June Newsletter 2006Hello Everyone!
One of the Herbal Haven Growing Tunnels
I hope you’re all enjoying the lovely long daylight hours of June, and making the most of them out in the garden. The sun has finally made an appearance here in Essex after some rather wet weather, which was great for the all our little amphibian friends who live amongst the herbs, but which produced mutterings of discontent amongst the Herbal Haven crew as we returned wet and bedraggled from yet another weekend selling herbs in the pouring rain. Not to mention the amount of times our vans have been towed onto and off some of the muddy showground sites.
Slugs and snails seem to be about in abundance this season; they have taken a particular fancy to the dill on the nursery. There are lots of solutions on the market for dealing with these pests, slug pellets being the most obvious, though they’re not something we use. Vaseline smeared around the top of pots acts as a deterrent and, unlike porridge oats and beer, doesn’t wash away when you water. The most effective solution I have found is to go out into the garden after dark with a torch and simply remove slugs from the plants. To begin with this is a bit time consuming, but as the numbers are reduced it becomes easier and gives the plants a chance to grow.
Now the sun's shining and the danger of frosts has gone, basils may be grown outside. A big pot full of basil can be very thirsty, so make sure it is well watered each day. To keep it nice and bushy eat the plants from the top down, cutting the stem just above a leaf joint, and using the leaves attached to the piece you have cut. If you simply pick off the leaves without taking out the growing tips, you can end up with skinny basil stalks with a few leaves attached to the top. The same method should be used with other herbs like mint, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, lemon verbena and lemon balm. This also delays flowering, giving a longer supply of fresh leaves to eat. The plants will stop producing many leaves and give everything to their flowers when they form. Lots of the annual herbs are beginning to bloom now. Heartsease is one of my favourites; it looks stunning and smells wonderful.
Pick off the faded flowers to keep it producing more. The same goes for calendula, nasturtiums and borage. One of the prettiest ways to use the flowers is to freeze them in ice cubes, which can then be used in summer drinks. They all make a colourful addition to salads as well. The nasturtium leaves are very peppery in flavour, and give a really tangy flavour to anything from risotto (added at the end of cooking), to sandwiches. Other annuals that will want to start flowering soon are the ones you won’t want to, salad rocket and coriander particularly. Keeping them well watered and regularly cut will help, but once the flowers stalk forms it is the end of any useful leaf production. Rocket flowers are very pretty and both rocket and coriander flowers can be eaten. The best thing to do is simply let them get on with it. If they are growing in the ground the seed will eventually drop and you will have new plants next year, if you are growing them in a pot you will have to collect the seed and sow it yourself.
During the weekdays we are all hard at work on the nursery, but at half past ten everything grinds to a halt for the good old traditional tea break. Whilst some of us prefer the standard cuppa, there is a fair amount of herbal tea made as well. It is very easy; simply use about a teaspoon of fresh leaves, no need to chop them, in a cup of boiling water and leave to infuse for a few minutes. Putting a plate or saucer on top of the cup will preserve more of the volatile oils, making the tea better in flavour and retaining its medicinal value. Strain if you like or just sip around the leaves, they often sink to the bottom anyway, or you can eat them. The most popular ones are the mints, lemon verbena and balm, nettle, and fruity sages, on their own or in combinations. This led me to think it would be a good idea to have a mint tea-tasting tea break, and try out all our varieties on all our different taste buds and give you the results.
Lavender Mint – gentle and flowery with a good after taste. It has an overtone of chamomile and pot pourii. Everyone liked it.
Pineapple Mint – smells nice. Taste is good but doesn’t longer for long. We reckon this one would be better served chilled with ice or as an addition to a fruit punch.
Red Mint – has a honey flavour, very creamy. Would be great frozen in ice cubes and added to Bourbon.
Lime Mint – grassy kind of taste that makes your mouth go dry. The citrus flavour comes through; it would make a great sorbet.
Ginger Mint – voted one of the best. It has a very fruity flavour, good for all types of summer drinks including Pimms. Refreshing.
Grapefruit Mint – Claire’s face says it all. Kind of sour and perfumed at the same time. It leaves a nice after taste that comes down your nose. Fantastic smell. This would be a good drink for winter, hot and sweetened.
Lemon Mint – earthy, warm, fresh flavour. Another one that would be nice in the winter, maybe with some added spices.
Silver Mint – not a very pleasant smell with little flavour. Best left for its ornamental value.
Buddlea Mint – Pretty much the same as silver mint.
Indian Mint – a unique smell with aniseed taste. We all disagreed on this, some loved the strong taste others hated it. The flavour sticks in your throat for a long time afterwards.
Eau de Cologne Mint – tastes as it smells. Very fragrant. Use sparingly in desserts and ice cream.
Apple Mint – refreshing and drinkable. We have tried this with fresh fruit juices and it works well. Also good chilled.
Spearmint – sharp taste and immediately minty. Refreshes the mouth. We thought this would be nice sweetened but I think that’s because we are used to this flavour in products like chewing gum.
Moroccan Mint – divine was the verdict. Smooth and rich, with a caramel hint. Very refreshing.
Black Peppermint – wow, tea was green rather than yellow, lots of volatile oils. It is a palette cleanser, which is why the oil is used in after dinner mints. Memorable.
The Tasting Tray
Mints are rich in volatile oils, and it is menthol that gives them their typical taste and smell. Menthol is an antiseptic and decongestant; peppermint which has a high concentration of menthol is used in conjunction with other herbs to make a tea for the common cold. Menthol will overwhelm more subtle flavours, which is why it is used mainly in chocolate, ice cream and sweets. It is also a digestive, good after rich food, hence the mint chocolates served after dinner. Spearmint and peppermint are two of the most popular flavours in the world, and crops are grown on a large scale in Europe, Asia, and the States.
If you have any good recipes for any of the mints post them onto the forum page so we can all have a read. Just like to say at this point, as we get asked the question a lot, that spearmint is the usual mint used for traditional mint sauce and for adding to new potatoes, but both Moroccan mint and apple mint are very good as well.
Geoff, our resident medical herbalist, has written a piece on medicinal herbs to coincide with current growth! It's available for your perusal on the forum part of our website under 'Medicinal Herbs'.
That's all for now. Have a sunny June.