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Lemon Balm tea

Lemon Balm tea

Do you have lemon balm, (Melissa officinalis) coming out your ears this time of year?  Mine is ready to take over the entire perennial bed.  In addition to tasting great it’s also supposed to decrease stress and increase mental function so it’s time to get cooking!

Here are some of my favorite ways to use this abundant herb.

Iced Lemon Balm Tea

Ingredients for one glass:

  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup balm (fresh lemon, leaves)
  • 1/4 cup sugar or to taste
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • ice
  • 1 lemon balm sprig for decoration

Directions:

Put leaves in boiling water, add sugar and let steep until desired concentration is reached.  Squeeze in juice from one lemon, adjust sugar, add ice and sprig – enjoy!

Hot Lemon Balm Tea 

Ingredients for one teapot full of tea:

  • 1/2 cup lemon balm
  • 1 tsp lemon zest (grated)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 cups boiling water

Directions:

Put leaves and zest in pot, add boiling water.  Let steep about 5 minutes, add honey to taste.

German Erdbeer – This is a summer wine often imbibed at picnics

  • 1 pounds of fresh strawberries
  • 2 cups lemon balm leaves
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 bottle white wine

Directions:

  1. Halve the berries, then place them in the bottom of large punch bowl or glass pitcher.
  2. Sprinkle the powdered sugar over them.
  3. Add the lemon balm leaves to the berries.
  4. Pour wine over the berry mixture, cover, and cool in the fridge.
  5. Garnish with a sprig of lemon balm
Lemon Balm happily growing

Lemon Balm happily growing

Lemon Balm Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup fresh lemon balm leaves loosely packed

Directions:

  1. Stir together all 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Remove from heat, and let stand 30 minutes.
  3. Pour liquid through a wire-mesh strainer into an airtight container, removing lemon balm leaves.
  4. Cover and chill 4 hours.

Syrup may be stored in refrigerator up to 1 month or kept frozen for up to one year.

Fancy Fruit Cup

This one is so simple I hate to even call it a recipe.  Cut up your favorite fruit into equal size pieces.  Add chopped lemon balm and drizzle with honey.

Ginger Bug!

This zesty fermented drink is the base of a great ginger ale or beer.  You can also use it for rhubarb or other flavored sodas.

Fresh, organic ginger goes in with the peel still on.

Fresh, organic ginger goes in with the peel still on.

Making it is a easy as chopping up some ginger, putting it in a jar, adding dechlorinated water and some sugar.  The recipe calls for two teaspoons of ginger, two cups water and two teaspoons of sugar but I just tossed in equal amounts of ginger and sugar and splashed some water in.

Cover the jar with a piece of cloth to let in air but keep out insects.

Cover the jar with a piece of cloth to let in air but keep out insects.

Each day give it a good stir and add two more teaspoons of sugar and ginger.  After about a week it will start to bubble and you’re all set.  You can have it as is or I have been cutting it with some soda water.  You can also make a naturally bubbly soda with this starter but I haven’t gotten that far yet.

It's a bit startling to look at but it tastes quite nice.  The fermentation uses up most of the sugar so it's tangy and just a touch sweet.

It’s a bit startling to look at but it tastes quite nice. The fermentation uses up most of the sugar so it’s tangy and just a touch sweet.

Rhubarb Crisp

The rhubarb is exploding out of the ground – it’s time to make a crisp!  There are many ways to eat this tangy plant but my favorite way is in a crunchy, nutty, sweet and sour dessert.

Ingredients:

  • Fresh rhubarb stems
  • 1/4 cup tapioca or flour for thickening the juices
  • 2 cups sugar
  • One cup flour
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • One cup nuts

Here’s how to make this tasty dish:

Harvest rhubarb stems by pulling them firmly up and out of the base of the plant.  Trim the leaves and the ends off so you are left with the ruby stems.

    • Wash and cut into pieces about 1/2 inch wide.
    • Put the cut pieces into a baking dish, set the oven to 375 degrees
    • Sprinkle tapioca or flour and, depending on the amount of rhubarb and the degree of your sweet tooth, about one cup sugar over the cut rhubarb
  • Streusel topping directions:

    • Mix melted butter, oats, remaining sugar, nuts and flour together so it is a crumbly mixture.
    • Sprinkle this over the cut rhubarb
    • Dust with cinnamon

    Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the dish is bubbling, the top is brown and the rhubarb is soft.

    Ready to bake!

    Let cool a bit then serve as is or with ice cream or milk.

     

    Time to Dry Herbs

    Drying your own herbs is a great way to spice up your dishes, make nice presents and save money.   The fragrant oils are at their peak around mid-morning so this is a great time to harvest.  If you need to wash them then give a light spray with the hose first thing in the morning and pick them when they are dry.

    Chives

    I like to pick them with long stems so they are easy to tie together.  Once they are picked then tie them with twine or wire in a small bunch.

    Bunched and ready to hang to dry.

    Bunched and ready to hang to dry.

    They will keep their flavor best if dried in a cool, light free area.  I tie a rope across the rafters in the basement and hang my bunches from there.

    Sage

    Sage

    Check them frequently and take them down when the leaves are dry enough to crumble in your hand.

    Ready to store.

    Ready to store.

    Too dry and they will lose flavor, too wet and they might mold.

    Calendula flowers

    Calendula flowers

    Tomorrow I will talk about different blends you can make with your lovely home dried herbs.

     

    Pickled Snow Peas

    pickled snow peas

    So many peas!

    Each summer I start off eating the new pea pods thinking there will never be enough, soon it’s time for succulent stir fries with mushrooms and chicken then before I know it there are snow peas everywhere and I don’t know what to do with them.  Last year I tried pickling them and they are absolutely delicious!  They are great as is on a relish tray or add a nice zest to salads.

    If you have never canned and are gearing up to start this year or if it’s been a while it’s a good idea to get up to speed on safety issues.  This site from the University of Georgia is very comprehensive.

    If you have just a few pods, a lot of pickle eaters and space in your fridge then making refrigerator pickles is a good way to go.  These have a brighter color and flavor but must be kept in the fridge as the water bath canning is not done.

    If you have limited space or a ton of produce then most dilly bean recipes work well for pickled peas.  Be sure to follow the recipe exactly as peas are a low acid food and must have vinegar added if they are being water bath canned.

    pickled snow peas

    Pick and wash peas then strip off strings.

    • 1 pounds pea pods with strings removed
    • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • 2 teaspoons pickling spice, (toasting this before use makes it more potent and aromatic)
    • 2 cloves garlic
    • 1 and 1/2 cups white vinegar (5%) use commercial vinegar as homemade vinegars can vary widely and it must be at 5% to prevent bacterial growth
    • 1 1/4 cups water
    • 1/8 cup pickling salt
    pickled snow peas

    Pack into jars leaving a half inch of head space at the top.

    Instructions

    1. Sterilize your jars while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
    2. Wash and peel the strings off your pea pods
    3. Combine vinegar, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Pack your pea pods into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace (distance between the tops of the beans and the rim of the jar). To each jar, add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 clove of garlic and 1 teaspoon pickling spice.
    Garlic, salt and hot pepper are what I like to use.  Sometimes I add sugar and other spices too.

    Garlic, salt and hot pepper are what I like to use. Sometimes I add sugar and other spices too.

    1. Pour the boiling brine over the beans, wipe the rims and apply the lids and rings.
    2. Process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath (start timing when the pot has come to a roiling boil).
    pickled snow peas

    Here are the peas with the brine solution. They need to be well packed or will float up. All the peas must be covered by the solution.

    These can be put in the fridge and eaten in a week or water bath canned for later.

    These can be put in the fridge and eaten in a week or water bath canned for later.

     

    Crisp asparagus

    I have always love pickled asparagus but never thought to try making my own so I decided to give it a try!

    • The first step is to sterilize your jars by boiling them for ten minutes.
    • Next pack them with a clove of garlic and washed, trimmed spears. As with most canned products the fresher the better; these crisp spears were barely a day out of the field.  Pack the spears as tightly in the jar as possible as they will shrink during processing
    • Make sure to leave at least a half-inch of head room in the top of the jar.

    Once they are well packed make up a pickling solution with:

    • 4 1/2 cups of 5% acidity vinegar
    • 4 1/2 cups of water
    • 1/2 cup of pickling salt
    • Hot pepper flakes
    • Dill seed or other dried herbs to flavor your pickles

    Bring ingredients to a boil then pour this solution into the jars, making sure to cover the spears and leaving a half inch of space at the top.  Seal the jars and process for five minutes in a hot water bath.

    Let sit for at least five days for flavors to blend then enjoy!

    Making Rose Petal Beads

    Have you ever wondered where the name rosary comes from? Originally the beads were made from rose petals!

    Here’s how you can make your own scented beads.

    Pick lots of petals. They don’t need to be fresh but a strong scent will result in more perfumed beads.

    It’s ok to collect petals over a few days.

    Put petals in a blender with water and blend until they are a fine purée. The smoother the blend the smoother the final beads.

    Next step is to evaporate off enough water to make a moldable clay. I used a crockpot but you can also use the oven on a very low heat. High heat destroys the odor.

    Ready clay pulls away from the side and is easy to shape.

    Beads will shrink to half their size. I used a nail to make the hole for stringing.

    Drying beads. Turn them each day or dry them on a screen. Some got moldy on the side touching the mat.

    Finished necklace! The beads smell wonderful and body heat releases more perfume. Beads may stain clothing so do be careful what you wear them with.

    Goat Shed to Greenhouse

    The goats and chickens have moved out so time for a she-shed with a greenhouse!

    I used low cost cedar fencing boards and corrugated plastic for the walls.
    Once the walls were up time for shelves!
    With heating mats it was warm enough to start seeds.
    Happy plants!

    This 2.3 acre San Diego community garden is flourishing with 85 families growing everything from greens to bananas.

    The First Lady visited back in April, 2010.
    The path of the garden water.
    There are rabbits and chickens!
    Bananas and nopales

    Plant Labels

    Cut stick with a point to easily go in the ground.
    Shave off bark for a flat surface.
    Use wood burning tool or marker to write name.
    Ready to go!