Winter Tonic

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

The kitchen garden in winter...and the snow hasn't stopped yet.

The kitchen garden in winter...and the snow hasn't stopped yet.

Wintertime is teatime in our household – or, if you want to get technical about it, herbal infusion time, since some people feel that you can only call it ‘tea’ if it comes from the true tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Whatever you call it, our evening ritual, after the sun has been set for about 3 hours, is to put on the kettle (yes, it whistles!) and ponder my dried herb collection. Will it be lavender and lemon balm? Or bergamot and anise hyssop? Sometimes just rosemary is all I want. But this year, peppermint and lemon verbena are the combination I’ve been reaching for over and over. The flavor and aroma of the sweet mint and floral lemon blended with a teaspoon of unpasteurized organic honey is comfort in a cup on a cold winter night.

Dried herbal teas make great gifts and friends, knowing my fondness for them, have given me many good blends over the years, and I also like to try the intriguing combinations that line the grocery store shelves. But nothing, for me, beats the flavor of herbs that I’ve dried myself and it’s so easy to do – all you need is a dark-ish location with good air circulation and a way of hanging bundles of herbs.

Borage is supposed to be a mood uplifter when ingested but I find looking at this photo from summer gives me a similar boost in mood.

Borage is supposed to be a mood uplifter when ingested but I find looking at this photo from summer gives me a similar boost in mood.

I didn’t dry many herbs this year since I’m having trouble finding the herbs I want to grow at my local garden centers (this spring I’m, unfortunately, going to have to rely on online retailers to provide me with what I need) but I did have an abundance of peppermint and borage, which I harvested regularly throughout the season. I cut fairly long stems, about 30cm long, bundled them in bunches about a couple of centimeters around, and tied them with twine (some people use rubber bands but I didn’t have any on hand). I left long enough ends on the twine to tie the bunches to the shelves on my seed-starting table and, in about 3-4 weeks (the leaves should feel dry and strip relatively easily from the stems but not crumble into dust), I have dried herbs that can be used for anything, including teas.

To make a tisane, I use about a tablespoon of dried herbs to a cup of water and steep for about five minutes. Most teas I sweeten with a little honey and sometimes I’ll add a little lemon. I like to keep it simple and don’t usually blend more than two herbs but you’re only limited by your creativity and sometimes orange peel, a cinnamon stick, and/or a little ginger can make a tea extraordinary. And don’t forget about other parts of the plant such as hips, although be aware that they take a little longer to dry than leaves.

All the things needed to do a herbal infusion.

All the things needed to do a herbal infusion.

My beat up gardener's hands are soothed and warmed by a cup of tea.

My beat up gardener's hands are soothed and warmed by a cup of tea.

It’s so easy to dry your own herbs and, on a cold winter night, when my hands are wrapped around a hot cup of aromatic tea, I’m reminded of summer and the good things I grew – it helps to get me through these dark, snowy times. 

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Eating: Mojitos

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

What do you do when you have a planting of mint getting out of control, a hot summer evening, and a couple of cheerful friends?…

 

Peppermint

Peppermint

You make mojitos!

 

Mojitos

Mojitos

Mint is an essential component of mojitos and, finding that I have a good-sized amount of it for the first time in almost a decade, I thought a mojito would be a good way to celebrate one of my favorite herbs.

Sugar frosts the rim of our friend's pretty glass.

Sugar frosts the rim of our friend's pretty glass.

Mojito Recipe

(makes one drink) 

  • Stir 2 teaspoons of lime juice with 2 teaspoons of sugar in a glass until sugar dissolves.
  • To the glass, add about a 1/4 cup of crushed ice and 6-8 sprigs of torn mint leaves.  Muddle together for a few seconds.
  • Add 1 ounce of white rum, about a cup of more ice, a splash of club soda, and stir gently.
  • Pour into a glass to which you’ve sugared the rim (rub lime juice along the top edge of the glass and swirl in a plate of sugar).
  • Drink carefully – they sneak up on you!

I’m so delighted to be able to grow mint again.  When I lived in Texas I used to grind my teeth whenever I’d hear some garden expert warning us about the invasiveness of mint when it took all my skill just to keep a sprig alive through the baking hot summers!  To my Texan friends who are still trying to grow it, my best suggestion is to plant it where it gets shade from the afternoon sun, mulch it really well with a bark mulch or compost, and keep it well watered.  For those of you who are fortunate to live in a climate where mint becomes invasive…well, what can I tell you that you haven’t already heard?  Mint likes a moist, rich soil and full sun, although it can handle a part sun situation with little diminished capacity.  I topdress it with a little compost at the beginning of the year and that’s all it requires for nutrients.

Mint, to me, is the quintessential herb of summer – I lift my glass to it!

Snapshot: June 20, 2010

Sunday, June 20th, 2010
June 20, 2010

First official shot of the garden after the wood boxes and pea gravel have been installed.