It is very hard around here to grow nice big fat fennel bulbs (although I finally found a variety called "Preludio" last year that blew me away with fabulous greta big bulbs!).
But the bulb is only a one time harvest kind of thing. So fennel should also be grown for its medicinal value, its flavor, its benefit to the insect world and garden balance, and for its beauty.
I grow a couple different fennel varieties that never bulb at all - I grow them for the fronds, seeds, and flowers or pollen.
Fennel tea is sweet and licorice-flavored. It ia great for settling digestive upsets, building appetite, and proper digestion. I find that you can add a sprig or frond of fresh fennel to almost any herbal tea - the flavor really melds and works wonderfully.
I also love to sprinkle fresh fennel flowers over pasta... Just cook the pasta, toss with extra virgin olive oil, add salt and peper to taste and then cut the flowers right over it all! Delicious comfort food!
Check out our Fennel Page for more recipes and growing tips!
Comfrey has a long history as a healing and medicinal herb. But it is also a great soil building and gardening herb. I use old comfrey leaves in my compost pile for building up tilth. And I make a great comfrey-composted tea that the plants just thrive on!
A new way I started growing mint is in plastic milk crates. I line the crate with a newspaper or paper feed bag, add soil, and pop in a variety of mint. I then keep the milk crate on a table or some other place where it won't come in direct contact with the garden soil. Keep it well watered, and the mint with flow over the sides of the crate - truly beautiful. The paper will disintegrate, but the mint forms massive amounts of roots that will then take over with holding the soil in the crate.
I also use mint essential oil to keep mice out of my garage in the winter. I also make an "awake spray" by mixing a couple drops of mint essential oil into some water. I keep it in my car to spritz about to keep alert and refreshed.
Sage and Cannellini Bean Dip
1 can of cannellini beans (use an Organic brand with low salt like Eden, who uses kelp instead of salt to flavor the beans).
1 clove of garlic
4 fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup Olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
optional: a big bunch of greens – spinach, kale, chard, etc.
Rinse canned beans.
Combine beans, garlic, salt, pepper, and sage leaves (and greens, if using) in a food processor. With motor running, slowly drizzle the Olive oil until you get a rich creamy consistency. Taste to adjust seasonings.
Transfer to a serving dish – refrigerate about 20 minutes and serve with a hearty Tuscan bread.
Garlic Broth with Sage
Aigo Bouido (Garlic Broth/Tonic)
Adapted from an old Provençal recipe. This is a great anti-bacterial brew.
6 cups of water
salt to taste
2-4 bay leaves
A couple sprigs of fresh sage
A spring of thyme
10-12 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped. (Skins can be left on for extra bioflavinoids.)
2-3 tbsp of Olive oil
slices of semi-dry French bread (OPTIONAL)
2/3 c of freshly grated gruyere/swiss or fontina style cheese (OPTIONAL)
Combine water, salt, bay, sage, thyme, 2 tbsp of the Olive oil, and garlic in a large pot.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover with lid slightly ajar, and simmer at least 15-30 minutes.
Discard herbs and pass broth and garlic through a sieve. I usually press the garlic against the sides of the strainer with a spoon and then scrape off the garlic mush into the broth. The more the better!
You can drink as is – or make it fancy by placing 2 slices of bread in each bowl, sprinkle a little Olive oil and grated cheese on each slice. And then reheat sieved broth, gently pour over the breads, and serve.
More on Garlic
Garlic Chives - Our favorite way to use the white garlic chive blossoms is to dip them into tempura batter and deep fry them - not the healthiest thing to eat but one of the most delicious!
Sage is a wonderful and hardy and easy to grow herb. People have a hard time using it but here's two recipes that will start you off in the right direction....
Every spring, make up a bottle or two of Chive Flower Vinegar. I usually use White Wine Vinegar. I just add the purple chive flowers to the bottle of white wine vinegar. (First, use about 1/3 cup of the vinegar so there's room for the flowers.)
The pH of the vinegar pulls color from the chive flowers and changes to a brilliant pink-magenta color. The flavor is fabulous - an oniony vinegar!
BTW - you can add all sorts of herbs to vinegar in this same way. It is a vinegar infusion or vinegar tincture. Great especially for drawing minerals out of the herbs...
There are two varieties of plantain that appear in yards and gardens around here - Narrow Leaf and Broad Leaf - both are fabulous healing medicinal herbs. Plantian is known for its powers of drawing - Running to the plantain is the first thing I do if I get stung by a bee or mosquito. I pick some clean leaves and chew them up to make a saliva poultice. (The saliva helps break down certain enzymes so the plantain can work better.) After chewing it up, spit out a nice wad of it onto the sting and press it down. It is important to keep pressure on the contact spot - I usually use some gauze to hold it all in place...
I also make a tea from fresh or frozen leaves. I like the flavor in the fresh oregano better than the dried. The dried is more potent though.
Tea can be drunk while warm or can be refrigerated and used as an ice-tea. The more oregano tea you drink each week, the healthier and more vibrant you will feel!
Simple tea or infusion: Take a handful of leaves - chop them or rip them up coarsely and add to hot water. Let water simmer gently 3-5 minutes. Then take off heat and let steep 10 more minutes. Then enjoy. You can drink this tea throughout the day and even reuse the leaves by adding more hot water over them and re-steeping.
I also like to add fresh oregano leaves to cold water with ice cubes. Adds a nice fresh flavor. Not as as medicinally active as a hot infusion, but refreshing.
Red Clover is the larger clover with the purple pom pom like flowers. It volunteers in gardens everywhere!
And we are so lucky that it does! Red Clover is a super herb - it balances the hormonal system and heals and re-stores health.
I buy Red Clover seed by the pound and use it as a green manure or cover crop. It fixes nitrogen and helps build healthy garden soil. It also is a great pollinator plant.
I pick the red clover blossoms and dry them for tea. They dry very easily spread out on a aper towel or screen. Although the leaves can taste a bit grassy, the flowers are sweet and quite delicious. My favorite way to eat red clover blossoms is in a salad. The little pom poms soak up the dressing and just fabulously fun to eat!
There are so many herbs growing in so many gardens - some you planted and some have volunteered - but are you using them? They can make your meals more flavorful - they can make you healthier and more energized - they can be just plain fun....
Here's 10 herbs that you probably have growing in your yard (or if you don't you should!) with some of my favorite ways to make good use of them!
Mints are fabulous and abundant and can be used to make all sorts of refreshing drinks. The phytochemicals in mint are cooling and awakening and are perfect for summer. They also repel many insects and other pests.
I make a mint tea and use it as a spray-on insect repellent. (I often use a native plant called mountain mint for this purpose - mountain mint is actually not related to regular mint but it has the same wonderful mint flavor and scent, doesn't spread like crazy, and supports all sorts of beneficial insects and pollinators including the honey bee.)
Rosemary is another major medicinal herb with so much to offer for improving health. It is also a wonderful culinary herb. A little bit of rosemary can be added to almost any sauce or recipe to add a meaty and robust burst of flavors. It has an umami aspect to it like MSG .... a little goes a long way though - one to three leaves in a whole pot of tomato sauce is perfect. You won't taste rosemary - just mouth-watering robustness.
Rosemary is not hardy in this area and does best if taken into a greenhouse or enclosed porch for the winter. It is tricky to over winter. If you bring it in, be careful not to over-water it. Rosemary tends to look dry (leaves shrink) when it is too soggy, but most people see the shrunken leaves as a sign of dryness and water it too much...
Violets are another volunteer in many yards. The flowers are edible and sweet and can be popped into drinks, into ice cubes, or even candied. The leaves are quite tasty and mild in salads and smoothies.
I use violets mostly as a face tonic. Violet is heals and nourishes the skin, great for sun damage as well. I use it either by infusing fresh violet leaves in vodka and witch hazel or making a salve by infusing dry violet leaves in olive oil and adding beeswax for a thick and creamy consistency.
Lemon Balm is one of my favorite nighttime teas. It is a nervine and helps vitalize and balance the nervous system. Great for anxiety or repetitive thinking as you are trying to go to sleep.
I usually use fresh or frozen leaves and infuse a tea just like with the oregano.
Lemon Balm tea is calming but not sedative or narcotic. You can drink lemon balm in the morning as well. I like lemon balm tea (or tincture) before doing a talk or lecture - it actually clears the mind - promotes better thinking.
Most people think oregano is great on pizza - but they don't realize that it is also great for drinking when you have a flu or cold. It is an Immune System supporter, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, aids in digestion... soothes sore throats, coughs, heartburn....
Oregano revitalizes and balances the immune system. It is also great for balancing hormones of all sorts (very necessary in today's environment) and for alleviating
Comfrey Compost Tea Recipe
This is similar to making a tea for humans to drink, except for plants, you are working to create a rotted or decomposing broth. The bacteria and other micro-organisms that are a part of that decomposing process are extremely beneficial to plants and to the soil your plants are growing in.
Simply gather up a big armful of fresh comfrey leaves and stalks (flowers are fine as well). Cut them up a bit and place into a 5 gallon bucket. Fill the bucket about 3/4 of the way full with water. Place in a sunny or part sunny spot where you'll visit it often.
For the next week or so, use a branched stick or whisk to stir it up well about 2-3 times per day. You want to get air into the brew, which will encourage the bacteria to multiply.
If the weather is very warm, you should have a bubbly and strong smelling brew in about a week. In cooler weather, it can take 2 weeks.
Strain it out and pour the liquid compost-tea into a spritzer bottle and spritz it on the leaves of your garden plants as well as the soil surface under your plants. You will see the plants perk up in a day or two!