Saturday, March 28, 2015

Charcoal Grilled Chicken - Weekend recipe

First time grilling out!  It is early for grilling season, but sometimes once the weather gets warm I need to be outside and it is way to early to start gardening, so I am going to grill instead.

You don;t need much for this, just some garlic and thyme as the herbs ingredients, but with added lemon this is a special treat.

Charcoal Grilled Chicken
Roaster chicken
 2 Lemons
grate off about 2 Tsp lemon peel from one of the lemons
A large bunch of fresh thyme
One head of garlic
3 tablespoons of butter
salt and freshly ground pepper

Rinse the chicken with cold water (remove giblets and stuff), and pat dry. Salt and pepper chicken cavity thoroughly.  Cut garlic in half  crosswise, so the cloves are all exposed. Insert this into the cavity along with your large bunch of thyme and two lemons cut in half.  (You may only be able to fit 1 1/2 lemons depending on the chicken.  Melt three tablespoons of butter and stir in some lemon peel you grated off the lemons before placing in chicken.  Pour over the chicken, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and generous amount of salt.

To prepare your grill, get your charcoal hot and then scoop them to the exterior edge of the grill, create a plate with tin foil and place it in the middle hole where there are now not coals. Place the gill grate in the grill and put the chicken on  it above the foil plate and cook for an hour and a half.  it will be juicy and flavorful and you will wonder why you never tired it before.  Do not keep opening the grill, leave the chicken alone for  at least one hour.

When it is close to finished (use a thermometer to know that it has reach 180 degrees in the thickest part of the meat) add vegetables to the grill to make a perfect side.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book Review - Healing Herbs by Tina Sams

I purchased a book recently that is absolutely what it says it is on the cover.

The book is entitled Healing Herbs: a Beginner's Guide to Identifying, Foraging and using Medicinal Plants.

It was written by Tina Sams, editor of The Essential Herbal Magazine with some input from a few herbal people she knows (including me!)

I love this book.

Not just because of the way it is organized with a chapter for each herb, but because of the wonderful conversational style it is written in.  It is an easy read chocked full of recipes for things from salves to ointments, to a variety of teas, bath items and even a few food recipes.

The book features 20 chapters (so 20 herbs) each beginning with a wonderful photograph and information on the plant's healing components.  It even has a little box with the herb's medicinal benefits for quick reference.  Among the recipes at the end of each chapter is one shared from another herbal person.  In many cases they share why they like the herb and a recipe of their own.  I was asked to share about lavender and included a cooking blend featuring lavender buds.  -- Hey you know how I am with herbs and cooking!

The information included in this compact volume is first rate.  From the beginning where Tina outlines the basics of making salves, tinctures, teas and syrups to the the herb chapters where she provides just enough history and growing information coupled with medicinal properties and ways to use the herbs that you can remember the teachings and do not feel intimidated.  It truly is perfect for a beginner because nothing feels overwhelming, yet it is also not too basic that "you've heard it all before" which is something I dislike about most beginner books. I like this book and have learned something from it.

As someone who converses regularly with Tina on the Essential Herbal Yahoo group, I can almost hear her speaking through the recipes.  They are obvious favorites and have been used by her in the past.  She places the recipes in context too.  You know why and when to use them and all are easy to craft.
Sage benefits
I would recommend this book for a novice, but also someone like myself whose focus with herbs has not been toward medicinal applications as often as food applications.  It has opened my eyes to how easy non-food preparations can be.

The feel of the book enhances its properties as well.  The size is about 7 inches by 7 inches with a soft but not paper cover that has wonderful images.  The weight of the paper and the quality of the close-up images inside add to my desire to carry it around with me. And the slightly raised letters in the title make it fun to handle in terms of texture.  Like the herbs included in its pages the book makes you want to touch.

Here is a sample recipe - This is from page 44

Lavender Spray
1 Tbls. vodka
3 ounces distilled water
30 drops lavender essential oil

In a 4 ounce spray bottle, mix all the ingredients.

This spray can be used to scent linens, freshen the air or even as a body spray,  And according to Tina, if you keep it in the refrigerator during the summer and give your face a spritz after being out in the garden is a heavenly reward.

Healing Herbs: a Beginner's Guide to Identifying, Foraging and using Medicinal Plants by Tina Sams, published by Fair Winds Press (Beverly, MA: 2015)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

All Natural Air Freshener - Weekend recipe

Spring is finally here!  I have been opening the windows and doors for about a week to let in the fresh air, but sometimes that is not enough.  I mix together this essential oil air freshener to finally banish the smells of winter and bring on the crisp freshness of Spring!

All Natural Air Freshener Spray
1 cup filtered water
2 tablespoons unscented alcohol
15 drops or essential oil of lemon
15 drops essential oil of spearmint

Place the water in a spray bottle and add the alcohol (I just use rubbing alcohol, but if you want a sweeter scent use vodka or everclear instead.)  Then add the essential oils by drop and mix well by shaking.  Remember to shake well before each use, then mist the air around the center of a room and it will filter out the edges.

If you want to give your air freshener aromatherapy effects, and not just spring freshness, you can substitute any of these other essential oils.

Eucalyptus: air disinfectant, clear the sinuses and the mind
Peppermint/Spearmint:stimulating, wake-up sent
Lemongrass: fights fatigue; alertness
Sweet Orange: promotes a sense of well-being and happiness
Grapefruit: uplifting, dispels grief
Lavender: stress relief, skin disinfectant; calming, relaxes large muscles
Rosemary: stimulates the mind, energizing
Ylang-Ylang: sensual awareness, releases endorphins which produce euphoria and reduce pain
Rose Geranium:hormonal and mental balancing; repels insects

Friday, March 20, 2015

Visiting the Weed Ladies Sale

This weekend (thru Sunday, March 22, 2015) at Naper Settlement in Naperville, Illinois is a fund raiser for children's programs sponsored by the Weed Ladies.

They craft great dried and silk arrangements of flowers and woodland materials and have them for sale with the proceeds going to children's programs at the Naper Settlement Historical Site.

I needed to see something flowering and nothing is ready here with the snow not even all melted yet, so this was a great opportunity to imagine what things will look like in a few short weeks.

The Ladies were very helpful and I spoke with several about flowers, arrangements and trying to identify a ground cover in a friend's yard.

They had a wide variety of arrangements some as small as a tea cup, other as large as a setting for the center of the dining room table.

My husband went with me and he was especially enamored of one woman's creations (Diane) using fungus and birch bark.  We looked at several and finally decided on a door decoration with yellow roses and peony-like flowers.

The volunteers wrapped it up in a wonderful bag, tied with ribbon.

It looks rather striking on the door don't you think.

If you are interested in supporting a good cause and perhaps decorating your place with some spring color, you might want to check out the Weed Ladies sale at Naper Settlement.  Here is a link to their website.

They are located in the Daniel's House on the Naper Settlement Grounds (523 S. Webster St., Naperville, IL) and admission is free.  They will be open Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm and Sunday 1 to 4 pm..

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Flat parsley & Curly Parsley - Herb of the Week

Recently choosing herbs for the Men's Garden Club of Villa Park Plant sale, coming up May 9 & 10, 2015 we decided to include parsley, especially flat parsley in our "Heirlooms and Herbs Plant Sale" which will feature among the perennials, a wonderful selection of vegetables and herbs for the home gardener interesting in growing things for their own consumption.  If you are interested in pre-order or attending the events, check out the details on the Men's Garden Club website.  And I know it is called the Men's Garden Club, but it has been letting in women since the 1990s and I am not only on the board, but also on the Plant Sale committee.  I'd love to see you at the sale.

Nothing worse then overlooking an herb as a feature because you are sure you have done it before, only to discover that you have never focused on it. That is the case with Parsley.  I was compiling my list of herbs to research in 2015 and realized that Parsley had never been an Herb of the Week.  So here is to 
    Parsley Petroselinum crispum 
              a well deserved Herb of the Week

There are actually three common varieties of parsley and I will highlight all three here.  The popular one these days is Flat leaf or Italian Parsley (Petroselinum crispum hortense), then you have the one we all recognize from a restaurant plate, Curly Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and parsnip rooted parsley (Petroselinum crispum var. tuberosum) also known as Hamburg.

Parsley was believed to be the herb of choice for Hercules and as such was woven into wreaths for winning athletes in Greece.  It was also fed to horses to increase their stamina.

Oddly enough it was also associated with death by the Greeks.  It was used to make wreaths for graves.  By the Middle Ages it was being touted as an herbal medicine, credited with curing a great range of ills, including anything to do with the liver and kidneys as well as plague, asthma, dropsy, jaundice and an aid to digestion.

There is much folklore associated with Parsley.  It is believed that only a witch or pregnant woman could grow it, and that a fine harvest was only ensured if the seeds were planted on Good Friday.  Also it is said that if parsley is transplanted misfortune would descend upon the household.

To Grow

This biennial herb that flowers only in the second year is brightly green leafed.  The leaves are divided pinnately into feather-like sections that lay flat like celery leaves or curl into small frilly leaflets depending on the variety.  Parsley has been naturalized through out the temperate region needing full sun to part shade. Curly parsley grows 12 to 16 inches tall and can be grown easily as far north as zone 5.  The flat leaf parsley is taller growing 18 to 24 inches and is best for cooking.  Hamburg parsley is a perennial grown for its root, which can get up to 6 inches long.  An old plant that you find only occasionally as it has fallen out of favor as a root vegetable with other easier to grow plants available.
flat leaf at the top of photo, curly here in the front

Curly Parsley, as a bright green compact plant, makes a nice border or edging plant.  Parsley is susceptible to underground attackers, like nematodes and parsley worms, due to its large tap root.  As a result one should relocate parsley at the end of its life style.  Many people treat it as an annual, removing the plant at the end of the season.  Some like to allow it to flower the second year, but once the plant sprouts a flower shaft, the leaves become bitter and untasty.

You can sow seed directly in spring once the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees F.  It transplants badly so it generally best to sow it where you plan to grow it.  Drill in the seed about an inch deep.  Parsley will go to seed in the second year, so most people treat it as an annual.  It is slow to germinate (up to 6 weeks) because the seed of parsley actually has a germination inhibitor.  You can cover the seed with a moisture retaining material, water frequently, pour boiling water over the seed before covering it or even treating the seed by soaking, refrigerating or freezing.  I tossed the seed packet in the freezer and then planted it one year with good success.  Winter sowing also works well with parsley.
Hamburg Parsley
Six plants set 6 to 8 inches apart will supply the average family and allow extra for freezing or drying.  To keep the plant productive weed it often and cut back the full length of the outside stems and remove all flower stalks.

The soil needed to grow parsley is deep and not light or acidic.  Rich and well draining is important to avoid rot.

To Use

So many think is it only a decorative green, but it is actually has more vitamin c per volume than oranges.  It also contains Vitamin A, several B vitamins, calcium, and iron.  Beyond this contribution of vitamins and minerals, however, it is not considered significantly medicinally. You can use a tea made from the seeds of parsley to kill haed lice.  Pour it over the head after washing and rinsing, wrap your head in a towel for 30 minutes and then allow the hair to dry naturally.  Equally the seeds and leaves steeped in water can be used as a hair rinse.

That camphory odor that parsley tends to have is the work of a combination of volatile oils found in the leaves and stems.  This scent attracts rabbits.  Parsley is a diuretic and has been used as a tea to treat bladder infections. Avoid using it in excess as it can irritate kidneys and decrease pulse rate.  Pregnant woman should avoid parsley oil or large quantities of parsley, but the sprinkle or sprig is just fine.

In many food regions Parsley plays and important role, in the Middle East it is an important part of tabbouleh, in France it is used with ham, garlic, butter and escargots.  Belgians and Swiss make deep fried parsley and the Japanese make a deep-fried parsley tempura. In Mexico it is part of Salsa verde and even the English use it, making a parsley jelly.

If you want a good Parsley to dry, try Petroselinum crispum var. neapolitanium, a flat-leaf Parsley.  With a slightly stronger taste it is best for drying.  You can freeze curly parsley to help it retain color and flavor. Cooking with parsley enhances the flavor of other foods and herbs.  The best flavor is had if added just before the end of cooking.

Boil Hamburg parsley as a root vegetable or grate raw into salads.  Using in soup mixes, the flavor resembles both celery and parsley.

Create a sauce for cold beef, shellfish and pasta by pureeing a bunch of parsley with garlic, olive oil and ricotta cheese in a food processor of blender.


Fines Herbs ala Marcy
1 part chives
1 part chervil
1 part parsley
1 part tarragon

Blend together dried herbs and store in an airtight jar.  Use on a variety of dishes, including eggs, fish, and chicken.  Make a great salad vinaigrette when you blend a tablespoon with 2/4 cup oil and 1/4 cup vinegar or lemon juice.

Fish Bouquet Garni
2 sprigs parsley
1 sprig French tarragon
1 sprig fennel
2 leaves lemon balm

Tie the fresh herbs together in a bundle and add to the cooking liquid in casseroles, sauces, soups, broths and stews and use to brush fish or place in water when poaching fish.

Tabbouleh recipes originally come from the Eastern Mediterranean. There are thousands of versions out there for this one we are using Quinoa.

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water (or vegetable broth)
2 cups chopped parsley
2 cups chopped fennel bulb
6 chopped green onions
1 cup of sliced cherry tomatoes
1 cup diced cucumber
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemons (about three lemons)
zest from lemons, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
paprika to taste

The first step in our tabbouleh recipe is to cook the quinoa. Rinse the dried quinoa well, then add it to a medium sauce pan along with 2 cups of water (or vegetable broth). Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer for 18-20 minutes or until the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is light and fluffy. Set aside to cool.  Meanwhile gather the veggies, tomatoes and mint and get those chopped and sliced. Measure out the olive oil, lemon juice and zest. Once the quinoa has cooled put it in a large bowl along with all the prepared veggies, tomatoes and mint. Pour in the lemon juice, olive oil and lemon zest. Stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well. Sprinkle with paprika and it’s ready to serve. We like this tabbouleh as a side dish to rosemary chicken.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Cottage Garden Plans

We discussed the things to consider with a Cottage Garden design back on March 5.  Now we have the plants for you.

The earliest cottage gardens were more practical than their modern descendants with an emphasis on vegetables and herbs, along with some fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and even livestock. Flowers were used to fill any spaces in between. Over time, flowers became more dominant. The traditional cottage garden was usually enclosed, perhaps with a rose-bowered gateway. Flowers common to early cottage gardens included hollyhocks, pansies and delphinium, all three essentially 19th-century flowers. Others were the old-fashioned roses that bloomed once a year with rich scents, simple flowers like daisies, and flowering herbs. A well-tended topiary of traditional form, perhaps a cone-shape in tiers, or a conventionalized peacock, would be part of the repertory, to which the leisured creators of "cottage gardens" would add a sun-dial, crazy paving on paths with thyme interspersed, and a rustic seat, generally missing in the earlier cottage gardens.

Cottage Garden border
When designing a cottage garden whether as an entire front or back yard or just as a border or entrance, you can use fences, walls and other things as a focal point and build your cottage style around that.

The Plans

This plan uses a house as the background and a walkway as the front border, then the plants are placed cottage-style between the two items.

Herbs, flowering perennials and a focal point of a bird bath complete the design.  You can use a sundial or piece of sculpture instead of  a bird bath, but you want something permanent as your focal point.

For this design I used a mixture of plants, not all of them herbs to give color and texture.

A = Lady's Mantle
B = red flowering Verbena (might need 2 plants)
C =  Black eye susan (3 plants)
D = Day lily (yellow or orange)
E = Russian Sage
F = Hyssop
G = Yarrow, yellow or red
H = Lemon Basil (for the contrast)
I = Purple Ruffled Basil (3 plants and cut frequently to make them bushy)
J = Golden Oregano (Origanium vulgarus 'Aureum')
K = Smokebush (Cothus coggygria 'Royal Purple)
L = Comfrey 
M = Lungwort
N = Gialnt Allium (Allium giganteum)
O = Lavender (6 plants is perfect)
P = Japanese Spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Goldflame’)
Q = Sedum 'Autumn Joy' or sprinkle in Nasturtium Seed
R = Winter savory  shaped to a ball shrub
S = White Yarrow
T = Tarragon as a back drop the colorful flowers or you can put in a shrub with large foliage
U = Jewel Blend Nasturtium (the orange and cream flowers will anchor the corner.)

The second plan uses a fence as a center point.  You can place this along the front of your property or the back or even the side.  The fence becomes the anchor and you plant herbs and flowers and even vegetables on both sides of the fence.

A= Dwarf purple Basil (used as a border plant)
B= White yarrow (or if you do not have children Tansy)
C= Iris, Siberian (purple or yellow)
D=  Pine apple Sage (can be in containers)
E= Anise Hyssop
F= Pineapple Mint
G= Nasturtiums (use a traditional mix with red flowers)
H= Lavender (might try white for contrast)
I= Foxglove
J= Parsley, curly (used as a border plant)

I grow Yellow Flag Iris, because the root can be used as a fixative in potpourri.

Stop back in a few days and we will delve into Four Square Gardening.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Unlucky Ides of March

I had a Latin teacher in High School who held a party on the Ides of March each year.  As a result as soon as March 15 comes around I am feeling a need to say something so the Ides of March does not pass without comment.

According to the Romans the Ides, or the 15th, of the month was considered unlucky, I am sure Julius Caesar would agree! But how does one ward off the negativity of an unlucky day?

There are many herbs you can use to ward off evil or at least bad behavior.  Here is a short list:

1. Angelica - Wear a sprig inside your lapel to protect yourself from evil, but be careful you could also keep yourself from seeing opportunities.

2. Borage (see the herb of the month post on Borage) Borage leaves or flowers placed nearby will encourage people to tell the truth so you can avoid secrets, and dishonesty.

borage about to bloom
3. Caraway – wear the seeds in an amulet to protect against disease and ill health.  And if you put some in your spouses pockets it will protect against infidelity.

4. Dill – Hang a bundle of dill over a child’s bed to protect against evil fairies.

5. Fennel – bunches hung over the door were believed to keep away witchcraft.

6. Lavender will shield you and your home from negative energy.  This can be fresh or dried lavender, lavender essential oil or perfume or even incense in a lavender scent.

7. Marjoram – long known as a protector and healing herb, you can sprinkle it by the doorjamb to keep away burglars and unwanted visitors.

8.  Pennyroyal – this mint plant has a musky scent and can be burned to protect a home against domestic abuse or violence.

9. Rue: Wear a sprig fresh or dried in an amulet to protect yourself against illness.
rue seeds
10. Rosemary – used in a bath can protect the bather from negativity and evil.

11. Yarrow – packed into amulets to protect against blindness, robbers and barking dogs.
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