There are several cultures known for eating flowers in ancient times – among them India, Rome, the Middle East and China. This article will focus on China, where edible flowers were included in the diet not only for their attractive colors and fragrances, but to promote health and physical beauty . A number of flowers are used in Chinese cookery, but we will focus on just a few: Chrysanthemum, Daylily, Lotus, Hibiscus and Rose.
Many poets include botanical imagery in their works. One of my favorite poets, William Wordsworth, a romantic poet who lived from the late 1700s to the mid 1800s), allowed botany and nature to play a large part in his work. One of his poem stars one of my favorite flowers – the humble daffodil.
Have you ever eaten from the “Lipstick Tree?” Chances are, you have. If you see E160b on a food label, that means you are eating a red dye made from seed coat of annatto (the seeds of the achiote, or lipstick tree). It is used in prepared foods, and to make cheese orange. It is also commonly used to dye margarine and butter yellow.* But why is achiote known as the lipstick tree? And how can you use the seeds in your own cooking?
Dill is a favorite food of the black swallowtail butterfly. So, when you plant dill, it is a good idea to add a few extra plants for the caterpillars to snack on. But the plants can bounce back after the caterpillars make their chrysalises, or the caterpillars may not show up in your yard at all. This can leave you with a lot of dill when the plants get ready to bolt and go to seed, or with a large number of volunteer sprouts the next spring. It also leaves you with the question: What to do with all that . . . dill?
All tea (herbal tisanes aside) comes from the same plant (camellia sinensis), but the liquid made from the leaves tastes widely different depending on where it was grown, when it was harvested, and how it was processed – and how you brew it. So if you think you don’t like tea, ask yourself, “how many teas have I tried?” (If you do already like tea, you may be asking, “How many more teas haven’t I tried yet?”)
It's finally gotten cold outside (winter seems to come to Texas later every year), so my thoughts have turned to soup. These warm, easy to eat concoctions are the very definition of comfort food. But what can you do to turn a basic recipe into a showstopper? Or maybe you just want to make canned soup more palatable. Here are twenty ways to soup up your soup.
Lately, I have become fascinated with cake pops. The first time I made them (using packaged frosting and candy melts, as so many tutorials directed) they were way too sweet and lacked depth of flavor. So ditched the candy melts in favor of real chocolate and turned to the herb garden for inspiration, designing a rose, cardamom and pistachio cake pop; a basil and strawberry cake pop; and a lemon thyme and lavender cake pop.
Many people consider chives the easiest herb to grow. This may be because they start so easily from seed, and grow into dense grass-like clumps. A little bit of the herb goes a long way, so even a small chives bed can feel like more chives than you will ever be able to use. What can you do to make the most of all those chives?
You can often find scented sugar (sometimes called flavored sugar) at a gourmet shop. But it is such a simple process to scent sucrose, why not add a personal touch—while saving some cash – and make your own? Scented sugar is a simple way to dress up any occasion, and jars with the flavoring agents still in them make quite attractive gifts.
One of my earliest memories of childhood is hiding under my grandmother’s fig tree, while playing hide and seek. It was an enormous tree, with branches that spread to cover much of the side yard. And every year, my grandmother would go out with a bucket and pick the figs to put up preserves. My brother and I used to get smaller bowls, and we would help pick. When the whole extended family got together, those preserves would show up on the breakfast table along with tray after tray of biscuits.
I’ll admit, lemongrass is one of those herbs that doesn’t exactly grow like wildfire. But where I am, in Texas, the best shot I’ve got for getting this tender perennial to make it through the winter is to cut it back to just a few inches tall and mulch over it. So what to do with the flavorful, fragrant stalks? Use some of them during the summer and fall, when herbs (such as basil) that compliment lemongrass are in season.
My husband and I have been out to a number of parks and botanic gardens in the past month, and we just sat down this week and started looking through the pictures. I went through the whole set from Tyrrell Park, which has a delightful botanic garden in Beaumont, Texas. I had taken a picture of a very empty-looking hole using a VERY long lens (because, who knows what can live in holes).
Parsley is a biannual, which means that in the second year it will bolt and go to seed. However, it is self-seeding, which means if it likes the area where you’ve planted it, not only will the plant replace itself, but you might get a lot more seedlings than you bargained for. But don’t worry -- you can always find something to do with all that extra parsley.
What could generate happy memories better than flowers that you have received as a gift or that you have grown in your garden? But flowers are quick to fade. What can you do to preserve these beauties? You could simply dry them, but that can be bulky, and you have to have space to display the resulting fragile arrangement. Consider pressing your flowers, and using them to create projects that showcase the loveliness of your flowers, such as these bookmarks.
Cilantro may be an annual, but it is one of those herbs that self-sows, which means that if you plant it in one spot in the fall, it could pop wherever the wind has blown the seeds the next spring. You can pull those seedlings up – or you can let them grow for a little while, then harvest the fragrant bunches. Just make sure you harvest the plants before they go to seed, as they fade pretty fast after that. (You may want to leave a few plants to make seeds to self-sow, and to harvest for cooking. The seed of the cilantro plant is the spice coriander, but that’s a whole other article). This can leave you with a whole lot of cilantro. What to do?
There are dessert apples, and there are cooking apples. It takes a special apple indeed to excel at both. Two of my favorite multi-taskers are the Honeycrisp and the Crispin. Interestingly, they both share a genetic ancestor, the Golden Delicious. Looking at the pedigrees of these apples gives us insight into how chance meetings and scientific planning both play a part in creating some of the best eatables around.
When you plant basil, you know you are planting an annual and we tend to forget that in the excitement when we pluck off those first fragrant leaves to toss into a salad. If everything goes well, basil plants become large and bushy. But at the first sign of frost, those plants are toast. You can try to overwinter them inside, but basil loves sun, so unless you have a full greenhouse, you’re in store for plants that drop leaves like crazy. So what do you do with all that . . . basil?
Have you ever brought out a stack of seed packets, only to have the wind start plucking them, one by one, out of the container you’re sorting them in? Have you ever set down your trowel in favor of another tool, and when you need the trowel again, it seems to have blended in with the scenery? Or you brought out a bucket of tools, but left them on the other side of the yard. Solve these annoyances with a comfortable gardener’s apron.
Oregano is one of those herbs that tends to grow prolifically. This can be a good thing. After all, it is a member of the mint family. It makes a sort of tall carpet, and it covered with tiny blossoms in the spring. But it can easily grow out of its intended bed. If yours gets out of hand, the only thing left to do is start cooking with it.
It’s hard to have too much time in a day. But it’s easy to have more thyme than you can use in your garden. The plants spread horizontally, forming an attractive carpet. But sometimes you still wind up having to trim it back, and it would be a shame to waste the clippings. Thyme is such an intensely flavored herb, and it is an essential ingredient in so many traditional spice mixtures.
In a continuing effort to keep innocent (and tasty) herbs out of the compost bin, I thought I would tackle another prolific grower – rosemary. The upright kind gets leggy and looks scraggly if you don’t trim it back occasionally. Give it a sunny spot, and your prostrate rosemary will creep out of its bed and half way across your yard if you let it. And you can’t easily give away the clippings – your gardening friends will tell you they’ve already got more rosemary than they can use. But if you cook it up into tasty dishes and gifts, they’ll all be singing a different tune praising this adaptable herb.
I just had a gardener give me some very healthy mint plants today. She said she used her mint for making tea, but didn’t know quite what else to do with it. “There’s just so much of it,” she lamented. Sound familiar? Mint is one of those aggressive herbs that tend to take over, if not checked. One way to keep it in its place is to cook it in as many ways as are possible.
Many gardens use birdhouses to attract spectacular creatures that add color and movement to the landscape. But have you ever considered adding a bat house? Bats can actually be quite beneficial to your neighborhood. They help solve one of my gardening pet peeves (though this may not be as much of a problem for you as it is for me here in Texas). When the day finally cools off, which should be prime gardening time, that’s when the mosquitos show up. In droves. But one bat can eat 10,000 mosquitos a night.*
A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out the garage, and I decided to finally do something with the pieces of broken mirror that had been sitting around since we moved it. I had also been looking for a way to put to good use a spot on the side of the house with an abundance of afternoon sun. Couple that with six bags of Quikrete that we got for free off Craigslist, and my husband and I put in a mosaic-topped flower border.
After all the hard work we put into our gardens, most gardeners love a chance to show off the results. While it can be hard to get non-gardeners interested in looking at snapshots of your bouncing baby bromeliads, if you have the plants themselves on hand, they can be easy conversation starters. I’ve seen “living jewelry” popping up all over the web as a “green” trend. While fashioning a three-finger ring that has a tiny rectangle of lawn on top would be a difficult undertaking, making a terrarium pendant is fairly straightforward.
If you are thinking about planting a lavender bush, but have heard they are a little difficult to grow, I say go for it anyway. The flowers not only smell restful – they are also edible*. One of the most popular ways to add lavender flowers to foods is as part of a mixture known as herbes de Provence. These are among the most expensive spice mixes to buy, but, once you have the lavender flowers, it is easy to blend your own.
You put so much hard work into your flower garden, it is a shame to see them all wither at season’s end. But if you dry your flowers, you can blend them into potpourris that you can enjoy – or that you can give as gifts that will show off your green thumb -- all year around. But of you want your potpourri’s fragrance to last, don’t forget to include a fixative – something that will hold and preserve the scent.
When I found out that a large percentage of commercial dryer sheets contain formaldehyde (along with a host of other toxic chemicals) I stopped using them. But I missed having a soft, fresh scent that told the olfactory part of my brain that the clothes were clean. So I started using dryer sachets, which make my brain even happier, because the clothes never have a “fake” scent. It’s easy to make lavender dryer sachets.
It may seem hard to believe, but the first day of spring is less than a month away. And with spring, comes allergies. One of the best way to combat pollen allergies is, ironically, with the pollen of the plant that "bit" you. How? By consuming regular doses of local honey. You can make the cure even sweeter by infusing herbs known to soothe sore throats and boost the immune system.