May Newsletter 2006

Its finally warmed up this month, although all of us at Herbal Haven have still got our scarves handy, as I don’t think we really believe its here to stay yet. Despite the cold we’ve had, it has been dry and we have hosepipe bans in this neck of the woods, though saying that the last two or three days have produced some heavy rain. Not much fun when you’re standing behind a stall all weekend! It seems only a short while ago that we were watching the herbs struggling to put on a bit of growth in the cold weather, and now with the heat and long daylight hours some of them, the mints in particular, are starting to shoot up like triffids and need to be cut back. 

May really is the month for fabulous crops of salad herbs. Plants such as rocket, lambs lettuce, chard, land cress, chervil and coriander should be providing you with some decent leaves now, remember to give them a weekly feed if you are growing them in containers. Use a product suitable for edible crops for obvious reasons. We use an organic liquid feed that has been made from seaweed. We have grown some oriental salad crops this year, the most popular so far has been the mizuna (or Japanese greens) and I think this is because lots of people have seen or heard of it before. The mustard spinach hasn’t turned out to be as mustardy as you might imagine, though it is nice chopped up in salads. The Chinese celery however is rather tasty, and I would definitely recommend it. The other two we have grown are chopsuey greens, (garland chrysanthemum) which has a good flavour, and shiso, a beautiful looking purple plant used in Shusi and Tempura cooking. It has taken a while to get going as it really didn’t like the cold spring, but we are now able to have a decent chomp on the leaves, which have a very distinctive taste. 

People have been asking for basil since March, but it’s a herb that likes lots of warm sunny weather, and if started too early in the year simply germinates and dies. We begin sowing seed in early April on heated benches, with the aim of selling the first plants at the start of May. It is still too cold and wet to grow them outside at that time of year however, so keep them in a greenhouse or on a south facing windowsill until June at least. African Blue Basil is one that we don’t grow from seed and we begin selling this in April. It is slightly tougher than the others, though still not hardy, but will continue to grow through the winter on a sunny windowsill. The flavour is slightly different from the ordinary sweet basil, and this spring we have been experimenting with it in several recipes. The one we liked best will appear at the end of this newsletter. 

The primroses have all finished now, but other herbs that are flowering this time of year are, sweet woodruff, sweet cicely, rosemary, bugle, strawberry, comfrey, balloon flower, pulsatilla, heartsease, chives and welsh onion. As we get asked this question a lot, you can eat the chive flowers, simply cut them off, break them into individual florets and add them to salads. They give the same onion flavour and also look quite stunning. The same applies for other flowers too such as heartsease, borage, and calendula, plus all those leafy edible annual/salad herbs that go over later in the season like coriander and rocket. You can make some great looking salads. Talking of flowers, our Hounds Tongue (Cynoglossum Officinale) plants are in flower now, and they have lovely darkish red petals. We are excited because as often happens with wild flower seed, not many germinated, the ones that did we have grown on, and as it is a biennial we’ve had to wait two years for this moment. We shall be able to collect our own seed now. Not sure who will want to buy it though as Culpepper describes the whole plant as having in a foetid smell. Nice. The leaves are said to be a wound healer, and the root used among other things for the bite of mad dogs. Something our poor postman might find useful then. 

Some of the Herbal Haven team are quite into their football, and the world cup is looming. Obviously Jeff does not have enough to do working behind the market stall in Saffron Walden, as seeing other stall holders marketing their England wares has inspired him to compile a collection of world cup herb players which I thought I’d share with you: 

Robert Green Sage, Paul Robinson The Golden Sage, David James Purple Sage, Gary Chervil Neville, Rio Ferdinand Bronze Fennel, John Terrygon, Ashley Cole-O Rosso, Sol Chamomile Campbell, Jamie Carragher Coriander, Wayne Bridge Borage, Michael Carrick Curry Plant, David Bayckham, Frank Lampard Chard, Stevie Gerrard – The Mighty Redmint, Owen Hardgreaves Oregano, Jermaine Geranium Jenas, Stewart Downing Woolly Thyme, Joe Cole Black Peppermint, Aaron Lennon Grass, Wayne Rooney Comfrey, Michael Owen Mizuna, Peter Crouch Fennel, Theo Walcott Rocket. Although I ‘get’ some of these, I’m sure those of you who know about football and herbs will have a better understanding. Other than that I think it best to leave Jeff in his own world (cup). 

That’s all for this month, let us know what you think of the newsletter; polite replies only please and any ideas you have for future editions will be welcome. Happy herbing, Lorraine. 

TOMATO PASTA WITH AFRICAN BLUE BASIL   

  • Fresh ripe tomatoes 
  • Onion 
  • Garlic 
  • Handful African Blue Basil 
  • Fresh oregano 
  • Salt and black pepper 
  • Pasta 

Put the tomatoes in boiling water for a minute and remove the skins before chopping finely. Saute the chopped onion and garlic. Add the tomatoes and basil. The basil can be chopped or the leaves left whole depending on the texture you would prefer. Whole leaves give a chewier texture. Cook for five mins then add to cooked pasta along with chopped oregano, salt and pepper. Serve with or without a sprinkling of parmesan.