Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Heat Is On!

The heat of summer continues, but thankfully all you out there have everything you wanted planted already right? Well if not today I have three fun herbs to put on your must have list for the year. Todays plants of note are Pineapple Sage, Lemon Verbena and Lemon Balm but before I get into the trio of iced tea empowering herbs heres a gardening fact.

Did you know that 'Sage Brush' is actually three differing plants? There are three plants that depending on region are used as Salvia apiana, Salvia mellifera and Artemesia tridentata; or Sacred Sage, Black Sage and Mountain Sagebrush by common name respectively. Fortunately one of the three can be grown outdoors here in North Carolina, Black sage. For those in more northeastern climates if you can get one Mountain sage brush can be grown in containers to the point it makes an excellent bonsai plant.

[The pineapple sages are refusing to photogenic for this article]
Salvia elegans - Pineapple Sage

Pineapple Sage is a commonly seen but rarely regarded herb found in most garden centers. In northern climates it is a absolute annual but in North Carolina, or zone 7 it is a tender perennial further south you can of coruse expect it will return yearly. Pineapple sage unlike most of the sage family does it's best when presented with protection from midday and afternoon sun. Ample moisture and a good soil will go a long way towards maintaining your stand of this sage. But what is it used for? Pineapple Sage has attractive red flowers that can attract hummingbirds and pollinators. The leaves impart a fruity flavor when cooked or soaked in a beverage. You can propagate pineapple sage stems by layering or through cuttings with rooting hormones.

Alloysia citrodora/triphylla - Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena is an unusual herb that has a dedicated following of gardeners who know in great detail it's virtues. Strangely enough Lemon Verbena is not seen in as many garden Centers as it should be. Why this herb has not caught on is beyond me. For those readers who don't know, This herb is the best lemon flavor and scented herb you can get your hands on short of an actual lemon. It is worthwhile to mention lemon verbena is actually in the verbena family and thus has exceptional drought, heat and poor soil tolerance. Furthermore Lemon Verbena makes for a attractive potted plant indoors for winter and cuttings root easily. In the culinary role if you have a recipe that calls for a lemony scent and flavor. The real joy of lemon verbena is in a tall glass of Iced tea at the end of a long work day.

Melissa officinalis - Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is the most common lemon flavored herb of all time short of an actual lemon. It is rare to find a garden center without this herb on the racks in the spring. This is not due to marketing but that Lemon Balm is easy to grow and readily self-propagates from seed. The cultivation of this plant in the north versus the south does vary. In the northeast Lemonbalm can be grown in full sun with little issue and moderate supplemental watering and slight soil improvement needs. In the southeast Lemon balm is best grown in partial to full shade and needs regular water and soil with additional fertility and organic matter. As a herb Lemon balm is more scent then flavor. Few herbs can match the consistancy of the aroma as its sweet lemon fragrance when combined with real lemon can be a real seasoning powerhouse. Lemon balm does make a nice but somewhat thin flavoring for iced tea and in the right amount can make a refreshing tea all on it's own. Cuttings of lemon blam if you are so inclined can be rooted in water, but if happy it will propagate freely by seed.

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