Archive for the ‘Relaxing with Gnomes’ Category

FeverfewTanaceetum parthenium
Originally, feverfew was a native plant of southeastern Europe, but is now common throughout Australia, Europe, and North America. It is a moisture-loving perennial, and in the photo is my personal plant in year 2 (so it can certainly survive a Midwest winter). It can grow up to 2 feet (60 cm) tall, and white flowers with yellow centers that bloom all summer long – which makes it an attractive border plant. It is usually free from pests and diseases, and in fact is historically known as a plant that repels undesirable insects.

The aboveground parts (leaves, flowers, etc..not roots) that are used in herbal medicine. Since the first century, feverfew has been used in the treatment of headaches, as well as used for treating inflammation, arthritis, menstrual discomforts, fever, and other general aches and pains. It has been show that feverfew stops white blood cells from absorbing the amino acid thymidine, which reduce the rate of inflammatory chemical (leukotriene) production as well as fatty acid byproduct production which are essential to the production of those leukotrienes. This is a benefit to those suffering from lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

For those who suffer from migraines, feverfew is thought to reduce the production of seratonin. Seratonin is involved in the constriction of blood vessels and the release of pain-causing chemicals. A clinical trial in England found that taking feverfew for four months reduced the frequency and severity of migraine attacks, as well as reducing the accompanying vomiting and visual distortion. However, the duration of the migraine was not affected.

Human consumption: If you want to take feverfew as an herbal remedy, it should be consumed in a capsule form of the freeze-dried herb. People who are allergic to ragweed maybe be allergic to this herb as well. Pregnant women should avoid taking feverfew as it can cause uterine bleeding. Nursing mothers should also avoid taking feverfew because its active components can be transmitted through breast milk which may cause allergies in the child. If you are on any blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin), you should not take feverfew. Though there are no reports of detrimental interaction with this class of drugs, it is theoretically possible. Fresh leaves may cause dermatitis and mouth ulcers if eaten, so be cautious.

On another note, the flowers are often used for crafts and in floral arrangements.

Happy Gardening!

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We’ve discussed growing several garden herbs (see Relaxing With Gnomes category), and the various health aspects associated with them..but what to do when you are overrun with fresh herbs? Here’s where we’ll talk about drying those delicious, fresh herbs you work so hard to grow. For the example photos here, I’ll use lemon balm..but the steps are the same for any herb you have. My lemon balm from last year is already ready for it’s first drying harvest! And we’re barely into May!! My returning oregano is almost ready for a drying harvest, but I’ll give it a few more weeks. I’ve already used oregano in cooking, and made some lemon balm tea – but here I’ll focus on harvests for drying instead of just a sprig or two for cooking..

1. Harvesting: Snip long primary stems just above a nodule (just above a leaf sprout). Continue snipping, but don’t take more than about 30% of the plant, unless you’re harvesting at the end of the season.

lemon balm herb
2. Rinse cut herbs thoroughly. You don’t want any remnants of dirt, unless you like that added flavor in your dishes drying herbs: lemon balmand tea. 😉
3. Tie the ends of all the stems together with twine or string of any kind. All I had was that thin ribbon used for presents, from which you can make those fun curly cues…

4. Hang anywhere that won’t bother you. I have hung them from cabinet knobs or nails in the wall – anywhere you can find. Depending on the herb, drying time varies. Larger leaf herbs, like basil, take longer. Oregano, for me, can dry fully within about 3-5 days. Basil, though I didn’t time it, I let dry for at least a week, maybe 8 days. Like I said, I didn’t check every day.
5. When herbs are thoroughly dry, remove herb leaves from the large/thick stems if you like (such as with basil or rosemary), then crumble or chop them into small bits and store in airtight containers. I use old spice/herb jars that I had previously bought said herb (before growing it). Example: When the dried basil I had bought a while back was empty, I filled it with my freshly dried garden basil.

drying herbs: lemon balmHappy Gardening!

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dillHopefully Spring will be here soon, which means getting back into the garden. So here begins the reinstatement of the Relaxing With Gnomes category!

Dill is a crucial ingredient in chickpea noodle soup, among other recipes. Freshly cut, chopped leaves enhance the flavor of dips, herb butter, soups, and salads. The seeds are used in pickling and can also improve the taste of roasted or stewed vegetables. Try grinding the seeds to use as a salt substitute. Both the flowering heads and seeds are used in flavored vinegars and oils.

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a hardy annual, native to the Mediterranean region and Southern Russia. It grows wild among the corn in Spain and Portugal and upon the coast of Italy, but rarely occurs as a cornfield weed in Northern Europe. It is considered one of the easiest herbs to grow, therefore it would make a perfect first herb for those who need to build confidence in their herb growing skills. It can grow easily from seed and likes to be planted in cool weather (a week or two before the last frost, but for those who don’t get too cold winters you can plant it in the fall). They develop long roots, so if planting in a pot be sure to take the long roots into account.

When growing this annual at home, you want to watch weed infestation..but you also want to choose carefully where you plant this baby. It is known to be exhaustive of soil fertility, thus you don’t want to plant it near fennel, angelica, or caraway. And like most herbs, dill loves the sun – but it will tolerate late afternoon shade.

Dill is traditionally known to have healing properties. One of these is relieving flatulence in infants by using dill water/tea – but I’m sure it’ll still work on those who are technically no longer infants but children at heart 😉 . In addition to a digestive aid, it has been traditionally used to induce sleep and the ancient Greeks believed that dill cured hiccups. Here are some easy recipes for tummy-healing dill.

To brew a stomach-soothing tea:

*Use two teaspoons of mashed seeds per cup of boiling water. Steep for ten minutes. Drink up to three cups a day.

To make a tincture:

*Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon up to three times a day.

To treat colic or gas in children under 2 yrs old:

*Give small amounts of a weak tea. Many herbalists recommend combining dill and fennel to ease colic in infants.

Random tidbit: It can be used as a nail-strengthening bath when the seeds are crushed and diluted in water.

Happy Gardening!

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Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a great perennial herb to use as a natural pest-repellent. It is also commonly known as Common Tansy, Bitter Buttons, Cow Bitter, Mugwort, or Golden Buttons. Its leaves have a fernlike appearance, and the scent is similar to that of camphor with hints of rosemary. The leaves and flowers are said to be poisonous if consumed in large quantities. The plant’s volatile oil is high in thujone, a substance found in absinthe that can cause convulsions. Some insects, notably the tansy beetle, have evolved resistance to tansy and live almost exclusively on it.

Irish folklore of the mid-1800s suggests bathing in a solution of tansy and salt as a cure for joint pain. Bitter tea made with the blossoms of T. vulgare has been effectively used for centuries as an anthelmintic (vermifuge). Tansy cakes were traditionally served during Lent because of a superstition that eating fish during Lent caused intestinal worms. Note that only T. vulgare is used in medicinal preparations; all species of tansy are toxic, and an overdose can be fatal. The dried flowering herb of Tanacetum is used ethnomedically to treat migraine, neuralgia, and rheumatism, and as an antihelminthic, in conjunction with a competent herbalist to circumvent any possible toxicity. Formerly, tansy was often used for its emmenagogue effects, but rumors have implicated tansy in cases of miscarriage. Pregnant women should avoid this herb.

In England, bunches of tansy were traditionally placed at windows to keep out flies. Sprigs were placed in bedding and linen to drive away pests. Tansy can also be used as a companion plant in the garden, especially with cucurbits like cucumbers and squash, or with roses or various berries. It is thought to repel ants, cucumber beetles, japanese beetles, squash bugs, and some kinds of flying insects, among others.

It is also used by some traditional dyers to produce a golden-yellow pigment. The yellow flowers are dried for use in floral arrangements.

Happy Gardening!

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Ok, so I realize I’ve been on a tea/herb kick lately. But over the weekend, I did an experimental run on a sun tea that Dad requested. He wanted an easy sun tea, so I concocted a blend and here it is:


2 tsp Jasmine flowers
2 tsp Rose buds (dried, or fresh petals from your own rose bush)
1 tsp dried Chamomile
8-10 leaves fresh lemon balm, torn in half (or 2-3 tsp dried)


Place all ingredients in large pitcher. Fill with 2 quarts cold water. Place in direct sunlight for 2.5-3 hours. Strain and chill in fridge. This makes the perfect strength of tea, so you won’t need to add ice. If you want to serve it over ice, place same amount of tea into 1.5 quarts cold water, then steep in sun for same amount of time. I personally like it ‘not too cold’ so I didn’t add ice to my glass. It is so refreshing! You can sweeten with nectar if you so choose, but because of the floral aspect I didn’t need to sweeten, so taste it first.

The lemon balm is key. I tried making this once before, and I didn’t use lemon balm…let’s just say, some experiments are destined to fail. So this time, I added lemon balm and it turned out absolutely wonderful!

The ingredients can typically be found in any herbal store that also sells tea. Search for one in your local area, or purchase online at any herbal tea store (such as Mountain Rose herbs – just search for the ingredients and they’ll come up).

Happy Teatime!

Addendum: I made this tea over the weekend, and added 1 tsp of dried peppermint! It totally knocked my socks off! I made it on Saturday late afternoon and finished the entire pitcher by Sunday early evening!! Usually a pitcher of tea will last me a few more days than just 24 hours…this was simply too good to stop!

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Oh, this is one of my absolute favorites! I always had trouble sleeping, but was unaware that I was having trouble. You know, you go to bed..and it takes a while to fall asleep. Then when you do, even though you get about 7-8 hours you wake up feeling exhausted. That occurs when you’re not getting “restful and rejuvenating” sleep. Sure your body is lying there, and though you don’t realize it you could be snoring, or kicking your legs, or tossing & turning, among other situations that result in sub-par rest. It turns out I’m a kicker and toss-n-turner. Only I didn’t know it. So while I was sleeping, my body wasn’t getting the rest it needed – hence the waking up feeling like I could sleep another 10 hours, after the 10 I just had. Sometimes I would drink chamomile tea to help, and it would…for a while. Then I discovered Valerian Root! Oh man, the first time you have it, it’s like nothing else I’ve ever had before. It was so relaxing and wonderful. Of course, if you’re not fond of the taste of roots, mix with another tea like chamomile or some lemon balm leaves, perhaps even some nectar or sugar. After drinking it for so long, I can take it straight up! Randomly I’ll go without for a couple of nights (usually on a weekend), as you can build a tolerance to Valerian and you have to begin increasing the amount to see the same effect. This stuff will knock most of you out! It has been reported that in a select few, it has stimulatory properties..sorry. So try it out on a weekend in case it jolts you into an all-nighter!

I buy it already dried from the herb store, but I’ve also recently planted my own Valerian plant (the tall guy in the picture) – of which I shall harvest the roots in autumn. It is a perennial, so I think I’ll leave one to grow again the next season, since I have two plants. The leaves and buds are not useful in aiding sleep, just the roots.

For Sara’s Sleepytime tea:

1 tsp dried Valerian root
1 tsp dried (or fresh) chamomile
2-3 leaves fresh Lemon balm, torn in half

Steep all ingredients in 6 oz freshly boiled water 5 minutes (if using dried). Leave only the lemon balm leaves in the water another 10-15 minutes. What I typically do is just leave the lemon balm in there while I drink it (and this is the only situation I would allow for that), since fresh herbs aren’t as particular in extra steeping as dried herbs are.

Happy Sleeping!

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One of my new favorite herbs is lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). The leaves emit a lemon scent when bruised, and they also taste distinctly lemony. The plant will die down in the winter, after blooming from June through October, but is classified as a perennial so it should come back in the following growing season (Note March ’09: Both of my lemon balm plants are coming back, so it is, in fact, a perennial!). The London Dispensary in 1696 stated: ‘An essence of Balm, given in Canary wine, every morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain, relieve languishing nature and prevent baldness.’ And it’s been claimed that ‘balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory and powerfully chasing away melancholy. Balm steeped in wine comforts the heart and driveth away melancholy and sadness.’ Drive away melancholy and sadness…part of that could depend on how much wine you steep it with 🙂 .

It has properties that attract beneficial insects like bees, yet acts as a repellent for unwanted insects. The only culture required is to keep them clean from weeds and cut off the decayed stalks in autumn, and then to stir the ground between the roots.

Herbal benefits: It induces a mild perspiration and makes a pleasant and cooling tea for feverish patients with the flu. To make the tea, pour 1 pint of boiling water upon 1 oz. of herb, infuse 15 minutes, allow to cool, then strain and drink freely. It is also good for headaches and in small amounts it has mild sedative properties – larger amounts tend to be stimulatory. I like to mix a tsp of Valerian root with a few leaves of lemon balm (bruised) before bedtime. It also makes a nice tea when mixed with fresh peppermint leaves.

Happy Gardening!

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Dad has been asking about how to keep pesky insects at bay. And after I quickly squashed his hopes of using harmful chemicals..I told him I’d put together a list of the various plants and herbs that are said to have pest and insect repellent properties. First on the list, we have Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium).


It can be used as a low-growing ground cover, as it spreads rapidly. Below is a picture of mine that I have in a pot. I started with just a little container that you buy at the nursery (see the circle), and in just a few weeks it’s exploded into this (see below)! I’m going to have to do some transplanting! It’s easily grown from seed, and doesn’t need a ton of water (but dislikes drought) – so water occasionally. And it loves the sun, so make sure it gets at least a couple hours of sun a day!

It’s in the mint family, hence its fast-growing and spreading properties. It has flea-repelling properties, so it’s good for those with pooches and kitties. Please note that this is a toxic plant to pets if ingested. So, if you have pooches, plant it in a pot (or somewhere they won’t be tempted to munch on it)..but if not, plant it where you want ground cover and/or insect control.

Now regarding human consumption: It’s highly aromatic, yet has a pungent and less agreeable flavor than spearmint or peppermint. I wouldn’t recommend walking by and picking off some leaves to nibble on. In days of old, a tea was made to relieve colds (sweetened with nectar) and menstrual derangements. I personally haven’t tried this, but before the days of med’s the herbalists typically knew what they were doing. Culpepper (a famous herbalist) has written about pennyroyal that “a garland of Pennyroyal made and worn about the head is of great force against the swimming in the head and the pains and giddiness thereof. It is also beneficial in cases of spasms, hysteria, flatulence and sickness, being very warming and grateful to the stomach. The infusion of 1 OZ. of herb to a pint of boiling water is taken warm in teacupful doses, frequently repeated, and the oil is also given on sugar, as well as being made up into pills and other preparations.”

For tips on making teas from fresh herbs, see SOP: Tea.

Happy Gardening!

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