Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fenugreek - Herb of the Week

In keeping with this week’s theme of saving seed (see yesterday’s post about Diane Ott Whealy and Seed Savers) I chose an herb which is used mostly for the seeds as today’s
herb of the week -- Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)

Technically Fenugreek is both an herb (meaning you can use the leaves) and a spice (meaning you can use the seeds.) The plant is native to western Asia and has been widely grown in countries bordering the Mediterranean.   It is popular in African, Middle Eastern and East Indian dishes.  Maple-flavored syrup can be made from Fenugreek seeds which can and has been used to make maple candy and ice cream.

Fenugreek is a member of the pea family which becomes obvious when you look at its flowers and almost clover-like leaves. The common name means “Greek Hay” which it received because the maple flavor and scent were used to disguise mold smells and tastes in hay and grain. Another of the herbs the ancient Egyptians used in mummification, it was also burned in religious rites among the Romans and Greeks.  It was the Benedictine monks that introduced this herb to Western Europe in the 9th century and practitioners in the Middle ages used it to treat liver and kidney diseases.  By the 19th century it was a common ingredient in patent medicines.  You can find it used as an ingredient in artificial maple flavoring.  In the United States today it is a little known and under appreciated herb that has actually becoming valuable in treating diabetes, so I thought it would make a great herb of the week.

To Grow

The ideal hardiness zone for this plant is Zone 6, but treating it as an annual it can be grown in zone 5.)  With its three-part leaves Fenugreek closely resembles clover.  It grows up to 2 feet tall.  In midsummer the plant begins producing fragrant off-white flowers that can keep reappearing for several months if the weather remains mild.  Fenugreek bolts in hot weather making it a short-lived crop.  It is best to treat it as an annual.  The seed pods look a lot like green beans, but point up instead of hanging down. 

To plant wait until the soil is warm (cold damp soil will rot the seeds), then soak the seeds overnight before planting them.  This will speed up the germination allowing them to mature and produce seed before the heat kills them in the hot months of summer.  They prefer a moist, well-drained soil, like most herbs.  They do need a rich soil, as like all peas they need a lot of nutrients to grow.  They will do well with a top dressing early in the season and an all-purpose fertilizer throughout the growing season.

Thin seedlings to 4 inches apart.  You will have ripe seeds about 4 months after germination. Harvest the seed pods when ripe, but before they begin to shatter.  Remove the seed from the pods and dry them in the sun. There are about 20 yellowish-brown seeds in each pod, which harden when dried.  It is a cuboid yellow to amber colored seed. It will grow up to two feet in height so place the plants based on that finished size, recognizing that if the weather gets hot they will also die back.  In other words, do not make them a focal point in your garden landscape.

To Use

Because of its ability to disguise the smell of moldy hay it was actually added to cattle fodder as its earliest use, but now it is recognized that both the leaves and the seeds have many medicinal and culinary uses.

The flavor of fenugreek walks on a fine line between a bitter celery-like flavor to the sweetness of maple and can be a challenge to work with as some experimentation is required to get just the right flavor.  You can add whole seeds to pickling brine.

The dried leaves – also called kasuri methi (or kasoori methi in North India and Pakistan), after the region of Kasur in Punjab, Pakistan province where it grows abundantl, have a bitter taste and a characteristically strong smell. Fenugreek is frequently used in the production of flavoring for artificial maple syrups. The taste of toasted fenugreek is like cumin.  The ground seeds are an essential ingredient in Indian curries, being wonderful also on meats and poultry and used often in chutneys.  The sprouted seeds are good as a salad, tossed in a vinaigrette dressing.  The roasted seeds are used in Middle Eastern of halva, a rich sweetmeat as well as in curries.  Medicinally an infusion of the seeds may be taken for flatulence.  This seed can also produce a yellow dye when alum is used as mordant.

Historically it was used to cure just about everything from diabetes to anemia to constipation and stomach issues.  And as a poultice it could treat boils,  wounds and skin ulcers.  More recent scientific study has shown that not all of these old-time remedies were unfounded.  The seeds of Fenugreek container 30% mucilage which makes them a good poultice.  Fenugreek tea is good for stomach issues and constipation because of the same mucilage.

It is in Ethiopia that Fenugreek is used as a treatment for Diabetes.  And studies have shown that Arthritis has a low incidence rate in India where a lot of fenugreek is consumed. Drinking 1 cup of fenugreek tea per day, made from the leaves, is said to relieve the discomfort of arthritis.
Although in early stages of study, several human intervention trials demonstrated that the antidiabetic effects of fenugreek seeds ameliorate most metabolic symptoms associated with type-1 and type-2 diabetes in both humans and relevant animal models by reducing serum glucose and improving glucose tolerance.  Fenugreek is currently available commercially in encapsulated forms and is being prescribed as dietary supplements for the control of hypercholesterolemia and diabetes by practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine. Fenugreek contains high dietary fiber, so a few seeds taken with warm water before going to sleep helps avoiding constipation.


Bengali 5 Spice


·         2/3 cup cumin seeds
·         1/3 cup fennel seeds
·         1/4 cup black mustard seed
·         3 tablespoons dried oregano
·         2 tablespoons fenugreek seeds



Combine the cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, oregano, and fenugreek seeks in a non-stick skillet over medium heat; roast the spice mixture until warmed through, about 2 minutes. Spread the spices onto a large platter to cool completely. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.


Butter Chicken

This is a popular East Indian restaurant dish.


·         2 tablespoons vegetable oil
·         2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cubed
·         8 green cardamom pods
·         10 cloves, lightly pounded
·         10 whole black peppercorns
·         1 (1/2 inch) piece cinnamon stick
·         3 serrano peppers
·         2 teaspoons ginger paste
·         2 teaspoons garlic paste
·         1 (15 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
·         1 1/4 cups water
·         1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
·         1 1/2 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves
·         1/2 teaspoon salt
·         1 tablespoon butter, softened
·         1/2 cup cream


Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat; cook and stir the chicken in the hot oil until completely browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside.  Wrap cardamom pods, cloves, peppercorns, and cinnamon stick in cheesecloth and secure with elastic or twist-tie. Blend the serrano peppers, ginger paste, and garlic paste together in a blender until smooth; add the crushed tomatoes and blend again until integrated. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan; add the water, paprika, and the spice bundle to the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the volume of the liquid reduces to about half. Add the browned chicken to the liquid and stir. Cover the saucepan and simmer until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, about 15 minutes. Stir the salt and fenugreek seeds into the mixture and continue simmering another 5 minutes. Remove the bundle of spices and discard. Stir the butter and cream into the mixture; simmer until the butter is melted completely, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve hot.

Jamaican Curry Seasoning


·         1/4 cup whole coriander seeds
·         2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
·         2 tablespoons whole mustard seeds
·         2 tablespoons whole anise seeds
·         1 tablespoon whole fenugreek seeds
·         1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
·         5 tablespoons ground turmeric


Combine the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, anise seeds, fenugreek seeds, and allspice berries in a skillet. Toast over medium heat until the color of the spices slightly darkens, and the spices are very fragrant, about 10 minutes. Remove the spices from the skillet, and allow to cool to room temperature. Grind the spices with the turmeric in a spice grinder. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Fenugreek Tea

1 ounce Fenugreek Seeds
1 pint water

Steep the seeds in boiling water for 5  to 7 minutes.  Add honey and a few fresh peppermint leaves to cover the oder and taste.  Use for stomach upset and ulcers, as a laxative and to soothe a sore throat.  Some believe it will lower a fever.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Meeting Diane Ott Whealy - Seed Savers Exchange

On Sunday I was invited to attend a lecture at the Chicago Botanic Garden  featuring Diane Ott Whealy co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange.   Before the lecture the Botanic Garden hosted a luncheon for Gardening Bloggers like myself and fed us very well and allowed us to mingle and get to know one another.  I especially enjoyed the fact I could finally place names with faces for writers whose blogs I was familiar with but never met before.  In a few days I will detail all the bloggers I had the opportunity to meet.
Diane Ott Whealy
Today I want to share just a bit of what I learned from Diane Ott Whealy.  Seed Savers Exchange, for those who are not familiar with them, is a home-grown, amateur created heirloom seed saving not-for-profit created back in 1975, that is “dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds.”  They started by collecting heirloom seeds, the kind passed down in families from year to year and then sharing them with paid members to keep the heirloom varieties circulating.  They now have a seed bank and a heritage farm where they rejuvenate seeds that have been saved to keep them viable as well as selling seed and maintaining a database of those who will share and swap heirloom seeds.
An Heirloom seed is one that existed before the commercial hybrid seed movement.  Most are open pollinated and therefore can be grown and perpetuated when you save seed from your crop.
Diane Ott Whealy came to Illinois promoting her new book Gathering which is a historical memoir of the founding and work that went into creating Seed Savers Exchange.  She spoke with me before the public program about how there is a new movement to return to non-hybrid seed and avoid genetically modified seeds which has spawned many companies now selling heirloom seed.  She was honest to say that in some cases it was slightly annoying to see SSE work repackaged by someone trying to make a profit from it, but she was also generous that she did not really see this as competition because the mission to save the genetic and cultural diversity of North American garden heritage is actually forwarded by anyone who plants an heirloom seed and passes it on because that keeps the variety available, which was the whole reason Seed Savers Exchange was created.  “We have no competition except weeds,” she said with a wide smile.

                       Seed Savers Exchange Mission : To save North America's
                      diverse, but endangered, garden heritage for future generations
                      by building a network of people committed to collecting,
                      conserving and sharing heirloom seeds and plants, while
                      educating people about the value of genetic and cultural diversity.

While we talked there were discussions about how many people think gardening can only occur with expensive equipment and absolutely no possibility for failure.  She then charged us all with the responsibility that as garden educators we have to help others understand that gardening is not too hard, but does require work however, the tool most needed is dedication not an expensive tiller.
She showed pictures of her personal garden during her lecture but told us at the luncheon much more about it.  She explained that it was planted on an old gravel cow lot.  I crafted a mental picture of a non planned, free-form garden space from her descriptions, but when I saw the pictures the garden had paths and raised beds and looked very well-kept and organized.  In these pictures you can see how neat it looks.
However, upon closer inspection you can see what she was really talking about, because as she pointed out this was a garden 20 years in the making, so it started out with organized raised beds, perhaps sporting only one variety of plant, but as it grew she added to the beds complimentary plants, not just with the idea of helpful companions, but attractive companions as well, like a red tulips interplanted with leaf lettuce.  My favorite was a squash with creeping thyme around it.  The creeping thyme was actually growing up through insect holes in the large squash leaves.  My organized, every herb in its place mentality was actually opened to an entirely new possibility.
I will discuss what else I have learned in more detail in future posts, as I am still sorting through the information I received on this great garden day.  But I wanted to share the excitement I felt in talking about gardening.  There was a seed swap after the program where I picked up a couple varieties to play with in my winter sowing activities which will start next week. I learned that Seed Savers Exchange website has mountains of information on how to save seed so you too can start saving seed for yourself.

I did get myself a copy of her book, and had it autographed. The book is a recounting of stories and philosophies about saving seed and why it is so important to maintain the diversity that once existed in our home and farm gardens.  Just speaking with her about it made me want to be better about saving the seed from my plants and sharing them with others.  On the Seed Savers Exchange website there are detailed instructions for saving seed.

I recommend to anyone interesting in preserving genetic plant diversity or those who like to be able to say, I know where my food comes from, to become a member of Seed Savers Exchange.  Membership is $40.00 and comes with a catalog and other publications.  They also have a $10.00 membership for those who wish to focus on herbs and flowers.  This exchange group gets a single publication which includes seeds available for swap or purchase from other heirloom herb and flower growers.  All the options for membership are detailed on the Seed Savers Exchange membership page.
You can also buy seeds directly from Seed Savers and many are certified organic.  If you prefer to leaf through seed packets, here are a few places where they have their seed racks in Northern Illinois.  If you want to know if a garden center near you has a rack, check out this page of the website and click the list for your state.

The Pure Gardener
502 W State St, Route 38
Geneva, IL 60134
Phone: (630)232-2766

Gethsemane Garden Center
5739 N Clark
Chicago, IL 60660
Phone: (773)878-5915

Blumen Gardens
403 Edward St
Sycamore, IL 60178
Phone: (815)895-3737

Duck Soup Coop
129 E Hillcrest Dr
Dekalb, IL 60115
Phone: (815)756-7044

Walkup Heritage Farm
5215 Walkup Rd
Crystal Lake, IL 60012
Phone: (815)459-7090

Stop back tomorrow for the Herb of the Week where we will be highlighting a plant whose best part is the seed!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Amazing Herbal Blog Roll

It has taken me a while to get to this post which I meant to do just days after I discovered the Herbal Blog Roll, but my home life intruded and I did not have time to construct the blog the way I wanted to so I waited.
Recently on one of my Yahoo groups on herbs, someone mentioned that there was a list of herbal blogs that someone had carefully put together.  Since finding good blogs to read on herbs is something I enjoy, but the act of putting together a list seemed so much work I was pleased to know someone had done the leg (or is that finger) work.  Then I visited it and found out it was done by none other than Rosalee de la Foret.
I have been reading the materials of Rosalee for some time because she has a passion for the healing powers of nutrient dense foods and medicinal herbs.  I know I’ve mentioned before my research work on ‘eating to health’ which includes using herbs and foods to improve health and avoid chronic illness.  As someone who experienced chronic disease, Rosalee de la Forȇt now shares her knowledge so others can address the root causes of health problems.
She is a graduate of the East West School of Herbology, and a practicing clinical herbalist, using both Traditional Chinese Medicine and western herbalism she conducts herbalism training, authors books and articles on herbal healing, and works with and with video presentations, blogs articles and webinars.

I respect her opinions and her background in herbs and love that she took the time to put together an Herbal Blogroll  (of which I can say we are a proud member) that includes blogs that have information to share, not just something to sell.  I have found several blogs worthy of visiting often.  Here are two picks of mine:
This blog has everything from gardening tips to health solutions using herbs.  The posts are short and concise and easy to read. I love the variety of items discussed.

I often get caught up in the practical side of herbs, how to grow them, what to do with them, etc. and I forget sometimes to just appreciate and enjoy them and muse on them as a special part of my life.  Robin Rose Bennet takes time to do that and share it.  She has poems as well as practical advice about herbs.  A wonderful place to pause and contemplate.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Herb of the Week - Chamomile

Again this week I am presenting an herb that you should think about having in your garden.  Chamomile is one of the most common medicinal and tea herbs that you can grow easily in your garden. With its many uses, especially as a medicinal herb, it definitely is a valuable addition to your home herb garden.

So this week’s herb of the week is Roman Chamomile Chamaemelum nobile (also Anthemis nobilis)


Most of us first heard about Chamomile as the tea given to Peter Rabbit after his run in with Mr. McGregor.  It is very soothing drink for nervous excitement and stomach ailments.  The ancient Egyptians use chamomile as a cure for ague.  They dedicated it to the sun and worshipped it above all other herbs for its healing properties.  Greek physicians prescribed it for fevers and female disorders.  Chamomile even inspired a proverb on energy in adversity: like a chamomile bed, the more it is trodden the more it will spread.  Through out the Middle Ages it was used all over Europe, its most popular planting was as a lawn where the resilient springy herb was a soft cushion to sit on with a pleasing scent.  Both John Gerard and Nicholas Culpepper mention in their herbal publications.  It was especially popular in Victorian times as a skin whitener. The relaxing aroma was even inhaled a snuff or smoked to relieve asthma and cure insomnia.  At beauty salons chamomile tea is often served to relax facial muscles. 

To Grow

Roman Chamomile, grown often for its apple-scented daisy like flowers, prefers full sun outdoors. It grows up to 10 to 12 inches tall and is best planted in the ground rather than in containers. Being a creeper makes it ideal for mass planting, like creating a chamomile lawn, as well as landscaping. 

Hardy in zones 3 to 8, the plant has shallow fibrous roots and a green hairy branching stem.  The leaves are finely cut and feathery and the flowers which bloom in the summer are creamy white with comical yellow centers.  The flowers show from May to July.

When used in the garden provide each plant with 6 inches of space. Soil has to be well drained with adequate nutrients (fertile) and like most sun-loving herbs, water only when the topsoil is dry to the touch.   Chamomile will continue to grow even in poorer soils.

Chamomile is a perennial and can be propagated through division of the runners.  Propagation by seed is also possible. However, starting chamomile from seed can be very tricky and challenging. For many it is better to start from a young seedling in a container then transplant in the garden once the plant has hardened. However if you plant seed indoors in individual peat pots or paper pots you can weed out those that do not germinate and sprout correctly.  When putting seeds or plants outdoors scratch in ½ inch of compost into the top few inches of soil before planting chamomile and repeat this as a top dressing for established plants.  An established chamomile plant is very hardy and can tolerate almost any growing conditions. 

Chamomile in all its varieties is pest and disease free which makes it a great plant for edges of gardens were pests attack first.

Medicinal Properties

The key element in a chamomile plant is its flowers. Chamomile flowers are used as medicinal herb, cosmetic agent, herbal tea, aromatherapy ingredient and can even be tossed in salads and beverages.

Its flowers have anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, nervine or nerve-soothing properties. As anti-inflammatory, it can be used to treat skin irritations, gingivitis, rheumatism, arthritis, and other painful swellings. As antispasmodic, it can be used to relieve stomachache and gas pain, menstrual cramps, indigestion, diarrhea and ulcer. It is also a very good laxative. As nervine, it is slightly sedative and can be used to induce sleep and dull pain. It also helps to alleviate anxiety and depression.

The tea can be used as a general tonic and sedative.  Because it is so gentle it is perfect for restless children and nightmares.  The flowers are often used in sleep pillows.

As a cosmetic agent, chamomile can lend anti-allergenic and soothing properties to beauty products. It is sometimes added to soaps and lotions because it can soften the skin. It is also great for aromatherapy applications because it has a calming effect and relieves mental and physical stress. It is also used in shampoos for its sweet-smelling scent.  Chamomile is also a plant that as a compress can reduce inflammation, especially around the eyes, and eliminate fatigue.  In the bath water it can also relieve sun or wind burned skin.

However, chamomile is not recommended as an alternative medicine for pregnant and breastfeeding women. It is also anti-coagulant (blood-thinning) and vasodilative (nerve-dilating) and must be avoided, at all cost, weeks before and after undergoing surgery. Use with medications having the same effect is also highly discouraged.  Those who have ragweed sensitivities should avoid chamomile.

To Use

What this plant lacks in culinary uses it makes up for in other ways.  A Tisane of the flowers is taken for dyspepsia, flatulence, and other stomach ailments. And is used as a mild antiseptic.  It is also a good appetite restorer which makes it popular with cancer patients and those undergoing chemotherapy.  Gather the leaves and flowers anytime during the summer and dry them for later use or use fresh. If you’re in for an organic gastronomical treat, you can eat chamomile flowers fresh by tossing some into your salad or your favorite lemonade. 

This is a good companion plant and is said to revive failing plants if planted near them.  An infusion made into a spray can be used on seedlings to prevent damping off and when the leaves are added to the compost bin they speed up decomposition.

This wonderful and common medicinal herb is often use in the form of herbal tea. Dried flowers are added into boiling water then covered and steeped for at least 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can also place them in a tea bag to eliminate the need for draining.  The tea is a mild sedative that is a gentle treatment for insomnia as well as all the stomach ailments discussed earlier.

Dried flowers can also be used in a bath soak as a relaxing beauty regimen. They can also be made into potpourri and burned for aromatherapy. Commercial chamomile essential and massage oils are also available in the market. Cosmetic preparations containing chamomile are also used to soften the skin and refresh the eyes.  An infusion of the flowers can be used to make lotions to soothe sore or irritated skin.  The dried flowers are sometimes added to potpourri as well.

The uses and benefits of growing medicinal herbs in your home is plenty and truly amazing. Having chamomile, along with other common medicinal herbs will make your herb gardening more worthwhile.

At the Backyard Patch, I have used Chamomile in a large variety of our Herbal Teas and as an eye soother, called Eyesaver, as well as including it in some of the newest Herbal Salves and Lotions.


Perfect Chamomile Infusion
1 pint water
Handful of chamomile flowers and leaves

Bring water to a boil and pour over leaves and flowers in a bowl.  Cover and let stand for about half a day.  Strain.  Use the spray to keep seedlings from damping off.

Herbal Hair Rinse
This flower water and vinegar rinse removes soap residue and adds a sparkling healthy conditioner to your hair.

2 oz. Rose Water or other flower water
2 oz. Apple cider vinegar
2 oz. Chamomile herbal infusion (tea).
Combine Rosewater, vinegar and the cool herbal infusion.  Shake well before using as a hair rinse, then massage into washed hair.  Leave on for a few minutes. Rinse off as usual. Chamomile will provides subtle golden tones for blond, light brown and auburn hair.

Perfect Chamomile Tea
one heaped tsp. of fresh or dried chamomile flowers
1 tsp. honey
slice of lemon
hot water

Place the flowers in a mug and pour boiling water over.  Cover and leave to steep for 3 to 5 minutes.  Strain, and then add honey and lemon.  Can be drunk hot or cold.

Blossoms of Health Tea
Beautiful to look at, nectar to taste and good for you too. This is an uplifting and energizing blend.
1 part ginkgo leaves
1 part red clover tops
1 part nettle leaves
1 part meadowsweet leaves
1 part calendula
2 parts chamomile
2 parts lavender flowers
1 part gotu kola leaves
a pinch of stevia.

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.

Pleasant Dreams Pillow Sachet
8 parts rosebuds & petals
3 parts chamomile
3 parts lemon grass
3 parts mugwort
1 part cellulose fiber
1 part lavender
1 part spearmint
Lavender Essential Oil (optional)

Sachets are attractive cotton, silk or linen bags filled with herbal scents and tied with ribbon.  Sachets are often small, traditionally about 3 to 5 inches (but you can make them any size.) Blend the ingredients together in a tightly lidded container and allow to cure a minimum of 4 weeks before filling sachets to maximize aroma.

Relaxing Bath Blend
5 parts chamomile
3 parts lemon grass
3 part rose petals pink
2 ½ parts passion flower
2 parts orange peel
2 parts jasmine flowers
ylang ylang Essential oil (optional)

Blend the herbs together and store in a tightly lidded container.  Fill a small muslin drawstring bag or large sealable tea bags with about 4 Tbls. of the mixture.  Add 4 cups of boiling water to bath sachet and steep for 15 minutes.  Pour into hot bath using sachet as sponge to massage skin.  Discard herbs after use.  Keep dry bath herbs blends in jars away from light and heat.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Program recap - Winter Skin Remedies

Wednesday, Feb. 15, I spoke in Wauconda, Illinois at the Wauconda Area Library.  The program was a special adaptation of my Creating your own Spa Items program.  It was chocked full of recipes (possibly too many) focused on winter skin treatments.

The program included give aways, here are a few photos of the materials guests took home.

Lotion Bars

                                                       Cleansers and Winter Moisturizer

The program consisted of an explanation of the media, herbs, oils, meals, essential oils, etc. that go into making beauty products and then a bit of demonstration, explanation and samples of the products themselves.

Here was the table before I messed it all up:
The guests and the staff at the library were so nice and I have a wonderful evening.  My husband Chas even stopped in to see part of the program.  Here are a few of the guests.  I took the photos early, then as always, got caught up in the conversation about herbs and forgot to take any more images.

Thank you Wauconda Area Library and patrons, I cannot wait to come back on April 4 to do my Household Cleaning program!

If you want information on my available herb-related programs, check out this link.  If you want to share some of what my guests received, check out the blog pages entitled "Lecture Recipes."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Valentine's Dinner - Steak au Poivre

My husband missed his calling.  Although he is very good at Financial Services and an excellent historian and researcher as well as a spectacular writer.  He is a really awesome cook!  People keep saying he should be a chef, and like a good chef he has a style that is uniquely his.

About a year ago I found a recipe for Steak au Poivre, I think it was the "easy version." We tried it and loved it.  The food is rich and not something to eat everyday, but it was creamy steaky goodness.  This year my husband promised me the dish for our anniversary, however I had a chronic sore throat and cough so the dinner was put on hold. 

This past Tuesday he made it...  It was heavenly. You can see the steak was a perfect Medium the cream sauce not too overpowering and well... It was almost better than sex!

Here is the recipe he used this time from the Food Network Chef, Alton Brown:

The steak was the main course.  Here was the meal:

There were seafood and cheese stuffed mushroom cap appetizers.

A killer Salad with his favorite herb seasoning on it.
Him whipping the Cream sauce just before pouring it over the steaks!
The steak with his thrice baked potatoes which he seasoned with a Cajun-eske set of seasonings and topped with olives.

He cannot drink red wine, so we did have white wine with the meal, but the sweetness was perfect with the sauce.

Overall it was a perfect Valentine's Dinner and the leftovers the next day made the entire office jealous!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Herb of the Week - Calendula or Pot Marigold

Let's face it. The turn in the weather here this week from mild to very cold has certainly chapped my skin.  And the over heated office I work in has taken its toll as well. But herbs can help to heal both body and spirit. And there's something especially healing in a soothing product you've made yourself, with all-natural ingredients.

So today’s Herb of the Week is Calendula (Calendula officinalis), one of the top skin healing herbs.

Tonight I am presenting a program on Bath and Beauty which focuses on aromatherapy to lift your spirits and soothing treatments for winter harried skin.  I thought I would share a couple of the calendula-centered recipes I put together for this program as well as help you in a decision to include this great herb in your garden this year.


The name Calendula came from the ancient Romans for the fact that it bloomed on or around the first day of the month or calends.  Although more popular for its color and attractive flowers rather than its medicinal properties it was featured in the Doctrine of Signatures (the principal that an herb's physical characteristics are a clue to its usefulness) as a treatment of jaundice.  Nicolas Culpepper stated it was a good herb to strengthen the heart.

Calendula came to the Americas with European settlers.  It was prominently used during the Civil War as a treatment for healing wounds and halting bleeding.

To Grow

Calendula is a cheery, dependable blooming flower in the marigold family (not to be confused with scented marigolds in the family Tagetes.) They have semi strong upright branching stems with medium green leaves covered with tiny hairs.  The flowers are round many petal daisy-like poms that come in shades from yellow to deep orange.  They will bloom from midsummer until after frost.  The flowers close at dusk.  It is said if the flowers open fully in the morning the weather will be pleasant, if they do not, weather will be less seasonal.

This is a plant easily grown from seed and can be grown in all zones.  Fresh seed is essential however, because the seed viability is only one year.  The seeds are curvy crescent shapes covered with ridges.  Harvesting seed yourself is great but you must use them in the next growing season.  You can sow the seed directly into the garden once the soil has reached about 60 degrees.  On a nice sunny day in April or May this is a great early garden activity.  You can also start them indoors planting them out after the chance of frost has passed. Thin the plants to inches and keep them weed free, but beyond this no special treatment is needed to grow them.  They are a hardy annual plant and will survive frosts and even early snow.  They prefer a cooler climate and bloom best in fall weather.  Once the temperature reaches 25 degrees their season will end.  If you put seeds in pots in July you can enjoy them along with your mums for fall color.

The plants will grow 12 to 18 inches tall depending on conditions.  They are also a great container plant and keep to inches in window boxes and patio planters.  They will grow in just about any soil that is well drained.  They react badly to dampness.  They do prefer a sunny location.  Calendula is considered a companion plant as it can draw aphids away from other plants, but you will need to watch for an infestation.

Susceptible to all the normal pests of the garden, they will develop powdery mildew if not properly thinned.  To keep them blooming, make sure they are well watered and clip of the spent flower heads.  Since I harvest the flower heads, just as they reach full bloom, I know I will always have a new crop of buds to take their place.

To Use

Pinch off the flower heads from the stem and lay them flat to dry.  Once they are dry you must place them in a dark jar with a tight fitting lid to preserve the color of the petals.  The flowers are hygroscopic meaning they are easily affected by humidity.  Some suggest pulling each petal off the flower, but I have never had the patience to do that before drying and am still satisfied with the color and quality of my dried calendula.

Historically a woman who could not choose between two suitors was advised to make a fine powder of dried calendula flowers, marjoram, thyme and wormwood simmer them in honey and white wine then rub the mixture over her body.  Then she must lie down and repeat “St. Luke, St. Luke be kind to me: In my dreams let me my true love see!”  I just had to share that because it is February!

As an edible flower, the most common early uses for Calendula were in cooking.  In England it was tossed into dishes so often you might think it was a vegetable.  It was especially popular for flavor when stewing lark or sparrow according to the Elizabethan cookbook of John Gerard.  Other dishes including Calendula pudding, Calendula oatmeal, and calendula dumplings were also created.  There were even recipes for calendula wine (see below).  It is great as a coloring in rice dishes, and the leaves can be used in salads.  Add the petals to soups, stews and fish dishes.

Tinctures of the flowers have been recommended for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments including amenorrhea, cramps, toothaches, fever, flu, and stomach aches.  As a general tonic it has been known to induce sweating in a fever and increase urination and aid digestion.  Calendula has also been extensively used as an external remedy for sores, cuts, bruises, burns and rashes.  You can make a quick and easy ointment by crushing fresh flower petals and mixing them with olive oil.  A personal powder can be made by grinding dried flowers and blending them with arrowroot powder, cornstarch or talc.  I will often pluck a flower and rub it on a bee sting to relieve the pain and itching with good results.

Calendula has a strong yellow / orange color and the petals can often be substituted for saffron in a recipe.  I grid them, then stir them in when I want a rich yellow color in my lemon herbal butter.

More recently with the advent of home making of remedies and cosmetics, Calendula has found a new niche.  In addition to the yellow color it can impart to lotions and salves it is also great for skin.  An antiseptic with anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties it can promote healing.  The essential oils in the petals are an excellent skin healer, especially for cracked skin and chapped lips.  A poultice on burns or stings is very use useful.  Salves with calendula can be used for the treatment of varicose veins, chilblains and impetigo.  A cold infusion (tea) can be used as eyewash for Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis.)  The sap in the stem has a reputation for removing warts, corns and calluses, which is why an infusion of the leaves, stems and flowers is used to make soothing lotions and creams for dry rough skin.

At the Backyard Patch I use Calendula in my Elmhurst Garden Walk Tea, Menopause Tea, PMS Tea, Victorian Floral Black Tea and in Green Tea for the Tummy.  In other products is it part of the infused oil in my Happy Feet Massage oil, as well as a coloring in my Orange Rice Mix


Sweet Calendula Buns
4 Tbls. softened butter
½ cup caster sugar
2 eggs
½ cup self-rising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 Tbls. fresh calendula petals

Put the butter sugar, eggs and sifted flour and baking powder into a bowl and mix until smooth and glossy.  Fold in 1 ½ Tbls. calendula petals.  Turn the mixture into greased or paper lined muffin tins and sprinkle with remaining petals.  Bake in a warm over 325 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

Calendula Wine
2 quarts of Calendula officinalis flowers
1 gallon boiling water
1 Campden tablet, crushed (sterilizer available from a wine making store)
3 tangerines, juice and thinly pared peel from each
1 lemon, juice and thinly pared peel
5 ¾ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups white raisins, finely chopped
wine yeast
yeast nutrient

1.              Wash the flowers and put into a large container with a lid.  Pour over the boiling water and stir in the Campden tablet and leave for 24 hours. 
2.              Place the sugar in a large bowl.  Draw off 1 cup of the liquid and heat it to just before boiling with the citrus peel, then pour over the sugar.  Leave to cool to body temperature (rather than room temperature.)  Then pour back into the bulk of the liquid adding the raisins citrus juice, yeast and nutrient.  Cover and leave in a warm place for 5 days to ferment, stirring twice a day.
3.              Strain the liquid through a double thickness of muslin.  Pour into a fermenting jar, fitted with a fermentation lock and leave to continue fermenting. 
4.              Rack the wine as it begins to clear.
5.              When the wine is completely clear, bottle and store in a cool dark place for at least 6 months to mature.

Calendula Cleanser
4 Tbls. olive or almond oil
2 Tbls. dried calendula flowers
few drops of violet, orange blossom or rose water

Warm the oil in a bowl placed over a saucepan of hot water.  Stir in the dried flowers and continue to heat gently for 30 minutes.  Remove the bowl from the heat and allow to cool.  Stir in the flower water.  Bottle
Directions for use: swear a small amount onto face and rinse with warm water.  Keep refrigerated and use within 10 days.

Facial Mask
Calendula and chamomile have long been used as skin softeners, and aloe is a proven healer. Use the gel from your own aloe or purchase from the drugstore. Here's a soothing treatment for winter-worn faces, suitable for all skin types. The essential oils—you can choose from several, with different effects—provide a subtle aromatherapy, lifting and soothing your spirits, while the herbs and almond meal do their work.

2 tablespoons almond meal (almonds ground very fine)*
1 tablespoon powdered calendula
1 tablespoon powdered chamomile
about half of a raw egg, yolk and white beaten together
aloe gel, enough to make a paste
2 drops chamomile essential oil, or oil of your choice

Mix the almond meal and herbs together. Add enough aloe gel and egg to make a paste. Add essential oil. If the paste is too thin, add more almond meal; if it’s too thick, add a bit of aloe gel or egg. To use, wash your face. Pat dry, and apply the mask. Leave on for 10 minutes or so, while you’re lying down, then wash off gently. Refrigerate for up to a week. (This will make 3-4 masks.) Follow the mask with a gentle moisturizer.

*Almond meal and almond oil are recommended for cosmetics because both are superior moisturizing and softening agents. If you are allergic to nuts, or intend to make the cosmetic as a gift for a friend, you may substitute oatmeal (oat flakes ground fine) and a non-nut oil of your choice.
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