Sunday, August 24, 2014

Cindy's August Newsletter from The Herb Cottage- I Like Tea!

I like tea! I like iced tea and I like hot tea. I like black tea. I like green tea. I like mint tea, hibiscus tea, tea with lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon basil, lemon thyme, fennel, lavender thyme, olive leaf, holy basil, licorice root, chamomile, rose petals... you get the idea. 

Properly, only an infusion of leaves from the Camelia sinensis plant is to be called "tea". That is the plant black tea, green tea and white tea is made from. This includes all the variations of black tea such as Oolong, Darjeeling, English Breakfast and Earl Grey, any green tea variety and the delicate white tea. All other drinks made with herbs and spices infused in water are officially called "tisanes".

Botanical Print of Camellia sinensis

Botanical drawing from 1896 in the Wikipedia article on Camelia sinensisHere is more info on the tea plant and types of tea.

For the sake of ease and modernity, I call all infused drinks "tea". OK- that's settled. 

As any experienced herbalist or novice herb grower knows, making herb tea is a simple way to use herbs, to enjoy the flavor and aroma of a particular herb or blend of herbs and to extract the health benefits of an herb.

This is a terrific time of year to collect herbs for tea. Whether you live in the northeastern U.S. and are looking at a cold, snowy winter where your outdoor herbs are no longer available, you live where your herbs still look great and are full and lush looking, or you live in Texas where we're experiencing great heat and drought right now, this is a good time to harvest and dry your herbs for winter use.

Tulsi, Holy Basil Plant

Holy Basil, aka Tulsi, growing at The Herb Cottage. A wonderful, healthful tea herb!

If you live in parts of the U.S. where the winters are cold and often fall below freezing, you'll be looking at your garden right now realizing the beautiful growth you've enjoyed all summer is soon to be gone. It's time to go out to your gardens and start harvesting your herbs. You don't want to lose all those lovely herbs to the first frost.

Actually, you can harvest herbs that have been frozen outdoors. I harvest my lemon grass after it freezes. Just like freeze drying in your freezer! 

Collect your herbs, wash them if necessary and let them dry off as much as you can... pat them dry, use a salad spinner or shake off as much water as possible. Label and bundle the herbs for hang drying in a dry, cool, airy place or place them on screens and dry them flat. You can even use your dehydrator.

Or, use your frost free refrigerator if you have room. Simply roll the fresh herbs in paper towels, write the date and variety of herb on the towel and place in a frost free refrigerator for a few days. Check and see if they're dry. If not, roll them back up and leave them another day or two. You can fit a lot of herbs in your fridge this way. Just be sure to label them because sometimes it's hard to tell lemon balm from a lemon mint when the leaves are dried.Here is a more complete article I wrote on this technique for drying herbs.

If you live where your herbs are being stressed by heat and drought and thus looking poorly- like at my place these last few weeks!- go ahead and trim your herbs back now. You'll need less water to keep them alive and they'll reward you by flushing out with lots of new growth as soon as the temperatures cool down a bit.

Dried mint leaves on plant

As you can see, the upper parts of these mints in small pots could not take the heat! Below the soil are lots of viable roots which will sprout or can be taken out of the pot and set in new, small pots to grow out into new plants. The dried parts can be used for tea!

Some herbs can be pruned back harder than others. Be gentle with the thyme and rosemary. Only cut them back by about 1/3. Members of the oregano family, including all types of oregano and marjoram, can be cut back hard- to the soil level, if you like. New shoots will appear shortly. Just be sure to keep the soil a bit moist in this heat. Or, just cut back about 1/2 the length of the stems. New growth will appear on the stems.

Mint growing out in pot

This mint plant was cut back to the soil line about 3 weeks ago. I kept it watered and in the shade. It's doing beautifully now. 

Lemon verbena suffers this time of year at my place. So, I prune it back by about 1/2 and it bounces back beautifully. Another herb that doesn't seem happy in my Texas heat is lemon balm. I cut it all the way to the ground as soon as it is done flowering and the bees have extracted all the nectar they can. It grows out into a nice, compact bushy plant starting in mid-September.

If you have basil that has yet to seed out or is just starting to seed, this is the time to harvest it for zesty pesto or to freeze for future use. Basil can certainly be dried like any other herb. I personally think it loses most of its flavor when dried. If I want to preserve basil alone, I chop it, place the chopped pieces in ice cube trays, pour some hot water over it to blanch it and freeze it. Then, I use it in soups, stews, sauces and the like all winter long.

Here's an article from earlier this summer all about pesto, including ones made with basil.

A Tea Making Refresher

There are basically two ways to make tea- an infusion and a decoction.

For either method the rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon of dried material or 2 teaspoons of fresh material per cup. Adjust to your own palate, of course.

Tea Pot with Tea

Tea Pot with tea bag, a tea ball and loose tea- all ready for Tea Time!

Infusion- pour hot- just boiled- water into a cup or tea pot containing the herbs, steep for 5-10 minutes, strain and enjoy. Feel free to add honey, agave nectar, stevia or - gasp!- sugar to sweeten. If you grow stevia, throw a few leaves in your tea pot to sweeten the whole batch. This method is used for black and green teas whether in a tea bag, tea ball or loose in a pot. It is also used for most leafy herbs and flowers which might go in your tea.

Decoction- add cold water and herbs or spices to a non-reactive sauce pan- glass, stainless steel, ceramic work great- bring the water to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer gently for 10-30 minutes, depending on the material. This method is used for any non-leafy, hard or brittle material such as seeds, roots and bark.

Some leaves also need a short simmer. Olive leaf and eucalyptus are examples of leaves that need to be decocted rather than infused because the leaves are very hard, unlike mints, lemon balm and such. Simmering for 10-20 minutes is long enough to extract the flavor and other properties of the leaves.

What Herbs Can I Use For My Tea?

If you're unsure what herbs are good for tea, remember- any herb you can use for cooking- and more!- can be used for tea. Thoughout the ages, tea has been a common way to get the medicinal properties of plants into our bodies as well as to quench thirst or to simply enjoy the flavor of an herb. If you like the way a particular herb tastes or smells, try it in tea. Make a light brew at first so you're not overwhelmed by the flavor. Or add it to a familiar tea to see how it blends.

3 types of tea on cutting board

Here are 3 types of dried tea: on the left is green tea, center is hibiscus flowers and on the right is olive leaf. All make delicious, fragrant tea!

Many herbs that we do not use for flavoring but for their health benefits are delivered in tea form. These teas are often made stronger than tea for simple enjoyment and are infused or decocted for longer periods of time to extract more of the benefit of the herbs. This practice can cause the brew to become bitter, so often honey is added to make it more palatable.

A Word of Caution
Herbs are plants. Some people have allergies to plants. For instance, if you have an allergy to ragweed, chamomile tea is not recommended for you. There are other teas with calming effects that you can substitute for chamomile. If you are pregnant or nursing, some herbs in medicinal strength are contraindicated. 

Most herbs prepared and enjoyed simply for their flavor and aroma are perfectly safe for "most" people. If you're trying a particular herb in tea for the first time, be safe and only drink a little until you see if your body likes it or not.

Tea pot, Japanese cup and green tea

Ready to make some aromatic and flavorful green tea. The green tea has roasted rice in it. What a flavor the rice adds- toasty!

Many, many people use herb teas to calm them before bedtime, to energize them during the day, to help boost the immune system, to calm an upset stomach and for myriad other reasons. Those people know the teas they choose work for them.

But, make no mistake- if you plan to use herbs as "medicine", respect their strength. Just because something is natural, found in nature, does not mean it's not powerful. Do your homework. There is lots of good, solid information out there in books and on the Internet to help you research herbs. Use more than one source and compare the information.

3 herb books 

And, why not enjoy a cup of delicious herb tea you've made from your own garden while you're reading? The world of herb tea is vast, filled with history, personal stories and, best of all, flavor!
green line


No amount of belief makes something a fact.
-James Randi, magician and skeptic (b. 1928) 

green line
Until Next Time,
Good Growing to You,
Cindy Meredith, proprietor
The Herb Cottage
442 CR 233
Hallettsville, TX 77964
phone & fax: 979-562-2153, cell: 361-258-1192
Visit Cindy's Blog at

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cindy's June Newsletter from The Herb Cottage- Beyond Basil Pesto

Basil Plants

Beyond Basil Pesto

Pesto made with fresh basil leaves is an easy and quick way to preserve the summery goodness of basil. Frozen, it keeps for months and has so many uses. In our household, fast food is cooking some pasta and tossing it with thawed basil pesto, leftover veggies- especially roasted or grilled- and adding a green salad. Voila! Supper!

If you like using pesto to mix with pasta, to top bruchetta, add to vinaigrette salad dressings or to flavor grilled or roasted vegetables, expand your choices by making pesto with other herbs, nuts, seeds and even leafy greens. Try different combinations such as basil with parsley, parsley with spinach, cilantro with parsley, lemon basil alone or mixed with standard basil or parsley... get the idea?

You can add different oils, nuts, seeds and cheese to alter the flavor to your liking.

You don't absolutely need an electric food processor or blender to make pesto, but it really speeds up the process. Any of the following recipes can be made with a morter and pestle. And, a food processor with its wider, shallower bowl works more easily than a blender. Either will do, though. With a blender, you just have to stop and push the food back onto the blades more often than with a food processor. Just be sure the blades have stopped turning before you stick a scraper or spoon into the jar.

Don't do what I did one time.... and stick a wooden spoon in the jar before the blades stopped turning. The spoon was jerked from my hand, bounced out of the jar, sprayed oil and basil everywhere and broke the spoon inside the jar. I threw the whole mess away and had to start over so I didn't have splinters in the pesto. Plus I had to wipe up oily basil from the counter, floor and other surrounding surfaces.
I reiterate.... wait until the blades have stopped turning before sticking the spoon in!!!
Any of the tradtional dairy cheeses in the following recipes can be replaced with vegan varieties, just so long as the cheese is hard enough to be grated. Seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin can be substituted for the nuts. Roasting the seeds or nuts before use will bring out their flavor.

To roast raw seeds or nuts, spread them on a cookie sheet and place in a 350 deg. oven for 10 minutes, stirring and checking frequently to avoid over toasting. Or, place the seeds or nuts in a dry fying pan, I use cast iron, on a hot burner and stir around until you can smell aroma from the oils released from the the seeds or nuts. Do not over brown. Roasted nuts and seeds can be stored in an air-tight container or frozen.

You can make fresh pesto every time you need it, but it's very easy to make a bigger batch when the basil or other herbs and greens are at their peak.

Pesto freezes wonderfully. I like to freeze it in ice cube trays overnight then transfer the cubes to a big plastic freezer bag. One cube is one serving of pesto to mix with pasta. Be sure to mark the bag with the type of pesto inside. Parsley, basil, cilantro, spinach and arugula can all look alike after they're frozen!

Some people leave the cheese out when freezing pesto and mix it in after the pesto is thawed. I've never done that. My pesto is ready to go when it's thawed. It tastes great and the texture and color is perfect!
Following are some recipes to get you started, along with info and ideas for uses of pesto, storing and freezing.
Traditional Basil Pesto
Basil Pesto
Picture courtesy of

  • 2 cups clean basil leaves (you can use all one variety or mixed varieties, according to your taste)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup nuts. Pinenuts are traditional, but I use pecans because they grow here on our farm.
  • 1/2 cup grated hard cheese such as Parmesan or Romano, or a blend.
  • 5-8 cloves of garlic, according to your taste
  • Approximately 1/2 cup olive or other vegetable oil. This amount can vary depending on how much cheese and nuts you put in.
    Food Processor:
    Add all ingredients except the oil and process until the ingredients are chopped. Slowly add the olive oil until you have a consistency similar to that of mayonnaise. If you prefer, you can leave your pesto more coarsely processed... it's up to your personal taste.

    This is a little more work than using a food processor, but makes an equally delicious pesto.
    Place about a quarter of the basil leaves in the jar adding 1/2 cup oil, the nuts and cheese. Blend (I use the puree setting or high setting.)

    You'll need a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to push the mixture down onto the blades fairly often. ---See warning above!!

    After you have that first mix pretty well blended and the nuts are well ground, just keep adding the basil leaves about a handful at time until all the leaves are used up. If the mix is too thick, add a little oil to thin it down.
    It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth. In fact, I like the pesto a little coarse so I can see the leaves, but the nuts should be well ground.
    From The Herb Cottage Website
  • Basil, Spinach & Walnut Pesto

  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 3 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    Basil & Spinach Pesto, Nut Free
  • 4 cups spinach
  • 2 cups basil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
    Cilantro & Parsley Pesto
    Cilantro Pesto
    picture courtesy of
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro sprigs
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
    To turn this into a more Southwest flavored pesto try adding the following:

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/4 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 or 2 chopped fresh serrano or jalapeno peppers, seeded- or not seeded if you like it very hot

    Arugula Pesto
  • 4 cups (packed) arugula leaves (about 6 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 cup (packed) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

    Fresh Tomato Pesto
    Fresh Tomato Pesto
    picture courtesy of Farm Fresh Feasts Beautiful bounty for the freezer!! Great on pizza!

  • 4 medium or 2 large tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup packed basil, parsley, or arugula leaves
  • 1/3 cup salted cashews, almonds, or macadamia nuts
  • 1 clove garlic (or use some roasted garlic, if you like)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    Add everything to a food processor or blender and pulse until ingredients are chunky. Then, run on high to puree ingredients. If it's too thick, add a little more olive oil or another tomato.
    Roasted Tomato Pesto
    Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
    Picture courtesy of Oh She Glows
    Yields about 1 cup

  • 9 large roma tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup almonds, toasted
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup tightly packed basil
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus extra for roasting the tomatoes
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    Heat the oven to 400 deg. F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil- or use a shallow baking dish. Place the tomatoes with the cut side up and brush or spray with olive oil, adding salt and pepper to taste. Roast for about an hour, watching carefully during the last 15 mnutes. Remove from oven to cool.

    In food processor or blender, chop the almonds and remove. Then, add the garlic and chop. Next, add the basil and process until chopped. Now add the olive oil, tomatoes and chopped nuts. Process until desired smoothness.

    Pour over cooked pasta and enjoy! Or freeze as directed above.
    Recipe inspired by Oh She Glows.

    Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

    Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

    There is no oil in this recipe making it very low calorie.
    Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups

  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 cups sliced roasted red peppers
  • 1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons water, or more as needed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan- only 8 - 10 minutes, shaking the pan and watching closely so they don't burn.
    Add the pine nuts along with the rest of the ingredients to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add a bit more water if pesto is too thick.
    from The Food Network
    Numerous Uses for Pesto
    Pesto Butter Mash:
    3/4 cup pesto into 4 tablespoons softened butter.

    Pesto Chicken Salad:
    Whisk 3 tablespoons pesto with 1/4 cup each mayonnaise and sour cream. Stir in 4 cups chopped cooked chicken, 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1/4 cup each chopped red onion, walnuts and crisp bacon.

    Lemon-Pesto Dip:
    Whisk 1/2 cup sour cream with 1/4 cup each mayonnaise, Parmesan and pesto, 2 tablespoons capers and 2 teaspoons each lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper.

    Pesto Hummus:
    Mix 1 cup hummus with 2 tablespoons pesto. Top with chopped mint, toasted pine nuts and a dash of paprika.

    Pesto Croutons:
    Toss 4 cups bread cubes, 3 tablespoons pesto and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet; bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.

    Pesto Panzanella:
    Toss Pesto Croutons with 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil, some chopped tomatoes and cucumber, sliced red onion and more pesto.

    Pesto-Tomato Soup:
    Cook 3/4 cup chopped shallots and some fresh thyme in a pot with butter. Add 1 large can crushed tomatoes, 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 cup cream; simmer 20 minutes. Puree, then stir in 3 tablespoons pesto.

    Pesto Frittata:
    Cook 1 grated zucchini in an ovenproof skillet with butter. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped parsley and 2 tablespoons each pesto and grated Parmesan. Add 6 beaten eggs and cook until almost set, 3 minutes. Bake in a 350 degrees F oven until set, 15 minutes.

    Pesto Salmon Cakes:
    Mix 1 pound cooked flaked salmon with 1 cup panko, 1/4 cup pesto, 1 egg and 1 tablespoon lemon zest. Form patties; cook in an oiled skillet, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve with tartar sauce mixed with pesto.
    Ideas garnered from The Food Network
    Create Your Own Pesto Recipe!
    Use the ideas and proportions from the various pesto recipes to create your own signature pesto. Did you know the word 'pesto' comes from the Italian word 'pestare', which means pound or crush.? Think mortar and pestle- the original way pesto was made.

    Mortar and pestle

    Even today, some people eschew the use of electric appliances and only make their pesto by hand. I must admit, even though we have a lovely ceramic mortar and pestle, I've never made pesto that way. Give me my food processor!!
    Enjoy the summer with fresh pesto made with all the goodness from your garden, farmers' market or CSA.


    "You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them."

    Maya Angelou, Poet, Activist- April 4, 1928-May 28, 2014

    Maya AngelouUntil Next Time,
    Good Growing to You,
    Cindy Meredith, proprietor
    The Herb Cottage
    442 CR 233
    Hallettsville, TX 77964
    phone & fax: 979-562-2153, cell: 361-258-1192
    Visit Cindy's Blog at

    Monday, August 11, 2014

    “Summer Watermelon” presented by Pat Baugh

    Watermelon Slushie: freeze watermelon cubes and blend with lime juice for a refreshing slushie drink!

    SUBJECT: “Summer Watermelon presented by Pat Baugh

    WHAT: Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group

    WHEN: Second Wednesday of every month, next meeting August 13, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

    WHERE: ACISD Maintenance Department (Formerly Rockport Elementary), 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport, Texas

    WHY: To educate those interested in herbs.

    The really hot days of summer are upon us, and what better way to cool down than eating watermelon?! Pat has been doing lots of research on this summertime favorite so some on by for some demonstrations, tastings and recipes to cool down. 

     Watermelon Gazpacho Recipe

    Come and learn everything you ever wanted to know about herbs. Did you know that there are over 2,000 herbs and that roses are herbs too? And did you know that many of our Texas Native Plants are also herbs? Herbs have been used for centuries for not only culinary purposes, but also for medicinal uses, in cosmetics, cleaning solutions, clothing (one of which is Gossypium cotton), building supplies and art and craft purposes.

    Our herb study group was founded in March 2003 and meets the second Wednesday of every month at the ACISD Maintenance Department (Formerly Rockport Elementary), 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport, Texas at 10:00 a.m. to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs including the historical uses of the herbs and tips for successful propagation and cultivation. We are open to the public. Some members of the group are available as speakers to other audiences.

    The Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group, founded in March 2003, is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to increasing public knowledge and awareness about herbs.

    And some people were asking about the roses and Epsom Salts, so here is the information that I have.
    In Texas Gardener January/February 2003 issue, there was an article by Lillian E. Illig entitled My Secrets to Growing Great Roses. She has been gardening for many years in the Houston area, and the article is very informative. She states that she measures into an 8 ounce paper cup 3/4 cup of 13-13-13 fertilizer and 1/4 cup of Epsom Salts, and after the sprinkler wets the beds, around each rose without touching the stems, sprinkle one cup in a 6 inch circle and dig it into the earth and water again.