Put ‘Cardinal’ Basil on Your Planting List

Put ‘Cardinal’ Basil on Your Planting List

By Maryann Readal, Secretary, Board of Directors, The Herb Society of America

Cardinal basil (3)It seems almost sacrilegious to be talking about spring already, but that is exactly what gardeners do—they plan for the season ahead.

As I survey my East Texas garden each morning, I make notes on what has done well and what has been a disappointment.  Cardinal basil, Ocimum basilicum ‘Cardinal’, is one of the plants that has definitely made next year’s list.   While the Genovese, African, lemon and holy basils have already gone to seed and are beginning to fade, the Cardinal basil is still going strong.  The attractive celosia-like magenta flowers and burgundy stems are beginning to put on a show in the garden.  The flowers just keep getting bigger as each day passes.  And this basil is generously endowed with scent. Just brushing by it releases a wonderful aroma that makes you hungry for pesto.

Cardinal basil (1)Cardinal basil is also a culinary basil, although I have to admit that I have not tried it yet. Others report that it has the same basil flavor with a slight anise, pungent flavor. The young flowers make a colorful addition to salads or vegetable dishes.

This is one basil that you may not be able to find in a nursery, however.  But you can grow your own plants from seed as the seeds germinate easily and transplant well into the garden.  Cardinal basil grows well in Zones 4 to 10.  Like all basils, it thrives in the sun and prefers warm soil, so wait until your soil is warm enough and the temperature is consistently above 50o F to transplant it into the garden.  This basil prefers a weakly acidic to neutral soil. It forms a shrubby, well-branched plant and will reach a height of 18 inches to 2 feet.

Cardinal basil (2)

And did I mention that Cardinal basil also makes a great landscape plant?  It’s lush, shiny green leaves make a great filler in the garden border. The glossy leaves are disease- and pest-free and look great in the garden.  The flowers and the stems look and smell great in bouquets as well.

Cardinal basil is an Herb Society of America Promising Plant for 2018. This HSA program features selected herbs that are either newly introduced or are plants that are currently under used in gardens today.

This basil will definitely be a keeper in my garden in the years to come.

Seeds are available from Park Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Parsley: More than Just Food

Parsley: More than Just Food

parsley in jarBy Jen Lenharth, NorthEast Seacoast Unit, Herb Society of America

Ancient Greeks thought it signaled death. Ancient Romans kept it from their women and babies out of fear of fits. And the Old English believed it could make you unlucky in love. Oh, how wrong they were!

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), we now know, is one of those ‘super-­‐foods’ and has many culinary, medicinal, cosmetic and decorative applications.

While parsley is a biennial, it is grown as an annual in our New Hampshire climate. Most people purchase young plants in the spring because it can be difficult to propagate from seed. Parsley does well in containers (which allows it to be brought inside when fall arrives), and makes a great companion plant or garden edge.

ParsleyThe two common types of parsley are curly and Italian flat leaf. While the curly leaf is decorative, the Italian flat leaf is generally preferred for culinary purposes because of its more pronounced flavor. Well known in the kitchen, parsley is terrific fresh for eating and brightens flavor in meats, vegetables, breads, soups and even beverages. It is best to add parsley towards the end of cooking so it retains full flavor.

Parsley is a source of vitamin K, which helps in bone and brain health; vitamin A which helps maintain eye health; and folate which helps the body maintain overall health. Research into the value of flavonoids, particularly the apigenin found in parsley, suggests they are useful in preventing cancer recurrence, including colon and prostate cancers.

Eating parsley can help build healthy skin from the inside, but it is also valuable in skin care products. Consider a homemade witch hazel skin toner or use parsley tea pouches to relieve under eye circles.

Parsley-Witch Hazel Skin Toner:

Add ½ cup of chopped parsley to ¾ cup of boiling water and let steep at least two hours. Filter out the parsley and reserve the water. Add ¼ cup of witch hazel to the water and transfer to a sealable bottle. Store in the fridge and apply with a cotton pad to clean skin as a toner.

Datil Pepper Presents Complex Heat

Datil Pepper Presents Complex Heat

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Datil peppersI’m a whiner when it comes to hot peppers. I try to wish away my pain and continue to torture my taste buds. This week, while visiting St. Augustine, Florida, I tried again. I sampled the Datil Pepper, an herb nearly exclusive to the northeastern Florida city. As hot as habaneros (Scoville 100,000 – 300,000), these little orange-yellow horns are unique because they’re a bit sweet and fruity.

I wanted to know what sweet and fruity meant, so I tried Datil B. Good 2nd degree burn sauce. It was fruity and sweet up front, but the burn certainly followed. With a low-level of datil in the recipe, I was safe.

20171002_092927Datil peppers only grow commercially, according to my sources, in St. Augustine, Florida, in the United States. They seem to love the combination of soil and climate in this 450-year-old historic city. And, those who’ve tried to propagate the plants elsewhere get short plants with few peppers, says Sherry Stoppelbein, owner of Hot Shot Bakery & Café and maker of Datil-B-Good condiments. Sherry, who is known affectionately as the Duchess of Datil says her pepper plants grow up to five feet tall and might produce as many as two bushels per plant.

All those peppers become various products in Sherry’s commercial kitchen. The most popular is the ketchup-like sauce in four levels of heat – 2nd degree burn, 3rd degree, 4th and 5th. She also uses datils in BBQ sauce, salsa, mustard, jam and pickles.

Around the corner from Hot Shot, The Spice & Tea Exchange sells straight datil powder as well as myriad seasoning blends that include a pinch of punch. The pepper powder is good in chili, chowder, hot wing sauce and more.20171002_084343


Tracking the datil backwards is a bit of a mystery. Some suggest that it came from China, hence it is considered a variety in the botanical species Capsicum chinense. Still others suggest it came from Spain or Africa. But, the most likely origin, says Chef Sherry is South America – Peru or Chile.

To get your own supply of datil or datil products find Sherry at Datil B. Good  or visit The Spice and Tea Exchange. Uncertain where to start, try Spice and Tea Exchange’s hot cocoa mix with datil.

As for me, I couldn’t bring myself to try one of Sherry’s chocolate-covered datil peppers. Maybe next time.20171002_092937

Herb Update: Chocolate is Now Pink

Herb Update: Chocolate is Now Pink

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

ruby_chocolate_official_image_01Chocolate is part of the herb world. Or so I’ve decided after doing a little reading and research. In fact,

Herb Society of America’s own education coordinator Karen Kennedy says,

“I’m sure it depends on who you talk to.  It seems to me that chocolate itself is not because it is a product made from several different ingredients. Cacao, from the tree Theobroma cacaofits our definition of an herb.  Cacao, derived from this tree has both flavoring and medicinal properties, including as a stimulant, diuretic, lowers blood pressure, etc. Cocoa butter is used for damaged and sore skin.  If you look up this tree and perhaps the ethnobotany of it, you will find both historical and modern day uses.  Chocolate is both a flavor and a food, so in a sense–it is an herb!”

Her answer is enough for me.

And just when I thought I knew a lot about this herb, along comes a brand new type of chocolate. Move over dark, milk and white. Make room for ruby chocolate, just introduced by international chocolate-maker Barry Callebaut. The company describes the chocolate as “an intense sensorial delight. A tension between berry-fruitiness and luscious smoothness.”

ruby_chocolate_with_cocoa-1-e1505903828685.jpgTurns out ruby chocolate is made from the ruby cocoa bean and gets its color and flavor from it. No berry flavor or color is added.  The beans come from different places in the world and the chocolate company has created an innovative process to capitalize on its unique properties.

Introduced to the world on September 5, 2017, ruby chocolate is purported to have different flavor profiles from its siblings, something I’m longing to test. I’m continuing to watch for more information as it becomes available.



Heirloom Update: Ground Cherry

Heirloom Update: Ground Cherry

by Susan Liechty, Member and Former President of The Herb Society of America

IMG_1637 (2)The ground cherry –often called Cape gooseberry, husk tomato or poha berry – is gaining ground with heirloom lovers.  My husband grew up in Indiana eating ground cherry pies and preserves made by his mom.  She had them in the garden every year. Today they are showing up at local farm markets as heirlooms become popular. That is good news.  Bringing back heirlooms is important to our botanical future.

The official name is Physalis pruinosa and it is part of the nightshade family that includes tomatoes and peppers.  The fruits are small, yellow balls hiding in a paper husk, similar to tomatillos.  The “berries” start green and turn yellow when ripe. As they ripen they fall from the plant, still in the husk.

A single plant can produce up to 300 fruits.  Four to six plants can easily supply an average family of four. They self-seed easily so keep in mind that you will probably have them in the garden for years to come.

IMG_2385My advice to anyone tasting a new fruit for the first time is to eat it plain with no sugar or additions so you know what the flavor is. The green fruit will definitely be tart and taste a bit like a green tomato.  The yellow ripened fruit has been described as a combo of orange and strawberry, or pineapple and vanilla. An advantage of the flavor confusion is it works well as a savory or sweet addition in your kitchen.  You can use the fruit in muffins, quick bread, salsa, added to your fruit salad, or made into jams, preserves, and pies.  Enjoy as they are low in calories, low fat, no cholesterol, high in Vitamins A and C, and are a good source of niacin.

There are wild and cultivated varieties available today. The varieties of wild ones are Physalis heterophylla or P. subglabrata.  The wild versions have smaller pea sized fruit while the cultivated ones are larger, about the size of a grape.  Aunt Molly, an heirloom variety from Poland, has been mentioned in catalogs and books since 1837.  This variety has a high pectin content and tastes like pineapple/vanilla.  This is a great one to try as your first variety.

The plant can be one to three feet tall and can spread.  It likes full sun and warm temperatures.  So don’t get too ambitious and plant outside too early.  Wait until the end of May to plant when frost has gone and the soil is warming up.  You can pick the fruit beginning in August and continue up to the end of September (zone 5 -6).  It will not completely die back until a hard frost hits.

Disease is not much of an issue with ground cherries.  As they are a relative of the tomatillos, they can be bothered by flea beetles or whitefly, but usually not enough to bother the harvest. Wait to eat once they have fallen to the ground and turn a lovely golden color. You can leave the fruits out to ripen even more for a few days; they only become sweeter.

 Warning:  leaves, stems and unripe fruit can be toxic if you eat too many. 

After you purchase your first package of seeds, you should be set.  Some sources are Johnny’s Seeds – http://www.johnnyseeds.com, rareseeds.com (Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds), territorialseeds.com, and seedsavers.org.  A few varieties to try and easy to find are Aunt Molly’s, Goldie, and Cossack Pineapple.  Bon Appétit.

What is a hydrosol? And how do I use it?

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

HydrosolLavenderI have a serious collection of essential oils, but only recently learned of hydrosols – a versatile byproduct of distilling herb material into essential oil. My first purchase was a lavender hydrosol. I’ve spritzed on my pillow before bed to promote sleep and misted it over the carpet in the RV for a fresh smell.

As I learn more about hydrosols and their uses, I want more for cosmetic and aromatherapy uses. Recently, Christine Rice Product Manager and Certified Aromatherapist at Mountain Rose Herbs shared some of her wisdom about this versatile, natural ingredient.

What is a hydrosol?

Hydrosols or “flower waters” are the water portion of a distillation. They are made in the same way as essential oils, by passing steam through plant material. However, they are much less concentrated, composed mostly of water-soluble components. Because of that they are softer in aroma.

Q. What do you do with them?

Hydrosols make a great ingredient in place of water in cosmetic/body care recipes and other uses around the house, like cleaning formulas or room sprays. They offer skin care benefits and uplifting aromatherapy properties. They can be used as single-ingredient perfumes, deodorants, facial toners, air fresheners, and aromatherapy sprays. Or use as a replacement for water in your favorite body care, perfume, or green-cleaning recipe.

HydrosolRoseQ. Are they popular?

Hydrosols have grown in popularity over the last few years. Hydrosols are not as strong as essential oils, so they do not have as many safety concerns. Depending on intention, they can be used in similar ways to essential oil counterparts. They can also be used as a single ingredient without diluting. For example, rose hydrosol makes a wonderful facial toner with no additional ingredients.

Q. I’ve purchased lavender hydrosol. From what other herbs are hydrosols made?

All sorts of aromatic botanicals can be distilled. With that said, most hydrosols on the market are made from plants that have essential oils in them as well. Among the organic hydrosols sold by Mountain Rose Herbs are Rose, White Rose, Peppermint, Chamomile, Douglas Fir and more.

Q. What do they cost compared to essential oil?

Hydrosols are cost effective when compared to an essential oil. There is a lot more hydrosol produced during a distillation compared to essential oil.

Q. How long does a hydrosol remain potent?

I would recommend purchasing enough hydrosol to last you a year. They should last for 1 to 1 ½ years with proper storage.

Q. How do you store them?

Hydrosols should be stored in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Depending on how quickly you use them they can be stored in plastic or glass. Some people recommend storing in the refrigerator, but I find that a dark cupboard works just as well.

Make Your Own Gin, Aquavit & More

Make Your Own Gin, Aquavit & More

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

lordstarling_infusion_ginIf you’ve been reading the HSA blog lately, you see my fascination with herbs and alcohol.  After all, herbs flavor so many liquors and liqueurs – absinthe, chartreuse, gin, Jägermeister, crème de menthe, crème de Violette and so on. And, today’s mixologists are relying double on herbs when they use plant material in cocktails.

Given that fascination, imagine my delight when I stumbled upon Lord Starling Botanical Infusions during a recent trip to Pittsburgh. The State College, Pa, company sells make-your-own kits for gin, aquavit and more. They’ve done the research, all you do is add vodka (or other liquor) and wait for herbal magic.

“We’ve always loved playing with our food, cooking from scratch, eating local food, sourcing local ingredients,” says Aaron Spak, a research engineer at Penn State.  His “we” includes wife Mary and brother David.

So, the trio asked themselves how to translate today’s foodie sensibilities to cocktail hour. “We started experimenting at home with herbs and different botanicals from our garden,” he says. “We realized we were on to something and wanted to provide this experience to others. People want to be more engaged in what they’re eating and, now, in what they’re drinking.”


For the gin, Spak says, “We experimented over a couple of weeks. We wanted something you could make quickly. We tried botanical combinations. Then, we set up the infusion, poured vodka in and tasted daily for a week. We noticed a tremendous change in the flavor profile over time. Three days gave the product its best balance. It could get bitter if you let it go too long.”

After deconstructing and reconstructing the basics of a good gin, Spak and family bottled the botanicals. Next up was the hard-to-find aquavit, celebratory Scandinavian liqueur made with herbs and dominated by caraway.

Once creativity was unleashed, the Spaks couldn’t stop. “We started playing with other flavor combinations like ginger-peach-habanero and blueberry-vanilla.” The latter is sold as Blue and White, a nod to Penn State colors.

lordstarling_infusion_blue_and_whiteCurrent research includes hibiscus-lavender and coffee-cocoa. “We feel it is important to keep coming up with different ideas,” says Spak.

Consumers can determine the price, quality and proof, based on the liquor brands and alcohol percentage they choose. Spak says it’s unnecessary to get too pricey as the botanicals create the flavor profile. (Note: Alcohol sold separately.)

Watch for product sales to move throughout the region and beyond. Until then, order kits at www.lordstarling.com or purchase at Una Biologicals, 4322 Butler Street, Pittsburgh.