A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘marjoram’

Harvesting and Drying Herbs: Lavender, Oregano, Thyme and Marjoram

The gorgeous lavender flowers kept the bees very busy the past couple of weeks, but I noticed that the majority of the blooms had faded and the bees were absent Saturday morning.  According to some sources, lavender flowers should be cut when the flowers first start blooming, in order to have the highest level of oil retained in the dried flowers.  I couldn’t take the lavender away from the bees, though.  So, I waited until most of the flowers were spent, then cut them down in the morning when the oil is at its highest.   I bundled the flower stalks up using some rubber bands, then hung them to dry upside-down so that the oil  drains down from the stem, concentrating in the dried flowers.  All-bloomed-out, they still smelled wonderfully pungent!

Spanish lavender blooming

The above picture was the lavender in bloom just a couple weeks ago – it was such a gorgeous, deep shade of purple.  Each one of the flower stalks run down to the plant, where I cut each one right above the green foliage.  This is what it looks like now:

Lavender after a trim, 4/25

Hopefully this will urge her to send up some more blooms later in the season.  Here’s what the bundles of dried lavender looked like:

In the meantime, the herb garden was just overflowing.  I needed to make room for a couple new plants, but first, I seriously needed to do some harvesting!  If you will remember, last year I had two basil plants in the back.  They produced so much basil that I still have several ziploc bags full of dried leaves.  Basil is best fresh.  It’s OK dried, but it loses a lot of flavor.  I won’t ever eat all of the dried, especially not now until November when this new plant dies.   With two plants, however, we just had too much for the three of us to consume. So, I only bought one this time around …  In the place of where the other plant was last year,  I put a dill transplant.  I saw it at the nursery and thought, why not?  We eat dill at least a few times a month, so that makes sense.  Plus, it attracts butterflies as well.

Herb garden 4.25.10, before its cut

another view ...

Harvesting is a little time-consuming lately!  At least, more so than last fall.   There was so much to cut, it took me two hours to cut, sort and bundle to dry.  The sage was pretty buggy, especially the one that was flowering.  Every one had sugar ants, fire ants, green loopers – that probably took me the longest just to rid the blooms of bugs.  I wanted to hang them upside down and see how they dry.  But yeah – bugs galore.  Obviously everyone is very happy, as the sage didn’t seem to be any worse for the wear.  Needless to say, I didn’t harvest any sage.  That’s okay, too.  I have a large jar full of dried leaves from last fall.  The oregano was probably nearly 12″ tall in some areas.  I cut it back as much as 8-10″ in most places, especially near the back where the chives are trying to get more light.  I had a full bowl of two types of oregano.  They smelled outstanding.  The marjoram was just harvested a couple of weeks ago, so I only cut a small bundle of that.  And, I had the largest thyme harvest I’ve had to date!

one of two bowls (10" wide) of oregano

this gets covered with a bag and hung in a dark closet until dried - 7-10 days

Herb garden 4.25.10 - after!

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Herbiliciousness

The herb garden is going crazy!

Herb garden 4/3/10: German Thyme, Greek Oregano, Mexican Oregano, Curry, Sage, Chives, Marjoram

The Herb Garden: June 6, '09 (left), Sept. 6, '09 (center), and April 3, '10 (right).

Looking back at early pictures of the garden, it is clear that they are thriving.  There isn’t much room for the basil plants anymore, but I’m going to put them in anyway.  They could use the competition.  In the center picture, you can also see the broccoli seedlings – of which we are still enjoying harvests.  The mint cuttings there were put in the ground and have taken over the corner of the yard.  Also pictured are rosemary cuttings, which are also pictured below.

The sage plants have certainly rebounded from just a couple of weeks ago.  They didn’t care much for the wet winter, but the warm, sunny weather we’ve enjoyed lately have really turned them on.  🙂  As you can see, they’re preparing to flower:

The culinary sage getting ready to flower

You can see by these pictures how dense the garden has become.  Look at how prolific the oregano is – there’s no stopping it.  It snakes in and around the other plants, finding more sunshine towards the edge of the bed.

Sage, Curry and Thyme (oh, and oregano poking through)

Marjoram bush and sage

Thyme, Sage, Oregano and Chives

The parsley is taking over and needs a trim.

Spearmint and peppermint

The lavender is finally blooming as well!  It is a fantastic sight to see the lavender stalks shoot up, then two little “bunny ears” stick out the top before the entire bud bursts forth with dark purple blooms filled with yellow pollen.

Spanish lavender blooming

Lavender bloom up close and personal

Can't get too much lavender

My daughter took this of a bug sitting on the lavender

Last fall I took rosemary cuttings and planted them. They've got lots of growth now.

I heart herbs, and my kitchen herb garden

Herb garden 3/12/10

The herbs have been enlivened by the warmer, sunny weather, offering up a whiff of fresh aroma as I sit on the stones and pick out the few weeds that managed their way in.   The oregano has become quite a thick blanket of ground cover for the bed, entirely flanking the thyme plants in front of them.  The edge of the bed doesn’t seem to deter it either, as it snakes its way over the edges of the retaining wall towards the afternoon sun.  In the enlarged photo you can see just how dense it has become and how it is now threatening to engulf one of the chives.  The great thing about oregano is that it roots easily along its snaking arms, and it is rather easy to propagate because of this.  Just snipping off a section that has rooted is enough to grow an entirely new plant.  I’m going to cut a few off this weekend if I can make the time – I told my mother in law that I was going to provide some more herbs.

Greek Oregano

Mexican oregano

One of the strongest scents I encounter sitting on the stones is that of the curry plants, which are strictly there for their ornamental and olfactory presence.  I love Indian food, and the smell of the curry plant reminds me of warm curry dishes.   Indian curries are made using a variety of spices and, although they do not use curry powder as is traditionally sold in stores, they use many of the same spices that are contained in the premixed version.   The curry plant smells just like that blend.  Makes me want a plate of steaming  veggie samosas and peshwari naan.  Although the plant looks like it has rigid needles, it is a very soft plant, and the slightest touch releases that warm aroma.

Curry plant #1 is purely an ornamental that smells like the popular spice blend.

Curry plant #2

The English thyme is also rebounding nicely from its winter hibernation.  There for awhile, I was wondering if they were doing okay because they looked brown and, frankly, kinda’ dead.  Not so.  As you can see, they are covered with bright green growth.

English thyme plant #1

Thyme plant #2

The sage plants were also having a lot of trouble maintaining their foliage over the winter.  I’m not sure if that’s normal, or if it was attributed to the increased rainfall.  They are starting to show their true color again, too, with tender young leaves all over.    I’m sure they’ll be full, bushy plants again soon.

The sage got really wet over the winter and didn't like it.

Sage plant #2 making a comeback

The chives have erupted in a fury of green tentacles rising out of brown, shriveled leaves.  I have over twenty more seeds that have sprouted and are temporarily growing in paper pots under lights until I can transplant them.  Chive germination is somewhat unique in that one tiny, slender little blade of grass pokes out then sort of unfolds outward.

Chive plant #1

Chive plant #2

Chive plant #3

Four chive seeds that have germinated

The marjoram is another strongly perfumed herb and one of my favorite to brush up against.  It has become a well-rounded plant since it doesn’t have to compete with the basil plants – currently.  I’ll be putting at least one basil plant in the herb garden this year – two last year was way more than I needed.  I still have a lot of dried leaves that have lasted me since the other two plants met their demise at the first frost.

Marjoram

Parsley has taken over half a row that I allotted to grow lettuce.  There are still two heads under there managing to mature, but I’m going to have to do some trimming on the front side of the plants to get them back towards their space.    Again, overkill on the parsley – at least for my uses; however, parsley attracts a few species of beneficial insects, including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and tachinid flies.   Those are added bonuses, I really want to keep all of the parsley because it is a food for black swallowtail butterflies.

The parsley is surely not growing sparsely.

The several rosemary plants that I have are doing okay.  A couple of them have some dark leaves due to being too wet in their containers.  Some cuttings got pummeled by thunderstorms, but they’re doing okay now.  And the cuttings I planted late last fall are filling out in their pot.   I pulled the mother out of the ground as it was almost gone.  The corner of the house is not a good place for the rosemary – too much rain spills off the roof and rosemary hates wet feet.  I dried what was left and have a good salsa-sized jar of dried leaves for cooking – something I use just about everyday.

Transplanted rosemary cuttings from last fall, now well-established.

We can’t forget the two mint plants that I bought last summer and then cloned a zillion of them.  Well, not really a zillion, but maybe ten, which have multiplied to about a zillion now.  🙂  The spearmint is definitely the more aggressive of the two, while the peppermint struggles.

Mint spreading by runners

Spearmint abounds

Peppermint again. These were planted the same time as the spearmint.

Peppermint is very slow growing compared to spearmint.

For nostalgia’s sake, here is the freshly planted garden:

Herb garden 06/07/09

I have several Mexican mint marigold plants that I’ll add to the herb mix in the coming weeks.  I have three or four that I grew from seed and a couple other plants I picked up at a local nursery.  I’ve not tried growing it before, but it is a Texas Native, and can be used just like french tarragon in recipes.  I have a rich, creamy mushroom, caper and tarragon sauce I like to make to put over pasta and I’m sure this will be a great, homegrown substitute.

Look what’s coming up!

Many of the seedlings have emerged and are reaching towards that yellow ball of fire in the sky.  What a miracle it is – every time – to see fresh new life emerge from a dry seed.  Look at what’s coming up:

Zucchini sprouts - Black Beauty variety

Cucumber sprouts - Straight Eight variety

Danvers Half-Long carrot sprouts - the first of many

An eager sunflower wearing a helmet?

More sunflower sprouts

Squash sprouting - heirloom Yellow Crookneck variety. Looks like a lima bean.

In addition to the new seedlings, there is exciting new life in the garden as well. Dry, withered chive leaves have given room to explosive new shoots.  Prostrate rosemary offers up a delicate flower for Spring.  Dry thyme branches burst forth with green growth.  Oregano continues its crawl without missing a beat.  Broccoli ready for harvest.  Wildflowers preparing their colorful flowers with a fluffy mass of greens.  Lettuce heads crowding together in the dappled light of an old fence.  Crinkly spinach leaves unfurling.   Yes, Spring is definitely in the air!

Broccoli crown before harvesting

A view of the densely populated wildflower bed

New chives growing

First rosemary flower

Spinach bed 1

Beautiful Red Sail lettuce

Spectacular spreading spearmint!

Lettuce bed with new transplants and sprouts

Another view of the wildflower bed

Spinach bed 2

Broccoli bed (after harvesting first crown)

Lots-o-Lettuce!

The marjoram is doing well

New thyme growth

Probably the next crown to be harvested

Lettuce bed 2, also with new transplants

And, last but not least, some of the plants awaiting transplanting inside under lights:

Mexican Mint Marigolds

Ring-O-Fire Cayenne plants

Cal Wonder Orange Bell Peppers

Spinach (bloomsdale variety), verbena and sweet alyssum (back)

Broccoli plant - Calabrese variety

Bountiful herbs!

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There's nothing like the smell of fresh herbs!

I harvested sage, basil, Greek and Mexican oregano, marjoram and thyme this weekend.  For those of you growing herbs for the first time, check out my three latest blogs about how to harvest these wonderful culinary delights!

How to Harvest Oregano and Marjoram

Mexican oregano before trimming

Mexican oregano, before trimming

the marjoram has become "leggy" due to not enough sunlight

the marjoram has grown “leggy” due to increased shade

Greek oregano covers the ground and surrounds the thyme

Greek oregano (center), before trimming

Oregano (also called wild marjoram) is a well-known culinary herb which is best known for its use in pizza, spaghetti and a number of Italian dishes incorporating tomato bases.   Oregano, like basil and sage, is a member of the mint family and is a perennial in our area.  I planted two varieties: Greek and Mexican.  Oregano’s cousin, Marjoram (or Sweet Oregano as it is sometimes called), is also a perennial that is hardy in our area.    Marjoram is the main ingredient in store-bought Italian seasoning and in Herbes de Provence and has a characteristically delicate, sweet flavor that is at its best when added late to a dish so that the flavor isn’t lost.  Both oregano and marjoram dry exceptionally well, with their flavors intensifying instead of dissipating like herbs such as basil.   Personally, the woody and floral perfume of freshly dried marjoram is heavenly and its flavor on chicken is truly wonderful.   It goes well with lavender.  While I use the Greek oregano for Italian cuisine, I think the Mexican oregano truly shines when combined with spicy tomato dishes because of its bold, peppery flavor, so I generously add it in along with crushed red pepper to just about any Mexican recipe.   It pairs nicely with cumin and cilantro.

Both types are fairly drought resistant and had no problem surviving the record Texas summer we had here in Austin this year.  With watering every five days or so, the two types of oregano cultivars I planted have since become the most prolific growers in the garden, sending out spidery legs of fuzzy leaves all around the surrounding plants.  The oregano would surely grow out over the sides of the garden wall if I didn’t trim it regularly.  The one marjoram plant I have does not grow as quickly as the oregano, but this is largely because it is shaded more by the basil plants than the oregano.  Nonetheless, it is one of the more fragrant plants in the garden and has been producing small white flowers for several months now.  Unlike basil, flower production in marjoram does not alter its taste, so I’m happy to let it flower and capture a few pics when I can.

IMG_6139

marjoram flowers smell and taste good, too

Oregano is also highly valued because of its medicinal virtues.  For some time now, Michelle and I have used oreganol extract for its antiseptic and antifungual qualities.  We take a dropper full when we start to feel physically run-down or feel like we’re coming down with something.  I’ve used it applied to a toothbrush with toothpaste to fight mouth infection, canker sores and alleviate tooth pain.   It is also useful as an antiseptic/antifungual topical ointment – whether applied to a cut, ant bite, athlete’s foot or nail infection, Oreganol truly works.  Like thyme oil, the a major constituent of oregano oil is thymol, so oregano oil/tincture can also be mixed into a powerful mouthwash [thanks to Jonathan for correcting me here – the major constituent of oregano oil is carvacrol).   I hope to be able to harvest enough oregano to make tinctures I can use for these purposes, but I will continue to use Oreganol due to its effectiveness.

Oregano and marjoram are harvested the same way.    I follow the main branch to a point right above a set of leaves and cut there.  This will produce a greater number of branches and a more productive plant.  As always, I make sure never to trim more than a third of the plant at any given time.   Unlike the marjoram, the oregano likes to “snake” along the ground, spreading out tentacles of branches.  These branches then form small roots on the underside, which will eventually root itself to the new location.   This can easily be used to one’s advantage when propagating plants as each rooted section can be cut off from the main plant, dug up and replanted.  One can also force the plant to root in this way by covering sections of the branch with a small amount of dirt then digging out the section a few weeks later, severing it from the main plant.

IMG_6141

trim the marjoram branch above a set of leaves

IMG_6142

a meager marjoram harvest, but it smells divine

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oregano – trim the same way as marjoram

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Mexican oregano harvest

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Greek oregano harvest

Like thyme, I bundle the oregano up with hemp cord and hang dry.  They take only a few days until they are ready.  Store in a sealed jar in the pantry and crumble the leaves when needed for the strongest flavor.

Macro Monday

Janet, over at Southern Post Journal, features Macro Mondays every Monday (others post Macro Monday shots at Lisa’s Chaos), so I thought I would join in the fun this week.   Here are a few I took with my little Digital Elph – and I also snapped some decent shots of the bees!

broccoli

The newly transplanted calabrese broccoli after a morning misting

red sail

Red Sail lettuce

oregano

fuzzy, sweet Italian oregano leaves

lavender

lavender's new growth

rosemary

rosemary cuttings, fully rooted

spearmint

spearmint leaves

peppermint

peppermint clone

marjoram flowers

flowering marjoram

mm