Lavender Harvest

White and purple lavender in field

Collecting and Drying the Harvest

Anticipating a bumper crop of fragrant lavender this year after planting more than 30 ‘Phenomenal’ plants in the spring of 2015, I was ready. Ready with lots of purple chiffon bags for sachets, wreath wire forms, and hanging space for the dozens of hand-gathered bundles removed from a thriving hedgerow of lavender plants. And ready with some new ideas of what to try with my sweet-smelling harvest. See Lavender Honey-Scented Body Butter and  Lavender Honey Ice Cream posts for previous articles. The Lavender Honey Ice Cream is sublime!

White lavender is a great plant too

Just as the small purple flowers are opening, I get myself ready for the harvest. Using my sharpest shears, I cut right above the woody part of the plant. This action also prunes it, making the plant neat and tidy looking for the next harvest.

Gathering the harvest is a delightfully aromatic job with lots of bumbles and honeybees still attached. Not likely to sting, I gently brush the bees off while cutting, bunching, and stacking bundles. Gathering in the early evening, bumblebees tend to congregate and sleep on the flower wands, but the heat of midday is too hot for me to handle. I will take the bees anytime!

Cody loves lavender!

Taking about three years to reach full maturity, I can now cut about six to eight bunches per plant. Every year a few plants bite the dust and I fill in the holes with young transplants.

Half of my hedge is cut and you can see the one year old plants filling in

One bunch of lavender stalks fill your hand comfortably and I rubber band the bundle tightly. As the stalks dry they shrink and the rubber band shrinks with it. The band becomes a convenient holder to snag an opened paper clip which I attach to a braided rope hanging from my basement ceiling.

Hang up the bunches in a cool dark place like a basement

Look for a cool dark spot to dry your bunches to retain the best fragrance and color. Any bits and pieces of lavender stalks, I keep to use on the grill or fire pit for aromatic smoke.

Adding lavender bits and pieces to the grill gives food a wonderful taste

 

Wreath Step By Step

Making a lavender wreath takes lots of flower stalks but this year, I had plenty. Gathering a large basket of cut stalks all facing one way is your first step. Using plenty of lavender  to start with will ensure that as the wreath shrinks as it dries, it will still look full.

Creating smaller and shorter bunches for a wreath (about six to seven inches long) and wiring the bunches together makes it possible to create a beautiful fragrant wreath to hang in the house. Start with a 10 inch pinch clamp wire wreath base for a quick and easy method to make your garland. The only other supply you need is some thin wire to wind around the bunches. Your house will remain very fragrant for days after you create this beautiful circlet.

Gather supplies

Gather a large basket of cut flowers along with a wire wreath base and thin wire

Make a fist sized bunch

Bunch a small cluster of flower stalks about 6-7 inches long for a fresh lavender wreath

Wire to fasten stems

Wire the bunch together

Pinch bundle on wreath form with pliers

With pliers pinch the bunch firmly to the base

Keep arranging bundles on base

Continue overlapping each lavender bunch facing one way all around the wreath

Finished! Add a wire hanger to the back and let dry flat

Finished! Continue to dry flat until completely dry (1 week) and then hang

Add a wired moire ribbon bow to complete the dried wreath

Adding a bow to the finished product

 

Healthy Fruit-Infused Water

Cucumbers, mint, stevia, and lemon scented geranium are steeping in my pitcher
Cucumbers, mint,  stevia, lime, and lemon-scented geranium are steeping in my pitcher

It is hot here in Maryland and I am trying to quench my thirst with something healthy, no calories and with ingredients ready to hand – infused water. Its beneficial hydration in every refreshing sip!  If you often work outside like I do in the summer, there is nothing better than to whip up one of these infusions and relax with iced glass in hand. A good way to use left-over herbs and odds and ends from cooking, these additions can add pizzazz to your liquid diet.

Keep It Simple

When I feel the urge, I scout the flower and vegetable beds for something flavorful that I can throw into water to steep for a couple of hours. A variety of candidates will jump out at me, depending on the season. Stevia (the sweet herb substitute), cucumber, fragrant herbs, raspberries, blueberries, and mint are always welcome. Three or four items are usually enough to infuse a delicious flavor to my fresh well water. But something as simple as sliced cucumber and crushed mint leaves will do the trick.

From left to right - mint, cucumber, scented geranium, lime, stevia
From left to right – mint, cucumber, scented geranium, lime, stevia

Best Practices

  1. Be sure to wash off any chemical residue and dirt first. I garden organically, and know there is no chemical residue on my produce, but be sure to wash dirt and insect debris off. You don’t want any surprises…… like a Japanese Beetle floating in the mix!

  2. Use cold or room temperature water. Hot water can make things like berries fall apart.

  3. Springing for a fancy infuser pitcher isn’t necessary. Just use a clean glass or food grade plastic container.

  4. Cut up or smash (muddle) berries, squeeze citrus juices and use the leftover rind, tear up herb leaves, and throw in some edible flowers like beautiful blue borage for color.

  5. Infuse the flavors for about 2 hours at room temperature and then place in the frig to stop any unwanted bacterial growth.

  6. Keep the infused water up to 3 days in the refrigerator. I like to remove citrus, such as limes, and lemons within a couple of hours, as they can start tasting bitter. You can strain out any small flowers or pieces of fruit before drinking.

    IMG_7005
    A water-glass with a built-in infuser

     

    IMG_7003
    Stack your ingredients in firmly to release juices

Wash and add your selections to your fresh water and keep it at room temperature  for a couple of hours and voila’, you have those expensive flavored waters that you have paid a lot of money for.

A way to get rid of all my cucumbers!
A way to get rid of all my cucumbers!

One combination that I have tried is raspberries, lemon,  stevia, lemon balm, and lemon grass. The citrus notes give the water a refreshing zing and the raspberries stain the water a pale pink, kind of like pink lemonade. The stevia gives a sweet note to the water, but isn’t necessary. My stevia herb which is a natural sugar substitute, is growing like a weed, and I want to use it. The lemon grass is easy to use by ripping off a clump from the main bunch, stripping the leaves off, and slitting the fragrant stem to release those lemony oils.

Are there any benefits of infusing fruits/herbs instead of purchased flavored drinks? Yes!

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Herbal concoction

1) Flavor-Your home-made infused water will taste bright and tangy and full of flavor. I have taste commercially prepared flavored waters, and they can taste watered down and flat. Even infusing water for a scant 15 minutes tastes better than purchased waters.

2) Appearance- Wow-a huge difference from purchased flavored water! You are more likely to eat and drink something that is beautiful and colorful.

3) Calories & Health- No calories are in infused water. But purchased ones can have added artificial and non-artificial flavors and sugars. Staying hydrated is important for your health and what better way than to drink a batch of sugar-free infused water instead of soda all day long?

4) Preparation- Easy and quick to prepare with ingredients on hand and from your garden.

IMG_7059
Blue Borage flowers add color to this mix of lemons, scented geranium, mint, and cucumbers
IMG_7057
Gatherings from my garden

Flavor Ideas

Fruits and Vegetables

apples •  blackberries • blueberries • cantaloupe • carrots • celery • cherries • cucumbers • fennel • grapefruit • grapes • honeydew • kiwi • lemons • limes • mangos • nectarines • oranges • peaches • pears • pineapples • plums • raspberries • strawberries • tangerines • watermelon

Herbs, Spices, and Florals

basil • borage • cilantro • cinnamon • cloves • ginger root • lavender • lemon verbena • lemongrass • mint • rosemary • thyme • parsley • rose petals •  vanilla bean

Great Combos to Try

IMG_6999
Raspberry, lemon, and mint is my go-to infusion when raspberries are in season

Cucumber, Mint, and Raspberry

Orange, Mint, and Blueberry

Watermelon, Mint, and Lemon

Strawberry, Lime, and Cucumber

Raspberry, Vanilla, and Rose Petals

Blueberry, Lavender, and Borage

Kiwi, Cucumber, Honeydew and Honey (Yes, the honey is adding calories here, but hey, I’m a beekeeper!)

Cantaloupe, Mint, Raspberries

Raspberries, Lemon, Lemon Grass, Stevia, Lemon Balm

Lemon, Mint, and Raspberries

Rose Geranium, Stevia, and Mint

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Rose Geranium, Stevia, and Mint

 

 

Edible Flower Palette

Edible flowers are frequently for sale at farmer’s markets but most people are hesitant to take the plunge and actually use them in cooking.

Variety of edible flowers from the garden

Garnishes – yes, but actually eating flowers??? For most people that is a different story. But flowers can add a lot to the flavor as well as  appeal of a dish.  Go to Squash Blossom Latkes  to see what you can do with squash blossoms. Also, go to African Blue Basil to check out this great flower that makes a wonderful pesto. All basil flowers are edible.

African Blue Basil makes a great pesto
African Blue Basil makes a great pesto

 Edible flowers definitely add taste and flavor to a dish.  Bean blossoms actually have a beany flavor.  Nasturtiums, one of my favorites, have a peppery flavor similar to watercress, and their pickled buds can be substituted for more expensive capers. True blue borage tastes like cucumber, and  pansies have a lettuce like taste. For a crisp butter crunch lettuce taste, try daylilies. Maybe that is why deer like daylilies so much.

Collecting edible blossoms from the garden
Collecting edible blossoms from the garden

 

Top 20 Edible Flowers

Edible Flower chart from sugarandcharm.com
Edible Flower chart from sugarandcharm.com

 ( list obtained from http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/top-20-edible-flowers-from-garden-to-kitchen/)

  • Nasturtium

  • Angelica

  • Anise Hyssop

  • Bachelor’s Button *

  • Bee Balm

  • Calendula/Marigold

  • Carnations

  • Chamomile *

  • Chervil

  • Pansy

  • Chrysanthemum

  • Clover

  • Dandelion * {eating ‘em puts a whole new spin on ‘weeding’}

  • Fuchsia

  • Gladiolus *

  • Hibiscus

  • Impatiens

  • Jasmine

  • Lavender

  • Lilac

“Only the petals of these composite flowers are edible. The pollen of composite flowers is highly allergenic and may cause reactions in sensitive individuals. Sufferers of asthma, ragweed, and hayfever should not consume composite flowers, and may have extreme allergies to ingesting any flowers at all.” ~ Source HomeCooking/About.com

 

Edible blossoms-borage, nasturtium and chives, pansy, gladiolus, cardinal basil, daylily, pansy
Edible blossoms-borage, nasturtium and chives, pansy, gladiolus, cardinal basil, daylily, pansy

 

Uses

Beautiful cake decorated with roses and borage blossoms, made by Maria Springer of http://www.majaskitchen.com/
Beautiful cake decorated with roses and borage blossoms, made by Maria Springer of http://www.majaskitchen.com/

Edible flowers as a garnish make any dish look special on your table, but be sure the flavor of the flower compliments the dish. Here are a few ideas to beautify your recipes and perk up your taste buds:

  • Place a colorful gladiolus or hibiscus flower (remove the stamen and pistil) in a clear glass bowl and fill with your favorite dip.

  • Sprinkle edible flowers in your green  and fruit salads for a splash of color and taste.

  • Make edible flower ice cubes. Go to http://diana212m.blogspot.com/2013/02/jazzy-take-on-water.html

    Ice cubes with edible flowers

  • Use in flavored oils or vinegars, like chive blossoms in vinegar which gives it a pretty pink  blush color.

  • You can use them in salads, teas, garnishes, ice creams, etc. Lavender ice cream anyone?? It is delicious!

     

     

    The ultimate edible flower-lavender
    The ultimate edible flower-lavender

 Never use non-edible flowers in your food as guests will think that they can eat it. Poisonous flowers abound in your garden and be careful what you use!

When you pick your blossoms, keep them fresh by rolling up in a moist paper towel and keep in the refrigerator no more than a few days before using.

Be creative!

Roll the blossoms in a moist paper towel and store in the refrigerator

Eat Your Flowers!

Author Bio:

This post is contributed by Linda Bailey from housekeeping.org. She is a Texas-based writer who loves to write on the topics of housekeeping, green living, home décor, and more. She welcomes your comments which can be sent to b.lindahousekeeping @ gmail.com.

Beautiful Garden Plants That are Edible Too

Climbing Rose
Climbing Rose

We all love to make our yards beautiful but it is nice when we can make them functional too. While starting your own mini farm is not on many gardeners’ lists, you may be surprised by what plants you can eat that are attractive too. Here are a few examples:

Lotus flower forming the pod
Lotus flower forming the pod
Lotus pod
Lotus pod

1.     Lotus– If you have a water garden or pond then you may have a few Lotus pods. Grown for their beautiful flowers these water loving plants can also be eaten. The nuts that are produced in large seed pods in fall and winter are great to eat raw or roasted. They can even be ground into flour. Tubers which grow at the ends of runners underwater can be harvested in late summer and fall and used much like a potato. The tubers are great candied with a little ginger. Be sure to remove the green centers of the nuts before eating as they have a bitter flavor. A Lotus can be differentiated from a Lilly Pad because the pad of a Lotus is round, without a cleft.

 

Cannas in the middle of the container
Cannas in the middle of the container

2.     Canna Lilly – Also known as Cannons, these tall flowers are prolific in many yards. With leaves like a banana tree and big, beautiful multicolored flowers many gardeners love this hardy plant. However you can also eat some parts of it. The young shoots are edible as well as the tuber-like roots. You can use the large leaves like you would banana leaves to wrap food to be cooked. The tubers have high starch content and make great flour. Cut them up into thin disks and let dry. Then crumble into a bowl of water. The starch will sink while the fiber floats. Discard the floating parts and let the starch dry completely before grinding into flour. 

Lobularia maritima, Allyssum
Alyssum

 

3.     Alyssum– The delicate white flowers of this plant make it a common feature in spring landscaping as the heat tends to kill them off. Although it is also known as “Sweet Alyssum” it is actually related to the mustard family and has a similar taste. Both the flowers and the young, green seedpods are edible. They have a taste similar to horseradish and can favor dishes. The leaves are also edible and can be used like mustard greens.

 

Amaranth in front of Dahlias at Giverny
Amaranth in front of Dahlias at Giverny

4.     Amaranth– The red variety of this large leaved plant is often used in garden decoration. They also have a spike of tiny, clustered flowers the same color as their leaves. Both the leaves and the flowers can be eaten. Young leaves make a great spinach substitute in salads and older leaves taste good cooked. The seeds of this plant have a nutty flavor when eaten raw or they can be roasted and then ground for a nutritious and delicious gluten free flour. The seeds of this plant contain the amino acid lysine which is very rare for plants but vital for human health. A single plant can produce as many as 100,000 seeds, and the red variety is just as productive as the green ones.

 

Red Rose climber on my pergola
Red Rose climber on my pergola

5.     Rose  –We all knows what a rose looks like and smells like, but did you know you could eat parts of your rose plant as well? Rose hips and flowers can be eaten. Rose hips are the bulging areas that form below the flower. They have very high concentrations of vitamin C and can be made into jam, jelly or tea. Rose petals make a colorful addition to salads and can also make a wonderful light flavored jelly.

Rose Hips
Rose Hips

 

6.     Redbud  – The last one on our list is actually a tree. The redbud tree is used as decoration in landscaping duet to the beautiful display of pink flowers in the spring. The flowers themselves are edible and have a sweet flavor. Opened flowers are sweeter than buds. The seed pods that form after the flowers fall are also great cooked up in stir fries and the like. However after a couple of weeks they become tough and unpalatable, so harvest early.

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Redbud tree in full bloom on my property