Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Chervil - Herb of the Week

This delicious culinary herb, used since Roman times, with a delicate flavor between tarragon and parsley is indispensible in French cuisine.  It can be used raw or added to cooked dishes in just the last minutes, after a dish has been taken off the heat and is ready to serve.  With salad season arriving now, I thought it was a perfect time for 

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) as Herb of the Week

Named after Apicius, the renowned gourmet of 1st century Rome, he was not the only one to love it. It is believed that the plant made it to England through the Romans and was well documented in historic herbals.  In a 15th century herbal, it was considered an essential kitchen herb.  John Parkinson, a 17th century garden writer in England, suggested using it in salads and as a flavoring in soups.  It is considered a Lenten herb because it has a flavor and fragrance resembling myrrh brought by the wise men to the baby Jesus.  Thus as a symbol of new life it is often served as a soup on Holy Thursday.  Chervil is considered to have blood-cleansing and restorative properties.  During the Middle Ages the entire plant was eaten to relieve hiccups.

Sporting a delicate and lacy, fern like foliage that forms a low-growing rosette, Chervil looks much like parsley.  The tiny white flowers, borne in umbels on slender stems, are followed by thin black seeds, making it look more like dill.

There are flat-leafed (Anthriscus cerefolium) and lightly curled (Anthriscus cerefolium ‘Crispum’) forms as well as a strain called ‘Brussels Winter’ which is tolerant of colder conditions.  The leaves are lightly ferny and a bright green in color.  Chervil is especially popular in French cooking, and essential (along with parsley, chives and tarragon) in the classic herb blend called Fines Herbes, which is used fresh with poached fish, shellfish and chicken and in green salads and egg dishes such as omelettes.  It will attract slugs, so is used as a companion plant to lure slugs away from vegetables.

curly chervil

To Grow
Native to the Middle East and southern Russia this plant has been widely cultivated just about anywhere it is warm, yet temperate.Chervil requires good drainage and a moist soil that is close to neutral in pH, preferably enriched with compost. Grow chervil in a lightly shaded position, because excessive sun exposure will cause the leaves to burn and turn rose pink. In warm climates, grow chervil in spring, autumn and even winter, as it has some cold tolerance and will withstand light frosts. Slight shade is the best growing space for this herb.

To propagate, use seed.  Scatter seed over the soil, press down lightly and water regularly. Seedlings usually emerge in about 10 to 14 days. Thin the plants to a spacing of 9 to 12 inches. Plants are ready for harvesting about 6 to 8 weeks after planting when they are at least 4 inches tall.  Plants can reach 12 to 24 inches in height. Chervil has a long taproot and bare-rooted seed lings do not easily transplant. It will not germinate in soil that is too warm. In cool-climate areas with mild summers, grow chervil for a continuous supply during the growing season, although light shade promotes lush growth, and the season can be further extended with the use of protective covers.  It is perfect plant to grow in Spring along with lettuces. 

Water regularly to promote lush growth.  There are no significant problems with bugs and diseases as with many herbs. But the plant can run to seed very quickly, so sowing a regular set of seed will give a more continuous crop.  Like parsley, harvest leaves from the outside, preferably with scissors, because the plant is delicate. Leaves can also be deep frozen in sealed plastic bags.

To Use
Chervil flowers, leaves and roots are all edible, although it is the faintly anise flavored leaves that are most frequently used. There are various types, including curly leafed varieties that make a pretty garnish.  Use fresh chervil in cooking, because its delicate flavor is destroyed by heat or drying. It goes well with glazed carrots and in butter sauces and cream -based soups.  Chervil frozen into ice cubes adds a refreshing taste to summery fruit drinks. Tea made with fresh leaves can be used as a mild digestive helper.
Chervil will dry easily, but shrivels extensively and requires a lot of leaves to dry a measureable amount.  You need to cut the plant for drying and eating before the flowers appear as they will sap the gentle flavor out of the leaves. Leaves of chervil raw are very high in Vitamin C, carotene, iron and magnesium.  Begin god for digestion, Chervil is also an aid to liver complaints, and circulation disorders.  A warm poultice of the leaves applied to joints to relieve aching.

The gentle flavor, more distinctive than parsley, will compliment almost any dish.  And like parsley will enhance the flavor of other herbs.  Use the leaf generously in salads, soups, sauces, vegetables, chicken white fish and egg dishes.  Always add at the end of cooking to avoid losing the flavor. CherviI butter makes a delicious spread for savory biscuits or bread. Also, use it as a flavorsome topping for barbecued fish, meat or poultry.


Fine Herbes
This classic French herb combination is traditionally used to flavor eggs, fish and to add zest to sauces in French cuisine.

Use equal portions of:

Blend dried herbs together and keep in a tightly lidded jar.  Use 1 Tbls per cup for sauces.  Use 1 to 3 tsp. for seasoning eggs.

Green Goddess Dressing

1 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
3 canned anchovy fillets
1 garlic clove, minced
2/3 cup fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup fresh chervil leaves

Place first 7 ingredients in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Add parsley and remaining ingredients; process until herbs are minced.  Great on a traditional salad or a Greek salad with mixed greens and feta cheese.

Chervil and Herb Butter
This is great on noodles or broiled tomatoes or can be used on grilled or broiled fish or meat.

3/4 teaspoons of each of the following herbs (dried):
1 tablespoon of lemon juice.
6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature

Blend the herbs into the softened (not melted) butter with a fork.  Allow to meld for at least 1 hour before serving.  Finished butter can also be rolled into 1 inch balls or packed into a ramekin and frozen for later use. 

Beet Salad
1 lb. fresh beets
½ cup yogurt or sour cream
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. minced fresh chives
2 tsp. minced fresh chervil

Steam, peel and slice beets. Combine yogurt, mustard, and herbs.  Toss with beets and serve.

Steamed Beans
½ lb. green beans
½ tsp. ground anise seed
2 tsp. minced fresh chervil

Steam green beans until crisp tender.  Remove from heat and place in serving bowl.  Add anise and chervil and toss lightly.  Serve warm.


Herbs for the Home by Jekka McVicar

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Roasted Paprika Chicken

Roasted Paprika Chicken

This recipe uses Backyard Patch Paprika Chicken Rub to create a quick and tasty chicken and you can use any combination of your favorite parts of the chicken. 

3 Tbls. virgin olive oil
1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 to 2 lbs. assorted chicken pieces
2 lemons thinly sliced

Stir together Backyard Patch Paprika Chicken Rub, olive oil, salt and pepper to form a paste.  Spread half of it underneath the skin of chicken pieces.  Place 1 or 2 lemon slices underneath the skin on top of the paprika mixture.  Arrange chicken pieces in a single layer on a wire rack on an aluminum line broiler pan.  Rub the remaining paprika mixture evenly over the skin.  Bake 425 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until meat thermometer in thickest part reaches 165 degrees and juices run clear.  Let chicken stand for 5 minutes; lightly brush with pan juices just before serving.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Balsamic Vinegar and Antioxidants

At a recent program I presented on herbal teas curative properties, I was discussing with the participants antioxidants and why we should consume as many as possible.  We discussed herbal supplements which I tend to avoid for consuming the herbs naturally instead. The very next day I ran across an incomplete blog post on the health benefits of balsamic vinegar.

Found in salad dressing, chips and pickled foods, it seems like we just can’t get enough vinegar. With so many varieties and an endless number of uses, it's understandable why we love vinegar. If flavor alone isn't enough, vinegar also packs a handful of healthful benefits. We know the benefits of apple cider vinegar and herbal vinegar on our health, but what about its cousin balsamic vinegar?

What is Balsamic Vinegar?
Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from the juice of white grapes. The juice is cooked down to a concentration. During this process the sugar in the juice starts to darken, or caramelize, causing the dark color of balsamic vinegar. Like wine, the vinegar is then fermented and undergoes a slow aging process in wooden barrels. The minimum aging period is 12 years; some can age for as long as 25 years.

Benefits of Balsamic Vinegar
1- Antioxidants. Fight against free radicals with antioxidants — the same type found in found in red wine. Research has found that balsamic vinegar could decrease the oxidation of “bad” cholesterol and help prevent plaque formation in arteries.
2- Improves blood pressure. Research has found that foods high in antioxidants, such as balsamic vinegar, may help improve blood pressure by preventing cell damage.
3- Regulates blood sugar levels. Balsamic vinegar may help improve insulin sensitivity. It is also low on the glycemic index and doesn't cause spikes in blood sugar levels. It does, however, contain sugar, and diabetics should pay attention to how much they are using.
4- Immunity support. Antioxidants found in balsamic vinegar repair cell damage and help improve the immune system. By eating more antioxidants your immune system may be able to provide the defense your body needs.
5- Weight control. Balsamic vinegar slows down digestion and helps prevent overeating. Because of it’s natural sweetness it makes a healthy salad dressing and marinade without the use of added sugar.

Uses of Balsamic Vinegar

Dipping whole-grain bread in extra-virgin olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar can be a great light appetizer before a meal.  Or you can go carb-free with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil and a drizzle of balsamic.

Mix balsamic vinegar with extra-virgin olive oil and your favorite herbs and spices for a quick and healthy salad dressing or marinade.

Sweet-tart balsamic vinegar spiked with garlic and Italian seasoning makes a fast and flavorful marinade for chicken. Serve with sliced tomatoes and grilled eggplant slices.
Balsamic vinegar adds a unique taste to sweet desserts. Drizzle balsamic on fresh strawberries.  This is an under-experimented flavor, especially of you like sweet fresh fruit.  Below I have a recipe for Blue Cheese-Stuffed Strawberries. Strawberries, blue cheese and balsamic vinegar combine to create a unique and delightful flavor.

When buying balsamic vinegar it’s important to check the label. Avoid vinegar that has added sugar or color.

Balsamic Bread Dip (makes 12 servings)

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup aged balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a bottle with a lid, mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, kosher salt, and pepper. Seal bottle, and refrigerate mixture 8 hours, or overnight. Shake well before serving. Store in the refrigerator.

Blue-cheese-Stuffed Strawberries (Adapted from Diabetic Connect)

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 ounces fat-free cream cheese
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1 tsp. parsley
1 tsp. snipped fresh chives
16 fresh strawberries
3 tablespoons finely chopped pecans, toasted
Place vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid is reduced by half. Cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in blue cheese and herbs. Remove stems and scoop out centers from strawberries; fill each with about 2 teaspoons cheese mixture. Sprinkle pecans over filling, pressing lightly. Chill until serving. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Chicken in Balsamic Marinade (serves 4)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 and 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, split in half
Whisk oil, vinegar, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper in a bowl until well combined. Covered and refrigerated, marinade can be kept for up to 3 days.  Place chicken in a shallow dish or 1-gallon sealable plastic bag. Add the marinade and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours. Remove from the marinade and pat dry.
Preheat grill to medium-high or position a rack in upper third of oven and preheat broiler.
To grill: Oil the grill rack. Grill the chicken, turning once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F, 4 to 8 minutes per side.
To broil: Line a broiler pan (or baking sheet) with foil and coat with cooking spray. Place the chicken on the foil. Broil, watching carefully and turning at least once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F, or juices run clear, about 10 to 15 minutes total. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saffron Risotto - Weekend Recipe

This time of year when the crocus blooms, my thoughts always turn to saffron.  the most expensive spice, it is usually sold by the gram - just a small cluster of slender red threads in a tiny glass bottle. The good news is the strength of the flavor is such that you need very little to make a flavorful dish.
Saffron is an herb the comes from the stamen of saffron crocus.  They must be harvested by hand and as a result are very expensive.  The saffron, sometimes called saffron threads because of the overall shape, is sold for as much as $150.00 an ounce.  Considered

Risotto made with saffron is a great side for and fish dish as well as lightly sautéed or poached chicken.

Saffron Risotto
Serves 6

1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup uncooked regular rice
3 Tbls. butter or margarine
½ tsp. crushed saffron
½ cup boiling water
1 Tbls. instant chicken bouillon
2 Cups boiling water
½ cup dry white wine
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cook rice and onion in butter in a large skillet over medium heat until rice is golden, about 5 minutes.  While onion and rice are cooking, soak saffron in ½ cup boiling water for 5 minutes.  Dissolve bouillon in 2 cups boiling water.  Stir bouillon, wine, saffron, and water mixture, salt and pepper into skillet.  Heat until boiling, reduce heat.  Simmer covered until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes.  Toss with Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Green Cleaning with Baking Soda and Herbs

It has been an unending winter.  I want Spring to be here so badly just to be able to throw open  the windows and let the fresh air fill the dark and dusty corners of my home.  If only it would stay above 60 for more than a day!  This year I am going to speed the freshening process by crafting a few herbal cleaning products. In honor of Earth Day this week, these are chemical free, natural, earth friendly cleaning solutions.

I made a blend of great cleaning herbs, like thyme, sage, marjoram, lavender and lemon peel.  I ran the herbs in the coffee grinder to give them a uniform size and blended about 3 Tablespoons of this powdery mixture with 3 cups of baking soda.  I have a shaker of table salt handy to add when I need some abrasion too.

Here is breakdown of the herbs I used and why:

Lemon peel: Purification. It's no accident that so many cleaning products are lemon-scented; lemon smells fresh and uplifting and cleanses negativity.

Lavender is more than just a delightful, summery scent. The essential oil of this fragrant plant has disinfectant properties, and its cleaning powers have long been known. 

Thyme is a natural disinfectant to help keep the bathroom clean and germ-free. It also gives off a fresh scent. 

Sage: A cleansing herb use to spiritually cleans common sage is what I use for house cleaning.  The antifungal properties make if perfect for kitchen, bath and laundry.

Marjoram has a long history of being used for cleaning purposes, but I think I just like the very clean scent it gives.

To use this baking soda and herb combination, you simply add it to cleaning water.  Now sometimes I go a step further and make a cleaning water that is has a cup of strong herbal tea added to it as well.  Just boil a couple of cups of water and throw in a handful of herbs, steep for several minutes, and strain the tea into your cleaning bucket, fill the rest of the way with clear water and then pour in between ½ to ¾ cup baking soda mixture.  Use this to wipe down counters, mop floors and do general cleaning.

Recipes for Cleaning Supplies

Here are a couple recipes you can also make using the baking soda and herb mixture.  For windows, however, you cannot use baking soda as it will leave streaks.  So check out the last recipe for how to get your windows sweet and clean.


Simply pour about 1/2 cup of baking soda into a bowl, and add enough liquid detergent to make a texture like frosting.

Scoop the mixture onto a sponge, and wash the surface. This is the perfect recipe for cleaning the bathtub because it rinses easily and doesn't leave grit.

Note: Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable glycerin to the mixture and store in a sealed glass jar, to keep the product moist. Otherwise just make as much as you need at a time.


1 cup or more baking soda
A squirt or two of liquid detergent

Sprinkle water generously over the bottom of the oven, then cover the grime with enough baking soda that the surface is totally white. Sprinkle some more water over the top. Let the mixture set overnight. You can easily wipe up the grease the next morning because the grime will have loosened. When you have cleaned up the worst of the mess, dab a bit of liquid detergent or soap on a sponge, and wash the remaining residue from the oven. If this recipe doesn't work for you it is probably because you didn't use enough baking soda and/or water.


1/4-1/2 teaspoon liquid detergent
3 tablespoons lemon herb or plain white vinegar
2 cups water
Spray bottle

Put all the ingredients into a spray bottle, shake it up a bit, and use as you would a commercial brand. The soap in this recipe is important. It cuts the wax residue from the commercial brands you might have used in the past.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Poppy Seed Noodle Casserole - Weekend Recipe

This weekend’s recipe is a unique side dish that you can use with pork roast, baked chicken, or even salmon. Can you tell I am just so ready to be gardening.  All I can think about are flowers, plants and seeds!  These seeds are Poppy Seeds, besides being tasty  they are a sign of prosperity and luck.  You can take a few poppy seeds and place them in your pocket or purse to attract financial abundance and good luck.

Poppy Seed Noodle Casserole

6 Tbls. butter or margarine
11/2 cups soft bread crumbs
1 cup finely chopped onion
8 ounces of wide noodles, cooked & drained
6 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
2 cups small curd cottage cheese
1 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbls. poppy seeds
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Melt 3 Tbls. butter in a small skillet.  Toss bread crumbs in butter; remove and reserve.  Melt remaining three Tbls. butter in skillet, sauté onion in butter over medium heat until transparent, about 5 minutes.

Heat over to 350 degrees.  Combine onion, cooked noodles and eggs in large bowl.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Pour mixture into buttered 2-quart casserole.  Sprinkle reserved bread crumbs on top.  Bake until crumbs are golden, about 30 minutes.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hot Cross Buns - an herbal tradition

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

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

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

Hot Cross Buns
  • 3-3/4 to 4-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon Backyard PatchCinnful Dessert Blend
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cooking oil
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup currants or raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (filberts) (optional)
  • 1 slightly beaten egg white
  • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur or milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • Milk

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

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

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

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

Yield: 20 buns

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) - Herb of the Week

Or should I say Weed of the Week? This invasive weed needs to be tamed, and one solution to tame anything is make it something people want, so I thought let’s eat it!   If everyone eats it then there will be less of it to be invasive.

Garlic Mustard  (Alliaria petiolata  - Herb of the Week

Garlic mustard is a biennial flowering plant in the Mustard family, Brassicaceae. It is native to Europe, western and central Asia, and northwestern Africa, from Morocco, Iberia and the British Isles, north to northern Scandinavia, and east to northern India and western China. 

In the first year of growth, plants form clumps of round shaped, slightly wrinkled leaves, that when crushed smell like garlic. The next year plants flower in spring, producing cross shaped white flowers in dense clusters. As the flowering stems bloom they elongate into a spike-like shape.

When blooming is complete, plants produce upright fruits that release seeds in mid-summer. Plants are often found growing along the margins of hedges. 

Depending upon conditions, garlic mustard flowers either self-fertilize or are cross-pollinated by a variety of insects. Self-fertilized seeds are genetically identical to the parent plant, enhancing its ability to colonize an area where that genotype is suited to thrive. (That is botany speak for it spreads like crazy and becomes invasive!)

How to eat it:

• Young tender leaves can be torn up a bit and added to salads.

• Sautee garlic in olive oil or sesame oil or bacon grease; add chopped garlic mustard and other greens if available (garlic chives, spinach, arugula, lambsquarters, mustard greens, what-have-you); a little salt or soy sauce; add a bit of water or stock and cook gently. A dash of vinegar, balsamic or otherwise, may be in order. Taste and decide. This could be spread on toast, added to casseroles, eggs, quiche, stir-fry, etc.

• Garlic mustard pesto: crush garlic, slice up garlic mustard and also garlic chives if available, puree both in food processor with olive oil and walnuts (or pine nuts); add Parmesan cheese. Start the water for pasta!

• Cream sauce: heat 1/4 cup oil and add 1/4 cup flour and cook; add hot milk. Separately cook finely chopped garlic mustard in a little sesame oil; and tamari or soy sauce. Add some of the sauce; puree in food processor and add back to the sauce. Add cheese as desired. Good on stuffed grape leaves for one.

• With leftover garlic mustard sauce, add a little yogurt, balsamic vinegar, and tamari and serve as a sauce for steamed asparagus.


Garlic Mustard Sauce for Roast Beef

First the roast beef: Make little inch slashes on the roast.

Sauce: Using a food processor make a slurry with crushed garlic mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Take a teaspoon and press small amounts of the slurry into the slashes you cut in the roast.  Then slather the rest of the slurry all over the roast. Add some water to the bottom of the roast pan. Cover with aluminum for part of the cooking time so the outside doesn't burn. Bake at 325 degrees F until it reaches the desired internal temperature according to your meat thermometer.

Cream sauce with the garlic mustard for the roast

 Chop finely garlic mustard and garlic chives. Sauté in olive oil; add chicken stock or other liquid and cook gently.  Place in a food processor and purée.  Heat 1/4 cup oil and add 1/4 cup flour and cook; add hot milk.  Add some of the puree from food processor and stir.  Then place remaining purée into the pan along with drippings from the roast beef pan. This is so flavorful - cheese is unnecessary. 

We have more recipes for using Garlic Mustard so check back this season for more ideas for eating this invasive weed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Weekend recipe - Pansy Flower Spread

In honor of my first plant shopping spree to Shady Hill Gardens in Elburn, Illinois I chose a recipe that you can make with Pansies!

Could not leave without some scented geraniums!

Flower Spread
8 oz. package light cream cheese
¼ cup butter
1 ½ tsp. lemon juice
3 to 4 tsp fresh minced Pansy flowers
1 tsp fresh thyme or savory

Blend butter and cream cheese together with a fork in a medium bowl.  Add the lemon juice and herbs.  Allow to meld in refrigerator at least 1 hour before serving.  Spread of toasted French bread, crackers, cut vegetables or fruit wedges. 

the green houses at Shady Hill!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Herbal Antomy - Flowers

Just realized back on April 6, that the posts I wrote on anatomy never posted.  So the first one was back on January 6, then the next was April 6.  Now we have the third on Flowers.
Not an envelope

All the organs of the flower are situated on, or grow out of the apex of the flower stalk, into which they are inserted and which is called the Torus or Receptacle.

The organs of a flower are of two sorts.
1)   The leaves (or envelopes).
2)   Those peculiar organs having no resemblance to the envelopes.

Leaves (petals)

The envelopes are of two kinds (or occupy two rows, one above or within the other):
      1)  The lower or outer row is termed the Calyx, and commonly exhibits the green color of the leaves.
       2)  The inner row, which is usually of more delicate texture and forms the most showy part of the flower, is termed the Coralla.
easy to see the green calyx below the flower (coralla) on calendula

The leaves of the Coralla are called Petals, and the leaves of the Calyx are called Sepals.
The floral envelopes are collectively called the Perianth.
The essential organs enclosed within a floral envelope also come in two kinds and occupy two rows one within the other. The first of these, those next to the petals, are the Stamens. A stamen consists of a stalk called the Filament, which bears on its summit a rounded body termed the Anther, filled with a substance called Pollen.

The seed bearing organs occupy the center or summit of a flower, and are called Pistils In many cases the pistil is not obvious as a separate item until the plant produces fruit (seeds.)  A pistil is distinguished into three parts;
1)   the ovary containing the ovales (ovule)
2)   the style, or columnar prolongation of the ovary
3)   the stigma or termination of the style.

Pineapple Sage
 I think you can see all these parts best in Pineapple Sage and any daisy-like flower.

 A plant is said to be monoecious, where the stamens and pistils are in separate flowers on the same individual.  Sweet corn is an example of this  the tassels at the top pollinate the silks on the ears of corn.
Dioecious is where they occupy separate flowers on different individuals.  Sorrel with its heart-shape leaves actually has male and female plants.  Important if you want to propagate them from seeds!

Polygamous is where the stamens and pistils are separate in some flowers and united in others, either on the same or two or three different plants.  Maple trees are the most commonly seen Polygamous plants, with male and female or even bisexual organs on any given tree.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

12 Unique Herbs to Try in 2014 - Herb of the Week

In March 2010 I posted a list of five herbs to try in 2010 if you had not tried them before.  They were:
1.     Mexican oregano  (Lippia graveolens)
2.     Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
3.     Ezapote (Dyshania ambrosioides)
4.     Purple Ruffled Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Purple Ruffles’)
5.     Tri-color Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘tri-color’)
To read the set of blogs on these great herbs visit my original blog on my website.

This year as I was looking for new plants I might want to try around a home, I strayed from the traditional herbs just a bit, but I thought you might enjoy the 12 unique and interesting plants I discovered on this journey.  If I knew of a grower that supplies these plants I have included it.  Some are more commonly available and should be at your local garden center.

#1 Arugula – Roquette (Eruca sativa) -- syn. E. vesicaria subsp. sativa or Brassica eruca L.)

This is actually an “old” herb gaining new life.  It is known by several sceintfic names including Eruca sativa, but also E. vesicaria subsp. sativa or Brassica eruca L. You can obtain the seed from non-hybrid heirloom seed companies and will often find it under the old name Rocket or Roquette rather than the more recently common arugula.  Thanks to the Food Network and other cooking programs it has regained some of its glory as a salad herb and I am happy to see it.  If you like mixed greens this is a great choice. Arugula can usually be harvested as early as 4 weeks after planting from seed.  The leaves of the Arugula plant add a tangy/peppery flavor to any meal and in addition to use in salads can be a green mixed with spinach for a base for saucy dishes instead of noodles, rice or pasta.

#2 Mandarin Twist Pot Marigold

Park Seed Company has a great new Calendula (Pot marigold) variety that I will be trying this year.  It is called Mandarin Twist Pot Marigold.  You can get 50 seeds for 1.95 which is a great price.  This will add a nice splash of color to a green herb landscape and you get all the medicinal benefits as well.  According to Parks, this is a compact but very well-branched and free-flowering variety with double blooms of deep, rich orange. They stand out brilliantly in any setting, and hold well in garden or vase. Blooming all summer and well into fall on easy-care, floriferous plants, these flowers are a joy!  Remember to give these pants room when planting as they can get 10 inches high and will spread to almost that wide.  Great in a container if you do not overcrowd them early in the season.

#3 Passion Flower 

This is a viney plant with the most glorious flowers.  I have been dying to grow it for several years, but it is not the best container plant and I just did not want to put it out in the production garden where I would never see it (I am at the production garden in the dark a lot.)  It is a climber and will work on a trellis along a sunny wall.  The plant has medicinal properties too.   You use the whole aerial portion.  Friends of mine have  tinctured the leaves and young stems, with some tendrils.  The fruit can be saved for tea and other flavorings.  I posted a blog on Passion flower back in April 2011.

#4 Hot lips red flowering sage (Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips')

This is more of an ornamental salvia rather than a culinary one, but what a great addition to the border or among the perennials. According to Dave’s Garden (an online source I go to for information on hardiness zones and proper names for plants)  the  common name is Autumn Sage scientific name Salvia x jamensis 'Hot Lips' a member of the Lamiaceae family.  However he recognized that a synonym exists calling it  Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips' (Hot Lips Little-leaf Sage) This was the name I first discovered it under and is usually how it is listed in plant catalogs.

Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips' originally located near the Chiapas area of Mexico and was introduced by Richard Turner of the Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco, California. This is a very cool looking bi-color salvia bearing red tips and white lips. In the hotter months of summer it may have all red and all white flowers on the same plant due to warmer night temperatures, but when the night temperature drops in the fall the flowers will return to their bi-color state. Great for use in borders and beds.

Considered a wild (yet domesticated) this plant is was supposedly introduced to Richard Turner by his maid, who brought it from her home in Mexico. The fast-growing, 30" tall x 6' wide clump is adorned with stunning bicolor flowers with red tips and white lips...attractive to hummingbirds. When the nights warm in summer, the new flowers are all red with an occasional solid white one. As fall approaches, the flowers again will be bicolored red and white. Even if your school colors aren't red and white, this is truly a "must-have" salvia.  It is hardy in zone 8 to 11, so if you want to grow it in the Midwest, you will need to treat it as an annual (like Pineapple Sage.)

They love a hot, dry spot such as a concrete driveway/sidewalk/or south-facing slope. They can tolerate a bit of moisture, but keeping the soil wet will cause rot.  I found the best price for this plant at Santa Rosa Gardens in California, but I would make sure you talk to them before ordering if you live in the Midwest as a shipping time would be critical.

I have to admit that although I grow black stem peppermint and a fuzzy species of spearmint in my production garden but I have never been a fan of most mint plants, even the flavored ones like Chocolate Mint and Ginger Mint.  However this year I discovered an article by Jim Long discussing mints and discovered a hybridizer named Jim Westerfield from Freeeburg, Illinois (about 5 hours south of me near St. Louis.)   His hybrid mint plants are totally unique and the scents are worth experimenting with.  Here were two I think are worth checking into.

#5 Jim’s Candy Lemon Lime Mint 

A hybrid mint created by Jim Westerfield of Freeburg, Illinois.  This is a cross of lemon and lime mint that is the perfect flavor for me a lover of all things lemon! The leaf margins have a reddish tinge giving them a unique look for a mint. Hardy in zones 4 to 11 it is easy to grow and likes almost any soil. I like anything lemon, so this is at the top of my “to try” list for 2014. 

# 6 Italian Spice Mint 

Another hybrid of Jim Westerfield of Freeburg, IL this mint has hints of oregano and marjoram.  The craftsman says it reminds him of the spicy aroma of the Italian grocery store he worked in as a child.  A savory mint, this can be added to butter, roasted garlic and cream then tossed with angel hair pasta.  It is an excellent pasta seasoning and considered excellent in any Italian dish.  This one looks more like a traditional mint, making it a garden surprise for anyone who touches it as the mint scent is very faint.  Hardy in zones 4 to 11, like all mints it will do well in most soil types.  It does require full sun.

FYI you can get Jim Westerfield’s hybrid mints from and

#7 White Anise Hyssop (Agastache Foeniculum ‘snow spike’) has a has a white Anise hyssop called snow spike that is worth adding to your garden.  Anise Hyssop is a large showy herb with a great scent and wonderful ability to attract pollinators.  Bees, especially bumble bees love it.  I have always grown the traditional blue Anise hyssop, but when I was crafting a moon garden I decided this plant with white flowers would be a great accent in the silver leaf border I was creating.  Check it out yourself!

Agastache Foeniculum 'Snow Spike' has tall flower spikes that are full of white little flowers that bloom at different times. The white Anise Hyssop plant usually reaches 24 inches in height.  The licorice-like scent is soothing and refreshing in tea.  The flowers are very nice for cutting and adding to fresh flower arrangements. Growing Hyssop from seed is easy and rewarding. Anise Hyssop seeds can be directly started outdoors in a prepared seedbed. Press the herb seeds into the soil but do not cover them. The white Hyssop plant is not picky about the soil, but it does prefer to be in full sun to partial shade.

# 8 Nettle

Nettle is an under grown herb.  Although since it can cause contact dermatitis in its natural plant state, I understand why.  However, once cut and dried or cooked the sting is removed and the plant has many medicinal qualities.  The pretty white flowers of Devil's Nettle (Achillea var. m.) make it a pretty addition to an herb garden (avoid this if you have small children in your garden or skin sensitivities.)  I keep my nettle plants in a separate bed so that I am properly suited-up before harvesting.  It likes drier conditions so you can grow it in a rock garden. A tea made from this herb is useful for stomach ailments. The tea is also good for severe colds. Craft the tea by boiling 1 ounce of dried leaves with one pint of water and sweetening with honey. A hardy perennial for zones 5-10 you can easily grow this plant in the Midwest.  You can pick up the seeds for this plant at 

# 9 Sweet Annie (Artemisa annua

With the herb of the year being Artemesia, I had to put at least one Artemesia plant in my list.  Sweet Annie is an excellent multi use herb for all gardens. A graceful and sweetly fragrant annual with tall stems 4'-7' tall, with fine bright green ferny foliage. Though most often grown for fresh and dried arrangements and wreath making (it holds color and fragrance very well) it also makes a graceful accent in the back of a flowerbed or a pretty quick screen, especially behind other container plantings. "Sweet Annie" has a wide variety of uses both medicinal and for handcrafting and makes a nice addition to potpourri and sachets.

This is a tall ferny green plant that grows to over seven feet high and four feet wide in one year! Excellent for back borders or any area that you want to give a tropical look and feel. Sweet Annie has thick strong woody stems and branches out like a shrub. The flowers are tiny and olive green and can't really be seen unless you look hard. However Sweet Annie is grown for its foliage and mostly for its lovely aromatic scent which can fill the whole garden when the breeze rustles it branches. It has been used for centuries in its dried form in wreaths and other aroma projects.  Sweet Annie is one of the best natural air fresheners around. Have an aroma you want to get rid of? Just wave a sprig of Sweet Annie in the air and it freshens the whole area with a sweet appealing smell eliminating anything else. Don't use air fresheners with unknown chemical ingredients use a natural herb to do the work for you. The plant dries very well and the will last for years all you have to do is gently move a piece and the aroma bursts forth. It is excellent for use in wreaths and other aroma projects. 

#10 Feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium)

This plant is a must for anyone suffering from migraine headaches. It will not cure migraines, but as long as the herb is taken regularly it will keep them from coming back as often. Feverfew inhibits blood clotting and is beneficial for persons with cardiovascular diseases. Take after consulting with a physician. Make a tea by boiling two teaspoons of dried leaves per cup of water and let steep for 15 minutes. This perennial plant hearty in zones 5 to 9 and will grow best in full sun.

I found this plant during my research into good herbs and plants to grow on the farm (we intend to have sheep and I was researching ways that having sheep could benefit my herb garden.)  Pasturing sheep on mint makes a manure that is very good for herbs by the way!  This plant popped up as a protein alternative for range animals.  I use it with my “Prairie Pile.”  I worked many years as a volunteer at a Prairie restoration and as a result I collected seeds (accidentally mostly) on my clothing.  I tossed all these into a compost mound on the corner of my herb garden property and now have an interesting pile of native prairie plants.  I added this one to the pile when I had a chance to get a live plant. 

#11 Wild Bergamot  or Wild Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)

This wildflower in the mint family (Lamiaceae) is widespread and abundant as a native plant in much of North America. It is perennial with bright lavender blooms and a spicy scent. Used by Native Americans to soothe bronchial complaints and ease colds.  Bees love it and are attracted to it.  It is an herbaceous perennial that grows from slender creeping rhizomes, thus commonly occurring in large clumps. The plants are typically up to 3 ft tall, with a few erect branches. Its leaves are about 2-3 in long, lance-shaped, and toothed. Its compact purple flower clusters are solitary at the ends of branches. Each cluster is about 1.5 in (4 cm) long, containing about 20–50 flowers. The light purple color of the flowers is a great foil to the traditional Bergamot which is deep red. Wild bergamot often grows in rich soils in dry fields, thickets, and clearings, usually on limy soil. The plants generally flower from June to September.

Monarda fistulosa ranges from Quebec to the Northwest Territories and British Columbia, south to Georgia and Texas.  My interest in it started because it is considered a medicinal plant by many Native Americans including the Menominee, the Ojibwe, and the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk). It was used most commonly to treat colds, and was frequently made into a tea.  Native who grow medicinal plants do rely on it  during the cold and flu season. The tea may be sweetened with honey, as it tends to be quite strong.

#12 Italian Everlasting  or Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum

As the name suggests, the narrow, silvery-grey leaves of this splendid, dense, dwarf sub-shrub, growing to 2 feet tall by 3 feet wide, smell strongly of curry. 

Though the leaves are edible, it is really not used for cooking, rather for its ornamental appeal and the essential oil derived from the plant.   An easy to care for perennial that prefers poor soil and will thrive in rock gardens and xeriscapes. It is hardy only to zone 8 but is not considered  frost tender, so I think one could grow it in a container or a sheltered place and have it last well into the fall, but I would still treat it as an annual.  It features clusters of yellow blooms in Summer  that retain their color after picking and are used in dried flower arrangements.  The plant is the source for the famous Helichrysum Essential Oil. The plant produces an oil from its blossoms which are used for medicinal purposes. It is anti-inflammatory, fungicidal, and astringent. It soothes burns and raw chapped skin. It is used as a fixative in perfumes and has an intense fragrance.

Bonus Plant –

Illinois Bundle flower (Desmanthus illinoensis) Another good drought tolerant plant (can you tell I have not had the rain I wanted the last two growing seasons!?) This one prospers in meadows, roadsides, and tall grass prairie plantings. It produces fruit in the form of dark-brown clusters of pods. Due to it being high in protein, it is readily eaten by livestock and wildlife. Fixes high amounts of nitrogen in the soil and can rejuvenate worn-out soil. It also attracts bees, butterflies and birds.

Illinois bundleflower is rated by some authorities as our most important native legume and is included in range revegetation programs since the species is readily eaten by livestock. The seeds contain 38 percent protein on a dry weight basis, which compares favorably with soybeans.  Seeds are desirable for wild birds. The plant is considered a nutritious and palatable browse for wildlife.  Pawnee Indians used leaf tea as wash for itching. Hopi used seeds placed in eye for conjunctivitis.  A perennial growing to 3-6 ft. tall with cream colored flowers. Hardy to zone 5 this plant has fern-like foliage. To reduce moisture loss, the compound leaves fold together at night, and they close partially during hot sunny days During the morning and evening, when sunlight is less intense, the compound leaves orient themselves in the direction of the sun in order to maximize the reception of its light. 

You can get quality seed for this plant from Prairie Moon Nursery located in southwest Minnesota. They specialize in Prairie plants of the Midwest and originated here in Illinois!

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