Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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Home News Newsletters November E-Newsletter 2014
November E-Newsletter 2014 Print E-mail


November E-Newsletter

This is one of my favorite months in the year.  The farm is all closed down for the winter.  All of the perennials have been trimmed and are now snug in the cold frame; tender plants and plugs are enjoying balmy conditions in the greenhouse.  The Cottage and the Barn are all packed up.  Shade cloths have been taken down and stored away.  All the shows and speaking engagements for this year are finished.  Perennials have been seeded; labels are sorted and filed alphabetically.  The drying racks are filled with herbs that were cut before the first hard frost.  It’s the month for major college sports, including Feast Week, when I combine two of my favorite past-times, watching great games and reading seed and plant catalogs into the wee hours.  And, of course there are family gatherings at Thanksgiving that include delicious foods.  There’s a little flexibility, so before I started any major projects, we took the opportunity to travel.  The photo above is of a German flower market, which gives a hint of our adventures.  

Univ. of Illinois Herb Day-Saturday, Jan. 17th
Mark your calendar now for the first event of the 2015 season.  This is always one of my favorite events, and this year’s line-up includes a variety of topics, plus vendors, door prizes, and an herbal buffet.  Seating is limited, so make your registration now.  Online registration ($60) by credit card or check is available at  Registration is also available by contacting Linda Harvey at 217-244-1693 or by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Travel Time!
     Our getaway began in Dublin, Ireland where I returned to the National Botanical Garden.  I’ve been there twice before, but always in summer, so it was interesting to see it in autumn.  Dublin’s climate is a bit milder than central Indiana, so annuals were still blooming, including these nasturtiums (above right) and hardy cyclamen (above left) that are European favorites. 


  I strolled through all the gardens, including this outstanding rock garden that was showing some pretty autumn color. Unfortunately, I was too late to see the plantings around this replica of a traditional Viking house, which was a featured educational program this summer. 

     I also enjoyed the display of the “Last Rose of Summer,” a poem written by the Irish poet Thomas Moore in 1805.  Sir John Stevenson set the poem to music in 1813, and it’s still an Irish favorite. 


    When the drizzle began, I hurried inside the elaborate conservatory and was delighted to find some of my favorites, a collection of fragrant scented geraniums.
     One of the reasons I wanted to revisit the Botanic Garden was see a fascinating photographic display by Karl Gaff, “A Visual Odyssey into Invisible Worlds.”  A scanning electron microscope expanded a single grain of pollen to the size of a cantaloupe, showing steep valleys, pointed “mountains” and interesting textures that are oblivious to the human eye at normal size.  Cameras were not allowed, so I can’t show you what I saw, but I will never look at a yarrow or Herb Robert in the same way again.


     Another reason to stop in Dublin, besides being able to stock up on Murray Mints, is the airport restaurants.  Where else can you find herbs growing on a wall, so diners can snip fresh chives, thyme, and parsley?  And, there’s a self-serve tea bar offering sixteen varieties of tea, and fresh spearmint sprigs (far left in photo) and herbal honeys to add to your cup.  And, I can get sticky toffee pudding!  The Irish know how to make airports comfortable.


     Then it was on to Germany to visit our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren.  We love it there, and had our traditional St. Martin’s goose dinner including tasty dumplings and red cabbage.  The village Christmas market opened while we were there, so we enjoyed watching the kids ice skating, and sampled some of the traditional foods like this giant bratwurst.   I love shopping in their local groceries, where it’s easy to find herbal teas and foods that we can’t get in the U.S.  I purchased or photographed several items featuring savory, nettle, and other herbal products to use in articles and displays in the coming season.

     One of the highlights was seeing our grandson score his first goal in ice hockey.  He was recently shifted from defense to offense, and we were thrilled to watch him score….twice, and also had an assist.  During the break, the stadium announcer said in honor of Evan’s first goal, they were playing a song for him.  The “Star Spangled Banner” filled the rink, and we quickly stood, put our hands over our hearts and sang along.  Afterwards, the German parents applauded and said we should come more often, because we were Evan’s good luck charms.  I wish we could!


     Being in Europe gives one a sense of the enormity of the United States.  One morning we left Germany at 8 a.m., drove through the Netherlands, and arrived in Belgium by 10 a.m.  That’s 3 countries in 2 hours.  We drove through some beautiful countryside, where fields of sugar beets, leeks, and cabbages were interspersed with harvested fields and woodlands.  Many trees were filled with rounded mounds of mistletoe.  Our destination was one of Europe’s largest antique/flea markets held in the streets of Tongeren.  It was absolutely amazing, with street after street filled with booths containing everything imaginable from delicate porcelains to cast iron garden art, military memorabilia to children’s toys.  Silverware, china in every conceivable pattern, expensive jewelry and furs, books, paintings, and farm tools were spread throughout lawns, parking garages, and gymnasiums.  I loved the kitchen ware, teapots, and vintage linens, too.  Of course restaurants and coffee shops were open, so we had the opportunity to indulge in Belgium waffles, rich hot chocolate with whipped cream, and other delights.  By lunchtime however, we were starved so we hurried to lunch at Bazilik, located adjacent to this lovely cathedral.  The rabbit with a vegetable tart and potato croquettes was one of the best meals I’ve had ages.  We took a moment to pop into the Viking Museum next door.
     I’ll put our adventures in Italy in next month’s newsletter.

Did you know:
*The largest pumpkin grown in the U.S. this year weighed a whopping 2,058 lbs.  A ghostly white variety grown in Napa, CA., it was 265 lbs. smaller than the world record pumpkin grown in Germany.
*British researchers have found that men who consume 10 portions of tomato weekly reduce the risk of prostate cancer by 20%
*The terrible citrus greening disease that is spread by a pencil lead-sized bug from tree to tree has reduced the harvest of oranges in Florida by over 20%.  There is no cure, and some citrus farmers have already been forced out of business.  135,000 acres of orange trees have been destroyed over the past several years.
*Bumblebees are most active at temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees F.
*The newest fruit fad is a pure white strawberry with red dots called the Hula Berry.
*Researchers from Oregon State Univ. and Germany published their findings on a 100 million year-old piece of amber that encased a cluster of 18 tiny flowers from the Cretaceous Period.  Microscopic views show pollen tubes emerging from two grains of pollen and penetrating the flower’s stigma, thus revealing the oldest known evidence of sexual reproduction in flowering plants.
*There are more than 4500 types of aphids!

Herb to Know: Stinging Nettles
     An annoying, but amazingly nutritious herb, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) can be found throughout the United States, parts of Africa, Australia, and Europe.  Some experts say that in early languages “net” meant something spun, and indeed, one of the early uses for nettle was to make thread.  Tablecloths and sheets were spun from nettle in many Scandinavian countries.  In Siberia, nettles were used to make paper.  Nettle juice was often used as a dye, and early barrel makers used the juice to make them waterproof.  The oil pressed from nettles was used in early lamps.  Cheese makers often used nettle as a rennet.  Nettles were used to make beer and to flavor wine.  As food, nettles can be picked in very early spring and used as a salad green.  And, as soon as nettles are cooked, they are harmless.  The French call nettle “Grande Ortie,” while in Germany it is “Brennessel.”  In Italy it is “Ortica,” and in Spanish look for “Ortiga.”  The greens are often used as a substitute in recipes for cooked spinach.  While I was in Europe, I easily found stinging nettle teas in most grocery stores, and a nettle risotto mix at Eataly in Bari.


     Farmers recognized early on that feeding nettles to cows seemed to make them healthier and more productive.  Hens that are fed nettles lay more eggs.  Gardeners learned that freshly cut nettles added to compost made it even more valuable.
     Of course, nettle is most famous for its nasty sting that causes a burning sensation whenever bare skin comes into contact with the formic acid in the hairy leaves.  In some cases, it causes a deep purple rash that lasts for weeks.  This sting has been applied as a counter-irritant for conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, and weak muscles, much as hot peppers were used.  Nettle seeds were included in hair tonics to stimulate hair growth, or mixed with honey and water to promote vomiting.  Coastal folk used nettle seeds cooked with mussels as a cure for constipation.  Nettle tea was often prescribed for kidney ailments.  Nettles were also thought to be a good blood purifier, and were commonly eaten in early spring as a “tonic.”  Often they were part of spring celebrations and “Easter” meals.  Nettle Pudding was an early dish included in such celebrations, or often made for invalids to help them recover their strength after illness or injury.   Nettle juice mixed with alum was used to dye eggs bright yellow for Easter.
     Before you think of nettles as just a folklore herb that has lost its value, be aware that such noted herbalists as Rosemary Gladstar lists it as one of the twelve essential items for the herbal pantry, saying it “supports the whole body,” and is “used for anemia, fatigue, edema, menstrual difficulties, and allergies and hay fever.”  She calls it “one of the herbal wonders of the plant queendom.”  For lots more information on using nettle, including some tasty recipes, consult her highly recommended book, “Herbal Healing for Women.”
     Nettles are very adaptable, growing in full sun through woodland settings to a height of about 2-3 feet.  They are host plants for some butterflies and beneficial insects.

Savory Stuffed Mushrooms
Here’s an easy recipe I developed for holiday entertaining, featuring the upcoming Herb of the Year, Savory.
     Remove the stems from 12 large (2-3”) mushrooms.  Finely chop the stems.  Add 1/3 c. finely chopped feta cheese; 2 heaping T. finely chopped onion; 1 T. fresh lemon juice;  ½ tsp. coarsely ground (I just use the palms of my hands) dried savory; a few rounds of ground pepper; pinch of salt; drizzle of olive oil.  Mix.
     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a shallow baking pan.
     Press stuffing into the cavity of each mushroom, mounding it a bit to use all the mixture.  Place a bit of feta cheese on top of each mushroom and place in the lightly oiled pan.  Bake 10 min.  These can be made in advance, covered, refrigerated, and baked just before serving.

On my kitchen wall, hangs a framed Mary Engelbreit print that reads “Just living is not enough…one must have Sunshine, Freedom, and Flowers!”  It was a gift from a dear friend, and it adds joy and a gentle reminder of all that I have to be thankful for every time I pass it.  In this Thanksgiving season, we all need to be grateful.  Take a moment to view your slumbering gardens, and sing praises that you have a plot and the ability to grow.  Share more hugs, remember a friend or shut-in who may not be as fortunate, and always count your

Herbal Blessings, Carolee