Monday, May 16, 2016

Make a Famous Salad Dressing

Joe Marzetti introduced Americans to his now-famous dressings (from his native Italy) when he
opened his Columbus, Ohio, restaurant in 1896.

Richard Hellman, who owned a deli in New York City and had won numerous culinary awards, began bottling and selling his mayonnaise in 1912, first in wooden containers, then in glass jars. The
Hellman's Real Mayonnaise that we use today is basically the same recipe Hellman originated.

Caesar Cardini is credited with inventing Caesar salad in 1924 in Tijuana, Mexico (although there are
those who believe it was more likely invented by Giancomo Junia, an Italian chef in Chicago, around

Ranch dressing - arguably the most popular on the market today - can be traced back to the Hidden Valley Guest Ranch near Santa Barbara, California. The owners began serving the dressing in the 1950s. Guests liked it so much that Hidden Valley began producing its instant, dry mix.

Thousand Island dressing, traditionally made from diced green olives, peppers, pickles, onions and hard-boiled eggs in a mayonnaise and chili-sauce base, dates to the early 1900s. Although often credited to a chef at New York City's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, actress May Irwin actually brought the recipe to the chef there from George and Sophia LaLonde's fishing resort in Clayton, New York.

Green Goddess, made from mayonnaise, anchovies, tarragon vinegar, parsley, scallions, garlic and spices, originated at San Francisco's Palace Hotel, where George Arliss stayed while performing the play The Green Goddess.

I always try the “house’ dressing when I go to a restaurant.  I want to know what the local chef or cook has made to dress his or her salads.  Usually a vinaigrette with a special combination of herbs and a certain acid like a flavored vinegar or a local balsamic I have never been disappointed ordering house dressing.  I think it was this virtually endless array of possibilities that first got me interested in making herb mixes. My first two blends were Dill Dip and Italian Dressing – my own version of a house vinaigrette. Since that time I have developed 11 more dressings, including my own RanchBlends and a Lemon Chive Combo that can be made into three different dressings.

Some recipes for dressing cannot be easily made into a mix however, so I thought I would share a couple of those recipes with you today.

The key to blending your own world famous dressing is to use the freshest ingredients possible.  Choose freshly squeezed lemon juice over bottled and try fresh herbs over dried. The spring cuttings from the herb garden are the sweetest and most wonderful for making and herbal dressing. Choose your vinegar based on the kind of dressing you're making: red wine, champagne, rice, white wine and apple cider vinegars all have excellent flavor. Avoid using a plain white vinegar because its flavor is sharp and severe, but if you have a white vinegar infusedwith herbs (LINK) this is a perfect time to use it.  Use a light vegetable oil, like sunflower or a canola blend, or a good-quality olive oil. Typically, dressing recipes call for two to three times the amount of oil as the amount of vinegar. I like less oil, especially if using a flavored vinegar, such as a raspberry or tarragon. Experiment to suit your taste.

Dressing in a Hurry
Fast enough to put together even after dinner guests have arrived, this is great on any combination of greens.

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 sprigs fresh, chopped, stems discarded
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley or 2 sprigs fresh, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried dill or 2 sprigs fresh, chopped fine (no stems)
1 clove garlic, minced

Whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, honey and mustard in a bowl until blended. Slowly pour in oil, whisking constantly. Blend in the herbs and garlic. Makes 3/4 cup.

Herbed Buttermilk Dressing

2 cups buttermilk (is best, but if you do not have it you can use 2 cups milk less 2 Tbls with either 2 Tbls white vinegar or 3 1/2  teaspoons cream of tartar)
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 sprig fresh parsley, diced
5 to 10 strands of chives, sliced thin
2 green onions, diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in blender and pulse blend for a few pulses. Chill before using. You can toss this with any salad.  Especially good with an abundance of vegetables. Makes 2 cups.

If you want more information on blending herb dressings and making salads they check out the book by Jim Long “The Best Dressed Salad” (Long Creek Herbs, 2006). Jim is an herb grower and lecturer who has been around longer than me and he has much information to share.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

New Garden update - starting from scratch

Man I forgot how much work starting from scratch is with a garden.  And the weather is not cooperating.

Here is the space where the raised beds are to go... Grass obviously not dead.

Here is the converted sand box.  The herbs you see were rescued from my community patches last fall after we moved.  Some were transplanted late so I worried that they might not make it.  Some did not, others are coming up well.  To my surprise it was the Lemon Balm that died.. Lemon Balm, really?  The L-shape is for the new herbs for this year.

One leaf may be lemon balm, but I am not holding my breath.

This side garden is for cutting and wild flowers, but the soil is not warm enough yet to germinate the seed, so I have not actually planted anything!

This is the rain garden, doing its job after 1 1/4 inches of rain this past weekend.  It overflowed, so hubby admits that perhaps I should have made it bigger.  He convinced me to make it only 150 square feet.  We will be expanding it soon!

I wanted to cover that sewer clean out (upper right corner of rain garden photo) and got a great pot.  However, the color did not stand out at all against the green of the hedge, so I spray painted the set of pots terra cotta (actually "Cinnamon" according to Rustoleum) and they are so much more striking from the road now!

I will post another update when I finally have some good weather and can plant something.  This weekend is the Garden Club of Villa Park Native Plant and Herb Sale, so by Monday I will have all kinds of things to put in the ground.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Relaxing Herbal Bath Mixture - Bath Recipe of the Month

Aromatherapy and Health Benefits of Certain herbs

Lemon balm: calming and soothing
Lemon peel: increases immunity from disease
Calendula: healing to skin cells, reduces inflammation and heals injured skin
Rosebuds: increase happiness with the release of endorphins; soothe irritated skin
Lavender flowers: reduce stress and relax large muscles
Chamomile: healing to skin cells
Catnip: mild sedative
Sea Salt: adds needed minerals to promote skin cell health

Relaxing Healing Herbal Bath Mix

Enjoy a relaxing bath with this fragrant mixture of dried herbs especially formulated to relax tense muscles and soothe the soul. The warm water releases the healing properties of the herbs which are then absorbed by your skin. The therapeutic effect of a relaxing bath will result in 20 minutes. Light a candle, sip a cup of herb tea and relax in a warm bath. A spa treatment right at home!

6 Tbls. lavender
6 Tbls. lemon balm
2 Tbls. Chamomile
2 Tbls. Roses
2 Tbls. lemon peel
2 Tbls. calendula
2 Tbls. catnip
2 Tbls. sea salt 

Mix herbs in container and store in a tightly lidded jar.  Makes roughly 1 ½ cups

To Use: Place one tablespoon of relaxing bath mix into a muslin bag, coffee filer or even a tea ball and close securely. Add the bag to warm tub water and infuse while tub is filling. Remove bath sachet from tub and allow to drain. Therapeutic effect of a relaxing bath will begin to be seen in about 20 minutes.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Eight Unique Herbal Gifts for Mom

As Mother's Day approaches, I get asked what is a good herb gift for a mom.  It is a simple question with a huge answer.  So I thought I would put together a list of suggestions for Mom that include herbs from loving the scent to tea to just enjoying the look of them.  There is a gift here for all types of herb lovers!


1. Grow your own Herbs with an Herb in a Pot (available from the Backyard Patch for $6.50 each)

This terra cotta clay pot combination includes soil, seeds, instructions and recipes for growing your own herb in a pot.  Tied into a package with raffia and twine it makes its own rustic gift box. Herbs available include: Basil, Cilantro, Thyme, Oregano, and  Chives.

2. Chase bugs and enjoy the relaxation of Lemon Grass Candles (available from Ashka Candles for $6.50)

Lemon grass scent energizes and relieves nervousness with its strong bug chasing scent.  These 4 ounce candles will burn for 30 hours or more.


3. You can a new tea every month with a Tea Subscription (available from the Backyard Patch in differing lengths)

You receive two bags of loose tea, a tea infuser and a description of the tea in a decorative container each month.  You can customize the tea selections or leave the choices to us.

4. Beaded Tea Ball (available from the Backyard Patch for $3.50 each)

A bead decorated tea ball that will look elegant in any cup or mug!

5. Tea Samplers let Mom try out several teas (available from the Backyard Patch for $4.95 each or a set of 3 for 15.00)

These brochure-shaped samplers contain tea infusing bags, and three small packets of loose teas on themes like Bright Morning, Marvelous Mint or Luscious Lavender.


6.  A Plant Press lets you save leaves and flowers and enjoy them later  (available from KathleenEmilyAnne for $30.00)

This plant press book is a set of paper envelopes into which you can place leaves and flowers and hold shut with the elastic band.  It is portable so you can take it on a walk with you and save memories.

7. Chocolate Cake in a Mug (available from the Backyard patch for $10.95 for 2)

Never forget Chocolate is an herb and this quick and easy cake can be made in the microwave in the mug provided.  Many mug patterns and styles available.  Save shipping by ordering more than 2.

8. Herbal Note Cards (available from LoriLooDesigns for $6.49)

Note writing is becoming a thing of the past, but your Mom may still be one to enjoy sending a thoughtful card and these wonderful photo note cards with herbs come in sets of three!

So hopefully I have given you some ideas for items to give your Mom to celebrate her special day!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Basic Hummus - Weekend Recipe

I am out and about this weekend at the Darien Garden Club Garden Inspiration Event on Saturday and Vegan Vortex in Chicago on Sunday.

I will be serving hummus blended with Butter and Cheese Herb Mix and Fiesta Dip Herb Mix, so I thought I would share a recipe for making your own hummus.

Sure you can buy it, but once you realize how easy it is to make your own, you may never go back to store bought again.

Basic Creamy Hummus

One 15-ounce can chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, about 1 large lemon
1/4 cup well-stirred tahini, use store-bought
Half of a large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt, depending on taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 to 3 tablespoons water
Dash of ground paprika for serving

In the bowl of a food processor, combine tahini and lemon juice. Process for 1 minute. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl then turn on and process for 30 seconds. This extra time helps “whip” or “cream” the tahini, making smooth and creamy hummus possible.

Add the olive oil, minced garlic, cumin and the salt to the whipped tahini and lemon juice mixture. Process for 30 seconds, scrape sides and bottom of bowl then process another 30 seconds.

Open can of chickpeas, drain liquid then rinse well with water. Add half of the chickpeas to the food processor then process for 1 minute. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl.  Add remaining chickpeas and process for 1 to 2 minutes or until thick and quite smooth.  Add fresh or dried herbs at this point if desired. 

Most likely the hummus will be too thick or still have tiny bits of chickpea. To fix this, with the food processor turned on, slowly add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water until the consistency is perfect.

Scrape the hummus into a bowl then drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top and sprinkle with paprika. Serve with pita chips, crackers, veggies... or anything else you can think of. Serves 8-12 as an appetizer.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Herb of the Week - Marshmallow or Marsh Mallow

I have had some trouble writing these this year.  I get a post started, begin my research, then then I never finish them.  This week I finally stopped organizing my house and sat down to finish the several herb of the week posts I began back in January.

Today we are focusing on a wonderfully medicinal herb that does not get much attention.  And if you have a wet area in your yard and like late summer flower, this plant is perfect for you!

This week's HERB of the WEEK is Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinlis)

This plant is related to Hollyhock and looks very similar, but it does not have as striking a flower.  It’s been used for centuries in a broad range of ways. The genus name comes from the Greek, altho, meaning "to cure." The family name, Malvaceae, is also of Greek derivation, from malake, meaning soft, both indicating the emollient, healing properties of this plant, which have long been recognized. Pliny remarked: "Whosoever shall take a spoonful of Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him." Early recorded uses include poultices to reduce inflammation and spongy lozenges to soothe coughs and sore throats - from which the modern confectionery is descended, though it no longer contains any of the herb. Marshmallow root was eaten as a vegetable by the Romans and in many Middle Eastern and European countries was a standby in times of famine when food was scarce. In more recent times it was a springtime country tradition to eat the young shoots, or make them into a syrup, to "purify the blood".

To Grow

A hardy perennial with tall stems covered with soft, downy leaves and pale pink flowers clustered at the leaf axils in late summer. It reaches 3 to 4 ft in height. It has large, fleshy taproots and seed head or fruit that is ring-shaped with a ring of seeds called cheeses.  It grows in salt marshes, near sea coasts and in moist in land areas, throughout Europe, in temperate regions of Asia, North America and Australia.

It prefers moist to wet soil and a sunny situation. Propagated by division in autumn or by
seed sown in late summer.  Seed is not often recommended, as germination is often erratic, but you can sow it shallowly outdoors in spring, thinning the plants to 2 feet when they  germinate. 
To propagate from the root divide the rhizomes or take cuttings from foliage or roots in the fall.

The velvety foliage will die back to the ground in the fall.

To Use
One can use the seeds, leaves, roots, and flowers. Harvest the leaves in fall just before flowering.  Collect and dry flowers at their peak.  Dig taproots in fall from plants at least 2 years old, scrub them and cook them like potatoes or slice before drying.  If you want them dried, cut the roots into pieces while they are fresh.  Once dry they are very, very hard.

Use leaves to add a fresh flavor to salads, or slice and cook the roots like a potato.  The roots were originally used to produce the sticky substance with consistency typical of the confection marshmallows.

The roots contain natural sugars and were used in early medicinal sweets and the original recipe for marshmallow treat. At one time the young roots and leaves were boiled, then fried with onions as a spring vegetable, or added to salads- but neither is very palatable.

All plants of the mallow family contain mucilage.  Marshmallow has the most.  The whole herb contains a sweet mucilage that is soothing and softening.   It relieves inflamed gums and mouth, gastric ulcers, diarrhea, bronchial infections and coughs. Leaves and roots can be applied externally as a poultice to soothe and reduce the heat in ulcers, boils, inflammation of the skin and insect bites.  It is used in cosmetics for weather damaged skin.

According to Rosemary Floret marshmallow roots are typically prepared using cold water. Marshmallow roots are high in polysaccharides and starches. By using a cold infusion you extract mainly the mucilaginous polysaccharides. If you simmer the root you also extract the starches in the plant.

Cold Marshmallow Infusion (Tea)
a jar and lid
marshmallow root
lukewarm water

To make this preparation, simply fill a jar 1/4 of the way with marshmallow root. Just cover with luke warm water, place the lid on the jar and let steep for lat least 4 hours.  Remove the roots and use the resulting liquid which will change color to a soft yellow. And be thick and viscous.

Once you have this liquid you can use it in the following ways:
  1.  Mouth Wash -  Use it to treat painful mouth conditions like mouth ulcers, canker sores, cuts on the inside of the cheeks, inflamed gums and even sore throats are soothed with a marshmallow rinse. Simply swish the cold infused tea around in your mouth to coat the affected tissues.
  2. Heartburn home remedy  -  Use this cold infusion to find relief from heartburn, peptic ulcers, and inflamed intestines. Besides being able to soothe inflammation, marshmallow root can also  heal wounds within the digestive tract.
  3. Skin Wash – As a topical treatment for wounds and burns, it has been known to prevent gangrene.


Marshmallows can be made adding eggs and food coloring to to the gelatinous liquid produced by steeping or boiling the roots.  There is a great recipe available from Rosmary Floret at Learning  Here is the connection.

I have made various teas with the roots, leaves and flowers harvested from marshmallow.  Here are a few of those recipes.

Heartburn Tea
3 parts Marshmallow Root 
2 parts Marshmallow Leaf 
1 part Spearmint Leaf 

Blend herbs and keep in an airtight container.  Use 1 to 2 tsp. per cup pf hot water and steep for 7 to 10 minutes.  Sip slowly to alleviate heartburn.

Soothing Throat herbal tea
Linden flowers
elder flowers
rose hips
marsh mallow flowers

Combine herbs in equal amounts in an airtight container.  Use 1 to 2 tsp. per cup pf hot water and steep for 7 to 10 minutes.  Many medicinal benefits in this blend of plants and flowers makes it perfect for sore throats and as a boost in immunity.
Marshmallow salve for dry skin
Marshmallow roots, leaves and flowers 
8 ounces of base oil (jojoba, coconut, olive, almond or walnut oil)

Place the herbs in a glass jar.  Add the oil, being sure to cover all the herbs.  Place the jar in a pan of warm water and simmer on low heat for about 8 hours allowing the marshmallow to infuse into the oil.  Use this oil as a topical on dry skin or make into a simple salve.

To make a simple salve, grate up some beeswax and add it to the hot infused oil, stirring continuously until it melts. (About 1oz beeswax to 8 fluid ozs of oil) Test on the back of a wooden spoon to see whether it is of a suitable consistency, then pour into small jars and seal. If you are not confident to do the spoon test, an easier way of checking is to drop a very small amount of oil plus melted wax into cold water in a small bowl or mug. The salve will immediately cool and you can rub it between your fingers to check the desired thickness.

The salve will thicken on cooling, usually from the bottom upwards if you pour into cold jars. It will usually be a paler color than the original oil.
Cough Relief Herbal Blend
This is a rather elaborate tea blend, but it will work on a multitude of different types of coughs and bronchial issues.  You can make it in advance and use all winter!

4 parts Peppermint Leaf
2 parts each:
  Red Clover Blossoms
Mullein Leaf
  Nettle Leaf
  Echinacea Purpurea Leaf
  Marshmallow Root
1 part each:
  White Pine Bark
  Elecampane Root
  Echinacea Purpurea Root
  Wild Cherry Bark
  Licorice Root
Combine herbs and keep in a airtight jar.  Brew 1 to 2 tsp of mixture per cup of hot water and sip to sooth coughing and throat issues.


Rodale’s Successful Organic Herb Gardening Herbs by Patrica Michalak (Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA: 1993)

Herbs by Leslie Bremness (Dorling & Kindersley Books, London: 2000)
Copyright © 2016 LearningHerbs

Monday, April 4, 2016

Monthly Bath Blend - Tub Teas

Bath teas are fun! Big teabags filled with scented herbs and other special ingredients that you just toss in your tub and soak.

The best way to use a tub tea is to brew it. Place the bag in 1 cup of water in a saucepan and boil for 10 to 15 minutes.  Place the resulting liquid in the bath water of a filled tub.  You can also just place the tea bag in tub while you fill it, or if you don't take baths, you can use them as a foot soak or shower scrub (simply wet the teabag then gently use it as a herbal washcloth for your skin).

We are including a free bath tea with every order in the month of April. You will receive our choice of bath tea – we now have five different blends available.  We will choose one that suits the herbs in your order.

NEW - Lavender Mint Tub Tea is excellent for refreshing and cleansing, perfect for oily skin.
NEW - Soothing Chamomile and Comfrey is fabulous for sunburn, rashes, irritated skin, or chicken pox!
Original Bath Tub Tea is a combination of many herbs and flowers of a soothing bath.
Green Tea Tub Tea is a combination of green tea and herbs like calendula that  are especially soothing to the skin.
Secret Garden Tub Tea is a blend of flowers that will take you to a floral heaven while it relaxes and soothes.

If you want to try your hand at your own Tub Tea, try this one:

Total Relaxation Tub Tea
1 tsp. dried lavender flowers
1 tsp. marjoram leaves
1 tsp. chamomile

Combine into a tea bag or coffee filter and use as described above.
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