herbs

Curry – You Can Grow That!

Getting ready.

Getting ready.

It was about 3 years ago that I brought home a curry plant from the local nursery.
My husband giggled “You can’t grow curry.” he said, “Curry is a combination of herbs and spices.”

Of course it turned out he was right; after all, food is his field. Apparently what I had purchased was a delightfully smelling ornamental plant. Drat.

But telling me “You can’t” do anything only makes it a challenge, and I finally figured out that you really can grow curry.
Well, close enough.

It started out with me trying to grow as many of our own herbs and flavorings as possible.
Some, like mints, are simple. Others, like garlic, take a little more work. Still others, like ginger, take more know-how and time.

As the seasons came and went, there was less and less from the store on our herb shelves and more from the garden.

Still that curry thing bothered me.
Until recently that is, when I actually read the list of ingredients from the back of the bottle, given in order of amount:

Coriander- A No brainer. How often do gardeners complain their cilantro has bolted? Yep, those little seeds are coriander. We got this one!

Turmeric- Okay, it is getting a little harder. Turmeric is a root that takes almost as long to grow as ginger, specifically about 8 months. It is a perennial in zones 9-11, but like ginger it can be grown indoors in colder zones like we have. You can sometimes find it fresh at Asian or India food supply stores and in some markets. I couldn’t find it locally, but was able to order some from Amazon.com. The price wasn’t too bad, and you can replant some of what you harvest so it is a one time purchase.

Mustard- It doesn’t say on the bottle of store bought curry, but most often it is the mustard seed that is used as a spice. All we need to do is let it bolt and harvest the seed. Now we’re talking!!

Cumin- This relative of parsley is a new herb for our garden this year. It is often confused with the biennial caraway, but cumin is actually an annual plant. It can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked, so here it will be going in the ground this weekend. What you harvest are also the seed heads. We will be posting more on all of these as the season progresses, hopefully with lots of pictures!

Fenugreek- Another new one for us. This should be a fun season! Also easy to grow, prep your seeds first by soaking (we recommend Moo Poo Tea, link above right) or scarify. Soaking is much easier. Fenugreek will be great because both the leaves and seeds are edible.

Paprika- Another easy one. Paprika is simply a dried and powdered pepper from the group Capsicum annuum. These can range from sweet to rather hot. I’ll let him decide which ones he want to use, as we are growing quite a variety of peppers this year.

Cayenne- This seemed a little redundant to me, but I guess they are looking for a cayenne specifically. Yeah, we have that covered as well.

Cardamon- This very expensive herb actually can be grown at home. I have read that you can plant the brown type found in the grocery store, but I don’t know if that is true. Instead I found seeds online; after all, I’ve gone this far I can almost taste victory! It looks like another plant that may need some special attention, but that’s okay by me.

Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Cloves- What? No! All 3 of these, the least of the ingredients, are derived from trees; and ones that I highly doubt grow in our area. When I looked up a substitute for nutmeg, it said cinnamon. When I did a search on a substitute for cinnamon, I found cloves.
It began to look like I really couldn’t grow curry after all.

Until my husband read this post on varieties of basil.
“There’s a Cinnamon Basil?” he asked. “You should grow that!”

“Why would you want cinnamon basil? I responded, “That sounds like an odd combination to me.”

“No, they are great together. When I use curry powder, I always add some basil. I love the way they taste together.”

So there you have it my friends, never say “You can’t grow that” to a gardener.
Unless, of course, you want them to prove you wrong.

We will post updates on the plants throughout the season. When we make the curry powder, we will add that recipe to our recently revived foodie blog page here.
Of course, we will also add some recipes that feature curry.
We’re betting this will taste much better than the store bought stuff.

you can grow that

is a collaborative effort on the part of a number of gardeners around the world. Each month they write a post specifically to help and encourage everyone to grow something. Find more posts by clicking on the logo above.

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How to Grow – Catnip

Ready to harvest anytime.

Ready to harvest anytime.

An easy to grow from seed member of the mint family, catnip does well in pots and prefers sun. It is perennial in Zones 3-9, making it a wonderful plant for many areas. Plant in the spring when the ground has warmed, covering the seeds lightly. Keep moist until they germinate.

Like other mints, it can be invasive; which is why we contain it here in Zone 5/6. It produces attractive grayish green leaves, and if left to bloom, pretty little white flowers. If untrimmed, catnip can grow to 4 ft. high.

Similar to its relatives, it can be distinguished by its squarish stems.

Everyone know cats are attracted to this plant, but you may be surprised to know how much. The first year we planted it, the cat knocked the planter right off the deck.
Twice.

We then put it inside the garden fence, but not far enough as the cat tended to lie just outside the fence wanting to get in. Poor kitty.
So we moved it to the middle of the garden where she was not as attracted to the plant anymore.

One thing you may not know, is catnip isn’t just for kitty toys.
It actually is quite safe to consume by humans, and is lovely in a quiet cup of tea, perhaps with a little chamomile. Catnip has a similar calming effect, so consider subbing it for your regular mint. You just may be surprised.

Botanical name: Nepeta cataria
Hardiness: Perennial in zones 3-9.
Yield: Cut the leaves and come back for more.
Height: Up to 48″.
Storage: Use fresh or dried. Hang leafy stems upside down in a brown paper bag until dry. Remove leaves and store in an airtight food grade container.
Away from the cat.

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How to Grow – Lavender

lavender flowers

Just one of a few harvests from a well established plant.

Often thought of as a flower, Lavender is an herb that has many things going for it.
The first is obvious; the delicate leaves and beautiful flowers are reason enough to grow this plant in your garden.

Get closer and you will find another one; the wonderful scent of the flowers is soothing and relaxing. The flowers are often dried for use in soaps and to help as a sleep aid.

lavender

Sweet dreams are made of these.

In case that wasn’t enough, those flowers are also edible. If you have never had a Lemon-Lavender cookie, you don’t know what you are missing.

There are many varieties of lavender; the most common are English and Spanish. Of these there are also numerous cultivars, many suited well for container growing.
In general they are considered to be cold hardy perennials that can handle some drought as well.

Be sure to choose the right variety for your garden, as this lavender can grow anywhere from 1.5 ft. to well over 6 ft.

You can easily find lavender plants at your local nursery, though it has been our experience that they are not always labeled as to specific variety.
If you start from seeds, Renee’s Garden recommends you start them indoors as they are finicky and tender when young.

Once planted, lavender is a very useful herb that can add striking beauty to any garden.

Here’s more:

Botanical Name: Lavandula stoechas
Common Name: Spanish Lavender
Hardiness: To Zone 7
Height: 1.5-2.5 ft.

Botanical Name: Lavandula angustifolia
Common Name: English or Common Lavender
Hardiness: To Zone 5
Height: 3-6.5 ft.

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How to Grow Tarragon

tarragon

Tarragon is one of the less frequently used herbs in the Jones’ kitchen, but still worth growing for anyone who has the space.

Although there are many varieties, the most common are French and Russian.
The French variety has a stronger, longer lasting flavor and is considered to be better for cooking.
The flavor is similar to anise seed and is most commonly used in chicken, fish and egg dishes or in bread stuffing.
We also like it with mushrooms.
If you have ever had Bearnaise Sauce, you have had tarragon.

To grow the French variety, you should start with a plant, as it cannot be grown from seed. Over time you can share with friends by dividing the plant at the root.

Russian tarragon

If you want to grow tarragon from seed, try the Russian tarragon. It also does have a wonderful flavor.
Because it loses its flavor over time, it is best stored frozen or as a flavored vinegar.

You can store either variety this way, which also makes a wonderful gift from your garden.

NOTE: After some discussion on Facebook, I would like to add that tarragon can take being neglected much better than over-watering.
My botany teacher used to always say “Plants love to get their faces washed, but they hate to get their feet wet.”
A good statement to remember.

Botanical name: Artemisia dracunculus
Height: 3 ft.
Hardiness: Perennial.
Growth habit: Depends on variety- French Tarragon must be propagated by root division, Russian tarragon can be started indoors from seed.
Storing: Dried, Frozen, or hold Fresh in Vinegar.

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How to Grow Parsley

Still happy after snow, ice and freezing temperatures.

Still happy after snow, ice and freezing temperatures.

Like many herbs, parsley is easy enough to grow.
Plant seeds shallowly after danger of frost is past and the weather has warmed.

Keep it moist throughout the growing season, and harvest sparingly until the plant is growing well.

There are two types of parsley grown for eating the leaves, curly leaf and flat leaf.
Curly types are the ones you are more likely to find as a garnish on your plate.

Oh, and by the way, it isn’t just there to make your food look better. Eating parsley at the end of a meal freshens your mouth.

Drying parsley for wintertime use.

Drying parsley for wintertime use.

There’s something else about parsley you may not know, you can eat the root as well.
Yep, just use it like you would carrots or parsnips.

Most parsley has pretty small roots, but there is a variety appropriately named Root Parsley that develops a more substantial veggie.

We have never tried it before, but it is already on the 2014 garden list.
Don’t you just love growing new things?

Botanical name: Petroselinium crispum
Hardiness: Can take some frosts and freezes. Parsley is a biennial, but is usually grown as an annual in cooler climates.
Yield: Cut the leaves and come back for more, use the roots as well.
Height: About 10″, varies by variety.
Storage: Leaves can be frozen or dried; store roots as you would carrots,freeze, can or dehydrate.

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The Mint Family

“Do you know one way to tell a member of the mint family?” my Dad asked recently.
I was giving him and my DIL, Mrs. Jones, a tour.
I had no idea, but he waited to see if she knew. We would not have been surprised, she knows a great deal about a lot of things.

Finally he answered smiling, happy to be sharing some gardening information.
“The stems are square.”

Well, I’ll be but if it ain’t true!
You can see it in a few of the pics below, where we have harvested some of the plant. Click on the picture of the catnip especially, to get a better view.

Another indicator is that the leaves grow opposite each other.

So here’s all but one of the mint family we are growing this year:

Dragon Maldavian Balm

Dragon Maldavian Balm

A new one to us this year, with a wonderful light lemon flavor.

Catnip

Catnip

Mostly grown for cat toys, catnip also make a delightful tea.

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm

The ‘balms’ are also members of the mint family. Lemon balm has a stronger lemon flavor that can hold its own.

Silver Mint

Silver Mint

This is the one we have been using when we want a basic mint flavor.

Oregano

Oregano

Does this one surprise you?
Mandolin maintains that this is his Oregano patch, simply by virtue of the fact that he has not mowed it down.

Mints can be very invasive in our area, the oregano showed me so. That’s why all the other plants were in pots.

Do you have a favorite mint variety to grow?
Can you guess which of our mint family plants we didn’t show?

Categories: herbs, How to Grow

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Seasonings -You Can Grow That!

Seasonings are so expensive to buy and often have ingredients added to them you wouldn’t want to consume.
They are probably rather old by the time they get to you, too.

store bought herbs and spices

You really can grow these.

Most gardeners know how easy it is to grow and dry or freeze a few herbs. You may be surprised to find there is a lot more you can do to make that spice shelf in your kitchen more closely connected to the garden.

Some easy herbs to grow include: Basil, Borage, Catnip aka Catmint, Chamomile flowers, Cilantro, Dill, Lavender flowers, Marjoram/Oregano, Mint, Parsley, Sage, Savory, Shiso and Tarragon.

There are also a few herbs to let bolt so you can collect the seeds for seasoning your food: Anise, Caraway, Coriander (Cilantro seeds), Cumin, Dill, Fennel, Mustard and even Sesame.

growing ginger

A long term project.

This is where it gets even more interesting.
Did you know you can grow celery, onions, garlic and ginger, dry them, then grind into a powder?
Yessiree!
This is how ground mustard is made, by simply grinding the seeds you collected.

Chipolte peppers are chile peppers you can grow yourself, then roast to dry and grind; for a fraction of the cost.
You can also make your own pepper mix by growing an assortment of peppers, hanging to dry then grinding into a powder.

Jalapeno, cherry and chile peppers

Jalapeno, cherry and chile peppers.

Compare that to the list of ingredients on McCormick’s Fiery 5 Pepper seasoning, which also includes salt, some additional spices and ‘natural flavors’.
Do you know what ‘natural flavors’ means?

“The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”
Taken from Title 21, Section 101, part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

A bug is natural, so is a fish head. Not to be gross, but do you really want to leave it up to food companies to decide what ‘natural’ additive they will use? At the very least you can be sure it is something they could not otherwise sell.

homegrown garlic powder

Homegrown, fresh, pure and powerful.

Here’s How to make Garlic Powder.

If your homegrown spices are subjected to a lot of humidity, you may want to pick up a few food grade desiccant packets. We learned that one the hard way.

So go ahead and take a good look at your spice shelf.
In many cases, You Can Grow That!

you can grow that

You Can Grow That! is a monthly collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage and help others learn to grow.
You can find additional posts by clicking on the pic above. You can also follow us on Pinterest.

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How to Grow – Thyme

There are a number of different varieties of thyme, today we’ll look at two.

silver thyme

Thyme after thyme.

Silver Thyme has grayish green leaves and produces pretty pink flowers during the mid to late summer. It is such an attractive and weather tolerant plant that it is often grown for these reasons alone. Add the benefits that it can be used as a culinary herb or for medicinal purposes and it is very attractive to bees and you find you have an all around winner.
This particular variety can be grown as a perennial in most areas. It will spread when planted in ground, how much depends on your weather. It also does well in a pot, which is how we grow it here in zone 5/6.
You can start by seed or purchase a small plant to transplant. Plant in a sunny location and you are good to go. The only way you can go wrong is if you over water it. How easy is that!

Botanical name: Thymus argenteus
Perennial: zones 4-10
Height: up to 12″
Color: silver-green foliage with pink flowers
Uses: Ornamental, attracts bees, culinary and medicinal herb

creeping thyme

Thyme times two.

This second type known as Creeping Thyme is grown as a ground cover. Like it’s relative, it will sprout pretty flowers that draw the bees to it, in this case the blooms are a pinkish-purple. You can walk on it as well, causing the wonderful scent to be released. Again, this variety of thyme is quite cold hardy, though not quite as much as the Silver. Both of these photos were taken today, after a number of freezing nights and some snowy days. The leaf colors are better in the warmer months. Creeping thyme is also drought tolerant, but has problems with extreme heat. Johnny’s Seeds classifies it as hardy in zones 5-8.

This variety can also be started from seed and transplanted outdoors. Ours started as a chunk from a friend’s yard. :-)

Botanical name: Thymus serpyllum
Perennial: zones 5-8
Height: up to 6″
Color: green foliage with purple flowers
Uses: Ornamental ground cover, attracts bees

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How to Grow -Common Sage

There are a number of different types of sage.
Common Sage is, well, the most common. Also known as Kitchen Sage and by a few other names, it is easy enough to grow.

growing sage in the home garden

Still growing in November.

It will do well in a container, though we have had better success growing it in the ground.
Plant in the spring in most areas, keep it moist until it is established. Common Sage is a perennial that can take the frosts and freezes in stride.

Pretty little purple flowers later in the season and showy leaves make this tasty herb good for flower arrangements as well.

Harvest the leaves as needed, less in the first year or until the plant is established. After that pinching off the leaves actually encourages the plant to get nice and bushy.

homegrown herbs

Our spice jars.

You can hang branches upside down to dry; we insert them into a paper bag and hang the whole thing. The bag catches any leaves that might fall off.
Sage is a wonderful addition to dressing, baked apples, and sausage. There are many other ways to enjoy it, including tea.

Botanical name: Salvia officinalis
Height: 1.5-2.5 Ft. tall
Hardiness: Zones 4-8
Storage: dried or frozen
Yield: One seed becomes a plant that will keep coming back.

Read more about it.

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How to Grow -Eucalyptus

Usually when you think of Eucalyptus you picture cute Koalas hanging on trees.
Did you know that there are varieties you can grow in your home garden?

eucalyptus in the home garden

dug up from the garden before the frost

While some consider it an herb and others a flower, this bluish-gray somewhat spindly plant does well even in cooler regions like we have here in Zone 5/6.
It succumbs to frost, but can be grown indoors. So plant it in a pot and bring it inside when the cold weather threatens.

Eucalyptus is often used in cut fresh flower arrangements, and can be dried as well for craft projects.
We make an infusion with ours, and add fresh pine for a steam inhalation when, on very rare occasions, we might catch a cold.

container of eucalyptus indoors

happy to be safe and with friends

Eucalyptus also has anti-itch properties, and makes a wonderful and soothing foot soak.
Soap made with it and a little citronella relieve the itch caused by fleas and help to keep those nasties off your dog.
More information on these at the end of the post.

Botanical name: Eucalyptus (different varieties)
Days to Maturity: 3-4 months, but you’ll have the leaves sooner.
Yield: One plant per seed.
Storage: Use fresh or dried.

How to make an infusion.
Real simple soap-making.

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