RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Herbs to Grow and Use in Dallas

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

Description automatically generated with low confidence

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

Cinnamon Basil in My Driveway

Most of the instructions for growing cinnamon basil in your garden mention things like, dig a generous amount of compost or well-rotted manure into the soil before planting. Other sources suggest that it prefers rich, loamy soil.

Cinnamon Basil thriving in Linda’s gravel drive

That leaves me somewhat perplexed. For the fifth year in a row, a patch of robust, healthy cinnamon basil plants are once again growing in our gravel driveway. And, it continues to multiply with each passing year.

If you happen to be intrigued, here a few things to know about this very aromatic and easy-to-grow herb that has much to offer.

Cinnamon Basil is from the mint family, Lamiaceaea. Its slightly serrated, dark green, shiny leaves with reddish-purple veins can resemble certain types of mint. Cinnamon basil plants contain cinnamate, a compound that gives the herb its spicy aroma and cinnamon-like flavor.

If left alone, cinnamon basil will surprise you with its true beauty. From July to late September, lavender spiked blooms are in full display creating a picture-perfect experience not to be missed. But if you feel inclined to grow full, bushier plants, snip the tips as soon as they appear any time during the growing season. Expect your plants to eventually reach about three feet.

Cinnamon basil will thrive in well-drained soil (or gravel) receiving about 6 to 8 hours of bright sunlight per day. Harvest the leaves often and use in two of our favorite recipes, Cinnamon Basil Ice Cream and Cinnamon Basil Swirl Cake. Consider using it as an attractive garnish or to flavor hot drinks or other dishes.

Cinnamon basil in an arrangement of complimentary colors by Linda

In addition to its culinary uses, cinnamon basil makes a stunning addition to floral arrangements. While beautiful as a stand-alone plant, it compliments flowers in the lavender and pink or blue color range. I especially enjoy using it with blue hydrangeas, purple calyx, tulips and roses. Cinnamon basil will please you with its gentle, fragrant scent each time you enter the room.

(Little known fact: Cinnamon basil was taken into space by the Space Shuttle Endeavor during STS-118 and grown in an experiment in low Earth orbit on the International Space Station).

Linda Alexander

The recipe for Cinnamon Basil Cake is below. If you would like to the recipe for Cinnamon Basil Ice Cream, ask for it in the comment section.

Cinnamon Basil Swirl Cake

Cinnamon basil is loved by master gardeners. It reseeds freely and has a delicate purple blossom. You’ll be captivated by its cinnamon-like aroma and taste.

Ingredients for Cake:
2 tablespoons minced cinnamon basil leaves
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon coarse salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
Ingredients for Swirl:
⅓ cup sugar
2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease a 10-inch spring form pan.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together cinnamon basil leaves, flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time until fluffy and well blended. Beat in vanilla.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream and baking soda until smooth. With mixer on low speed, beat half the flour mixture into the butter mixture just until blended. Beat in sour cream mixture, then remaining flour, beating just until blended. Spread into prepared pan.
5. Make swirl. In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over batter; swirl into batter with the tip of a knife, being careful not to touch the knife to base of the pan.
6. Bake cake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely (or nearly so) on a wire rack before removing pan side and slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 8-12 servings

Special Offer:

Linda is digging up cinnamon basil and potting it in 4 inch pots to share. She will leave it for pick-up on the table in the edible landscape of The Raincatcher’s garden. 12 pots will be there, one per person. Come after noon today, Tuesday, July 21 to pick up one for your garden.


We have written quite a bit about basil. Type in basil in our search box and spend the afternoon reading about how to grow it, how to cook with it, and learn about all the many varieties.

Garden Water…Herbal Infusions and Flavors

Infused Herbal Water

No matter the season, there’s always work to be done in the garden. Seasonal challenges many times involve weather related temperature extremes serving as the determining factor. In north central Texas, we typically get socked in with sweltering temperatures mid June to early September. This week is no exception. The forecast is for temperatures over 100°. Our weather forecasters have advised caution for any type of outdoor activity. Staying hydrated is of supreme importance as we are reminded to drink lots of water. 

While doing those garden chores, how about some fresh ideas using herbal infusions to flavor your water? Easy to make and so refreshing, follow these simple steps for a cool thirst quencher:

Select the fruits, vegetables and herbs of your choosing

Give everything a gentle wash

Fill a pitcher with tap or filtered water

Add your preferred combination

Refrigerate and allow the fruit and herbs enough time to infuse the water

Fruit and herbs should be removed after 10 hours, or less, but continue to enjoy the water

Create a different flavor combination each day

At Raincatcher’s, taking a water break is a tasty and satisfying experience. We enjoy our time to “pause” and visit with each other. Sipping on herbal infused water gives us that refreshing lift needed to continue caring for our beloved gardens.

Thirst no more!  Here are the herbal infused waters from left to right in the picture above:

Cucumber, Salad Burnet and Borage Blossoms (Starla’s favorite)
Watermelon, Watermelon Flavored Mint
Orange Slices, Blueberries, Lemon Verbena (Linda’s Favorite)
Lemon and Lime Slices, Pineapple Sage
Strawberries, Balsamic Blooms Basil (Ann’s Favorite)
Apricots, French Tarragon

Other flavorful combinations to try:

Parsley and Lemon
Peaches and French tarragon
Cucumber and lemon thyme
Grapefruit and rosemary
Lavender and lemons
Oranges and sage
Strawberries, blueberries and mint

Look for seasonal inspiration in your garden and be creative with your combinations.

Linda Alexander

Photo by Starla Willis

Note: When using borage flower heads for culinary purposes, pick off by grasping the black stamen tips and gently separating the flower from its green back. Sprinkle over salads, or use to flavor water and other beverages.

Homesteading in North Dallas

Sheila Kostelny, a Louisiana gal, and  Master Gardener class of 2009  walks us through her garden.

 

Shiela’s words of advice and her own planting date guide:

It’s too late for peas (sugar snap and snow peas are planted Feb 1st thru 10th) and too early for winter squash.  In addition to okra, I will be planting my sweet potato slips after April 15th.  Attached is a timetable that I compiled from the TAMU and NHG suggested dates for planting.  I’m glad to share this spreadsheet. It’s created with the veggies/herbs that interest me.

Thank you, Sheila. this has been a pleasure and I love what you told me about your garden.

We close with Sheila’s words:

“My garden has provided a great deal of joy and feelings of usefulness.

It’s my place of normalcy and peace during this time.”

Thank you, Sheila.

Ann Lamb

Sweet potatoes 

 

Raincatcher’s Garden Spring 2020

April 2, 2020

Most of us are at home this week and for the next coming weeks.

If you’re itching to walk through a garden, why not take a tour of ours through the eyes of Starla, our photographer who took these pictures last week.

New decomposed granite walkway flanked by beds of  Canyon Creek Abelia, Hamelim Dwarf Fountain Grass, and Texas Sage, “Compactum” (Texas Ranger) Read a full description of this new memorial garden here.

Veggie beds full of turnips (mostly gone), mustard greens (lots), collards (gone), carrots, and onions. Meanwhile Jim, is nursing 6″ pots of tomatoes and peppers for the garden.

Pollination of a blackberry blossom

The color wheel garden with a pretty apricot iris. Jim has repotted 40 zinnias and has 20 more to repot for the color wheel.

Redbud tree in bloom

The rain garden, our unsung hero! It has been channeling rain from our full rain cisterns to this sunken garden.

Garden questions? Send us a question by making a comment.

Ann Lamb

Pictures by Starla Willis

Grow Now!

Dallas County Master Gardener volunteers at the Raincatcher’s Research, Education and Demonstration Garden of Midway Hills share your concern for eating healthy during these uncertain times. We’ve put together a short list of ways that you can start growing and harvesting seasonal crops over the next few weeks and months. Here are some gardening (and recipe) suggestions to help supplement your meals with freshly harvested herbs and vegetables.

 If you do not already have a designated vegetable garden, try one of these options:

1) Find an open place in your flower bed that receives around 6 to 8 hours of sun, preferably from morning until mid or late afternoon. Give your soil a boost by adding compost. Good quality compost can be purchased at most local garden centers. Make sure you have a water source close by, and position the garden where you can keep a daily watch to head off any potential pests and weeds that could create problems if left unchecked.

2) Create a simplified version of a raised bed using cinder blocks. Place cardboard directly over a grassy spot in your yard that receives ample sunlight, then place cinderblocks in a rectangular shape around the cardboard, starting with 5 on each side and 3 at each end. Fill the enclosed space about 6 inches above the bed border with a commercial raised bed mix, and water thoroughly to let the soil settle. Space plants or seeds according to directions. Water as needed to maintain even moisture within the bed.

The cardboard method, a good way to smother weeds

A large cinder block garden bed

Start with 4” to 6” edible plants spaced according to label directions. Seasonal plants, including cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes, are currently in stock at many local garden centers, but don’t stop there.

Try the following options in your new raised bed or in your existing landscape as borders and ground covers, or plant a bay laurel to grow as a shrub or small tree. 

Arugula (Eat fresh in salads, or use in dips.)

Spinach (Eat fresh in salads, sauté with scrambled eggs, or use in omelets, quiches and vegetable dishes.)

Kale (Eat fresh in salads; sauté for kale chips.)

Lettuce (Many different varieties provide texture and color in the landscape.)

Radish (Eat fresh in salads; slice thinly and serve on buttered bread for sandwiches.)

Carrot (Eat fresh in salads, roasted, or in soups and souffles. Use carrot tops to make pesto.)

Beet (Serve roasted, or grate for a cake.)

Swiss Chard (Eat fresh in salads, use leaves as a “wrap” for fresh chopped vegetables, sauté for turnovers, or add to soups.) 

Dill (Leaves can be added to salads, potatoes, meat and fish at the end of cooking.)

Fennel (All parts of the plant are edible – leaves and stalk make a wonderful flavoring for fish.)

French Sorrel (Can be cooked or used fresh like lettuce. Makes a good soup; adds zip to salads. Great on roast beef sandwiches.)

Nasturtiums (Harvest the leaves, buds and flowers anytime, and use fresh. Excellent in salads. Leaves make a great pesto.)

Artichokes (Excellent vegetable served roasted, sautéed or steamed—a beautiful and majestic plant for your garden.)

Thyme (Strip small leaves from stems and use to enhance the flavor of baked or broiled fish dishes or fish sauces. Thyme Cheese Roll: Combine 8 ounces softened cream cheese, 1 tablespoon chopped thyme, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, ½ teaspoon minced garlic. Roll into a log and refrigerate. Serve with toast or crackers for a quick and easy snack.)

Sage (Flowers and leaves are edible; flowers are nice in salads and for making tea, and the leaves are great for cooking and making herb butters.)

Rosemary (Use with foods rich in fat such as roasted meats, poultry and fish. Add to soups and stew. Use stripped branches as skewers for your favorite grilled meats and veggies.)

Chives (Snip the leaves at ground level when harvesting. Chop and serve with salad, potatoes, pasta and cabbage.)

Oregano (Sprinkle on fresh tomatoes or use to make a sauce; adds flavor to stews and soups.)

Marjoram (Rub leaves on all kinds of meat, chop into egg dishes, stir into soups and sprinkle it over vegetables)

Basil (Plant mid to late April. Use leaves for salads, pesto and sauces. Combines well with zucchini, beans and mushrooms.)

Watercress (Harvest and use fresh in salads, soups and sandwiches.)

Purslane (Use in early spring salads. Leaves can be cooked like spinach.)

Sweet Bay/Bay Laurel (Use the leaves of this evergreen plant in soups, stews and other simmered dishes. Cook a leaf or two with dried beans.)

We hope you will be inspired to start gardening with your family and experience the joy of bringing fresh, flavorful food to your table. 

How about a healthy robust minestrone soup using fresh garden ingredients. Picture by Linda

Click here for the recipe. 

Linda Alexander and Lisa Centala with comments by Jeff Raska, Horticulture Assistant, Dallas County

Follow these planting guides: TAMU Vegetable Planting Guide

Northaven Garden Spring Planting Guide

New to gardening? Read this pamphlet, pages 13-15 have specific recommendations for veggie gardening.

Pictures by Starla Willis

 

%d bloggers like this: