Safflower: A 4,000 Year-old Herb for Man…..and for Birds

October2019 HOM SafflowerBy Maryann Readal

This month’s Herb Society of America Herb of the Month, safflower, (Carthamus tinctorius), has had many uses throughout its long history. Use of safflower dates back to the ancient Egyptians who used the flowers for dyeing cloth a brilliant red color. Garlands of safflower flowers were found in the tomb of King Tut, and cloth found in the tomb is believed to have been dyed with safflower flowers. It is interesting that in the dyeing process, both yellow and red dyes can be achieved by using the same batch of safflower petals. The flowers are also used to color cosmetics and a variety of food products.

Safflower has been called “poor man’s saffron” and “bastard saffron” because the dried petals resemble the real saffron (Crocus sativus). While it may give your paella a nice yellow color and be a cheaper alternative to using the real thing, you may be sacrificing taste by not using the real saffron. Safflower is used in Middle Eastern cuisines and was used as a saffron substitute by Spanish colonists in the new world. The tender shoots of safflower can be eaten as a salad,  and the seeds can be eaten raw or toasted.  According to the American Heart Association, safflower oil is a healthy choice for cooking. It has a high smoke point.

Safflower seed is pressed to produce cooking oil, margarine, and salad dressings. The seed oil is also used in paints and varnishes because it does not yellow with age. The leftover product from pressing the seed for oil is used in livestock feed.

safflower seedsIf you are a bird lover, you will probably recognize safflower seed as an ingredient in some birdseed. If you grow safflower in your garden, your garden will attract a variety of song birds, including chickadees, finches, nuthatches, woodpeckers, mourning doves and cardinals, who love the safflower seeds. Safflower seeds are oblong shaped and a bit bitter, making them not attractive to bird-feeder bullies like grackles, starlings, and squirrels.

In the past, safflower tea was used to reduce fevers. It was also used externally to soothe bruises, wounds, and painful joints. It has been used as a laxative, though the effectiveness of this use has been questioned by researchers. When rubbed into the scalp and into the nail bed, the oil stimulates hair and nail growth.

The plant requires a long, hot, dry growing season, and full sun. It is grown from seed and can reach three feet in the garden. However, Christine Moore, Horticulturist at the National Herb Garden reports that safflower only grows to six inches and is short-lived at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC.

Safflower’s  red, yellow, or orange flowers bloom mid-summer to fall. It is a thistle-like annual plant with leaves that are toothed with small spines and pointed at the tip. The fresh or dried flowers are very pretty in arrangements. If allowed to go to seed, safflower will reseed itself, giving you plants the following year and also a food source for the birds.

For more information, a beautiful computer wallpaper, and recipes using safflower, visit the Herb Society’s Herb of the Month webpage.


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America 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 medical or health treatment.

Lemon Balm – A Very Lemony Herb

By William “Bill” Varney

Here are several reasons to grow lemon balm (Melissa officinalis),  the lemony herb in your garden:

  • It is an easy-to-grow, hardy perennial growing to 1 ½ – 3 feet highLemon balm flower
  • It has crafting, culinary, medicinal, and ornamental uses
  • It likes full sun but will tolerate partial shade

From the earliest of times, lemon balm has been celebrated by poets and herbalists for its “uplifting” qualities. At one time, the whole dried plant – roots, leaves, and seed – was sewn into a piece of linen and worn under ladies’ dresses to promote “an agreeable disposition.”

Lemon balm is native to the Mediterranean. The genus name, Melissa, is derived from the Greek word meaning “honeybee.” This herb’s lemony fragrance attracts bees. Hives were rubbed with its leaves to bring in swarms. Housekeepers once used handfuls of fresh balm leaves to polish and scent their furniture.

Lemon balm thrives in cooler climates. It develops into a bushy plant with substantial roots and a stalk reaching 1 ½ to 3 feet high. Leaves are toothed, textured, and smell strongly of lemon. Yellow buds open into tiny white flowers by mid to end of summer.

lemon balmPlanting and Care – Easy to grow although seeds are slow to germinate. Start from cuttings, root division, or plants bought from a nursery. Plant as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. It accepts partial shade to full sun exposure and prefers moist fertile soil with good drainage.

Once established, plants endure in the garden unless a determined effort is made to eliminate them. They reseed easily and spread wide, so provide plenty of space. In small gardens, try growing in containers to control the plants. The stalks die with the first frost and can be cut down to the ground. In cold winter regions, place a thick layer of mulch over the crown to protect the plant; each spring it will regrow from its roots.

Harvesting and Use – One of the sweetest scented of all herbs, which makes it a delightful ingredient for sachets and potpourris. Fresh-cut stems retain their fragrance well and lend a casual flair to floral arrangements. In the kitchen, lemon balm adds a light lemony flavor to soups and stews, fish, lamb, and chicken. Freshly chopped, use it sparingly with fruits or salads. It’s a favorite replacement for salt and an inexpensive lemon zest substitute.

Always add near the end of cooking because its volatile oils are dissipated by heat. Its flavor keeps well in baked goods because it is captured by the surrounding medium. Use as a fresh garnish in hot tea and lemonade or brew as a tea. A leaf or two improves a glass of white wine. Along with hyssop, it is an important ingredient in the liqueur Chartreuse.

Lemon balm is recognized as an aid to digestion and circulation. It is reported to help relieve feverish colds, headaches, and tension. Its oil is believed to be beneficial in dressing wounds, especially insect bites.

One of my favorite recipes for using it is Lemon Balm Bars.

Lemon Balm Bars

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar 1 cup of flour
  • 1/3 cup blanched almonds 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons lemon balm leaves, minced Grated zest of one lemon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup blanched almonds

Combine butter, ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup flour, and 1/3 cup almonds in food processor. Process until mixture forms a ball. Pat into a greased and floured 9 by 9 – inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Combine sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, minced lemon balm, and lemon zest in work bowl of food processor. Process until finely blended. Add eggs and lemon juice; blend thoroughly. Pour over crust. Grind remaining 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar and 1/3 cup almonds in the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle over filling. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees or until set.

Yields 9 large lemon balm bars

Varney, Bill. Herbs: Growing & Using the Plants of Romance. Tucson, Arizona, Ironwood Press, 1998.


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America 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 medical or health treatment.

HSA Speaker Shares Webinar Recipe for Lavender Martini

By Jen Munson, HSA Education Chairmartini

On a recent Herb Society of America webinar, business member Rose Loveall-Sale owner of Morningsun Herb Farm, thrilled viewers with a talk about the multi-functional herb garden. By definition this is a garden filled with herbs that has uses for humans and visiting creatures. These gardens include plants that are pretty to look at, useful for beauty, pleasant to eat, and entice pollinators. The king of the multi-functional garden is lavender and one way Rose enjoys this special herb is in a lavender martini. Below is Rose’s recipe. Enjoy!

Lavender Martini

  • 1 ½ oz vanilla vodka
  • ½ oz fresh lemon juice
  • ½ oz lavender syrup (or a little less if you are lavender shy)
  • 1 lavender sprig

To make the lavender syrup – Combine 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water and 2 tsp of dried lavender flowers or 1 tbsp fresh lavender flowers in a small pot, bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and steep for 1 hour. Strain out lavender buds and pour into a bottle. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

To make the martini – Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.  Add vodka, lemon juice, and syrup. Shake. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a lavender sprig.

Can’t get enough of lavender? Join us on September 17th when award winning author Nancy Baggett shares with us, “The Secrets to Cooking with Lavender.” To register visit https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/

If you are a member of The Herb Society of America and you missed Rose’s inspiring webinar, you may view it and many others in the member’s only section of the HSA website.  If you are not a member, visit http://www.herbsociety.org to join.


lavender webinar

Visit the WRHS Rose Garden

Visit the WRHS Rose Garden

“Love, which, in concert with Abstinence, established Faith, and which, along with Patience, builds up Chastity, is like the columns that sustain the four corners of a house. For it was that same Love which planted a glorious garden redolent with precious herbs and noble flowers–roses and lilies–which breathed forth a wondrous fragrance, that garden on which the true Solomon was accustomed to feast his eyes.” – Hildegard of Bingen

Untitled design (94)By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America

My husband says I seem to wake up craving roses and sleep dreaming of them. Maybe it’s because the scent and flavor of the beautiful historic and fragrant roses in my gardens bring back so many of my best memories. They remind me of my father and the happy times that I spent with him in his rose gardens. Or maybe it’s because the magic spell of the roses helps my skin stay happy and smooth and my heart stay open and gentle.

The entire Western Reserve Herb Society (WRHS) herb garden at the Cleveland Botanical Garden is glorious, but Historic Rose Gardens are overwhelming. When they bloom, it is feast for all the senses. I spend about two weeks harvesting and drying rose petals from them to make wonderful products for WRHS Herb Fair which will be held at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens on October 12. 2019.

“The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.” — Gertrude Jekyll

Judy Kutina, Gwen Zeitz, Jane CavanaughThe Historic Rose Gardens of the Western Reserve Herb Society cannot ever be celebrated without mention of the three beloved Rosarians and Master gardeners who still lovingly tend the beautiful roses as they have for so many years. Judy Kutina, Gwen Zeitz and Jane Cavanaugh can still be found in the garden every week caring for this extraordinary and historically relevant collection of roses, with the help of WRHS Unit and current Rose garden chair Kathleen Hale, and other Western Reserve Herb Society gardeners.

“In 2012, the WRHS Historic Rose Garden became the proud recipient of the Certification of the Historic Rose Collection from the Herb Society of America. This rose garden was the first rose collection in the United States to receive this recognition. Starting with Blanche Harvey, who researched and planted some of the most cherished historic roses in the collection, Judy Kutina, Section Chair along with Jean Ingalls (Past Chair) and the members of their committee, (Jane Cavanaugh, Gwen Zeitz, Toni Becker, Debra Brink and Nancy Gustafson) documented the historic authenticity of each rose. A bronze plaque was placed in the historic rose collection on June 5th, 2012, commemorating this honor, placing the Collection in the elite company of the National herb Garden in Washington DC and the Chicago Botanical Garden.” — “50 seasons of growing- The Western Reserve Herb Society Herb Garden 1969- 2019″

IMG_9590Receiving this certification was a four-year project, meaning that all of the renovating, documentation identification and research began four years before the actual certification was granted.

Judy, Gwen and Jane and late member Jean Ingalls, were the four Western Reserve Herb Society members who were instrumental in ensuring that the garden met every classification needed for this special certification.

When it comes to the roses in the WRHS garden, we all have favorites. Mine is the beautiful and ancient Rosa gallica officinalis, more commonly known as Apothecary’s Rose, also known as the Red Rose of Lancaster.

The Apothecary’s Rose is just a joy, a rose older than the Renaissance and used for medicinal purposes during Medieval times. It is extraordinarily beautiful to see and smell when blooming. Its intense, deep pink-to-light red coloring and luscious old rose fragrance make it a must in any herbalist’s garden.

I have always found it easy to grow, which may be the source of its longevity and popularity. It only blooms once in a season, but it’s a generous rose. Mine bloomed in my northeast Ohio garden for more than a month. I return to it time and again to make rosewaters, jams and jellies.

Untitled design (97)It gives me a real thrill of connection to my medieval sisters to be able to use this ancient rose to infuse into my rose honey and other rose preparations. I find rose-infused honey to be ever so helpful when I have a sore or scratchy throat and although you can buy it, it is just so easy to make. Stirred into a cup of hot water, or simply taken by the spoonful, the anti-inflammatory properties of the rose petals and the antibacterial properties of the honey seem to relieve any irritation quickly.

Rose Petal Honey
6 cups fresh rose petals (4 cups dried)
2 cups honey, room temperature
1-quart glass jar with lid

Add petals to the jar until half full and firmly packed. Pour honey over rose petals and stir to remove air pockets. Cap the jar tightly. After several hours stir petals and honey. (I use chopsticks for this.) Add more rose petals and stir. Leave the jar in a warm place for about two weeks, stirring from time to time.

After two to four weeks, warm the jar in a pot of hot water (do not boil). Strain the warmed honey through a cheesecloth into a clean jar. Press the rose petals to remove all honey. Cap the jar and enjoy on toast, over yogurt, with ice cream and in cocktails.

I use rose water in my drinks consistently because I believe that it is so helpful for hydrating the skin from the inside out.

I also spray rose hydrosol (a fancy name for rosewater) on my skin every morning after my shower to moisturize my aging skin. I spent way too much time in the sun without sunscreen as a teenager and I have noticed that this daily spritzing with rosewater seems to have softened some of my wrinkles as well as tightens my pores.


I’d love to know some of your favorite uses for your favorite roses, so please feel free to share them with me in the comments.

May everything be coming up roses for you all summer long!

The Adventures of Indiana Banana in the Perilous Paw Paw Patch

The Adventures of Indiana Banana in the Perilous Paw Paw Patch

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Herb Society

pawpaw on treeYes. The paw paw bears the common name, “Indiana banana.” I don’t make up things like that. This is lore!

The Paw Paw’s official name is Asimina triloba. It is a small deciduous tree native to eastern North America, that does, indeed, produce a patch of like-minded paw paws where it finds the right venue of well-drained fertile soil. It is fond of flood plains, and spreads through suckers.
Paw paws may also be propagated by seeds, but it’s a complicated process. The seeds must not be allowed to dry out, and must be scarified (the seed surface roughened with small cuts) and stratified (chilled at a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit for a period between nine weeks and three years). Also, it’s hard to transplant a paw paw without fatally damaging the delicate hairs of the roots. So, it seems best to purchase pot-grown specimens if you want to grow them…and you do, don’t you?

The flower of the paw paw is pretty, but its fragrance is redolent of rotting meat. Some insects are drawn to the smell, but many animals, including deer, appear repelled both by the smell and taste of the flowers and leaves. Indeed, both contain a toxin, acetogenin. One notable exception in the wildlife genre, however, is the zebra swallowtail, Protographium marcellus. That butterfly relies on the paw paw and is seldom found far away from a patch. The green and black caterpillars chew on the leaves, the adults drink the nectar, and the lurking acetogenins not only do them no harm, the toxins may confer protection from predators to this butterfly. Since the caterpillars of the zebra swallowtail enjoy munching on each other, each egg is laid individually some distance from each other on the leaves or trunk of a paw paw tree. A perilous patch, indeed.

pawpaw openThe paw paw produces a large greenish, yellowish fruit that can be eaten raw. The consistency of the fruit is compared to custard, and the taste is described as similar to a banana, a mango, and a pineapple. The name, “paw paw” may be derived from the Spanish word for papaya. The fruit, which ripens in September or October, can weigh up to a pound, but is considered a berry. The large black seeds are easily removed, and for some reason in was a custom to carry a paw paw seed or two in your pocket, probably as a lucky charm.

The paw paw grows wild in 26 states. Why have you never seen vast orchards of this remarkable fruit? Paw paws were grown and enjoyed by both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington (who liked his chilled). But you won’t find them in the grocery store. The truth is that they are difficult to market. They don’t travel well, and begin to ferment soon after picking. The best way to save any amount of paw paw fruit that you might be lucky enough to acquire is to freeze the pulp.

I say, join the adventure and grow your own! We’ll start a quest!

Violets are Delicious

Violets are Delicious

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America

violet bouquetOne of the loveliest flowers of spring is the Viola odorata or as it is commonly referred to, the “Sweet violet.” Violets have been used in herbal healing remedies for centuries, in fact St. Hildegard of Bingen, the famous 12th century German mystic and healer, was said to have made a healing salve of violet juice, olive oil, and goat tallow for its use as a possible anti-bacterial.

I use violets whenever I can for their healing virtues, and they are also an absolutely delicious ingredient in salads, drinks, and desserts. Back in the day, violet flowers, and leaves mixed into salads were one of my favorite spring remedies for pre-menstrual melancholy. When chopped liberally into extra virgin olive oil with some fresh comfrey leaves, they make a poultice that can soothe rashes , irritations, sore muscles, and tender breasts.

When infused into a simple syrup they enliven fresh lemonade or an elegant champagne cocktail. You can also use a delightful crème de violette in place of the syrup. If you are going to make a lavender lemonade, freeze some violet flowers into ice cubes to use in your glass. There’s really nothing prettier.

When I was 23, I met Jim and, shortly after we married, we bought a small farm in Burton, Ohio, complete with a century home, small barn, and several acres of unspoiled land. It was nestled on a little bit of hillside with an artesian spring that bubbled up by a little oak grove, providing me with fresh watercress whenever I desired.

We named the farm “Windesphere,” the place on earth where the winds and waters meet. We moved in that December and I’ll never forget that first spring. As the snow thawed, I began to see treasures in the gardens. First were the snowdrops that dotted the hillside like a blanket of down and the soft catkins of the pussy willows. Next flowering buds started to appear everywhere. I found a quince bush and several heirloom apple trees and a blackberry grove. field of violets

Then there were the violets. I’ll never forget when I found them. It was on one of those warm, early spring days when you’ve just shed your coat and begun to think that maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to put away your long underwear for a bit. I decided that it was a good day to go for a walk in the back just to see what was budding. We had a beautiful back porch made of fieldstone and the steps that went towards the back yard were hand hewn and lovely. As I walked, I began to notice the fragrance…something just a bit sweet and very green.

When the fragrance was so strong that I couldn’t ignore it, I looked down. In the grass all around me were the most beautiful little violets in shades of deep purple, lilac, and white. The smell was intoxicating. Over the years I picked them for little bouquets, crystallized them for desserts and made them into massage oils, tinctures, vinegars, and syrups. They appeared every spring, growing more abundant every year. I will always remember my son Alex lying face down in a huge patch of them and whispering for me to join him and the violet fairies.

IMG_7820In honor of all these memories I’ve made a violet ice cream with a lovely Fortnum and Mason tea from England that features roses and violets. I’ve also added some of my thick and sticky homemade blackberry jam just to gild the lily. This ice cream is rich, creamy and just perfect for spring. See the recipe below.

If you’ve never had them, crystallized violets are absolutely beautiful, sparkling little jewels and much better than candy. I became addicted the first time my sister brought these treasures home from Paris. Fortunately for me, they are so easy to make. All you need are fresh violets, beaten egg white (not quite frothy), superfine sugar and a soft, sable paintbrush.

Be certain to harvest your blooms from areas that haven’t been touched with pesticides or animals because you will not be rinsing them. Paths through the woods are usually the perfect place to find them.

After harvest, separate flowers from the stems. Then, dip your paintbrush into the egg white and gently apply it — very lightly — to the violet. Cover the entire flower or petal. Then turn the violet upside down, and while holding it over a plate, sprinkle with the superfine sugar to coat it evenly. Place each violet on a tray lined with parchment and allow to completely dry. You can hasten the process a bit by putting the tray into a 150-degree oven with the door left ajar or you can simply leave them in the oven with the light left on overnight. Whatever you do they won’t be around for long because they are absolutely delicious. Once completely dry store for up to six months in an airtight jar.

IMG_7819VIOLET ICE CREAM

1 pint whipping cream
2 cups sweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons crème de violette
1/4 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
3/4 cup Fortnum and Mason Rose and Violet Tea
4 ounces Ghirardelli white chocolate baking bar
4 tablespoons candied violets, (handmade or purchased)
3 tablespoons blackberry Jam
2 organic egg yolks

Combine the cream and coconut milk in a saucepan and bring to a shallow boil. Whisk in the honey, crème de violette and vanilla, then turn off the heat. Add the loose tea and let it infuse for at least 15 minutes stirring occasionally. When the flavor is as bright as you want it to be, strain the milk mixture through a fine mesh strainer and press the tea through the strainer to extract the maximum essence. It will still be quite warm. Put the milk /cream mixture into a high-speed blender and add the chocolate, candied violets and jam. Turn the blender on and adjust to one of the highest settings. Add the egg yolks and blend for a minute or two.

Pour the custard blend into a dish suitable for freezing or if you¹re lucky enough to have an ice cream maker use that. Freeze until solid, scoop into pretty bowls or glasses, garnish with candied violets, a light shortbread cookie and enjoy.

This recipe will easily serve about 6 reasonable people or two very greedy ones…you decide!
Note: Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs may increase the risk of foodborne illness.

Herb Cook Gift-Giving Idea: Drying Rack

I’ve asked five blog contributors to share their favorite herb-related gift ideas.  HSA’s blog will be running one per day during the first week of December. – Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster

By Mary Nell Jackson, HSA Member

herb drying rack 2Drying my herbal harvest often takes over my home. No more eating on the dining room table because baskets of herbs are gathered en masse; guest beds hold large, drying baskets.

A few months ago on a leisurely day I settled in to check out my Instagram  account and as I scrolled, up popped a photo of a hanging black mesh, tiered,  cylinder herb-drying rack filled with a herbal harvest.  The source was not given but from that moment on I was hooked on finding my own drying rack.

I googled Amazon and to my delight up popped many choices of mesh drying racks.

I researched each choice for my needs and decided on a four-tiered model with zipper closures. A week later my holy basil and passion vine blossoms had a perfect place to dry and my dining table and guest beds were swept free of drying baskets.

I hung my cylinder drying rack in an out-of-the-way corner in an entry porch room that usually stays cooler year around; perfect place to dry my herbs and a great place to check on them as I come and go about my day.

I’ve gifted myself and my herb gardening friend for her birthday; we both are smitten.  I can’t think of a better holiday gift to give an herb gardener, wish I had been introduced to this nifty drying rack 20 years ago perhaps my husband would have welcomed my herbal harvest!

Gift giving contest