Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Herbs for Summer Tea

You've seen them, the Storey Country Wisdom Bulletins. They are small, about 30 pages and the subjects have to do with self-sufficiency. How to can a tomato, neuter a bull, kill a coyote, dress a goose - that kind of thing. They are succinct, to the point and helpful. I happened upon one recently entitled 15 HERBS FOR TEA by Marian Sebastiano. I paid my (still a bargain at) $3.95 and rushed to find out what are the 15 herbs for tea. I am now going to tell you what they are according to Ms. Sebastiano: Anise Hyssop, Basil, Calendula, Catnip, Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Marigold 'Lemon Gem' and 'Orange Gem', Lemon Verbena, Mint, Mondarda (aka Bee Balm), Pineapple Sage, Rosemary, Sage, and Scented Geraniums. I have all those plants. And I would add a couple more to this list, specifically Mexican Mint Marigold (Texas Tarragon), Oregano and Thyme.
Usually it is the leaf that you use - though lavender and chamomile flowers are used most often. Bruise the leaf and steep it in hot water til it reaches the strength that appeals to you. Sweeten with honey if you care to. For iced teas, use more herbs for a stronger tea (to accomodate the ice cubes) and add drama with edible flowers such as borage or lavender frozen in the ice cubes.
The photo above is of a container of herbs which includes Lemon Gem Marigold, Lemon Verbena, Golden Sage and Thyme - all of which make wonderful teas. Use the leaf and the flower of the Marigold, the leaf of the others. I would sweeten teas made of these herbs, though you may choose not. Experiment. Combine herbs in creative ways. Garnish with edible flowers and selected leaves. Enjoy!

August Farm Reading

More about this lull business. Take advantage of this quiet time in the garden to pick some luscious herb leaves for a sun tea, fill a tall glass and rest awhile with a good book. Here are a couple that I have just read that made me very happy. The first is FARM CITY: The Education of a Urban Farmer. It's published by The Penguin Press and is written by Novella Carpenter. It is a charming and often funny odyssey into urban farming. The writer and her fine fellow rent a house in one of the more rambunctious neighborhoods in Oakland, CA largely because there is an empty lot next door where she imagines she can put in a squatted garden. And, she can and does. Not enough, though, she orders the Homesteaders' Delight from Murray McMurray - one of the finest purveyors of mail order poultry, and receives her box of day old chicks, ducklings, goslings and, yes, poults (that's baby turkeys). It is a lovely moment as we watch her unpack her babies, dunk their beaks into sugar water, and set them free into their new brooder box. She graduates from poultry to rabbits and pigs, all the while gardening her empty lot, keeping bees, feeding the mostly poor neighbors, and sidestepping those who might mean to do her harm. It's satisfying book by a creative and energetic young woman that you will want to read and pass on to good friends.
WICKED PLANTS: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities is by Amy Stewart. I love the feel of this book; its size and shape and the fact that it has a golden ribbon sewn in to hold your place. It is illustrated - with etchings by Briny Morrow-Cribbs and drawings by Jonathon Rosen - terrific images of the plants and editorial images. You will find some old familiar wicked weeds, and you will meet some new ones that you might have thought were friendly (corn) but which can be deadly. I have suddenly developed an insatiable curiosity about Old World Herbs and this book was a must for my learning curve, and quite amusing, too. The book is based on scientific fact (it is mentioned in Scientific American as an Also Notable recommendation) but it is fun to read and enlightening. You must forever beware the squirting cucumber!

Monday, July 27, 2009

August Lull

August is a quiet time in the garden. The cucumbers have been picked and the new plants are just beginning to bud. The squash plants look tired. Lots of green tomatoes but it will still be a week or more before they come on strong. The tomato spiders even look slow. The green onions are gone, the radishes are gone, the lettuce has gone to seed, and the chard is burned. And I am tired. I need a break from gardening. So I think I will take a break, leave town for a week, have someone else water and weed for a time. And THAT is the August lull. There will soon be plenty to do - pick out the old plants, refresh the soil, plan for the fall crops and decide how many overwintering plants will go in this year; garlic, Walla Walla onions, fennel, peas, and some fava beans, of course, for so many reasons.
I am thinking about some new plants to try; some Old World herbs with mysterious pasts; many with names that end in 'wort' - St. John's, Mug, Mother, Rupture, Salt, and many more worts. It's time to give the seeds a try and see what works, what looks good, smells good, is safe to grow in your garden, and connects us happily to our ancient past.
And it is time to Blog - catch up with this idea of writing and thinking about plants for the garden in new ways. Glad to be back - stay tuned.