juice
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic
  • 3 whole fresh jalapenos
  • 1 whole medium white onion
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 to 6 fresh Roma tomatoes
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • Tortilla chips
Puree stewed tomato juice only, garlic and 2 jalapenos in a blender or processor. Finely chop the onion, 1 jalapeno, 2 to 3 tablespoons of cilantro and 4 to 6 Roma tomatoes. Roughly chop the stewed tomatoes. Mix all these ingredients in a large bowl. Season with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and lime juice. Serve with chips. 

Sage – Peppery-tasting, slightly bitter taste - sage has large,slightly furry leaves when fresh. In Western cooking, it is used for flavoring fatty meats, such as beef (especially as a marinade), cheeses (Sage Derby), and some drinks. In the United States,Britain and Flanders,sage is used with onion for poultry or pork stuffing and also in sauces. In French cuisine, sage is used for cooking white meat and in vegetable soups. Germans often use it in sausage dishes, and sage forms the dominant flavoring in the English Lincolnshire sausage. Sage is also common in Italian cooking. Sage is sauteed in olive oil and butter until crisp, then plain or stuffed pasta is added (burro e salvia). In the Balkans and the Middle East, it is used when roasting mutton. Dried sage goes particularly well with pork or in pasta sauces and in stuffing. It has a very strong flavor, so use in moderation or it will overpower the dish. Great for meat and poultry stuffing, sausages, meat loaf, hamburgers, stews and salads.

Boursin Cheese Dip
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh Greek or Italian oregano, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh sweet marjoram, finely chopped

Fluff the cream cheese with an electric mixer or a fork. Add lemon juice, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and dry mustard and mix well. Use a fork to stir in the chopped fresh herbs- do not use the mixer here. Place in a small bowl, cover and refrigerate. When ready to serve, bring to room temperature. Makes 1 cup.

SpearmintMints are aromatic herbs. There are over 30 different varieties of mint and their flavors all vary. Fresh mint is usually preferred over dried mint when storage of the mint is not a problem. The leaves have a pleasant warm, fresh, aromatic, sweet flavor with a cool aftertaste. Mint leaves are used in teas, beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, salads and with vegetables and ice creams. In Middle Eastern cuisine mint is used on lamb dishes. In British cuisine, mint sauce is popular with lamb. Mint essential oil and menthol are extensively used as flavorings in breath fresheners, drinks, antiseptic mouth rinses, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts, and candies. The substances that give the mints their characteristic aromas and flavors are menthol. The compound primarily responsible for the aroma and flavor of spearmint is R-carvone. Methyl salicylate, commonly called "oil of wintergreen," is often used as a mint flavoring for foods and candies due to its mint-like flavor.

Mint Fruit Dip  
This is a cool, refreshing salad that’s sure to be a hit during the hot days that will be here soon.

• 2 cups Greek yogurt
• 1 teaspoon honey
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
• 12 fresh mint leaves, chopped

Mix together all ingredients. Cover and store in refrigerator. Dip your strawberries, apples and anything else you have in this dip and kick back with a nice Pinot Grigio.

PepperPepper is the world's most popular spice; a berry grown in grapelike clusters on the pepper plant. The berry is processed to produce three basic types: black, white, and green. Black is the strongest (slightly hot with a hint of sweetness) flavor of the three. White peppercorn is less pungent.Black and white are available whole, cracked, and ground. Green peppercorns are packed in brine and are available in jars and cans. Whole peppercorns freshly ground with a pepper mill deliver more flavor than pre-ground. Goes well with cheese, eggs, fish, game, lamb, pork, poultry, salad, sausages, soup, steaks, strawberries, tomatoes, veal.

Hot Corn Dip
2 tablespoons butter
3½ cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup finely chopped white onion
½ cup finely chopped red bell peppers (find this in a jar)
¼ cup chopped scallions
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
½ cup mayonnaise
4 ounces Monterey jack, shredded
4 ounces sharp Cheddar, shredded
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Tortilla chips or Fritos Scoops for dipping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the corn, salt, and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the skillet. Add the chopped white onions and bell peppers and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes. Add the green onions, jalapeno, and garlic. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Transfer to the bowl with the corn. Add mayonnaise, cayenne pepper, half of the Monterrey jack and half of the Cheddar and mix well.  Pour into an 8-inch square baking dish, or equivalent and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake until bubbly and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve hot with chips.

PaprikaPaprika is a spice made from the grinding of dried Capsicum (e.g. bell pepper) and can be sweet to hot and also somewhat bitter. Paprika is principally used to season and color potato or egg salad, deviled eggs, rice, stews, and soups, such as goulash and in the preparation of sausages as an
ingredient that is mixed with meats and other spices. It is often smoked to draw additional flavors. In Spain, paprika is known as pimento, and is quite different in taste; pimento has a distinct, smoky flavor and aroma, and is a key ingredient in several sausage products, such as chorizo or sobrasada, as well as much Spanish cooking.

Southern Style Grilled Barbecue Chicken Wings
Makes about 2 dozen wings

1/2 cup salt
2 lbs chicken wings, wingtips removed
2 tsp corn starch
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper

For barbecue sauce:
1 8-oz. can of tomato sauce
1/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt


Pre-heat your propane grill on medium-low. Place chicken wings in a bowl with salt and 4 cups of cold water. Allow to brine in the refrigerator for 30 min. In the meantime make rub by mixing the rest of the ingredients and set aside. Make the barbecue sauce by mixing all of the ingredients and bringing it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes and set aside. Drain chicken wings and dry with a paper towel. Toss with the dry rub in a separate bowl until evenly coated. Grill wings on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes per side until browned and crunchy. Then place in a large bowl and add half of the barbecue sauce, making sure it is coated evenly. Bring back to the grill and grill on each side until caramelized and slightly charred, about 2 minutes per side.

If you prefer more barbecue sauce, toss the wings back in the bowl and add the rest of the sauce. Otherwise serve as is.

Nutmeg– with nutmeg you actually get two for one.  Each nutmeg “nut” is covered with a material that is actually mace. Nutmeg and mace have similar taste qualities, nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate, warm, sweet and spicy flavor. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it imparts. Nutmeg is a tasty addition to cheese sauces and is best grated fresh. Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled cider, mulled wine, and eggnog. It is used in cakes, cookies and also sprinkled on sweet potatoes.Mace is the aril (the bright red, lacy covering) of the nutmeg seed shell. Mace is somewhat more powerful than Nutmeg. Mace is a lighter color and can be used in light-colored dishes where the darker flecks of nutmeg would be undesirable. A small amount will enhance many recipes, adding fragrance without imposing too much flavor. Mace
works especially well with milk dishes like custards and cream sauces. It contributes to flavoring light-colored cakes and pastries, especially donuts. It can enhance clear and creamed soups and casseroles, chicken pies and sauces. Adding some to mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes creates a more interesting side dish. 

Mini Apple Pie

8 cups of apples, cut in small 1/2 pieces.
12 tablespoons of flour
1 1/2 cup of sugar
4 heaping teaspoons of cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg (depending on how much you like nutmeg)
4 tablespoons of chilled butter cut into 24 equal portions.
two boxes of Pillsbury pie crusts (four chilled NOT frozen crusts)

Start by cutting up apples into small 1/2 in bits. Mix apples with flour, cinnamon, sugar, and nutmeg.  Unroll your first pie crust and cut several circles out. Continue this until you have enough crusts. A wide mouth mason jar ring cuts the perfect sized circle. Line each cup of your muffin tin with a tiny pie crust. Gently fill the crusts with your apple mixture You should be able to fill until slightly mounded. and put a dab of butter on each pie. Cover as desired with left over dough. Brush with melted butter and bake at 400 for 18 to 22 minutes. Recipe makes 24 mini pies.

Thyme – for summer cooking, especially grilling, I recommend the stronger flavor. The leaves are stems of a shrub grown in France and Spain.  Has a strong, distinctive almost minty or lemony flavor.  A delicate looking herb with a penetrating fragrance, thyme is a wonderful addition to bean, egg and
vegetable dishes.  Fresh thyme should be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. Dried thyme should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months. Thyme, either in its fresh or dried form, should be added toward the end of the cooking process since heat can easily cause a loss of its delicate flavor. Add thyme to your favorite pasta sauce recipe, stews, in stuffing for chicken, in green salads and with vegetables. Fresh thyme adds a wonderful fragrance to omelets and scrambled eggs. Hearty beans such as kidney beans, pinto beans and black beans taste exceptionally good when seasoned with thyme. When poaching fish, place some sprigs of thyme on top of the fish and in the poaching liquid. Season soups and stocks by adding fresh thyme.

 Branch Dressing 

¼ cup dill sprigs
¼ cup parsley sprigs
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
¼  medium shallot
½ clove garlic
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Splash of Tabasco or other hot sauce
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup canola oil
¾ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons powdered buttermilk

Puree all of the ingredients in a blender until very smooth. Refrigerate the dressing for at least an hour to allow it to thicken.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Monthly Bath Blend - Honey Basil Bath

June is a great time to harvest the tips of basil plants.  Each snip you take from the basil this early in the season will make the plant that much bushier later in the summer. Save those tips and dry them on a paper towel.  Once dry, in a day or two, craft this great bath that will repair and moisturize dry skin.

purple basil is great in this!

Honey Basil Bath

1 1/2 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup Epsom salt
1/8 cup baking soda
2 Tbls. cornstarch
1/2 cup rosemary, dried
1/2 cup basil, dried and crumbled
1 cup oatmeal

Combine ingredients and store in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

Add 1/2 cup of honey to tub while water is running.  Place ½ cup of herb mixture in a cloth or lace bag and hang under the tap while the tub continues to fill.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Santolina - Herb of the Week

I chose a bug repelling herb for this week's herb of the Week: 
         Santolina  or Lavender Cotton 
        (Santolina chamaecyparissus)

A popular colonial herb for repelling insects it is still popular among the Pennsylvania Dutch.  Native to the Mediterranean, like so many of today’s herbs, it was especially common in North Africa.

It was a traditional herb for eye health. Grey santolina – also known as lavender cotton – is sometimes used in herbal medicine; and it has been used as a natural dye, in potpourris, as a moth repellent, and as the source of an essential oil. 

Since Elizabethan times it has been fashionable to keep Santolina clipped into tiny hedges for knot gardens.  The feathery foliage and the shrub-like growth make it a perfect plant for a clipped edging.

To Grow

A half-hardy evergreen shrub with a three-foot spread and yellow button flowers and feathery deep-cut foliage.  Coming in two colors, bright green S, vand silvery gray from a distance it looks like cotton, giving it the common name ‘ Lavender Cotton.’ The silver gray variety is often used in moon gardens as it picks up and reflects moon light very well.

Sow seed in spring in a greenhouse. Does not require pre-treatment. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant seed indoors 8 weeks before your last Spring frost date.  Wait until all danger of frost has passed to transplant the seedlings outdoors.  It can also be grown from cuttings of half-ripe side shoots, 2 to 4 inches long with a heel, place in a cold frame in July/August. Roots within 2 weeks. The heeled cuttings can also be placed directly into the open garden in early July and should be well-rooted by the winter. Root division can be done in spring or autumn. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found it best to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame, planting them out once they are well established in the summer. Layering can also be used to graft new plants or to fill holes in a hedge.

To raise Santolina, you need six hours of full sun a day and a sandy soil.  If your soil conditions are not already sandy, you can make a soil mixture of 2 parts garden soil, 2 parts peat moss, 2 parts sand and 1 part compost.  Dig a whole for each plant that is twice the size of the root ball.  Set the plant in the hole and fill in the surrounding area with the soil mixture.  Tamp it down and soak with warm water, then let nature do the rest of the watering.

Space the plants 18 to 24 inches apart in a garden bed, or 12 to 15 inches if you are creating an edging or fence.  The plant will need regular clipping in Spring and summer.  Avoid cutting it back in fall as that will limit its ability to survive winter weather.  You can grow it in a container outside, but it generally does not live through the winter indoors.

To Use

The grey santolina, S. chamaecyparissus, is the one usually mentioned in the herb literature. It has a variety of little known uses. For example, the leaves are used for flavoring broths, sauces and dishes, but no doubt the taste is an acquired one. Probably it is best used sparingly at first until you get a feel for what it can contribute to a dish. Lavender cotton is sometimes used in herbal medicine; and it has been used as a natural dye, in potpourris, as a moth repellent, and as the source of an essential oil. 

The leaves and flowering tops are antispasmodic, disinfectant, and stimulant. Lavender cotton is rarely used medicinally, though it is sometimes used internally to treat poor digestion and menstrual problems. When finely ground and applied to insect stings or bites, the plant will immediately ease the pain. Applied to surface wounds, it will hasten the healing process by encouraging the formation of scar tissue. The leaves and flowering stems are harvested in the summer and dried for later use.

You can pot up the silver/gray Santolina and bring it inside into the shape of a Christmas tree.  In a sachet it will repel moths. A foot bath with Santolina will relax and soothe feet after a hike or day of shopping. You can lay the branches in drawers under carpets and in closets to deter moths and other insects.

Santolina makes a great base for herbal wreaths and the yellow flowers add great color to potpourri. Santolina is generally not a culinary herb and internal use should be avoided. One warning if you plan to experiment with santolina as a culinary herb: bruised santolina leaves are known to cause severe skin rashes in sensitive people. 


Foot Bath
4 - 10 inch branches of fresh santolina
2 quarts hot water
1 Tbls. olive oil or caster oil

Place herbs in a basin and crush with the back of a spoon.  Pour in hot water and oil.  Place feet in basin and cover with a towel.  Relax for about 10 minutes, then dry your feet.

Moth Bag Recipe
1 part wormwood
1 part spearmint
1 part santolina
1 part rosemary
1/4 part crushed coriander

Dry and crumble the ingredients, mix together and place in a muslin or cotton bag.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Beeswax Lip Balm - Weekend Recipe

This Saturday I am in Wisconsin at an Herb Fair put on by the Wisconsin Unit of the Herb Society of America.  Held at the Boerner Botanical Gardens 9400 Boerner Drive Hales Corners, WI 53130 (near Milwaukee)

It is the second show this month where I will be outside in the sun all day.  The hardest part is drinking enough water when it is warm.  If I do not the sun and the dehydration make my lips brittle.  I started making this plain beeswax lip balm to wear outdoors when doing these shows and gardening.  It is protecting to your lips, keeping them soft.

Balm for Lips
Makes 1 ½ ounces

• 2 tablespoons grated beeswax
• 1 teaspoon sunflower oil
• 1 teaspoon apricot kernel oil
• 1/8 teaspoon vitamin E oil

On a stove or in a microwave, gently heat beeswax and oils until melted; be careful to not overheat. Stir well to combine. Pour into a small, clean container, then cool completely.  You can add essential oils by the drop as it cools or flavored extracts if you want, but I like it plain in the summer.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stinging Nettle - Herb of the Week

Recently I have been in three conversations about the benefits of Stinging Nettle, so I decided that it was time to research it for the herb of the week.

This week's Herb of the Week is Nettle, Stinging (Urtica dioica)

Found all over the world.  It is widespread on wasteland, especially on damp and nutrient-rich soil.  The scientific name comes from the Latin "uro" meaning I burn.  There are compounds in the leaves and sap called formic acid and histamine which cause allergic reactions in some that sting and cause blisters and hives.   Despite this drawback it was a popular plant in several countries.  In Scotland the plant was used to create a linen-like cloth that was used for sheets and tablecloths. It also has a history of magic, being associated with elves marking their dwelling place and as a protection against sorcery.  It was also used to protect milk from house trolls or witches.  In the 1600s it was discovered in New England having been brought over accidentally by early settlers, it became instantly naturalized. The common name stinging nettle is an Anglo-Saxon word for needles.  

To Grow
female flowers

Male flowers
Stinging nettle is the scourge of the gardener and the farmer because the leaves have the ability to cause a burning pain followed quickly by itching.  This is caused by a combination of chemicals in the leaves and hairs on the leaves. A tough spreading perennial, the stem will grow to 5 feet, and the root is much like mint and can spread infinitely.  Hardy to Zone 3, this plant really can grow just about anywhere. The male and female flowers are on separate plants and the plant wind pollinates so its flowers are not showy because there is no need to attract pollinators. The female flowers hang down in clusters, the male flowers stick out.  The color for both is yellowish green and they appear in mid to late summer.  They are actually located at the base of the leaves near the top of the plant. The leaves are dull green, with toothed edges covered on the underside by the stinging hairs.  This is the variety that can be eaten when young.

Nettles can be grown from seed sown in the spring.  But I am sure any one of your friends with a garden would be happy to give you a root.  Divide established roots early in spring before they out on much leaf growth, and the sting is least strong.  Stinging Nettle looks bushy, but it is actually an individual stalk with no branches.  The roots spread underground runners that generate new stalks giving it a bushy appearance.

The plant prefers a rich soil a bit on the moist side, however, it can grow just about anywhere and waste ground, field edgings, by ruins or pretty much in any nitrogen rich soil will support Stinging Nettles.  They are rather plentiful in the wide so in some areas it is not always necessary to grow your own. Be careful when dividing existing plants, as you can feel the plants wrath.

The plants will need to cut back in the summer to keep them from being invasive.  Before frost you want to cut them down hard to the ground.  They are fully hardy and will have no trouble returning in Spring.

To Use

The earliest uses of Stinging Nettle was as cloth.  Archaeologist found nettle fabric in a Bronze Age burial site in Denmark.  It was assumed it had medicinal properties in ancient times as well.  it was believed to be an antidote to other poisonous herbs, like henbane.  Seeds and flowers were used to create a tonic in wine that was taken to combat fevers accompanied by chills. 

Although they do cause some people unpleasant harm (I am one of those people!) Nettles are useful in the garden attracting butterflies and moths and making an excellent caterpillar food. 

A tea crafted from the leaves was combined with a sweetener to make an expectorant.  The tea is said to stimulate the kidneys, rid the body of worms, cure diarrhea, stop internal bleeding, and purify the blood. Nettles are high in vitamin C,which may account for years of using it as a spring tonic. A tea from the leaves has also been used to curdle milk in making cheese. 

Only young leaves of Nettle can be eaten.  Do not eat old plants uncooked.  Young shoots won’t sting and some people have consumed them raw, tossed into a salad.  The greens can be cooked much like kale or spinach.  Once boiled the hairs are rendered harmless. 

However, they should not be eaten in excess as they can produce kidney damage and symptoms of poisoning.  The plants must be cooked thoroughly to be safe.

It is worth the trouble of cooking them to eat, as they are rich in vitamins and minerals.  Whole plants will yield a week greenish, yellow woolen dye. It has a reputation for helping with hair loss and making the hair soft and shiny, as well as eliminating dandruff. 

The herb is considered a boost to other herbs increasing their essential oil.  It was even fed to livestock and chickens to increase the nutritional value of the meat and eggs. It is very high in nitrogen so making a strong nettle compost liquid can be used to fertilize the garden.  You can also compost it thus enriching you compost.  Take a bucketful of nettles, pour rain water over them and let soak for a week.  Strain the liquid and put it in a spray bottle, then spray on aphid infected plants to repel these damaging insects.  You can also pour the liquid into your container plants as a fertilizer.


Nettle is an herb used in many different types of preparations, as a result I have suggested recipes using it in the past several times.  Here are a list of other recipes to look at too:

Cough Relief Tea

Herb Remedies for Hair issues

Summer Body Splash

Nettle Soup 

1/2 lb. young nettle leaves
2 ounces oil or butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 lb. cooked potatoes, peeled and diced
3 3/4 cups of milk
1 tsp. marjoram, fresh chopped
1 tsp. sage, fresh chopped
1 tsp. lemon thyme, fresh chopped
1/2 tsp. lovage, fresh chopped
2 Tbls. cream
2 Tbls. flat parsley, chopped

Pick only the young nettle leaves, and wear gloves to remove from the stalks and wash them.  Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the chopped onions, slowly sweat them until clear.  Then add the nettles and stew gently for about a further 10 minutes.  Add the chopped potatoes, all the herbs, and milk and simmer for a further 10 minutes.  Allow to cool then put all the ingredients into a food processor and blend.  Return to a saucepan over gentle heat.  Add a swirl of cream to each bowl and sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top.  Serve with French Bread.

Nettle Rinse and Conditioner 

Use this as a final rinse after washing your hair or massage into your scalp and comb through the hair every other day.  Keep it in a small bottle in the refrigerator.

1 big handful of fresh cut nettle stems with leaves
1 pint of water

Wear rubber gloves to cut the fresh nettles.  Wash thoroughly and put the bunch into an enamel saucepan with enough cold water to cover.  Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Strain the liquid into a jug and allow to cool.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Angelica - Herb of the Week

Recently I was researching an article for Wisconsin Herbalist Magazine.  I was writing an article on Herbs for Saints.  I came across this herb in my readings and decided to make it my 

Herb of the week - Angelica (Angelica archangelica)


Also known as European Angelica or Root of the Holy Ghost, this tall, sweet-smelling herb resembles its close relative parsley and cilantro, but with a much taller more branchy and thickly stemmed look.  You can candy the stems and use as a cake decoration and dry the seed, leaves and root to use in healing teas.  The seeds of this plant are used to flavor gin.  In the evening a light breeze will carry the light sweet scent of the flowers, so do not plant too far from your back door or porch so you can enjoy this pleasant smell.

Historically this northern European native was thought to ward off evil spirits.  It figured prominently in pagan ceremonies and may have gotten its scientific name from the fact that it flowers around May 8 the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel.

To Grow

This a biennial you can train to be a short-lived perennial that lives no longer than 4 years.  It does well in zones 4 through 9.  It will grow as tall as 8 feet and can in the second year spread to 3 feet.  Also in the second year it flowers in late spring with dynamic flower heads that look like great rounded Queen Anne’s lace umbrels.  The greenish white sweetly scented flowers are its most striking attribute.  The leaves are bright green and large with shapes differing from bi- or tri-pinnate.
growing wild in Alton, IL
This plant can be grown from seed or planting out seedlings in autumn. Sow the seed uncovered as angelica needs light to germinate.   You also need to grow the pant from fresh seed, so if you are not planting it shortly after seed, you will need to keep the seed in the refrigerator to keep the seed viable. You can sow seeds indoors in early spring in peat pots placed in plastic bags in the refrigerator after 6 to 8 weeks place in bright indirect light at 60 degrees F.  Angelica transplants poorly so it is sometimes better to just sow the seed in the fall where you want it to grow.  Once the seed has sprouted thin to 3 feet apart.  This plant needs large amounts of water so watch for the leaves to turn yellowish green as a sign that water is needed.  It will thrive in the shade and needs a large amount of space to grow.  It is great as a border plant and looks stunning against a wall.  It needs a deep and moist soil.  It is good to add mulch and /or compost around the plant to help the soil retain moisture.

The plant will die back at the onset of winter, but new shoots will come up early in the spring.  Angelica will bloom in the second or third year in June or July.  The flowers in a greenish color, resemble fennel blossoms and are honey-scented. Once seed is set in the second year, the plant will die.  If your cut the plant back in the autumn and remove the seed heads before they set seed, you can keep the plant living for up to 4 years.  It will also self-seed in the same location if allowed to set seed.

To Use

During the second year cut the stems and use them for crystallizing.  For use in salads cut the fresh new leaves up until the time the plant flowers. Use these leaves also to dry for culinary and medicinal uses. Collect seeds when they begin to ripen.  Harvest roots for use medicinally in the second autumn immediately after flowering and dry. Cut the stems at a node (where the leaf attaches to the stem) several inches above the ground.  Strip the leaves from the cut stems.  When harvesting seeds enclose the whole seed head in tissue or muslin when nearly ripe to prevent shattering.  Use a spading fork to dig up the roots, but do so in dry, not rainy weather.

Angelica is now best known as a decorative confectionery for cakes.  Homemade, pale green candies angelica tastes and smells similar to the freshly bruised stem or crushed leaf of the plant.  If you like rhubarb, but want to use less sugar, add a few young angelica leaves and the muscatel flavor will cut the acidity of rhubarb making it seem sweeter.

There is some research to suggest that Angelica is either a carcinogen or an anti-cancer compound.  The scientific research is continuing.

Medicinally Angelica stimulates circulation. It is also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.  The young leaves can be made into a tea whose flavor resembles black China tea.  If you drink a tea made with Angelica before bed to reduce tension.  It is also good for treating nervous headaches, indigestion, anemia, coughs and colds.  You can also use it in bath preparations to assist with exhaustion and rheumatic arthritis pain.


Candied Angelica
  angelica stems
  granulated sugar

  caster sugar (powdered) for dusting

Choose young tender springtime shoots.  Cut into 3 to 4 inch lengths.  Place in a saucepan with just enough water to cover.  Simmer until tender, then strain and peel off the outside skin.  Put back into the pan with enough water to cover and bring to a boil, strain immediately and allow to cool.

When cool, weigh the angelica stalks and add an equal weight of granulated sugar.  Place the sugar and angelica in a covered dish and leave in a cool place for 2 days.

Put the angelica and the syrup which will have formed back into the pan.  Bring slowly to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the angelica becomes clear and has good color.

Strain again, discarding the liquid, then sprinkle as much caster sugar as will cling to the angelica.  Allow the stems to dry in a cool oven (200 degrees F.)  If not thoroughly dry, they will become moldy later.  Store in an airtight container between grease-proof paper.

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