Health benefits: Traditionally used to aid memory and boost circulation; also rich in antioxidants.
Growing: This Mediterranean native requires full sun and well-drained soil. A tender perennial, only hardy in very mild climates, rosemary is best started from a cutting or nursery transplant. Frequent trimming encourages fullness, so don't be shy about using rosemary.
Harvesting and drying: Use fresh sprigs as needed throughout the summer. Harvest any time, cutting back individual stems by a third. Dry in a large basket or on screens (toss several times a day) until crispy-dry, approximately one to two weeks. Strip dried leaves off of stems and store in a clean, dry jar. Label and date. Compost the stems.
How to use: Besides using rosemary in cooking, consider tapping into the herb's beauty-enhancing properties with the famous Queen of Hungary's Water -- a wonderful facial astringent or hair rinse. Here's how to make it:
6 parts* lemon balm
4 parts chamomile
4 parts rose petals
3 parts calendula
1 part lemon peel
1 part rosemary
1 part sage
Apple cider or wine vinegar
Rose water or witch hazel extract
Essential oil of lavender or rose (optional)
*A part can be 1 tablespoon, 1 cup, or 1 handful; just keep it consistent.
Queen of Hungary's Water How-To
1. Place fresh or dried herbs in a mason jar.
2. Pour in enough vinegar to cover the herbs by an inch or two.
3. Replace lid and let sit in a warm spot for a couple of weeks.
4. Strain out the herbs and compost them. For each cup of herbal vinegar, add 2/3 to 1 cup of rose water or witch hazel extract. Add a drop or two of essential oil if desired. Rebottle.
5. Mixture does not need refrigeration. Apply with a cotton ball after washing the face and follow with a moisturizer. Or, use it as a hair rinse.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Health benefits: A symbol of wisdom and longevity, sage has astringent and antiseptic properties. It's commonly used in menopause formulas and is often included in recipes for heavy or fatty foods because it aids in digestion.
Growing: As a perennial, sage is best started from a nursery transplant. There are many varieties of sage; ask for Salvia officinalis. It thrives in well-drained soil in full sun. Take care not to overwater.
Harvesting and drying: Use fresh leaves as needed throughout the summer. When the plant begins to form its flowering stalks, cut back the whole plant by one-third to one-half. The plant will come back stronger and bushier; you should be able to get another harvest or two. Bundle and hang to dry, away from sunlight in an area with good air circulation, until the leaves are crispy-dry -- typically one to two weeks. (Smaller bundles are better for quick drying.) Strip the leaves from the stem (compost the stem) and store in a clean, dry jar away from heat and light. Label and date; the leaves keep for a year.
How to use: Try this invigorating bath blend: Combine 3 teaspoons peppermint, 2 teaspoons calendula, 1 teaspoon rosemary, and 1 teaspoon sage. Place in a muslin tea bag and tie onto the faucet of the tub. Let the bath water run through the bag as the tub is filling. Let the tea bag float in the tub as you bathe. Safety note: Sage should not be given during pregnancy, to nursing mothers, or to people with epilepsy.
Health benefits: These cheerful yellow-and-orange resinous blossoms are most often used topically for their skin-soothing properties.
Growing: An annual, calendula provides garden color all summer if the flowers are harvested frequently (every two to three days) to prevent them from going to seed. It's easily started from seed or a starter plant. Prefers full sun.
Harvesting and drying: Harvest flowers when fully open. Cut flower stem at the leaf joint nearest the bloom. Then, cut the flower head off the stem. Compost the stem. Dry the flowers upside down on screens out of sunlight or in a food dehydrator until they are crispy-dry (centers take longer to dry than the petals). Store in a clean, dry glass jar away from heat and light. Label and date; keeps for a year.
How to use: To make your own skin-soothing oil with dried (not fresh) blossoms: Fill a mason jar two-thirds full with dried calendula blossoms. Pour organic olive oil or almond oil over the blossoms, covering them by an inch or two and leaving a half-inch from the top of the jar. (The herbs will expand a bit in the oil.) Using a chopstick, submerge any blossoms that float to the top. Cover tightly with lid, date and label the jar, then place in a warm spot for two to three weeks; every day, gently shake the jar and check to see whether any flowers have floated to the top. (If so, open the jar and use a chopstick to push the blossoms; reseal the jar.) Strain herbs from the oil through a fine, cheesecloth-lined sieve, several times if necessary to be sure there are no herbs remaining in the oil. Label and store in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Safety note: Calendula should not be used during pregnancy.
Herb Growing Tips
Starting herbs from seed: It is ideal to start your seedlings in a seed-starting medium, then transplant on to a good, light organic potting soil. Mix seed-starting medium with just enough water to begin to hold together if you squeeze a handful. Fill a small container to within about an inch of the top of the moistened material. Plant seeds according to directions on back of seed packet. Tamp down gently but firmly. Water gently but thoroughly. Label, date, and cover with plastic to hold in moisture. Keep the medium moist and warm (room temperature is fine) and watch for the seedlings to emerge. Once they emerge, remove the plastic covering and place them under grow lights or outside in filtered sunlight in an area where they'll be protected from wind and cold. The seedlings need to be kept at around 70 degrees.
Once they have a few sets of leaves, prick the young seedlings out with a wooden skewer, hold the plant by one of its leaves, not the stem (so you don't damage the stem), and replant it into its new pot, placing it at the same level that it was growing in the first pot. If you want to grow more than one seedling in larger containers, use the spacing suggestions on your seed packets. Water gently but thoroughly.
Using nursery-grown transplants: To transplant your starter plants to their new container home, make sure they are watered, first, to help keep the root ball in tact. Tip the plant out of small pot, gently tease the roots to help them find their way in their new container, and plant in moistened potting soil at the same level they were growing in their first pot. If planting more that one transplant per container, remember they need room to grow. Space them 4 to 6 inches apart.
Harvesting tip: As a general rule, harvest in late morning after the dew has dried.
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