Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Herbs And I

Just about my favorite thing to do around here is to go out early with my basket and clippers and harvest herbs. Like me, that's when they're at their best, in the morning before the sun gets hot. In the spring, before they bloom.

I gather armfuls of mints from the garden—peppermint, apple mint, and dusky orange mint. Gentle Melissa—lemon balm—is taking over a shady corner under the lilac, and welcome to it. The oregano is big enough to cut. And the eight lavender plants I've put in next to the stone wall are coming into their own.

The rosemary bush stays in its pot because it will have to be brought indoors for the winter, but as long as I remember to water it, it rewards me with its pungent needles. The lemon/rose geraniums are also cloistered in pots because of their cold-fearing nature, but it doesn't seem to bother them. They are putting out dozens of little pink (the books say “insignificant') blooms.

This is chamomile time. The tiny daisy-like blossoms wait until the sun is fairly high in the sky to spread their white petals. I pick them by the cupful, savoring their apple scent. The semi-wild rosebushes growing against the back of the house are loaded with still-green buds. I won't let a single one go to waste.

Feeling like something out of a Botticelli painting, I bring the harvest inside. I tie the mints into bundles, label them, and suspend them from the dining room curtain rods, where they will get only gentle northern light. In case you're wondering if the curtains get in the way: the only curtains in our dining room are bunches of drying herbs.

The lavender I also make into small bundles, which hang inside our front door: again, northern light, no curtains, and a scented greeting for visitors. The rosemary, geraniums and chamomile dry on flat circular trays made of straw, on the dining room table. And the lemon balm dries in the electric dehydrator, because that is supposed to be best for it.

What in the world am I going to do with all this herbiage?
I have definite plans for every bit of it, these plans to be carried out at some future task-free time such as the 24 hours between putting the garden to bed in November and getting ready for Christmas.

The mints will be blended into soothing teas to relieve winter anxieties. They will also, together with dried orange peels and scented geraniums, form the base of many gifts of potpourri. The lemon balm will gladden many a heart when infused in vodka for schnapps. The rosemary and oregano will liven up the stews of everyone I know, not to mention my goats' milk cheeses.

The lavender will go into soap. The chamomile into an after-dinner digestif. And the rose petals...the rose petals will be transmuted according to a medieval recipe into necklace beads that, when warmed by the skin, release a heavenly scent.

Stay tuned.

7 comments :

  1. tell me how the rose beads go. I would like to try sometime (I've read about them before)

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  2. i want you to come to my house and do everything.
    everything!

    i have lavender, rosemary, basil, mint, chives and um something else i forgot the name of but love the scent of. and i am lucky to use even half of it by the time everything freezes.

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  3. Bridgett, there are dozens of recipes out there, and I can't quite remember which one I used, but this one looks good to me:
    http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/1983-07-01/Scentsational-Rose-Beads.aspx
    I'm wearing the necklace right now, and it smells terrific.

    Laurie, I love cilantro, but have never grown it. Why don't you try drying the other herbs? They look great tied in bundles hanging around the house--they give it that medieval herbalist's hut look.

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  4. I had a bite of rosemary goat cheese the other day, down the other end of Route 153. Mmmmmmm.

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  5. because i've never really known exactly .. how... one .... i'm inept!

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  6. IB, Deb must really like you to share her tiny piece of cheese with you! Next batch I make I'll put in more rosemary.

    Laurie, go out in the morning with a basket and scissors. Cut herbs (in the case of mints, preferably before they flower). Tie them in bunches no more than 1" in diameter (I use rubber bands), LABEL, loop a string through the rubber bands and hang somewhere where they won't get a lot of light. When they are crisp (not leathery), strip leaves from stems and put them in glass jars. That's it! Oh, and fragile herbs like chives can just dry on a paper towel.

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