March E-Newsletter 2017
Well, March came in like a mildly irritated lion, cavorted like a lamb a bit with some warmth but high winds, and then went into cold, calculated lion mode with freezing temperatures to thwart all our gardening urges. Luckily, I had a basement filled with seedlings and a full schedule of March Madness to keep me sane. And through it all, Mother Nature gently worked her magic; the fairies woke up the flowers and painted pretty faces on the pansies. It became an exciting month both indoors and out as Spring arrived and both Nature & the NCAA put on amazing shows! Now we look ahead to April, filled with optimism and dreams of the “best garden ever.”
The flower beds around my house have never been tidier, and every new spring bulb delights me. (I planted another 1,000 last fall to add to the 900 the year before, so that’s a lot of delight!) My little hobby greenhouse is filling nicely, and each day I can’t wait to see what’s popped through the soil in the potager. Rows of radishes, various lettuces, peas, snow peas, garlic, green onions, shallots, fava beans, and more are already visible.
As you can see from the top photo, the past few days, heavy downpours of rain became a river running through our back yard. I would have needed a boat to get to the potager. And then 1” hail pounded everything not once, but twice.
But, today it seems like spring, with daffodils blooming by the dozens, tree frogs singing and bees out looking for blossoms. However, we know that freezing temperatures can be just around the next cloud. I only have to look at the past few years’ garden journals to assure me that it’s wise to be ready to cover anything fragile, but it feels great to be back in the garden and working off some of those winter calories.
HSCI Herb Symposium: Saturday, April 8, 8:30-3:15
Always a rare treat, this symposium will feature 5 informative speakers in “Herbal Duet in C: Cilantro/Coriander.” There’s great herbal food, a huge silent auction, vendors, and more. The décor is always inspiring. Held at Hamilton Co. Fairgrounds. Get info, print out a registration form or register online at www.herbsocietyofcentralindiana.org ($45 for HSCI members, $50 for non-members)
Michigan Herb Conference: April 26
This one-day conference will be held at the Eagle Eye Conference Center, Bath Twp., MI. I’ve attended many times, and there are always great vendors and terrific speakers. Programs Include: “Coriander: The Benefits of Seed, Leaf, Flower,”“Herbs for Neurodegenerative Diseases: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and More,”“Ethnobotany: Unique Uses of Common Herbs Among the Native Peoples and Early Settlers of the Midwest,”and “Women Healers of the World.” For information or to register on-line go to www.miherb.org ($100 for non-members)
Market on Moss: May 27, 9-3
This unique French Flea Market experience is held annually at my friend Jan Powers’ Stone Well Garden (the garden has been featured in national garden magazines!) in Peoria, IL, 2320 W. Moss Ave. Antiques, plants, art, herbs, and more! The photo of myrtle topiaries (see Herb to Know below) is Jan’s! Take a truck…you’ll need hauling space!
Did you know:
*Eating onions helps fight blood clots and reduces cholesterol. Red and yellow varieties have higher levels of the beneficial quercetin than white onions.
*That it takes 600 cowhides to make the “Pigskins” just for the NFL?
*That some birds can migrate at night using the stars to navigate
*Eating one carrot a day can cut the rate of lung cancer in half
Sore Muscle Relief
Gardening time is right around the corner, and we’ll be using some muscles that haven’t seen that kind of action for awhile. Why not make an herbal muscle rub now so it will be ready when you need it? Simply fill a glass jar ½ full of fresh herbs or 1/3 full of dried herbs, then fill with unscented rubbing alcohol. Allow it to steep for two weeks, then strain. Be sure to label “for external use only”. Some good choices are basil, lavender, mint, scented geraniums, lemon thyme, marjoram, lemon balm, lemon verbena, or crushed coriander seeds.
An Herb to Know: Borage
Best known for its bright blue, star-shaped flowers, borage has a long history in herbal lore. Borago officinalisis its Latin name, derived from a Celtic word that roughly translates “man of courage.” Borage has always been linked with courage and with being forthright, or blunt. Ancient Greeks and Romans steeped it in wine before battles, and indeed more recent research says that borage has a strengthening on the adrenal gland, the organ of courage. Added to other drinks, it is said to “drive away sorrow” and bring joy. It also contains potassium and calcium, and high levels of nitrate of potash (especially when fresh) so it is beneficial to add to compost or to bury its leaves around other plants for good growth.
Interestingly, in light of today’s awareness of pollinators, borage was called “bee-flower” in William Lawson’s 1617 book, The Country Housewife’s Garden.
Medically, borage has been used to reduce fevers and as an emollient. John Evelyn claimed a few cups of borage tea would revive a hypochondriac. And some declare it improves memory and “swimming of the head.” It was also used to help ease sore throats, to increase the production of milk (both in wet nurses and dairy animals.) Fresh leaves were often laid on new cuts, and if quantities were eaten, it would serve as a laxative. Borage juice was used to cure ringworm.
In the kitchen, borage leaves are often listed as a potherb, and said to remind one of cucumbers, but that has always eluded my senses. Cicero grew borage in his kitchen garden, and it was a staple in most Roman herb gardens. There are records of borage as a salad ingredient from medieval times. If you choose to use it in salads, I’d suggest chopping it finely, as the leaves are rough and hairy, which chopping makes less noticeable. However, the flowers are delightful to use as a garnish in drinks, on canapes, to top potato salad, etc. In England, borage flowers are used often in Pimms.
This recipe for Borage Cup comes from an old English herbal: To a quart of mild beer, add a glass of white wine, a glass of capillaire (or other orange-flavored syrup), the juice of a lemon, a bit of freshly grated nutmeg, a large sprig or two of borage. Chill for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend and serve with borage flowers floating on top.
The flowers can also be candied for decorating cakes, and if you have a large quantity they can be made into a delicate syrup or cordial. They are also often dried to use in potpourri, as they will hold their bright blue color.
Borage is an annual that prefers a sunny or partly sunny location and average soil. It will grow to 3’ in height, and becomes a branching, grayish-blue leaved stalwart in the garden with multiple sprigs of clusters of bright blue flowers. The center of the flower is white, and the anthers are a contrastingly black. Borage is not an attractive plant as it ages, so I try to bend one behind a prettier plant to allow it to mature and set seed. It will happily self-seed, and I am happy for it to do so. I use borage seed as a marker plant….that is, it marks the time because when I see borage seedlings emerge in my garden, I know it is safe to plant tomatoes outdoors! For that alone, it earns a place in my potager, but I do love the flowers as well.
Recipe: Shallot Chicken
With my huge surplus of shallots, I’m concocting lots of new recipes to use them. Here’s one that has become a favorite…super easy, and really delicious.
Arrange chicken thighs in a baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Spray chicken lightly as well once it is in the dish. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, dried rosemary, and finely sliced shallots (about 1 shallot per 2 thighs.) Pour ¼ to 1/2 cup white wine in bottom of dish, depending upon number of thighs (1/4 will do 4-6; ½ will do 8-10.) Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 min. Remove foil and bake an additional 15-20 min., until chicken is very tender and meat and shallots are lightly browned. Liquid can be thickened with a bit of cornstarch, cooked until the gravy becomes fairly clear, if desired, but we just use it as is. Enjoy!
Don’t forget to get lots more gardening and herb information from my blog at www.herbalblessingsblog.com or you can access on it from this website by clicking on the “Garden Journal” tag under the website header.
Just under the wire this month, due to a quick trip to Florida. March was such a fun month, and I hate to see basketball end, but April promises to be even better, with lots of visits from family, the HSCI symposium, and lots more time in the gardens!
Happy Easter, and Herbal blessings to you all, Carolee