Welcome to Hill Country Herbalist

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Today in the Hill Country Garden: Harvesting, Pruning and Planting!

Harvesting this month: California Poppy, Arugula, Catmint & Strawberries!
Earlier this month, I harvested California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) I had planted from seed last fall.  I harvested just after the first blooms faded and the second set of blooms were coming in.  To harvest, simply dig around the plant so you can easily pull up the roots. You can dry the plant or use fresh.  I like to use fresh and preserve in grain alcohol to make a tincture.  You can also chop and dry and use in teas.  To make a tincture, trim off fading/spent leaves and then chop roots and tops.  Then, stuff a mason jar with the roots and areal parts until full.  Next, fill the jar with grain alcohol...I like to use vodka and to extend shelf life - top off with everclear (e.g., 3 parts vodka and 1 part ever clear).  Seal the jar with the lid and then place in a cool dry place in your home.  Be sure to shake the jar at least once a day for two weeks.  After two weeks, you can strain the plant matter (menstrum) from the infused liquid (tincture) and then store in dark little bottles, preferably with droppers. 

 Arugula is exploding! No wonder it's called "Rocket Arugula"! It just takes off and goes to seed and grows and takes off again! I have a whole bed full of arugula.  Shown here is the beautiful arugula flower with black watchman hollyhock leaves in the background.  Herbhusband and I enjoy harvesting arugula leaves by the handful just to make our favorite savory Parmesan cheese and arugula salad in the evenings.  To make, harvest 2-3 handfuls of arugula leaves, rinse and dry.  Add extra virgin olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) 3 cloves minced fresh garlic, juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper to taste and 4-5 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese.  Toss and enjoy! Simply delicious with salmon or chicken. 
Catmint is another herbaceous friend of mine I love harvesting this time of year.  I harvest the fresh tops in the evenings and air dry on paper towels in my kitchen.  Once dry, I store the dried catmint in glass jars.  In the evenings, I add about two pinches of the dried herb to 1 teaspoon lavender and 1 teaspoon chamomile to make my very favorite evening herbal tea.  This is tea is very calming and it's very much like sipping love in a cup.  The catmint adds just the right depth and dimension to this tea.  It's a must have in my house.

Strawberries have been a delicious treat this year! We've been enjoying finding these sweet red delights when we are working in the garden.  We've been harvesting the fruits and the leaves.  Leaves can be dried and used in a tea as well as in skin care remedies.  It's been a race around our house as to who harvests the strawberries first! Our herbdog (Briar) just loves digging his nose into the raised beds and doesn't think twice about gulping down these sweet little treats! He loves strawberries...guess it runs in the family :)

Pruning is a big part of gardening this time of year.  I've been busy pruning our grapes as well as finger smashing all the little pests that tend to heavily munch on the leaves and budding fruit.  I've noticed caterpillars are big this year as well as katydids! Oh, yes...the katydids are back! (See my post on katydid outbreak in Central Texas posted in June 2010- they are aggressive eaters and can take down a garden in no time flat).  Needless to say, we've all been keeping a careful eye on pests and taking the time each day to "thin" them out with our fingers and shoes! I detest pesticides...so this is a must at our house.  I'm also busy pruning our hedges and roses.  Lots of rain this year has stimulated significant growth in our garden. 

Today, I planted zucchini, carrots, pattypan squash, and sugar pie pumpkin.  Earlier this month I planted cabbage and heirloom tomatoes. I'm already seeing many tomatoes setting fruit.  Heirlooms I planted include vintage wine, brown berry, black cherry, black plum and juliette.  These are all very prolific and tasty!

It certainly is a productive time of year in the Texas Hill Country!
We are having lots of fun keeping our fingers dirty and eyes open for critters - it's going to be a healthy year for critters. I'll leave you with this Meyer Lemon baby found today on our tree.  It will be Novemberish before we can enjoy this sweet and juicy fruit...but, isn't it beautiful?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Decorating with Herbs from the Hill Country Garden

Where has the time gone? We are in mid Spring and enjoying the beautiful wildlife here in the Texas Hill Country.  Butterflies are amazing this year....oh, and so are the leaf munching caterpillars :)  These days, we are being creative with what we have and taking full advantage of bringing the outdoors inside and vice-versa.  It's a harmonious time of year when the outdoors feels just as comfortable as the indoors.  We are certainly blessed with green abundance this year.  Rain and sunshine have been our friends.  Green Blessings.

I recently updated my Facebook page showing you how we can use the recently fading Cleavers into your daily life.  Besides being a wonderful spring tonic for our lymph system, Cleavers (Galium aparine) has wonderful uses in the garden! Since it is self clinging, it can be molded into almost any shape.  Take advantage of this herb all you can.  Before it went into seed, I harvested Cleavers and infused it into oil.  I make "Healing Hands" lotion featuring this very healing and nourishing herb.  It's a simple lotion but holds moisture in the hands like no other lotion I make.  It's perfect for people in the health care industry who wash hands often or for people whose hands simply need the healing touch.
Above, you can see how I molded and used Cleavers to line a plant basket.  Since then, it has dried and is very functional as a plant basket liner.  Why purchase from big box stores, when you can use the herb that is ever giving in your very own back yard? Truly an amazing plant. This past Easter, I used it to make "nests" to hold eggs.  I am not sure how I dreamt up the the idea of decorating with Cleavers - but I'm so glad I did.  It will be an ongoing tradition in our herb home. 

Our Parsley has also gone into full bloom.  I planted it last fall and now it has reached full bloom and it is just gorgeous.  As I pruned this sweet smooth herb, I could not help myself ...I had to find purpose in my cuttings.  I gathered up the blooms in my arms and carried the bundle into my home.  I found a large vase and just made sure they were comfortable.  What a magnificent herb.  I smile each time I walk past the Parsley blooms.  They are so happy and soothing.  Just like they are when we add their fresh leaves to our food.  Makes our tummies happy ~ Makes our minds happy.....Makes us happy and whole.  Never under estimate the powerful impact surrounding yourself with beautiful herbs has on our mind, spirit and body.
Recently, I hurt my back working in the garden.  I haven't been much for blogging or digging or harvesting,etc.  However, with my herbal friends Lobelia, Cramp Bark, Chamomile, Lavender, and Arnica...I am healing very well.  I have so many more garden pictures and stories to share.  I will take time while I'm healing to catch up with you. Until then...many green and herbal blessings and don't forget to grow where you are planted.  Much love, HCH.