Summer iced teas, winter colds, and many fruit and fish dishes are all made better with lemon balm.
This easy to grow perennial herb is a member of the mint family, which means it is a rugged, tenacious, and fragrant addition to your foodscape.
Using lemon balm
Also known as cure-all, sweet balm, and honey plant, lemon balm adds a soothing lemon flavor to teas, tinctures, and steam. Traditionally, lemon balm has been used to treat digestive upset, anxiety, thyroid disease, Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, high blood pressure, sores, and even insect bites. Scientific research has demonstrated that lemon balm does provide some significant benefits (besides making a great cup of tea):
Unlike other herbs, lemon balm loses much of its flavor when dried, so fresh is better. I just learned that there is a lemon balm pesto recipe - I’ll let you know how it tastes in an update.
How to grow lemon balm
Once lemon balm is established, it will readily self-seed, so choose a site that has room for it. Individual plants can reach 2 feet in height and width. It can also spread vegetatively, where twig ends touch the ground and develop roots. Unlike many other members of the mint family, lemon balm does not spread using stolons (runners). Regular trimming will keep lemon balm plants healthy and attractive. You can also grow lemon balm in a container. My in-ground lemon balm has always stayed rather low-growing and has been pretty year-round (even after frost!) with just a little bit of trimming. Lemon balm normally dies back in winter above-ground, but comes back in spring. Lemon balm seeds require light and warmth (70 °F) to germinate, but the mature plants prefer some afternoon shade. Lemon balm prefers rich, moist soil with good drainage, and a pH of 6 to 7.
Lemon balm attracts honey bees!
The scientific name of lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, is a reflection of how much it attracts honey bees. The word ‘Melissa’ is Greek for bee. Small flowers, which can be white, pink, red, or yellow, appear each summer, packed with nectar. Many beekeepers throughout history have planted lemon balm near their hives. Whether you keep honey bees or not, attracting them to your garden is sure to improve pollination and production.
Add lemon balm to your garden, landscape, or balcony for healthier bees and a happier you!
Sorrel may be considered a weed by many, but it ’makes real nourishin’ soup,’ according to Milly in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and she was correct.
Similar in appearance to spinach, sorrel grows very easily in the Bay Area. Sorrel is far more heat tolerant than spinach and is less likely to bolt. There are actually two different types of sorrel and both are edible: common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and French sorrel (Rumex scutatus). Common sorrel has a more bitter taste than the French variety, which is more lemony, but both have been used in soups and salads for thousands of years.
Sorrel description & lifecycle
A close cousin of curled dock (R. crispus), rhubarb, and buckwheat, sorrel is a perennial herbaceous plant commonly found in the grasslands of Europe, Scandinavia, and Central Asia. It is an introduced species in North America. The plants are dioecious, which means that there are distinctly male and female plants. Flowers are reddish green. Sorrel has deep roots that can help break up compacted soil.
Garden sorrel vs. French sorrel
Common sorrel goes by several other names: garden sorrel, spinach dock, sheep’s sorrel, sour dock, red sorrel, vignette, acedera, and narrow-leaved dock. “Dock” refers to broad-leafed members of the knotweed family (Polygonaceae). Common sorrel grows tall, up to 3 feet in height, and has many branching stems. French sorrel has a more prostrate growth pattern, usually no more than 18 inches tall, and leaves tend to clump together on the upright stems. French sorrel leaves are smaller and more rounded than common sorrel leaves.
Uses of sorrel
The edible juicy stems and narrow leaves of sorrel are packed with nutrients. A single cup serving of raw sorrel provides 15% of the DV of fiber, 16% Vitamins A & C, 5% calcium, 17% iron, 14% potassium, nearly 3 grams of protein, and all for only 29 calories. Sorrel leaves taste somewhat sour. It has been described as tasting similar to unripe strawberries or kiwi. Sorrel adds a good tang to soups, salads, and otherwise too heavy casseroles, and it has been part of the human diet for a very long time. Sorrel is the primary ingredient in traditional French “soupe aux herbes”.
As folk medicine, sorrel has been used effectively as a diuretic, for treating bacterial infections, to reduce pain and inflammation, and it is currently used in the herbal cancer treatment Essiac. Sorrel contains tannins, which can help dry out congested nasal passages associated with sinusitis. On the downside, sorrel also contains oxalic acid, which can cause problems for individuals prone to gout, arthritis, rheumatism, or kidney stones.
How to grow sorrel
Sorrel is a tenacious addition to your edible landscape. Sorrel self seeds easily, is drought resistant, and wicked tough. Seeds should be planted in spring or fall. Sorrel can tolerate shade, but it prefers full sun. Sorrel leaves should be harvested while they are relatively small, for the best flavor. As with all greens, it is best to harvest in the morning, while they are at their crispest.
Sorrel pests & diseases
Many butterfly and moth species larvae feed on sorrel. Other than that, sorrel grows pretty much uncontested.
Adding sorrel to your edible landscape not only provides your family with nutrient rich greens, it also adds biodiversity and improved soil health.
Native to South and Central America, nasturtiums are rugged plants that provide lovely edible blooms.
The history of nasturtiums
When nasturtiums arrived in Spain in the 1500’s, they were called “Indian cresses” because of their peppery flavor and their use in salads. Nasturtium flowers have been gracing gardens since Roman times. Back when the Romans defeated an army, they would set up a trophy (tropaeum) pole on which they would hang the shields and helmets of the losers. Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum) earned their Latin name because, to Carl Linnaeus*, the rounded leaves reminded him of shields and the flowers looked like blood-stained helmets. (The word nasturtium literally means “nose tweaker”.)
The botany of nasturtiums
Nasturtium are perennial and annual dicotyledons, depending on the variety and local conditions. There are climbing and bushy nasturtiums. Nasturtium stems are somewhat succulent and the roots can be tuberous. One particularly rugged variety from Chile, T. polyplyllum, survives at altitudes of 10,000 feet! (Most of us would be out of breath and a bit wobbly at that elevation!)
Nasturtium flowers can be yellow, orange, reddish-brown, white, red, or even blue. Flowers have five clawed petals, with the bottom three looking different from the top two. Each bisexual flower has 8 whorled stamens. Nasturtium seeds look like naked nuts with three segments. Leaves may be rounded or deeply lobed. Leaf stems tend to be rather long. There are about 80 species of nasturtiums. Nasturtium are the only members of their genus.
How to grow nasturtiums
Until recently, it was believed that nasturtium seeds required scarification (damage to the seed hull) for germination to occur. We now know that this is not true. Seeds can be planted directly in the ground after the final frost date. Seeds should be planted 10-15” apart and 1” deep. Water regularly, unless a drought-tolerant variety is selected. Nasturtiums prefer well-drained or sandy soil. They perform best in full sun or partial shade. Once nasturtiums are established, you can easily end up with far more plants than you need. When this happens, simply transplant seedlings into a nice little container and gift them to family and friends!
Uses of nasturtiums
All parts of the nasturtium plant are edible, but most people only eat the flowers. The flowers look lovely in salads and add a nice peppery flavor to stir-fry. Nasturtium flowers contain the highest amount of lutein of any edible plant. Lutein is an antioxidant that protects the retina from free-radical damage by blue light, helping prevent macular degeneration. Unripe seed pods can be pickled in spiced vinegar and used like capers. The tuber of the Mashua variety (T. tuberous) is used in the Andes as a major food source.
In herbal medicine, nasturtiums are used for their expectorant and antiseptic qualities. They are believed to promote the formation of new blood cells and to relieve chest colds.
Nasturtiums attract butterflies and other pollinators. They can also be used in companion planting as target plants, to distract pests such as cabbageworms and mites away from more vulnerable plants. Nasturtiums are believed to repel Asparagus beetles, squash beetles, aphids, Mexican bean beetles, cabbageworms, and whiteflies.
Nasturtiums readily self-seed and they take little or no care once established. Add these lovelies to your garden or windowsill for some bright, flavorful blooms!
* Carl Linnaeus created our modern system of naming plants and animals in something called binomial nomenclature.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!