Sunday, July 9, 2017

Herbal Harvests

Hubs and I drove down a country road one morning last month and we saw a large group of Elderberry bushes in bloom.  I was tempted to have him stop, but I had nothing to put them in and I knew they were very fragile.  So I reminded myself we are cautioned not to take things at the roadsides, at least something like this, which can't be easily washed.  Thanks to a dear friend of mine who now lives in Missouri, not far from Hannibal, I happen to have Elderberry growing on my place.  And it was in bloom.  I still have plenty of Elderberry juice in storage from last year.  A perfect year to harvest Elderflower.  So, Diane, if you're reading this, know that I'm grateful for your gift, and I think of you every time I see my Elderberry bushes and hope that you're doing well.

The flowers need to be harvested carefully, as the fully open ones fall off easily.  I spread newspapers on the floor in my office and put each umbel, top side down, on the paper until the flowers were dry enough to be rubbed off the stems.  They dry into yellow granule-looking things. 

I have read that it's ok if there are some pieces of the flower umbel in with the dried flowers, and it is extremely hard to do this any other way, at least in my experience.  There are lots of parts of the Elderberry bush that are not good for humans to consume.  This is true for many medicinal plants.  You need to educate yourself before you start using any of them, and they should be treated with the same care you would extend to pharmaceuticals.

The interesting thing is the inherent survival qualities of plantz.  When you start cutting off the flower heads, you might think that this means there will not be any berries to harvest.  I still have plenty of juice from berries I harvested last year and so it wouldn't have been a problem for me.  But I found that, as I cut off flower heads, the bush just kept on making more.  Consequently, I've probably not damaged the berry harvest but I may have set it back later than it would've been.  This might be a good thing if it means the insect population will be less when it's fall.  Or maybe not.  Seems we are host to huge grasshoppers up till the first freeze.

You may ask why I would want to harvest the flowers, anyway.  The answer is that I want to be able to make some Elderflower Tea.  One teaspoon of dried flowers brews one cup of tea.  I wouldn't drink more than one cup of tea a day, and I would do it near bedtime, because the body repairs itself and bolsters itself for the coming day, during sleep.   I take my vitamins at bedtime for that reason.

They are growing in the strip of fenced yard that is on the south side of the house, along the fence.  It's dry and rocky there, but they survive without much care, as do the heirloom Indian Chief iris on the other side of the fence.  That's Bob and Sharry's house in the background.  Those small Cypress trees mark the south margin of our property.  I bought them on close-out sale at Lowe's.  The land beyond it that's outside of the picture used to belong with our house but Bob and Sharry bought it from the man who bought our house after it burned.  I'm torn about this.  We asked if they would be interested in selling it and they said no because they wanted to control what was done with that land, it being right across the road from them.  Bob keeps it neatly mowed and they want it to stay open and unused, except for their annual Easter egg hunt for their grandchildren, and that is OK with us.  But then we will be in the same predicament if their home is ever sold for whatever reason.  It's less land for Hubs to have to mow, as things stand now. 

I have been trying to get Yarrow established for a long time.  I think I've finally got a good "do". 

This is the native form that grows wild in uncultivated fields in the Plains states of America.  Possibly other places, not sure.  Achillea millefolium.  More information here:
I drank tea made of the dried leaf, combined with spearmint from my herb garden and "horse tail"(Equisetum), which I had to buy at the healthfood store, after I had surgery done on my heel spur several years ago.  The surgeon said I healed as fast as any teenager would.  Here is information about that:

I also grow this Yarrow variety that I bought through the Food Co-Op that serves this area, a few years ago.  I understood at the time that it was more for decorative and less for medicinal but I have read recently that they are thinking the plants that make red flowers are actually better for medicinal use.  It's the ferny leaves that I used for tea, but I have seen that many recommend the flowers as well.

This is Cilantro that's becoming Coriander.  Some people love Cilantro, but others don't because their tastebuds (or something) make it taste like soap.  I'm one of those people, and so is Hubs.  But I like Coriander seeds and I use them in pickling.  This spring I had a Cilantro plant in full leaf that broke off at the main stem.  I offered it to the neighbor who takes my extra jalapeno and Numex peppers and he was even more enthusiastic about getting the Cilantro.  All my neighbors know that anything they get from me is grown as organically as I can possibly do it and still have a harvest. 

This is Pot Marigold, Calendula.  This time I bought Calendula resina from Baker Creek.  It is said to be a better product.  Some of the flowers are a lemon yellow like you see here.  Others are more of a gold.  I'm thinking it is the gold flowers that are the best but I could easily be wrong.

The flowers are kind of sticky and waxy.  I pick off the petals and leave the core of the flower intact.  That way they will still make seed and I won't have to give up any of my harvest for seed.  When the petals are dry they can be stored easily in vacuum-packed jars.

I love my FoodSaver jar vacuum machine, BTW.  It does bags, too but I don't use that as much and I have gotten my money's worth and then some with just jar sealing.  This equipment was first introduced to me by a woman on a forum I used to frequent who called herself "Grainlady".  I asked her so many questions about how her food sealer worked that she seemed to grow kind of impatient with me and quit answering my questions.  But I had trouble wrapping my brain around how canning jars could be sealed without heat.  It's funny how sometimes I can get a certain mind-set about some things and have to almost retool in order to understand alternate ways of doing things.  I waited till around Christmas and got my FoodSaver on sale, but it still was expensive enough.  This summer, I found a more streamlined version at a garage sale, WITH the lid sealers, for $3.  Go figure.

Anyway, when the petals are dry they can be infused in 90-proof vodka, or in cider vinegar, or in a good oil, like almond oil or grapeseed oil.  If I'm going to use it on my skin, which I often do, I infuse it in witch hazel or any of the oils.  I only infuse what I think I'll need and I try to do it some in advance because it takes time for the infusion to work.  This is a problem sometimes with oils because they can go rancid and then they become sticky-feeling and they don't smell very good.  Probably they are not as good for the skin after that's happened.  I also use the dried petals of this variety or even the petals of my ordinary garden marigold in chicken soup, as "poor man's saffron".  I have assorted colors of Crackerjack marigolds in the garden.  I don't even have to plant them anymore because they self-seed and come up all over the place in the spring.  I just transplant them to where I want them.  Easy peasy.  Hung upside down in a dry, airy place, out of the sun, they will keep their color and be really pretty in dried flower arrangements or wreaths.

Oh, and TALK about self-seeding!  These pink flowers are Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate.  Persicaria orientalis.  I've heard it can be used medicinally but I don't, I just like how it looks.  I received seed in a seed exchange, many years ago, while we still lived in The Ponca House.  We moved here in 2010 and brought our raised bed soil with us because we had to remove the beds from the back yard before putting The Ponca House up for sale.  Lots of self-scattered seeds came along in that soil and I have had this plant coming up somewhere here, ever since.  I had Johnny-Jump-Ups, for awhile, too, but haven't seen any of those for at least a couple of years now.

You'll notice you're seeing a lot of weeds and grass, and this is because I just have not been physically able to get out into the garden and work as much this year as I normally do.  Hoping that next year will be better for me and am trying to lay the ground work for that during the rest of this year. 

This is Sweet Annie.  It's more fragrant than what I call Wormwood, also known as "Mugwort", which was growing here when we moved in.  They are both members of the Artemisia family.  I have been using the Wormwood in my liniment preparation that I make every year, but I love the smell of Sweet Annie so much that I think I will use it instead next time.  I gave some of my liniment to my neighbor that I went to grade school with, because he had some kind of fungal thing on his palms.  It helped him heal, and he kept on using it till it was gone because, he told me, he liked how it smelled.  Heh. 

This is the first year that this plant has bloomed.  I thought it was Valeriana officinalis, often referred to as All-Heal, but according to my searches on the Internet, that's wrong.  Valeriana officinalis is often what's referred to as Garden Heliotrope and I have that too.

Valerian officinalis (Garden Heliotrope) is very fragrant and is a joy to have in the herb garden.  I think my start of these came from Glenda.

It is also known as "All Heal".  Unfortunately, in order to use it medicinally, you have to ruin the plant and take the root.  Seems such a waste.  Here is more information:

I think I showed you this picture before.  Almost everyone knows what Echinacea or "Cone Flower" is.  It's another medicinal plant that gives up its life to provide us with medicine.  When Hubs was a little boy, he and his brothers used to scour the prairie for these plants, dig up the root, and sell them to a local business that made patent medicines.  This was probably some 65 to 70 years ago.  While at BPR I met a man who was also coming in for treatment that said he and his cousins still harvest herbs from wild, unimproved lands and they have someone who pays them for what they are able to find.  Don't that beat all....

I bought these at Green Thumb nursery.  They give a "Senior Citizen Discount" every Wednesday and it was on a visit to them on one of those days that I found this, said to be a more decorative variety, with more fragrance.  This summer, the flowers lasted for weeks and I thoroughly enjoyed having it where I pass by every day.  I had planted it somewhere else and it apparently did not like where it was because it didn't come back up the next year.  And I really hated that I lost it.  But then this came up this spring, totally by itself, some 12 feet away and on the other side of the concrete patio from where it had been planted.  One of the benefits of not doing much weeding is that you get little "gifts from the birds" like this.  They stop eating bugs and start eating seed as summer turns to winter.  Some of what they eat passes undigested through their intestinal systems, is treated by their internal digestive acids and is then encapsulated in their "poop".  Everywhere that they perch, the ground beneath receives this treated seed.  It's Nature's Way and it's more efficient than anything Mankind has been able to develop, though we can buy encapsulated seed these days.  It can be quite expensive and hard to get, unlike seed that comes from the birds.  The really nice thing about this is that sometimes they bring you seed for plants that are growing in places other than your yard and garden.  I have received Blanket Flower from where it is naturalized on open prairie.  I found this delightful bunch of Pinks growing under one of the Rugosa Rose bushes. 

When nothing comes up in the Wintersowing jug, I just spread the soil out on the ground, anyway.  Sometimes it comes up in that spot the following year.  Sometimes the birds comb through it and find the seed, and it comes up in an entirely different spot.  So if you're weeding, and you don't recognize something small that's growing "as a weed", do put off tearing it out of the ground till it's had a chance to develop into a recognizable plant. 

Speaking of Rugosa roses:
That's dew on the petals.  Glenda told me about the people who sell these.  I thought I was getting one each of pink, red, and white.  Somehow the white was pink, too.  But oh, well.  They have done well, are getting really big, and they make rosehips now.  Orange ones.  They are in the herbal category because the rosehips are high in vitamin C. 

Of course you all know how I love the mints, even though they are invasive.  If you harvest from them several times during the summer they are not so bad at this.  I have spearmint, apple mint, chocolate mint and orange mint.  And no, the apple, chocolate and orange mints do not taste anything like apple, chocolate or orange!!  For that matter, spearmint does not taste anything like spears.  Heh.  Apple is a soft spearminty taste.  Chocolate mint is a strong peppermint.  Orange mint is sometimes referred to as "perfume mint" and that's what it tastes like.  I use the orange mint in my liniment for it's camphor-like properties.  I dry the leaves and store them in vacuum-packed jars. 

I love Lemon Balm.  I dry the leaves and they make a nice lemony tea.  Quite refreshing iced.  Blends well with other teas. 
Here is information on medicinal uses:
I grow it under my grape arbor.  Lemon Balm is invasive, and it makes a "scab" of root-tops all over the surface of the ground once it's established.  Even Bermuda grass cannot get through it.  So it is a pretty replacement for the weeds that want to grow under the grapes, and the vine is already established, so not a problem.  Every now and then I find Lemon Balm in places where I didn't plant it, so I either harvest it for drying or I transplant it in a bare spot under the arbor. 

We cannot mention Lemon Balm and the Mints without mentioning Basil. 

Basil plants itself now, even though the birds love to eat the seed it scatters, there is always plenty left to grow the next year.  I started out with Mrs. Burns' Lemon and a Lime.  I cannot tell them apart.  Some of it grows in the garden along the edge of a pathway, and some grows on both sides of the walk leading away from the patio.  I love how it smells, and they are wonderful in tomato sauce, with oregano, fennel and garlic.  I have read that they don't keep their taste and smell when they are dried.  I've never tried it to see if it's true.  I will either run it through the food processor with a little olive oil, and then freeze it in ice-cube trays, or I will put it in a zip-lock sandwich bag and stick it in the freezer like that.  I don't thaw before using either, just pop them into the pot while they're still frozen.

This is Perilla, also called Shiso. 

There is a green variety of Perilla, which I also have, and I think that's what's called "Beefsteak Plant".  That plant just came up out here a few years ago, and Glenda was able to identify it because I has no clue what it was.  I like the smell of it. 

I have considered adding Shiso to my liniment recipe but haven't done it yet.  Sometimes I think I might just infuse some in Vodka, or whatever I use as the infusion agent in my liniment (been thinking about using cider vinegar instead), so that I could just add some at the time of use if I feel like it would be helpful.  Been thinking about doing that with some Comfrey, too.

I got the original purple variety from my mother, many years ago.  She liked how it looked in the garden but didn't know what it was.  She thought it was some kind of mint or maybe a variety of basil, and I think she and Dad ate it.  She would go out and pick "greens", among which would be dandelion, lambs quarter and certain other edible things we think of as weeds, and she'd stir it around in her cast iron skillet with some butter.  They'd eat it like spinach.  Not sure some of the things she included in the mix were always wise to add, and sometimes I think she just cooked it TO DEATH, but she and Dad lived to be 92 so I guess maybe it didn't hurt anything. 

Both varieties come back every year, the purple gets invasive and a little annoying to always have so much of it.  But it pulls out of the ground easily and all the extra is a nice addition to the compost bin.  I usually dry some and save it in a jar.  Here's more information:

Oh, and the red Bergamot is beautiful this year.

I bought my original plant in a 3" pot at The Master Gardener's Plant Sale that they hold every spring in town.  It was planted in the herb garden and rapidly took over, to my delight.  But it just got to be too much.  So I transplanted some out between the north shed and the old chicken house, and also in a spot where the fence between the yard and the garden used to be.  It didn't do well in either spot.  And then these came up in a neat row out in one of the garden beds.  The Hummingbirds and butterflies love, love, LOVE it.  Bergamot is also known as "Mormon Tea", and I've tried brewing a cup of tea from the leaves.  Not really a fan.  But I think it would be best to harvest the flower petals, dry them, and add them to black tea or orange pekoe, for a similar taste to English Breakfast tea.  I'm not much of a fan of that, either, and I have to have milk and honey in it for it to be palatable.  So I'll be content to leave this herbal AND decorative plant for the birds and butterflies.  It would be beautiful in flower arrangements except for the fact that the flowers do not live very long in captivity.

This little plant is called Feverfew.  I haven't tried to use it for anything.  Mostly because it stimulates the appetite and lowers blood pressure.  Here's more information:

This is Comfrey.  It's getting ready to bloom but it doesn't make seeds.  I've tried to grow the variety that makes seeds but just haven't had any luck getting them to live.  I don't use Comfrey much.  Don't use it on deep wounds.  I've heard of people using it on their farm animals when they get a bruise or a swollen place.  I have used it to fertilize, by making tea with it.  Here's more information:

This is my lavender.  It is just barely alive.  It likes to be dry but is in a spot where dry is taken to the Nth degree.  I need to get it transplanted before it dies.  It has done very well there in years past and blooms beautifully, but I don't think it's going to recover unless I move it.

Morning Glory.  I have this color and a pink growing together on the fence.  There are no pink flowers open today. 
It's medicinal because certain people use it in ways I wouldn't recommend.  For awhile, on our seed trading forum, there was someone haunting all the different seed forum subdivisions, looking for morning glory seed, "as many as you can spare!!", they said.  We figured, at the git-go, something was up, and then somebody found where this person had posted someplace else, bragging about the hallucinatory properties of this plant.  And no, I'm not going to say how it's prepared because I don't want anybody knowing how, at least on MY watch.  There are lots of commonly grown plants that can take you to unknown places, including Heaven (or the other place, depending....). 

I think this is Rabbit Tobacco.  Glenda, correct me if I'm wrong.

This is Tansy.  It looks a lot like Feverfew, without the white petals.  And so far that I've seen, it is a much taller plant.  It's a strewing herb, supposed to help discourage ants and other insects that like to get into the house in the summer.  It also keeps its yellow color when it's dried and the little button flowers add interest to dried arrangements or wreaths and that's usually how I use it.  They say it's good to grow it with blackberries and that's where I grow mine.  Also wherever else it wants to grow, as long as it's not in the way, because I like it and it's not invasive. 

This is Mallow.  Marsh Mallow to be exact.  And yes, marshmallows can be made from pieces of the root.  Tea made with the root has been used as a sore throat soother.  It's related to the hollyhock, makes faded pink flowers, and is said to need marshy conditions, but I have it where it is normally dry and hardly ever water it. 

This is my culinary sage.  I've read that it's a biennial but you couldn't prove it by me.  It comes up in the same place every year and had done so for several years now.  Some people drink sage tea when they have a cold.

This if Fennel.  I started it by throwing old seed from my spice rack into the garden. 
It's covered with a piece of nylon netting because the wasps WILL NOT leave it alone, and when they are done, every little umbel is bare.  Nope, not this year.  I want seeds.  I blend my own Italian tomato sauce.  Oregano, Garlic, Basil, Fennel.

Here's Oregano.
It belongs to the mint family, so it looks and acts like mint.

This tree is supposed to be a Sassafras tree.  I admired one, many years ago, on a trip to Missouri.  The one I saw had little tear-drop purple berries on it.  I don't think they were edible, although I imagine the birds ate them.  Mostly I wanted it for the root, but I think you'd have to kill the tree to use it.  Maybe the bark, but that might kill the tree, too.  I haven't done enough research on it because, to tell the truth, I got this tree from and almost everything else I bought from them was not what it was supposed to be.  So I'm not sure enough about what it is to be able to do anything with it.  I've read that the leaves are fragrant and are used in File Gumbo in the south.  Not doing that, either.

It has struggled to live.  That year that we had the patio cover built, the boss of that bunch of screw-ups actually backed over it and had it bent over under his truck.  I can't think about the way that job played out without asking God to forgive me for what I'm thinking.

 At least SOMEBODY's getting some use out of it:

Onions and garlic fall into the herbal category, at least for me, and I have always struggled with getting onions planted that don't bolt right to seed.  I've been told that, if the onion plant is as big around as a No. 2 pencil, and if there is a freeze after it's been planted, it will bolt to seed.  So I have a lot of trouble with this because plant vendors do not understand that all of Oklahoma is not zone 7.  There is a narrow band that is 6A.  And we are in it.  So by the time it's the best time to plant those little onion plants that come all bundled together, it's too late to get them.  Whatever the stores have left has been laying on the shelves so long that most of the little bulbs on the ends are just empty little papers.  The answer, of course, is to grow my own, but I do love those Candy onions and though I have grown Texas Sweet and a couple of other varieties, I just hadn't yet found anything that equaled Candy for sweetness and flavor.  And then I found an open-pollinated variety called Sweet Candy that was available in little bulbs from these folks:
I planted them as soon as I got them, and yes, I wanted them to bolt so I could save the seed.  I tried letting the seed heads of the Candy onions from Dixondale, but there was not one seed that formed in the flower.  As you can see, these that grew from the bulbs that I ordered from Underwood Gardens (AKA Terroir Seed), did make seed.  Now the question is, were the little bulbs grown far enough away from other varieties so I will get plants from them that have not crossed with something else?  They make no promises.  And the other question is, did I cut them too soon?  The stalks were turning yellow and something was eating the seed while it was still soft!!!  All I can do is let them dry and hope the seeds harden into little black rat-poop looking things. 

I'm an old hand at this garlic stuff now.  My original garlic cloves came from a nice guy who gifted a lot of us with his special varieties that he got from Wisconsin.  They don't have their catalog ready yet because the crop's not fully in, so if you click on the "store" and you get an "Address Not Found", that's probably why. 

I've lost track of what's what.  When we first moved here I didn't have anywhere inside the fence to plant them, and one of the neighbor's dog took to digging in my raised garlic bed.  So she messed up my markers and did a lot of other damage, and maybe I don't have all the varieties I had then, anymore.  They had names like German Porcelain, Music, Estonian Red, Chesnok Red, Asian Tempest, Martin's Heirloom, Red Toch, and Inchelium.  I know those biggest ones are Estonian Red.  They are also the poorest keepers.  Asian Tempest and Inchelium are artichoke varieties, meaning many small cloves in layers, and I think I have lost those.  Martin's Heirloom grows taller than the others.  The individual cloves of German Porcelain have satiny white wrappers when you separate them out of the wrapping that covers the whole bulb.  Almost all the other varieties have purplish-red stripes on their "clove wrappers".  Estonian Red has marbled purple wrappers, but the cloves are so much larger than all the others that I never have any trouble knowing which it is.  I prefer the bigger cloves, the small ones are probably more flavorful but they are a pain to peel, and they don't seem to peel any easier when I use the various tips that I've seen offered for how to make it easier. 

For storage, I have learned to strip the cloves off the main stem, so that they separate from each other, then put them, still in their wrappers, in a brown paper lunch-size bag, and keep them in the crisper of my refrigerator.  The folks in Wisconsin say they are best kept unrefrigerated and intact on the stem together, but I tried that and lost many of them.  Oklahoma just ain't anything like Wisconsin, I'm here to tell ya.  Last year I chopped some up in my little mini-food processor, and then I covered them in vinegar.  Well, the garlic turned an unappetizing-looking blue-green!  An internet search informed me that this happens as a reaction to the compounds in the garlic when exposed to acidity, and that they were still safe to use.  Now that I've had the jar in my refrigerator door for practically a year, the color has sort of settled down.

Along about in September, I dig through the paper bags and take some out of each bag to stick back in the ground.  They start emergence very quickly and winter over, ready to harvest when they make scapes, which is in late June, early July, in my zone. 

I think that's about it.  I'm sure I've forgotten something, but can't think what it might be.  So I'll publish this and if I think of anything I might make a revision or two.

It has become hot and dry here now.  We had some chances of rain yesterday and got sprinkles, then all the chances we had on the forecast for the rest of the week vanished.  This is the time of year when Hubs and I get done what we can in the early mornings and "hole in" for the rest of the day.  When I think how our ancestors had to live through July and August on the prairie, I have sincere appreciation for each and every one of them.  Especially since nobody wore deodorant. 

Rock on....     Hugs xoxoxo


  1. Lots of interesting information here, Ilene. I've made a "brew" from plantain weed and olive oil to use on my skin. Just waiting for the eyes to completely heal before using it on my face.

    I appreciated the comment you left for me about the weeds and grass taking over our gardens because we haven't been able to work in them. Eight and one half days until my last six weeks will be over, then ... watch out weeds and grass! I did manage to can three pints of beet pickles and five pints of squash relish so all was not in vain I suppose.

  2. Wow, what a wonderful array of herbs you are growing. Great post.

    Happy Summer ~ FlowerLady


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