The magnificent herbs and spices of South East Asia ( part 2)

We sailed in the MV Voyager  from Singapore to the port that serves Kuala Lumpur, we then hopped onto a bus which took us to the most interesting Forest  Research institute that, at the turn of the Millennium, started work on the official establishment of the Kepong Botanical Garden.

Forest Research Insitutue

The Forest Research Institute Malaysia  ©Jekka 2014

This botanic garden has a very interesting collection of Malaysian plants from the wild including this Cucumber tree which I had not seen or eaten  on my previous trip to Malaysia.

Cucumber Tree

Averrhoa bilimbi, Cucumber Tree  ©Jekka 2014

The fruit of the cucumber tree is edible, it tastes rather like Granny Smith’s apples.  It is eaten raw or cooked and then added to curries.

Interestingly they had not had rain for 6 weeks which is, I am led to  believe, is a hundred year record. This was very noticeable when we went on to see the Orchid and Hibiscus gardens which were certainly suffering from the lack of rain.

Platycerium bifurcatum and Platycerium superbum Stag Horn Ferns at the Botanical Gardens Kuala Lumpur ©Jekka 2014

This was made up for by this amazing Platycerium bifurcatum and  Platycerium superbum Stag Horn Ferns

The next day was a relaxing day by the sea  in Langkawi where I saw for the first time Catharanthus roseus growing wild along the seashore.

Catharanthus roseus, Madagascar Periwinkle growing wild

Catharanthus roseus, Madagascar Periwinkle growing wild ©Jekka 2014

This herb is extremely important in so many ways as it is used in traditional medicine to treat malaria, diarrhoea, diabetes and cancer.  Interestingly one of the passengers on the ship was a Surgeon and he told me that they used extracts from this herb in the treatment of child leukemia at Great Ormond Street.

Catharanthus roseus, Madagascar Periwinkle

Catharanthus roseus, Madagascar Periwinkle ©Jekka 2014

After our relaxing day it was off to Phuket where, with friends, we found, purely by chance, the Botanic Garden.

Phuket Botanic Garden

Phuket Botanic Garden  ©Jekka 2014

It was great fun, with the plants divided into rooms, for example Fern, Aromatic and of course, Herbs where we came across this interesting edible vine.

Cissus quadrangularis, Edible Vine

Cissus quadrangularis, Edible Vine   ©Jekka 2014

It is cooked  as a vegetable and eaten throughout Asia.   Medicinally it is used rather as we would use Symphytum officinale, Comfrey, to help heal broken bones

After these three contrasting days we had two days at sea before arriving at the unique Port Blair in the Andaman Islands which will be in the next part of this blog  .

Here at Jekka’s Herb Farm, spring has arrived and the Herbetum is flourishing.


Rosmarinus officinalis and Rosmarinus officinalis 'Foxtail'

Rosmarinus officinalis and Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Foxtail’ ©Jekka 2014

We are looking forward to welcoming all those coming to Jekka’s Herb Garden Design Master Class this Saturday.

Please note all the photographs are  ©Jekka 2014.   We would  appreciate if you would kindly respect this.


The magnificent Herbs and Spices of South East Asia ( Part 1)

When the RHS asked if I would like to lecture on the Voyages of Discovery aboard the MV Voyager sailing from Bangkok to Mumbai I immediately said, ‘Yes Please’. This being the first cruise in partnership with RHS Garden Holidays.

MV VoyagerI have always wanted to visit Thailand and India and see the Botanic Gardens and the new Garden by the Bay in Singapore.  So this was a chance not to be missed despite the fact that I am seasick  even when the boat is in harbour!


Wat Phra Kaew

©Jekka 2014

In Bangkok we visited the  Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew  where we were surrounded by the Tamarind Tree, Tamarindus indica,  which were not only lining the streets but were also  trained and pruned.

Tamarind tree plus fruit

Tamarind Tree plus fruit                                                                                    ©Jekka 2014

The young shoots and leaves are edible and are eaten dipped in ‘sambal’.  They are also used in the preparation of curry and other food in Asian cuisine where they add the sour taste.  Tamarind is also medicinal, the fruit, leaves and bark are all used in various ways  to treat many ailments.   I have seen this tree before in Malaysia, but never have  I seen them pruned and trained.

Trained Tamarind

Pruned Tamarind                                                                                                ©Jekka 2014

Our next port of call was SINGAPORE.  We started our visit at the Botanic gardens which is renowned not only for its Orchids but also for its Ginger collection.      At the entrance I saw this Costus speciosus

Costus speciosus

Costus speciosus                                                                                      ©Jekka 2014

which is native to Malaysia . It is used medicinally to treat fevers and many skin diseases.  It is also reputed to have magical powers including protection from evil spirits.

Once inside it was, for me,  an exciting treasure trove.

Torch Ginger

Etlinger elatior                                                                                                       ©Jekka 2014

This magnificent Ginger is Etlinger elatior, Torch ginger, a  native of Malaysia where it is used in traditional Malay cooking; the flower bud, flowers and flowering stem are all used.

Sadly our time there was far too short as we had to visit the stunning ‘Gardens by the Bay’.

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens By the Bay                                                                                               ©Jekka 2014

It is difficult to imagine that this is all on reclaimed land and that this garden was only officially opened in 2011.

The cloud forest dome

In the Cloud Forest Dome                                                                                    ©Jekka 2014

The Cloud Forest Dome  has the best living wall I have ever seen, it left me speechless.

However my favourite part, from purely showing how imaginative and innovative these gardens are , was the Super Tree Grove

Super Tree Grove

The Super Tree Grove                                                                                    ©Jekka 2014

The Supertrees  are very impressive; they are embedded with environmentally sustainable functions like photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy and they are connected with sky walkways which give a wonderful view across the bay to Singapore.

In my next blog, after our open days which start this Friday 4th and Saturday 5th I will describe the next part of our journey from Singapore to Sri Lanka via the Andaman Island.

Please note all the photographs are  ©Jekka 2014.   We would  appreciate if you would kindly respect this.

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

Caribbean Herbs

This time last week I was sitting outside eating my lunch of  prawn salad and freshly picked avocado, it was a delicious  28°C (82F°), I was in Paradise.

Prawn Salad

That is one of the pleasures of travelling to different countries.    Just recently I was lucky enough to spend a short time on the magical island of Nevis.

Nevis, is a very unspoilt Island, which was a privilege to visit.

While there I found some very interesting herbs, some I knew and grow in the UK, for example the Plectranthus amboinicus.

Broad leaf thyme, Cuban Oregano, Basil, are many of the common names used to identify this herb

Plectranthus amboinicus , Broad leaf thyme, Cuban Oregano, Basil, are many of the common names used to identify this culinary and medicinal herb.

and some like the  Blighia sapida I have never seen before.

The Akee tree was brought to the Caribbean in the 18th Century. The aril is the only edible and only when the plant has turned red and split open, when unripe or overripe it is poisonous!!!

Blighia sapida, the Akee tree, Egg Yolk, was brought to the Caribbean in the 18th Century. The aril is the only edible part and only when the plant has turned red and split open, when unripe or overripe it is poisonous!!!

The Mango. The fruit is well known, the leaves produce a yellow dye and the bark of the tree provides a tannin

Mangifera indica, the Mango. The fruit is well known, the leaves produce a yellow dye and the bark of the tree provides a tannin

Gardenia taitensis , used medicinally to treat fevers and coughs.  The flowers are used in perfumery

Gardenia taitensis , Tiare Flower, used medicinally to treat fevers and coughs. The flowers are used in perfumery

Annona muricata, Soursop, The fruit is oven served as a cream or as soursop ice-cream.

Annona muricata, Soursop, The fruit is often served as a cream or as soursop ice-cream.

Tamarindus indica, Tamarind, the fruit is used as a seasoning for fish amd meat dishes, it is also added to curies.  It is one of the main ingredients in Angostura Bitters it is also an ingredient in Worcester Sauce.  Medicinal used as a mild laxative.

Tamarindus indica, Tamarind, the fruit is used as a seasoning for fish and meat dishes, it is also added to curries. It is one of the main ingredients in Angostura Bitters, it is also an ingredient in Worcester Sauce. Medicinally used as a mild laxative.

Sterculia foetida,Java-Olive, Skunk tree, Poon tree. Some sources report the seeds to be edible raw, but other sources state should be roasted first

Sterculia foetida, Java-Olive, Skunk tree, Poon tree. The flowers smell awful hence its botanical name.  The seeds are high in oil, some say they can be eaten raw, but others say they  should be roasted first; so please double check before eating!!

The last time I saw Couroupita guianensis, was in the botanical garden in Penang, where they have a spectacular example which made an indelible impression. So I was fascinated and pleased to find a smaller specimen of this rare tree on the island.

Couroupita guianensis, The flowers of Cannonball Tree have a wonderful smell and can be used to scent perfumes and cosmetics. The hard shells of the fruit are sometimes used as containers.

So if you are lucky enough to be visiting the Caribbean look out for these stunning plants for ‘Nature is amazing’.

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.

The proverbial British weather Part 2.

The weather has, to put it concisely, been mind focusing. On wednesday 2nd February

it was Candlemas day, in the USA it is called Ground Hog Day.  There are numerous sayings regarding Candlemas ; ‘If Candlemas day be fair and bright, Winter will have another fight. If Candlemas day brings cloud and rain, Winter won’t come again.’ and ‘If Candlemas day is bright and clear there will be two winters in the year’.  As you are probably all aware it was bright and clear!!!

Today as I sit here writing this  blog watching the snow flakes silently settle

I am pondering where we are going to put next weeks potting. So all you gardeners, who do not have a glasshouse or warm propagation house,  close up your sheds, put away your hoes, get the gardening books out and wait. Your turn will come in March and then you will be running to make up time.

Despite the weather  it  been full steam ahead  on the herb farm , potting up and sowing seeds .

 All the newly potted stock has been placed under horticultural fleece  to keep it warm.  While we have been doing that Hannah,  Annabel and Graham, our web guru,  have been putting the finishing touches to our new website.

It looks great and I especially like the seed section in the on line shop as Graham and Hannah have magically transferred my information into simple clear graphics, so you can see at a glance when to sow the seed,where to sow, under cover or in the garden, and when to harvest.

So please visit it next week when it should go live!  and do let us know what you think and more importantly if you find any snags.