Saffron

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Saffron, at the time of writing, is probably the most expensive spice known to mankind. It takes around 150,000 flowers and hundreds of hours of labour to produce a couple of pounds of saffron threads.

Only a small amount is used at a time so this is a good reason to grow some yourself. Saffron spice comes from the stigmas or fronds of the flower Crocus Sativus and is believed to have originated in India. In recent years it has spread over many regions and is cultivated in Europe as well as Middle Eastern countries.

Saffron has been one of the most revered herbs for thousands of years and was cultivated for use as early as the 11th century.

Although saffron is a hardy plant and will survive in many cooler climates, it may not flower in poor summers. A greenhouse or bright conservatory may be a better spot if you are in a region where summer sunshine isn’t very reliable.

Plants are propagated by corms, whch resemble bulbs and in ideal conditions, will multiply every year. They can be left in the ground for three or four years, sometimes longer before they need to be dug up and separated.

They like a rich soil and should be planted around mid-summer to flower the following year. Sometimes larger corms planted earlier in the summer will flower in the same year as planting but generally, a year should be allowed before they flower. Patience is needed here!

Buy corms from a reputable supplier and be sure to get the right variety. Only Crocus Sativus produces saffron. All other crocus varieties are inedible.

Harvesting Saffron

Whole flowers can be collected just before opening and the stigmas removed afterwards. Or, if the sun has been kind and the flowers are blooming, collect the stigmas directly from the flowers while still on the plants. This is quite fiddly and will stain your fingers temporarily. Perhaps a pair of tweezers may be easier for you.

Pull the stigmas from the centre of the flowers. Lay the threads carefully on a tray and dry very slowly in a cool oven – or the sun if possible – until completely dry. Store in an airtight jar out of direct light.

Because the plants will multiply every year (in ideal conditions), you could have your own ‘free’ supply of saffron forever more! A jar of organic saffron threads would make a lovely gift for a foodie friend.

NB: As I mentioned above, make sure you buy the right variety – Crocus Sativus – of corms and from a good supplier.

Text taken from the new updated Herbs & Spices book where you can find out more about growing saffron and lots of other herbs and spices.

herbsandspices

Herbs and Spices

It’s available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Walmart and other places! Order it online in case your local bookstore is out of copies. Links are all on the Herb Books page.

 

Happy Gardening!
Linda x

 

 

 

Growing Echinacea

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Growing echinacea ( purple coneflowers ) in your garden could help fight those stubborn colds, and a whole host of other things. There’s still tons of research and heaps of trials to be done before the final results, but so far echinacea is living up to it’s fame.

Echinacea is indigenous to mid-western America and native Americans have used the root in herbal preparations for many years. The constituents of echinacea have cleansing and antiseptic properties and the plant is used to treat many medical conditions.

NB: Don’t take home-made herbal preparations unless you are 110% sure you have it right!

Where to plant:
Echinacea likes a sunny spot and is drought-tolerant, so if you forget to water, it’ll probably be okay! Plants will survive in fairly poor soil as long as it’s well-drained. It grows naturally on the prairies of the mid west of America so if you could replicate those conditions, the plant should thrive. Hot and sunny – not much rain.

If you live in the UK – or any other high rainfall region – it may be better to try growing echinacea in a greenhouse or other protected area.

Seeds or plants?
Transporting ready grown plants and re-planting them isn’t always the best way to growing echinacea. They may survive but ideally you should start your own echinacea plants from seed…

Buy the seed from a reputable seed company.. Thompson and Morgan have a few varieties..

echinacea-tandm

This Hardy Perennial is fabulous!
Echinacea purpurea ‘Pink Parasol (UK)

or check your local seed supplier.

 

 

Once you have your seeds, read the instructions on the packet for the finer details – when best to plant in your region, how much space you need to allow for your particular variety, etc;

Sow the seed in warm seed compost, in well-drained pots and keep soil damp until the seeds start to germinate. Water less after that but keep a close eye on your seedlings as they are vulnerable at this stage. Echinacea seeds take ages to germinate – sometimes as long as six weeks.

The plants do well in sandy soils and raised bed systems. The seeds can be started off inside a few weeks before the last frost. Sow in bio-degradable pots so you can plant out later without disturbing the roots too much. Making your own pots is a great thing to do to help your plants, and the planet!

After Care & Uses.
Keep weed-free as much as possible. When hoeing take care not to damage the roots.

Traditionally the roots have always been used in medicinal treatments, but there is strong evidence the flowers have just as much healing power as the roots. Go with the natural flow and use the flowers when they bloom and the roots when the flowers have finished.

The root should be collected for use in the third of fourth year of growth and after the flower has died right back in the autumn. Roots should be dried using a home food dryer or in a slow oven.

A combination of echinacea root and garlic can help boost the immune system and protect against colds, flu and all sorts of ailments.

The dried root and herb can be taken as a tisane ( 1-2 grams per tisane taken approx. 3 times a day. )

Echinacea is also used in ointments to treat skin problems such as eczema and boils.

Care should be taken when applying echinacea ointments, or taking it internally, by anyone with allergy problems. If you are allergic to other flowers in the daisy family, it’s possible you will have an allergic reaction to echinacea.

The flowers are bright and cheerful and work well in borders. They also make a great cut flower to brighten up the house.

Historically, echinacea was used over 400 years ago, that we know of, as a cure-all. Today, scientists are doing numerous tests with the herb in various forms to see if it really does live up to its reputation. The verdict so far seems good!

Growing echinacea in your garden gives you daily access to this wonderful herb.

Please note that I am not a medical practitioner and any self-medication should be okayed with your GP first.

Happy Gardening!

Linda x

Growing Comfrey

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Humans have been growing comfrey as a healing herb for more than 2000 years, as I myself have (for slightly less than 2000 years though!). Comfrey is still used in external preparations to heal wounds. And is perfect grown as a green manure or animal feed crop.

Comfrey is usually propagated by root cuttings or crown pieces, or buy small plants from a garden centre or your preferred online supplier. But you can start it from seed. For UK deliveries this link will take you to the comfrey seed page at Thompson & Morgan (UK).

 

Planting comfrey:

Comfrey is a deep-rooted plant and will not do particularly well in shallow soil. It prefers a fertile soil, as do most plants, but is a hardy perennial and will propagate year after year if situated well. Position in a sunny spot, although full sun is not essential.

Start your comfrey patch with small plants, root cuttings or pieces of the crown of an established plant. If you’re starting with seeds, grow them in pots until ready to plant out.

Plant root cuttings 2-4 inches (5-10cms) deep depending on the size of the cutting, laying the root cutting flat in the dug hole. Water well and let it grow!

Growing comfrey in your garden should be planned well, as it will grow bigger every year.

One of the major practical uses for the average gardener is growing comfrey as a green manure. You can simply lay the harvested leaves on the ground around your vegetables as a mulch or you can go all out and make your very own organic tonic.

I used this fertilizing method for a number of years and had great results, so grew comfrey all over the place.

Growing Comfrey – making a Tonic for your veggies:

If you have enough space, growing comfrey will provide a tonic for your vegetable patch. The tonic allows the plants to extract more nutrients from the soil.

First you need a container, preferably the size of a small dustbin, with a tap near the bottom. A small filter should also be used to avoid clogging the system. It must have a lid, and you will need a weighty object such as a large flattish stone, almost the size of the radius of your container. Raise your container off the ground, leaving enough room to comfortably place a watering can under the tap.
Collect as much comfrey as you can and pack it into the container, on top of the filter. Add a wire mesh or something similar and place your heavy object on top to hold the leaves down, then cover them with water. Put the lid on and forget about it for a couple of weeks.
When you’re ready to feed your plants, first put a peg on your nose, or don’t breathe in too hard, ( it really hums! ) and collect from the tap about a litre of the green slimy liquid into your watering can.

Top up the can with fresh water and feed your veggies. An exact ratio of tonic to water isn’t necessary but don’t put it on the ground undiluted. It’s too strong for most small plants.

Try and use all the available tonic in one go, clear out the slush ( put it directly on the compost heap) then make some more. Comfrey can be easily cut three or four times a year, but if you find a shortage occurring, try adding a few nettles to your mix.

Growing comfrey in your garden provides an organic food for your vegetable patch without costing a bean!

Please note There have been recent tests done on rats using Symphytine (a constituent of comfrey) that have shown carcinogenic results. However, these results aren’t really conclusive as the tests use highly concentrated forms of Symphytine.

Happy Gardening!

The Herb Factory!

Notherbfactory sure if the headgear is very becoming but, hey, this isn’t a fashion statement happening. It’s a new and exciting venture my grandson and girlfriend are starting.

They’ve spent weeks researching, organizing and getting the relevant certification to launch their new business ‘Gaia Remedies UK’ – from my kitchen…..

For me this means peeling potatoes in the sitting room and stamping sell by dates on 300 bags!

gaiaherbs

But soo excited for them.

They’ve done all this preparation alongside their University studies. Between them they’re doing degrees in horticulture and environment issues – I’ll probably have to ask them AGAIN exactly what courses they’re taking but I’m definitely in the right arena 🙂

 

They’re still working on their trademark and sales platforms but it’s all coming together. If you’d like to know more about this project, drop Beau and Claire a quick email and they’ll get back to you as soon as their tutors let them out!

GaiaRemediesUK@gmail.com

To the magic of herbs
Linda x

A World of Herbs

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Herbs hold some wonderful secrets that we can share if we venture into their world for a moment.

My favourite herb of the moment is Aloe Vera. Not a culinary herb perhaps but the benefits of aloe vera are enormous. For example, the sap inside the leaves will help soothe and repair your skin after a minor burn. Perfect to grow on the kitchen windowsill and you don’t even have to remember to water it every day.

Many herbs will grow on a bright windowsill, although care should be taken that the sun isn’t too hot through the glass as this will scorch the leaves of your herbs, and will dry the pots out very quickly. If you have direct sunshine on your chosen windowsill, create shade for your plants during the hottest part of the day.

The quickest way to get a herb garden going is to buy small plants all ready to go. Many supermarkets in the UK sell small herb plants but any garden centre should have a choice of herbs. Stick to three or four if you’re new to growing herbs. You can add to your garden later. Always check on the growing requirements when you buy plants. Some hybrid varieties are less robust and may need to be grown indoors in a moderate climate.

Other herbs need a fair amount of space and may not be practical for the space you have available. Double check before you buy. Same goes if you’re starting your plants from seed. Read through the recommendations on the back of the seed packet so that you get an idea how big your plants could grow and also check on indoor/outdoor requirements.

Follow any ‘instructions’ as far as possible for best results. It’s worth investing in a Herb Book to refer to and be inspired by.

A couple of culinary herbs that work well on the windowsill or in a herb garden are basil and chives:

basil

Basil is generally known as one of the tomato herbs, as a tomato apparently doesn’t taste right without it! Many shop bought sauces are tomato and basil based, and growing basil on the windowsill will save a trip to the shops from time to time, as well as avoiding processed food – always a plus.

Basil is an annual plant in moderate climates but will grow as a bi-ennial in a warmer environment, producing flower and seed in the second year.

Chives are perfect to add a mild onion taste to your recipe. The flowers are edible and decorate a green salad perfectly. Every year or so, gently dig up plants or tip out of their pots, separate the roots and re-plant. Chive plants make great gifts if you find yourself with far too many to use.

There are many herbs that can be grown for culinary or medicinal purposes, although always refer to a reliable source before administering medicinal herbs.

At the first signs of a cold, a thyme and lemon tisane can soothe symptoms and possibly even stop the cold germs in their tracks! And, barring any allergies, this prevention plan is safe for practically everyone.

To help you get started, I’ve put together three volumes of herbs *listed here** that will give you a great start to building your herb garden, however big or small. ‘The Herb Garden’ is packed with general herb growing tips and ideas. The second volume gets to grips with twenty everyday herbs. And the third volume deals with twenty occasional herbs that may need a little more attention, but are all fairly straightforward and explained in detail.

But whichever path you follow, make it a magical one with the scent, beauty and health giving properties of these wonderful plants.

Happy Gardening!
Linda x

Chervil

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CHERVIL (Anthriscus cerefolium)
(annual)

Chervil is in the same family as carrots and is similar to parsley. There are two main varieties, one with flat and one with curly leaves. It has a taste a little like anise and brings out the flavour of other herbs when cooked together.

It was once known as myrris because of its resemblance to myrrh. It has been used in religious ceremonies and also has many medicinal qualities.

In roman times chervil was used as a spring tonic but is not widely used as a medicinal herb these days. It is mostly used in the kitchen and is one of the main herbs in French cuisine as part of the fines herbes mixture. The other herbs – chives, tarragon and parsley complement each other and chervil brings out the taste of all of them.

Chervil can be added to many dishes and shouldn’t be ignored when the recipe says; chervil (optional). Add some to your recipes and get lots of brownie points for a wonderful tasting meal.

Chervil is native to Middle Eastern countries but can be grown easily in many moderate climates.

Medicinal uses for Chervil:

Chervil has been used extensively in folk medicine throughout the ages. It was once said that eating a whole plant cured hiccups. The herb is warm and soothing and is often used as a digestive aid.

A cold infusion of chervil tea is a soothing eyewash. Young tender leaves added to salads not only improve the flavour of your meal but are also believed to act as a mild tonic.

Here’s to Herbs!

Linda x

P.S. I took this info from ’20 Occasional Herbs’ which helps you grow your own delicious herbs, listed on Herb Books

 

Chives

chopped chivesAbout Chives

Chives are a member of the onion group and grow wild in many parts of Europe and North America, although they originate from China. They’ve been collected from the wild for centuries but weren’t cultivated until the Middle Ages. There are a number of different hybrids available including a ‘garlic’ variety.

Chives are easy to grow and produce purple or white edible flowers that can be used to garnish a meal, or dried and used in a flower arrangement. The bright green leaves are used in the kitchen and their delicate onion flavour enhances any meal.

Chives are primarily a culinary herb, but being part of the onion family, they do aid digestion, and they have also been used in helping fight cold and flu symptoms, although onions are more effective.

USES

Chopped chives can be added to any recipe that needs a mild onion flavour. They are especially good when added to potato salads, but can also be stirred into many recipes. The edible flowers will add a pretty garnish to any meal.

Tip: To avoid chopping your fingernails into the recipe, use a pair of kitchen scissors instead of a knife!

GROWING CHIVES

Grow some chives at home and have these tasty and handy herbs at your fingertips evey day. When you buy them in plastic bags in the supermarket, they are often quite expensive and perhaps non-organic – but the one issue, that is really something we can avoid at the moment, is that they are often sold in plastic bags… aaargh, more plastic.

Oh, and of course, they don’t stay fresh for very long. As soon as you open the bag, they will start deteriorating and need using straight away.

When you have a pot of chives on the windowsill or in the garden, you can cut exactly how much you want and they are always fresh and organic!

Tip: Cut chives from the outside of the plant so that the centre leaves get a chance to grow taller.

Chives are ideal for edging paths and borders and also make an excellent companion plant, deterring pests such as carrot root fly.

Chives are one of the few plants in the onion family that will grow readily from seed, and there are different varieties. Have a look in your local garden centre where you may be able to grab a ready grown plant or two as well – saving you the time to start off your own seeds.

Although, having said that, there is something very rewarding about growing your plants from seed. You could order them online as well of course. Thompson & Morgan are a good supplier but they only deliver to the UK so if you are buying online from outside the UK, there’s always Amazon of course!

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Thompson & Morgan UK

(This link will take you directly to a ready grown plant, but while you’re there, type ‘chives’ into their search bar and you’ll find seeds as well.)

Chives are a perfect pot plant to keep on the windowsill. You don’t need any garden space at all, so no excuses here 🙂

 

Happy herb growing!
Linda x

P.S. There are some useful tips and hints for growing chives in 20 Everyday Herbs (listed on our Herb Books page)

Lovage

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Now I have a garden again, I’m trying to get some herbs going. This lovage plant was donated by a lovely gardening friend.

Then the weather happened and I really thought I’d killed the poor plant, but here we are… looks like the birds may have had a bite or two but hopefully its hardiness will see it through…

I’ve vowed to be nicer to my plants from now on and watch out for crazy weather forecasts 🙂

About Lovage

Lovage is a hardy perennial plant and will last for many years given the right growing conditions. It will also grow anything from 3ft to 7ft (1-2m) tall, so needs to be placed at the back of a bed so as not to overshadow lower growing plants.

Lovage has a strong taste, similar to celery, and is often used as a substitute for celery salt. The seeds are ground to make salt, and the leaves are generally used for flavouring stews and soups.

The leaves can also be added to the salad bowl. Some cultures strip the bark off the plant and eat the stem raw as a vegetable, although generally the plant is used for its foliage and seed. Lovage has a high level of vitamin C.

Originally from Mediterranean areas lovage has adapted well to cooler climates. It grows well in the UK and other parts of Europe. It is associated with, and often used in place of, celery and parsley.

Medicinal uses for Lovage

Lovage has been used for many centuries in culinary and medicinal preparations and has been the main ingredient in many medicines. It was considered to be something of a wonder drug.

Lovage is known to stimulate the appetite, and aiding digestion. It was also added to baths at one time to deodorize and cleanse the skin.

Culpepper claimed that the powdered roots mulled in wine would “warm a cold stomach, helps digestion, and consumes all raw and superfluous moisture therein” (Culpeper, 1814).

In fact, lovage has been used for many ailments from sore feet to digestive complaints – google the medicinal qualities of lovage – you’ll be surprised why this ancient herb has fallen out of fashion in recent years.

Then, get some growing 🙂 A healthy plant, or maybe two, is probably all you’ll need unless you’re going into production. Start off a whole packet of seeds, re-pot when ready and spread the love!

As this is one of my favourite herbs I had to include it in one of my herb books, of course. Along with 19 others, 20 Everyday herbs is a must-have before you start your herb garden, even if you’re just growing a few herbs in pots. (Book listed here)

Happy Gardening!

Linda x

Taste of Thyme

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Thyme is a beautiful herb to grow. Not only is it a culinary delight, but it looks amazing in the herb garden, or draped over walls. A healthy thyme plant really is a must-have in the herb garden. It can also be grown in containers and will put up with drought conditions quite well.

Thyme has been grown in the kitchen garden for centuries and there are records of its use back in Roman times. It was considered to be an effective herb to preserve meat, and although we still use it to flavour meat, other methods of preserving have over taken the simple thyme method.

There is no shortage of myths and legends attached to the herb, including an idea that if a woman wore a sprig of thyme in her hair she would attract her true love. There are many others, a lot of them based around romance and love. Thyme has obviously been a well-loved herb throughout history!

It has been consistently grown throughout the ages as a medicinal and culinary herb and is known to soothe colds and flu symptoms. It has anti-bacterial properties and is a source of vitamins A and C as well as a few other elements the human body needs.

Thyme is one of the herbs to add early in cooking, as it releases its flavours slowly.

*Add to slow cooked stews and casseroles.
*Mix chopped thyme into stuffing mixes
*Sprinkle a few leaves in a baking tin before roasting any meat or vegetable dish.

Grow a plant or two at home and you’ll always have this wonderful herb at your fingertips – organic and super fresh 🙂

Happy Herbing!

Linda x

growingherbsathome

Some of this text was taken from my most popular digital herb book “Growing Herbs at Home”. I’ve just updated and polished the book a little and to celebrate, the price has been reduced!

Grab a copy now and start planning next year’s herb garden. Choose your favourite book store:

Amazon US Amazon UKiTunesKoboPayhipBarnes & Noble , Etsy ,

Chamomile

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Any of us who have dabbled in herbal teas will have heard of chamomile. But do we know any more about this wonderful herb than the brand we usually buy? Ouch!

Here are a few reasons to grow some of your own….

Two main types of chamomile are widely grown; Roman Chamomile (chamaemelum nobile) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutita). Both have similar qualities and are used in similar ways.

Records show that the Egyptians worshiped chamomile and used it in medicinal aids as well as cosmetic preparations. It has been used for centuries all over Europe and was distributed further a-field during the 16th century.

Its daisy like flowers make it an attractive addition to a herb garden and, as the plant is perennial, it will grace your garden for many years.

Chamomile often grows around the edge of gardens and can be found in the wild. It re-seeds itself readily but is easily controlled.

It’s often left to grow between paving slabs and alongside pathways. When walked on, the plant releases a pleasant scent.

Chamomile can grow up to a metre in height but generally it will grow as a shrub around 2-3 feet (60-90cm) high. It makes a good edging plant especially around a lawn or grassed area.

While only the flowers are used in the home, the whole herb is used in commercial beer making. Chamomile tea is widely drunk and can be bought in most supermarkets or health shops.

 

Medicinal uses for Chamomile

Chamomile has mild sedative properties and has, for many years, been made into a soothing and calming tea. It can also aid digestion and alleviate symptoms of the common cold.

Chamomile is used in cosmetic preparations including hair lighteners and shampoos.

It has been found useful for reducing joint inflammation such as arthritis and also easing menstrual cramps.

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*Text from 20 Occasional Herbs; a step by step guide to growing 20 fabulous herbs at home. Listed here: Herb Books 

I need to get some more chamomile started 🙂

Happy Gardening!

Linda x