Visit our Web Site/ Online Store

If you arrived here from out online store, you can return by clicking right here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Herb of The Week -- Bee Balm

The herb of the week this week is Bee Balm (monarda)
Monarda is a genus consisting of roughly 16 species of both annual and perennial plants also known as bee balm, horse mint or lemon mint (being, technically a member of the mint family), oswego tea, or bergamot.

Bee Balm is edible and medicinal, the entire plant above ground is edible used as a pot herb, and it is also used as a flavoring in cooked foods.

(pot·herb: A plant whose leaves, stems, or flowers are cooked and eaten or used as seasoning.)

This is a brand new addition to our garden this year. I had never grown it before, and had only heard of it briefly before last year.

I got our plant at a perennial swap this spring. A group of students from a botany class at the local high school grew several different plants and then brought them to the swap. Their mission, (or assignment, perhaps), was to educate people on the plants they had brought, then trade them for different plants, which they then had to take back to the school and study. So they didn't care what they traded for, as long as it was something they didn't already have.

I wish there had been such a fun class when I was in school, I may have paid attention more.

The plant that I have is reported to have bright red flowers, but it has not yet bloomed. Supposedly it blooms in June and July, if so, mine better hurry!


The variety with Red flowers is also called Oswego Tea. It was used by American colonists in place of English Tea after the Boston Tea Party, when they threw the English tea in the harbor to protest the high taxes imposed on it by the British.

Bee balm is considered a good plant to grow with tomatoes, as it is said to improve both health and flavor. It also is a good companion plant in general, attracting pollinators and some predatory/parasitic insects that hunt garden pests.

It can be grown from seeds or cuttings, and will grow quickly and if not kept in control, can become aggressive. Like most herbs, it prefers full sun to partial shade, and likes well drained, slightly alkali soil. It can be grown in clumps or masses for a nice effect as a background plant. Planting 18 inches apart would allow plenty of room.

Although not widely used as a culinary herb, largely because it is not really well known or understood, Bee Balm has a flavor slightly citrus and very slightly reminiscent of mint and oregano. It is good with fruit, in salads, in jellies, or with lamb, or wild game. It can also be used in teas or as a garnish. The flowers are edible and are often used with fruit compotes or as a garnish for desserts.
Our Bee Balm, right after it was planted

Medicinally, generally as a tea, it is reported to have beneficial properties that include improving general digestion, easing flatulence, improving appetite, relieving colic, reducing bloating, alleviating menstrual cramping, and reducing nausea and vomiting.

Externally, bee balm is a wonderful aromatherapy herb. Try placing a handful of fresh leaves in a cloth and positioning it under hot running bath water for a relaxing, lemony scented bath. Deeply breathing in the steam may also help relieve cold symptoms such as sore throat, fever, and congestion.

Bee Balm has also shown some merit as an antiseptic and antibacterial, and a clean cloth can be soaked in a tea and used as a compress, or an ointment can be made to help relieve pain and speed healing for minor wounds, insect stings, and for relief of eczema, psoriasis, cold sores, and clearing up acne.

There is some literature that suggests that Bee Balm should not be ingested if there is a history of thyroid problems, and of course, anyone who is pregnant or nursing should use care and seek advise of a professional before using any herb medicinally.

Although Bee Balm leaves can be rubbed directly on the skin as a mosquito repellent, on some people it may cause phototoxicity (sensitivity to the sun), so using undiluted is not recommended without first testing on a small area of skin.
A month after we planted it

Bee Balm uses in folklore and magic are surprisingly rather sketchy and hard to find.
It is ideal for purifying and relaxation spells, when leaves and flowers
are tied in a cloth and placed under hot running bathwater. Because of this, it is considered a good addition to spells or rituals concerning peace, happiness, contentment, restfulness, and ridding oneself of negative energies or hexes.

Bee Balm is bound to Air and Mercury, and due to the influence of both of these (Air for intellect and Mercury for success), it is believed to be a good herb for money and success in business-related spells. Carry a few leaves in your wallet to attract money, or rub leaves on the skin before a business meeting or job interview for success.

Of course, Bee balm is an excellent herb either alone or combined with other herbs for any spell or ritual that calls for a tea or infusion, and it tastes good too!

On that note, I think I'll go pick some, rub it on my hands for money, Make some delicious tea, for peace, happiness, contentment, and see if I can rid myself of any negative hexes that are hovering around. If you see any wild hexes flying away from me, please duck.

Our Bee Balm tonight


I just have to add, I had never tasted this plant, but when I went out to take this picture, I broke some off, so I brought it in and tasted it.

Wow! It really has a unique flavor. Kind of an "Italian herb, mixed with Lemon Balm" flavor. Now that I know what it tastes like, I see myself using this one a lot!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Herb of The Week -- Hens and Chicks

My Herb of the week is Hens and Chicks, sempervivum tectorum.


Hens and chicks, also known as Hens and Chickens , Jupiter's Eye (or Beard), Thor's Beard, Bullock's Eye, Sengreen, Ayron, Ayegreen, Donnersbart and Houseleek, has been a favourite herb since ancient times. The plant is native to the mountains of Europe and the Greek Islands.

The literal translation for the name is “Always Green on the Roof” and refers to the plants hardy nature and the fact that they were often planted on roofs in England, Wales, France, and much of Europe. The Frankish King Charlemagne (742-814 CE) told his subjects to plant the herb on their roofs since it reputedly warded off lightning and fire.

A perennial succulent, easy-care herb in zones 5-10, it does very well in rock gardens, along old walls, or edging pathways. Each plant will grow to four inches and produce round rosettes of leaves and flowering stems . A widely cultivated ornamental garden plant, it spreads easily and prefers sandy, dry soil.

The master plant will spread rapidly by offshoots, which can be left to form an attractive matting of plants, or rooted separately for use in other parts of the garden. The name Hens and Chicks came about because the master plant, with all the offshoots around it is reminiscent of a mother hen, surrounded by a brood of chicks.

It takes from 3-5 years for a plant to mature. When mature a plant will produce sparse purple flowers in July on an upright stem that can reach up to a foot tall. There is also a variation available in a deep maroon color. Each plant will bloom only once and then, once it has bloomed it will die, making room for the offshoots to grown and reach maturity.

I know of no culinary uses for Hens and Chicks, in fact, when taken internally, in large doses, the juice will act as a emetic or purgative.

Hens and chicks have medicinal properties similar to those of aloe vera, although in weaker concentration, and the juice is harder to extract.

Freshly pressed leaves and their juice may be used externally to soothe skin conditions, including burns, wounds, ulcers, insect bites, inflammations, hemorrhoids, eczema, and fungal infections, as well as itchy and burning parts of the skin. Folklore also says they will remove warts and corns.

In magic, Hens and Chicks are believed to be an herb of protection, luck and love.
In folk belief, it was a practice to grow Hens and Chicks at the front door so that they would be the first thing a man saw when he returned from the fields. This was believed to increase the sexual prowess of the man of the house, for which reason they were known in Dorset as "Welcome Husband."

In Scotland, ancient magicians perceived something of the Moon in the roundness of the rosettes, and associated them with with moon-magic, fancying the plant mystically capable of deflecting black sorcery.

The Romans grew Sempervivum in vases at the entrance to homes for prosperity, and to show esteem to Jupiter. This was thought to provide protection from storms, fire, and lightening, all associated with Jupiter.

Although my mother grew them as ground cover when I was a child, I never knew until just recently all the fascinating history, folklore, and medicinal value of this unassuming little plant.

Here are some all potted up cute, and ready to go to the Farmers Market this weekend.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Herb of The Week -- Comfrey

The herb of the week this week is Comfrey. symphytum officinale.

I had read something about Comfrey at the end of last season, and wanted to try it, so when I found some at the plant exchange I went to in April, I was excited to bring it home and play with it.

This is kind of stepping outside of my comfort zone just a bit, because Comfrey is not really a culinary herb, although some herbalists suggest using the tender young leaves, chopped in salads.

In fact, some people claim that it should not be taken internally at all, but we will get to that later. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Comfrey, a hardy perennial native to Europe, is member of the Boraginaceae family, a cousin to borage and forget-me-not.

With a long history as a healing plant Comfrey is commonly also commonly known as Knitbone, Boneset, Bruisewort, Ass Ear,(I personally like this one best), and Blackwort. Comfrey is an old herb that has been used medicinally for several centuries at least.

The name Comfrey comes from the Latin con firma, meaning with strength. It is believed this is a reference to the plant's ability to heal bones. The botanical name, symphytum, is from the Greek symphyo meaning to unite.

Comfrey is native to Europe, particularly to Great Britain, where is it often referred to as The Wonder Plant.

Besides its’ medicinal properties, Comfrey is very rich in nutrients with both nitrogen and phosphorus levels that exceed barnyard manure and many commercial fertilizers. The nutrients are very easy to extract, so Comfrey has become a favorite supplemental plant for many Natural and Organic Gardeners.

Comfrey is a fast growing aggressive plant, that establishes easily and perseveres stubbornly, so if you plan on growing it, you should carefully consider the location where you are putting it. Chances are, if you decide to move it, you will have two comfrey beds, the new one, and the old one.

Comfrey will grow in full sun, partial shade to almost full shade, it doesn’t like thin, dry soils. In the wild, it tends to grow in shady boggy areas, marshes and river banks.

It will root deep, so dig as deep as you can to give it the best possible start. The long tap root pulls nutrients from deep in the ground. This is why the leaves are so rich in nutrients that the plants around it may lack.

If you just want one comfrey plant it is probably best to buy one from a nursery, or get one, like I did, from a plant swap, a friend or an acquaintance.

Comfrey can be started from seed, but it requires a cold winter to germinate, so if you plant it in the spring, you may not get any plants until the following spring.

If you are looking to establish a larger quantity of comfrey this is usually done with root cuttings, lengths of root 2-6” long that are buried lengthwise in a trench.

Cuttings or plants, should be planted 4-8 inches deep and 18-36” apart. They will grow rapidly and will fill in between the plants in just a year or two. Feel free to work a little manure into the soil before you plant, even fresh chicken manure. Comfrey processes nitrogen so quickly, that there is little to no danger of burning it by adding fresh manure. In fact, in some countries, farmers use a comfrey field as a place to dispose of raw barnyard slurry. This helps keep it out of surrounding waterways.

Once you have planted, the next step is to do nothing. From this point Comfrey is pretty much self managing. Regular water is about all it will ever ask of you to remain healthy. A healthy Comfrey plant will live several decades.

Leaves can be harvested and at any time. If you are growing it to harvest the leaves you can make your first cutting when the plants are about 2' tall. Cut back to within a few inches of the crown. If you begin harvesting early, you may not get flowers. Leaves, flowers and roots are all used in traditional medicine.

One of the easiest uses of comfrey is as a mulch for other crops. Comfrey leaves will slowly release all the nutrients their long tap roots pulled up from the soil. They’re especially good around plants that like a little extra potassium, like fruits and tomatoes. Many people recommend laying a layer of comfrey leaves in the trench before you plant potatoes. The leaves will rot quickly, giving an extra burst of potasium and nitrogen to the potatoes just when they need it the most.

The other main way to use the leaves in gardening is by brewing Comfrey Tea. There are two methods for doing this.

One is to simply fill a bucket, barrel, tub or crock with leaves, weight them down and leave them in the sun for 3-5 weeks. a drainage hole at the base will allow the thick brown liquid to ooze out as it forms, and it can be collected and stored for later use. It is generally recommended that this type of Tea be diluted before using. It should be diluted with water from 1:1 to 1:10, until it is roughly the color of iced tea. It can then be applied to your plants.

The second method is to fill a vat, bucket barrel or tub 1/4th of the way with comfrey leaves and then fill it the rest of the way with water. Again 4-5 weeks in the sun will brew your tea nicely and it should be just the right concentrate to use directly on your plants.

A word of warning. with either method, you will probably have a strong smell coming from the tea as it ferments. This is an anaerobic process, and will smell kind of like raw sewage. I strongly recommend that you use a bucket with a lid, and that you resist the urge to peek in every day or two.

The second primary use for Comfrey, besides as a garden supplement, is the medicinal use.

This is the part where I need to repeat my medical disclaimer.

I am not a medical expert, or even an herb expert. Although many herbs have been shown to have effects on the human body, I include medical benefits of herbs from my research for informational purposes only. You should always consult a medical professional before beginning any herbal regimen or using any herbs medicinally. Herbs should be used medicinally only under the guidance of a trained professional.

Special care and consideration should be taken by anyone pregnant or nursing before using this or any herb medicinally.

OK, having said that, let’s get back to the medicinal properties of Comfrey.

Comfrey may be used either externally or internally. In a recent study artificially large amounts of alkaloids extracted from Comfrey were injected directly into a bloodstream, causing liver failure. This caused a great deal of concern about Comfrey. It has been banned by the FDA from use in commercially produced herbal supplements.

So although it is used widely as livestock food, and although Comfrey farmers have, for years, fed comfrey to their families as a nearly unparalleled source of protein, potassium, calcium, and vitamins A, B12, and C for years in salads, sauteed along with other vegetables, or drunk as a comforting tea, I cannot on good faith condone taking it internally without checking with your doctor. Further, under no circumstances should a pregnant or nursing woman ingest comfrey.

That brings us to the external uses.

Comfrey contains a substance called Allantoin. This is present in both fresh and dried leaves, and in even stronger concentration in the root of the plant. Allantoin is present, oddly enough, in the urine of most mammals, with the exception of humans and apes, and is part of the reason that barnyard manure makes good fertilizer.

Allantoin is, among other things, an active ingredient in over-the-counter cosmetics because it has a moisturizing effect. It increases the smoothness of the skin; promotes cell growth and wound healing, and has a soothing, anti-irritant, and skin protectant effect by bonding with and enveloping irritant and sensitizing agents.

It is frequently present in toothpaste, mouthwash, and other oral hygiene products, in shampoos, lipsticks, anti-acne products, sun care products, and clarifying lotions, various cosmetic lotions and creams, and other cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.

You can extract the allantoin from the roots and the leaves, or use them fresh, dried, or ground to make a poultice.


Making a Comfrey Poultice
What you'll need:

- enough comfrey leaves to cover the affected area in a paste
- Purified water in some form—preferably distilled water or spring water
- a clean piece of gauze, large enough to cover the affected area
- something like an Ace bandage to wrap around the gauze and a pin or tape to hold it in place
- a blender or mortar and pestle
- a saucepan

Grind the leaves with a a mortar and pestle or place them in a blender with about half as much purified water as leaves. Grind or blend away at the comfrey and water until a paste is formed. If it's too soupy, add more leaves. Once you've got your leaves mashed in one way or another, you're ready to heat the paste. In a small saucepan, over very low heat so as not to scald the herbs, heat your mixture to a comfortable, soothing temperature, stirring constantly. Once the desired temperature is achieved, spread the paste thickly onto the gauze, place the gauze onto the wound, sprain, etc., and wrap with the bandaging material securely around the gauze pad. (NOTE: If you have an open wound such as a bite or gash, place a fresh gauze pad between the wound and the poultice paste so as not to introduce debris into the wound. For a scrape or scratch, direct introduction of the comfrey should be fine.) Secure with a safety pin or other sturdy fastening, and leave in place until the poultice has dried out, at which point you'll want to replace it with a fresh one.
Source:
Suite 101 - Herb Gardens - Comfrey, The Miracle Herb,
by Kelsie Gray



An infusion of comfrey, in light olive oil, makes a massage oil that will help sooth rough skin and is said to be beneficial in treating aches and pain associated with arthritis, sprains and muscle soreness. Because it stimulates cell growth, it should speed healing on cuts, burns scrapes and other injuries.

Because it can help to reduce pain and swelling associated with injuries, it used to be believed that it actually helped to heal broken bones. This is where it got the nickname Knitbone. While it doesn't actually help the bone to heal, in my book, anything that helps with the pain and swelling is a good thing.


To make comfrey infused oil:

Ingredients:
* dried comfrey leaf (preferably organic)
* organic olive oil
* clean quart mason jar or similar jar with well-fitting lid **(see above)
* cheesecloth
* clean bottle for finished oil (to hold approximately 16 oz.) **(see above)
Half-fill the mason jar with dried comfrey leaf. Add olive oil to within 2” of the neck of the jar. Cap, shake well, & allow to sit overnight. The next day, top-off the jar with more olive oil (the comfrey will absorb some, so the level will be lower) to within an inch of the top. Shake daily for the first 2-3 weeks. Place in a warm, dark place, if possible. Allow to stand for at least 1 month, although the longer it sits, the better.

To decant, pour contents of mason jar into a large square of cheesecloth (I put it in a strainer over a quart measuring cup). When it stops dripping, gather the edges together, twist, & squeeze. The leftovers may be composted. Pour finished oil into bottle, label, & store in fridge. It will need to be warmed to room temp before using.
Source:
Jedi Workshop, Herbal Oil for Inflammation and Pain.


Now, everyone tells me I have to use olive oil for things like, but I am going to do an experiment. I may shock the herb growing world, but, although I enjoy growing as close to naturally as possible, I am not obsessive about Organic, Natural, products. So, although everyone says not to use baby oil, the only reason I can see not to do so is that it already has some fragrance added.

So, I am going to make some of this with Baby Oil, since we seem to have a bunch of bottles around with just a bit missing. If it doesn't work, I'm not out anything but an already opened bottle of baby oil and a bunch of comfrey leaves. If it does, I saved myself the expense of buying olive oil just for this.

And last but not least, in honor of chickweed, I wanted to include this recipe:

How to Make Comfrey and Chickweed Ointment

Things You'll Need:
2 oz. dried comfrey
2 oz. dried chickweed
2 oz. dried plantain
2 cups tea tree oil or sweet almond oil
3 oz. beeswax
Cheesecloth or muslin
Strainer

Place the beeswax in the top of a double boiler on low heat, and add the tea tree oil or sweet almond oil.
Leave the mixture on low heat low enough for the beeswax to completely melt, and stir in the dried comfrey, dried chickweed and dried plantain until they are thoroughly incorporated into the oils and beeswax.
Continue heating the ointment on the lowest heat setting for several hours, or until it looks like the dried herbs are totally infused into the ointment. Stir the mixture occasionally.
Fold a large piece of clean cheesecloth or muslin and lay it in a strainer. Strain the comfrey and chickweed ointment through the strainer and into a small bowl.
Put the comfrey and chickweed ointment in jars. Allow the ointment to cool, and seal the lids securely.
Source:
e-How, Herbs and Alternative Medicines.
Comfrey and Chickweed Ointment



Finally, whenever I do an Herb of the Week, I like to talk about the magical uses. Someone at the farmers market asked me just recently, if I actually believed in this.

Well, here is my take on it. It wasn't that long ago that there was a very fine, thin line between the witch, who grew herbs and cast spells and the doctor who grew herbs and cured people.
The fact that they both used herbs, and both used many of the same herbs, to treat the same things, makes me think that somewhere, there was an element of truth behind both of their philosophies.

So, while I am not sure that sleeping with a sprig of a particular herb will make me rich, I cannot discount that burning certain herbs may make me sleep better.

I include the magical uses, where I can find them, for informational purposes only. I find them fascinating and like to see the history behind the herb.

Having said that, Comfrey does not have nearly as much of a magical history as many herbs. Perhaps because it was a bona fide healing plant there was no need to create any illusion of magic to accompany it's use.

But I did find the suggestion that worn or carried, comfrey protects and ensures safety during travel. It is suggested that you tuck some into your suitcases so that they aren't lost or stolen.

Also, it is believed that comfrey root wards off the evil of unknown strangers and brings good luck in making travel arrangements. Place the root in a red bag, and keep it on your person while on the road to ensure that you return to find peace in the home and faithfulness in the marriage.

The root is also used in money spells. Reportedly, the leaves, if wrapped around your money and kept folded for three days are said to make your money attract more money, especially when used in gambling.

Upon learning this Diann suggested that I fill my pockets with Comfrey leaves. I expect if I did, it would help the lint in my pockets attract new lint...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Epazote


The herb of the week is Epazote. (chinopodium ambrosioides)

Pronounced eh-puh-ZOE-tay

By show of hands, how many of you have been growing this and using it for years?

Ok, how many of you have ever grown it or used it?

Ok, has anyone heard of it?

I hadn’t either, until I saw it at the garden center last spring.

Now, showing me a new herb I have never heard of, all potted and ready to take home is like waving a pork chop in front of a pit bull. Once I saw it, I knew I had to have it. I didn’t know what it was, what it tasted like, what you used it for, or where, how, when, or even why to grow it.

All that didn’t matter. It was new, it was there. It was mine.

So, then I got home, with my new Epazote plant, and looked it up.
First I googled it. That wasn’t encouraging.
The first thing I found was Wikiopedia which said, among other things:

Epazote essential oil contains ascaridole (up to 70%), Ascaridole is toxic and has a pungent, not very pleasant flavor. In pure form, it is an explosive.

Whoa Nellie! What was I getting myself in for here? Now if I were Alton Brown, or the Mythbusters, then a toxic, explosive, pungent unpleasant tasting herb may make a great TV episode, but I’m not. I’m just plain old me.

But Diann and I both have a weakness when it comes to plants. Once we have them, we feel a stewardship, an obligation to Nature, or God, or Karma, to care for them, nurture them and help them grow.

So, what were we going to do with this plant? I figured we could just plant it in the garden and see what happens. But then I read this:

Epazote has never caught on. It is just too hard to get past that "old sock" aroma”

And this:

“the name Epazote comes from the Nahuatl word for skunk, epatl,”

And this:

Epazote is also known as: Skunkweed, Wormseed, Mexican tea, West Indian goosefoot, Jerusalem parsley, Hedge mustard, Sweet pigweed”

And this:

Epazote self-seeds readily and is considered highly invasive. You might want to consider growing it in a pot.”

And then, I looked at a picture and saw how truly unattractive it is, I talked it over with Diann and we decided it probably would not be a good addition to our regular garden. So, what to do with it now?

We had some landscaping that was done with red lava rock and we had been trying to figure out what to put in the middle of a big open space we had. A birdbath? A stepping stone? A gazing globe? A garden gnome?

With nothing but rock for 3’ in any direction, and a weed barrier under the rock, we figure this would be a safe place to put a pot of something that we didn’t want to spread.

So, there it sat. It grew strong and healthy, flowered, seeded, and finally, as the season came to end, it curled up and died.

And what did we use it for? How much did we pick? Did we dry it or freeze it?

Ok, I have a confession. I’m a big old chicken.

Explosive, toxic plants just don’t inspire warm fuzzy ideas in my mind, so the plant lived, grew and died, and we never so much as plucked a single leaf.

However, since it seeded off, and I noticed it did this quite liberally, I’m sure that pot will have Epazote in it next year.

I’m trying to work up the courage to play with it a little bit. After all, although I chickened out, my research turned up some interesting facts about it, so maybe I can talk myself into it.

Want to know what I found out?

OK, here we go…

Epazote, technically an annual, is an unusual herb that is essential for any chef serious about authentic Mexican cooking. In its native Mexico and was common in the pre-Hispanic cooking of the Aztecs and Mayas. I say technically an annual, because most of the sites I found that talk about growing it mention that once it’s planted, you can expect it to be there for ever. So although it’s an annual, it acts, for all intents and purposes, like a perennial.

You can use Epazote leaves and seeds in a variety of dishes. It has a strong and pungent flavor with a light hint of mint. Although Epazote is poisonous in large quantities, it is used in moderation in many recipes requiring beans. It’s no surprise to see Epazote used to flavor beans, as its anti-flatulent properties come in quite handy. It has become a distinct flavor in Mexican cuisine and is now used to season a variety of dishes including beans, soups, salads and quesadillas

Epazote is also said to cure an upset stomach

The older leaves have a stronger flavor and should be used sparingly. Younger leaves have a milder, yet richer flavor.

Epazote has a distinct taste that cannot be replaced by other herbs. If you do not have access to it, you can leave it out. If you leave it out, use more of the other seasonings to balance out the loss of the Epazote.

You can find this herb in most Latin markets or Hispanic grocery stores. There are many places online that sell dried Epazote which is a satisfactory alternative if fresh is not available.

If you are pregnant, nursing, or have health problems, you should avoid use of this herb, as toxicity varies from one situation to the next.

If you want to attempt to grow some, or if, like me, you just can’t pass up the challenge of a new plant, Epazote is not fussy about soil, but wants full sun and good drainage. As with most herbs, a less-than-rich soil produces the best and most concentrated flavor in the leaves. It can grow fairly large, up to 2 to 3 feet tall, so give it a good-size pot.
Sow a few seeds in the pot, and after emergence thin to the best plant. Germination rates are usually very good, and seedlings should appear within a few days of sowing the seed.
Once it is planted, there is little work required as the plant has its own insecticidal and protective chemistry.
When harvesting, cut the center stem first, to encourage bushing. Prune the plant frequently to prevent flowering and assure a continuing supply of leaf, but don't harvest more than half the plant at a time

OK, so there you have the lowdown on Epazote. Maybe you can see why, although mine grew very well, I couldn’t work up the courage to use any yet.

But if you are brave and bold, and want to see for yourself, you can get some, either fresh, or dried, from the local ethnic market. The herb is used to flavor corn, black beans, mushrooms, fish, soups, stews, chili sauces, shellfish, and freshwater snails. (yum, all it takes is a bit of toxic skunkweed to make snails taste better… who knew?)

So, to try it yourself, without too much out of pocket, make up a batch of black beans to really taste the distinct flavor it adds

I have to make it clear that none of my usual sources had much to say about Epazote, so I am running a bit blind here, but I did find this recipe:

(I personally always soak beans overnight when I cook them, but this is the way one person makes them.)

Black Beans with Epazote

1lb uncooked black beans
6 cups hot water
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely diced
1 serrano chile, seeded and finely diced
1 sprig of Epazote, finely chopped
1/2 of an onion, diced
1 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste
Rinse beans and discard any debris. Place beans in the bottom of the pot and cover with the hot water. Bring beans to a boil, then reduce to a slow simmer and cover. Simmer for about 2 hours. Add in additional ingredients and simmer for another hour, or until beans are soft and a broth has formed.
Serve beans with a slotted spoon for a side dish. Or, serve in a bowl with the broth and add in some cooked, cubed chicken and some salsa for a main dish.


And Chef James at Food Reference.com came through for me with this one.
I didn’t do the measurement conversions, this is verbatim how I got it from Chef James.
Note, Several of the ingredients may not be readily available here, but it may give you an idea of how the herb is used, and in what proportion to the other ingredients. Oaxaca is the name of both a state in Mexico and that state's capital city



Mole Verde Con Espinazo Recipe


(Recipe courtesy of the late Esperanza Chavarria Blando, who owned Restaurante Quickly, and represented Oaxaca at national cooking expos, for three decades)


INGREDIENTS
• ½ kilo Frijol Blanco
(small white beans)
• 1 Garlic Clove
• ¼ Onion
• 2 tsp Salt

• 1 kilo Espinazo De Puerco (pork spine)
• ½ kilo Other Pork Meat
• 2 large Garlic Cloves
• ¼ large Onion
• 2 tsp Salt

• 2 large Garlic Cloves
• ¼ large Onion

• ½ kilo Masa

Herbs
• 3 leaves of Hierba Santa
• 12 leaves of Epazote
• 1 bunch Cilantro
• 1 small bunch Parsley

Spices
• 3 Cloves
• 3 Whole Peppercorns
• 12 Green Tomatoes (approx)
• 9 Serrano Chilies (approx)*
*Buy several extra. Their strength depends on the time of year they're harvested…cooler weather means less potent!

DIRECTIONS
Beans:
Clean beans while checking for little stones.
Soak overnight and cook with the garlic, onion and salt the following day until beans are soft, or cook in a pressure cooker for ¾ to one hour without soaking.

Meat:
Cook the meat in water with the garlic, onion and salt, covered, for about 20 minutes or until soft.

While meat and bean are cooking, grill on a griddle or bbq the garlic cloves and onion and then put aside.

Spice Mixture:
Mix in blender the cloves, peppercorns, halved green tomatoes, serrano
chilies and the grilled garlic and onion, with about ½ cup water. Blend thoroughly.

Strain the mixture into a large deep pan already well heated with oil.

Go back to the blender, add about a cup of water and reblend in order to completely empty the blender jar, and then strain this final mixture into the pan as well. Allow this green mixture to simmer 10 to 15 minutes.

Add about 2 cups of the pork broth into the above green mixture, and continue simmering.

Masa:
Mix half of the masa with ¾ cup of water in blender.

Add this masa mixture through a strainer to the green simmering mixture. Stir so the masa doesn't form balls.

If you want to make the green mixture thicker, mix more masa with water in the blender and add through a strainer.

Herbs:
Put the herbs in blender with enough water to blend, and blend well.

Add the meat (without the onion and garlic) to the green sauce, then the strained beans, and finally the blended herbs.

Add salt to taste.

Note:
Because leaf size varies, you may notice that sometimes the verde doesn't look very green. When this happens, simply blend a small amount of herbs and add to the final sauce.


Note:
Hierba santa also known as yerba santa, hierba santa, Mexican pepperleaf

Abundant in the south-central region of Mexico, the palm-sized, velvety leaves of this anise-scented, bushy perennial make fragrant wrappers for grilled or steamed fish dishes, such as the Pescado en Hoja Santa of Veracruz, where it is quite commonly known as acuyo. It is also used as a flavoring in green moles, a tamale wrapping, and with chicken and shrimp dishes. As a home remedy, it is considered anti-inflammatory and prepared as a tea for stomach cramps and as a poultice for skin irritations


Finally, I found this one, that looks interesting:

Epazote Vegetable Pancakes with Black Bean Tropical Fruit Sauce

Epazote adds an interesting depth of flavor to these pancakes that is balanced by the sweet fruit sauce.
Ingredients:
• 2 t. baking powder
• 2 t. sugar
• 2 T. chopped fresh Epazote
• 1 c all-purpose flour
• 1 c rice flour
• 1 T. sliced green onion
• 1 T. snipped chives
• 1 t. salt
• 1 t. pepper
• 3 eggs, beaten
• 2 c milk
• 2 c shredded mixed vegetables (carrots, celery, onions, red potatoes, zucchini, etc.)
• 1/4 c butter, melted
• Oil
Black Bean Tropical Fruit Sauce:
• 2 c julienned vegetables (carrots, celery, a mix of peppers)
• 1 onion, sliced
• 1 c cooked black beans
• 1 c diced mixed fruit (mango, pineapple and papaya)
• 3 T. butter
• 3 T. diced tomatoes
• 1 t. chili paste
• 1 t. minced garlic
• salt and pepper
• 4 T. chopped fresh Epazote

For pancakes: combine baking powder, sugar, Epazote, flours, green onion, chives, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, add the eggs, milk, and mixed vegetables, and combine. Add the melted butter and stir just until it is incorporated, without overmixing.
Heat a small amount of oil in a skillet. Pour in the batter and cook pancakes for about 2 to 3 minutes or until they are golden brown on both sides (Note: pancakes are ready to turn when dry bubbles form on top.)

For sauce, place the mixed vegetable and onion in the skillet over medium heat for 1 - 2 minutes. Add the black beans and mixed fruit. Add the butter and tomato, chili paste and garlic. Stir and continue cooking 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, pour the sauce over the pancakes and top with chopped fresh Epazote.
So, there you have it, cooking with Epazote can be easy…. (I’ll keep telling myself that and maybe by next summer I will believe it.)


Medicinally, Epazote is used to prevent flatulence but also in the treatment of amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, malaria, chorea, hysteria, catarrh, and asthma.
It is antihelminthic, that is, it kills intestinal worms, and was once listed for this use in the US Pharmacopoeia. It is also cited as an antispasmodic and abortifacient.

Although I never advocate anyone using my blog as a medical journal, let me add another caution here.

Epazote can be toxic if used in excess. Please do not self treat any of the above with this herb.

Although I always suggest treating with herbs only under the direction of a licensed professional, I need to add an extra warning here.

Do not use this herb medicinally without the advice consent and guidance of a professional. Please.


Magic, on the other hand, is up to you, please use it at your own discretion for protection, hex-breaking and road-opening spells.

As is often the case, the reputed magical properties are analogic to the medicinal ones. Epazote is said to help us digest the obstacles in life and removes spiritual parasites. It is used as a smudge/spray for getting rid of residual negativity from our houses – it is often highly recommended to smudge/spray the house with it after situations that are highly stressful for the whole family, like after a family member’s death, after a divorce, etc.

This is a plant that is said to be highly related to the world of the Dead, so a cup of its tea will make a wonderful offering in your ancestor’s altar, or when asking for help to those who have crossed over to the world of spirits. A bundle of dry Epazote might be used as protection to keep nightmares caused by spirits away, and to protect from spiritual attacks.

So, although I am not quite sure I am ready to embrace it wholeheartedly, Epazote is definitely an herb I want to continue to explore.

If anyone has any personal experience with this herb, please let me know. I’d love to hear about it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Lemon Balm


The herb of the week is Lemon Balm. (Melissa officinalis)

We got some Lemon Balm from a clearance sale at a nursery toward the end of the summer and planted it in the garden, where it promptly died. I noticed that although the plant died, the roots did not, because it was sending up new growth at the end of September. I’m hoping that the root system is strong enough to make it through the winter and we will see it growing there in the spring.

How To Garden Advice .com Says that “Lemon Balm is one of the easiest herb plants to grow, and is a perennial that will winter over in many areas, particularly if mulched in the fall.” So I’m really hoping it will make it.

Lemon Balm is a perennial herb, in the mint family, native to the Mediterranean region, western Asia, southwestern Siberia, and northern Africa. It is widely naturalized in North America and elsewhere.

Like its name suggests, Lemon Balm, has a strong lemon scent. (the word Balm is an abbreviation of Balsam, a reference to the sweet smelling oils in the plant) Its' vein-filled, oval-shaped leaves contain lemon-scented oils. The plant strongly resembles spearmint, or catnip, with clusters of tiny white flowers. Besides as a flavoring in cooking, the oils are used in laundry products, furniture polish, cosmetics and hair care products.

If you run out of Pledge, you can just run up to the garden -- the leaves are supposedly good for polishing wood

Lemon Balm grows to a height of 3 feet and gives the best show when planted along borders or in front of shrubs. Lemon Balm flowers are attractive to bees, but don’t confuse it with Bee Balm, and entirely different plant. Many people confuse the two, because Lemon Balm is so attractive to Bees, and… …well, they both end in balm…. Hello?? Besides that, the first part of the botanical name, melissa, translates into honeybee.

In ancient Ephesus, known today as Turkey the honeybee was considered to be a form the human soul took when descending from the Goddess Artemis herself. Bees were not only important in the cosmology of ancient man but also in their commerce (honey, wax). Thus anything that helped to attract the valued honeybees to a hive, or keep the honeybees from swarming, gained in stature.
This is where Lemon Balm enters recorded history. Lemon balm was a sacred herb in the Temple of Artemis/Diana, and the herb that assisted the ancient beekeepers in keeping honeybees happy and well fed with nectar.
According to Pliny , bees were “delighted with this herb above others”; Thus the Greek derived scientific name “Melissa” and the lesser known name of “apiastrum”. Both of Lemon Balm’s given Greek names mean bee/honey bee.

In ancient Greece sprigs of Lemon Balm were placed into beehives to attract wandering honeybee swarms.
Lemon balm was also planted around the bee’s hives to keep them happy and more apt to stay at the hive and not swarm away.

Much like most plants in the mint family, Lemon Balm spreads rapidly, and if not controlled can become a nuisance. I would recommend planting it in a container, or burying a container of some type in the bed, to contain the roots. It will spread two ways. The roots will send out runners, and the plants will put out roots whenever they touch the ground. Containing the roots, and keeping the plant pruned will help you keep your Lemon Balm under control.

If you want to plant your Lemon Balm in the ground, but want it to
Stay in one spot, try sinking a section of 10” PVC pipe 12” long into the ground, or, cut the bottom off a five gallon bucket that has sprung a leak and use the tube. Your barrier should reach at least 12” deep and should be big enough, (minimum 8-10”) to allow the plant to form a healthy root base.

To plant Lemon Balm, Sow seed in spring, or you can plant transplants in spring or early autumn. Any reasonable soil and spot will do. If you have divided your plants in autumn then they may need a bit of protection over the winter – either in a cold frame or mulched with straw to protect from the frost. If it shoots early in the spring, then keep a watch for frosts and protect the plants if you think it’s going to be very cold – it won’t kill the roots, but it will damage the leaves and delay your using them.

I know in Michigan, we often get a week or two of spring-like weather in February, when all the plants start to grow, thinking it is spring, then winter will hit again in full force for another month. I think it’s natures way of toughening up both the plants and the people who grow them.

If your patch of Lemon Balm, (and this will work for mint and catnip as well) gets out of hand, divide it in the late fall. This will allow the cold to take out the weaker plants leaving you with a smaller, but stronger and healthier patch in the spring.
Lemon Balm can be harvested throughout the summer months by snipping or pinching. It grows back quickly and tolerates heavy harvesting well. To help keep it from getting out of control, harvest it before the flowers have a chance to produce seeds. Like any herb, the best time to pick is after the morning dew dries, but before the afternoon sun gets too hot.

When I post recipes, sometimes they are recipes I have tried, and sometimes they are just recipes that I think sound good. These recipes fall into the latter category. I’m looking forward to having enough Lemon Balm next year so I can try them.

Stewed Chicken with Blackberries & Lemon Balm

· 4 boneless chicken breasts, skin on
· 2 T extra virgin olive oil
· ¾ cup of hearty red wine
· ¾ cup of chicken stock
· Grated rind of 1 small orange
· 1 T freshly squeezed orange juice
· ½ c fresh lemon balm, finely chopped, plus 4 extra sprigs for garnish
· 2/3 c heavy cream
· 1 egg yolk
· ¾ c fresh blackberries, plus another half cup for garnish

Sauté both sides of the chicken breasts in the olive oil over medium heat sufficiently to seal in flavor, about five minutes each side, then transfer them to a casserole dish. Add the wine, chicken stock, orange rind and juice and lemon balm to the sauté pan, stirring while bringing it slowly to the boil. Add salt pepper to taste. Pour over the chicken and bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Blend the cream with the egg yolk, along with about half-cup of liquid from the chicken that you've allowed to cool.
Add the ¾ c blackberries and stir this back into the casserole,
cover and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Garnish with the rest of the blackberries of lemon balm sprigs.

For dessert, try the following:

Berry Balm Crunch

· 3/4 c each of blackberries, raspberries and blueberries
· 3 tablespoons of lime juice
· 2/3 of a cup of packed, brown sugar
· 1/3 cup of unbleached white flour
· 1 cup of quick cooking rolled oats
· 1/3 cup of shredded coconut
· ½ cup of butter, melted
· 1 tsp. cinnamon
· 1/3 cup of finely chopped fresh lemon balm leaves

Mix the berries, lime juice and lemon balm in a bowl, then spread this mixture in an eight-inch square buttered baking pan. Mix the rest of the ingredients thoroughly and pack over the berries. Bake at 375F degrees for about 30 minutes, or until crisp and brown. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream with a garnish of fresh lemon balm leaves.

Lemon Balm Vinaigrette

3 T. lightly flavored olive oil
1 t. chiffonade of fresh lemon balm
1/8 t. salt
1/16 t. fresh ground black pepper
2 T. rice wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients just before using, for the freshest taste and brightest color. Use as a salad dressing with baby lettuces and touch of grated, aged Jack cheese, or toss with fresh steamed veggies (it's delicious with asparagus!).

In addition Lemon Balm leaves also taste great:

--boiled into the broth when you make vegetable or lentil soup
-- in tea and fruit salads
--sauteed with a little garlic oil and pepper with vegetables
--in steamed or Mexican rice
--mixed with melted butter spread on tortillas

For a general seasoning, use it in tandem with tarragon. Try adding some freshly minced leaves to lamb or fish marinades for the grill, and toss a few sprigs on the fire to perfume the air and keep away the mosquitoes. When using whole leaves be sure to handle them delicately; they tend to bruise and turn black. Combine Lemon Balm with other garden herbs for homemade herb vinegars. For a eye-catching garnish, freeze some small leaves into ice cubes to serve in lemonade.





Lemon Balm was used in the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort associated with digestion (including flatulence and bloating as well as colic). Even before then it was steeped in wine to lift the spirits, help heal wounds, and treat venomous insect bites and stings. Today, Lemon Balm is often combined with other calming, soothing herbs, such as valerian, chamomile, and hops, to enhance the overall relaxing effect.

There is current research underway suggesting that lemon balm may interfere with thyroid and sedative related treatments. If you are being treated for either of these conditions, consult your doctor before using lemon balm.

Although few rigorous scientific studies have been conducted on lemon balm, many health care professionals suggest that this herb is beneficial for a variety of health problems, including Alzheimer's disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, indigestion, gas, insomnia, and hyperthyroidism.

Plants, just like people, are subject to many viruses (virusi ? Vireese? What is the plural of virus?) And over the years, the ones that have anti viral properties were able to survive longer and stronger than those that do not.

Many believe that Lemon Balm is one such plant, that it has anti-viral properties, and that when taken as a tea will help the body fight virus. Research seem shaky at best as to the effectiveness, but Lemon Balm tea is pleasant tasting enough that I don’t mind drinking it, under the remote chance that it may help.

To make a lemon-scented bath, tie ¼ cup crushed leaves into a handkerchief or washcloth. Let the water run through the bag until the tub is filled. In smaller quantities, use lemon water to rinse your hair after washing.

Topically, the oils act as a mosquito repellent and have been said to be effective in treating cold sores.

In ancient times, Lemon Balm was planted by the front door to drive away evil. Since it attracted bees, and bees were considered a sign of good luck, it was assumed that the Lemon Balm drove away bad luck and invited in good luck.
In Modern magic, Lemon Balm is primarily used in the pursuit of romance. It is an herb which attracts, and is sometimes made into a charm and worn to bring a lover into one's life. It may also be used as a bathing herb, some of the delightfully scented leaves scattered over the water, or an infusion poured to mix with the bath. . A tea made of the leaves brings calm, which is appropriate for preparing for ritual work.

In kitchen magic, Lemon Balm is said to be ideally suited for healing those who suffer from mental or nervous disorders. It is claimed to be very useful for those of sound mind who need to keep their mental processes in superior condition and said to give energy to make one more desirable to the opposite sex.

Avicenna, an 11th century Arab herbalist said "it causeth the mind and heart to become merry"

My mind and heart can use all the merriment they can get.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Cilantro



The herb of the week Is Cilantro. (Coriandrum sativum)

Cilantro is an herb that we have tried to grow twice, both times with limited success.

I think, in both cases, we transplanted it into the garden too late in the year and it was too hot, so as soon as we planted it, it bolted. But since I really like to cook with Cilantro, and after all (who can make fresh salsa without it?) We will probably keep trying.

We have really dedicated our garden to mostly perennials, since we have limited space, and then once we are happy with our perennials, we fill in the spaces with annuals. But I see garden expansion in our future, and I am pretty sure that we will find room for Cilantro next year.

The funny thing about Cilantro is that if you plant Coriander, Cilantro comes up instead.

Seriously though, the name Cilantro comes from the Spanish word for Coriander, a versatile plant. The leaves are used as an herb, the seeds as a spice, and the roots are used in some cultures to flavor foods as well.

So we are actually talking about two different things when we talk about Cilantro. Although the terms are often used interchangeably
to the point where it can be somewhat confusing. The entire plant is properly named Coriander, while the leaves alone are Cilantro. But generally, informally, the plant and leaves are referred to as Cilantro and only the seeds as Coriander. Just to liven things up, Cilantro is also referred to as Chinese parsley.
To avoid confusion, when I talk about them, I will use the term Cilantro, to refer to the leaves, and subsequently the plant, which have a light citrus flavor not unlike celery and lemon together, When I use the term Coriander I am referring to the seed, which has a nutty, peppery flavor with just a hint of citrus.

The name Coriander, is reported to come from the Greek word koris which means bedbug. Some say that the plant smells like bedbugs, (whatever bedbugs smell like) while others say that the seeds resemble bedbugs. Still others believe that the seeds, when ground and sprinkled on your sheets, will help prevent bedbugs.

Whichever the case, the name stuck, and has been around for a long time. One of the original seven wonders of the world was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Coriander/Cilantro was one of the plants generally believed to have been grown in those gardens.

It is one of few modern foods that are mentioned in the Old Testament and is mentioned in the Medical Papyrus of Thebes written in 1552 B. C. No one is quite sure where Cilantro originated, but the ancient Israelites were familiar with it, it has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and it was even mentioned in Arabian Nights a book over 1000 years old. The Chinese have used Cilantro for centuries, believing it to be an aphrodisiac.

In the mid-1700s a liquor was made from the Coriander seeds, but this experiment proved unsuccessful
Today, Cilantro and Coriander are widely used worldwide. It is a favorite herb from the Southwest U.S. through Central and South America, as well as in India, China and Thailand.

Most of us think of Cilantro in terms of salsa and guacamole, however, Cilantro and Coriander are used all over the world in many other ways. Cilantro is used with meat, chicken, fish, sauces, marinades, chutneys, and Coriander is even used in baking.

The most important thing to remember when growing Cilantro is that it does not like hot weather. Cilantro growing in soil that reaches 75F will bolt and go to seed. This means that the ideal cilantro growing conditions are cool but sunny.

Even with ideal growing conditions, cilantro is a short lived herb. Taking the time to prune cilantro frequently will help delay bolting but no matter how much you prune cilantro it will still eventually bolt. Reseeding, every 3-6 weeks will help keep a steady supply throughout the growing season.

The Tasteful Garden suggests that “Cilantro needs to be grown in early spring/summer or even during the fall when the weather is cooler. It requires mostly sunshine about half a day and will be best grown in morning sun
and shade in the hot afternoon. Growing it in the ground with mulch on top of the roots helps keep the soil cooler longer. Filtered sunlight, as in under a tree with light coming through, is ideal. To harvest Cilantro, you can begin cutting as soon as the plant is about 6" tall by removing the outer leaves and leaving the growing point intact for the new leaves to grow from. Another method is to wait till the plant is almost completely grown and pull it up by its roots to use the whole bunch at once.”

(Photo courtesy of The Tasteful Garden, Used by permission)


Once you have it harvested, the next question is what to do with it.

Cilantro can be dried, but will lose a lot of its’ flavor. If you have so much extra that it will go bad by all means dry some, but it will never be as good as fresh cilantro. Frozen Cilantro doesn’t seem to fare much better, with a great deal of the flavor disappearing, however, once again, weak flavored frozen cilantro seems better to me than cilantro flavored compost, so before you just throw the extra away, feel free to play a bit.

Burpee suggests an herbed butter, using one 1 stick of Butter, 4 Tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro and 1 Tablespoon of Lemon Juice. I have been meaning to play with herbed butters for several years now, and need to put it on my “next year for sure” list. The butter acts as a preservative, as well as a suspension for the herb flavor..

Next year, I intend to get some candy molds, either flower shaped or something else simple and make herbed butters from all of the different herbs we grow. Then, sometime in the fall, around this time of year, when it gets all cold and wet and rainy, we can invite the family over for a bread and butter party, where I can bake a couple of different types of bread, bring out a tray of different butters, and tell people if the want anything besides bread and butter, they should bring enough to go around.

If anyone has made herbed butters before and wants to share any tips, I’d love to hear about them.

But back to Cilantro. It seems that the best way to use it is fresh.

Try adding cilantro to crab cakes or shrimp salad. Or chop cilantro and garlic, add a little olive oil and spread this on poultry or fish. Skip the oil to save calories. For a creamy low fat dressing mix equal parts of buttermilk and plain yogurt with salt, pepper, and a generous amount of chopped cilantro.

Ground coriander is a great addition to dry rubs. It pairs particularly well with cumin, curry, paprika, garlic, and chili powder.

Here’s a recipe you may try:

PORK CHOPS WITH POBLANO-CILANTRO SAUCE
Recipe Courtesy of Chef James at FoodReference.com used by permission

6 poblano peppers, roasted, skins & seeds removed
¼ cup cilantro
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ cup of water
Cayenne powder, salt, and pepper to taste
4 pork chops
olive oil, as needed
onion, 8 ounces, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped

1) Puree two of the roasted poblano peppers, cilantro, cumin, coriander, vinegar, water, salt and pepper in a blender. Add additional water if necessary.
2) Brush the chops with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and cayenne powder.
3) Sear the chops on each side in the oil. Do not fully cook the chops. Remove them as soon as each side is seared and set aside.
4) Roughly chop the remaining poblano peppers and sauté with the onion in the same pan you sautéed the chops until the onions start to soften. Add extra oil if necessary.
5) Add garlic and sauté one minute more.
6) Return the chops to the pan and add the sauce. Simmer until the chops are cooked. About 3-5 minutes for half inch chops.


And here’s one that is bouncing around on the Internet. I’m not sure of the original source but it sounds like one Bobby Flay may use:

Lime-Chipotle Sauce


Blend in food processor.
1/2 C honey
2 T minced canned chipotle chilies
3 T stone ground mustard
½ C lime juice
1 ½ T minced garlic
1 t ground cumin
½ t ground allspice
½ C chopped fresh cilantro
1 ½ t ground white pepper
sea salt to taste


Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Use as a dip for tortilla chips, pita bread, or sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, and zucchini.
As a marinade for fish or chicken, or on a simple salad of mixed greens.
Add some to your egg yolks when you make deviled eggs, or to your chicken salad.

NOTE : This can be canned in a boiling water bath for 15 min. (20 min. at 1001-6000 ft. and 25 min. above 6000 ft).

One batch makes less than a pint, so I would multiply by at least 4 and can in half pints if I were doing it.

Medicinally, Cilantro doesn’t seem to have quite as many applications as a lot of herbs, Rich in vitamin C.Cilantro is considered an aid to the digestive system. It is an appetite stimulant and aids in the secretion of gastric juices.

The essential oils of the cilantro leaves contain antibacterial properties and can be used as a fungicide. Coriander seeds is said by some to have cholesterol lowering properties, but I haven’t seen the research, so I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

In Egypt, the seeds have been found in pharaohs' tombs, presumably to prevent indigestion in the afterlife. While no one has been able to attest to its post-mortem healing properties, recent studies have supported its use as a stomach soother for both adults and colicky babies.

Ancient Romans used cilantro to preserve food, as well as to mask the flavor of meat that was going bad. (It’s a wonder anyone survived past their twenties back then) although they couldn’t have known it then, cilantro contains an antioxidant that helps prevent animal fats from turning rancid. It also contains substances that kill meat-spoiling bacteria and fungi. These same substances can also prevent infection in wounds.

In Modern medicine, the only current use of cilantro or coriander is as a flavoring for less pleasant tasting medicines.

However, there are those who advocate its’ use for, besides a digestive aid, treating infection and arthritis pain.

As with most herbs, there are those who swear by them, and those who say they have no effect whatsoever. Maybe it’s like regular medicine. Some things I can take and they work wonders, but don’t do a bit of good for my wife, and likewise, some things help her, and may as well be chalk tablets for me. I guess it kind of depends on your own body chemistry as well.

But to use it to treat digestion, colic, infection and arthritic pain, it is suggested that you drink it in tea form. To make a medicinal tea, use 1 teaspoon of dried leaves or crushed seeds (or ½ teaspoon of powdered seeds) per cup of boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes. Drink up to three cups a day before or after meals.

The worst that can happen is that you drink a bunch of stuff you don’t like. There are no known side affects of drinking too much.

In magic, Cilantro can be burned as an incense or as an oil in spells or rituals that deal with aggression, courage,, exorcism, healing after surgery, hex-breaking, lust, physical strength, politics, protection, sexual energy, sexual potency, and strength.

In Kitchen magic, the main use of cilantro seems to be in love spells and potions, Simmered in your favorite wine, sweetened with honey, strained and served warm, it is reputed to be a powerful aphrodisiac.

Finally, I want to finish by making mention of a very similar plant, Culantro (also known as Thai Parsley) similar to Cilantro in flavor Culantro is used by many South American countries as well as in Asia even more frequently than Cilantro. It seems to have a longer growing season, a higher tolerance for heat, and be almost interchangeable for cilantro in most recipes, so those in warmer climates may want to give this one a try instead.
(Photo courtesy of The Tasteful Garden, Used by permission)


I’m thinking some of each may be fun.

The following sites were particularly helpful in my research this week:
In Depth Info
FoodReference.com (Thanks Chef James)
The Tasteful Garden (Thanks Cindy)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Marjoram



The herb of the week is Marjoram. (Origanum majoricum)

I have been avoiding Marjoram, because I wasn’t sure how to approach it. But I have now written about all of the rest of the herbs we grew this year, so I can’t put it off any longer.

Marjoram is a member of the Oregano family. It is similar in many ways to Oregano. The plants are closely related, the flavor is similar, and it is grown, harvested, cultivated, and used much the same, so I wasn’t sure whether to treat it as separate herb, or to just consider it an addendum to Oregano.

When I first started researching Marjoram, early this summer, I ran into a lot of different opinions and positions about Oregano and Marjoram.

Cookthink.com describes Marjoram as “Oregano’s calmer, sweeter, fraternal twin.” Their site then goes on to describe the subtle differences between the two, and finishes by saying that they are generally interchangeable in recipes.

Linda Gilbert, a journalist, cooking instructor and caterer, writes, in an article for Sally Bernstein.com, That not only are many people confused, and labeling at nurseries confusing, but many experts get confused as well.

Now I don’t feel so bad.

Ms. Gilbert then goes on to point out that all Marjorams are oreganos, but not all oreganos are Marjorams. To further complicate things, there are many other plants that are neither oregano nor Marjoram, but that somehow get called such.

Mexican Oregano, (a close relative of Lemon Verbena) Cuban Oregano, ( a relative to Thyme), and
Puerto Rican Oregano (A colius family member), are all examples.

Then, to further complicate things, The most common variety of Oregano is also known as wild Marjoram.

One of my favorite quick reference sites for any herb, The Tasteful Garden, has an herb encyclopedia that has quick and easy descriptions of most herbs. Although they identify Oregano and Marjoram as different herbs, they group them together under the same heading.

This is because care and use of the two plants is so similar. They suggest using the two together, along with basil and thyme, for a well balanced blend of herbs.

And, in case you are wondering, Marjoram and Oregano are both members of the Mint family

So, now that I have thoroughly confused you, let’s get back to Marjoram.


The plant that I grew in my garden this year, and knew as Marjoram looked, tasted and smelled completely different from the plant that I grew and knew as Oregano.

Based on that difference, I am treating Marjoram as a separate herb. Keep in mind that the lines between the two blur a little though. This is good, because it allows you the opportunity to experiment on your own.

I like recipes, but I also like to just go in the kitchen and play. That’s the fun part of growing your own herbs. If you were paying $3-5 a bunch for herbs at the grocery store, you wouldn’t dare to experiment with them.


So, let's talk about Marjoram.

Marjoram is indigenous to the Mediterranean area and was known to the Greeks and Romans, who looked on it as a symbol of happiness.
Marjoram has a delicate, sweet, pleasant flavor with a slightly bitter undertone.
Traditionally used in meat dishes, Marjoram's mellow taste and enticing fragrance make it compatible with a wide variety of foods. Good in lamb dishes, as well as beef and veal and in soups or stews Marjoram blends well with parsley, dill, basil, or thyme.

Marjoram was called amaracum in Latin, which in turn was taken from Greek amarakos The origin of the Greek name is not known, but maybe it came from further East, Sanskrit maruva . Marjoram’s reputation as aphrodisiac in Roman literature is probably due to the similarity of amaracum to Latin amor or love, which is linguistically not related.

Marjoram needs a warm climate to fully develop its specific aroma, much of which, like Tarragon, (a non related herb) it loses when dried.

Despite the fact that dried Marjoram tastes and smells completely different from fresh Marjoram, dried Marjoram is a staple herb in much European cooking, in fact, it is such an important herb in sausage making that in Germany it is called Wurstkraut or “sausage herb“. In German cooking it is often combined with Bay leaves, Black Pepper, and juniper, and in fact is combined with those three in a traditional venison ragout.

Dried Marjoram has application among vegetables as well, being particularly suited for use with heavier vegetables, cabbage, root vegetables, legumes, etc. Sprinkling it liberally on fried potatoes produces a delicious alternative to boring fried potatoes.

Fresh Marjoram, on the other hand has a delicate flavor that blends well with chives and parsley in fish dishes or other subtly flavored applications



Marjoram is grown much the same as Oregano, in full sun to partial shade, in well drained, slightly lean soil. It is relatively hardy and can be grown as a perennial in most US Climate Zones.
It grows well in pots or containers and attracts bees butterflies and birds.

It can be started indoors from seed, 6-8 weeks before planting outside, and can be planted outside as soon as danger of frost is past. It can be harvested as soon as 6 weeks after it is planted outside.

When I add perennials to our garden, I seldom harvest anything the first year. I give them one year to grow into a good healthy plant and develop a root system that will help them live through Michigan's’ rough winters. But there is probably no real need for that, it’s just a personal thing that I do.

Marjoram can be harvested as soon as the stems are taller than 3” off the ground, and can be cut back to a 3” height. Like most herbs, cutting the ends forces growth lower on the plant and will result in a bushier plant.

Marjoram harvested before the first flowers appear will have a sweeter more true flavor. Marjoram harvested after flowers appear will be stronger and may have a slight bitter taste. This will be less noticeable if you plan on drying your Marjoram than it is in fresh Marjoram.

If planting more than one plant, be sure to allow room between them for air circulation to help avoid the occasional fungus that Marjoram gets.

Like most herbs if you water with a sprinkler, try to water in the morning,, to allow the water to all dry off the leaves by night. This makes them less attractive to insects, who come out at night and drink the water off leaves, as well as a less fertile breeding ground for molds and fungi.

The leaves of your Marjoram will probably die down soon after frost occurs, but the roots will survive and provide new plants the next Spring.

Marjoram can be used fresh, or it can be dried or frozen. Let me start you off with a few recipes to get your mind working. As always, Feel free to leave a recipe in the comment section, if you have a Marjoram recipe.



Marjoram Potatoes and Onions
prep time 15 mins
cooking time 40 mins
serves 4
4 medium potatoes peeled and sliced thickly
4 medium onions sliced
1 T Dried Marjoram
salt and pepper
butter
Layer the potatoes and onions in an oven proof dish.
Sprinkle with the Marjoram, salt and pepper.
Dot the butter over the top.
Bake in a moderate oven 350 F for 40 mins and then serve


Or you may want to try:

Carrot, Apple and Marjoram Soup

2 Large white Onions (peeled and chopped)
2 T Sunflower oil
1T Butter
4 Apples -Jonathan, or other tart pie apples work best, (peeled, cored and chopped)
8 Carrots, (peeled and chopped)
1 t Salt
1 T Fresh Marjoram leaves
Black pepper, freshly ground

4 C Water

Soften the onions in sunflower oil in a heavy, covered pan, over medium low heat, until translucent. Add the butter and the carrots, stir well, then cover and allow to cook for 10 to 15 minutes (peek occasionally, don‘t let the onions brown); then add the apples. Continue cooking for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples have begun to break down. Add the water, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then puree with a hand mixer, adding the salt, black pepper and Marjoram as you work.

Serve with fresh baked bread.



Medicinally, Marjoram tea has been used historically for relief from symptoms of hay fever, sinus congestion, indigestion, asthma, stomach pain, headache, dizziness, colds, coughs, and nervous disorders. It is a gently fragrant, calming herb that does have mild antioxidant and anti-fungal properties. Unsweetened tea can also be used as a mouthwash or gargle. Take 1-2 cups of tea per day for the therapeutic benefits.
Externally, Marjoram leaves can be ground into a paste (add hot tea or water, and a little oatmeal for consistency purposes, if desired), and used for the pain of rheumatism and for sprains. The leaves can be made into an oil for relief of toothache pain - drop a few drops of the oil on the affected tooth. Leaves can also be placed in cheesecloth or a coffee filter and placed under the tap for a fragrant and refreshing bath that is believed good for the skin.



It was believed that the Greek God Venus created Marjoram and gave it its’ wonderful sweet flavor and scent. The herb was said to the favorite of Aphrodite.
It was said that if you anointed yourself with Marjoram you would dream of your future spouse.

The ancients believed that if Marjoram grew on a grave it was a sign of the happiness of the departed spirit. Sometimes it was planted at grave sites to comfort the departed and ensure their eternal peace and happiness.

During ancient times, wreaths of Marjoram crowned the heads of bridal couples to symbolize love, honor and happiness. Marjoram was used by Hippocrates as an antiseptic. The leaves of the plant were often chewed during the Middles Ages to relieve toothache, rheumatism, indigestion and coughs. In ancient Egypt it was used for healing and disinfecting.

It was used in England at one time as an ingredient of snuff. They then decided to put it in their beer, as a preservative and to give an aromatic flavor.

In modern magic, Marjoram is used in love spells is carried it is protective. It is also placed around the house, a bit in each room, and renewed each month for home protection. It is grown the garden to shield against evil, or given to a depressed person to bring happiness It is also used in money mixtures and sachets.

Wiccans use Marjoram to promote a sense of peace and calm.

In kitchen magic, Marjoram is added to food to strengthen, physically and spiritually.

We grew Marjoram for the first time last year, and harvested it for the first time this year. It grew fast and quickly became a strong, healthy and happy player in our herb garden.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Tarragon



The herb of the week is Tarragon, (artemisia dracunculu) a low growing perennial with shiny,dark green leaves.

We planted Tarragon two years ago, and it grew well, but did not return in the spring. I had given up on it, so I was surprised to discover it growing in the garden again this spring. I'm not sure why it decided to be dormant for a season, but it was good to have it back. I hope it returns again next year.

There are two main types of Tarragon, French Tarragon and Russian Tarragon. Both are related to daisies and sunflowers. French Tarragon is the more flavorful of the two, while Russian Tarragon is easier to grow. We had French Tarragon growing in the garden, and then I got some Russian tarragon plants clearanced at a nursery for 20 cents this year, so now we have both.

French Tarragon cannot be started from seed, in fact on the rare occasion when it DOES seed, the seeds will in fact produce Russian Tarragon. It must be grown from a transplant and it is a sensitive plant that needs some extra TLC to keep it healthy. But it is a sweet flavorful herb, slightly reminiscent of anise, that goes well with eggs, fish, chicken and seafood.

Russian Tarragon is a hearty, stronger plant that grows taller and has a strong root system, but has a very weak flavor. It is more likely to produce flowers, and when it does they are a small yellow and black flower. Russian Tarragon is good in salads in the early summer, when the leaves are tender, and may be used as a garnish. Of course, you can use it in other dishes, but the flavor is very weak. It is believed to be an appetite stimulant, and although I have no reputable research to back that up, it is certainly something to keep in mind when adding it to any dish.

We grew both this year, and will probably keep both in the future, but if space ever becomes an issue we will definitely keep the French Tarragon and say goodbye to the Russian. I probably would have never bought it had I known what I was getting, and certainly not at full price, but now that it's there, it will be something we add to salads and use as a garnish.

Tarragon gets its' name from the French word esdrago, which came from the Latin word dracunculus (little dragon). In ancient times, Tarragon was believed to be not only a cure for snakebite but also a dragon repellent.

I am happy to report that we had both varieties in our garden this year and did not see a single dragon of any type all summer, so I think we can safely assume that it works. I'm not even sure we saw dragonflies. I wonder... Could that be the reason? Nahh...



Tarragon prefers full sun or partial shade, and does better in well drained soil. It is susceptible to powdery mildew and root rot, so should be planted in a location that has good air circulation, to avoid the powdery mildew, and good drainage, to prevent the root rot.

Plant after the danger of frost has passed, and for best results divide your plants every three or four years. Tarragon has a serpentine root system, that will curl in around itself. If not divided, this root system will form a ball and strangle the plant. If it has been two years or more since you divided your Tarragon, and it is looking a little wimpy this year, chances are it has become root bound. If you don't have room to divide it, at least break the roots up a little.

If you are growing it in a container, and yes, Tarragon will do very well in a container, make sure you loosen the roots up every year and shave some off every couple of years.

I would trim the root system in the spring, so the plant has all summer to recover, before there is a full bushy plant depending on the roots for water, but if you forget, then just like any herb, make sure that when you trim the roots, you also cut the top part of the plant back as well, to compensate.

Russian Tarragon will grown in almost any soil and any condition, but will grow best in the full sun and well drained soil mentioned above.

Tarragon can be harvested regularly through the spring and summer, by clipping the tips. This will produce a fuller and bushier plant. In the fall, you can cut off the entire plant 3-6 inches above the ground.



So, what do you do with Tarragon once you have picked it?

Tarragon, like most herbs, is best if enjoyed fresh, but may be frozen or dried. It is also "pickled". Tarragon makes a wonderful addition to any sweet or sweet and sour pickles, and Tarragon Vinegar is an essential ingredient if you want to be a true French Chef. On an interesting side note, Tarragon Vinegar is a vital ingredient to good Dijon mustard.




Tarragon contains the same essential oil found in Anise, which gives it its' flavor and aroma. This oil is almost all lost when the plant is dried. Dried Tarragon, therefore does not taste like fresh Tarragon, and should not be substituted, but dried Tarragon is a very nice,sweet herb that goes well with fish or chicken. Don't let anyone tell you that it will lose its' flavor if you dry it, it will just change its' flavor.



If you are feeling really adventurous, In Russia and the surrounding areas they have a soft drink that is made out of Tarragon. (I wonder, do they use the Russian Variety, or the more flavorful French Variety?) The bright green drink is called Tarhun, which simply means Tarragon in Russian.



But for those of us who don't get that way very often, I wanted to find some more practical uses for Tarragon.

Years ago, when I was in my 20's I worked in a restaurant. This job was my first exposure to a lot of different foods. One such food was halibut.

When we cooked halibut, we would brush the frozen steaks with melted butter, then, while the butter was still liquid, before the cold made it hard, we would sprinkle on chicken base powder, and dried tarragon. Within a minute or so, the butter would harden. Then we would put them in a pan, cover them with lemon slices, cover the pan with foil and bake them.

I was always surprised at how the chicken base, the butter, the lemon and the tarragon combined to make the halibut taste just right.

So, this is a multi tasking tarragon idea. You can follow the instructions above for halibut or any other fish, or you can combine:
2 sticks melted butter,
1 t. chicken base,
1 T. dried tarragon
1 T. lemon juice

into a sauce that is good on fish, chicken and just about anything else you want to use it on.

I have been known to brush it on bread and toast it on the grill. Yum!

I had heard that Tarragon made excellent pickles, so I went looking for recipes. When I found this one, I was amazed at the simplicity. It was one of those "DUH!" moments, when I thought... "Why didn't I think of that?"

Tarragon Pickles
(I haven't tried them yet, but I intend to do so real soon. They are supposed to taste similar to a bread and butter pickle.

Ingredients
1 gallon jar dill pickles
3 cups Tarragon vinegar
3 cups sugar
Drain pickles and cut each into spears. Make the spears whatever size you like. Mix sugar and vinegar in small bowl until sugar is dissolved. Pour into pickle jar with the cut pickles and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. If you get a particularly sour batch of dill pickles and find the finished product isn't quite sweet enough, just add another half cup of sugar and give them a good shake!


And how do you get Tarragon Vinegar you ask? Well, I'm glad you asked that question.

Tarragon Vinegar

Start with

2 cups of French tarragon leaves, fresh and loosely packed
2 cups vinegar
Additional sprig tarragon for decoration

I'm told that you can use either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Both are good, but each has a distinctly different taste. I personally have only ever used white vinegar when I made herbed vinegar, but this is something to explore and experiment with in the future.

Bruise the tarragon leaves lightly to release the flavour.
Pack the leaves into a glass container.
heat the vinegar slightly, (not boiling) Pour the vinegar over the leaves in the container. (Make sure that all the leaves are completely submerged so they won't mold.)
Cover the container and leave in a dark cool place for 2—3 weeks. This will draw out the flavor of the tarragon into the vinegar.
Pour the strained vinegar into bottles. Add the sprig of Tarragon (one for each bottle) before pouring in the vinegar.
Screw on the lid. Label and date.

As always, the recipes I post are simply to get your mind working. I love to hear how everyone else uses herbs.

For a quick culinary summary, Tarragon is good with fish, pork, beef, poultry, game, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and most mainstream vegetables. It also goes well with lemons and oranges. It can be used in cream sauces, herbed butters and vinegars, soups, sour creams, and yogurt.

And finally, give this recipe a try:



Chicken Salad with Tarragon

Ingredients
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken meat*
1/4 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1-2 teaspoons dried tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste

Simply mix all the ingredients together and add salt and pepper to taste. This can be served over lettuce for a quick and simple salad, inside a hollowed out tomato, or on bread for a chicken salad sandwich.



Medicinally, besides treating dragon bites, Tarragon has been used, at times, as a digestive aid, a mild sedative, and as a heart disease prevention aid, to promote menstruation, fight fatigue and calm the nerves.

Tarragon also promotes the production of bile by the liver, which aids in digestion and helps to speed the process of eliminating toxic waste in the body. Tarragon tea can be made to aid in this process. While tarragon stimulates the digestion, it is reputed to be a mild sedative and Tarragon tea has been taken to aid sleep

The leaves and roots have a mild numbing affect in the mouth, when chewed, and it has been chewed to treat toothache or a mild sore throat.

At Tarragon Central , I learned, among other things, that Tarragon is a recognized herbal treatment for the following conditions and symptoms:

Insomnia
Toothache
Upset stomach
Loss of appetite
Intestinal Worms
Hyperactivity
Anti-Bacterial properties for cuts
Depression

Tarragon Central gives the following instructions:

Tea for calming benefits: To prepare tarragon tea, take one cup boiling water and pour over one tablespoon tarragon and let stand for ten minutes, and drink. It is recommended to drink at least one cup of tarragon tea per day.
Tea for Parasites:Tarragon tea has been used in helping to remove parasites, take one quart of boiling water and one ounce of tarragon leaves, pour water over leaves and let stand for ten minutes, strain and drink two cups in the morning and refrigerate the remaining. It is recommended to drink at least four cups per day, once in the morning and in the evening.
Tea for insomnia, hyperactivity, depression, or nervous exhaustion. (or anything "jittery") 1 ½ tsp cut dried herb in 1 ¾ cups boiled water, steep 40 minutes, drink warm
Tea to aid Digestion: For digestion steep a handful of dried leaves in a jar with apple cider vinegar, stand 7 hours, strain and seal. Take 1 tbsp before each meal.

Or, to use Tarragon to treat the following maladies they offer these suggestions:

Hiccups: Chew a leaf to stop hiccups.

External use: inhalation: dried leaves in 2 to 3 cups of boiling water; inhale vapors for headache, depression, or insomnia.

Topical application: Apply crushed leaves to small cuts to help fight bacteria before washing and bandaging.

Toothache: try chewing a couple of fresh or dried leaves until it is a paste and hold with tongue against sore tooth or area for oral pain (adults only). It will numb the bothersome area.



Aside from the old European belief that Tarragon would repel dragons and could cure snakebite if eaten, or rubbed on the bite, Tarragon does not play a major role in herbs of folklore.

In magic, Tarragon is used as a banishing herb. Burn an incense made of dried tarragon, while you write the name of the person or thing you wish to banish on a piece of white paper. Then, burn the paper allowing the smoke to combine with that of the incense.

In Kitchen Magic, Tarragon is added to dishes to make a guest feel welcome and at ease.

A charm bag may include Tarragon, to inspire compassion, love, peace and nurturing or to bring the wearer good luck.

Personally, I will continue to grow Tarragon, and hope that my home remains free of dragons.