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The Preservation Has Begun

June 27th, 2011

Last week I harvested the first items for the pantry: herbs. Each year I harvest herbs and dry them in the attic to add to our meals and to enjoy as tea. I grow a wide variety of herbs in the garden some perennial, some annual. I won’t list all the herbs I have in the garden as there are quite a few. Each year I try to add a few more and learn how to use them both for culinary and medicinal purposes.

You’re supposed to harvest herbs right before them bloom; in the morning after the dew has dried, but before it gets too sunny and warm. At least that’s what I read you should do to get the best flavored herbs for your pantry. I’ve never done any experiments to see if it matters or not, but it makes sense to me that the plants would have more oils in the morning before they it gets too warm.

What made it into my harvest basket?

Peppermint – (Mentha x piperita piperita) Peppermint tea is a refreshing alternative to coffee and regular tea. Excellent for stomach indigestion. Lends its spiciness to many dishes. Don’t be fooled by seeds labelled as ‘peppermint’, peppermint can’t produce seeds because its flowers are sterile. (source of plants: Richter’s)

Sage – (Salvia officinalis) The main culinary varieties popular with onions for poultry stuffing and for flavouring rich meats like pork or duck. Also in homemade sausage, omelettes, cheese and bean dishes. Sage tea gargle is valuable for sore throat. It has highly aromatic leaves and along soft spikes of blooms that invite hummingbirds to the garden. (source: Renee’s Garden)

Mountain Mint – (Pycnanthemum pilosum) Hardy U.S. native. Leaves possess a wonderful menthol fragrance; may be used just like peppermint. Excellent beeplant. (source of seeds: Richter’s)

Greek Oregano – (Origanum vulgare hirtum) This is the true oregano collected wild in the mountains of Greece. White flowers; very hardy. Excellent flavour. (source: seeds from Richter’s)

Bodegold Chamomile – (Matricaria recutita ‘Bodegold’) Improved strain of German chamomile for commercial production. Erect, sturdy growth habit and larger flowers containing up 0.7% essential oil high in bisabolol and other medicinal compounds. (source: Renee’s Garden)
I’ve read that you shouldn’t fertilize your herbs too much or it will lessen the amount of oils in them, which will make them less potent. In my experience I have found that herbs are carefree and don’t really mind lean dry conditions. Once established, perennial herbs can take a good amount of neglect if they’re well suited to your climate and soil. Annual herbs can be a whole different ball game. I find some annual herbs to be picky and difficult to grow – at least here in my soil conditions. I have trouble growing cilantro, which is quite a shame because I enjoy it so much. Growing it in a container seems to be the best option for me.

It certainly looks like it will be a savory winter here at Chiot’s Run. I’ll be so glad I took the time to harvest these herbs and others while I’m enjoying sage stuffing at Thanksgiving or sipping a cup of hot peppermint tea on a chilly evening in January.

Do you harvest and dry herbs for winter use? What’s your favorite herb to grow in the garden?

It’s Called Catmint for a Reason!

May 25th, 2011

I have a large number of ‘Walker’s Low’ Catmint (Nepeta x fassennii ‘Walker’s Low’) in the garden. It’s a beautiful plant, so easy and carefree to grow. Contrary to what you might think, the name does not imply that it is a small plant, it’s named for a place in England. I have a few mature plants that are about 3 ft square each.

Catmint is a tough as nails. It takes just about any kind of soil but thrives in those dry areas where other plants might languish. ‘Walker’s Low’ doesn’t reseed so you don’t have to worry about invasiveness, although it’s very easy to propagate with cuttings if you want more plants. (from what I understand other varieties of catmint may reseed, but I don’t have any so I can’t say first hand if they do). This plant is also unpalatable to deer, which is a huge bonus here at Chiot’s Run.

This plant is also fabulous because it looks good all summer long. With a little pruning it will bloom from spring to frost. It’s carefree, bugs don’t bother it much, bees and other beneficials love it! The only pests that will bother your catmint plant are CATs! It’s called catmint for a reason. I find our outdoor cats sleeping in it all the time. Small branches are also brought in for the indoor cats as well, who spend hours rolling on them on the floor.

I like this plant so much I would love to acquire a few other versions of catmint like ‘Six Hills Giant’, ‘Dawn to Dusk’, and ‘Little Titch’ which is a dwarf variety that I think would make a fabulous ground cover.

Catmint isn’t just a pretty face in the garden, it’s an herb that can be used medicinally for a wide variety of ailments from arthritis to menstrual cramps. I dry a lot of it for tea as it’s calming, helping ease stress, anxiety and insomnia – it’s perfect for nighttime tea. Since it had natural antibiotic properties, it’s also said to help when you have the flu or a cold. I’ve also read that it can help with arthritis since it’s an anti-inflammatory. I mostly use it for evening teas along with chamomile and mint from the garden.

Do you grow catmint in your garden? Do you use it medicinally?

Peppermint for Beneficials

September 17th, 2010

The peppermint is blooming in my garden right now and the bees, butterflies and other pollinators are loving it. I’m so happy that it’s blooming at this time of the year when nectar and pollen are quite scarce. I love watching the peppermint patch as it’s abuzz with all types, sizes, and colors of pollinators.

I must divide these plants and add more clumps around the gardens. I know they can be invasive, but in my woodland gardens invasive things barely hold one against the saplings and wild flowers. I find myself trying to incorporate more and more plants that bloom and provide nectar or pollen throughout the season just to provide sources of food for these lovely little insects.

Do you have any plants blooming for the pollinators? Do you plant with them in mind?

Make Your Own: Infused Oils

September 8th, 2010

Along with using plantain as a quick treatment for bug bites and other wounds, I’m also trying to make some plantain essential oil so I can make a beeswax salve to carry with me. Then when I’m out and about I can still have access to it’s therapeutic benefits. I decided I would try to make some plantain essential oil here at home instead of purchasing it, so I read a few articles on making essential oils at home. These are different than distilled oils that you buy which are much more concentrated. Since I don’t have a home still, so I’ll be making oils that are infused with herbs not the distilled essential oils.

I read a few articles and each had different methods of making essential oils, different amounts of herbs were used in each recipe. I made mine by using a combination of all the recipes I read. I didn’t want to make a whole cup of oil as I thought I wouldn’t be able to use it up quickly, so I made a half cup. I simply chopped up 3 Tablespoons of fresh plantain and put them in a small jar and topped it with 1/2 cup of good organic olive oil (you can use other types of oil if you’d like, I happen to always have olive oil on hand).

Some recipes called for the heating of the oil and herbs, some simply called for steeping for a few days in a warm spot then removing the spent herbs and adding fresh herbs every couple days. I’m opting for this non-heating method. I’ve been steeping the herbs on my kitchen windowsill and will be refreshing the herbs a few times until the oil smells strongly of plantain. If the weather gets too cold, I may warm the oil occasionally is a pan of water, but only until slightly warm, not too much heat as I’m thinking this may damage some of the benefits of the herbs.

When it’s finished I plan on putting it in an amber bottle with an eye dropper. This winter I’ll experiment in making salves with beeswax that I’ll be able to carry around in a little tin, I’ll be sure to blog about it when I do. I’m also looking forward to making more essential oils, I bought a tea tree plant this spring and I’m hoping to make tea tree oil next, as we use a lot of tea tree oil here at Chiot’s Run.

Have you ever made essential oils at home? Do you use essential oils often?

Quick Herbal Bug Bite Salve

September 7th, 2010

Several years ago I read about the wonders of Broad Leaved Plantain, a “weed” that grows everywhere. It’s also known as: Bird’s Meat, Common Plantain, Great Plantain, Rat-tail Plantain, White Man’s Foot.

I have it growing all over the garden and I’m quite happy about it. It comes in very handy when I’m out working late and get bit by mosquitoes or if I get stung by a bee.

All you have to do for a quick salve is grab a leaf or two, chew them up and apply them to the bug bite. I often do this while I’m out working if I need to, but I prefer to make a poultice with some baking soda as it stays on better and I think it works better. (as with all wild plants, make sure you know exactly what you’re picking & using!)

What I usually do is take a few leaves, cut them finely, add a pinch or two of baking soda and a little water. Then I grind them to a wet paste in my mortar & pestle and apply to the bug bite. It instantly works to get rid of the itch or sting and keeps it coming back.

This salve is also very beneficial for using on cuts and scrapes, I often add some turmeric and comfrey when I’m using it for this purpose as turmeric helps with inflammation and pain and comfrey speeds healing.

Plantain has medicinal uses of all sorts: bites, cuts, scrapes, rashes, skin problems, intestinal pain & issues, worms, boils, bronchitis, coughs, colitis, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, dysentery, vomiting, bed wetting and incontinence and many other things (for more info read this and this). I have yet to use it internally, but I use it often for bug bites, stings and cuts. I’m trying to make plantain oil for using medicinally. Since it’s an herb with no known side-effects I definitely want to try using it more often.

Have you ever used plantain? Do you use herbs/weeds for medicinal purposes?

Seeds and Sundries
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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.