Better feeding. Better eating. Osmocote® Smart-Release® Plant Food Flower & Vegetable feeds continuously and consistently for up to 4 full months. If you grow your own, grow with Osmocote®.
6 “Do you feel better now, as if a grateful little prayer just washed through your body? You have experienced one of the many essences of rosemary, which scientists believe is related to carnosic acid, a potent antioxidant that could be a key to brain health.” —BARBARA PLEASANT, “THE ESSENCE OF ROSEMARY,” PAGE 38
ON THE COVER Get Rid of Pests 89 Starting Seeds Indoors 69 Secrets of Aquaponics 70 Joyful Window Displays 77 Overwinter Herbs Indoors 64 Profiles on Basil, Mint, Parsley 8, 20, 32 Add Scented Geraniums 56 Cover Image: Getty Images/Yasonya
Best Indoor Herbs AN INDOOR WINTER HERB GARDEN 6 Keep eating healthful fresh herbs throughout the colder months with our advice for indoor success with culinary herbs. A BASIL HARVEST 8 Grow this summer staple, when best to harvest its leaves, delve into recipes herbalists love, and more. CHIVES PROFILE 14 Enhance any dish with chives and learn just how easy it is to grow— indoors or outdoors. MARVELOUS MINT 20 It’s easy to take this seemingly ordinary herb for granted, but if you consider its history, mint is anything but ordinary.
OUTSTANDING OREGANO 26 This Mediterranean shrub is among the world’s most effective healing plants. Learn how to incorporate its unmistakable flavor into your kitchen. PARSLEY PROFILE 32 Packed with health benefits, parsley is an herb worth knowing well. Grow it at home for the freshest flavor. THE ESSENCE OF ROSEMARY 38 The signature scent of the holiday season can boost your mood, flavor food and, possibly, make you smarter. SAGE PROFILE 44 Beyond its attractive nature, sage offers robust and earthy flavors in the kitchen. TENACIOUS THYME 50 Intrepid and never timid, this aromatic plant is a good friend in the garden and the kitchen.
Indoor knowledge GROWING SCENTED GERANIUM INDOORS 56 Looking for a new and interesting herb for your windowsill? Scented geraniums provide color and scent to any living space. HERBS FOR EVERY KITCHEN 61 Fresh herbs on the kitchen windowsill reward you with flavor, fragrance and foliage. 5 INDOOR GARDEN TIPS 63 Grow herbs indoors to satisfy the craving for an early spring and provide culinary additions all year. WINTERING HERBS INDOORS Save your favorite herbs by bringing them indoors for winter care, and enjoy fresh flavor throughout the season.
SEED STARTING INDOORS 69 Follow these dos and don’ts for successful seed starting.
Outside the Box WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT AQUAPONICS 70 Aquaponic gardening is a fascinating way to grow plants and fish together. Set up a smallscale garden in your home.
GROW A BALCONY OR PATIO GARDEN 73 With a little creativity and the right plants, you can grow a stellar garden— no yard necessary. HERBS UNDER GLASS 74 Try these terrific herbal terrarium ideas for your tabletop garden. JOYFUL WINDOWS Put fresh herbs within reach with colorful window boxes.
Try This DIY LIVING PICTURE FRAME 80 Put your collection of succulents on display with a unique planter. DIY SALAD CONTAINER 82 Harvest lettuce right from your kitchen by planting it in a colander with these super-simple instructions. CREATE AN INDOOR LADDER 84 FLOWER DISPLAY A repurposed stepladder filled with pots of edible flowers brings color and versatility to your décor.
Home Basics CULTIVATE HEALTHIER AIR 86 These 12 common houseplants are scientifically proven to reduce indoor air pollution. PEST PATROL 89 Try these simple, effective and nontoxic indoor pest-control methods. GUIDE TO DRYING HERBS & SPICES 94 Growing and drying herbs and spices is among the easiest forms of food preservation.
THE ORIGINAL GUIDE TO LIVING WISELY
Guide to Growing Rosemary and Other Herbs Indoors ■ Fall 2017 PREMIUM CONTENT TEAM Gina DeBacker, Issue Editor Christian Williams, Editor Jean Teller, Senior Associate Editor Ben Sauder, Associate Editor EDITORIAL Oscar H. Will III, Editor-in-Chief Jessica Kellner, Editor Haley Casey, Assistant Editor Tabitha Grace, Amy Mayfield, Megan E. Phelps Contributing Editors CONVERGENT MEDIA Josh Brewer, Editor (785) 274-4320; email@example.com ART/PREPRESS Amanda Barnwell, Art Director Michelle Galins, Graphic Designer Kirsten Martinez, Prepress Staff WEBSITE Caitlin Wilson, Digital Content Manager DISPLAY ADVERTISING (800) 678-5779; firstname.lastname@example.org CLASSIFIED ADVERTISING (866) 893-1664; email@example.com NEWSSTAND Bob Cucciniello, (785) 274-4401
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“Most culinary herbs do not grow well indoors, especially in winter when light levels are simply too low. Luckily, you can greatly improve your odds of success by focusing your attention on hardy culinary herb superstars such as spearmint and sorrel. These delicious plants make themselves quite at home on a sunny windowsill and add a wonderful burst of fresh green flavor to winter meals.”
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An Indoor Winter Herb Garden Keep eating healthful fresh herbs throughout the colder months with this advice for indoor success with culinary herbs. BY E M I LY E N G L I S H PACKED WITH FLAVOR, brimming with antioxidants and incredibly easy to cultivate, culinary herbs are the perfect complement to any meal. But when cold temperatures make it impossible to keep fresh green herbs growing outside, growing culinary complements inside is an option worth exploring. Although we would all love it if culinary herbs grew as easily as the ivy tumbling over the bookcase or the peace lily thriving in that dim corner of the living room, that’s simply not the case. Culinary herbs require a higher degree of maintenance, and each has its own unique requirements for abundant growth. Not all herbs adapt well to indoor conditions, but a few are low-maintenance enough that almost anyone can keep them going all year.
SOIL: Herbs prefer well-draining soil. To ensure that their roots don’t become water-logged, make your own potting soil by mixing equal parts of these four ingredients together: sand, perlite, peat moss and organic commercial potting soil. All of these products can be found at your local gardensupply center. Porous clay pots breathe better than plastic pots and promote drainage and circulation.
The Basics WATER: Herbs’ water demands vary. Some, such as basil and oregano, prefer near-dry soil most of the time, while others need consistent moisture. Read on for individual plant needs. In general, herbs do not do well in soft water. The high sodium content will harm them. If your soil begins to form a white crusty surface, which indicates sodium build-up, replace it with fresh soil. ■
■ HUMIDITY: Because we consume the leaves, we want our herbs’ foliage to remain soft and succulent. Take care not to place herbs next to a hot air vent. They prefer cooler air (between 55 and 70 degrees) with plenty of humidity and good air circulation. If your indoor air tends to be dry, place the pot on a bed of rocks and fill that tray with water to the top of the rocks. As the water evaporates, the humid air will circulate amongst the leaves. Group herbs about 5 inches apart from one another to create a humid environment that still provides air circulation.
■ FERTILIZER: Herbs appreciate a light fertilizing every two weeks. Good options include fish emulsion, seaweed or a general all-purpose organic 12-12-12 water-soluble fertilizer. Overfertilizing can be damaging, so take care not to overdo it.
6 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
LIGHT: Most important to the growth of healthy herbs indoors is sufficient light— especially in winter. A south- or southwestern-facing window can often provide the minimal six to eight hours of direct light required; if you don’t have a window that gets this much light, you will need additional fluorescent lighting. Ample fluorescent light can come from two 40-watt cool white fluorescent bulbs. If supplementing natural light with fluorescent light, your plants will need two supplemental hours of man-made light for each missing hour of natural light—for example, if your plant needs six hours of natural light but your window can only provide four, then you’ll need to replace the missing two hours of natural light with four hours of fluorescent light. Plants should be no closer than 6 inches and no farther than 15 inches from the fluorescent bulb. If growing in completely natural light, rotate pots every three to four days to ensure that all leaves receive equal exposure.
+ Pest Patrol Group plants with similar light and humidity needs to create an ideal environment for your indoor garden.
Indoor Herb Garden Plant List BASIL is a heat-loving annual, so it needs a lot
of light and prefers soil that’s barely wet; take care not to overwater it. As the plant grows, pinch off the tips to inhibit flower growth, which will direct the plant’s energy toward leaf growth. Basil’s oil is damaged by heat, so add it at the end of cooking or as a garnish on pasta, pizza and sandwiches. Blend fresh basil with olive oil, lemon juice and pine nuts to make a summery-tasting pesto.
CHIVES prefer well-watered soil. Harvest by cutting the long, slender leaves an inch above the soil. Chives work well anywhere you want a mild, onion flavor. They are a perfect complement to potatoes and taste awesome mixed into yogurt-based salad dressings.
PARSLEY requires well-watered soil, especially when young, and can survive in partial shade or full sun. Cut back its leafy growth and chop finely for bright additions to a traditional salad, Middle Eastern tabbouleh or load it into a Turkish-inspired potato salad.
ROSEMARY will tolerate neither dry nor waterlogged soil, so take care to keep it moist but not overwatered. Plants can grow tall and need ample space for their root system and growth, so choose a pot at least 6 inches deep for young plants and 8 to 10 inches deep for older plants. Transplant annually as they grow. Large plants with a couple of years of growth need about 14 inches in diameter. Harvest rosemary’s tender foliage and add it to roasted root vegetables five minutes before you remove them from the oven.
MINT is a vivacious grower that prefers moist soil
and can survive on as little as two hours of direct sun per day. Mint makes a perfect digestionenhancing tea. Mint pesto is a tasty addition to chicken dishes, and it’s also an excellent herb to brighten up pasta dishes and grain salads. Cut tips back to encourage healthy growth.
OREGANO needs its soil to dry out between waterings. Another heat-loving herb, it’s quite hardy but requires a full day’s worth (six to eight hours) of light. Cut or pinch off oregano at its tip to harvest and throw into pasta or pizza sauce for depth and warmth.
SAGE needs lots of sun and well-drained soil that’s allowed to dry out completely between waterings. Cut the tips back regularly. Sage is a crucial flavor in holiday stuffing—it pairs perfectly with turkey, duck and chicken. Sage butter is delicious on gnocchi, ravioli or trout. And you can combine sage with parsley, rosemary and thyme for a classic herb mix for soups.
THYME prefers full sun and well-drained soil with lots of humidity. Strip the tiny leaves from their woody stem to pair with lemon and garlic in fish and pasta dishes.
Even living a lovely, sheltered life indoors, herbs can sometimes become infested with small, pesky bugs. Aphids, spider mites, white flies and fungus gnats are most common. Pick them off by hand if the problem is slight (and you can see them!). If that doesn’t control it and the situation is getting out of hand, ramp up your control with a safe insecticidal soap, such as Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap (saferbrand.com). Spray plants once a week until pests are gone.
The writer of this article, EMILY ENGLISH, spent many years farming small-scale, organic fruits and vegetables. She now works to increase access and availability of healthy food for all through research, policy development and community organizing in her home state of Arkansas. She is still an avid gardener and most enjoys her time when she’s putzing away in her home veggie patch with her family.
A Basil Harvest Among the most popular herbs, basil offers a bountiful array of uses. Learn how to grow this summer staple, best harvest its leaves, delve into recipes herbalists love, and more! BY T H O M A S D E B AG G I O A N D S U S A N B E L S I N G E R
Basils are the essence of the summer herb garden and culinary icons with a large and devoted following. These beautiful herbs, which belong to the genus Ocimum, display surprising aromatic subtleties due to their ability to hybridize across species lines, resulting in an almost infinite variety of aromas and tastes. The gene pool creates a plethora of clear, gemlike scents that range through lemon, camphor, cinnamon, clove and anise. It's this diversity of aromas that both cooks and gardeners find so appealing. Like other herbs, basil is a little chemical factory, producing aromatic essential oils contained in microscopic sacs on the leaves and stems. When a plant is brushed or chewed, the sacs are ruptured and the fragrance released.
The genus name, Ocimum, comes, appropriately, from the Greek word okimon, meaning “smell.” There are 30 to 150 basil species, depending on who’s counting, and numerous cultivated varieties. The species name of the most common culinary basils, basilicum, is the Latin translation of a Greek word meaning “king.” Basil is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), a large amalgam of plants characterized by square stems and opposite leaves. Many are aromatic; thyme, oregano, rosemary and lavender are other familiar herbs in the same family. A few basils are perennial in their native tropical habitats, but most are annuals, which die after flowering and setting fruits. The genus Ocimum is like a huge extended family, filled with doting parents, favorite aunts and uncles, and even the occasional oddball cousin. Your taste will determine what kind of basil you like to grow—spicy, minty, citrus, sweet, pungent—and how much you use. Here are some general guidelines to help you get the most from your plants, preserve your harvest, and use it in the kitchen.
Basil’s cultivation needs are few but important. The semitropical and tropical regions to which Ocimum species are native offer some obvious clues: warm, sunny weather and plenty of moisture. Basil does well where hotweather vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants flourish; its finest growth occurs during periods when night temperatures are above 60 degrees. In most areas of the U.S., basil has a limited period of rapid growth. In the mid-Atlantic states, where we live, it grows well for about 140 days, beginning in late May or early June and ending in October. Basil grows best in a site with daylong sun, but most varieties can subsist on as little as three to four hours of direct sunlight. It will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions but will grow best in a well-drained, loamy, nearly neutral soil (a pH of 6 to 6.5) that’s well endowed with nutrients. Good air circulation discourages fungus diseases. Most basil species can be propagated from seed. (Certain cultivars are so unstable they must be grown from
8 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
stem cuttings; purple-leaved types are notoriously difficult for breeders to tame.) Seeds may be sown directly into the garden after the frost-free date, or they may be started indoors four to six weeks earlier, which gives the gardener a head start and permits additional harvests. Space transplants or thin seedlings to 12 to 18 inches apart. Water regularly (about 1 inch of water per week in the absence of rain) and give the plants a fortnightly draft of liquid fertilizer. Basil is a fast-growing, heavy feeder; big yields are the result of steady growth and rich soil.
Harvesting How much basil should you grow to meet your cooking needs? To determine plant yields, we experimented with 10 varieties of culinary basil, growing them both in gardens and in containers, and we made some surprising discoveries. Although it’s commonly believed big-leaved basil varieties produce a greater volume and weight of leaves than those with small leaves, we found that growth rate and frequency of harvest may be more important
VALDAS JARUTIS/GETTY IMAGES
CREAMY SUMMER TOMATO AND VEGETABLE SOUP Here’s a pretty harvesttime soup for that moment when tomatoes and basil are at their peak. Try ‘Aussie Sweetie’ or sweet green basil mixed with a little cinnamon basil in this simple soup, which can be made in advance and served hot or cold.
1 . Heat the oil in a nonreactive soup pot over medium heat. Sauté onions for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add potatoes and carrots, stir, cover and sweat them for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and bell pepper, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. 2 . Add stock; cook for 5 minutes. Stir in basil, cover, and let stand for a few minutes. 3 . Purée soup in batches in a blender or food processor; return to pot. Add milk, stir and heat to simmer. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve hot, garnished with basil shreds or whole small leaves. Serves 4.
Most basil species can be propagated from seed, but purple-leaved varieties are notoriously difficult to tame.
determinants of a plant’s total yield. We also found virtually no difference between the yield of basils grown in the ground and those grown in containers. The top producer was a pot-grown ‘Genoa Green’, which produced a total of 27.5 ounces leaves over the course of the season. The least productive was the large-leaved but slow-growing ‘Purple Ruffles’, which produced just under 11 ounces; lemon basil, with its smaller leaves, outperformed it with 14.5 ounces. Our test plants produced an average of 13 ounces, or about 7 cups of leaves per plant. During their summer growth, basil plants are desperate to flower and set seed. That’s the way to preserve the species, and it may help farmers and florists, but it sure cuts down on the amount of pesto that can be made from a single plant. As soon as stems begin flowering, their foliage production ends; however, home gardeners can combat basil’s drive for flowers by pruning plants heavily to keep them producing foliage all summer. Start pruning when the plant has six to eight pairs of leaves. Don’t just nip the flowers as they form; instead clip off all but two to four leaves. Within as little as three weeks, the pruned stem will have regrown two to four new, harvestable branches.
10 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
Storing Basil is best when used minutes after it is picked. To keep basil fresh for a day or two, place the stems in a jar of water away from sunlight. To have it readily available fresh for seven to 10 days, cover the jar and stems loosely with a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator. Keeping basil for longer periods of time can be a problem. Freezing turns the leaves dark and flavorless. We have for many years preserved basil by packing the leaves in jars with extravirgin olive oil and refrigerating them—the flavor of the leaves preserved this way is remarkably close to fresh basil. We’ve never experienced a problem, but we can’t recommend this as an option because there is a strain of toxic botulinum spores that can germinate in oil even at refrigerator temperatures. To prevent growth of the spores, one would have to increase the acidity substantially by adding citric acid, available where canning supplies are sold, or vinegar; or use up the basil packed in oil within about three weeks. Perhaps the best way for most people to preserve their basil harvest is to make and freeze batches of wonderfully flavorful pesto (recipe on page 12), which can be thawed easily and used in many ways.
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 1 heaping cup diced red onion ½ pound potatoes, peeled and diced 2 medium carrots, sliced 1 pound ripe red tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced 1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced Salt and freshly ground pepper 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock 1 cup basil leaves, chopped 2 cups milk Basil, for garnish
When freezing pesto, leave out the garlic; instead, chop and add some fresh garlic when you’re ready to use the pesto. Adding a small amount of chopped fresh parsley to the thawed pesto will give it a greener, fresher taste; you can also add more Parmesan cheese. Basil is also traditionally preserved by hanging in bundles to dry or by laying stems on screens in a wellventilated spot away from direct sun. When they are crispy, strip the leaves from the stems, pack the whole dried leaves in clean jars with tight lids, and store them in a cool, dark place for as long as a year. Always dry your basil leaves whole, then crumble them into your preparation as needed. Once crushed, dried leaves lose their essential oils and fragrance rapidly.
ALI SAFAROV /ADOBESTOCK
Using Basil Cooks around the world use basil with fresh and cooked vegetables; with eggs, meats and seafood; in salads, soups and breads; with all kinds of cheeses; and for seasoning vinegars and oils. Accompanied by fresh tomato slices, it’s wonderful in a sandwich in place of lettuce, and it adds a pleasant flavor to butter, vinaigrettes, marinades and sauces. Cook fresh basil only briefly or add it as a garnish to long-simmered dishes. In some recipes, such as in pesto, dried basil just won’t work: the fresh herb is essential. Otherwise, when substituting dried basil for fresh, use only about a third as much as you would fresh. It’s always best to season lightly at first, taste, and then add more dried basil if necessary. If a recipe calls for packed basil leaves, press them down in the measuring cup to measure. In recipes that specify nonreactive pans, don’t use aluminum, iron or copper, which can react with the acid in the food.
FLATBREAD PIZZAS WITH MARINATED GRILLED VEGETABLES I’ve used Italian-style flatbread shells that just need to be heated for 5 to 10 minutes, but pita bread or homemade pizza crusts may be substituted. 1 small green zucchini, sliced ¼ inch thick, 5 to 6 ounces 1 small yellow squash, sliced ¼ inch thick, 5 to 6 ounces 1 small eggplant, quartered lengthwise and sliced 3⁄8 inch thick, 10 ounces 1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut lengthwise into ¾-inch strips 1 cup packed, coarsely chopped basil leaves ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons 2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar ¼ cup water 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 large Vidalia onion, sliced crosswise about ½ inch thick Six 6-inch flatbread shells Generous 1 cup basil leaves, cut crosswise into thin strips Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. In a large, shallow dish, toss squash, eggplant, and bell pepper slices with coarsely chopped basil leaves. Set aside. 2. In a small bowl, combine ¼ cup olive oil, soy sauce, vinegars, water, and 2 cloves garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Pour marinade over vegetables; let stand for at least 1 hour or as long as 3 hours, stirring occasionally. 3. In another small bowl, combine remaining garlic with remaining olive oil. 4. Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire in a grill, and place rack about 6 inches from heat. Brush onion slices with marinade and grill on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Transfer to a baking sheet. Grill marinated vegetables, turning once until golden brown on both sides. Transfer grilled vegetables to baking sheet. Separate onion rings or cut slices in half. Salt and pepper vegetables lightly. 5. Heat flatbreads on grill, top-side down, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn over and brush tops with oil-and-garlic mixture. Grill until heated through. 6. Scatter basil strips over flatbreads and cover generously with grilled vegetables. Garnish with a few more basil strips and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. Serves 6 as a main course, 12 as hors d’oeuvres.
TOM DEBAGGIO is an herb grower and author in Arlington, Virginia; SUSAN BELSINGER gardens, cooks and writes in Brookeville, Maryland.
+ Pesto Passion The Italians’ passion for basil, especially for its use in that creamy, perfumed green sauce called pesto, began before the Christian era. It's difficult to pinpoint just when pesto first arrived on Italian dinner tables. Tradition, the final arbiter when historical fact is lacking, attributes the insinuation of basil into Western culture to Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia between 336 and 323 B.C., who brought this horticultural treasure back from Persia after conquering that land. The cult of basil, and its fondest offspring, pesto, appears to have first taken hold in the Italian province of Liguria, an area with a rich history of cooking with herbs. The historic pesto of Liguria consists of a sharp local sheep cheese, olive oil, basil and nuts mashed in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle to a thick green sauce. The classic pesto of Liguria’s capital city, Genoa, today differs only slightly: Parmesan cheese was added to the recipe less than 100 years ago. Some Genoese add a little butter. Pesto now belongs to the world and dozens of variants have been devised. Mint, spinach, thyme, parsley, sage, cilantro, parsley, marjoram, arugula and even Swiss chard have been substituted for the classic basil. Pesto aficionados debate not only the ingredients of “real” pesto, but the proper utensils for preparing it. The traditional preparation with mortar and pestle lets the sauce evolve slowly, the cook controlling its every nuance. Pesto made this way produces a thick and creamy sauce with the clearest, most intense flavors. In Tuscany, a crescent-shaped, two-handled knife called a mezzaluna is used to chop pesto ingredients quickly. Nowadays, many of us use a food processor. Use any basil you choose to make pesto, but the one closest to the flavorful basil of Liguria is sold in the U.S. under the names ‘Genovese’, ‘Genoa Green’, and ‘Profumatissima’. Our favorite traditional pesto recipe follows. Traditionally, pesto is served with flat
noodles such as trenette, fettuccine or linguine. Try it also as a tasty sauce for grilled or roasted fish and vegetables, or as a savory garnish for vegetable soups. Mix it with equal parts sour cream to create a smooth green dip for crudités. ITALIANSTYLE PESTO 5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced ¼ cup pine nuts 4 cups basil leaves Salt ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Combine garlic and pine nuts in a large mortar and crush them with a pestle to a smooth paste. Add basil, a handful at a time, crushing leaves against the sides of the mortar. The mixture should resemble a coarse, thick paste. Add a few pinches of
12 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
salt. Stir in the cheese. Drizzle oil in, a bit at a time, and work it in with pestle. The pesto should become very smooth. After most of the oil has been added, taste for seasoning and adjust with a little more oil, cheese or salt. 2. To make this pesto in a food processor, place garlic, pine nuts, basil, a few pinches salt and a few tablespoons oil in a mixing bowl. Process until mixed. Add cheese and most of the remaining oil, and process until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust with a little more oil, cheese or salt. Makes about 1½ cups, enough to dress 1 pound of dry pasta or about 1½ pounds fresh pasta.* *When tossing hot pasta with pesto, add ¼ to ½ cup pasta water to thin pesto so it covers pasta evenly.
POLENTA WITH ANISE BASIL TOMATO SAUCE Polenta is dried Italian corn that’s ground finer than grits and cooked like cornmeal mush. If you don’t have anise or licorice basil, substitute green basil and add 1 teaspoon bruised fennel seed. FOR POLENTA 1½ quarts water 1½ teaspoons salt 1½ cups polenta FOR SAUCE 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 Ы cups diced red onion 1 medium stalk celery, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced 1 medium carrot, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced, about ½ cup 1 large portabella mushroom, stem removed, halved and cut into slices, about 1½ cups 2 cloves garlic, minced 28-ounce can crushed or chopped tomatoes or about 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and pureed ½ teaspoon sugar (optional) 1 cup anise or licorice basil leaves, coarsely chopped Freshly grated Parmesan cheese ½ cup anise or licorice basil leaves, cut crosswise into thin strips
1. Bring water to a boil in a large, heavy
ZORYANCHIK/GETTY IMAGES; LEFT: YULIA_KOTINA/GETTY IMAGES
pot and add salt. Pour polenta into boiling
“Cook fresh basil only briefly or add it as a garnish to long-simmered dishes.” water in a steady stream, stirring continuously. When mixture begins to bubble and erupt, reduce heat to medium low or low; the polenta should continue to cook but not spatter. Cook polenta, stirring frequently so it doesn’t stick, 35 to 40 minutes or until thick. 2. At this point, the polenta may be spooned into bowls, topped with sauce, sprinkled with cheese, and garnished with basil, or it may be poured into a loaf pan, allowed to cool, and refrigerated for as long as 3 days. To make the dish with cold polenta, turn it out of the pan and cut it into slices about 5⁄8 inch thick, then into pieces about 2 inches square. Lightly brush squares with olive oil and place on a baking sheet under broiler, on a griddle over medium heat, or on a grill over a medium-hot fire. Cook polenta 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown on edges. 3. Arrange polenta squares on a platter or serving plates and spoon sauce on top. To make the sauce, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a nonreactive skillet over medium heat. Add onion and stir, 1 minute. Add celery and carrot, and stir occasionally, 4 minutes. 4. Cover and sweat vegetables, 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic, stir and cook, 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, stir well and cook, about 5 minutes. If using fresh tomatoes, cook 5 to 10 minutes longer. 5. Taste sauce and adjust salt and sugar. Add chopped basil, stir and cover. Remove sauce from heat and let stand, 5 minutes. Taste again for seasoning. Spoon sauce over polenta, sprinkle with cheese, and garnish generously with basil strips. Serves 4 to 6.
BRUNCH IT UP Whip up this delicious herbpacked favorite for brunch. To make it morning-ready, simply top it with a poached egg!
LEMON OR ANISE BASIL BISCOTTI These crunchy, low-fat cookies are fashioned after the Tuscan Biscotti di Prato, but they have an unusual added ingredient: basil. About 3½ cups unbleached flour ½ teaspoon baking powder ¼ teaspoon baking soda Large pinch salt 1½ cups sugar 3 extra-large eggs ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 tablespoon lemon zest or 1 teaspoon aniseed, bruised Generous ½ cup chopped lemon basil or anise basil leaves 2 ⁄3 cup sliced almonds, toasted and ground
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour 2 baking sheets.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together 3 cups flour, and next four ingredients. Make well in the center and add eggs; beat with a fork in well. Add vanilla, lemon zest and lemon basil, and stir with a fork; begin incorporating flour mixture. After flour has been mixed, add ground almonds and blend well. 3. With remaining flour, flour a flat surface and hands and turn dough out. Knead dough (it will be sticky), working in remaining flour and a little more if you must. Divide dough into 2 pieces. Roll each into a cylinder 2 to 2½ inches in diameter. Place on one prepared sheets and bake for 25 minutes. 4. Remove sheet from oven and reduce temperature to 300 degrees. Cut rolls diagonally into slices ½ to ¾ inch thick. Arrange on 2 baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes. Turn over biscotti and bake 15 minutes longer. 5. Cool biscotti on baking racks. Pack into tins with tight-fitting lids. They are better the second day after baking, and keep well for several weeks. Makes about 4 dozen.
Chives Trustworthy In the kitchen, chives go with just about anything savory, but they're hardly ever the star of a meal. Learn how to enhance any dish with chives and how easy it is to grow. BY R O S A L I N D C R E A S Y
TALKING ABOUT CHIVES is like expounding on your favorite blue jeans. They become such a part of your life that you seldom notice them or take time to analyze their virtues. I’ve probably had the same trusty chive plants for 20 years, and most of my family, friends and landscaping clients now have offspring from them. I pay attention to my chives only occasionally, when I cut them back or dig up a portion to give to a friend or clip a few leaves for dinner. Even in the kitchen, chives seldom get star billing— I don’t make chive pesto or pizza, for example—but like my jeans, they go with everything. I pair chives with basil, rosemary, thyme, fennel, dill, tarragon and a host of other herbs, and they go with just about any savory dish I can think of. The chives I’m referring to are the common, easyto-grow perennial herb we all know so well, the one whose minced foliage the waiter offers you to top your baked potato—Allium schoenoprasum. The slender, tubular, vivid green rushlike leaves inspired the species name, schoenoprasum, which is derived from Greek roots for “rush” and “leek.” The plants grow in dense clumps that spread quickly, sometimes to a foot across.
14 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
The leaves emerge in early spring from slender bulbs clustered on a rhizome and grow 12 to 18 inches tall—followed in early summer by globe-shaped lavender or pink flower heads. Botanists have assigned the genus Allium variously to the lily family (Liliaceae), the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) and its own family (Alliaceae). The genus also includes onions and garlic. Chives are native to northern regions of Europe, Asia and North America. In North America, these adaptable plants can be grown from southern Canada (zone 3) south to the Gulf Coast and west to Southern California (zone 10). Records show that cooks have valued chives for at least 5,000 years. In addition to seeds and plants of common chives, some herb nurseries offer several cultivars. They include the compact ‘Dwarf ’, which is somewhat shorter than common chives, and the even more compact German cultivar ‘Schnittlauch’ (that’s “chive” in German). Pink-flowered cultivars include ‘Forescate’ (also known as ‘Forsgate’) and ‘Grolau’. If you are growing chives indoors, you may want to try two cultivars bred for greenhouse growing: broad-leaved ‘Grolau’ and the trademarked Profusion (A. s. ‘Sterile’), whose numerous flowers remain tender longer than those of other cultivars because they don’t set seed.
The Taste of Garlic Another type of chives I wouldn’t want to be without is called garlic chive (A. tuberosum), also known as Oriental chive or Chinese chive. It’s prized for its onion-garlic flavor. Garlic chives have flat, dark green leaves that may grow 2 feet tall and clusters of white starry flowers on stiff stems in late summer. A mauve-flowered form is also available. The sweetly scented
flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects. Both the fresh flowers and the dried seed heads are attractive in flower arrangements. Native to Southeast Asia, garlic chives have been consumed since ancient times, primarily in cooking. In China, the seeds have also been used as a tonic. In this country, garlic chives are valued mainly as ornamentals. Their modest height dictates placement in the middle of the border. The planting, care and harvesting of garlic chives are similar to those of regular chives (see “Easy to Grow,” page 16). Because they reseed heavily, they can become a pest; to prevent this, remove the seed heads before they mature. Another type of garlic chives is the fragrant-flowered onion or Chinese leek flower (A. ramosum), which is grown for its tender flowering stems and buds. Although the plants closely resemble A. tuberosum, they bloom off and on throughout the summer and fall, not just in late summer, and the leaves are a little more fibrous than those of garlic chives. Joy Larcom’s book, Oriental Vegetables gives detailed information on growing and harvesting both these delectable vegetables.
Using Chives Whether on homely baked potatoes or caviar canapés at the Ritz, ubiquitous chives quietly add a subtle onion flavor to all manner of our favorite foods. Simply mince and sprinkle them into and on salads, potatoes, cheeses, sandwich spreads, dressings, omelets, dumplings, butters, deviled eggs, mushrooms, soups, fish, poultry and most vegetables. Just about any recipe that calls for onions and/or garlic can be enhanced—in color, texture and flavor—with either chives or garlic chives.
Easy to Grow
Chive is a great plant for beginners because growing it is so simple and straightforward. It grows well if it gets at least six hours of sun a day and average to rich, welldrained moist soil. It's very decorative, whether planted in herb beds and vegetable gardens, along the patio or front walk, in flower borders, in containers or in a pot on the windowsill. Chives are best planted in the spring. The easiest way to start is to obtain a division from a friend or a potted transplant from a nursery. The species and certain cultivars are easily grown from seeds but are slow to establish, taking at least a year to grow large enough to harvest. Waiting a year for chive can be worth it if it's a special variety available only as seed or if you’re planting a large border and want to keep the cost down. Chive seeds must be fresh (no older than a year), or they're unlikely to germinate. Chives to be grown outdoors are best started in flats or other containers indoors six weeks or so before the last frost; otherwise, start them inside anytime. In a container with fast-draining soil, plant seeds ¼ inch deep in clumps of about a dozen seeds. Keep soil moist; seeds germinate in 10 to 14 days. After hardening off, transplant the seedlings outside when the weather starts to warm. Transplant in clumps;
chive seems to grow best that way. Keep soil moderately moist and free of weeds. Fertilize the young plants lightly three or four times during their first summer. For both new and established plants, I use fish emulsion. Fertilize in the spring; if you have sandy soil, fertilize again a few months later. Pests and diseases rarely attack chive plants. Occasionally aphids become a problem (particularly black ones). If your plants are affected, cut the leaves down to the ground and spray the crown with an insecticidal soap. Mature clumps of chives can be harvested anytime from spring through fall. I use scissors to cut off a small clump just above the crown. When my chive plants begin to look unruly, I cut them back to the ground—at least once in the spring and again in summer after they flower—but they soon resprout and look new again. Spring pruning is not needed in the North. I renew my plants by dividing them every three or four years. In my garden in Northern California, chive never dies back; I harvest them year-round. To have fresh chives for winter in colder climates, pot some up and bring them inside to a sunny window or grow them under lights. Give them a good, rich, light potting soil and keep it fairly moist. Fertilize lightly a few times during the winter. Don’t expect plants to produce as heavily as in summer.
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Because the flavor dissipates quickly when heated, chives should be added to cooked dishes at the last minute. As a rule, they can be substituted in equal quantities for scallions in a recipe. Garlic chives hold up to cooking a little better than regular chives, and many Chinese hot dishes contain them, but because they are stronger, use a light hand when substituting them for regular chives. It seems that I’m always right in the middle of making a dish when I remember the chives and dash to the garden. Freshly cut chive leaves and flowers may be washed, rolled in a damp paper towel or placed in a plastic bag, and refrigerated for a few days. The flavor fades when dried, however. To preserve chives for winter, you may freeze whole or minced chives on a cookie sheet and then transfer them to plastic bags. Frozen chives can easily be tossed onto baked potatoes or snipped into cooked dishes. Another good way to preserve the flavor of chives is to steep the leaves or flowers in vinegar—by themselves or combined with other herbs. Steeping chive blossoms in white wine vinegar turns it an appealing rosy pink and gives it a fine oniony flavor. One of the most rewarding ways to use both regular and garlic chives is to flavor unsalted butter or soft cheeses such as cream or goat cheeses. They may be stored in tightly closed containers in the freezer for as long as three months. Use the butters to top steamed vegetables or fish, or spread them on bread or crackers. The cheeses may be served with bread, bagels or crackers and used to make appetizers. My favorite way to use regular and garlic chives is as a last-minute shower of green confetti to dress up a clear or cream soup, baked fish, vegetables or an omelet: the bright color and mild onion flavor complete the presentation. Sometimes, however, I pass a small bowl of minced chives around the table so diners can garnish a dish to their own tastes. In the Far East, garlic chive leaves are
Chives, welcome in any garden, provide an explosion of fresh spring color and the promise of a summer’s worth of ﬁne onion ﬂavor.
used both sparingly as a last-minute seasoning in clear soups, stir-fries, and egg and fish dishes, and in larger amounts as a main ingredient in stirfries, pot stickers, dumplings and tempura. Garlic chives and Chinese leek flower buds are occasionally available at Oriental markets and farmers markets that cater to Asians. The flowers of both regular and garlic chives are edible. Because they become fibrous and unpalatable as they mature, it’s best to harvest blossoms just as they open. Wash them well and then separate the florets—an entire flower head is much too strong to eat—and use them in any recipe calling for minced chives. After taking the time to examine my relationship with them, I’ve decided that chives are one of those versatile, reliable, life-enriching plants that are fundamental to the style of gardening and cooking I most enjoy. I can’t imagine my garden—or my kitchen— without them. ROSALIND CREASY has been growing edibles in her northern California garden for 40 years.
“Chive is a great plant for beginners because growing it is so simple and straightforward.” |
SALMON AND CHIVE TORTA This stylish molded dish requires no cooking. Serve it for Sunday brunch with bagels or at a buffet accompanied by crusty bread. 1 pound cream cheese, divided ½ cup minced chives, plus 2 tablespoons Water, as needed ½ cup finely chopped smoked salmon
1. Place ½ pound cream cheese in a small bowl. Soften with a fork, add ½ cup chives and mix together. If necessary, add a few teaspoons water to make mixture hold together and still be spreadable. Don’t add too much or the torta will be too soft to hold its shape. 2. Drape a small piece of cheesecloth in a
2½- to 3-cup mold or straight-sided bowl. 3. With a rubber spatula, spread the chive-cheese mixture in the bottom of the mold, smoothing it out and filling any airholes. 4. Place remaining cheese and salmon in another bowl and mix well. Spread salmon-cheese mixture on top of chivecheese mixture. 5. Unmold it immediately or refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours until ready to serve. To unmold the torta, invert a small serving plate on top of the mold, making sure the mold is centered on the plate and the ends of the cheesecloth are out of the way. Hold the plate tight on the top of the mold and turn it over. Lift off the mold and gently peel off the cheesecloth. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons chives over the top. Serves 6 to 8.
HEARTY GREENS WITH PEARS, BLUE CHEESE AND CHIVE DRESSING Serve this salad as a first course or increase the amounts by 50 percent and use it as the centerpiece of a luncheon menu. ¼ cup nonfat yogurt 1 ⁄3 cup crumbled blue cheese 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar ¼ teaspoon curry powder 3 tablespoons minced chives 1 teaspoon honey Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 4 large handfuls mixed salad greens: lettuces, spinach, endive and radicchio 1 tablespoon lemon juice 4 tablespoons water 2 ripe medium Comice or Bartlett pears 8 thin triangular slices blue cheese Chive leaves and blossoms, for garnish
1 pound cream cheese ½ to ¾ cup chopped fresh chives 3 to 4 tablespoons water 2 large loaves of dense sandwich or rustic-style bread, unsliced, or 2 packages melba toast Edible flowers that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides: dianthus, broccoli, nasturtium, pansy, viola,
Johnny-jump-up, borage, runner bean, chive blossoms, sage flowers and dill florets Herb leaves: a good selection of parsley, mint, dill, basil, marjoram, oregano, thyme and variegated sage leaves
1. Place cream cheese in a mixing bowl, add chives and water, and mix with a fork until smooth. If mixture is too thick, thin with a little more water.
2. Trim crusts off bread and cut into 1⁄3-inch slices. Cut into squares or rectangles, 2½ to 3½ inches across. Spread cream cheese mixture onto bread—1 tablespoon per 2½ inches square—and arrange bread onto cookie sheets. Cover sheets lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to decorate. 3. Carefully wash flowers and herbs, and gently pat dry onto paper towels. Lay out onto damp paper towels and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to use. 4. Decorate each square with a flower or 2 and some herb leaves. When a sheet is full, lightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving. The canapés may be made a few hours in advance; if prepared earlier, the garnishes will wilt. 5. Place a paper doily on a decorative tray, arrange decorated squares on it and serve. Serves 6 to 8 as appetizers.
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cheese, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, curry powder, minced chives and honey. Stir gently to combine. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Cover bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. 2. Just before serving, set out 4 large salad plates. Place a handful of greens on each plate. Place lemon juice and water in a small bowl. Halve each pear vertically, core it, and cut each half into 1⁄3- to ½-inch slices. Dip slices in lemon water to prevent browning. Drain and arrange 4 to 6 pear slices on top of the greens. Place 2 slices blue cheese on side of each plate. Garnish with chives. Pass dressing at the table. Serves 4.
KARMA_PEMA/GETTY IMAGES LEFT, HAOLIANG/GETTY IMAGES RIGHT
1. In a small bowl, combine yogurt, blue SHOWOFF HERBAL CANAPÉS Cream cheese and chives are a versatile combination. Here, it’s spread on bread squares, which you can decorate with herbs and edible flowers.
POT STICKERS WITH GARLIC CHIVES This dish will serve eight to 10 people as an appetizer, or four to five as a main dish accompanied by a hearty soup such as sweet-and-sour soup. Traditionally, pot stickers are served with bowls of rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and Chinese chili oil so diners can dip them before eating. 1
⁄3 pound lean ground pork ¾ cup finely slivered Chinese or green Savoy cabbage 1 ⁄3 cup finely chopped fresh garlic chive or Chinese leek flower leaves 1 to 1½ tablespoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro 1 teaspoon dry sherry 1 teaspoon soy sauce ½ teaspoon hot sauce (such as Tabasco), or to taste 1 egg, lightly beaten 16-ounce package pot-sticker wraps, or 12-ounce package round wonton skins, thawed if frozen 3 to 4 tablespoons corn or peanut oil 1½ to 2 cups unsalted or reducedsodium chicken stock
1. Lightly brown pork in a small nonstick skillet. Place pork, cabbage, chives, ginger, cilantro, sherry, soy sauce, hot sauce and egg in a medium bowl, and mix well. Cover and refrigerate filling if you’re not yet ready to make pot stickers. 2. Place a pot-sticker wrap on a clean work surface. Leave rest in package or cover with a damp towel to keep from drying out. (Double wonton skins: Lay one on a counter, dampen the entire surface with water with your fingertip, then lay a second skin on top of it and press the 2 wraps lightly together.) Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in a crescent in middle of each wrap. Dip a finger in water and run it along edge of wrap. Fold the wrap in half. Pinch dough along the seam (or form it in the traditional way by pinching it at the midpoint, then making three pleats on each side that lean toward the midpoint, pinching each pleat). Place folded dumplings on a cook-
ie sheet, leaving space between them. If not cooking the filled dumplings immediately, refrigerate for up to 2 hours. 3. You’ll probably need to cook dumplings in 2 batches. Heat a large nonstick frying pan, add 2 tablespoons oil, and tilt pan to distribute oil evenly. Place a single layer of pot stickers (about 15) in pan. 4. Sauté over medium heat for a minute or so until lightly browned. Off heat, add chicken stock to 1⁄3 the height of the pot stickers. Return pan to medium heat, cover, and cook 7 to 10 minutes, or until stock has evaporated. Remove the cover and continue to cook until the bottoms of the pot stickers are again brown, watching carefully. Turn over and lightly brown second side. Transfer to a warm serving plate and serve warm with dipping sauces mentioned above. Cook second batch in the same manner. Makes 30 to 35.
SHOPPING TIP Pot-sticker wraps are sold in Asian markets, but I often substitute a double layer of thinner, round wonton skins, available in most produce sections.
BLUE VICHYSSOISE WITH CHIVES Chilled vichyssoise is an elegant first course for a hot summer day, but it’s delicious served hot in winter, too. 2 tablespoons butter 3 cups sliced white part of leeks 3 cups chopped deep blue potatoes, peeled 3 to 3½ cups chicken broth 1 cup half-and-half Salt and pepper, to taste Dash of nutmeg 3 tablespoons minced fresh chives, for garnish
1. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and gently sauté leeks to soften. Stir often and do not brown. Add potatoes and broth, and bring mixture to a boil. 2. Cover pan and simmer soup for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. 3. Add cream and seasonings, and puree in a blender or food processor. Thin with additional chicken stock if desired. Chill. 4. Transfer vichyssoise to a large soup tureen and ladle into individual bowls (it’s lovely in glass bowls). Garnish with chives. Serves 6.
Mint Itâ€™s easy to take this seemingly ordinary herb for granted, but if you consider its history, mint is anything but ordinary. Rediscover this classic herb.
BY J I M LO N G
Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Mints on the March Most of the plants in the mint family, including the true mints (see page 23 for the technical details), are not native to the U.S., but were introduced by Europeans. It’s common to find spearmint growing along streams or springs in many parts of the U.S. This is because pioneers moving westward often carried along a few spearmint roots to plant in springs and along streams, believing mint purified water. The sweet aroma of mint next to the cool water of a spring on a hot day was nearly as refreshing as the water itself. One of my all-time favorite mint varieties is a spearmint I found growing next to a spring in the Ozark Mountains many years ago.
LEFT TO RIGHT: JERRY PAVIA; LZF/GETTY IMAGES; SAXON HOLT
Like the pathway in our garden or the sky overhead, mint often is overlooked, despite its role as a basic building block of an herb garden. Ordinary, common and well-used, mint rarely occurs to us as being exotic. However, if we consider its history and scope, we find that mint is anything but ordinary. Mint is found in diverse culinary cultures from Arabia, Iraq, India, Italy and Afghanistan to northern Europe and the Americas. Mint has been found in Egyptian tombs dating to 1000 B.C. and was common in ancient Japan and China. The Assyrians in what is now Iraq used mint in rituals, and ancient Hebrews used mint as a strewing herb for fragrance on the floors of synagogues. The early Greeks and Romans used spearmint as a seasoning in meat and vegetable dishes, and as a refreshing bath herb, often combined with rose petals. During the Middle Ages, dried, powdered mint was used to whiten teeth and freshen breath. As it turns out, humble mint has been one of the most widely used herbs in history. Awhile back, I conducted a nationwide survey of wholesale and retail plant and seed sellers to determine the 10 bestselling herbs in the country. Mint rated fourth in popularity, following basil, lavender and parsley. Nearly every gardener who starts an herb garden begins with mint, along with a few other herbs.
The mint family includes about 30 species, and some sources claim 500 to 600 varieties, including spearmint, peppermint, apple, orange, Spanish, Moroccan, pineapple, ginger, lemon, pennyroyal, water, chocolate—and the list goes on. V.J. Billings of herb-supply company Mountain Valley Growers (mountainvalleygrowers.com) separates mint into three convenient categories, which, though not scientific classifications, make it easy for the home gardener. 1. GREEN MINTS: spearmint and its variations 2. RED MINTS (meaning red-stemmed): peppermint varieties and their basil cousins, along with Moroccan, lime, orange bergamot, chocolate and lavender mint 3. FUZZY MINTS: Egyptian, apple, pineapple and similar fuzzy-leafed variations
Peppermint (Mentha ×piperita)
Some plants have been part of the human experience for so long that we take them for granted.
Pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’)
Growing Mint Mint will tolerate most any average garden soil. It thrives with damp soil and full sun, although it will tolerate some shade. Never grow diﬀerent mints in the same bed, as they will grow together and lose their distinctive ﬂavors. Keep them separated, or grow diﬀerent varieties in pots on your patio. Mint can be quite invasive in the herb garden, so growing diﬀerent varieties in pots or containers is the safest way to keep them separate. Mint attracts few pests, doesn’t need fertilizer and has the best ﬂavor if trimmed every two or three weeks—use the newest, best leaves for the kitchen. Indoors, it can survive on as little as two hours of direct sun per day.
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Call Them Unreliable Mint seldom grows true from seed. Even if grown some distance from each other, the plants often cross and the seedlings can become mixed-up little mints. For this reason, cuttings generally are the method of choice for propagating mint. There are, however, a few exceptions. Renee Shepherd of seed company Renee’s Garden Seeds (reneesgarden.com), a renowned international seed sleuth known for her remarkable gourmet seed mixtures, says she ran across a truly unique mint recently while traveling in Italy. An heirloom variety that comes true to seed, this mint has been in the same Italian family for many generations. “This is
Jim Westerfield in Freeburg, Illinois, is a prolific mint hybridizer, and over the past 20 years has selected about 60 unusual mint hybrids. He has patented more than 30 of the most distinctive of these and introduced them to the public. Jim’s personal favorite is the one he named ‘Jim’s Fruit Mint’, which he says has a big, robust flavor with a rich, fruity aroma. Marilyn Westerfield, Jim’s wife and long-time chef of their bed and breakfast, said she believes his ‘Citrus Kitchen’ mint, with hints of lemon, lime and orange, is the best mint available for culinary use. But among his mints, the one that surprised me most is ‘Italian Spice’, which has hints of oregano and marjoram. Jim says that variety reminds him of the spicy aroma of the Italian grocery store he worked in as a child. Marilyn stirs this variety into freshly cooked angel hair pasta, then adds some butter, roasted garlic and a tiny bit of cream. Jim’s mints are available only through the herb-supply companies Richters Herbs (richters.com) in Canada and Fragrant Fields (fragrant fields.com) in Illinois. Carol Hanson at Fragrant Fields said her personal favorite is Jim’s ‘Wild Berries & Cream’ mint. My favorite is ‘Margarita’, which has a background flavor of lime with mint.
Herbs for Health The essential oils in mint contain menthol, which has proven antimicrobial activity. It’s used to ease nausea and vomiting; improve digestion; reduce heartburn; improve breath; clear congestion related to colds and allergies; and ease stress.
the first mint I have found with good flavor that comes reliably from seed,” Renee says. “Unlike most mints planted from seed, which often produce a plant that tastes like a very unpleasant, oily flavored oregano, this one grows vigorously and tastes wonderful.” She released a new heirloom ‘Italian Mint’ in her seed catalog in 2010. Renee says she likes to put a couple of fresh mint leaves in the filter with the freshly ground coffee as it brews in the morning for a very pleasant cup of coffee (to which she adds a few drops of cream to enhance the minty flavor). “A few leaves in my hot chocolate tastes great, too,” she says. “And I add a couple of dried mint leaves to my sugar bowl in summer to add flavor to the sugar, for serving to guests with iced tea.”
Spearmint scrambles over rocks in this carefree woodland garden.
It’s All in the Technical Details According to Barbara Perry Lawton, author of Mints, A Family of Herbs and Ornamentals, the mint family, Lamiaceae or Labiatae, includes horehound (Marrubium vulgare), lavender (Lavandula spp.), lemon balm (Melissa oﬃcinalis), oregano (Origanum vulgare), rosemary (Rosmarinus oﬃcinalis), sage (Salvia oﬃcinalis), sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), thyme (Thymus spp.) and several others. All the plants in the mint family are referred to as mint, while the term “true mints” describes only those belonging to the Mentha genus.
The best known of the true mints is SPEARMINT (Mentha spicata). It has a strong scent and ﬂavor, and it’s a recognizable culinary seasoning herb around the world. The plants can grow to 36 inches tall, and are hardy to zone 5; they are best in full sun (where the plant develops its best ﬂavor) but will grow in partial shade. Used in lemonades, iced teas, mint juleps, salads, sauces, and as a ﬂavoring for gums, candies and upset-stomach remedies, mint is a universal herb. During Prohibition, spearmint was so closely associated with mint juleps that mint beds in
Kentucky and several other Southern states were destroyed. PEPPERMINT (Mentha ×piperita) is the second most used and recognizable of the true mints. One of my favorites is chocolate mint, which has a slight and delicious ﬂavor of chocolate, especially when the leaves are candied. Peppermint is used in candies, gums and other foods, and often is combined with spearmint for a more complex ﬂavor. Like many of the mints, peppermint seldom comes true from seed and some sources claim that true peppermint never sets seed at all.
An All-You-Can-Mint Buffet
Experience the versatility of the herb with the following recipes. An entire meal with this herb in every dish might overwhelm the palate, but these ideas might inspire you to customize a menu for your next gathering. As with any banquet, pick and choose the dishes that best suit your tastes. I’m an advocate of locally grown, carefully raised food, so my ingredients primarily are based on my own garden, though the recipes retain an international flair. Once you’ve established your herb garden, you’ll have a similar mint palette from which to draw. I virtually never use flavorings, especially mint, as it never tastes as good as the real herb. I use fresh mint leaves, just as I only use freshly squeezed lemons and real butter when I cook. If you are going to the effort of creating a dish, it’s worth making the food memorable and delightful by using the freshest, best-quality ingredients.
MINT & LETTUCE SALAD Like all herbs, mint has the best ﬂavor when harvested often. Use tender, new leaves for this salad rather than older, stronger-tasting leaves.
Author and expert gardener JIM LONG lives and gardens in the Ozark Mountains.
6 cups torn tender lettuce such as Bibb 1 cup slightly torn fresh mint leaves 1 cup halved sweet cherry tomatoes ½ cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced 3 tablespoons raspberry vinegar Combine lettuce, mint, tomatoes and cucumber, then add raspberry vinegar and toss. Serves 4.
CUCUMBER MINT SALAD This is a traditional salad in Turkey; it goes well with chicken, lamb or salmon. Variations of this salad can be found in many Middle Eastern cultures. 1 cup plain yogurt 2 tablespoons minced fresh spearmint, plus extra to garnish 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small clove fresh garlic, minced Dash freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste 3 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced
1. Mix all ingredients except cucumber and refrigerate. 2. Stir in cucumber just before serving. Serve with additional mint. Serves 4.
APPLE WALNUT SALAD Use a mint with a clean, fresh ﬂavor for this salad. I like spearmint or lemon mint. Choose a mixture of apples—some tart, some sweet. I prefer Pink Lady, Jonathan, Granny Smith or Arkansas Black apples. 2 cups English walnut halves, toasted 1 tablespoon mayonnaise 1 tablespoon honey
1. Mix together apples, lemon juice, mint leaves and walnuts. 2. In a separate bowl, mix mayonnaise and honey. Pour over apple mixture; toss. 3. Refrigerate for 1 hour, then remove. Serve at room temperature. Garnish with mint sprigs. Serves 6 to 8.
24 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
HOWARD LEE PUCKETT
8 cups apples, coarsely diced Juice of 2 lemons 1 cup loosely packed and torn mint leaves
HERBY BEER BREAD I use a basic beer bread recipe and add my own herb blend. You can make this with a soft drink, like root beer, cola or lemon-lime soda, but the ﬂavor will not be as complex and yeasty as when you use a dark beer. The alcohol cooks out as the bread bakes. The lavender ﬂowers give the bread a nutty texture. 3 cups all-purpose ﬂour 1 tablespoon granulated sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves 1 teaspoon dried lavender ﬂowers 1 teaspoon crumbled dried mint leaves 1 cup ﬁnely grated sharp cheddar cheese 12 ounces dark beer 1 teaspoon rolled oats, sunﬂower seeds or sesame seeds
1 . Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine ﬂour, sugar, salt, baking powder, herbs and cheddar in a mixing bowl. 2 . Stir in beer and mix until combined. 3 . Spread in a greased 8-inch loaf pan; top with rolled oats, raw sunﬂower seeds or sesame seeds. 4 . Bake until golden-brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Serves 6.
HOWARD LEE PUCKETT
ASIAN PORK CHOPS WITH MINT You’ll ﬁnd a version of this recipe cooked on bamboo skewers at little roadside food stands in Indonesia. Serve our White Grape and Mint Salsa on the side with fresh mint sprigs for garnish. ¼ cup molasses or 2 tablespoons brown sugar 1 ⁄3 cup well chopped fresh spearmint leaves 3 tablespoons soy sauce 2 ⁄4 cup pineapple or apricot juice 1 tablespoon ﬁnely grated or minced fresh ginger 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 6 medium-thickness pork chops
1. In a 1-gallon sealable plastic bag, mix
WHITE GRAPE AND MINT SALSA
together all ingredients except pork chops. 2. Add pork chops, close bag, and marinate in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours. 3. Coat grill with a bit of vegetable oil and heat to medium-hot. Remove pork chops from marinade and grill to sear on both sides. Lower heat and continue cooking slowly, turning often until done, about 20 minutes. Serves 6.
In a food processor, combine 4 cups seedless white grapes (which are actually green); 2 tablespoons chopped chives; juice of ½ fresh lime; 2 tablespoons chopped spearmint; and 1 whole jalapeño, diced. Mix and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.
26 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
This Mediterranean shrub is among the world’s most effective healing plants. Learn about its miraculous capabilities— and how to incorporate its unmistakable flavor into your kitchen. BY M I C H E L L E S C H O F F R O CO O K
oday, with our access to foods from all over the world and technologically advanced modern medicine, it can be hard to remember that, until very recently in our human history, people have relied on regional plants for wellness. That’s probably why so many humble herbs we sometimes take for granted today were revered by ancient peoples, who used their critical healing abilities to enhance health, treat illness and ailments, and live longer lives. Indeed, the ancient Greeks believed the goddess Aphrodite invented oregano to make the lives of humans happier, and they used it as a culinary and medicinal staple. One of the ancient Greek names for oregano means “mountain joy.” Although we often think of herbs in categories of use, such as culinary or medicinal, oregano proves the significant crossover between them. Today, research bears out the folk uses of many culinary herbs, including oregano, proving the adage “food is the best medicine.” A research-proven antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal medicine, oregano is also a powerful antioxidant—and that’s just the beginning of the amazing health benefits of this delicious and pungent herb.
A Brief History of Oregano If you’re familiar with its role as a signature flavor in Greek cuisine, it will probably come as no surprise that oregano was first used by the ancient Greeks. In Greece, oregano is commonly combined with olive oil and lemon juice, and used to flavor meat and fish dishes. Along with eating it in a huge variety of dishes, ancient Greeks also crowned newlyweds with wreaths of the herb and placed it on the graves of the deceased to help bring peace to their spirits. These ancients were also aware of oregano’s medicinal properties and prescribed the herb regularly to aid in the treatment of many afflictions, including as a cure for stomach and respiratory ailments; for bacterial skin infections and wounds; to treat and prevent food poisoning; and in creams used for aching muscles. Oregano has become popular around the world, although it’s often confused with other plants. These include oregano’s milderflavored cousin, marjoram, as well as Mexican oregano, which is actually a completely different plant (from the genus Lippia). Oregano is especially prominent in Italian cuisine, where it’s a quintessential flavor in tomato-based sauces, lamb dishes and garlicflavored dishes. The herb didn’t become popular in North America until after World War II, but it quickly gained popularity—today, more than 14 million pounds of oregano are consumed each year in the U.S. alone. WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
Oregano’s healthful properties have been supported by numerous studies. Here are some of my favorite medicinal uses for this powerful herb.
ASTHMA AID: According to the research of renowned botanist and author of The Green Pharmacy, James Duke, oregano contains four anti-asthma substances, making it an excellent choice for the treatment of this condition. Because oregano has a strong smell, be careful not to breathe too deeply when using the oil of this herb as it can initiate a cough reflex that can temporarily aggravate asthma. Oregano works best against asthma when taken internally in tincture or oil form on a daily basis. Follow package directions. BLOOD PRESSURE BALANCER: According to additional research by Duke, oregano contains seven natural compounds that reduce high blood pressure, making it an excellent regular dietary addition for anyone suffering from the condition.
CANCER REMEDY: Although oregano hasn’t been extensively studied for its use against cancer, preliminary research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that, in the lab, the oregano compound 4-terpineol was effective at inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. In the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, researchers reported oregano slowed the growth of liver cancer cells. INFECTION FIGHTER: Oregano is a powerful antiseptic thanks largely to the constituents carvacrol and thymol. Laboratory tests have found that these versatile compounds work against harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi and even parasites (such as worms). Research in the journal Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease showcased oregano’s effectiveness against Klebsiella oxytoca and K. pneumoniae—bacteria that colonize the skin, wounds, throat, gastrointestinal tract, urinary tract and lungs, and which can be resistant to multiple antibiotics. EMPHYSEMA AND LUNG INFECTION REMEDY: Few people realize oregano is an
expectorant, but in his research, Duke has identified six compounds in oregano that help expel mucus from the lungs, making the herb an excellent choice in dealing with emphysema or lung infections. These expectorant compounds also work on mucus in the sinuses, so you might find oregano helpful for a sinus infection. A steam inhalation made from oregano tea works well for sinus infections, or take oregano oil or tincture internally. Follow package directions for the product you select.
ARTHRITIS ANTIDOTE: Because of its antiinfectious and antioxidant properties, oregano may be helpful in the treatment of arthritis. The bacteria Prevotella copri has been linked with the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. Although few substances have been tested for effectiveness against this bacteria, oregano’s potent antibacterial compounds may be helpful. I have used oregano with many arthritic clients with great success. Although adding oregano to meals is a good start, arthritics tend to need higher doses in the form of tincture taken internally on a daily basis. Buy a high-quality oregano tincture from a company you trust, and follow package directions for the specific product. For more information, consult my book Arthritis-Proof Your Life: Secrets to Pain-Free Living Without Drugs (available at motherearthliving.com/shopping).
Oregano is a hardy, drought-tolerant perennial that’s easy to grow.
SUPER ANTIOXIDANT: Antioxidants support overall health by combatting damage by free radicals, which plays a role in many conditions, including high blood pressure, HIV and age-related eye diseases. As oregano has demonstrated significant antioxidant activity in many studies, it could potentially play a role in managing or treating many health conditions. Research published in Frontiers in Microbiology showcased oregano’s effectiveness against antibiotic-resistant strep strains. Oregano essential oil was used in the study.
Note: We typically do not recommend internal use of essential oils. However, oregano essential oil is often recommended for internal use. Use it with caution, preferably under the advice of a medical professional. As always, quality is critical when choosing essential oil.
MMEEMIL/ISTOCK TOP, PJOHNSON1/ISTOCK BOTTOM
MICHELLE SCHOFFRO COOK, Ph.D., ROHP, is an international bestselling and 20-time author whose books include 60 Seconds to Slim, Be Your Own Herbalist and Arthritis-Proof Your Life.
Oregano is a quintessential flavor in Greek and Italian cooking.
Hardy, perennial oregano is robust and easy to grow. It grows well in a wide variety of conditions, provided it has well-drained soil and a day’s worth of full sun. It can be grown from seed indoors and planted outdoors after signs of the last frost, or it can be kept indoors in a pot for use as needed. Space plants about 12 inches apart. Oregano tends to start slowly and grow faster as the temperatures warm. As a result, it’s important to keep it weeded as weeds can quickly overtake the young plant. You will find numerous plants being sold as “oregano”—for the Greek version, choose Origanum vulgare. For cooking, only harvest the leaves (not the stems). For medicinal uses, you can use the leaves and stems. To dry, gather enough oregano stems (with leaves intact) to make a 1-inch-thick bundle, secure with rubber bands and hang upside down. Once completely dry, store in an airtight container, where oregano will retain its flavor potency for up to six months. For medicinal uses, you can make your own tincture (alcohol extract): Fill a jar with fresh oregano and top with vodka to cover. Secure with a lid and allow to sit for two weeks, shaking the jar at least once a day. Strain through cheesecloth. The tincture will retain maximum medicinal effectiveness for about a year. If you wish to use oregano essential oil, purchase an undiluted bottle from your local health-food store. Take a few drops of oregano oil in your mouth to help battle bacterial and viral infections. Keep a chaser of water or juice handy, as it has a potent taste. (See Note at left.) WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
GREEKSTYLE QUINOA Quinoa is high in fiber and protein, making it an excellent food to stabilize blood sugar. (Blood sugar fluctuations are an underlying factor in many serious health conditions, and reducing blood sugar spikes can help us maintain a healthy weight.) You can make this salad ahead of time and refrigerate it for up to three days for a quick and easy meal when you’re short on time.
1 . Cook quinoa according to package instructions and allow to cool.
2 . In a bowl, combine basil, oregano, onion and lemon juice. Add salt to lemon-onion mixture and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes. 3 . When quinoa is cool, add red pepper, cucumber, olive oil and lemon-onion mixture. Toss to combine. Serve or refrigerate for up to three days. Serves 2 to 4.
SUPERHEALING GREEK SALAD I love Greek salad. I make it often, varying the ingredients slightly, looking for new, tasty combinations. This one is my favorite. FOR SALAD 1 large cucumber, chopped 3 medium tomatoes, chopped 1 large red pepper, chopped ½ small purple onion, sliced into rings 1 handful fresh mint, minced 1 handful pitted green or Kalamata olives (optional) ½ block feta cheese, cut or crumbled (optional) FOR GREEK DRESSING Juice of 2 lemons 1 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon dried basil 1 small handful fresh oregano ½ teaspoon black pepper ½ teaspoon unrefined sea salt Dash cayenne pepper
1. Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl. 2. To a blender or Mason jar, add all dressing ingredients and blend or shake. Pour over vegetables and let sit for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Serves 2 to 4. Recipe adapted with permission from the book Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty, and Cooking by Michelle Schoffro Cook, Ph.D., available at motherearthliving.com/shopping.
30 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
GULSINA/ISTOCK LEFT, FOXYS_FOREST_MANUFACTURE/ISTOCK RIGHT
1 cup quinoa Water (according to package directions, usually 1½ to 2 cups) 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped ½ onion, finely diced Juice of 1 lemon ½ teaspoon unrefined sea salt 1 red pepper, diced ½ cucumber, diced 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
LENTIL SOUP WITH BAY & OREGANO Oregano, bay leaves and lentils are staple ingredients in Greek cooking. This nourishing soup can be a whole meal served with pita bread, wedges of feta cheese and Kalamata olives. 1½ cups dried lentils 8 cups water, vegetable broth or chicken broth 2 cups tomatoes, chopped (fresh or canned) 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced 2 carrots, peeled and diced 1 stalk celery, finely chopped 1 zucchini, diced 2 fresh bay leaves 1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano 1 teaspoon honey (preferably Greek) 1 ⁄8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1 teaspoon salt ¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped 2 cups small pasta shells (optional)
1 . Sort lentils to remove any debris or foreign objects. Rinse well in cold water. 2. Place all ingredients except parsley and pasta in a 6-quart heavy pot. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until lentils are tender. 3 . Meanwhile, if using, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. When soup is done, stir in parsley and pasta. Remove and discard bay leaves. Divide soup among six soup bowls. Serve immediately. Serves 6.
LAURIPATTERSON/ISTOCK LEFT, LRESCIGNO/ISTOCK RIGHT
OREGANO & GARLIC ROASTED EGGPLANT Glaze some eggplant with olive oil and herbs for a warm, flavorfilled entrée or side. Serve this alongside rice, over pasta with marinara sauce, or alone as a side dish or appetizer. It’s also delicious to stack roasted eggplant with fresh mozzarella and pesto or marinara sauce, and warm the stacks in the oven until the cheese melts. 2 medium eggplants (about 2 pounds) Olive oil cooking spray ¼ cup wheat germ 1 teaspoon dried oregano 1 teaspoon minced garlic Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 2. Cut eggplant into ¼-inch-thick rounds. 3. Lightly coat two baking sheets or shallow pans with cooking spray. 4. Arrange eggplant slices on baking sheets, and spray with cooking spray. 5. Combine wheat germ, oregano and garlic in a bowl or shaker-type jar. 6. Shake or sprinkle about half of the wheat germ mix onto eggplant. 7. Bake eggplant for 10 minutes or until barely browned. 8. Remove pans from oven, flip eggplant slices, and sprinkle with remaining seasoning mix. 9. Add salt and pepper to taste. 10. Return to oven for about 10 minutes more. Serves 4 to 6. KRIS WETHERBEE WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
32 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
Packed with health benefits, parsley is an herb worth knowing well. It may not be a standout in the kitchen, but it's the perfect finishing touch to most any entrée. Grow it at home for the freshest flavor. BY CO R N E L I A C A R L S O N
WHEN JUDGED AGAINST other herbs’ heady flavors, parsley’s seems pallid indeed. Lacking basil’s sweet fragrance, pepper’s fire, mint’s cool finesse, or rosemary’s piney bite, parsley’s taste has been described as grassy, vegetal or green—more inspiring to cows perhaps than to cooks. Yet parsley’s mild, herbaceous flavor is just what makes it so useful. What other herb could play these diverse roles: ✽ Background flavoring. A few sprigs added to any soup, stew or other water-based dish will enrich its flavor and add an elusive herbal base note. This is parsley’s role in the French bouquet garni. ✽ Finishing touch. For a clean flavor and colorful contrast, sprinkle noodles, vegetables or potatoes with flecks of fresh parsley just as you would black pepper. ✽ Liaison. Parsley’s mellow taste can link the flavors of two or more strongly flavored herbs or harmonize the flavors of disparate ingredients that might otherwise clash. ✽ Pseudovegetable. A cup of minced parsley leaves tossed with an equivalent amount of soft grains adds nutrients as well as enticing taste, or call it a green and heap it into salads with lettuces and other greens. ✽ Flavor extender or diluent. These roles differ in intent, but both combine mild parsley with an assertive herb. For example, when your basil supply is meager, you can extend your pesto with parsley, or use it to dilute and tame a harsher herb such as cilantro. ✽ Garnish. No herb is prettier than the gorgeous curlyleaved parsley. Parsley is among only a handful of fresh herbs available year-round in virtually any supermarket. If its versatility and convenience doesn’t persuade you to make parsley a daily habit, consider that it has enough chlorophyll to quench the sulfurous fumes of garlic breath and is packed with health benefits.
A Potent Herb Parsley’s vitamin C concentration is among the highest of any food—roughly 125 to 300 milligrams per 100 grams, which is a little less than an average bunch. (Nutritionists
recommend taking 60 milligrams of vitamin C daily.) It’s also a rich source of iron, calcium, lutein and beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A). The latter two compounds are antioxidants, which have been linked with slowing cellular aging and the development of tumors. At least two other compounds—chlorophyll and myristicin—may also inhibit the development of some cancers. Nevertheless, there are caveats to eating large quantities of this herb. Although parsley is high in calcium, its substantial concentration of oxalates—about half that found in spinach—bind calcium, making it inaccessible to the body. People with osteoporosis might do well to limit their intake of parsley and other foods high in oxalates. Anyone with kidney disease should probably avoid large quantities, as parsley can irritate the kidneys. Women of childbearing age should also be aware that another component, apiol, and perhaps myristicin as well, have been shown to stimulate uterine contractions. If you are pregnant or think you might be, it would be prudent to restrict your daily parsley consumption to a leaf or two and pass up cups of parsley-laden tabbouleh (see recipe on page 37).
Folktales and Remedies For such a nutritious herb, parsley has a curious folkloric link with death, the underworld, and ill fortune. According to Greek mythology, parsley sprang up from the spilled blood of the dead hero Archemorus. That may explain why the ancient Greeks festooned both victorious athletes and the graves of loved ones with parsley garlands. Other legends, laced through Europe’s history, held that parsley seed had to go to the devil seven times before it would grow and that shifting parsley from one garden to another brought bad luck. These fables no doubt derive from parsley’s reluctant germination and sensitivity to transplanting. The ancient Greeks recognized parsley’s nutritious potential, but only to strengthen their racehorses. They sought to draw strength of another sort for themselves, wearing parsley necklaces or garlands at banquets in the belief it would keep
them sober. The Romans—no slouches at imbibing— not only adopted that practice, but finally championed parsley’s taste. The ancient Roman epicure Apicius included parsley in several recipes in his compendium of 500 dishes. During the same era, the Greek physician Galen, who lived in Rome for many years, noted that parsley was a common salad herb there. Galen was also among the first to describe parsley’s use in medicine, in this case for soothing upset stomachs. Medieval and Renaissance herbalists suggested parsley as a cure for numerous ailments. Modern practitioners still favor its use as a stomach tonic, diuretic and expectorant, and to bring on menstruation.
Top to bottom: After it germinates, parsley grows vigorously almost anywhere. ■ Seedlings do not tolerate drought, so keep them well-watered. ■ Allow parsley plants to grow a good 6 inches tall and form nice clumps before cutting sprigs.
34 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a biennial herb that belongs to the carrot family, Umbelliferae, which also includes such culinary favorites as dill, fennel and anise. Parsley plants are most valuable in their first year, when they’re lush and their leaves mild in flavor. During their second year, as they flower and set seed, they acquire a sharper taste and ragged appearance. Although you can always buy cut parsley, growing your own enables you to select a cultivar that exactly suits your needs. Different types taste sweeter, are taller, have curlier leaves or sturdier stems, or survive better in cold, wet or hot climates. All cultivated parsleys fall into one of three categories: 1. P. C. VAR. CRISPUM. These are the curly-leaved strains. Types labeled “moss-curled” or “triplecurled” are frizzier than the “double-curled” kinds. 2. P. C. VAR. NEAPOLITANUM. These are the flatleaved types, also known as single, plain or Italian parsleys. 3. P. C. VAR. TUBEROSUM. These strains with thick, fleshy taproots are called Hamburg or turniprooted parsleys. Everyone knows the first type as the pretty, if trite, restaurant-entrée garnish. It’s the most attractive type in the garden, especially when grown as a neat, deep green, mound-shaped edging plant. The taller, rangier flat-leaved types, while less ornamental, are equally valuable in the kitchen. Some cooks even prefer their sweeter taste. The Hamburg types are grown mainly for their roots. Like carrots, they are delicious both raw and cooked. Parsley grows vigorously almost anywhere, even indoors—after it germinates. The trick is to remove naturally occurring compounds in the seed that
TOP TO BOTTOM: BILL OXFORD/GETTY IMAGES, DANISHKHAN/GETTY IMAGES, FSTOP123/GETTY IMAGES
Parsley in the Garden
inhibit germination. Soaking the seeds for several hours before sowing them, changing the water frequently, can slash germination time from the normal three to four weeks to one week. Parsley prefers a moderately rich, deeply dug soil. When indoors, keep the soil lightly moist. Select a sunny spot in cold gardens, and a partly shaded one in hotter climates. Because its taproots resent transplanting, take special care when shifting, or sow the seeds directly in your garden in rows about 12 inches apart. Cover with no more than ¼ inch of loose soil. Thin the seedlings to 8-inch intervals. Neither seedlings nor mature plants tolerate drought, so keep them well-watered (but not waterlogged). Applying diluted fish emulsion to the soil every four to eight weeks is usually sufficient to keep them a rich green. To maximize your yield and extend the parsley season, sow two to three crops each year. The timing depends on your climate. In the hottest areas, parsley struggles through the summer heat. Here, you’ll want to plant in early spring, mid- to late summer, and late fall (for early spring harvest). In the coldest regions, you’ll want to start your first crop indoors six to eight weeks before the frostfree date. Choose a rich potting mix, then keep seedlings warm and the soil moist. Transplant the seedlings to the garden when they reach 4 to 6 inches tall after gradually acclimatizing them to life outdoors. Parsley is exceptionally hardy. If it’s not too cold, you can even harvest leaves throughout the worst months. Some gardeners dig up a few plants, transfer them to pots, and winter them indoors to have a supply of fresh parsley for the kitchen. Let your plants achieve vigorous growth—they should form nice clumps and be a good 6 inches tall—before cutting sprigs. Harvest the outer stems first, cutting them near the ground to keep plants look-
ing attractive. As plants mature, you can cut more aggressively, which will stimulate new growth. If you have plenty of plants, you can harvest entire clumps, clipping stems about 1½ inches above the soil. New leaves should sprout if the weather is warm. During the plants’ second year, remove flower heads to extend leaf production a little longer. Like many other plants of the carrot family, parsley contains furocou-
You can freeze parsley for a month or longer. The flavor will deteriorate over time, so let your palate be your guide. To prepare parsley for freezing, place small bunches with 4-inch stems in plastic bags, press the air out, and seal. Just slice off or grate as much parsley foliage as you need while it’s still frozen, holding onto the stems to keep the bunch together. Thawed parsley is limp but is fine to use in most cooked dishes.
“Parsley is exceptionally hardy. Some gardeners dig up a few plants, transfer them to pots, and winter them indoors.” marin compounds, also called psoralens, which can sensitize the skin to ultraviolet light. In some individuals, touching the plants and then exposing the affected skin to sunlight produces a rash that can range in severity from slight reddening to huge blisters. Parsley produces more furocoumarins when it’s decaying or stressed, so to be on the safe side, wear gloves when working with withered plants.
Handling Parsley Rinse parsley as soon as you cut it or get it home from the grocery store. Swish the curly types in a basin of water to remove trapped grit. Shake dry. Store parsley in the refrigerator, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag or with the stems immersed in water and the tops loosely covered with plastic. If your kitchen is cool, parsley keeps well on the countertop, again with stems in water and leaves shrouded. In any case, remember that rot breeds rot. Ruthlessly remove any yellow or slimy green bits, rinse the remaining stems, and put the bouquet in a clean container with fresh water.
You can also dry parsley, but it tastes like hay. Why bother when you can buy the fresh herb at your store? Most recipes call for chopped leaves, in sometimes copious amounts. A bunch of parsley typically weighs about ¼ pound, and about half that weight is stems. Expect the leaves from an average bunch to measure about 4 cups, loosely packed. Minced, they’ll fill 2 cups or 1 cup if tightly packed. A sharp, heavy knife and cutting board do the best and fastest job of chopping parsley. Food processors and blenders tend to mash rather than chop. When serving curly parsley raw, mince it well; frizzy leaves sometimes have an unpleasant tickle. For maximum flavor, add parsley to cooked foods just before you take them off the stove. Long cooking mellows parsley’s flavor to an indistinct herbal tone. Save stems to add to any soup or stock.
A Culinary Favorite Parsley probably originated somewhere between the eastern Mediterranean region and western
FRENCH LENTILS The cool/hot counterpoints of parsley and mustard add an extra dimension to these toothsome lentils. Use only tiny, deep green French lentils; they’re available in gourmet food stores. 2 cups (about 12 ounces) Verte du Puy lentils Water ½ cup finely minced parsley ¼ to ½ cup red wine vinegar 2 to 4 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 to 4 cloves garlic, mashed Salt, to taste Freshly ground black pepper, to taste Hot pepper sauce, to taste (optional)
1 . Rinse lentils and remove any stones or debris. Place in
Asia. Natural dispersal by wind and birds (along with conquering armies later on) spread the herb around the Mediterranean region, from which it radiated north, west and south until it reached tundra, ocean and desert boundaries. This vast European/Middle Eastern territory remains parsley’s culinary home. The herb enriches Iberian stews and sauces and is fundamental to every French bouquet garni. It’s the predominant flavoring of many a British sauce and is sometimes the sole seasoning of Britain’s meat pies. Parsley is a standby in eastern European kitchens, but in the Middle East, the herb really comes into its own. Here, hosts serve meze—sprigs of parsley, dill, mint and other herbs—as appetizers, and their tabbouleh contains almost as much parsley as bulgur. North African cooks add copious quantities of parsley to many stews, salads and even cold couscous. To enjoy more parsley at home, make it an integral part of your meals. Keep a bouquet of sprigs on the counter next to your salt shaker and pepper mill. Clip a few leaves into your salads. Mince a fistful to toss over pasta or potatoes, or add a cup to your next pilaf after you’ve toasted the grain. Line your sandwiches with the flat-leaved type and some lettuce, or mince and knead a bunch into whole-grain bread dough. Unless your recipe specifies a particular type, you can use the curly and flat-leaved kinds interchangeably. Be profligate with parsley. It’s tasty, cheap and wholesome. CORNELIA CARLSON, an inveterate herb gardener, has a Ph.D. in biochemistry. She is the author of The Practically Meatless Gourmet.
36 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
a large saucepan with water to cover. Cover pan and bring water to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, partly covered, 20 to 30 minutes, or until lentils are barely tender. Add water as needed to prevent from boiling dry. 2. Drain off any excess water. Place lentils in a bowl and mix with remaining ingredients, starting with the smaller amounts of vinegar and mustard and adding more to taste. Serve warm or chill immediately and serve cold. Serves 4 to 8.
PURPLE POTATOES WITH PARSLEY Garlic, parsley, olive oil and potatoes—what could be healthier or more delicious? 2 pounds tiny potatoes, preferably purple ½ to ¾ cup water 1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 cup minced parsley 4 to 6 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 . Scrub potatoes well and trim away any soft spots. Place in a heavy skillet fitted with a lid. Add a small amount of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat, cover and simmer, adding more water if the potatoes begin sticking to the pan. When barely tender after being pierced with a fork, lift lid to evaporate any remaining water. 2. Add olive oil, cover pan, and continue cooking over moderate heat, shaking frequently to coat all sides of the potatoes. 3. Mix parsley and garlic, toss with potatoes, and serve immediately. Serves 3 to 4.
Keep a pot of parsley growing in your kitchen for the freshest flavor.
COUSCOUS SALAD Cold couscous, green with parsley, is as common in North Africa (and French delicatessens) as tabbouleh is in the Near East. Both make great summer dishes. 1½ cups couscous 1 large tomato, chopped 1 large clove garlic, mashed Juice of ½ to 1 lemon 1 ⁄3 to ½ cup minced parsley 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil ¼ teaspoon salt Freshly ground black pepper, to taste Place couscous in a glass or pottery bowl and fill with boiling water. Let couscous soak 3 to 5 minutes and immediately drain off all the water. Add remaining ingredients and mix gently with a fork. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to let grain absorb the dressing before serving. Serves 2 to 4. TABBOULEH Follow the recipe above, substituting 1¼ cups medium bulgur for the couscous and 3 to 4 chopped scallions for the garlic. Soak bulgur 30 minutes, pouring boiling water over bulgur, before pouring off excess water. Serves 2 to 4.
PEAR SALSA Serve this flavorful condiment with roasted or grilled poultry. Parsley serves as the perfect liaison between the sweet fruitiness of the pears and the savory flavor of the meat. 3 tablespoons water 2 tablespoons brown sugar ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon 3 to 4 tablespoons rice wine or cider vinegar 1½ to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 4 large, juicy pears, preferably Anjou or Comice ½ to 1 cup chopped flat-leaved parsley
1. Place water, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a small amount of vinegar and granulated sugar in a saucepan. Cover and cook over high heat until sugars dissolve. 2. Quarter and core pears, and add to syrup. Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes, or until fruit is soft. 3. Place a small amount of parsley in a blender, add pears and syrup, then puree. Adjust seasoning with more vinegar, sugar and parsley as needed. Swirl to mix. 4. Transfer salsa to a glass container, cover and store in refrigerator for as long as 3 days. Serve cold or lukewarm. Makes 2½ cups.
GREEN SAUCE FOR GRILLED FISH Serve this piquant sauce with grilled swordfish, halibut or any other firm white fish. As soon as the fillets come off the grill, arrange on an platter and drizzle heavily with this green sauce.
½ cup finely minced parsley 1 tablespoon minced chives 2 anchovy filets 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons rice or white wine vinegar
1. In a mortar, mash parsley, chives, anchovies and garlic to a chunky paste. Stir in mustard, then slowly blend in oil and finally the vinegar. 2. Serve immediately or store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator for as long as 24 hours. Makes about ¾ cup.
Rosemary The Essence of
The signature scent of the holiday season can boost your mood, flavor food and, possibly, make you smarter (no matter the time of year).
SAXON HOLT, DAVID CAVAGNARO INSET
SAXON HOLT; DAVID CAVAGNARO
BY B A R B A R A P L E A S A N T IT’S BEEN A TIRING DAY, and the day’s not over yet. Need a little pick-me-up? Pinch a bit of rosemary, bruise it in your cupped hands, and breathe it in, slow and steady. Repeat three times. Do you feel better now, as if a grateful little prayer just washed through your body? You have experienced one of the many essences of rosemary, which scientists believe is related to carnosic acid, a potent antioxidant that could be a key to brain health. Carnosic acid also is one of the few antioxidants that serves the body in stages rather than all at once, so the benefits of a dinner of rosemary-encrusted roast turkey might extend far beyond the meal. In the garden, rosemary contributes bee-pleasing blue blooms on sturdy, attractive plants with needlelike leaves. Rosemary’s green-gray hue combines easily with other herbs and perennials in garden beds, containers and bouquets. The upright forms make handsome evergreen hedges, while the creeping types can be used to spill gracefully over a stone wall or the edges of a terracotta planter. Wherever you grow rosemary, you’ll want it close at hand where you can enjoy its heavenly scent up close and often. Exploring the essence of rosemary is best done with fresh stems in hand, so if you have no plant yet, buy a fresh bunch at the store to try recipes like Rosemary and Cherry Focaccia on page 42. Use a long stem to mark the next page, where “Rosemary Hall of Fame” describes 16 outstanding rosemary cultivars. Set aside a few more sprigs to sniff as you learn how to keep rosemary healthy through the winter. By the time the bunch is gone, you will know you simply cannot be without rosemary. BARBARA PLEASANT, author of The Whole Herb, writes and gardens at her home in Virginia.
Rosemary Hall of Fame
With more than 30 varieties from which to choose, finding the best rosemary for your gardening and cooking plans can be daunting. The varieties described here are a good start, but also check with a local greenhouse grower.
‘Joyce DeBaggio’ adds showy color to garden beds and borders.
GROW THIS! Rosemary is easy to grow in the garden or a pot. Give this Mediterranean native full sun and well-drained, slightly alkaline soil and it will be quite content. Because of how tall rosemary grows, choose a pot at least 6 to 10 inches deep for indoor displays. The difficult part is choosing which rosemary to grow. The varieties described at right are a good start, but also check with a local greenhouse grower.
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MOST COLD HARDY: Many gardeners in zone 6 have good luck with gray-green ‘Arp’, which Francesco DeBaggio at DeBaggio Herbs in Chantilly, Virginia, rates as hardy to negative 10 degrees. More compact, green-leafed ‘Hill Hardy’ (sometimes known as ‘Madalene Hill’) and white-flowered ‘Alba’ often survive to 0 degrees, especially in urban environments where there is plenty of heat-retaining concrete around. Keep in mind trailing varieties are generally less cold-tolerant than upright varieties, and should not be trusted to survive winters north of zone 8.
MOST BEAUTIFUL: For good branching structure in a container, try ‘Herb Cottage’ or ‘Blue Spires’. Both are easy to keep trimmed and tidy. Young plants of most varieties of rosemary can be trained to wire topiary forms; the twisted stems of ‘Blue Lady’ are fun to grow as dramatic bonsai plants. In the garden, the white stems and flowers of ‘Alba’ create a luminous glow that can be used to great effect when contrasted with red basil or mounds of dark green curly parsley. If you dare, try the opposite approach by placing the chartreuse leaves of ‘Joyce DeBaggio’ against a dark green background. And, although truly huge specimens can only be grown in zones 8 and 9, head-high hedges of ‘Tuscan Blue’ are year-round workhorses in Sun Belt landscapes. Creeping rosemary billowing over a stone wall or carpeting the edges of a hypertufa container is a mesmerizing sight. Creeping rosemary tends to have plenty of piney scent but lacks the cold tolerance and balanced sweet/savory flavor of upright varieties. For a spreading growth habit and good flavor, consider a semi-upright grower, such as white-flowering ‘Nancy Howard’ or ‘Mrs. Howard’s Creeping’, which produces repeat flushes of blue blossoms.
For superior flavor, try the beautiful wellrounded ‘Tuscan Blue’.
Help Rosemary Survive Winter Rosemary bushes grow to 7 feet tall and wide in mild winter climates from South Carolina to Southern California, but if you live where winter temperatures often dip into the single digits, you will need to keep your plants indoors through the cold months.
BEST TASTING: This is a subjective choice. Although a few palates prefer the strongly pine-scented creeping cultivars, the gentler, more rounded flavor of ‘Tuscan Blue’ sets the standard for superior table quality. Varieties that feature big, densely packed leaves such as ‘Gorizia’ and ‘Spice Island’ give the highest yields of fresh leaves for making rosemary pesto or drying. Cooks who are happiest near a hot grill love the stiff, straight stems of ‘Barbecue’ and ‘Miss Jessup’s Upright’ as skewers for herb-scented kabobs.
BEST FOR A CHRISTMAS TREE: When horticulturalists at the University of Illinois screened 16 rosemary cultivars to see which performed best when sheared into potted Christmas trees, some familiar names emerged. ‘Taylor’s Blue’, ‘Herb Cottage’, ‘Joyce DeBaggio’ and ‘Shady Acres’ were among the best performers when grown from cuttings rooted in spring, and sheared monthly from August to October.
Many gardeners grow rosemary in pots year-round, which makes it easy to move the plants inside come fall. But rosemary plants gain more size from year to year if allowed to root freely in well-drained garden soil from spring to fall. Learn to lift and transplant varieties that interest you, especially the trailing ones, which often are best in their second and third years. For healthy, long-lived rosemary, follow these five simple steps. ■ LIFT PLANTS EARLY. Whether you let your plants grow freely in the summer garden or keep them in pots sunk into the soil, lift them in late summer. (Labor Day is a good target date.) For the next six weeks, keep the potted plants in a sheltered spot that receives part-day shade. This will allow them to acclimate to the reduced light indoors.
■ PRUNE. As you lift plants, prune them back by about half their size. Pruned stems are great for drying. ■ DOUBLE UP ON DRAINAGE. Rosemary needs fairly dry soil during its winter rest. When potting rosemary for winter, line the bottom of pots with 1½ to 2 inches of fine gravel or perlite and use a fast-draining soil mix. Place pots on a saucer or tray, then water plants from the bottom by filling the saucer with water.
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■ FIND COOL SUN. Finding a 50- to 60-degree location close to a south- or west-facing window in your home could be difficult, but this is exactly what rosemary wants. Use florescent lights if none of your windows receive bright sun; for rosemary, light is much more important than temperature.
‘Taylor Blue’ can be shaped to form a charming holiday evergreen.
■ USE A FAN. Lack of moving air encourages powdery mildew. To avoid this common problem, ventilate plants with a small electric fan. If you see rosemary leaves going white with mildew, promptly snip out the affected areas, then spray the stricken plant with a mixture of 2 tablespoons milk per cup of water. It works!
Recipes ROSEMARY AND CHERRY FOCACCIA These individual focaccias are ideal for a holiday brunch or a not-too-sweet dessert. Add the cream cheese for extra richness or leave it off and pretend they’re on your diet. 1 tube pizza dough, store-bought or homemade Olive oil, for drizzling 4 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary 2 teaspoons orange or lemon zest 4 teaspoons brown sugar 4 tablespoons cream cheese (optional) 1½ cups frozen unsweetened tart cherries, thawed and thoroughly drained Confectioners’ sugar
1 . Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat a pizza stone or baking sheet with nonstick spray. Divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll or pat out each piece into a 5-inch round, pressing the center to create a slight indentation. Prick dough all over with tines of a fork. 2 . Drizzle a small amount of olive oil onto each round and spread oil to coat surface. Top each round with 1 teaspoon rosemary, ½ teaspoon orange zest, and 1 teaspoon brown sugar. 3 . Bake about 12 minutes, or until light goldenbrown. Remove from oven and cool about 10 minutes. Spread with cream cheese, if using. Top with cherries, then dust generously with confectioner’s sugar. Serve warm. Serves 4.
Rosemary in the Kitchen Rosemary is a classic flavor partner for poultry and pork, but did you know it can add a delightful note to biscuits and dumplings, too? Here are a few other ways to appreciate the essence of rosemary in the kitchen.
2. ROSEMARY PESTO: Try a blend of walnut oil, walnuts and rosemary on pasta. A pesto of olive oil, kalamata olives and rosemary makes a great accompaniment for poultry or fish.
3. GOURMET GAME: Generously rub duck or venison with a half-and-half mixture of finely chopped rosemary and kosher salt. To add subtle flavor highlights, add a few crushed juniper berries when making a rosemary-salt rub for lamb, pork or poultry.
4. LUSCIOUS LEFTOVERS: Leftover turkey sandwiches become special when slathered with rosemary sandwich spread. Mix
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1 teaspoon of finely chopped rosemary with ½ cup mayonnaise and a squirt of spicy mustard. 5. TEA TIME: Rosemary makes a tasty and healthful tea. To make rosemary tea, add 2 teaspoons of dried rosemary needles or a 4-inch sprig of fresh rosemary to boiled water and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain and drink.
1. ROSEMARY BEAN DIP: Puree a can of rinsed white beans with rosemary, garlic, and enough lemon juice and olive oil for dipping consistency.
LEMONY ROSEMARY CRUMB CAKE This simple little low-fat cake smells divine as it bakes. To dress it up for the holidays, add a few bright red raspberries or cranberries to the flour mixture or topping. 1¼ cups all-purpose flour ½ teaspoon baking powder ¼ teaspoon baking soda 1 ⁄8 teaspoon salt 2 ⁄3 cup sugar 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced, or ½ teaspoon dried 3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces Juice and rind of 1 lemon 1 large egg ½ cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch round cake pan or muffin tray with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and rosemary. Add butter, cutting it in with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles a coarse meal. 2. Use a fine grater to obtain about 1 teaspoon lemon rind. Mix rind into flour mixture. Remove 2⁄3 cup of this mixture to use as topping; set aside. 3. In a small bowl, beat egg with a fork. Mix in buttermilk and lemon juice. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, and stir until well blended yet lumpy, about 100 strokes. Pour batter into prepared cake pan or muffin tray. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over top. 4. Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Cut into slices when cool. If desired, garnish with fresh lemon and rosemary. Makes one 8-inch round cake.
Sage Advice Beyond its attractive nature, sage offers robust and earthy flavors in the kitchen. Discover myriad varieties of this beloved herb and learn how to grow and cook with it.
THE GENUS SALVIA INCLUDES a staggering range of species suitable for every garden use under the sun—and in the shade. But for cooking, none can rival common garden sage (Salvia officinalis) and its cultivars. Sage has long been valued for its contributions to the cook’s palette of flavors. Its robust piney aroma and earthy flavor complement many ingredients. Sage is also an attractive garden plant, particularly in its fancyleaved forms. Plus, it prospers under a wide range of conditions and adds a striking bold texture to mixed plantings.
What’s the Difference Between Types of Sage? S. officinalis varies widely in the size and shape of its leaves. Sharp-eyed herbalists have spotted numerous selections with unusual leaves, taken cuttings and propagated the resulting plants so we can all enjoy them. ‘Berggarten’ is a vigorous clone with large, broad leaves and a strong flavor. It’s probably the most productive variety for home herb gardens. ‘Curly’ was selected by Alice Doyle of Log House Plants in Cottage Grove, Oregon, from a wild popula-
44 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
tion in Crete. Its wrinkled and puckered leaves give the plant a highly textured appearance. ‘Holt’s Mammoth’ has large leaves, although they’re often not as large as those of ‘Berggarten’. Dwarf forms of S. officinalis circulate under a variety of names, including ‘Compacta’, ‘Dwarf ’, ‘Minima’, ‘Nana’ and ‘Robert Grim’. In general, these plants will reach 8 to 12 inches in height and width, making them significantly smaller than the species. Use them in containers or in-ground plantings where space is tight. Strains chosen for heavy production and good performance under greenhouse conditions are sometimes available, but these are usually of little interest to home gardeners. Numerous forms have been selected for colored foliage. ‘Icterina’ has strong golden-green variegation surrounding a cucumber-green splash. It’s hearty and vigorous in growth. ‘Purpurascens’, or ‘Purpurea’, is another strong grower, this time with dark leaves that have a dusky sheen of purple, green and indigo. ‘Rainbow’ is a variegated version of ‘Purpurascens’. Its purple leaves have splotches of cream and rose. ‘Tricolor’ is the more common multicolored form, with splashes of lilac, cream and green. It’s slow-growing and resents crowding, wet and cold. Besides these varieties with unusual leaf colors, clones with more typical variegation of white, cream or pale green have recently become available. ‘La Crema’ is a variegated sport from ‘Berggarten’. Its leaves have a thick cream border. It’s vigorous and showy, making it an excellent choice for planting in the ground or in containers. ‘Variegated Woodcote’ has light green leaves with a darker splotch in the cen-
BY C A L E B M E LC H I O R
A strong grower, ‘Purpurea’ is one of the easiest-to-find varieties of the fancy-leaved sages.
ter. ‘White Edge’ has an attractive pattern of cream splashes on typical soft green leaves. ‘Berggarten’, ‘Icterina’ and ‘Purpurascens’ are the easiest to find of the fancy-leaved sages. Look for them at your favorite local nursery. The other forms are rarer—check herb society sales and online herb specialists.
Garden Design With Sage S. officinalis is admirably ornamental in its typical gray-green form. It can be trained into sculpted mounds for a controlled appearance or left to sprawl in irregular clumps. The leaves have a lightly pebbled surface, which makes them look fuzzy. This soft texture combined with a muted flower color (pastel shades of blue and lilac-pink) gives the plants a soft appearance. Garden visitors will want to stroke them. If they do, they’ll be pleased at the plants’ robust fragrance. Varieties with unusual leaf sizes, shapes and colors have even more garden potential. ‘Berggarten’ and ‘Mammoth’, with their broader leaves, have a blockier presence and make a great foil to frilly-leaved companions. The leaves of ‘Curly’ have wavy edges that lend a strong texture, making it stand out in mixed
plantings. It has the character to make an excellent solo pot specimen. The dwarf forms’ tighter growth habit makes them well-suited to plantings in which forms must be strongly defined such as parterres and knot gardens. The colored-leaf selections have strong visual impact. Gold and green ‘Icterina’ complements strong blues—it would make an excellent companion for bush delphiniums. The purple-washed leaves of ‘Purpurascens’ are sensational with soft yellows. Try it with Oenothera ‘Shimmer’, a new evening primrose from Colorado with lemon-colored flowers and silvery leaves. ‘La Crema’ and ‘White Edge’ would look lovely as an edging around cream-colored roses. Their strong aroma might also help repel insects. S. officinalis and its selections are useful in containers. Make sure they don’t stay wet or they’ll rot. Good air circulation is essential, as well—they dislike being crowded. ‘Icterina’ and ‘Purpurascens’ are often used in mixed edible containers. They look good through both cold and warm seasons. ‘Tricolor’ looks especially fine when grown as a specimen in a terra-cotta pot—growing solo ensures it won’t be overwhelmed by overvigorous companions.
Growing Facts LIGHT: Full sun HEIGHT: 18 to 24 inches WIDTH: 24 to 36 inches BLOOM TIME: Late spring, although valued most for its evergreen foliage SOIL: Well-drained, tolerant of a wide range of soil types
A Cook’s Guide to Sage There’s more to sage’s flavor profile than dusty and musty. Fresh sage is deep, robust and earthy. To balance these base notes, it also has a lively zing you won’t find in any powder. This lively, almost lemony, flavor component is most obvious in spring, while the leaves are still very young. Strengthen this taste by combining sage with mint. You can also keep sage from becoming drab by combining it with lemon. As summer approaches and sage’s flavor becomes more robust, try combining it with a multitude of different herbs. Its earthiness adds depth to herbal blends. Autumn cooking is highly supportive of sage. Its haunting aroma can perfume rich meats and carb-rich dishes. Use it to flavor slow-braised pork or starchy cubes of roasted squash. Sage can easily become overwhelming, so start with a small amount and slowly increase the quantity to taste. The leaves can be rough and chewy, particularly later in the year, so mince them finely. You can also add sprigs of sage to whatever you’re cooking and remove them before serving.
Tips for Growing Sage S. officinalis is an easygoing plant with few demands. But if you want it to thrive, give it what it needs: At least six hours of full sun per day are essential; soil should be well-drained, but not constantly dry; avoid over-rich soil, or you’ll have lush growth at the expense of flavor. That’s it. Typical green-leaved S. officinalis is winterhardy in zones 5 to 9. The colored-leaf forms are weaker. Plant them high and dry for best results. Even under the best of conditions, they’re not reliably winter-hardy in areas north of zone 7. Treat them as annuals and be happily surprised if they return for an encore performance. Don’t mulch them with anything moist and compost—they’ll 46 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
rot. Also, make sure they’re not crowded—most (particularly ‘Tricolor’) need great air circulation and resent being jostled by their neighbors. Sage is evergreen in most of its hardiness range, although its leaves will be damaged by extended periods of extreme cold. Wait until hard frosts pass in spring before trimming it. Most salvias—including S. officinalis—can be severely damaged by late frosts if they’re cut back early and start into growth while it’s still cold. Once the weather warms in spring, sage will put forth a new crop of leaves. It will have the best flavor of the entire year. Its flavor intensifies until flowering starts, usually in late spring. After flowering, sage’s leaves toughen. To stimulate new growth, cut the plant back by one-third. Fertilize lightly with an organic fertilizer after pruning. Sage can be grown from seed, but it’s easier to take cuttings. Cuttings are the only way to maintain specific clones (you won’t get variegated seedlings from seeds taken from a variegated plant). Because sage often becomes woody and starts to die out in spots as it ages, it’s a good idea to take cuttings and start new plants every two or three years—young plants are especially more vigorous and produce better yields than older plants. Taking cuttings is as simple as it sounds: Cut off a 3-inch shoot of S. officinalis; strip off the lower leaves; stick the cutting into sterile growing medium; keep moist and warm for the next few weeks; and wait for roots and new growth to appear. Once rooted, prepare your plants for life outdoors by leaving them in a cold frame or sheltered porch for a few days to moderate the temperature change between inside and out. Then look forward to cooking with your beautiful sage When not working in the design studio, CALEB MELCHIOR writes about food and works in the garden.
FROM LEFT: SUSAN A. ROTH, POSH/ADOBESTOCK, QUAYSIDE/ADOBESTOCK
From left: For cooking, none can rival common garden sage. ■ For a slow-growing sage, try the common multicolored ‘Tricolor’. ■ ‘Icterina’ is hearty and vigorous in growth.
OYSTER MUSHROOM SAUTÉ WITH SAGE 1 clamshell oyster mushrooms 2 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon sage, chopped fine Coarse salt and black pepper
1. Clean mushrooms by wiping with a damp cloth. Slice.
2. In a medium sauté pan, melt butter. When butter has melted, toss in mushrooms. Sauté for 5 minutes, or until mushrooms brown lightly at edges. 3. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Mushrooms should now be soft and ready to eat. Stir in sage. Salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately. Serves 2.
CARROTS IN SAGE AND ROSEMARY BROTH 3 bunches baby carrots with tops (about 1¼ pounds) 14-ounce can chicken broth 2 large sprigs fresh sage 1 large sprig fresh rosemary 10 mixed peppercorns Pinch coarse salt Rosemary sprigs, sage sprigs and coarse salt, for garnish
1. Scrape carrots and cut off tops, leaving a ¾-inch stem. 2. Combine carrots and next 5 ingredients in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, or until carrots are crisp-tender. 3. Serve carrots with a ladle of broth. Serves 4.
TOASTED BRIE AND SAGE SANDWICH 2 slices white bread 2 tablespoons butter, softened 1 to 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh sage 1 to 2 ounces Brie, roughly sliced Fresh sage sprigs, for garnish
1. Spread 1 side of both bread slices with butter. Sprinkle with sage. 2. Arrange Brie slices on 1 buttered bread slice. Place remaining bread slice, buttered-side down, on top of Brie. 3. Spread butter on both sides of sandwich. Cook sandwich in a preheated panini press for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown. 4. Cut in half and serve immediately. Makes 1 sandwich.
HOWARD LEE PUCKETT 2
SALMON WITH LEMON AND SAGE Large salmon fillet, skin-on Extra virgin olive oil Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 small lemons Handful fresh sage
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a large roasting pan. Lay salmon in pan, skin-side up. 2. Drizzle with olive oil, then season heavily with salt and pepper. Slice lemons into thin rounds and tear sage leaves off their stems. Scatter lemon rounds and sage leaves over salmon. 3. Roast 20 to 25 minutes, until salmon is opaque throughout, and serve. Serves 4. WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
8 Household Uses for Sage
Sage was considered a sacred herb by indigenous North and South American tribes, who valued its healing properties and believed it warded off bad spirits. Today, sage’s useful properties range from warding off illnesses to facial masks and hair rinses—all this in addition to its tasty role in the kitchen! Explore the wonders of this versatile herb with these ideas. Note that those who suffer from epilepsy should avoid sage, as it may trigger a seizure.
HOUSEHOLD CLEANER: Sage, vinegar and alcohol, plus a drop of dish soap, are all you need to create this great-smelling all-purpose cleaner from the blog Melodrama. Learn how to make it at blog.krysmelo. com/2011/09/22/sage-all-purposehousehold-spray-diy-cleanerseco-friendly.
FOR THE BREAKFAST CLUB: Chef and author Jerry Traunfeld offers a savory twist on the classic that’s perfect for breakfast or brunch: Sage, Apple and Cheddar Cheese Pancakes. It’s a variation on a Dutch Baby, a giant popover-like pancake. Find the recipe at motherearthliving.com/sage-appleand-cheddar-pancakes.
SOOTHING BATH SALTS: This calming DIY bath salt blend with sage essential oil and lavender makes a great gift for a friend—or a relaxing treat for yourself at the end of a long day. Get instructions at motherearth living.com/relaxing-sage-lavenderbath-salts.
GRAYBEGONE: Sage leaves can help darken gray hair when used in a simple rinse. Pour 2 cups boiling water over ¼ cup fresh or dried sage leaves in a heat-proof bowl. Let the mixture cool, strain out the solids, and pour over hair as a final, leave-in rinse in the shower.
IMMUNITY TINCTURE: Gargle with this tincture at the first sign of a cold. Chop up a few handfuls of fresh sage and place in a glass pint jar. Cover
48 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
6 PICKLES IN A JIFFY: Quick pickles, made with rosemary and sage, come together after just an hour in the fridge, and can be made with either cucumbers or zucchini. Get our recipe at motherearthliving.com/rosemaryand-sage-quick-pickles.
PUT THE KIBOSH ON YOUR COUGH: For tickly throats and persistent coughs, combine ¾ cup wildflower honey, ¼ cup water, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage in a pot over medium heat until simmering. Remove the mixture from heat and let steep, covered, for 10 minutes. Strain the cough syrup into a sealed glass jar, and keep in the refrigerator for up to three months.
8 THROATSOOTHING TEA: If you are suffering from a sore throat or swollen lymph glands from a flu, try this tea. Combine 2 teaspoons crumbled dried sage leaves (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage), and 1 teaspoon dried astragalus root in a mug. Add boiling water and steep for 5 minutes. For best results, drink one cup twice a day for one week.
KRYS MELO LEFT, HOWARD LEE PUCKETT RIGHT, LIANEM/ISTOCK BOTTOM
the herbs with 190-proof alcohol. Cover with a lid, and keep in a cool, dark place for two weeks, shaking thoroughly every day. Strain the finished tincture into a colored glass container, with a bottle dropper attached to the lid.
CHIPOTLE DRY RUB WITH SAGE 1 tablespoon ground sage 1 tablespoon granulated garlic 1 teaspoon ground chipotle peppers 1 teaspoon ground allspice
1. Stir together all ingredients and store in an airtight container up to 6 months. 2. Rub mixture on food before cooking; drizzle with canola oil, if desired. Makes 4 teaspoons. LETITIA L. STAR
HOWARD LEE PUCKETT
SKILLET CORN BREAD WITH SAGE AND ONIONS 1 cup unbleached white flour 1 cup cornmeal, preferably stone-ground ¼ cup whole-wheat flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup soy milk, whole milk, or 2 percent milk 2 extra-large eggs ¼ cup vegetable or corn oil 2 tablespoons honey 3 tablespoons finely shredded fresh sage leaves or 1½ tablespoons crumbled dried sage leaves 2 cloves minced garlic 1 ⁄3 cup finely chopped onion or scallions 2 ⁄3 cup grated hot pepper jack cheese or 2⁄3 cup cheddar with 1 minced chile pepper About 1½ tablespoons sesame seeds
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rub a 10-inch iron skillet with oil. Place skillet in oven. 2. Combine flour, cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and blend well. 3. Combine milk, eggs, oil and honey in another bowl, and whisk for 1 minute. Stir sage, garlic and onions into the liquid ingredients. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients along with cheese and stir until just mixed. 4. Carefully remove preheated skillet from oven. Sprinkle bottom of skillet with sesame seeds. Pour batter into oiled skillet and place in a preheated oven. Bake for about 35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. 5. Let cool in the skillet for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Makes 12 slices. SUSAN BELSINGER
GNOCCHI WITH SAGE BROWNED BUTTER 8 medium russet potatoes (about 4 pounds) 2 to 2½ cups all-purpose flour 2 large eggs, lightly beaten Pinch of salt Sage Browned Butter (below) 3 quarts salted water Fresh sage leaves, for garnish
1. Boil unpeeled potatoes in salted water until fork-tender; drain. Peel potatoes, discarding skins. 2. Press through a ricer and into a large bowl. Add flour, eggs and salt. 3. Mix until you have a pliable ball of dough. Dust work area with flour. Knead dough for a few minutes. 4. Cut a ½-inch slice of dough and roll it out with your hands until you have a roll about the thickness of your thumb. Repeat with remaining dough. 5. Cut rolls into 1-inch-long pieces. Hold a floured fork with the curved part facing the work surface. Use your finger to press a piece of dough gently against the fork and roll it slightly, letting it fall to the work surface. The result should be gnocchi with an indent on one side from your finger and a pattern from the fork on the other. 6. Handling carefully, place gnocchi on a lightly floured cookie sheet. Keep them from touching so they don’t stick together. 7. Prepare Sage Browned Butter. 8. Bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven. Drop 10 to 12 gnocchi at a time into water; cook until they float to the surface, 3 to 4 minutes. 9. Remove with a slotted spoon, draining as much water as possible. 10. Place gnocchi in a serving dish and drizzle with Sage Browned Butter. Repeat procedure, layering batches in the dish. Serves 8. SAGE BROWNED BUTTER Melt ½ cup butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Add ¼ cup chopped sage leaves and cook, stirring constantly, 5 to 6 minutes or just until butter begins to turn golden-brown. Remove from heat. DONNA FRAWLEY
50 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
Intrepid and never timid, this aromatic plant is a good friend in the garden and the kitchen. BY C A L E B M E LC H I O R
A LITTLE PLANT GROWS OVER the rocky hills of the Mediterranean basin, filling the air with its savory scent and covering the ground with thick mats of tiny green leaves. The ancient Greeks called it thimari, meaning “courage.” Today, we call it thyme. It’s easy to see why this tenacious plant impressed the Greeks. Some thyme varieties are no more than an inch high but continue to spread outward until a hard surface bars their roots. Some make tidy mounds to a foot wide and a few inches high. They all have tiny flowers, tiny leaves and wiry stems. They look dainty. But if you have a hot, dry spot where nothing else will grow, you’ll be surprised by how tough thyme can be. Thyme is botanically confusing. Its tiny flowers and leaves make it a challenge to identify, and its tendency to seed around and revert makes cultivars highly unstable. Many in the trade are confused. So the best way to choose a thyme is to use your eyes and nose to find one that you like.
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Thyme Varieties It’s simplest to consider thyme in two groups: creeping varieties (generally originating from Thymus praecox) and bushy varieties (originating from T. vulgaris). Creeping thyme tends to be primarily ornamental. Its leaves are edible, but its shoots are so short they’re difficult to use. Its scent often dissipates during cooking, leaving no significant taste. It has a prostrate habit and forms thick mats of wiry stems covered in tiny green leaves. Quick drainage, full sun and good air circulation are the keys to success with creeping thyme. It’s suitable as a ground cover in hot, dry areas. T. praecox is the most common species of creeping thyme. It grows in a mat with foliage 2 to 3 inches high. Regular T. praecox has tiny rounded shiny leaves on wiry stems. Its flowers are white with shades of pale pink. T. praecox ‘Coccineus’ has deeper pink flowers. ‘Pink Chintz’ is an especially vigorous selection with clean foliage and brighter salmon-pink flowers. Extra-dwarf selections of creeping thyme are also popular. ‘Minus’ is an older compact variety with tiny blue-gray leaves and a rather lumpy, spreading habit. As with all creeping thyme, it makes an excellent filler in between pavers. ‘Elfin’ is even smaller. It grows into a mat of gray-green foliage so tight and low that
Top: Mounding thyme tends to be better for cooking than creeping thyme, with its short, unwieldy shoots. ■ Bottom: Thyme, like this variegated silver variety, grows well in containers. WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
Clockwise from top right: The scent of ‘Lime’ thyme is destroyed by cooking. ■ ‘Silver Queen’ is a variegated version of citrus thyme. ■ English thyme is great for cooking. ■ Lemon and English thyme are planted side by side. ■ Wild thyme’s color is a distinctive pink. ■ Woolly thyme has hairy leaves.
OPPOSITE: SAXON HOLT TOP AND BOTTOM ROWS, SUSAN A. ROTH MIDDLE ROW; HOWARD LEE PUCKETT
it resembles lichen. ‘Elfin’ and ‘Minus’ are highly sensitive to wet conditions, so give them a quickdraining soil. At least six hours of direct sun are essential for thyme to thrive. Numerous varieties of T. praecox with supposed resemblances to certain scents have been identified and now circulate throughout the nursery trade. ‘Coconut’, ‘Mint’ and ‘Nutmeg’ are three that are widely available. Woolly thyme (T. pseudolanuginosus), a similar species, stands out for its hairy leaves which give the plant a soft appearance and texture. Caraway thyme (T. herba-barona) is intermediate in habit between the creeping and mounding varieties. It doesn’t spread out in a dense flat mat, nor does it create a tidy mound. Rather, it sprawls and trails happily in between other plants and over edges of hard surfaces. Its scent has a strong odor of caraway. Overall, it’s a larger, more vigorous plant than other thyme. The leaves are wide and rounded, and separate easily from the stems. Its strong aroma and flavor hold up well during cooking. Mounding varieties are bred from T. vulgaris. Most culinary varieties of thyme are these bushy types. English and French thyme are two strains often used for cooking. English thyme has rounded, deep-green leaves. They’re often the most winter-hardy varieties, and the most tolerant of lower light and slower drainage. French thyme has narrow, pointy leaves and a sweeter flavor. They’re more susceptible to cold and wet than English thyme. Lemon thyme (T. × citriodorus group) is a bushy and vigorous group of mounding thyme with leaves that smell like lemon or some other citrus. There are numerous strains of regular lemon thyme, which vary in habit, leaf size and intensity of flavor and aroma. Smell them before buying. ‘Lime’ smells like its namesake citrus, although cooking destroys the flavor. Variegated lemon thyme is attractive to look at and can be used in cooking as well. ‘Silver Queen’ is the standard variegated variety, with streaky cream-edged leaves. It tends to revert back to green over time. ‘Hi Ho Silver’ is a new variety with much stronger variegation. It makes a very attractive plant, 4 to 6 inches high and a foot wide. ‘Aureus’ is the standard gold-leaf form. ‘Doone Valley’, with gold-splashed leaves, is widely available. Unfortunately, it tends to revert to green.
BAKED TILAPIA WITH THYME AND GREEN OLIVES Olive oil cooking spray 1 onion, chopped 2 lemons, halved and thinly sliced 1 cup green olives, halved 8 to 10 thyme sprigs
Four 6-ounce tilapia fillets Salt Freshly ground pepper Extra virgin olive oil Fresh thyme sprigs, for garnish
1 . Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 15- by 10- by 1-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
2 . Place onion, lemon slices, olives and thyme in bottom of pan; top with tilapia fillets. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. 3. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork. Serve immediately. Garnish each serving with a sprig of thyme. Serves 4.
Gardening with Thyme
‘Aureus’ is a gold-leafed form of lemon thyme.
Because of its low-growing habits, thyme can be used in a wide variety of situations. Its tidy growth and clean foliage make it useful in highly visible areas. It thrives in hot, dry spots along the edges of patios and driveways, trails over ledges and retaining walls, and can fill in between pavers. Although thyme is primarily grown for its tidy habit and fragrant leaves, its flowers are also highly attractive. Its flowering season is short—a few weeks in early summer—but its light-colored blooms attract many pollinators and have a sweet, honey-like fragrance. Thyme grows well in containers. Because of its small size, growing thyme in containers makes it possible to appreciate its intricate beauty close at hand. Woolly thyme is an excellent container specimen, with its curious fuzzy leaves. ‘Hi Ho Silver’ also makes a good pot plant, with its upright, bushy habit and heavily variegated leaves. In areas with heavy rainfall or thick soils, growing thyme in containers may be the best way to give it the air circulation and quick drainage it requires. A strawberry pot with a different variety growing out of each opening would be an excellent way to maintain a collection of thyme.
GRILLED RIBEYE STEAK WITH RED WINE AND THYME ½ cup red wine 1 small red onion, chopped 8 to 10 thyme sprigs One 12-ounce rib-eye steak Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper Red onion slices Arugula Fresh thyme sprigs, for garnish
squeeze bag to combine. Add steak, seal bag, and chill 2 to 3 hours. Remove steak from marinade, discarding marinade. Sprinkle steak with salt and pepper. 2. Preheat grill to 400 to 450 degrees (high heat). Grill steak, covered with grill lid, 4 minutes on each side or to desired degree of doneness. Remove from grill. Cover with aluminum foil and let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serve with onion slices and arugula. Garnish with a sprig of thyme. Serves 1. Note: To broil steak, place on a lightly greased rack in a broiler pan. Broil 5 inches from heat, 4 minutes on each side or to desired degree of doneness.
54 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
JERRY PAVIA TOP, HOWARD LEE PUCKETT BOTTOM
1. Place first 3 ingredients in a 1-gallon zip-top plastic bag and
Cooking With Thyme The most basic thyme flavor is an intense herbaceousness. Taste it and you know you’re eating a plant. When fresh, thyme has sharp, vegetal notes supported by strong earthy tones. Dried thyme has a deeper flavor. French thyme has a sweeter note. Lemon thyme, not surprisingly, has a strong citrus fragrance and taste. The various scented thyme varieties all smell like their namesakes, but most lose their aroma when heated. To use thyme, simply strip the leaves off the stems with your fingertips. They’re small enough that they should require no extra chopping. Add full sprigs of thyme to soups, broths and poaching liquids to infuse with its aroma and flavor. Stuff handfuls of thyme inside whole roasting chickens or fish. Use a pile of thyme clippings as a bed on which to cook a pork roast or potatoes. The vegetal taste and aroma of thyme balance the robust flavors of beef, lamb, pork and venison; it also brightens chicken and fish. Thyme pairs well with many fruits, including citrus, apples, pears and grapes, and is the primary herb in the classic French bouquet garni. Because thyme grows wild throughout the Mediterranean basin, it’s widely used in that region.
HOWARD LEE PUCKETT
Growing Thyme at Home Whether indoors or outdoors, thyme needs nutrient-poor, well-drained soil and at least six hours of direct sun every day. Rich soil and excess water will cause it to grow lushly at first, before going lanky and rotting out in the center. The lack of light and air circulation will also lead to rot. Once planted, you have little left to do but wait for thyme to establish and thrive. Avoid fertilizing it in the ground more than twice a season. If you grow it in a container, a monthly dose of weak fish emulsion in the usual watering will be sufficient food. Thyme requires little maintenance. They should be sheared lightly after the last spring frost to rejuvenate the plants and stimulate new growth. Cut them back heavily after flowering as well. Avoid cutting thyme back hard before a heavy frost. Because of its shallow root system, thyme is prone to frost heaving. Freeze and thaw damage is especially problematic when the plant grows between pavers. If the amount of soil available is small enough, the roots will freeze solid and the plant will die. Most thyme varieties are hardy to zone 5. Thyme tends to layer itself around the edges. Creeping varieties are especially prone to rooting along their stems. Separate rooted stems from their parent plants and grow them in pots or a nursery bed. Thyme is rarely grown from seed. CALEB MELCHIOR grows unusual herbs and perennials at Sugar Creek Gardens in Kirkwood, Missouri. He also trained through a ﬁve-year program for Master of Landscape Architecture at Kansas State University.
PANFRIED APPLES WITH THYME 2 apples (Golden Delicious or Granny Smith) 2 tablespoons butter 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves Fresh thyme sprigs, for garnish
1 . Core apples and cut each into ½-inch-thick slices. 2 . Melt butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat; add apple rings and cook 4 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. Add thyme, cover and cook over low heat 3 minutes, or until apples are soft. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs. Serves 2.
Looking for a new and interesting herb for your windowsill? Add color and scent to your living space with a variety of scented geraniums. BY J U DY L E W I S
for your windowsill? A plant that’s relatively easy to grow and propagate indoors; that grows lush and green and smells great; and that offers a wide variety of visual qualities and scents to match your décor and preferences? If you haven’t tried growing scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.), you’re in for a treat. Scented geraniums aren’t really very new: I remember a rose geranium in my grandma’s cool room when I was a child. What’s unique about these plants is that they mock other scents—rose, lemon, lime, pine and even coconut. Although they do produce small blooms, scented geraniums are grown for their fragrant leaves 56 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
rather than their flowers, and the variety of leaf shapes and textures and the many shades of green can add abundant interest to your indoor gardening.
Soil and Fertilization Scented geraniums need a light, well-drained potting soil that has been sterilized so it will be weed- and disease-free. You can buy such a mix at any garden center. Adding a cup of perlite per quart of potting soil will promote aeration of the roots. Scented geraniums are like people: They need food. And as with people, too much food is as bad as too little. I find that a general-purpose, water-soluble
Looking for a new and interesting herb
fertilizer (20-20-20) applied twice a month is all thatâ€™s needed to keep my geraniums healthy. Easier still is Osmocote (osmocotegarden.com), a time-release pelleted fertilizer that is placed on the soil. Every time you water, the appropriate amount of fertilizer is released; one application lasts for as long as three months. Both of these products are available at garden centers.
Plant Maintenance Watering is an essential aspect of scented geranium care. As a rule, the soil 1 inch below the surface should be allowed to become almost
dry before you water. (If you wait until the foliage starts to droop, the plant probably wonâ€™t die, but the leaves may yellow and fall off.) If the soil is constantly wet, the roots will die from oxygen starvation. Each time you water, apply enough so the excess runs out the bottom of the pot. The necessary amount and frequency of watering vary according to the type of heating system you have (some dry the air more than others); temperature of the room; amount and nature of light; type and size of container (clay pots draw moisture from the soil; plastic pots do not); and whether a plant is by itself or one of several in a group. WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
Because moisture is lost more slowly in the cool of the night, plants watered then may stay too wet; the solution is to water in the morning. Watering should be at the soil level; misting the plants can cause the leaves to become spotted. However, scented geraniums grow best in relatively high humidity. Unless the humidity is normally high where you live, growth will be enhanced by placing pots in waterproof trays of gravel filled with water to just below the top of the gravel. Positioning the pot above rather than in the water helps to keep the roots from rotting. Groom your geraniums regularly, and top-dress the soil with fresh potting mix, pebbles, bark or marble chips to give the plants a clean look. Trim the plants to promote lush growth and make them bush out nicely. In general, allow three
pairs or sets of leaves to form before pinching off the new growth; smallerleaved varieties, such as ‘Crispum’, may be pinched more often. You may save healthy leaves to add to potpourri or jelly. Take time to touch the leaves of your scented geraniums and enjoy their aromas. After all, this is what makes them different from other plants, and what makes them such great conversation pieces.
Lighting Tips A garden room or solarium is ideal for growing scented geraniums. You’ll need to shade it somewhat during the summer, but in winter, your scented geraniums will thrive. Scented geraniums should receive direct sunlight during at least half of the daylight hours. If you don’t have a
58 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
As beautiful as its flowers are, scented geraniums are typically grown for their fragrant leaves.
garden room or a window with good light, you can still have beautiful scented geraniums with the help of artificial light. Plants can grow and be happy, even in the bleak, gray winter, with a combination of natural and artificial light. Special fluorescent tubes that simulate the sun’s light—full-spectrum tubes or “grow lights”—are available at garden centers and hardware stores. You can substitute regular cool white fluorescent tubes, which are considerably less expensive, but you’ll need to keep them on a couple of hours longer and hang them closer to the plants than you would full-spectrum tubes. Hang regular fluorescent tubes 6 to 12 inches above the tops of the plants. If the plants begin to contort or bunch, they’re getting too much light; raise the lights a few inches higher. If the plants become leggy, with long distances between leaf nodes, and the leaves appear pale, lower the lights a few inches. Scented geraniums need 12 to 14 hours of light per day. In winter, I supplement the light from a sunny window with about eight hours of artificial light. An inexpensive timer turns my lights on about 5 p.m. and off about 2 a.m. But keep in mind that the plants also need five to six hours of darkness per day. Another lighting option, which offers a vast aesthetic improvement if you’re willing to pay the somewhat higher price, is high-intensity discharge or metal halide lights. These lights provide full-spectrum light at a higher intensity and over a larger area than fluorescent tubes can, and they are mounted much higher above the plants. For example, a 175-watt metal halide light is sufficient to illuminate a 3-by-3-foot area from a height of about 3 feet above the plants; a 250-watt light covers a larger area and can be raised to about 6 feet. From these starting heights, adjust according to the reaction of the plants, as described above. When you use fluorescent tubes that are hung no more than a foot above
the plants, you see more fixtures than plants, whereas high-intensity lights are hung high enough to allow a clear view of the plants.
Pests and Diseases
Besides using a sterilized potting mix, other strategies for preventing disease include providing good air circulation, keeping healthy plants away from infected ones, and removing dead and damaged leaves. Good sanitation, including frequent weeding, will go a long way toward keeping your plants in good health. Whiteflies seem to be the biggest pests of scented geraniums. They are tiny, pure white insects that lurk on the undersides of the leaves, and they rise into the air when you run your hand over the foliage. To eliminate them, spray the undersides of the leaves with a mixture of 1 teaspoon of mild dish detergent in a quart of room-temperature water. This will kill the adults but not the eggs; spray again a week later to take care of the next hatching. This soap spray will also put a damper on fungal growth. I use this treatment as often as once a month, and I don’t find it neces-
Scented geraniums need 12 to 14 hours of light per day, as well as five to six hours of darkness.
sary to rinse off the soap; it doesn’t seem to spot the leaves or hamper growth. Botrytis, or gray mold, is a fungal disease that appears when conditions are damp and cold. Remove debris that collects at the base of the plant, as it is a prime place for mold spores to develop. If you notice a stem that has turned soft and black, the best course is to dispose of the entire plant immediately. I can’t stress it enough: Keep your scented geraniums and their surroundings clean, and you will enjoy pest- and disease-free plants. When you receive scented geranium plants from a mail-order supplier, unpack them immediately. Check for damage or defects, and make sure you’ve received what you ordered. Plants are usually shipped with moist soil, which is enclosed to hold both plant and soil in the pot. Remove the wrappings immediately and place the plants in indirect sunlight. Give them a couple of days to adjust before exposing them to direct sunlight, and wait until the soil is almost completely dry an inch below the surface before you water. JUDY LEWIS of Manchester, Ohio, has been in the business of growing herbs since 1974.
Best Varieties for Growing Indoors Garden centers now carry a great selection of scented geraniums, or you can purchase them by mail order. I classify scenteds into six groups according to fragrance: rose, fruit (which includes all the lemons), spice, mint, pine and pungent. If you have only a small area on a windowsill, you’ll probably want to consider the fruit group. They all have small leaves, they grow more slowly than the others, and the mature plants are smaller. Varieties in the fruit group that are fun to use in dish gardens and topiaries include fingerbowl, ‘Crispum’, golden lemon, ‘French Lace’, lime and strawberry. If you have a corner with a southern and western window and some hanging basket room and floor space, you can choose larger varieties from all the groups. Here are the varieties that do well for me indoors. FOR UPRIGHT PROJECTS ■ ROSE: Old-fashioned rose, peppermint rose and ‘Skeleton Rose’ ■ FRUIT: ‘Mabel Gray’, ‘Prince Rupert’ and ‘Apricot’ ■ SPICE: Cinnamon and nutmeg ■ MINT: Pungent peppermint ■ PINE: Fern leaf, staghorn and ‘Dean’s Delight’ ■ PUNGENT: ‘Clorinda’, ‘Mrs. Kingsley’, ‘Old Scarlet’ and ‘Scarlet Unique’ FOR HANGING BASKETS ■ ROSE: ‘Atomic Snowflake’, ‘Attar of Rose’ and ‘Snowflake’ ■ FRUIT: Apple, coconut and filbert ■ SPICE: ‘Old Spice’ and ‘Golden Nutmeg’ ■ MINT: ‘Chocolate Mint’, ‘Mint’ and ‘Joy Lucille’ ■ PINE: ‘Fair Ellen’ and ‘Oak Leaf’ ■ PUNGENT: ‘Little Gem’ WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
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Herbs for Every Kitchen Fresh herbs on the kitchen windowsill reward you with flavor, fragrance and foliage. Find an herb fit for your window. BY T H E R E S A LO E
TO GROW A KITCHEN WINDOWSILL garden, you must provide everything Mother Nature does outdoors: light, water, soil and nutrients. Before you start, determine how much light your kitchen window receives throughout the day and then choose appropriate plants. First, look at the window’s orientation. South-facing windows receive the most light, north-facing windows the least. East- and west-facing windows are somewhere in the middle. Look outside the window for roof overhangs, large trees or buildings that can reduce the amount of light coming in. Observe the window for a day or two to determine how much these obstructions influence incoming light. Next, choose herbs that fit your sunlight situation. Experiment as you gain confidence about how the sunlight enters your window. Start with two to four herbs with the same light requirements. You can plant them all in one container or choose a separate container for each. You’ll be clipping these herbs frequently, so they’ll stay fairly small. If one dies or goes to seed, simply pull it out and replace it with something else.
WESTERN OR FULL/PARTIAL SUN A west-facing window receives bright light in the morning and a few hours of full sun in the afternoon. Intense afternoon sunlight can make the window area hot in summer. Move the herbs back from the glass if they look stressed.
scented geraniums, tarragon and thyme are all sun-loving herbs. You also can grow shade-tolerant herbs several feet away from the windowpane or on the kitchen counter. Try chervil, lemon balm, mint and sweet woodruff.
GROW THESE: Try aloe, basil, parsley, rosemary, scented geraniums, tarragon and thyme.
EASTERN OR FULL/PARTIAL SUN An east-facing window receives full sun for a few hours in the morning and bright light the rest of the day. You generally don’t have to worry about heat, so you can place the herbs right up against the windowpane.
NORTHERN OR LOW LIGHT Planting an herb garden in a northfacing window can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. Most herbs prefer full sun and, unfortunately, you have little direct light in a northern window. The trick is to stick with herbs that prefer partial sun but can tolerate shade.
GROW THESE: Try basil, bay, burnet, parsley, lemon balm, mint and pineapple sage.
GROW THESE: Try bay, chervil, lemon balm, mint, lovage, parsley and sweet woodruff.
SANTIAGO SILVER/ADOBESTOCK LEFT, DUSK/ADOBESTOCK RIGHT, EMADRAZO/GETTY IMAGES BOTTOM
SOUTHERN OR FULL SUN A south-facing window can support the widest herb selection. It has bright light all day with intense sunshine around midday. The one drawback? All this light can make the window area hot. Plants dry out, and leaves can burn if the heat becomes too intense. Monitor herbs closely in summer and move them back from the window if they show signs of heat stress (wilting or burnt leaves). The farther away from the window they’re placed, the less intense the light and heat.
GROW THESE: Aloe, chives, dill, lavender, nasturtium, sweet marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory,
Hot Plant for Kitchens Aloe vera truly deserves a spot in the kitchen—preferably near the stove. Its leaves are filled with a sticky gel that promotes healing when applied to burns, abrasions and inflammations. A slice of aloe rubbed on a burn will soothe, heal and help prevent scarring. Aloe prefers bright sun, occasional watering and well-drained soil. WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
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5 Indoor Garden Tips Grow your own herbs indoors to satisfy the craving for an early spring and provide culinary additions year round. WHEN SUMMER ENDS and winter begins, it’s hard to satisfy our craving for fresh herbs. And whether or not you’ve found success growing herbs outdoors, growing herbs indoors can present a whole new set of problems. One reader even went so far as to write in “When it comes to indoor herbs, I’m completely lost. The leaves get dusty and brown; gnats are everywhere; and my cats are constantly conducting business in my larger pots.” Growing herbs indoors can be surprisingly tricky. Although they’re usually less productive than those grown outdoors, they can still give you plenty of fabulous flavor right at your fingertips. Best of all, you won’t have to worry about unpredictable spring or autumn frosts, marauding rabbits or other outdoor hazards. Here are some tips from our garden blogger, Taylor Miller, that we offered our exasperated reader to ensure success.
BLACKRED/GETTY IMAGES LEFT; IMNOOM/GETTY IMAGES RIGHT; CHENGYUZHENG/GETTY IMAGES BOTTOM
TEMPERATURE MATTERS Don’t water straight from the tap. Indoor plants, unlike outdoor plants, maintain a fairly consistent temperature. Adjusting to the correct water temperature directly from the tap is nearly impossible, and too much heat or cold can shock something called the thermoreceptors. Fill a cleaned milk jug or large watering can with water and leave it at room temperature for at least 24 hours before watering. The exposure to open air normalizes the temperature. After watering, refill and set it out for weekly use.
MAKE A SCHEDULE Many indoor plants die thanks to too much watering or not enough watering. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to avoid both: Schedule a watering regimen. Depending on the type of plant or amount of sun in which your plant is exposed, your water-
ing needs might vary. Lightly feel the top of the soil to see if it’s moist. If it isn’t, check whether it’s wet below the surface. For most plants, you don’t want soil to be bone-dry, but you also don’t want it to be drenched. Take notes for a few weeks while you observe how often and how much your plants need watered. Record the trends and water accordingly. Be sure to check whether your plants have any special watering needs.
DRAINAGE IS KEY Like shampoo and conditioner, planters and saucers should serve different purposes. Pairing planters with an attached saucer has become common in indoor garden design, as people think they’re saving money by purchasing two for the price of one. But there’s one major problem: drainage. I once purchased mint in a pot that came with an attached saucer, and after a few weeks I started noticing a
curiously fetid smell. When I noticed that water wasn’t draining into the saucer, I got worried. Stagnant, brown liquid had gathered under the pot and was blocked from draining evenly into the saucer. If you already have such a planter, simply take a hammer and cover it with a folded cloth (or use a rubber mallet) to lightly tap off the saucer. I tapped on all four sides of my planter to make sure it came off evenly. If it doesn’t, tap off the sharp edges and buy a terracotta saucer.
REPEL PESTS WITH CINNAMON The soil in many freshly planted or transplanted herbs can be home to myriad insects, but you may not want to spray pesticides inside your home— especially if you have pets or children. Luckily, both insects and animals hate the smell of cinnamon. Simply sprinkle a thin layer of ground cinnamon (not cinnamon oil) on the top of the soil to suffocate eggs and burrowed insects. To quickly kill residual bugs, fill a bowl with soapy, sudsy water and set it under a small lamp to leave overnight.
SHINE PLANTS WITH BANANA PEELS Feather-dusting plant leaves hardly ever does the trick. But did you know the texture and oils from the inside of a nearly expired banana peel serve as a mild-abrasive for dusting and shining? The nutrients of the peel even feed plants. Dust your indoor plants with the inner wall of a ripe banana peel, then use the leftover banana to make bread. WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
Wintering Herbs Indoors Save your favorite herbs by bringing them indoors for winter care, and enjoy fresh flavor throughout the season. BY B E T S Y S T R AU C H
What Not to Bring In Perhaps you love all the herbs in your garden equally, and you’d like to bring them all indoors. I suggest you don’t, even if you have a huge house with dozens of south-facing windows. First of all, forget about annuals such as summer savory, chervil, cilantro, borage and dill. Their lives are about over; if you want them indoors in winter, you can start new plants from seed. I include basil in this group because it’s usually grown as an annual, even though it’s technically a short-lived tender perennial. Don’t bother bringing in tough perennial culinary herbs whose dried leaves have good flavor—I’m thinking of sage, oregano and thyme—unless you think you can’t get along without the fresh leaves. Consider the size of the plant, too, and how many smaller plants you could put in their place in front of the window. Don’t bring in huge tender plants if you don’t have room for them, no matter how badly you need them for next year’s herb garden. (There’s a way around this dilemma, discussed later in this article for pineapple sage.) And if space is limited, abandon tender perennials that are easy to start from seed. Marjoram is a good example, unless you absolutely must have it for mid-winter salads. Lastly, turn your back on diseased or pest-ridden plants. Even plants that are healthy now can become afflicted in the harsh atmosphere of the indoor desert, but there’s no sense in helping disease and pests get off to a good start.
What to Bring In Several plants are worth bringing indoors. I suggest you keep tender perennials on which you’ve lavished 64 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
IN AUTUMN, THE HARVEST of herbs is winding down, and the frenzy of trying to stay ahead of the weeds has abated. It’s easy at this time of year to kick back, relax and forget about gardening until the new seed and nursery catalogs start arriving in January. Herb gardeners who live where winters are frost-free can get away with this, and so can those in more rugged climates who only grow annuals such as dill, or tough perennials such as garden sage. However that leaves a lot of gardeners unaccounted for, including those who grow rosemary, tender lavenders or other plants that will die at temperatures below 15 degrees, as well as those who have a yen for fresh herbs all winter. Those people (and I’m one of them) need to make some decisions before winter.
+ Disassembling an Herb When a tender herb plant is 4 feet tall and wide, and your largest window isn’t, the best way to save it for next spring’s garden is with root cuttings. Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is a case in point, and because it roots readily from tip cuttings, it’s an excellent candidate for this kind of treatment. If you’re unsure of the winter hardiness of any large perennial herb such as lavender or rosemary, rooting cuttings provides insurance against losing the plant completely. The instructions below demonstrate rooting a 5-inch cutting taken from the end of a vigorously growing pineapple sage stem. The rooting medium consists of equal parts peat moss, coarse vermiculite, perlite and compost.
1. Strip lower leaves from the stem, both to prevent belowground rot and to encourage rooting. The best way to save pineapple sage for next spring’s garden is with a root cutting.
special care and affection. These include unusual cultivars, plants of sentimental value, expensive plants such as bay laurel, and herbs that you intend to propagate the next spring (such as scented geraniums). Bring in plants that will look great as houseplants such as a prostrate rosemary in the hanging basket. What about that pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) that smells so good? It’s 4 feet tall and broad, whereas your sunny window is only 3 feet across, and the first frost is going to blacken it permanently. You can save it by taking cuttings right now (see sidebar at right). They’ll root in a couple of weeks and will occupy only a modest space by the window thereafter. If the new plants grow rapidly and show signs of taking over the windowsill, take cuttings from them and so forth until it’s time to set them outside in the spring, after the danger of frost is past. If you’re not sure about the hardiness of a large perennial plant, you can take cuttings in autumn and winter them indoors in case the original plant doesn’t survive.
2. Clip large leaves to reduce the surface area from which moisture is lost.
3. Apply rooting hormone, available as powder or liquid at nurseries and garden centers, to encourage rooting. Follow package directions.
4. Make a hole in the rooting medium with a pencil or chopstick, then stick the stem into the hole so it doesn’t quite touch the bottom of the pot. Firm the soil around the stem.
5. To minimize moisture loss, set a stiff plastic freezer bag loosely over the pot to form a tent. Place the pot near the window but out of direct sunlight. Condensation inside the bag is a sign of too much sun and/or insufficient circulation. An alternative to this tent method is hand-misting the cutting several times a day.
6. By the end of two weeks, pineapple sage INU_MARU/ADOBESTOCK
What I Brought In Last year, a couple of weeks before our anticipated first frost, I looked over my herb garden, then looked over my sunniest windows and tried to predict my craving for fresh herbs in the depths of winter. The herbs I decided I had to bring in included five tender perennials: a large rosemary plant I’d started from a cutting two years before; a variegated scented geranium (Pelargonium crispum ‘French
cuttings will have formed roots; other herbs may take four weeks or longer. Visible top growth indicates roots have formed. Even though the new roots will now take up moisture on their own, remove the tent or discontinue misting gradually over a few days so as not to shock the plant.
ted up the remaining part to keep. The roots of the other herbs I chose to pot up are fibrous, and they stayed more or less in one piece when I dug them. I chose pots that were slightly larger than the root mass of each herb. The larger ones were terra-cotta, mainly for appearance’s sake. I normally advise washing and bleaching old pots before reusing them, but this time I did neither and got away with it. After installing the plants, I watered them thoroughly and moved the pots into the shade of a tree hydrangea.
Lace’); sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana); a variegated society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea ‘Variegata’); and a Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) that was a gift from a dear friend. I also chose a couple of hardy perennials: a particularly tasty oregano (O. vulgare subsp. hirtum, sold as O. heracleoticum) that I had started from seed, and some ordinary culinary thyme, whose tiny leaves I thought would complement the larger leaves of other herbs while furnishing fresh sprigs for the kitchen. A pineapple sage loomed in the vegetable garden, but I knew I didn’t have a pot or window space for it. I took a few cuttings to winter over indoors and then composted the mother plant.
How I Did It All the herbs I planned to bring indoors had spent the summer in the ground. The healthy top growth hinted that the roots also had grown significantly, and so it turned out. I’m always surprised to discover how big the root mass gets when not restricted by a pot. I mixed up a porous potting medium to fill the space in the pots
not occupied by the roots and the soil clinging to them. Potted plants need a faster-draining medium than straight garden soil, yet I don’t like to stress the roots by removing all the soil. So I compromised, shaking off some of the soil and putting some porous potting medium in the pot. One key to the success of this method is experimenting to find a watering regime that suits the resulting soil mix in each pot. To mix the potting medium, I poured equal parts peat moss, coarse vermiculite, perlite and compost into my wheelbarrow, stirred them together with a trowel and dribbled in a little water to dampen it. Peat moss can be very difficult to moisten, but the other substances take up water readily. I like to mix and dampen the potting medium a few hours ahead of time so it will be uniformly moist when I am ready to use it. I used a shovel to dig out even the small herbs, as it’s much easier on the wrist and forearm than using a trowel. Society garlic grows in a clump as chives do, and when I dug the clump it separated into two pieces. I wrapped the smaller part to take to a friend and pot-
66 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
Caring for the Plants Indoors I arranged the pots in the sunniest windows of my dining room, a large, south-facing window and a tall bay window that faces east. The society garlic smelled offensively garlicky for several weeks, especially just after watering, but fortunately the odor disappeared over time. As light levels diminished with the approach of winter, the herbs seemed to enter a holding pattern. None appeared to be growing, and only the rosemary offered many leaves for harvesting. I watered only when the soil
A great pick for wintering indoors is the tender perennial Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas).
The weather was still summery with no cold nights in the immediate forecast. It seemed silly to bring the potted herbs indoors when they could still be growing outside with little attention from me. In theory, though, preparing to bring plants indoors for the winter should begin early and should mirror the hardening-off steps we perform in the spring. After a week, therefore, I moved the herbs from under the tree to the north-facing front steps, where the light level was lower. I brought them into the front hall on cold nights and returned them to the steps during the day. A frost followed by cold weather cut this routine short after a few days. The herbs came in for good.
became dry or nearly so. Sometimes I was a little late, and the pineapple sage wilted on several occasions, but they recovered well after being watered. I applied no fertilizer. Although the days began to lengthen in late December, the herbs didn’t seem to begin to grow until March. When I noticed the new growth, I started fertilizing the plants occasionally with a diluted solution of soluble fertilizer. The marjoram showed another kind of growth: little golden aphids sucking the aromatic juices from the new leaves. I sloshed the stems and leaves in a dishpan of Ivory Liquid solution, then rinsed them after half an hour with clear water. This treatment knocked back the aphids, but it didn’t kill the eggs, so I had to repeat it every couple of weeks as the eggs hatched. Washing the marjoram was easy but a nuisance. One day, I trimmed off the new growth, and the aphid problem along with it. Interestingly, the aphids never bothered the closely related (but hairy) oregano. In late winter, a few of the outer stems of rosemary became covered with powdery mildew. I tried dipping each stem into a cup of baking soda and
Be sure to give potted plants faster-draining medium than straight garden soil. You should also wash and bleach old pots before reusing them.
“Preparing to bring plants indoors for the winter should begin early.” water. This remedy is said to be effective, and perhaps it is, but I found I preferred the instant cure of cutting off the mildewy tips. The plant is large enough that such a pruning wasn’t noticeable.
Outside Again At the end of April, I began hardening off the herbs I had wintered over indoors. I placed the pots outside close to the east side of the house where they would get morning sun but be sheltered from the wind. Because the nights were mild, I left them outside but was ready to bring them in if frost threatened. It didn’t, and the hardening-off period proved completely uneventful. Two weeks later, with no frost in the forecast, I replanted all but one of the herbs in the ground. The rosemary had outgrown the space it occupied the year before, but I had a huge terra-cotta pot in mind that would accommodate it and some trailing golden nasturtiums. And the cycle continues.
What About Next Winter? All the herbs I wintered over last year survived, but I’ll be doing things a little differently this winter. I’m not bothering with thyme and oregano again. Thyme’s delicate foliage looked stringy, not lacy, and the fresh leaves were tedious to harvest. Oregano sulked until March, and when it finally started to grow, so did the oregano plants I’d left outside in the ground. The leaves were tasty, but for seasoning spaghetti sauce, I found myself reaching for the dried herb—also full of flavor but handy and ready to use. Marjoram took awhile to grow back after its haircut and didn’t provide fresh leaves. Meanwhile, I started new marjoram from seeds under lights, and the seedlings grew big enough to yield a few fresh leaves before I transplanted them outdoors in May. I likely won’t be wintering over marjoram again. The other herbs are still in my good graces and will be repeating the journey they took last year. I plan to treat them all to a shampoo before bringing them indoors. Providing adequate light in winter is always a problem. Even the sunniest window gives little light on the many winter days when the sun doesn’t shine. The herbs probably would grow better if I kept them under fluorescent lights all winter, but then I couldn’t use them to decorate my dining room. My plant lights are currently in the basement and wouldn’t fit into the décor of the dining room, even if I had room for them there. Rotating the plants—keeping them under lights except for special occasions—is another option I don’t think I’ll pursue. Wintering herbs indoors is an exercise in making choices, and I’ve made mine. Herb lover Betsy Strauch is a former editor of The Herb Companion.
to Profit from Your Homestead
Blogger Jennifer Sartell explains how you can do a lot with little ඹ Cultivate what you can manage Smaller projects done
ල Invest in space-saving projects Bees require very little
well are better than larger projects done poorly. Take into consideration your resources and how many people you have on your team. If it’s only you and your spouse, for example, you might not be able to weed and water huge areas.
space. Likewise, quail and rabbits take up minimal room, breed quickly, and turn a profit rapidly. Research horizontal growing methods for otherwise spacious crops and raising livestock breeds that require less space.
ය Know your limits Get creative to reduce the toll keeping a farm takes on your body. Consider alternative methods like inviting customers to explore your crops and collect their own harvest or hiring seasonal workers during busy times.
ර Focus on what sells Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to abandon an idea and move in a different direction. This is how you find the niche for your homestead. Celebrate and cultivate what works for you and your farm. Utilize your land Do you have a grove of sugar maples? Tap them for syrup. Do you have a natural pond? Consider raising fresh water shrimp. Live in the woods? Firewood sales might be an option. Often it’s better to work with Mother Nature than try to compete with her.
Celebrate and cultivate what works for you and your farm. Find a niche Finding a niche item ideal for your homestead and community can be the most frustrating and time-consuming puzzle to solve. Go to your farmers market and look for that thing you wish you could purchase but can’t find. They tell writers, “Write the story that you want to read.” For homesteaders, provide the product that you want to buy.
» You can ﬁnd other helpful articles from like-minded entrepreneurs at Homestead.MotherEarthNews.com. Join our community, share your story, and proﬁt from your homestead!
Listen to your patrons There is a sweet spot between providing a rare item and finding enough people who desire that item. Keep your ears open for suggestions that you might not automatically consider. You may be surprised by what is in demand.
ව Consider growing perennials Perennial flowers or vegetables (such as asparagus) can turn a nice seasonal profit, and they only have to be planted once.
ශ Invest in future projects Plant a few fruit trees each year, and in 10 years you will have a nice little orchard. Also, maximize your equipment usage. If you need to borrow or rent a tractor implement, use that equipment while you have it on your property to prepare land, dig holes, or remove stumps for future projects. Read Jennifer Sartell’s original, unedited article for Homestead Hustle here: https://goo.gl/tjtAef
+ Dos and Don’ts All herbs have their own preferences. Once you’ve purchased your seeds, pay careful attention to the information on each packet. Here are some universal rules for successful seed starting.
DO plant in seed-starting mix, not natural soil. Before seeds start to sprout, DO provide seeds with the warmth they need by setting them on a warm furnace or a store-bought heat mat.
DON’T place seeds next to a window for light. Place seedlings on a table directly underneath a shop light, which are designed to provide sturdy, stocky seedling growth.
DON’T use fancy grow lights. They are designed to help plants flower indoors, not sprout seedlings. Instead, use a cool white fluorescent tube light to give seedlings an approximation of the sun they need, which is a lot. Find these lights at any hardware store. DO keep seedlings close to their light source— they should almost touch the tubes. When seeds have to stretch for light, they become leggy and susceptible to garden damage. DO keep seed lights on at least 16 hours a day.
Starting Seeds CLAUDIA PAULUSSEN/ADOBESTOCK
Follow these dos and don’ts for successful seed starting.
DO water seeds moderately. Steer clear of watering too much or too little.
DO cover unsprouted seedling trays with
BY G I N A D E B AC K E R
clear plastic to regulate moisture levels.
COLD WEATHER DOESN’T have to stop you from spending time gardening. In fact, early winter is the best time to prepare for the spring garden. Start building an herb-seed wish list, organizing beautiful seed packets and designing your dream garden space. Nurturing herbs from seeds offers many benefits to the herb gardener: You get a head start in the garden; you can minimize the chance of introducing soil-borne diseases to your garden; you’ll save money; and you may even have fun along the way. So if you have the time and the patience to start herbs from seed, gather your favorite seed catalogs and start plotting.
DON’T plant French tarragon and specific mint cultivars from seed. According to Nancy Bubel, author of The New Seed-Starts Handbook, French tarragon doesn’t provide viable seeds and specific mint cultivars hybridize readily and, more often than not, fail to come true to the seeds listed in catalogs.
What to Know About Aquaponics Aquaponic gardening is a fascinating way to grow plants and fish together in an organic, symbiotic ecosystem. Learn how to set up a small-scale garden in your home.
This mini aquaponics fish tank from Back to the Roots is a selfcleaning fish tank that grows organic sprouts and herbs. Buy it for $100 at backtotheroots.com.
70 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
Aquaponics at Home After reading Sylvia Bernstein’s book Aquaponic Gardening, I set up a small-scale aquaponic garden at home. The tank I used was well-established, having already been around for nearly six years. This ended up being a huge time-saver. With aquaponics, the fish tank you use needs to cycle through a series of biological events in order to sustain life. This is because fish waste produces ammonia, which is toxic to fish and useless to plants. A tank needs time to build up beneficial bacteria, which will convert ammonia first into nitrites and then into nitrates. Nitrates are relatively harmless to the fish and, most importantly, make terrific plant food. I decided the easiest way to build my aquaponic garden was with a basic ebb and flow system. “Ebb and flow” means that a grow tray fills up with water and then drains down into a reservoir (which in this case is the fish tank). I used a white grow tray used for hydroponics (its dimensions being 36-by-8-by-4 inches); a fill and drain kit, which is just a couple of fittings used to attach to a water pump; and a 160-gallon-per-hour water pump. I drilled two 1¼-inch holes side by side in the grow tray with a hole saw, then attached the fill and drain fittings. The taller of the two fittings is the overflow, which keeps the water from overflowing the tray, and the shorter is the fill. I used a length of ½-inch vinyl tubing to attach the pump to the fill fitting and placed the pump in the tank. I was lucky because there was already a large plant shelf right next my tank, so all I had to do was pull it closer and put my grow tray on top of it. I also had to raise the tray
IMAGE COURTESY BACK TO THE ROOTS, BACKTOTHEROOTS.COM
AQUAPONICS IS, AT ITS MOST basic level, the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water and without soil). Fish waste provides organic food for growing plants, and in turn plants naturally filter the water in which those fish live. Although growing herbs and vegetables is a familiar process for many of us, growing game fish for food is unfamiliar to most and can be intimidating. Even for experienced aquarium hobbyists, growing a plate-sized tilapia is a whole different animal. Thankfully, there are two ways in which to practice aquaponics: a large-scale setup in which you can harvest fresh produce from your garden as well as supply fresh fish for your dinner table, and a small-scale setup (which we discuss here) that uses aquarium fish such as betta fish.
with a cinder block to get it higher than the top of the tank and at a slight angle so the water would naturally flow back down into the tank. You could just as easily place the tray directly on top of your tank. Because I already had basil seedlings ready to go (as I had started them weeks before), I planted basil in my aquaponic garden. I filled the bottom of the tray with Sunleaves Rocks medium (sunleaves.com), spaced my basil seedlings about 8 inches apart, and filled in the rest of the tray with the rocks. I plugged the pump into a standard timer and set it to flood the tray for 15 minutes every hour. Then I grabbed a handful of red worms out of our worm composting bin, and added them to the grow tray. The purpose of this was for the worms to eat any solid fish waste that got pumped up into the tray and to convert it into worm castings (another fabulous fertilizer). I hung a high-output fluorescent light over the tray and voilà, I was done. In order to keep the fish, plants and bacteria happy, the pH of the water must be kept between 6.8 and 7.0. If it gets much lower than that, the bacteria will suffer and slow the conversion of ammonia and nitrite. If it gets much higher, the plants won’t be able to absorb the nutrients needed to develop and grow. PH regulator solutions made for hydroponics should do the trick. Just remember not to adjust the pH more than .2 degrees in a 24-hour period or the fish will suffer. MARYANN ROBINSON
The Benefits of Aquaponics When it comes to aquaponics, the sky’s the limit. In fact, the only plants that won’t thrive are plants that require an acidic environment such as blueberries and azaleas. Because aquaponic systems stay at a fairly neutral pH, they are a poor environment for plants that require a pH of 4.0 to 5.0. For a large-scale setup, a greenhouse is an ideal location for aquaponics because you create the ideal environment for your fish and plants. Plus, sunlight is free to use. As a bonus, all the water in the fish tank, sump tank and grow beds create thermal mass in a greenhouse, which helps moderate temperature extremes. For a smallscale setup, you can take your project indoors. Many aquapons have dedicated their garages and basements to their aquaponics systems. Here is some more good news about aquaponics: ✽ Aquaponic gardening enables home fish farming. You can now feel good about eating fish again. ✽ Aquaponic gardening uses 90 percent less water than soil-based gardening because the water is recirculated and only that which the plants take up or evaporates is ever replaced.
There is so much more information about aquaponics than this article can cover.
✽ Aquaponic gardening results in two crops for one input (fish feed).
Aquaponic Gardening by Sylvia Bernstein
✽ Aquaponics doesn’t rely on the availability of good soil, so it can be set up anywhere, including inner city parking lots, abandoned warehouses, schools, restaurants, home basements and garages.
“Aquaponic Fish Facts” by Sylvia Bernstein, motherearthliving.com/aquaponic-fish-facts Back to the Roots’ Organic Indoor Gardening Kit, backtotheroots.com
✽ Aquaponic gardening is four to six times as productive on a square foot basis as soil-based gardening. This is because with aquaponic gardening, you can pack plants about twice as densely as you can in soil, and the plants grow two to three times as fast as they do in soil. ✽ Aquaponic systems only require a small amount of energy to run a pump and aeration for the fish. This energy can be provided through renewable methods. ✽ Aquaponic gardening is free from weeds, watering and fertilizing concerns, and because it is done at a waist-high level, there is no back strain. ✽ Aquaponic gardening is organic. Natural fish waste provides all the food plants need. Pesticides would be harmful to the fish so they are never used. Hormones, antibiotics and other fish additives would be harmful to the plants so they are never used. And the result is every bit as flavorful as soil-based organic produce, with the added benefit of fresh fish for a safe, healthy source of protein. ✽ Aquaponics is completely scalable. The same basic principles apply to a system based on a 10-gallon aquarium and to a commercial operation. Aquaponic gardens are straight forward to set up and operate in your own backyard or home as long as you follow some basic guidelines. They can even be constructed using recycled materials, including old bathtubs and commercial containers used to ship liquid foodstuffs. Otherwise, purchase a system kit if you are not DIY-inclined. SYLVIA BERNSTEIN
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Small Space? Grow Up! With a little creativity and the right plants, you can grow a stellar garden—no yard necessary. YOUR GARDEN COULD defy the laws of physics. Designing a gravity-busting vertical garden doesn’t require much—a little design creativity, a few upwardly mobile plants and the right tools for the task are really all you need to create a small-space garden bursting with fresh food, gorgeous blooms and tantalizing scents. Don’t let silly details (like not having a yard) deprive you of the wonders of a garden.
Weigh In If you’re growing on Æ a balcony, pay attention to weight limitations. Your landlord or homeowners’ association should be able to provide information on the amount of weight your balcony can support. Total weight per plant includes pot, plant, soil and water. To reduce weight, try cedarwood or lightweight biodegradable plastic containers. (Do not grow food in plastics with the recycling codes 3, 6 or 7.)
Feed Me, Seymour Plants in containers with limited soil quickly eat up available nutrients. Supplement with organic fertilizers suited to your plants. For example, worm compost, kelp meal, bone meal or organic cottonseed meal.
Water In, Water Out For easy watering, consider attaching a hose adaptor to your kitchen faucet. For good drainage, drill several holes in your container bottoms and line them with about 3 inches of gravel under the topsoil. Up and At ’Em Begin your garden by choosing gravity-defiant Æ plants that grow upward such as squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, passionflower, morning glories, honeysuckle, clematis, ivies and wisteria. Place pots on mounted wall shelves, buy or build stackable planters, and use trellises. Vertical planting allows for creative development.
Location, Location, Location The direction your balcony or patio faces is of major importance. Most plants require at least five sunny hours a day. Wind exposure can be a problem. Be cautious of unprotected open areas—you can create windbreaks with planted trellises on balconies or rows of shrubs near patios. Consult experienced neighbors or local nurseries to determine the best plants for your location.
Deep Down Plant seeds in containers at the same depth as you would in the ground. Simply don’t plant deeper than four times the seed’s thickness.
Bug Off Be on the lookout for harmful pests and their eggs. It’s easy, safe and simple to remove damaging eggs and pests by hand. If you use commercial sprays, ask your local nursery for nontoxic suggestions.
Winter Warm-up For safe overwintering, you can set containers on wooden blocks and surround them with a spacious plastic bag filled with bubble wrap, sawdust or leaves. Without this insulation, cold weather can seriously damage plants. Small containers, including those made of plastic and terra-cotta, are susceptible to cracking.
Reprinted with permission from the former website easybalconygardening.com.
Plant Pals Choose compatible plants. For example, tomatoes and basil have the same need for light, water and feeding, and they make a great pasta dinner.
Herbs Under Glass Try these terrific herbal terrarium ideas for your tabletop garden.
THE HERB GARDENER who is homebound by wintery conditions can take pleasure in a different kind of garden environment: an ecosystem in miniature whose tiny plants are seen through the glimmer of glass. When a small garden in a closed or nearly closed terrarium thrives, the gardener knows it has found a proper balance of the elements of its survivalâ€” air, light, moisture, humidity and soil. Moisture evaporating from the plantsâ€™ leaves condenses on the container walls and runs down into the soil, where it is taken up again by the plant and used in an ongoing cycle. Putting together an ornamental tabletop terrarium can be a thought-provoking, satisfying project when the wind outside is howling. For herbs that might do well in such an environment, we looked to moisture-loving woodland natives such as foamflower and ebony spleenwort, as well as low-growing old favorites such as violets and sweet woodruff. Most of the familiar culinary herbs would meet certain death in a terrarium because of its dim light, high humidity, and lack of drainage, although some will grow in an open dish garden. Like a terrarium, a dish garden has no drainage, but it can be placed in direct natural or artificial light. See "Herbs for Terrariums" on the next page for other herb options. Many containers can become terrariums; consider using an old aquarium or goldfish bowl, an old-fashioned cloche with a dish for it to rest on, or a large brandy snifter. Victorian-looking teardrop terrariums are not suitable for growing edible plants because they're made of leaded glass, but they set the mood beautifully.
74 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
BY T H E H E R B CO M PA N I O N S TA F F
+ Herbs for Terrariums ■
When designing your terrarium, select plants in a variety of heights, textures, colors and leaf sizes.
Making a Terrarium Choose a clear glass or plastic container with a large opening, or one whose top can be removed such as a 10-gallon fish tank. The container must be scrupulously clean to minimize the risk of plant disease. Look for plants with similar requirements in humidity, light, soil and water. Plant a woodland terrarium with plants from our sidebar at right, or a desert terrarium with aloes and cacti; the latter would need virtually no water. A tropical terrarium must be kept warmer than a woodland container, and plants for a bog terrarium can tolerate wet soil. Select plants in a variety of heights, textures, colors and leaf sizes. Seek out miniatures and slow growers, as many as 12 plants for a 12-inch container. Too many plants, however, can make the terrarium look cluttered. Mix together three parts sterilized dry commercial potting soil and one part crushed charcoal. Fill the container a quarter full with this planting medium, keeping the walls clean. Create a little scene in the terrarium, complete with hills, valleys and rock boulders. If you want, add a small statue or piece of driftwood just for fun. Decide the arrangement of your plants in the container. Plan to place taller plants toward the back and slightly off center, and fill in with smaller ones; keep in mind
blending and contrasting foliage colors. Dig planting holes. Knock the plants out of their pots and loosen the roots. Place each plant in its hole, firming the soil mix around the roots. Don’t let the foliage touch the glass. Add water very sparingly down the side of the container (there’s no drainage, remember). Use tap water that has stood overnight to eliminate chlorine. Cover the terrarium and set it in indirect light. If a lot of moisture appears on the glass soon, remove the cover for a few hours, then cover and observe again. If you see standing water in the container, remove it with a turkey baster.
Maintenance Although direct sunlight falling on a terrarium can steam the plants to death, overwatering is probably the leading cause of failure. Water only when the soil feels dry. Because slow growth is desired, feed plants sparingly with diluted houseplant fertilizer. Remove dead leaves and faded flowers to prevent disease, and evaluate the terrarium’s general appearance occasionally. Leggy or spindly plants need more light; brown leaf tips or yellow leaves indicate too much moisture. Move overly vigorous plants to another location. Hand-pick insects if possible, but if bug invasions and mildew attacks are severe, you probably need to start over with a clean terrarium and new plants.
Box, dwarf English (Buxus sempervirens ‘Green Velvet’, ‘Green Mountain’) ■ Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) ■ Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) ■ Ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron) ■ Foamflower (Tiarella wherryi) ■ Goatsbeard, dwarf (Aruncus aethusifolius) ■ Gotu kola (Hydrocotyle asiatica) ■ Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) ■ Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) ■ Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) ■ Rose, miniature and microminiature (Rosa cultivars) ■ Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) ■ Violet, Canada (Viola canadensis) ■ Violet, Laborador (V. labradorica) ■ Violets, Parma and sweet (Viola spp. and cultivars)
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Joyful Windows Put fresh herbs within reach with colorful window boxes. This garden design offers interesting contrasts in foliage and form on a pair of windows with sunny exposure. BY K AT H L E E N H A L LO R A N I L LU S T R AT I O N S BY G AY L E F O R D
CHEERFUL WINDOW BOXES can improve your view, whether you’re looking from the inside or outside of your home. With herb-filled window boxes, beauty and usefulness go hand in hand. You can fill your boxes with color, fragrance and flavor, and put on a bright show for the neighborhood at the same time. Best of all, you’ll have a ready supply of edible petals and foliage to snip onto salads or add to a bottle of vinegar. These two companion boxes are designed to be used together on a pair of windows that have sunny exposure. The blooms’ colors mirror and balance each other. The bright pink of the chive pompons reflects the bright pink of the dianthus, just as the intense purple of the sweet violets echoes the deep purple of the lavender spikes. Similarly, calendula’s gaudy orange petals repeat the gold-orange hues of the marigolds and nasturtiums. WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
+ Plant Key BOX 1 1. ‘Fernleaf’ dill 2. English lavender 3. ‘Spicy Globe’ basil 4. Pinks (Dianthus spp.) 5. Calendula BOX 2 6. ‘Lemon Gem’ marigolds 7. Chives 8. Scented geraniums 9. Nasturtiums 10. Violets
For interesting contrasts in foliage and form, the boxes include a mound of feathery dill, ‘Spicy Globe’ basil with tiny leaves, branching scented geraniums with rounded leaves and a clump of spiky chives. These are just 10 of the many herbal possibilities for gorgeous, easily accessible window boxes. Although some people prefer orderly groupings of five or six identical plants per box, with bloom colors that complement their home, I’ve gone for a different look—one that is less tidy but more bountiful. I think of it as a cottage-garden version of a window box. These little gardens would look particu-
78 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
larly splendid in white boxes against a white house. Choose a window box planting style that suits you. If you decide you don’t like it, simply change it next season.
Keep in mind that the box will be heavy when it’s filled with potting soil, plants and water, so look for a material that’s lightweight yet durable. Whatever you choose, be
“With herb-filled window boxes, beauty and usefulness go hand in hand.” Box Basics Window boxes are available in a wide variety of materials, including plastic, fiberglass, rot-resistant wood, pottery, wire and wicker (with sphagnum moss liners).
sure the boxes have adequate drainage. If the drainage holes aren’t big enough, enlarge them or add more. Most window boxes must be mounted with brackets and screws. When mount-
ing them, remember to add spacers (narrow strips of wood attached to the back of the boxes) so that water drains away from the house, not down the side. If you’re concerned about the weight of the boxes against your house, one option is to not use soil inside the box. Instead, nestle individual potted plants inside the box and cover the surface with moss. (That’s also a good way to see how they’ll look before you plant them.) The plants will grow larger if planted in soil inside the box, however, as their roots will have more room to grow.
Care and Feeding Use a potting mix with some peat moss to help
retain moisture, as well as some perlite to improve drainage. Window boxes are like any container garden in that they need regular attention, particularly when first planted. Sun, wind and heat reflected off the house can dry them out quickly, so check them daily and water thoroughly when soil feels dry an inch below the surface. Feed your plants regularly throughout the growing season, using an organic liquid fertilizer in diluted form. With a little tender love and care, these window boxes will provide colorful culinary treasures right at your fingertips. KATHLEEN HALLORAN is a freelance writer living and gardening in beautiful Austin, Texas.
Plants for a Window Garden Box 1 ✽ Calendula (Calendula officinalis): Dependable ray flowers in bright colors appear throughout the season, providing edible petals. It’s easy to grow from seed. ✽ Pinks (Dianthus spp.): Many cultivars have become available over the years, in soft to vivid pinks, reds and whites. Buy plants rather than start them from seeds.
colors. Start with purchased plants or a root division. ✽ ‘Fernleaf’ dill (Anethum graveolens ‘Fernleaf’): Fine, feathery foliage and lacy, yellow flowers are both tasty and attractive. This dwarf variety is good for containers and it’s easily grown from seed.
Box 2 ✽ ‘Spicy Globe’ basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Spicy Globe’): Its compact, round shape and tiny leaves make this basil perfect for a container. It can be grown from seed or starter plants. ✽ English lavender (Lavandula spp.): These fragrant spikes come in a variety of
✽ Chives (Allium schoenoprasum): Enjoy oniony flavor from both the strappy leaves and perky pink pompon flowers. Easy to grow from seed. ✽ Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus): Bright yellow, orange or red flowers trail nicely over the edge of a planter. The
leaves and flowers have a peppery flavor, and make a pretty accent for salads. It’s easy to grow from seed. ✽ Scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.): You can experiment with dozens of delightfully scented varieties, including rose and lemon. Buy the plants or ask a friend to share cuttings. ✽ Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia ‘Lemon Gem’): Hardworking marigolds add sunny color, and the petals are edible. Grow it from seed or buy the plants. ✽ Violets or pansies (Viola spp.): Colorful sweet violets and pansies thrive in the cool temperatures of spring and fall. Grow them from seed or starter plants.
Grow, Make, Build
Create a Living Picture Put your collection of succulents on display with a unique planter. EYECATCHING AND EASY to care for, succulents are simple to incorporate into any number of creative décor projects. This fun living picture frame project from the book Idiot’s Guides: Succulents makes use of the plant family’s diverse shapes, textures and colors by displaying the succulents vertically rather than sitting upright. All it takes are a few materials and light weekly watering to maintain this lush living decoration. There’s something appealing about plants growing vertically rather than in a pot. Succulents do especially well in vertical arrangements, so they are a popular choice for creating living pictures. A living picture can cover an entire wall, or it can be something smaller and more personal. If you’re growing indoors, small and personal is a great option. Find a color palette of succulents you like, or choose a variety of shapes and textures. Rosettes are a popular choice for living pictures, but branchy, trailing and even somewhat tall succulents work well too.
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PLANS + PROJECTS
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Remember Drainage If your frame doesn’t have drainage holes, consider drilling holes in what will be the bottom of the picture so water can easily drain out. When lying flat, water should be able to seep out the back of the frame. When standing, water can drain out the front of the arrangement, but it will last longer if there are drainage holes in the frame.
YOU WILL NEED:
Wood shadowbox frame ■ Wire or chicken wire ■ Staple gun ■ Soil ■ Sphagnum moss ■ Succulent cuttings (three to five varieties) ■ Pencil or wooden craft stick ■
1. Remove the top of the shadowbox frame and attach wire (make a grid or use chicken wire cut to size) to the back, using a staple gun. 2. Fill frame with soil up to wire. 3. Soak moss with water. 4. Spread a layer of moss over the soil in the frame opening. 5. Remove the lower leaves on the succulent cuttings, creating about 1 to 2 inches of bare stem. 6. Use a pencil or wooden craft stick to create a hole in the moss and soil.
7. Insert one succulent cutting into the hole. 8 . Using this method, create waves of succulents by placing several of the same succulent type in a diagonal or curved line. 9. If desired, add a larger succulent to the frame to create a focal point. 10. Use branchy or trailing succulents to add visual interest along the edge of the frame. 11. Continue to fill frame with succulents. Keep succulents close together because they will shrink slightly before growing. 12. Fill any remaining gaps with clumps of moss. 13. Leave frame horizontal for six to eight weeks until succulents have fully taken root. It makes a great table decoration. 14. Once your cuttings have rooted, hang the living picture or stand it up on a shelf. 15. To water the living picture, remove it from the wall and pour water on top, completely soaking the soil. Water your living picture weekly or when the soil dries out.
Text and images of Idiot’s Guide: Succulents reprinted by Alpha Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Cassidy Tuttle.
Grow, Make, Build
PLANS + PROJECTS
Take Care You won’t need to water for a few days to start with since you have already watered the soil mix before sowing; it’s then best to spray with a mister to stop seeds from dispersing before germination and disrupting the design. Make sure the soil mix doesn’t dry out. Water overhead once seeds have germinated using a watering can with a fine nozzle, but do not overwater since the small seedlings may die off in too much moisture. In very dry summer conditions, place the colander in a container filled with water up to the level of the colander’s base so it absorbs water from underneath; this method will also stop seeds from dispersing before germination. Use a light liquid feed between harvests to encourage more leaves to grow back for cutting.
YOU WILL NEED:
Colander with feet Thick cardstock ■ Pencil ■ Scissors ■ Hanging basket liner ■ Multipurpose potting mix ■ Large scoop or trowel ■ Watering can ■ Seeds: Batavia leaf lettuce and red leaf lettuce ■ ■
Grow Lettuce in Containers at Home Harvest lettuce right from your kitchen by planting it in a colander with these super-simple instructions. SOW RED AND GREEN LEAF LETTUCE SEEDS in a vintage colander for a stunning effect inspired by patchwork. It makes an impressive display at dinner parties where guests can cut their own fresh salad leaves. Time it right by sowing cut-and-come-again lettuce from spring to early fall and also through fall and into winter by using seasonal varieties. You should be cutting the first harvest in four to five weeks.
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1 . Place your colander upside down on some thick cardstock and draw around the rim. Draw another circle inside the outline, ¾ to 1½-inch smaller.
4. Fill the colander with multipurpose potting mix to just under the level of the liner, then tap the colander down on a hard surface to get rid of any air pockets and to level the surface.
2 . Within the smaller circle, draw your stencil design. Keep it simple; we divided the circle into four quadrants. Cut out your stencil, and keep all the shapes.
7. Remove stencils and sprinkle a layer of soil mix over all the seeds to lightly cover, then place in a warm, bright place, or outside in summer. Note that red lettuce seedlings will be green at first and then change to red as the plants mature. 5. Water the soil surface well at this stage so as not to disperse the seeds in the design.
AKEPONG/ADOBESTOCK OPPOSITE, BOTTOM
3 . Place a hanging-basket liner inside the colander—this will help to keep soil and moisture inside the container. Cut to shape, to just below the rim for a cleaner look.
6. Cover alternate sections of the design with stencils and sow lettuce seeds of one color. Then cover the sown areas with stencils and sow the remaining areas with the other lettuce seeds.
Images and text of Small Space Garden Ideas reprinted by permission of DK, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Philippa Pearson.
Grow, Make, Build
PLANS + PROJECTS
Water small pots daily, but ensure they do not become waterlogged.
Taller plants look great displayed next to the ladder.
Primroses require good drainage to prevent mildew disease.
Create an Indoor Ladder Flower Display A repurposed stepladder filled with pots of edible flowers bring color and versatility to your dĂŠcor (and your kitchen). COLORFUL FLOWERS bring warmth and beauty to any room. Edible flowers pull double duty, providing ornamentation as well as creative additions to salads, baked goods, cocktails and more. Pair tulip petals with goat cheese, decorate cakes with candied primroses or include pansies in a dinner salad. Lavender can be used in a variety of culinary delights, including lavender bread pudding (visit motherearthliving.com/lavender-breadpudding for the recipe).
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Displaying pots of growing flowers on a colorfully painted, upcycled stepladder in a sunny room is an effective way of ensuring the plants all receive enough light and space to thrive. Use a selection of seasonal blooms to create variety and color. The ladder takes roughly two to three hours to paint and assemble pots on, depending on size. Make sure your planter is placed in a bright, sunny room kept between 57 and 72 degrees. Water plants every day or two, and feed the plants weekly six weeks after planting.
Violas & pansies will flower for several weeks.
For a lavender plant, choose a large container with a drip tray.
IMAGES REPRINTED BY PERMISSION OF DK, A DIVISION OF PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE
1. Sand the stepladder, apply one coat of undercoat, and allow it to dry. Add one or two coats of paint (we recommend zero-VOC, clay or milk paint), allowing the first coat to dry thoroughly if you add a second coat. 2. Choose short-stemmed flowering plants that will sit comfortably on the steps. Select pots with drainage and place them on drip trays. Use multipurpose compost to pot the plants.
YOU WILL NEED:
Short wood stepladder Sandpaper ■ Undercoat and topcoat wood paint ■ Paintbrush ■ Containers and saucers of various sizes ■ Selection of flowers (consider using edible flowers such as pansies, lavender and carnations) ■ Multipurpose compost ■ Adhesive putty (optional) ■ Organic fertilizer ■ ■
3. If you wish, secure the bases or saucers of the containers to the steps with adhesive putty. Keep the plants well watered, checking on them daily. After six weeks, start feeding flowers with a liquid organic fertilizer using a watering can with a fine rose head.
Images and text of Indoor Edible Garden reprinted by permission of DK, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, copyright 2017 by Zia Allaway.
Cultivate Healthier Air These 12 common houseplants are scientifically proven to reduce indoor air pollution. BY S A R A H LO Z A N O VA DID YOU KNOW the EPA ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top five threats to human health? Indoor air pollution is associated with numerous ailments, including asthma, headaches, chemical hypersensitivity and even cancer. In large part because of chemicals that outgas from items such as furnishings, finishes and household cleaners, indoor concentrations of many pollutants are two to five times greater than outdoor levels. This is particularly concerning because many newer buildings are more efficiently sealed in the interest of energy efficiency, and most people spend up to 90 percent of their time inside. Fortunately, we can count on nature to be our health ally when it comes to creating healthier indoor air. In the late 1980s, NASA researchers studied the ability of houseplants to purify the air and remove toxic agents such as benzene (in glue, paint and auto fumes); formaldehyde (in particleboard, paper and carpets); and trichloroethylene (in paint stripper and spot remover). They released a list of air-filtering plants, and subsequent studies have shown similar benefits of houseplants. For example, researchers at Penn State University proved that three common houseplants—snake plant, spider plant and golden pothos—all reduced ozone in a simulated indoor environment. Grow the following plants in your home or office to breathe easier.
+ 4 Benefits of Indoor Plants HIGHER OXYGEN LEVELS: During photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Plants add oxygen to indoor air during the day. At night, most absorb some oxygen and release carbon dioxide. A few houseplants release oxygen at night—mainly succulents, moth orchid, dendrobium orchid, snake plant and bromeliads—making them ideal for the bedroom. LOWER MOLD AND BACTERIA COUNTS: A home filled with lots of houseplants has 50 to 60 percent fewer mold spores and bacteria. Houseplants emit substances called phytochemicals that suppress these microbes in indoor environments.
NATURAL HUMIDIFIER: Plants release moisture through their leaves. Use plants to keep indoor air within the ideal humidity range. Palms and ferns have high transpiration rates. Most indoor plants prefer higher humidity and may need their leaves misted with water for optimum health.
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IMPROVED MOOD: Studies from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, found that indoor plants reduce anger by 44 percent, anxiety by 37 percent, fatigue by 38 percent and depression by 58 percent. Amazingly, just one plant can make a difference.
Air-Cleaning Plants ALOE VERA: This purifying plant from South Africa is shown to clear the air of benzene and formaldehyde, both known human carcinogens. Unlike most plants, aloe actually releases oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide at night, making it ideal for bedrooms. Aloe gel is also medicinal, used externally to treat burns and internally for numerous ailments. It’s a sun-loving plant; don’t overwater it.
ARECA PALM: This palm, native to Madagascar, is among the best plants for removing a variety of toxins, especially formaldehyde. It likes bright, indirect light. Because of a high transpiration rate, it adds a lot of humidity to the air and needs to be watered regularly. This plant does not tolerate neglect; its tips will turn brown when moisture, light, temperature and fertilizer levels are not ideal.
DRACAENA ‘JANET CRAIG’: This is one of the best plants for clearing formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Although native to tropical Africa, this plant adapts well to indoor environments and can even endure some neglect. It likes moderate to bright indirect light. Water after the soil begins to dry out, and use a pot with drainage holes to avoid soggy soil.
DRAGON TREE: Native to Madagascar, this tree can grow up to 6 feet tall and is among the best plants for removing xylene, trichloroethylene and toluene (the latter is a solvent and additive to gasoline). This is another one of many houseplants belonging to the Dracaena genus and comes in four main varieties. It likes moist soil at all times, but not soggy soil. Keep the plant in semi-shade, and avoid strong, direct light.
ENGLISH IVY: An excellent choice for removing formaldehyde, benzene and
even airborne fecal matter, this native of Asia, Europe and North Africa is somewhat difficult to grow indoors. It prefers moist air, so mist leaves regularly when humidity is low and keep in bright light. Beware that the leaves are poisonous to pets and humans when ingested.
FICUS ‘AMSTEL KING’: Adept at clearing formaldehyde and a good general air purifier, the new ficus cultivar Ficus alii is rapidly gaining popularity. Native to Thailand, this plant is related to weeping fig (see entry at right), but less finicky and with long pointed leaves. Water thoroughly, allowing the top ½ inch of soil to dry out between waterings, and provide bright, indirect light
GERBERA DAISY: This lovely plant from Africa adds a splash of color to the room and removes a variety of chemical vapors from the air, notably formaldehyde and benzene. It makes a delightful plant in the summer garden, and if brought indoors in the fall, it may continue to flower through the winter. This is a relatively difficult indoor plant that requires bright light and moderate temperatures.
PEACE LILY: This lily is adept at removing a variety of alcohols and chemical vapors, including acetone, benzene, ammonia, formaldehyde and xylene, and it scored among the top plants tested for removing several toxins. This easy-to-grow lily can raise humidity levels by up to 5 percent, a helpful feat in dry climates. They enjoy semi-
sun to semi-shade and being watered a lot at once, then being allowed to dry out.
RUBBER PLANT: This handsome houseplant from southeast Asia, known botanically as Ficus elastica, is near the top of the list for removing formaldehyde. Under proper conditions, a rubber plant can reach a height of 8 feet. Rubber plant is extremely forgiving. Ideally, it prefers bright, indirect light; regular watering; and mist on its leaves when the air is dry.
SNAKE PLANT: Native to West Africa, this evergreen perennial clears smog, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air. Like aloe, the snake plant produces oxygen and removes carbon dioxide at nighttime, making it ideal for bedrooms and other low-light rooms. This plant can with stand considerable neglect and infrequent watering.
SPIDER PLANT: This flowering perennial is native to Africa and removes smog, formaldehyde, benzene and xylene—found in auto exhaust, synthetic perfume and paint. A NASA study found this plant could remove 96 percent of the carbon monoxide and 99 percent of the nitrogen dioxide within a sealed chamber. It thrives in a variety of environments, but prefers medium to bright light. Avoid extended amounts of direct sun.
WEEPING FIG: These popular tropical trees, known botanically as Ficus benjamina, are excellent at removing a variety of pollutants, including formaldehyde, xylene and toluene. They come in three main varieties: a bush, a standard tree and a braided tree with entwined trunks. Weeping fig has a tendency to drop its leaves when moved. They enjoy full to semi-sun and moist soil.
SARAH LOZANOVA is a holistic parenting coach and a freelance environmental writer who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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Try these simple, effective and nontoxic indoor pest-control methods.
the seasons change, we confront various household pestsâ€”from spring through fall, mice, ants and other critters come out to forage, build nests and reproduce, sometimes finding our homes the ideal locale for these activities. Although some of these animals can cause damage to our homes, few of them cause damage equal to the negative environmental and health effects of chemical pesticides. When you find a trail of ants or evidence of a mouse in your home, try these natural and nontoxic solutions rather than turning to harmful chemical pesticides.
If you have just one or two fire ant mounds in your garden or landscape and not a widespread problem, drench the mounds with a citrus oil and soap solution, a combination that’s repeatedly proved effective. In controlled studies conducted by Texas A&M University entomologists, the researchers had significantly less active fire ant mounds for as long as a month after they drenched the mounds with a mixture of 11⁄2 ounces Medina Orange Oil, 3 ounces Dawn liquid soap and 1 gallon water. A compound in citrus oil, d-limonene, breaks down the ants’ exoskeletons and causes them to suffocate. The commercial product Orange Guard Fire Ant Control—approved for use in organic agriculture by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI)—also contains orange oil. (For other approved products, check the OMRI website, omri.org.) If your fire ant problem is more extensive than a mound or two, step up your response with the “Texas Two-Step” method recommended by Texas A&M University extension specialists for fire ant control in home vegetable gardens and landscapes.
I like ants. I like insects that work toward tomorrow. But there comes a limit. I have some very small ants that get up on my sink and countertop. I have dogs, so I don’t like using harmful chemicals around my house, and I do my best to get the ants back outside. But I can do just so much before it’s time to mix up water and vinegar in a spray bottle (about 1 part water to 1 part vinegar). This concoction stops the ants in their tracks. Another mixture that also works for me is dish soap and water in a spray bottle. JOHN KEATTS, LAS VEGAS
STEP 1: Once or twice a year, broadcast a fire ant bait product that contains spinosad—a natural metabolite produced by a soil microorganism—as its active ingredient. Foraging ants will carry the spinosad granules back to their nest, and the granules will kill the colony within a few days to a few weeks. For best results, apply fresh granules when ants are active (when soil temperature is between 70 and 95 degrees) and rain is not in the forecast. Payback Fire Ant Bait is a spinosad product approved for organic use by OMRI. STEP 2: If you spot new fire ant activity in your garden or a surrounding area between applications of Step 1, treat individual mounds with either more of the spinosad granules, the Medina Orange Oil/soap solution, Orange Guard, or very hot water. VICKI MATTERN, COURTESY MOTHER EARTH NEWS
I recently read an article that claimed orange peels can kill ants. An extract found in the peels, d-limonene, kills the ants by destroying the wax coating on the insects’ respiratory systems. Soon after, while cooking breakfast one morning, I discovered ants in our bacon grease container. I placed equal amounts of orange peel and water into a blender to form a paste. I placed the orange paste on a small plate so that any ant’s access to the bacon grease required crossing— and making direct, prolonged contact with—the paste. According to my experience, this barrier of orange paste will work for at least 72 hours. WARD STERN, NEW HOPE, ALABAMA
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If you find a trail of ants marching across your kitchen countertop, it’s easy to panic. However, several natural options work well to block ants’ paths and discourage future entry: diatomaceous earth (read more on page 93), orange peels, vinegar and lemon water are all purported to mask the scent trails ants leave for one another and deter future invasions. This is not true when it comes to fire ants. When it comes to these invaders, shelve the grits, baking soda, club soda, vinegar, molasses, plaster of Paris, aspartame, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and coffee grounds! In scientific testing, none of these home remedies worked worth a lick against the red imported fire ant—a nasty, non-native species that’s invaded the South, from Florida to Texas, and is spreading westward into California. Although most ant species are neutral or even beneficial, this one can ruin a garden in no time by devouring germinating seeds, tunneling into potatoes and tomatoes, and girdling young fruit trees—and they’ll bite and sting you, too. Drought makes these ants even more voracious, as it prompts them to turn to garden crops for moisture.
Mice are highly misunderstood animals, and this sad truth means that every year humans use careless and often ineffective measures to eradicate mice from their homes. Contrary to popular belief, these little animals are intelligent, able to empathize with one another, and extremely organized and tidy. Natural deterrents can discourage mice from settling in your home, but when those fail, kind methods allow for proper removal without the need to kill or harm that mouse in the house.
INHUMANE AND INEFFECTIVE MEASURES: Humans often perceive
mice to be more problematic than they actually are, and this can result in wanting to euthanize the animal through common products such as glue traps, mouse traps and poison. These measures are extremely cruel, often leading to slow, agonizing deaths. To make matters worse, these methods don’t do anything to control the rodent population in the long run. In fact, they tend to make matters worse. When a mouse is killed, this simply means more food for the remaining mice. And well-fed mice lead to more abundant breeding.
home with a sealant and insulation. You can also try rodent repellents; some people report that ammoniasoaked cloths are helpful. HUMANE TRAPPING METHODS: If any mice linger after these deterrents are used, they can be humanely trapped with live cages. Insert peanut butter at the back of the trap so mice fully enter and don’t get their tails caught in the trap door. It’s also easy to make DIY traps: Place peanut butter inside a small trash can, then stagger books along one side so the mouse can climb the books and jump into the trash can, but can’t jump back out. After the mouse is trapped, place a towel over the top, then release the animal. “House mice and rodents that have lived in buildings for their entire lives will have a slim chance of surviving outdoors,” according to the Humane Society. “If possible, relocate mice to an outbuilding like a shed or garage.” Check traps regularly, as dehydration occurs within only a few hours. If you’ll be away for many hours, move traps where mice can’t get in.
About Mice Mice are often unfairly portrayed as dirty rodents, but they are actually fascinating, gentle creatures. For instance, mice: Communicate with one another vocally beyond the auditory capabilities of human ears. ■ Use facial expressions to convey moods. ■ Designate separate areas or compartments within their homes for food, shelter and toileting purposes. ■ Typically stay within 10 to 26 feet of their nest, even when searching for food. ■ Can fit their bodies through holes as tiny as dimes. ■ Use their whiskers to determine temperature changes and detect smooth and rough textures. ■
KAYLA MATTHEWS, COURTESY MOTHER EARTH NEWS
NATURAL DETERRENTS: Perhaps the most effective way to rid our homes of mice is through the use of natural deterrents; keeping our homes free of food debris, crumbs and loosely bagged food is a must in order to deter rodent inhabitation. Keep countertops clean and ensure food and pet food are kept in strong containers that can’t be chewed through. Tightly seal trash with lids, and don’t leave pet food out at night. Fix any holes or cracks within the WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
comes to roaches, the best offense is a strong defense: Caulk your home. Get a $25 air-powered gun and use an air compressor ($300, or $50 a day to rent). Avoid any brand that contains a binder based on natural gum. You may find a caulk that contains boric acid, a mild but effective cockroach toxin. Then, seal yourself in. Fill cracks in the walls and ceiling; between walls, ceilings and floors; and around doors and windows. Plug holes carrying wires and plumbing. Remove and caulk entrances of outlets, switches, fixtures and cables. Stuff roach- (and mouse-) repelling steel wool into cavities too large to caulk, and tack aluminum flashing over large holes and caulk around them. Install screen in a caulking gasket behind the outlet fixture of all air vents. If roaches still manage to squeeze in, you can use powdered boric acid and a dust blower to dust their entry points. Find instructions at motherearthnews.com/roaches. COURTESY MOTHER EARTH NEWS
Nobody will ever be able to permanently get rid of our friendly “companion” the cockroach. The bugs were on the planet long before man, and they’ll likely still be twitching their antennae millions of years after Homo sapiens have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Of course, you could call in an expensive professional “fogger,” whose liberal applications of spray will do in a great number of bugs (and not do your health any good, either). But these poisons have little effect on the hidden egg sacs; before the insecticide smell has left your food, new roaches will appear to take the place of the fallen. These insects are nigh on invincible. But Ms. Roach does have one weakness: She dearly loves a little drink now and then. All it takes to get the pests’ attention is about a quarter inch of sweet wine in a bowl. Leave this libation in the bugs’ stompin’ grounds, turn off your lights, and go to bed. The roaches will smell the stuff (you can count on it), head for that container with a will, clamber up the sides, and guzzle away. After a few sips (not many insects can hold their liquor) the carousers will fall, drunk, into the bowl and won’t be able to muster up the coordination or ambition to get back out again. If roaches can giggle, they must surely titter while they drown. It doesn’t matter how many leggy corpses are already afloat in the fatal pool. New bugs will keep on fighting their way in to meet the same soggy death. This “booze bomb” has to be about the quickest, cleanest, most effective method of roach control. BOYD HILL, COURTESY MOTHER EARTH NEWS
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Cockroaches are one of the most successful organisms on earth. They’ve been around for 350 million years and survived several global catastrophes— including the extinction of the dinosaurs. Their evolutionary tenacity is attributable to their appetite: Roaches will eat any organic matter—from dried wallpaper paste to pizza crumbs. Our revulsion toward them seems as deeply ingrained as their ability to survive, and with good reason: They carry mites and disease, and their droppings can trigger asthma attacks. Cockroach complaints are common in cities because underground conduits for trains, sewage, natural gas, water and wiring connect buildings, and these subterranean networks teem with several species of cockroach. Roaches are attracted by anything they find edible, but obsessive cleanliness will get you only so far. Roaches can survive, even thrive, on specks of leather that flake off of shoes and the dust that falls from natural-fiber clothes. When it
Most spider species are venomous, but in North America only a few— primarily the brown recluse, the black widow and the hobo spider of the Pacific Northwest—have the potential to inflict serious harm on humans. (Also, the yellow sac spider—a recently introduced species from Europe that’s becoming increasingly common in the eastern U.S.—can inflict a painful “hornet-like” bite that can be serious.) Meanwhile, billions of harmless spiders consume vast quantities of insects, serving as one of our planet’s most important pest controls. Still, poisonous spider bites are no laughing matter. Fortunately, they’re easy to avoid. Follow these common-sense rules: BE ESPECIALLY wary in little-used, undisturbed places such as basements, outbuildings, brush piles, crawl spaces, attics and closets. Look carefully before you reach into the back of that old dresser drawer! ■ SHAKE BLANKETS and towels that have been stored or piled for awhile. The same is true for rags, laundry, shoes and clothing. ■ WEAR GLOVES, long pants and long sleeves when raking leaves, cleaning out a shed or basement, or fetching firewood from a woodpile. Knock one log against another before picking it up, and watch for any spider activity. ■ REMOVE ANY LITTER or clutter in basements, attics, garages and sheds that might provide shelter for spiders. ■ IF YOU THINK a spider has bitten you, apply an ice pack to the area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour for four to six hours to reduce the pain and itching. If you suspect you’ve been bitten by a poisonous spider, seek immediate medical attention. ■
We look for ways to keep spiders out of our living areas without killing them, because of their appetite for other unwelcome insects. Sprays are available, but the chemicals in them can be dangerous. After research, we found our solution in a bar of Ivory soap. We grate a bar and sprinkle a pinch of the flakes into every corner of the house, replacing with fresh flakes monthly. Using this, we’ve been able to control the spider population in our house, which is amazing because we live in a small cabin surrounded by forest. Sometimes we find small spiders in our vehicles, too, so now we sprinkle the grated soap under the seats. MARY ANN REESE, MAPLE FALLS, WASHINGTON
All About Diatomaceous Earth Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a powder made from fossilized crustaceans called diatoms. DE’s sharp edges cut into insects’ bodies, causing them to die of dehydration. Diatomaceous earth is most useful in dry situations—for example, puffing it into crevices where cockroaches have been seen. In the first few days after treatment, cockroaches may become more visible as they search for water, but will die within two weeks. DE becomes less effective when wet, yet still can be used in the garden to make life difficult for newly emerged Japanese beetles or cutworms. In dry weather, DE spread beneath plants will kill slugs. When buying DE, be sure to buy a product listed as “food grade” and store it in its original container on a high shelf, out of the reach of children and pets, in a dry place. WHICH PESTS DOES DE CONTROL? Most indoor invaders, including roaches, silverfish, spiders and even fleas are impacted by DE. Including DE in chickens’ dust bath mixture helps prevent problems with lice. DE can also help control fleas on dogs and reduce parasites in horses, pigs and other animals.
■ HOW TO USE DE: Lightly sprinkle dry DE on the soil’s surface where slugs, newly emerged Japanese beetles, or other unwanted pests will come into direct contact with the dry particles. Renew after rain or heavy dew. Indoors, use a bulb puffer to blow DE into crevices where bugs are likely to hide. You also can puff DE onto newly hatched larvae of many pests, including squash bugs, Mexican bean beetles and Colorado potato beetles.
HONEYBEES AND OTHER BENEFICIAL INSECTS have no way to protect themselves from the mechanical effects of DE. When applying DE to plants that are likely to be visited by bees, cover them with an old sheet after treatment so the DE will target pests and the bees can’t get to the plants. Later, uncover the plants and rinse away the DE with a fine spray of water.
BARBARA PLEASANT, COURTESY MOTHER EARTH NEWS
COURTESY MOTHER EARTH NEWS WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
A Guide to Drying Herbs & Spices Growing and drying herbs and spices is among the easiest forms of food preservation. BY TA BITHA ALTE RMAN
Herb and Spice Drying Basics According to The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst, culinary herbs are leaves, while spices are obtained from the bark, berries, buds (and even flower stigmas), fruit, roots and seeds of plants. Spices are almost always used in dried form, whereas
herbs can be used fresh or dried. Here are a few examples: bark (cinnamon); berries (peppercorns); buds (lavender); fruit (chili peppers, vanilla beans); leaf (cilantro, parsley); roots (garlic, horseradish); seeds (coriander); and stigma (saffron). To preserve your homegrown herbs, harvest them in midmorning before newly developed essential oils have been burned off by the sun, but after the dew has dried. Remove old, dead, diseased or wilted leaves. Washing fresh herbs usually isn’t necessary if they are grown organically. When you harvest seed spices, the seed heads should begin to turn brown and harden, but not yet be ready to shatter. To harvest herbs for their flowers—such as chamomile flowers or thyme spikes—snip flower buds off the plants close to the first day the buds open. Fully dried herbs and spices are safe from bacteria, mold and yeast, and will remain potent for at least six to 12 months. To remove moisture, all you need is air circulation. Some warmth can also help. The following six methods fit the bill. INDOOR AIRDRYING: To air-dry herbs on stems, tie stems in bundles and hang the herbs upside down in a warm, dry place (avoid the kitchen, a source of steam and cooking vapors). Use twist-ties or thingauge wire so you can easily tighten the bundles as the drying stems shrink. Wrap bundles with muslin, a mesh produce bag or a paper bag with several holes, and tie it at the neck. If you’re drying individual leaves, flowers or sprigs, make a drying screen from an old window screen, or hardware cloth or mesh stapled to a wooden frame. Lay cheesecloth over the screen, and place herbs on the cloth. Once herbs are fully dry, which can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, prepare them for storage as outlined in “Storing Dried Herbs & Spices” at right.
94 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
+ Storing Dried Herbs & Spices Herbs have finished drying when the leaves crumble easily and no longer feel leathery—but don’t crumble them. Whole leaves and seeds retain their oils better in storage. Store dried herbs in airtight jars out of direct light and away from heat. Label jars with the date and contents, including the variety. After a few days, check new jars for droplets of moisture or mold. Throw out anything moldy, and redry anything that creates moisture in the jar. Although whole herbs and spices hold up better, having premixed ground blends, such as those for Italian, Mexican or barbecue dishes, can be a big time-saver (to make an Italian herb blend, mix 2½ tablespoons each dried oregano and basil, and 1 generous tablespoon dried marjoram). Grind ingredients with a mortar and pestle. When using dried herbs in recipes that call for fresh, keep in mind that oils in dried herbs are more concentrated. Use about half the amount of dried herbs, and about a quarter as much if the herb is finely ground. Tea blends are also useful, such as a combination of peppermint and fennel to calm an upset stomach. To use herbs in teas, pour boiling water over 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon (to taste) of the dried herb and steep for five to 10 minutes. Strain and enjoy.
WHEN IT COMES TO PRESERVING our own food, growing and drying herbs is one of the best jumping-off points. Many herbs are incredibly easy to grow, and most contain so little moisture that the preservation job is done soon after they’re harvested. Drying herbs and spices also makes good economic sense considering the cost of high-quality seasonings and teas. And when we grow our own, we know we are getting herbs that are both fresh and organic. Lastly, when you grow your own herbs, you can grow the particular varieties that appeal to you and experiment with creating your own custom herb blends.
SOLAR DRYING: This method is ideal for warm, dry weather around 100 degrees and 60 percent humidity or less. In these conditions, use the sun’s heat to dry herbs. Don’t expose herbs to too much direct sunlight as they might bleach. Solar drying can be as low-tech as placing drying screens outside until your herbs are brittle (bring them in at night). You can also dry herbs under the windshield or rear window of your car on a hot day. Or build your own solar food dehydrator with stackable drying screens, a glass top to trap radiation, an absorber plate to transmit heat and a vent for air circulation. Find building plans online at motherearthliving.com/herb-drying-guide. REFRIGERATOR DRYING: This simple method basically amounts to neglect. Just stick
them in the fridge and forget about them for a few days. This handy tip was discovered by the late herb authority Madalene Hill and her daughter Gwen Barclay. By accident, they discovered that herbs left alone (out of packaging) in a cold, dry refrigerator dried beautifully crisp and also retained their color, flavor and fragrance. They even liked this method for parsley and chives, which don’t have the best reputation for keeping great flavor in dried form. The challenge is finding enough room to let herbs sit uncovered for a few days. If your fridge has available space, by all means, give it a try. DEHYDRATING WITH A MACHINE: Commercial food dehydrators range in price from $30 to $400, but for most of us, a machine that costs $100 to $200 is the best choice. Quality dehydrators have handy features such as timers and adjustable temperature control. Stored in a convenient spot, you’ll use your dehydrator often and recoup its cost in a season or two of grocery savings. Most dehydrators have a temperature-control mechanism—ideally one you can adjust—and a fan to circulate air. Round models with multiple stacking trays are the most energy-efficient. Box-type models that allow you to remove some of the trays can be handy for drying large items and serve other purposes such as proofing bread dough or culturing yogurt. Follow your machine’s instructions.
OVEN DRYING: Although drying herbs and spices in an oven sounds easy (most of us already have one and know how to use it), this is actually the most labor-intensive and least energy-efficient method. Herbs need to be dried at about 100 degrees, but most ovens don’t go that low. They also need air circulation, and some ovens don’t have vents. If you wish to dry your herbs this way, it’s best to get an oven thermometer and experiment. Try turning the oven on warm or its lowest setting for a while, then turning it off (while leaving the light on). You can also try propping the door open slightly with a wooden spoon. Note how long it takes for the temperature to drop to 100 degrees and how long it stays at that temperature. Herbs are easier than fruits and vegetables to oven-dry—they dry more quickly and are more forgiving. If you plan to learn how to use your oven for food dehydration, start with herbs. Layer them on a cheesecloth over a wire cooling rack to allow for air circulation, and place the rack in the middle of the oven at about 100 degrees. MICROWAVE DRYING: The microwave can successfully dry herbs, but note that fooddrying experts don’t recommend it for drying foods that have more moisture. It’s not as easy as air-drying or using an electric dehydrator. To dry herbs in a microwave, strip leaves off the stems and place the leaves between layers of paper towels. Begin on high power for one minute, allow a 30-second rest, and then alternate between 30 seconds on high power and 30 seconds of rest. Most herbs should dry fully in 10 minutes or less. TABITHA ALTERMAN is the Food & Garden editor for Mother Earth Living.
Choosing Herbs & Spices for Drying There are more herbs and spices on this planet than we could possibly list here—the following are commonly grown in home gardens in North America and are good candidates for drying. Some herbs, although they can be dried, retain their flavor better if frozen. These include basil, borage, chive, cilantro, lemongrass, mint and parsley. To freeze herbs, chop them and put them in ice cube trays, then cover with water and freeze. Alternatively, mix chopped herbs with a bit of olive oil and freeze. Use frozen herbs in dishes where they will melt easily such as soups, sauces and stir-fries. ■
LEAVES: Bay, celery, chervil, dill, geranium, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lovage, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, summer savory, tarragon, thyme SEEDS: Anise, caraway, celery,
chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, mustard ■
FLOWERS: Bee balm, chamomile, chive, dill, geranium, lavender, linden, marigold, nasturtium, rose, thyme, yarrow
FRUITS: Hot peppers
ROOTS: Garlic, ginger, horseradish (Note these take much longer to dry than seed spices and leaf herbs. It’s useful to cut them into thin slices first.) WWW.MOTHEREARTHNEWS.COM
96 THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS GUIDE TO GROWING HERBS INDOORS
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"I grow plants for many reasons: to please my eye or to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty or for nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow."
Let nature be your teacher. â€”William Wordsworth
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