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Tag Archives: Herbs to Grow and Use in Dallas

My Affection for ‘Kent Beauty’ is Growing

August 2, 2022

One of the showiest ornamental oreganos, Kent Beauty, a hybrid between Origanum rotundifolium and Origanum scabra, has charmed me with its attractive foliage and flowers. Mine was planted in a 12” terra cotta pot over two years ago but, come fall, I’m transplanting it to a new sunny location in my raised bed. Its intriguing beauty during the heat of summer and into fall will be refreshing.

Gathered from the garden; purple pentas, cinnamon basil, society garlic and Kent Beauty oregano.

Kent Beauty is an impressive oregano, having received the prestigious Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society. (The AGM is a mark of quality awarded, since 1922, to garden plants by the United Kingdom, Royal Horticultural Society.) A cup symbol on a plant’s label shows it has earned the AGM – the UK’s seal of approval that the plant performs reliably in the garden. It is only awarded to plants that are:

  1. Excellent for use in appropriate conditions
  2. Available
  3.  Of good constitution
  4. Essentially stable in form and color

Optimum growing conditions include full sun, dry to medium soil with excellent drainage. It performs well during extreme heat and drought but is intolerant of high humidity. Allow room for it to grow approximately 6 to 9 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide. Bees are attracted to the tiny purple, tubular blooms. An easy-to-care for plant that is disease free and has few pests.

Kent Oregano growing in a pot

Kent Beauty is an herbaceous perennial that forms a low trailing mound of silver-veined blue-green aromatic leaves. In early summer it starts producing whorls of pendulous, drooping heads of hop-like flowers in dreamy shades of shrimp pink, cream and pale green. This visual feast for the eyes continues into the cooler autumn months.

Take advantage of its versatility and use in alpine and rock formations, as a border plant, in containers, hanging baskets and for cascading over walls. Snip stems of the draping flowers for a dramatic addition to fresh floral arrangements.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

A Nod to Nepitella

July 19, 2022

Our adventure in growing nepitella was challenging. Seeds were difficult to locate and few in number. Spring of 2021, the first flat of twelve seeds was started. Instructions were followed carefully but the seeds just seemed to slumber through the next three weeks. Finally, the tiny seedlings started popping up through the seed starting mix and we were hopeful our efforts would be rewarded.

And then they just stopped growing, bent those little heads over to the side and gave it up. We couldn’t have been more disappointed that they didn’t survive because our motivation for growing nepitella, a somewhat unfamiliar herb, was all about a recipe. Fortunately, we are close friends with a master gardener who happens to be a seed starting guru. His name is Jim and he agreed to take on the task of getting us to the finish line. 

Weeks passed with no news of germination. Sadly, we were losing hope of ever getting to try that special dish featuring nepitella. And then one day, Jim surprised us with a visit to the garden. He shared the good news that ten seeds had germinated but he wanted to keep them under his watchful eye for a few more weeks. We happily agreed and, once again, held on to hope that he would be successful. As you might have guessed, about a month later Jim arrived at the garden with a flat of strong, upright nepitella seedlings that were finally large enough for their new home in the edible landscape. Cheers of joy were heard throughout the garden. 

Nepitella (Calamintha nepeta) grows wild in the hills around Nepi, an old Etruscan town in the province of Viterbo, Italy, about an hour north of Rome. It is an aromatic herbaceous perennial that spreads horizontally by means of underground rhizomes. The small, fuzzy leaves look like marjoram and taste like lemony mint with notes of basil and oregano. Nepitella blooms in late spring producing tiny pale purple flowers which are edible and attractive to bees.  (FYI…As of this writing, July 14th, my three pots of nepitella are still blooming. Those delicate little flowers have been tossed into salads, vegetables, desserts and more!)

If a trip to Italy isn’t on your summer agenda, where old Tuscan towns filled with picturesque scenes leave you dreaming of a stroll up crumbling stone steps to the piazza, then let the heavenly scent of nepitella take you there. You’ll find it used in Italian cookery as an aromatic to flavor all sorts of dishes from beef and lamb through tomatoes and summer squash. 

Braised Artichokes with Nepitella

And finally, the recipe that inspired us to start growing nepitella was created by a well-known Italian chef and food writer, Pellegrino Artusi. His 1891 recipe for carciofi in umido con al nepitella (Braised Artichokes with Calamint) is the one that teased our taste buds. It consists quite simply of braising carefully cleaned and quartered artichokes with a bit of tomato paste, fresh garlic and a fistful of nepitella. The happy conclusion to this story is that the flavors of Italy have arrived in our garden and we are thrilled to share them with you. 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008


We have eight 4″ pots of nepitella seedlings to give away next Tuesday, July 26th. Look for them on the round table in the Edible Landscape Garden. One per person, please.

Getting Your Dollars’ Worth With Pennyroyal!

Pennyroyal

July 6, 2022

Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is a perennial in the mint family of herbs (Lamiaceae). But don’t let its small size mislead you. As it creeps along the ground, usually only a few inches high, lax prostrate stems root wherever they touch the earth. If you’re searching for something fragrant to fill a semi shaded area of the garden, pennyroyal’s spreading habit will work hard for you. 

The name pennyroyal comes from its 1-inch roundish leaves which carry a strong mint flavor. During the summer months, small lavender flowers in tight whorls rise about 4 to 6 inches above the leaves. As with other “mints” pennyroyal prefers cool, moist soil and moderate fertilization.

Although no longer recommended for consumption by humans or animals, pennyroyal has other beneficial properties. Hanging baskets of pennyroyal on the porch will help keep insects away. Fresh leaves rubbed on arms and legs ward off mosquitoes, bees, flies, wasps and even chiggers. Pennyroyal can be used as an aromatic groundcover between stepping stones and in other small spaces.

Choose your location carefully, and allow pennyroyal plenty of room to grow. (Note: My biggest mistake was planting a 4” container of pennyroyal in a 4’ x 8’ x 32” high raised bed. Within months it was creeping along nicely into the bed, putting down roots and taking up my prime herb/vegetable garden space. The only solution was to dig up the entire plant and relocate it to a more confined shady spot with stone borders. It was the right decision.)

Caution: Avoid all contact with pennyroyal if you are pregnant.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Avocado Toast…Dressed Up in Seasonal Colors

It was only a few years ago when just an ordinary piece of toast topped with gently smashed avocado became the rage. You’ll find it now on menus across the country from small cafes to upscale restaurants. Everyone seems to have created their own version by using an alphabetical listing of edibles including everything from artichokes and micro greens to tomatoes and tarragon for appeal. My approach tends to be more simplistic in style. 

An early morning harvest from my edible garden provides a seasonally fresh selection of blossoms, greens, herbs and vegetables. On Saturday mornings from April until November a visit to our local farmer’s market gives me additional options. Here are a few delicious suggestions that my husband and I have recently enjoyed but be creative with your choices because any combination that pleases your palate is a winner. 

Springtime

*Thinly Sliced French Breakfast Radishes, Onion Chives and Nasturtium Blossoms

*Broccoli Florets, Arugula and Mrs. Taylor’s Scented Pelargonium Blossoms

*Thinly Sliced Carrots Topped with Caraway Sprigs

*Swiss Chard Perpetual Spinach and Nepitella Blossoms

Summertime

*Sliced East Texas Peaches and French Tarragon

*Campari Tomatoes Sprinkled with Chopped Balsamic Blooms Basil Leaves

*Sliced East Texas Peaches, Sweet Banana Peppers and Purple Basil

*Armenian Cucumbers with Salad Burnet and Watercress

Avocado toast is something we enjoy for breakfast, brunch, lunch and as a delightful appetizer. For a light summer dinner we often serve it alongside homemade gazpacho or chilled cucumber soup. Our goal is simply to use garden fresh ingredients! The only exception is when I’ve made a visit to purchase fresh eggs from my master gardener friend who raises chickens at her ranch. A delicately fried egg sitting on top makes for a very scrumptious breakfast experience.

**Additional edibles from summer’s bounty will include anise hyssop blossoms, blueberries, shaved yellow crooked neck and zucchini squash, onions, jalapeno and shishito peppers. To complete the flavor kick be sure to consider a sprinkling of these herbs; anise, dill, fennel, lovage, mint, papalo, pipicha, lemon thyme and rosemary or any of your personal favorites. 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

When Your Garden Provides the Ingredients…

Try These Three Recipes:

Asparagus, blueberries, garlic, jalapeno peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, basil, cilantro, Italian parsley, and mint are some of our Zone 8 seasonal garden crops. If you’re growing any of these springtime and summer favorites, consider giving them a starring role for breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner. Each recipe calls for a list of ingredients which can be picked, snipped and harvested directly from the garden. The combined flavor profiles will elevate that fresh-from-the-garden taste experience we find so satisfying to our palates.  

Caprese Roasted Asparagus with Grape Tomatoes

Fettuccine with Cashew, Mint and Cilantro Pesto

Blueberry Zucchini Muffins

You may have noticed that the common thread in each of these recipes is olive oil. This past Christmas, family members and close friends received themed gift packages from my husband and me featuring olive oil and olive wood products. From olive wood boards, bowls and spoons to different varieties of olive oil, each one was customized for the recipient. A recipe for my favorite olive oil cake was included with each gift. 

As the spirit of giving continues, throughout 2022 our family and friends are receiving a monthly recipe featuring new and unusual ways of cooking or baking with olive oil. The three recipes listed above were for March, April and May. Summer recipes calling for olive oil will include farm fresh garden vegetables (corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.) and zesty, flavorful herbs. I’m even sharing a cobbler recipe that calls for ¼ cup of lemon olive oil!

 If you are an olive oil fan, check back for monthly recipes featuring this versatile product and its variety of uses. Writing in The Illiad, Homer revered olive oil as having the qualities of “liquid gold”. Let’s discover those possibilities together over the next seven months. 

A Bit of Trivia…It was the ancient Greeks who invented the salad dressing which was comprised of extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, sea salt and honey.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

The Fragrance of Fall

Just a few steps into the garden and the air is suddenly filled with a soothing fragrance that leaves you mystified and, yet, curious to find its aromatic source. Moving closer in, hints of heady anise softened with a gentle touch of sweetness begins to calm your spirits. It only takes a moment to realize that you’ve been drawn into an intriguing area of the garden overflowing with the intoxicating fragrance of Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida).

Also known by its other names, Winter Tarragon, Texas Tarragon and yerba anise, this semi hardy perennial makes a spectacular showing in the fall garden. Slender stems rising unbranched from the base comprise the upright clumping shape of each plant. Tiny buds that started forming in late summer find their glory in the sunny days of autumn. Golden yellow clusters of marigold-like flowers dance gently across 3 feet tall stems in a show-stopping performance.

 

Mexican Mint Marigold in the Edible Landscape at Raincatcher’s Garden

Mexican Mint Marigold originated in the cool mountains of Mexico but has become a superstar addition to many Texas gardens. Grow it from seed sown after danger of frost has passed or divide plants in spring or fall. One simple suggestion is to arch a stem to the ground, cover the center with soil, and the stem will often root at the nodes. For optimum flower production plants should be located in an area that receives full sun to moderate afternoon shade. 

You’ll find Mexican Mint Marigold used as a substitute for the more temperamental herb, French Tarragon. Both the flowers and leaves are edible and used often in teas, salads, poultry and fish dishes. For a heavenly taste explosion use the leaves in an irresistible dessert we discovered a few years ago, Strawberry Sorbet with Texas Tarragon. 

Strawberry Sorbet with Texas Tarragon

Don’t be disappointed when your Mexican Mint Marigold plants take their winter nap. After dying down to the ground for a few months, they will reappear again in Spring just in time to start rehearsing for their next performance.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

The Love Language of Herbs

In our search to connect with others and the natural world around us, the joy of using herbs is a delightful way to embrace nature’s love language. Learning the meaning of herbs and including them in our daily lives provides us with beautiful ways of expressing feelings of gratitude, kindness, love and affection for others. Open your heart to the love language of herbs. Let them speak their special language for all to enjoy.

Anise, Anise Hyssop (Cleanliness)  

Basil (Love) Bay Laurel (Success) Borage (Courage)

Calendula (Health) Chamomile (Comfort)

Dill (Passion) Fennel (Worthy of Praise)

Lavender (Devotion) Lemon Balm (Sympathy) Lovage (Strength)

Mint (Virtue) Oregano (Joy) Nasturtium (Patriotism)

Parsley (Gratitude) Rose (Love, Desire) Rosemary (Remembrance)

Sage (Wisdom) French Tarragon (Permanence) Thyme (Courage)

Violet (Loyalty) Yarrow (Healing)

A few simple ideas for creating a personalized gift that expresses your sentiments for someone you care about:

*Fill a small vase with borage blossoms, sage and thyme twigs.  Include a personal note wishing wisdom to a family member facing a difficult decision and courage to take the next step.

*Show your gratitude for a friend’s kindness by baking him a ‘fresh from the garden’ rosemary (for remembrance) spice cake.

*Your daughter just landed her dream job. Send a sweet note accompanied by a beautiful arrangement of fennel (worthy of praise) bay laurel (success) and roses (love).

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Rosemary Spice Cake Recipe

Raincatcher’s Welcomes The Pierian Club of Dallas

After waiting for over a year and a half to resume monthly meetings, The Pierian Club of Dallas chose Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills for their first event. The much anticipated gathering was filled with hugs, laughter and smiles of happiness on the faces of those who attended. We were thrilled to welcome them to learn about our approach to gardening in North Texas and to enjoy a garden-themed lunch prepared by our “Friends of the Garden” volunteer culinary team. 

The story of The Pierian Club is very fascinating. It began in 1888 and has continued to evolve for over 133 years. The purpose of the club is to increase knowledge. Their motto states, “A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring. Their shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” In Greek Mythology, it was believed that drinking from the Pierian Spring would bring you knowledge and inspiration.

With a focus on seasonally fresh herbs and vegetables from our edible gardens, we treated them to a flavor-filled menu that stirred the senses. A brief explanation of how the menu was developed includes comments about several carefully chosen items. 

The Pierian Study Club

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A couple of vases hold yellow flowers

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Lunch Menu

“Finger Sandwich Trio” 

Pimento Cheese topped with a Raincatcher’s Pickle

Cranberry Curry Chicken Salad with Orange Blossom Honey

Sliced Radishes on Salad Burnet Spread Dusted with Fresh Fennel Pollen

Marinated Vegetables with French Tarragon and Anise Hyssop Blossoms

Grilled Figs topped with a Dollop of Mascarpone Cheese, Drizzled with Orange Blossom Honey and Fresh Thyme 

Iced Tea Flavored with Garden Fresh Lemon Verbena

Our finger sandwich trio included the following:

1. A tribute to Martha Stewart’s favorite sandwich…buttered white bread topped with thinly sliced radishes sprinkled with salt. Taking inspiration from herbs growing in our garden, we substituted a spread made with whipped cream cheese, freshly snipped salad burnet leaves and onion chives. Radishes were added next, sprinkled with sea salt and then lightly dusted with delicate fennel fronds. Each sandwich was topped with a thinly sliced Armenian cucumber brought in from the garden.

2. Pimento Cheese. This recipe is a favorite from a recently closed restaurant in Fredericksburg, Texas…The Peach Tree Tea Room. While the original recipe calls for jalapeno juice, we omitted it, as requested, for this event. Each sandwich was topped with a pickle made by one of our volunteers. Pickles were made from the variety, ‘Homemade Pickles,’ currently growing in our garden. 

3. Cranberry Curry Chicken Salad with Orange Blossom Honey. We love using this special honey from Savannah Bee and available locally at Central Market. It adds just the right amount of sweetness to the earthy flavor of curry.

Marinated Vegetables were embellished with fresh-picked French tarragon from our edible landscape. Served in individual clear glass flowerpots, they made a colorful addition to the menu with pretty purple anise hyssop blossoms scattered over the top.

Dessert was on the lighter side. Fig leaves from the garden cradled two figs halves that were lightly grilled and topped with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a drizzle of Orange Blossom Honey. Tiny lemon-flavored thyme leaves added that fresh from the garden effect that rounded out the meal.

Following lunch, a short program introducing the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills was presented by Dallas County Master Gardener, Lisa Centala. Master Gardener volunteers then joined Lisa and our guests for a delightful tour of the demonstration gardens. With their newly acquired horticultural knowledge, members of the study group left inspired and feeling as if they had been refreshed by drinking from the Pierian Spring. 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Lemon Balm and Rainy Days

May 27, 2021

After two glorious weeks of puddle-filling, gutter-gushing rain, I’ve had time to think and cook a little more than usual. Initially, my thoughts turned to an experience shared with another master gardener a few days ago in the edible landscape.

The two of us were having a discussion about a big clump of the common herb, lemon balm, that had taken over a small area of the Hügelkultur bed. It wasn’t planned for the space but, this spring, had volunteered to take up residence in that location.  Now, completely covering a new rosemary plant and a low growing French tarragon, the space was too crowded for all three to survive. Too many plants in too small a space and that “real estate”, we determined, belonged to our ‘Arp’ rosemary plant. Patti offered to dig up the lemon balm and move it to an open spot in our newly designed sensory garden.  

Lemon Balm on the left, Variegated Lemon Balm right

Because lemon balm is known for growing like a weed, some gardeners choose not to have it their gardens. The big clump Patti dug up could just as easily have been tossed into the compost pile but then we would have missed the fun of using it in more beneficial ways. Thankfully, the rainy weather had given me some time to research and learn more about this fragrant and tasty herb. 

Lemon balm is a lemon-scented, aromatic perennial plant native to the Mediterranean. It belongs to the Lamiaceae (mint) family of plants with four-sided stems. The genus name, Melissa, is derived from the Greek word meaning “honeybee”. This herb’s lemony fragrance attracts bees. Hives were once rubbed with its leaves to bring in swarms.

Lemon balm is easy to grow, accepting partial shade to full sun exposure. You can expect the leaves to turn pale yellow green in full sun. Some gardeners believe the plant is happier and more handsome when grown in the shade. Prefers moist fertile soil with good drainage. 

Just a few feet away from the clump Patti transplanted is a new variety of lemon balm that we found at a local garden center this spring; Melissa officinalis ‘Aurea’ (Variegated Lemon Balm). It is a robust grower with variegated gold/green foliage. Like its cousin, the variegated variety can be used for many culinary purposes. 

A refreshing trio: Lemon Balm Shortbread, Roasted Blueberries and Lemon Balm Ice Cream and Lemon Balm Infused Green Tea

Acclaimed chef and cookbook author, David Leibovitz, combines lemon balm with roasted blueberries for a delicious ice cream treat. Other delightful recipes include Lemon Balm Shortbread with fresh Lemon Balm Tea. 

Give lemon balm a try this year. Hopefully, you will agree with poets and herbalists of old who referred to it as “heart’s delight” for its uplifting qualities. 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

Master of the Woods

Sweet Woodruff

If the title sounds like the name of a new novel, continue reading for a charming introduction into an often-forgotten herb, sweet woodruff – Waldmeister (Galium odoratum formerly known as Asperula Odorata.) According to German folklore it is known by many sources as master of the woods. Delving deeper into its history and uses, you may want to obtain some quickly for a refreshing sip of Maiwein to celebrate May 1st.

In the edible landscape we chose sweet woodruff because it is an ideal herb to use for planting under trees and along shady walkways. With its whorls of emerald green leaves and white starry flowers, it is a welcome sight in late spring while the foliage is attractive all season long.

Sweet woodruff prefers a rich, loamy, well-drained slightly acidic soil but tolerates both sandy and heavy, alkaline clay soils. The shady side of our hügelkultur bed provides it with an optimum growing environment. It typically grows to about a foot tall and spreads indefinitely by stringy yellow underground runners. In our Zone 8 climate it is considered an evergreen. A light covering of mulch this winter helped it survive during the freeze.

The German name, Waldmeister (master of the woods), reflect its habitat, the common name bedstraw, applied also to other members of the genus, refers to its use. During the middle ages it was used as a fragrant strewing herb and mattress filling. When dried, the leaves smell pleasantly of new-mown hay, honey and vanilla. 

Maiwein Garnished with Strawberries

Today, sweet woodruff is probably best known as an ingredient of German May wine. It is traditionally drunk on May Day both to welcome the season and as a spring tonic. Follow this simple recipe for a refreshing sip of an historical beverage. The recipe was taken from a German Culture website which specified that only the tender, young leaves should be used in this drink, before sweet woodruff is in bloom. As you can see from the photograph, our sweet woodruff fits that description, so we are ready to enjoy a glass of Maiwein on Saturday, May 1st!

Sweet Woodruff Wine

Ingredients

1 bottle dry German Riesling

7 sprigs young sweet woodruff

Instructions

Tie the stems of the woodruff with a string and stuff it into the opening of the wine bottle, leaving the string outside the bottle. Let it soak for 15-20 minutes. Remove the bunch and serve the wine chilled. Note: Germans like to garnish the Maiwein with fresh strawberries and mint.

Here is a link to a wonderful recipe for Creamy Maiewien cake: gathervictoria.com.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

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