Saturday, July 3, 2010

Making Things From The Garden

If you like saving herbs this is the time to be gathering them; once they flower (and from there go on to set seed) the taste of the herb can really change for the bitter.

It's easy to dry your herbs - what you do need is a space where they can dry without getting cramped or squished, because that encourages mold. Here's what I usually do: the day before I douse all my herbs with a thorough shower from the hose. This way you aren't rinsing and cleaning in the sink after cutting (and thus filling your sink with dirt or bits of garden debris). The next day, with the herbs dry and clean, I snip all the clusters I can and put them in biggish paper bags, which I then clothes-peg to a line in the basement. Sheila's Tip #29: write the name of the herb on the outside of the bag. One summer I harvested bag after bag of garden herbs, not realizing until much later that I was collecting the same plant every time. There I was, with 10 bags of dried oregano. Lovely. Sigh.

This is also the time to be picking flowers for medicinal salves or flavoured oils. If you've never done this before, here is a site that gives some basic salve recipes as well as some ideas as to which herbs to use. Here is a jar of St. John's Wort flowers, sitting in some olive oil. I add this oil to a skin salve. If you've never put St John's Wort flowers into oil, it's a very cool experience because the flowers turn the oil golden red.

Other plants that work well in a salve: plantain, comfrey, marigolds, apricot pits, sage, and mints. I like to add cayenne for the vitamin C/ skin-knitting aspects it has but this is not for everyone.

Calendula flowers sitting in oil. Yes, we do have a lot of bowls and glass jars sitting around the house right now. Mullein oil, plantain oil, you name it, I've probably doused it in oil at one time. Just don't leave them where someone might tip them over or you will have a Major Mess on your hands. Don't ask me how I know this.

My Hanging Gardens of Lavender.

If you want to dry your lavender, wrap the stems with elastic bands before you clip them to a drying line. As they dry the bundles shrink a little, allowing some strands to slip out (which can lead to the entire bundle falling onto the floor in a big messy pile, but again, don't ask me how I know this). If you use elastics the elastic will expand and contract with the widths of the stems. No more lavender all over the floor!

Love, Nebuchadnezzar.

Things To Do With Dried Lavender:

Baking: get a big jar of white sugar, and crumble several teaspoons of lavender into it, then seal it up and leave it for a few weeks. The lavender will give the sugar a lovely scent and you can use the resulting scented sugar for lavender shortbread, sugar cookies, or to enhance Earl Grey tea. Purists insist that you clip the bud before the flowers open. Some years I manage this, other years I leave it for the bees. The scent is certainly stronger before the flowers open but since I don't camp out in my lavender garden this is one of those Hit Or Miss Projects for me.

We've sometimes sewn it into sachets for clothes drawers. If you sew a little loop of ribbon on one end you can slip it over a hanger and scent your clothes that way. Add a little orris root and the scent should last that much longer.

FDPG likes to glue it onto her flower collages. You can also just leave it on the plant and let the birds pick it apart they want. Be warned, though: lavender is one plant that needs a good prune at the end of the season. If you don't you'll often end up with raggy bits that don't flower and a misshapen shrub.

Finally, here is the bird suet we make every whenever we accumulate enough bacon fat. I realize this has nothing to do with the garden per se but our family does a lot of catering to birds and insects, so this kind of fits in, right?

I freeze this stuff in sandwich bags because they exactly match the shape of my suet feeder.

Here's our recipe:

bacon fat (I collect it every time we eat bacon and store it in the fridge in glass bowls)
peanut butter
bird seed
other seeds & grains (oatmeal, flax, millet, sunflower, etc)

First you melt the bacon fat in a heavy pot over low heat, add almost equal parts peanut butter (I always freeze when it comes to adding equal parts because it seems like the peanut butter DISAPPEARS faster this way) and stir until the mixture is entirely melted. Turn off heat. Pour in lots of bird seed and whatever else you have handy. The idea is that you add enough seeds to make a thick, gloopy, stodgy mess. Mix it well then bag it. Then freeze it.


Samantha said...

I'm going to dry some of my lavender - thanks Nebuchadnezzer!!

I have to add a 'be warned' as well. If you don't prune your lavender, you will end up with little lavender plants all over the place. You will end up with so many, you will not be able to find enough people to give them away to, and people will start running away when they see you (especially if your hands are behind your back and therefore could be hiding a lavender plant). If you do not prune your lavender plants for seven years (obviously learning nothing from the previous years) they will take over your garden. This could be good or bad, depending on how much you like lavender (thankfully I love it)

Heather said...

I'm glad you don't prune your lavender, Samantha, it was so great to be able to make lavender wands thanks to your surplus of gorgeous lavender.

Shelia, I love this time of year - all sorts of little jars filled with plant matter and oil or alcohol sitting on all the windowsills and in the cupboards. It just feels like such an abundant time of year. Now I really want to try the St. John's Wort oil, it will enhance my reputation (within my family) as a sort of witch doctor if I can make the oil turn red. How cool.

sheila said...

Oh my, that NOT pruning my lavender might result in MORE lavender! The potential joy of it all. It doesn't seem to work here - I've not pruned my lavender and all it does is look pathetic. No little lavender babies anywhere. It must be the climate. That's it: I'm moving next door to you, Samantha. I WANT those lavender babies. Want 'em. Want 'em!

Witch Heather: Yes, I agree. I like being the witch in this family. Have you read The Wee Free Men series by Terry Pratchett? You might find some resonance with Tiffany Aching. I know I did.

Love, Witch Sheila

Samantha said...

If you moved here, you could have all the lavender babies you wanted!! I was actually going to send you some but I wasn't sure how they would make the trip to the coast.