Herbs Attract Good Insects to Garden

By Peggy Riccio, HSA Potomac Unit Member

The herbs in my garden live among the annuals, perennials, vegetables, and shrubs. I never designed a separate, formal herb garden and now every new herb plant gets tucked in any space I can find. If I remember and have time, I harvest the leaves for teas or for cooking. If I forget or get too busy, the herbs just thrive without me. By summer, they are blooming along with everything else but that’s okay, they still serve a purpose. Even if I didn’t get to harvest them, they are helping the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and beans by attracting beneficial insects.

agastache with insect flyingIn addition to attracting pollinators such as bees and butterflies, flowering herbs can attract beneficial insects that will destroy the “bad” bugs. These beneficial insects are either predators, i.e., they eat harmful bugs, or parasites–they lay their eggs in or on the “bad” bug which release larvae that consume the bug.

Many of these beneficial insects are small, thus preferring easily accessible nectar chambers in small herb flowers. In many cases the adult insects need the nectar and pollen of the herb flower while the “babies” or larval stage eat the insects we don’t want in the garden. For example, the larval stage of ladybugs, which look like mini alligators, consume aphids, many beetle larvae, and spider mites, among others. One can attract ladybugs into the garden by planting cilantro, dill, fennel, oregano, thyme, and yarrow so the adult form, the ladybug, can enjoy the pollen.

fennel with hover flyLacewings are beautiful slender green insects with translucent wings. Their larvae, known as aphid lions, eat a large number of aphids –thus they have a lion’s appetite — and many beetle larvae to name a few. Lacewings are attracted to angelica, caraway, tansy, yarrow, dill, fennel, and cilantro.

Parasitic wasps are small, non-stinging wasps. There are many types but they all destroy pests by laying eggs inside or on the pest. The eggs hatch to release larvae that consume the prey, eventually killing it. Parasitic wasps will destroy tomato hornworms, bagworms, cabbage worms, Japanese beetles, and squash vine borers. The wasps are attracted to dill, fennel, lemon balm, thyme, yarrow, and cilantro.

cilantro with hover flyTachinid flies look like houseflies but as parasites, they destroy many kinds of caterpillars, Colorado potato beetles, cucumber beetles, Mexican bean beetles, and Japanese beetles in the same manner as parasitic wasps.  The flies prefer cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley, feverfew, and chamomile.

Hover or syrphid flies look like small wasps because they have yellow bands but they don’t sting. The adults–the flies–will “hover” as they drink nectar from dill, fennel, feverfew, lavender, mint, yarrow, and cilantro flowers. The larvae will consume aphids, cabbage worms, other caterpillars, and mealy bugs.  lavender with bug

Herbs also help beneficial insects by providing pollen and nectar when other annuals or perennials are not blooming yet.  For example, cool season herbs such as cilantro and chervil bloom in the spring, providing an early source of pollen to beneficial insects.

Many aromatic, perennial herbs, such as oregano, thyme, and lemon balm, are not eaten by deer and small animals so they become permanent fixtures or “houses” for beneficial insects. Plus herbs are usually planted in bunches or become small shrubs, providing a large “neighborhood” for these insects.

Despite the number of plants in the garden, these insects will only stay if there is a need, i.e., food for them, and if the surroundings are hospitable. Beneficial insects seek large populations of bad bugs in order to feed their own population. Some beneficial insects wait to lay eggs until there is enough “food” so it may be that the appearance of many aphids is the trigger to have ladybugs increase their own population because they now know there is plenty of “food.”

In other words, if there a lot of aphids on bearded irises, wait to see if many ladybugs will arrive on the scene to correct the problem before reaching for an insecticide. Spraying chemicals may kill or alter the balance of beneficial insects. It is now known that plants that are under attack by bad bugs release chemicals which are signals to the particular type of beneficial insect that would be needed to correct the problem. There may be a little or minimal plant damage in order for the beneficial insects to receive the signal to come to that plant.

Herbs can be useful for their flowers as well as their foliage. Planting several different types of herbs in the garden helps protect the rest of the plants against pests.


Peggy Riccio is a Potomac Unit member who lives in Northern Virginia. Her website, pegplant.com, features local gardening news, resources, and plants for those who have started gardening or who have moved to the Virginia, Maryland, DC metro area.

Discover the Best Lavender for Cooking

Discover the Best Lavender for Cooking

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

In early July I was invited to a potluck picnic for Edible Cleveland magazine. Potlucks push my overachiever button and I wanted to impress my fellow writers. So, I challenged myself to making something apropos of the magazine — local, seasonal and organic. As the blogmaster for The Herb Society of America I thought it would be fun to reflect my passion for herbs.

20170714_191450 (2)

Lavender scones seemed like a great idea, but they just weren’t impressive enough. So, I picked up The Art of Cooking with Lavender by Nancy Baggett. There I found a recipe for lavender chicken salad.

 

(The boyfriend said he’d chose Wendy’s over lavender-spiked food, but he ate the chicken salad without notice.)

My next step was to gather significant ingredients … free-range, organic chicken from New Creation Farm in Chardon, Ohio, and lavender from Luvin’ Lavender in Madison, Ohio. That’s where I learned that not all lavender is created equal when it comes to the kitchen.

20170630_150338 (2)Luvin’ Lavender grows 19 varieties, with a seven best suited to culinary use. That’s because each variety has subtle (or even bold) taste differences. Some are sweeter or more floral; others have a stronger camphor component.

Having learned from the owner Laurie H, I turned to my friend Edgar Anderson of Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, Shop & Le Petit Bistro on Washington Island in Door County, Wisconsin, with more questions on lavender in the kitchen. Anderson and his wife Martine operate a 21-acre farm with 14,000 plants – 10 varieties — on five acres of land. In addition to their Washington Island retail shop, they operate another retail shop in Fish Creek, WI and a bistro with a lavender-based menu.

“For cooking, it’s best to stay within the English varieties – Lavendula angustifolia,” he says.  The most commonly found L. angustifolias as retail are ‘Hidcote’, ‘Munstead’ and ‘Royal Velvet’.

“Within the English there are minute nuances. They’re usually very sweet in taste and smell. One might be more lemony or flowery, but all are easy to work with in the kitchen,” says Edgar. Fragrant Isle uses royal velvet in most of their edible products.

English lavender is usually harvested from June through July. Fragrant Isle harvests twice, once for buds and once for distilling into oil. Harvesting for dry buds – unopened flowers – is done by hand. Flower stems are cut and made into small bundles tied with rubberbands.

mediakit07The bundles hang in a barn for six weeks until they’re dry enough to separate purple flower buds from gray-green stems. While the farm mechanizes separation, home growers can gently shake or brush the crop into a bag or onto a cloth.

Leaves, stems and debris should not be part of the process . “You don’t want them because they will give a grassy scent to your cooking. We have vibrating sifting screens to remove debris. They go through three different screenings.” At home colanders and mesh sifters might be useful.

DSC_1908The culinary lavender oil is distilled from fresh lavender bundles.   The fresh lavender bundles are placed in their copper still, usually 40 pounds of fresh lavender bundles, and once the water reaches 212 degrees F, the lavender is “cooked” for 90 minutes.   Then the lavender flowers release their essential oil and hydrosol, which are captured in a glass container.   The essential oil, being lighter than water floats to the top.   Once the hydrosol is drained, the essential oil remains and is placed in a glass bottle.   Culinary essential oil is used for baking, as it is more potent than culinary lavender buds.

Once processed Fragrant Isle either uses the lavender in the bistro or packages it for sale. Home growers should put it in a sealed container – preferably glass — and store away from humidity.


AK1D2050-2Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm & Shop, is hosting its 3rd Annual “All Things Lavender” Festival Friday, July 21 – Sunday, July 23, 2017.  Festival highlights include daily seminars presented by Lavender Industry Experts, Experiences to explore one’s inner artist with painting classes, pampering with massages, Destiny Readings, Lavender U-Pick Field, Entertainment by Musical performers & Washington Island Scandinavian Folk Dancers and Food be it a taste of “lavender,” from sweet to savory, exquisite chocolates, Apple Lavender Cider, or Light Belgian style beer with bright lavender and honey tones.

What to do with Garlic Scapes

What to do with Garlic Scapes

20170701_124331At the Willoughby, Ohio, Farmers Market my farmer friend Maggie Fusco handed me a blue plastic grocery bag half full of garlic scapes. There must have been 100 of those long, circled flower stalks that must be trimmed from hardneck garlic to make certain energy goes back into the bulb. What was I supposed to do with so many scapes? Thank goodness she shared her weekly newsletter … it was full of ideas. — Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster

By Maggie Fusco, Wood Road Salad Farm, Madison, Ohio

You can chop ‘em and saute’ ‘em…..

You can pesto and puree’ ‘em…..

You can roast ‘em

You can toast ‘em

You can grill ‘em

You can swill ‘em?

You can eat ‘em on a boat

You can eat ‘em with a goat

You can use ‘em now or freeze for later

Either way it doesn’t matter

Get ‘em soon while they last

Like all things seasonal

They come and go so fast!

What am I rhyming about? Garlic Scapes of course!

image003Botanically speaking, the scape is any leafless flower stalk. The flower of the well-known Hosta plant falls into the classification of scape as do the flowers of many other plants. Each garlic produces one scape. If the scape is left on the garlic plant it will flower and produce seeds. (The wild garlic you tell me you have in your yard is spread this way.)

 

image007Cutting the scape from the garlic plant helps it focus more energy into making a bigger bulb underground (good for us) rather than making seed up top which is its real job in life. Turns out the garlic scape is not only edible – it has mild garlic/green flavor — it’s delightful to eat!

20170703_142646So, how can we use the scapes? Any way you already use garlic you can use scapes instead or treat them as would fresh young green beans.

Chop and sauté along with any dish or make a simple pesto by blending with olive oil for fresh use or to freeze for later. Braid them into wreaths and roast or grill them. Cut them into uniform lengths and make refrigerator pickles.  (NOTE: I mix the pesto into mayonnaise and serve with burgers, amazing. – PW)

20170703_145548Scapes are most likely found in July at farmer’s markets in Northeast Ohio.  They keep nicely wrapped in plastic for up to a month.


Maggie Fusco and Justin Kopczak own Wood Road Salad Farm in Madison Ohio. They have been happily married and growing great produce since 2002.  They call their fields a “salad” farm because in the beginning they grew mostly lettuces and greens but then one crop led to another, and every season became a new adventure in growing and eating.

 

Learning to Love Lovage

By Jackie Johnson ND,  Northeast Wisconsin Unit of The Herb Society of America

IMG_2503Known to many as the herb that smells like celery, lovage (Levisticum officinale) has been used for centuries as medicine and food. In modern times it has fallen out of favor and is found infrequently in gardens now.

Lovage is a zone 3 – 9 plant, so we northerners can grow it too!  It’s a plant that can get up to seven feet tall in the right conditions so it has been used as a backdrop in ancient and modern gardens.  Originally a native to the Mediterranean area, and one of the plants found in the gardens of Charlemagne (742-814 AD), it was brought to America by the early colonists.

Seed germination is difficult; it requires stratification and has only about a 50% germination rate. The best propagation method is through division and spring plantings do better than fall.

This plant, loaded with vitamin C and B’s, is among the first out of the ground in the spring, offering itself for nourishment and flavor.

The flowers are a yellow to yellow-green umbel and known to be good for pollinators. They are a host to parasitic wasps that eat tent caterpillars too – a very good thing.

IMG_2504Lovage has proven itself to be versatile. You can use the leaves, the stems and the seeds. The hollow celery-flavored and aromatic stems are great in Bloody Marys.  The leaves are good in egg salad, potato and pasta salads, and in frittatas. They are stronger than celery, so start with a little and work up.

The leaves can also be added to soups and stews. The smaller leaves are milder. Keep cutting them back to prevent flowering as they become a bit bitter after flowering.  A favorite vinegar of mine is to add a few lovage leaves to the chive flowers in an apple cider vinegar.  It makes a wonderful salad dressing base.

When harvesting, start in the morning after the dew has dried.  Dry the leaves quickly to retain color, they will turn yellow if the drying process is too long. Leaves can also be frozen.  Blanch them first and then put them in very cold water for a couple minutes. Lay them on trays in the freezer and when frozen, transfer to containers.

Lovage is one of the oldest salad greens.  Long before celery was common, lovage was used in salads, stews and soups.  Lovage has been added to foot baths and baths (for skin problems), chewed on for bad breath,  and as a tea for digestion and gas. If you harvest the seed, it can be added to your cooking – and bread making — much like fennel.

If you’re not already growing it, put lovage in your garden planning for 2018.

 


Caution: Lovage should not be used during pregnancy or by those with kidney disease or weak kidneys.

Herbs Add Interest to Beer

Herbs Add Interest to Beer

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

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Copyright Ohio University

In late June I took my youngest son to orientation at Ohio University where he plans to study biology with the goal of finding a job in environmental science. (His mom’s influence, perhaps?) For the two-day introduction parents and students separated for sessions of different focus. Up to this point, no problem.

But … let’s just say I’m GPS–challenged. Faced with too many one-way streets and no co-pilot, I looped the campus twice before finding the assigned parking lot. After an already long day of bouncing among buildings, I walked yet another half mile – with luggage – to the dorm room check-in line. Then, by streetlight I trudged another quarter mile and lugged my stuff up three flights of stairs … only to find broken air conditioning.

Overcome by emotions and fatigue I was near tears. A kind gentleman on the orientation staff helped me relocate. Requiring some self-medication I asked him to recommend a place for beer … something within easy walking distance.

20170701_180035His suggestion: Jackie O’s Public House in uptown Athens, Ohio.

To my delight, the brewers are playful and many of their beers use unlikely ingredients. Yes, that includes herbs … a trend that you’ll read more about in the 2018 edition of The Herbarist.

Upon hearing I like bitter, hoppy beer, Bartender Bruce thunked two brews on the wooden bar top – Jackie O’s New Growth Summer Spruce Tip IPA and Jackie O’s Next Level Lager (the first India Pale Lager I’ve ever seen) – and waited for my facial expressions to change. The Lager was good, but the IPA was amazing. The reason, perhaps, was the inclusion of lemon balm and spruce tips in the brewing process. Both are grown on a farm owned by Jackie O’s.

A few swallows and my problems buzzed away. The spruce tips enhanced a fresh piney bitterness and I suspect the lemon balm added a clean and crisp quality.

To entertain myself – after all I was a single woman at a bar — I read through the list of 30 beers created by the brew master. In addition to raspberries, various hops and bourbon-barrel aging, herbs were part of the formula. These included …

  • Pretty Ricky, a blonde ale made with hibiscus flowers.
  • Tongue Thai’d, an IPA made with lemon grass, lemon verbena and ginger.
  • Oro Negro, an imperial stout made with vanilla beans, cacao nibs, cinnamon and Habanero peppers then conditions for months on oak staves.
  • Gose, a mixed culture beer brewed with salt and coriander.

Relaxed and re-energized, I headed back to the dorm with samples of New Growth Summer Spruce Tip IPA to share with those back home.

7 Things to Do with Mint

7 Things to Do with Mint

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170624_142150This summer I’m busy purging my worldly goods as I prepare to sell my home and move into a smaller space. The move gives me less time to garden (and blog). The new space, by the way, will have more land to garden. So … maybe next year.

In the meantime, thank goodness for mint. I didn’t have to plant it. I don’t have to attend to it. And, I still have a trendy  herb to play with.  After all, it grows like a weed.

In this case I can reap what I didn’t sow. I inherited my mint with the gardens on the property. And, true to character it’s prolific, pushing out runners in every direction. Without an underground barrier it’s even moving into the grassy yard which makes mowing smell like a mojito.

That’s a comforting smell to me. When I had an upset stomach as a child my mom would give me a mint or mint tea. Real or imagined, it was soothing.

Today it retains those magical powers.  And so, I will harvest and dry my mint for tea. Because I have so much, I will use it for other purposes as well.

20170624_142759Here are seven easy things to do with mint …

    1. Infuse with it. Steep it in rum for mojitos. Macerate it in vodka. Simply stuff a mason jar with clean mint, pour in the spirit and let it sit in the dark for four to six weeks. Strain and use. Or, with the vodka add simple syrup to create crème de menthe.
    2. Make ice cream. Infuse warm milk or cream – then strain — before moving on with the recipe.
    3. Arrange it. Bundle a bunch and nestle it in a vase. Or stick one stalk in each of three vases. It will look delightful and you can brush it with your fingertips to release an invigorating aroma that’s said to ease headaches and stress.20170624_142503
    4. Cook with it. Use toasted almost with it in a pesto for pork. Steep in apple juice and use to make jelly for lamb chops. Google savory recipes for mint and explore Greek, Middle Eastern, Asian cuisines.
    5. Garnish with it. Pop a sprig in ice tea for a decorative touch. Or tuck it on a plate next to chicken salad.20170624_143011

 6. Dry it. Store your dried stash in a metal tin for a winter warmer.  Or sew into vintage hankies for an energizing sachet.

7. Freeze it in ice cubes. Use them to chill tea or to flavor a refreshing water.


So many uses exist.  * What do you do with mint? * Please share in comments.

You’ll Want this Ornamental Oregano

You’ll Want this Ornamental Oregano

When I saw HSA member Mary Nell Jackson’s photos of Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’ (O. rotundifolium x O. scabrum) I was smitten. So many possibilities. Eager to own it I googled the aesthetic gem. Did you know you can buy herbs on Etsy? I didn’t. I suspect I’ll stop by mail-order giant Bluestone Perennials because the company is in my backyard.

 In the meantime, here’s what Mary Nell has to say about this deer-resistant gem. – PW

By Mary Nell Jackson, HSA MemberOrnamental Oregano

I brought Kent Beauty, a hybrid ornamental oregano, home from The Herb Society of America’s Educational Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas in May.

Unlike culinary oregano, it is grown primarily for its delicate pink/chartreuse-tinged flowers that grow on wiry-like stems covered in small oval light green veined leaves. The stems have a drooping growth habit that makes it perfect for hanging baskets, window boxes and rock gardens. Not a large plant, it can mound up about a foot and trail about 18 inches.

This hybrid oregano isn’t recommended for use as culinary like its pungent cousin oregano (Origanum vulgare). Its fragrance reminds me of a smooth pleasing version of oregano. ‘Kent Beauty’ is prized for its ‘fairy like’ blossoms that dry reliably to use in crafting for wreaths and dried bouquets.

Ornamental oregano vase‘Kent Beauty’ is an annual in my North Texas garden so I planted my new plants in pots that will move indoors before frost. Bloom time for ‘Kent Beauty’ is June to September. Frequent pruning of the beautiful showy flower stems encourages more blooms.

The growing conditions make this herb an easy addition to your garden as it likes to be on the dry side, produces its cascading blooms for four months, requires very little fertilizer and its unusual coloring and growth make it a stand out in any garden.

If I could have more of this beauty I would create a rock garden, have it cascading in annual planted hanging baskets or allow it to border my garden paths but alas I must be practical and thrifty as my garden needs endless supplies of compost and mulch!


Mary Nell Jackson, a longtime member of HSA, is a Member at Large in the South Central District. She gardens in Parker, Texas, near Dallas.