Put ‘Cardinal’ Basil on Your Planting List

Put ‘Cardinal’ Basil on Your Planting List

By Maryann Readal, Secretary, Board of Directors, The Herb Society of America

Cardinal basil (3)It seems almost sacrilegious to be talking about spring already, but that is exactly what gardeners do—they plan for the season ahead.

As I survey my East Texas garden each morning, I make notes on what has done well and what has been a disappointment.  Cardinal basil, Ocimum basilicum ‘Cardinal’, is one of the plants that has definitely made next year’s list.   While the Genovese, African, lemon and holy basils have already gone to seed and are beginning to fade, the Cardinal basil is still going strong.  The attractive celosia-like magenta flowers and burgundy stems are beginning to put on a show in the garden.  The flowers just keep getting bigger as each day passes.  And this basil is generously endowed with scent. Just brushing by it releases a wonderful aroma that makes you hungry for pesto.

Cardinal basil (1)Cardinal basil is also a culinary basil, although I have to admit that I have not tried it yet. Others report that it has the same basil flavor with a slight anise, pungent flavor. The young flowers make a colorful addition to salads or vegetable dishes.

This is one basil that you may not be able to find in a nursery, however.  But you can grow your own plants from seed as the seeds germinate easily and transplant well into the garden.  Cardinal basil grows well in Zones 4 to 10.  Like all basils, it thrives in the sun and prefers warm soil, so wait until your soil is warm enough and the temperature is consistently above 50o F to transplant it into the garden.  This basil prefers a weakly acidic to neutral soil. It forms a shrubby, well-branched plant and will reach a height of 18 inches to 2 feet.

Cardinal basil (2)

And did I mention that Cardinal basil also makes a great landscape plant?  It’s lush, shiny green leaves make a great filler in the garden border. The glossy leaves are disease- and pest-free and look great in the garden.  The flowers and the stems look and smell great in bouquets as well.

Cardinal basil is an Herb Society of America Promising Plant for 2018. This HSA program features selected herbs that are either newly introduced or are plants that are currently under used in gardens today.

This basil will definitely be a keeper in my garden in the years to come.

Seeds are available from Park Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Heirloom Update: Ground Cherry

Heirloom Update: Ground Cherry

by Susan Liechty, Member and Former President of The Herb Society of America

IMG_1637 (2)The ground cherry –often called Cape gooseberry, husk tomato or poha berry – is gaining ground with heirloom lovers.  My husband grew up in Indiana eating ground cherry pies and preserves made by his mom.  She had them in the garden every year. Today they are showing up at local farm markets as heirlooms become popular. That is good news.  Bringing back heirlooms is important to our botanical future.

The official name is Physalis pruinosa and it is part of the nightshade family that includes tomatoes and peppers.  The fruits are small, yellow balls hiding in a paper husk, similar to tomatillos.  The “berries” start green and turn yellow when ripe. As they ripen they fall from the plant, still in the husk.

A single plant can produce up to 300 fruits.  Four to six plants can easily supply an average family of four. They self-seed easily so keep in mind that you will probably have them in the garden for years to come.

IMG_2385My advice to anyone tasting a new fruit for the first time is to eat it plain with no sugar or additions so you know what the flavor is. The green fruit will definitely be tart and taste a bit like a green tomato.  The yellow ripened fruit has been described as a combo of orange and strawberry, or pineapple and vanilla. An advantage of the flavor confusion is it works well as a savory or sweet addition in your kitchen.  You can use the fruit in muffins, quick bread, salsa, added to your fruit salad, or made into jams, preserves, and pies.  Enjoy as they are low in calories, low fat, no cholesterol, high in Vitamins A and C, and are a good source of niacin.

There are wild and cultivated varieties available today. The varieties of wild ones are Physalis heterophylla or P. subglabrata.  The wild versions have smaller pea sized fruit while the cultivated ones are larger, about the size of a grape.  Aunt Molly, an heirloom variety from Poland, has been mentioned in catalogs and books since 1837.  This variety has a high pectin content and tastes like pineapple/vanilla.  This is a great one to try as your first variety.

The plant can be one to three feet tall and can spread.  It likes full sun and warm temperatures.  So don’t get too ambitious and plant outside too early.  Wait until the end of May to plant when frost has gone and the soil is warming up.  You can pick the fruit beginning in August and continue up to the end of September (zone 5 -6).  It will not completely die back until a hard frost hits.

Disease is not much of an issue with ground cherries.  As they are a relative of the tomatillos, they can be bothered by flea beetles or whitefly, but usually not enough to bother the harvest. Wait to eat once they have fallen to the ground and turn a lovely golden color. You can leave the fruits out to ripen even more for a few days; they only become sweeter.

 Warning:  leaves, stems and unripe fruit can be toxic if you eat too many. 

After you purchase your first package of seeds, you should be set.  Some sources are Johnny’s Seeds – http://www.johnnyseeds.com, rareseeds.com (Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds), territorialseeds.com, and seedsavers.org.  A few varieties to try and easy to find are Aunt Molly’s, Goldie, and Cossack Pineapple.  Bon Appétit.

Basil: 15 Uses Beyond Pesto

Basil: 15 Uses Beyond Pesto

By Peggy Riccio, Guest Blogger and Member of The Herb Society of America

sweet basilSay basil and people think of a plant with large, cupped green leaves and pesto.  They probably envision sweet basil, the poster child for this plant. But, many different types exist. A member of the mint family, the basil genus Ocimum has more than 30 species. And, most of the basils we grow are some type of Ocimum basilicum; within this species, there are more than 40 cultivars.  All have garden and home use.

Growers quickly learn that basil is an annual, herbaceous plant that prefers warmth, full sun, and well-drained soil. Realizing that basil is an annual plant that also flowers helps gardeners imagine how the different varieties of basil can be used. And, dividing them into five basic categories listed below enables gardeners to expand their concept of how basil can be used as a garden visual or kitchen staple.

  • sweet green foliage (the green plant we always associate with pesto such as Genovese or Italian large leaf)
  • small leaves and dwarf size (spicy globe basil, dwarf Greek basil, Minette, or Pluto)
  • colored foliage (purple leaved Purple Ruffles or Dark Opal or light green/cream variegated Pesto Perpetuo)
  • colorful flower heads (Thai Siam Queen has purple stems and fragrant purple flowers), African blue (many prominent purple flowers), or cardinal (purple stems, purple/red flower heads)
  • fragrant leaves (holy, lemon, or lime).

Some basils overlap into more than one group; for example, cinnamon basil has fragrant leaves, purple stems and veins, and deep pink flowers so the plant provides scent/flavor as well as color.

Following are 15 ways one can use basil; species or cultivar depends on personal preference and availability.

  1. basil in containerContainer plant. All types of basil can be used as container plants either for green, variegated, or purple foliage, or colorful flower heads. Basil comes in different sizes from 8 inches to 4 feet so make sure the maximum height is in proportion to the container. Companion plants must also like well-drained soil and the container should have drainage holes. I had a few extra holy basil plants that I stuck in the same container as my bush beans and I have seen containers of basil and ornamental purple peppers.
  2. Annual in the garden. All types can be used as an annual in the garden bed, either for green, variegated, or purple foliage or for colorful flower heads or simply to fill in a gap. Think of basil as a flowering annual such as marigolds and plant them in the same type of location. My Thai, lemon, and lime basil have filled the gap left by my bleeding heart plant, which goes dormant in the beginning of the summer.
  3. Cut flowers in a vase. Basils that are grown for colorful flower heads or dark foliage are beautiful in flower arrangements. For example, Thai and African blue provide purple flowers and Purple Ruffles provide purple leaves.
  4. Potpourri or dried flower arrangements. Basil produces a tall, sturdy flower stalk that dries well and can be used in dried flower arrangements. The leaves or flowers can be used in potpourris, especially the more fragrant leaves such as cinnamon basil.
  5. Thai basil (2).JPGMagnet for pollinators, beneficial insects, and birds. All basils, if left to flower, have small flowers that attract beneficial insects and bees. Birds, such as goldfinches, love the seed heads. I grow lemon basil in a container on the deck to attract the finches so I can see the birds up close through my kitchen window.
  6. Edging and/or border plants. In particular, the dwarf basils are best for creating a tight edging effect. They have small leaves, similar to boxwood, and are great for delineating a garden bed in the summer. Spicy globe basil can outline a garden bed and can be harvested at the same time.
  7. Cooking. Usually a sweet basil such as Genovese is used in pasta, eggs, pesto, soups, salad, and vegetables, but you can try any type of basil. I use lemon basil with fish filets and Thai basil with stir fried chicken and vegetables. Thai basil is often used in Asian cuisine because it keeps its flavor at high temperatures.  Holy basil often is used in Indian cuisine and the sweet basil is often used in the Italian cuisine.
  8. Vinegars/oils/marinades. The purple basils work well in vinegar or oil for color and scented basils such as cinnamon can be used for flavor in either a vinegar, oil, or marinade.
  9. Honey, jellies, butters. Sweet basil is good for butter and the spicy types are good for honey and jellies.
  10. Beverages. Lemonade, cocktails, tea, and fruit juice pair well with basil. Try adding the spicy, cinnamon, lemon or lime flavored basils to these drinks for flavor or just make a cup of tea with basil leaves. I grow holy basil specifically for hot tea.
  11. thai basil (1).JPGBaking. Basil has been used to flavor cookies, pound cakes, and breads (rolls, muffins, flatbreads). I use the sweet basil for flatbreads and dinner rolls and the lemon, lime, or cinnamon for flavoring pound cakes. Basil flowers are edible and can be candied and used as decorations on desserts.
  12. Sugar syrups. Boiling one cup of water and one cup of sugar with one cup of scented basil leaves creates a sugar syrup that adds a sweet flavor to fruit salads, desserts, and drinks. Try cinnamon, lemon, or lime and keep a jar in the refrigerator so you always have it on hand to add to drinks, baking, and cooking.
  13. Fruit salads. Cut the leaves into ribbons and add fragrant strips of lemon, lime, or cinnamon to fruit salads or coat fruit salads with the sugar syrups made with the fragrant basils. Add purple flowers for decoration or line the bowl with sprigs of basil.
  14. Bath bags and soaps. Try cinnamon basil in the bath for an invigorating scent or combine basil with other herbs and spices. If you make your own soap, add the scented basils for fragrance or small basil flowers for decoration.
  15. Medicinal. Although basil has not been approved for medicinal use, basilicum has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Several species have been used in traditional medicine. In other countries, basil has been used for kidney problems, gum ulcers, earache, arthritis, and skin conditions.

 

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

Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine Teaches Online

Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine Teaches Online

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

herbs for medicineWith July 4th passed, the next big calendar date is “Back to School.” When the kids return to their studies you can, too. Make your studies about medicinal  herbs.

Consider the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, an online school with a home base in the botanically rich Appalachian Mountains just outside Asheville, NC. The school offers several opportunities to learn online, including the Herbal Medicine Making Course and the Herbal Immersion Program.

“We believe that direct connection with healing plants is the best way to learn about their medicine, and so we’ve infused our programs with a plant-centered approach to herbal medicine,” says owner and teacher Juliet Blankespoor, who has a degree in botany and a life of experience.

“One of the perks of our online format is the community support from herb lovers from around the globe. Our students range from total beginners to seasoned herbalists with established gardens and businesses. We welcome anyone who wants to learn more about growing or preparing medicinal herbs.”

Juliet-Blankespoor-in-her-gardenJuliet has had a connection to the earth since childhood.  “As a child I was a geeky introvert and bookworm,” she says. “I loved to dance and spend time alone in the woods.

“When I was eighteen I became involved with environmental activism and my vision started to turn toward the natural world. Somehow, almost overnight, I became infatuated with plants and have been involved in a love affair with the green world ever since. I wanted to know who every plant around me was.”

It only made sense to formally study plants, which Juliet did at the University of Florida. “I absorbed all I could about our local flora from my professors. In school, I would learn how to identify a plant, recognize it as a medicinal,” she recalls, “and then rush home to read about its herbal uses from one of the few books I owned on the subject.”

plantingAfter graduating Juliet founded and formulated a tincture line, Green Faith Herbals. She spent her twenties growing and wildcrafting medicine for her tincture business. At the same time she furthered her herbal studies.

In 2007, settled in the southern Appalachians, she started the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine and began teaching from home. After time, Juliet decided that she’s “a raging introvert” and moved the school online.

The virtual format offers more flexibility to students and her staff of highly experienced instructors. Studies can begin any time. The Herbal Medicine Making Course is a six-month program, while Herbal Immersion Program—which focuses on growing medicinal herbs—is completed in two and a half years.

“My mission with the school is to encourage more people to grow herbs and enjoy their medicinal and culinary bounty,” says Juliet, who uses herbal medicine as her family’s primary form of health care. “We also go to the doctor when needed but for the most part, we address everyday ailments at home.”

HSA (2)“We use herbs for preventative medicine. For example, we eat raw garlic daily to help ward off colds and to reduce the chance of cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

She also drinks a homemade tea blend of green tea, hibiscus, and calendula to support the immune system and to provide plenty of antioxidant compounds (which reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, and inflammation, in general).

“We make herbal pestos from lemon balm, holy basil, and bee balm and use just about every kind of culinary herb (homegrown, of course) in our daily cooking,” says Juliet.

For more information, visit The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine.


Medicinal Disclaimer – 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.

You’ll Want this Ornamental Oregano

You’ll Want this Ornamental Oregano

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

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

By Mary Nell Jackson, HSA MemberOrnamental Oregano

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Ideas to Make Herb Garden Markers

Ideas to Make Herb Garden Markers

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

I love herbs and I love making things, especially simple craft projects with immediate gratification. Combining them in the garden makes me happy.

This year, I’m overwhelmed by garden marker ideas. So many choices that I may choose different styles for pots and gardens.

I thought, for this post, I’d let pictures tell the story. Each craft is fairly self-explanatory and different approaches will appeal to different gardeners or different locations.

Corks star twice, first on skewers with names written in permanent marker. And, perhaps more decoratively, on fork tines with my best printing in black ink.

20170511_191210Silverware makes a second appearance with names stamped on flattened spoons. This is perhaps the most time consuming of my efforts. My dad flattened the cutlery in his workshop and I bought the stamping supplies at Joann stores. I’ve also seen them on Amazon.com.

Speaking of spoons, last year I painted wooden spoons and printed names on them. Bright red added a festive touch to our patch of kitchen herbs and peppers.

 

Craft - Spoon markers (14)

20170515_180816And, finally, it felt a bit like cheating, but I stalked the “dollar spot” at Target and found a variety of different options. These chalkboard stakes were among them.


Show us your favorite garden markers – handmade or purchased.

Prepare Garden Soil for Growing

Prepare Garden Soil for Growing

By Kelly Orzel, author, master gardener and owner Bowery Beach Farms

soilTest.-¬KellyOrzelPhotographyWhen most gardeners think about their garden, they picture big beautiful blooms or perfectly ripe tomatoes…I think about what’s underneath: Dirt. (Sidenote: I would bottle that scent and wear it if I could!)

But first things first, test your soil. The importance of soil testing cannot be overstated. Most vegetables prefer a pH of 6.5, but without a starting point you won’t know whether you need lime to raise it, or sulfur to reduce it. Your results also tell you which amendments to add if you want to grow brassicas, nightshades or something else. Soil test kits are available at your local extension office and for a nominal fee you’ll get all sorts of helpful information (it’s worth the investment).

Don’t scrimp on soil. I saw it time and again when I worked in the nursery, weekend warriors trying to save a few bucks on inferior soil, while spending huge amounts of money on dahlia tubers, new seeds or bright, colorful annuals and perennials. This ADES (All Dirt Is Equal Syndrome), affects many new (and experienced) gardeners, and can be disastrous in the garden!

soil.compostAmended.-¬KellyOrzelPhotographyLet’s dispel soil myth #1 first:  Topsoil is not the answer. “Topsoil” means the dirt was scraped from the top, including troublesome weed seed. It doesn’t indicate if it has organic matter (which you want) or what percent of sand, silt and clay is in the bag. What you really want instead is loam. Loam has just the right balance of soil particles, giving you excellent drainage and improved nutrient and water-holding capacity (yes!). Look at soil bag descriptions and look for something that drains well.

Every year I start with a soil test to determine what my plants are going to need and add accordingly (blood meal for foliage, bonemeal for flowering plants and lime/sulfur to adjust the pH). Just follow the directions on the bag and apply.

A note on digging. Unless you are starting a brand-spanking new bed, DON’T DO IT ! This is soil myth #2: Rototilling mixes your soil. No. It doesn’t. Actually, it breaks apart your soil’s structure and kills the beneficial microbes and worms living in your garden.

soil.Feat.-¬KellyOrzelPhotographyInstead, top dress your beds with a few inches of compost and let the earthworms do the work. It’s what they want to do anyway and they’re good at it. They’ll sense that delicious, nutrient-rich compost ladled on top of your garden bed and crawl up, around and down as fast as they can to digest nutrients, leaving castings and distributing nutrients throughout the soil. Why would you want to mess with the natural order of the universe?

For new raised beds, fill them with a 50/50 mixture of garden loam and compost, topping it with a few inches of straight compost. Otherwise, all the same principles for amending and no tilling apply.

Soil myth #3: You need to aerate your soil. Wrong-o. While you want some space in your soil for air, water and roots to tunnel through and reach nutrients, let the soil microbes handle that. This is why good soil structure is so important (remember that mix of sand, silt and clay we talked about?). You don’t want too much sand because that will cause all your water and nutrients to drain away before plants can get a hold of them, and you don’t want too much clay either, which causes root rot. With the right blend of soil particles, earthworms and microbes not only till, but they aerate as well, leaving behind hundreds and thousands of channels as they slide, inch and wiggle their way through your garden.

Osoil.Bed.-¬KellyOrzelPhotographynce your bed has been made (ha!) and planted in, try to avoid stepping on and compacting the soil. Each time you compress the soil, you’re squeezing out all those air channels and suffocating the roots.

As you plant into your beds and notice an increase in earthworms, that means you are doing something right! Earthworms are a sign of healthy, biological activity in your soil. If you don’t see as many worms as you like, you can add casting to help improve the fertility, buy actual earthworms and toss them into the garden or raise your own in a homemade earthworm bin (there’s lots of free plans available online).
Personally, I use drip tape and landscape fabric (rated for 12-15 years) with holes burned into them, and plant directly into these little pockets to help control the weed situation.

BackyardGardenerBook.KellyOrzel.-¬KellyOrzelPhotography 2While most of us hate weeds because they make the garden look sloppy, but they’re extremely dangerous because they steal all that organic matter and water from your plants, and overcrowd your garden. To make it look more aesthetically pleasing you can cover the fabric with wood chips, straw or gravel.



For more information on soil, its amendments and nutrients, compost, as well as everything you can (and can’t) imagine about organic growing and the kitchen garden, pick up a copy of Kelly’s book, The Backyard Gardener, available on Amazon
Barnes+Noble’s or get your signed copy on her site, Bowery Beach Farm.


Kelly.Orzel.BoweryBeachFarmKelly Orzel is an author, girl-farmer, garden speaker, Master Gardener and life-long grower of green things. With more than 20 years of experience and a master’s degree in Horticulture, Kelly’s obsession for plants and flowers has culminated with Bowery Beach Farm in Maine. As a sustainable, organic farmer she specializes in culinary herbs and scented geraniums.  

Aside from dirt, Kelly loves bread and cheese, over-sized sweaters and Jane Austen novels. For more information on Kelly and her garden lectures, contact her here! You can visit her and her farm at BoweryBeachFarm.com.