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Posts from the ‘Herbs’ Category


Growing food successfully at home

Anyone who grows some of their own food will know that success is a moveable feast!

Two years ago my attempt at growing tomatoes outdoors was a failure. The garden is very windy and the ground just didn’t get warm enough for the plants to develop, so in 2015 tomatoes were indoors, link to the feature.

Two Ailsa Craig plants in the centre

Two Ailsa Craig plants in the centre

However growing indoors allows access to juicy morsels to unwanted creatures without the usual predators to control them. Always wanting to use natural deterrents I keep a pyrethrum based spray handy.  However disaster struck when I inadvertently used the wrong spray.


I had nurtured this pelargonium over the winter, now on its way to the great composter in the sky

What happened? I noticed a couple of little flies in the conservatory, the kind that lay eggs in the soil and the grubs eat the roots and the plants die. So I rushed around looking for the pyrethrum can, found it and sprayed assiduously all the plants and seedlings. To my absolute horror I realised I had used a weedkiller spray instead. I rushed around again, found the water spray and desperately watered.

Tagetes to go in the kitchen garden as a pest attractor, sadly has to go to the bin

Tagetes to go in the kitchen garden as a pest attractor, sadly has to go to the bin

To no avail, within 24 hours little brown spots had appeared on some of the leaves and over the next week everything was on the way out. There was nothing for it but to start again.

Broccoli and globe artichokes

Broccoli and globe artichokes, all doomed

I contacted Delfland Nurseries who raise organic vegetable plugs and they sent me basil, chilli, sweet peppers and squash replacements. I resowed tagetes, nigella and limnanthes to serve as companion plants. If you are keen to find out about using plants as decoys to insects like black fly and attract pollinators like bumblebees and overfills, have a look the guide provided on the Thompson & Morgan website, from which you will see basil is a good companion plant for tomatoes, as are chives and mint.

Companion plants in the vegetable garden, notice the seat!

Companion plants in the vegetable garden, notice the seat, essential for contemplation!

We grow a lot of companion plants every year and will do the same this year –  nasturtiums, a great space filler and colourful companion plants germinate without any help from us from last year’s seed!

Half the plugs Delfland grow are organic own vegetable plugs and each month you can choose a ‘selection pack’ of brassicas, salads, glasshouse or herbs and more. Here’s a link to the ordering options.

For those of you who find the planning of seed sowing and remembering to keep to the schedule a hassle, will find these plugs so useful when you have run out of space for early sowings or when you don’t want a whole packetful of plants from seed raising.

Delfland now have bedding and other plants for sale as well as ready-made hanging baskets and pots planted in various colour schemes – now that appeals to us!

This has to be one of the best websites we have found for gardeners who enjoy growing their own vegetables. Delfland provide really good quality plants and great service. Do have a look!

Val Reynolds, Editor


Borage – Borago Officinalis – Amazing Versatility

Discover the amazing versatility of this popular herb



Glance at a borage plant and you’ll see a sturdy erect plant, covered with short, stiff, prickly, silver-white hairs that shine in the sun and large, oval, pointed, darkish-green leaves. But lift up a flower (they’re inclined to droop down) and reveal the beauty of the superbly formed, bright blue, star-shaped flowers of five petals with a central cone of deep purple-black anthers.

Native to regions of North Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Central Europe, and brought to Britain by the Romans, it’s also to be found in the temperate regions of North America.

The name borage could originate from the Celtic ‘barrach’, a man of courage. Certainly, Celtic warriors drank borage wine and used the plant dye to paint their bodies before running naked, into battle. Ancient recorders Dioscorides, Pliny and later the Elizabethan herbalist, John Gerard, all have mentioned the marvellous effects of the plant on mind and body, dispelling melancholy and inducing euphoria. In medieval times it was used as a tonic to lift the heart and spirit, promoting bravery on the jousting field. To quote an old saying, “Ego Borage gaudia semper ago,” I, Borage, bring always courage.

In the lands bordering the Mediterranean, its name is spelt with a double ‘r’, perhaps from the Italian ‘borra’ or French ‘bourra’, hair/wool, noticeably covering the plant.

Though an annual, it readily seeds itself, the four brownish-black nutlets opening to reveal black seeds. Seed sown in March and covered well with soil, germinate to maturity very quickly, usually in two months. Alternatively, the plants can be propagated by division of the rootstock in the spring, or by cuttings of the shoots pushed into sandy soil in a cold frame in the summer or autumn. The preferred soil seems to be moist, loose, stony, with some sand and chalk in it, in a sunny position. Yet borage is often found in heavier soils and partial shade and frequently on waste ground.

Borage flower, close up © Pintail Media

Borage flower, close up © Pintail Media

Within a garden, the 30-60cm (1-2ft) plants may be sited in the herb patch or as companion plants with strawberries. Bees love the sweet nectar in borage flowers, converting it to superb honey (hence its nickname ‘bee bread’), whilst also pollinating the strawberry flowers. And growing borage among tomato plants can improve the flavour of the tomatoes. Borage is also attractive in a window box or centrally in a hanging basket surrounded by shorter plants, so the beautiful drooping clusters of flowers will be visible from a lower angle; a central cane support may be needed. In mild, sheltered conditions, the plants may be in flower until November. Some plants produce white flowers, while others can start off pink and turn blue.

The leaves must be picked dry, when the sun has dried the dew and as the plant is coming into flower. Strip off each leaf singly, discarding any with marks on them. Some people find it necessary to wear gloves when handling borage as occasionally it can cause skin dermatitis. In the home, dried borage flowers can be added to potpourri.

Medicinally, borage can be utilised as a diuretic, demulcent and emollient. Its high saline mucilage content makes it a good diuretic, aiding the functioning of the kidneys. Its anti-inflammatory properties can help internally soothe bronchitis, catarrh, feverish colds, dry rasping coughs, pleurisy and rheumatism.

In France it is used to treat some pulmonary problems and fevers, increasing sweating and so removing toxins from the body via the skin and urinary system. Its high calcium and potassium salts can help reduce temperature when taken as a hot infusion. Use 30g (1oz) of fresh leaves (dried if fresh are not available), and infuse for five minutes in 600ml (1pt) of boiling water. Then strain it and drink three to four wineglassfuls a day, adding honey if preferred sweeter. Whilst treating a cold, Mességué recommends using borage in foot- and hand-baths.

The above infusion also can be of help as a gargle for sore throats and laryngitis, and as a mouthwash for stomatitis and bleeding gums.

A poultice can be made by placing crushed leaves and flowers between two plates over a pan of boiling water – the plates will get hot. This poultice can be bandaged lightly on inflamed or irritated skin, on sores and wounds and used for arthritis and gout, renewing it when cold, until some relief is felt. Or a lotion can be made from equal quantities of borage juice and water.

Borage flower, close up © Pintail Media Version 2

Borage flower, close up © Pintail Media Version 2

Borage tincture, 5ml (1tsp) taken three times a day, can act as a tonic for stress, and be used for countering the effects of steroids and after steroid therapy. This has been backed up by modern research confirming that borage stimulates the adrenal glands (the organs of courage), to secrete adrenalin.

Making a pulp of the fresh leaves and drinking 10ml (2tsp) of juice, three times a day, can help with problems of depression, grief or anxiety. Instead of Evening Primrose Oil, capsules of Borage Seed Oil can be taken daily for some cases of eczema, hay fever and rheumatoid arthritis. Research has indicated that massaging borage oil into the cold, bluish-white fingers caused by Raynaud’s disease may help alleviate the pain The oil may assist in cases of menstrual irregularity, irritable bowel syndrome and even as a first aid for hangovers. Remember though, what may benefit one, may not another and as a medication, it should not be used indefinitely but for short periods at a time.

As an external application for annoying spots, equal quantities of borage, dandelion and watercress juice can be mixed to form a lotion (freshly made each time), left on the spots until completely dry, and then washed off, repeating the process a few times. Borage also can be used as a facial steam for very dry, sensitive skin and there are commercial products on the market such as Starflower Body Lotion and Borage Seed Oil.

Leslie Kenton’s Healing Herbs Paperback edition published by Vermilion (Random House), London, 2002. ISBN 0-091-88428-4

The Herbal Health and Beauty Book by Hilary Boddie. Published by Optima (Little, Brown and Company (UK) Ltd, 1994 ISBN 0-356-21030-8 contains herbal remedies for health problems such as dizziness and laryngitis, as well as beauty treatments for the face, feet and hair.

New Herb Bible by Caroline Foley, Jill Nice and Marcus A.Webb. Published by David & Charles, Devon, 2002. ISBN 0 7153 1363 0

A Handful of Herbs by Barbara Segall, Louise Pickford & Rose Hammick. Published by Ryland Peters & Small, London, 2001. ISBN 1-84172-109-3 combines the notes of a horticulturalist and a food writer, illustrated with suitably refined photos;

Sìne Chesterman
Sìne’s interest in gardening and botany started at an early age with her own patch in her parents’ garden, and learning which plants were natural healers. Brought up with old and tested remedies, and gardening methods, now termed ‘organic’, she still practises natural ways of pest control.  


Rosemary A Herb for Health


Rosemary © Pintail Media

Will Shakespeare knew rosemary. The plant that is! In ‘Hamlet’, Ophelia states the long-held belief “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

It’s now known that antioxidants in rosemary help prevent aging in cells and aging is associated with memory loss. Pregnant women may be advised to avoid large doses as a medicine in case it induces abortion – but otherwise it’s a beautiful-smelling, super-tasting safe herb.

Respected as a holy, magical and healing plant, one legend maintains the original flowers of rosemary turned from white to blue when the Virgin Mary spread the Christ-Child’s linen, or her own cloak, to dry on a rosemary bush. (Actually the flowers vary in colour, blue, pink or white, depending on the species and variety). In some areas it’s said to bloom at midnight on Old Christmas Eve, 17th January, (though usually later on, in the spring).

Another gardening anecdote relates it growing well not only for the righteous but for a woman who rules her husband and household. To stop gossip, some husbands removed the root so the bush died! Greek scholars, sitting exams, wore garlands of rosemary, believing it helped mental concentration by improving blood flow to the brain. Since the thirteenth/fourteenth centuries, rosemary has been known worldwide as ‘Queen of Hungary’, after the Hungarian Queen was certain her paralysis (maybe gout or rheumatism) had been cured by ‘Hungary water’. This was probably produced by macerating rosemary flowers and flowering tips for a month in alcohol, then straining through fine muslin and taken medicinally in 1 tspn doses.

As a symbol of fidelity in love in Elizabethan times, flowering sprigs were woven into the bridal wreath; bridesmaids, groomsmen and wedding guests were given sprays of rosemary tipped with gold and tied with coloured ribbon, while at the wedding feast, sprigs of rosemary were dipped into the wine before the bridal pair had a drink, to ensure happiness and love. New Year guests were given rosemary plus an orange adorned with cloves. At funerals, to denote the deceased would not be forgotten quickly, rosemary was included in wreaths, and small sprays carried by the mourners, were strewn on the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. A sprig of rosemary fastened to a doorpost, was said to ward off witches and stop snakes entering, while rosemary attached to clothes, offered protection from evil spirits, witches, fairies, thunder, lightning, physical injury, assault, and the plague. Judges wore a sprig to defend themselves from being infected by those brought before them. As for incense, if unavailable, rosemary was burnt. There’s a recipe for rosemary incense in ‘Leslie Kenton’s Healing Herbs’ (see Notes below).

Rosemary originated in areas bordering the Mediterranean, appreciating the full sun and close proximity of the ocean; hence its name from the Latin, ros and marinus, dew of the sea. Popular in monastic gardens, it was brought over the Alps to northern Europe by the first Christian monks.

In Britain it should be treated as a half-hardy perennial, tolerating a poor but benefiting far more from a well-drained soil. Pinching out the tip of the main shoot will encourage side growth – it can grow up to 2 metres (6ft). Dwarf varieties grown in pots, have the advantage of being easy to transport indoors for the winter. Propagation is by seeds, cuttings or layering. Cuttings, best taken from a woody shoot in late summer, will need protection from frost and cold winds while young.

Fortunately rosemary can be harvested fresh all year round but if not possible, it can be dried. If flowering tips are to be dried or frozen, cut the sprigs when the flowers are open. To dry the leaves, pick the sprigs before flowering, and hang them in a warm (not above 40°C/104°F), airy place, away from direct sunlight. Don’t leave them hanging up for ages or they’ll become tasteless and gather dust. Better, use a flavour-sealing, quick dry method – spread them on a tray covered with muslin, place it in the warming drawer of a (used!) oven or an airing cupboard and leave for a few days until they are dry but still green. Then they can be stored whole, wrapped in paper, in a drawer or dry, dark larder or the woody stems discarded and the leaves placed in dark-glass bottles.

As said at the start, rosemary is a safe herb. Germany’s ‘Commission E’ (conductors of the first comprehensive study of herbal medicine) found that drinking rosemary leaf infusions helped problems with upset stomachs, indigestion and appetite loss, while the external use of infusions and oil could ease circulatory complaints and rheumatism. Rosemary essential oil has potent antioxidant, antiseptic and antimicrobial abilities.

Some old remedies may at first seem strange (such as to prevent giddiness by combing hair daily with a comb made of rosemary wood), but research is frequently confirming our ‘wise’ past knowledge of plants. Gerard in his ‘Herbal’ of 1636 recommends the distilled water of the flowers, drunk morning and evening, as a mouthwash/breath freshener, while nearly a hundred years later, boiling cider with a sprig of rosemary for 15 minutes and drinking it at bedtime, was remedied for increasing sweating to reduce a cold.

Nasal congestion can be eased with this homemade chest rub (though not if the skin is broken, sore or sensitive). Pour boiling water over a handful of rosemary flowers and leaves, leave for 25 minutes and then strain. Transfer the contents of a small jar of vaseline into a heatproof bowl placed in a saucepan of boiling water. When melted, add the rosemary infusion and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring well. Remove from the heat and when cool, stir in 8 drops of oil of rosemary, stirring again before applying to the chest. (Don’t store this in a fridge).

For those suffering from asthma, see if this infusion can help, taken each morning during a bad spell; a pinch each of rosemary, orange flower water and thyme in a cup of boiling water.

Could rosemary be of help in the treatment or delay of Alzheimer’s disease? Rosemary contains compounds that will retard the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) playing a key role in cognition and reasoning. As these compounds can be absorbed through the skin, regular use of a rosemary shampoo, either a commercial one or rosemary tincture added to a herbal shampoo could prove beneficial.

The pain of neuralgia may be eased with an infusion of combined rosemary leaves, lavender flowers and lime blossom, or the infusion used as a compress, placed warm on the affected area. Even a little sprig of rosemary placed inside the mouth may help.

For someone who has fainted, one or two drops of rosemary essential oil on a tissue or a handful of leaves crushed into a ball, held under the nostrils can help to revive, backed up with an infusion of 1 or 2 tsp of crushed leaves in a cup of boiling water.

An infusion of 2tspn of dried rosemary per cup of boiling water can bring relief from pain, including pre-menstrual symptoms, or place 56g (2ozs) of rosemary in a muslin/cloth bag and leave it in the water when running a bath. Likewise, rosemary added to a footbath is great for tired, swollen feet.

Rosemary oil can be purchased or made at home, to use eg for massaging onto painful joints and bruises. Pour a cupful of olive or almond oil over two handfuls of rosemary leaves in a jam jar, cover with a piece of muslin or cheesecloth secured with a rubber band and leave for 2 to 3 weeks on a sunny windowsill. Then strain it into small screw top jars and store it in the dark.

An ointment which may soothe eczema, skin irritations and rheumatism is easily made by melting in an enamel pan, 1tbsp rosemary oil with 4 tbsp white petroleum jelly. Stir it well and then put in small jars and cover when cold.

Aromatherapists use essential oil of rosemary in a massage during treatment for depression, whilst a morning drink of rosemary infusion can also be beneficial. However, if suffering from high blood pressure, rosemary must be avoided in aromatherapy treatment as it stimulates circulation.

Extracts of rosemary are often found in proprietary soaps, perfumes, toilet waters and hair preparations. As a hair treatment, since massaging the scalp stimulates the circulation, helps decrease dandruff and encourages hair growth, massaging using one part rosemary oil to two parts almond (or olive) oil, can promote healthy hair and even a better memory. And a rosemary infusion as a final rinse can benefit dark, dull or oily hair.

There’s a useful decoction recipe for puffy eyes in The Herbal Health and Beauty Book (see Notes below), while the New Herb Bible (see Notes) includes rosemary in recipes for an antiseptic mouthwash, a soothing bath oil, a skin cleanser, a scrub, a tonic and a soap. To refresh skin that is sensitive and dry, try applying twice weekly, a hot compress of rosemary and mauve flowers.

Within the home, small bags made from muslin or cheesecloth and filled with dried rosemary, can be placed in clothes drawers to help deter moths while providing a fragrant smell. Or make a little herb pillow containing rosemary, cloves and nutmeg. Rosemary was one of the herbs used in tussie-mussies (nosegays), needed in the Middle Ages to hide bad smells, but also believed to protect the holder from disease as well as being presented as declarations of love, (rosemary for remembrance). Fresh sprays of leaves and flowers in a vase, in a herb wreath or a pot-pourri can help cleanse the air and provide perfume, while burning rosemary sprigs outdoors can keep insects at bay. Rosemary essential oil can be added to furniture polish and to wax or oil when making candles.

Before fridges and freezers were invented, rosemary was placed with meat so to some extent its antimicrobial properties could help preserve the meat. The aromatic, pungent leaves are used, fresh or dried, with lamb, beef, chicken, pork and fish, while the flowers and chopped young leaves can be added to salads. Rosemary is contained in the Herbes de Provence seasoning blend. It adds flavour to grilled meat, barbeques, ratatouilles, sauces, etc; to mushrooms, soup, soft cheese; to biscuits and jam, as well as to fruit-cups and mulled wine. (It’s one of the herbs used in vermouth). Using fresh sprigs allows them to be removed easily before serving. Additionally, bees feeding on rosemary, produce excellent honey. For an easy-to-make rosemary, garlic and pepper oil, look in ’A Handful of Herbs’ (see Notes).

And how about trying my recipe for
ROSEMARY AND CHEDDAR SCONES (Makes 20-30 depending on the cutter size) 340g (12oz) self-raising flour
Salt and pepper
40g (1oz) butter or margarine
1 level 5ml tsp dried rosemary
100g (3oz) grated cheddar cheese
1 beaten egg
140ml (1pt) milk
Preheat the oven to 230°C (450°F, Gas Mark 8)
In a bowl, mix together the flour, salt and pepper, rub in the margarine and then add the rosemary and cheese, mixing well.
Stir in the beaten egg (reserving a little for brushing the tops), and then the milk.

Again mix well. Roll out on a floured board until 1cm thick. Cut into rounds, place on a greased baking sheet, brush the tops with the beaten egg and if you like, sprinkle extra grated cheese on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Leslie Kenton’s Healing Herbs Paperback edition published by Vermilion (Random House), London, 2002. ISBN 0-091-88428-4

The Herbal Health and Beauty Book by Hilary Boddie. Published by Optima (Little, Brown and Company (UK) Ltd, 1994 ISBN 0-356-21030-8 contains herbal remedies for health problems such as dizziness and laryngitis, as well as beauty treatments for the face, feet and hair.

New Herb Bible by Caroline Foley, Jill Nice and Marcus A.Webb. Published by David & Charles, Devon, 2002. ISBN 0 7153 1363 0

A Handful of Herbs by Barbara Segall, Louise Pickford & Rose Hammick. Published by Ryland Peters & Small, London, 2001. ISBN 1-84172-109-3 combines the notes of a horticulturalist and a food writer, illustrated with suitably refined photos; includes ideas for scented candles, a wreath of herbs, a recipe for rosemary and garlic flavoured pizza/bread, the use of rosemary for finishing touches to a dining table, for adding perfume and decoration to a room, even for adding perfume to writing ink.

All the books are linked to the Amazon website for easy ordering.

Sìne Chesterman
Sìne’s interest in gardening and botany started at an early age with her own patch in her parents’ garden, and learning which plants were natural healers. Brought up with old and tested remedies, and gardening methods, now termed ‘organic’, she still practises natural ways of pest control.  


Grow Nasturtiums for Natural Health

Nasturtium © S Chesterman

Nasturtium © S Chesterman

Tropaeolum majus also known as Indian Cress 

Nasturtiums are bright – see Google page of pictures.  They range through yellow-orange to fiery red annuals. This is a plant for which the phrase ‘getting the most out of a plant’ really rings true. Growing nasturtiums is easy. All parts are edible – the flowers, leaves and seeds.

You can plant nasturtium seeds in a bed, border, to climb against a fence, or in containers and hanging baskets. Nasturtiums are easy to grow, in full sun or partial shade. They prefer moist, well-drained poor to ordinary garden soil; too rich a soil results in a profusion of lush green leaves but this is at the expense of flowers. The climbing, trailing and dwarf varieties readily self-seed or the seeds can be gathered and started in pots in the greenhouse.

Good introduction to natural history for children

They’re great for children to plant, not only as the largish seeds are easily held by small fingers but they are fairly quick to germinate and grow. And if you show children how to sow lettuce and radish seeds beside the nasturtiums, there’ll be benefits, both for the plants’ health and the children’s knowledge.

Buds, flowers, leaves and seeds are all edible and quick to pick, contain vitamin C and, belonging to the Cruciferae (mustard) family, also contain a type of mustard oil, benzyl isothiocyanate, with a peppery taste. This oil is not only very useful in salt and pepper-free diets, but possesses antifungal properties and impedes the growth of bacteria and viruses.

Nasturtiums © Pintail

Nasturtiums © Pintail

Originating in Bolivia and Columbia, seeds were brought to Europe from Peru by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and hence became considered a symbol of conquest and victory.

Nasturtiums are planted in the spring, once the danger of frost is over. They can be used not only for decoration in the flower garden but also amongst vegetables, as a companion plant for radishes, whilst their pungent smell can be utilised by careful siting, to repel or attract pests.

Use nasturtiums as a natural repellent

Woolly aphis can be repelled from apple trees by planting nasturtiums around the base of the tree, or by spraying affected branches with an infusion made from the whole plant, while a few nasturtiums near tomato plants and broccoli can deter whitefly. On the other hand, blackfly find the smell attractive, so adding a few nasturtiums near broad beans will help to lure them away to the nasturtiums, subsequently nipping off any attacked parts. When frosts appear, the stems can be chopped up and added to the compost heap.

In natural medicine, fresh leaves can be used for combating infections of the urinary tract and the respiratory system.

Using nasturtiums as a natural remedy

Juice from leaves (liquidised and strained) can be of benefit as a remedy for coughs and bronchitis, while liquidising and straining the fresh leaves and stems produces a liquid which will ease skin irritations and painful muscles, and act as an antiseptic for wounds.

Dried seeds can be powdered for use as a mild laxative; or crushed to a pulp, then sandwiched between two layers of muslin or cheesecloth, with a plate above and beneath and placed over a pan of boiling water to produce a hot poultice to bring spots and boils to a head.

The naturally occurring sulphur in the plant can be utilised to make a hair and anti-dandruff lotion. Place one large handful of leaves and a cup of vodka in a wide-necked screwtop jar, cover and keep in a warm place for two weeks, shaking the jar once a day. Then strain it repeatedly until a clear lotion is produced and apply it to the scalp with a cottonwool pad, once or twice a week, ensuring no lotion enters the eyes.

Recipes for nasturtiums 

In the kitchen, the flowers will look attractive while adding texture and flavour to food. Those flowers with a long spur at the base, have a drop of sweet nectar giving a sweet/sour flavour. When picking, if you find tiny, black, pollen beetles on the flowers, put the stems in water, cover the whole with a brown paper bag, place, preferably outside, in a dark spot (away from the wind), to allow the beetles to drop off and go elsewhere. Nasturtium petals can be added to omelettes and cream cheese for extra flavour, while petals or the whole flowers can be scattered over lettuce for salads. As an additional salad ingredient, wash some leaves, pile on top of one another, and then roll up, slice into strips and toss in a vinaigrette

Make the vinaigrette from

• 2 tablespoons oil
• 1 dessertspoon vinegar (half the normal quantity due to the strong flavour of the nasturtiums)
• salt and pepper, adding fresh seeds, whole, or crushed with a fork

To pickle the seeds for use as mock capers, pick the seeds on a dry day, wash and then soak them for 12 to 24 hours in a brine of 57g (2oz) salt to 570ml (1 pt) water. Drain and then put them in small jars, filling to 13mm (1/2 inch) of the top. Cover them with cold spiced vinegar in the proportions 570ml (1pt) vinegar, 6 peppercorns, 2 bay leaves and 2 teaspoons salt, or for a more spicy result, replace the bay leaves with a slice of horseradish root, 1 clove and 2 tarragon leaves. Seal the jars and try to keep them for 12 months before using.

For a salt and pepper-free diet, ripe nasturtium seeds can be ground and kept for use in tightly-stoppered bottles. This was done during World War II but for different reasons – pepper was very expensive and sometimes unobtainable. Adding a little salt will improve the flavour.

Among other recipes, the pickled seeds can be added to martinis; relish can be spread on the leaves, then rolled up and loosely tied with a long-stemmed flower – try a relish of cream cheese, chopped walnuts and raisins, or mix tuna, parsley and mayonnaise. Or for a different effect, large flowers can be stuffed with a teaspoon of the cheese or tuna relish.

Add up all these reasons and I think you’ll agree that nasturtiums are certainly well worth growing and utilising.

Sìne Chesterman’s interest in gardening and botany started at an early age with her own patch in her parents’ garden, and learning which plants were natural healers. Brought up with old and tested remedies, and gardening methods, now termed ‘organic’, she still practises natural ways of pest control.  


Now’s a Good Time to Gather Herbs to Dry

Marigold petals, make a delicious tea

Marigold petals, make a delicious tea

Wandering round the garden today I picked several bunches of herbs to dry for use during the winter months.

I tie the stalks together and place upside down in a paper bag, tieing the top loosely, but with a loop for hanging. They are then hung up on nails in the garage where they will stay for a few weeks until they are quite dry, then crumbled and placed in an air tight jar. We quite like the aroma that comes from the dried stalks and put them on the top of the wood burning stove to lightly scent the room. They can burn so put them on a pyrex dish or similar. Or you could keep them for the next barbecue …

Marjoram can be used for teas as can marigold petals which can relieve stomach aches

There’s nothing nicer than tea made from your own mint. We have a particularly strong one that makes excellent tea. It’s useful too for lamb, as is rosemary.



Sage is a bit strong for tea, but good to help digest fatty meat like pork and goose. Bay leaves are always useful to add to a bouquet garni.



We grew tarragon this year as an experiment but we haven’t used it at all so it will go into the compost bins later next month.

My all time favourite is verveine, it smells just like sherbert lemons and always makes my mouth water at its memory. A tea made with it is absolutely delicious, needs just a little sweetening, and is an excellent drink before bedtime as it does seem to induce sleep.





There are still some Nigella seeds to ripen so we picked them all and put them in a carrier bag hung from the garage beams. They will shake out in a week or so. We use them in meat dishes and sometimes in cakes.

Fennel seeds can be used to make tea, although we prefer to eat them when they are plump and green which is about now.

There is still enough time to cut some bunches of lavender to add to our clothes cupboards and we will keep some seeds for flavouring our favourite shortbread. Alys Fowler has a great recipe in her book The Edible Garden. Now there’s a gardener I admire.

Do you dry herbs? Why not let us know and we’ll write about it in the mag.

Charlotte Yardley
Gardening Adviser


Borage: Excellent Culinary Herb – Tried and tested recipes

Borage biscuits

Borage biscuits

Borage is an excellent culinary herb and can be used in a variety of ways. Borage is far better used fresh, as the flavour and colour deteriorate when dried and some essential oils lost.

The leaves taste of oil and cucumber and together with the flowers (say three leaves and three flowers) can be added to 500ml (1pt) of homemade lemonade.

To make lemonade combine the juice of a lemon with 30ml (2 tbsp) of sugar or honey dissolved in 500ml (1pt) of boiling water, and then chill. For a different refreshing drink, add borage flowers and lemon balm leaves to apple or pear juice.

Borage seed packet Thompson & Morgan

Borage seed packet Thompson & Morgan

Young leaves can be boiled as a spinach substitute or cooked with cabbage (two parts cabbage to one part borage). Chopped leaves can be added, for the last few minutes of cooking, to pea or bean soup and to stews, or finely shredded in salads (before the hairs on the leaves become stiff with age).

Traditional recipes recommend borage leaves and seeds, together with fennel in salads for increasing the milk supply in nursing mothers. The leaves and flowers are still added for flavour and garnish to wine cups, Pimms and gin-based summer cocktails and the flowers are still candied for confectionary as cake and ice cream decorations.

Borage seed packet Thompson & Morgan

Borage seed packet Thompson & Morgan

A delicious herb butter can be made by finely chopping young borage leaves, parsley and dill, producing one 15ml (1 tbsp) of each herb, blending them into 150g (5oz) of butter and then adding a little lemon juice, one 5ml spoon (1tsp) of chopped onion plus salt and pepper. For a sandwich filling or party dip, try blending 15ml (1tbsp) of finely chopped young leaves into 100g (4oz) of cream or cottage cheese and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Here is a recipe for biscuits, adding the flowers for decoration.


225g (8oz) self-raising flour
110g (4oz) sugar
160g (6oz) butter or margarine
Pinch of salt
One beaten egg
12 drops vanilla essence
Runny preserve for brushing eg homemade redcurrant, apple or raspberry jelly.

Sift the flour into a bowl, add the salt and then rub in the fat until the mixture is like breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. Add the beaten egg and the vanilla essence and mix to a stiff paste. Roll out, cut into shapes and place onto a greased baking sheet. Brush the tops with jelly. Place a borage flower on top of each biscuit, pressing down the petals so they adhere to the jelly. Gently drizzle and brush jelly onto the flowers. Bake in an oven preheated to 190C (375F) Gas mark 5 for about 20 minutes, until the biscuits have a good warm colour. Remove from the oven but leave on the tray for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

Alternatively, for a darker, crisper effect, bake the biscuits without the flowers. Once removed from the oven, brush over more jelly, add the flowers as before and then, instead of jelly, sieve icing sugar over the flowers and biscuits. Place them on the wire rack of a grill pan and grill for one minute.

For a good all-round read about herbs, try Leslie Kenton’s Healing Herbs: Transform Your Life with Plant Power. You have only to look at the front cover of the dust jacket to know the author acknowledges the beauty of the borage flower. It has some excellent reviews.

Photography Sine Chesterman ®

Sine Chesterman, Contributing author

NB At this time of year it’s possible to sow some seeds that will still give flowers and seeds for cooking in about two months. You can freeze the flowers in an ice tray and use them to brighten up drinks in the winter months. Thompson & Morgan sell an excellent variety.  Editor is the website we write about the ongoing renovation and care of a front garden in a garden city


Plants Galore!

Lemon Basil

Lemon Basil

Some years ago I came across a packet of Lemon Basil seeds from Thompson and Morgan – my favourite seed supplier since 1970! – that I have to confess had been ‘loitering’ in my seed box for some time, four years in fact! As I had a bit of space in my tiny greenhouse, I thought I would see if they germinated, expecting a few to come up which would be very useful for salads. To my great surprise the whole seed tray bounced into life and I had so much basil I had to give much of it away! Recipes and more information is here.

With that experience in mind I decided to go through the T&M catalogue looking for herbs that I could grow to add to salads, even if they didn’t grow to full size they would add a variety of flavours. Most herbs are available at very reasonable prices and with germination rates generally pretty high it’s a win win situation!

Most recently I have successfuly sown



Outdoor Basil  This gave an excellent germination and again found I had so much I had to give many plants away. I kept some indoors and others in the kitchen garden. I love picking a leaf or two and eating it when I’m wandering around looking for weeds to pull up.

Borage, the young leaves have a cucumber taste and widely used in salads and the bright blue flowers look wonderful in drinks, or salads. At the end of the season the plant can be added to your compost. It does get a bit untidy but I can forgive that characteristic as it attracts so many bees and other insects, it is a joy to see it thriving.

Coriander This can be sown direct in the ground. However it is useful to sow some in pots to keep indoors for year round fresh leaves to add to salads, salsas and Asian cuisine. Another flavour indispensable TO the adventurous cook.



Chervil Used in French cooking to flavour fish dishes, sauces and soups, is a familiar taste of France. Can be grown in pot on the windowsill for all year fresh leaves.

Summer Savory this comes highly recommended from Bob Flowerdew who waxes lyrical about its effect on broad beans! Try it chopped and mixed with melted butter. Thompson & Morgan suggest adding it to breadcrumbs to coat fish, added to soups and stew – said to be magnificent!

Endive not often found on sale here in the UK, is easy to grow from seed. Easy too to grow it as salad leaves.

Other seeds I have successfully grown for the kitchen garden this year are globe artichokes, beetroot, parsnips, carrots, lettuce, sugar snaps, french beans, courgettes, leeks, pumpkin, outdoor melons – the jury is out on these they are not growing very quickly and I wonder whether they will flower and produce mature fruit, they are protected by a cloche to keep the heat in and the wind out.

I have grown many plants to attract insects. French marigolds, calendula, I have allowed the parsley to go to seed for insects to feed on, poached egg plant, nigella, and alfalfa to dig in as a green manure. Red clover has been sown for the same reason.

I have also used odd spaces to grow flowering plants for the main garden, for instance escholtzia, chrysanthemum daisies, scabious, sweet peas and I have experimented with unusual plants, for instance cucumelon.

It will be some weeks before I know which plants are worth keeping and which seeds are worth sowing next year. As always the gardener in me is constantly adding, subtracting and repeating plants, always aiming at perfection. Ever hopeful!

Val Reynolds, Editor In Balance Magazine

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