Herb of the Month: Basil (Ocimum basilicum) Part 1

Sweet basil, (Ocimum basilicum) is the most common variety of basil sold in the United States. While there are many other basil varieties, some closely related and some not, I chose to focus on sweet basil since I’m the most familiar with it.

basil cuttings in water

Sweet Basil Information 

Size: Sweet basil can range from 24 – 38 inches (61 – 97 cm) in height depending on conditions.

Water Requirements: A lot of water is required to grow basil. Soil should be kept damp, but not soaked.

Soil Requirements: The soil that sweet basil is planted in should be fertile and well drained. Basil prefers a soil that is very slightly acidic (pH 6.4) but can tolerate a wide pH range.

Light Requirements: Sweet basil likes to be grown in full sun (at least 4-6 hours of direct sun).

Temperature Requirements: Sweet basil does not tolerate cold temperatures well and should be kept above 40°F (4.4°C).

Nutrient Requirements: A fertilizer with equal amounts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium with additional nitrogen supplementation later in the growing season is recommended for sweet basil.

Pruning: Many people who grow basil cut off flower buds, as they believe it causes leaves to become bitter. Nipping off the top set of leaves can encourage the basil plant to become bushier. Regular pruning is recommended.

Pests: Although sweet basil is relatively insect repellent, it can still be bothered by pests such as whiteflies, cutworms, and nematodes as well as fungal and bacterial diseases.

Companion Planting: Basil is often planted along side tomatoes.

Growing Indoors: Basil is well suited to growth in containers, both indoors and outdoors. Pots need to be at least 8 inches (20 cm). The best growing medium is a soilless mix and the light, water, and nutrient requirements are similar to those of an outdoor plant.

 

Sources

Bonnie Plants – A good basic introduction to Sweet Basil. The plant I took the cuttings from was a Bonnie Sweet Basil plant.
National Gardening Association – Basil Plant care guide
Herb Society of America Guide – Basil  In addition to basil, the Herb Society of America has good guides to many other herbs.

Garden Journal

** Warning, this is a photo heavy post. **

FoxyFix wanderlust

Today I want to talk a little bit about garden journals. Keeping a garden journal is something I try to do every year, and somehow by the middle of the growing season I completely forget about it. This has left me with a bunch of partially started notebooks and horrible records of what I’ve grown. Clearly the old system wasn’t working for me, so this year I decided to try something new.

Enter the traveler’s notebook. It’s essentially a cover (mine is a Wide Wanderlust Butterscotch from Foxy Fix) with elastics which hold notebook inserts. It’s highly customizable and has a huge fan base. I stumbled across them while looking for ideas for setting up my grad school Filofax (a post for another day) and though that maybe, just maybe, here was a system that would work. So I thought about it for a few months, came up with a plan, got some inserts to try out, and ordered my notebook.

It arrived a few weeks ago, and so far I’m definitely a fan. It feels like a nice cohesive book, but the inserts seem to give me the flexibility I’ve been craving. Here’s how it’s set up right now.

Insert 1: Calendar
Purpose: Mostly for recording weather and planting dates, but other garden events like classes are included too.

Calendar (Midori brand)
Calendar (Midori brand)

Insert 2: Garden Log
Purpose: To record what goes on in the garden (planting dates, harvest quantities, pest problems)

Grid insert (Midori brand)
Grid insert (Midori brand)

Insert 3: Orchard Log
Purpose: Essentially the same as the Garden Log, only for the orchard: To record what goes on in the orchard (tasks, harvest quantities, pest problems)

Grid insert (Midori brand)
Grid insert (Midori brand)

Insert 4: Garden Resources/Ideas
Purpose: This insert gives me a place to write down helpful books and websites as well as any ideas/information I come across that seems useful.

Lined insert (Midori brand)
Ruled insert (Midori brand)

And lastly…

Insert 5: Orchard Resources/Ideas
Purpose: In addition to being a place to record similar stuff to the Garden Resources insert, I’ll also use this to keep my notes from the steward training classes for the orchard.

Lined insert (Midori brand)
Ruled insert (Midori brand)

And there you have it! Five inserts in total, and hopefully enough space to record everything I want to. Again, right now I think this system will work, but then again I’ve thought that about the other notebooks too. Here’s hoping.

Do you have a garden notebook/journal? How do you keep from forgetting about it halfway through the season?

Herb of the Month: Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) Part 2

[Please note that this page is for educational and informational purposes only and may not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by physicians.]

Bay leaves in a mason jar with oil being poured over them
Image source: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1479642/infused-bay-oil

Today we’re going to take a brief look at the culinary and medicinal uses of Bay Laurel leaves. 

Medicinally Bay Laurel can be taken as a tea to soothe stomaches and relieve gas. The leaves also have diaphoretic properties and can induce vomiting when taken in large quantities. The oil of bay laurel can al be applied externally as an antiseptic and to treat sprains, bruises, and arthritis.

In the kitchen, bay leaves are typically used dry as fresh leaves contain bitter tasting compounds that drying removes. Leaves are added to soups and stews to flavor the broth and are removed before eating. Leaves may also be used in pickling, marinades, and baking.

Around the home bay leaves are used to make fragrant wreaths and garlands, and to repel insects from the pantry.

Recipes*

Infused Bay Oil 

Bay Leaf Tea–  It’s a little unclear what type of bay she uses, but it looks like any variety will work.

Bay Leaf Tea/ Gripe Water

Braised Bay Leaf Chicken

Filipino Chicken Adobo

Fresh Bites Daily has recipes for bay leaf custard drinks and desserts. I can’t try these because of my food allergies, but they look interesting.

Bay Laurel Pound Cake

Gluten-free Dairy-free Bay Leaf Pound Cake

Blueberry Bay Leaf Quick Jam

* I have not had a chance to try any of these recipes yet. If you do try them, let me know how they go!

Sources

Flower Power: Bay Laurel by Jacqueline Soule on Rodale’s Organic Life

Garden Plant of the Month of October – Bay laurel (Bay Tree) on Agora

Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra

A Modern Herbal Volume II by Mrs. M. Grieve

Herb of the Month: Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) Part 1

Bay Laurel Leaves
Image Source: http://www.fuf.net/tree/grecian-laurel/

As stated in last week’s introduction, January’s herb of the month is Bay. While there are several plants that are used as the “bay leaf” spice in cooking I’m going to focus on bay laurel (Laurus nobilis). This type of bay is also known as sweet bay. Laurus nobilis originates from the Mediterranean and can be grown outdoors in warmer climates or indoors as a houseplant in colder ones. 

Size: Bay Laurel can grow up to 23 ft (7.5m) tall if not pruned.

Water Requirements: Bay laurel has moderate water requirements. As with most plants overwatering can cause root damage.

Soil Requirements: Bay Laurel prefers well-drained soil

Light Requirements: Bay Laurel grows best in full sun to part shade.

Temperature Requirements: Bay Laurel can be grown outside in USDA Zones 8 to 11.

Nutrient Requirements: Bay Laurel grown in containers can benefit from controlled-release fertilizer or a liquid feed every two weeks from mid-spring through late summer.

Pruning: Bay Laurel is well suited to being pruned as a topiary or shrub but they are slow growing and can be slow to recover.

Pests and Problems: Bay is susceptible to bay sucker and both soft and horse chestnut scale. Waterlogged roots can cause leaf spots or yellowing of leaves. Yellowing of leaves can also indicate a nutrient deficiency.

Container Growing: If you want to grow bay laurel as a container plant it is important to use well draining soil. Plants grown in container are also susceptible to freezing when it’s cold outside so make sure to insulate the pot. The Royal Horticultural Society recommends that bay be repotted every two years.

Bay Laurel Bush in a terra cotta pot
Bay Laurel in a pot (Image Source: http://www.monrovia.com/plant-catalog/plants/1774/sweet-bay/)

Part two, the culinary and medicinal uses of bay laurel and some recipes, will be coming next week so be on the look out for that.

Sources

Flower Power: Bay Laurel on Rodale’s Organic Life

Bay Tree (Laurus nobilis) on Royal Horticultural Society


As an aside, my classes start back up again this week, so while I have the best intentions to post weekly, we all know how that went last semester. If I disappear for a bit, it’s probably because of schoolwork.

 

Herb of the Month: Introduction

Bowl full of cut herbs

Oh herbs, aren’t they wonderful? I just love growing them. Last year I decided to delve more into their medicinal side by taking the Intermediate Herbalist online course through the Herbal Academy of New England. It was a fascinating course, but ever since I finished it this past fall I’ve been at a bit of a loss for how to continue my herbal studies. The Herbal Academy offers an Advanced Herbal course and an Entrepreneur Herbal course, but both these feel like a bit more than what I want to do right now. That said I don’t want to stop learning about this side of herbs completely.

After mulling it over for a few months, I decided to take twelve of my favorite and most used herbs and focus on one per month in 2016. This’ll include looking into how to grow them, what their culinary properties are, what their medicinal uses are, and trying out a few recipes. Also, to help me meet my blogging goal for this year I’ve decided to write blog posts about it. I’m hoping it comes out to about three posts per month, one about growing the herb, one about using the herb, and one with the recipes I tried. At least that’s the plan.

The schedule for 2016:

January: Bay
February: Basil
March: Lavender
April: Oregano
May: Thyme
June: Fennel
July: Licorice
August: Calendula
September: Sage
October: Ginger
November: Cinnamon
December: Rosemary

Lavender Calendula Winter Skin Salve

Winter Lavender Calendula Salve

If you’re anything like me, winter can be tough on your skin. During my no-technology week last month I whipped up this salve to soothe skin and brighten spirits (and because I needed some last minute gifts this holiday season). I think it may be the best thing of this sort that I’ve ever made and I’m very pleased with how it turned out so I figured I’d share.

What’s in it?

Lavender – Not only does lavender have a calming scent and the ability to lift moods but it also has antiseptic and pain relieving properties.

Calendula – Calendula is sometimes known as pot marigold and is an herb that is valued for its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to stimulate wound healing and soothe irritated skin. It can be used to treat burns, bruises, and injuries. Calendula also gives the salve a sunny yellow color that reminds me of the much missed summer sun.

Olive Oil – Olive oil is moisturizing and soothing to dry skin. For this recipe I infused the olive oil with herbs following the solar infusing method from the Herbal Academy of New England though the other methods would work as well.

Beeswax – This is what thickens the oil to a salve consistency. It also has a slight honey scent, which I love. I used natural beeswax for this recipe.

For this salve I was shooting for a medium hardness and used the beeswax/oil ratios from Humblebee and Me. If you’re into DIY bath and beauty products I definitely recommend her site; she makes the coolest stuff and has tons of recipes.

 

Brick of beeswax, bottles of infused oil

Lavender Calendula Winter Skin Salve

(makes 4.5 oz)

45g* Calendula infused Olive Oil
45g* Lavender infused Olive Oil
20g* Beeswax
Tins
Clean can for melting
Small Pan
Water

  1. Measure out ingredients
  2. Place ingredients in your clean can.
  3. Place can in a small pan and surround it with between one and two inches of water.
  4. Heat the pan with the can over medium heat. Stir mixture in the can occasionally to facilitate melting.
  5. Once all the beeswax has melted, remove the can from the pan and pour salve into tins (I used these from Mountain rose herbs).
  6. Allow salve to cool. Label tins and give as gifts (or keep for yourself).

*The wax:oil ratio I used was 1:4.5. This means that you can scale up this recipe and use 40g beeswax and 90g of each of the infused oils, or scale it down and use 10g beeswax and 22.5g of each of the infused oils. Just remember it is the ratio that is important.

Beeswax in a cup on a scale
Weighing the beeswax
Can in a pan with water around it
Can-pan set up. Note how the water surrounds the can.
Beeswax and oil melting in can
Melting the beeswax
Salve cooling in metal tins
Cooling in tins from Mountain Rose Herbs
Harden salve in tins
Ready for gifting

 

Gardening Year in Review

Another year gone already! It was a pretty decent year garden wise. I found a community garden run by awesome people. I was put in charge of an orchard at the same community garden. I started graduate school for a masters in horticulture with a specialization in urban food systems, and I grew a lot of yummy fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

One of my favorite things I did this year was take regular pictures of my garden plot from (about) the same spot. This has allowed me to put together a slideshow of sorts and watch the entire garden season go by in a manner of seconds, and I thought I’d share it with you.

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There aren’t any pictures from July because I was fairly sick that month and didn’t make it out to the garden.

Looking forward to next year, I’m hoping to be a bit more practical with my garden plot and focus on growing the vegetables I use like carrots, beets, spinach, and not so many tomatoes. I’ll still probably pick one or two new/fun plants to grow as well. I’ll also have the orchard to care for, which is exciting, but also a little daunting since I have no idea how much work it’ll end up being.