Monday, May 12, 2008

Rainy day

It's damp, drizzly, and Monday morning, when I should be working at the demo Herb Garden at the Extension, so I thought this would be a good time to talk about that project.

We had a good initial meeting two weeks ago at the Extension office. I had received a list of trainee volunteers from the last Master Gardener class, and had passed around a volunteer sign up sheet at the April M.G. meeting, so I had a lot of potential volunteers. I sent e-mails to 10 and 9 showed up for the meeting. We are already doing better than last year!

Terry reserved a room for us so the cold weather wasn't an issue. For introductions we talked about why each of us wanted to work in this project - to learn about herbs was the common response, and what our assets were that we could bring to the project. All except my gardening friend Sharron are Master Gardeners and most are also involved with other gardening volunteer projects. For example Gloria is a former florist who is also working on a raised bed herb garden for seniors in her town. Mike has a small farm, selling compost, mums and pumpkins in the fall, just put up a greenhouse and planted herbs in hope of getting into
business wants to learn about the plants he's growing.

Kathy offered right away to spruce up and paint the Herb Garden sign. Margaret offered to bring a Mideastern chicken and rice herbal dish made with garam masala that she makes for our lunch one week. Mike offered to bring tubs of his compost and he has a line on some old drainage tiles that we could use in the Tea bed for restraining the mints. Sharron has graphic art talent and will finally make me a good map of the plot.
Doesn't this sound like a great group?

As a group we decided to meet on Monday mornings to work in the garden with an eye to having it in good shape for the Genesee County Master Gardener Garden Tour at the end of June.

We toured the garden, and I noted that some of our Master Gardeners hadn't even been back there yet. Terry printed up copies to distribute of a nice Extension bulletin that I'd found on the Internet, from the University of Kentucky, on growing culinary herbs, which is a good place for new herbies to begin learning about herbs.

Back indoors I had a snack ready to share, of course, tiny heart-shaped lavender short scones (biscuits, really), that I made that morning, with a delicious Queen Anne's Lace jelly that I had purchased from Donna Frawley who spoke at the Herb Symposium two days before.

We ended the meeting with a project. I brought bottles and bags of dried herbs from my garden and also from last year's Extension herb garden. We discussed making herbal tea (tisane) from dried herbs as we passed around sample herbs. I discussed my favorite herbal tea book for beginners The Herbal Tea Garden by Marietta Marshall Marcin (Garden Way, 1993).
We made our own personal herbal tea blends and each of us made two teabags to take home, using paper tea bags that you fill yourself and seal with an iron. (I got them from Nichol's Garden Nursery which you can find online.)

I dug up some more names, and sent some more e-mails out, and got no responses. (Howd'ya like that?) Last Monday we nine met in the garden and set to work. Luckily the fall cleanup went well, so the two to three hours were mainly spent cleaning up the debris of winter.
I brought dandelion tea to sample, and talked about dehydrating the leaves of the young dandelion for a spring tonic tea and the roots which I grind for a mineral rich winter tea. I brought along a package of a commercial health food store tea called Dandy Blend to compare with my bottle of home ground dandelion root. They look and taste a lot different!
Dandy Blend had a cute picture of a dandelion on the label and it is very tasty and good for you. But it is pricey, on par with instant coffee I'd guess. The label of Dandy Blend calls it Instant Dandelion Beverage, but lists roasted barley, rye, chicory root, dandelion root and beetroot. It tastes like Postum which is chicory, I think.
Dandelion root, dehydrated and ground, has a bland flavor. I rather like the Dandy Blend better but like I said it is spendy, so my idea is to mix it half and half with my ground dandelion root.

I think I'll try to do a herb oriented demonstration like this every time we meet, and the volunteers who want to know more about herbs can learn that herbs are just plants that have a use.
Growing herbs is no different from growing flowers and vegetables.
And there is no secret to using them - but there is a secret it seems in today's busy, packaged food oriented society to using herbs, and that is to learn something you want to try and then to actually DO it.
Like the Nike ad suggests.
Only... the weather has to cooperate!

Now for some photos. Here are Calendula flowers drying in my dehydrator. The flavor is so minimal with calendula petals, and retaining the color and shape are important. The dehydrator does a good job in this instance.

A closeup of a herbal tea (tisane) blend: the flowers are of pineapple sage, Salvia elegans.

I 'garbled' the dried leaves from the stems over a clean bedsheet. You can grow a large quantity of herbal tea plants in a very small amount of space and with
minimal expense. You can be confident of how they were grown and how they were harvested and processed. You can have fun making your own custom blends.
So why buy commercial?

Added Note: While I was looking through my photos for something else, I ran across this one of my dandelion project. So I'm adding it later here in this post where it belongs, with the dandelion tea tale. Which may be stepping on Blogging Ethics but I'm doing it anyway.

What you see is my bag of dried leaves, a tray of dried roots and crowns, and my dedicated to herbs coffee grinder with ground root.

1 comment:

Brenda Kula said...

I so wish we had a group like that here! As I think I mentioned once, we had a group like that years ago in OK, and I just loved it. And I so admire your use of herbs. We need so badly to become a society that does not depend so heavily on commercially grown substances.