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
Elderberry: Sambucus nigra, also known as the European Elder
As winter goes through her last weeks we are still facing concerns over the flu here in the NE. Colds and flu can sneak into our households bringing runny noses and coughs.
A small tree or shrub, the elderberry, has been relieving these complaints for centuries. Sambucol, Sambucus, two popular names for commercial products fly off the shelves of health or natural supplement departments at this time of year. I have heard many stories of folks getting through a winter with no or few respiratory ailments hitting their households when combining elderberry with good winter health practices. If a cold should hit, elderberry syrup supplements are often the herb of choice. Research studies are being conducted by notable University’s Complementary and Alternative Medical Departments including the NIH. The German Commission E recommends elderberry and elderflower preparations for colds and flu even bronchitis.
Elder has a rich history. One of its name origins is Aeld, which meant fire. The pith in young branches is soft and easily pushes out. A hollow tube remains which was used to stoke the kitchen fires, hence the common name of pipe tree. In ancient times pipes were made of elder wood and fashioned into instruments and of course pea shooters.
Elder, referenced by Shakespeare and Pliny, holds a place of connection whether superstition, hedgerows, or poetry capturing us with its many uses and meanings.
Where Found: common to Europe and Northern Africa; now found all over the United States; in fact, it was thought this was the tree Judas chose to hang from. A fungus occurs on the elder, Hirroneola auricular Judaea, so named from the above historical story or myth.
Elder is considered a small tree about 10-12’ high or a shrub. It is commonly found along wood edges, along with wood stands in fields, along banks and fences. This plant is also nitrogen loving and in the Honeysuckle family. It flowers from May- June. Fruit ripens in August. Virginia Tech has a great ID page and plant facts.
Elderberry syrup and lozenges are part of my home medicine chest. I usually use elderberry during the winter or if I am traveling to keep my immune system strong. There are many products that are available for children too. In view of the recent flu outbreaks I thought it important to get info out about this wonderful plant. Nature has so many remedies for us. As my podcast guest, Doug Tallamy, reminds us: our personal land can play a huge part in supporting wildlife. And Elderberry is a host plant for a variety of butterflies and moths.
Enjoy your day. Judith
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.