Garden, Plant, Cook!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

National Herb Week and Herb Day

Dear Folks,

Tomorrow, May 1st, begins National Herb Week, which ends on Mother's Day, May 7th.

National Herb Day is Saturday, May 6th.

Each year the week begins on the Monday before Mother's Day.

[All of the herbs in the picture are grown in my gardens. I have also grown or grow many more.]

There are so many national "weeks" and "days" you can find one for any food or activity, but to me, this is a real and logical celebration of plants which provide us with flavor, aroma, healing and just plain ways to feel good.

Herbs are the original medicines from which most modern drugs are founded on, albeit, the modern ones are mostly now synthesized to allow for patenting and also to exponentially increase the potency.

In your life you probably use herbs or essential oils and may not even know it.

Your body lotion may contain Calendula for it's soothing properties. The petals are also used in foods as a "poor man's saffron" for its distinctive color.

If you ever had a toothache and used clove oil to ease the pain. That oil is sourced from the same plant which gives you the flavor for baking, and interestingly, it is one the main essential oils which give Sweet Basil it's well-loved flavor. Other basil varieties may have cinnamon, lemon or lime essential oils too.

Peppermint may be in your lotions to ease muscle aches.

Lavender provides the wonderful fragrance in some cosmetics, but is also in cleaning agents, herb blends and is used to ease headaches and as a sleep aid.

Herbs have been used in centuries old liquor recipes.

In fact, most culinary herbs also have medicinal properties. Basil and mint for stomach issues, thyme for respiratory, rosemary for antibacterial action, and sage to help digest fatty meats.

NOTE: Herbs which are ONLY medicinal should only be used with expert guidance. I suggest culinary herbs for their medicinal qualities because they are safer to use by the average person, but even a good thing can be overdone. Be aware of your, and your family's, allergies and sensitivities.

This week and for Mother's Day put together a bouquet using herbs from your garden and fill the house, decorating the table, with these wonderful and useful plants.

Celebrating Herbs!

Click on the link above to read about 25 different herbs and spices.  2 years ago I created a series of posts celebrating 25 herbs and spices mentioned in the Bible with history and recipe ideas.

Once you pull up the link you can search for an herb by name. I hope you enjoy these posts.

A quirky recipe I read* 30+ years ago . . .

Lavender Scented Salad Dressing - and - Wood Polish!

1/8 cup olive, avocado or good vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vodka
10 drops essential oil of lavender**

Mix all together and shake well when using.

For polish apply and let sit for a minute or two to the furniture or panel and then buff. The vinegar dissolves the dirt and grease and the alcohol helps the oil sink in.

As a salad dressing this would be nice, lightly dressing a salad of tomatoes and lettuce, salt and pepper to taste. Other herbs like rosemary, oregano or thyme could be added to taste. Dressings can also be used to baste or marinate meats or fish.

* Unfortunately I don't recall where I read it, but I knew it would be fun to try.

** ONLY use true essential oil of lavender if you are using this for food. Food essential oils should ONLY be used with a carrier oil, never directly on food or your body.

What are you planning for National Herb Day and National Herb Week?

Make it a great week for herbs in your garden and kitchen!

My simple herb planting chart shows when to plant 48 different herbs here in the valley and all USDA 9b zones.  This PDF will allow you to have it handy on any device which reads PDFs.  Click here or in the upper side bar to purchase - $5.00

My recipe books are also available for purchase in the side bar.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Around The Garden Mid-April

Dear Folks,

Some of the flowers are fading and some are just getting into all of their glory.  (Don't miss our newest "guest" in the gardens "Bob" - near the bottom of this post.)

With a couple of exceptions our gardens are all edible.  The main exception for me is a flower which is not edible but is so stunning I have several different color variations.  My dad started this back in the 80s when he gave me my first Amaryllis bulb, a blushing pink, which has produced pups multiple times and I have distributed them through out the gardens.

Several years ago, I was at the Sun City Farmers Market with my friends and spotted this drop-dead gorgeous amaryllis and just had to have it.  Not only does it bloom every year now, it gave me seeds 3 years ago, which I am growing and will distribute around the gardens also (according to the experts it will take 5+ years for the bulb to get big enough to produce a flower and I'm hoping for something as spectacular as this).

Off topic, sort of - a great opportunity to listen to Lisa Steele "Fresh Eggs Daily" chicken whisperer (my title for her) talks Chickens In the Garden, with Grep Peterson over a Urban Farm.

Some time in the future, I'm pretty sure we will have (again) chickens and maybe ducks for their wonderful eggs and personalities.

Many of us grew up with honeysuckle flowers and the joy of licking the nectar from their little filament.

I put together a bowl of fresh berries for a dinner we made with friends last week and I sprinkled the honeysuckle and pineapple guava blossoms over the top - yum!
Fresh and edible flowers like these two are a perfect garnish and taste addition to fruits.

If you like a little zip in your fruit salads, try nasturtium flowers and some of the herbs are blooming like lemon thyme.

Another old fashioned edible flower favorite are daylilies.  NOTE: the stunning star gazers and similar are NOT edible.

Daylilies, if you have not grown them, literally bloom for 1 day and then make way for the next flower(s) to open up over the following days.  They are lovely petals to nibble on, you can make a yogurt or cheese dip and stuff them, or just sprinkle the petals on salads.

I have an Aravaipa* Avocado Tree planted last October and it is doing great.  A month or two later I bought some avocados and decided to see if I could get the seeds to root.  About a month ago one of them had roots, finally, so I planted it in the same general area as my under-story, coffee/mango/avocado trees.  Yesterday I spotted a nice healthy stem/trunk.  It is protected by one of my chicken wire hats.  I pinched the tip back to encourage it to branch.  We shall see. [*Called the Aravaipa Avocado for the Aravaipa Canyon in Arizona where the mother tree was discovered, this species is said to be temperature tolerant from 14 to 120 degrees. ]

The caper plants are flowering, and I am soooo looking forward to berries in a month or two to harvest and ferment (pickle).  Along with my friend Jacq Davis at Epic Yard Farm, I believe waiting for the berries and passing on just picking the unopened flower buds is the more productive way to make use of this great plant.  [Read up on how Suzanne Vilardi and figured out how to grow caper plants in our Arizona desert and harvest the seed to grow new plants.]

One of the visitors this time of year is the Giant Swallow Tail Butterfly.  Citrus tree leaves are the host for this beautiful butterfly and the curiously interesting caterpillars start emerging and chewing on some leaves before cocooning into butterflies again.  Many people, even desert plant experts, consider these pests (they are pollinators in the butterfly stage along with bees and hummingbirds) and we do not view them as pests.  If you enjoy butterflies you should understand their need for host plants.  I would encourage you to embrace the idea of "hosting" the egg and caterpillar stage of these magnificent butterflies.

While not a frequent visitor to our gardens, they are quite shy, the Cardinals show up a couple of times a year, and Deane managed to snap a picture (through the kitchen window) of this handsome male eating seed on the berm where we "host" the various birds.  We also have a couple of feeders but a lot of these guests prefer the openness of the berm.

And now for our newest guest "Bob" - a Male Bobwhite Quail!  Named for their very distinctive call, he showed up last week and has been around morning and evening.  We have both gotten quite a lot of joy watching him.  He is not particularly skitterish and Deane has enjoyed the "first light" wake up call in the mornings to get him up and closing our windows down before the sun heats up.  [When we can during the year we open the house up to pull all the fresh night coolness in.]  The only other time we had a Bobwhite visit us was a quick stop over on our gate about 7.or 8 years ago and that distinctive call allowed me to see and get a photo of him or her (don't remember who visited us).

I hope you enjoyed a peak at our gardens.  Share this blog with your friends and family.

If you missed the May planting / sowing information here is the link.

My desert planting calendars and books are available for purchase in the sidebar.

Have a great time in your gardens!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Watch this Important Documentary on Seed! Available for a Short time.

Dear Folks,

No discussion of food can be complete without the talking about seed. [Pictured is my saved Egyptian Spinach, Garlic Chive and Roselle seed.)

This new documentary "SEED: The Untold Story" is so important I hope you will consider watching and sharing.

They who control the seed, control all of our food!

The streaming video is available free until May 1, 2017.

 Watch here.

So what can we gardeners do?

We can grow natural and heirloom varieties and SAVE THE SEED, by allowing some of the healthiest plants to mature to fully ripe seed. [Pictured:  Drying tomato seed for storage.]

Not only are we doing our small part in saving edible plant seeds, we are also creating our own regional adaptation.  That wonderful and natural phenomenon where the subsequent generations of plants in our gardens become more adapted to not only the climate in our region, but also our own gardens.

Once your seeds are fully dried, store as you would any spice, coffee or tea - cool, dry, dark.  Personally I prefer paper envelopes but glass or plastic containers work too.  Just remember they must be completely dried before you store.

SHARE the seed with others.  I host free seed sharing events at Mesa Urban Garden, but now both Mesa and Phoenix libraries have seed banks where you can check out some seed and then when you harvest you can return newly harvested seed back to the bank.  All FREE!

A lesser know fact about the "modern" farming of hybrids and GMOs is the loss of nutrient density in these foods where quantity became the focus over quality.  If you have to eat 2.5 to 3.5 times the amount of a food to get the same nutrient density as was available 50-70+ years ago, what really has been achieved???? (Source: Study of USDA Direct Farm Reports from Farmers over a 40 years period.)
Share this important video with family and friends, even those who do not garden.  It is important that everyone understand the challenges and risks to our food production systems.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, April 17, 2017

May Planting/Sowing Tips

Dear Folks,

As we move into the warmer months, what to plant and sow options begin to decrease.

Planting/Transplanting is more of a challenge for the plants as they have to deal with rising air temperatures while trying to get their roots established.

[Be sure to read my note (end of post) on how weeds identify soil and nutrients below.]

A story illustration many years ago - I believe it was Sunset Magazine - compared two transplanted shrubs. One planted in October and one planted around April 1st.   By July both shrubs looked about the same.  But by the end of the summer, the one planted the prior October was thriving and 3 times the initial size while the April planted one was struggling to survive.

What happened?  The October transplant, while not doing a lot of above the ground growth, was setting down good healthy roots.  The April planted shrub was struggling with increasing air and surface soil temperatures while trying to get those shallower roots going.

If you choose to transplant now, particularly with shrubs and trees, create the two berm system.  In my photo from my short video, I show you where the first and second berms should be:   1st one about 12 inches away from the trunk of the plant;  2nd one about 3 feet out.  Mulch between the berms and that is where you deep water the plants.  This method keeps water from sitting at the base of the trunk, keeps pest bugs and diseases from getting to the plant; and encourages the roots to go deep and spread. With shrubs and trees all the feeder roots will eventually be out at the drip line (the edge of the canopy - width - of the plant).

With other types of transplants:  vegetables, fruits, herbs and edible flowers, mulch this time of year is a great thing but, again, do not let the mulch touch the base of the plants.

MAY PLANTING:  Artichoke, Jerusalem; Beans, Soy; Cantaloupe; Caper plants; Cucumbers; Eggplant; Fig Trees; Fruit Trees (With Care); Melons, Musk; Okra; Peanuts; Peppers, Sweet; Peppers, Chilies; Potato, Sweet; Purslane; Squash, Summer; Squash, Winter; Tomatillo

SEED IN:  Basil, Chive (Garlic or Onion), Epazote, Perilla, or Catnip-- making use of the canopy of flowering or vegetable plants.

EDIBLE FLOWERS TO PLANT:  Impatients Wallarana; Marigolds, including Tangerine Scented (Tagetes Lemonii), Citrus Scented (Tagetes Nelsonii); Portulaca; Scented Geraniums; Sunflower Roselle/Jamaica Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

NOTE: Give a hair cut to low growing herbs like thyme, marjoram and oregano after they finish blooming.

--Temperatures will remain above 90 from Approx May 29 to September 29th.

--Potatoes - while harvesting, save some for replanting next Jan 1st - store in cardboard (like cardboard egg cartons) in your crisper/frig away from other veggies.

--Fertilize Fruit Trees Memorial Day.

--Tomatoes will stop setting fruit when night time temps go above 80 and stay there. Do Not Pull the plant - they will set fruit again beginning in September.

--DO NOT prune sun damage - the damage continues to protect the underlying growth.  Wait until fall to begin pruning off sun damage when the day time temps drop back below 100 consistantly.


Edible flowers blooming right now that go well with all the berries ripening are honeysuckle and pineapple guava.  Sprinkle over or toss with a mixed berry salad/dessert. 

The petals on the pineapple guava are like eating a piece of candy.  Delicious!!  The nectar from both flowers adds to fruit.

ALWAYS know your and your family's allergic issues when eating flowers which may have pollen in them.

Weeds!  Fascinating barometers of soil conditions and nutrients.

Geoffl Lawton's weekly newsletter this week included a great article on the Permaculture Institute site on what the weeds in our yards tell us about the soil.  I encourage you to read the entire article and click on the internal links.  Common mallow loves barren areas.   Why?  It's huge tap root can reach down below the compaction seeking moisture.  Many of us have seen an explosion of Pineapple Weed (one of the false chamomiles) this spring in both the desert and areas of our gardens.  Why? Hard pan from both the rain run off and baking sun are ideal conditions for this weed.

Under the section "Nutrient Porfile" is a 42 page article on weeds, pests and diseases and the role of various weeds (including eating them).

Have a great time in your garden! 

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

You can purchase my gardening calendars (when to plant/sow) and books from the side bar here on the blog.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Do You Have This Zippy Snack Pod in Your Garden?

Dear Folks,

I just plunked some roselle seeds in the garden. (Sow Hibiscus sabdariffa now to have edible leaves for harvesting through the summer (as a lettuce substitute) and the wonderful Vitamin C rich flower calyx in the fall.)

As I was coming back I passed these tasty, tangy pods on one of my plants and grabbed some to show you.

Hint they are not a sugar pea or any kind of pea.

Most people are not aware of this edible seed pod, you usually eat the root!

What is it?


There is even a variety of radish grown specifically for this green edible pod.

You can see information on the "Rat's Tail Radish" on Baker Creek, for more information on that particular variety.

However ALL OF the radish varieties have edible pods.  You just need to make sure you get them green and tender, like a sugar pea pod.

I had not harvested this radish and was just ignoring it - the bees love the flowers and suddenly their they were ready for the picking!

What is growing in your garden that you may not recognize as edible?

Have a wonderful, and safe Easter and Passover Weekend,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

2 Ingredient Sorbet Results

Dear Folks,

I made the orange juice (our own oranges) and banana sorbet and I thought it turned out great.  Like a Granita it was crystalline in texture (think more solid slushy) and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

FYI - I tried posting a picture on Facebook but for some reason I can't post pictures there.

Anyway, I used our Deni Ice Cream maker.  If using one of these make sure your liquid is well chilled before hand so the combination of the frozen base and the chilled liquid gives you the best results.

[Second picture below:  The banana pieces were mashed and mixed in during the churning process.]

I may try this with some milk, cream or half and half to create a sherbet with a more ice cream consistency. With this combination of fruit and milk I think I will get something closer to an Orange Creamsicle (one of my favorite treats from the Good Humor Man trucks when I was a kid).  Oh and maybe I can create a version of the now discontinued "Swiss Chocolate" ice cream which was an orange creamsicle sherbet with chocolate chips in it!!!

If you have not tried using an ice cream maker the final results come out more soft than hard. To harden you need to put into the freezer.

I stirred mine a couple of times during freezing to keep it from turning into a solid frozen juice.  With milk or cream it won't be that solid when fully frozen.

The best part is you can mix up your fresh juice and fruit combinations to your and your family preferences.  How "cool" is that! (pun intended :-)

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Please share with your friends and family who enjoy gardening and cooking.  Thank you!

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Dolma, Stuffed Grape, or Fig, or Nasturtium OR...

Left Nasturtium / Right Fig
Dear Folks,

I have written about using my huge nasturtium leaves to make Dolma, the addictive Middle Eastern dish/snack made by stuffing grape leaves with a mixture of grains, maybe meat and herbs.

Several years ago I was sitting at my kitchen table, gazing at my HUGE nasturtium leaves (some 8+ inches across), I started researching Dolma, because I had the idea of using those nasturtium leaves instead of grape leaves.

I was also looking for ways to mimic the already processed grape leaves which are available in cans or jars to make the Dolma.  I learned I could make it without the necessity of processing the leaves first - an all-in-one cooking process.  Bingo!

Along the way I learned that many of the original Dolma from ancient times were made with fig leaves.  Of course!  Figs are native to that area of the world, why wouldn't they use the fig leaf.  Called "Thrion" Dolma made with fig rather than vine leaves is still found in Greece, Turkey and presumably other areas.

The trick is to get the fig leaves while they are still young and not as leathery as the older leaves*.  For the prior two years I missed my opportunity, but this year I actually caught the leaves in time. So I made up a batch of Dolma using half fig and half nasturtium leaves to fill the pot.   I had made up a batch of my grain mix (barley and quinoa) and just had to add some shredded carrot and chopped olives.  Mix up lemon juice and olive oil and I was ready to fill and cook.

When you pick fig leaves, there is a latex type sap which you want to rinse off, by soaking the leaves for a while.  Cut off stem.  As you can see, I left the fig leaf intact to allow for rolling.

My Basic Dolma Recipe.

This basic recipe is so easily adapted to your preferences. I like Barley/Quinoa to boost the protein, but you can use any grain or combination you like.  You can add meat if you like.  Keep the lemon juice/oil proportions pretty much as noted, the 'tang' of the lemon is what gives a lot of flavor to the finished product. [The carrots are to keep the dolmas packed tight for cooking - nice extra flavored snack!]

Comparison of Nasturtium to Fig?  I think I liked my nasturtium a bit more than the fig, but I would certainly make it again, just because I have fig trees!

Many leaves can be used to make Dolma.  Find leaves you love and give the recipe a try.  What unique leaf would you try or have tried??

* My friend Cricket Aldridge has a site ( where she posts wonderful ideas for using your garden bounty.  She introduced me to the idea of using dried fig leaves for tea.  Wonderful!  I have a jar of my dried fig leaves for use when I want to add to my cup of tea.  Older leaves, that are in perfect condition, can be used for this.  Since I missed the young leaves for Dolma last year I made up for it by grabbing nice older leaves to dry and store.

Have a great day in the garden and kitchen!

P.S.  If you missed my post on drying herbs and more here is the link.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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