The Onion Flower

Writer and Horticulturist


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Wildcraft Wednesday

It’s been raining so much lately that it hasn’t been easy getting out to forage for wild foods. To make up for the rainy weather I’ve concentrated on gathering tea herbs, some are wild but most grow in my garden.

In the garden I harvest pineapple mint, chocolate mint, spearmint, lemon balm, lavender, monarda (bergamot), anise hyssop, violet leaves, catmint, raspberry and blackberry leaves. Add to this the wild mint, ox-eye daisy petals, roses, mallow flowers and red clover that I’ve gathered wild. These are the flavours that I like best in my tea, sometimes I’ll open a few decaffeinated green tea bags to add to the mixture and up the anti-oxidant factor. I either use the mixture loose in a tea ball if I’m making a pot or stuff it into tea bags with a fold-over flap that I purchased online. These I find most handy since they come in various sizes and work best for bringing tea in my thermos.

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Pineapple mint, slow growing and non-invasive in my garden

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Red monarda petals I’ve been harvesting

Generally speaking herbs are at their most flavourful before they flower, although I don’t always get around to picking them in time. After I pick my herbs I let them sit on the back porch for a few hours to wilt and so that any critters that might be hiding can take the chance to leave. After that I gently soak them in water, letting dirt sink to the bottom. If they’re on long stems and it’s a dry day outside I’ll sometimes clip them to the clothesline, although drying in a dark place is best to preserve the essential oils. For small herbs I’ll strew them on newspaper sheets or put them in paper bags to dry. Removing the stems from the leaves will speed up the drying process. I have also used a dehydrator in the past but it’s not usually necessary with something as thin as herbs, I tend to use it more for drying fruit with a high moisture content.

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Mint drying on newspaper

Once everything is well and truly dried I seal them in glass jars until I’ve gathered all my herbs for the summer, at which point I’ll decide what kind of blends to make and label the jars accordingly. I sometimes add spices or dried fruit peel as well such as lemon or ginger for a tea that’s more warming. It’s a very comforting feeling knowing you have enough hot soothing tea to get you through a cold winter.

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Dried tea herbs in jars

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Violet leaves, lemon balm and rose tea. Pale straw colour with a soft rose scent.

 

 What’s your favourite tea blend?

 

 


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Looking Harder

Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper than the surface but a thriving food culture is often there if you look for it.

I was in Cleveland a couple of weeks of ago and despaired about the lack of fresh food in the downtown core. Nothing but gated convenience stores and closed retail shops as far as my feet could carry me. And then, on Friday morning from my hotel window I spied some tents set up in the public square across the street. I ran out with a cloth bag and a few dollars in my pocket and hit the jackpot. Greens, bread, jams, salsa, cheese and more. I bought one of everything that I could eat that didn’t require cooking and had a picnic back in my hotel room. I did a little research that afternoon and found a website for the Downtown Farmer’s Market. http://downtownclevelandmarket.blogspot.com/   They are only there once a week but this apparently is in addition to several other small markets that pop up daily in the city, not to mention the large and well established West Side Market, which has been in operation since 1912. http://www.westsidemarket.org/  I wish I had the time to visit this fabulous market but that didn’t happen on this trip. I did however find the Free Stamp vegetable garden on the grounds of City Hall. http://www.newsnet5.com/dpp/news/local_news/cleveland_metro/cleveland-city-hall-gets-a-new-garden

Spot the Cherry Tomatoes on the Ground?

I wandered through and picked a few ripe cherry tomatoes off the ground and some Thai basil to throw in my farmer’s market lunch. There was a little of everything in this garden and separate beds full of herbs as well.

Lavender, Sage, Thai Basil and More

I came across another vegetable garden the following day when I visited the Cleveland Botanical Gardens; although I knew I would find lots of beautiful plants there I didn’t expect to find an ornamental edible garden created by students no less.

Cleveland Botanical Garden

Apparently I sold Cleveland short. After more research I discovered that this city really does have a strong food culture. Just because it didn’t jump in my face didn’t mean it wasn’t there. If you think your city doesn’t support urban agriculture try looking a little harder. I think you’ll be surprised at what you find.

Ornamental Edible Gardens