Camellia sinensis – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Camellia_sinensis_Bois_Cheri by Pancrat via Wikipedia CommonsTea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, after water. Countless books have been written about tea, which is the leaf product of this herbal shrub, Camellia sinensis. The history of C. sinensis and its product goes back almost 5,000 years, and it is believed to be one of the oldest plants cultivated by humans. C. sinensis is truly a plant that has been responsible for wars, influenced social customs worldwide, inspired religious practices, and, of course, has lifted many troubled and tired spirits with its medicinal properties. 

Camellia sinensis is an evergreen shrub or small tree that is usually trimmed to about six feet when cultivated for its leaves. It thrives in acidic, rich soil where rainfall is adequate throughout the year, and grows in dappled shade to full sun. It is winter hardy in zones 7-9 when grown as a landscape shrub, but it can also be grown in a pot and moved indoors or grown in a greenhouse where winter temperatures fall below freezing. The fragrant white flowers have  yellow stamens and bloom in the fall to early winter and are attractive to pollinators.

Radiocarbon dating has placed some ancient C. sinensis shrubs growing in regions of China at up to 3,200 years old. Some of these old shrubs have been cut down to make way for growing rubber trees.

The new leaves of Camellia sinensis are harvested for tea. All types of tea come from two C. sinensis varieties: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (Chinese tea) and Camellia sinensis var. assamica (India tea). Six true teas come from C. sinensis: black, white, oolong, green, pu-erh, and a rare yellow tea (all other “teas” are infusions of flowers, herbs, roots, or bark, and are properly called tisanes). The differences in taste, color, and aroma of these teas depend on where they were grown, their variety, and the processing of the leaves. The small white flowers of C. sinensis are edible and are used to brew a sweet, rich drink. China is the number one producer of tea, producing two million tons annually. India, Kenya, and Sri Lanka follow China in tea production in that order. Interestingly, Turkey is the largest consumer of tea per capita.Tea The-shapes-and-tea-soup-color-of-different-types-of-tea

The tea plant contains over 500 compounds that contribute to its flavor and health benefits. Green tea’s first recorded use in ancient China was for medicinal purposes, where it was used as a preventive drink for many health problems. Even today, green tea is used to boost the immune system, and researchers have found it to be an effective ingredient in cosmetic products to block UV rays and to reduce cellulite tissue. Though all teas have medicinal benefits, black tea contains antioxidants and other compounds that are particularly good for heart and gut health. Researchers have found that older C. sinensis shrubs grown at higher elevations have the most medicinal compounds.

The history of tea is a long one. In one popular Chinese legend, Emperor Shen Nung, known as the Father of Chinese medicine, in 2737 BCE was drinking a bowl of hot water when the leaves of the tree he was sitting under dropped into his water. After taking a drink of the water, he observed a nice flavor and felt restored. He encouraged people to cultivate the tea plant. And with that, tea as an important commodity and drink was born.  

Japanese tea ceremonyTea was introduced into Japan and Korea by Buddhist monks in the 6th century, where it became a drink of the religious classes. The tea ceremony, developed by Buddhist monks, became an important social custom. Tea was considered a medicinal drink at that time. Portuguese priests and traders brought tea to the west in the early 16th century. Drinking tea became popular in Britain in the 17th century, and tea became a worldwide industry with huge demand. 

An interesting tea story reveals that the British introduced tea cultivation in India to compete with the Chinese monopoly of tea. As tea consumption grew around the world, the British became the major supplier of the product. Tea had to be paid for in silver bullion, and some British feared damage to their economy as a result of the loss of so much bullion. As a way to generate more bullion, Britain began exporting opium to the Chinese and increased imports fivefold between 1821 and 1837. Seeing the effects of opium on their people, the Qing government banned the import of opium into China. The banning of opium created financial exchange problems for the British and was one of the causes of the First Opium War. It was at this time that the British brought the tea plant to their colony in India and began growing it to fill worldwide demand for the leaves. 

The British Tea Act ignited the American Revolution with the Boston Tea Party when 342 tea chests were dumped into the harbor. Americans switched from drinking tea to drinking coffee and teas made with other plants. But the American’s love of the true tea continued even after the war. Fast American clipper ships began sailing to China to bring home the product. It’s interesting to note that the first three American millionaires—T.H. Perkins of Boston, Stephen Girard of Philadelphia, and Jacob Astor of New York—all made some of their fortune in the tea trade.

Tea -Man picking tea leavesIt is a long and interesting history for this simple drink brewed from the leaves of the C. sinensis plant. The story continues with iced tea, tea bags, matcha tea, chai, and now bubble tea and tea-infused cocktails. While old tea leaves from the ancient trees have become a valuable investment for some, tea connoisseurs believe that artisanal teas produced in the ancient art of tea processing are a promise for the future. 

As we drink our cup of tea, we should remember that every tea leaf is touched by human hands. An interesting, well-researched fiction book about the tea plant is Lisa See’s The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. It is a fascinating story of the history of tea and tea making in China.

For more information about Camellia sinensis, recipes, and a screen saver, go to the Herb Society of America’s webpage https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html

(Editor’s Note: Check out our recent post by Matt Millage for info on other Camellia species: https://herbsocietyblog.wordpress.com/2020/11/16/not-just-for-teatime-the-herbal-significance-of-camellias/)

Photo Credits: 1) Camellia sinensis leaf and flower (Pancrat via Wikipedia Commons); 2) Different teas and their colors (Wikimedia Commons); 3) Japanese tea ceremony (Wikimedia Commons); 4) Picking tea in China (Wikimedia Commons)

References

Koch, W., Zagórska, J., Marzec, Z., & Kukula-Koch, W. (2019). Applications of Tea (Camellia sinensis) and its Active Constituents in Cosmetics. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 24(23), 4277. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules24234277  Accessed 5/3/21.

Not Just Tea Panel: The Untold History and Future of Tea. (2020) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMsZGkG1Myc. Accessed  5/17/21.

Reich, Anna. (2010). Coffee and Tea History in a Cup. The Herbarist. 76, 8-15.

See, Lisa. (2017). The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. New York, Scribner.

Tea Crossing. Where Does Tea Come From? Complete Guide: Camellia Sinensis. (2021). https://teacrossing.com/where-does-tea-come-from-complete-guide-camellia-sinensis/ Accessed 5/3/21.

Wikipedia. History of Tea. (2021) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tea  Accessed 5/3/21.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America and a Master Gardener. She is a member of The Society’s Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Herbal Hacks, Part 4: Herbs for the Home

This is our last installment of reader-submitted herbal hacks – herbs for the home. We hope they’ve inspired you to use herbs in new and creative ways. Enjoy!  

bees-insects-pollen-lavender-flowers-garden_Creative commons via Pxfuel

When your “Italian herbs” (whether store-bought or home-mixed) reach the end of their tasty usefulness, place them in the coffee grinder and pulverize. Then, mix equal parts herbs and baking soda and strew over your wool carpet. Let sit for one hour or overnight, then vacuum. It is surprisingly deodorizing and refreshing! – Lisa de Vries

20210503_162231Got a big patch of lemon balm in the garden? Freshen up your sink disposal after trimming the lemon balm leaves to use in salads! Stuff the stems down the drain and whirr away for lemony freshness. – Peg Deppe

I drop lavender essential oil on wool dryer balls for a fresh fragrance on my laundry. – Cynthia Wheeler

I fill large tea bags with lavender flowers, seal them with a curling iron, and then place them in my clothing to keep moths out…and they smell so good! – Rena Barnett

Wool dryer balls by Christine Rondeau via wikipediaHerb sprinkles for aromatherapy: I am not a very good housekeeper since I would much rather be doing other things – especially being outside in the garden. Worst of all, I do not like to vacuum – I avoid it like the plague. A way to make the task more pleasant and clean out the pantry or apothecary at the same time, is to use up your old, spent herbs. I sprinkle them around on the carpets in all the different rooms – anything from thyme to rosemary, and oregano to lemon balm, peppermint, or anise hyssop. Just liberally scatter them about with reckless abandon. Then, when you vacuum, you really notice what you are doing, and you are treating yourself to aromatherapy at the same time. Depending upon which herbs you use, inhaling the herbal fragrances can relax or stimulate you or give you a sunny disposition and helps to get the job done. – Susan Belsinger

Use a lavender-filled sachet in the dryer when drying your linens. Spray your lingerie with rose water. – Kim Labash

Use lavender buds to fill cloth bags for all closets and some drawers. You can purchase the lavender and/or the bags – but make sure there are no tiny bugs in either! – Becki Smith

Lavender sachet from PixabayProbably not a new idea, but I like to hang little bundles of fragrant herbs in my guest bathroom. If you include roses, the bundles can look attractive as well as adding fragrance. – Elizabeth Kennel

There are two herbs in my garden that are indispensable air fresheners – without the need for wicks or spray bottles. The foliage of both Tagetes lucida (winter tarragon, mint marigold) and Pycnanthemum muticum (mountain mint) will release fragrance for a very long time in a dry bouquet. The mountain mint is sharp and refreshing, especially in the winter. The marigold is simply one of my favorite scents in the world, soft and sweet like nothing else I know. Please do try it. – Ann Lamb 

Photo Credits: 1) Floral border (Pxfuel); 2) Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) (Erin Holden); 3) Dryer balls (Christine Rondeau via Creative Commons); 4) Lavender sachets (Pixabay)

A Forager’s Life: Reflections on Mother Nature and My 70+ Years of Digging, Picking, Gathering, Fixing and Feasting on Wild Edible Foods

A Book Review

By Paris Wolfe

Mike Krebill, now in his late 70s, has been foraging for more than 70 years. In his second book, A Forager’s Life, he reflects on his experiences as a naturalist, teacher, and most importantly, a champion of wild foods.  

DG.3 KrebillHe has many reasons why folks should be interested in wild edibles, but the most compelling, he says, “Historically, wild edibles were crucial survival fare during depressions. Now some of them command high prices in fancy restaurants. Trying something new can add variety to your diet at home.”

While the 264-page text released in early 2021 is a folksy, linear progression through Krebill’s life, reading the pages in order is unnecessary. In fact, it’s fulfilling to disregard convention and flip through the pages at random, settling on whatever shiny thought catches your attention. 

The narrative is broken up by recipes, lists, and images. In my case, I was eager to see what foraged botany starred in the 21 recipes. I own at least a dozen wild food books, and Krebill’s recipes are unique to this tome. They include Queen Anne’s Lace Pancakes, Clover Flower Spoonbread, Sumac Black Raspberry Lemonade, and Hickory Nut Sandies, among others. 

Page 123 lists 40 common wild edibles, including several mushrooms, that the reader will likely recognize. Upon reflection, Krebill recalls tasting 190 plant and 44 mushroom varieties. He’s tried foraging insects, but much prefers foraging for plants.

With the help of grade school students, he tasted and tested acorns from different trees and identified their different characteristics. He prefers the flavors and tannin-balance of the swamp white oak. Students also helped him identify that paw paws, like apples, have different flavors.

ST LYNN'S PRESS - FORAGER'S COVERThree warnings he offers include that mayapple fruits are only safe to consume when they are ripe; sumac may cause allergic reactions in some folks; and all mushrooms should be cooked before eating.

While going back and forth through the pages, I was drawn into Krebill’s storytelling. First, about his cousin trying to defy poison ivy to reach a generous stash of hickory nuts but then finding himself hospitalized with an angry rash. And second, when a middle school class was chowing down on a particularly delicious fried puffball and suddenly discovering wriggly little creatures inside. Both serve as warnings to newbies…pay close attention to the project whether gathering or cooking. 

Perhaps the most important parts of the book are safety precautions for the human and the planet. First, for the human he lists:

  • Be positive of a plant’s identity.
  • Know the edible part and when it can be eaten.
  • Don’t collect in polluted areas.
  • Know how to prepare it.
  • Eat a small amount the first time so that you can see how your body reacts to it.

For the planet he recommends regenerative harvesting:

  1. If plants seem crowded, thinning may help them grow.
  2. When harvesting tender leaves and stems from a plant, take no more than 30 percent of the plant, and be careful to avoid damaging the roots.
  3. Cut new shoots a few inches above the ground, instead of right at the ground. It allows them to regenerate.
  4. Make sure to leave a good number of seeds in the landscape. Help disperse them to encourage reproduction.
  5. Encourage runners like mint, nettle, and wild bergamot by cutting out small patches with roots intact, then transplant them. To keep a patch healthy, don’t uproot the runners during harvest.

For your copy of A Forager’s Life: Reflections on Mother Nature and My 70+ Years of Digging, Picking, Gathering, Fixing and Feasting on Wild Edible Foods, visit stlynnspress.com. If you want more information on identifying wild edibles, pick up Krebill’s book, The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles, also by St. Lynn’s Press.

St. Lynn’s Press publishes a wide range of books, from body-mind-spirit to enlightened business to all things “green.” Over time, they’ve gone deeper into the green side, and since 2010 have been publishing, almost exclusively, books on organic gardening, sustainable living, and ways to live gently on our little piece of the planet.

Photo Credits: 1) Mike Krebill; 2) Krebill Book Cover. All photos courtesy of St. Lynn’s Press.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Paris Wolfe is a travel and food writer, and blogger. Away from the keyboard, Paris may be herb gardening, at farmers’ markets or traveling. She is often in the kitchen cooking, eating, drinking wine/spirits/tea and entertaining. 

2021 Virtual Educational Conference and Annual Meeting of Members

By Jen Munson, Education Chair

Registration is now open for The Herb Society of America’s 2021 Virtual Educational Conference and Annual Meeting of Members (Virtual EdCon). This year, we are meeting online from June 10th – 12th and our host is Zoom. For our seasoned attendees, this is a safe way to celebrate the accomplishments of HSA award winners, recognize our new Rosemary Circle and Golden Sage Members, and enjoy educational programming in a socially distanced format. For first-time guests, our Virtual EdCon is a unique way to participate in our signature conference via a simulated experience. 

Conference Blog Image 1During our Virtual EdCon, you will have the opportunity to enjoy nine outstanding programs featuring presenters from all parts of the country and beyond. Notable HSA member, Deni Bown, joins us from Spain to kick off the educational programming portion of the conference with a keynote titled “Herbs R Us.” Don Haynie, a returning favorite, will join us from Virginia, where he will share with us “12 Herbs Everyone Should Know and Love.” Author and lavender guru, Nancy Baggett, joins us for a “cook along” with her program “Culinary Lavender – Secrets to Cooking with this Surprisingly Versatile Herb.”

Conference Blog Image 2New to EdCon and representing our central geography is Laura Deeter, Ph.D. from Ohio State University on “Unity, Diversity, Color, and a Skeleton,” as well as Mark Dwyer of Wisconsin on “Maintaining the Perennial Garden – Deadheading to Division.” Another soon-to-be-new favorite is Karen Cottingham of the South Texas Unit on “Herbs in the Headlines: Notable Women in the Plant Sciences.”

To add a delicious dimension to EdCon, former White House Chef, John Moeller, will offer a culinary demonstration on “Cooking with Fines Herbes & Stories from the First Ladies’ Herb Garden.” Sue Goetz, a favorite in the herb world, will join us for “The Potted Herb Garden.” Lastly, New York Times best-selling author, Amy Stewart, will lead us in an interactive cocktail hour including a Q/A and short program on “Garden to Glass:  Adventures in Cocktail Gardening.” To register for this amazing event and meet our exceptional speakers, visit https://www.herbsociety.org/grow/

HSA Webinar: Exploration of Spice

Sponsored by The New York Unit
by Jen Munson, HSA Education Chair

spice imageThe Herb Society embraces spices as herbs, but what distinguishes an herb from a spice? An herb is the leafy part of a plant, whereas a spice is the “hard” part. So, herbs might include oregano, sage, rosemary, sorrel, and basil, to name a few. Spices, on the other hand, include the bark, root, or seed…think of cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, and nutmeg. Notable exceptions to the herb vs. spice conversation are coriander and dill. Coriander and dill seed are the seeds of the cilantro and dill plants, respectively. 

While herbs take the culinary spotlight for delivering immense flavor to our food, spices often get relegated to fall holidays when cinnamon, allspice, and other favorite spices get used. However, spices can be enjoyed year-round to ramp up the flavor in food. To learn more, join us on Tuesday, May 18th at 1pm Eastern when Master Spice Blender, 2258_2018_LiorBook_WholeRoastedFish_0451Lior Lev Sercarz, joins HSA for an “Exploration of Spice.” 

To prepare for this program consider going through your herb and spice cabinet. As a rule of thumb, stored herbs and spices will last six months to a year. If you cannot recall when they were last purchased, you will want to evaluate their shape and color; unless purchased in powdered form, the herbs and spices should be solid, vibrant, and smell flavorful. So, if your dried rosemary leaf or black pepper do not have vibrant colors, consider throwing them away. Or if they are half whole and half powder they may just be falling to dust. When purchasing herbs and spices, label the jar with the date of purchase before storing so you will know when they need replacement. To ensure the best flavor, purchase small batches of dried herbs and spices in whole form from specialty suppliers.

This webinar is $5.00 for guests/ free for members. Become a member today to enjoy this discounted rate and as a bonus, you will automatically be entered into a drawing for a free registration to our June 10-12th, 2021 Annual Meeting of Members and Educational Conference. To register visit https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/

About Lior Lev Sercarz: Growing up, Lior did the household cooking while his mother worked late hours. He later found himself in cooking school and decided to make it a career after working with Israeli Chef Gil Frank, and enrolled at the acclaimed Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France. During that time, he did an externship with Michelin-starred chef laboite logoOlivier Roellinger in Cancale, France. Roellinger became known for his rare understanding of spices, blends, oils, and pastes, areas Lior found the most interesting.

In 2002, Lior brought his newfound understanding of spice blending to New York, where he landed an opportunity with Chef Daniel Boulud at his flagship restaurant, Daniel, as a sous chef and catering chef. He left Daniel in 2008 to start La Boîte, originally making and selling a line of French biscuits, as well as experimenting with spices. In 2011, he opened La Boîte Biscuits & Spices, an art gallery and spice shop in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. Today, Lior collaborates with chefs from around the world, developing custom blends, including: Daniel, Le Bernardin, Zahav, Kawi, Del Posto, Marc Forgione, and Michael Mina, among others.

essentials-181108-jewisharts-credit-thomas-schauerLior has written three cookbooks including The Art of Blending (2012), The Spice Companion (Clarkson Potter, 2016), and his recent effort, Mastering Spice: Recipes and Techniques to Transform Your Everyday Cooking (Clarkson Potter, October 2019), which offers 250 recipes informing readers on how spices change the way one makes every meal. To learn more, visit his website at www.laboiteny.com

Photo credits: 1) Spices (Pixaby); 2 – 4) Lior Lev Sercarz photos.

HSA Special Program: Foodscaping with Herbs

by Jen Munson, HSA Education Chair

image-assetFoodscaping–it’s so simplistic. In its most basic form, it is landscaping with an edible twist. It’s the intersection of the purely ornamental garden with the purely edible or vegetable garden. Herbs, vegetables, berry-producing bushes, and fruit trees intertwine with ornamentals to become design elements. 

Join us for Foodscaping with Herbs with bestselling author Brie Arthur on Friday, May 14th from 12pm to 1:30pm ET. Brie will share creative ideas about foodscaping with herbs in this lively, virtual session. Lemongrass suddenly becomes a replacement for other tall grasses, providing beauty and enjoyment. Blend Thai basil with lemon basil for a stunning border. Use chives and garlic for structure and as natural pest deterrents. Discover how to plant beautiful and bountiful designs for year-round use, and learn easy-to-apply strategies to deter browsing mammals, including voles!

Brie Arthur - 2Food in our landscapes is not new. Cottage gardens and the French potager’s garden have been around for centuries. In the early eighties, Rosalind Creasy’s book, Edible Landscaping, gave this design style elevated popularity. Foodcaping is the 21st century interpretation of the edible garden. It is theorized that it arose out of the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 when the next generation started questioning where our food came from, and more recently, the pandemic gave households firsthand experience in food scarcity along with the flexibility to start growing food. 

This special program is $10.00 for guests/ $8.00 for members. Become a member today to enjoy this discounted rate and as an added bonus, you will automatically be entered into a drawing for a free registration to our June 10-12th, 2021 Annual Meeting of Members and Educational Conference. To register visit https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/new—workshops-demonstrations.html

Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of Brie Arthur


Brie with BasilAbout Brie Arthur: Bestselling author and horticulturist, Brie Arthur has garnered acclaim for her enthusiastic presentations and practical, out-of-the-box gardening advice. Originally from southeastern Michigan, Brie studied Landscape Design and Horticulture at Purdue University. With more than a decade of experience as a grower and propagator, she now shares her expertise as an advocate for consumer horticulture and home gardening across America. 

Brie is an ambassador for Soil3 organic compost and has appeared as a correspondent on the PBS television show “Growing a Greener World.” She is president of the International Plant Propagators Society Southern Region and is on the board of the North Carolina Botanic Garden Foundation. Brie was honored as the first recipient of the The American Horticultural Society’s Emerging Horticultural Professional Award for her efforts in connecting a new generation to the art of growing. In her second book, Gardening with Grains, published by St. Lynn’s Press, Brie explores the opportunities in residential and commercial landscapes with creative and thoughtful uses for traditional agricultural crops.

Propagating Rosemary Plants with Stem Cuttings

By Peggy Riccio

cuttingPlant propagation is just a fancy word for making more plants from what you have. I love to propagate the plants in my garden. To me, it is magical that an entire shrub can be created from cutting six inches off the stem. Taking stem cuttings is an easy way to make more shrubs to fill in gaps in the garden or to share plants with gardening friends. 

One shrub that I often propagate via stem cuttings is rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). The best time to do this is in early summer when new spring growth starts to become semi-woody but is still supple enough to root easily. The rosemary plant’s stems must have new growth but be firm enough to snap. If you can grasp the end of the branch about 6 inches from the top, bend it at a 90-degree angle and it snaps and breaks off, it is ready. 

cuttinginbagI cut from the tip of the stem, about 5-6 inches down, ensuring that there are several nodes. The node is the point where additional stems/branches arise but also the point in which there is a higher chance of root stimulation. I first cut above the node on the shrub and then make a second cut on the stem, just under the last node. I remove the bottom leaves and insert the cutting into water, then a commercially prepared rooting hormone, and then in the pre-moistened potting mix, about one-inch deep, in a small plastic pot or container. The cut end of the stem is just dipped into the rooting hormone – only the end needs it. 

I, then, cover the plant with a gallon size zipper top plastic bag, blow air into the bag to inflate it as much as possible, and close it. I put my cuttings in a cardboard box or lid and then place this on my deck under the eave of my house for shade. The box prevents the bags from blowing over or away. The next day, I check the bags to make sure they have condensation inside. If you see condensation, then you know it has enough moisture. If you do not see condensation, open the bag, take the plastic pot/container out, water it, and put it back in the bag.

rootedAfter a few weeks, I check rooting progress by opening the bags and gently pulling the cuttings to see if there is resistance. If the cuttings have rooted, I start to open the bags a little bit, a few hours a day, still in the shade. If I open the bags and the plants wilt very quickly, I know they have not produced enough roots yet. Successful rooters will keep their color in the leaves; unsuccessful plants will fade or collapse. I always cut more than I need, because there will be some that will not “take.” It is a numbers game, much like growing from seed.

Once the cuttings have rooted and can survive without the bag, I transplant them to a larger pot. I often give these away to friends, but for my garden, I let mine grow on the deck and gradually expose the plants to full sun. I do not plant these cuttings in the garden bed until the fall. The larger the plant, the more roots, and the more likely it will be successfully transplanted in the garden bed. Plus, the cooler fall weather is better for transplanting than the summer’s heat.  

rosemaryinlargerpotWhen you propagate by stem cuttings, you must always use clean materials to prevent a fungal infection. It is best to use clean plastic containers with drainage holes. Sterilize them with a 10% bleach solution of one part bleach and nine parts water, rinse, and let dry. Sterilize cutting tools, pruning shears, or garden snips with rubbing alcohol before you make the cuts. 

Use a bagged potting mix specially formulated for starting seeds such as Pro Mix, Jiffy, or Burpee. The water for watering the potting mix and for dipping the cutting should be “clean,” i.e., tap water, not water collected from rain (gray water). The bags should be new and unused.

The best time to take stem cuttings is in the morning when the plant is “turgid” (turgid refers to cells or tissues that are swollen from water uptake). Make sure you have everything ready and available; you cannot afford to let the cuttings sit and wilt while you bleach the pots. Have fun with this, and always do more than you need so you get the amount you want. Give the extras to friends!

Photo Credits: 1) Cutting dipped in rooting hormone; 2) Cutting in a plastic bag; 3) Rooted cutting; 4) Potted up cutting. All photos courtesy of the author. 


A horticulturist in Virginia, Peggy Riccio’s website, pegplant.com, is an online resource for gardeners in the Washington, DC metro area. Currently, she is the chair of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America.

Pineapple Mint – Herb of the Month

A Two-Color Mint

by Maryann Readal

The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for May is pineapple mint, Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’.

With its lime green leaves edged with a creamy white ruffle, pineapple mint is a perfect plant for the spring garden. This mint is a variegated cultivar of apple mint (Mentha suaveolens). However, its taste and smell does not remind one of apple mint. It has a sharp initial taste that fades into a light fruity flavor. Like other mints, pineapple mint thrives in a moist, rich soil. It does well in sun or in partial shade. In the south, it may need to be grown in partial shade. Also similar to other mints, pineapple mint can be a fast spreader, so containing it in a pot is a good way to control its growth. It is a nice plant to add to a hanging basket because of its sprawling growth habit. It can be used as an ornamental ground cover, or as an interesting edging plant at the front of the border because of its pale green color and variegation. It is interesting to me that each leaf on this plant has a different amount and pattern of variegation, making it a nice accent in the garden. I find that the leaves are only slightly hairy.

It is easy to propagate pineapple mint from its rhizomes or by rooting stem cuttings in water or moist potting soil. It can grow to about 1-2 feet tall, and is hardy in zones 5-9. Cutting out any pure green sprouts as they appear will help the plant to keep its variegation. It produces white to pink flowers in the summer, which attract bees and butterflies. Its smell and hairy leaves repel garden pests. Deer and rabbits do not bother this mint. Cutting back the plant at the end of the growing season is recommended.

Pineapple mint is mainly used as a culinary mint, and you will find many recipes that call for it. It gives color and a subtle taste to fruit salads and fruit salsas. It lends an interesting flavor to tea and jelly. When dried, it makes a nice addition to potpourri. A very popular use is as a flavorful ingredient in tropical cocktails – mojitos and piña coladas, in particular. 

Throughout history, mints have been used for their antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-yeast, antiviral, and anticancer properties. Like other mints, pineapple mint has also been used as a digestive aid. A tea made from the leaves has been used to treat headaches and fevers. However, a number of studies have compared the medicinal components in the essential oil of various mints and have found that pineapple mint is medicinally less effective than other mints studied (Mogosin et al., 2017; Park et al., 2016). In fact, one study (Park et al., 2016) found that pineapple mint had a lower amount of essential oil than other mints.

Do plan to grow this interesting mint this summer in your garden. Enjoy its unusual flavor and unique variegation. It does not disappoint.

For more information and recipes for pineapple mint, see The Herb Society of America Herb of the Month webpage https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html


Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of the author.

References

Mahr, Susan. Pineapple Mint, Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’. https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/pineapple-mint-mentha-suaveolens-variegata/ Accessed 4/1/21.

Mogosin, Christina, et al. (2017). A Comparative Analysis of the Chemical Composition, Anti-inflammatory, and Antinociceptive Effects of the Essential Oils from Three Species of Menthe Cultivated in Romania. Molecules. Vol. 22., pg. 263. Available online from EBSCOhost. Accessed 4/1/21.

Park, Yun Ji, et al. (2016). Composition of Volatile Compounds and In Vitro Antimicrobial Activity of Nine Mentha spp. SpringerPlus. Vol 5, pgs 1-10. Available online from ProQuest. Accessed 4/1/21.

Plants for a Future. Mentha suaveolens – Ehrh. Available at https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Mentha+suaveolens.  Accessed 4/1/21.


Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America and a Texas Master Gardener. She is a member of The Society’s Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

One Man’s Road to Herbal Success: An Interview

By Chrissy Moore

IMG_8012I have always been fascinated by people’s life stories, particularly those in the herb world. How did they end up where they did? What circumstances led them down their chosen path? Some people take decades—and numerous career maneuverings—before they settle into their career of choice; others know their life’s calling from an early age. For Bill Varney, owner of URBANherbal in Fredricksburg, TX, his life’s work encompassed all those things and more. I recently asked Bill to give me a glimpse into his world as an herbal enthusiast and business owner and what it takes to succeed. Here’s what he said:

When did you first encounter herbs?

IMG_8007BV: I first discovered plants and gardening when I was very young! When I was eight years old, my parents had a greenhouse built for me, and I would start all kinds of plants from seeds and cuttings. Later as my love for all things green grew, I developed a love of herbs. That was about 1985, when I opened a small herbal apothecary shop and small herbal nursery, Varney’s Chemist Laden.

What is your technical background (education or otherwise)?

BV: I grew up tending to people’s gardens, worked for a number of nurseries, then received a B.S. in Business with a Minor in Horticulture from Oklahoma Panhandle State University. I went there because I had volunteered to help my elderly grandparents who lived in the area. Later, I became a Texas Certified Nurseryman.

Have you always known you wanted to work with plants/herbs?

BV: Yes, I have always had a “green thumb.” I have always been intrigued by plants, their use, their contribution to the world, whether they are reproduced by seed, rooted cuttings, etc. After I finished college and had a one -year agriculture stint in Tasmania, Australia, I returned to Houston, Texas, where my family was living and went to work for a well known nursery as their landscape buyer. Later, I wanted to “get out of the big city” and moved to Fredericksburg, Texas, to manage a local nursery. It was soon after that that I started Varney’s Chemist Laden, which later grew into the Fredricksburg Herb Farm. I sold that operation in 2007 and simplified my life to URBANherbal.

Give me a synopsis of your road to URBANherbal. 

IMG_7988BV: When I owned the Fredricksburg Herb Farm, it was a very high end, labor intensive business with acres of manicured gardens, a day spa, bed and breakfast, two retail stores, a James Beard recognized restaurant, and wholesale operation that sold our products all over the world. Life was kind of crazy for me with “fires” to put out daily! I revamped and started URBANherbal. My son had finished his undergraduate degree and came home to help me for a year to open URBANherbal. A much simpler life: a laboratory, greenhouse, smaller gardens, and art galleries. For the most part, a one-man operation with a little help here and there. I make colognes, aromatherapy products, skin care for both men and women, candles, and gourmet foods. I also do landscape consulting and public speaking.

Can you describe your herb gardening style for those who are unable to visit your establishment in person? 

IMG_8017BV: I always try to build gardens that use as many natives as possible, that attract pollinators, and are drought tolerant. I have studied Frederick Olmstead and Adelma Simmons (and got to visit with her a few times) and, of course, Madalene Hill from here in Texas.

What inspired you to start the apothecary shop segment of your herb garden, and how did that lead to the skin care/fragrance lines and the culinary products?

BV: Well, originally, our first store was an herbal apothecary store, Varney’s Chemist Laden. We sold “old fashioned” scents and skincare from old, reputable companies and finally realized we could do better, and our products ended up selling faster than the ones we were retailing. I ended up hiring an elderly retired founding chemist of a manufacturing skincare company to come for a few months and help formulate. Many of our products got recognized by the media and some received awards. I really enjoy custom making things for clients.

From what do you draw the most inspiration, both in your gardening and in your product development?

BV: I always am inspired daily if I can just bring a bit of happiness to one or two people either through products, plants, or foods through all of our senses. My personal life is inspired through faith, hope and love with friends, family, and anyone I meet.

Urban Herbal Map

Is there a fragrance profile or collection of herbs that you gravitate toward more than others?

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BV: Personally, I love woody scents, citrus scents, masculine scents, lavender, lemon verbena, peppermint, eucalyptus, patchouli, musk, just to name a few. But I am always drawn to white flowers and night blooming flowers, not for myself on my body, but just to smell them and make PRODUCTS WITH THEM.

Which herbs/profiles do you find the most challenging to work with and why?

BV: Sweet woodruff and French tarragon because it is too hot here in Texas to grow them.

Who were your biggest herbal influences (alive or deceased), both in your younger years and as an adult? Do you have any herbal superheroes today that provide you with encouragement along your herbal journey?

BV: Well, as I said previously, I was really inspired by reading about Frederick Olmstead and his visions in landscapes. Walafrid Strabo, who around 840 A.D., wrote a beautiful poem called “Hortulus,” in which he lovingly describes clearing a garden of stinging nettles and preparing IMG_7986the soil to plant sage, southernwood, wormwood, fennel, poppy, clary, mint, pennyroyal, celery, betony, agrimony, tansy, catmint, and radish. Strabo introduces his herbs the way a mother might speak of her children, praising their qualities without neglecting their occasional blemish. In my life, Adelma Simmons, who founded Caprilands Herb Farm in Coventry, Connecticut, and Madalene Hill, who founded Hilltop Herb Farm and later built the gardens at Round Top, Texas. In Madalene’s book, Southern Herb Growing, I was really proud that she had a few pictures in the front of her book of my first herb gardens. After her book came out, she came to my place and did a class and book signing. I have always admired Emelie Tolley and all of her books, and she and I have been friends for many years. In my book, Herbs: Growing and Using the Plants of Romance, Emelie wrote the forward. She came many times over the years and did stories on my gardens and business, and I was thrilled to visit her in New York City at her country home in NY. I have also always been inspired by Jeanne Rose. She came years ago and did a class and book signing at my place, and I have visited her in San Francisco. Betsy Williams has always been an inspiration to me. I think that my biggest inspiration is everyday herb gardeners whom URBANherbal gardenwe meet and we can share with. As James Beard, the famous chef, said, “We learn from each other and end up teaching ourselves.” Also, I have always been inspired by Lady Bird Johnson. She came into my store many times over the years and would have me make things for her to give as gifts. Her love of nature and wildflowers has done so much for our island home, Earth.

For many business owners, they must sacrifice a lot in terms of personal time and preferences. But, there are also rewards in being the curator of your own products/services. What has been your driving philosophy as you’ve grown URBANherbal?

BV: Yes, having your own business is a huge sacrifice, personally in man hours and struggles. My biggest driving philosophy is: “Touching all of your senses, daily. Hearing, Touching, Seeing, Tasting, Smelling and our Sixth Sense, our Spirit.” I strongly feel that these things are where herbs can really affect our lives in spirit, balance, texture, space, and love.

What brings you the most joy in your herbal day?

BV: Making something that will help someone! Be it a small plant, a cologne, a room freshener, a cream to make someone feel better, or a simple herb vinegar or seasoning that will enhance someone’s food.

Herbs have many stories to tell, from historical uses to modern industries. Do you have a favorite herb story that you find yourself telling over and over again?

BV: I think that hearing people tell me that they can’t handle being around scents. I find that it is because they have been around “commercial scents” that are not good for you, and they are not natural! So many people tell me that they can wear my scents, and they don’t have a negative reaction. Herbs and flowers are nature’s courtesans. They elevate our moods, fragrance the air around us, and so many are edible and medicinal. For instance, rosemary and lavender can be used for fragrance, in foods, and in healing. You should have herbs and flowers around you daily!

Herbs aren’t the first thing people think of when they hear “Texas.” What do you think people are most surprised to learn about herbs or herb growing in your neck of the woods?

Theresa Wylie URBANherbal dinner tableBV: I think that when they find out how easy most herbs are to grow around here and then find out how much they can enhance our lives and they are really surprised! The fact that they attract butterflies, bees, birds, and release beautiful scents in your gardens and in pots, and trigger so many memories through your senses. The air you breathe affects not just your health but also your mood.

I’m not going to ask you your favorite herb, because that is often like picking a favorite child. Instead, what handful of herbs would you recommend every new herbie explore (for various reasons/uses)?

BV: Lavender for scent, Beauty, healing, and flavor.

Rosemary for scent, beauty, healing, and flavor.

Thyme for scent, beauty, healing, and flavor.

Roses for beauty, scent, healing, and flavor.

Rose geraniums for healing, scent, and cooking.

Allium tuberosum2 46966H

Chives for flavor and the beauty of their flowers.

Sage for beauty, scent, flavor, and healing.

Basil for flavor, fragrance, healing, and beauty.

Lemon verbena for fragrance, aromatherapy, scent, beauty, and magnificent flavor for foods and drinks.

These are just a few of my favorite herbs…….

How would you characterize your road to herbal admiration and its impact on your life?

20200507_115313BV: Working with herbs and plants, one gets to know their essence and understand they are not just a commodity. The gardener and herbalist becomes rooted to the ground with them as part of God’s creation. We are trying to be stewards of our environment. It is not an accident that the humus, or the soil, comes from the same word. It’s the base from which everything grows. Gardening and my spiritual life go together. I just can’t imagine a day in my life that I’m not using herbs in some way. I really relate to this simple quote from the designer and architect, Ettore Softass, “basil-flavored architecture,” as a way of expressing the idea of achieving much with little.

Lastly, if you were to give advice to someone embarking on their own herbal “quest,” such as starting a business or a garden, etc., what key elements have you found to be the most important for successful endeavors? 

Theresa Wylie Bill VarneyBV: Make sure you are passionate about what you want to do with herbs! Do everything you can to educate yourself about herbs. Get to know other herb lovers through organizations like The Herb Society of America or garden clubs, or online groups, because that is one of the best ways to learn. Be creative about what you are going to do. Remember, you are going to have to work hard! Have a strategy, write it down. Bounce your ideas off of friends and family. 🌺

Many thanks to Bill Varney for sharing his time and talents regarding his road to herbal success!

Photo credits: 1) Bill Varney in his greenhouse (B. Varney); 2) BV as young horticulturist (B. Varney); 3) Chef Bill (B. Varney); 4) BV with Madalene Hill (B. Varney); 5) Map of Bill’s garden (B. Varney); 6) Calamondin (Citrofortunella microcarpa) fruit and flowers (C. Moore); 7) BV with Adelma Simmons (B. Varney); 8) URBANherbal gardens (Theresa Wylie, Hey,Traveler blog); 9) Herbal salad (B. Varney); 10) Dinner at URBANherbal (Theresa Wylie, Hey, Traveler blog); 11) Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) (C. Moore); 12) Rose blossom (Rosa sp.) and bee (C. Moore); 13) BV in URBANherbal greenhouse (Theresa Wylie, Hey, Traveler blog).

 


Chrissy Moore is the curator of the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. She is a member of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America and is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.

Welcoming Spring in the Year 1400

By Zainab Pashaei

Haft-Sin tableI’m not talking about time travel. Nowruz—the equivalent of the New Year—was just celebrated on the spring equinox in Iran as well as in numerous other countries and among ethnic groups in the Middle East. In Iran, the first month of the year is called Farvardin, which began on March 20, 2021 (spring equinox). Although the year is specifically 1400 in Iran, Iranian traditions for Nowruz are thousands of years old and pre-date the emergence of Islam in the country. In contrast to Western nations, the importance of nature and spring plays a critical role in new year festivities of the nation. Many of these festivities are symbolic and involve herbs, nature, and light (fire).

JumpingDuring the festivities, which start on the Wednesday before the spring equinox, Iranians will gather and jump over fires and light fireworks in observance of Chaharshanbe Suri (loose translation = Wednesday celebration). It is like the pre-game show to the Nowruz celebration. Then Nowruz, the beginning of spring, is celebrated by gathering with family and friends, eating, and making a Haft-Sin table for display. The Haft-Sin table is very symbolic of what you hope for in the new year. Iranians will decoratively place seven items which begin with the letter ‘s’, or “sin” in Farsi. Depending on the preference of the person who arranges the Haft-Sin, you may also notice a book of wisdom, such as the Quran, the Bible, the Avesta, the Shahnameh, or the divān of Hafez. Almost always, the sprouts of wheat or lentils are placed on the table and tied with a ribbon symbolizing “sabzi” or greens. (Wheat, by the way, is one of the most important agricultural products of Iran and originated in ancient Mesopotamia.)

Persians_in_Holland_Celebrating_Sizdah_Bedar,_April_2011_-_Photo_by_Persian_Dutch_Network-PDNWhen the 13th day of Farvardin comes, Iranians celebrate Sizdah Bedar, which means “13 Outdoor” or commonly called “Nature’s Day.” Some say this is an unlucky day to stay inside, though it is unclear whether people believe it is unlucky due to Western influence or due to the history or traditions of Iran. Nevertheless, Iranians go outdoors to enjoy nature and picnic. The wheat or lentil sprouts are returned to nature or thrown out. Some young boys and girls pluck two strands of grass and tie a knot in hope of finding love.

Then Iranians will go above and beyond in cooking for this outdoor picnic. Kabobs and herb stew or herb soups are often prepared. If you ever sit down and eat with an Iranian, you can see how much they appreciate nature with the abundance of herbs in almost every dish. Herbs are symbolic of new life and beginnings! So cheers to new life and new beginnings to all those who are part of the herbal community!

Recipe for Ash Reshteh (Persian Noodle and Herb Soup)

Serves: 8 – 10  people

2 – 15 ounce cans of dark red kidney beans 

Ash Reshteh soup1 – 8 ounce cup of lentils

*4 ounces of Ash Sabzi dried herbs (a mixture of spinach, cilantro, parsley, leek, and mint)

*8 ounces of reshteh noodles (may substitute with Thai linguine rice noodles if Gluten Free)

2 bunches of fresh spinach

1 bunch cilantro (may substitute with green onions if cilantro averse)

1 bunch parsley

4 large onions

6 garlic cloves (may substitute with garlic powder if necessary)

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 tablespoon of ground turmeric

1 lime

Salt/pepper according to taste preference

*Optional Kashk (may substitute with full fat yogurt/sour cream)

Optional dried mint 

Optional French fried onions (Gluten Free versions do exist)

 *Can be found in Middle Eastern markets. Add more according to taste preference.

Directions:

Soak all dried herbs in equal parts water. Soak lentils in equal parts water. Drain both after half an hour to an hour. Wash fresh herbs and coarsely chop. 

Chop all onion and garlic and fry on medium-high heat in olive oil until golden and tender in a large stock pot. Once the garlic and onion are tender, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the fresh herbs with soaked dried herbs. Add the turmeric and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper to the herbs. Then add enough water so that the herbs do not stick, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. 

While this is simmering, boil the lentils until tender (this may take 15 – 20 minutes as well). Then drain/set aside. After 20 minutes have passed, you should be adding more water to fill the pot so that noodles and beans may cook and everything can freely move around inside the pot. Now, add the lentils and red kidney beans and simmer for about 5 – 10 minutes, then add the reshteh noodles and cook until tender. Remove from heat and squeeze one fresh lime and stir.

You know your ash reshteh is ready when there is some viscosity or thickness to the soup. If you have dried mint in your home, you may simmer a teaspoon or two and add for enhanced flavor or add more salt/pepper. Kashk is often mixed in with this dish (a few teaspoons will suffice). Kashk is like the curds from cooking yogurt so it has a strong taste. You can substitute this with full fat yogurt or sour cream. Topping the soup with French fried onions is also common, so indulge if you must!

Bon Appétit or as the Iranians say, Nooshe Jan!

Photo Credits: 1) Haft-Sin table decoration (Mariam Pashaei); 2)  Members of the Laki community in the Lorestan Province, Iran, playing a traditional game, Daal Palan (Kian Kakoolvand); 3) Persians in Holland celebrating Sizdah Bedar (Wikimedia Commons); 4) Ash Reshteh soup (Zainab Pashaei).


Zainab Pashaei Headshot NHG Rose GardenZainab Pashaei was the 2019 National Herb Garden Intern. She is a Washington, D.C., native and a proud at-home grower of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Zainab obtained her Bachelor’s of Science in Community Health at George Mason University. After graduating, she returned to school for graduate studies in Landscape Design at George Washington University. Zainab also worked with a floral design company in Fairfax, VA. In her free time, she continues to grow plants for food, health, and aesthetics.