herbs

Herbs and Your Health

Ever suspect you might have bad breath, and not an ounce of mouthwash on hand (but don’t dare lean to your lunch date and ask)?  And speaking of bad breath, how’s your sinus?  A bit stuffy today?  Not to worry — simply munch that sprig of parsley on your plate, dab a pinch of chili pepper on your tongue and problem solved.   It’s the natural solution.   Parsley freshens breath while the capsaicin in the pepper clears the mucus–voila!

And let’s say that handsome waiter bumps your arm with the oven-hot skillet dish you ordered (an accident, though you couldn’t be mad at him, if you tried!). The incident left a mild red burn.  Sure, mild is a relative term, but if you’ll pluck a branch of aloe from the attractive plant in the nearby window, then squeeze some of its gooey gel over the burn, the healing will be almost immediate.  Disregard the “stink” factor — we’re concerned with saving skin here, not sensibilities.

Basil is a wonderful digestive aid. Calms the belly while you’re woofing down that glorious gooey piece of pizza. And if your sweetheart takes you out for a night of sushi come Valentine’s Day and your stomach disagrees, nibble a bit of the pretty ginger on your plate.  It also helps ease nausea, though my preferred remedy is Coke.  Much like chicken soup eases the symptoms of a cold — and I couldn’t tell you why —  this soda cures a tummy ache like nobody’s business!

Need a wakeup call? Ask rosemary to do the honors. This herb gives you the mental boost you need for any task — and smells divine. Another reason to include rosemary in your garden? Cooking foods at high temperatures creates HCAs (heterocyclic amines), potent carcinogens believed to contribute to cancer. Rosemary contains carnosol and rosemarinic acid, two powerful antioxidants that destroy the HCAs. Rosemary Chicken, anyone?

Other notables include St. John’s wort to ease stress. Cinnamon can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Have arthritis? Try a dash of turmeric.

This list is but a few, but I think you get the idea. Your garden is like nature’s pharmacy so keep growing and keep healthy!  I knew this gardening thing was a good idea. 

THE Herb for Your Workout!

After a stroll through my herb garden this morning, I clipped some lovely herbs; lemon verbena and oregano. I love herbs. Not only as food and additives, but for their many medicinal effects.

lemon-verbena-and-thyme

Lemon verbena tea has long been used to calm the nerves and lessen anxiety. But did you know that it can be the perfect exercise supplement?

Research has shown that the high antioxidant potential in lemon verbena decreases damage done to the muscles during the workout, without inhibiting the body’s development of additional muscle mass and increased stamina. So next time you reach for a pre-workout drink, choose lemon verbena tea. Plus, its specific mix of compounds can reduce your hunger cravings and increase your body’s fat-burning ability, helping you lose those unwanted pounds you’re trying to work off!

lemon-verbena

And if that wasn’t enough, lemon verbena works to reduce inflammation that can wreak havoc on our joints and mobility. As we age—or get injured—it can be difficult to fully heal because our joints are in constant motion. Using lemon verbena has been shown to reduce joint pain and aching, resulting in a reduced recovery times for joint-related injuries.

thyme

I also clipped some oregano. Not your everyday variety, but this is Mexican oregano which imparts a more earthy, grassy, citrusy flavor. This herb is actually a member of the verbena family and is a wonderful addition for chili, meatballs and tomato sauces.

Bloggers in Bloom!

Taking part this year in the Authors in Bloom Blog Hop where you’ll find ten days of gardening tips, recipes and giveaways! Decided the more the merrier and why not? Gardening is merry and fun. 🙂

authors in bloom

Better yet, creating scrumptuous dishes with our produce makes it all the better. For new gardeners, herbs are a great way to begin the adventure and lend themselves to all types of recipes. A simple way to use herbs are by making pastes and freezing them. Not only will you lock in the flavor, but you’ll make it easy to enjoy the fresh taste of herbs all year round.

For a simple basil paste, I use about 4 cups of basil (or 4 oz. stemmed) and approx. 1/4 cup olive oil. Place the leaves in a food processor and drizzle with olive oil. I pulse to begin and then hit a steady high if need be. Transfer paste to freezer-safe bags, flatten to remove all air and place in freeze. That’s it! Fresh herb paste ready to use when you’re ready.

basil paste

Variations include oregano and parsley. Use other herbs that don’t keep their same bright flavor when dried such as the mints, lemon basil, lemon balm or lemon verbena, and use cold-pressed nut or seed oils. Be sure to label the containers. More

Think “OUTside” the Garden

With so many things to do in the garden, it’s a wonder you can plan for tomorrow, let alone next week or month—but you should try.  The payoff will be well worth it.  From fastidious pruning for an increase in yield, to prepping for vegetable storage when your harvest comes in, you’ll want to be ready for the abundance of joy you’re going to reap!

What should you be thinking about when it comes to crafting this marvelous plan?  Why, your kids for one!  Are they weeding?  Digging?  Bug dispatching?  Wonderful!  Reward them with some “down-time” in the garden, as in “no chores.”  You do want them to come back, don’t you?

teacher's gift

We’ve all heard about creating the classic corn husk dolls, but have you considered using those same husks to make mini baskets?  Basket weaving is an excellent exercise for little fingers to practice dexterity—beats the DS hands down—as well as producing a keepsake for their bedroom, or a share for school.

Growing berries?  Perfect!  How about mixing them with a dash of organic sugar and make your own preserves?  They make great teacher gifts.  Speaking of teachers, how about teaching your children the value of seed saving?  When all these vegetables reach maturity, they’ll be chock-full of seeds.   How about collecting them and storing them in your very own seed packets?  (You can find simple how-to templates in the Kid Buzz section here on the website) More

Where Garden Meets Kitchen

Summer gardening is a challenge in Florida.  Okay, who am I kidding?  Between scorching drought and rising floods, a sprinkler system run amuck and intermittent vacations, I’m not gardening a whole heck of a lot this summer (though I am solarizing a host of underground beasts hiding out in my beds).  Instead, I’m creating delicacies in the kitchen with my spring produce.  Yes!  Doesn’t that sound marvelous?

Now that the sun is shining and my spirits have recovered from a rainy beach vacation, I’m turning my attention to crafty ways to use my herbs–those that survived the downpour post-drought, that is.  Yep.  You guessed it.  We’re talking rosemary, the feisty old gal.  Hard to kill this beauty (another point in the “I love you” column!) which is why I have two of these babes.  They grow like weeds with or without my help, so this week when the kids and I cut them back, we decided to pack them with butter and lemon juice.

I saw this in a magazine once, where they mixed fresh herbs and froze them–or did they refrigerate them?  I don’t recall exactly, but what I do remember is how simple a process it seemed and how handy to have these cubes on hand when I need to whip up a fancy dinner for hubby and the kids.  Fresh fish with herb butter anyone?  How about a little rosemary lemon drizzle on that pasta?  Mix it up with olive oil and we’re talking salad dressing galore.

And pre-prepared–the key behind the project.  Because I assure you, if I had to collect fresh herbs, chop them finely and mix with lemon juice and olive oil just to eat a salad?  It wouldn’t happen.  Nope.  Nada.  Never.  I simply don’t have that kind of time OR forethought.  *sigh*  It’s a curse.

Any-hoo, let’s not bother with all that–let’s make it a craft for the kids!  C’mon guys, think of it:  you can pop a rosemary lemon ice-cube into your lemonade any time you want for instant rosemary lemonade!  Yay!  Simply steep your rosemary according to my recipe, grab an ice tray, mix the herb liquid with lemon juice (we used concentrate) and fill your tray.  Freeze them for individual ice cubes that you can pop into a beverage, at your leisure.  Psst…they go great with vodka, too.  Five o’clock, summer style. 🙂

While you have the rosemary out, chop it very fine, mix with softened butter and do the same in a separate ice-cube tray.  Or heck, mix and match in the same tray.  That’s what we did.   I do love a multi-tasker!  No rosemary?  Try basil with butter, chives, even parsley.  Maybe a combination of your favorites?

And while you have your thinking cap on, try freezing a little cilantro and lime juice for an easy addition to homemade salsa, or mango smoothies.  My kids are big on smoothies.  Seems to be the most appealing way for them to eat their fruit.  Me?  I say, whatever works.  Then it hits me.  Why stop there? 

Hey kids, how about making mom a little mango sorbet with your ice cream maker, and throw in a cilantro/lime cube while you’re at it?  Fresh mint and vanilla ice cream?  Mmmm….  Don’t forget the chocolate chips!

The possibilities are endless.  Just be sure to cover your trays with plastic wrap so they don’t absorb any undelightful odors from your freezer.  If you’re only working with butter, the refrigerator will work.  Also, when the butter hardens, individually wrap your squares for easy use. 

Easy-peasy-lemony-squeezy!  Told you I was all sunshine and spirit today…  So rather than cry over the heat and humidity, use what herbs you have now and save some for later.

Interesting Tidbits from the Garden

Did you know that parsley is a natural breath freshener?  Yep.  A couple of chomps on this distinctive green and you’ll feel minty fresh and ready to converse.  So next time you see that little gem on your dinner plate, pluck a few leaves off and plop them in your mouth.  Your table companions will thank you. 🙂

Basil?  This one is just pain delicious with a scent rivaling the rose–IMHO–but guess what?  It’s also good for digestion.  And you probably know that chamomile has calming abilities, but how about lavender?  I don’t know about you, but every time I catch the scent of lavender I’m instantly transformed into a relaxing machine!

But lavender does double-duty.  Not only is it perfect for bath time before bed, this plant is said to repel fleas.  *gee* Does it get any better?  Plant it everywhere–inside, outside, you name it!

Talk about two-timing duties, did you know that cilantro and coriander come from the same plant?  Yes, ma’am!  The first leaves are used as cilantro (think salsa), but if you let it continue to grow and flower, you’ll find yourself with a whole host of coriander seeds.  Awesome.  Just awesome.

One of my all-time favorite herbs is rosemary.  Not only does it make for a great hedge around the house, but this one provides a natural mental boost.  Simply brush your hands through its leaves and inhale.  Ahhh…….  Better yet, it prevents forgetfulness. Woo hoo!  I mean, who doesn’t need that?

And your kids will love this one:  how about growing your own sugar?  Well, in so many words, that is.  Stevia is a plant that produces naturally sweet leaves–leaves you can use to sweeten almost anything.  The kids and I made a lovely cucumber soup sweetened with stevia, and it was delightful.  (They ate it, anyway.)  But how about lemonade?  Pull a few lemons from that tree and juice them up, add a few leaves of stevia and blend.  Voila!  Instant homemade lemonade to die for.  Add a cup of steeped rosemary per gallon of lemonade and now you have yourself a REAL treat.  For this recipe and others, check out my garden blog Bloominthyme!

Caution:  if you love both basil and rosemary, be aware that planting basil near rosemary can KILL your rosemary plant.  Who knew?

Got ants?   No problem.  Plant mint–peppermint, spearmint, plain mint–they’re all good not to mention they make wonderful borders along walkways and flower beds.  Last but not least is my beloved aloe plant.  You may have heard this one is good for burns and you heard right.  Anytime I burn myself slaving away over a hot stove or oven (the things I do for my family), I immediately cut a spiked aloe leaf and rub the gooey salve directly on the fresh wound.  I’ll warn you, it’s stinky (and stains), but doing so will eliminate any scar you may otherwise have suffered.  LOVE it!

So what do you say?  Know of any special herbs or plants in the garden with outstanding qualities that I missed?

How To Harvest Chive Seeds

So my chive plant is ready for harvest and how do I know? 

Passing by them on my way to the cilantro this gorgeous April Florida day, the sunshine high and bright, the breeze a bit brisk, I noticed the flowers had some dark seed-looking things were perched within them.  Now the chive flowers have long since lost their bloom which is a good sign we’re on our way to seed production.  Happens that way with so many of my vegetables, I figured why not?  But with a double-take, I peered at these easily visible babies and thought:  no way.  It can’t be that easy. 

But ever the optimist, I plucked those old buds right off the stem and headed indoors.  Shaking the black dots off the petals, I gathered them into a pile on my desk, right next to my computer screen.  A quick search of the internet should provide me with some photos and sure enough, a few keystrokes later I was grinning.  It absolutely was that easy!!  Small black bean-shaped seeds, it read.  Yep, that’s exactly what I had in my hot little hands!  But they’re actually flat.  At least to my aging eyes it appears that they’re flat. 

Well I marched right back outside to harvest the rest of them!  Excited gardeners are full of energy and exuberance–and we don’t wait for nuthin’!  As I pushed through the screen door–my herb garden is now conveniently located just outside my patio–the wind kicked my hair to and fro, this way and that.  Seems even in April we get “cold fronts” here in Central Florida and mine is howling today.  And don’t you know, one of the instructions noted “it’s best to harvest chive seeds on days with minimal wind.”  Of course it did. (Mother Nature and I have somewhat of a contentious relationship.  She’s contentious and I do my best to smile.  Sugar and flies and honey and bees, you know!) 

Undaunted, I snipped the rest of the dried buds from the plant and plopped them directly into my awaiting Mason jar.  Under the circumstances, I decided it was the only way to ensure minimal loss since I wasn’t working under minimal wind conditions.  It’s a living. 🙂

How’s YOUR Garden Growing?

Mine is growing GREAT.  Take a look-see for yourself? I have carrots. Popping up as we speak!

And you remember my tomatoes, dressed in red and soaking up the rays.

And my sweet onions. As they brown at the tips, the bulbs are rounding, plumping with juicy goodness.

Garlic look almost identical, just not as full right now. They have a way to go. But more than veggies, I have flowers.  Gerber daisies, to be exact!  New mulch, old mulch…you can tell what I’ve been up to this spring. 🙂

And I transplanted Bird of Paradise.  Along with a few zinnias…

My herb garden is in full bloom (those are my Hungarian Wax pepper sprout trays in the background).

Love my herb garden. Steps outside my door it’s the perfect location for cooking use.

When my pepper sprouts are ready, they’ll head out to the garden.  Interestingly enough, some of my trays had tomato sprouts popping in, which meant my organic compost was a bit too young.  Oops!  Excitement can do that to a gal!

 

 

Cocktail Concoctions

Are we still talking gardening?  Oh yes we are—garden style!  And why not?  We drink herbs with our tea, veggies with our dinner, why not in our drinks?

Aromatic and flavorful, herbs and veggies make the perfect accompaniment to happy hour.  Mojitios are the first example that come to mind (probably because the heroine in my current “work-in-progress” loves them).  Made with fresh mint and rum, this drink has gained in recent popularity.  A contemporary step up from the Mint Julep, perhaps?  And of course Bloody Mary’s have been utilizing the celery stick for eons.  Why not throw in a few sprigs of cilantro to the mix?  Give it a sassy salsa kick!

Speaking of sassy twists, how about an adult version of my Rosemary Lemonade?  A little vodka, anyone?  Would make for a lovely summer afternoon treat, if you ask me.  One of my new favorites is cinnamon basil.  Add it to a vodka martini and suddenly you have a unique and fragrant twist!  Olives are SO yesterday.  If you miss the sword, add a cinnamon stick! I’m just sayin’

It seems to be a trend.  One restaurant in NYC combines ruby-red grapefruit juice and Thai basil.  But basil would be perfectly comfortable in and around most summer libations.  It’s light, sweet and richly perfumed.  Now I might be talking crazy here, but what about a little cilantro in that Margarita?  Works for me! 

For delicate taste buds consider cucumber and chamomile.  Maybe a little ginger to help your belly in the process?  And if you’re growing raspberries this summer?  Plop those babies into a glass of champagne.  I think I’m relaxing already….aahh…. 🙂

Speaking of vodka, this is the absolute most flexible alcohol for mixing with your garden.  I mean, you can infuse this crystal clear liquid with most anything creating your own custom-made elixir.  Simply add your freshly washed herb/veggie of choice to unflavored vodka, seal, shake and store.  Ta-da!  Now key here is to allow the concoction to sit for a few days.  Taste as you go until it’s just right.  Hmm…  I’m thinking rosemary and lavender, sweet stevia and blueberry, strawberry—even hot pepper for another round of Bloody Mary’s! (Oops.  Did I miss the first one?)

Anyway, it’s always a good idea to keep our minds open and try new things in this wonderful life of ours.  Don’t want to grow old and stale.  Ewe.  Definitely not.  I thought I’d  toss a few of these ideas out there and let them fly.  What do you think?  Are you game?

Nifty Kitchen Companions for Gardener Extraordinaires

Let’s face it, after the garden chores are done the kitchen chores begin.  It’s a fact of life, right?  I mean, we grew all this food for a reason; to eat it!  But does that mean it has to be difficult?  Time consuming or wasteful?  Not at all–not if you have the right tools.  (According to my husband, every problem in my household stems from lack of the proper tool.)

But he has a point.  We live in a day and age where innovation has gone extreme–attractive and useful–but extreme.  There’s almost nothing that can’t be automated or made easier and I’ve reached the point where I’ve stopped fighting it.  While a greenie-pioneer-woman at heart, I’m no fool.  My life is busy and complicated and if I plan to accomplish half the things I set out to do, I’ll never realize success without a little help from technological advancements.  From refrigerators to freezers, air-tight containers to sure-seal pressure canners, my garden bounty has benefited from the use of gadgets.  My compost pile suffers, but my bounty spoils not!

And some of these tools are downright cute.  Just look at this watermelon slicer/seeder.  Is it the most adorable knife you ever saw or what?  My kids think so.  And it’s one of the few knives long enough to slice the length of our homegrown watermelons.  Then of course there are the herbs to be cut.  We bought a mezzaluna herb knife for ease and safety of chopping, but the darn thing is sharp.  I’m afraid to let my kids anywhere near it!  (Which doesn’t bode well for sharing kitchen duty and thus must not be tolerated.)

How about using your coffee grinder instead? This one from Krups can reduce your fresh herbs and dried spices to a silky fine texture in no time, suitable for any gourmet soup or sauce. 

But these are just a few!  Whether it’s your harvest time now or something you have to look forward, check out this month’s Prize Picks section for more gardener must-haves in the kitchen.