Monday, January 30, 2012

Hot Tea Enjoyment step 6 - Tea Tastings

We have been working our way through 7 ways to enjoy hot tea in celebration of January as Hot Tea Month.  Here is number 6.

6. Host a tea tasting with friends. Try several different flavors and compare notes. Or hold an actual tea and serve scones and treats with your tea selections.

I love the possibility of inviting people over to try tea.  When I do programs on tea and herbal tea, I always have participants try samples because once you understand how different teas and herbs taste you can begin to put them together into blends of your own which you can enjoy.

Al you need to host a tasting is a tea kettle, some cotton tea infusers (easier than cleaning out the tea ball each time), a selection of tea cups or mugs, and a few friends.

A short tea sample list would include both traditional tea and /or herb teas.  You can combine a tasting of both or choose one or the other as a theme.  You brew up the teas or herbs and have everyone jot down impressions, likes and dislikes and discuss them.

Two Tea Tasting Event Suggestions

Be aware that black, green, oolong, and white teas all come from the same plant – Camellia sinensis.  The flavors of these tea leaves however, vary by growing region’s soil conditions and weather.  So tasting the various teas and linking them to country of origin is always a great way to study the differences in flavor.

Varieties to include in Camellia sinensis tasting:

Black Tea is the strongest tea in color, flavor, and in caffeine content. It is fermented giving it a dark color, and a full-bodied hearty flavor. 

Earl Grey (a black tea blended with bergamot oil so it has a citrus after taste)
Assam (rich aroma, strong-flavored, malty body)
Darjeeling (rich golden color with a delightful aroma)
English Breakfast (traditional full-bodied tea, familiar aroma)
Irish Breakfast ( darker and more rich than English breakfast)
Lapsang Souchong (a robust tea with smoky aroma and flavor, may be an acquired taste)

Green tea is created using hand-picked tea leaves steamed immediately after harvest, allowing the leaves to retain their bright green color, and fresh vibrant taste.  A popular tea, it is most well-known for its health benefits and as a powerful antioxidant. 
Two main styles to try are Gunpowder (also known as Pearl) and Dragon well.

Oolong is a medley of black and green tea leaves created by only partly fermenting the leaves.  This tea is beautiful, full bodied, and has a mildly smooth aftertaste. It is preferred by those who dislike the bitterness commonly associated with green tea and contains less caffeine than black tea. 

White tea has become recently popular.  It is the least processed for the tea leaves are simply picked and dried.  White tea is picked early in the season when the buds are still fresh, young and tender. The taste is very mild and sweet.

An herb tea item list for tasting, could include:

Once you have tried the herbs, find three to combine together to make your own herbal tea blend.  Although herbs can be taken singularly in tea, the best flavors come when you combine the herbs together to create a rich combination that exhibits all the aspect you enjoy singly.

Blackberry leaf – this is an earthy flavor, it combines well with sweet and floral tastes and is goof for female issues of cramping, digestion and other concerns.

Lemon Balm – this is a sweet gently lemony flavored herb with a multitude of medicinal properties which it can impart to tea.  Trying it to see that it is not overpowering in its tartness is always good

Spearmint or Peppermint – these mints are gently cooling in flavor and will work well with most other herbs earthly, savory or sweet.  Peppermint is a sharper more mint-like flavor and Spearmint is a gently soothing taste.  You may want to try both to discover a favorite.

Thyme – a savory traditional cooking her, this herb brings many medicinal properties like being an anti-bacterial to the table.  It is to be used sparingly as it can overpower the flavor of other herb and more is not needed to gain it medicinal benefits.

Chamomile – an old fashioned remedy for colic and sleeplessness this herb adds a apple-like flavor to tea.  It is used for it soothing properties as well as its nice sweet flavor.

Lavender – some lavenders can seem soapy tasting, so I recommend a pure blue lavender for tea.  The savory sweet flavor as well as the relaxing and stress relieving qualities make it a great addition to herbal tea.

Rose hips – the flavor they add is soft, but tart, however the vitamin C they bring is better than several glasses of orange juice.

To go with your teas, you can enjoy scones and biscotti.  Tea is the perfect accompaniment to dry items and those with light flavors so you combine with the flavor of the tea rather than overpower it.

Here is a seasonally friendly scone recipe:

Nut & Raisin Sticky scones

4 cups unbleached flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 T baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 egg
4 T butter, cut into pieces
1 1 /2 cups buttermilk
½ cup raisins
1 cup pecans
4 T butter melted
¾ cup brown sugar
1 T honey
1 T molasses

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  In a large mixing bowl add flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, baking powder and soda.  Stir.  Add the egg and butter pats and beat at low speed with an electric mixer for one minute.

Slowly add the buttermilk to the bowl and continue to beat just until the dough is formed.  Do not over beat

Turn out the dough onto floured bread board and lightly press out the dough to form a rectangle, approx 1 inch thick.  Sprinkle with raisins and nuts.  Roll up the dough form the long side, to form a log.  Cut into 8 to 10 slices.

In a small bowl Mix together melted butter, ¾ cup brown sugar, honey and molasses.  Pour this mixture into buttered 9 x 13 baking pan.  Place the sliced rolls into the baking dish.  Bake for 28 minutes.

And if you want already blended tea for your event, be sure to check out all our Backyard Patch tea blends, or our monthly tea subscriptions available on Etsy.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Winter Gardening To Do lists

I started worrying about my garden the other day.  It has been unseasonable warm here and I started to worry that the perennials might have gotten he signal to sprout and that could give me large amounts of winter kill if the weather turns like I expect it to any day now.  Before I went out the garden (which is located about 9 miles from my apartment) I looked up the winter to do lists to see if there was anything I needed to accomplish while I was out there.

Of course this is January, so there was nothing on the list for me to do outside.  I thought rather than let that file work go to waste I would share with you the zone specific list of chores for those of us in the Midwest.  If you live farther south than Illinois or north of Wisconsin, these lists might be what you needed to do last month or what you cannot do for another month or so!

January & February TO Do Lists

Zone 4
  • Order seeds
  • Sow seeds indoors for hardy spring-blooming plants
  • Cut back on feeding houseplants (do not feed dormant houseplants)
Zone 5
  • Order seeds
  • Sow seeds for hardy spring-blooming plants
  • Cut back on feeding houseplants (do not feed dormant houseplants)
  • Sow frost-tolerant perennials indoors
Zone 6
  • Order seeds
  • Sow seeds of warm-season annuals
  • Sow seeds for hardy spring-blooming plants
  • Cut back on feeding houseplants (do not feed dormant houseplants)
  • Sow seeds for cool-weather vegetables
  • Sow frost-tolerant perennials indoors


Zone 4
  • Order seeds
  • Sow seeds indoors for hardy spring-blooming plants
  • Cut back on feeding houseplants (do not feed dormant houseplants)
  • Sow seeds for cool-weather vegetables
  • Sow frost-tolerant perennials indoors

Zone 5
  • Order seeds
  • Sow seeds for hardy spring-blooming plants
  • Cut back on feeding houseplants (do not feed dormant houseplants)
  • Sow seeds for cool-weather vegetables
  • Sow frost-tolerant perennials indoors
Zone 6
  • Order seeds
  • Sow seeds of warm-season annuals
  • Sow seeds for hardy spring-blooming plants
  • Cut back on feeding houseplants (do not feed dormant houseplants)
  • Sow seeds for cool-weather vegetables
  • Sow frost-tolerant perennials indoors

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pineapple Sage - Herb of the week

I have been admiring the Pineapple Sage I brought into the house this fall because it was still flowering when frost hit.  As as a result, today's

 Herb of the week is: Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans

Belonging to the mint family Labiatae, it is indigenous to high altitude regions of Guatemala and Mexico. Despite its name, this perennial flowering plant is not related to pineapple. It is so called with reference to the scented leaves, whose sweet fragrance resembles that of the pineapple fruit. Similar to the growth habit of common sage, pineapple sage plant is a shrub of about 4-5 feet.  It will begin flowering in Mexico in August, but farther north it may not flower until much later in the fall.
Including pineapple sage in your garden will allow you to enjoy lovely butterflies and humming birds visiting this fragrant plant. Harvest the leaves occasionally and enjoy them yourself or dry them for later use.

How to Grow

Considered a tender perennial, Pineapple sage is best adapted in USDA zones 8-11, so here in Illinois I am forced to grow it in a pot if I want to keep it from one year to the next. The ideal growing conditions are optimal sunlight exposure (at least 6 hours a day), well-drained and fertile soil, and regular watering. Based on your plan, it can be included in container gardening or grow directly in garden soil. Planting is best done in spring with stem cuttings. Prepare potting media or garden soil in early spring and purchase already rooted plantlets from the nursery, and plant in the regular way as you do for other bushy herbs. Pineapple sage is easily propagated from stem cuttings rooted in potting soil or a mixture of sand and peat moss.  Pinching the tops of newly rooted cuttings reaps dual benefits: it promotes a bushier plant, and you can use the tasty young leaves to flavor a fruit salad or dessert.

The pale yellow-green leaves are veined, and covered with fine hairs. Six to twelve scarlet flowers grow in whorls, with a long inflorescence that blooms gradually and over a prolonged period of time. Scarlet colored flower buds in long tubular shapes appear in the late season, usually after everything else has bloomed. The buds bloom in a specific pattern, with the base flowers opening first. For regions with short fall or an early frost, transfer the plants indoors to lengthen their blooming period. This year I brought mine inside in October and it bloomed up until Christmas.  Remember that it cannot tolerate prolonged dry spells and cold temperature, so you must water it regularly if you bring it indoors or the leaves with turn brown on the edges.
Because it’s a tender perennial, the way you grow pineapple sage depends on your climate. In the South, it is treated as a perennial, in the North as an annual. Either way, it develops into a graceful mound of fragrant foliage, equally at home in a formal herb garden or a casual herbaceous border. An established plant in the South needs a space about 41/2 feet in diameter, preferably at the rear of a border or in the center of an island bed where it will not obstruct the view of foreground plants. When placing pineapple sage among other ornamental flowers, consider the colors of its fall-blooming neighbors; for example, white or lavender asters might be a better choice than vivid magenta ones. If you grow pineapple sage as an annual, think of it as a foliage plant, as it may need to be brought indoors before it flowers. To facilitate the transition, you can grow it in a large container. This guarantees a satisfactory root system for it to carry on indoors and minimizes the shock of moving it when its season in the garden is over.

For easy maintenance, consider laying a mulch layer around the stem. This will reduce soil moisture evaporation and weed growth. If required, stake the plants to protect from strong winds, they can get tall and the stems are not woody, when you trim them they will bush out. The maximum height for pineapple sage is about 3 to 4 feet in the first year.  If you live in the right zone they you can winter them over and get higher growth the following year.

Pineapple Sage Uses

The pineapple sage is a well-known multipurpose herb, prized for its versatile application. It is used as a curative plant, a flavorful herb for garnishing dishes and a specimen plant for avid gardeners.  
Pineapple sage leaves are edible and can be steeped in hot water to make an herbal tea or jam. It is also used in perfumes.
Cut them freely; buds on the lateral shoots will develop in abundance to produce a steady supply of flowers for your garden. The dried leaves and flowers impart their delicate, fruity bouquet to potpourri—it is hard to use too much. Entire stems can be dried for use in herbal wreaths.

In the kitchen, fruit salads are enhanced by the fruity, piquant flavor of the fresh flowers and leaves. This flavor is very different from that of garden sage; although there is a sagey element, it’s very subtle, and pineapple sage doesn’t substitute for other culinary sages. The flowers add visual sparkle as well. Even without flowers, a fresh leafy stem of pineapple sage is the perfect garnish for tall summer drinks.

For food lovers, pineapple sage recipes are perfect for including a flavorful dish in the meal menu. From sweet banana smoothie to bread, fritters, salsa and chicken recipes, the sweet scented leaves complement nearly all types of dishes that call for a rich flavor.  Try mixing the minced leaves and flowers in cream cheese for a delightfully fruity spread, or knead a handful or two of chopped leaves into raisin bread dough. Steeping the leaves in hot apple juice and using the juice to make jelly is an easy way to preserve the pineapple sage flavor. You can preserve the sweetness in herbal sugar too by layering the leaves in sugar and allowing to infuse for a day or 5. The dried leaves can be brewed for a satisfying winter tea; however, the fruity element is lost in drying.

The purported health benefits of this herb include calming the nervous system, serving as a general tonic, improving the digestive health and treating heartburn. Pineapple sage is extensively used in Mexican traditional medicine, especially for the treatment of anxiety, and also for lowering of blood pressure. Although scientific information about these medicinal properties is scarce, a preliminary study on mice found support for the plant potentially having anti depressant and anti anxiety properties.


Pineapple Sage Smoothie
1/3 cup skim milk
3/4 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 banana
1 tsp honey
1 1/2 tbls pineapple sage packed and chopped

Place ingredients in blender in the order ingredients are listed. Process until smooth.

Pineapple Sage Pound Cake
I adapted this recipe from a pineapple and sage pound cake and I find it is much sweeter less savory with Pineapple sage.

1 cup butter (room temperature)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
5 eggs
2 tbls pineapple sage leaves, chopped
3 tbls pineapple sage flowers, coarsely chopped
1 tsp grated lemon rind
4 tbls crushed pineapple, drained
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour four miniature loaf pans Cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Beat in the honey. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure to beat for one minute after each addition. Beat in the sage leaves, flowers, lemon peel, and crushed pineapple. Stir the dry ingredients together and add to the butter mixture. Fold these together gently, until just blended. Pour into loaf pans. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until golden brown (wooden pick inserted into center will come out clean). Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of pans and continue to cool.

*I used a regular size loaf pan just bake a little longer till brown and cake tester comes out clean.

Pineapple Sage and Ginger Chicken
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (pounded to 1/3 inch uniform thickness)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
grapeseed oil
1 bunch of  fresh pineapple sage leaves, washed and chopped)
2 tbls ginger puree
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 lb pasta (gemelli or fettuccini)
whole pineapple sage leaves for garnish

Preparing the chicken: If you have a little time before cooking dinner, lightly salt and pepper the chicken breasts. It's great if you can do this the night before, but it's not necessary. Mix about a half teaspoon of salt in with the flour along with a little pepper. Dredge both sides of the chicken lightly in the flour. Heat a large heavy skillet (with a lid) over medium high heat, with a little grape seed oil and about half a tablespoon of butter. Quickly sear both sides of the chicken breast until just faintly golden; you don't want the insides to cook much at all. Cover tightly and turn the heat down very low. Cook for 10 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove from the heat and let sit for another 10 minutes, still tightly covered. Transfer chicken to warming plate, tented with foil to keep it warm.

 Whisk the ginger puree into the wine. Heat the skillet with the pan juices and fat, scrapping up any fond (brown bits) from the bottom of the pan, and sauté the sage leaves just until wilted. Deglaze the pan with the wine and ginger mixture, letting it bubble until slightly reduced. Add the broth and cook until reduced by half. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package instructions. Drain and toss with the ginger sauce. I saved a little bit of the ginger sauce to pour over the chicken. OR: Place the pasta on the platter, then the chicken and pour all the sauce evenly on top of the mixture. Serve the chicken on top of the pasta. Garnish with a few whole pineapple sage leaves. Serving suggestion: steamed vegetables and/or a tossed salad using seasonal produce. Basmati rice or jasmine rice is another option instead of pasta.

*To make your own ginger puree, finely grate 1 tablespoon fresh ginger and stir in about 1 tablespoon softened honey (or cane sugar). Do not substitute dry or ground ginger in this recipe as it will be overpowering in flavor and strength.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cold and Flu Symptom Teas

As I chugged down another cup of herbal tea trying to soothe the sore throat, cough and congestion I have been fighting with for a week now, I thought what a wonderful idea for a thoughtful gift for someone suffering the same way, but to make them herbal tea. 
Now I have hundreds (that is not an exaggeration) of tea infusers, but many people I know do not.  That was when I stumbled across this great idea.  I found it on Dinah’s Gourmet Gifts.
Cheese cloth tea sachets.  Here are her instructions: 

  • Place a small square of double ply cheese cloth on a flat surface.
  • mound herbal tea blend on one end 
  • tightly roll up the cheese cloth  “sushi style” 
  • bring the open ends to the center of the “sushi roll” 
  • tightly bind in pretty cotton embroidery thread

She even suggested a cardstock label with the ingredients and the healing properties of the herbs included.
This was so cute a picture in my head, when she said you could put them in a glass jar or a cellophane bag, I thought "hey why not a cute tea mug or tea cup…"
Then I realized I was using three different tea blends at home as a remedy for my ills and I could share those with you and you can make tea sachets for yourself or those you care about who are under the weather.

I received this as a gift when I was the volunteer, volunteer coordinator for the PBS station in Indianapolis.  I loved that position and this has become my favorite mug, especially when I am ill!
Soothing Tea
1 part mint
1 part hyssop
1 part oregano
1 part parsley
1 part lemon balm

Place all herbs in a tea ball or bag, put in your nicest or most favorite cup or mug, and cover with boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes. Remember you are feeling ill so pamper yourself.

Floral Flu Symptom Tea
2 parts Calendula
1 part Feverfew
1 part Lavender
1 part lemon balm

Blend the herbs together, then use 2 tsp per cup of just off boiling water and steep for 7 to 10 minutes.  Sweeten with honey if needed.

Bronchial Congestion Tea
1 ½ oz Aniseed
1 oz Calendula flowers
3/4 oz Marshmallow root
1/3 oz Licorice root

Crush aniseeds and add to herbs. Pour 1 cup just off boiling water over 1 tsp. mixture and steep 10 minutes.

I have also been drinking From the Hearth Tea from the Essential Herbal which I recommend as well, it has holy basil, rose hips, lemon grass, and other strengthening herbs.  

Blends from the Backyard Patch that are popular for winter colds include: Winter Remedy, Cure All, Headache Relief, and Work cure.  This last blend has a bit of cayenne which clears the head and makes it easier to stay alert at work.  You can check out all the Herbal Tea with this link.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter Blah boost With Herbs

Winter Mood Booster Herbs

There has been virtually no snow this winter.  Many days it feels like spring outside, but unlike spring there is not lengthening of the days yet, no greening of the plants and if there is you worry that the next temperature turn will kill them and lessen real spring when it does come months from now.

With my husband going into the hospital at the first of the year and myself gathering a nice seasonal cold by the second week of the month, this year has brought on a serious case of the winter blahs.  I have no creativity at all.  Writing the blogs takes so much energy that I am lucky to write one a day which hardly gets me ahead for gardening season!  My fiction writing is in an untouched pile on the desk and even the thought that I might be getting something back from my editor is not exciting to me.  My beadwork has been spread out on the table for weeks and I have not even bothered to fix my broken earrings.  And we will not even talk about the housework that I have not accomplished this month…

I realized I needed some winter recovery in a hurry.  I turned to a few natural mood boosters. Try adding little things to your life that bring you joy till you reach a tipping point and have to give in to being in better spirits -- from a hot date with your bathtub every night for a week to fresh-cut flowers by your bed.  Sometimes it just takes a little creativity to find your way out of the doldrums of winter.  Someone once told me a cold shower in the morning is good for removing the blah’s too, but I have not yet given that the test.

Here are a few herbs shown to help ease you out of that rut...

Remember always check with your physician before beginning a new regimen (especially if you're on medication).

Lemon balm – Loved by gardeners and herbalists for its fresh minty-lemon aroma, Lemon Balm is known for its relaxing and calming effects and great flavor.  Lemon balm is wonderful in combination with milky oats and chamomile as a relaxing after-dinner tea.

St. John’s Wort might be one of the most well-known herbal remedies for depression.  It has been the focus of many scientific studies, but the evidence of its effectiveness has been inconsistent.  The general consensus seems to be that it can be healthful for mild forms of depression but lacks the ability to treat more severe depression all by itself.  This makes sense, since herbs, though potent, are not drugs and any herbal protocol for serious issues should have a broad and multi-tiered approach.  That said, individuals have had positive results taking St. John’s Wort, and it has a long history of use, especially in Europe.  Taking St. John’s Wort in the form of a tincture is easy and doable.  If you do not make your own tinctures, check out a supplier like Mountain Rose Herbs for a bottle of tincture.  Follow the instructions on the bottle or ask your healthcare provider for their recommended serving size specifically for you.  I am not one from the capsules, but I do make it into tea.  I have never grown more than I can use personally, so I do not have a tea blend with St. John’s Wort.

Lavender is one of the best herbs for relaxing tension, calming anxiety, and easing mild depression.  Turning to lavender essential oil is fast, easy, and uplifting when you’re feeling down.  Dilute the oil in a bath, use an essential oil diffuser, or apply a drop or two to your clothing or pillow case.

One of my first tea blends (a combination of lavender and lemon balm) was created during the winter doldrums when I was trying to make it through an especially dark winter.  After being outside gardening all summer the lack of activity and daylight took its toll.  The resulting blend is Lemon lavender Splash.  It even sounds uplifting, doesn’t it?

My Afternoon Lift  Tea was created the following year with the same idea in mind.  It contains cinnamon, chamomile and lemon balm and lemon peel.  It is a good treatment for winter ailments as well as mood lifting.

Everyone always asks me why I seem happiest in winter when it snows a lot.  That is because I love snow.  After a storm when the air is brisk and the sun is out I love to go for a walk and those in the know will tell you, Vitamin D which we get from sunlight exposure is especially good for improving your mood.  When there is no snow, I do not get outside much.  So don’t forget to get some time in the sunshine when you have the opportunity.  It’s for sure the best way to bring a little extra light into your winter day!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Ten Buying Tips & and a Top 10 for Herb Seeds

Ten Tips Buying Seeds  &  Top Ten Seeds to Buy

This year I am so focused on what my garden will look like next year, that I have had the seed catalogs online and in paper form out on the desk since December!  I am not going to let Spring planting sneak up on me and find me unprepared this year!  You can avoid this problem too by shopping for seeds in mid-winter.  It is a great way to spend a snow day (if we every get one) and gives you plenty of time to sort out the details of the next growing season. Whether you buy your seeds though the mail or from your local garden center, here are ten tips help you get the most for your money.

Tips for Buying Seed

For the best selection and prices, browse a variety of seed catalogs. Most of the major suppliers make their catalogs available online, which is a great way to start gathering ideas. When it's time to place an order, look for seed companies that specialize in plants that are grown in your specific region. Use the Garden Watchdog to type in your zip code and get a list of companies in your area.  

After placing your order, keep your catalogs, or print the relevant pages, for reference.  They contain important information about your seeds that you may find useful later. Remember that catalog statistics like height, spread, and days to maturity should only be used as an estimate. How your plants ultimately perform is dependent on local growing conditions.
Seed catalogs and websites include a lot of abbreviations in their descriptions. Most of these reference a plant's resistance to disease, or indicate a cultivar that has earned special merit. Look for a key to the symbols at beginning of the catalog or on the bottom of each page.

These are two types of seeds: hybrids and open-pollinated cultivars. Hybrids may produce earlier harvest and higher yields, but often at the expense of natural hardiness and resistance to disease. Seeds saved from hybrid plants may either be sterile or fail to breed true to their parent plant. Open-pollinated seeds are from traditional varieties that have been selected and grown for their desirable traits over a period of many years. They may taste better and are often more adaptable to local growing conditions. Seeds saved from open pollinated plants stay true to their parent plant.

Other things to know about Seeds

Fresh seed has the highest rate of germination. When purchasing seeds off the rack, check the date stamped on the packet. Be sure it's the current year. If you don't see a date, don't buy it.

Tiny seeds are sometimes coated in clay (pelleted) to make them easier to handle and sow. The pellets are sown on top of the soil, where the clay coating dissolves and exposes the seed when it comes into contact with water. Keep in mind that although pelleted seed packets look bulky, they may not contain as many seeds as you think.

Research before you buy. Choose cultivars based on plant size, habit, and tolerance of your soil conditions. If specific climate or growing conditions in your area tend to leave plants vulnerable to disease problems, make sure to look for disease-resistant cultivars.
Look for proven performers. For example, to receive the All-American Selections Winner Label, a vegetable or flower must have performed well in test gardens around the country and proven to be superior to all others on the market. Individual suppliers may also have their own marks of quality.

Seeds from commercial suppliers sometimes come pre-treated with synthetic chemicals to control seed decay and damping-off diseases (bright red or green colored seeds usually indicate treatment). Some studies have linked the introduction of these chemicals into the environment with the massive die-offs of honey bees. More data is still needed, but in the meantime, you can help protect these important pollinators by using untreated seeds.
Finally, any seed you buy should give good results if you follow the growing instructions. If it doesn't, contact the company for a refund.

Top Ten for 2012

Here is my list of the top ten herbs to grow from seed this year.  I have included a culinary and well as flowering herbs in the group for those who incorporate their herbs into a garden or landscape border.  These are not the “best” or the newest, they are just great herbs to grow from seed and if you have not tried them, now is the time.

Summer Savory
Summer savory boasts a warming, peppery scent and taste. One of the essential ingredients in Herbs de Provence (along with rosemary, thyme, and oregano), summer savory is also wonderful alone to season beans, meats and stuffings. The plant forms single stems 4-15 inches tall that are lined with linear dark green leaves up to 4 inches long. Whorls of lilac-purple flowers appear in summer. Plant spreads 7-30 inches. Sow in a well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil in full sun. Pick both leaves and flowers all summer to use fresh or dried.

120 days. One of the most useful of pot herbs, Sorrel offers a tangy, slightly sour bite. High in oxalic acid, it is a nutritious and palate-cleansing herb. The large, arrow-shaped leaves can be picked continuously as needed from spring through fall. Easy to grow in full sun to part shade and deep, rich soil, it reaches 16 to 24 inches tall and about 15 to 18 inches wide.

Parsley Italian Plain Leaf
Specially developed for use as fresh seasoning, the large, bright green leaves arise on 10-to 12-inch plants.
Flat-leafed Parsley is far more nutritious than the curly type. Harvest it as needed, but fairly regularly so that the plants keep sprouting new stems. In mild climates, you can continue to cut it throughout winter.

Basil Thai Siam Queen
Thai Siam Queen --A 1997 AAS winner, Basil Thai Siam Queen is as gorgeous in the garden as it is delicious on the dinner plate! The sturdy stems support extra-large, 4-inch-long and 2-inch-wide bright green leaves. Clusters of short terminal racemes of purple flowers are borne on the very top of the plant for a highly ornamental effect.

Basil Large Leaf Italian
Basils are loaded with volatile oils, responsible for the heady aroma and strong flavor so essential to cooking. The composition of oils varies greatly in different basil types, thus accounting for the wide range of scents available. Regarded as the essential variety for true Neapolitan cuisine, especially pesto, this Genovese-type basil grows 18 to 24 inches high and 12 to 15 inches wide. The dark green, shiny leaves grow up to 3 inches long on a tall, erect plant that is slow to bolt.

Basil Mrs. Burns' Lemon
60 days. A lemon flavor of mouth-puckering intensity! This heirloom cultivar offers larger leaves (2 1/2 inches long) and more tangy flavor than regular lemon basil. It loves hot dry summers. Pinch off the pink flowers as they arise to encourage even more side shoots. 18 to 24 inches high, 12 to 24 inches wide.

Cilantro Santo
The strong, zesty scent of this annual herb is unmistakable! Slow-growing, Santo allows you to harvest just the amount you need over a long, long season. And after the flowers pass, let them go to seed and collect the seeds for use as Coriander!

Both the petals and the leaves are edible on this useful herb. It repels destructive insects very effectively, so it's essential to the vegetable garden. And it sets lovely 2-to 3-inch yellow blooms just great for cutting, so it's needed in the annual bed and the cutting garden. Best in full sun in the north, afternoon shade in the south and southwest, it flowers heavily in spring and, if cut back in midsummer, repeats in fall! Depending on climate, expect it to reach 15 to 30 inches high and wide.

Plant this herb for the ornamental value of its starry purple-blue flowers, to attract beneficial insects to your garden, and to harvest for teas and other summer drinks. Plants self-sow freely, so you can enjoy more plants next year! Pkt is 100 seeds. Qty 1 Pkt Seeds is all you need.

Fernleaf Dill
If you love the tangy flavor of fresh D ill weed with fish and vegetable dishes, Fernleaf Dill is the variety you MUST grow! Just 18 inches high, it's perfect for the kitchen windowsill or the sunny garden. Its feathery leaves are so lush and tasty that this hardworking little plant won a 1992 All-America Selection. Easy to grow and delicious!

Fernleaf Dill blooms from midsummer into fall, with flattopped blooms that may remind you of Fennel. You don't have to wait to harvest the leaves, however --snip them with nail or kitchen scissors as soon as the plant has a few branches to spare, and enjoy them fresh for months on end! In the garden, Fernleaf Dill is a nice companion to cabbage, onion, and lettuce.

So enjoy your garden planning for 2012! And if you are interested in growing some herbs indoors this winter, I recommend reading this article I found from The Oreganian:
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