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Herbal Field Trip Weekend

There’s an old Arkansas saying, “If you don’t like the weather, stick around a while and it will change.” Living in Arkansas my entire life, I can honestly say that is 100% true. March in the South has been cold, rainy, and is just plain awful. Last week it was 70° then dropped to 32° the very next day. Our plant life is about two weeks behind schedule and are just now turning green. I am so ready to start planting I can barely stand it!

To bite this planting bug, I signed up for a class at our unique state park — The Ozark Folk Center. The medicinal and edible herb field trip weekend was an outstanding opportunity to learn more about the herbs and plants I want to work with in my summer herb garden.

We don’t really think about them anymore, but herbs were once a crucial part of early American civilization. People grew herbs to dye their clothes, wash their hair, brush their teeth, flavor their foods, as medicine, as insecticides, in cooking, in cleaning — you couldn’t live without them. Now, all of these things are available to us through our local grocery store. Herbalism is a dying part of our heritage and I am so glad the Folk Center, and other such places, make great strides to preserve our rich history.

Johnny Jump-UpFriday, we went out on buses to the banks of several Arkansas Rivers — White River, Red River, and Buffalo River. Our guides identified almost every bit of green we could find. We saw elderberry, dock, pepper grass, false nettle, chickweed, cress, wild mustard, wild garlic, and so much more. You’d be surprised how much you can eat in your lawn. (Though I must admit, the Johnny Jump-up flowers are delicious and I’ve been eating them out of my lawn since I got home. My friends think I’m nuts!)

On Saturday we got to eat our findings in a delicious gourmet meal prepared by author Susan Belsinger. We enjoyed a salad of wild and domestic greens with a homemade herbal buttermilk dressing and a delicious been soup. For bread we had cheddar tarragon cornbread as well as an herb bread knot with lemon verbena honey. We topped it all off with a sparkling herb soda (best drink ever!) and had a delicious, gourmet meal with most ingredients growing wild in the yard.

Here are a few interesting and easy thing YOU can do with herbs today:

  • Add a few herbs to your honey jar. We had a lemon verbena honey that was delicious!
  • Add a few vanilla beans to your rice vinegar bottle. This gives it just a hint of added flavor that will keep your dinner guests guessing.
  • Eat your wild onions. These are easily identified, yet most people think they can’t eat them. The rule is: If it smells like an onion, it is an onion. And you can enjoy these until they are big enough to become stiff, then they are still edible, just not as tender.

Distilling BasilThe last part of the seminar was how to distill herbs for their natural essential oil and hydrosol (plant’s water). The glass still (pictured right) holds 1 liter of basil. The glass on the hotplate is boiling and pushing steam through the basil. The basil’s water and oils turn to steam and condense in the glass tubing. Once the oil and water separate, they cannot become one again so they collect at the bottom of the tube. The quantity of oil is significantly less than that of the water and is extremely concentrated. Hydrosol is the plant or flower’s water. It is milder than the essential oil and has unlimited possibilities. The smell of the hydrosol is very strong, making it very valuable for candles, room sprays and other fragrant products. It is also much more gentle than essential oils which makes it great for cosmetics, pet products and bath products.

I had a fascinating time and learned so much on my mini-vacation, next month’s gardening blog should be very exciting! I will be planting all sorts of wonderful and delicious herbs and share the entire process with you! Be sure to subscribe!

Herb Gardening For Beginners

Boy, has this month seemed long! It seems like it has snowed at least once a week. We got 12 inches one of those weeks! Unfortunately, the snow made it impossible for me to really get much of my list accomplished. I did get the supplies for my backyard composter, but the frozen conditions made building impossible, not to mention the frozen ground. (Read more about the list in my last garden blog post.)

However, I did do a mock-up of exactly how I want my backyard compost to look and what materials I think I will need:

What do you think? Pretty basic, but has style! It seems like a very easy build too. Your four large posts should be whatever height you are wanting your composter to be. (Not too tall or you won’t be able look or reach into it.) The short boards should be the length of your pallet. Nail them together an that’s your basic frame. Wrap that in chicken wire. Optional: use sheet metal, corrugated roofing tin or other covering to give it a fun, personal look. Imagine this painted in bright, beautiful colors! It has so much potential!

Again, this month is still a slow one for gardeners. I do have a lot of things in store for next month, however!  (Don’t forget to subscribe.)

Without further adieu, here are the herbs I have picked to grow this summer.

I am choosing herbs because they are not only beautiful, but useful in so many ways! I suggest, when planning your garden, to find plants or herbs that interest you. This will make it easier to commit to growing healthy, amazing plants you will be proud of.

Anise – medicinal, culinary and aromatic uses. What catnip is to cats, anise is to dogs — will be fun to find out if this is true!

Basil – medicinal, culinary, aromatic and ornamental uses. Great on pizza! I plan to grow several types, just not sure which ones quite yet.

Bergamot or Beebalm – medicinal, aromatic, culinary, ornamental and cosmetic uses. Great color and beautiful flower, attracts hummingbirds.

Borage – medicinal, culinary and ornamental uses. Has a reputation for invoking courage, believe it or not. Bees love borage!

Caraway – medicinal and culinary uses. Every part of the plant is edible.

Chamomile – medicinal, culinary, aromatic, ornamental and cosmetic uses. Great for teas and bath soaks! I will probably grow a few types. Said to contribute to the overall health of your garden.

Chives – medicinal, culinary and ornamental uses. I know I want garlic chives and common, maybe more.

Cilantro or Coriander – medicinal, culinary and aromatic (more fragrant with age) uses. That’s right, the leaves are cilantro and the seeds are coriander. Very good at attracting useful insects.

Dandelion – medicinal, culinary and cosmetic uses. You can even make yellow and magenta dyes. Who knew this common weed was more nutritious than spinach?

Dill – medicinal, culinary and crafty uses. Kitchen staple.

Fennel – medicinal, culinary, aromatic and cosmetic uses. Fennel makes dye too! (yellow and brown) I’ve got an easy recipe for a great fennel face cleanser. (Watch for this in future blogs; subscribe!)

Feverfew – medicinal, ornamental and crafty uses. Great natural insect repellent.

Lavender WandLavender – medicinal, culinary, aromatic, cosmetic and crafty uses. Great fragrance! I will be growing a few different kinds of lavender. I can’t wait to make my first lavender wand!

Lemon Balm – medicinal, culinary, aromatic, ornamental and cosmetic uses. Bees LOVE this plant. Lemon balm smells fantastic and is said to cleanse skin. Works great in an herbal bath mixture.

Lemon Grass – medicinal, culinary and aromatic uses. Once used to break fevers in Africa.

Lemon Verbena – medicinal, culinary, aromatic, and ornamental uses. Mentioned in Gone With The Wind as Scarlet’s mother’s favorite fragrance.

Marigold – medicinal, culinary, aromatic and ornamental uses.

Oregano – medicinal, culinary, cosmetic and crafty uses. Essential to Italian cooking.

Mustard – medicinal and culinary uses. Make your own mustard! (Watch for recipe)

Parsley – medicinal, culinary, ornamental and cosmetic uses. It’s even a natural breath sweetener. Be careful, this herb will attract unwanted rabbits.

Peppermint and Spearmint – medicinal, culinary, aromatic, ornamental and cosmetic uses. Amazing home remedies from bad breath to chapped hands and bee stings.

Purslane – medicinal and ornamental uses. Very, very high in vitamins and nutrients. Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant.

Rosemary – medicinal, aromatic, ornamental and cosmetic uses. Great in bath soaks.

Rue – medicinal, ornamental and crafty uses. Rue is very dangerous in large doses; to plant this in your garden is your call entirely.

Sage – medicinal, culinary, aromatic, ornamental, cosmetic and crafty uses. I will be planting several kinds of sage plants.

Tansy – medicinal, culinary, cosmetic and ornamental uses. Makes outstanding tea! Great color. Can discourage ants and flies.

Tarragon – culinary uses. Tarragon is a staple in French cuisine.

Thyme – medicinal, culinary, aromatic and cosmetic uses. Very beneficial medicinal uses.

That’s my basic list. I’m sure there are tons of other great herbs out there. If you think I should add one to the list let me know in the comments below!

What to expect next month?

– If weather permits, I will be finishing up my backyard compost contraption.

– This weekend, I am attending the horticultural walk at our local zoo to learn about their winter plants, as well as how they take care of their tropical plants during the winter. All that in next month’s edition of Beginning Gardening.

Kitchen Window Garden

Ask the Expert: Kitchen Garden Window

What would be a good plant(s) to put in a garden window that faces East?  Janet