Herb of the Month: Lavender (Lavandula sp.) Part 1

March’s herb of the month is lavender.

grosso lavender plants

This growing information is for Grosso lavender (the variety that I planted in my front garden last year), but other lavender should have similar growing requirements. Grosso lavender is hybrid of cold-hardy English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and heat-tolerant Portuguese Lavender (L. latifolia). It is the primary commercial variety for the production of lavender oil.

Grosso Lavender Care

Size: The Grosso variety of lavender can get up to 2.5 feet (76 cm) tall and wide.

Water Requirements: This lavender prefers soil that is kept between dry and moist.

Soil Requirements: Grosso lavender grows best in neutral to slightly alkaline soil that is well drained.

Light Requirements: Grosso lavender does best in full sun.

Temperature Requirements: This lavender grows well in USDA zones 5 to 8, though may not survive the winter if the temperature gets below 0F and there is no snow to insulate the plant.

Nutrient Requirements: Lavender actually prefers a soil with somewhat low fertility.

Pruning: For continued blooming, remove faded flowers. About every three years, prune back to 8 inches (20 cm) tall in the spring.

Pests: This lavender is susceptible to root rot and leaf spot.

Blooms: The blooms of this lavender are lavender in color and very fragrant. Blooms appear from June to August.

Sources

Missouri Botanical Garden
Pantry Garden Herbs – Lavender, Grosso 
Mother Earth News – Herb to Know: Lavender ‘Grosso’ Plant 

Advertisements

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.

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: 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

 

August Update

Hello again! It’s been a while. Typically there is the word “garden” in the title of these updates, but this one is going to be a bit more general since I haven’t posted since June.

So where have I been the past two months? At home mostly. At the end of June I got a project at work that required a lot of time and energy so I briefly (or so I thought) put aside writing to work on it. Then shortly after finishing the project in early July I had a health flare. This is not entirely unexpected as my illnesses wax and wane, and flares in July seems to be becoming sort of an annual thing. I immediately focused my energy on trying to stop the downward spiral of worsening symptoms and everything else got put on the back burner…

… Which brings us to now. While I’m still very much in the flare, I am happy to report that things seemed to have stabilized a bit, at least at the moment. I think the flare was caused in large part due to the weather (hot and humid) so hopefully as we move from mid-summer towards fall things will improve.

Feeling worse hasn’t stopped me from doing things all together however. I’m still working (a very limited) part time, which is only possible because the PhD who is supervising me is SUPER understanding and all around awesome. This past month I’ve tried my hand (and failed) at making sauerkraut, I’ve slowly made progress through the herbalist course that I started last fall, and I continued to practice my mandolin. I also participated in Ravelry’s Tour de Fleece this July and seem to have caught the spinning bug. And as usual I have a few knitting projects that I’ve been working on.

Drop spindles, spinning fiber, and a bobbin full of singles.
Some of my spinning for the Tour de Fleece this year.

I also have been trying to go out to my garden plot semi-regularly, usually with recruited help from family. Even if the heat and humidity didn’t cause my flare they certainly make it worse, so I have to be very careful not to spend too much time outside. The past two months have brought large harvests of currant tomatoes and green beans. I’ve been dehydrating the tomatoes and freezing the extra beans so I can enjoy them this winter. The beans and sunflowers are about at the end of their lives so they will probably come out soon to be replaced by beets and spinach (my planned fall plantings).

raised bed with red and yellow sunflowers
(this picture is from July)

I’ve also had a decent herb harvest from the plants on my deck. The blueberry bush continues to grow and now looks like a bush, which is exciting, and the lime tree has branches. Overall, considering the level of neglect that most of my plants have been subjected to these past few months, they’re all doing remarkably well.

Bowl full of cut herbs
Clockwise from top left: Stevia, Thyme, Oregano, Calendula, Lemon balm, and Sage (in the center)

As for what’s going to happen this fall, it all depends on what happens with my health. I start grad school next week, which will be a priority, and I also plan to continue working part time. I hope to be able to go back to writing posts regularly soon. I do miss blogging, but unfortunately other things must take priority.

Hope you’re all having a wonderful summer!

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Plants in my Apartment

Rosemary is an herb that will always have a place in my garden no matter where I live. I absolutely love it in potato soup, socca, and lemonade.

Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean, especially the coastal areas where it has been used since the times of the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. A symbol of remembrance, happiness, loyalty, and love, rosemary has found its way into several Shakespeare plays, literature, and music (Scarborough Fair by Simon & Garfunkel anyone?). In addition to its culinary uses, rosemary can be used as a landscaping plant to make hedges and topiaries and in crafts. People make wreaths out of it and use it to create a yellow-green dye.

Rosemary Plant

Growing Information 

Size: 12 – 72 in (30 – 183 cm) tall and 12 – 24 in (30 – 60 cm) wide.

Water Requirements: Rosemary will do the best when the soil is kept slightly wet.

Soil Requirements: Prefers well-drained soil that is sandy or gravely and has a pH between 6 and 7.

Light Requirements: Rosemary likes full sun.

Temperature Requirements: Rosemary’s ideal growth areas are those that correspond with USDA zones 8-10 but it can be grown in colder climates if overwintered indoors.

Nutrient Requirements: All-purpose water-soluble fertilizer applied every two weeks is recommended for potted plants.

Pruning: Rosemary is well suited to hedges and topiaries. Yellowing or dead branches can be removed at any time, otherwise it is best to cut above the woody growth. Rosemary can be propagated from cuttings.

Pests: Rosemary is bothered by thrips, spider mites, and white flies. It can also suffer from root rot. Insects can be sprayed off with a hard stream of water or with a solution of 1 TBSP dish soap to 1 gallon of water if they’re stubborn.

Companion Planting: Rosemary is an excellent companion plant to cabbage, beans, carrots, and sage as it deters cabbage moths, bean beetles and carrot flies.

Growing Indoors: Rosemary does well in pots and containers. Containers should be be 6 – 8 inches (15 – 20 cm) deep. It can be grown indoors but will need a sunny window in a cool room, well-drained soil, and will benefit from misting regularly. If you live in a USDA zone 8 or colder it is a good idea to overwinter your rosemary indoors.

Harvesting and Use: It is best to harvest from well-established plants before they bloom (summer/early-fall). Rosemary can be used for cooking all types of meat and vegetables. Rosemary can be dried or frozen to preserve it.

 

Sources:

Bonnie Plants Growing Rosemary – Basic growing instructions

SF Gate: How to Grow Rosemary in a Container – General rosemary growing instructions.

The Herb Society of America Rosemary Fact Sheet – Growing instructions and interesting information about the Rosemary plant.

Fine Gardening Magazine: Rosemary Outdoors and In – Has instructions for propagating cuttings, information about growing in pots, overwintering and rosemary cultivars.

Golden Harvest Organics Companion Planting – Companion planting guide.

The Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide by Stephen Albert  – My favorite gardening book. As it says on the front cover it’s “a practical vegetable and herb garden encyclopedia”


 View other posts in the Plants in my Apartment series