Herbs in August

August arrives with a spell of cooler weather, some much needed rain and a bounty of herby delights. 

Top L-r Yarrow, Elderberries, sage, orange mint // middle right - Basil // Bottom l-r mixed herbs, marshmallow, ground ivy,  rosemary cutting

Top L-r Yarrow, Elderberries, sage, orange mint // middle right - Basil // Bottom l-r mixed herbs, marshmallow, ground ivy,  rosemary cutting

HARVEST

As summer continues, so does the harvest season, with plenty of choices of what to harvest. From sage and oregano, to marshmallow and chamomile, herbs are growing fast this time of the year.

Basil, a particularly summery herb, is at its peak. Keep harvesting the tips to encourage the plant to bush out and produce more leaves. A lot of the mints, like peppermint, spearmint, and all their different cultivars, are now flowering. If you're growing different varieties and don't want them to hybridise, keep snipping the flowering stems before they mature into seeds.

There is also much to be found in the wild, including yarrow, meadowsweet, ground ivy, mugwort and elderberries.

MAKE

Use the heat and energy from all the sunshine we've been having to make a sun-infused tea. Fill a bottle with water, add herbs and put it out in the sun to infuse for a few hours. The result is a lovely mild infusion that is just perfect at the end of a hot day.

For an extra-refreshing drink, go for ice-tea. It can be made either by brewing tea as you normally would, leaving it to cool and then refrigerating, or by making a really strong brew and adding lots of ice. Either way, it's a lovely way to keep hydrated and cool.

If you want to go another step further, brew a strong pot of tea, pour it into ice lolly moulds, freeze for a few hours and voila, herbal ice lollies are on the menu. Mixing herbs like liquorice, sweet cicely and fennel into the brew will add natural sweetness, making these herbal delights feel even more like a treat.

IN THE GARDEN

August is a great time to take semi-ripe cuttings, which is an excellent way to start or expand your herb collection - easy, efficient and inexpensive! Cuttings taken this time of the year work well for a lot of the plants in our herb garden - particularly herbaceous plants like mint and oregano, evergreens like rosemary and sage, shrubs like rose and honeysuckle, and even evergreen trees like bay.  

It goes without saying that with all this heat, and almost no rain in the past couple of months, most garden plants need our help to stay hydrated, so don't forget to water well. Remove dried or fading leaves to help invigorate plants and watch out for any signs of pests and diseases.

Seeds have already started ripening, so if you have let any of your flowering plants mature in order to save seed, keep an eye on the seed heads. You want to collect them once they are fully mature and no longer green, but before the seeds naturally drop to the ground. Some of the seeds we’ve been collecting or are currently watching include poppies, calendula, coriander, mullein and hollyhock.

Trim Lavender plants after they've finished flowering for the first time to encourage a second flush of blooms. Cut the stems to 1 to 3 inches below the flowers, but be careful not to cut into old wood, as it might not grow back.

SOW

Now is a good time to sow biennial herbs like parsley. Or, why not try one of the less common plants in the same family, like chervil and carawayViolas, poppies, and calendulas can also be sown now to overwinter and provide earlier flowers next Spring. If you're looking for herbs you can start now and still get a crop this season, go for fast growing plants like dill and coriander.

INNER GARDENING

Summer this year has been like no other with continual 27 degrees C+ days and very little rain. For gardeners it has presented extra challenges, more work and also an opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the British rain; the free, abundant supply of water that normally falls from our skies so regularly, nourishing the plants, soil and making our jobs much easier!

Is there anything in your life that you moan about but if it wasn’t there you’d begin to miss and come to appreciate? Perhaps your boss who is always piling more work on your desk with no extra pay but whose expertise you’ve learnt a lot from? Your friend who always talks about their boyfriend but whose company you love and you share the same interests as? Gardening certainly has the capacity to change our relationship to the weather just as we always have the opportunity to change negative attitudes and thinking to more positive ones. This month, is there something that isn’t quite perfect that you could reframe in a more positive way that’ll not only benefit you but also the people around you?

Word Camila B & Amy B

Herb Highlight // Lemon balm

Botanical name: Melissa officinalis

Native to: S. Europe, Asia and North Africa. Naturalised in Britain.

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It's always a joy to see lemon balm springing back to life, a gentle reassurance that spring is definitely here! It is a herb that has always been associated with raising spirits and lifting the heart.The Arabian herbalist Avicenna (980-1037) said that Lemon balm "causeth the mind and heart to be merry". Recent research has shown that it can be an effective remedy for anxiety, depression and insomnia owing to its mild sedative properties. It's also a great herb for bees which go wild for its small white flowers and its botanical names is derived from the Greek word Melissa which means 'bee'. 

Our favourite way to enjoy lemon balm is in a hot infusion but you can also preserve it with honey or sugar to extend its short season. It can be enjoyed as a dried herb but it does lose some of its flavour during the drying process. Have a go at these simple recipes. 

Lemon balm honey

Fill a jam jar half full with fresh leaves and then fill with honey. Leave to infuse for 4 weeks and then strain. Use for deserts and cooking or have a spoonful in a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon. 

Lemon balm syrup

Dissolve 100g sugar with 100ml water in a saucepan on a low heat and then simmer lightly for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add in a generous handful of fresh leaves. Leave to infuse with the lid on the pan for a few house or overnight and then strain out the leaves. Use to sweeten drinks.

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Herb Highlight // Pot Marigold

Botanical name: Calendula Officinalis
Native to: Southern Europe

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It's very easy to grow marigolds from seed. They grow happily outdoors either in a pot or in the ground and can also be grown indoors in a sunny spot next to a window. You can sow seeds outdoors in March or if you are keen to get going you can start them off indoors in February.

They are an annual plant - completing their life cycle in one year - and they drop plenty of seeds allowing new plants to grow in the next season. You can also collect some of the seeds at the end of summer to sow again the following year.
 
How to use


We mainly use our calendula to make an infused oil, the basis for all our herbal cosmetics. The flowers are rich in anti-oxidants (flavanoids) and these have a wonderful affect on protecting and restoring the skin. It is known as a vulnerary agent meaning it is useful for the healing of wounds. Calendula oil is very gentle and can be used to make creams and lotions to treat all sorts of skin complaints like eczema, stings and bites, psoriasis, scarring, stretch marks and nappy rash. Follow the guide below to make your oil which can be used directly on the skin or incorporated into another recipe.

To make an infused oil

1. Harvest marigold flowers in the morning on a dry day before they lose their volatile oils
2. Leave herbs to dry in a cool, dark place (away from direct sunlight) for 1-2 weeks to dry out
3. Pack the dried flowers loosely into a jam jar and cover with oil - sunflower, olive and almond oil all work well (about 15g herb to 100ml oil).
4. Leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 weeks to infuse
5. Strain out the flowers and store oil in a cool, dark place.

If you don't have a sunny windowsill you can also infuse your oil by placing herbs and oil in heat proof bowl set over simmering water. Heat for 30 minutes then leave to stand for 1 hour. Never let the oil boil.

 

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Capturing the colours of summer: harvesting and drying flowers

Pot marigold,  Calendula officinalis

Pot marigold, Calendula officinalis

It's prime time herb harvesting at this point in the summer, so we thought we'd share with you some tips on harvesting and drying flowers. For a lot of herbs we cut the flowers from the plants without their stems, which means you can't hang them up to dry! So instead, we lay out flowers on drying racks or well ventilated surfaces. Read on for a guide on how to do this and some of our top tips. 

Floral roses - use a clean container to collect your flowers as you harvest them

Floral roses - use a clean container to collect your flowers as you harvest them

1. Harvest on a dry day in the morning, once any dew has evaporated 

2. Select the best looking flowers. Avoid ones that are already fading or have been eaten by insects.

3. Use sharp garden scissors or secateurs to remove flowers. Remember to prune back to a leaf on plants like roses and marigolds to keep them tidy and promote more flowers. 

4. While you harvest you can also deadhead flowers that have gone over and remove tarnished leaves to keep your plants in check. Compost these bits.

5. Once harvested, spread the flowers out on your drying surface. Ensure that they are nicely spread to allow good airflow to the flowers. It's ok if they overlap a bit, just avoid them being piled up on top of each other.

Laying flowers out to dry on sheets of muslin cloth

Laying flowers out to dry on sheets of muslin cloth

6. Dry away from direct sunlight as this will deteriorate the flowers and encourage volatile oils (which hold a lot of herbal goodness) to evaporate and be lost.

7. Check on your flowers every few days and gently turn them to ensure air is reaching all parts of the leaves.

Vibrant colours of dried Rose petals; bright colours imply a good quality dried herb

Vibrant colours of dried Rose petals; bright colours imply a good quality dried herb

You know that the flowers are ready if they crumble easily. If you are drying flowers or herbs for the first time it's a good idea to experiment with different areas in your home to find where the driest and best ventilated areas are!  Once they are dry you can store them in an airtight container, in a cupboard where there is no chance of them being in contact with moisture. Brown paper bags inside airtight containers or recycled jam jars work well.

Happy harvesting!

Psst. If you need some help with growing herbs or want to get started come along to our next workshop, City Gardening: Growing your own herbs on Thursday 27th July at the Bee Garden in Dalston.  

Soothing ourself with Marshmallow

Autumn is the time of year where we shift our focus to what is growing below the ground and for herb harvesters, this means digging up some roots. It’s also the time of year when the shift in seasons can bring us all down with irritating colds. Thankfully, there are a number of herbs at their prime right now and we can rely upon these to provide an antidote to the sorest of throats.

Common marshmallow – Althaea officinalis – is one of these herbs and is the key ingredient in our herbal cough syrup. The root contains high quantities of mucilage, a gelatinous substance that helps to sooth inflammation – and also the substance that they first made marshmallow sweets out of. To extract this we make a maceration from the freshly harvested roots (you can also used dried root) by soaking it in cold water for 8 hours or overnight.

Herbal Cough Syrup Recipe

25g of herb leaves eg. sage, thyme

25g marshmallow root

25g ginger root

1 litre of water

about a 1kg sugar

  1. Place the marshmallow roots in cold water and leave to infuse for 7 hours or overnight.

  2. Cut up the ginger and place into a saucepan and cover with water and bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes - this is a decoction

  3. Turn off the heat and add the herb leaves to the pan and infuse for 15 minutes

  4. Strain the mixture into a measuring jug. Strain the marshmallow and combine both infusions.

  5. Add the same amount of sugar as their is liquid (tip: if you have 850ml of water, add 850 g of sugar)

  6. Heat the mixture continually until the sugar has dissolved

  7. Allow to cool and then pour into sterilised bottles

Dosage: 1 tablespoon up to 6 times a day. Take on its own or dissolve a spoonful in a cup of hot water.