How Hot Is It?

By Carol Kagan

Hot pepper-V GardenNot the weather – that PEPPER! Although we usually get heat here, in Pennsylvania, and typically, plenty of it all at once, we speak here of chile peppers.

Your taste buds are craving salsa, so it’s time to check those peppers growing in the back garden. There are many varieties of “hot” peppers in various lively colors, but just how hot are they? We turn to the Scoville Scale for the answer.

Developed by chemist Wilbur Scoville, the scale is a way to measure and assign the hotness of peppers by measuring the capsaicin (cap-say-ah-sin) content. How do you measure a Scoville Heat Unit? To measure a pepper’s capsaicin concentration, a solution of the chile pepper’s extract is diluted in sugar water until the “heat” is no longer detectable to a panel of tasters. A rating of 0 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) means that there is no detectable heat. The test’s reliance on human tasters, and the fact that plants grown in different conditions may be hotter or sweeter, makes the scale basically good for comparisons only. Regardless of the rating, use caution when handling or eating hot peppers.

So here goes, a listing of some of the most popular types are below. You can find the Scoville Scale on the Internet for a more complete listing.chart

Counter-Attack for the Burn

Capsaicin is an alkaline oil. Thus, water and alcohol don’t help alleviate the burn because they won’t dissolve the oil; they only spread it around. Acidic food or drink may help neutralize the oil. Try lemon, lime, or orange juice, cold lemonade, or tomato drinks (but not a Bloody Mary–see above).

Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, sour cream, and ice cream are acidic and are considered helpful. Additionally, according to Paul Bosland, New Mexico State University Regents Professor and director of the Chile Pepper Institute, “It turns out that milk has a protein in it that replaces the capsaicin on the receptors on your tongue. It’s really the quickest way to alleviate the burning feeling.” Eating carbohydrate foods, such as bread or tortillas, may also help by absorbing some of the oil. Chew these but don’t swallow right away for the greatest benefit. (Did you know that most hot-chile-eating contests provide bowls of powdered milk and water to participants?)

For skin irritations (You mean, you weren’t careful?), wash off the oil with soap and warm water. Dry and repeat if needed. Remember, capsaicin is an oil and can be spread to other parts of the body by touching. Also, wash all utensils and cutting surfaces with soap and water after use to avoid spreading the oil.

chile peppers and glass of milk

For an upset stomach after eating hot peppers (yes, they make their way through eventually), try drinking milk–the more fat content the better–or eating carbohydrate foods such as bread and crackers. Sleep or rest in an upright or slightly inclined position to prevent heartburn and acid reflux.

Benefits of Capsaicin

Paradoxically, capsaicin’s knack for causing pain may make it helpful in alleviating pain. National Institute of Health research supports the topical use of capsaicin for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis by lowering sensitivity to pain. Look for over-the-counter creams and plasters containing capsaicin.

Research continues on many other possible benefits, including in cancer treatments, for anti-inflammatory use, weight loss, and lowering cholesterol. Another benefit of capsaicin is that the burning sensation causes actual pain, which releases endorphins. These are the pleasure chemicals also released during exercise. Perhaps eating hot peppers is a lazy person’s substitute for running and time at the gym!

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) Chile pepper (Carol Kagan); List of peppers (Carol Kagan); Glass of milk with chiles (American Chemical Society).


Herb Sampler 2nd ed coverCarol Kagan is the author of the Herb Sampler, a basic guide about herbs and their wide variety of uses. She has been active in herbal organizations for over 40 years, designing and maintaining herb gardens and providing docent services at a variety of historic properties. She is a member of The Herb Society of America and the American Public Gardens Association. Carol is also a Penn State Extension Master Gardener in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and is Co-Coordinator of their Herb Demonstration Garden.

Celery Seed – The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

smallage flowersCelery seed comes from a variety of celery that is different from the celery (Apium graveolens) we see in grocery stores. The seed comes from an ancestor of celery called smallage or wild celery. The smallage variety is native to the Mediterranean area and the Middle East and is grown in India, China, and France specifically for the harvesting of its seeds.  The seeds are very small: 760,000 seeds make one pound. They have an aromatic, earthy smell, and a flavor that has a touch of spiciness. The seeds are used whole in brines, pickles, and marinades and in salads like coleslaw and potato salad. They can be added to breads, soups, and dressings, thus giving a celery taste without the bulk of fresh celery stalks. The seeds are used in French, New Orleans Creole, and other cuisines around the world. They are also ground and mixed with other spices to create unique herbal blends like Old Bay Seasoning, celery salt, Products containing celery seedCajun seasonings, etc.

These tiny seeds pack a lot of punch when it comes to nutrition. A teaspoon of the seed has only 8 calories and 0.5 grams of fat. They supply 0.9 milligrams of iron per teaspoon which is 11% of the daily requirement for men and 5% for women. Celery seed supplies trace amounts of zinc, manganese, and phosphorus, too. According to the late Dr. James Duke, an American economic botanist, ethnobotanist, and author of The Green Pharmacy, the seeds contain at least 20 anti-inflammatory properties. He credited his robust life to the celery seed being among his “baker’s dozen” of essential herbs. The seeds also contain coumarins, which help in thinning the blood. This component of celery, as well as its anti-inflammatory properties, has been the subject of recent research, but its effectiveness in treating humans still needs to be investigated. Celery seed is sold as a dietary supplement in many natural-foods stores and other stores specializing in natural remedies. It is available as an extract, as fresh or dried seeds, and celery seed oil-filled capsules.

It is said that celery was first cultivated for medicinal purposes in 850 BC. Ayurvedic physicians throughout history have used the seed to treat colds, flu, water retention, arthritis, and liver and spleen conditions. Celery was considered a holy plant in the Greek classical period and a wreath of smallage leaves was worn by the winners of the Nemean Games, which began in 573 BC. The Greeks also used it to create the wine they called selinites, while the Romans used celery primarily for seasoning. The Italians domesticated celery and developed a plant with a solid stem and without the bitterness of smallage. Thus began the development and popularity of the Pascal celery that we find in grocery stores today.

Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray SodaDr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda is a celery flavored soda that is made from celery seed. This celery inspired soda has been around since 1868, when it was developed as a tonic that was touted to be “good for calming stomachs and bowels.” It paired well with salty, fatty foods, like pastrami, and became popular in New York’s Jewish delicatessens and with Eastern European immigrants whose cuisines already included fermented botanical beverages. Dr. Brown’s is being noticed again as healthy botanical drinks become more popular. Author Stephen King once said “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”

Oil is extracted from celery seeds to make “celery oil,” which can be added to colognes, perfumes, and soaps. A few drops of the essential oil can be added to water in a spray bottle or a diffuser for use as an effective mosquito repellent.

Some say that celery was an herb associated with death, and that a garland of smallage leaves was placed around King Tut. Some evidence of this association with death later occurred in a Robert Herrick (1591-1674) poem titled:

To Perenna, a Mistress

“DEAR Perenna, prithee come

and with smallage dress my tomb:

And a cypress sprig thereto,

With a tear, and so Adieu.”

Celery is a biennial plant, producing flowers and seeds in the second year of its growth. The flowers are white umbels similar to parsley blooms. It must have a relatively constant temperature of around 70 degrees and a lot of water and nutrients to grow. It needs a long growing season and does not tolerate high heat or frost. This would be a very difficult combination of requirements for me to grow celery in my southern Zone 8b garden! Seeds of the smallage variety of celery can be purchased online, if you are interested in trying your luck in growing celery for the seed and leaves. The stalks of smallage tend to be bitter.

As with using any herbal medicinal products, a health professional should be consulted. Allergic reactions and interactions with medications you may already be taking can be a danger to your health. Celery seed is not recommended for pregnant women.

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

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.

References

American Botanical Council.HerbClip: Interview with Botanist Jim Duke.” April 30, 1999. http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/155/review42307.html

Crowley, Chris. “Celery Forever: Where America’s Weirdest Soda Came From and How It’s Stuck Around.” Serious Eats.  August 2018. https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/10/dr-browns-cel-ray-celery-soda-history.html

Foodreference.com. “Celery History.” http://www.foodreference.com/html/celery-history.html

Kerr, Gord. “Celery Seed Extract Side Effects.”. https://www.livestrong.com/article/369362-celery-seed-extract-side-effects/   August 19, 2020.

Tweed, Vera. “4 Amazing Uses of Celery Seed.” Better Nutrition. September 2019.

Photo Credits: 1) Smallage flowers (Britannica Encyclopedia online); 2) Assortment of products containing celery seed (Maryann Readal); 3) Dr. Brown’s soda (Beverage Direct).


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.

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. 

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.

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.

Poppy Seed – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

1586204466164blobPoppies are a colorful springtime addition to the garden bed. Their striking crepe paper-like flowers tower over other perennials that are just beginning to put on new growth for the season. The deeply lobed, light green leaves readily fill in the empty spaces that can later be filled in with summer annuals when the poppy finishes its dramatic display.

These show-stopping blooms are the source of poppy seeds, the Herb of the Month for The Herb Society of America. Each bulbous poppy seed pod contains hundreds, perhaps thousands of gray-black seeds. The seeds are edible and are often sprinkled on top of bagels and used in cakes. They are also added to salad dressings and are the star ingredient in one of my favorite Polish pastries—poppy seed strudel. The seed pod itself creates its own drama in the garden and when dried, makes a striking addition to flower arrangements.

However, the sap, also referred to as opium gum, from the unripe poppy seed capsule, leaves, and to a lesser extent  the stems, contains the compounds morphine, thebaine, and codeine. Morphine and thebaine are then used to synthesize heroine and oxycodone, respectively. Because of its pain-relieving properties, the poppy is an important medicinal plant in the pharmaceutical industry. Most of the medicinal opium comes from Turkey, India, and Australia. According to a United Nation report, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Mexico are the major illegal growers of opium poppies from which heroin is made. 

1586204635445blobPoppies have been used as a medicinal plant for nearly 6000 years, when it was first cultivated in Southwest Asia. The list of its uses in folk medicine is quite extensive. Ancient Sumerians referred to it as hul gil or “joy plant.” Its use and cultivation followed the Silk Road to China where it became the reason for the Opium Wars in the middle 1800s. 

Today, it is illegal to grow the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, for large-scale production in the United States. But growing P. somniferum is typically ok for ornamental uses in the home garden. An interesting read is an essay published in Harpers written by the food writer and journalist, Michael Pollan, who detailed his soul searching deliberations about growing ornamental poppies in his own garden. 

1586204527808blobPoppies are very easy to grow in sun and good soil. There are many different varieties and colors. In the north, they can be a perennial. However, in southern gardens they are only an annual. Seeds, which can be broadcast over the bare earth, are sown in the early spring in the north, and in the south they are sown in late fall.  Mixing the seed with sand helps to evenly distribute the seed. The plants have a deep taproot and do not like to be transplanted. If the seed pods are left on the plants, they will reseed themselves, and you will have plenty of stunning volunteers to color your garden the following year and for many years thereafter. They tend to hybridize easily, so if you want to maintain a certain variety of poppy, you need to keep different types separated. Growing P. somniferum for ornamental purposes can be illegal in some states. Consult with local law authorities.

Flanders poppy_public domain

Flanders poppy

Remembrance Day and Memorial Day are the times when we wear the red poppy to remember those who sacrificed their lives during wars. The Flanders poppy, Papaver rhoeas, grew profusely over the graves of fallen soldiers in WWI when the seeds were exposed to the light they needed to germinate. John McCrae, a brigade surgeon during the war, wrote of these poppies in his poem In Flanders Fields.

For more information, recipes, and a colorful poppy screensaver, visit The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage. 

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 gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.