Archive for the ‘Herbs’ Category

The Cattails - Summer 2011

The fact that it’s already August blows me away. Now the countdown to the new semester begins. Time to get some school clothes lined up and things squared away that I will not want to deal with once classes start on the 23rd. Mostly, I just need to get everything in my universe simplified and organized so I have a smoother time of it all the way round.

Borage blossoms - Summer 2011

One of the more frivolous things I’m squaring away is my category section. Recently, I realized I have 96 categories. What the hell?! This is what happens when you’re in a hurry all the time and not thinking things through. What a jumbled and confusing mess my little blog is. So, some of the categories will be deleted or consolidated to make future entries and reference more expedient. I’d like to start putting more of the actual science I’m learning on here, so I might need the room for newer categories. This will give me an opportunity to glance back over all my entries to see what I’ve done because every time I post lately I get a sense that I’ve already said that exact thing or posted that exact photo…it’s disconcerting to say the least.

Bee with Evening Primose

There are also a lot of posts without categories or tags and I will be fixing those as well so I can look up information when I need it. The thing about this blog for me is that by the time I get to the posting part, I’ve already spent a bunch of time with the actual plant, doing my research, and playing with the photos – I have little time or energy left for the actual writing, categorizing, tagging, etc. and that will only get worse when school starts and I have more urgent priorities. So, I’m trying to consolidate the process…for example: my iPhone can double as the camera, the iPod, and also my research books on those days when I’m pressed for time. Now, I can even post on WordPress from an app on my phone (once I figure out how to do it) so I’m hoping all this modern technology is going to make my life easier. We’ll see.

The mesmerizing center of a Hollyhock bloom - Summer 2011

The classes coming up for me should be fun…I’m taking another Botany class and this one should have a lot more science than the last one. There is also a lab that goes with it so I can wait to see what that’s all about. The other class is Chemistry and also has a lab. I’m on the waiting list for that one so I don’t want to get too excited just yet. That’s all I handle this semester without taxing myself and my business. So, I’ve got to really enjoy the next 3 weeks of freedom as much as I can while working really hard to get everything caught up and finished so I can start the new semester with a clear head and an empty ‘in’ box. I can totally do that.

a tiny Arugula flower - Summer 2011

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Bye Bye June!

Well, I don’t know about you, but I found June to be most satisfactory over all. It was a weird month as I caught up to many projects, some of which are almost completely finished. Very careful to not start lots of new ones like I usually do, I’ll be free in July to focus on getting everything off my old ‘to-do’ lists and take a trip up to see our daughter and her wife in San Francisco for a weekend.

ye olde oregano patch

Most of my gardening efforts have been pulling weeds and clearing out dead things to make room for the tomatoes that are slowly growing. Slowly since we have had a lot of the usual June ocean cloud cover which cuts our daily Sun down to about 4 hours a day. Today, I will go out to collect herbs for drying. The New Moon makes it a perfect couple days to do that. It’s good for the plant’s regrowth to cut extra herbs on the New Moon.

Spread the herbs out so they get lots of air.

I’ve probably said all of this before, but today it makes sense to repeat it to myself…There are a couple rules I try to follow when gathering herbs:

1) Don’t take more than 30% of a healthy plant. Being a little conservative yet more consistent with collection will keep a plant lush and thriving, instead of shocked and stunted, trying to recover. There are exceptions to this rule, like all rules. If a plant needs an aggressive chop, then let it have it – but always on a waning or new Moon.

2) Gather your herbs no later than mid-morning. The Sun has had time to dry the dew off and get the plant’s Mojo working but not enough time to start breaking down the volatile oils and juicy alkaloid stuff that we want at optimum levels in our collected parts.

What parts you collect, leaves-roots-stems-flowers, depends on your herb and your needs, so keep that in mind when planning ahead. Give them a good rinse and they’re ready to dry. Most of mine get dried on plain unbleached craft paper that comes in a big roll. Sometimes, depending on the herb, I hang big clusters upside down by the stems. Keep them in a cool, dry, out of the dust area and maybe turn them over every few days if their leaves are big. After a couple weeks, they are ready for storage. Mine get stored in jars that I collect along the way and I make sure to label them since a lot of herbs look the same after they’re dried.

I really love all my mismatched recycled jars.

3) If you’re after an herb for its roots, you may not want to touch it for another Moon, letting it mature in the summer Sun. For seeds, definitely do not cut off the flowers now or you will not have any seeds later! That sounds only sensible, but I have done it before without thinking. Yes, I can be a little impetuous.

the seed head of the Fennel herb

Remember, if you’re packing up seeds to share or store, put their name and date collected on the packaging so you won’t have to question yourself later.

Packing up seeds to share.

If you’re not after an herb, it’s also a good day to collect blooming flowers for vases. The plant will get a good trim for regrowth as the weather heats up and you’ll have something pretty to look at. I don’t know if I’ll have time for cutting flowers today, we’ll have to see. My camera froze yesterday, so until I get it fixed there won’t be any new pictures and getting that taken care of will be my priority. Enjoy your day and I’ll see you next month.

"Girl with a Basket in a Garden" by Knight Daniel Ridgway

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“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” ~ Albert Einstein

Bee and Fennel

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Last fall, I went to the nursery with Andrea and bought a bunch of what I like to call ‘old world’ herbs, many that I was missing and have never owned before. They are mentioned in all the old herbals and religious texts and included in ancient remedies for everything under the sun, including the breaking of hexes and the warding off of evil. They were in every witch’s garden according to old texts. Many are still used in the kitchen or for teas, and in health food stores in that section I like to call the ‘hippie aisle’ where you can get things like ‘tinctures’ and ‘ear candles.’ Some of them are toxic and deliciously dangerous. If this were another time and another place, I would be condemned for practicing witchcraft and burned at the stake just for growing them and knowing what they can do for you, or to you. But this is here and now and I get to do whatever I want with my herbs!

Wortcunning at its best. Bwahahahaha!

What I did when I bought them is put them in the one and only patch of sun available in the winter garden and hoped they would survive, leaving their little nursery markers in the dirt with them until I could learn something about each one. They not only survived, they thrived. Now they’re bushing into each other and don’t have quite enough room. First, I took pictures of each plant with its marker and removed the markers, which kept getting mixed up by the weather and the cats. Then, I rolled out my unbleached craft paper and wrote the names on the paper. Cuttings of each plant were taken and placed on the paper near the name. All of my books came off the shelf and I combed through each one for information on the plants, writing the good stuff down in my journal. This information will be supplemented by anything modern I can find on the internet. This is a necessary step because modern science has allowed the testing of plant chemicals and you need to keep updated. Some plants we once thought were safe are now known to be toxic. As I study the cut leaves and read all my data, I’ll get a feel for each plant until I can get to know it by sight and smell, and not have to rely on the markers. If you’re going to have toxic plants and edible herbs, you need to know very positively how to distinguish one from the other, especially since many herbs look similar. Over the next month I will be moving them to permanent homes where they have room, and also posting mini-articles and photos for each one.

Clary Sage - big big leaves

It’s a project I’ve had in my mind for a long time and the herbs have been whispering in my ear all Spring. Their names have been on the wind for hundreds of years. These herbs are important to me, they represent our history, the unimaginable power of plants, women’s folklore, and forbidden knowledge. When I’m done learning, drying, tasting and transplanting, or breaking any hexes I see laying around, I’ll get some new herbs and start all over. Not a bad way to spend a summer.

Samples for studying

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fuzzy purple Salvia blossoms

First, Happy Sunday everyone – we successfully survived another week of challenge and mischief. Cause for celebration! All week long I’ve had several different subjects for today’s post floating around in the back of my mind; a front porch project I finished last month, the Fennel that happens to be in season at just this moment, seed inventory for Spring planting, a book review on the “Potting Shed” book that Dottie gave me…But, now that Sunday is finally here, I don’t want to do any of that. Instead, I’m going to share some photos from last year’s garden and take the lazy way out for a change.

creamy pink Witch's Mittens

Briefly, it’s too beautiful outside today and I’ve been cooped up in this house for what seems like the last two years! – I know, I exaggerate a little bit.

early August harvest

Also, I seem to have just a little bit of slack in my schedule today. Since I decided to take a giant leap off the proverbial cliff and signed up for three classes this semester, I don’t know how long that’s going to last. What if today is my last day EVER of having slack in my schedule? – ok, so today is the Sunday of Gross Exaggerations.

my volunteer Pampas Grass

Speaking of classes, all three involve a lot of reading and I’m actually interested in the subjects; Plant Biology/Botany, Physical Anthropology, and Cultural Anthropology…they seem like one class to me since the subjects overlap quite a lot, and I’m seriously in love with the science I’m learning about the plant world. Yes, I know a lot about gardening…but that’s different than knowing the science behind what I experience out there. When I get a little more comfortable with everything I’m learning, I’ll start using it here in my posts – very exciting stuff. Well, for me anyways!

Apple blossoms and Blue Felicia

So, since I’m not struggling with homework, the laundry is fine, the house is clean enough, I have no errands to run or appointments to keep, the pets are fed and Tom is happy with his newspaper…I’m going outside. Right now! and I’m going to stay out there until I get a little of this Spring Fever out of my system. A little bird told me we are going to have another cold snap next week, so I’ll probably just do some weed pulling and clean up…who cares what I do – I don’t! Just as long as I’m out there in the golden Sunshine enjoying this feeling of not having the weight of the world on my shoulders, for as long as it lasts, and counting my blessings that I don’t live somewhere cold or under the siege of a major governmental uprising, and grateful to Fred, the massage therapist that fixed my back last week so I can once again stand upright. Thank you Fred, I’ll try not to undo all of your handy-work today!

August Grapevines taking over

Have a great Sunday, dear Friends and Family….and remember to treat yourself to something beautiful today.

The lovely Miss Peanut waiting for dinner service

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O happy Garden! whose seclusion deep
Hath been so friendly to industrious hours;
And to soft slumbers, that did gently steep
Our spirits, carrying with them dreams of flowers,
And wild notes warbled among leafy bowers;
Two burning months let summer overleap,
And, coming back with Her who will be ours,
Into thy bosom we again shall creep.

~William Wordsworth (from “A Farewell)

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, has become one of my most cherished herbs in the garden. In my mind, I categorize it as an “old plant”: one that has a long and rich history and seems unchanged by horticulture. I never consider a plant like an orchid an “old plant” because humans have altered the species in so many ways. Yarrow is simple, faithful, dependable and quietly noble. The reading and research done for this plant was pure enjoyment for me. My old books came out, every book had a reference – I was in book/herb heaven!


The names given to the plant were the best part of the research; Bad Man’s Plaything, Carpenter’s Weed, Death Flower, Devil’s Nettle, Eerie, Knight’s Milfoil, Military Herb, Soldier’s Woundwort, Nosebleed, Old Man’s Mustard, Sanguinary, Seven Year’s Love, Snake’s Grass, Thousand Seal, Sneezewort….there were a few more but I kept my favorites here.

Old Man's Pepper

Yarrow is said to have been used for healing on the battlefield by the Greek warrior, Achilles, by the Native Americans who call it a “life medicine”, and by the Chinese for divination. In fact, the “50 wooden sticks” mentioned in the I Ching are actually yarrow sticks. (I know nothing about Chinese divination so I’ll post the link and stop with that!)


There are many references to yarrow being used by the Druids and in several love spells. One spell said that if you hung it over your bed it would ensure 7 years of love. Scott Cunningham’s book “The Complete Book of Incense, Oils & Brews” calls it “One of the true treasures of the Earth”.

Devil's Nettle

“Thou pretty herb of Venus’ tree
Thy true name it is yarrow
Now who my bosom friend must be?
Pray tell thou me tomorrow”
~an old spell found in “Mastering Herbalism” by Paul Hason


Its historical uses are not much different from the current ones; fever, skin ailments, arthritis, blood clotting, bruises, menstruation, circulation, varicose veins, high blood pressure, etc. It contains chemicals that aid blood flow as far as I can tell. I’m no doctor so I’ll go easy on its medicinal business. I can say, however, that if I’m having a difficult time of it during my time of the month, all I have to do is waltz outside, cut off a flower head, steep it warm water for a nice cup of tea…and I feel better. It also makes you pee a lot, which I assume explains why it may ease high blood pressure. I usually mix it with another tea, like Jasmine, for flavor. It doesn’t taste bad by itself, kind of like hay or grass…herby!

Snake's Grass

In the garden, it survives well, needs lots of sun, not a lot of water, and blooms most of the year here in San Diego. It enjoys being cut so don’t let it get too leggy. Deadheading will keep you in tea and keep the plant healthy and bushy. Also, Peanut likes to take naps in it.

Devil's Plaything

All of my yarrow is yellow and from one original plant that I separated 6 months ago. It’s a perennial with a creeping rhizome. The leaves are soft, ferny, feathery. It works well as a dried herb in flower arrangements and seems to last forever in a vase with water.

Hundred Leaved Grass

My favorite thing about the plant though, is that no matter where it grows, it adds a sunny glow of happiness to its corner.

Seven Years Love

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“To enliven the sad with the joy of a joke
Give them wine with some borage put in it to soak”. ~ old English rhyme

Borage - June 2010

Borage (Borago officinalis) is a hardy annual herb. Some of its other names; Bugloss, Bee Bread, Herb of Gladness and Star Flower. It likes lots of sun, grows about two feet high and gets rather bushy. Mine likes to lay down over the lawn after a while and then grow straight up from the reclining stems, which are round, hollow and juicy. It will reseed itself quite efficiently so I try and collect the seeds before they hit the lawn. This is hard to do since the whole process of opening and then dropping seed happens so quickly. Since I have more than one plant at a time, I usually snip several stems with flowers, hang them upside down in a paper bag and let them dry – collecting the seeds later. If I’m lazy, I just pick some flowers and toss them back into the flower bed before they hit the grass.

Bees in the Borage

Bees absolutely love Borage. When I go out to pick it, there are always quite a few buzzing around in the five-petal flowers, which turn from pink to blue when the plant deems the nectar and pollen ready for collection. Bees are very attracted to the color blue, so I think this is rather smart of Mother Nature.

Borage is quite fuzzy

Historically, Borage was believed to cure sadness and boost courage, which I think is awesome. The Romans used it steeped in cups of wine – Pliny said “it maketh a man merry and joyful” – and John Evelyn said it was “of known virtue to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student.”

still pink around the edges

It was believed to also cure skin problems, bruises, inflammation, stress, colds, fevers…the list goes on. We now know that this is due to the high content of gamma-linolenic acid. It also contains potassium, calcium and mineral salts.

blue means 'open for business' in bee-speak

I found references to it being used as an embroidery subject as far back as the 17th century and quite a few modern stitches as well. Understandable since it’s such a friendly and straightforward flower.


In my opinion, the flowers are the tastiest part of the plant. They can be candied for tops of cupcakes, thrown in a salad or frozen in ice cubes for beverages. I like to toss a handful into a glass of water with a slice of lemon – the beverage takes on a nice little ‘tingle’ from the mineral salts and it instantly makes your dull glass of H2o completely fabulous. Borage tastes like cucumber so it adds a fresh coolness, or maybe cool freshness to whatever it’s with. If you’re into companion planting, it likes to be near strawberries. Who doesn’t like to be near strawberries?

Borage seed

Many sources said it should be taken “in moderation” and the sepals are NOT edible. Besides the flower, the stems and leaves are edible and I found lots of recipes for savory dishes like the ‘Borage Fritters’ by Maria Batali – which I’m planning to try! My absolute favorite way to have it is in a glass of wine, just like the ancients and I can say quite honestly that I’m in a much better mood afterward. 🙂

Borage, Bubbles and strawBerries

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