Herbal Haven Newsletter July/August 2011

Welcome to the July/August newsletter.

We seem to have lost the summer here in Essex. It hasn’t rained that much but the days are mostly cloudy and cool. A lot of herbs tend come to flower this month despite our best efforts to keep everything young and bushy looking. This is especially true of the mints, marjoram’s, catnip, thymes and savories. They are more difficult to sell in flower because people seem to think that the flowers can’t be used and also that the plant will die along with the flower. The oregano country cream in my garden is big and bushy and covered in flowers which the bees love - I just cut off the stems flowers and all, to use in cooking. If I were to cut the oregano down taking the flowers with it, the plant would spring back with new growth from the base.

The catnip (nepeta cataria) we have in the tunnels is all in flower but we haven’t cut any back because of the sheer amount of insects all over it, especially the bumble bees that love it. Insects are not the only thing that loves it.  Lots of cats will eat both leaves and flowers which have a fairly profound effect on them (see clip). Both catnip which grows to upright and has whitish pink flowers and catmint (nepeta mussinii) which grows in soft sprawling mounds with blue flowers affect cats. About two thirds of cats are affected and it seems it is a hereditary trait. Nepetalactone which is mild hallucinogen is the chemical responsible for this reaction and cats absorb it through Jacobson organ in the back of the nose. Catnip is also used in herbal medicine for its sedative effect and nepetalactone is itself a good insect repellent.



We have recently put stevia rebaudiana on the website for sale. We have been growing it for a long time, but there were laws governing its sale as a food product in the UK and some other countries. These were lifted in April this year after a successful action by Coca Cola and Cargill’s to get it licensed as a sweetening product. Countries such as Japan have used it for many years.

Stevia is native to Paraguay where its intensively sweet leaves were used to in teas and medicines. It was recorded by the early Spanish settlers. It was a later Italian botanist who brought it to the world’s attention. In 1931 two French chemists isolated the pure white crystalline stevioside, the sweet compound within the plant. Much sweeter than sugar it was soon taken up by the Japanese to replace sugar and artificial sweeteners in food and as a table top sweetener. It was extensively tested and found to be safe and stable and its use spread to other countries such as China, Israel, Germany and Malaysia.

Stevia is a perennial with white flowers, but is not hardy in the UK and needs to be somewhere warm over the winter.

Inevitably we do end up with a compost heap here on the nursery and once a year after the surrounding fields are harvested it is shovelled up and spread on the stubble. The combines finished last night so the heap is being moved today. There are always herbs that take advantage of being in a mound of endless compost and romp away. The tree spinach is one of them – the picture below shows what can happened to untamed and uneaten one! The beautiful chicory was also growing there.