Rhubarb gives a unique and delicious flavour to many types of desserts, but it can also be used to make a delicate wine with a pretty-pink colour. If you don't grow your own plants, the stalks are usually available at supermarkets, market stalls, and fruit and vegetable stores.
3 kg rhubarb stems
4 litres boiling water
1.6 kg sugar
3 teaspoons dried yeast
Crush the stems with a mallet, grate the rind of the orange and lemon and put them all in a container. Pour the boiling water over them, and gently stir once. Cover, and let the mixture stand for 10 days, stirring daily.
Juice the orange and lemon and add it and the sugar to a fermentation container with an air lock and strain the rhubarb mixture onto it. When it stops bubbling, siphon the wine into sterilized bottles, being careful to leave any sediment behind. The wine will be ready to drink straight away, but it will improve if left longer.
This is an easy, delicious and light dish suitable for any time of the year, but especially on hot summer evenings. Preparation only takes a few minutes and the fillets are baked in around half an hour - the perfect meal after a busy, and hot day.
4 whiting (or fish of choice) fillets
3 or 4 lemons (limes can be used), sliced
4 sprigs of thyme
Preheat oven to 180 degrees (170 degrees fan forced). Lay each fillet onto a sheet of aluminium foil and dot each piece with butter. Layer slices of lemon or lime over the butter then lay a sprig of thyme over the lemon. Thyme leaves can be stripped from the sprig if preferred. Wrap each prepared fillet in the foil and place onto a baking tray. Cook for 30 minutes.
Serve the fillets with the lemon, thyme and juices on a bed of rice.
The brush turkey on the left is Harold. He's an old friend and a good turkey because he doesn't come into the house yard and scratch out our gardens or the mulch. Every evening he comes to the paddock just outside the fence near the house when he's called (yes, he knows his name), and we feed him scraps and biscuits. On the right is Bad Turkey, she comes in the yard and scratches out the mulch and takes plants with it, in other words, she's very destructive.
For years, we've been covering the mulch with chicken wire and using it to surround rose bushes, shrubs, and fruit trees. This creates a lot of work, especially when the garden needs weeding, and grass needs to be cleared away from the fruit trees.
At the start of Spring we weeded and re-mulched the garden only to find that Bad Turkey began her usual destruction. Fed up with replacing the chicken wire, I searched the Internet for ways to deter brush turkeys (also known as bush or scrub turkeys), and saw a search result that mentioned putting teddy bears in the garden, but when I clicked on it I was taken to a 404 page with no information at all. So I searched again and found a comment in a forum about someone using teddy bears to scare turkeys off so thought I'd try it.
Keen to get started, the first thing I did was take our little dog's old stuffed toys that he'd ripped apart and tie them to the fence. To my pure delight this worked, Bad Turkey stopped wrecking the garden. So the next time I went to town, I called in to the op-shop and bought three teddy bears. When I got home, I tied two to the fence and put one on a stake, which my husband hammered into the ground for me.
This method has proved to be very successful, with Bad Turkey rarely dropping by and when she does she only does a bit of minor scratching without taking out mulch or plants then she leaves. Despite having teddy bears in our garden, which causes some amusement when visitors drop in, we are delighted with the result.
I did hear that one chap put teddy bears on stakes around a turkey mound and the turkeys left, never to be seen again.
Brush Turkeys are protected in Queensland, and harming them, or trapping them without the correct permit is illegal. We have more than two turkeys on our property, but Bad Turkey is the only one that has proved to be the main nuisance. We enjoy having them around, and have never considered having them relocated, but even if we did remove them we know another lot would take their place. It's their land too, and we are great believers in co-existing with the wildlife here, which includes kangaroos, wallabies, possums, echidnas, bandicoots, rabbits, hares, goannas, and an incredible variety of birds. We're not too fussed on the snakes though, however the turkeys seem to help keep their numbers down.
Washing and cleaning herbs well enough for making remedies or drying them for later use can be a bit daunting, however it's not difficult if you follow the steps below.
After you've harvested your herbs or pulled them up when weeding the garden as I have done with stinging nettle, check them over for insects, bird droppings, and damaged parts. Shake or brush off any insects, discard the parts with bird droppings as they are too hard to clean, discard any damaged parts, and gently shake off as much dirt as possible.
Fill a laundry tub or kitchen sink with plenty of water and dunk the herbs so they are fully immersed. Gently swirl them around making sure to remove all the dirt from the aerial parts and roots.
Lift the herb material from the water, shake gently then place it in a salad spinner. Spin both ways several times to remove as much water as possible.
Carefully tip the herb onto a clean, dry tea towel and spread out to dry. If drying stinging nettle use thick gloves or tongs to handle it.
Allow herbs to dry off for a few hours then put onto another clean, dry tea towel and leave until most of the moisture has evapourated. If you want to make a fresh plant remedy then use the herb immediately and if you want to preserve the herb by drying tie into bunches and hang in a bright airy place or dry in a dehydrator.
Note: When washing fresh herbs for culinary use, spinning them in a salad spinner prior to chopping them is all you need to do before adding them to salads or the meal you're cooking.
Now spring is here, it's time to create your kitchen herb garden or revamp one you already have as I have done. As you can see in the above photo I have re-potted some of the herbs such as the rosemary, the flat and curly leaf parsley, and the chives. I've also planted flat and curly leaf parsley seedlings so they will be fully grown when the existing plants die off; this way I will ensure I have a continuous supply of both types of parsley.
The most useful kitchen herbs include rosemary, thyme, parsley, basil, chives, sage, oregano, marjoram, dill, and fennel. There's no reason why you can't plant your herbs directly into the soil, however they are easier to manage in pots and don't need as much watering, especially if you use plastic pots as I have done. As you can see in the photo, both types of parsley are surrounded with wire to protect them from our resident possums that love to eat it.
The above photo is of the rest of my kitchen garden, which includes perpetual spinach that I find very useful, and lemon balm in a pot behind the spinach. If you look at the background of the photo you will see Harold, our resident brush turkey. He's not too much of a problem in the garden although one of his children, Bad Turkey, has caused quite a bit of grief by tearing out plants so we've had to fence off much of our garden to keep him out. Living in the bush as we do means we have learnt to co-exist with the wildlife, which we do so quite successfully although sometimes my long suffering husband doesn't think so. He puts up with me feeding the brush turkeys (Harold even comes when I call his name) even though he says I'm encouraging them, but I've heard they keep snakes away and if that's the case I'm happy to put up with the turkeys.
My kitchen garden also has a constant supply of shallots and this is so easy to do. Many years ago my mum taught me to keep the shallot ends (with the roots) and plant them in a pot. When they grow you just snip off the top and leave the roots in the soil to grow new tops. They will grow like this for a long time and if you leave one or two tops to go to seed you will have plenty to grow from scratch. You can start your own pots of shallots by purchasing a bunch, using the tops and saving the ends as seen in the above photo. Fill a couple of pots with good quality potting mix, make a hole and pop in the shallot end. It's amazing how quickly they grow and before long you will have your own constant supply. They do need to be fed so whenever you fertilize your other plants give the shallots a feed too.
There's been much talk about the effectiveness of turmeric for relieving arthritis pain, and quite a number of those taking it either in capsule or liquid form are finding that it does work. However, some people can't tolerate taking the recommended daily dose of this spice because it irritates their stomachs therefore they need to find an alternative. While there are other herbs and supplements that help ease arthritis pain, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has been taken internally or applied externally for hundreds of years to successfully treat arthritis and gout.
The mode of action, when taken internally, is to cleanse uric acid from the joints thereby relieving the inflammation. When used externally, a lotion made from the leaves of the plant is applied to the affected area. Another form of external treatment involves whipping the stems and leaves against the inflamed joints — the sting creates irritation which draws the blood to the joint. This helps remove the inflammation, and while the sting is painful it does wear off and greatly reduces the original arthritis and gout pain.
When stinging nettle is juiced, cooked or made into a herbal remedy such as a tincture, the sting is neutralised. Cooking the leaves and including them in dishes such as mashed potato, soups, stews, and quiches is an easy way to take the herb internally. Apart from helping to ease arthritis and gout pain, stinging nettle is high in iron and packed full of other beneficial nutrients. Among herbalists, it's a well-known and very beneficial spring tonic.
Use strong gloves and wear a long-sleeve shirt as protection against being stung while harvesting and chopping the fresh herb.
Infusion of dried herb - 3 to 6 grams three times a day.
Other medicinal herbs that help ease arthritis pain include Boswellia, ginger, cat's claw, and celery seed, however stinging nettle is usually easy to obtain and is inexpensive.
When we bought our property in 2008, we inherited a potted white periwinkle. It grew in the pot for years until we finally had to move it and in doing so had to dig the plant out of the ground as the roots had grown through the base of the pot. The plant in the above photo is one of the original plant's babies and has grown without any help apart from Mother Nature.
I've seen periwinkles growing wild in many places including the outskirts of western towns and particularly in old cemeteries where I think they were originally planted on graves because they are so hardy and need little looking after. This species of periwinkle appears to be drought hardy and will tolerate the heat.
While most of the folk remedies made from white or pink periwinkle are still in use in a number of countries today, these plants shouldn't be used as a home remedy because they contain powerful alkaloids that can have serious side effects.
White periwinkle and pink periwinkle (Catharansus roseus), are members of the Apocynaceae (oleander) family and have traditionally been used as a remedy for stings, as an eyewash, and to stop bleeding.
Pink periwinkle contains nearly ninety alkaloids and six of these have proved to be active in the treatment of cancer. Vinblastine, one of the alkaloids found in the plant, is effective for the treatment of Hodgkin's disease and another alkaloid, vincristine, is used in the treatment of childhood leukaemia. Side effects of both these alkaloids include hair loss and nausea.
While there are very useful wild plants in Australia, we do need to be cautious when thinking about using them as remedies, especially when taking them internally. White and pink periwinkles are such plants although it may be acceptable to apply them externally to treat wasp stings.
Since early times, herbalists have known of this medicinal herb's ability to stop the flow of blood (haemostatic action) and modern pharmacologists have not only substantiated this claim, but have also found that lesser periwinkle lowers blood pressure.
Old herbals recommended using the dried herb as a remedy to treat headaches, poor memory, and vertigo. In 1953, the alkaloid vincamine was identified as the most important constituent contained in lesser periwinkle. Since then, scientific literature about the herb has grown enormously and includes evidence that vincamine has specific effects on cerebral blood flow. Double blind trials showed that memory disorders and concentration responded well to products containing vincamine.
Today, medical or professional herbalists prescribe lesser periwinkle for the treatment of vascular disease as well as associated subjective symptoms such as headaches, memory problems, speech problems, and dizziness. The herb has a place in the treatment of health problems associated with old age such as difficulty with concentration, memory deterioration, and emotional disorders.
Lesser periwinkle has also been found to be useful in the treatment of tinnitus and hearing loss associated with ischaemia, dizziness occurring with Meniere's syndrome, disorders of blood flow in the retina, high blood pressure, and for heavy menstruation and leucorrhoea.
The herb has also been found to improve neurological status after stroke with significant effects on cranial nerves and the arms and legs.
Note: Improvement in most conditions won't be noted until three to six weeks after starting on the herb.
Caution: Vinca minor should not be taken by those with brain tumours and diseases involving an increase in intracranial pressure.
Reference: Weiss, R F: Herbal Medicine, Beaconsfield, England (1988)
Depending on the herb used, herbal teas can be soothing, warming, cooling, bracing, refreshing, invigorating, calming and relaxing. They can be made using a single herb, a mixture of herbs, or by adding herbs to black or green tea.
To obtain the best aromatic and flavourful teas it's best to use pure mineral water or rainwater and loose herbs if possible. Dried herbs are fine and usually retain most of their aroma and flavour, but there are some herbs that are best used fresh for tea making.
The amount of herb you use depends on the strength of flavour you want to achieve. It's always best to start with small amounts that will give a mild strength, and increase until you reach the strength and taste you prefer. To begin with, use 2 teaspoons of dried herb or 2 to 3 sprigs of fresh herb for each cup of water (250ml). Fill a glass, stainless steel or ceramic teapot (one with an infuser would be ideal) with hot water to warm it. To avoid the flat taste that reboiled water gives, discard the remaining water from the kettle, add fresh water and boil. Empty the teapot, add the herb material and just after the water in the kettle has stopped boiling, pour it over the herb. Cover the teapot and leave the tea to steep for 5 minutes or a little longer if you want to, but leaving some herbs to steep too long may release bitter flavours.
Sweeten the tea with honey or sugar if you wish; stronger teas can be sweetened with brown sugar or maple syrup.
Caution: Only drink herbal teas in moderation because some of them taken in large quantities and/or for a long period of time can be harmful. Years ago I treated a patient for a rash that developed on his shins. He'd never had a rash before and while asking the usual questions while I was taking his case history it remained a mystery as to why it had developed, but the case was solved when I asked him about his diet and fluid intake. He told me he had been drinking ginger tea for weeks and after questioning him further I discovered he'd been drinking about 6 cups a day and was even taking a flask of it to work with him. I told him he was taking far too much and to stop drinking it as I was sure it was the culprit causing the rash. When I spoke to him a couple of weeks later, the rash had completely healed. I suggested that he only drink 1 to 2 cups of ginger tea a day, but he said he was sick of it now and wouldn't drink anymore.
Apart from drinking too much of any herbal tea, it would be wise for you to only drink a small quantity of a herb tea that you haven't had before to make sure you aren't sensitive to it.
Below are some of the most popular herbal teas, the amounts to use for each one and their effect. Follow the instructions above to make them:
Balm, refreshing - 1½ tablespoons of fresh or 3 teaspoons dried leaves to 1¼ cups water.
Basil, bracing - 20 fresh leaves or 2 teaspoons dried leaves to 1¼ cups water.
Bergamot, refreshing - 2 teaspoons dried leaves to 1¼ cups water.
Elderberry flower, soothing - 1½ tablespoons chopped fresh flowers to 1¼ cups water.
Fennel, soothing and calming - 2 teaspoons dried or 3 teaspoons fresh leaves to 1¼ cups water.
Mint, invigorating - 2 teaspoons dried or all the fresh leaves from 2 to 3 sprigs to 1¼ cups water.
Roman chamomile, soothing and calming - 1 teaspoon dried or 3 teaspoons fresh flowers to 1¼ cups water.
Rose hip (dog rose), high vitamin C content - bring 3 teaspoons dried hips and 1¼ cups water to the boil, remove from heat and steep for 15 minutes.
Yarrow, cooling - ½ cup fresh flowers and leaves to 1¼ cups water.
There are many more herbs you can use to make herbal teas and you can mix different herbs to achieve a unique flavour, for example balm can be blended with spearmint or rosemary leaves, or lavender flowers, and mint goes well with balm and chamomile.
Hibiscus flower tea can be found here.
This is easy to make and a delicious addition to sandwiches, and meals including beef dishes, and gives a lovely flavour when used as an ingredient in soups, curries and stews.
1 kilogram apples
120 grams raisins
1 teaspoon dry mustard
¼ cup chopped mint
120 grams brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Peel and core the apples, and mince or chop finely with the raisins. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer. Cook until the mixture has thickened then immediately pour into warm, sterilised jars, and seal well.
Herb vinegars are easy to make and provide a delicious alternative to the traditional varieties such as malt, white, and apple cider vinegars. Tarragon, dill, thyme, basil or mint can all be used to make herb vinegar that will add flavour to particular dishes. Dill and thyme vinegar goes very well with fish, mint with lamb, basil with Mediterranean dishes and cucumber salads, and tarragon with fish, chicken, green vegetables, and mayonnaise.
To make herb vinegar, put sprigs of herb into glass jars and cover with white wine vinegar. Leave to sit for several days then strain through a fine filter (paper coffee filters are ideal) into bottles and cap with a screw on lid or if using corks make sure they fit tightly. If you want a stronger flavour, repeat the process with fresh sprigs of herb.
Homemade herb vinegars should last from 2 to 4 months.
I'm one of those cooks who make up recipes as I go, especially for main meals, I wouldn't dare do that for anything else such as cakes and desserts as I've had my share of disasters when I haven't followed a tried and true recipe for them. This sausage plait is an example of the way I improvise and I want to share the recipe with you.
Before I decide what I'm going to cook, I check the pantry and fridge to see what ingredients I have that I can make a decent meal from. For this sausage plait I wanted to use up some sundried tomatoes, capsicum strips, and olives that were leftover from Christmas picks - I don't like wasting food so I usually use up what I can. You can use the flavourings I used or your own combination such as herbs, feta cheese, spinach, cooked pumpkin, basically anything you think will go well together.
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 cup arborio rice
1 free range egg, beaten
1 white or red onion, finely chopped
flavourings of choice
salt and pepper
Cook the rice, drain and put in a bowl. When cool add the beaten egg, (leave a small amount to brush on the pastry), onion and flavourings, and salt and pepper then mix by hand until well combined. While the rice is cooling defrost the pastry and lay a clean tea towel over it to stop it drying out. Leaving room to put the rice mixture in the middle of the pastry slice the pastry diagonally into 2cm strips. Put the rice mixture in the middle space and, starting with one pastry strip, lay it over the rice mixture. Lift a pastry strip from the opposite side and lay it across the rice mixture so the two strips overlap at the ends. Continue with the remaining strips until the rice mixture is covered then turn in the pastry at each end of the plait. Carefully put the plait onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Brush the pastry with the remaining beaten egg and cook at 190ºC/375ºF for 30 to 45 minutes until golden.
This vegetarian sausage plait turned out to be delicious and a big hit with the family, and the leftover ingredients that were almost by their use by date weren't tossed out and wasted.
Eye baths are an effective home remedy for eye infections, gummy eyes, or to help remove something in the eye such as an eyelash, dust, sawdust or anything that causes minor irritation. Most often we will have something in the kitchen pantry or herb rack we can use to make an eye bath. Chamomile tea bags, or even black tea will often do the trick, however, if you have fennel seeds or can easily purchase them then they would be the most effective remedy helping to ease inflammation as well as heal, and cleanse the eye.
Place 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds into a mortar and pestle and grind until well-bruised and you can easily smell their aniseed-like aroma. Don't grind to a powder.
Put the seeds into a heat-proof glass or ceramic container such as a teapot, small jug, or mug, and pour 250ml boiling water over them. Cover with a lid, or saucer and let stand for 30 minutes or until the liquid cools to room temperature.
Strain through a paper coffee filter and pour the liquid into a clean eye bath. Place the eye bath over the affected eye, tip your head back and blink several times to allow the liquid to cleanse all around the eye, tip head forward, remove the eye bath, and gently dry the eye.
The fennel seed infusion can be kept in the fridge for twenty-four hours, and brought to room temperature before repeating the treatment during that time. Ideally, the eye should be bathed until the irritant has been removed or several times a day until it has healed and there is no longer any inflammation.
For any eye ailments that are not minor irritations please see your preferred health professional or go to a hospital as soon as possible.
This easy Christmas cake recipe is light and tasty, and is an old family favourite that I often adapt to make different cakes such as the rum and raisin cake pictured above.
Easy Boiled Christmas Cake
1 ½ cups (1 packet mixed fruit)
1 cup nuts of your choice (optional)
1 cup brown sugar, well packed
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 cup water
2 eggs, well beaten
2 cups wholemeal self raising flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon lemon rind
2 tablespoons marmalade
Put fruit, butter, sugar, spice and water in a saucepan, bring it to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool until it's warm. While it's cooling, grease a 20cm cake pan and line with paper. Mix in the egg then stir in the sifted flour, salt, lemon rind, and marmalade. Mix thoroughly and pour into the pan. Bake in the oven at 160°C/325ºF for 1 to 1 ¼ hours testing with a skewer before removing from the pan.
Rum and Raisin Cake
1 ½ cups raisins
1 cup brown sugar, well packed
2 capfuls rum (or use rum essence to taste)
1 cup water
2 eggs, well beaten
2 cups wholemeal self raising flour
2 tablespoons apricot jam
Method - follow the above instructions
Boiled Apricot Cake
1 ½ cups dried apricot, diced
1 cup brown sugar, well packed
1 cup water
2 eggs, well beaten
2 cups wholemeal self raising flour
2 tablespoons apricot jam
Method - follow the above instructions
You can adapt the Christmas cake recipe using any combinations you think will work.
The following list includes a selection of herbs that can be used as fragrances, dyes, seasonings, teas, ingredients in skin care preparations, and in dried flower arrangements. Alongside each herb you will find instructions on how to cultivate them, and their individual uses. I will add more herbs to this list as time goes by.
ANISE is an annual herb that has aromatic seeds used in cooking, remedies, and potpourris. Seeds should be sown in a light, well- drained to dry soil in spring, and the seedlings should be thinned to 10 centimetres apart. To produce fully ripened seed heads, Anise needs to be frost-free for about 4 months so it's probably best suited to a climate that has mild winters.
BASIL leaves are a well known accompaniment to tomato dishes and can be used to flavour vegetables, salads, and sauces. This annual herb is easily grown from seed and will self-propagate if seeds are let to set on the bush. Basil doesn't like the cold so sow the seeds outdoors in spring when there is no danger of frost. The herb is quite bushy so grow it in pots or space the plants 30 centimetres apart. It grows best in well-drained, medium-rich soil, and needs full sun. To maintain growth and promote flower buds and bushiness, pinch off the tips as they appear.
BAY leaves are used to flavour a variety of dishes including sauces, and stews. They also add fragrance to potpourris and are an attractive addition to wreaths. Bay is a perennial that needs to be grown in a location that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day. In frost-prone areas it's best to grow it in a pot so it can be moved under cover during winter or protected by hessian on frosty mornings. The plant can be propagated by seed, cuttings, or layering in any type of soil.
BERGAMOT flowers are used in potpourri and the leaves make a delicious and refreshing tea. This perennial herb needs a moist, rich soil, and will do well in partial shade or full sun. The herb can be propagated by dividing the roots in spring or autumn, and by taking cuttings in spring.
CHERVIL leaves have a light anise flavour and are similar to parsley so they can be used in many dishes including soups and salads. The herb is an annual and doesn't transplant easily so it's best to sow seeds directly where you want it to grow. You can also sow the seeds in autumn if you want a spring crop. Grow it in well-drained, moist soil, and in partial shade rather than full sun. In warm climates it's best to grow chervil during the winter months. When seedlings appear thin them to about 15 centimetres apart. If you allow the plant to go to seed it will self-sow .
CHIVES is well known for its delicate onion-flavoured leaves, which are finely chopped and added to many savoury dishes. It's a perennial herb that grows easily from seed or division of the clumps every third spring. The herb needs full sun, and moderately rich soil. Leaves need to be cut back regularly to prevent flowering and preserve the flavour.
DILL seeds are added to pickling liquids, and the leaves are used to flavour vegetable and fish dishes, salads, and sauces. This annual herb matures quickly and needs protection from strong winds, a medium-rich soil, and frequent watering. Sow seeds after there's no longer a chance of frost and for a continuous supply sow them every 6 weeks. If you don't want seeds to develop pinch the flower heads otherwise leave them and the plant will self-sow the following year.
FENNEL leaves are commonly used in many savoury dishes including soup and fish dishes and the seeds are used for baking cakes, pastries and biscuits. The stalks of sweet fennel are eaten as a vegetable. This perennial herb likes full sun, alkaline soil, and grows easily from seed. When seedlings appear, thin them to 45 centimetres apart.
GARLIC is well known for its culinary uses, but it's also a valuable medicinal herb and an insect repellant. Plant the cloves 5 centimetres apart and 15 centimetres deep in rich soil during spring in cold areas, and from autumn to midwinter in mild climates. Harvest the corms when the leaves turn yellow, and dry them in the sun.
HOREHOUND is used as a gargle for sore throats and is made as a tea to help stimulate poor appetite. A cough and cold syrup can be made from the herb and it's also used to flavour some confectionery. A perennial, except in very cold climates, it can be propagated by root division or cuttings, and grows best in sandy soil and full sun. The plant can be grown by seed sown in early spring although they are slow to germinate. Thin seedlings to about 30 centimetres apart.
LAVENDER has many uses although it's most commonly grown for its fragrance. A delightful perennial, the herb is used to make wine, added to scone and cake recipes and it's also a valuable medicinal herb, and insect repellant. There are many varieties but they all like full sun, sandy, alkaline soil and they need to be mulched during winter in cold areas. Lavender plants will grow from seed, but it's easier to propagate them by root division, taking cuttings or layering, which is best done in autumn or spring.
LEMON BALM has fragrant leaves that are used to flavour many recipes such as egg dishes, soups, and salad, and they make an attractive and flavoursome addition to a variety of drinks and punches. The leaves can also be used to make an infusion that calms and aids sleep, a cream to treat skin conditions, and as an ingredient in skin care lotions and creams. The herb is a perennial that grows from seed and will self-sow once established. In cold areas sow seeds in containers indoors two months prior to the last frost, and sow outdoors in autumn in areas with a mild climate. Lemon balm is prone to disease if planted too close together so transplant seedlings about 45 centimetres apart in light, sandy soil in partial shade or full sun. Because seeds are slow to grow many gardeners prefer to purchase lemon balm already established in pots and keep the plant close to the kitchen door where they are easily accessible.
MARJORAM is popular in Mediterranean dishes, and when combined with thyme provides a delicious flavour to meat and poultry dishes, and stuffings. Sweet marjoram, a perennial, is the variety that is used for culinary purposes and grows best when planted in rich, light soil, and full sun. The herb is grown by seed or cuttings taken in spring or autumn.
MINTS are perennial and are used to flavour many sweet and savoury dishes from desserts to main courses, and the leaves are often included in teas and cold drinks. There are many varieties and species of mint, however those most popularly used in cuisine are spearmint and peppermint. These plants spread easily through the garden so it's best to plant them in pots in rich soil, and in full sun or partial shade. They need regular watering so it's not uncommon to see pots placed under taps that have a slow drip.
OREGANO flavours many Italian dishes and is similar to marjoram. It's a perennial that grows well in full sun, well-drained and slightly alkaline soil. The herb is easily propagated by seed, cuttings, or by dividing the roots .
PARSLEY is used as a garnish, and adds flavour to many dishes including pasta, sauces, salads, and meat dishes. Both curly -leaved and flat leaved parsley are popular although the latter has more flavour. Parsley, a biennial, is highly nutritious and has medicinal properties so it's often used to make a tea (infusion). Seeds are slow to germinate so those who can't wait to start using it usually buy the herb as an established plant in a pot. If you sow seeds, keep the soil moist until the seedlings appear then when they're ready to plant, space them about 20 centimetres apart.
ROMAN CHAMOMILE is a perennial that is mainly used as a medicinal plant, and as an ingredient in skin and hair care products. The dried flowers can be taken as a tea to calm nerves and to aid sleep. Chamomile can be grown as a ground cover that not only looks delightful, but is also fragrant and drought-resistant. Propagate by sowing seeds in a semi-rich soil during spring, and when seedlings appear thin them to about 10 centimetres apart. It can also be propagated during spring, or at the end of summer by dividing the runners.
Until next time.
proprietor, author, and tutor of The Home Herbalist Online Course.