Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review - The Lavender Cookbook

While visiting the Chicago Botanic Gardens this month I picked up a book by Sharon Shipley entitled The Lavender Cookbook.   The author Sharon Shipley is owner and director of the Mon Cheri Cooking School in Sunnyvale, California. She has studied extensively throughout Europe at La Varenne, La Cordon Bleu, and Ecole Cuisine d'Hubert.  The reason the cookbook caught my eye was because I have just embarked on a lavender loving campaign and this was going to be the key to my enjoyment of more lavender.

I was not disappointed.  This summer I crafted Lavender honey to sell at the Garden Walks and this book had at least 2 recipes that used Lavender Honey that made my whole task of making the flavored honey worth the effort.

This edge bound paperback of just shy of 200 pages and has no photographs and few illustrations which is good because it leaves more room for recipes.  And this book is filled with them (92 to be exact.)  The best attribute of the book is that you do not have to be a trained chef to create the recipes and whenever she is teaching a tidbit or introducing a less common ingredient, she has added this cute lavender symbol that marks a box where extra information is shared.

To eliminate the issue of what lavender should you cook with, she has crafted all the recipes to be made with dried Lavendula intermedia 'Provence' which botanically is a Lavindin (rather than a Lavender).  This hybrid grows more easily in the United States and is a great cooking lavender. 

Organized by season she has provided recipes of all styles (appetizers, beverages, main and side dishes and desserts) in each part of the year that suit the weather.  I like that about the book because a large number of recipes on a single herb can sometimes be daunting, but by breaking it into seasonal recipes you get a nice workable number of things to try without wondering if you will be overwhelmed.

The best recipes in the book are the dressings and sauces.  They are shared in abundance, from dipping sauces to salad dressings, to creams you add to the top of a soup.  The sauces and dressings are definitely the key to cooking with lavender and they are presented smoothly and simply.  A few of the combinations seem out there taste wise, but I cannot say they do not work as I have yet to try them.

My first experiment from the book was a Wet Lavender Salt Rub.  My husband has discovered Roasting Chickens and how easy they are to cook with in the summer.  We worked up the Wet Rub, altered it a bit, and used it to make roast chicken which turned out divine.

Here is our adaptation of the recipe found on Page 17:

Lavender Salt Wet Rub
2 tsp. lavender buds
2 Tbls. course sea salt
2 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbls. finely diced garlic
1 tsp. fresh rosemary (this is key do not substitute dry)
1 tsp. lemon thyme (fresh or dry is fine)

In a mortar and pestle grind the lavender with 1 Tbls of the sea salt until finely ground.  Place in a bowl and stir in the oil, garlic rosemary and remaining salt.  Rub all over a roasting Chicken, pork loan roast or skin-on chicken breast.  the longer you leave it on the better, I let it meld in the refrigerator overnight.  According to Sharon Shipley you can double the recipe and keep it int he refrigerator in a jar for up to 5 days.

The appetizers were by far my favorite recipes so far, but I have to admit being summer, the idea of little plates is not only fun but quick and easy in hot weather.  Come wintertime my favorites may change and since the book lets you look at lavender as a warming and hearty herb for winter, I think it will be just as wonderful then as it is now. 

I definitely recomend getting yourself a copy of  The Lavender Cookbook by Sharon Shipley (Running Press Book Publishers: Phila. PA: 2004)

Here is my favorte recipe so far:

Grilled Lavender Honey Chicken

¾ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup grated lemon zest
½ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup lavender honey
1 Tbls. lavender buds, ground finely
¼ Tbls. cracked black pepper
1 ½ tsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. sea salt
8 boneless chicken breast halves

In a large bowl, mix the vinegar, lemon zest, lemon juice, oil, honey, lavender, lime juice, salt and pepper.  Add the chicken and turn to coat.  Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Preheat a grill to medium.  Remove the chicken from marinade and place skin side down on the grill.  Cook turning the chicken every 5 minutes and brushing occasionally with the marinade for 15 minutes or until no longer pink.  Discard remaining marinade. Serves 8.  Great with oven roasted sweet potatoes.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Weekend Recipe - Lemon Tarragon Pork Chops

Tarragon is an herb that I do not use nearly as much as I should.  The plant is a perennial and only really takes off in the second year.  The first year it is small cute and feel you should not harvest any incase it dies, but it is very hardy, even in cooler areas.  The flavor is anise-like and adds a sweetness to dishes, sauces and dips that is unique and refreshing.  I experimented with it in my new Chervil Green Dressing.

Recently I discovered a grilling recipe from the National Park Board that used Tarragon combined with lemon that I just had to share.  It is a simple rub that makes an easy grilled dish you can put together in a hurry. I always use granulated onion rather than onion powder in my rubs as it keeps from clumping and makes a nice texture on the surface of meats.  Here is my adaptation:

Lemon-Tarragon Pork Chops

4 pork chops, bone in
4 tsp. olive oil

1 tsp. dried tarragon, crushed
1 ½ tsp. lemon zest (about 1 medium lemon)
1 ½ tsp. minced fresh garlic blended with a bit of savory
1 ½ tsp. granulated onion
¼ tsp kosher or sea salt

Preheat a grill to medium (or prepare charcoal.)  Place pork chops on a platter and brush with olive oil and set aside.  Mix seasonings together and rub about 1 ½ tsp. of mixture over each chop.  Please chops on preheated grill, close the lid and cook 4 to 6 minutes per side (depending on thickness.)  Be sure the internal temp of the chops reaches 160 degrees F. 

Serve with lemon slices for garnish and a side of green beans.  Check out this recipe from earlier this month:  Dilled Mustard Green Beans 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Herb Garden Event - Chicago Botanic Gardens

Coming up in a few days at the Chicago Botanic Garden is
   Herb Weekend - June 28 & 29!
The mission of the Chicago Botanic Garden is to promote the enjoyment, understanding, and conservation of plants and the natural world and herbs as scent and edible plants fits so nicely into that mission that it is not hard to understand why they have a nice focus on herbs in the vegetable garden island.  I recently enjoyed my membership to tour the grounds of the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden where the event will be held this weekend.  I wanted to see how the herbs were faring combared to mine. I must say they have been well cared for.

Tarragon (and thyme)

During the Herb Weekend Event they will have “Herb Discovery Carts” for extra inforamtion about growing as well as vendors and some extra special Herb-theme items in the Wheelbarrow Shop. 

You will have to wander around to find the herbs, but they will have volunteers to help you find your way.  Be sure to explore the wall garden and the kitchen garden as well as the round shaped main vegetable and herb area.

They hid the chives behind this bench, but they don't look real happy there!  They did have purple basil in the kitchen garden (along with several other basils, including a lime basil I had never seen before.)

purple basil and purple sage

corner garden filled with lime thyme
I found this cute corner garden in a small square of bricks along the main pathway, but I missed it on the way in and found it on my way out.  Those are the wonderful sorts of experiences you will find while touring the Regenstien Garden.

During the event they will have take-home herb resource sheets with plant/seed sources and recommendations.  They also will have some focusing on Old-fashioned herbs, kitchen herbs and those you can grow in containers.

They have a number of  herbs and edible flowers and demonstrate ways of interplant them so you can add herbs to your home garden easily.

So looking sor something herby to do with your weekend, get outside and have some fun at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

raised beds of vegetables and herbs
The Final Details:
The Chicago Botanic Garden is easy to find and easy to reach, approximately 20 miles north of Chicago. 
The Garden is located at 1000 Lake Cook Road in Glencoe, Illinois. For maps and driving directions I  recommend botanic garden&formtype=address&addtohistory=&address=1000 Lake Cook Rd&city=Glencoe&state=IL&zipcode=60022-1168&country=US&geodiff=1, which also has traffic updates.

The Schedule:
Herb Weekend will be in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden
July 28 and 29, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

1:30 and 2:30 p.m.
Garden Chef Series, Kitchen Amphitheater

Nice shady seating!

11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Ongoing Activities 
  • 11:30 a.m.  Companion Planting with Herbs: Folklore or Fact?
  • Noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Growing Herbs in Containers
  • 3 p.m. Herbal Soap Making

Friday, July 20, 2012

Weekend Recipe - Herb Cheese log

Sometimes in the summer it is just wonderful to have a few friends stop by, sit on the patio and sip some tea or wine.  I cannot resist serving cheese and crackers when this happens and this simple recipe lets me highlight the fresh herbs from the garden without undue work and can be mixed up in just a few moments.  You can also make it in advance and wrap in plastic and keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.

Herb Cheese Log

1 Tbls. minced fresh chives
1 Tbls. minced fresh cilantro
1 Tbls. minced fresh basil leaves
½ Tbls minced fresh oregano or marjoram
5 ½ to 6 ounce log of fresh chevre (goat) cheese
2 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
Crackers or Baguette slices

Chop finely and mix together the herbs on a 12 by 15 inch  piece of plastic wrap.  Unwrap the chevre and roll over and around in the herbs until it is entirely covered.  To serve, place on a plate, drizzle with olive oil and serve with checkers or slices of french bread.

If you like this type of herb combination with cheese, we make several mixes that blend well with cream cheese, cottage cheese and goat cheese.  Check them out here!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Herb of the Week - Lavender

This year I became more fascinated with lavender than ever before.  I have always loved the plant, grown it, babied it, and protected it through many a harsh Illinois winter, but this year I just plain started to love it.

So I chose Lavender as the Herb of the Week this week and will highlight other items on this wonderful herb this week as well.

“Lavender, if you are hunted, will protect you from evil forces. It will bless the house of the door it decorates.”  - Infinite Days by Rachel Maizel

Originating most probably in Persia, Egypt or Italy, Lavender loves a dry chalky ravine like those of the French Alps.  The two most common varieties around these days are English
Lavender Lavendula agustifolia officinalis and Lavendula intermedia ‘Provence’ which is a hybrid.  Both will tolerate hot dry summers and very cold snowy winters as long as the roots don’t stay wet for more than a few days.  I also find the raking wind we get in Illinois can dry the plant out in winter causing winter kill.  If you want to grow lavender for cooking I recommend the ‘Provence’ it has much lower camphor content to the taste.  ‘Grosso’ is a popular cooking lavender also because it has a higher oil content.

To Grow

Two elements are essential for growing lavender.  Lots of sun and good drainage.  That is often why the make a good hedge or edging plant because the soils drain best on the edges of a garden.  You can also plant them on hills or mounds to increase drainage.

Drip irrigation is preferred because lavender is prone to fungal disease.  They will bloom less when in competition with weeds, so be sure to keep the lavender bed well weeded. Each year after the plant has bloomed cut back 1/3 to ½ of the plant, about 1 inch above when the woody stems start.  This pruning is more drastic than you do with most herbs unless you are harvesting them, but it is essential for the care of a lavender plant.

Lavender is a disease resistant plant and the deer, moles and voles tend not to seek it out.  However, rabbits will dig up the young plants and nibble to roots.  They are very attractive to bees and can be used to produce a lavender pollen honey if you have a bee hive nearby.

The Lavender plants you pick depend on your climate. English Lavender, (Lavandula angustifolia), is the most hardy plant and grown the most widely. It is easy to mix in a perennial bed. This plant will endure subzero winters, but dislikes humid heat. If you live in a humid climate look for a LavanDIN instead of lavender. "Grosso and Provence" are the best lavandins. You can even chose your hue of lavender, but unless you get shoots from a "mother" plant, you will not have a consistent color or flower. Lavender prefers a sloping bed in a sunny spot. A solution to that would be to heap soil in a pile about 12 to 18 inches high before planting the lavender. If your soil is mostly clay soil, dig out your hole and mix the clay with sand. Lavender plants cannot compete with aggressive weeds, so ensure your chosen spot is weed free.

When planting lavender place the plants at least 2 feet apart. Start with 4-inch-pot sized plants. Leave plenty of room between plants for air circulation. If planting in pots, make sure to repot every spring into a larger container with fresh soil to allow the plant to continue to mature. A good, coarse, sterile potting soil with organic fertilizers work best.

To Use

Timing is everything when cutting lavender.  Plants are ready for harvesting when the bottom third of the flower stem (known as a spike) is blooming.  The magic window of time varies from garden to garden, depending on the rainfall, temperature variations, and ratio of sunny to cloudy days.  You will need to check the plant daily because the spikes will not all be ready to harvest on the same day.  I have only a half dozen plants and this small amount of plants makes selective harvesting possible.

Lavender will stay fresh in water once cut for about 3 days if you change the water and trim the stems daily.  This gives you a chance to decide how you want to use them.  Striped from the spike the flowers will dry quickly when spread on a screen or you can tie bundles of spikes together and hang them in a cool dark place.

The uses of lavender are a broad as its popularity.  Beyond aroma therapy, bathing and perfume it was used in mummification by ancient Egyptians; as a Biblical ointment used by Mary to anoint the feet of Jesus; and placed under the bed of newlyweds for passion in medieval times.  Historically it has been used as a treatment for common ailments such as flatulence, insomnia, bacterial and fungal infections; brewed as a tea for young women hoping to learn the identity of their true love; kept under pillows for sleep improvement and even rubbed on the skin as an insect repellent.

Lavender recipes are more common than one would think, with many people choosing to use the flowers for both sweet and savory dishes. Lavender tea is the more refined lavender recipe but is no less enjoyable.

Lavender is well known for its calming and stress-relieving properties. Drinking lavender tea is known to help reduce anxiety and lift the mood.  It can also calm an upset stomach as well as reduce the discomfort of trapped wind and/or flatulence in a more natural way.  Due to its well-known calming properties, lavender can be used to aid sleep.  When inhaled as opposed to being taken internally it can be an effective treatment for the relief of the symptoms of colds, coughs and other similar ailments.  Some advocates of lavender suggest that using it can help with depression and can alleviate or reduce the risk of migraines.  Lavender tea can also be used as a natural mouthwash for those who suffer from halitosis.



Delicious Lavender-Mint Tea Recipe

This delicious mint-lavender tea recipe is incredible! It’s the perfect drink for a warm or hot summer day. It’s cool, refreshing and rejuvenating. It’s also incredibly healing and loaded with antioxidants and nutrients from the mint and lavender!  I make a number of herbal teas with lavender in them for the relaxing and sleep inducing properties that lavender contains.

Backyard Patch Dreamtime Tea

1 Tbls. fresh lavender flowers
1 Tbls. fresh mint leaves
Honey (preferably local and raw)
Boiling Water

Add the lavender flowers and mint leaves to 3 to 4 cups of boiling water and let steep for 5-10 minutes. Add honey, stir and enjoy.  This tea is delicious iced.  Add a bunch of ice cubes immediately after it’s steeped and you’ve stirred in the honey. You can drink it immediately for best taste, or let it sit in the fridge for a few hours.

Lavender Aioli (A cooking sauce)
1 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled and crushed
2 fresh sprigs lavender (leaves and flowers), bruised
3 eggs
1 Tbls. lemon juice

In a small saucepan, gently heat the oil with the garlic and lavender over low heat for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat just before it starts to bubble.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  With a sieve over a small bowl, strain the lavender oil, pressing with a spoon to extract soft solids from the garlic and lavender.  Discard herbs.  In a food processor or blender, process the eggs and lemon juice until well blended.  With the motor running, add the lavender oil a few drops at a time, then in a thin, steady stream until all the oil is absorbed and the mixture is thickened.  Season to taste with salt and black pepper.  Refrigerate for up to 2 days or use immediately.  Aioli thickens on chilling.

Lavender Laden Seasoning Mix
Many people know that Herbs de Provence is a robust seasoning blend that uses lavender, but this blend has a stronger lavender flavor than that.  

1 Tbls. Lavender buds
1 tsp. lemon thyme or garden thyme leaves
1 tsp. minced chives
1 tsp. parsley (Italian flat leaf if best)
1 tsp. mint leaves
Black pepper

Blend together and place in a sealed jar for storage use to marinade eggplant, chicken and pork by blending 2 Tbls. with a 1/3 cup of oil and 1 Tbls. vinegar.

Peppered Lavender Beef
2 tablespoons whole mixed color peppercorns (you can use all black)
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
Pinch of savory
3 to 4 pound tenderloin or rolled roast or even round steak.  Can use London Broil as well.
In a small spice or coffee grinder, coarsely grind the peppercorns, fennel seeds, thyme, and lavender flowers; rub mixture all over the meat. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight (preferably).  Once you have marinated, sear the meat then broil, roast or place in a crock pot until fully cooked.

I also shared a recipe for lavender hand cream back in in a blog post of July 2011. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Weekend Recipe - Dilled Mustard Green Beans

The beans are starting to be available at the farmer’s market and I am so excited!  I love green beans I could eat them with every meal.  My husband does most of our cooking (it’s his hobby.)  He is very skilled at main dishes and sauces of every kind.  Vegetable dishes are not his forte. So I get to make those and this is one of my favorite when the green beans are fresh.  You can substitute plain cider vinegar for the herbal vinegar but the subtle flavors and sweetness of tarragon vinegar really imparts an exotic French feel to this sauce.

Dilled Mustard Green Beans

½ cup Dijon mustard
2 Tbls. dry mustard
¼ cup tarragon herbal vinegar
1/3 canola oil
¼ cup chopped fresh dill (or 1 Tbls. dried)

1 lb. fresh green beans.

Mix the sauce ingredients and allow to marinade in refrigerator several hours before serving.  When ready to have a meal, blanch and steam the green beans until crisp tender.  You can also wrap them in foil with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water and allow to steam on the grill for about 3 to 5 minutes.  Just before serving, pour sauce over green beans.

This sauce is also great on asparagus, carrots, chicken and fish.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Herb of the week - Hibiscus

It has been the season for Hibiscus.  From a popularity on the Internet to newspaper articles touting its medical properties, to Starbucks creating a new drink using it, suddenly it seems hibiscus is everywhere.  So after seeing commercials on TV for I decided that this week I would feature

Hibiscus as the Herb of the Week.

Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is a woody herbaceous shrub.  It is heat resistant, drought tolerant, beautiful flowering and deer do not seem to care for it, yet butterflies and birds love it.  It blooms in late summer.  The most common varieties are red and burgundy but there is a blue variety as well, Blue Satin Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)  There are more than 100 differing species of Hibiscus, but the most common and the one given the medical properties tends to be the Red Hibiscus Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.

A member of the Mallow species, Hibiscus are often noted for their showy flowers and are commonly known as hibiscus, sorrel, and rosemallow. The genus includes both annual and perennial herbaceous plants, as well as woody shrubs and small trees.  When I was in Guatemala they grew like a small tree and were trained into arbors and along walls to create flower filled yard edging.  The flowers of this tropical plant general last only a day, but the bush will flower continuously through the hot months.

In fact, tropical hibiscus have about the most complicated genetic heritage of any group of ornamental plants, but one thing is certain: like so much else, they came to the Caribbean from elsewhere. Actually, any hibiscus found in the region was planted by someone, since the birds and insects of the islands seem unable to pollinate these flowers, so seed is rarely produced without hand pollination.

There may now be over 10,000 named varieties of tropical hibiscus, with 6 distinct forms of flowers (singles, doubles, crested, etc.), and more colors and combinations of colors than one can easily imagine. These hibiscus have a species, "rosa-sinesis" meaning "rose of China," as part of their botanical name. This could be far more correctly termed the "rosa-sinesis complex," since the original species described by Linnaeus (a red double from China) was itself a cultivated hybrid to begin with. 

A large group of hibiscus species native to the Indian Ocean islands, Asia, Australia, the South Pacific, and Hawaii are genetically close enough to hybridize naturally and as people began to migrate through the region, they apparently carried their favorite hibiscus with them, in some cases thousands of years ago. Most of the modern hybrids are created in Florida, California, Hawaii, and Australia, but hibiscus are immensely popular all over the warmer parts of the world. Most of the breeding is done by hobby growers, often retirees who are active in the American Hibiscus Society or its overseas affiliates.
The leaves are alternate, ovate to lanceolate, often with a toothed or lobed margin. The flowers are large, conspicuous, trumpet-shaped, with five or more petals, color from white to pink, red, orange, purple or yellow, and from 4–18 cm broad. Flower color in certain species, such as Hibiscus mutabilis or Hibiscus tiliaceus, changes with age.  The fruit is a dry five-lobed capsule, containing several seeds in each lobe, which are released when the capsule splits open at maturity. It is of red and white colors. Many species are grown for their showy flowers or used as landscape shrubs, and are used to attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

To Grow
Although newly created hibiscus hybrids must be grown from seed, the existing varieties are propagated by cuttings or grafting. Most of the smaller flowered "old-fashioned" types grow readily from woody cuttings placed in well drained potting soil. Grafting is necessary, or desirable, for many of the fancier modern hybrids that have very weak root systems of their own. A branch of the hybrid is attached to the root system of one of the tough old standbys like the "common red" seen everywhere in the islands.
Hibiscus starts being damaged when temperatures drop to 29 F. Prolonged exposure to temperatures at or below this will kill a hibiscus to the ground. However, a hibiscus will often be able to grow back from its roots. I have never tried growing Hibiscus in Illinois so I cannot speak to how it fares in Zone 5.  My guess is one would need to mulch it well around the roots or bring it inside in the winter like a lemon tree or other woody deciduous plant like lemon verbena.

The roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is a species of Hibiscus native to the Old World tropics, used for the production of bast fiber and as an infusion. It is an annual that can grow as a perennial, growing to 7–8 feet tall. The leaves are deeply three- to five-lobed, 3–6 inches long, arranged alternately on the stems.

The flowers are 3–4 inches in diameter, white to pale yellow with a dark red spot at the base of each petal, and have a stout fleshy calyx at the base, less than an inch wide, enlarging to 1.2–1.4 inches, fleshy and bright red as the fruit matures. It takes about six months to mature which is why I grow it for the show but do not have a season long enough for the fruit to mature on the stem.

Dig a hole at least twice the size of the rootball. At a minimum, make the hole 2 feet in diameter and 1 foot deep. Work in a 50/50 mix of compost to soil. Be sure to mix the compost and soil as thoroughly as possible. It also is a good idea to finish with the hole an inch or two recessed so that a watering basin is formed.
Watering frequency
Most of the year hibiscus do well on a grass watering schedule.
This schedule equals a watering frequency of every other day in the hottest part of summer and every one to two weeks in the coldest part of winter.  During winter the plant will be green but is almost dormant so it needs very little water and can be switched to a citrus watering schedule. Citrus like to dry out between watering and in the winter once every four to six weeks is plenty.  Watering a hibiscus too much during winter will make it nutrient deficient causing the leaves to yellow.

To Use
One species of Hibiscus, known as kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus), is extensively used in paper-making. Dried hibiscus is edible, and is often a delicacy in Mexico. It can also be candied and used as a garnish.  The Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is used as a vegetable. In the Philippines, the gumamela (local name for hibiscus) is used by children as part of a bubble-making pastime. The flowers and leaves are crushed until the sticky juices come out. Hollow papaya stalks are then dipped into this and used as straws for blowing bubbles.

Hibiscus are ideal for decoration, since the flowers will not wilt, even without water, until their natural time to close. Opening buds may be picked early in the morning, placed gently in the refrigerator, and brought out for evening festivities-the cold delays the flower's closing by several hours.

With a flower of such great and universally admired beauty, no one demands that the hibiscus be useful as well, but there are a few practical aspects to the plant. In India and Jamaica, they are often called shoe-flower, a reference to the use of the crushed flowers as a black shoe polish. Asian women reportedly also use this natural glossy black dye, in their case, as a hair coloring. The flowers are also edible, making a colorful addition to salads. The hibiscus flowers used in herbal teas are from the related annual plant Hibiscus sabdariffa, usually called Jamaican Sorrel or Roselle.

For me it is all about the Tea.  And being able to grow an annual in Zone 5 works for me as well.  I have grown Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) for 3 years.  Hibiscus Tea is colorful, tangy in flavor and very healthful.  It was traditionally made and served both hot and cold in Jamaica, Egypt, West Africa and Mexico.  I was first introduced to its amazing citrus-like flavor when I worked on a Mexican themed Christmas Exhibit for the Wheaton History Center.  One of the lenders to the exhibit taught me to make this Hibiscus Citrus drink that is out of this world (recipe below.)

The tea is popular as a natural diuretic; it contains vitamin C and minerals, and is used traditionally as a mild medicine.  Dieters or people with kidney problems often take it without adding sugar for its beneficial properties and as a natural diuretic.  The tea is also supposed to help the body cool itself, so drinking it hot or cold in the summer months can off set extreme heat situations and replace nutrients lost by perspiration.  This year that is an extra plus! 

A 2008 USDA study shows consuming hibiscus tea lowers blood pressure in a group of pre-hypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults. Three cups of tea daily resulted in an average drop of 8.1 mmHg in their systolic blood pressure, compared to a 1.3 mmHg drop in the volunteers who drank the placebo beverage. Study participants with higher blood pressure readings (129 or above) had a greater response to hibiscus tea: their systolic blood pressure went down by 13.2 mmHg. These data support the idea that drinking hibiscus tea in an amount readily incorporated into the diet may play a role in controlling blood pressure, although more research is required since there are not significant side effects to drinking Hibiscus Tea, to may for some be worth the experiment.

In an issue of Alternatives by Dr. David Williams, Dr. Williams reaffirms the medicinal use of Hibiscus stating simply that "After centuries of traditional use around the world, hibiscus tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa) has been officially proven in clinical research to be yet another effective method of lowering high blood pressure."

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis has a number of medical uses in Chinese herbology.  In the Indian traditional system of medicine, Ayurveda, hibiscus, especially white hibiscus and red hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), is considered to have medicinal properties. The roots are used to make various concoctions believed to cure ailments such as cough, hair loss or hair greying. As a hair treatment, the flowers are boiled in oil along with other spices to make a medicated hair oil. The leaves and flowers are ground into a fine paste with a little water, and the resulting lathery paste is used as a shampoo plus conditioner.  You can use hibiscus as a hair rinse to bring out the red highlights in darker or auburn hair.

Hibiscus Hair Rinse
This rinse will give red highlights to light or dark hair. 

• 2 cups water
• ¼ cup fresh or dried hibiscus flowers

Boil water and pour over hibiscus. Let mixture cool and then strain out all solids before using.
To use: Pour over clean hair as a final rinse and do not rinse out.

Rose & Hibiscus Lemonade

 8 tsp. Backyard Patch Rose Blush Tea or Mexican Hibiscus Black Tea (or just 8 tsp of dried Hibiscus flowers)
about 8 cups cold water
8 ounces frozen lemonade concentrate
fresh lime wedge, garnish

In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Take water off the heat and add the tea.  Steep 5-10 minutes. Strain out the herbs and flowers.  Pour tea into a large pitcher.  Add about 2/3 of the can (or 8 ounces) of frozen lemonade concentrate.  Stir to dissolve and let cool a bit before refrigerating until completely chilled.  Pour over ice in a glass decorated with a fresh lime wedge. Enjoy!  Serves 8

This recipe from the Herb Companion Magazine was first published back in 2006.
Lemon Hibiscus Tea
A touch of sassy citrus flavor and a crimson blush make this tea a favorite of children and a festive party beverage.

• 2 quarts water
• 1/4 cup dried jasmine flowers
• 1 cup dried hibiscus flowers
• 4 cups lemonade
• Lemon slices for garnish


Boil 2 quarts water and steep jasmine and hibiscus flowers in water.  Strain out flowers and allow to cool.  Add 4 cups of prepared lemonade.  Serve over ice with a lemon slice garnish.

As promised here is the recipe for that Hibiscus punch I first had back in the 90s.  It is a great recipe to make any occasion special—as a delicious iced tea, it’s also great for drinking at home on a hot summer evening. Kids and adults alike love its taste, and the drink is a healthy alternative to high-sugar fruit punches. The punch has a vibrant, deep-red color that makes it look like traditional fruit punch.

This recipe also contains red clover (Trifolium pratense), a mild tonic herb. Red clover is a safe herb, but it should not be used during pregnancy.

Hibiscus Punch
Makes about 5 quarts

1 gallon water
1 cup dried red clover blossoms
2 cups dried hibiscus flowers
5 whole cloves
1/3 cup cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup honey
1 cup lemon juice
2 cups orange juice
1 cup apple juice

Bring the water to a boil and pour it over the red clover, hibiscus, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Steep for 20 minutes. Add the honey, lemon juice, orange juice, and apple juice. Refrigerate until chilled. Pour into a punch bowl or pitcher, and float lemon slices, orange slices, and fresh spearmint leaves in the hibiscus punch.

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