Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pineapple Mint - Herb of the week

When deciding which mint to have at the Men's Garden Club plant sale (coming up soon on May 8 & 9, 2015 -- 320 E Wildwood Ave, Villa Park, IL 9am to 3pm), we decided to choose a mint that was somewhat unique and exotic.  Something that you might not find in just any garden center.  The mint we chose was Pineapple Mint.

So today's Herb of the Week is 
                  Pineapple Mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’)

This is a highly ornamental, fragrant, useful herb, all owing to its green-and-cream variegated leaves. A great choice for gardeners looking to combine the ornamental and edible gardens into one. It is also deer resistant and attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

Mint -- the name has a romantic and scandalous Greek story behind it! Hades, the God of the Underworld, fell in love with Minthe (or Menthe), a river nymph. When Persephone, Hades’s wife, found out, she turned Minthe into a plant, so that everyone would walk all over her
and crush her. Unable to undo the spell, Hades gave Minthe a magnificent aroma so that he could smell her and be near her when people trod on her. 

Multiple Mints
The best-known mints are spearmint (Mentha spicata) and peppermint (Mentha x piperita). To confuse the matter, there is also water mint (Mentha aquatica), horse mint (Mentha longifolia), and pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium). And then there are the flavored mints: apple mint, pineapple mint, chocolate mint, orange mint, and ginger mint. Mints are almost too easy to grow, so unless you speak very firmly to them and tell them they are not allowed to cross the street, your neighbor will have them in her marigolds. They crossbreed easily, too, so if you want your pineapple mint to remain true to its divine nature, give it a separate garden spot of its own or be ready to replace it each year.

Most of the plants in the mint family, including the true mints, are not native to the United States, but were introduced by Europeans. It’s common to find spearmint growing along streams or springs in many parts of the United States. This is because pioneers moving westward often carried along a few spearmint roots to plant in springs and along streams, believing mint purified water. The sweet aroma of mint next to the cool water of a spring on a hot day was nearly as refreshing as the water itself.

To Grow

Pineapple mint is a variegated cultivar of apple mint (Mentha suaveolens). It features attractive, variegated leaves, usually with white margins, on plants that grow up to a foot tall. The leaves are bumpy and hairy and the white edging can make them look as though they are sporting a ruffle. It is often referred to as a fuzzy mint.

White or light pink flowers bloom on small spikes at the top of the plant in summer. The flowers attract a wide variety of pollinating insects, including bees and butterflies. Deer dislike strong fragrances and hairy leaves, so they have two reasons to dislike pineapple mint. It makes an attractive and fragrant ground cover, and also grows well in containers and hanging baskets.

Mints seldom grow true from seed. Even if grown some distance from each other, the plants often cross and the seedlings can be some mixed-up little mints. For this reason, cuttings generally are the method of choice for propagating mint, especially pineapple mint.  Never grow different mints in the same bed, as they will grow together and lose their distinctive flavors. Keep them separated, or grow different varieties in pots on your patio.

Pineapple Mint is hardy to Zone 5.  Grow pineapple mint in full sun or partial shade in rich, moist soil. Plants grown in sun tend to stand upright, while those that get afternoon shade sprawl near the ground.
Keep the soil evenly moist until the plants are well-established. Once they are growing well, you’ll only need to water them during dry spells. The plants don’t need regular fertilization when planted in good garden soil. Older plants become woody and unattractive. Pull them up and let younger plants fill in the empty space.
Pinch out the growing tips of pineapple mint plants regularly to keep them compact and bushy. You may occasionally find solid green sprigs of mint mixed in with your pineapple mint. These are sprigs of apple mint – the parent plant of the pineapple mint cultivar. You should pinch them out as you find them because, like most variegated plants, pineapple mint isn’t as vigorous as its non-variegated parent plant, and the apple mint will soon take over.
You can see the non-variegated apple mint popping up in this bed
The only problem with pineapple mint is that it spreads vigorously. This can be good if you want to use it as a ground cover to fill an area, but it will eventually find its way into the rest of the garden unless you install a deep edging around it. Growing pineapple mint in containers is a good way to keep this and other mints under control, but you’ll still need to take some precautions. The plant has been known to escape through the drainage holes in the bottoms of pots and even jump from pot to pot in container groupings. If you plan on planting pineapple mint in a pot, keep in mind that its roots grow quickly. I recommend using a medium sized pot, around 12 to 15 inches deep and seven to 10 inches wide. If you are going to plant mint in the ground, keep it away from other herbs. It will give a minty flavor to its closely surrounding plants. On that same note, don’t plant different types of mint next to each other, as they will loose their original flavors.

To Use

Place a couple of fresh mint leaves in the filter with the freshly ground coffee as it brews in the morning for a very pleasant cup of coffee. A few leaves in hot chocolate tastes great, too. I add a couple of dried mint leaves to my sugar bowl in summer to add flavor to the sugar, for serving to guests with iced tea. There are a number of pineapple mint uses that make this versatile plant well worth growing. Use it in beverages, as an attractive garnish, in potpourris and in any dish that calls for mint.


Minty Chickpea and Cottage Cheese Salad

1 large cup chickpeas, drained
¼ red pepper, chopped
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Freshly grated ginger
½ cup low-fat cottage cheese, crumbled
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Handful of fresh pineapple mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Mix everything together and enjoy a satisfying, summery salad.

Mango Mint Salsa
Use it as a sauce on chicken or fish or dip into it with veggies or tortilla chips.

2 ripe mangos -- peeled and chopped
3 green onions -- finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped pineapple mint
11/2 tablespoons lime juice
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients. Process until smooth.  Set aside for a minimum of 15 minutes before serving at room temperature. Keeps well, covered and refrigerated up to a day. Makes up to 11/2 cups.

Broiled Eggplant with Garlic Yogurt and Mint
Eggplant broiled until it's luxuriously tender and slightly sweet from caramelization finds great flavor contrast with a simple sauce made with tangy yogurt, pungent garlic and fresh mint.

Eggplant is a very good source of potassium and vitamins B1 and B6, and a good source of folic acid, magnesium, copper, manganese and niacin. Low in calories and an excellent source of dietary fiber, eggplant may also help lower cholesterol levels. Recently, researchers have discovered that eggplant skin contains an anthocyanin flavonoid called nasunin, which is a potent antioxidant and free-radical scavenger that protects cell membranes from damage. Nasunin also helps move excess iron out of the body.

2 eggplants (each about 1 lb), cut crosswise into 3/4-inch slices
Nonstick cooking spray (preferably olive oil)
1/2 tsp fine sea salt, divided
1 clove garlic, mashed
1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup packed fresh pineapple mint leaves, chopped

Preheat broiler, with rack set 4 to 6 inches from heat source - Broiler pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray (preferably olive oil.)  Place eggplant on prepared pan and spray generously with cooking spray. Sprinkle with half the salt. Broil for 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally, until very soft.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine garlic, the remaining salt, yogurt and lemon juice.

Serve eggplant topped with garlic yogurt and sprinkled with mint.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Birthday Phyllis Shaudys

Back in January of 2010 a wonderful herb garden book writer died without much fanfare.  Today is her birthday.  She would have been 85.

I never met Phyllis Shaudys, but I was profoundly effected by her writings on herbs when I was just a beginning herb gardener.  I have a well worn copy of her first book "The Pleasure of Herbs" as well as a copy of "Herbal Treasures."  Both books have an approachable writing style that is easy to read and yet imparts a great deal of information.  I posted something from the book in a previous post.

I still refer to the books when I am at a loss for something to blog about.  The month-by-month style always reminds we what is going on in the garden at certain times of the year,

I still share and use a bath salt recipe I found in "The Pleasure of Herbs" all those years ago. The book was republished by Barnes and Noble in the late 1990s as a hardback and I have that copy which I use when I lecture (rather than the ratty copy I read!)
The Pleasure of Herbs: A Month-by-Month Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying Herbs
Phyllis was a homemaker, publisher, business owner, author, and lecturer who specialized in herbs.  She started working with herbs in 1960 (a few years before I was even born) so by the time I discovered her books in the early 1990s she had quite a pedigree.  She lived in  Pennsylvania (an area I have notivced was the birthplace of other popular herb related things, like The Essnetial Herbal Magazine and Rosemary House.)

She is the author of five books, two of which are Storey books: Herbal Treasures and The Pleasure of Herbs. Additionally, Phyllis published a quarterly newsletter, Potpourri from Herbal Acres. She was also published in Women's Day, The Mother Earth News, The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record and Whitchappel's Herbal, Flower and Garden.

All references to her say she lived in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, where she raised three children.

I did find a book on Amazon called Hobbying with Herbs a Month-by Month Guide which I think was an Arc copy of the Pleasure of Herbs,  Not being a book collector, I did not try to purchase it.

I have never found any of the other books she wrote,and an adequate biography does not seem to exist, but I always enjoy going through both her books and discovering new possibilities for growing herbs or using them in crafts/recipes. Her love and knowledge of her subject is evident throughout. And the nice pen & ink illustrations make you focus on the wealth of information instead of getting distracted by photographs.  The illustrations "inform" rather than "distract."  

I'd love to share an image of Phyllis, but I never located one, so let me just say Happy Birthday Phyllis Shaudys, I hope you know how many thousands of herb growers you influenced with your practical and informative style that made us all feel like we knew you and had seen your garden.

Herbal Bath Salts
(here is my version adapted from The Pleasure of Herbs)

3/4 cup Epsom Salts
3 Tbls. baking soda
1 Tbls corn starch
1 Tbls. sea salt
1 tsp. mixed herbs or lavender buds or rose petals
15 drops matching or complementary essential oil

Blend together and store in an air tight jar.  Use 2 Tbls. per bath or 1 Tbls for a foot soak.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lemon Thyme - Herb of the Week

Those who read this blog often know I am a sucker for lemon scented anything.  I love geraniums with a lemon scent, marigolds, lemon basil, lemon verbena and most assuredly lemon thyme.

So this week I chose
Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus
            as the Herb of the Week.

This is another herb we will be featuring in the Plant Sale for the Men's Garden Club of Villa Park (yes, I belong to a "Men's Garden Club," obviously they allow women!) The plant sale is coming up soon May 8th & 9th from 9 am to 4 pm on the grounds of our meeting location the Lion's Club Recreation Center at 320 East Wildwood Dr. Villa Park, IL.  We have chosen a large selection of culinary and aromatic herbs to include in the sale this year and the prices are reasonable too!

I pretty much demanded that we have lemon thyme at the sale, because I cannot imagine a growing season without it and I lost much of mine in the last few years due to Polar vortexes and Spring flooding.

I should point out, however, there are a variety of Lemon Thyme -well varieties!

Varieties of Lemon Thyme

The most common is Traditional Lemon Thyme a green leaf variety with a lemon scent, but if you want to add a level of texture to your garden try some of the variegated varieties.

Traditional Lemon Thyme looks like English Thyme and grows like English Thyme but that is where the similarity stops. Lemon Thyme definitely smells like lemon and tastes like lemon. It can be used in any recipe calling for lemon juice, lemon zest or lemon flavoring. It grows like a weed so there is always more lemon waiting in the garden. Lemon Thyme added to marinade is great with fish or chicken. Lemon Thyme's glossy green foliage can be sheared to form one of the knots in a traditional knot garden.

Culinary Thymes, like Lemon Thyme, are small which make them perfect candidates for growing in a container. A window box planter or a hanging basket make lovely places to grow lemon thyme on your patio or windowsill.
silver lemon thyme
There is also Varigated Lemon Thyme Thymus Citriodorus variegata, sometimes also called Silver Lemon Thyme because the margins of the leaves are white.  This striking look of this thyme makes it a beautiful addition to a border and you can enjoy the same rich lemony flavors.  I like to alternate variegated and green thyme plants in the bed so this is a favorite.

This is a creeping thyme that needs full to mostly sunny locations to grow and a dry to moist but well drained soil.  If soil stays constantly soggy the plant will often die. It is deer and draught resistant and like most thyme plants is resistant to diseases.  It will get a lavender colored flower late in the season.  Creeping thyme means that  the plant grows out instead of up.  They height is never more than an inch or two, with a spread as wide as 18 inches in a year if given the opportunity to thrive.  Silver thyme is popular with butterflies, and song birds.

Silver Lemon Thyme is a wonderful, lemon scented, ground cover herb with tiny, showy silver variegated evergreen leaves on spreading stems that are smothered in stunning spikes of purple flowers with pink overtones from early to late summer. An ideal for culinary herb and cottage gardens as well as along walkways. 

Harvest leaves as needed, in the morning after dew has dried, before flowering in midsummer. The entire plant may be harvested by cutting plant leaving about 2 inches above the ground. The plant will recover before the end of the season; however, the plant may not be as winter hardy.
golden lemon
 There is also Golden Lemon Thyme.  With this one the margins are more yellow or gold than white.  Theere are a couple of varieties called golden both are Thymus Citriodorus one is 'Golden Lemon' another is 'Aurea'. 

Under any name a golden lemon thyme is a moderate growing herb and perennial plant that can be grown in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4A through 9B. It matures to an average width of 5 feet to 6 feet and an average height of 12 to 18 inches, depending on climate and other environmental factors. It prefers growing in a location that provides full sun and grows best when planted in sand, loam or silt soil that is well drained. In the summer Golden Lemon Thyme produces white and soft lavender flowers. The foliage is yellow and medium green in color. It attracts visual attention and is resistant to deer. If you like fragrance, Thymus Citriodorus 'Golden Lemon' has fragrant foliage.

Doone Valley
Doone Valley Thyme Thymus doerfleri is green throughout most of summer and fall, Doone Valley Thyme enters its variegated stage in the cool of Spring. Heavily scented of lemon, Doone Valley Thyme makes a nice little mat or mound for filling in and around taller plants. Each plant spreads to about 18 inches and produces 3 or 4 inch long flower heads full of pink flowers. If a flat ground cover is desired, these flowers should be sheared off after bloom. If they are left, the thyme will crawl over the spent flowers, adding height to the mound.

Doone Valley Thyme as hardy to Zone 6, but there have been some reported successes in Zone 5. It is helpful to mulch around ground cover thymes to fend off encroaching weeds until the plants can fully shade the ground from any light that might germinate weed seeds. When mulching, do not cover the plants; rather surround them with mulch and filter the mulch down into the thyme with your fingers.

Doone Valley Thyme is not a cooking thyme. The Lemon scent does not hold up in cooking as regular Lemon Thyme does. However, both the leaves and the blossoms can be used as brilliantly colored, fragrant garnish.

Pink Lemonade Thyme is a Mountain Valley Growers' introduction. It is unique because it is a non-variegated lemon scented ground cover thyme with profuse pink flowers. Most lemon scented varieties either have white flowers or bloom very little. Pink Lemonade Thyme has dark green, closely spaced leaves and is small enough to use in between flagstone and yet fast growing enough to cover larger spaces.  It is also nice because it blooms later in summer after many other thymes have finished. It will grow well in partial shade which is not always the case with thyme plants.

This thyme does not have a lemon flavor strong enough for use in the kitchen. For cooking, use Lemon Thyme, a tall prolific grower, full of citrus flavor. 
Archers Gold
Archer’s Gold Thyme, Thymus citriodorus  ‘Archers Gold’, is a low-growing, mat-forming evergreen perennial plant that has bright golden variegated foliage with a  nice lemon-scent. Light lavender flowers appear atop the foliage in summer. Honey bees love the flowers of this thyme plant!  We would say this is also a creeping thyme.

Archers Gold Thyme is excellent use as a groundcover or border along garden walkways, paths, and garden beds, or around rose beds. It is also a colorful accent in container gardeners. Tolerates light foot traffic so you can use it in between stones in your path too.
Very easy to grow, Archers Gold Thyme requires a well-drained average to poor soil. Contantly soggy or wet soil is problematic. Avoid overwatering!

Archers Gold Thyme is very low maintenance, deer resistant and very drought tolerant. Once established, plants will require little care. Wetting their leaves while watering will reduce their fragrance. Plants can be trimmed or sheared after flowering.  This plant is more hardy in Zone 5 than some of the other lemon scented thyme plants.

To Grow

It's hard to grow thyme from seeds because of slow, uneven germination. It's easier to buy the plants or take some cuttings from a friend. For a head start, plant the seeds/cuttings indoors 6 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost. Plant the seeds/cuttings 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost in well-drained soil about 9 inches apart. For best growth, the soil should be about 70ºF.  On average the plants should grow 6 to 12 inches in height. In the garden, plant thyme near cabbage and it helps both plants. (For more details on mulching and watering see the notes with each variety above.)

Water normally and remember to trim the plants. Prune the plants back in the spring and summer to contain the growth. You can take some cuttings in the fall and plant them indoors in pots, too. If you have cold winters, remember to lightly mulch around the plants after the ground freezes. Most Lemon thyme is not fuly hardy in Zone 5, so proper winter protection is a must.

Crispy Lemon Thyme Cutlets

1lb. Thin-sliced chicken cutlets
2 Eggs 
2 Tbls. Water
Olive oil
1 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 Lemon
Leaves of 6-8 lemon thyme sprigs
Salt and pepper to taste

Ready two bowls.  In one, add eggs and water and beat together.  In the second bowl add panko, the zest of your lemon, leaves from thyme sprigs, salt and pepper.  Stir to combine.

Pour olive oil into a large skillet and set over medium high heat.  One at a time, dip the chicken into the egg wash then the panko mixture.  Add to the hot skillet and cook 2-3 minutes on each side.
Remove from skillet, squeeze a little of the reserved lemon juice over the top and enjoy!

 Lemon Thyme Lemonade

1 tsp. dried Lemon Thyme
1 Quart (32 ounces) Lemonade
Honey to serve

This wonderfully soothing lemon drink is ideal for helping to ease a sore throat and it is simplicity in itself to make. Bring 1 quart of lemonade to the boil in a pan, to which you've added some dried lemon thyme leaves, turn off the heat and leave to steep for 10-15 minutes, add a teaspoon of honey and warm the drink through again if needed. Sip it slowly to soothe a sore throat and ease nasal congestion. In the summer you can add it to a glass of ice for a wonderful refresher.

Lemon thyme drizzle cake
This iced lemon cake is flecked green from the lemon thyme. You can adapt this recipe to rosemary, lavender or plain thyme in place of lemon thyme. Delicious on a summer's afternoon with a cup of tea.

¼ cup caster sugar
2 tbsp lemon thyme leaves, finely chopped
¼ cup butter, softened
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup self-raising flour, sifted
A pinch of salt

For the icing
2 tbsp lemon thyme leaves, finely chopped
½ cup icing sugar, sifted
1 lemon
To decorate
A few sprigs lemon thyme with flowers, if available

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 2 cup loaf tin, line the base and ends with a strip of parchment and lightly grease. Make sure the lemon thyme leaves are not damp from washing before you chop them. Place in a food processor with the caster sugar and whizz until the sugar turns green and the leaves have been finely chopped.

Add the butter and lemon zest and whizz until fluffy, then gradually add the eggs. Mix in 1 tbsp lemon juice, then scrape into a bowl and fold in the flour and salt. Spoon into the loaf tin. Bake for 20 minutes, then loosely cover the top with foil if it is browning too quickly and bake for a further 20-25 minutes or until well risen and golden. Test by inserting a toothpick into the cake; if it comes out clean, the cake is cooked.

To make the icing, stir the finely chopped lemon thyme into the icing sugar and add enough lemon juice to form a thick icing. While it's still in the tin, transfer the cake to a wire rack. Leave for 5 minutes, then remove from the tin and spoon the icing over the top of the warm cake. It will drizzle down the sides. Leave to cool. Shortly before serving, decorate with the sprigs of lemon thyme.

Lemon Thyme Tea

2 cups water
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon Thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. honey

Bring water to a boil and remove from the heat. Add Thyme leaves and steep for 5 minutes. Strain into cups and add honey. Relax and enjoy.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Mini Herb of the Week - Lemon Verbena

One of the herbs many people know is my absolute favorite (just edging out Lemon Thyme) is Lemon Verbena.  Now I have posted about Lemon Verbena before:
   Herb of the Week
   Special Recipes

I also noticed in looking back that I like to create sorbet with Lemon verbena, there were several posts in it, but this was the easiest.

But since Lemon Verbena is one of the herbs we will be sharing at the Men's Garden Club plant sale (May 8 & 9, 2015,) I thought I would share a bit more about this wonderful plant.

This time of year I give my Lemon Verbena a hard pruning.  You want to do that when it starts to sprout leaves after winter dormancy. Lemon verbena grows from the woody stems rather than the soft growth, so if you clip the wood this will stimulate the herb to sprout.  Notice that this plant is small.  I bought it at the end of last year and never repotted it.  I have others that are larger, but look about the same (sticks with little leaves.)

In its native habitat of Central and South America it grows 7 to 10 feet tall, but here in the northern states we have to settle for pots.  This year I am thinking of planting a pot in the vegetable plot to give it more sun and see if it grows larger than it does in a season on the patio. Lemon Verbena is deciduous, so the leaves drop in the fall when the days shorten, this usually happens about a week after I bring it indoors for winter.  But water it and place it in a sunny window in January and it will sprout again!  Lemon Verbena does not need much to grow except sun and good drainage.  It likes to dry out between waterings, but no so much that you stress the plant (you know you did that when the edges of the leaves turn brown or yellow.)

The reason I fell in love with this plant is the distinctive lemon scent.  It is kin to an actual lemon and the dried leaves hold that scent for years after harvesting. As part of the Plant Sale I will be sharing my herb recipes and growing tips.  Lemon Verbena is a great herb to make bath items as well as sweets, scones and chicken dishes.  It is also great in potpourri.

Here are a few recipes to get you thinking about growing this unusual but wonderful lemon scented and favored herb in your garden or on your patio this season!

Lemon Verbena Potpourri

Dried peel of 1 lemon
2 cups dried lemon verbena leaves
1 cup dried chamomile flowers
6 inches of cinnamon stick
1 cup dried calendula petals
1 tsp. orris root (optional)
2 to 3 drops essential oil of lemon verbena

To dry lemon peel, scrape it off the fruit with a vegetable peeler, spread it on paper towel and put it in a warm place for about 2 weeks, until crisp.

Mix the ingredients together, seal in a jar and put in a warm place for 2-3 weeks, shaking occasionally.  Put in a bowl to scent the room covering when not in use to retail the scent or in a drawstring bag to hang in a wardrobe.

Lemon verbena essential oil will give the potpourri a stronger fragrance.  It is also useful for adding zest to the mixture at a later date.  As it will lose strength when exposed to light and air.

Raspberry lemon verbena butter

1/2 pound unsalted butter
4 ounces fresh or frozen raspberries (not in syrup)
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
1 small handful young, tender lemon verbena leaves

Thaw the raspberries if frozen, and pour off any excess liquid. With all ingredients at room temperature, blend butter, sugar, and raspberries until smooth. This may take a while (about three minutes in my food processor), and you may think it’s never going to emulsify, but it will if you persist. Strip out any large veins in the lemon ver­bena leaves, then add the leaves (chopped if you’re mixing by hand) and blend until the texture is pleasing.  You will love this as a topping on muffins, waffles and pancakes.

This recipe is so good that I did not change it one bit from how it was originally posted on the blog of my friend Nancy - The Lemon Verbena Lady, she obtained it from the Three Rivers Cookbook

Chicken Rice Divan

2 10-oz. pkgs. frozen broccoli spears
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
6 large slices cooked chicken or 2 cups cubed chicken
salt & pepper
1 cup cooked rice

White Sauce:

2 tbsp. butter or margarine
2 tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup dairy sour cream

Cook broccoli according to directions; drain. Arrange in 11-1/2" by 7-1/2" by 1-1/2" baking dish. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Top with chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon on cooked rice. Prepare white sauce: Melt butter, blend in flour, add milk all at once. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and bubbles. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice; gently fold in sour cream, and pour over chicken. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Marjoram - Herb of the Week

This year the Men's Garden Club of Villa Park is having a plant sale we have dubbed "Heirlooms and Herbs."  Catering to the home gardener who wants to grow more of their own food, the plant sale will have several varieties of heirloom vegetables and a nice selection of herbs, in addition to perennial flowers as we have had in the past.

I am on the plant sale committee so I got to pick many of the herbs we will be having.  For our first year with this new theme we are sticking to culinary herbs, but if there is a demand for more medicinal herbs, we may be able to work that in next year.  

The sale will be May 9 and 10, 2015 -- For pre-order or location details check out the Garden Club website.

I decided to highlight one of the herbs you will find at the sale as 
Herb of the Week -  Marjoram Origanum Majorana  

Sweet Marjoram, also known as knotted marjoram has a variegated variety that is also just as tasty.
(Origania vulgare ‘ Aureum’) variegated golden marjoram.

In some cases this plant is considered to be interchangeable or the same as oregano, but although the flavor is similar they are two separate species. In ancient times marjoram was associated with marital bliss.  The Greek called it “joy of the Mountains” and used to in garland and wreaths at weddings and funerals.  It is said to precious to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.  It was a traditional plant to plant on a grave the sweet gentle scent to give comfort to the mourners.  If you anointed yourself with marjoram before sleeping, you would dream of your future spouse.

Generally speaking Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)is known as oregano and although similar to Marjoram is in another family but with a similar taste.

To Grow

Grown as a annual in cool climates, this plant can get 12 inches tall in one season.  It has tiny white flowers in a knot and round pale green leaves, both of which are highly aromatic.  Because marjoram seeds are small and slow to germinate, they are usually started indoors in mid-spring for setting out when all danger of frost has passed.  They desire a sunny location with rich, well-drained soil and space the seedlings in clumps of three, every 6 to 8 inches.  Five clumps are all you need to and average hungry family.  Be sure to weed them carefully as the seedlings are very tiny.

Pinching the plant regularly will give it a bushy shape.  It is hardy only in zone 9 and 10 and even then it is I tender perennial, if you want to propagate for next season, you need to allow the roots to develop so you can dig the plant up in fall and divide it.  You will then bring the plant indoors for winter use and for replanting in the spring.

Because it is a slow grower you generally only get one cutting a year the farther north you live.  A second cutting may weaken the plants ability to winter over.  But is you are treating it as an annual, you do not need to worry about this and can cut as often as you want.  The aroma from the plant is an active pest deterrent so much concern over pests is not needed.

To Use

Unlike many herbs marjoram retains much of its flavor when dried.  Be sure to dry it away from light to preserve the color and flavor.

As a folk remedy, Marjoram has been used against asthma, indigestion, rheumatism, toothache, conjunctivitis and even cancer, but it is doubtful that it has much medical value beyond minor antioxidant and anti-fungal properties.

When used in culinary situations is it like a mild oregano with a hint of balsam.  Leaves and flowers are used fresh or dried.  Use fresh sprigs in salads.  Italian dishes, French sauces and Portuguese cooking all enjoy marjoram as a regular ingredient.  A tasty compliment to beef, veal, lamb, roast poultry and fish dishes it is also a wonder flavor with vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, potatoes and parsnips as well as tomatoes.  If is also a great companion herb when bay leaf, garlic, onion, thyme and basil are used.  You cannot make a German sausage without it.

Wild Marjoram, more kin to oregano, was once used as a strewing herb to freshen and protect homes from disease.  Marjoram is also a popular ingredient in bath salts and tub teas.  The scent is soothing and relieves aches and pains and chest congestion.

Dried flower heads make wonderful winter bouquets and can be added to wreaths, especially culinary wreaths.  The tops of the plant can be used to make herbal dyes from a green to an olive color.

Be aware that Marjoram may irritate the uterus if used during menstruation or pregnancy, otherwise there are no restrictions or problems with its use.

Marjoram compliments so many other herbs it is common in seasoning blends and with a variety of dishes. I have many different recipes which utilize marjoram and I only chosen a few to include here!


Bonne Herbes ala Marcy
An adaptation of a blend made by Penzey’s Spices.  (The Backyard Patch uses marjoram in many of its blends including: Chili Blend, Nerve Soothing tea, Herb Cheese Dip, Bouquet Garni, and several others.

1 Tbls. dill weed
1 Tbls. marjoram
2 Tbls. chives
2 Tbls. purple basil
2 Tbls. tarragon
2 Tbls. chervil
1 tsp. ground white pepper

Blend together and store in a lidded container.  It is wonderful on vegetables, and great on potatoes, eggs, chicken and pork.   I even substituted this in my savory herb bread once.

Ribeye with Wine and Herb Marinade 
1 - 4 pound beef rib eye roast
3/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
2   tablespoons olive oil or cooking oil
1   tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1   tablespoon snipped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1   tablespoon snipped fresh marjoram or 1 teaspoon dried marjoram, crushed
1   tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1   tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

Place roast in a plastic bag set in a deep bowl. For marinade, in a mixing bowl combine wine, lemon juice, olive oil or cooking oil, pepper, rosemary, marjoram, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and garlic salt. Pour marinade over roast. Seal bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for 6 to 24 hours, turning bag occasionally.

Remove roast from bag, reserving marinade. Place roast, fat side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer. Roast in a 350 degree F oven for 1-1/4 to 2-1/4 hours for medium (160 degrees F) or 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours for well-done (170 degrees F), brushing with marinade occasionally. (Do not brush with marinade during the last 5 minutes of roasting.) Cover with foil and let stand 15 minutes before carving. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Herb Dressing  Blend
1 cup dried parsley  
½ cup dried basil

½ cup thyme
½ cup savory
½ cup marjoram 

Mix together dry ingredients and store in an air-tight container. Each time you need a dressing, shake together 1 Tbls.of the herbs mixed with ¾ cup olive oil and ¼ cup vinegar. 

Olive Herb and Goat Cheese Squares
1 sheet puff pastry
1 6 oz can of Large Black Olives
4 oz goat cheese
8 oz cream cheese, softened (Neufchatel is less calories)
1 Tbls fresh marjoram or oregano (1 tsp. dry)
1 tsp. fresh thyme (lemon thyme if you have it) or ½ tsp dried
½ cup chopped tomato
1 Tbls. chopped fresh basil (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 350 degreesF. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry with the rolling pin three to four times in each direction, making the pastry thinner, longer and wider. Cut the puff pastry into 3 inch squares. Place the pastry squares on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

In a food processor, add the olives, goat cheese and cream cheese. Pulse until well combined.  Then fold in chopped marjoram and thyme. Top the pastry with 1-2 Tbls of the olive and herb mixture.

Bake until the edges of the puff pastry turn a light golden brown, about 15-18 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and top with tomato and fresh herb. 

I could go on giving recipes with marjoram, but I suggest instead that you use the “search” in the blog (off to the right) and type in marjoram and see what pops up, as this versatile herbs is a go-to for me often!
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