Herbs: An Overview

When thinking of gardening, cooking, eating healthy, one cannot get away from the beauty and necessity of herbs.  Regardless of your goal- to grow healthy food for you and your family, to attract butterflies, to make your gardens beautiful or to simply delight your senses- herbs fit the bill.

For the most part, herbs are perennials and hardy.  Even in our erratic weather patterns in Texas, herbs have performed very well for me and have brought me much satisfaction and joy.  As with most fresh food, when you have tasted the flavors of fresh sage, thyme, rosemary and more- you can never go back to the herb dust you can purchase off the shelves in the supermarkets.  The taste is just so amazing.  And by fresh, I also mean the herbs harvested and dried by your own hands.

And just to clarify a few terms:

Herbaceous– means that a plant dies back to the ground in winter, but comes back each spring.  You can have plants that are not herbs but are herbaceous and Herbs that are not herbaceous!

Perennial– a plant that returns year after year, can be evergreen or herbaceous.

Below is a tip sheet that will help you get stated in the wonderful world of herbs.

Many more articles on particular herbs and gardening are located in the Herb Category and in the Organic Gardening Category.

basil in the crate

Herbs- From Garden to Table

What To Plant Where

A large majority of herbs are perennials and biennials, so they will be with you for quite a while when choosing herbs:

  1. Consider their origin- did they come from wooded areas, desert areas, wet areas etc. and group like plants together.
  2. Consider water requirements of each plant
  3. Consider growth habits: height, cold hardy, heat tolerant, upright or rambler, etc.
  4. Consider their function:
  • For culinary use- what and how do you cook
  • Attract pollinators or repel insects
  • Or just for looks
  • Medicinal

Each of these points will help you determine where in your garden to locate the plants.  Obviously, a water loving herb does not need to be planted with Rosemary and Lavender as these herbs prefer a very dry climate.  If you consider these aspects before you plant everyone will benefit.

What Herbs are good for our area of Texas

  • Thyme- creeping lemon*
  • Sage- Salvia Officinalis*
  • Italian Oregano*
  • Lavender- English and Fern Leaf*
  • Parsley
  • Citronella
  • Basil- all kinds
  • Aloe Vera
  • Lemon Balm*
  • Mints*
  • Salad Burnett *
  • Rosemary
  • Lemon Grass
  • Catnip
  • Stevia
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Garlic (plant in September)
  • Roses

The list goes on as there are so many, but these will get you off to a good start!

*- good for planting in fall as they grow all year long

 Now To Table

  1. Use Fresh- simply snip and use- sprinkle chopped herbs in your dishes while cooking or on top as a garnish.
  2. Dried
  • Cut and tie in bundle (rubber bands work great!)
  • Hang to dry or dry in oven on low or a hot car
  • Grind and store- chop in blender, store in jars in a cool dark place like a pantry.

Herbed Oils or Vinegars-  place herbs in clean jar and cover with oil or vinegar and let steep for 3 weeks. Strain and store in a cool dark place.

Making Medicine At Home

herbal tincture

For a live video go to Hollyberry Herb Farm on Facebook

An Herbal Tincture is a method of preserving the medicinal attributes of an herb in such a way will allow you to use the herbs long after their season is gone.  As I have said before, the more herbs you eat, the healthier you will be.  However, at certain times of the year, certain herbs are not available.  So, by making tinctures you can use herbs all year round.  Typically, to make a tincture you steep the herb of choice in vodka or brandy for four to six weeks.  Once the herb matter is strained out and the liquid re-bottled, the tincture will keep indefinitely.

The essential oils and herbal essences are soluble in alcohol making alcohol a better solvent than vinegar for making tinctures.  Once the menstruum (plant material and solvent) has steeped, all the herbal goodness and health benefits of the herbs will be suspended and concentrated in the alcohol.  This concentration is why so little of the tincture is needed in an individual dose.

There are many combinations of herbs that can be used- select the herbs based on your needs.  Dandelion is an all around great herb with so many medicinal qualities.  I use this herb alone to make a tincture that is taken by anyone feeling “under the weather” to boost the immune system and ward off the colds and flues that tend to go around in the winter.

A small amount- 1/4 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon per day is all that is taken by adults around our house.  When the children were toddlers a few drops in their sippy cups helped battle the snotty noses and colds that came with childhood.

There are many resources on the internet for recipes and several good herbal books that give instruction as to preparation of tinctures.  I like to use Growing 101 Herbs That Heal, by Tammi Hartung.

A basic recipe is:

1 clean 1 pint glass jar with a fitting lid

Approx. 1 cup chopped fresh herb or 1/4 cup dried herb, coarsely chopped.

1 pint of brandy or vodka.

Place the chopped herb matter into the jar.

Creating an herbal tincture

Pour in Vodka or Brandi, let steep for 4-6 weeks, shake weekly, then strain.

herbal tinctures

Herbal tincture steeping and waiting to be strained.  Be certain to label with contents and date- the only way to be certain you will remember what is in the jar.

Once strained, pour liquid into a bottle and cap

There you go, it is that easy!

You can see me make a tincture on Facebook @ Hollyberry Herb Farm

This is what I use for my family.  Research for yourself and decide what is best for your family and yourself.  This is not meant as medical advice or to diagnose illness.

 

 

Fall Gardening Prep List

Fall Gardening Prep List

It may be hot now, but fall is closer than you think!  That makes me very happy!  Fall is the best time to begin a garden.  Below is a check list that I use during this time of year.  Most of the annuals are shrinking from the heat and its time to begin to think about the change coming.  Even vegetable gardening is very rewarding in the fall- more about that is coming soon!

 

Fall Prep List

  • Clean out spent summer annuals
  • Remove and dead or diseased wood from trees & shrubs
  • Prune Roses and remove any dead or diseased wood
  • Sow cover crops on bare soil or beds
  • Mulch where needed- not on your seed beds
  • Top dress established beds with soil amendments such as green sand, rock phosphate, Epsom salt, lime
  • For clay soils- prep new beds by tilling in compost and expanded shale
  • Plant fall color- dianthus, pansies, Johnny-jump-ups, etc
  • Plant spring bulbs
  • Plan next year’s gardens & order seeds
  • Order Seeds
  • Get supply lists ready

vegetable seed germination chart

 

summer squash

How To Choose Herbs For The Garden

island bed garden with herbs

Of all the plants we have sold over the years, herbs definitely draw the most attention.  And for good reason, the uses are too many to list, most are extremely hardy, and they are beautiful.  For a beginner gardener, herbs are a great place to start because of the ease of growing.

Before I get into the different aspects of herb gardening, I would like to clarify some vocabulary words:

Herbs are generally grown in all temperate regions of the planet.  For the most part, it is the aerial parts, roots, and blossoms of these plants that are used for cooking, medicine, and fragrance.

Spices, on the other hand, are grown around the equator and it is the seeds that are used for the fragrance, cooking, and medicinal qualities.  But then to muddy the waters, you have some plants that are both.  Cilantro is an herb as you use the leaves in your cooking but, if you let it go to seed then you have Coriander- a spice.

Now, some herbs are herbaceous and some are not.  Herbaceous means that the green plant parts die back to the ground each winter and the roots put out new plants each spring.

Now, let’s get planting.  Regardless if your yard or garden is shady, full sun or somewhere in between, there are herbs for you to grow.  The things to consider as you choose you plants are their origin, water requirements, growth habits,  and their function.  Each of these factors will determine what plants you choose and where you put them.

Understanding where herbs come from will tell you a lot about the growing conditions they will need.  If a plant originates in the Mediterranean region, you can bet it will be a tough plant that has relatively low water requirements, sun loving, and tolerant of poor soils.  Lavender, Rosemary, and Oregano are examples of such plants.  I had a Rosemary plant that doubled in size in the worst drought in Texas history with no extra water.  Needless to say, when folks come to me asking about tough shrubs that will tolerate our heat- I recommend Rosemary.

On the other end of things, if a plant is naturally found in moist woodlands, you will need to provide a shady spot with rich soil for that herb.  Goldenseal is an example of just such an herb.  Their origins also point to their water requirements.

Obviously, you don’t want to put a plant that likes dry conditions with a plant that needs regular watering.  Thus, mint and lavender are not good roomies.  Mint with Calendula or Pineapple Sage are good choices for a container.  Lavender, Sage, and Rosemary are good buddies with greek oregano acting as a ground-cover in a sunny spot.

Just as you would plant a flower garden with tall plants being at the back and low growers being located at the front, these same considerations need to be given to the growth habits of herbs.  There are so many sizes and shapes to choose from along with blossom color, scent, and function.

Let your imagination be free, there are no rules.  If you like the formal gardens with clipped boxwood as edgings, then plant that type of garden.  For those of you with free spirits drawn to the rambling, free forms of plants then plant away and enjoy the seed heads blowing and nodding in the breezes.  Joy is one of the great harvest reaped from herbs.  Some things you plant will die.  Don’t let that discourage you, plant again.  If it lives and thrives, plant more of it.

Beans, and Texas natives make good companions with herbs.

Herbs I love in Texas:

Thyme- creeping lemon, Sage (Salvia Officinallis), Italian Oregano, Lemon Balm, Citronella, Mints, Salad Brunet, Parsley, Texas Tarragon,  Roses, Lemongrass, Anise Hyssop, Borage, Dandelion, Dill to name a few.

t with an herb
Grandbabies are great at choosing herbs! Tansy is a little plant in the cup, but it will grow to a large shrub with lots of flowers for pollinators!

Introducing: Herb & Sea Home

Have you wondered where I have been?  Have you wondered what I have been up to?

Maybe, or maybe not.

You may have read my post on my facebook page, that we were relocating to Galveston, Texas or you might not have seen that, and lets be real- you might not have cared!

But just in case you do care- I thought I would share with you this brand new- sort of – blog and site.  It’s brand new because I have never lived by the sea before and it’s not new because I haven’t deleted any of my old blog posts.

So. Here. We. Go!

Officially, we moved to Galveston Texas in September of this year (2018).  So many of you were surprised and to be honest, so were we.  I have loved this island for many years and my second daughter moved here when she married her love three years ago.  Many hours were spent dreaming of what it would be like to live in a town steeped in history with a view of the waves whenever I wanted it.

Well, now I know and I LOVE it!

Even though I dreamed about it, I did not really think it would happen and certainly not at this time in our lives.  But, God had other plans and the doors opened up for us to make the move and we took the chance!

But what to do about Hollyberry Herb Farm?  Many of you have asked that very question and others have asked if we would be at the garden shows come spring and I have been hesitant to answer.  I hated to disappoint you and I hated the idea that the season of Hollyberry Herb Farm might be over.

However, after sitting and pondering the options ( most of this done while sitting with the waves lapping at my feet- don’t hate me) I had to accept the fact that this was a new season and I could not bring everything from the former season with me.

So, the answer to”what will we do with the farm?” was we will sell it.  And we did.

“Will you be at the garden conferences and shows?” the answer is “No, we will not”

But the answer to “will you still teach on herbs?” is YES!

And that is where this blog comes in!  I still love my herbs, use them every day, and want to share them with anyone and everyone who it interested. So, here is where I can share those things with you!

Also, I want to share my journey of learning to live in a coastal town with the sea just yards away from my front door and the harbour just yards away from my back door.  I can even hear the ships as they blow their horns when they enter the harbor.  Gardening is different down here and I am looking forward to learning about a new climate and weather conditions- I hope you will enjoy the journey with me!

Online classes are in the works and more videos are on the way!

If you want to join me in this journey, then all you have to do is follow this blog!  Just enter your email in the field at the side, you will receive an email whenever a new blog post arrives.  You can also like our Facebook page, also a field at the side of the page.

By commenting at the bottom of the blog posts, you can interact with me.  As a matter of fact, you can comment below and tell me something you would like to know about the world of herbs!

The Dandelion

“She turned to the sunlight

And shook her

yellow head,

And whispered to

her neighbor:

“Winter is dead.”

A.A. Milne

I have always loved dandelions.  Blowing the seeds was a wonderful pastime when I was a child.  Little did I know that I was spreading the love- dandelion love.

Now I love dandelions for a whole different reason.  It is such a joy to see their little sunny faces shinning in the sun.  This always signals that the deep of winter is over.  But the real beauty of the dandelion is in the healing properties that the plant possesses. Even without reported healing properties, the dandelion has a high amount of vitamins and minerals.  The University of Maryland Medical Center has this to say:

While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, it is chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals, such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines.

Herbalists recommend dandelion for liver cleansing and ridding the body of toxins.  You can drink tea made from dandelion leaves and blossoms, take a tincture made from the plant and roots, or you can take supplements found in your local health food store.

If your looking for dandelions in your own gardens, look for the yellow blossoms suspended on a single stem, the yellow blossoms on branching stems are not true dandelions.  They are actually called “false dandelions”- how creative.

 

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Dandelion

 

In the photo above you can see the single stem with one flower.  When I harvest dandelions I want to get as much of the root as possible.  To do this, I use an old finished weed popper.

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Weed-popper, works like a charm

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Harvested dandelions

Once the plants are harvested, I wash the soil away and let them air dry.  Once dry, the plants are then chopped and covered with vodka or brandy.  The mixture will steep for six weeks and then be strained.  After the liquid is strained it is now a finished tincture.  I use this for my family anytime our immune system needs a boost.  This post is not intended to be medical advice, just for information- you do your own research and then make your own health decisions.

Even if you don’t choose to use dandelion for your own benefit- leave them for the bees.  Dandelions are one of the first sources of pollen and nectar for the bees in the spring.

Mastering The Art Of Herb Gardening

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Mastering The Art Of Herb Gardening-

Any sort of gardening is an art, one that takes time and experience to master- it is certainly a journey.  Heather Rinaldi, founder of the Texas Worm Ranch, and I are teaming up to offer you a great beginning to your journey of herb gardening.  In our class you will gain knowledge and confidence from the hands on projects and informative lectures.  A workbook is included to help you keep your notes and ideas in one place and to give you a reference for when you are in your own garden and have a question.

Once this class is completed you will have a working knowledge of soil biology- an overview of how plants feed from the soil and how to keep your soil healthy, a working knowledge of how herbs work in the body, how to grow, harvest, and preserve herbs, and how to propagate plants from seed, cuttings, and root division.  All the tools you need to be successful in the herb garden- or vegetable or flower garden as well.  The skills you gain will not only enable you to grow herbs, but they will carry over into the vegetable and flower garden as well.

For both of us, our first memories are in the gardens eating fresh produce right from the fields.  We have both been seriously gardening for more than 10 years and are eager to share our hard earned experience with you.

Each attendee will leave with five herb plants propagated by them, a workbook &  3 seed packets, 10 lbs of premium worm castings and one gallon of Worm Wine ™ to improve soil health. – plus a wealth of knowledge!  It takes a lifetime to master gardening, but with out class you will be on your way to having gardens that are the envy of the town.

 

The Texas Worm Ranch is located in Garland, TX and this is where the class will take place.

 

Hollyberry Herb Farm & Texas Worm Ranch present:

Mastering The Art Of Herb Gardening

Tuesday Classes for 3 weeks: 8:30-12:00
July 29,2014-
Herb Overview, Growing, Harvesting & Preserving
August 5, 2014
Soil Biology Made Easy So You Can Garden Easy
August 12,2014
Propagation 3 different ways- Hands On Workshop

Cost is $175.00/person

Class includes:  Workbook, 5 herb plants and 3 seed packets, 10 lbs of premium worm castings and one gallon of Worm Wine ™ to improve soil health.

Sign up at Texas Worm Ranch– class is limited to 20

Herbal Tinctures- What Are They & How To Make One

An Herbal Tincture is a method of preserving the medicinal attributes of an herb in such a way will allow you to use the herbs long after their season is gone.  As I have said before, the more herbs you eat, the healthier you will be.  However, at certain times of the year, certain herbs are not available.  So, by making tinctures you can use herbs all year round.  Typically, to make a tincture you steep the herb of choice in vodka or brandy for four to six weeks.  Once the herb matter is strained out and the liquid re-bottled, the tincture will keep indefinitely.

The essential oils and herbal essences are soluble in alcohol making alcohol a better solvent than vinegar for making tinctures.  Once the menstruum (plant material and solvent) has steeped, all the herbal goodness and health benefits of the herbs will be suspended and concentrated in the alcohol.  This concentration is why so little of the tincture is needed in an individual dose.

There are many combinations of herbs that can be used- select the herbs based on your needs.  Dandelion is an all around great herb with so many medicinal qualities.  I use this herb alone to make a tincture that is taken by anyone feeling “under the weather” to boost the immune system and ward off the colds and flues that tend to go around in the winter.

A small amount- 1/4 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon per day is all that is taken by adults around our house.  When the children were toddlers a few drops in their sippy cups helped battle the snotty noses and colds that came with childhood.

There are many resources on the internet for recipes and several good herbal books that give instruction as to preparation of tinctures.  I like to use Growing 101 Herbs That Heal, by Tammi Hartung.

A basic recipe is:

1 clean 1 pint glass jar with a fitting lid

Approx. 1 cup chopped fresh herb or 1/4 cup dried herb, coarsely chopped.

1 pint of brandy or vodka.

 

Creating an herbal tincture

Place the chopped herb matter into the jar.

herbal tincturesPour in Vodka or Brandi, let steep for 4-6 weeks, shake weekly, then strain.

herbal tincture

Herbal tincture steeping and waiting to be strained.  Be certain to label with contents and date- the only way to be certain you will remember what is in the jar.

Once strained, pour liquid into a bottle and cap

There you go, it is that easy!

This is what I use for my family.  Research for yourself and decide what is best for your family and yourself.  This is not meant as medical advice or to diagnose illness.

Basil- For A Moment More & How To Make An Herbal Vinegar

As I left out on my morning run, for the first time this year I wore a hooded sweatshirt over my t-shirt and wind-pants with a cap on my head.  For us here in East Texas, that is just almost cold.  I could see my breath but there was no frost on the ground, just a heavy dew.  Oh, but how brilliantly the dew shone in the early morning sun with the reds and golds of the leaves finally beginning to show.  I was not the only one feeling invigorated by this Autumn morning, as I ran by the field across from our place, the resident horse came galloping up to the fence and ran along with me until she ran out of field.  Some days, it is an effort to choose to run but not today.

purple basil and kale

One thing the morning did tell me was that basil and it’s other hot weather friends are not long for this world.  So, in preparation for the influx of herbs & peppers that are about to line my drying racks and the hall (I have to make use of the space I have so I have fishing line strung down the hall to hang herbs on) I am getting the jars and vinegar’s ready to go.  Making herbal vinegar is an easy process, they make wonderful gifts and they add so much to your kitchen prowess.  A pork loin marinated in basil vinegar tastes like something from a five star restaurant.

purple basil and vinegar

For the most part, which herb you use and which vinegar to use are completely up to you and your taste buds.  A good place to start is with white wine vinegar and basil.  This will make a wonderful vinaigrette or marinade.  If you have purple basil, you will have the most beautiful purple/pink vinegar you ever laid your eyes on as seen in the above picture.  The purple basil is Dark Opal and the green is Sweet Genovese- both of these are the standard type basil flavor with which you would make pesto or spaghetti sauce.  Health food stores will generally have better prices on large quantities of vinegar in its various forms.

The recipe below calls for chives, if you don’t have any you can leave that off.  If you have not been growing herbs long enough to have this much material to cut from, you can purchase fresh herbs at your local farmer’s market.  Remember, any flavors you like together will go together in the vinegar such as rosemary and garlic, oregano, basil, and sun/oven roasted tomatoes.  While learning the way, start with small batches this way if it tastes bad, you didn’t lose much.  However, every mistake is a lesson learned and experience is the best teacher.

For sterilizing your jars, wash them with hot soapy water, rinse and dry in a 225′ oven for 15 minutes or use a dishwasher.

 

Basil, Chive, & Lemon Vinegar

Zest of ½ lemon

5 Basil Leaves

10 stalks of chives

1 cup white vinegar ( any type such as rice or wine)

 

Zest lemon, crush or chop basil and chives, place in a clean dry jar.  Pour vinegar in and cap- vinegar should cover all the herbs completely add more if needed. After 24 hours add more vinegar if the herbs have soaked up the vinegar.  Vinegar is ready to go after 24 hours, but the flavor will develop the longer it sits so 10 -14 days is fine too.  Strain herbs out and compost them.  Store  vinegar in a cool dark place, it will keep indefinitely.

Making these things at home is a safe activity- it has been being done since ancient times.  Use good sense, clean and dry utensils and jars- moisture is your enemy- and all will be well.  Remember- if it is growing funny things, bubbling like it is boiling but there is no heat or it smells raunchy- throw it out.  Please consult your county extension office if you would like more detailed information on canning.

herbal vinegars

 

The choices are endless, just make certain that you label and date all your creations at the time to place them in the jars.  Trust me, you won’t be able to remember it later!