It's Wilding Wednesday already and there's so much going on at the reserve it's hard to choose one thing to tell you about. The gardens are tucked in for the season and we are busy indoors preparing for a season of exciting activities and celebrating with family and friends. To help keep us healthy and happy, I've dried so many herbs to use for teas, seasonings, and even minor ailments. There are herbs everywhere! Almost all of our gardens have something growing in them that can be used in some way during the winter months but I want to introduce you to a few of my favorites.
Spearmint and Peppermint
There are many kinds of mint growing in the gardens but the true peppermint and spearmints have the best flavor. Harvested in the early morning arter the dew has dried, these mints are gently rinsed, bundled, and hung to dry before being de-stemmed and stored. They are so prolific, I can harvest copious amount all summer long. Mints are wonderful pollinator plants so I'm are always sure to leave lots of flowers for our friends. Mints can be used in teas, fresh or dried in fruit salads, or to make herbal waters. My personal favorite is fresh cubed papaya with a squeeze of lime, chopped mint, and a drizzle of raw honey from our apiary.
Melissa officinalis is an amazing herb for soothing stressed nerves, anxiety, and digestive issues. With a light, sweet, lemony flavor, it can be paired with many other herbs for teas, herbal waters, and other infused drinks. It's name is derived from the Greek word for honey, which is no surprise given how many pollinators this herb attracts. It's very easy to grow, perennial and like the other mints it shares a family with, can be aggressive in the garden.
Tulsi or Holy Basil
With its tutti-frutti scent and sweet flavor, this herb is like no other. Grown in almost every household in India for it's reputed protective qualities, Tulsi is my absolute favorite. It's an adaptogenic herb which means that it has the ability to help the body deal with stress on a physical level. It can be consumed as a tea and mixed with other herbs and flowers such as rose petals or lavender. It's an annual which means in our zone you'll have to plant it every year, but it produces lots of seeds. You can either collect the seeds and grow new plants the next season, or you can allow Mother Nature to do the work for you and just wait for it to reseed.
Elderberry is the great healer. Folklore says that the mother elder tree was placed at the head of the garden to protect all of the other plants and ensure a bountiful harvest. It makes an amazing jelly, the sweetest wine, and a flavorful pie. Clinical studies show that elderberry is effective in treating viral illness which means that regular consumption may protect you during cold and flu season. I like to boil the fresh or dried berries with a slices of ginger and a few cloves, then mix the cooled juice with raw honey for a lovely syrup. Your kids will never complain about taking this medicine! Use caution with elderberries since the leaves, stems, raw seeds and unripe berries are toxic.
If you're plagued by insomnia, consider growing catnip. Gentle enough for babies, more mint-like than chamomile, catnip has mild sedative qualities that can help ease you into a slumber. Also called catmint, it's a member of the mint family, and it is indeed the same catnip your feline friends love to indulge in since it exudes feline sex pheromones. In our zone this easy to grow perennial can be harvested repeatedly throughout the season. Try a bit of cooled tea with a touch of honey for toddlers and young children who are restless.
Upset stomach and indigestion got you down? The anise-like flavor of fennel soothes your digestive woes. As a prolific perennial, it only needs to be planted once. It reseeds easily and can be a garden thug if not kept in check with frequent removal of young seedlings. As a bonus, it's the host plant to the gorgeous Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly and makes a beautiful ornamental backdrop plant in gardens.
An allergy sufferers best friend, stinging nettles are one of natures super heroes. High in vitamins and iron, they can be used for everything from medicine to meals. Picked early in the spring, they can be made into a nutritious pesto or mixed with peppermint for a refreshing tea. Be careful when harvesting nettles because, as the name implies, they sting. The leaves and stalks are covered with tiny barbs that contain formic acid, histamine and other acids which cause a burning, itchy rash...not to worry, it will subside in an hour or so. Like bees used in apitherapy, stinging nettle has been used for arthritis treatment and other joint inflammation issues. You don't have to grow nettles in your garden, as they are found all over wild spaces in our region. Just be sure to harvest from a clean area free from pesticides and herbicides. Use gloves when handling and be sure to dry or expose to heat before consuming.
I hope you all are able to enjoy a little of nature's abundance from your own gardens and if you'd like to try out some of our tea blends or learn more about the herbs growing in the gardens at WPNR, please join us for a Colonial Christmas fireside herb talk and tasting. You can find out more about this fun and tasty adult event and register below. Thanks for supporting us and check back next week for more Wilding Wednesday!
Jennifer Eppolito, Education Horticulturist
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