Makrut Lime – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


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

Growing Chia – A “Pet Project” in Wisconsin

By Erin Presley

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rhubarb Agua de Chia

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

Makes 6 cups finished beverage

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

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

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


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

epresley@cityofmadison.com

Instagram:  @presleyspreferredplants

Spicebush to the Rescue

Spicebush to the Rescue

By Kaila Blevins

Author Volunteer TripWhile on a volunteer trip in Orlando, Florida, I was desperate for bug spray. In the middle of December, the mosquitoes nibbled on any exposed skin they could find, leaving me and the rest of the unprepared Maryland native participants with patches of red swollen bumps on our ankles and arms. Our guides, a retired couple who volunteers with the state parks, became our heroes on the second day of the trip. During our lunch break, the husband saunters over to us, carrying a branch from a nearby shrub and states, “This is spicebush. Crush its leaves and rub it onto your arms. Keeps the bugs away and helps the itch.” Immediately, we passed the branch around, ripped the leaves off the branch, crumpled them, and rubbed the lemon-peppery scented oil onto our skin.

A couple years later, I would learn that spicebush (Lindera benzoin) has a multitude of uses. The fragrant multi-stemmed shrub is native to the margins of wetlands and along woodland streams in the Eastern United States. It can grow close to 10 feet tall, and in spicebush flowersApril, yellow flowers begin to appear on the branches. By the end of the summer, the flowers are replaced by cherry red fruits. Spicebush is integral to the native ecosystems, as it serves as the host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly, and birds are known to snack on the seeds. However, Native Americans and early settlers relied on spicebush’s herbal properties.

Native Americans would brew tea with the bark, twigs, leaves, and berries. When ingested, the tea would induce sweating. The increased perspiration would help fight off fevers and ease body aches. In addition, ingestion would assist with removing intestinal parasites. The tea could be applied topically as well. Compresses soaked in spicebush tea would be applied to the skin to ease the pain from arthritis, rashes, bruises, and itching. Once settlers arrived in the new world, they sought help from the Native Americans.

The settlers did not know much about the peculiar plants growing in North America, so Native Americans taught them the herbal benefits of the native plants. Lindera benzoin fruitSettlers used spicebush for similar ailments as well as typhoid fever. They also used the plant in culinary dishes. The dried seeds and bark became milder substitutes for allspice and cinnamon, respectively. Beyond its herbal uses, settlers used the presence of spicebush as an indicator for rich soil that could be converted into agricultural land.

Spicebush’s herbal properties may get overlooked by its ecological importance or showy yellow leaves in fall, but it was a staple for Native Americans, early settlers, and my volunteer trip. For more information on spicebush, check out HSA’s Essential Fact Sheet.

 

Photo Credits (from top): Author on field trip; spicebush flowers (courtesy E. Holden); spicebush fruit (courtesy E. Holden)

References

Keiffer, Betsy. “Lindera Benzoin.” Cultivation Notess, Sept. 1998, riwps.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Lindera_benzoin.pdf.

“Lindera Benzoin.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – The University of Texas at Austin, http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=LIBE3.

“Lindera Benzoin.” North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox, plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/lindera-benzoin/.

Nesom, Guy. “Spicebush.” Plant Guide, USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center & the Biota of North America Program , 2003, plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_libe3.pdf.

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.


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Kaila Blevins is the 2020-2021 National Herb Garden intern. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a B.S. in Environmental Science and Technology and a minor in sustainability. This fall, she will pursue a Master’s in Landscape Architecture at Morgan State University while also interning in the National Herb Garden. She hopes to expand her knowledge of plants, and how they benefit human health and life. In her spare time, she likes to read, paint, brew kombucha and experiment with its flavors, as well as spend time with her family and pets. Kaila also likes to stay active in the community through volunteering.

Safe Passage for Plants & Pollinators: Building GreenBridges™

By Debbie Boutelier, HSA Past President & GreenBridgesTM Chair

It’s summer and the living is easy for our pollinators. There is an abundance of blooming plants from which to choose. A little here, a little there, moving pollen around from plant to plant and increasing the abundance. It’s glorious now, but come later in the year, it will not be as easy. Our little miracle workers will be struggling to get enough to eat.  I’m also reminded as I watch these miracle workers in action that all of this is threatened, and without our help a lot of the abundance may disappear forever. 

What can we do to ensure that these summer miracles continue? We can construct GreenBridgesTM that will provide places of respite and offer safe passage for our native plants and our pollinators. The Herb Society of America offers a program to do just that. Get involved in the GreenBridgesTM program to learn best practices for creating a sustainable habitat for our native plants and pollinators, learn to identify and grow native herbs that are unique to your region and will best support your region’s pollinators, and best of all, join a community of environmentally aware herb gardeners. 

Learn more about GreenBridgesTM on the HSA website by clicking on this link: https://www.herbsociety.org/explore/hsa-conservation/greenbridges-initiative/  Then, take the next step and get your garden certified as a GreenBridgesTM garden. The process is easy: complete the application found on the web site, attach a check to cover the cost of a plaque for your garden, and mail to HSA headquarters. Be sure to include some pictures of your garden to share with other members. Your plaque and a certificate will be mailed to you shortly after receipt of your application. 

Display the plaque in your garden to open conversations with your neighbors about the importance of providing healthy ecosystems for our plants and pollinators. Introduce your neighbors to the GreenBridgesTM program and invite them to become a certified garden also. Working together by connecting our gardens to our neighbor’s garden and then to community green spaces, we can effectively create GreenBridgesTM across the nation! Our plants, the pollinators, and we will be the beneficiaries of the healthy ecosystems we create.

In closing, I’d like to share a story about continuing to impress upon my granddaughter the importance of pollinators. A couple of weeks ago, my granddaughter and I were enjoying a beautiful early summer day in the garden. She loves to help me in the garden and today we were harvesting her favorite garden treat: blueberries! She remembers me telling her that without the bees pollinating the blueberries, she would not have this luscious treat. Now, when she sees bees hard at work, she no longer runs from them, but watches intently as they complete their work.  Her comment continues to be —”Go bees!” She loves her blueberries. Now she realizes that all of the other garden treats she enjoys are also the result of bees and other garden insects hard at work. So much fun to see nature through a child’s eyes and introduce the next generation to gardening with the purpose of protecting our native plants and pollinators!


A life-long lover of all aspects of gardening and nature, Debbie Boutelier’s interest in herbs and other edibles began in the early ’80s when she planted her first edible garden with vegetables and culinary herbs. Her interest rapidly grew into a vocation spanning the many different aspects of using herbs in everyday life, and incorporating organic techniques in everything she grows. After moving to Alabama, Debbie served as a County Extension Agent for a number of years. She is an Alabama Advanced Master Gardener and has studied the medicinal uses of herbs for many years, completing a three year intensive study of the medicinal aspect of herbs at the Appalachian Center of Natural Health. Debbie now teaches nationally and presents seminars and workshops on the many aspects of herbs, organic gardening, nutrition, and other garden related topics. Debbie’s herb passion has led to the creation of her small cottage herb business, Rooted in Thyme Apothecary. Debbie is a long-time member and past president of The Herb Society of America.

HSA Webinar: How to Grow and Use Lavender for Health and Beauty

By Jen Munson, Education Chair

A program I attended a few years back labeled basil the “King of Herbs,” but in my world, lavender is the true king. From its medicinal benefits to its culinary and craft uses, lavender can’t be beat. The fresh clean scent of lavender has been used in cosmetics and skin care products since ancient times. It smells good, improves circulation, attracts pollinators, and promotes sleep. With over twenty five different varieties, there is likely a lavender variety you can grow not only for its beauty, but for its many uses. 

Join us for our webinar on July 21st at 1pm EST with author Janice Cox when she presents “How to Grow and Use Lavender for Health and Beauty.” Learn how to start a new plant from cuttings, air-dry flowers for year round use, and create your own DIY body care products that can be used for hair care, skin care, and in the bath. Tips, recipes, and herbal craft ideas will be shared throughout this dynamic webinar.  

As an additional bonus, HSA Members can receive 20% off, plus free shipping, on Janice’s latest book, Beautiful Lavender (Ogden 2020). This book is filled with lavender recipes and ideas. Log into the member only area of the HSA website to obtain the code, then go to Janice’s website at http://www.naturabeautyathome.com to order the book. The book retails for $17.99, but for HSA members, it is $14.39 + free shipping!

Our webinars are free to members and $5.00 for guests. Visit https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars or click here to sign up. Become a member today, and enjoy all of our webinars for free, and as an added bonus, you’ll automatically be entered into a raffle for a free educational conference registration to our 2021 conference being held in Baton Rouge, LA, from April 29th – May 1st, 2021.

About Janice Cox

Janice Cox is an expert on the topic of natural beauty and making your own cosmetic products with simple kitchen and garden ingredients. She is the author of three best-selling books on the topic: Natural Beauty at Home, Natural Beauty for All Seasons, and Natural Beauty from the Garden. She is currently the beauty editor for Herb Quarterly Magazine, is a member of the editorial advisory board for Mother Earth Living Magazine, and is a member of The Herb Society of America, International Herb Association, United States Lavender Growers Association, Oregon Lavender Association, and Garden Communicators International. 

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.

Peppermint – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Most of us, gardeners or not, are familiar with mint. But how many of us know that there is a distinctive difference between spearmint and peppermint? The difference between these two mints may be important depending on how you want to use them.

Peppermint, Mentha × piperita, is The Herb Society’s Herb of the Month for July.  Peppermint is really a hybrid of two mints, water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). . Being a hybrid, peppermint does not produce seeds. If you want to propagate it, you must either take cuttings or divide the plant. Like other mints, peppermint is a vigorous grower, so must be contained if you don’t want it growing everywhere in your garden.  It favors growing in rich, moist soil. Peppermint has a narrow, coarse leaf and flowers that are pink-lavender.  Spearmint, on the other hand, is softer to the touch and has a darker green leaf with pink, lavender, or white flowers.

But the major difference in these two mints is in the taste. Spearmint has a sweeter, milder taste due to its lower menthol content (0.5%). Peppermint has a much higher menthol content at 40%, and therefore has a much stronger flavor, almost a peppery minty flavor.  Because of its high menthol content, peppermint is the mint preferred for medicinal applications. It is used in pain relief ointments because it produces a cooling sensation on sore muscles. It is a common ingredient in throat soothing teas and lozenges, and is often used to disguise the strong taste of some medicines. It has been found effective in the short-term  treatment of irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive problems (https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/peppermint-oil). Peppermint oil can be rubbed on the temples to alleviate tension headaches  (https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-health-benefits-peppermint). Spearmint, with its much milder flavor, is used to treat mild cases of nausea and even hiccups.

In cooking, it really makes a difference which mint is used. Because of peppermint’s strong flavor, it can overpower the flavors of savory dishes. However, it works well with candies, pastries and chocolate. It is a popular addition to holiday treats such as candy canes, peppermint bark, and peppermint patties. A touch of peppermint in your hot cocoa makes it special. Spearmint, on the other hand, does not overpower other herbs and spices and can be used with a much broader spectrum of foods.  Use it in mint julep and in tabbouleh, or in a minty sauce for lamb.

Peppermint oil is becoming more important in the aromatherapy industry, and  is thought to have a positive effect on memory. According to a study reported in the International Journal of Neuroscience, the aroma from peppermint oil enhances memory and increases alertness  (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00207450601042094?journalCode=ines20&).

The United States is the major producer of peppermint oil in the world and accounts for half of the world’s trade, something that we don’t often hear when talking about the economics of herbs and spices  (https://www.agrifutures.com.au/farm-diversity/peppermint-oil/). Most of the peppermint in the U.S. is grown in the Pacific Northwest.  According to AgHires.com, an acre of mint produces about 70 pounds of oil. One pound of oil can flavor 1,500 tubes of toothpaste or 40,000 sticks of gum (https://aghires.com/u-s-produces-70-worlds-mint/). A drop of peppermint oil goes a long way. 

I would be remiss if I did not include here the story about the origin of peppermint according to Greek mythology. It is said that Hades (also known to the Greeks as Pluto) fell in love with a beautiful wood nymph.  Persephone, his wife, became jealous and turned the nymph into a lowly plant to be stepped on. Hades could not undo the damage done by Persephone’s spell, so he gave the plant a beautiful scent so that she would never be forgotten. He called her Minthe.

So there you have it─some interesting information about peppermint to help make you an enlightened user of mint —at least of spearmint and peppermint.

Please visit The Herb Society’s Herb of the Month webpage for more information about peppermint, a screensaver for your computer, and some minty recipes.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


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

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.

Botanical Brews – An introductory guide to using tropical specialty ingredients in beer

By Amanda Dix

(Blogmasters’ note: Experiencing craft beer is a high point for many connoisseurs these days. While beer in its various forms has been around for millennia, today’s brew-masters have taken beer to a whole new level by adding unique flavor combinations to their recipes. Capitalizing on that trend, many gardens and arboreta are incorporating special tasting events into their program repertoire that highlight the herbs that make each brew unique. Below are some of horticulturist and brewer Amanda Dix’s suggestions for upping your botanical beer game. Even if you don’t brew yourself, these might inspire you to try new things and understand how herbs are woven into this timeless beverage.)

Many culinary dishes and beverages are abundant with tropical herbs, spices, and fruit. Beer is no exception, and using unique ingredients alongside barley, hops, and yeast is very common these days.

When formulating a beer recipe, be sure to take into account all of the ingredients collectively. There are so many types of malt, yeast, and hops out there. Focusing on how each ingredient will interact and complement each other is key to making a multi-layered, yet balanced brew.

First, start with the base beer and decide what flavors would interact well with the fruit, herb, or spice. Ask yourself:

What type of flavor does this malt give off? (biscuit, caramel, roasty, malty)

What kind of esters or phenols does this yeast make? (fruity, spicy, funky, none)

What flavors, aromas, and bitterness does this hop provide? (spicy, woody, fruity, floral)

Second, decide at what point in the brewing process this specialty ingredient will be most useful. One of the easiest ways to impart additional flavors in your beer is to add fruit, herbs, or spices during the secondary (post) fermentation process. They can be added to the boil, but their flavor and aroma will be more subtle. So, for the most punch, add some botanical blends during secondary fermentation. The sky’s the limit when it comes to the infusions you create, but here are a few ideas to get you started. CHEERS!

ginger-1960613_960_720Ginger (fresh, thinly sliced)

0.5-1 oz. per gallon in secondary fermentation (or 0.25-1 oz. per gallon in last 5 minutes of boil)

Beer style suggestions: American Wheat, Kolsch, Stout, Belgian, Sour/Wild Ale.

Roasted_coffee_beansCoffee (whole bean, crushed, or cold brewed)

4 oz. cold brewed per gallon in secondary fermentation OR 1-2 oz. whole bean or crushed per gallon in secondary fermentation.

Beer style suggestions: Stout, Porter, Cream Ale.

5474684018_9181629f19_bChocolate (cocoa nibs)

4-10 oz. per gallon in secondary fermentation.

Beer style suggestions: Stout, Porter, Brown Ale.

 

Citrus_fruits

Citrus (lemon, lime, orange, tangerine, mandarin, grapefruit, kumquat, etc.)

0.5-1.5 lbs. per gallon in secondary fermentation.

Beer style suggestions: Hefeweizen, American Wheat, Saison, IPA, Sour/Wild Ale.

hibiscus calyxHibiscus (dried calyx)

1-1.5 oz. per gallon in secondary fermentation (or make tea infusion).

Beer style suggestions: Wheat, Sour/Wild Ale, Bonde, Kolsch, IPA (or anything light colored to admire the red coloration and delicate flower aroma).

nutmeg-390318_1280Cardamom, Clove, Nutmeg, or Cinnamon

4-5 grams per 5 gallon batch in secondary fermentation.

Beer style suggestions: Wheat Ales, Saison, Stout/Porter (holiday beer), Pumpkin beer.

 

vanilla-vanilla-bars-spice-ingredients-royalty-free-thumbnail

Vanilla (whole bean sliced/scraped)

2-3 beans per 5 gallon batch – soak in vodka or bourbon for two weeks and add tincture to secondary fermentation.

Beer style suggestions: Stout, Porter, Belgian.

 


hibiscus for beerAmanda got her B.S. in Environmental Horticulture with an emphasis on floriculture crop production from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She has always had a strong passion for anything involving the outdoors/nature and plants/animals. Her wide array of experience in the horticulture field at botanical gardens, arboreta, nurseries, and farms has led her to become the Assistant Conservatory Curator at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, WI. Amanda works in the tropical conservatory and oversees the production of the annuals that go out in Olbrich’s 16 acres of gardens. For the past 10 years, she has had a strong passion for craft beer and brewing, and hopes to one day become a Certified Cicerone.