July 2017 Newsletter

There has been a lot of hot dry weather in our little corner of the country this year, which got underway with record temperatures in April and catapulted us into a bit of a growing frenzy to try and keep up with sales that were more akin to May. No complaints about that – it just feels like we should be in August now and not July. The hot weather has meant quite a bit of extra watering – quite a nice job early in the morning before the rest of the crew have arrived and the temperatures and sun are still low. The mints give off a fabulous scent when they are being watered, particularly the eau-de-cologne mint and it reminds me that a lot of people ask about plants they can grow that will give off lovely smells. Quite often leaves and foliage do not give off scent without some kind of stimulus – be it the wind, the rain or someone running their hand over it, although in very hot weather aromatic volatile oils from plants like rosemary and thyme will be given off. Flowers are different, they want to attract insects in order for pollination to occur and so they release scent naturally without any stimulus. What is interesting is the time of day they might release their scent depending on which pollinator they want to attract. The gorgeous evening primrose opens its flowers in the evening and releases its perfume in order to attract moths and the colour of the flowers also helps them show up in the evening dusk - not all smells are pleasant, some flowers have the smell of rotting meat for example in order to attract flies!!

We always like to try growing new herbs and this year we have Jiaogulan (gynostemma pentaphyllum) – a vine native to China, Japan and Korea. Although there doesn’t seem to have been extensive research on this herb – particularly in the West – the information on the net from research in China makes it an interesting herb. Originally Jiaogulan (or amachzuru in Japan) was studied by a Japanese scientist interested in the sweetness of the leaves for addition in food products, but he found that jiaoglan had very similar properties to ginseng. It contains a large number of saponins also known as gypenosides which are very similar in structure to the panaxosides found in ginseng. Some of these gypenosides are identical to the panaxosides in ginseng and others are it seems converted into panaxosides in the body. After his death Chinese scientists started researching the herb after seeing that the people in Southern China, who drank it daily for its energising effect, were living for longer than the average. They found that like ginseng it had the ability regulate body systems. There was evidence it helped lower cholesterol by improving the livers ability to send sugar and carbohydrates to the muscles for conversion into energy rather than them being stored as fat. Jiaogulan it seems also improves and strengthens the digestive system and improves fat metabolism within the body whilst lowering damaging cholesterol (LDL) and increasing beneficial cholesterol (HDL). 
It is not recommended for people suffering from auto-immune diseases because of its stimulating effect on the immune system, nor is it recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women. There is also some evidence it may slow blood clotting so it isn’t recommended within two weeks of surgery. There have also been rare cases of nausea and increased bowel movement. 
It is fast growing vine and not hardy enough to survive an average winter in the UK. It likes to be kept moist. Small insignificant flowers appear in July and August followed by small berries, though you need both a male and female plant to produce these. A good way to grow this herb would be in a hanging basket where it will drape downwards and can be used fresh and then harvested at the end of the summer for drying. The taste is a like a sweet raw runner bean – I like it. 
The information above has been gleaned from the internet – but we would be interested if anyone has any first-hand experience of using this herb or any more technical information.
We grow quite a lot of salads earlier in the season, before the weather gets too hot and the daylight hours too long (both of which cause them to bolt up to flower) and this spring we tried out a new salad called Wasabina, a type of mustard. The mustard we regularly grow is a red frilly variety and whilst it is tasty to eat, it is only the seeds that give any heat. Wasabina promised to have spicy leaves – and it did. 

As with other herbs like the dittander which has very hot leaves, the results are much better if there has been some sun on the plant – on duller cloudier days the flavour isn’t as hot. We think it will make a fantastic addition to salads and will be adding it to the range we grow next year 😊