Thursday, December 30, 2010

The post-Christmas post!

So, I have been quite a lazy one with the blog lately! I missed my last deadline to put up a photo of the week! Let's just chalk that up to Christmas festivities and holiday work in the retail business taking up my time.

So, takaeko will be pleased to read that I have just today received my iPad in the mail! I must say that the iPad is even more amazing than I thought. I sell these things all day long, but actually having one in my hands to call my own is something else! I have finally had time to sit with the iPad and notice how amazing the multitasking abilities of it are! I have safari, iDisk, mail, iPod, photos, and like 10 different apps open and still running and there is no lag! (for those that are like, so what, just imagine a computer from about 5 years ago trying to do all of that while being less than 3 pounds without a fan!)

That is all to this post. Soon to come, my late photo of the week and my belated Christmas herb post. Getting back into the swing of things for 2011. See everyone next year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bean sprouts! Yum!

So, I checked up on the bean sprouts, and we have delicious, juicy, crisp mung bean sprouts ready for salads and so forth!

So far, they turned out to be a bit shorter than I would like, which is partially my fault. I should have left the sprouts in the dark where they would grow long, twisted and blanched. So, I just grabbed a few sprouts, and put the rest of the sprouts back into the dark to see whether I can get any bigger sprouts.

A large clump of mung bean sprouts, pre-plucked.
Post-pluck, with the roots removed. Note to growers: putting the mung beans in the light caused them to leaf out too fast, and it gives the sprouts a spicier, somewhat onion flavor at times. Keep them in the dark!
 By the way, as I speak, I have my eyes up in the skies, watching the beautiful total lunar eclipse! To those who aren't able to see it tonight, I'm so sorry. I tried taking photos, but night shooting and my camera just don't agree.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Photo of the Week 10

A deciduous Saucer Magnolia (I think a Jane Magnolia?) from Descanso Gardens.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Indoor Garden

So, work has become very hectic with the holidays fast-approaching in the retail world. Working at Apple with only a week until Christmas has proven to be one crazed whirlwind affair so far! It is stressful at times since there are probably 300 customers within a store that is no bigger than my kitchen and living room combined. That being said, I would not want to work in any other mall store for the holidays! Each coworker that I work alongside of is very friendly and helpful no matter how crazy it gets, and most of us act like silly high school kids when we have free time. So, that was my intro into saying that I've been so busy that I haven't gotten to post about my seedlings that I started!

So, you got to see my chickpeas that I started. Well, since then, they have sprouted quite well and are already quite leafy! Here is a small progression of their growth in the past few weeks.

Also, I have added mung beans to my repertoire in my indoor kitchen greenhouse. I bought just bulk mung beans from the local Whole Foods market, a supermarket that prides themselves on all-organic products (though I believe that organic products do not have to be as expensive as they are there; I think they know that they can mark up their products because they market themselves as totally organic and some people will pay through the nose to get organic products...I could go on and on about this...I'll stop). So, here is what has been happening with my bean sprouts!

I used a large yogurt cup and some napkins as the growing container.
I soaked the mung beans overnight to help the beans shed their outer coat.
Before and after soaking.
The bottom of the yogurt cup had holes poked into it to allow drainage and then a wet napkin was used as a filter and rooting medium to keep conditions moist and humid. I then covered with cling film and placed the beans in a cool and dark room.
Day 3
Day 5
Today - day 14
 Every day or so, I rinse the mung bean sprouts so keep them moist and I make sure that the container is well-drained before I leave it so that mildew doesn't set in. I have moved them out into a bit of light to see if they will get a bit meatier so I can eat them with salads and pho.

In the other room, I have moved the cuttings of rosemary that my grandmother gave me into pots since they have finally begun to root. 
The rosemary and the oh-so-professional rooting technique of sticking 'em in water
and leaving 'em on the kitchen counter.
Some of the roots on the rosemary. I stripped the leaves off up to where the roots were and potted the cuttings. The leaves went into a delicious rosemary chicken recipe.
2 cuttings started, interspersed with mung beans (I want to make my own mung beans for sprouts next year)
 So that is an update on the plants I have started. Sadly, the update on the potato is that it has been unceremoniously chucked out back into the cold, unforgiving winter climate. I didn't start the potato properly so it was getting leggy up top instead of growing downwards, but mostly it was attracting fungus gnats badly. I have another potato sitting out, waiting to grow sprouts from its eyes. I may start it in a trash can later this year where it will have much more room to grow!

Soon to come, I am working on mistletoe and some of the herbs of Christmas lore! If anyone knows of Hanukkah herbs, Kwanzaa herbs, and so forth, pass them along! I have had no luck finding many that aren't Christian-related! Taking suggestions on the next herb after that. Thinking chamomile, basil, mugwort, anything really. The sky's the limit!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Photo of the Week 9

An indian hawthorne, taken on-campus of the Cal Poly Technical College in Pomona, CA.

Monday, December 6, 2010

And the next herb will be.....

I am currently perusing my encyclopedias and herbal books to decide on the next herb to start research on. So I am open to suggestions: What herb would YOU like to see featured next?

I personally have been thinking of doing something in the spirit of the holiday season coming up, but not too plentiful with ideas yet. I have looked into possibly doing frankincense or myrhh (you know, the three wise men's gifts...even though those are technically RESINS...not pure herb...). If anyone knows of herbs that are prominent in kwanza, hannukah, or any other holiday celebrations I would love to discuss the history of them in light of the season.

If not, then I shall take ANY suggestions! Thanks!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Photo of the Week 8

Even though the shot is a little blurry (it's so hard to get a good shot of fish that NEVER sit still!), this picture is in honor of my cute little fishy widget on my page. It's the one thing that I love to go to my blog page for and just like to feed them every once in a while. I know they're not real, but I like them still! :-) If you have not noticed, I make sure to change their colors and the background to reflect the seasons!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Originality Acheived!

So it took me a few hours, but I am finally satisfied (for now at least) with the new layout of the page. It's quite dark as compared to the previous page, but it has a bit more personality to it. I may change the color, who knows. Let me know how it looks, and please let me know if there are any kinks!


The Quest for Originality!

So, not that I have too much of an issue with this, but in perusing for interesting new posts by other bloggers, I seemed to notice that there are at least 5 or more blogs with the same design, layout and graphics on their page.

Wishing to stick out like a sore thumb, I am interested in coming up with an original background. Whilst I ponder and poke about for ideas, if anyone has any suggestions, let me know!


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wishlist check off

So, I guess just trying to be ambitious, I already got a few of the seeds that I had on my list. Checked off of my list now are:

Beets "Gourmet Duo"
Radish "Pink Beauty"
Lettuce "Crimson Crisp"
Carrot "Tendersweet" addition to all of the previously highlighted items. I put the remaining list up on the right side as a checklist to help me remember! Any superb recommendations on varieties would be great! I also couldn't help myself: I grabbed some spring onion seeds and some lemon and lime basil seeds...

I had forgotten to check off that I had chickpeas as well! When I was at the grocery store last, I grabbed some dried chickpeas to make hummus. Well, I took about 10-12 of the chickpeas and wrapped them in some moist paper towels, stuck them in a clear sandwich baggie and placed them on the windowsill. Well, only about 2 days later, I noticed that they were already sprouting! I've never seen seeds sprout that fast!

Also, my potato that I started about a month ago is getting tall. I am going to have to move it to a larger, deeper pot earlier than I thought!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dill: AKA Spearsleymeg

Dill, or Anethum graveolens, has two different word origins. It's botanical name anethum comes from Dioscorides (a very well-known Greek herbalist) in his pharmacopoeias, he refers to a plant which he calls anethon. Many believe that dill was what he was referring to based on his in-depth description of the plant. The common name comes from the Norse word "dilla" which meant to soothe.
Dill is a very tough annual herb from the Umbelliferacae family, which can be almost stubborn at times. I know personally trying to uproot a dead dill at the end of the season was one of my toughest battles in the garden this past season. It originated in the Mediterranean region of Europe and in the southern Russian region and made its way around the world from there. It is well-known for its wispy leaves, dominant flavor and umbels of bright yellow blooms. It is a wonderful companion plant with onions, cabbage, lettuce, and cucumbers, and is well-known for attracting beneficial insects with its alluring blooms. Dill is not recommended as a companion for carrots and tomatoes. A very happy dill plant can reach heights of almost five feet within a season! The herb prefers well-drained soil in full sun and is prone to tipping over once it gets taller, so staking may be needed.

Dill has had many uses throughout history (what herb hasn't?): In Egypt, according to records, it was used in a pain-killing medicine by doctors. Romans would adorn returning war heroes with a crown of dill, since dill was considered an herb of luck. It was a sign of wealth to the Greeks. The Norse warriors would drink dill tea before battle to ensure their luck in battle. A reading from the Gospel of Matthew tells us that the Jews of biblical times used dill along with mint as a payment of tithes (taxes): "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hyprocites! You tithe with mint, dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law..." In the medieval times, mystics would wear a satchel of dried dill over their heart to ward off the "evil eye" or bad magick. It was thought that if you served a witch dill tea, she would be robbed of her powers. In puritan times of the North American settlers, the dill seed was chewed on during long sermons to stave off hunger and came to be known as the "Meeting House Seed". Dill infusions or "gripe water" became a treatment for colicky children because of its abilities to help with indigestion. Remember the discussion of the language of flowers in Japan and in the Victorian era? Well, these "tussie-mussies" (as they were called in the Victorian era) included dill, which was an herb meant to convey the sentiment of good cheer.
Tussie-mussies: the Victorian precursor to modern-day texting.
Dill has its place in witchcraft as well, thought to be an herb of the god Mercury/Hermes, the speedy messenger god. As such, the herb is thought to be infused with the element of air and is thought to help speed up your thinking. Remember the famous lines of Macbeth?
"Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
    Fillet of a fenny snake,
    In the caldron boil and bake;
    Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
    Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
    Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
    Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—
    For a charm of powerful trouble,
    Like a hell-broth boil and bubble." 
...well, they don't mention dill in there. BUT, Shakespeare WAS mentioning many other different types of herbs! This language that he used is what is known as the herbal code. Herbalists/magicians would use coded phrases to discuss their recipes rather than plainly state what they used. For example, "tounge of dog" was code for hounds tounge and "adder's fork" was a plantain (the plant, NOT the fruit). Dill was very important in this herbal code, having many different codes such as "Seed of Hermes" for dill and "Hair of a Hamadryas Baboon" for dill seed.
^Not this^                                                            ^THIS^
I would be remiss if I did not mention the most common area of dill use: the kitchen! Dill and its seed are used thoroughly in the kitchen, though not just with fish as most people would think of immediately. Dill is suggested as a wonderful compliment to: eggs, pork, lamb, chicken, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes....AND THE LIST GOES ON! Dill leaves, seeds and flowers are vital in the flavoring of pickles. For those looking at decreasing their salt intake, crush some dill seed on your next meal instead of sprinkling some salt! In Lao cuisine, dill is known as Laotian coriander and is used in different curried dishes. Dill is also an herb used in the following cuisines: Arabian, Indian, Vietnamese, Iranian, Thai.

Medicinally, dill has a variety of uses: making an infusion of dill seeds is great for indigestion, the hiccups, for insomnia, or even as a nail-strengthener. What makes dill oil good for indigestion is its antispasmodic qualities, which calm the muscles of the digestive system. The essential oil of dill contains four different compounds: carvone, myristicin, and dillapiole. Carvone, as discussed in my post about mint, smells strongly of spearmint. Myristicin is a compound found in parsley, dill and in larger quantities in nutmeg. Dillapiole is a compound that has the flavor similar to parsley.

I know that the last chemical discussion was a bit silly to mention, but I thought it was quite interesting to see that essentially, dill is nutmeg, parsley and mint mixed together! So next time that you taste some "Hair of the Hamadryas Baboon", see if your finely-tuned palette can detect those three distinct flavors!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Spring Wish List

So, fixed the old clunker in the living room for the time being until I get myself that iPad I've been lusting after. (teehee. that's funny to visualize)

Alright, I am being proactive (for once!) and planning what I will be putting in my garden NOW, so that I can slowly collect my seeds and such ahead of time and start them inside.

This way, I will have a much better crop than this past season. I will admit that my garden did not do as well as it could have from just sheer laziness at times. 1 - I did not weed as well as I should have, and we all know that is essential, 2 - when spring came around I sort of scrambled and started most of my seeds outside and so I lost many to the elements and such.

But I will not dote on the past! On to the future prospects! So, I am starting a checklist on here of things that I want to grow next year and will begin to check them off. Of course, suggestions are very readily wanted!

Summer squash - I have yellow acorn squash right now.
Winter squash
Snow peas
String beans
Mung bean sprouts - an ingredient in my favorite soup, Pho
Kidney beans
Bell peppers - Green/red/yellow
Purple cabbage
Artichoke - but do I have enough space for it.
Potatoes - I started one potato already in the house.

Orange - those last three I might not even do, since I wouldn't be able to keep them outside...I need to live in Florida...somewhere warmer so I can grow these things!
Concord grapes

Thai basil - an ingredient in my favorite soup, Pho
Turmeric? - getting the powder is somewhat extensive to make, but interested in it. I love curries.
Paprika - I might make it from some spare bell peppers I have.

Of course, a lot of these things on my list are a wish list, but I have a few months before spring, so let's just see how much I can pull together and realistically work with. The things you see that are highlighted, I have seeds of. Would love to hear people's opinions on what VARIETIES people prefer! Will keep everyone posted on what I get!

Of course, still working on my herb histories and will bring you Dill very soon!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Technical difficulties....EXTENDED

So, my attempt at sending my message by phone worked, but barely, as my message could only be about 120 characters.

An expanded statement on my technical difficulties. My laptop has gone to the great laptop farm in the sky and is being loved by a wholesome family now. Motherboard issues.

Working on getting myself a new iPad. So more to come soon!

Photo of the Week 7

Snapped this out front of my house, where the sedums are still blooming a tiny bit. I just liked the detail of the blooms that you can see in this shot. Just ignore that weed sitting in the shot....<_<......>_>....It's close enough to frost, that I have just been letting them go. Then I'll lay down some perennial herbicide in early spring.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Technical difficulties

Sorry folks for the backup on postings. My laptop died from a motherboard issue, so working on gett

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Photo of the Week 6

Dahlias, the last of the late summer blooms within my grandmother's beautiful garden

Friday, November 12, 2010

The thymes, they are a-changin'!

Thyme is such a versatile herb, and it comes in so many different varieties, it's hard NOT to use it in every dish in the kitchen. I found a saying among new cooks in the kitchen: "When in doubt, use thyme."
Thyme is a low-growing, spreading perennial in the Mint family (Lamiaceae) that consists of many branches of tiny leaves that are described as having a smoky aroma when crushed. The origin of the botanical name for thyme, Thymus, is not exactly certain. There are two possibilities of where the Greek term thymus came from: one theory is that it came from the term "thumos" which means courage, or that it came from "thymon" which means to fumigate.
Without thyme, the mummies that we study today would not be as intact as they are!
Thyme was in use long before the Greeks though. About 2000 years before the Greeks , the Egyptians used oil of thyme (known as tham in Egypt) for its antiseptic and antibacterial qualities. It was a chief oil used to anoint the bodies of the dead in the mummification process so that the flesh would not decay. Alright, now back to Greece, where it's use was popular: an ancient Grecian suffering from nightmares would drink tea of thyme to give them courage through the night. It was thought a high compliment to be told that you smelled of thyme in Greece! Even to this day in Greece, Mount Hymettus (a mountain near Athens) is famous for its honey, due to the thyme growing around the beehives.
Those apiary fans, take note: thyme flowers + bees = FANTASTIC HONEY (We now know scientifically that the success of beehives due to thyme is that thymol, the chemical in thyme, helps prevent bacteria and fungal issues with bees).
In Rome, the Grecian belief that thyme was an herb of courage was held strong as well: warriors would sit in baths with sprigs of thyme before battle to bolster their resolve. Someone melancholic, or shy, would be given thyme to smell throughout the day to make them more cheery. Burning thyme in the home or a temple was thought to keep away venomous creatures such as scorpions. The Romans also found thyme to be the perfect compliment to cheeses and wine. The Romans brought thyme with them to the British Isles in their conquests, and thus thyme spread worldwide. In the Middle Ages, women stitched scarves with the image of a bee over a spring of thyme for their knights to wear as a symbol of great courage. In Japan, the term "hanakotoba" means the language of the flowers, a Japanese style of language conveying meaning through discussion of flowers. Thyme stood for courage in hanakotoba, though when it gained popularity in the Victorian era in Europe, thyme took on the meaning of thriftiness.
In Japan, there is actually a band called "Thyme", named after the hanakotoba meaning for courage.
In the story of Christ's birth, it is said that when the Virgin Mary gave birth, the manger's hay was strewn with thyme. In magic, thyme is said to be good against nightmares, for healing and purification, and for enhancing psychic. Thyme is a key herb in French cuisine, and in the kitchen it is used alongside of veal, lamb, poultry, beef, fish. Complementing flavors to the thyme include garlic, lemon, and basil.

Thyme has its medicinal applications as well, though I must say that all publications that I have checked up on agree that thyme in internal use is not advisable during pregnancy, since the oil is slightly toxic. That being said, medical doses drawn from the plant itself rather than the use of the oil is used for many different ailments: a tea of thyme is great as a mouthwash, for a sore throat, infected gums, or as a mild cure for a hangover. Thyme in the bath has been known to help with rheumatic pain. In Chinese herbal medicine, thyme is thought to be good for suppressing coughs, so is used for bronchitis, laryngitis and whooping cough. It is thought that Galen, a Grecian medical practitioner, when he discovered the thymus gland named it after the thyme plant because he believed that the gland was responsible for bringing courage to the body. Thymol and carvacrol are the main chemicals that are responsible for the aroma and antiseptic and antibacterial properties of thyme, and thymol is one of the main components of most mouthwashes.
Key ingredients: menthol (from the last post!) and thymol. Yum.
So the next time you rinse your mouth with listerine, go to a natural history museum and see an intriguing mummy on display, or you have a great honey think about thyme and how it played a vital role!

NEXT UP: I'm changing it up a bit. I want to do an herb outside of the mint family, unless anyone has any objections. I will come back to sage, savory, etc. in a bit. I am planning on doing chives or dill next!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Question: What is your favorite herb?

I figure since I am open for questioning, I can ask you all questions as well!

So I pose this question: If you had to choose one herb that you could not do without, what would it be? And I would love to hear why!

Monday, November 8, 2010

My feelings on Fall

I've never really cared much for fall. Usually the wide variety of colors in the foliage is lost on me, not because I don't see their beauty but simply because I've never enjoyed cleaning up afterwards! Call me lazy, but I've always hated raking leaves with a sweater on, then getting overheated. Then, I take my sweater off and it's too cold!

That being said, there is one thing that I love about fall: Golden rain trees. I always forget about them until I walk by them during fall. Their bright yellow foliage on windy days falls down upon me like actual rain, and I can't help but think that I'm Zhang Ziyi in that scene from Hero where she's fighting Maggie Cheung. If you haven't seen it, I've attached it here.

Some last minute notes on mint...

I realized that I had forgotten to mention a few more interesting tidbits about mint that I had found.

Just as I had mentioned before the burning of rosemary in funeral pyres, mint was also burned for its virtues that the Greeks thought to be associated with the afterlife. In fact, the Greeks who belonged to the cult of Demeter and Persephone (goddesses of the harvest and underworld, respectively) participated in a religious "journey" called the Eleusinian Mysteries. This journey would bring them closer to the gods and reward them greatly in the afterlife. A key part of this journey was a sacred fasting, followed by consumption of a drink called kykeon. Kykeon consisted of mint, barley and water and when drunk often times gave people visions of their afterlife. Nowadays many believe that this is because the people were consuming barley that had been parasitized by ergot, which caused a psychodelic effect.

In first aid, menthol is used in "mineral ice" when ice cannot be obtained readily. And lastly, menthol is used in many perfumes to bring out floral hints, especially with rose perfumes! And that's it for mint! On to thyme!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Photo of the Week 5

Beautiful ranunculus, compliments of Descanso Gardens in California.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Life and History of Mint

I always seem to enjoy starting these posts with a disclaimer along the lines of:

Now when I speak of mint, I speak of the popular mints such as peppermint, spearmint, pennyroyal. If I were to get into everything under the MINT family, the list would just go on and on. Just to give you an idea, the Lamiacae family includes basil, thyme, mint, rosemary, lavender, sage, savory, oregano, and the well-known teak trees. That is just a SMALL number of the Mint relatives.

Mmmm...I'm in the mood for some ice cream now!
True mints have the genus name Mentha. This name comes from a story in Greek mythology about a naiad (a nymph associated with a river) named Minthe who kept guard over the Cocytus river in the underworld. The story goes that one time Minthe caught the eye of Hades, and he proceeded to seduce her. But his wife, Persephone, found them out and promptly turned her into a lowly shrub to be trampled underfoot by all that passed by. Hades could not undo the spell and took pity on Minthe's situation by adding fragrance to her so that she would smell all the sweeter when trod upon.
It's not hard to see that Hades and his wife Persephone have some issues at home.

Mints are mostly perennial herbs, well-known for their low growth, spreading tendencies, and highly aromatic quality. Most mints prefer full sun to partial shade, though they are more susceptible to rust fungi in the shade. They have thin, serrated, pointed leaves that can dry out easily, so most mints prefer to have frequent watering, though they don't like to sit in water. Anyone who has had a mint in their garden can probably tell you that once a mint gets established, your other plants had better watch out, since mint can be pretty invasive.

Another story about mint shows how it became popular as the herb of hospitality: In Ovid's Metamorphoses, he tells the moral of Baucis and Philemon. It is said that Zeus and Hermes (Jupiter and Mercury, for those Romans out there) came down from Mt. Olympus disguised as regular peasants and visited a town, asking if anyone knew of a place that they could rest and have some food for the night. All of the people in the town closed their doors to the gods in disguise save for the old married couple, Baucis and Philemon. Upon inviting their guests in, Baucis and Philemon proceeded to crush mint and rub it all over their house to get rid of the earthy smell of their common home. Then, they fed their guests and allowed them to rest for the night. After their meal, Zeus and Hermes showed their true identities to Baucis and Philemon and warned them to leave the town as a flood was coming. Everyone from the town other than the old couple perished in the flood and all houses were washed away except the old couple's, which was turned into a temple. From then on, mint was seen as a great sign of hospitality.

"Jupiter and Mercurius in the house of Philemon and Baucis" by Peter Paul Rubens
Mint at one point was used by the Pharisees to pay their tithes. The Romans would crown themselves in peppermint to invigorate and refresh the mind. The Greeks believed that mint could clear the throat and cure the hiccups. In the middle ages it kept the fleas at bay, was used in baths and was strewn about on the floors for scent. In Central and South America, mint is known as hierbabuena or "good herb". Japanese mint was thought to be a type of birth control. In magic, mint is used in spells to ensure safe travel, to invite good spirits, and to bring money.

In the kitchen, most people probably think of mint jellies and sauces to go with lamb or in candies, the most common place for mint use. But, there are many other uses for mint: Welsh cooks often add mint to their boiling water before preparing cabbage. Dried mint is sometimes used in split pea soup instead of salt. Mint is used in compliment to veal, lamb, eggplant, many different beans, and fruit. It is a popular herb in Greek, Indian, Middle Eastern, North African, and Arabic cuisine.
A perfect flavor: lamb chops and mint sauce.
Mint is great medicinally as well, one of the true home remedies out there. Cosmetically, mint stimulates the skin. Steeping a cup of fresh peppermint or spearmint in a quart of cool water makes mint water, which is great for washing the face and keeping it cool. Mint steeped with rosemary in vinegar is said to be a home remedy for dandruff. Medically, mint has been used to cure almost anything you could think such as dog bites, colic, digestive issues, headaches, heartburn, and insomnia. Here are just a few remedies still used today: peppermint steeped in warm milk is said to be good for the stomach and for menstrual cramps, peppermint tea is good for flatulence, fresh peppermint leaves applied to the forehead help with headaches and help with joint pain, gargling with spearmint tea helps with a sore throat.
Refreshing and delicious while still warming!
It is important to know which mints are good medicinally and which are more aromatic! The reason peppermint is so good for medicine is that it produces MENTHOL. Menthol is great at its job because it is considered an antispasmodic (it calms muscles) and it helps to stimulate the flow of bile to the stomach, promoting digestion. Spearmint is less effective and is usually used more for flavor than for medicine, though the U.S. EPA has been reviewing the potential of using R-carvone (chemical from the oil of spearmint) as a mosquito repellent.

Another quick note before I end this post, since I could go on all day about mint (seriously, there are too many remedies and uses for mint! :D). Never should anyone EVER buy peppermint seeds! If you want PURE peppermint, you will not get it from seed. Peppermint is a sterile hybrid between Spearmint and water mint, so you will never get seeds from it. 

And so as my post comes to an end, I say bring mint into your life! Give it to a neighbor as a housewarming gift, make yourself some tea (for those where it is getting colder), make yourself some mint water (for those where its is still warm out), or just have some nice mint chocolate chip ice cream and think back to how much history is behind that simple minty leaf!

Friday, November 5, 2010

More herb histories to come!

I'm glad that I have found a topic that seems to interest folks out there! Currently, I am working on the history of mints. After that (per request) I shall be covering the history of thyme!

Of course, if anyone has an herb that they would like to see featured, just let me know! I am always looking for ideas, and I keep finding more tidbits than I even thought I could find! Currently, when I discuss the herbs I look at: cultural uses, magical uses, etymology, stories about the herb, science pertaining to the herb, and medical uses of the herb. If anyone would like me to look into any other aspects of the herb, just let me know!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Question: Do you have a partner?

Not at the moment!

Photo of the Week 4

Beautiful Echeveria blooms! When I was small, I used to think that these flowers were fake because of their bright colors. Thanks to Huntington Gardens in California for their tour through their growing facility!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Life of Rosemary

When I mention rosemary, I'm sure that most people think of the herb that makes chicken and potato dishes delicious. But rosemary has a long history with a wide variety of uses.

Rosemary, or Rosmarinus officinalis, gets its latin name from "Ros" which means "dew" and "marinus" for "the sea". The "dew of the sea" was thus named for its growth in the Mediterranean, where the plants were usually sustained by just the humidity of the sea. According to some, the common name "Rosemary" comes from a biblical tale of the Virgin Mary; once when she stopped to rest, her blue cloak passed over some white flowers. The flowers turned the same shade as her cloak, and thus the flowers were called the "Rose of Mary". 
The color of St. Mary's cloak is the color we know common rosemary flowers to have today.

The rosemary plant is a perennial woody shrub in the mint family, well-known for its flavor and aroma which is reminiscent of pine and lemon. These days, most people know the rosemary plant as being great in the kitchen and in aromas, but there as so many other uses of rosemary throughout the world. Historically, rosemary was used for more superstitious reasons. To the Greeks and Romans, rosemary was thought to have been the plant of Aphrodite/Venus and so the plant was thought to attract love. The herb was thought of as a cleansing herb: the hands were washed with rosemary before healing and it was burned to clear areas of negative energy.
Even today, Wiccans place Rosemary within a "mojo bag" to bring themselves knowledge or love

Rosemary was also thought of as the herb of remembrance, which is why Greek scholars would wear a sprig on their head or drink teas of rosemary to help them think. It was also a prominent herb in weddings and at funerals. In weddings, the bride would wear rosemary around her neck as a sign of fidelity, that she was always in remembrance of her new husband. At funerals rosemary was planted at the graves or burned with the body, as a sign of remembrance for the dead. Later in history, rosemary was still used in funerals, though in a more technical way: many believed that the strong smell of the herb helped to keep from catching a sickness from the dead. It was hung around the neck to help the body "remember" its youth.
A Roman wedding: the woman to the far left is holding a garland of rosemary to be placed on the woman after the marriage.

Rosemary was used throughout history as a treatment for many different affectations of the body, such as gout, skin irritation, digestive problems, and wound cleansing. Nowadays, doctors and scientists are researching the actual benefits of rosemary! What's really interesting is that they found that rosemary really does seem to be an ACTUAL herb of remembrance! They found that rosemary has three key acids: carnosic acid, caffeic acid, and rosmarinic acid. Carnosic acid has been found to help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Caffeic and rosmarinic acid both are anti-inflammatory and strong antioxidants, which means that they help to prevent cancer, skin aging, and reduce the effects of asthma or toxins in the body. So, start cooking more often with rosemary: it'll keep you sane! Literally!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Photo of the Week 3

This photo is actually still a mystery to me! I was on a tour of a five-star resort's landscaping two years ago in California. I spotted this vine growing up a pergola and snapped a picture of the interesting bloom! If anyone recognizes it, I would love to hear what it is!

Soon to come....the history of Rosemary.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Question: Preparing for Winter

Hey everyone. My best friend asked me yesterday: "I was wondering when we should start taking in our plants to save them from the frost, and also what should we do to keep them from getting bugs over the winter?"

So, I will try to keep the first part quite general: When to take your plants inside all depends on where you live! In this area, I always remember Halloween as being the time that frost hits or that it is very cold out, so I have always taken my plants in before then. For those who live elsewhere, I suggest checking out the estimates on frost dates at That link will let you get an estimate on freeze dates by zip code. I would advise of course that these are loose estimates, so be aware for earlier frost as you get closer. Outside of the US, the hardiness zones change depending on what hemisphere you are in and where in relation you are to the equator. I suggest going to the website for your country's agricultural department as they should provide you with freezing information, if you have to worry about it at all.
The USA hardy zones

For keeping your plants pest free, there are many things to do. First of all, when keeping your plants free from bugs, fungus, etc. the best thing is PREVENTION. It's easier to prevent infestation than it is to treat it. When bringing in your plants from being outside all summer long, its safe to assume that there may be insects living on your plants (very normal actually). Usually I treat my plants with a general insecticidal soap when bringing them inside, which will decimate any aphids, mites, mealybugs, and possibly some scales.
Spider mites are tinier than the head of a pin and cause plant leaves to become a speckled yellow.

An aphid: they come in orange, green, brown, black; Sometimes they have wings.

Mealybugs look like little cotton puffs wedged in the "crotches" of your plant stems.

Brown soft scale.

After treating the plants and letting the soap dry, I usually do a quick visual check around the plant for any signs of more serious pest or fungal damage (holes bored in the stems, chewed leaves, wilting, leaf curling, etc.). If you find that you have a more serious pest or fungal problem, I would say that they require special attention, so feel free to message me with your pest issues.

The last common issue with plants indoors is fungus gnats. Sounds yummy, right? Fungus gnats show up in plants that are kept wet too much. So, while your plants are inside, make sure not to water them until the top layer of soil has dried out a bit. Fungus gnats lay their eggs in the top layers of the soil, so letting it dry out will usually kill them. But, like I said earlier, PREVENTION is the best way to keep the issue under control, so water the plants when they need it (rather than watering more often to be safe). Remember that overwatering can be just as bad for a plant as not watering at all!
Watch for these buggers flying around your plants!
If you have any questions on this post, feel free to send them to me!