Don’t Throw That Away!

By Angela Magnan

A former roommate once picked on me because I saved the crumbs from the bottom of cracker, chip, and pretzel bags. A few years later, he admitted he was rather impressed with all the different uses I found for them, from incorporating them into quiche crusts and coating fish, to topping casseroles and mixing them into meatballs. So it is not surprising that I am often astounded by the bags of trash that get brought to the curb after my neighbors host summer barbecues. I can’t help but wonder: how much of my neighbors’ food waste could be used for something else?

corn silkOne of the great pleasures of summer is fresh corn on the cob, and one of my least favorite things is the silk that often interferes with that pleasure. But these silky strands can be dried and used as a tea. Corn silk was used by Native Americans to treat urinary tract infections, malaria, and heart problems. It has been used in China, Turkey, and France as well to treat kidney stones, prostate disorders, bedwetting, and obesity. Studies on rats have shown some merit for its use as a diuretic agent, a blood sugar regulator, and an antidepressant. It also has high antioxidant activity. Traditionally, corn silk was collected prior to pollination, but research has shown that mature corn silk from fully developed ears actually has a higher level of antioxidant activity. 

onion skin teaOnion skins can also be used for tea. Simply add boiling water to onion skins and let it steep to a beautiful chestnut color. Onion skins contain quercetin, a compound found in many other fruits, vegetables, leaves, seeds, and grains, including apples, grapes, and black and green teas. Quercetin has shown anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties in studies on rats, but some research has shown that quercetin degrades without the presence of Vitamin C, meaning that both would need to be present to be beneficial. 

Although not as tasty and naturally sweet as the purchased corn silk tea I tried, I found the onion skin tea only slightly bitter with a smooth, pleasant earthy taste. It might taste even better, and be more effective, with a splash of OJ. 

wood trim stained with onion teaOr let it steep longer and use it as a fabric dye or wood stain. After steeping for 24 hours, I dipped one side of a spare piece of basswood trim in the onion skin tea and let it soak for more than an hour. It made a light honey-colored stain that is certainly less smelly and more eco-friendly than oil-based stains. Initially, I tried to wipe the stain onto the wood with a rag, and that didn’t work, so I would recommend this only on dippable small projects.

Do you have leftover lemon peels from making lemonade or lemon bars? Lemon peels are used for fragrance and deodorizing and have antimicrobial and insecticidal properties. Internet searches return results such as “50+ Ways to Use Lemon Peels.” Some of the recommendations include adding lemon peels to your bath; putting dried peels in mesh bags IMG_1934and placing the bags in a drawer or in your shoes to make them smell better; rubbing the peels on your skin when you run out of insect repellent or to eliminate garlic and onion odor; using them to polish your stainless steel sink or chrome faucets; starting a fire with the highly flammable dried peels; and rubbing the peel over your cutting board to sanitize it.

Although research validates that lemon peels do have antimicrobial properties, they seem to be more effective on some microbes than others. One research study found that lemon juice was very effective against Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that often causes food poisoning, but it was slightly less effective against Salmonella and even less so against E. coli. Another study using essential oils found lemon oil to have similar results. So, I am not sure I would trust a lemon peel to sanitize my cutting board, but I might be more inclined to add lemon to my water when attending my next barbecue. Just in case.

Sources:

Clax, J. “10 DIY wood stains that are homemade easily.” The Basic Woodworking: A Complete Guide. https://www.thebasicwoodworking.com/10-diy-wood-stains-that-are-homemade-easily/

Hasanudin K, Hashim P, Mustafa S. Corn silk (Stigma maydis) in healthcare: a phytochemical and pharmacological review. Molecules. 2012;17(8):9697-9715. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6268265/

Li Y, Yao J, Han C, et al. Quercetin, Inflammation and Immunity. Nutrients. 2016;8(3):167. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808895/

Oikeh EI, Omoregie ES, Oviasogie FE, Oriakhi K. Phytochemical, antimicrobial, and antioxidant activities of different citrus juice concentrates. Food Sci Nutr. 2015;4(1):103-109. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4708628/

Ozogul Y , Kuley E, Uçar Y, and Ozogul F. Antimicrobial impacts of essential oils on food borne-pathogens. Rec Pat on Food, Nutr & Agr. 2015;7(1):53-61. Retrieved from: https://www.eurekaselect.com/132210/article

Vrijsen R, Everaert L, Boeyé A. Antiviral activity of flavones and potentiation by ascorbate. J Gen Virol. 1988;69:1749–51. Retrieved from: https://www.microbiologyresearch.org/docserver/fulltext/jgv/69/7/JV0690071749.pdf?expires=1597169419&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=3E98B31038B249A2FA74F0BDF07D4707

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.

Photo credits: 1) Corn silk (FreeImages.com); 2) onion skin tea (author’s photo); 3) wood trim stained with onion tea (author’s photo); 4) lemon peel fire starter (author’s photo).


Angela Magnan grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and has degrees in biochemistry, horticulture, and science writing. She now lives in Maryland and has worked in the Gardens Unit at the US National Arboretum since 2012.

A Weed Lover’s Manifesto


By Andrea Jackson

I love weeds. There, I said it.  Don’t worry, I do pull them (there’s a reason why they’re called weeds, after all), but I am much more likely to make a tincture or a salve or something good (yes, good) to eat than to discard them completely.

After all, weeds were really the first herbs. Emerson said “weeds are but an unloved flower.” They have also been called a plant out of place. Consider a field of commercial dandelions with a single forlorn rose bush growing in the middle. Now which one is the weed?

Plantago_major_SZ356869_Freshwater_MCotterill_IWNHASWeeds tell wonderful stories, and as we learn them, they take us on a journey to discover where they came from and how they came to be who they are today. 

For example, there’s the common broadleaf plantain (Plantago major). Broadleaf plantain is everywhere, which is a good thing for us because chewing a leaf and applying it to a sting will relieve it instantly. It is an unparalleled remedy for skin conditions and finds its way into just about every salve I make. The common name evolved from the Roman name planta, or the sole of man’s foot, because it seemed to follow the Roman legions wherever they went throughout Europe. This is certainly a good indication that plantain has been around for quite a while. The Anglo-Saxons called it the mother of herbs and used a magical verse anytime it was applied to a wound.

If you have a garden, you almost certainly have purslane (Portulaca oleracea). It has succulent leaves, which look rather like a prostrate jade plant spread out in all directions. Although it is an annual, even the tiniest stem left behind will sprout a new plant. Purslane has been enjoyed all over the world as a potherb, thus its specific epithet, oleracea, meaning “used as food.” It is known as the vegetable for long life in China. 

purslanePurslane is one of the highest plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids and can be used in simple summer soups and salads. Each summer, I make a wonderful purslane relish that far surpasses any relish from the grocery shelf. The recipe is in my current favorite wild foods book, The Forager’s Feast, by Leda Meredith.

Garlic mustard (Alliaira petiolata) and black mustard (Brassica nigra) are certainly some of the most invasive plants around; fortunately, they are also delicious. A yummy pesto can be made with the young leaves. You can also sauté a crushed clove of garlic, toss in a handful of garlic mustard leaves and violet leaves, and cook for no more than 30 seconds; then, sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and a dash of soy sauce, and you have a healthy, garlic mustarddelectable side dish.

This is just a teaser to help you to see weeds in a different way. Since they have always been with us and will always be with us, perhaps it’s time to get to know them better. For more fascinating information about these plants, read Just Weeds by Pamela Jones or A City Herbal by Maida Silverman.

 

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.


Andrea Jackson is a member of the Western Pennsylvania Unit of the Herb Society of America. She started her herbal adventure over 30 years ago after attending an herb walk led by Piccadilly Herb Club, of which she ultimately became a member.  When she lived in Baltimore, she was a founding member of Partners in Thyme. She also belongs to the American Herbalists Guild, and the American Botanical Council.

Herbs aside, Andrea is a registered nurse and a Master Gardener and lectures extensively to groups ranging from professional organizations to garden clubs.  She was featured on the local affiliate of ABC news in a segment on medicinal herbs.

Her particular interests lie in the medicinal uses of herbs, herbal lore, and weeds, which she considers to be the first herbs. When she is not spreading the herbal gospel, she is tucked away in her herb room formulating various concoctions. 

Nose-Twisting Nasturtiums

By Susan Belsinger

Bloody Mary1Plant Profile
Family: Tropaeolaceae
Scientific name: Tropaeolum majus
Common names: nasturtium, Indian cress, trophy cress, trophywort
Native Habitat: Peru, parts of South America
Plant Type: Annual
Growth Habit: Dwarf bushy cultivars grow from 8 to 18 inches in height, while the climbers can easily reach 6 to 10 feet, or more.
Hardiness: Hardy in frost-free locations
Light: Best in full sun; can tolerate a few hours of shade, which produces more leaves with fewer flowers
Water: Moist but not wet; will tolerate some drought
Soil: Friable and porous garden loam, well-drained soil; does well in containers
                                                                                   Propagation: Seeds in spring

“Nasturtium is an herb which for me has three uses: it lights sober herb beds with its bright colors of orange and yellow; all summer it decorates salads with leaves and gay flowers; and in the autumn it provides green seeds for pickling. Does it not earn for itself a place in an herb garden?”

                                                                                                                    —Annie Burnham Carter
                                                                                                                        In An Herb Garden

One of my very favorite flowers that I grow in all of my gardens for many reasons are nasturtiums, and I affectionately refer to these garden rowdies as “nasties”. They are easy to cultivate and effortlessly fill in garden spaces with their mounds of fun foliage even before their showy colors appear. The unusual foliage has rounded, wavy-edged leaves that are attached to their stems from the underside, directly in the center of the leaves, so that they resemble fairy umbrellas. These center-stemmed leaves radiate veins from a center dot looking somewhat star-like and range in various shades of green: grey-green, bright green, blue-green, and variegated. The spurred, trumpet-shaped flowers are available in a palette of bright colors from tropical creamy yellow, peach, and coral to vivid primary yellows and reds, in addition to knockout oranges, golds and even mahogany. Many are splashed or dotted with colors and my new favorite, ‘Bloody Mary’, has a different design and range of colors on each bloom. It is said that due to the shield-like form of the leaf and the helmet-shaped blooms that the botanical name derives from tropaion, the Greek word for “trophy.” 

DCF 1.0

No wonder Monet cultivated them liberally throughout the gardens at Giverny, where he captured the mounding masses of jewel-colored blooms in numerous of his famous paintings. Thomas Jefferson planted nasturtiums in his garden every year and lamented when he couldn’t get seed enough for a bed of them measuring 10 x 19-yards. In Green Enchantment by Rosetta Clarkson, she writes of a Dr. Fernie commenting on “nasturtium flowers giving out sparks of an electric nature at sunset.” Richard Mabey of The New Age Herbalist notes that, “It is said that on hot summer days sparks are emitted from the heart of the flower due to its high phosphoric acid content.”   Others, however, have attributed this phenomenon to an interesting optical illusion produced by the interplay of our eyes and the contrast of the flowers and foliage at dusk. For further explanation, read this interesting, informative article about nasturtiums: https://heirloomcottagegarden.weebly.com/blog/nasturtium-tropaeolum-majus

We owe our gratitude to the Spanish conquistadores for bringing the fiery-colored Tropaeolum minus back to Europe from South America more than 500 years ago. The species is a vine that can easily grow about 8 to 10 feet and likes a fence or trellis for support, while the more common nasturtium cultivars grow in mounds or trail along borders, spill over walls or over the edges of containers. Nasturtiums start easily from seed in average soil and full sun; I put them in early in my Zone 7 garden (about the same time that I put in early greens) in late March, early April. I like the ritual—going about the garden with my seed packs—poking the fat bumpy-round seeds (which sort of remind me of a small chickpea) in the cold earth with my finger along the edges of the kitchen bed. I plant them anywhere from 8 inches (for masses) to a good foot apart. Keep them well watered; however, do not fertilize too much or you’ll get massive leaf growth with few blooms. Harvest leaves regularly to keep them bushy. 

nasties (3)I just love that their name combines the Latin nasus for “nose” and tortus for “twisted” describing how our nose twists or wrinkles when we inhale their spicy scent. In The Fragrant Path by Louise Beebe Wilder she agrees, “ …perhaps the individual odours of the summer garden are derived from certain plants which persons of hyper-sensitive nasal organs may turn from in disgust. I call these plants Nose-twisters, because the rough and heady scent of Nasturtium, which seems to have in it something bitter, something peppery, and a vague underlying smoky sweetness, is representative of them.” 

In the kitchen, you can use both the fresh foliage and flowers to add a pleasant hint of heat and pungency (this dissipates when cooked so I use them mostly fresh) to many summer dishes. The leaves are high in vitamin C and add a peppery cress-like flavor to salads, sandwiches, green sauces, or they can be shredded and tossed with pasta, rice, couscous or chicken salad, or chopped as a topping for pizza. 

flower & herb butter (14)The blossoms have the same pepperiness as the leaves, but are milder with a hint of floral scent. They make excellent containers for cold salads—egg, chicken, and vegetable—as well as cheese spreads. Since they are a bit fragile when filled, I tend to put them on a slice of vegetable or bread in order to pick them up easily. Whole flowers can be used in salads or as garnishes; vinegar flavored with nasturtium flowers is lovely in color and interesting in flavor; or cut flowers and leaves into chiffonade (thin ribbons) and blend with butter, or toss with egg salad, noodles, vegetables, or fish. The unopened buds, marinated in wine or vinegar, make an unusual refrigerator pickle. Seeds are harvested and pickled and used as a substitute for capers.

To harvest leaves, pick them and remove stems, wash and use like lettuce. For flowers, pick them with long stems and keep them in a glass of water until ready for preparation. Rinse blooms gently and shake or pat them dry. Pull the bloom from the stem and use whole or gently tear into separate petals. While they can stand cool weather, they will succumb to the first frost.

Sources
Belsinger, Susan and Arthur O. Tucker. 2016. The Culinary Herbal. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.

Belsinger, Susan. 1991. Flowers in the Kitchen. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press.

Carter, Annie Burnham. 1947. In An Herb Garden. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus). Retrieved from https://heirloomcottagegarden.weebly.com/blog/nasturtium-tropaeolum-majus

Wilder. Elizabeth Beebe. 1996. The Fragrant Path. Point Roberts, Washington: Hartley & Marks Publishers, Inc.

Photos courtesy of the author. 1) Bloody Mary; 2) Alaska series; 3) Nasty bouquet; 4) Flower and herb butter


Susan is a culinary herbalist, food writer, educator, and photographer whose work has been published in numerous publications. She has authored a number of award-winning books. Her latest book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs was co-authored with the late Dr. Arthur Tucker. Susan is passionate about herbs and her work, sharing the joy of gardening and cooking through teaching & writing, and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell & taste.

Makrut Lime – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

thai lime fruitThe Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for August is the makrut lime, Citrus hystrix, a member of the Rutaceae family. This lime is also known as kaffir lime or Thai lime, and also wild lime. You may have spotted it in a produce market or Asian supermarket and wondered what makes it different from an ordinary lime. It certainly looks different, in that it has a gnarly, bumpy skin. The very aromatic leaves are different, too, because they look as though they are two leaves attached to each other. The juice is sour and bitter, and so is not usually used in cooking because it can overwhelm other flavors.

This lime has been widely grown in Asia for so long that it has become naturalized in many countries. Therefore, no one is certain of its origin. It is a staple ingredient in Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asian cuisines. The leaves, which are sold frozen, fresh, or dried, are usually finely chopped and incorporated into food or sprinkled on top. The makrut lime can be planted outdoors in warmer climates, or grown in a pot that can be brought inside for the winter in colder climates. It is a host plant for the giant swallowtail butterfly.

thai limeRecently, there has been a concerted effort among chefs and other food professionals to replace the name kaffir lime with the name makrut lime or Thai lime. The word “kaffir” has a derogatory, racist connotation in South Africa, and it has a derogatory religious meaning in Middle Eastern countries. 

Like other citrus species, the leaves, seeds, skin, bark, and root of the makrut lime have a number of medicinal benefits. In Southeast Asian countries, it has been used in shampoos, ointments, and in toothpaste and mouthwash products. A recent study published in the journal Nutrition by Kooltheat et al. (2016) has shown that the essence of the lime used on the teeth and gums  can prevent tooth decay. In Malaysian countries, the leaf is rubbed into the gums and on the teeth as a mouth and dental cleaner. And because of the fruit’s limonene and citronella content, it is added to shampoos to treat lice. The lime has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat colds and congestion and to help with digestion. Its oil is also used in aromatherapy to reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue. In Thailand, makrut lime is added to household cleaning products. The authors of an article in Drug Intervention Today conclude that because of the lime’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial components, “extensive investigation on its pharmacology and clinical trials is needed to exploit their therapeutic utility to cure various diseases” (Abirami et al., 2014).

Distillers and bartenders have discovered that the addition of makrut lime to their beverages can make distinctive-tasting and aromatic drinks. Treaty Oak Distilling in waterlooDripping Springs, Texas, has developed a gin that incorporates the makrut lime, as well as other herbs. They describe their gin as making you “rethink everything you thought you knew about this spirit.”

Research on the medicinal qualities of the makrut lime underscores the importance of protecting native species that have been used for centuries as medicinal plants. It is promising that there is ongoing research on the effective medical applications of not only the makrut lime, but many other native medicinal plants as well.

For more information on the makrut lime, please visit The Herb Society of America’s website, where you will find more information, recipes and a beautiful screen saver of this unusual-looking fruit. https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html

Sources:

Kooltheat, N.  et al. Kaffir lime leaves extract inhibits biofilm formation by Streptococcus mutans. Nutrition. 32, (4). April 2016. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900715004165?via%3Dihub#!

Abirami, A., Nagarani, G., & Siddhuraju, P.  The medicinal and nutritional role of underutilized citrus fruit-Citrus hystrix (Kaffir Lime): A Review.  Drug Intervention Today.  6(1), January, 2014. Retrieved from http://docplayer.net/38584426-The-medicinal-and-nutritional-role-of-underutilized-citrus-fruit-citrus-hystrix-kaffir-lime-a-review.html

Photo Credits (from top): Makrut lime fruits (Creative Commons); Makrut lime leaves (Wikimedia Commons, courtesy Forrest & Kim Starr), Waterloo Old Yaupon Gin (courtesy Treaty Oaks Distillery).

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. She is a Master Gardener and a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Growing Chia – A “Pet Project” in Wisconsin

By Erin Presley

IMG_0374A few years ago, I was researching plants native to Mexico and Central America for a Mexican-themed garden at my work, Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin.  As an important early center of plant diversity and domestication, some of our favorite garden plants originally hail from Mexico, including tomatoes, corn, and chiles, as well as zinnias, cosmos, dahlias, and petunias. One less familiar plant also turned up on my list:  chia.

Among edible plants, chia may have some of the most bizarre associations. Many people remember the 1980s chia pet craze. More recently, chia seed has become popular as a “superfood” and has made its way into chips and crackers, bakery items, and beverages. IMG_0360It’s high in protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. However, the gelatinous texture of the soaked seeds can be disconcerting for some. I remember having a visiting Californian friend who forgot a bottle of chia kombucha in his car one Wisconsin winter night. An explosion of grape kombucha slush full of sticky seeds is not a pleasant morning surprise in the backseat of your rental car.

IMG_0449When I learned that chia is actually a species of sage, Salvia hispanica, and saw photos of its pretty blue flowers, I was intent on growing it. My seed search led me to Dr. Tim Phillips, a plant scientist at the University of Kentucky working on breeding early flowering chia suitable for cool northern climates. Tim introduced me to the importance of chia in Mayan and Aztec cultures – for the Aztecs, chia was the third most important crop after corn and beans and could even be used as a form of tribute similar to a tax payment. I knew he would be an entertaining colleague when he also related the Aztec legend that chia had originally been sneezed from the nose of the maize god, Cinteotl.

Tim generously sent some of his early flowering chia up to Wisconsin, and we have had great success with it ever since. Direct sown after frost danger has passed, the seeds sprout readily, and the plants grow to about four feet with spiky periwinkle blue flowers. IMG_0354When the plants start to turn brown, we look for mature charcoal gray or white seeds within the calyces and then hang the plants to dry for a few days if the weather is rainy or humid. After that, the dried calyces and seeds are stripped from the stalks and sifted through a series of colanders and screens to separate the seeds, and the last bits of chaff are blown out using a gentle stream of air. The seeds are stored for incorporation into food and beverages and for growing in subsequent years. Check out our tasty recipe for rhubarb agua de chia below!

DSC01837The chia plants have been such an attractive and easy to grow garden highlight, with so much interesting history, that we grow them every year. Unfortunately, the early flowering chia seed strains are under patent until 2029, and not available to home gardeners (yet). Tim did suggest trying to track down two other salvias with edible seeds, Tarahumara chia (Salvia tilifolia) and golden chia (Salvia columbariae).

 

Rhubarb Agua de Chia

The cheery pink color, refreshing tartness, and slippery chia seeds make this a perfect thirst quencher on a hot day.  

Makes 6 cups finished beverage

A few hours or the day prior to serving, make the rhubarb water.  In a large pot, combine 1 pound coarsely chopped fresh rhubarb, 1 ½ cups sugar, and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then allow to cool for one hour and strain.

One hour prior to serving, stir in ½ cup fresh lime juice and 1 Tbsp chia seeds and allow to stand for one hour as the seeds swell. Serve over ice.

Photos courtesy of the author: 1) blue chia flowers with senescing plants from an earlier sowing; 2) hand-cleaned chia seed; 3) blue flower spikes; 4) author cleaning chia seed; 5) drying chia seed heads ready for harvest.


Erin is a horticulturist at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, a free public garden on the shores of Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, where she loves to experiment and share fun, innovative, and productive ways to grow and use edible plants! She can be reached at:

epresley@cityofmadison.com

Instagram:  @presleyspreferredplants

Edible Flowers from Culinary Herbs

By Peggy Riccio

Edible flowers with deviled eggs
Deviled eggs with edible herbal flowers (Photo courtesy of Susan Belsinger)

During this time of “unintentional pausing” I have been diving even deeper into the world of herbs. I am growing a wider variety of herbs, watching herbal webinars and cooking demonstrations, and experimenting in the kitchen. Recently, I learned that flowers from culinary herbs are edible. “Edible” in this case simply means one can eat them — not that they are necessarily “tasty.” However, because the flowers are edible, regardless of their taste, they can be used for botanical color and decoration. Think of a painter’s palette with each paint symbolizing a culinary herb in your garden. Think of how that flower can add color and interest to your meals and beverages. Imagine how the flower would look whole, separated, or even minced. The following are great for adding botanical color.

Calendula with egg salad
Pot marigold flowers with egg salad

I love the bright orange/yellow color of pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) flowers. The best thing about them is that they can be used whole, separated, or minced and fresh or dried. I garnish pound cakes by placing a few orange flower heads on the side on a blue platter, and I sprinkle the petals on the white frosting of an angel food cake. For contrast, I sprinkle the gold petals on green beans or broccoli. The petals can add orange color to biscuits, banana bread, butter, cream cheese, egg salad, egg dishes, and rice dishes. If you mince the petals with a knife, you can make orange confetti. You can also combine this with colors of other edible flowers to decorate anything from fruit salad to cupcakes.

Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) flowers are bright red with a funnel shape. The entire flower, or coarsely chopped flowers, can add a splash of red to a fruit salad. The entire flower can float in a clear cocktail or lemonade. Coarsely chopped flowers can add red color to butter, condiments, and sauces or to a chicken, seafood, or fish dish at the end of the cooking period.

Borage (Borago officinalis) flowers have a striking blue flower head — a singular flower adds beauty to a cupcake. Each flower head can be encased in an ice cube for a drink or just float the flower in a cocktail. Separated, the petals can add sky blue to fruit salads, yogurt-based dips, or any baked item. These are also good for topping off appetizers or garnishing a cake.

Tomato soup with cilantro

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), dill (Anethum graveolens), and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) have small white or yellow flowers. These are best used as a garnish, like sprinkling on soups, green salads, and main entrees. They can be added to an appetizer or deviled eggs. Usually they are used for savory dishes or pickling, not desserts and drinks.

Shrimp with rosemary
Shrimp with rosemary

Purple rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and sage (Salvia spp.) flowers are great for adding color and interest because guests will never expect them. The rosemary flowers are smaller than sage flowers but both can be used for the same type of dishes. I add them to seafood, shrimp scampi, pasta, green salad, potatoes, and green vegetables. They can also be used for cocktails and mulled wine. Sage and rosemary flowers pair well with melon, cut up fresh oranges, or poached pears.

Of course, there are many herb flowers with both flavor and color. Lavender (Lavandula spp.), chives (Allium spp.), and basil (Ocimum basilicum) are classic examples. These can be used as well, but knowing that all culinary herbs have edible flowers expands your palette of what you can use in your meals and beverages. To get you started, write down the culinary herbs you have in the garden and post this paper on the inside of your kitchen cupboard. When you are cooking or baking, you can open the cupboard and look at your list to remember what you can pick to add color and interest to your dish.


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.

Amazing Anise Hyssop

By Susan Belsinger

Agastache foeniculum

——————–Agastache foeniculum——————-

While commonly called anise hyssop, the odor is more similar to French tarragon, though sweeter, with a hint of basil. The foliage and flowers taste similar to the aroma—sweet, with the licorice of tarragon and basil—and just a bit floral.

All of the thirty or so Agastache species are good for honey production and make great ornamental perennials. The flowering plants go well with the silver-leaved species of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum), which flower about the same time in the July garden and also provide good bee forage. The young, broad, dark green leaves of A. foeniculum, tinged purple in cool weather, are attractive with spring bulbs such as yellow daffodils.

Agastache species do not have GRAS status, even though the leaves of many species have been used for centuries as a substitute for French tarragon, infused in syrups and cordials, or brewed into tea, and the flowers have been used with fruit, in desserts and confections, and mixed in salads. Both the leaves and flowers make good additions to potpourri.

Agastache foeniculum is most often grown, though A. mexicana, A. rugosa, and A. scrophulariifolia provide similar flavors to French tarragon and basil, though may include plants scented of peppermint or pennyroyal. 

Growing basics:

Hardy short-lived perennial, three to five feet high
Hardiness to zone 4, preferring cool summers
Full sun to part shade
Keep moist but not wet 
Soil rich in organic matter, pH 7.0

Cultivation and propagation:

Agastache species need little more than partly shaded to sunny, well-drained, acidic to near-neutral soil. The seeds (actually tiny nuts, or nutlets) are most easily started by broadcasting; established clumps readily reseed themselves, often in tiny nooks and crannies or the middle of the garden path. Seeds may also be sown in the greenhouse, with transplants in six to eight weeks. 

Clumps generally last two to three years, becoming very woody at the base and eventually dying. Since reseeding is not a problem, anise hyssop will persist in your garden yet never really become weedy; it is easy to move about. The soil should be evenly moist, well drained, slightly acid, and high in organic matter. 

Harvesting and preserving:

For tea, harvest leaves early in the day during a sunny, rain-free spell close to when the plants will be flowering, then dry the leaves and store them in glass jars. Anise hyssop makes an unusual vinegar and is one of my favorites for salads when made with white wine or rice vinegar. 

It makes a tasty cordial if you like the taste of sweet licorice. I enjoyed Agastache-infused vodka more than once with Dr. Jim Duke, who used to put sprigs of anise hyssop in his 1.75-liter bottle of vodka, which he kept in the freezer, for a preferred libation. 

Leaves are sometimes candied as a confection for desserts; after the egg white and sugar mixture has set and dried, store them in tightly closed containers at room temperature or in the freezer for three to six months. Flowers are often harvested fresh as edible flowers for salads, beverages, syrups, and desserts. Anise hyssop sugar is easy to make by processing the flowers with sugar—it is great to have on hand for topping cookies, muffins, crisps and crumbles.  

Part of this text is excerpted from Grow Your Own Herbs, which was the last book that I co-authored with Dr. Arthur Tucker. I raise a glass of anise hyssop cordial here to both Art and Jim—two herbal mentors—who loved the flavor of Agastache.

Cherry Tomatoes Marinated with Anise Hyssop, Chives, & Balsamic Vinegar

These tomatoes can be served as a simple side salad, tossed with salad greens or pasta, spread on pizza or served on bruschetta (toasted bread rubbed with garlic) as an appetizer. Anise hyssop gives an anise/licorice-like flavor somewhat similar to basil or tarragon. I use the smaller leaves—if using larger leaves remove the center stem, as they can be a bit tough. Garnish with a little grated mozzarella if desired. This recipe is adapted from The Greens Book by Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger.

Serves 4 or 8; makes about 16 to 20 appetizers when served on baguette-sized slices)

1-pint cherry or pear-shaped tomatoes, quartered lengthwise and halved crosswise
About 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
About 2 tablespoons chopped chives, common or garlic 
Generous 1/2 cup anise hyssop leaves cut into chiffonade (thin ribbons)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Grated mozzarella, optional 
Chive and anise hyssop flowers for garnish

Combine the tomatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, chives and anise hyssop. Salt and pepper generously and toss well. Taste for seasoning and adjust with oil, vinegar or salt and pepper as needed.

Serve straightaway or the salad can sit at cool room temperature (do not refrigerate) for an hour or two before serving; the tomatoes will give off a lot of juice if allowed to sit. 

Serve the salad as is or over salad greens. Or spoon the tomato and herb mixture evenly over garlic bruschetta, drizzling a little of the marinade juices over all, or toss with pasta adding a drizzle more of olive oil. Sprinkle with grated mozzarella, if desired, and garnish with a sprinkling of chive and/or anise hyssop flowers.


Susan is a culinary herbalist, food writer, educator, and photographer whose work has been published in numerous publications. She has authored a number of award-winning books. Her latest book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs was co-authored with the late Dr. Arthur Tucker. Susan is passionate about herbs and her work, sharing the joy of gardening and cooking through teaching & writing, and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell & taste.

Cooking with Monarda

By Susan Belsinger

(Blogmaster’s note: With Monarda currently in its full glory here in zone 7, we’re posting this recipe so you can take advantage of its unique flavors while it’s still in bloom. Serve these tasty treats at your next summer celebration!)

—————————–Monarda didyma—————————-

Monarda (commonly called bee balm or bergamot) is a native American herb named after a Spanish physician and botanist, N. Monardez, of Seville. Its unusual and ornamental flowers possess a distinctly architectural character with their rather bristly, shaggy-headed colorful appearance. All species attract bees and are good honey plants. Right now, my stands of the various bee balms are abuzz with activity from dawn until dusk. The twelve species of Monarda, all native to North America, offer a wide assortment of flavors and fragrances—from lemon to thyme to pungent oregano to tealike and rose—produced on annual or perennial plants. So sniff and taste the flowers and leaves before using them in a recipe because they are very different in flavor.  

The cultivars with red flowers tend to have a tea-like aroma and flavor, suggesting Earl Grey tea and rose geranium; the leaves are more herbaceous, while the flowers are sweeter like honeysuckle. These leaves and flowers can be used for sweet dishes—in syrups and beverages (they make beautiful ice cubes), with summer fruits—and baked in scones and tea breads. The lemony forms, although rare, are delightful in tea and in fruit salads. The more common thyme- and oregano-scented clones have been used as substitutes for thyme and oregano, and generally their blooms are in shades of purple, pink, and white. Use these spicy leaves and flowers wherever you would use oregano; the flowers are fun and tasty scattered over pasta and vegetable salads, grain salads, and pizza. 

———-Monarda fistulosa———–

While we love the bright red blooms of ‘Cambridge Scarlet’, most selections of Monarda are prone to powdery mildew, turning the plant into a mass of grayish white, curled leaves that soon drop. This infection can be reduced by increasing the movement of air (thinning every other plant stem), by removing diseased leaves (cut them back when mildew is noticed and next flush of growth should come back without it), and, most importantly, by choice of mildew-resistant selections, particularly ‘Colrain Red’, ‘Marshall’s Delight’, ‘Purple Mildew Resistant’, ‘Raspberry Wine’, ‘Rose queen’, ‘Rosy Purple’, ‘Violet Queen’, and Monarda fistulolsa f. albescens

While we have planted these named cultivars in the past in our gardens, we must admit that labels have a tendency to get broken and the original plants die out; however, Monardas gently reseed themselves into our gardens in a myriad of scents and colors of flowers. After planting whatever selections you favor, just sit back and let nature work its magic to weave a tapestry of odors and colors. They also make great cut flowers—at the moment there are vases of different colors throughout the house and even on the back porch.

Growing basics:

Annual or perennial to about 47 inches
Hardy to zone 4
Full sun to part shade
Moist, not constantly wet
Well-drained garden loam

Cultivation and propagation:

Cultivation is generally easy on moist, well-drained garden loam in full sun to part shade, depending upon the species. Hybrids that are red, derived from M. didyma, can grow in sun or some shade, prefer shade and deep humusy soil and plenty of moisture. Hybrids that tend to light lavender floral shades, derived from M. fistulosa, prefer very well-drained, gravelly soil in full sun.

Harvesting and preserving:

Harvest leaves fresh as you need them. These are very easily dried by hanging or laying over screens. The dried flower heads, sometimes tinged with reds and purples, also make beautiful dried flowers; use the red flowers in beverages, syrups, and desserts, and use the purple and pink cultivars with an oregano flavor in herb butters and cream cheese.

(While this has been revised and updated, the “we” here is excerpted from The Culinary Herbal by Susan Belsinger and Arthur O. Tucker.)

Blondies with Monarda & Apricots
(or bergamot bars)

These are one of my favorite dessert bars; my daughters like them so much that Lucie requested to have them on the dessert table at her wedding. Right now is the time to make them—use leaves and red flowers. Orange mint can be substituted for the Monarda. This recipe is from Not Just Desserts—Sweet Herbal Recipes, which is available on my website. I have changed the recipe a bit—I use organic brown sugar and sometimes replace the granulated with coconut sugar—and I use half whole-wheat and half unbleached flour (although I often use all white, whole-wheat pastry flour). Recently I made them with dried, coarsely chopped cherries in place of the apricots.

Makes 32 bars

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
About 1 cup dried apricots
About 1/2 cup Monarda leaves and/or flowers, loosely packed
1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. When melted, add the brown sugar and stir. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until the brown sugar is thick and syrupy, for about 4 minutes. Stir in the granulated sugar until it is dissolved and remove the pan from the heat to cool; the fat will separate from the sugar.

Thinly slice the apricots crosswise. Wash, dry, and coarsely chop the Monarda leaves and flowers; there should be about 1/4 cup of chopped herb.   

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and stir to blend. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture over the apricots and toss to coat them lightly.  

Whisk the eggs, one at a time, into the warm brown sugar and butter mixture (it should not be hot) to blend thoroughly. Add the vanilla and stir well.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour and stir until it is just blended. Add the apricots and Monarda and stir until they are just mixed in. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in a preheated oven for 35 minutes, until the top is a deep golden brown.  Allow to cool completely on a baking rack before cutting into bars.


Susan is a culinary herbalist, food writer, educator, and photographer whose work has been published in numerous publications. She has authored a number of award-winning books. Her latest book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs was co-authored with the late Dr. Arthur Tucker. Susan is passionate about herbs and her work, sharing the joy of gardening and cooking through teaching & writing, and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell & taste.

Black Pepper – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Black pepper, Piper nigrum, is a ubiquitous spice that can be found on tables anywhere in the world where food is served. But what is the story behind this popular spice that is used in kitchens the world over? 

P. nigrum is native to the Malabar Coast of southern India. It is also grown in other parts of the tropical world, including Vietnam, which has taken the lead in production by exporting 287,000 tons of black pepper worth $722 million in 2019. This is about 35% of the world’s black pepper trade. 

pepppercorn drupe from Missouri Botantical Garden

Pepppercorn drupes. Photo credit: Missouri Botantical Garden

Black pepper is a perennial vine with heart shaped leaves and pendulous flowers. It is grown for its fruit, which is dried and then used as a seasoning. The black pepper vine grows in my Zone 8b garden; however, it has yet to produce any peppercorns, although it bloomed for the first time this year. Maybe one day I will have peppercorns.

“Pepper” comes from the Sanskrit word pippali, which means energy and spiritedness. When we say “peppy,” we are referring to the taste of black pepper that can “pep” us up.

Black, white, and green peppercorns come from the same plant. Black pepper is the dried, unripe fruit. White pepper is the seed of the dried, fully ripe fruit. Green pepper is the dried unripe fruit that is brined to preserve its flavor and color. Pink peppercorns are not a pepper at all, since they come from the Peruvian pepper tree, Schinus molle, which is in the cashew family.

Archaeological evidence shows that black pepper was used as a seasoning in India as early as 2000 BCE. Exportation brought it to Egypt, where it was used as a spice and as a medicine. Containers of peppercorns have been found in Egyptian tombs, and they were even found in the nostrils of Ramses II who was mummified in 1213 BCE. Egyptians were early users of toothpaste, which they made from rock salt, dried iris flowers, black pepper, and mint. Cleopatra is said to have had skin lotions made with black pepper.

peppercornsWith exploration came the spread of black pepper to the Roman Empire, where it was considered so valuable that large quantities were stored in the Roman treasury. The first century Roman cookbook, Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome by Apicius, featured recipes in which 80% of them called for black pepper. Pliny the Elder (25-79 CE) could not understand the reason for pepper’s popularity. He remarked, “Whereas pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation to either fruit or berry, its only desirable quality being a certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India!” Romans used black pepper as a treatment for digestive problems and gas relief. They also used it as currency. When Alaric the Visigoth laid siege to Rome around 400 CE, he demanded a ransom of three thousand pounds of black pepper, along with gold and silver. 

After the fall of Rome, the Persians and then the Arabs were in control of the spice trade. They created fantastic, frightening stories about where pepper grew in order to scare other traders away from the source of black pepper. Their trade created a new empire – the city states of Venice and Genoa. The black pepper trade was responsible, in part, for the wealth of these two cities that sold the commodity to the rest of Europe. 

Due to the high cost of trading between Europe and India, black pepper and other spices became a luxury and a symbol of wealth, as the taste for flavored foods and a belief in the medicinal qualities of spices grew.  Again, it was also used as currency: a pound of black pepper could free a serf, and many a young maiden was married with a black pepper dowry.

With the explorations of Vasco Da Gama and others in the 15th century, trade in black pepper fell to the Portuguese, then to the Dutch, and then to the British East India Company. At one time, pepper accounted for 70% of the world spice trade. As it became more available, prices dropped, and more people were able to use black pepper. As a result, many world cuisines developed special spice/herb blends that included black pepper.

nothingtodoinbermuda.com

Annual Peppercorn Ceremony in Bermuda. Photo credit: nothingtodoinbermuda.com

An amusing story about black pepper plays out in Bermuda, where each year, the 200 year old Annual Peppercorn Ceremony occurs. During this event, Freemasons present the Governor of Bermuda with one peppercorn on a cushioned silver platter in exchange for their rent of the Old State house. The idea of “peppercorn rent” is still practiced today in England and in other countries, where a nominal fee is charged to rent a property. This refers back to the time when peppercorns were used as currency. 

Piperine, a key constituent in black pepper, is being explored for its antioxidant properties and as a treatment for vitiligo, which is the loss of skin pigmentation (Mihăilă et al, 2019). In addition, piperine is found to fight inflammation, improve digestion, and increase absorption of some herbal and conventional drugs (Streit, 2019). A relatively recent study showed that smelling hot pepper oil helps to reduce the craving to smoke (Cordell & Buckle, 2013).

Black pepper is used extensively in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat digestive tract problems. Traditionally, it was used to treat worms, coughs and colds, sinusitis, dental problems, diarrhea, etc. The oil was used to treat scalp infections and skin diseases. 

Who would have thought that this common culinary spice played such an important role in world history? It was used to pay taxes, ransoms, rent, and dowry. As a medium of exchange, it was called black gold. It was, and still is, an important medicinal ingredient. And, it was the reason sailors set sail on perilous journeys to find a passage to India. Although no longer considered a luxury spice, the world’s demand for black pepper has not abated through the years, and continues to be an important spice in most cuisines. It has a peppery hold in many of our kitchens and still reigns as the “king of spices.”

For more information and recipes using black pepper, go to The Herbs Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage: https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html

Cordell, B. and Buckle, J. (2013). The effects of aromatherapy on nicotine cravings on a U.S. campus: A small comparison study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19 (8). Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2012.0537

Mihăilă,B., Dinică, R.M., Tatu, A.L., and Buzia, O. D. (2019). New insights in vitilago treatments using bioactive compounds from Piper nigrum. Exp Ther Med, 17 (2): 1039-1044. Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6327422/

Streit, L. (2019). Is black pepper good for you, or bad? Nutrition, uses, and more. Healthline. Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-black-pepper-good-for-you

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

Sorrel – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), a tart, lemony herb, is used today primarily in cooking. However, you may have to grow your own sorrel or visit a farmer’s market or specialty store in early spring if you want to make any recipe with it. 

sorrelChopped and combined with cream and butter, sorrel makes a nice sauce for fish. If you have Eastern European or Jewish heritage, you may have had sorrel soup (schav) growing up. The leaves can be chopped and added to casseroles, or added to any soup to brighten the flavor. You can also make a pesto with the leaves or use it in combination with basil, mint, etc. to give your pesto a different flavor. Leaves can be cooked along with spinach, and baby leaves can be tossed into salads. Add it to salad dressing to give a tangy taste. It’s best to use the young leaves, as older leaves tend to acquire a more sour taste. Combining it with sour cream or cream will lessen its sourness. At one time, meat was wrapped with sorrel leaves to tenderize it. Sorrel is used in French cooking, for which the preferred species is Rumex scutatus. This species has a milder, lemon-like flavor and smaller, rounded leaves.

Sorrel was, at one time, a very popular herb in places where citrus fruits were not available. Because of its high Vitamin C content, it was eaten in the 16th-18th centuries to prevent scurvy. It was thought to also cure diseases of the mouth including loose teeth, which is a symptom of scurvy.  Because of the oxalic acid in sorrel, people with arthritic, renal, and gastrointestinal disorders should eat it with caution. However, light cooking of sorrel decreases the oxalic content of the leaves. Young leaves also have less oxalic acid than older leaves.

sorrel, red

Rumex sanguineus

The roots and seeds have been used in traditional medicines, with the roots as well as the leaves having components that produce a laxative effect. “Currently, studies on sorrel offer promising results in the areas of digestion, infection prevention, topical skin treatments, and anti-proliferative activity.” (American Botanical Council, HerbalEGram, May 2016).

In the past, sorrel was used to remove ink stains, rust, and mold from linen. Juice from the leaves makes an olive green dye, and the roots produce a bright yellow dye.

Sorrel has bright green, long, arrow-shaped leaves, and produces an inflorescence in May-June. It is easy to grow in zones 4-8.  Seeds can be sown directly in the ground before the last frost. Plants can also be divided and shared. It is a perennial in my zone 8b garden. Sorrel does like acidic soil and plenty of sun, but will tolerate some shade. There is a species with red veining, Rumex sanguineus, that makes a nice accent plant in the garden. It is also edible, though it lacks the strong flavor of garden sorrel, Rumex acetosa.

Here is my mother-in-law’s recipe for sorrel soup:

Sorrel Soup

¼ lb. sorrel leaves

1 tbsp. butter

2 cups chicken broth

3 eggs yolks

½ cup cream

Salt and white pepper

Shred the sorrel leaves that have been well-washed, with the stems and center ribs removed. Cook in the butter for a few minutes until soft. Add the chicken broth and simmer for 15 minutes. At serving time, beat three egg yolks with the cream and add to the hot soup, being careful not to let it boil. Season with salt and white pepper to taste and serve immediately.

For more information and recipes using sorrel, please go to The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage.

Medicinal DisclaimerIt 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. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. and is a Master Gardener. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.