Showing posts with label Herb. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Herb. Show all posts

18 Jul 2023

Prunella - weed or wonder?

Once again, Prunella vulgaris, aka Self Heal, has returned to the veg patch with renewed vigour. It's a perennial, an enthusiastic self-seeder, low growing, edible, medicinal and a food source for bees. Sounds good, yes?

Prunella herb selfheal, purple flowering in meadow
Photo via Google Creative Commons licence from Wallpaper Flare

I sowed seeds for this about ten years ago because of its appeal to bees and other pollinators and since then it has sporadically re-appeared over the years to fill cracks in the brick paths.  

Initially I was drawn to the look of the flowers and their appeal to pollinators. Its flower stems should reach a height of at least six inches but, in the drought conditions of my veg patch, flowers remained tucked among the leaves and it looked more like a weed between the paths.  A few were left to make the paths look inhabited but most were dug out of the borders.

More recently I have had to reevaluate my opinion of this plant as I've discovered what a useful herb this is - both medicinal and edible.  Like so many herbs, they're not just tasty but have hidden benefits (see my post on Immuni-tea!).  I've not yet tasted Prunella but will remember to try a few of its leaves in my salad in future ...  although bearing in mind that the leaves are best picked in spring or early summer. (So late July is possibly a bit late in the season for first tastes.) 

Prunella has a common name of Selfheal or Heal All.  It's antibacterial, antiviral, edible and a useful summer herb for bites and stings when made into a decoction, ie, steeped in boiling water. I've been nibbled several times in this hot weather so that's definitely good to know! 

Another of Prunella's folk names is Carpenter's Herb, so called for its effectiveness in healing cuts; this makes it a good herb for me in my gardening work as I'm regularly nicked by rose thorns and pyracantha!  

If you like the sound of this useful herb, more can be learned about it here and seeds bought from Jekka's Herbs. I, for one, will definitely be resowing more Prunella next spring or looking to propagate a few plants by division.

12 Nov 2013

Sticks of potential..

Glaskins Perpetual

In between normal weekend routine stuff and rainfall, I managed to squeeze a couple of hours in the veg patch. There's mainly just clearing and tidying now, including putting away bags of compost until next year, emptying and cleaning pots, chopping back herbs that have flopped (and preserving for winter where possible).  All this in preparation for mulching and bulb planting.

So what's all this to do with the rhubarb?  The top herb bed was tidied a week ago (horseradish, a couple of mints, rosemary, fennel) and I'd planned to do the bottom herb bed yesterday - the pineapple sage and lovage had got blown over in the recent storms.  The sage got a stay of execution thanks to its glorious fuchsia pink flower spikes plus I got distracted on the way down the path by the enormous rhubarb.

It's a Glaskins Perpetual which I grew from seed in 2012, in a pot. It survived so, in early spring, I planted it out into the veg patch.  The patch isn't big so I dithered over where to put it (hence why it stayed in its pot for so long), in the end just plonking it into a large space.  It obviously loves where it is (heavily mulched clay soil) and is now enormous. All those big leaves are just the one plant!  Unfortunately it's overhanging the path so it was tidy up time for the rhubarb.

Just one rhubarb plant ...

I've resisted picking any stalks this past year so that the plant could get established. (Leaves were about 3 inches high when planted out.) I haven't grown rhubarb before so I wasn't sure whether the plant died back in winter or got cut down.  I noticed that a few of the bottom stalks needed removing as they'd become brown and a bit mushy.  They pulled away easily which made me think that the whole plant would eventually die back to this state over the next few weeks.  I needed to take a few stems to clear the path anyway; these were originally destined for the compost but my curiosity got the better of me; I hate waste so I decided to chop just the leaves into the compost. The rest was brought up to the kitchen.

Happily, I've also got Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) growing here; a few chopped leaves added when cooking rhubarb reduces the amount of sugar needed. Although it's coming on for winter, there are new soft leaves on the Cicely so I picked a small bunch of those as well.  I half expected the rhubarb sticks to be inedible, tough, stringy and sour but no, not a bit of it.  Fifteen minutes after getting home, stems washed, chopped, poached with a spoonful of water plus one of sugar and a handful of finely chopped cicely leaves, I had myself a delicious dessert to go with supper.

Now here's the science: All rhubarb has high levels of oxalic acid (poisonous!) in the leaves and roots, less so in the stems; as temperatures become colder, oxalic acid migrates from the leaves back into the stems, making them poisonous to eat. With Glaskin's rhubarb, the oxalic acid levels in the stems stay very low throughout the length of the year so stems can be harvested from early summer through to late autumn.  Thus, it's become known as Glaskin's 'Perpetual'.

I'm not sure it was wise to pick so many stems as a certain amount are needed to build up the root for next year but there are still around half a dozen new little stalks on the plant.  I'll mulch it with well-rotted horse manure over winter (leaving the crown clear).  That should do it.  I may even have to grow another rhubarb plant - I've seen so many yummy sounding recipes!

And a final word of caution:  Never, ever, eat the leaves or root of rhubarb; they're poisonous and will make you feel most unwell!

I bought Glaskins Perpetual seeds from More Veg who supply a range of seeds in small quantities, perfect for the small space grower.

18 Mar 2012

Impulse buying

Lime Mint in front with Broadleaf Thyme at the back
As part of my thoughtful gardening plan for this year, I went out shopping yesterday for some J Arthur Bower's seed compost.  It's the one that came out top for seeds and cuttings in recent Which? Gardening trials and, as I have to buy seed compost anyway, I want to get my plants off to a good start this year rather than sowing seed into any old multi-purpose compost and hoping for the best.

After checking various local sources, I found I could buy it in The Boma Garden Centre in Kentish Town, a small independently run company with friendly staff and interested customer service. I truly meant to just pop in for a bag of compost and come straight home...  but that wouldn't really be me though, would it?

Of course, having not been there for many years, I had to have a good look round, get a mental list of their stock tucked away in my head. Ooh yes, liquid seaweed:  I need some of that;  Bag of vermiculite? Oh yes please, excellent for topping small seeds, quickly past the seeds, whoops, no, back up, French Breakfast Radish? yep, add that to the basket.  Better have a check out back, it's not raining too heavily ... oh lawks, that's done it, I've found the herbs! Mmmm, hmm, hmm.... oh lovely, borage, better have some that just in case my self-collected seeds don't germinate; squeeze, pinch, sniff ... more thyme certainly but which variety?  Broadleaf looks good and excellent culinary usage, Lemon Balm? maybe later and ... ooh, what's this then?  Lime Mint?  I like a bit of the unusual and I hadn't come across this before.  Isn't it beautiful?  I had to have two.  One for the veg patch and one for my balcony.  There were many other lovely herbs that I regretfully left behind (I have masses of herb seeds in my seed box) but I may have to pop back for some violas from their extensive collection as I've just found a nice sounding recipe in Jekka's Herb Cookbook for Violet Apple Cake. (I have a few violets in the veg patch, planted there last summer but they're not quite big enough to start helping myself to the flowers yet.)

So, back to the new acquisition.  Lime Mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata) will be a vigorous grower, up to 2ft/40cm, with purple flowers over red and green foliage. (Sounds heavenly.) Its leaves can be chopped up for cold drinks, fruit pies and fruit or green salads, yogurt and ice-cream; it has a strong flavour so a little goes a long way and it's best to use the young shoots.  It likes semi-shade in moist, rich soil and, like other members of the family, spread can be controlled by planting into a sunken terracotta pot. (Although, would I really want to restrict its growth?)

Now I just have to figure out where to put it and, preferably, in a slug free zone. (I'm finding lots of baby slugs and white catepillar-like larvae buried in the soil, this does not bode well for the veg patch this summer.)

28 Oct 2009

When Herbs Freeze over …

 I read somewhere that parsley can be difficult to grow from seed - a fact which I'm questioning as our parsley (grown from seed by a child) is lush, tall, abundant and still growing strong.

We're all cutting it for our casseroles and soups but there's still loads.  I know you can chop and freeze parsley but it was still pleasant to come across an article on freezing herbs on the Gardener's World website.  Apparently Basil and Mint, as well as Parsley, can all be frozen in individual ice cubes which is great news as I've never had much luck growing herbs indoors.  Still… maybe I'll give it another go this winter - I'll let you know.

24 Aug 2009

Promiscuity on the Patch…

Sowing a variety of lettuce seeds for a bit of late summer salad is proving to be a promising investment. But concern for the appearance of our tender leaves is leading us to a bit of old style matchmaking. We need to marry them off before they're ruined by spending the night with too many pests. (My own sweet peppers were positively decimated overnight by a herd of hungry caterpillars.)

Which leads us down the aisle to companion planting, that old favourite of organic gardeners. Some time in the past, I've read that mint is a good companion for lettuce. Jekka McVicar, in her New Book of Herbs (my copy published in 2002, so now not so new), denounces mint as promiscuous, having cross-bred, inter-bred and generally misbehaved. And who can blame them when no-one can resist giving their verdant leaves a quick squeeze in order to release that glorious smell? But perhaps not what we want, although the leaves of Spearmint (mentha spicata) make lovely tea and add a certain 'je ne sais quoi' to a salad or dish of couscous.

Having researched a little further, it would seem that radishes or strawberries make the ideal partners for lettuce, which is good as we have plenty of those. But I still think we should give those naughty but nice little mint plants some space, even if we do have to contain them amongst the cabbages.
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