A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘sage’

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!

Culinary Sage Spring-ing Into Bloom

The two sage plants in the herb garden have produced quite a number of flower buds for the first time, and I have been waiting for them to bloom now for the past week.  When I came home last night, I noticed that one already has.   I’ve included a picture below of the beautiful flower, but be sure to check back in a week or so.  I plan to post more pictures when they are in full bloom.

One of two culinary sage plants flowering

While I’m at it, the sage is not the only herb in the garden that is flowering for the first time.   The thyme plants also have many tiny white blooms!

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.

Bountiful herbs!

IMG_6156

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 Sage

sage #1 before trimming

Sage plant #1 before trimming

Sage is another easy addition to the herb garden and an excellent choice for Texans who experience hot, dry summers because it is drought tolerant.   It doesn’t mind moisture either, provided the soil is sandy and fast-draining.  I’ve had success growing mine alongside basil, which requires more frequent watering, and it doesn’t appear to suffer at all.   It also seems to benefit from full sun exposure during the morning and early afternoon hours, while being shaded from the more intense afternoon sun.

sage #2 before trimming

Sage plant #2 before trimming

Sage is a wonderful herb that pairs well with many other herbs and is a main ingredient in store-bought poultry seasoning mix.  We use it several times a week to season everything from mashed potatoes to chicken, and roast to vegetarian stew.   Sage is a member of the mint family and has a very strong flavor that does not diminish with cooking; therefore, use it sparingly at the beginnings stages of cooking to allow the rich flavor to permeate the dish and meld with the other flavors.

sage branch gone wild

Snaking sage branch.

Growing sage is easy and requires no special soil or fertilizer.   It is also a fast grower, so much so that I harvest it every time I harvest the basil – about every two weeks.   Like basil, sage appreciates regular grooming, which allows it to grow bushier.  Sage is frost tolerant and can be grown as a perennial here in Texas.  As such, the rule of thumb to follow is:  trim only 1/3 of the plant at any one time.   I usually cut less than that and I have more than I can use.

One tip I learned is to spray the plant down with water the afternoon or evening before trimming to wash any debris away and give the herbs time to dry off before trimming and dehydrating. At first, I tried washing my herbs after picking them and they were difficult to dry that way. This method works much better. Another tip: harvesting the sage first thing in the morning ensures the highest concentration of oils in the leaves as the oils withdraw into the stems and branches throughout the warmth of the day.

with the scissors slightly open, follow the main shaft to right above a pair of leaves and cut

With the scissors slightly open, follow the main shaft of the branch you want to cut down to right above a pair of adjacent leaves and cut.

sage #1, after trimming

Sage plant #1, after trimming

after trimming

Sage plant #2 after trimming

sage harvest

And the harvest of sage leaves ...

Now that the leaves are trimmed, I’ll bunch the leaves up stem to stem and tie them together with hemp cord and hang until dry – or about a week.  Sage holds its flavor well when dried, although I would suggest leaving the leaves whole and crumbling before use.

Herb Garden Update 10/17/09

Having lost a few of my veggies and feeling the frustrations of gardening, I thought I’d highlight what I’ve done RIGHT!  Behold the herb garden, that continues to flourish in the cooler autumn weather.

the herb garden

the herb garden

I’m really happy with every one of these plants.  The two oreganos have created a nice blanket across the floor of the bed.   The thyme, sage and marjoram are creating good sized bushes, while the marjoram has produced a number of flowers.   The three chive plants are also doing very well, despite the limited, dappled sunlight shining through the basil and sage.   And the curry plants, while ornamental only, have doubled in size and fill the air with the scent of Indian food.   Oh, how I love Indian food!  The mints, on the other hand, are suffering.  After watering them heavily all summer, I stopped watering them so much and placed them in a more open area.  They received too much sun, dried out, died back and I’ve since relocated them back to the herb garden.  They’ll bounce back – I have no doubt about that.  They are prolific.  The mint plants I stuck in the ground under the Texas Lilac tree are doing wonderful…

one of three chives

one of three chives

marjoram

marjoram

marjoram flowers

marjoram flowers

curry, basil and thyme

curry, basil and thyme

oregano close up

oregano close up

sage, oregano, curry and thyme

sage, oregano, curry and thyme

sage

sage

thyme

thyme

the mint bed

the mint bed