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First Herb Harvest

fresh-cut chives, catnip and thyme

I might deny I said this come the rose blossom days of sun-filled June, but I love Spring the best.

(Wait, I already have to take it back. The rushing in of summertime in the weeks around Summer Solstice is what I really love. Spring is just thrilling in a different way.)

The garden is jumping up fast and we we were able to start cutting some herbs today. Chives are always the first to fully grow out, but our well-loved Sorrel isn’t far behind. We hope to be cutting Sorrel and Garlic Chives next week, so wish us some rain 🙂

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Spring Comes to the Micro-Farm

We’ve been having unusually cold weather and still have snow on the ground, so it doesn’t quite feel like Spring even though today is the Equinox.

Last year at this time I was already planting radishes but this year…. well…. I don’t think I’ll be planting outside anytime soon!

Inside the (unheated) hoophouse though, we have Spinach ready to harvest with Lettuce, Kale, and Mâche not far behind.

spinach
spinach

And the cold-season greens are not the only ones who’ve been enjoying the advantages of the new hoophouse.

Me, the Rosemary, and the English Thyme could not have gotten through this long, cold Winter without it 🙂

hoophouse
Sheri in the hoophouse
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Winter Gardening in Western Massachusetts

inside_hoophouse

Gardening season outside is way over – I woke up to a dusting of snow today – but our Hoophouse garden is in full swing! (the hoophouse is an unheated plastic greenhouse)

These little sprouts of Beet, Lettuce, and Spinach will be dormant during Winter, but will start growing again when the sunlight comes back in early February and should be ready for eating by March.

We also have Mizuna, Tatsoi, and Kale started, as well as a few Rosemary and English Thyme plants I moved in from the garden to over-winter.

Though this ‘extended garden season’ makes getting through the cold, dark Winter much easier for me, I still can’t wait for the day I’m out there picking my first Spring salad 😉

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Culinary Herbs: the apothecary in your pantry

culinary herbs for your herbal apothecary
“Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” -Hippocrates, ancient Greek physician called the father of medicine

You might be tempted to beeline into the Wellness Department when looking for a remedy, but some of the best herbal medicine can actually be found hiding out in the Produce Department (or maybe in your own garden!).

Culinary herbs not only offer us nutrition (they’re loaded with vitamins and minerals) and help with the important job of digesting and assimilating our food, they also make good medicine.

Basil, Chives, Cilantro, Dill, Garlic, Ginger, Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, and Turmeric – herbs you already know and use – have many medicinal properties.

 

Basil: antibacterial, antiviral

Chives: anthelmintic, antibacterial, antioxidant

Cilantro: antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory

Dill: antibacterial, antioxidant

Garlic: anthelmintic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant

Ginger: antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral

Marjoram: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant

Mint: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-parasitic, antiseptic

Oregano: antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant antiviral

Parsley: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant

Rosemary: antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant

Sage: antibacterial, anticatarrhal, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral

Thyme: anthelmintic, antibacterial, anticatarrhal, anti-fungal, antioxidant, antiviral

Turmeric: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant

 

But don’t wait until you’re already sick! Adding more herbs to your diet is preventative medicine, and is as easy as using a slightly heavier hand in your favorite recipe. Taking my cue from herbalist Susun Weed, I add herbs by the handful instead of teaspoonful.

My cooking sure has gotten alot more interesting! Nice to know, too, that it’s got an antibacterial, antioxidant, and antiviral punch.

Of course, you might want to experiment slowly with this. But don’t be afraid to experiment! Using different combinations of herbs, as well as more quantity, has turned my everyday eating into gastronomic adventure 🙂

(When using fresh herbs, use about twice as much as you would dried.)

 

Another trick I learned from herbalist Kami McBride. She recommends keeping herb blends and single herbs in a shaker right on the table with the salt and pepper. When they’re close at hand, she reasons, you’ll use them more often. Worked for me!

 

When it comes to herbal condiments though, my favorite is pesto. I like Basil pesto best, but only when it’s made from fresh Basil. Not always an option outside of summertime here in Massachusetts.

So during the “off-season”, I raid the Produce Department for their fresh leafy greens like Arugula, Lettuce, Chard and Kale, and blend those up with whatever fresh herbs are available.

Cilantro and Parsley work really well. You could try Rosemary and Sage too. And don’t forget to add some garlic!

 

For even more gourmet flair, infuse your herbs into olive or coconut oil. Herbal oils make great jumping off points for lots of recipes.

Oil infusions are perfect for salad dressings, marinades and sautéing. They can also be used for massage or bath oils, and are the base for ointments, salves, and creams.

Made with dried herbs, your infused oil should have a shelf-life of about one year. (Oils made with fresh plants have a much shorter time before they spoil. You might even want to keep these refrigerated for the longest shelf-life possible.)

 

Basic Oil Infusion Recipe, Simpler’s Method

1 part dried herb

2 parts oil

(a “part” is whatever unit of measure you’re using- if it’s a cup, then the recipe is 1 cup dried herb to 2 cups oil, if it’s a teaspoon, it’s 1 tsp. dried herb in 2 tsp. oil)

 

Solar-Infused: Put herb in glass Mason jar and add oil. Cover and leave in a warm, dry place for 2 weeks (this can be in the sun, but doesn’t have to be). Shake daily. Strain herbs from oil using cheesecloth or muslin. Then add another batch of herbs to oil and let sit for another 2 weeks. Strain out herbs and bottle oil.

 

Double Boiler: Put herbs and oil in double boiler and bring to a gentle simmer. Keep on low heat for 1-2 hours. *Keep an eye on it to make sure oil doesn’t overheat and scorch. Strain through cheesecloth or muslin and bottle.

(I add the spent herbs to my compost pile.)

 

Try 2 parts Rosemary with 1 part each Basil & Thyme for your herb blend. This oil would be perfect for:

– Dipping bread

  • On pasta
  • Marinating tofu
  • Hot Oil Treatment for hair & scalp
  • Massage Oil for aching muscles & sore joints

 

So jazz your taste buds and herb up your food! More than just adding flavor, it contributes to overall health and vitality, boosts immunity, and can heal illness should it happen to come down the pike.

 

(Written for my local food co-op, River Valley Market – Originally published in their Spring 2012 Newsletter)