Herbs 101

Herbs 101 – An introduction to the basics on herbs. Herbs are something all of us can benefit from in one way or another; from using them for home remedies, baking, or crafts, they have so many valuable uses we can take advantage of. If you are new to using herbs though, it can seem overwhelming to know where to start and what exactly you are even dealing with. Here are a few tips on getting started with herbs!



Herbs 101 – An introduction to the basics on herbs.

Herbs are something all of us can benefit from in one way or another; from using them for home remedies, baking, or crafts, they have so many valuable uses we can take advantage of. If you are new to using herbs though, it can seem overwhelming to know where to start and what exactly you are even dealing with. Here are a few tips on getting started with herbs!

The question you might ask is “What is a herb, exactly?”

A herb is a plant that is of value for the flavor, aroma it provides or the health benefits properties it may have. Herbs can come in many forms and sizes, depending totally on the type of plant and which part of the plant you are using.

Some herbs have more than one use, such as some of the cooking type you may already be familiar with, like oregano, parsley, or thyme. They have wonderful health benefits, and have been used medicinally for ages, in addition to their use for the flavors in cooking.

Most herbs are not so much of the woody type plant, but more of the soft and more tender type. If herbs are woody at all, it would be in the stems of the plant, but the leaves and buds would be soft and easy to use and break down. Rosemary is a perfect example of this type of woody-stem herb.

For years and years people have used herbs for preserving and flavoring food and this is easily their most popular use. Most people purchase them in the grocery or health food store and cook with them frequently. Herbs have also been used in religious ceremonies.

• Here are some tips for usage in each specific area that should help you if you are new to using them, along with a few cautions as well.

Herbs For Cooking:

If we did not season our food and use herbs in cooking, much of what we eat would not have a whole lot of flavor. Beyond buying the pre-dried type of herbs in the store, you can frequently find some of the more basic ones in the fresh plant form in many stores and also certainly in a garden center. Ask an employee for advice on which are easiest as starters, but mint, rosemary and basil are ones you will probably be able to find without much trouble. All three of those have great health benefits for your body, so know that while you use them to cook with, they are doing your body good too!

Many cooks do grow a lot of their own herbs because they taste so good when fresh. It also can be money saving to just be able to pick off your own plant the specific amount you need for a recipe (and talk about convenient!). In the dried form herbs do have a longer shelf life but some of the benefits will not be as potent and strong either.
If you grow a few different ones, just cut a few snips of each and add them to soups, salads, salsa and more (I walk out to the garden for oregano and basil all the time!) They work great in homemade sauces as well. You may want to read 10 Herbs You Need To Grow for some great herb gardening choices. In additions, this post on herb planting and care can help you get started! And, if you would like to enjoy fresh herbs even during the winter, this post on Tips for Growing an Herb Garden Year Round will be helpful!

The best way to start cooking with herbs is to use recipes you are already familiar and comfy with and then put them in there, tweaking it as you taste and try it. If you are nervous to do so, try one type at a time, like adding a tiny bit to a salad dressing or omelet. Add flavor to salads by using dill, cilantro and basil.

Here are a few recipes that make great use of herbs:

Chicken Salad recipe – Hubby’s best recipe (and that is really saying something!) – the herb addition is what makes it so fantastic!
Roasted Rosemary Mushrooms
Spicy Chicken Thighs
Four Color Caprese Salad
Cantaloupe Prosciutto Mozzarella Salad Recipe

Make a great dressing with an oil base by adding lemon juice and sea salt along with your favorite herbs.
One thing to note is to add them in the last few minutes of cooking, when they are fresh, or they will tend to lose much of their flavor the hotter they get. Do not cook them for more than 25 to 30 minutes.

Infuse either or both olive oil or vinegar with herbs by first placing the herbs in the bottle and then topping off all the way with the liquid. Keep closed tightly and use whenever you’d like. Garlic, Chives, Basil, Dill and thyme are great ones to do this with. Add a cute label and ribbon in a nice colorful bottle and you have a wonderful gift for a cook in your life! Here’s a great how to make herb infused oils post.

Herbal Remedies:

Aromatherapy is one great way to use as remedies. You can add a few snips to a humidifier or add some on the logs in your fire when burning in winter. Incense type sticks called herbal joss sticks are used to cleanse the air in religious rituals and they do help create a mood and make those who are familiar with that scent feel reverence and comfort at their smell.

Aromas can truly be good therapy for your body and mind. As you start using herbs and smell them, you will be drawn to certain ones, and you should listen to your body. If it likes one, use it, because your body is telling you you need it. It can evoke good memories for you as well, like the scent of Grandma’s apple pie that takes you back, many herbs can have that effect.

Your brain will release chemicals in reaction to aromas and it can be very helpful with emotional therapy.

Herbal teas and infusions are another way to use them as remedies. Infusions are done by pouring hot water over the herb leaves and blooms and letting them steep in it for at least 15 to 20 minutes, then inhaling and drinking while fresh. Teas are steeped for a shorter span of time and drank.

A few commonly used medicinal herbs are: rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme. They can be used for sinus relief, to help get over a flu or cold, for antiseptic uses, relief for wounds and scars and for allergy relief. There is a lot of information online on these herbs so be sure to research before using for this type of remedy and always consult your physician as well.

Herbs For Crafts:

Herbs can be used as natural dyes, for use with bath products and spa treatments, to make wreaths and bouquets, potpourri and sachets, natural candles, and homemade soaps.

Drying and storing herbs is not too complicated but you do need a good dark space to keep them in while drying and for you can tie them together in bunches and hang upside down as well as laying flat on a screen. They can also be dried in the oven, for faster results.

Once dried, be sure to store in clean, airtight containers, or if storing hanging in bunches, just be sure to protect with a cover to keep off the dust. How to Harvest and Dry Basil!

Cautions:

• If you are pregnant or nursing, or have heart conditions, please consult a physician before using herbs for remedy purposes.

• Here are two herbs that, while beautiful in their plant form, contain poisonous and volatile oils that in small doses may not harm us, but can be toxic if used in larger ones, so it is best to avoid usage and never ingest either of these: Foxglove and Lily of the Valley. Even when growing these plants, be careful to keep pets and small children away from them.

If you would like to learn more about herbs and their uses, one of these books is sure to have the information you seek:

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, 3rd Edition

The Complete Book of Herbs: A Practical Guide to Growing and Using Herbs

Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use

Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family

The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them

Please remember that none of this is meant as medical advice. I am not a doctor and do not play one on the internet. Please consult a physician if you have any questions about using essential oils or herbs so your doctor can better explain to you the benefits, possible side effects, and any warnings about essential oils and herbs.


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Why You Should Plant Heirloom Vegetables in Your Garden

Why You Should Plant Heirloom Vegetables in Your Garden. An explanation (list) of the pros and cons of purchasing and growing heirloom vegetable plants and seeds, as well as where to purchase heirloom plants and heirloom seeds locally and online.



Why You Should Plant Heirloom Vegetables in Your Garden

If you have been raising vegetables in your garden for any length of time – and even if you are a novice gardener – you may have heard of heirloom vegetables. But what are they? Heirloom vegetables are old-time varieties of some of your favorite plants, and they have been around for many years. Some varieties are hundreds of years old

Heirloom Seed – is the plant heritage. They generally have been passed down from generation to generation (thought of as 50+ years old). An heirloom variety is open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms varieties. (For more on the different types of plants and seeds, read here.

Why would you want heirloom plants in your garden? There are many benefits to growing heirlooms varieties. Long before the industrial farming that occurs now, there were many different types of tomatoes, corn, raidshes, beans, carrots, peas, etc., that were field grown for their flavor instead of their ability to be harvested at the same time and withstand packing and shipping stress. If you look at today’s seed catalogs, plants are engineered for a specific purpose and many people feel the taste has been engineers out of the new plants.

Heirloom varieties developed naturally over decades or centuries into flavorful and colorful fruits and vegetables. These varieties retained their inherent flavors, nutritional value, and because they were grown locally, they even adapted to have some pest resistance. They are open-pollinated, which means that they are naturally pollinated by nature, and the resulting seeds will be true to the original plant.

Growing heirloom varieties also allows you to save seed from this year’s crop to plant next year. This is different than the hybrid varieties you purchase from seed companies because they are crossbred and modified to the point that if you saved seed, the plants may not germinate. Keeping heirloom seeds for next year’s garden can also save quite a bit of money from year to year when you grow your garden seedlings indoors for spring planting.

Using the seed saving strategy, you can develop your own local strain of plant that has adapted to your environment. Select the seeds from plants that have performed the best each year; eventually you will have the strain that works best for your needs.

Heirlooms varieties have an amazing selection of colors and flavors. Where today’s hybrids may be a one-stop shop vegetable, older heirloom varieties tend to have a single use, and are much more flavorful. There are hundreds of heirloom tomato varieties in every size and color you can imagine, from bright yellow to purple (and striped!), yet they all have one characteristic in common; they all have a wonderful flavor!! Imagine your summer salad with a myriad of brightly colored tomatoes in the bowl, brimming with flavor!

Many heirloom seed varieties have been passed down in families just as an antiques or piece of jewelry might be. Most have a story about how they arrived in the United States, and even how they arrived in your hands. You are holding a piece of history with these seeds. Spend time to learn a little bit about the seeds you choose. It will make your garden, and gardening in general more interesting.

I will say that there are negatives to heirloom seeds too. Hybrids are specifically engineered to be disease resistant, a few years ago blight took such a toll on my heirloom tomatoes that I had to switch to a hybrid tomato because the variety was heartier. Last year, we went with cherry tomatoes. I do track blight using the blight tracker, and until it settles down in New York State, I will be buying both hyrid and heirloom tomatoes (so we definitely have some tomato crop).

Where do you find Heirloom Seeds for your garden?

• Although you can find non-hybrids on seed stands in your local garden center, they are not always labeled as such. Ask at your local Garden Nursery!! You can also get expert advice from the Master Gardener on hand to help you determine what fruits, vegetables, and herbs will grow best in your climate and local soil (once transferred).

• Your local Gardening Co-op There are not too many nationally, but they are growing.

• Ask at your local CSA! – there are specific seed and plant CSAs, as well as the everyday variety community supported agriculture farms that may/may not sell you seeds.

Where to buy heirloom seeds or plants online:

Burpee – search for “heirloom” on the site.

R.H. Shumway – specializes in heirloom varieties of vegetable and flowers. Many of the farm seed were developed in the 1940s and 1950s.

Rare Seeds – they offer over 1850 fine varieties of seeds, some of which you have probably never heard of! They claim to be America’s top source for heirloom seeds.

Seed Savers – a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of heirloom vegetables, flowers and fruits. They sell Non GMO Vegetable Seeds, Heirloom Vegetable Seeds, Organic Vegetable Seeds.
Seed Savers Exchange is a tax-exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of heirloom seeds.
They offer a membership, and membership benefits.

Johnny’s Seeds – one of the nine original signers of the Safe Seed Pledge.

This is the safe seed pledge:

Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners, and consumers who want an alternative,

We pledge that we do not knowingly buy, sell, or trade genetically-engineered seeds or plants.

The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families, or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing are necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically-engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems, and ultimately healthy people and communities.

Johnny’s Seeds sellsCertified Organic Seeds, F1 Hybrid Seeds (seeds that are a cross, not an open pollinated strain), Open-Pollinated & Heirloom Seeds.

Safe Planting Times in Your Area
How to Grow Garden Seeds

Where is your favorite place to purchase heirloom plants and seeds?


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How to Make a Watering Can Planter

How to Make a Watering Can Planter. A watering can planter is such an adorable way to keep pretty flowers and fresh herbs nearby at all times. Make a collection of different watering cans for some added whimsy!





How to Make a Watering Can Planter

You will not believe how easy it is to transform a simple watering can into a planter for herbs, flowers, and other small plants. In just moments, transform your boring patio or yard into something amazing with the watering can planter!

This is a great recycle craft (upcycle craft?) if you have an old watering can laying about. You can use a small can (the one in this tutorial is small) a large can, or in-between! One size will be just right to fit on the deck with your patio furniture, inside your house on a windowsill or on the kitchen table, or simply in your garden as part of the garden art and decor!

A watering can planter is such an adorable way to keep pretty flowers and fresh herbs nearby at all times. Make a collection of different watering cans for some added whimsy!

If you do not have an old watering can handy and would like to purchase one to do this project, stop at your local Home Depot or nearest gardening center for a great selection!

How to Make a Watering Can Planter. A watering can planter is such an adorable way to keep pretty flowers and fresh herbs nearby at all times. Make a collection of different watering cans for some added whimsy!


Watering Can Planter Supplies:

• 1 Watering Can
• Drill
• Rocks, Broken Pottery, etc (for drainage)
• Potting Soil
Gardening Hand Trowel
• Small Plants
• Tray (to catch water from watering if this is not set in your garden)

Watering Can Planter Directions:

• Make sure your watering can is free of debris and wash it with soap. If you are reusing an old watering can and had used it to mix with something besides water, this will remove any old residue that may harm your new plants. Not sure which plants to use? Well here are 75 Acid Loving Plants (from slightly acidic to OMG must have acid soil!) and 75 Alkaline Friendly Plants (from slight alkaline soil to very alkaline) to help get you started on your choices. Recognize that most potting soil is going to be closer to neutral, but read the package before deciding!

How to Make a Watering Can Planter. A watering can planter is such an adorable way to keep pretty flowers and fresh herbs nearby at all times. Make a collection of different watering cans for some added whimsy!


• Make a drainage hole in the bottom of your watering can using an electric drill (as always, read the manufacturer safety recommendations before using any power tool). This will help you not overwater your plants.
• Place a few rocks, stone, broken pieces of pottery in the bottom of your watering can (without blocking your drainage hole(s). This will also help promote drainage.
• Fill the watering can mostly full of soil.

How to Make a Watering Can Planter. A watering can planter is such an adorable way to keep pretty flowers and fresh herbs nearby at all times. Make a collection of different watering cans for some added whimsy!


How to Make a Watering Can Planter. A watering can planter is such an adorable way to keep pretty flowers and fresh herbs nearby at all times. Make a collection of different watering cans for some added whimsy!


• Use the trowel to dig a hole in the center of the can for your plants. The flowers seen in this tutorial were broken into smaller sections and planted around the inside of the watering can (remember, a small can was used in this tutorial).

How to Make a Watering Can Planter. A watering can planter is such an adorable way to keep pretty flowers and fresh herbs nearby at all times. Make a collection of different watering cans for some added whimsy!


• Place a tray underneath your watering can to catch excess moisture from watering if you plan on placing your can anywhere other than in your garden.

How to Make a Watering Can Planter. A watering can planter is such an adorable way to keep pretty flowers and fresh herbs nearby at all times. Make a collection of different watering cans for some added whimsy!


• Water your soil with another watering can. Do not over-water even if you have a drainage hole in the bottom of your watering can.

How to Make a Watering Can Planter. A watering can planter is such an adorable way to keep pretty flowers and fresh herbs nearby at all times. Make a collection of different watering cans for some added whimsy!


• That is it! Place your watering can planter in a sunny spot or in the shade depending on what type of plants(s) you chose to grow. Make sure to check your can every day or two to see if it needs water as shallow containers dry out quickly.
• If you keep your watering can planter outside, when frost threatens, just take the watering can planter inside!

This is truly a simple and easy way to reuse old watering cans while adding a touch of garden art to your outdoor (or indoor!) garden.


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