It’s Easy with a Little
The guideline outlined below follows the steps developed at Meadowsweet Herb Farm in Vermont where we produced more than 20,000 hand-crafted herbal vinegars over the years. By following these steps, and with a little advance planning, you will be able to make a few or a lot of herbal vinegars at one time with ease and success. Herbal vinegars are both decorative and versatile in the kitchen and give a fresh herb taste year-round to your salad dressings, vinaigrettes, sauces, marinades, soups, and more. They are an easy way to preserve the season’s herb harvest for winter enjoyment and they make wonderful gifts for family and friends. Kids also enjoy making herbal vinegars as gifts for their teachers.
VINEGAR: The first step is to choose the right vinegar from the wide variety available and one that enhances the flavors of the herbs. White wine and champagne vinegars are popular choices for their delicate and smooth flavors. The stronger red wine vinegar is best with robust herbs (rosemary, thyme, savory, oregano) with hearty flavors. Wine vinegars are not alcoholic despite their names as the process for making the vinegar removes the alcohol. Apple cider vinegar is another good choice for most herbs. Rice vinegar and sherry vinegar have a mild and sweet flavor. Any vinegar that has at least 5% acidity is suitable. Commercial distilled white vinegar has a harsh taste and is really for pickles and household chores.
To find wine vinegars in gallons visit your large discount grocery/box stores and wholesale distributors. Roland and Regina wine vinegars are good brands to find. Gallons of apple cider are easily found in the supermarket. The standard 12 oz bottles of vinegars found in supermarkets are convenient if you wish to make a few bottles or enlarge your recycled collection although you will need to soak and scrape off the labels. Plan on one bottle almost filling two empty bottles of the same size.
Below are online links to Regina wine vinegars in gallons:
BOTTLES. Using my methods you create each herbal vinegar separately in its own bottle. You do not need to steep herbs in containers, heat vinegar or strain anything. Clear glass bottles can be new or recycled and are available in all sorts of sizes and shapes. Choose bottles with an opening large enough for inserting larger sprigs of herbs (rosemary) and also one that pours easily. Look for these bottle shapes: wine, sauce, cider, cruet, maple syrup. All bottles, plastic caps and corks must be clean/sterilized and dry before you begin. Soak the bottles in warm water to scrape off the labels. The dishwasher can be a useful assistant here. And you will probably need some Goo-Be-Gone to finish the job.
Before choosing a bottle for your herbal vinegars you need to estimate how many fresh herbs you will have on hand. The general rule of thumb is that you need a generous cup of fresh herbs to two cups of vinegar. Dried herbs are never used. The peak season for making herbal vinegars is the summertime when your herb garden and containers are overflowing. Other bountiful sources for fresh herbs are local farmer markets and CSA farms. Fresh herbs are sold by the bunch or pound at wholesale groceries who are usually friendly to herb buyers.
If you wish to make a larger batch of herbal vinegars, it is much easier to work with only one bottle shape rather than an assortment. Below are some reliable bottle suppliers online. Be sure your order includes plastic caps with a seal.
250 ml (8 oz) square bottle
250 ml (8 oz) small wine bottle
375 ml (12oz) medium wine bottle
FINISHING TOUCHES: The finishing touches can be fun to develop. Use your creativity to decorate the finished herbal vinegars with labels, fabric squares or colorful wine heat shrink capsules, jute or raffia twine, and a simple recipe card. Below are some suggestions to get your creativity juices flowing:
heat shrink capsules (using heat gun/hairdryer)
small wine bottle labels you can customize
2×4 matte white ink jet labels fit most bottles
various assortments of 5” fabric squares
With this advance planning behind us, I look forward to sharing my recipes for making herbal vinegars such as Italian, Basil/Garlic, Rosemary/Lemon/Garlic, French Tarragon, Lemon Dill, Chile Pepper and others as well as recipes for using herbal vinegars with you next….
Please be sure to ask any questions you may have. All questions are welcome!
A Chef’s Herb Garden
Palladio Restaurant at the Barboursville Vineyards
When my sister called to ask where we could go for an afternoon of wine-tasting to celebrate my brother- in-law’s birthday, I knew the answer at once. The rolling countryside in central Virginia has seen a booming growth in wineries. There are now over 70 wineries clustered around historic Charlottesville with a dozen enjoying national reputations. These gorgeous vineyard estates have also become destination venues for weddings for many brides. The area abounds with wine trails and tours and tourists.
The beautiful Barboursville Vineyards, established in 1976, spreads across 1000 acres of rolling hills looking toward the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west. It is one of the most famous here and so that is where we headed. The rustic Tasting Room is old-world gorgeous, the staff knowledgeable and friendly, and for a $5 tasting fee you can sample more than 15 award-winning wines. Plus they give you an inscribed wine glass as a souvenir. We had great fun and learned a lot about their elegant wines.
Here’s a nice video about the Barboursville Vineyards: http://www.barboursvillewine.net/winery/film
But for me the highlight of the afternoon was the discovery of the impeccable chef’s herb garden in front of the winery’s renowned Palladio Restaurant.
I can’t remember when I have seen a large kitchen herb garden bursting with such beauty and health and bounty. The garden consists of raised beds with one culinary herb growing in each bed – tarragon, chives, English thyme, rosemary, sweet marjoram, basil…When I saw these herb beds I immediately wished I could harvest some of these glorious herbs and make lots of beautiful and delicious herbal vinegars.
And so this visit has inspired a new project here and that is what is coming next: a practical guide for making herbal vinegars at home. There will be easy directions and photos as well as specific recipes for both making and using your herbal vinegars. You will learn how to make beautiful herbal vinegars and how to create an herbal bouquet in every bottle. These herbal vinegars are also wonderful gifts to share with your family and friends.
Looking for Certified Organic Medicinal Herb Seeds and Plants?
Visit Horizon Herbs
Horizon Herbs is a certified organic farm and certified organic processor in Williams, Oregon. It is one of the last few seed companies that actually grows and harvests the seeds they sell. Their specialty is medicinal herb seeds and plants from Agrimony to Zhi-mu and they have the largest collection of medicinal herbs in the US. All seeds and plants are certified organic, open-pollinated, GMO-free, untreated and packaged in plain packets to conserve resources and keep costs down.
The enclycopedic catalog lists 400 organic seeds and organic plants for medicinal, culinary and dye herbs plus a collection of rare, historical and odd herbs. Medicinal herbs often require cultivation strategies that differ from vegetable seeds. Each seed packet (100 seeds) gives you the common name, Latin name, uses, descriptive and growing guidelines. Extensive information for each plant is available online. For more specific cultivation advice you may wish to order the comprehensive The Medicinal Herb Grower, $19.95, written and illustrated by the founders of Horizon Herbs, Richo and Sena Cech. Or visit the Medicinal Herb Bookstore where you will find a large selection of books. I just joined the email newsletter to keep in touch with them. Visit Richo’s extraordinary blog The Seed Screen for inspiration and to learn how to create your own herbalscape and medicinal herb garden.
Where to start? Common and useful medicinal herbs are burdock, calendula, echinacea (see photo), chamomile, lemon balm, marshmallow, nettles, wood betony… Or perhaps a gift collection of certified organically grown seeds is a good choice for the aspiring grower of medicinal herbs:
12 Kidzherbs® Medicinal Herbs + Sena’s delightful book – $19.95
6 Traditional Japanese Herbs – $19.95
8 Traditional Chinese Herbs – $24.95
9 Traditional Ayurvedic Herbs – $24.95
7 Dye Plants Seeds – $14.95
5 Native American Plains Seeds – $9.95
8 Native American Spirit Plants Seeds – $22.95
10 My Mother’s Kitchen Garden herbs – $19.95
7 Edible Flowers Seeds – $14.95
There is nothing as gratifying as snipping a few herbs from your own garden for a healing tea or an ointment. If space is a problem, a medicinal window box or large tub planter will allow you to benefit from the natural healing powers of herbs.
Corona del Mar. On a recent visit to California, I visited the Savory Spice Shop where enticing fragrances welcomed me as I stepped inside this handsome emporium of herbs and spices. You will find here over 400 individual herbs and spices from the traditional to the exotic. You will also find more than 140 herbal/spice blends to make your job in the kitchen a bit easier and certainly more flavorful. The quality and freshness of the fragrant herbs are superb. The spices are ground weekly so that they are as fresh as possible for you.
If you’re accustomed to little tins of grocery spices, you can’t imagine how aromatic and flavorful fresh spices will be. I added their Pumpkin Pie Spice blend to my holiday pumpkin pie, and my family clamored for more demanding the spicy recipe. I admit I used more than recommended as I’ve a generous hand with spices in my kitchen. I’ve been baking the Libby’s pie recipe for years, but this time I used their spices. That was the only difference. And what an incredible difference it was!
Here is the owner Laura Shute in her store in Corona del Mar, CA. Laura and her friendly staff are very knowledgeable and eager to answer all your questions. They offer various recipes for inspiration and guidance. You will also find lots of recipes online: http://savoryspiceshop.com/recipes.html
The herbs and spices are packaged in both small ziplock bags and spice jars. A variety of sizes is available online at the Savory Spice Shop Store. And the prices are very affordable! Here’s the link: http://savoryspiceshop.com/shopsavory.html You will also find wonderful items and unusual gift boxes for your family and friends for any occasion.
The Savory Spice Shop is headquartered in Denver and new stores are opening up around the country. Check here to see if there is one nearby: http://savoryspiceshop.com/aboutus/where.html Do make a point to visit one. While I’ve only visited Laura’s beautiful store, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
Herb Festivals are a great place to find new herbs, herbal products, attend workshops and find new herbal inspiration. They are a true feast for the senses. Be sure to visit an herb festival on your herbal travels in 2011.
One popular gardening extravaganza in Virginia is Herbs Galore & More at Maymont Park in Richmond on the last Saturday in April every year. More than 50 plant and craft booths from the mid-Atlantic region offer a tremendous variety of quality herb plants, handmade herbal products and crafts, veggies, perennials and more. Workshops and classes offer a wonderful opportunity to learn more about growing and using your herbs. And it is just so much fun to meet other herb lovers! Fees vary for the classes and advance registration is advised. Several booths will tempt you to stop for snacks or lunch. I could not pass up the delicious wood-fired gourmet pizza.
Mark your calendar for the festival next year on Saturday, April 29, 2012, 8-4. There is a small admission fee. http://www.maymont.org/Page.aspx?pid=450
It was a gorgeous spring day when we headed out for an hour’s drive to the festival. Even though we arrived later than planned (don’t forget your GPS), there was plenty of free parking. This was my first visit to Herbs Galore and I was impressed to find such variety and quality. Everyone everywhere was carrying flats or pulling little red wagons loaded with plants. I quickly spotted one of my favorite hard-to-find plants – Dwarf Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘compacta’ or Nana’) – at the Lavender Fields Herb Farm booth. Sold! They are having an Herb Faire & Open House on May 13/14 from 9-5 where you will find over 200 varieties of USDA certified organic herb plants, free classes & demos. Be sure to make a reservation online at The Farm for Lunch ($15) and Afternoon Tea ($10). www.lavenderfieldsfarm.com. I definitely plan to be there.
While strolling through festive and colorful tents filled with fragrant herbs and handcrafts, Linda’s Garden booth of organic herbal blends, herbal vinegars and herbal
jellies caught my eye. Perhaps it was that her products reminded me of my own Meadowsweet products that I
sold at so many handcraft shows for so many years. http://www.lindasgarden.com/index.html Other booths offered luxurious herbal soaps and organic skincare products, planters overflowing with herbs, herbal teas,
tools, garden ornaments, bird/butterfly houses, pressed herbs,
pottery, and much more.
It was time for lunch and I “parked” my purchases at the Plant Check for $1.
Be sure not to miss the elegant Maymont Herb Garden and other specialty gardens on your visit. http://www.maymont.org/Page.aspx?pid=290
What a day! I can’t wait until my herb
al travels lead me to another herbal celebration. Where do you go on your herbal travels?
“Herbs from the Common to the Exotic”
THE THYME GARDEN HERB SEED COMPANY produces an informative and charming catalog. The 2010 edition is current. A family-owned business in Alsea, Oregon since 1990, the 80-acre farm features one of the largest collections of herbs in the Northwest. The herb seeds packaged for sale are collected at the farm and most herb plants are grown organically. You can view or order the catalog at www.thymegarden.com. The Food Blog offers tempting farm recipes.
The 64-page catalog offers an extensive selection of herb seeds from Adonis to Yellow Dock covering 33 pages. There are three pages of basil varieties alone. You can check online for new varieties that are not listed in the catalog. Although there are no photos in the print catalog, you will find many photos online.
The descriptive information listed for each herb includes the common and botanical names, classification (perennial, tender perennial. biennial, annual), height at maturity, growing conditions (full sun, part shade, shade), hardiness (growing) zone, varied uses, herbal remedies, and interesting history and folklore. Organic seeds are marked. Herb plants that attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds are also marked. Since the farm grows most of their herb plants from the seeds they package for sale, we know that these seeds work! They do not ship herb plants. Gift Certificates are available.
Seeds for Everlasting and Exotic Flowers offer plants to dry for bouquets and craft projects. There are also mushrooms, hops, bareroot medicinal herb plants, and beneficial garden bugs for natural insect control.
The catalog is printed on recycled newsprint and has a color cover in a jigsaw puzzle design of various farm activities. It is easily worth the price of $2. Each seed packet is $1.95 and there is a $3 handling charge (US and Canada) for your order.
The farm is located in the Coast Range Mountains of Oregon, a short drive from Corvallis. On a visit you will find luxuriant display gardens including a Thyme Garden featuring fifty varieties of thyme and a Moon Garden. The nursery offers more than 700 varieties of herb plants for sale at the farm only. You are invited to join them in the summer for an herbal luncheon in their outdoor country restaurant and tour the surrounding fragrant herb gardens. The cookbook More Good Thymes in the Kitchen is filled with favorite recipes collected over many years. The farm is also available for wedding ceremonies.
I will be sure to place a seed order with the Thyme Garden as a new customer and look forward to a visit on my next trip to the Northwest.
Have you had the good fortune to enjoy a garden tour and herbal luncheon? We would love to hear of your visit.
Are the winter blues getting you down? Hot off the press the 2011 herb seed catalogs may sweep away those winter doldrums. They are full of growing tips, how-to’s, supplies, books and inspiration. Whether you are gardening in beds or containers these catalogs will speed you on your way.
I prefer real catalogs that you can peruse and compare at your leisure. I also prefer businesses and farms which specialize in herbs. After the holidays I sent off requests for new catalogs. One week later the first catalog arrived and the next six arrived the following week. Now that’s quick service! My favorites are described in separate posts so that you can compare and decide which one(s) is for you. It’s “thyme” to order your catalog now. And the bonus is that most are free. Order today!
Herbs are easy to grow with a little bit of planning, preparation and knowledge of the growing conditions they prefer. Most require at least 6 hours of sunlight a day and grow best in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. With a catalog(s) to guide and inspire you, you can bring the magic of herbs to your home and garden and enjoy the luxury of fresh herbs every day. You can choose herbs for flavor, fragrance, herbal remedies, color, texture, crafts, weddings, gifts, insect repellents…to start.
In the catalogs below you will find descriptive information listed for each herb including recommended varieties and tips for growing herbs in garden beds, containers and window boxes; common and botanical names; organic seeds; suggested uses, history and folklore; garden themes; harvesting; garden supplies and tools; and books. Two offer dried culinary, tea and medicinal herbs and other herbal products.
Retail businesses/farms schedule events and workshops and one farm has a restaurant open for luncheons. Gift Certificates are often available.
Here are my favorites so far:
• Johnny’s Selected Seeds www.johnnyseeds.com
• Richters Catalogue www.richters.com
• The Thyme Garden www.thymegarden.com
• Nichols Garden Nursery www.nicholsgardennursery.com
• Territorial Seed Company www.territorialseed.com
You will need to know your plant hardiness or growing zone as well as your average frost dates for planning your herb garden and selecting appropriate herb plants for your geographic location. These zones are useful as a guide only since other factors such as exposure and soil can cause variations and create microclimates within a zone.
Here is my favorite link for finding your plant hardiness zone in your state:
Here is my favorite link for finding your average spring and fall frost dates:
Do you have a favorite catalog for herb seeds that you would like to share with us?
A Strawberry Jar Herb Garden
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme
A strawberry jar with pockets overflowing with kitchen herbs brings the flavors and fragrances of a miniature herb garden into your home. Place the strawberry jar near your kitchen to savor their tempting flavors and to enjoy adding just a pinch or two to your foods. In the kitchen today these herb plants are everyday herbs for Mediterranean foods from Italy and France. Use these herbs to flavor pasta sauce, herb butters, chicken, herb rice, stuffings, rubs and marinades.
The strawberry jar in the photo below contains Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, the four famous herbs of Scarborough Fair, an old English folk song popularized by Simon & Garfunkel in their wildly successful 1966 album by the same name.
Below you will find easy steps to follow and a Photo Album Slideshow to guide you.
General Growing Tips for Strawberry Jars
Strawberry jars are just planters with side pockets. When filled with herbs, each pocket holds a separate herb plant. They come in various sizes, shapes and materials. Once used to grow strawberries, they are now popular for growing miniature herb gardens. The jar in the photo is 6” wide and the nice pockets are 3” wide. Look for jars with large pockets and chunky or squat shapes. Below is a great large strawberry jar for a patio, porch or balcony. Tall and thin jars are not recommended for growing herbs. Te rracotta clay is a traditional choice although ceramic (glazed) and plastic jars do retain the water better.
Steps to Follow
For best results follow the easy steps outlined below and displayed in the Photo Album slideshow beneath.
1. Purchase your herbs at your local nursery, herb farm, Farmer’s Market or herb festival. Select small, bushy and vigorous plants in 2-3” pots. You want a nice 3” pot of rosemary for the top. The plants shown here are larger than necessary. Look for these varieties for best results: curly parsley, common or tri-color sage, rosemary, any culinary thyme. Dwarf and compact varieties are always good choices for containers.
2. Use a premium potting soil, preferably organic. Many potting soils now include slow-release, all-purpose plant food. If not, you will need to add some to your potting soil. Feed at one-half the recommended rate and mix into your potting soil before planting.
3. If using a terracotta jar (recommended), you will need to soak the jar in a bucket of water or the sink for 20-30 minutes before planting.
Water the herb plants at the same time if needed.
4. Gather your other materials: potting soil, (plant food), garden scissors, hand dandelion weeder or dull knife, small rake or fork (bonsai tools work well), garden gloves.
5. Fill bottom of jar with potting soil. Un-pot herbs. You will plant each herb by putting the herb inside the top of the jar and pulling it through a pocket. If the parsley (or thyme) plant is too big to fit through the pocket, gently break or divide it in half with your scissors. Do not divide sage or rosemary. If there is a mass of roots at the bottom of the plant, gently pull the bottom mass off. (Don’t worry, the plant will benefit from this gentle pruning.)
6. As you pull each herb from the inside through the pocket, fill the jar with more potting soil. Try to angle the roots of the plant downward rather than sideways. The dandelion weeder can be helpful here. After planting the rosemary on top, run the weeder or a dull knife around the top edge of the pot to tamp down the soil. Leave 1/2 inch of space on top for easy watering.
7. Slowly water each pocket before watering the top. A small watering can with a long spout is very useful here. Or use a small measuring cup with a spout. You may want to set the jar on a plant coaster for protection.
8. For best results place the strawberry jar near a window with bright light, not direct sunlight, or in a protected bright spot on a porch or balcony. The jar needs 5-6 hours of bright light and needs to be watered or checked daily. Always water each pocket separately before watering the top. If you are going away for the weekend, move the jar out of the sunlight into a low-light spot.
Please enjoy your beautiful new strawberry jar filled with fragrant and flavorful herbs and do not forget to check it daily. When the potting soil feels dryish to the touch on the top or in any of the side pockets, it is time to water. Smaller strawberry jars may need to be watered daily.