Food For Thought: Herbs, Weeds, Blooms and More! Savor the Sweet Smells of Summer

It has been a dream of mine to plant an herb garden for use in cooking and also for cosmetic and medicinal purposes. This year I have a real herb garden, plus hope to take advantage of the many wild plants we have in WNC. I’m not an expert gardener and I don’t believe one has to be in order to enjoy the bounty.

Fresh Honeysuckle Blossoms

Fresh Honeysuckle Blossoms

I love to cook with fresh herbs but drying them is also quite wonderful, because then I have organic herbs to use into the winter. You can also store fresh herbs for a few days in a jar with water for the cut stems. The two methods I use regularly are air-drying or oven-drying but if you have a dehydrator, try that also. Air-drying works well for low-moisture herbs like marjoram, oregano, rosemary and dill. Herbs like basil, chives and mint contain more moisture and it’s best to dry them in a dehydrator or oven.

Cut healthy herbs, removing any sickly, dried or wilted leaves and make sure to brush away any insects. Gather 5-10 branches together and tie with string, twisty tie or rubber band. The smaller the bundle, the easier and faster they will dry. Put the bundle of herbs, stem-side up, in a paper bag. Tie the end of the bag closed, being sure not to crush the herbs, and poke a few holes in the bag for ventilation. Hang the bag by the stem end in a warm, well-ventilated room.

Any one who has been to my house has often seen fresh herbs drying on the cabinet hardware. I use the same method as above, but they are hung by a clothespin in the open air. I use herbs so fast that this method works well for me.

To oven dry herbs, place the herb leaves or seeds on a cookie sheet one inch deep or less. Put them in an open oven on low heat—less than 180 degrees—for 2-4 hours. To check for dryness, see if the leaves crumble easily. Oven-dried herbs cook a little, removing some of the potency and flavor, so you may need to use a little more of them when cooking.

Store them in labeled and dated airtight containers like canning jars, plastic storage containers or freezer storage bags—for storage I use small recycled tins lined with parchment paper or small plastic bags. For best flavor, keep the leaves whole in storage then crush between the palms of your hands or use a mortal and pestle or coffee grinder.

Each spring I am taken away by the scent of wild honeysuckle and roses and want to preserve and savor the sweet scents ( For the last couple of years I’ve tried to make a Honeysuckle Essential Oil that pleases me. Last year I infused the oil with crushed honeysuckle flowers, and this year I used crushed flowers and oil in the crockpot. Neither process has an acceptable amount of flower scent. I am guessing it has to do with the carrier oil having a scent of its own and over powering the honeysuckle aroma. Next time I will use a milder carrier oil.

I was able to make Honeysuckle/Rose Flower Essence Water that is wonderful. It’s a lovely mist that I use daily on my face and body.

“Honeysuckle is the flower essence that allows you to live in the present… The negative Honeysuckle state keeps a person ‘stuck’ in the past… and expecting nothing good to come from the future.”

I love being the ‘mad scientist’ in the kitchen. I often reinvent the wheel for the experience of it all and sometimes my methods work and sometimes not, but I always learn something. Although I strongly believe in only working with love in my kitchen, I sometimes try methods that produce items more quickly or easily.

Herbs have so many uses… you might want to try your hand at making herbal tinctures, salves, and infused oils for cooking. Or perhaps you will like herbal meat rubs, marinades, or brines.

Write to me and I will share more recipes!

Compound butters are my new project and I use herbs from my garden. They keep well and add nice flavor to cooked or already prepared foods. This recipe has no added salt for those on a sodium-restricted diet or you can substitute salted butter.

After my first experience making compound butter, I made the following chicken dish, plus Rosemary Roasted Potatoes and Glazed Carrots.

This entrée has no added sodium, but feel free to add a little Celtic salt if you prefer.

And then there’s PESTO! There are plenty of standard and traditional recipes for pesto that I am happy to share if you write to me. You can also try changing out the basil for kale and the pine nuts for walnuts in your pesto. For those of you who prefer a dairy-free version, try this almond pesto.

I’ve been slow to harvest and use weeds yet I know there are many easy uses and recipes. I would love to hear your experiences and recipes for using wild weeds. Send them to me and your recipe may get printed.

Backyard Bounty: 8 Useful Weeds: Dandelion, Chickweed, Sheep Sorrel and Yellow Dock, Plantain, Chicory, Burdock, Clover.

Proper identification of wild edibles is essential; you might want to invest in a guide such as A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Or take a ‘weed walk’ with an herbalist. You can grow weeds with virtually no maintenance in a container or your yard. Search (useful weeds) for more info.

I am happily starting to harvest wild blackberries near my house. I had some unlikely competition while picking berries today. My 150-pound Great Pyrenees arrived and was ever so gently picking berries from the vines and eating them… the thorns must be tough on his nose!

And as I write, the sweet smell of milkweed fills the summer air. “Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their egg.” Don’t cut or kill the milkweed… The monarchs need YOU!

Enjoy your time in the garden and kitchen! I sure enjoyed investigating and sharing my experiences with you here. Write to me with your ideas.

Flower Essence Water-Solar Method

Fill a bowl with spring water. Next, cover your fingers with a leaf from one of the plants or trees that you have selected so you don’t directly touch the blossoms. Choose flowers carefully and pick the freshest and most vibrant at their peak of bloom. Work only with organically grown trees and plants whose natural growth is as undisturbed as possible.

Completely cover the surface of the water with the plucked flowers. Set the bowl in a sunny spot where there are no shadows and where the sun will pass over it for the next three to four hours. Then, carefully skim off the blossoms with a leaf from the plant and pour the essence water into an unused dark glass bottle. You can pour the essence water through an organic coffee filter if preferred. Fill the bottle halfway with essence water and the remainder with brandy or apple cider vinegar or good quality rose water. These serve as non-chemical preservatives.

Notes: Glass dropper bottles: Should be rinsed out thoroughly if recycled or you can buy new bottles. Never use plastic. One fluid ounce is a good size. Water: Filtered tap water or spring water or bottled water works well.

Compound Herb Butter

Compound Herb Butter

Compound Herb Butter

1/2 pound unsalted butter
3 T olive oil
2 T fresh chives, chopped
1 T each fresh Thyme, Parsley, Rosemary and Sage, chopped
(or fresh herbs of your choice)

Chop butter in small pieces and leave out until softened. Put oil in food processor and add chives and blend, then add remaining herbs and process until you have colored oil.

Put softened butter in mixer bowl and whisk for about five minutes or until light. Add oil and herb mixture and beat for about two minutes.Immersion blender or regular mixer works fine.

Spread butter mixture into log shape on parchment paper. Use the edge of a baking sheet to form a tight roll. Twist parchment at both ends. Chill for about 2 hours.

Chicken Medallions with Roasted Garlic & Compound Herb Butter

Chicken Medallions with Roasted Garlic & Compound Herb Butter

Chicken Medallions with Roasted Garlic & Compound Herb Butter

1 large head of garlic
3-4 shallots
2 boneless chicken breasts
3 T compound herb butter
1 T olive oil
2 limes cut in wedges

Cut top off entire bulb of garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap in parchment paper and roast at 450° for about 10 minutes or until tender. Cool slightly.

Peel and thinly slice shallots. Cut chicken from the small end across the grain and into 1/4-1/2” thick medallions. Melt compound herb butter in hot cast iron skillet and add chicken and shallots. Then squeeze garlic cloves on top of chicken. Brown chicken on each side while slightly stirring shallots and garlic. (Don’t burn the garlic or shallots!) Squeeze the juice of one lime over the chicken. Do not over cook. Serve immediately; garnish with remaining lime wedges.

For a quick and tasty meat dish, use an herbal meat rub and cook. You can change the ingredients in the rub to suit your taste.

Herbal Meat Rub

1 T snipped fresh thyme or 3/4 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
1 T snipped fresh sage or 3/4 tsp. dried sage, crushed
1 T snipped fresh rosemary or 3/4 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse Celtic or Himalayan salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced

In a small bowl, stir together thyme, sage, rosemary, black pepper, salt, crushed red pepper, and garlic. Rub mixture evenly onto chicken or meat of your choice. Makes about 3 tablespoons rub, enough for 3 pounds of meat.

Dairy-Free Almond Pesto

1/4 C toasted almonds
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 C fresh basil
1/2 C quality olive oil
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Toast almonds at 400° on cookie sheet for 10 minutes. Combine all ingredients in food processor and process. Enjoy!

Wild Things Soup

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 cups chopped potatoes
4 cups chopped tender wild greens
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Tamari sauce to taste

Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil, stirring constantly, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the curry powder and sauté a minute longer. Stir in the potatoes and greens. Sauté briefly. Add the water and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Puree, then reheat and season with salt, pepper, and tamari. (Recipe borrowed from Mother Earth Living)

Sandy McCall’s day job is working as the Broker/Owner of Southern Life Realty. When she’s not being the ‘mad scientist’ in the kitchen or loving-up her cat and dogs, she enjoys being the Food Editor for WNC Woman Magazine and volunteering in the community.

[email protected] • 828-273-9755 • • Your Dream, Our Expertise … Matching People With Property!

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