For most gardeners, spring planning is just about done. Seeds have been purchased and started. Snow comes, soon melts, spring’s official beginning is around the corner, and birds have begun their mating songs.
Years ago I attended an herb class at a local herb farm. The owner prepared a beautiful glass urn of sun tea. The urn was filled with a variety of flowers, violets, johnny jump-ups, roses, lavender, herb blossoms, and more. This tea was refreshing. I was impressed and have not forgotten this experience.
Recently, I came across a new book from Rosalind Creasy, The Edible Flower Garden. Her cover and photography hooked my curiosity as the subject of edible flowers is limited. Rosalind is a well-known author and respected organic gardener. It is a stunning work with gorgeous photography that highlights the beauty of flowers and shows off culinary delights using flowers in a variety of ways. She has researched claims of edibles and addresses some of which are myths, such as stock. History shows it may have been eaten in times of famine but no other time. Therefore, stock is not on her list.
Edible Flowers Idea
I use blossoms in quiches. Small amounts of wild strawberry flowers when in bloom, rose petals, lavender. So many wild and common flowers are edible like the violet leaves pictured above. In my wild food classes, we used echinacea and dandelion blossoms, squash blossoms, and nasturtiums, for example. It all created a lovely palette for the eye in recipes as well as provided a variety of tastes. They inspire our creative juices, fill our senses with texture, color, and form. They are the stuff of poetry and stories. Yet in my travels, I have found folks a bit leery of using flowers in food.
4 Tips To Remember About Edible Flowers
- Flowers should never be used as food from stores. Store-bought flowers often come into our country from overseas and are chemically treated.
- Organic gardens, whether traditional landscapes or vegetable-based, do not have that concern. If you do not have a garden but a neighbor does, please ask questions. Make sure they are organic.
- If you have planters and need to give your plants extra food to maintain growth, please read labels carefully.
- Always check with a reliable source before picking or tasting anything you are not familiar with. For example, most mushrooms are poisonous. Pokeberry flowers and berries are not edible. Daffodils are not edible.
Title: The Edible Flower Garden
Author: Rosalind Creasy
What I like: Rosalind gives the reader an encyclopedia of flowers that are edible. Pictures are crisp and help to easily identify a flower accompanied by how to grow and how to prepare sections. She then provides us with photographs and recipes that are simply elegant. She rounds out her book with appendixes on planting and maintenance, pest and disease control. She has suggestions for nontoxic management if pests show up. Lastly, she has a well-organized section on seed sources.
I recently spoke to a library about the benefits of herb teas. The dried flowers contained in the herb blends were a hit. Folks who love to garden often have no idea that many common plants are edible. And that some of these flowers and plants contribute nourishment. Nourishment, provided from a variety of plant constituents, such as vitamins A, B, C, and calcium, all support our biology.
For those of you who are curious about edible flowers I highly recommend this book.
Brambles, a thorny understory woody shrub that can take over land untended and challenge those of us who attempt to carve a space to plant, live and keep a yard in some semblance of order. Michael Pollan reminds us in his book, “Second Nature” “nothing (in nature) sits still well maybe for just a brief moment.” I think of the brambles that insist on filling in any space unused and once in the yard can be cut back but rarely are they gone for good. Brambles are also a wild life habitat providing refuge for many species.
Ideas to Serve Raspberries
This is a good thing as the berries are one of my favorite summertime treats.
- Dry some of the berries I harvest for winter use.
- Freeze them.
- Serve as a breakfast treat on a cold winters morning when the chill reminds me that spring is far away.
If you have brambles at the edges of your property you can easily distinguish the red raspberry from the blackberry: look at the underside of the leaves. Red raspberry leaves have a silver green underside whereas blackberries do not.
Raspberry Berry Details
Name: Red Raspberry: Rubus idaeus (Rosaceae family)
Parts Used: leaves and fruit, perennial
Varieties: Rubus idaeus is considered the cultivated variety; Rubus strigosus is considered the wild variety.
Where found: temperate climates as these berries need a period of cold in order to flower
I’ve had a little bit of anise hyssop in my garden but none recently. I like the fact that deer ignore it. Tall beautiful flowers are attractive to a garden’s background. This lovely medicinal and edible plant is the International Herb for this year. If you are interested in herbs, I highly recommend the International Herb Symposium held in MA in June this year. Herb talks on a variety of issues, plants, growing, health are worthwhile.
Plant name: Anise Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, herbaceous perennial of the mint family, not to be confused with hyssop, anise or star anise; Also known as giant hyssop; though they look alike they have different origins.
Parts Used: Leaves and flowers, emit a soft licorice scent and flavor. They are edible and can be put into bread, muffins, or as a garnish on salads, used in hot or cold teas.
Where Found: native to NW US, often creates a beautiful blanket of violet across prairies;
Garden tips: blooms early summer to the first frost. Grows to about 2-4 feet in height and self-sows. You can grow from seeds too. This plant is very hardy and can be found in zones 4-9, and drought tolerant. It’s a favorite of pollinator insects especially honeybees, and some birds. Not only does anise hyssop provide food for pollinators but it also relies on pollinators for fertilization so it can produce seeds in the fall. Likes well-drained to dry soils. Deers seem to avoid this plant but rabbits love it. Doesn’t spread like mint and will grow into a bushier like shape.
Benefits: “Native Americans found many uses for this plant. They included it in their medicine bundles and burned it as incense for protection. Its uplifting fragrance was also used to treat depression. Anise Hyssop made into a poultice can be used to treat burns and in wound healing. As a wash for poison ivy, it helped to reduce itching. Internally it was used to treat fevers and diarrhea. It is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and very useful as an infusion for relieving congestion. As a medicinal herb, it has soothing, expectorant and cough suppressant properties. A tea made from the leaves and flowers is sedating and relieves pain from coughing with chest colds. Used in combination with licorice it is especially effective for lung conditions such as bronchitis and respiratory tract infections.” (from Susan Weeds herbalzine.)
From what I researched, Anise hyssop has many health benefits. What I found interesting is that many traditional herbals, (and I have many) do not include anise hyssop but rather its European counterpart, Hyssop. They share some traits but anise hyssop may be more beneficial.
- used in cold remedies, used to prevent summer colds;
- may strengthen a weak heart
- anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory
- can be made into a salve for wound healing
- sip tea with meals to prevent gas/bloating
- You can bathe in it to treat sunburns and /or treat fungal infections like athlete’s foot.
- As an essential oil, it is antiviral and may help with Herpes Simplex I and II
Consider Anise Hyssop, a Native to the US for your garden. Enjoy. Judith
Someone gave me a cutting of lemon balm two years ago. It grows fast and spreads out, a great filler in any garden bed. When leaves are rubbed, crushed, this plant releases a refreshing lemony aroma.
Plant name: Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis, a member of the mint family
Where found: herbaceous perennial, native to southern Europe, Iran, Central Asia but naturalized here in the US and elsewhere.
Garden Tips: this aromatic plant does not spread underground like mint. Stems sprout from seeds that come from inconspicuous flowers. It responds well to cutting and trimming a few times a season. Lemon Balm likes mulch too.
Most herbs like the sun but lemon balm can tolerate some shade.
3 Benefits: Why is it popular? Its been used as a flavoring in recipes, adding lemony citrus tones to meats, fish, veggies for centuries. Probably arrived here with the early settlers, as they took their food and their medicines with them. Known for its calming effect, especially when digestion is involved, lemon balm must have been soothing on long ocean voyages.
Another benefit is as a carminative. Carminative means a substance that prevents or eases gas in the alimentary tract. Also known for its calming effect. Medical Medium goes further and tells us that the balms kill viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms inside the liver. Lemon balm calms the nerves of the liver. And calms the nerves of the intestinal lining which in turn lowers toxic heat in the liver. IBS, Irritable Bowl syndrome, is a worldwide malady. Could lemon balm be a good first choice herb to calm nerves especially GI nerves in our fast-paced world? Yes, it can. It’s also a diaphoretic which means it promotes perspiration which helps with the onset of colds.
Tea: can be made with dried or fresh leaves. I make fresh lemon balm tea as its growing as I want to manage its size. Little shoots are coming up nearby so I don’t worry about having enough. I pick a handful and place fresh leaves into a half gallon of boiling water. I turn off the heat and let sit for about an hour, strain and then serve over ice.
I checked my dried herbs this morning from last years supply. I tend to mix a few herbs for winter teas. This morning I made a cup with last year’s dried supply. When I opened the jar I noticed there was little lemon aroma. The tea itself is a little stronger too, though that’s not the right word. There is a difference between the two. How about experimenting with dried versus fresh and compare. What’s the difference? Which do you prefer?
Lemon Balm, whose botanical name is connected to bees, is a lovely herb for any garden.
And don’t forget that lemon balm is added to foods as a seasoning. Here’s a great article on how to grow and blend your own seasonings.
Remember all comments are appreciated. Enjoy. Judith
We’ve had a lot of rain here in the NE this spring. Yet we eagerly run out when the sun pokes through a cloud and continue to spruce up yard and garden. We plan our vegetable beds and flower beds and usually look forward to adding something new. I’ve got three great tips for you today to consider when nursery shopping:
1. Think foliage.
We drool over the new hybrid creations that flash color and design but I propose looking at plant specimens from a foliage perspective. Check tags and better yet research the plant first to make sure its compatible with native species in your region. Choose native or heirloom varieties. Then look at foliage types for texture, depth, and color. The trick is to plant-wide leafed plants next to ones that are lacier or with a finer texture. For example, hostas have a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes. Their strong root system makes them ideal next to wet areas, ponds. They can handle some shade too. Next, consider planting daisies between the wider leafed varieties such as Leucanthemum vulgare.
Years ago I planted several Hosta varieties ( deep blue leafs next to variegated white and green with yellow tints in between) in a relatively small shaded area to create a textured appearance. It takes a couple of years for new plants to fill in space but it’s worth it. Are deer a problem? Yes, they can be. Hostas are one of their favorites. I sprinkled cayenne pepper on leaves routinely and then added a nonobtrusive wire mess to the area.
2. Add food producing plants to your landscapes.
In previous posts, I have mentioned adding fruit-bearing shrubs such as blueberries, cranberries, and loganberries into more traditional non-food landscapes. If you spray and/or use chemicals then they are not edible. But if you have azalea, rhododendron bushes on your property, which like an acidic soil and are not treated, then you have a great match. Berries add color and provide food and habitat for many species. Get a soil sample done to make sure soil pH will support the berries. Blueberries, cranberries, and loganberries are all in the Vaccinium family and compatible.
3. Plant Wildflowers
Wildflowers can occupy a small land space. I especially recommend them if you have a field of “weeds” and its overrun. While the first year is the most work, the subsequent years need little to no maintenance, are drought resistant, and are sustainable. Meadows provide habitat, shelter, food, and water for so many critters, who are endangered today. My book, At the Garden’s Gate, has a chapter on how to turn lawn into a meadow in 7 easy steps.
We get creative in spring with our land spaces. After winter’s quiet and mono palette we look forward to springs renewal. I know I do.
I hope you found these tips helpful. What changes will you make in your gardens this year? Share your stories. We enjoy hearing from you. Judith.
Earth Day is upon us, April 22nd is the official date. We have many reminders, events, that highlight ways we can do more to reduce, recycle, repurpose stuff. My recent podcast guests, students from the University of CT and others, changed the motto to REFUSE, reuse, recycle. They had suggestions to go along with this reframed motto:
- When shopping in a supermarket and veggies come wrapped, remove the wrapping and leave it there. Eventually, supermarkets will stop offering styrofoam packed items with plastic wrap.
- Reverse bag: forgot your bags in the car? I do this all the time. So? Have checkout baggers place items in your cart and you can bag it when you get back to your car.
- “If you plant it, they will come.” Buy a native plant from your plant nursery/garden center. Plant something different to increase your backyard diversity. Better yet try removing a portion of lawn and plant wildflowers or a butterfly garden/pollinator garden. Have you considered planting another tree? One oak can support so much wildlife and they need our help right now.
- Make kablooms for Easter gifts, table favors. Buy heirloom seeds, mix with clay and soil, form into balls. They can be tossed onto vacant lots, placed in pots, left in a side bed. Great gifts for the gardeners in your family, but cheap seeds will not yield good results. Buy from reputable sources.
- If you are drawn to native American culture, listen to the Algonquin water song: our water needs us today to stop pollution. Everything you plant, including trees help absorb water runoff and that means less water gets washed down our storm drains.
- Everything we do affects the next seven generations, every thought, word, and action. Weed your mind of negative thoughts, water and grow gratitude every day, feed your mind and heart with love and kindness.
This earth is an amazing place. We live here and so do countless other species. So many of my podcast guests remind me that she is intelligent and we are surrounded by genius. Many of our fellow species are hurting from the loss of habitat and pollution. Now is the time for practical action and profound inner change so we value her once again. If you haven’t done so, check out my podcasts where I interview a variety of folks with great suggestions for holistic living here on the planet we call home.
What one action can you do today, and make it a part of your daily habits that is sustainable? Share your ideas with us. We appreciate all your comments. Remember we make a difference with every choice we make. Enjoy. Judith