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. 

Easy Edible Landscaping

Why everyone doesn’t have an edible garden, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because they have husbands, similar to mine, who feel vegetables belong in the vegetable garden, herbs belong in the herb garden, fruit trees lined up in neat rows, orchard style out back, and well, you get the point. Everything has its place. Much like his tools (a lesson my son is still trying to master).

However, I’m the creative type who likes to think outside the box. Okay, “like” is a relative term here. I think outside of the box, period. “Box?” my brain asks. “What box? I don’t see any box around my head.”

You get the point. I’m odd that way, but that oddity tends to lend itself to GREAT ideas. Awesome! Like my homemade herb sachet for the dryer, and my wonderfully tasty rosemary lemonade. Basil lemon ice chips, anyone? Oven-sundried tomatoes? Why not? There are a ton of creative things you can do with your vegetables and one of my favorites is edible landscaping. I mean, why banish the vegetables to a faraway garden where you have to trot off to collect every meal? Why not place it right outside your door? We are a convenience-oriented society these days. Makes sense to keep your herbs and veggies close.

Besides, vegetable plants are simply beautiful. Take this gorgeous cabbage. It looks more like a flower than a head of chow.

Red cabbage

And I don’t know about you, but grazing a bushy basil or rosemary plant garnering a whiff of scent in the process is sheer decadence.

rosemary hedge

Below your rosemary hedge, lettuce would make a lovely addition.

Tami's gorgeous lettuce

What about corn? These fellas grow to be six-foot tall? Why not plant them for a summer hedge around your backyard? You’re going to be spending more time outdoors, anyway. Makes sense to add a bit of privacy. Me? I live in Florida which means I can grow these beauties fall AND spring.

Cody the garden dog

Now that you’ve got the hang of it, maybe a lovely squash border near your corn?

school squash and corn

The two are wonderfully friendly, as in companion planting perfection. Really, when you get down to it, there are all kinds of options for edible landscaping. From year-round herbs to seasonal fruits and vegetables, your plants can provide dual benefits.

However, if you decide to incorporate an edible garden into your landscape, be sure you’re not the only one who knows about your new endeavor. If you are, you may emerge from your home with the same great disappointment as I did one sunny afternoon. My husband sprayed my bright tender greens with insecticide. Seems he thought the little gems were weeds and not a salad garden in the making. But it’s not his fault. I didn’t label the area as “edible landscape” in progress, nor did I advise him to stay clear: organic only. Lesson learned.

Come fall, I’m looking forward to a fresh try at edible landscaping. Why not try it for yourself? No lawn? No worries! Move those silly flowers from their boxes and replace them with bean blossoms!

beautiful pole bean blossom

Works for me. 🙂

Inspectors in the Garden

Well, you knew it would happen.  Yes, our plants have come under attack.  By what, you ask?

Not sure.  But these kids are on the hunt.  Folded within the leaves of the beans are bugs, the kind with numerous legs and countless more eggs.  As you can see, once fully grown, these little fellas can do some damage!


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?

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?

Options for Edible Borders

Mandy’s garden is really beginning to take shape.  The front planter is brimming with rosemary, cabbage and bok choy among others while her rosemary transplants are surviving.  (Sometimes, that’s all we can ask!)  She’s been busy adding herbs to her walkway as well, tucking them in between the Vs of each paver–which stopped me in my merry photo shoot tracks. 

AGH–you put them where?  I stared at them in alarm, then I turned to face her.  Bright-eyed and proud, she stood awaiting my reply.  How was I going to break this gently?  I mean, disappointing enthusiastic gardeners was not on the top of my list of things to do.  But she had to be told. 

“Um, Mandy…these oregano are going to spread quite wide and far and–”

“Oh, I know!” she chirped (she’s very happy that way).  “But those radish will clear out pretty quickly so I’m planning on having the oregano fill in the space.”

I smiled.  Well I do like a knowledgable garden gal!  She’d already planned for near catastrophe–or more specifically–how to avoid it.  “Perfect,” I replied and resumed the business of snapping pictures.

Not only does she have oregano in place, but parsley, thyme, chives, basil–the works!  And while some of these will grow to be a tad crowded, it’s nothing she can’t manage with a little clipping.  Besides, this woman plans to USE these herbs, not just gaze at them in admiration!

But we did notice a wee bit of a bug problem with the cabbage.  Seems someone is chewing holes in her leaves.  Solution?

Follow your nose!  And the stinkier the better when it comes to organic pest control.  By that I mean garlic, coffee, compost, manure, mint…really depends on what beast you’re after for which method you choose.  Check the Garden Elements section of my website for full details, but with some experimenting on Mandy’s part, I’m sure she’ll find just the right concoction to rid her garden of pests.  Let’s hope for some windy days ahead, too.  Will help minimize the front porch stench.

No worries!  We’d rather be temporarily inconvenienced by the all-natural aromas than permanently poisoned by toxic alternatives. 🙂


All Around Update

As you may have noticed, my website was down for some time last week–technical glitch–but has since been repaired.  However, my gorgeous design didn’t fare as well; something I hope to remedy soon. 🙂  In the meantime, we’ll work with what we have and catch up on what we missed!

First off, Mandy’s edible landscape is coming right along and promises to provide us with the perfect example of companion planting at its best.  In the raised planter she has rosemary and cabbage–real snuggle bugs in the garden.  Down below she planted carrots, beets and radish (the larger ones)–all BFF!  Why?  Refer to previous garden coaching post for full details but know that as they grow, they’ll not only prove to be a help to one another, but they’ll also fill in for a lovely layered landscape–great for curb appeal. 

 Moving to the school garden, we see the kids have been busy too.  As part of a move to make better use of our yard space we’re moving the garden to a sunny section located just around the corner from our current spot.  Tucked away in a back corner of the school sports field, it will turn an empty space into a productive space.  And isn’t that what we’re all about?  Productivity?

Of course!  Speaking of productive, the kindergarteners learned a valuable lesson in seed saving.  As organic gardeners, we like to be self-sustaining–a really big word for the little ones to comprehend, but the concept is simple.  We grow beans, we eat beans but we save some beans for next season!  Kids understand independence and that’s the kind of gardeners we are (a.k.a. self-sustaining)!

We used the seed packets made from the templates found in the Kid Buzz section of this website.  So easy, a child can make them on their own!  (I know, because I had my two demonstrate this fact. :))

So this season when your labors turn to fruit–save those seeds for next season!  Around these parts that means spring.

Mandy’s Companions in the Garden

Companion planting is a key to organic gardening. It helps reduce the need for pesticides, weeding and even fertilizing!  How so?  Well take corn and beans–neither of which Mandy is planting at the moment, but it makes for a great case in point. 

Beans fix nitrogen into the soil, while corn uses lots of nitrogen!  It’s a heavy feeder you know.  So you could plant beans and corn next to one another.  Add a line of squash around their base and voila!  You have weed protection.  The wide leaves of the squash will shade the ground thereby reducing the ability of weeds to grow!  In fact, this is a technique used by Native American Indians years before the invention of fertilizer sprays and such.

In Mandy’s case, she’s planting cabbage and rosemary together, carrots and beets in the row just below them.  Rosemary makes a wonderful companion for cabbage and carrots because it repels cabbage moths and carrot flies.  Carrots and beets are great friends too, so lining them in the same bed makes perfect sense.  I mingle beets with my garlic as the garlic helps to improve the flavor of the beets.  And beets could use a little help in this department if you know what I mean.

The only words of advice in companion planting are the obvious:  make sure they are indeed companions and second:  each plant has enough room to grow and mature without being overtaken by its pal.  Otherwise, the friendship may suffer. 🙂  You see, these red cabbage may have been planted too close to the struggling rosemary transplants, but only time will tell.  Stay-tuned and happy gardening!


Successful Rosemary Rooting

Seems to be a rosemary week.  While I clipped and dried and roasted my rosemary, Mandy is having different issues.  Remember her gorgeous line of rosemary out front?  Yes, well, some of them aren’t faring so well.

I know.  It’s tragic.  But the good news?  Those that she started from rootings are doing fabulous!  Yes!  Isn’t that great?  And she’s willing to share her secret mix with us.  Hers and her local seed and feed experts, that is. 

But sometimes it takes a village, know what I mean

First she secured some pots.  Then she cut a few fine specimens from her healthy rosemary plants and shaved off their bottom leaves.  Next she dipped them in rootone and then set them in her magic mix of vermiculite, peat moss and organic soil conditioner. 

This mixture will help keep her new babies nice and moist–but not too moist!  Remember, rosemary likes it a bit drier than most.  Overwhelming them with water is never a good thing, even as young transplants.

Don’t they just look happy?  On another note, her backyard compost is doing well.  Inky black and veritably odorless.


Unlike this specimen.  UGH.  Yes, it smells as bad as it looks, trust me.  I mean, it’s food left to rot in a plastic bin–how could it not be gross?  But it will work wonders in her soil!

Once it’s been decomposed by a host of unmentionables, anyway.  Think:  icky crawling wonderful “eaters of rotten food.”  But this is nature we’re dealing with and we must maintain the proper attitude about these sorts of things.  And just think of the vegetables she’ll be able to produce with this mess!  Makes you wanna say yum.