By Karen Keltz, Oregon State University Master Gardener
I recently harvested and dried lemon balm and chamomile from my herb garden. Herbs have started coming on now, so this is an alert to begin your processing if you grow and preserve herbs, whether for culinary or medicinal purposes, for enticing beneficial insects to your yard and gardens, or if you just like the smell and sight of them. I love to go from one aromatic herb to another and rub a leaf and smell, releasing my inner bee and butterfly.
I love lemon balm as it is a wonder herb. I learn more and more about it almost every day. It can be used in in your kitchen as an ingredient in soups, salads, desserts, and cold and hot beverages. Yum! I make a tasty, relaxing tea from lemon balm, chamomile and hops, but you can also add it, along with cucumber slices to water and let it steep to make a light, refreshing cool drink. You can rub it all over your furniture to make it shine. You can rub it all over yourself or add it to catnip and make an infusion spray to keep mosquitos away.
Lemon balm is easy to grow and grow it does! We have to dig and divide almost every year. You can also grow it from the seeds or from cuttings. The best thing is to have a friend who wants to share. Finally, one of the best things about lemon balm is its Latin name, Melissa officinalis, named after my beautiful niece. Right?
The other herb I’m presently drying and adding to lemon balm in a tea I make for my family and friends is chamomile. I love how the drift of German chamomile, Matricaria chamomile, looks and smells in my spring garden. Although it’s not a perennial herb here in my experience, it does reseed itself so you have it the next year, anyway.
The blossoms I pick and dry for tea fills the house with their sweet fragrance. I discovered a couple of years ago that there are two varieties of chamomile: Roman chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile, which hugs the ground, and German chamomile, which is around two feet tall in my garden. Their qualities are different as well, so which suits your purpose you will have to decide. You might choose Roman for its ground cover abilities, especially if you have a path or a rock garden, and German to dry for using in a beverage and in other culinary yummies. If you like to press flowers or are making potpourri, you might try drying the blossoms for those reasons.
Chamomile is even nice to other plants! Grow it near onions, cabbages, and wheat to discourage flying insects and increase crop yield. Grown with peppermint plants, it intensifies the oil of the peppermint. (2017 Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences)
If you are interested in herbs and want to explore their uses further, these are some recent books I recommend, plucked out of a plethora of others on my kitchen bookshelves.
• Alchemy of Herbs by Rosalee De La Foret. Hay House, Inc. 2017. $24.99
• The Herbal Apothecary by JJ Pursell. Timber Press. 2015. $24.95
• Herbs. By Lesley Bremness. Smithsonian Handbooks. Dorling Kindersley, Inc. 2002. $22
A tour of my herb garden tells me that the red-veined sorrel is ready to be used in salads and soups; the wood betony and angelica are ready to be dried; the mullein is growing its spire; and the fennel, which dies down every winter, is already halfway grown. The lavenders are just sprouting their scented purple parts! The new bergamots are taking hold and soon will sport little red heads. I spot a tall epazote plant, and the cilantro I planted a couple of weeks ago is almost ready. Something tells me we’ll be having lots of winged visitors very soon!
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