The heat has been oppressive around here over the past few days but since I am such a glass half-full person (uh huh) I choose to overlook the stink of my fellow bus passengers and the inability to breath air, and instead turn towards the bright side of intense heat: rapid plant growth and sun tea.
In theory, sun tea is supposed to be better than tea made using boiled water because the sun slowly, and gently infuses the water with all the goodness of the herbs instead of the bitter oils that are brought out with rapid brewing. But when the temperatures reach into the 30s and 40s C I could care less about all that jazz. Give me lazy! All the accomplishment with none of the effort. Sun tea is ridiculously easy to make, about as easy as making tea without the difficult chore of filling the kettle, turning the kettle on, waiting for the boil, pouring water. That is all much too HARD and who wants to be around boiling water at a time like this? Just get a glass jar, stuff it full of plant parts (I chose assorted mints), fill with water, and stick it in the sun. Go lay down with a wet towel on your head for a few hours. Pour and enjoy. Or add some ice and drink it cold.
Speaking of mint, check out the unique and gorgeous flowers on the ‘Lemon Mint’ plant. I purchased this particular variety as an impulse buy in early spring when herbs were 3 or 4 for $10 and I couldn’t steer my bike in the general area around known garden shops without popping in for “just a peek” and then finding myself tentatively and rather unsafely riding home with a basket full of something-or-other.
All of that just to say that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I bought this plant except that I was working on an expanding collection of mints and I’m constantly on the lookout for a lemony herb that can rival the fresh lemon zip of Lemon Verbena. I can tell you right now that despite the name ‘Lemon Mint’ doesn’t even make it into the parking lot of the stadium that holds the ring where possible contenders would go head-to-head with the mighty Lemon Verbena. It might make it onto the highway that leads to the parking lot of the stadium or maybe the fallow field next to the parking lot of the stadium but that’s only because I’m feeling generous.
But I digress.
So it turns out that the plant commonly referred to as ‘Lemon Mint’ is in fact a type of beebalm, Monarda citriodora to be exact. I noticed that it looked kinda odd (square, tought stems) and rather un-mentha-mint-like when I purchased it but REALLY started to notice a problem when the first flowers bloomed. This is another fine example of why common names are misleading. Monarda citriodora is in fact a member of the mint family but is not what you picture in your mind when you think mint. It is also commonly called: Lemon bee balm, horsemint, lemon bergamot, plains horsemint. This non-mint mint cousin prefers a sunny location but doesn’t mind a little bit of shade which is why it hasn’t keeled over from its current position in the shadiest spot of my community plot tucked in alongside the ‘Ginger’ and ‘Mojito’ mints.
Now that I know the true nature of this plant I plan to move it to a slightly sunnier position in the garden. As far as use goes the plant is most commonly brewed up as a tea or added to salads. The mint name is misleading since it does not have a refreshing minty taste (or much of a lemon taste for that matter) but has a much stronger, muskier, thyme/oregano flavor better suited to savory meals than summery beverages. I picked the flowers shown in the photo above several days ago and they have been thriving in a vase in my kitchen since without showing signs of wilt or petal drop.
There are roughly five mint varieties in this bouquet including clockwise from top right: Chocolate mint, Pear mint, Ginger mint, Lemon Mint (with the crazy flowers), and Mojito mint (not seen).
Mint has got to be the most abundant herb in the garden and as this year’s mint harvest picks up speed I’ve been trying to find ways to use up last year’s dried stock. Today I mixed up a batch of Claudia’s Mint Lemonade but added my own zip with a dash of dried lemon verbena and a tiny pinch of dried stevia to sweeten.
Both were brewed in a tea pot (a new Bee House pot purchased at Soko Hardware in San Francisco) along with the mint and added to the lemon juice once cool. I threw in some fresh orange mint clippings and two orange slices before putting the pitcher in the fridge to chill. I’m not a lemonade fan but my spouse Davin says that the addition of mint tea to the lemonade dilutes some of the tartness of the lemons (without adding much sweetener) and makes for a more refreshing, thirst-quenching drink.
Yesterday afternoon I brought home a first harvest from the four different kinds of hardy sage (Salvia officinalis) I’ve got growing at the community garden. It’s not much, just a handful of clippings that I pinched off to make the plants grow bushier but it’s more than enough to make a whole lot of delicious scrambled eggs. I removed the flowers because I moved the flowering plants from my former plot earlier in the season and would rather they put their energy to getting well established and making lots of lush and tasty leaves than making babies so-to-speak.
- Garden sage – Your standard, cold hardy, culinary sage. I am making it sound dull here but really you can’t beat the standard variety when it comes to hardiness and productivity. I grew a bunch of plants in my planter box a number of years ago and they survived for years getting larger and more prolific every season. This variety flowers like crazy after its first season — I like to snip a few off to put in a vase on my desk but you can eat them too or brew them into a tea. Leave a few in the garden where they will attract lots of pollinators and beneficial insects.
- Purple Sage – I find this one to be less cold hardy than the garden sage but it will survive outdoors in colder climates if you give it lots of chance to establish itself and provide mulch or winter protection. I have grown it in the past and it never seems to get as large and bushy as the garden sage but the dark purple colour is just so pretty and makes a great contrast to the golden and tricolor sages. I am a sucker for just about anything purple in the garden.
- Golden Sage – This variety seems to have the same issues as the purple but the chartreuse splashes in the leaves are hard to resist. Chartreuse is my other colour weakness. I’ve got the chartreuse/gold version of just about every herb (oregano, marjarom, etc) in my community plot this year.
- Berggarten Sage – Similar to garden sage but with a dense, low growth and big, soft, oval leaves.
I have a fifth tricolor plant growing in a pot on the rooftop deck. I find the coloured sages are best for pots because they tend to stay on the smaller size and develop a really interesting topiary look if you remove the lower leaves and allow the plant to grow a woody bottom stem.
p.s Yep, those are my dirty fingernails in the photo above. Thanks to Davin for taking the photo.
I picked up this gorgeous and awesomely huge sage plant for a buck fifty a few days ago. Okay sure I already have more sage than I can shake a stick at but you know how it is…. It was so big and beautiful and only a buck fifty people! They charge more for candy bars these days. A comparison/justification that would have an ounce of relevancy if I actually ate candy bars. Most sale herbs look a little worse-for-wear if not completely dead because they can’t withstand the drought in the tight transplant boxes but sage is always a good choice because it just gets bigger and bigger in those little pots. I caught the sale while riding my bike past a small corner shop/plant store that was itching to get rid of their over-sized herbs. I will admit that I have been going out of my way on bike lately in an effort to keep tabs on just about every garden store I know. I bragged to a friend that I’ve got the entire west end of Toronto mapped out in my head according to who’s got what, what looks better where, cost, and if the sales are on yet.
With the heat rising to oppressive levels here in Toronto, the pressure to get things planted or sold off seems to have arrived earlier than ever this year. Yeah, I definitely don’t have enough guilt as-is. I came home with my bike basket overflowing with plants the other day — partly because I am the Angelina Jolie of the plant world (minus the lips) with my insatiable need to expand the brood and partly because I just felt so dang bad for that nasturtium (or three. Twelve if you count that they come 4 per pack).
Colette of Urban Harvest has started selling her plants at reduced prices (I could not resist more basil!) and FoodShare had their annual plant giveaway yesterday afternoon. I said I was going to support a friend and check out the action but walked away with a very hot n’ spicy mustard plant. Thankfully I did not feel bad for the flowers that were left behind. Mostly.
A dull but constant sense of panic is creeping in over the transplants that are still sitting in the holding area outside. The transplants! They are not planted! Everything else is getting huge and yet the stragglers sit out there in those smallish pots waiting to get into some soil. How can I so cruely deny them? And yet I can’t stop bringing new plants home. Because soon it will be harder to find certain plants as the season slows down and so the urge to go out and find more plants to add to a collection that can’t possibly be enough takes hold and the cycle continues.