Traditional symbols of eternal life and happiness

We have passed the Equinox and the nights are drawing in.  The bees and butterflies are making the most of the glimmers of  sunshine, feasting on the nectar of ivy  flowers as they well know that the weather is turning and winter will soon be upon us.   I have always been fascinated about the traditional and ancient uses of Herbs.

Ivy, Hedra helix L. an evergreen native herb which, in ancient times,  symbolised eternal life, loyalty, devotion and undying desire, for it’s well known habit of attaching itself firmly to a wall or tree.

Bay, Laurus nobilis, was also considered a symbol of eternal life. The Greek generals wore a laurel wreath in the belief that, by doing so, they could cleanse themselves from the bloodshed. .  The Romans, adopted the Bay as a symbol of victory. The latin ‘laureate’ means crowned with laurels, a synonym for bay, hence Poet Laureate.

And Myrtle, Myrtus communis,  a personal favourite, for it looks good all season long and is so useful in the kitchen. In ancient times, and this tradition has returned, was the symbol of love, marriage and fertility.  The Myrtle wreath was often worn by brides and bridegrooms.  In Wales it was believed that the destruction of the Myrtle is tantamount to killing love and peace.

So these three herbs, Ivy, Myrtle and Bay  when arranged in a vase to brighten the home in winter  symbolises happiness,  love, devotion and longevity.

Lemon Verbena, Aloysia citriodora

Now that the clocks have changed and the weather has transformed from winter to high spring over night,  it is the ideal time to prune your Lemon Verbena.

Be brave, cut back hard to just above a leaf bud or to where they will eventually form; they are easily visible on the stem.

By doing this now you will be rewarded with masses of new growth in the summer.

This will then give you masses of leaves too make  the wonderful tisane which is called ‘Verveine’ in France.

Alternatively you can make one my families favourites

Lemon Verbena Crème Brulee

My mother made the best crème brulee. Alistair, my son,  has inherited her passion for them and always rates restaurants and cooks on how well they make them. This is a wonderful recipe; the flavour with its hint of lemon sherbet makes this brulee very special.

Serves 4, Preheat Oven to 140°C/275F/gas mark 1

225ml milk

1 handful of lemon verbena leaves finely chopped, ( reserve 4 whole leaves for use as garnish)

7 egg yolks

100g caster sugar

60ml double cream

50g demerara sugar

Put the milk in a pan with the chopped lemon verbena leaves, bring to simmering point, remove from the heat and then leave to cool and infuse. Place the egg yolks in a bowl with the caster sugar and whisk until pale and thick. Add the cooled infused milk and cream, whisk well. Pass through a fine meshed sieve.  Ladle the mixture into 4 ramekin dishes and set them in a roasting pan. Pour in enough water to come three quarters the way up the side of the ramekins, pop into the pre heated oven and  cook for 1 hour or until set. Leave to cool and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top and caramelise with either a blow torch or by putting them under a hot grill. Decorate with some fresh lemon verbena leaves.

Recipe taken from Jekka’s Herb Cook Book

Bon Appetite

All photographs and text are  © Jekka McVicar 2012.  Please do not use without permission.

Making use of the Overheads

It’s been a dry old spring, that’s for sure. In the run up to RHS Chelsea Flower Show, we’re watering our show plants like crazy things and this year, unlike previous years, we’re working hard to hold them back. Everything’s topsy turvy. Still, we’re proud to report that the show plants are doing just beautifully – see these Chives that we’re growing for Bunny Guinness, for the M&G Investment Garden:

Chives for Chelsea

But even when we’re busier than a bee in a Borage field, it’s so important to take the time to appreciate nature, and the genuine pleasure and benefits the natural world gives us – after all this is one of the very reasons why we’re in the organic growing business!  So, when staff member, horticulturist, Harriet stumbled across this frog (who we’d like to name Myrtle owing to the plant of his choice but this might cause gender confusion) water-worshipping beneath the overhead watering system, we just had to smile, and be thankful. Of course, his slug-eating attributes will be very much appreciated by all of the team.

Making use of the overheads

Perhaps he chose Myrtle because it’s the herb of love: ‘Frog, seeks princess – meet under the Myrtle at 7′. Well, it will have to be the nearest stream, because we’ve moved him to a safe, damp spot. Here, hopefully, he will go forth and multiply, thus increasing our organic slug patrol.

Open Days – straight after the Royal Wedding

It seems the whole world’s excited about tomorrow’s Royal Wedding, and it’s infectious. Customers have been ordering Papavar orientale  ‘Royal Wedding‘ …

Papaver Orientale 'Royal Wedding'

..and Myrtle, ‘herb of love’, a sprig of which makes a traditional appearance in the Royal Wedding bouquet. This tradition goes back to the time of Queen Victoria, who planted a sprig of Myrtle from her wedding bouquet in her private garden – and it’s still growing there today!

Myrtus communis - Myrtle

We’re excited too, and it’s not just Royal Wedding Fever – we’ve got Open Days again, starting Saturday 30th April until Bank Holiday Monday May 2nd. Because we’re mostly an online business, we love Open Days because we can spend all day talking herbs – our passion – with our herb-loving customers.

We’re nearly ready now – the Berry Blue Creative Foods marquee went up this morning, so our visitors  can partake of delicious, seasonal, locally grown food  and relax during bouts of herb-shopping amongst our 650+ organically grown varieties.

Berry Blue marquee going up in the sunshine

Luscious, leafy, flowery herbs for Open Days

…and the herbs are looking luscious, leafy and some are even flowery – just in time for our Open Days!