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Halgrimson: Herb gardens my cup of tea

When I had the idea to do a series of columns on various herb gardens, I called my friends Eric and Joe Bergeson at their third-generation nursery in Fertile, Minn. Eric gave me the name of Mara Trygstad, a Fargo woman who was planning to open an...

When I had the idea to do a series of columns on various herb gardens, I called my friends Eric and Joe Bergeson at their third-generation nursery in Fertile, Minn. Eric gave me the name of Mara Trygstad, a Fargo woman who was planning to open an herb nursery, and Joe gave me a Web site to check out: www.johnnyseeds.com .

I had decided that my first column would be about herbal teas. I called Mara and discovered she is doing a class for Moorhead Community Education in May on herbal tea gardens as well as one on a salsa garden. (The salsa class is already filled.) I also remembered taking an herb class from her many years ago.

For me, planting an herb garden is one of summer's most intense pleasures. Often a certain number of herbs such as chives, lavender, mint, oregano, sage and tarragon return in the spring. And at other times they die because of the vagaries of our winters.

Basil needs to be replanted every year, and luckily I have a source. Lisa Johnson, who works at the North Dakota State University Extension Service, brings me a good number of various basils that she starts from seeds.

A few years ago I lost everything except my chives, mint and tarragon. But I've replanted and am hoping for the best. Now I want a tea garden.

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As I searched for the herbs necessary for a tea garden, I realized few were available locally. When Mara gets her business, It's About Thyme, up and going, it should remedy the situation.

The herbs can be used to make tisanes, which are teas made by steeping herbs or flowers in boiling water. They are both soothing and refreshing.

To make a tisane, wash the leaves and stems of the herb and bruise them slightly with a wooden spoon or spatula, which brings out their flavors when they are covered with boiling water.

All of the herbs listed can be planted in the garden with the exception of mint, which can take over the whole patch unless they are contained in a pot.

Some of the herbs used for tisanes are:

  • Borage has bright blue flowers and a slightly cucumberlike flavor. Its leaves are slightly hairy and must be finely chopped for use in salads and with vegetables but not for the tea.
  • Burnet also has a cucumberlike flavor, and its leaves are used not only for tea but in salads and with vegetables.
  • Chamomile blooms are similar to a daisy, and they are excellent for tea.
  • Epazote is a sharp-tasting herb with a strong flavor similar to the way cilantro is sharply flavored. It is also called Mexican tea and is used in many bean dishes to alleviate the flatulence caused by the beans.
  • Lemon balm, lemon grass and lemon verbena are wonderful choices for tisanes. The aromatic citrus flavor adds much to salads, poultry and fish dishes.
  • Hyssop is a member of the mint family and has a mint flavor, although it is slightly bitter. It is also used in salads, soups and stews and some liqueurs.
  • Both spearmint and peppermint are not only appropriate for tea but are a tasty addition to many desserts. Just remember to plant it in a pot, or it will inundate the whole garden.

A good companion course to Mara's herb class is "Tea and Scones," taught by pastry chef Nichole Hensen of Nichole's Fine Pastry and tea educator Vicky Bogart.
Other herb gardens are filled with herbs for candle making and for dyeing fabrics. But the one that interests me most is the chocolate herb garden. That's just my cup of tea.

Mara Trygstad can be reached at maratrygstad@cableone.net

Sources: https://communityed.moorhead.k12.mn.us; epicurious.com; www.johnnyseeds.com and www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/chammo49.html

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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson can be reached at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com

Related Topics: FOOD
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