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!