Jekka’s Herbs at Canton Tea Co

LEMON GRASS

Mention Lemon Grass, Cymbopogon citratus, and it immediately conjures up the aromas and magic of the East.   Here in the UK only the stems are available from supermarkets for use in the kitchen.

PC43 stems

Lemon Grass Stems

It was not until I started growing Lemon Grass at the Herb Farm that I discovered how amazingly useful and flavoursome the leaves are both in the kitchen and for herbal remedies.

Lemon Grass leaf

Lemon Grass leaf

Lemon Grass is indigenous to Southeast Asia. Records show that the Persians were using it as a tea in the first century BC.  The first time I drank it as a herbal tea was when I visited Malaysia, it was served cold, which was surprising, but once drunk, one realised that it was a truly refreshing drink that cleared the palate and helped one unwind after a long journey.

All of us at Jekka’s Herb farm are extremely excited that we have joined forces with the Canton Tea Co to launch a range of Herb infusions, one of which is Lemon Grass.

IMG_6717

Lemon Grass tea from Jekka’s Herbs at Canton Tea Co.

Canton Tea are very resourceful at sourcing their teas and this is no exception.  I was very pleased to receive from them the following photographs which depicts  the Lemon Grass plantation at the Amba estate in Sri Lanka

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Amba Estate Sri Lanka

and not only shows the immense care that is taken in growing it organically but also how carefully it is harvested.

About 50% of the crop is rejected after sorting.

Harvesting lemon Grass

Once harvested the grass is cut by hand, which takes time, but ensures a beautiful product. So you can be assured that this is the best Lemon Grass tea you will have ever drunk.

Hand cutting

Hand cutting lemon grass

This herbal tea is immensely beneficial, it is a weak sedative and a stomach and gut relaxant, so it is ideal for drinking after a meal. It is also a good antidepressant and helps lift the spirits especially when one is in a bad mood.  But whatever your mood I can guarantee it will tantalize your taste buds and lift your spirits.

Food for Free this April in the West Country

Spring has arrived after one of the longest winters that I can remember.  It is joyous to be able to walk along the  lane and around our field and find so many herbs that one can pick and eat just as our forefathers did.

A Peacock Butterfly supping nectar from Ground Ivy.

A Peacock Butterfly sipping nectar from Ground Ivy.

Here’s fine rosemary, sage and thyme.                                                                                         Come, buy my Ground Ivy.                                                                                                           Here’s featherfew, gilly flowers and rue.                                                                                     Come buy my knotted marjoram , too!                                                                                Roxburghe Ballads ( 1740-1804)

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea

In mediaeval times Ground Ivy was used to treat fevers and coughs .  Today the leaves are great with mushrooms or for making a lovely spring tisane.

Primrose was the first herb to appear this year in the garden.

Primrose, Primula vulgaris

Primrose, Primula vulgaris

As the weather had been so cold and grey it was wonderful to see these cheerful flowers.   The young leaves can be eaten as a salad or boiled as a pot herb. Traditionally the flowers were ground with rice,  almonds, honey and saffron to form a ‘Primrose pottage’.

Cowslip, Primula veris

Cowslip, Primula veris

When I was a child Cowslips were picked to make a wine.  Nowadays, due to the fact that this herb has become rare in the wild, this is no longer possible.   Medicinally they were traditionally used as a sedative.

Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica L.

Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica L.

Nettles on the other hand are profuse in my garden, so here is a delicious recipe,

Nettle soup                                                                                                                                              1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped                                                                                     1 clove of garlic,                                                                                                                                   2 potatoes, peeled and sliced.                                                                                                        2 large  handfuls ( do wear gloves) of young nettle heads.                                                1 Litre of vegetable or chicken stock.                                                                                     Olive oil, salt and pepper,                                                                                                                   Cream can be added prior to serving if you wish, but it is perfectly good without.

In a large saucepan add a little olive oil, the chopped onion, garlic and potatoes and gently fry for 3-4 minutes.  Wash and trim the nettles, add to the pan, add the stock. Bring to the boil, cover, reduce the heat, simmer until the potatoes are cooked. Liquidise and add the seasoning.  Serve with a dash of cream if desired .

Wild Garlic is also in profusion. Normally it would be in full flower if not going over by now,  this year it is still in the green.

Wild Garlic, Ramsoms, Allium ursinum L.

Wild Garlic, Ramsoms, Allium ursinum L.

The leaves are great wilted in butter and served with mash potato or added to soups or stews for flavouring.

All photographs are  ©  Jekka McVicar 2013

Lovely Lumas , Chilean Myrtles

I have a huge love of the Myrtaceae family and  they are one of the many reasons that I started the Herboretum.

Luma display

Luma display

I have found that many gardeners know Myrtles but not Lumas and many  are confused as to which is which.  What is great about Lumas is that, whereas the Mediterranean Myrtle can be a little tender, the Chilean Luma is very hardy and has even adapted to my clay soil. Even though this year they have been crushed by snow, when everything else is taking time to recover, they are now looking lovely.

PL33 luma gleangleam in flower

Luma apiculata ‘Glanleam Gold’ AGM

Another plus that is, similar to Myrtle, if a branch does get broken  or the tips do get scorched you simply have to cut back  and the new growth will come from the old wood.

Luma apiculata AGM

Luma apiculata AGM, Chilean Myrtle

The Luma apiculata has the most attractive cinnamon bark as it matures and makes an ideal specimen evergreen plant within the herb garden.

PL75 Luma Nanum-2

Luma apiculata ‘Nanum’ Dwarf Luma

Luma apiculata ‘Nanum’, the dwarf luma, makes an ideal low hedge as it is very slow growing, it prefers a well drained slightly acidic  soil but will adapt to a well drained loam.

All Luma’s can be grown by the sea as their foliage is not damaged by salty water.

Luma chequen, White Chilean Myrtle

Luma chequen, White Chilean Myrtle

Luma chequen, is the most robust of the Luma’s. It makes and ideal tall edging, hedging plant as it can be cut hard to keep it in shape.

In the kitchen the leaves can be used to flavour soups and stews, but should be used sparingly. After flowering the Luma has a black fruit which, when cooked, makes a very interesting conserve, jelly, which is extremely good with game dishes. 

At our Herb Friday on the 19th April we will be offering 20% discount on all  Luma plants.

‘The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry’.

The weather has been playing havoc, not just here , but all over the UK.  I have been professionally growing herbs for over 30 years and I have never known a spring like it.  It is not just the cold winds and  the unseasonable weather it is also the low light level which is equally detrimental making seed germination erratic and slow.

Because of this unseasonably cold weather we have had to adapt our plans over the past week. It all started with Plan A  = plant the  Herboretum,

Luma collection

Luma, Chilean Myrtle,  collection

But with the change in the weather we then moved to Plan B = collect plants for Herboretum but do not plant as weather is too cold.

Thyme Collection

52 different thymes.

That did not work as it the wind chill got even colder so we adopted Plan C = make lists of plants which need to be collected for Herboretum.

Having finished collecting and making lists we  moved on to Plan D = make more labels for the Herboretum

Labels for Herboretum

Today the wind chill has become so cold -7C,  with a forecast for later in the week of -9C, that we had to implement Plan E =  cover the young  the plants that are already planted to protect them from the cold wind.

Covered plants

We open on Friday 29th March, regardless of the weather, with a little help from our friends who, despite the cold, came and helped us paint the old potting shed for our first Herb Friday.

Our friends painting

Having become a weather watcher I note, as I write this blog, that they say that on Saturday 30th March it will be 13C ! We wait and see with fingers crossed that the weather will turn a day earlier . Even though we cannot guarantee the weather there will be a warming cup of tea or coffee  and home made cakes; as well as some glorious herbs that have kindly decided to put their heads above the soil.

Spring Herb Watch

As we reach March, despite the cold wind, the signs of spring are now quite apparent.  The days are slowly getting longer,  the birds are singing beautifully.   Every morning and every evening I am accompanied, as a walk  around the farm, by the most beautiful song thrush whom I am pleased to say has a follower or friend near by.  Their song is so breath taking it makes me stop, listen and marvel .

Everyday  I can see  the signs of spring. The seeds of nasturtiums that I sowed  back in November are really beginning to grow away and flourish, they should be ready in time to adorn our retail stand at the RHS Chelsea which, as it is again situated on the main avenue,  has to look spectacular.  The French Tarragon that I bought into the glasshouse to  bring on so that I could start cuttings early is ready.

Photograph taken on 10.2.13

In our unheated tunnels  many herbs are growing well.  This Spanish mint has not been put off by the cold, grey  weather and  it is ready for picking to make a refreshing cup of tea or a mint sauce to accompany a  lovely English or Welsh lamb chop.  This mint is part of  our mint collection and will be able to be seen in the Herboretum at our Herb Fridays, when you will also be able to buy herb plants. 

Spanish Mint

The true signs that spring is on the way is in the garden,  many herbs are just begging to  emerge, chives, mint and  this buckler leaf sorrel  which can even be gently picked to add  a zing to a winter salad, or pep up a green sauce.

IMG_6566So, with spring in the air, it is time to get sowing, get potting and get outside.

It is 7 weeks until the first official day of spring.

It is officially only 7 weeks until the first day of spring, so I thought I would inspire you to grow some new herbs this year because herbs are the one collection of plants that can transform a meal into a feast.   Simply imagine tossing some Chive flowers, Wild rocket, chopped French parsley, amazing red Pak Choi,

some wonderful crunchy Purslane, and some hot spicy Mustard leaves with some Lettuce and you have a salad to whet all palates.

To me herbs fulfil everything one needs in a garden; they  look good, taste good and do you good, what more can you ask of a plant?

Herb garden June

Gardening for the table in landscape terminology is short term gardening.  It allows the gardener to experiment.  It also allows the gardener to be optimistic, for there is ‘always next year’.  So by even growing a pot of herbs on a windowsill or some rows of rocket in a container, it connects what you eat to the process of growing.  That growing process starts from the soil which is the engine of all gardening, be it in a container or a garden plot.   So for those of you who wish to grow your herbs in a window box or container it is well worth investing in a good potting compost .

French Tarragon

When growing plants in containers it is also worth investing in a good liquid fertiliser so that you can regularly feed your herbs.   Why feed the  plants?   Well, this is because the plant will quickly use all the nutrients and minerals from the potting compost and, to keep your herbs productive and healthy when grown in a container, you need to supplement their feed.

If the thought of Spring has inspired you I will be running a Propagation day course for 12 people at the Herboretum on April 6th and April 20th and a Herb garden design day course for 14 people on April 13th and May 4th .  And for those of you in the UK with eagle eyes the first ten of you to email the herb farm  with your postal address will be sent 3 packets of seeds, with our complements, to start your spring sowing.

New Year, New Chapter

Happy New Year , may 2013 be a bountiful.

At the end of December we started building the first set of raised beds which will house the plants that form the Herboretum.  After much deliberation we have chosen a company called  Woodblocx to supply these raised beds. For, not only had I  seen one of their beds at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show, but I also liked the design concept  which enabled them to be easily assembled on our original hard standings with minimum impact to the established farm.

Cleared Hardstanding December 2012

Henry and James, the proprietors of Woodblocx, kindly came down  from Inverness and spent a day showing us how to build them.

Building the raised beds

It took just three days to build 11  beds.

First side finished

Not only are the beds practical but they also have hidden secrets which makes them unique to the farm.  Hannah sent to Woodblocx drawings of butterflies, bees and herbs which they have etched into the wood  on various beds so creating a treasure hunt for our young visitors.

woodblocx illustrations copy

With the first 10 days in January being so mild we have been making the most of the weather and commenced filling the raised beds.

Filling with a layer of hardcore January 2013

We started with a layer of hard core to help with the drainage followed by a good thick layer of our recycled compost.

Filling with a layer of home made compost

We will then finish with a layer of top soil mixed with sharp horticultural grit.  The beds will then be left to stand for 4-6 weeks to settle so that they can be topped up prior to planting. Whilst these beds are settling in we will build the second set on the other side of the Glasshouse and continue with propagation and potting on so that we are ready for the grand planting and our first Herb Friday.

© Jekka McVicar , Jekka’s Herb Farm,  January 2013.