Thursday, April 28, 2011

Herbal Gifts for Mom and Dad

I have not done one of these in a while, but knowing that herbs make the perfect gift for both mom and dad, I thought some blatant self-promotion was in order.

Here are some of my suggestions for gifts for your mother and father on their upcoming special days!


My father and brother-in-law are both grill kings, so with them in mind, I crafted a set of 5 blends for grilling, including marinades and rubs.  It sells for $10.00 and the shipping is low.  You can check out this item at Grilling Collection.

I also put together a Man Gift Basket.  I call it the Master of the Universe collection.  It comes in a copper pail with utensils and herb blends for grilling and cooking.  It is the perfect ensemble for the man with everything who is not afraid to dabble in the kitchen.  With everything including priority mail shipping it comes to around $45.00 depending on where you live.

We also have a few regular products that a man might like.  In addition to individual herbs mixes, we have an aftershave made with sage and lavender, and foot salts.


We still have several of our special box sets for an herbal facial or herbal pedicure and a portion of the proceeds from these goes to Susan B. Koman for the Cure!  Each contains a variety of herbal products for treating your face or feet with full instructions for giving yourself a spa treatment at home.  And they are a bargain at $17.00 and $15.00 respectively.

If you want to make mom breakfast in bed you could try our herb infused muffin mixes.  Or perhaps you want to make pancakes -- we have a gift set that includes cinnamon pancake mix, Cinnamon Spice Tea, and a jar of herbed honey, I call it Breakfast in Bed.  And it sells for 9.95.

You can give your gift a special touch with a hand made herbal greeting card, complete with an herb tea bag enclosed.

We also have bath salts and scrubs, bath sachets, and herb pillows to treat headaches and aid sleep (especially appropriate if you are the one mom is losing sleep over!)  You can also browse our loose herbal tea selection.

If you can't decide at all what to do, perhaps a sample of our herbal offerings is what you need.  We have small samplers of each of our main items (Herb mixes, Herb Seasonings, Scented Bath, or Herbal Tea) and they sell for only $4.95.  For a limited time we have created a sampler of samplers which includes five of our 16 samplers (our choice or yours) for $25.00. 

I hope this has given you a few ideas for your mother or father gift shopping this season.  As always you can browse all our products on our web page:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chaste Tree for Arbor Day - Herb of the Week

Arbor Day is a nationally-celebrated observance that encourages tree planting and care. Founded by J. Sterling Morton in 1872, it's celebrated on the last Friday in April.

I always celebrate Arbor Day.  When we lived in a house we planted a tree each year.  To celbrate this wonderful day I thought I would focus on an Herb Tree - Chaste Tree

Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus), also known as Chasteberry
                     is our Herb of the Week

Native to southern Europe and central Asia, chaste tree quickly grows into a multi-trunked tree about 10 to 20 feet tall and wide with a broad, spreading habit. It gets its name from the erroneous medieval belief that a potion made from it could curb the libido. That doesn't mean that chaste tree doesn't have its pharmacological uses. An extract made from Vitex supposedly does a very good job of controlling PMS.

blooming Chaste tree
But the best thing about chaste tree is the flowers. Chaste tree is one of the very few winter-hardy trees out there that sports true blue flowers (although they can also be pink, purple, or white). The variety 'Abbeville Blue.' bears large, spectacular panicles of deep-blue flowers in summer. Other selections of merit include 'Montrose Purple' (purple blooms), 'Shoal Creek' (blue-violet), and 'Silver Spires.' (white). If you buy an unnamed chaste tree tree from a nursery, buy it in bloom so you can see the color of the flowers and the general shape of the plant.

Chaste tree is a kin of Lemon Verbena (my favorite plant in the world).  However, Lemon Verbena which can grow like this many stemmed tree, only does so in places like Mexico and Guatemala.


Chaste tree was associated with ancient Greek festivals. In the Thesmophoria, a festival held in honor of Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, fertility and marriage, women (who remained "chaste" during the festival), used chaste tree blossoms for adornment, while bows of twigs and leaves, were strewn around Demeter's temple during the festival. In Rome, vestal virgins carried twigs of chaste tree as a symbol of chastity. According to Greek mythology, Hera, sister and wife of Zeus, regarded as protectress of marriage, was born under a chaste tree. Ancient traditions associating the shrub with chastity were adopted in Christian ritual. Novitiates entering a monastery walked on a path strewn with the blossoms of the tree, a ritual that continues to the present day in some regions of Italy.

To Grow

Here are some different ways to use chaste tree in the landscape:
1. As a single specimen in the lawn

2. In a row along a property line or a driveway
3. Limbed-up in a border with lower plants growing beneath it

4. As a small patio tree

Few trees are as easy to grow. It requires full sun, well-drained soil and regular moisture at first -- very drought tolerant once established.  There are not many pest issues.  About the only problem with this plant is the fact that it is not very tidy.  It needs regular pruning to produce an attractive multi-trunked tree. Prune in winter. Clean out the entire center of the tree, removing all side branches from main 4 to 5 trunks. Also remove messy, twiggy growth that tends to crowd the ends of the branches. As an option, cut entire plant to ground in winter. It will sprout in spring and bloom in summer, although later than chaste trees not pruned so severely. You can also force a second bloom in summer by removing the first flush of blooms as soon as they fade.

Chaste Tree is considered winter-hardy through Zone 6; so here in Zone 5 it may be killed to the ground in winter, but will sprout and bloom the following summer.  I also recomend mulching around the base to protect the root ball from winter freezes.  Bumblebees love this plant above all others and will even spend the night on the flowers.

To Use

Chaste tree has been used for the treatment of menstrual difficulties for at least 2,500 years. The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) wrote, "If blood flows from the womb, let the woman drink dark wine in which the leaves of the chaste tree have been steeped."Use for gynecological conditions is also noted in the works of Pliny and Dioscorides (1st century A. D.), as well as Theophrastus (3rd century A.D.). "The trees furnish medicines that promote urine and menstruation," wrote Pliny, "They encourage abundant rich milk. . ."

As the flowers of summer fade, small dark purple berries follow. In the past these berries have been dried and used as a rather weak substitute for pepper and as an ingredient in Mediterranean spice mixtures. In the 6th century, the ground dried berries were touted as a must for monks trying to maintain their vows of chastity (thus, the common name Monk's Pepper). Vitex is now considered a vital herb for regulating and relieving menstrual problems and infertility. For a good discussion of the medicinal properties of Vitex,  check in Andrew Chevalier's book The Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. This book will guide you through the steps of  harvesting and preparing remedies from your garden. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spring Recipe - Spicy Dandelion Greens

I know the dandelions are probably running wild all over your yard by now, so here is a little recipe you can make with them so the effort of pulling them out results in something enjoyable!

Sautéed Spicy Dandelion Greens
  • 2 lb dandelion greens, tough stems removed and leaves cut crosswise into 4-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Cook greens in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until ribs are tender, 4 to 5 minutes, then drain in a colander. Rinse under cold water to stop cooking and drain well, gently pressing out excess water.
Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook garlic, stirring, until pale golden, about 30 seconds. Increase heat to moderately high, then add greens, red pepper flakes, and salt and sauté, stirring, until liquid greens give off is evaporated, about 4 minutes.

If you want to see other suggestions for things to do with Dandelions, check out the Herb of the Week post we did a few weeks ago.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hot Tea Enjoyment - Why Tea Reduces Stress

Another in the continuing series on Drinking Hot Tea, this time we address why tea is good for us and makes us feel better.
Recently my husband and I have been adding a cup of tea to our end of day ritual.  He cuts up some fruit and makes an herbal tea which we enjoy while unwinding before bed.  I have chosen a tea with Holy Basil in it to help calm the mind and aid in relaxation.
The fact tea makes you feel better is almost a cliché. But all clichés start from somewhere. The starting place for tea has to do with the fact it makes you feel better in so many different ways.
  • You drink tea when you are sick (Physical)
  • You offer tea to someone who is sad (Emotional)
  • You drink tea to calm down (Psychological)
So why do so many people believe that tea makes you feel better and are they right?
How Tea Reduces Stress
There is an amino acid in tea called theanine. There are numerous studies showing that people who take theanine supplements consistently have lower levels of stress. And when you combine theanine with caffeine, it helps to boost your brain activity as well as your mood.
It is this boost in mood and brain activity that gives us this sense of relaxation and well being that only tea can provide. Theanine is only found in tea and a very rare species of mushrooms that people do not regularly eat. So, if you are into getting your supplements naturally, tea is the only common way to get a good dose of theanine.
There is also just something about hot drinks when you are sick that is irreplaceable. If you are stuffy, they help you breathe better. If you have a sore throat, the heat helps to soothe it. This reason we all like hot drinks when we are not feeling well. Just like Grandma's chicken soup, hot drinks are one of those old fashioned remedies that always seem to help.
Antioxidant Power
Antioxidants: These protect us from the effects of aging, pollution, and too much sun. That’s why tea may bolster your immune system. Black and green teas contain potent polyphenols, giving them a high ranking along with certain super fruits and vegetables in the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score. ORAC measures the antioxidant potential of plant-based foods called phytochemicals.
When we are sick our immune systems need a bit of a boost, especially at the onset of a cold. Tea is packed with antioxidants that help our immune systems fight off different viruses that love to make us feel terrible. In addition, theanine has been shown to help boost our white blood cell count, which is another way to prevent illness.
Green Tea is believed to be the highest in antioxidants due to the curing process which holds those in rather than removing them as fermenting can in black tea.  Green Teas have been identified as the best source of a group of antioxidants called catechins. Catechins are more powerful than vitamins C and E in halting oxidative damage to cells and appear to have other disease-fighting properties. Studies have found an association between consuming green tea and a reduced risk for several cancers, including, skin, breast, lung, colon, esophageal and bladder, according to Harvard Women's Health Watch

Also if you drink herbal tea various herbs have different levels of antioxidant and free-radial diminishing properties. Fruit-based herbal teas contain antioxidants that are found naturally in fruit and therefore have some of the disease-fighting properties found in green, white and black teas. Additionally, peppermint tea demonstrated strong antioxidant and antitumor properties and the potential as an allergy remedy.  And who doesn’t want relief from allergies, especially this time of year.

In conclusion
After years of drinking and producing teas, I now realize all of the amazing benefits that I have been taking for granted in daily life which begins and ends with a cup of tea.  Due to the almost magical amino acid, theanine, tea actually is proven to elevate mood, fight colds and make you feel better. So here is to happy tea drinking and the amazing health it provides.  Please enjoy tea – everyday!

If you would like to try a black, green or herbal tea, please check out the links or visit our website: .  We have just begun marketing our loose teas in tins for better preservation of flavor and healthful properties.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Recipes for Easter and Bitter Herbs

This week for Christians is called Holy week as they celebrate the trials of Jesus leading to his death and resurrection on Easter Sunday.  This is also the week of the Jewish holiday Passover, which marks the exodus from Egypt.  I found an herb connection to these traditions which made it worth mentioning these sacred and important rituals here.

There are a number of things done in celebration that sets theses days apart from the rest of the year.   My family traditions are decidedly Anglo-Saxon and Catholic so a big part of our celebration was Hot Cross Buns. The tradition allegedly is derived from ancient Anglo-Saxons who baked small wheat cakes in honor of the springtime goddess, Eostre. After converting to Christianity, the church substituted the cakes with sweetbreads blessed by the church

Hot Cross Buns are a traditional favorite for Good Friday, Easter, and throughout the Lent season, but they are enjoyable year-round. Yeasty rolls are filled with currants or raisins and nuts, then topped with a cross of icing. In spite of the raisins and icing, these are not sweet rolls but rather have a more savory taste. The hazelnuts are optional.

Countries around the world serve sweet cakes in the same vein, such as Czech babobka and Polish baba. The Greeks and Portuguese serve round, flat loaves marked with a cross and decorated with Easter eggs. Syrian and Jordanian Christians have honey pastries.

Stuffed Ham (see recipe below)

American Traditions
In the United States, ham is a traditional Easter food. In the early days, meat was slaughtered in the fall. There was no refrigeration, and the fresh pork that wasn't consumed during the winter months before Lent was cured for spring. The curing process took a long time, and the first hams were ready around the time Easter rolled around. Thus, ham was a natural choice for the celebratory Easter dinner.
Polish Traditions
The polish tradition of Food Blessing occurs.  Called Swieconka it is one of the most enduring and beloved Polish traditions. On Saturday people take to churches decorated baskets containing a sampling of traditional food to be blessed: hard-boiled shelled eggs, ham, sausage, salt, horseradish, fruits, bread and cake. Prominently displayed among these is the Easter lamb, usually molded from butter and colorful pisanki (richly decorated Easter eggs)
Common foods brought for blessing include: eggs, bread, butter lamb, salt, horseradish, ham, and sausage.  The food blessed in the church remains untouched until Sunday morning.
Jewish Passover
Among the Jewish faith they eat matza, the unleavened bread that was eaten instead of regular leavened bread to remind them of the speedy exit from slavery.  There wasn’t time to let it rise in the haste to leave.

They are also called to eat bitter herbs during this holiday as a reminder of the bitterness of slavery.    Horseradish is the first choice for bitter herb at sedar meals.  My friends take the time to chop a large root in their kitchen for use with the sedar feast.  My friend says it is much simpler now using a modern food processor that the task was growing up when it was chopped by hand, the odor of the horseradish stinging her eyes.   Use of this herb dates all the way back to the Egyptian Kingdoms, a good 3500 years ago.

I’ve read that the Greeks used horseradish as an aphrodisiac but it wasn’t clear to me exactly
how: did they take it orally or somehow use it topically?

The custom of eating horseradish as a condiment spread to Europe during the Renaissance and to England in the mid 1600s. By late in the century the English were solidly in the habit of eating horseradish with many of their meals, in particular beef and oysters.  English settlers brought the root with them to North America and by 1840 it grew wild around Boston.

When we hear a root or food described as bitter tasting, we know this is due to the presence of a large chemical group known as alkaloids.  These kinds of chemicals are made by plants and are distinguished because they contain nitrogen. Many alkaloids have very strong pharmacologic effects in people.  Examples of some  alkaloids that are used as drugs include cocaine, nicotine, strychnine, piperine, caffeine, morphine, pilocarpine, atropine, methamphetamine, mescaline, ephedrine, and tryptamine. Alkaloid containing plants stand out because they taste nasty.
If you are interested in making this Bitter Herb for your sedar, check out my blog posts for Horseradish (part 1 & part 2) that gives you all the steps.
Happy Easter from Marcy & the Backyard Patch

Recipes Mentioned

Hot Cross Buns

3-3/4 to 4-1/4 cups all-purpose flou
1 package active dry yeast
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cooking oil
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2/3 cup currants or raisins
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (filberts) (optional)
1 slightly beaten egg white
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur or milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a large mixing bowl combine 1-1/2 cups of the flour, yeast, and Cinnful Dessert Blend (you can substitute cinnamon.)  In a small saucepan heat and stir 3/4 cup milk, the oil, granulated sugar, and salt until warm (120 degrees F to 130 degrees F). Add to flour mixture along with whole eggs. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes.

Using a spoon, stir in currants or raisins, hazelnuts (if desired), and as much of the remaining flour as you can mix in with a wooden spoon. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough (3 to 5 minutes total). Shape into a ball. Place dough in a greased bowl; turn once to grease surface. Cover and let rise until nearly double (about 1-1/2 hours).

Punch dough down. Turn out onto a floured surface. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Divide dough into 20 portions; shape each portion into a smooth ball. Place balls 1-1/2 inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until nearly double (30 to 45 minutes). With a sharp knife, make a shallow crisscross slash across each bun. Brush with egg white. Bake in a 375-degree F oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly.

In a mixing bowl combine sifted powdered sugar, hazelnuts liqueur or milk, and vanilla. Stir in milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it reaches drizzling consistency. Drizzle buns with icing (usually in a cross shape.)  Serve warm.

Stuffed Ham
3 large green cabbages, cored and fine chop
3 pounds kale, fine chop
4 lbs. onions, fine chop
4 ribs celery, fine chop
2 Tbsp. cayenne or crushed red pepper (We used N’orleans Seasoning from the Backyard Patch)
1 Tbsp. black pepper
2 tsp. mustard seed
1 Tbsp. salt
1 corned bone-in ham (about 22 pounds, give or take)

Mix together all ingredients except ham.
Cut an "X" measuring 1 inch square and 2 inches deep on underside of ham. Fill "X" with stuffing until no more will fit. Continue cutting "X's" about 1/2 to 1 inch apart all over ham, stuffing them as they are cut.
Center ham on a 4-foot long piece of double-thickness cheesecloth and place any remaining stuffing on top of ham. Wrap cheesecloth around ham and tie ends together to hold stuffing in place.
Place ham in a large stockpot and add enough water to cover. Place lid on pot and bring liquid to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook ham for 20-25 minutes per pound of ham or till internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, adding water as needed to keep ham covered.
Remove pot from heat and allow ham to cool for an hour in the cooking broth.
Transfer ham to a large colander or a rack to drain for about 1 hour.
Remove and discard cheesecloth and place any extra vegetable stuffing on top of ham in a serving dish.
To serve, slice ham and accompany with vegetable stuffing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How Tuesday - Violet syrup

I have to admit I am busy with the spring gardenin preparation and the programs I have been doing and scheduling, but I just had to share this (so I am not just posting this becasue it keeps me from writing a blog myself!!)

With spring the violets bloom first.  Here in Illinois they are coming, but with 37 degrees as a high and snow predicted I am guessing we will not have a bumper crop here for a bit yet.  However, if you live a bit farther south than the great lakes, this is the perfect time to make Violet syrup and flower jellies.

My freind Tina Sams (of the Essential Herbal Magazine) had a great post back in 2009 that she recently updated about how to make violet syrup.  Her blog is great so I suggest you click the link and check it out.

We were again published in the Essential Herbal Magazine.  If you want to subscribe to this reasonably priced Herb Magazine for all types of herb lovers, check out this link: Essential Herbal.

Thank you!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lectures and programs

I just had to share what a marvelous time I had today doing a program for the Hinsdale (IL) Garden Study Group today.  They had about 40 members there and I did my program "INFUSIONS" which is about making vinegars, oils, water, sugar and salts infused with herbs.  I passed items around and demonstrated some techniques and shared the way to make each of the infused items.  The women were wonderfully attentive, even though I ran long and had extraordinary questions.  Overall it was a great experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Tomorrow I will be presenting and selling my wares at the Oakbrook, IL chapter of the Salvation Army women's group.  I am looking forward to this group and its educational theme.  I will be doing my program "Beginning Herbs"  where I speak about how to grow and use herbs.

The Salvation Army is one of Chas and my favorite charities and this year I know donations were down, so I am virtually donating my program tomorrow so they don't have to dig into their coffers to pay my fee.  In exchange they are letting me set out a few things to sell which should cover my gas expenses, if the cost of gas does not go up again!!

If you have a local Illinois, southern Wisconsin or western Indiana organization and would like me to come share about herbs, you can see a list of all my available programs, by visiting

Have a great day!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fresh Mint Salad

Spearmint getting bushy
Is the mint coming up in your garden? Mine is probably the only green thing I seem to be able to find in any abundance.  The first leaves are lovely in a spring salad. Here's a recipe that highlights its bright taste in a sprightly lemon-mint tabbouleh with plum tomatoes and fresh parsley.

Tabbouleh Salad  
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup chopped seeded plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 large green onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Whisk oil, lemon juice, and garlic in small bowl to blend; set aside. Place bulgur in large bowl. Mix in 1 cup boiling water. Let stand until bulgur is tender and water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Mix in tomatoes, parsley, green onions, and mint. Add oil mixture; toss to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Let stand at least 30 minutes to blend flavors. (Can be made 1 day ahead. ) Cover; chill.
If you love the taste of mint, we have a great assortment of Mint Herbal Teas that are great hot or iced.  Please check these out at or our Ebay tea listing.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Herb of the Week - Lovage and Smallage

I could not decide between two celery-flavored herbs, so this week I thought I would do both (especially since the post is a day late!

Herb of the Week this week is: Lovage and Smallage

Smallage (Apium graveolens) is considered "wild celery" and has a more intense celery flavor and aroma the the related large modern stalks of celery with leaves that look like parsley.  Lovage (Levisticum officinale) has a broader deeply cut leaf with a similar strong celery flavor that can be found in the stalks, leaves and seeds.  You only need a little to bring that celery flavor.


Lovage has been used since Roman times as a medicinal herb, while Smallage as wild celery is believed to have been worn around the neck of King Tutankhaman.  The celery we know today was created by breeding the Smallage in the 17th and 18th centuries.

To Grow

Smallage is a biennial, like parsley so the second year is when you will get seeds.  You can grow it from seed started indoors, then plant the seedlings in full sun once the thread of frost has passed.  They are planted in a trench or row so the soil can be mounded around them and the entier plant can be harvest as wanted.  You do not need to let the all go to seed, only a few.  You can grow the plant from seed you harvest, so do not be afraid to let it go to seed the second year.  You do not want to let it get big, so 15 inches is good before using or havesting.

Lovage is best started from plants (and only one plant is needed for the average family), but it is a perennial, so once established it will return each year.  This plant prefers a bit of shade and should be protected from full sun or the leaves will yellow and burn.  You can share the plant with divisions done int he spring or fall.  This plant likes a moist soil, especially int he heat of the summer.  It can get 2 to 3 feet tall and will flower in umbels like dill which feature white flowers in late spring, early summer.  Space the plants 24 inches as the are club-growers and will round out.  It is a nice companion plant to fennel, hyssop and catmint.

Lovage will die back to ground at the end of the season, so don't panic if you don't see what was so tall at the end of the season.

To use

With Smallage cut the individual stalks as needed and harvest the seeds by cutting the stalk and hanging to upside down to dry with the seed head covered.

Use fresh Smallage leaves in salads and sauces, and add the seeds to stews and casseroles.The stalks can have a harsh taste and used in French cuisine, but usually blanched first to draw away the bitterness and make them more sweet like their commercial cousins.

Smallage seeds have been studied for the ability to lower blood pressure and positive results have been found in tests using rats.  I believe this makes the case for adding it to your diet in moderation as an edible herbs with positive health properties.

For Lovage you want to harvest the roots in the fall or spring (when you would also dig out divisions) using a sharp spade or garden fork.  Any time during the growing season you can harvest the leaves and stems.  If saving the seed (which is a great substitute for celery seed) you can cut the stem as the seeds begin to turn golden or tie them with cheese cloth and allow to mature further before hanging upside down for a final drying.

After several seasons dig up your Lovage in the spring and divide the root, or find and transplant new self-sown seedlings. You can preserve or use the root by washing it, and cutting it into small pieces. Dry the pieces on a screen and store away from light. Your Lovage plant will do much better after division.

Lovage is best used fresh, but you can freeze the leaves and stems. Blanch a handful of leaves in boiling water VERY quickly then quickly throw into a bowl of ice water for a couple of minutes. Drain, place in plastic freezer bags and freeze. The frozen Lovage can be minced and used in cooked dishes. Lovage has a strong taste so use sparingly, increasing the amount only if you are sure it will not overpower the dish.

Add a teaspoon of fresh minced Lovage to your chicken soup during the last 15 or 20 minutes of cooking. Lovage is perfect in soups and long cook dishes in place of celery.You can also add it to hot or chilled vegetable, meat, potato or tomato soups. Add one to two tablespoons of minced fresh Lovage to your meatloaf recipes. Harvest Lovage seeds to use whole or ground in cakes, meats, biscuits, breads, sauces, cheeses, salad dressings, or pickles. Add fresh leaves to your favorite potato salad or coleslaw too.
Cut up in stuffing is is a compliment to poultry.  You can use it anywhere the strong flavor of celery is desired.  You can also use the seeds and roots in foot and body baths.  All the parts can be used to make tea which is great for treating winter illnesses and respiratory issues.

In the spring, once your plants are established you can cut the stalks of lovage and eat them raw or blanch them for a spring vegetable.  Add a few leaves to a salad for a an aromatic enhancement.


Pink Risotto with Smallage (serves 4)

1 largeish bunch of Smallage
1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
3 green garlic stalks, cleaned as leeks and chopped, discarding the dark green leaves
1 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley
3 canned tomatoes, seeded and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
3 Tbs. unsalted butter, divided
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for table

Finely dice the smallage stalks and leaves, (reserving a few of the leaves), by cutting the stalks lengthwise into thin strips, then bunching the strips together and cutting them crosswise. In a small saute pan, combine the olive oil, garlic, and parsley. Cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until garlic is opaque. Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Cover over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Set aside off the heat. Bring the broth to boil in a saucepan. Turn off the heat and keep on the stove with the lid on. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the diced celery and leaves, except for the reserved leaves, and toss in the butter. Cook over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains. Let cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add enough broth to just cover the rice and celery and bring to a simmer. Keep the lid partially on the saucepan and stir often, until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth, just enough to cover, and stir frequently, until the rice is al dente and the risotto is creamy and liquid. This should take approximately 18 minutes. In the final few minutes of cooking, stir in the remaining celery leaves. Off the heat, stir in the remaining tablespoons of butter and the grated Parmesan cheese. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Grind a little black pepper over the top and stir again. Serve in shallow pasta bowls with extra grated Parmesan cheese at the table.

Peas & Carrots with Lovage

1 pound of fresh or frozen peas
1 1/2 pounds of  baby carrots - sliced
2 tablespoons of chopped Lovage
3 tablespoons of mayonnaise
3 tablespoons of regular yogurt
1 teaspoon of mustard

Combine the peas and carrots and steam for 10-15 minutes.  Set aside.  Mix the other ingredients thoroughly, then add the peas and carrots. Place in the refrigerator and allow to cool completely, and serve as a cool and refreshing side dish. 

Lovage and Smallage are flavors I use to enhance my soup mixes and soup seasonings.  You will see it listed as celery or celery seed.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Garden Work Checklist - Spring Care for Hardy Herbs

Last weekend I was out working in the garden, removing the winter from the garden. 

The following is a checklist of things I was doing that are perfect Spring care for hardy herbs --

·         Clean winter debris such as wind blown branches, over winter mulch, etc. from the beds.
·         Cut back the stems of those plants that grow from vigorous underground roots (like Silver King Artemisia, bergamot, mints, rue, tansy, tarragon and yarrow) the dead stems can be broken or cut off, if done gently enough so as to protect the underground growth.  To do best, hold the bottom of the stem securely at the soil while breaking or cutting off the top.
·         Trim lavender, southernwoods, and upright thyme for good grooming.  Don’t pull them out, no matter how dead they look.  New growth will soon pop out of most of the branches.  You can cut out the deadwood later when it becomes obvious.
·         Divide your perennials to give you filler for new spaces or starts for new gardens.  Plants like mint, sage, hyssop, thyme, oregano, chives, lemon balm and tarragon can all be root divided and moved to new locations.  This is especially good if they are older than 4 years.  Fresh soil and environment with give them a new vigor and enrich their flavor.
·         Pull roots of any wandering herbs that may have strayed out of bounds (this will happen with runner herbs like mint).
·         If you have new beds you plan to use or spaces you are expanding into, now is a good time to turn over that soil and perhaps work in some compost.  Do not overwork the soil or do this if the soil is very wet from recent rains.  You do not want to compact the soil

Dividing Herbs

One of the simplest and best propagation methods is dividing an existing plant. You know what you have, don’t have to worry you got the right variety and you know it’s growing habit and flavor.  Dividing exisitng plants requires some elbow grease, but is not that difficult.  Just follow these steps:

  1. First you want to use a shovel or garden fork to dig up a section of the roots of an established plant.  Don’t dig it entirely out.  If it is growing too far to the left and crowding another plant, start there.
    courtesy of J Crowlie
  3. Cut and remove the plant and the root and shake off the excess soil and separate the plant into clumps of about a fist size.
  4. Choose where you want the new plants to reside and dig holes about twice the size of the root clumps you will be planting.
  5. Replant the new divisions into the holes into which you have placed 2 to 4 inches of compost in the bottom.  Press soil around the plant firmly so that it will not fall over, but not so tightly that you press out the air or the water from the soil. 
  6. Water well and let thrive.
For more details and a chart for when to divide certain plants, check out this link to the Clemson Cooperative Extension

~Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh (2011)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Anti Inflammatory Herbs – Herbal Remedies for Inflammation and Pain

As I start moving around and washing my containers for spring planting I am immediately reminded of my age and all of its aches and pains.  With a family history of arthritis and a recent injury to my hand I am acutely aware of the problems caused by inflammation.

Inflammation is a condition when a body reacts to any infection, injury or irritation, environmental changes or malignancy. Due to inflammation swelling, pain, redness or change in color of the skin is felt. But sometimes some internal inflammation can result giving rise to fever and other discomforts.

The inflammatory response involves the activation of white blood cells that start releasing some chemicals such as cytokines and prostaglandins. Inflammation is mostly treated by administering varied doses of corticosteroids that are effective in reducing and suppressing inflammation.  Steroids are not a long term solution however as the side effects can cause other issues.  There for I researched treatments for anti inflammation:

There are many herbal therapies that have been tried through ages and have proven record in healing inflammation by treating the cause. Latest scientific researches have given the final approval to opt for these herbal therapies rather than the OTC drugs.

But remember this information is for reference and education only.  It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a physician.  I do not advocate self-diagnosis or self-medication.  Be aware that any plant substance, whether used as food or medicine, externally or internally, may cause allergic reactions in some people.  Everyone responds differently to herbs. Use them carefully and responsibly.

1. Turmeric is one of the common anti inflammatory herb that is widely used in Asian recipes in good amounts. It helps in reducing swelling, pain in arthritis, tendonitis, sprains and other autoimmune disorders. So addition of extra turmeric in curries is beneficial in the long run! But this treatment is time consuming and it may test one’s patience.

2. Ginger is another herb which is popular for its anti inflammatory properties and is used liberally in most Asian dishes. Taking ginger tea regularly in the morning relieves a lot of inflammation.

3. White willow bark is another inflammatory herb that helps in reducing pain, this is actually the original plant studied for the creation of aspirin.  It has been studied recently and is seen as good for many pain applications, but is not found to be effective against arthritis in any form.  However it does have some toxicity issues so ask for professional advice if you desire to try it.

4. Devil’s claw is said to work well on arthritis both in reducing inflammation and pain. Known also as Harpagophytum procumbens, Grapple Plant and Wood Spider it is a plant native to southern Africa.
The unique name comes from the small hooks on the plant's fruit. The active ingredients in devil's claw are believed to be iridoid glycosides called harpagosides, which are found in the secondary root. 
It is not an herb I am personally familiar with, so that is all I can say.
5. Licorice root is another popular anti inflammatory herb, but its prolonged use may raise the blood pressure and cause potassium loss. So person suffering from hypertension must be cautious with its use.

6. Arnica, also known as Arnica Montana, is another herb that is widely used in treating pains and bruises. It can be taken in regulated doses or sometimes a tincture can be applied to the affected areas to reduce inflammation. Arnica cannot be extracted at home nor can the plant grown at home be used for treatment.  It is actually toxic in plant form and should be handled carefully and products acquired only from reputable sources.

7. St John’s Wort though used to treat depression has also some anti- inflammatory properties. This is an easy plant to grow and the flowers, which bloom in June, are the best place to extract the helpful compounds from.  Making a tincture that is applied topically is good as is taking it internally.

8. Flax seed in a poultice is also very effective in treating bronchitis and reduces swellings in gouts and rheumatoid arthritis.  The plant is another you can grow at home.  But remember potency will vary with home-grown herbs as you have no standards to measure your finished product, so effectiveness will vary.

These herbs are very commonly used and are somewhat easily available. In sudden injuries these can be applied immediately for some relief before consulting any doctor. They are cheap and if applied properly with supervision, one can avoid spending money on painkillers and other drugs.

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