Parsley: More than Just Food

Parsley: More than Just Food

parsley in jarBy Jen Lenharth, NorthEast Seacoast Unit, Herb Society of America

Ancient Greeks thought it signaled death. Ancient Romans kept it from their women and babies out of fear of fits. And the Old English believed it could make you unlucky in love. Oh, how wrong they were!

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), we now know, is one of those ‘super-­‐foods’ and has many culinary, medicinal, cosmetic and decorative applications.

While parsley is a biennial, it is grown as an annual in our New Hampshire climate. Most people purchase young plants in the spring because it can be difficult to propagate from seed. Parsley does well in containers (which allows it to be brought inside when fall arrives), and makes a great companion plant or garden edge.

ParsleyThe two common types of parsley are curly and Italian flat leaf. While the curly leaf is decorative, the Italian flat leaf is generally preferred for culinary purposes because of its more pronounced flavor. Well known in the kitchen, parsley is terrific fresh for eating and brightens flavor in meats, vegetables, breads, soups and even beverages. It is best to add parsley towards the end of cooking so it retains full flavor.

Parsley is a source of vitamin K, which helps in bone and brain health; vitamin A which helps maintain eye health; and folate which helps the body maintain overall health. Research into the value of flavonoids, particularly the apigenin found in parsley, suggests they are useful in preventing cancer recurrence, including colon and prostate cancers.

Eating parsley can help build healthy skin from the inside, but it is also valuable in skin care products. Consider a homemade witch hazel skin toner or use parsley tea pouches to relieve under eye circles.

Parsley-Witch Hazel Skin Toner:

Add ½ cup of chopped parsley to ¾ cup of boiling water and let steep at least two hours. Filter out the parsley and reserve the water. Add ¼ cup of witch hazel to the water and transfer to a sealable bottle. Store in the fridge and apply with a cotton pad to clean skin as a toner.

Herb Update: Chocolate is Now Pink

Herb Update: Chocolate is Now Pink

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

ruby_chocolate_official_image_01Chocolate is part of the herb world. Or so I’ve decided after doing a little reading and research. In fact,

Herb Society of America’s own education coordinator Karen Kennedy says,

“I’m sure it depends on who you talk to.  It seems to me that chocolate itself is not because it is a product made from several different ingredients. Cacao, from the tree Theobroma cacaofits our definition of an herb.  Cacao, derived from this tree has both flavoring and medicinal properties, including as a stimulant, diuretic, lowers blood pressure, etc. Cocoa butter is used for damaged and sore skin.  If you look up this tree and perhaps the ethnobotany of it, you will find both historical and modern day uses.  Chocolate is both a flavor and a food, so in a sense–it is an herb!”

Her answer is enough for me.

And just when I thought I knew a lot about this herb, along comes a brand new type of chocolate. Move over dark, milk and white. Make room for ruby chocolate, just introduced by international chocolate-maker Barry Callebaut. The company describes the chocolate as “an intense sensorial delight. A tension between berry-fruitiness and luscious smoothness.”

ruby_chocolate_with_cocoa-1-e1505903828685.jpgTurns out ruby chocolate is made from the ruby cocoa bean and gets its color and flavor from it. No berry flavor or color is added.  The beans come from different places in the world and the chocolate company has created an innovative process to capitalize on its unique properties.

Introduced to the world on September 5, 2017, ruby chocolate is purported to have different flavor profiles from its siblings, something I’m longing to test. I’m continuing to watch for more information as it becomes available.

 

 

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.

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

I love a good garage sale. So it only makes sense that I’d like foraging. It’s like garage sale meets farmers market. But it’s organic and free … if you know what you’re doing and stay away from chemically treated or publicly protected lands.

Foraging & Feasting CoverOver the past few years I’ve collected a few foraging books to teach myself what I can and cannot eat. I learn something new from each book. My latest addition/edition is Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender (Botanical Arts Press, 2013)

The book starts with a philosophical celebration leads into practical harvesting tips and continues with lushly detailed illustrations and identification information for 50 plants. Charts in the middle summarize seasonality and culinary uses. And relevant recipes are an inspiring finale. Did I already say it’s delightful to the eye?

Dina with Angelica 6_1_13

Dina’s interest in herbs and, then foraging, was sparked at 11, when she received her first herb book.

“I became conscious of the healing properties of food, clearly grasping the concept that food is my medicine,” she writes. “From that point forward, my commitment to and exploration of finding, preparing and eating healthful foods began.”

In flipping through I recognized my favorite chickweed. And, for the first time I came upon the day flower, a plant that I’ve been fighting (and losing) all summer. In the future it’s going into the salad, not the compost pile.

Dayflower-Commelina erectaI must admit my favorite recipes are herbal spirits and ice creams. The spirit combinations include lemon balm-strawberry vodka and black currant-fennel vodka. Ice cream inspirations include rose petal, lavender, bee balm and lemon verbena.

Therapeutic recipes include digestive bitters which are a scotch-based herbal root infusion.

My biggest problem with this book is that I don’t know if I should keep my copy on my nightstand for studying, in my kitchen for cooking or on the porch for relaxing. It’s that useful.


Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender is available from Botanical Arts Press.

What to do with Garlic Scapes

What to do with Garlic Scapes

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

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

You can chop ‘em and saute’ ‘em…..

You can pesto and puree’ ‘em…..

You can roast ‘em

You can toast ‘em

You can grill ‘em

You can swill ‘em?

You can eat ‘em on a boat

You can eat ‘em with a goat

You can use ‘em now or freeze for later

Either way it doesn’t matter

Get ‘em soon while they last

Like all things seasonal

They come and go so fast!

What am I rhyming about? Garlic Scapes of course!

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

 

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

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

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

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


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

 

‘Silver Drop’ Eucalyptus 2016’s Most Popular for The Grower’s Exchange

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

eucalyptus-silver-dropIf everyone else is doing it, I often run the other way. Or so I’d like to think. I consider myself my own woman making my own decisions without an external script. (WestWorld anyone?)

Unless everyone else is growing an herb. Then, I want to be part of the club.

I was surprised when The Grower’s Exchange announced that its bestseller for 2016 was Eucalyptus, Silver Drop. I would have expected something better known.

“Always in the top 5, but never a winner, this year, eucalyptus pushed out lemongrass and would have done even better had we not run out near the end of the spring,” says grower/owner Brisco White.

eucalyptus-silver-drop-2The reasons, he says, are a mystery. “What makes for a winner? Who knows? Why Beanie Babies one year, and Cabbage Patch another?  Could it have been effective marketing? A trend in medicinal treatments? An article in a major publication that ramped up demand? What we do know is that we are growing a lot more for 2017.”

While a number of eucalyptus cultivars exist, ‘Silver Drop’ is popular for its deep, silvery green scalloped leaves and a growing habit that can be shaped into a wide shrub with ease. It’s prolific and can grow up to 40 feet, but is best kept to four to five feet.

“It smells incredible, can handle a drought, resists deer and insects and actually provides nectar in the summer to bees, hummingbirds and butterflies,” notes White. “It’s also easy to grow and we cut tons of it to add to both fresh and dried arrangements. We even have it for holiday decorating.”

Silver drop can be grown during hot summers in most regions, and lacking a long and harsh frost, it is hardy to Zone 7. With plenty of light, it might even over-winter indoors.

Those reasons explain its popularity well to me. I plan to order it for my summer garden in Northeast Ohio and keep it in the kitchen window with my bay tree next winter. I want to be part of this club.