Friday, April 29, 2011

Something a bit different…

Besides being the “Crime Fighter”
I am a Penn State Master Gardener and a Master Herbalist.
Plants are my other passion…. They can heal you, feed you and make you happy!

 I have an earache:
2000 B.C. -Here, eat this root.
1000 A.D. -That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.
1850 A.D. -That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.
1940 A.D. -That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.
1985 A.D. -That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic.
2000 A.D. -That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.

If you are interested …here is the Handout for my Class I am teaching at our Master Gardener seminar at Penn State Tomorrow.

   Herb Gardening  

Many of the plants we grow such as annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees are herbs in the true sense of the word. Herbs are defined as any “useful” plant.

HERB gardens are fun and easy to grow. They also take up little space. Many growers put herb gardens up against their house or garage wall, so they can walk out and pick the herbs they need for the day's meal. Tip: If you are growing perennials or biennials herbs, make sure to plan your garden so as not to disturb them the next year.

MOST herbs grow best in well drained, fairly fertile soil with a neutral pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Seeds can be sown indoors or out.

 DON’T be afraid to experiment!  There is no need to have a so-called “Herb Garden”, plant them in with your flowers or in pots. Remember, everyone’s soil is different. Just try to find plants that like your soil and environment.

FEW pests affect the herb family. In fact, some herbs, such as garlic, are used in organic pesticide formulas. Occasionally mites and aphids can bother a number of herb varieties.
Disease is not too common among the herb family. Most herbs prefer full sun.

IF you grow your own herbs you can snip small amounts for cooking all season long. You can easily dry or freeze some for a year-round supply of good quality herbs. Your own preparations will probably be of higher quality than anything found in the supermarkets and of course, much cheaper. The best time to cut herbs for drying is just before they flower. This is when the leaves have the most oil, which is what gives herbs aroma and flavor. Different varieties of herbs flower at different times of the season, so look for buds or newly opened flowers as your clue for harvesting. Cut herbs in mid-morning or on a cloudy day when the leaves are dry but before the hot midday sun.

Storing Herbs -  Dried herbs store well for up to a year. Their strength can be judged by their aroma. Dried herbs can be stored whole or crushed, but whole herbs retain their flavor longer. To ensure optimum quality, store in rigid containers with airtight seals.

Choose ceramic jars or darkened glass containers to help protect the herbs against light deterioration. Make sure herb leaves are completely dry to prevent mold growth during storage. Label all storage containers with the herb's name and date. Store in a cool, dry place.

Quick-frozen herbs will keep up to two years in the freezer if well wrapped. Seal in airtight plastic bags, label with the herb's name, and date.


Basil - (Ocimum basilicum). Both green and 'Dark Opal' basil are attractive plants for the garden. Grows to 18 inches; space 12 inches between plants. Plant seeds in well-drained, medium-rich soil. Likes sunny, sheltered spot. Space mature plants 12 inches apart. Can be grown in containers. Plant in rich soil and clip to first pair of leaves from base. Cut stems 6 to 8 inches above ground when plant starts to flower. Hang upside down in warm, dry, dark room, or dry individual leaves on cheesecloth or netting screens. When dry, leaves crumble easily. Store whole or crushed in airtight containers. To freeze, wash leaves, pack in ice cube trays and fill with water. When frozen, remove cubes and store in plastic bags. Defrost in a strainer and use as fresh. Basil is very good to use to flavor tomato juice, vinegars and tomato pastes.
Parsley- Good border plant. Finely curled, aromatic leaves are rich in vitamins A and C. Used as flavoring or garnish for soups, salads, eggs, meat and poultry dishes, creamed vegetables and hot breads. Plant in medium-rich soil in sun or part shade. Space mature plants 6-8 inches. Good in pots indoors or out if roots given enough room. Keep leaves producing by never allowing plant to flower. Parsley can be dried as for basil, but the flavor is better if frozen. To freeze, see basil.
DILL (Anethum graveolens) This is an easily grown annual with feathery foliage. Blossoms are tiny and pale yellow. Plant seeds in medium-rich, sandy, well-drained soil in sun. Needs wind protection. Avoid transplanting. May be staked when 18 inches tall. Thin seedlings to 12 inches apart. Do not plant near fennel or they may cross-pollinate. Cut young leaves and spread in a thin layer to dry until brittle. Crumble leaves and store in an airtight container. To collect seeds, cut flower umbel stalks or pull entire plant from ground. Hang upside down in a sunny place to dry. Shake seeds out when dry. Store in airtight containers. Grows to 21/2 feet. May be spaced as close as 4 inches apart. Self-sows readily. Fine for use in pickling and to flavor meats.
 Rosemary- Plant seedlings in well-drained soil in a sunny, sheltered spot. Space mature plants 6 inches apart. Bring inside in the winter. If brought inside to winter, provides fresh leaves throughout the year. To dry, cut stems and hang upside down in a cool, airy place. When dry, crumble and store in airtight containers. Used in vegetable and meat dishes, cream soups, sauces and jellies.
CHIVES (Allium scboenoprasum) This is a perennial plant growing from bulblets. They are really very easy to grow from seed. Mature plants grow to 12, inches; space 6 inches apart. They are very hardy even in cold locations. Flowers are pretty enough so that chives can be grown as a border or in the rock garden. Plant bulbs or starter clumps in light, medium-rich soil in sunny place. Cut flower stalks to the ground after blooming. Thin clumps every third spring. Space mature plants 5 inches apart. Transfer some clumps to grow in containers indoors or out. Use leaves fresh by snipping off the tops with scissors. Chives lose their color and flavor when dried. To freeze, wash and chop finely, then continue as for basil. Fine in salads, egg dishes and sauces of all kinds. Potted up, chives will grow on a sunny windowsill in winter.
Thyme - Small shrub with tiny, brownish-green leaves. The leaves have wonderful aroma and flavor. Good with roast meats, fish chowders, sauces, soups, stews, stuffings and salads. Makes a flavorful tea. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun. Clip back each spring. Space mature plants 10 inches apart. Good in containers indoors or out. Cut sprigs before the plant flowers. Hang in a dry, shady place for a few weeks, then rub leaves from stems and store in airtight containers.
 Oregano - Flavor similar to sweet marjoram, but stronger and more sage-like. Plant in light, well-drained soil in full sun. Shelter from cold winds. Space mature plants 12 inches apart. Can be grown in containers indoors or out if roots given enough room.
LAVENDER (Lavandula). This is a hardy perennial with gray foliage and spikes of fragrant lavender flowers, which when dried are used to perfume the linen chest and for sachets. Great in teas and cakes.  Lavender is a member of the large mint family and does well in situations with full sun and dry, well-drained, average soil.   Though there are around 30 varieties, the most popular for the home garden are the hardy English. Lavender is a tough plant and is extremely drought resistant, once established. However, when first starting you lavender plants, don't be afraid to give them a handful of compost in the planting hole and to keep them regularly watered during their first English lavender is considered the top choice for fragrance purposes, but all the lavenders make lovely, fragrant additions to almost any type of home situation, as long as they are given very well-drained soil and lots of sunlight.  Pick before the heads bloom. Dry easily when hung free in a dry garage or attic.
MINT (Mentha spicata) Mint is very easy to grow. It is a hardy perennial and spreads by root stolons. It grows to 2 feet and is rather sprawling, in habit. ( plant in pots buried in ground with bottoms cut out) Fine to use for mint jelly and in mint juleps, lemonade and other fruit drinks. Experiment with different varieties.
A cup of peppermint tea or pinch of oregano in your tomato sauce will bring back pleasant memories of your garden on those cold winter days.
          Ideally, most herbs should be harvested several times a year. In the fall, the annual herbs can be cut right down, but the perennial herbs should only be harvested lightly at the end of the growing season to ensure a strong healthy plant in the spring.

          Before drying your herbs, strip the leaves off the stems. If you feel that they are dirty, you could wash them and let them air out a bit on a paper towel.

          Herbs are dried when they become very crispy and they crumble easily, but do leave them whole until you are ready to use them. They should be placed in a clean,  dry, glass jar with a tight fitting lid.

Never use a plastic bag to store them. Label them & keep them out of direct sunlight. If you dried them in the microwave, be sure they are cool before storing in the jar. Whichever way you choose to dry your herbs, it will certainly be worth the effort.

                            by Charlotte Raup, Penn State Master Gardener

1 comment:

  1. When I dry herbs, I leave them as whole as possible. One herb I have dried is marajoram and I cut the stems and bundle them in very small bundles with string and hang in a dry ventilated space to dry.

    After they are good and dry, I vacuum seal them either in a jar or in bags. I think the less they are broken up, the more flavor they will retain.