Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lemon Sorbet in an Ice Cream Freezer

The ice cream freezer was patented on this day (May 30th) in 1848. Now at the time they were hand crank and required elbow grease as well as large amounts of chipped ice, but they did create a great frozen treat.
When my husband was Farm manager and later Site manager for Kline Creek Farm in Winfield, Illinois, every summer we would have an Ice Cream Social where we would hand crank hundreds of gallons of ice cream to serve to visitors. 
courtesy of 1890 farmer on
The volunteers used ice blocks from the previous winter's ice cutting on the lake at the farm. They crushed it and mixed it with rock salt, then packed it around the one-gallon metal containers that held the ingredients. The salt melted the ice while a crank turned the container. As ice melted, more was added until the eggs, cream, sugar and flavoring became ice cream.  It took about one and a half hours to make a gallon of ice cream this way.

When you make ice cream with herbs you generally do so with a simple syrup rather than eggs and cream, which results in a Sorbet rather than an  true ice cream.  However, you can still freeze it and enjoy on a hot day using your ice cream freezer.  So selebrate the patenting of the Ice Cream Freezer with this great recipe using my favorite herb! 
Lemon Verbena Sorbet
2 1/2 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped lemon verbena
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Combine the water, sugar, and lemon verbena in a medium, heavy saucepan, and bring to a boil. Stir the pot until the sugar dissolves, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Allow the pot to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the herb-syrup to steep while it cools. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or until thoroughly chilled. Strain, add the lemon juice, and process in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and let firm in the freezer for at least 2 hours before serving.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Herb of the Week - 10 herbs from the Herb Society of America

I admit I did not write this post, I copied it from the list provided on the Herb Society Website as it was perfect and comprehensive.  However, they have links in theirs to great fliers and posts giving even more info on these great herbs, so please go visit their website and get even more details.

Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil is used in salads (tuna, green, potato or egg), use with fresh tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, in marinades or pesto. Works well in combination with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Try basil on a sandwich of whole wheat bread with tomatoes and mayonnaise.
Common Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)Thyme is used in chicken broth and stuffing, marinades for meet or fish, lamb, veal, sauces, soups or egg dishes, often used in partnership with tomatoes, works well in oils and butters. Lemon thyme (T. x citriodorus) can be used with fish, in tea and in salad dressings.
Bay (Laurus nobilis)
Bay leaf is added at the beginning of cooking soups and stews and imparts a deep rich flavor. The leaf is left whole so it can be retrieved prior to searing. Fresh leaves are stronger than dried.
Common Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is used in sausage, poultry, stuffing, pork, lamb, seafood, vegetables, breads and is used as a spice rub for pork shops or pork tenderloin. It is also frequently used in salads.
Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Oregano is used in soups, casseroles, sauces, stews, stuffing, eggs, tomato-based dishes, chili and pizza.
Chives (Alliums schoenoprasum)
Chives are used in vinegars, soft cheeses, salads, used as garnish, leaves work well in butter and oils.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Dill seeds are often combined with onions, cabbage, potatoes, cumin, chili powder, paprika. Seeds can be added to casseroles, lamb, fish, vegetable dishes and sauces. Chopped or whole dill weed can be added to soups, stews, casseroles, meat dishes, pasta, eggs and used to enhance sauces, dips, butters and cheeses.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley is used in soups, stews, gravies, salads, meat and potatoes, used as a garnish and a breath freshener. Be generous with this herb in tomato dishes.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is used with lamb, venison, poultry, soups, stews, fish, tomatoes sauces, vegetables, marinades, and can be used as skewers for vegetables and meats on the grill, works well in a trio with sage and thyme or garlic and thyme, tastes great on steamed red potatoes or peas.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Lavender is used in beverages, is an ingredient in Herbes de Provence blends and in a variety of sweet dishes.
Lavendula angustifolia is best for culinary use and the flowers should be harvested just prior to opening and dried before use.

And for blends using any and all of these wonderful suggestions, please check out my website too!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fertilizing the Plants - container fertilizer mixes

I know it is early in the summer, but we have had some really active weather lately.  Between the wind, the rain and the heat, we are getting a compressed version of a whole season in a few days.  All of the rain has helped the lawns and gardens grow, but has definitely been too much for some containers and other plantings.  

If your plants are looking a little tired, this is a great time to give them some fertilizer.  Every time a potted plant gets watered, the soil gets rinsed or leached of valuable nutrients your plants need and want, so go ahead and help them out.  Any type of water soluble fertilizer will do the trick.  Just follow the directions and don't add more than recommended.  Look for one that has 3 equal numbers, like a 10-10-10 or 15-15-15 or even a 20-20-20 formulation or something close to it.  Your pots will thank you by greening up and blooming better for you. 
If you want something more organic, you can make your own fertilizer for container plants.
Dry Fertilizer
This is an all-around fertilizer good for flower gardens, ornamental plants, and lawns. Mix together four parts seed meal, one part dolomite lime, and one-half part each of bone meal and kelp meal. Make sure you measure by volume and not by weight. The seed meal provides nitrogen, the lime balances out the alkaline nature of the seed meal, bone meal provided phosphorus, and kelp meal contributes potassium and many micronutrients. This makes a balanced N-P-K fertilizer. To use, mix it with your garden soil or sprinkle on individual plants. Combine with good organic compost for best results.  In the spring, before planting, sprinkle 4 to 6 quarts in each 100 square foot planting area. Once the crops are established, side dress with more fertilizer as needed.
Seed meal is readily available at farm stores. The other ingredients are available in small quantities at garden shops. For the best prices, order online or buy in bulk.
Liquid Fertilizer
Liquid fertilizer adds a nice boost to house plants and the garden by providing nutrients and trace elements. You can make your own liquid fertilizer using green plants. Put grass clippings, weeds, green leaves from trees, and the leaves of other plants in a large bin. Make sure all the ingredients are fresh. Fill the bin with water,  and let sit for about a month in warm weather. Once it takes on a barnyard smell, it is ready to use. Don't worry about rat-tailed weevils that may be floating in the bin. This is just another sign that it's ready to use.  Before use, dilute to the look of weak tea.

Advanced Fertilizer
Commercial Fertilizer always gives a three number ratio, those numbers are for Nitrogen-N, Phosphorus-P, and Potassium-K.  If you want to mix your own general-purpose organic fertilizer, try combining individual amendments in the amounts shown here. Just pick one ingredient from each of the three groups below. Because these amendments may vary in the amount of nutrients they contain, this method won’t give you a mixture with a precise NPK ratio. The ratio will be approximately between 1-2-1 and 4-6-3, with additional insoluble phosphorus and potash. The blend will provide a balanced supply of nutrients that will be steadily available to plants and encourage soil microorganisms to thrive.
Nitrogen (N) 
  • 2 parts blood meal
  • 3 parts fish meal
Phosphorus (P) 
  • 3 parts bonemeal
  • 6 parts rock phosphate or colloidal phosphate
Potassium (K) 
  • 1 part kelp meal
  • 6 parts greensand

A few last fertilizer ideas
Sprinkle used coffee grounds on your lawn to increase the nitrogen and phosphorus levels, both necessary for healthy growth.  Many coffee shops will give you their used grounds for free just for the asking.  Save your own coffee grounds to use in your container plantings.  Use a soup spoon to ladle them around plants in containers, then work into the soil with a fork.
Build a compost pile by putting organic vegetable and fruit materials, grass clippings, and other lawn debris in a pile or a compost barrel. Turn occasional and add new kitchen scraps—except meat products—and eventually you will have rich soil-like compost. Sprinkle over your yard, use a broom to break up clumps and distribute compost evenly, then water well to help it absorb into the roots.
Using these ideas for homemade fertilizer, you can help your plants grow beautifully.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mint Green Tea Lemonade - Weekend Recipe

I wanted to give a refreshing beverage you could enjoy at anytime this holiday weekend and I found it in this combo!  This cooling beverage is not too sweet and offers a uniquely refreshing blend of fresh seasonal flavors.
Mint Green Tea Lemonade
1/2 cup packed fresh mint
1 cup sugar
2 cups water, divided
1 cup fresh lemon juice (yes you have to squeeze some!)
8 cups iced green tea (or other iced tea)

Combine mint leaves, sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan, then bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Turn off heat and let cool.  Once cool, remove mint leaves and combine with lemon juice.  In a large pitcher, combine iced tea and remaining 1 cup water, then pour the lemon mixture into it.  Serve chilled or over ice, with mint leaves for garnish.

This is my 400th post!  For those who read to the end of a post this is your reward.  Email me your address at and I will send you a package of Sun Tea so you can enjoy a cool beverage!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gardener’s Moisturizing Salve

Working in the dirt is very drying.  I wear gloves when I garden, but that does not keep the dry effects away.  I always wash carefully when I come in the house and then put on a moisturizing salve or lotion.

I like to make one with herbs for use in the summer.  The first step is to make an infused oil to prepare the salve from. I gave instructions for that in a previous blog post in September 2012 (Making Infused Herbal Oils.)   For this salve I recommend making the infused oil with a savory herb like thyme, lemon grass or oregano for the earthy scent and the germ fighting abilities.  (Never forget that many germs exist in the soil.)

To make a simple salve, grate up some beeswax and add it to hot infused oil, stirring continuously until it melts. (About 1ounce beeswax to 8 fluid ounces of oil)
Test on the back of a wooden spoon to see whether it is of a suitable consistency.  That means stir the spoon down into the melted wax and oil, then draw it up and turn it over.  As the mixture cools it will harden.  See if this is the texture you want.  If it is rough and hard add more oil, if it is runny and slick add a bit more beeswax.  Sometimes the humidity of the day will affect the consistence so do not be afraid to make adjustments. If you are not confident to do the spoon test, an easier way of checking is to drop a very small amount of oil plus melted wax into cold water in a small bowl or mug. The salve will immediately cool and you can rub it between your fingers to check the desired thickness.

Once you are happy, pour the mixture into small jars and seal. The salve will thicken on cooling, usually from the bottom upwards if you pour into cold jars. It will usually be a paler color than the original oil.

To make a moisturizing salve use oils which have an affinity with the skin such as calendula and add violet leaf or marshmallow oil to add moisture. If you want the salve to have a strong scent, add 1-4 drops of your favorite essential oil per fluid oz of oil, but do not do this if the salve may be used by a young child.

You can experiment with adding honey or lanolin to your salve to give it extra softness.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Stevia - Herb of the Week

Stevia is an herb you hear quite a bit about in the press these days.  This is an herb I never grew much of when I first learned of it because it does have an odd taste that not everyone likes. 

However, with so much information out there, not all of it accurate, I decided that I should focus on this for the Herb of the Week - Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)

Stevia is a genus of about 240 species of herbs and shrubs in the sunflower family (Asteraceae), native to subtropical and tropical regions from western North America to South America. The species Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as sweetleaf, candyleaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia, is widely grown for its sweet leaves. The leaves of the stevia plant have 30–45 times the sweetness of ordinary table sugar. The leaves can be eaten fresh, or put in teas and foods. As a sweetener and sugar substitute, stevia's taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar, although some of its extracts may have a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste at high concentrations.
With its steviol glycoside extracts having up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar, stevia has attracted attention with the rise in demand for low-carbohydrate, low-sugar sweeteners. Because stevia has a negligible effect on blood glucose it is attractive to people on carbohydrate-controlled diets.
The availability of stevia varies from country to country. In a few countries, it has been available as a sweetener for decades or centuries; for example, it has been widely used for decades as a sweetener in Japan. In some countries health concerns and political controversies have limited its availability; for example, the United States banned stevia in the early 1990s unless labeled as a dietary supplement, but in 2008 it approved rebaudioside A extract (from the S. rebaudiana) as a food additive.
Stevia genus were first researched by Spanish botanist and physician Petrus Jacobus Stevus (Pedro Jaime Esteve 1500–1556), from whose surname originates the Latinized word stevia. Human use of the sweet species S. rebaudiana originated in South America.  The plant was used extensively by the Guarani people for more than 1,500 years, and the plant has a long history of medicinal use in Paraguay and Brazil where the leaves have been traditionally used to sweeten local teas, medicines and as a "sweet treat".
In 1899 Swiss botanist Moisés Santiago Bertoni, while researching in eastern Paraguay, first described the plant and the sweet taste in detail. Only limited research was conducted on the topic until, in 1931, two French chemists isolated the glycosides that give stevia its sweet taste. These compounds, stevioside and rebaudioside, are 250–300 times as sweet as sucrose, heat-stable, pH-stable, and not fermentable.
In the early 1970s, sweeteners such as cyclamate and saccharin were suspected of being carcinogens resulting in further cultivation of steviua as an alternative, beginning in Japan. The plant's leaves, the aqueous extract of the leaves, and purified steviosides were developed as sweeteners. Japan currently consumes more stevia than any other country, with stevia accounting for 40% of the sweetener market.
Stevia species are found in the wild in semiarid habitats ranging from grassland to mountain terrain. They do produce seeds, but only a small percentage of them germinate.  Cultivation from cuttings or root division are more effective.

To Grow
If you enjoy gardening, Stevia can be a rewarding herb to grow. While it's not feasible for most of us to grow sugarcane or sorghum in our backyard, several Stevia plants will fit nicely into a small garden. Recipes utilizing Green Stevia Powder are now available, and the whole leaves add to the flavor of herbal teas.
Stevia rebaudiana seeds are rarely available because of production problems and poor germination, so plants are generally used instead. Plants are available from several mail order sources. Be sure you are getting Stevia rebaudiana since this is the only sweet variety. Stevia stems are brittle, but nurseries have developed packing methods to protect them in transit. Arrange for plants to arrive soon after your last frost date.  High temperatures may stress transplants. Transfer plants to the garden as soon as possible after arrival, making sure they don't dry out in the meantime.  Stevia stem cuttings root easily without hormones, but only under long day conditions.
Stevia rebaudiana is a tender perennial, native to semi-humid subtropical regions of Paraguay and Brazil. Wild plants occur on acid soils that are constantly moist, but not inundated, often near the edge of marshes or streams where the soil is sandy. In the garden, too, Stevia doesn't like to dry out, but standing water will encourage rot and disease. Stevia can be a successful garden plant in most climates with the use of a few simple techniques. Raised beds or hills prevent "wet feet," while an organic mulch and frequent watering ensure a constant supply of moisture.
In North America, Stevia survives winters only in the warmest areas such as southern California, Florida, and Mexico. Research in Japan indicates a critical winter soil temperature below 32 F to 35 F will result in the plant’s death . Stevia is a weak perennial, so plants grown as perennials should be replaced every few years. In colder areas, like ours here in Illinois, Stevia is planted after the last frost and treated as an annual. Longer summer days found at higher latitudes favor leaf yield and Stevioside content, since we are not much above sea level here in the Midwest, I have never been able to test this theory.
While tolerant of most soil types, Stevia prefers a sandy loam or loam. Any well-drained soil that produces a good crop of vegetables should work fine. Stevia occurs naturally on soils of pH 4 to 5, but thrives with soil pH as high as 7.5. However, Stevia does not tolerate saline soils. Unless your soil is very sandy, raised beds are ideal for Stevia. A raised growing surface prevents standing water and reduces compaction. Beds should be 3 to 4 feet wide and 4 to 6 inches high.
In garden beds, space plants 10 to 12 inches apart in the row, with two rows per bed. Stagger rows so that plants end up in a zigzag pattern. Use a trowel to dig a hole, then pour in some water and set the plants a bit deeper than they were in the pot, so the root ball is covered by a thin layer of garden soil. After back-filling around the roots, water again to settle the soil. If the weather is hot and sunny at planting time, it's a good idea to place a thin mulch around the plants to reduce moisture loss. Cool night temperatures will halt plant growth. For early plantings or areas with cool summers, hotcaps or row covers will allow faster growth and offer protection from late frosts. Don't let the plants overheat on hot days, however.
While a good compost usually satisfies nutrient requirements, soil testing or plant symptoms may alert you to deficiencies. Mark Langan of Mulberry Creek Herb Farm recommends low nitrogen or organic fertilizers. Excess nitrogen promotes rank growth with poor flavor.  When I found out that Stevia prefers the “hill” method I use in my production garden, I was off and running to grow some, especially when I had to replace a number of perennials this year die to the flood damage.  To grow in hills, set plants in low mound of dirt spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. Periodically during the growing season, pull more soil up around the plants with a hoe. This tends to smother weeds and drain away surface water which in turn discourages disease.

In general, Stevia should be treated as a vegetable crop. Where summers are extremely hot, stevia benefits from slight afternoon shade. Elsewhere, grow stevia in full sun.  When hot weather sets in, usually a month after planting, beds should be mulched 3 to 6 inches deep with organic residue such as grass clippings, chopped leaves, straw, hay, or compost. This will protect the shallow feeder roots and hold in moisture. Plant growth is slow at first, accelerating by mid summer. Stevia stems are prone to breakage during high winds. Left unpruned, stevia will grow into a lanky, upright plant that produces tiny white flowers in late summer. To maximize leaf production, you must trim back the plants several times to induce branching, first when plants are about 8 inches tall, and again in early summer. So pinching tips out every 3 to 4 weeks for the first month to encourage side branching will give you a bushier plant less prone to damage. (see my post on pinching for more details) 

Grow in a protected area if possible. Supporting the plants with a "corral" made from strings tied to stakes is another strategy.  I am considering making a willow fence to place along the top of the hill they growing for added protection.

Willow windbreak
williwIf you live in Zone 8 or warmer, stevia is often winter-hardy and grows as a short-lived perennial with a protective winter mulch. In colder climates, prepare two healthy parent plants for overwintering indoors. Choose 1-year-old plants grown from seeds or cuttings. Cut them back to about 6 inches, and prune roots as necessary to settle them into 6-inch containers with a light-textured potting mix. Move your stevia plants to a warm, sunny location indoors, or to a heated greenhouse. In spring, when new growth appears, cut most of the new stems and root them in moist seed-starting mix.

To Use
For centuries the Guaraní peoples of Paraguay used stevia, which they called ka'a he'ê ("sweet herb"), as a sweetener in yerba mate and other foods, and medicinally as a cardiac stimulant, for obesity, hypertension and heartburn, and to help lower uric acid levels. Current research has evaluated its effects on obesity  and hypertension. Stevia has a negligible effect on blood glucose, and may even enhance glucose tolerance; it may be useful as a natural sweetener for diabetics.
Use fresh leaves for tea or eat a few right off the plant. They taste great with mint leaves. Sweetness is greatest just before flowering, which is triggered by short day lengths. The onset of blossoming ranges from mid summer to late fall. Plants should be harvested before the first frost or as soon as blossoming begins, whichever comes first. Cut entire plants just above ground level. When growing Stevia as a perennial or for early harvests, clip the plants 6 inches from the ground so they will survive and re-grow. Most herbs should be harvested in the morning, after dew has evaporated, but it is even more important with Stevia as the flavor is at its peak in the morning.
In most areas, you can harvest stevia in midsummer by cutting back the plants by half their size, and again in early fall when new growth slows to a standstill. Stevia can be dried in bunches like other herbs. Plants are easily dried by hanging upside down in a dry, warm, drafty location. Bunch a few plants together and bind at the stem end with a rubber band. Store dried stevia leaves in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Wait until you’re ready to use stevia leaves to crush them. They keep well for years. Stems are less sweet, so toss them on the compost pile. An alternative method is to strip fresh leaves from stems and spread on elevated screens in the sunshine, on a day with low relative humidity (less than 60%). If drying takes 8 hours or less, very little Stevioside will be lost. A food dehydrator on low heat (100 F to 110 F) will do an excellent job as well. Leaves are crisp, crumbly, and bright green when fully dry.
While whole leaves are great for making tea, it's easy to turn them into Green Stevia Powder with a kitchen blender, food processor, or coffee grinder with metal blades. With the blender bowl half full, process dry leaves at high speed for a few seconds. Collect the fine powder for use in recipes calling for Green Stevia Powder. Use a clean glass jar for long-term storage.
You can use the leaves of this healthy sugar substitute fresh or dried, but many people find the flavor improves if the sweet compounds have first been extracted in water or alcohol. With stevia, slightly under-sweetening drinks or fruit desserts tends to taste better than using too much. Too much stevia may impart a bitter or medicinal flavor.

Why Grow it if you can buy it?


Many commercial drink mixes and packaged sugar substitutes are sweetened with a derivative of stevia. This sweetening compound is called Rebaudioside A and is listed on labels as either Reb A or Rebiana. These are highly processed products developed by large food corporations. Most of the raw stevia used to produce these products is grown in China. These “natural sweeteners” have been stripped of many of the plant’s healthful properties. Teas, extracts and tinctures made from high-quality, whole-leaf stevia that you grow yourself or obtain from a farmer’s market, on the other hand, contain up to seven sweet compounds (glycosides) and an array of antioxidants.



When first starting to use stevia as a healthy sugar substitute, start with a little and increase the amount gradually and only in small increments. Take care not to overheat stevia teas or extracts. Such batches may be bitter.

Barbara Pleasant created a Stevia-to-Sugar Equivalent Chart for the February/March 2013 issue of Mother Earth Living that is worth checking out.

Making Sweetners –

Stevia Green Powder. Using a food processor or blender with metal blades, fill the blender bowl half full with crisp green dry leaves.  Process dry leaves at high speed for a few seconds until you get a powder that resembles rubbed sage. Use this in any recipe that called for powdered stevia or stevia liquid.

Stevia Tea. Fill a metal tea ball with 1 rounded tablespoon of dried, lightly crushed stevia leaves. Place in a clean pint canning jar, and cover with almost-boiling water. Steep 10 minutes before removing the stevia. Screw on the lid and keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Yield: 2 cups (16 ounces), sweetness equivalent to about 2 cups sugar.   I like to use this because the sweetness equivalent is the same as sugar in a recipe making it easy to substitute.

Stevia Extract. Bring 1 cup water to almost-boiling, add one-half cup lightly crushed stevia leaves. Remove from heat, cover with lid, and steep 40 minutes. Strain through a coffee filter, and pour into a dark-colored container. Store in the refrigerator 1 to 2 weeks. Yield: 3/4 cup (6 ounces), equivalent to 3 cups sugar.  This is concentrated so use 1/3 what a recipe would call for in regular sugar.

Stevia Tincture. Place one-half cup dried, lightly crushed stevia leaves in a clean glass jar. Add 3/4 cup 100-proof vodka or rum. Screw on the lid and shake. Place in a cool, dark place for two days, shaking the jar twice a day. Strain through cheesecloth or a jelly bag, and place the liquid in a small saucepan. Heat on low until steam rises, and maintain that temperature for 20 to 30 minutes, (do not boil). This creates a more concentrated tincture while removing most of the alcohol’s taste and smell. Pour the cooled tincture into a dark-colored container. Store in the refrigerator up to 3 months. Yield: About 1/4 cup (2 ounces), equivalent to 6 cups sugar.   This is heavily concentrated so a teaspoon would equal a ½ cup of sugar.  If you use in a recipe you must replace the missing bulk of the ½ cup of volume.  You may just want ot use this for small sweetening jobs.  Store stevia tincture in a medicine bottle with a dropper to add it to drinks or prepared dishes by the drop.

Crisscross Peanut Butter Cookies
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
2/3 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon powdered or clear liquid stevia extract 

2 tablespoons date sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon maple flavoring
1/4 cup apple butter
1 large egg
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil a cookie sheet. Soften and cream the butter or margarine in a mixing bowl. Cream the peanut butter into the butter. Mix in the stevia extract, date sugar, maple flavoring, and apple butter. Beat in the egg until thick and smooth.  Stir the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together in a bowl. Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture.  Place large balls of batter on the cookie sheet using two spoons. Flatten each cookie with a floured fork, making a crisscross pattern.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Makes 16 large cookies or 24 smaller cookies.

Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies
1/4 cup oil
2/3 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup apple butter
2 ounces tofu (mix the tofu with the apple butter in a blender first)
1/2 teaspoon stevia extract 

2 tablespoons date sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon maple flavoring
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil a cookie sheet. Soften and cream the oil, apple and peanut butters and tofu together in a mixing bowl.  Mix in the stevia extract, date sugar, maple flavoring until thick and smooth.  Stir the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together in a bowl. Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture.  Place large balls of batter on the cookie sheet using two spoons. Flatten each cookie with a floured fork, making a crisscross pattern.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Makes 16 large cookies or 24 smaller cookies.

Apple Crisp Recipe


7 to 8 cups chopped apples (peeling is optional)
3 tablespoons lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered stevia leaf or 1/2 teaspoon powdered or clear liquid stevia extract 

2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons natural peanut butter (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup apple juice or blend

1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup chopped nuts and seeds
1/4 teaspoon powdered or clear liquid stevia extract (See “How to Make Stevia Extract” toward the end of this article.)
3/4 teaspoon stevia concentrate 
2 tablespoons oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a large, 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Place the apples in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the lemon juice. Mix the vanilla, stevia leaf or stevia extract, flour, peanut butter, cinnamon, and salt into the apples. Pour the fruit juice into the bottom of the dish. Spoon in the apple mixture.  Mix the oats, chopped nuts and seeds, stevia extract, and stevia concentrate together in a bowl. Sprinkle and stir in the oil. Spread the topping over the apples so it is evenly distributed.  Bake for 50 minutes to l hour. If the topping gets done before the apples, cover pan with foil the last 15 minutes of baking.  Serves 8.
Option: Use about 1 1/2 cups granola for the topping. Mix 1/2 cup of the granola into the apples, and spread the rest on the top. No need to add the stevia extract, stevia concentrate, and oil from topping recipe above—granola already has sweetener and oil.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pinch your Herbs!

Pinching back your herbs is the most important activity of the early season.

Understanding that herbs, like other plants, are trying to reproduce is important to understanding why we should pinch them off.  Plants intent on reproduction are striving to get a long stem intent on blooming.  That means you have an upright plant with few sideways branches that is reaching toward the sun the target to produce a flower head.  Okay for the plant but not a useful for you as the herb grower.  Pinching the plant changes the signals it is sending up that stem creating a bushier plant.

pinching basil

When a single stem reaches maturity and is ready to flower it sends signals down the stem to tell secondary buds to stop growing letting the single stem have all the energy. When you pinch off the growing tips of the plant it changes the signal and the plant begins to produce more branches to create more flowers, thus creating a larger bushier plant, that will eventually be much stronger.  This works on your flowering plants too!

How much should we pinch off?  There is no hard and fast rule. If a plant is badly in need of bulking up, you can take one or two larger pieces around 4 inches and several smaller tips about 2 inches.  If the plant has produced blossoms pinch off every single one of them.  Blossoms will pull energy from other parts of the plant weakening the flavor of the herbs.

In the early part of the season you can pinch your herb stems between a nail and a finger.  Later in the year a pair of sharp scissors will keep you from damaging the stems by twisting or pulling.

Lemon Basil before being pinched

Lemon Basil after pinching, see the two new branches...

Once you recognize that pinching is a kindness to your plants, you will not be afraid to do it.  For Basils the shape and leaf production is improved with frequent pinching.  Every branch pinched at a leaf node will produce two more stems.  The same is true of scented geraniums which can grow very long hard stems if not pinched back.  Thyme, mints, and oregano can be pinched more casually as you need the herbs for cooking or drying since they are log spreading growers anyway.  I generally trim these with scissors taking off an inch or two depending on the plant size.  With rosemary and bay or any other slow-growing semi-woody herbs, pinch out stems here and there to sculpt plants.

hard geranium stems

As I pinch my plants I lay the branches on a paper towel on a plate.  Everything I do not need to cook with is left to dry and in a day or two I can pop them into a jar. 


So pinch your herbs and enjoy!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Caprese Chicken - Weekend Recipe

This dish is great if you grill the chicken too.  Then you just mix up the sauce in a sauce pan or skillet and  add to the top of grilled chicken in a pie pan or alluminum foil on the grill and cover to allow the cheese to melt.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. grated lemon peel
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 large plum tomato, cut into 8 thin slices
½ c. shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ c. chopped fresh basil leaves

Between pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper, place each chicken breast smooth side down; gently pound with flat side of meat mallet or rolling pin until about ½ inch thick.

In small bowl, mix BYP Italian Seasoning, salt and lemon peel; rub mixture evenly over smooth side of chicken.

In 10-inch skillet, heat oil and vinegar over medium-high heat. Add chicken, seasoned side down; cook 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, until no longer pink in center.

Reduce heat to low. Top each chicken breast with 2 tomato slices and 2 tablespoons cheese. Cover; cook 2 minutes or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with basil.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sweet Woodruff - Herb of the Week

The planets seemed to align and tell me to choose this herb this week.  Tina Sams from The Essential Herbal Magazine, said they served May Wine (which is made with Sweet Woodruff) at an Herb Festival back in the early days.  I took pictures of Sweet Woodruff that has volunteered in my herb garden. Then author Susan Wittig Albert focused on Sweet Woodruff in her weekly herb newsletter “It’s About Thyme.” 

With all that karma it has to be this week’s
      Herb of the Week  -- Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

This herb has many names in some cases it is known as Sweet Bedstraw or Wild Baby’s Breath.  In France it is known as Asperule Odorante which is sometimes incorrectly given as its scientific name.  The name woodruff grew out of the earlier wuderove, or "wood-wheel" (rove comes from the French word for wheel). Master of the woods would be a literal translation of the German name Waldmeister.

The plant contains the plant chemical coumarin, and when it is dried smells like a cross between freshly-mown hay and vanilla. It is this aromatic quality that give it the scientific name odoratum.  This scent increases on wilting and then persists on drying. It has long been valued for potpourris and perfumes and is a favorite in both sleep and moth repellant sachets. It was once used to stuff mattresses and pillows (hence the name, bedstraw).  For gardeners with a shady, wooded area, sweet woodruff can be an ideal groundcover.

Historical Uses

In the language of flowers Sweet Woodruff means "Be cheerful and rejoice in life."  It is used in Wedding bouquets to communicate that sentiment.  Those born under the sign of Capricorn  count Sweet Woodruff among their useful pants mostly because during the Middle Ages, the herb gained a reputation as a wound healer and was used to treat digestive and liver problems.  To celebrate St. Barnabas (patron saint of peace makers) on his feast day in June one can where a garland of roses, sweet woodruff, and wild William as the Saint once did.

 “From my youth I recall that elusive smell of woods in spring—a sweetness ascending from mold and decay but with the breath of young life rising from it.”
            ~ Adelma Grenier Simmons, Herb Gardening in Five Seasons referring to Sweet Woodruff and May Wine

To Grow

Sweet Woodruff is a flowering perennial plant in the family Rubiaceae, native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. An herbaceous plant, it grows to 8 to 10 inches long, often lying flat on the ground or supported by other plants. This is the time of year we see the wheel-shaped spirals of leaves on a square stem that are the signature of Sweet Woodruff.  Small, fragrant, glossy-green leaves grow in whorls around the slender, many-branched stems.  Loose clusters of small, white, star-shaped, fragrant flowers arrive in late spring.  These Spring flowers are edible.  A low growing shade loving plant, it makes an excellent ground cover. Sweet woodruff grows in shady patches at the edge of forests. It has star-like whorls of narrow, bright-green leaves on 8 to 10-inch high stalks. 

Sweet woodruff is a low, rapidly-spreading, perennial plant that forms clumps about 8 inches in height. The slender leaves are borne in starry whorls. The flowers are tiny and white and form in loose clusters.  Sweet woodruff can be grown as a perennial down to Zone 4, but it needs winter protection in Zone 3 and lower. It will thrive in semi shade and makes an attractive ground cover under taller plants. It prefers a Moist, well-drained soil.  I noticed that it does not seem to mind a more acidic soil as it grew well surrounding my Pine Trees at the front and back of my property. 

Try to plant in a location that enjoys full shade / dappled sun and remember to water very often. Use Zone 4 - Zone 8 as your guideline for the appropriate climate for this plant. Sweet woodruff is generally regarded as a hardy plant, so it can be safe to leave outdoors for the majority of winter (although if in doubt, using a row cover is often a good idea).

Sow seeds directly in the garden during late spring, or select bright green seedlings that haven't flowered.  Transplant Sweet Woodruff from established areas in spring before the weather gets hot.  Place plants five to nine inches apart and mulch them well if they will receive more than four hours of full sun each day. The plants will spread and grow into one another, creating a dense mat. It is shallow rooted so a little judicious thinning is fast and easy to do of the plants begin to overtake an area.


The sharpness of woodruff is seen by those who make their own beer ad being mildly reminiscent of hops. In Germany they will use it not only to craft May Wine, but also craft a woodruff-flavored sugar syrup used to balance the lactic acidity of a spritzy Berliner Weisse.

Traditionally used to make May Wine in Germany, with strawberries and sweet white wine, the aroma is used for flavoring and coloring bright green waldmeister jelly.  This strongly scented plant, gets it sweet smell from coumarin. It is also used, mainly in Germany, to flavor May wine, beer (Berliner Weisse), brandy, sausages, jelly, jam, a soft drink called Tarhun, ice cream, and an herbal tea with gentle sedative properties. High doses can cause headaches, due to the toxicity of coumarin. Very high doses of coumarin can cause vertigo, somnolence or even central paralysis and apnea while in a coma. Since 1981, woodruff may no longer be used as an ingredient of industrially produced drinks and food stuffs in Germany.

Harvest the leaves for tea or for May Wine. Select blemish-free, young growth and try to harvest and dry plants in the spring when fragrance is the strongest.   As ever, when harvesting from the wild you should use a good field guide, be aware of look-a-like plants.  It is possible to confuse Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) with Cleavers (Galium aparine) Cleavers is also a medicinal plant so confusing the two will not be harmful.  You will know the Sweet Woodruff by the stronger aroma.  Sweet Woodruff is darker green and has sticky hairs on its seeds, but the leaves tend to be smooth and more pointed. Sweet Woodruff is a perennial whereas Cleavers is an annual.


May Wine Punch
    recipe from Susan Wittig Albert  

1 gallon of Rhine wine
12 to 16 sprigs of sweet woodruff
1 package of frozen strawberries, thawed
1 cup sugar
Fresh whole strawberries

Dry the sweet woodruff sprigs overnight in an off but warm oven.  Then steep the Sweet Woodruff in the wine for 3 to 6 days.  Chill before serving.  Remove the herbs and pour the chilled wine in a punchbowl over an ice ring.  Mash thawed strawberries with a cup of sugar and stir into the wine.  Add champagne for a bit of bubbles and garnish each glass with a fresh slice of strawberry.

Wedding Potpourri (to toss on the Bride and Groom)

Amaranth: "Everlasting love"
Chamomile: "May your wishes come true"
Coriander: "Your closeness is welcome"
Feverfew: "You light up my life"
Lavender: "Devotion; loyalty"
Marjoram: "Joy and happiness"
Mint: "Warmth of feeling"
Rose: "Love; beauty"
Sage: "Long life and good health"
Thyme: "Strength and courage"
Woodruff: "Be cheerful and rejoice in life"

Combine these dry ingredients and place inside paper doilies or tissue tea bags so guests can easily tear them open to toss the contest over the bride and groom.  The rich symbolism of the language of herbs and flowers makes this a special part of the ceremony.

If this is just a symbolic potpourri not used to toss, Rosemary "Remembrance" can be added.

Aromatic Mint Tea
Remember that Sweet Woodruff is fine in moderation but excessive amounts can cause a build-up of coumarin which causes headaches and vertigo.  Enjoy this tea only occasionally and in small amounts.

2 parts Spearmint
1 part Marjoram
1 part Sweet Woodruff
1 part Sage

Blend herbs together and keep in a jar with a tightly fitted lid.  Use 1 tsp. per cup of boiled water and allow to steep 5 to 7 minutes.
Scented Pillows
One of the best ways to enjoy Sweet Woodruff is to use it in pillow or a sachet.  The herb is considered a fixative in moth repelling sachets, as it does not attract insects so its nice aroma can be used to offset the smell of insect repelling herbs like eucalyptus and penny royal.

Dream Pillow Blend
Jim Long in his book Making Herbal Dream Pillows suggested this combination of herbs to create romantic dreams. Which according to Jim are the type you fondly recall but do not share aloud.  At the Backyard Patch, I use Sweet Woodruff in several Household Sachets.

 2  cups calendula flowers
 2 cups rosemary
 2 cups rose petals
1/2  cup lemongrass, cut in short pieces
 1 /2 cup sweet woodruff
 1/4 cup mugwort
 ½  tablespoon mint
 1/2 tablespoon marjoram
 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
 1 lemon geranium leaf (such as ‘Mabel Grey’)
 1 piece cinnamon bark, about 1/2 inch long, broken

Combine the herbs in container and allow to meld for 2 to 3 weeks before placing about ½ cup into a sachet or using to stuff a pillow.

Orange-Eucalyptus Scented Sachet
2 oz. hops
1/2 oz. Eucalyptus
 1 oz. meadowsweet
1 oz. woodruff
 1 oz. crushed cloves,
1 oz. crushed orange peel
1 oz. orris root
few drops sweet orange essential oil

Mix all ingredients and store in a covered jar for 2 weeks, shaking container daily. Pack the dried flower mixture into a small pillow made of closely woven fabric.

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