Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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Home News Newsletters December E-Newsletter 2013
December E-Newsletter 2013 Print E-mail


December E-Newsletter 2013

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, since we finally have enough snow to put me in the holiday spirit! I hope you are enjoying the fragrance and flavors from your herb garden this time of year as much as I am.  Many of the plants of Christmas are herbs that have been integral parts of winter celebrations even in pre-Christian traditions.  In decorations, foods, drinks, candles, potpourri, sweet bags and more, herbs have always been an important part of the holidays.  Holly, ivy, mistletoe, juniper, pine, rosemary, lavender, thyme and mints are just a few of the traditional herbs used to celebrate this special time. 
     Don’t forget to pause a moment on Dec. 21st to celebrate the Winter Solstice.  I’m always amazed that early mankind noticed that on this day, the days begin to lengthen again.  How did they know, without clocks or scientific measurements?   After weeks of fearing the sun was disappearing, they rejoiced that the sun was returning.  Many of their ways of celebrating this important event were later incorporated into the Christmas season.
Indiana Hort Conference
      The 2014 Hort Congress will be held Jan 21-23 at the Wyndham Indianapolis West.  This is a good show to attend for those who want to “do” farmers’ markets or direct marketing of fruits and vegetables, or develop a winery.  There’s also lots of information on commercial organic growing and agritourism, plus a trade show for equipment and supplies.  For more information see

Illinois Herb Day-Saturday, January 18
The date for Herb Day sponsored by the Univ. of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana is Saturday, January 18.  It’s one of my favorite days of the year!  It’s a full day of herbal speakers, continental breakfast, lots of door prizes, and garden/herb vendors.  Amazing speakers including author Rosemary Gladstar, who will give “Herbs for Family Health: a basic home apothecary” and “Planting the Future.” Holly Shimizu, the first curator of the National Herb Garden, will present “The Best of Flavor and Fragrance” and “Herb Garden Design.”  In addition, Chef Marcus will do a cooking with herbs demonstration, as well as cater the sumptuous herbal luncheon (included in registration fee.)  Carolee’s Herb Farm will be there with lots of herbal treasures.  Registration is limited, and will fill faster than usual! Herb groups and garden clubs have already organized bus groups for this special event, so don’t delay.  Register by phone with Linda (217) 244-1693 or on-line at  DO it TODAY! $60 must be received by 1/10 to guarantee lunch, but I expect it will be sold out well before then.

Whitley County’s First Garden Symposium!
I’m honored to be speaking at “Garden Thyme” on Saturday, Feb. 22.  This all-day symposium will be held 8:30-3:30 at the 4H Center Bldg. in Columbia City, IN and includes three presentations, “Writing on the Earth with Fragrant Ink,” “Proven Winners for 2014,” and “The Cottage Garden Project.”  Vendors, lunch, and morning refreshments for $30! Registrations must be made before 2/10. E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for information or Google “Whitley Co. IN Garden Thyme” for a registration form.

“Spring Tonic” Garden Symposium-March 1st
We had such a good time at “Spring Tonic” in Paoli last spring that I’m returning to speak for this year’s event on Saturday, March 1st. (note the date in last month’s e-newsletter was incorrect!) Speaker topics include “Covering Lots of Ground,” “Landscaping with Herbs,” “Grow Gourmet Mushrooms,” “2014 Weather & Climate,” and “Visual Tour of an Indiana Landscape.”  Vendors, good food, door prizes and good company.  Registration includes breakfast and lunch, $35 if paid by 2/15, $40 thereafter. Master Gardeners receive 5 hrs. of education credit. Google “Spring Tonic Paoli” for a registration form.  Space is limited so don’t delay.



Our annual Christmas trip to Arizona
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!  Even in Arizona, where we visited our son and his family in Tucson.  Leaving Indiana, it was a windy minus two degrees so we were thrilled to spend several days in sunny, high-sixties weather.  I always enjoy this trip, because not only do we get to spend quality time with family, but it’s planting time in Tucson.  The intense heat of summer has passed, some rain has fallen, and the garden centers are overflowing with blooming plants.  I’ve mentioned Mesquite Valley Growers before, so the name will seem familiar.  This is a national award-winning garden center that just gets bigger and better every year. 


This trip, the benches were filled with more color than ever,


a great selection of herbs, including these lavenders and rosemary plants trimmed into a Christmas tree shape, (below) and hundreds of succulents.


I never fail to find a few plants that just have to come home with me.



     We visited an indoor Friday Farmers’ Market, shown above, and several parks, including my favorite one in the area, Tohono Chul.  Not only does it have a terrific tea room and extensive gift shop, but it also features several theme gardens, such as the hummingbird garden (shown below)



a greenhouse area for plant sales (shown below)


and garden shop, miles of hiking trails, and interesting exhibits and educational programs.  If you are ever in the Tucson area, don’t miss it.

     Our hotel had some beautiful plantings, like the verbena and bougainvillea shown above. 


On the terrace, a waist-high raised herb garden was filled with plants, like the lemongrass and arugula (above left) and a new planting of rosemary and tender herbs (below right.) 


The view from our patio was certainly nothing we’d see at home!



2014 Schedule
I’m working on the 2014 Farm Schedule, and it’s already getting tricky with all the speeches and shows we’ve committed to doing, plus some exciting travels.  So, if there’s a workshop topic you’d like let me know.  It’s also wise to book group tours and visits as far in advance as possible.  The farm will open April 1st.  Fairy Days will be the last weekend of April, so plan ahead and mark your calendars now.

Did you know?
-YouTube is now more popular than cable?  6 billion hours of YouTube are
 viewed per month!
-New research (Univ. of IL) shows that being outdoors in a green setting
 while performing activities reduces ADHD symptoms in children,
 even simple activities such as reading or walking
-Texas A & M research confirms that the elderly in long-term care settings
 who spend time outdoors in a green settings report less pain, improved
 sleeping patterns, less urinary incontinence, faster healing, better  
 speech, and increased longevity.
-Studies in Japan show that walking in a forest improves the immune system, lowers
 stress indicators, reduces depression, and lowers glucose levels in diabetics
-Americans waste an estimated 40% of their food -Mobile apps will evolve that will
 connect with your kitchen appliances, so  you can start the oven remotely,
 or your fridge will tell you if you’re low on milk
-Mobile phone payments are expected to soon replace credit cards
-Grocery stores will soon have “smart shelves” that will actually recognize
 you by scanning your face!  Mondelez International (Oreos, Kraft products,
 Ritz Crackers, Triscuits, etc.) plans to implement them soon in selected stores
-Hot décor trends will still focus on “natural” materials in 2014
-Before windshield wipers, drivers wiped carrot or onion juice on the glass
 to help repel rain and snow
-Save holiday citrus peels to sprinkle in the garden to deter cats
-Apples contain cancer-fighting flavonoids that can reduce the risk of lung
 cancer by 50%
-Before the pencil eraser was invented in 1750, bread was used instead
-Fresh pineapple suppresses the mucus and coughs of a cold, helps upper
 respiratory conditions and acute sinusitis


An Herb to Know: Ginger
      Our hotel in Tucson had this amazing gingerbread stagecoach in the lobby.  Over ninety pounds of gingerbread and seventy-five pounds of candy were used to make it.  It was large enough that two people could easily fit inside.  A sign explained that since there is no snow in most parts of the state, Santa uses a stagecoach rather than a sleigh to deliver gifts to good boys and girls. 
     Ginger is a tropical plant, native to either China or India, or both, depending upon which source you trust.  There are writings by Confucius from about 500 B.C. and records of early Arab traders taking ginger root from the Orient to the Greeks and Romans.  Invading Roman soldiers carried to more northern parts of Europe.  Soon it traveled via the Portuguese and Spaniards to parts of Africa, Mexico, the West Indies and the Caribbean.  Ginger’s popularity grew and spread until by the 14th century, it was second only to pepper as the most-used spice.
     Its scientific name, Zingiber officinalis, is thought to originate from the Sanskrit term “singabera,” meaning “shaped like a horn.”  That may have evolved through the Greek word “zingiberi,” to the Latin “zingiber.” 
     Ginger has large spear-shaped leaves that grow upright.  The decorative leaves grow as high as three feet in ideal conditions, which is a hot, moist climate.  When mature, it produces yellow flowers that are tinged with purple. There, harvesting can begin as quickly as nine or ten months after planting a section of rhizome.  Most of the crop is dug, scrubbed, sun-dried, and ground to a powder.  Only a fraction of the crop is sold fresh. 
     Only the rhizomes, which have a complex aroma and flavor, are used in cooking.  The root should have a hint of lemon and a sharpness that is pleasant.  Most experts report the rhizomes grown in Jamaica have the best flavor.  Rhizomes grown in Kenya are darker and less flavorful.  Fresh ginger root is a common ingredient in many dishes, including stir-fry, curry, salads, pastas, and meat recipes, especially marinades.   The root is usually peeled and then it can be sliced, diced or finely grated.  When choosing fresh ginger root for cooking or planting, look for pale, smooth skin.  The root should be heavy.  Older ginger may be wrinkled and light, indicating that much of the essential oil has evaporated during storage.
     Dried ground ginger is essential for gingerbread, cookies, cakes, scones and pickles.  It is the flavor for traditional ginger ale, ginger beer, and many teas.     .
     Crystallized ginger is another useful product.  Fresh ginger is sliced and preserved in heavy sugar syrup, allowed to dry, and then rolled in sugar.  It can be nibbled fresh, chopped to be added to scones, biscuits, cookies, cakes and other desserts.
     Pickled ginger is often found in Oriental groceries.  Thin slices are pickled in sweetened vinegar.  Red pickled ginger is colored and sweetened so it is slightly tangy.  Japanese pickled ginger is usually milder than the Chinese versions.
     Ginger has historically been used for nausea, upset stomach, motion sickness, flatulence, coughs, and flu.  Its essential oil is used in the perfume industry and in commercial flavorings
     If you’d like a winter growing project, select a fresh root from the grocery store.  Lay it horizontally on good potting soil, in a fairly large pot.  A small pot will be inclined to tip over when the leaves get large.  Half-bury the root, water a bit, and place it in a warm, sunny location.  Within days, small green tips will begin to grow.  When the plant is large, it can be divided.  I generally replant half and harvest half, discarding withered roots in the center.

Christmas Salsa
Here’s a simple recipe I invented for the holidays, especially to brighten leftover ham, roast pork, beef, or turkey.  We also like it with grilled fish, and it works well as an appetizer, shown above, with any cracker spread first with cream cheese, or just as a salsa with tortilla chips. 
Mix together:  3 T. spearmint, finely chopped;  6 T. finely chopped parsley; ¾ c. finely chopped red onion; 1 red apple (a tart one like Winesap or Jonathan works well, about 1 c.), finely chopped;  ½ tsp. salt; a few grinds of black pepper; 3 T. rinsed and drained capers; 2 T. fresh lime juice; 3 T. olive oil. Serve immediately, or refrigerate. Makes about 2 c.

     I’ve been enjoying the lacy frosts on the window panes, the gorgeous full moon, the cheerful holiday music, and special times with family and friends.     It’s easy to get caught up in the hectic rush of the holidays and miss much of the beauty and magic of the season.  Be sure as you are working to make everyone else’s holiday special that you take a moment to care for yourself as well.  Steep in an herbal bath of lemon balm, sip some rose geranium tea, and spray a mist of lavender on your sheets.  Take time to actually enjoy your decorations.  All too soon, it will be time to take them down!

Till next January, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Herbal Blessings,