edible flowers

Awesome Amaranth

Jacqueline here with a confession. I confess I am not a fussy gardener. I prefer plants that I can plant and forget about until harvest time.  Likewise, in the kitchen, I prefer foods that are easy to prepare, needing few steps to provide a satisfying meal. Lucky for me the Sonoran Desert abounds in such plants, and amaranth is just one of them – great in both the garden and kitchen.

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There are over 60 species of amaranth, and while several species are considered weeds, many people around the world value amaranths as vegetables, for the seeds, for dye, and as ornamentals. Amaranth grows best in the heat of summer, and it is not too late to plant some.

Some species of amaranth are eaten as greens – and are anything but green! Foliage ranges in hue from crimson, to red, to vivid magenta, all due to natural pigments called betalains. Whatever their color, they are a very good source of vitamins including vitamin A, B3, B6, C, vitamin K, and folate, along with dietary minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and especially manganese.

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The root of mature amaranth is a palatable parsnip-like vegetable. It is fine added to stews or cooked and mashed.

Amaranth seeds, like quinoa, teff, and buckwheat, contain “complete protein” (a complete set of the amino acids needed by humans). These examples are called “pseudograins” because of their flavor and cooking is similar to grains, but unlike grain, they do not contain gluten. (By the way, “true” grains are in the grass family.) As with rice and other grains, use two cups liquid to one cup seeds.

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Amaranth is related to quinoa.

 

Amaranth greens and seed are used as a tonic in Chinese medicine for their richness in minerals and vitamins – to help the body recover from a variety of ills, including infections, rashes, and migraines.

In India, amaranth is recommended for people with low red blood cell count. Several studies have shown that amaranth seed and amaranth seed oil may be of benefit for those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease; regular consumption reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while improving antioxidant status and some immune parameters.

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Young amaranth leaves are tasty right off the plant, in salads, or they can be steamed as a potherb. In Greece, their native green amaranth (Amaranthus viridis) is used in a popular dish called “vleeta.” Leaves are boiled, then served with olive oil and lemon, usually alongside fried fish.

Amaranth grows very rapidly and their large seed heads can weigh several pounds and contain a half-million seeds. Mature seed heads of amaranth are ideally harvested while still somewhat green, before the bracts open to release the seed. Thus seed will drop where you can more easily capture it, like within a paper bag.

These seeds can be boiled, parched or even toasted much like popcorn and mixed with honey, molasses or chocolate to make a Mexican treat called alegría, which will have to be a topic for the future, or see the chapter Using Father Kino’s Herbs for a recipe.

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A quick dinner when you don’t want to heat the kitchen too much is steamed amaranth greens and scrambled eggs.

JAS avatarWant to learn more about growing amaranth? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will sell and sign copies of my books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, $23).
© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.

Categories: Cooking, Dye, dye plant, edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom grains, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Savor Southwestern Iced Tea

Jacqueline here in this last week of a sweltering May, with a look ahead to next month. June is “National Iced Tea Month,” so time to think about some iced teas to help you Savor the Southwest.

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Language purists will remind us that true tea comes from Camellia sinensis, grown in the tropics, and any “herbal tea” is in fact a “tisane,” but the English language is subject to change over time, thus I am using the term “tea” to mean any herb infused into a beverage.

Speaking of infusing – teas should be prepared as an infusion. Infusions are made by adding water to fresh or dried herbs and allowing them time to infuse the water with their oils and flavors. The water can be hot or cold, depending on how strong a flavor you desire and how quickly. Avoid decoctions, where the plants are placed in boiling water and held over heat. This will extract plant compounds better left in the plant.

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Mint tea garnished with fresh mint and a slice of orange.

Traditional iced tea is often served with lemon. That is a nice way to blend flavors and engage your palate with both the bitterness of the tea and the sourness of the lemon at the same time. With this in mind, I like to put together more than one herb at a time for a richer gustatory experience.

Mint tea can be garnished with a fresh sprig of mint, and a slice of orange. I find the sweet orange helps highlight the tang of the mint in a pleasant way.

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Calendula grows well in winter in the Southwest.

Calendula tea from the petals I dried all winter is made tangy with a slice of lemon and a fresh bay leaf – delightful! I tried calendula with mint and didn’t like the way the flavors worked together.

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Calendula tea with bay and lemon.

Thyme is tasty indeed, and I find it freshens the palate. Rather than cucumber water at your next soiree, try some thyme.

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Thyme tisane.

I have tried all sorts of blends over thyme – I mean time – and tea with mint, sage, and a sprig of fennel was unique. The licoricy fennel blended nicely with the earthy notes of sage. The fennel plants are gone for the year, but next year I’m going to leave the mint out.

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Tea from mint, sage, and fennel. Some blends work better than others.

Run out of lemons? Don’t forget the lemony and luscious barrel cactus I wrote about in November 2014. The fruits add a wonderful citrus-like tang to teas and can be used in place of lemon. This is also good if you are trying to only eat things in season – the barrel fruit from last autumns blush of bloom is ripening nicely now.

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Barrel cactus fruit can be dried for use like lemon peel.

I hope you will celebrate Iced Tea Month by savoring some new teas. Please do let us know if you find a blend we should share! We welcome your ideas.

 

JAS avatarWant to learn more? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, $23).
© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.

 

 

Categories: edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, herbs, Kino herb, Libations | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flower Pesto

Hello all, Amy here with Marjorie and a pile of nasturtiums, pansies and sage flowers from her garden! So many edible flowers, and so much inspiration!

Basil leaf pesto is stunningly beautiful and a taste sensation, so what would pesto made with flowers look like? And taste like???

We started by picking the little purple flowers from garden sage. Then we mashed them with garlic, pine nuts, salt and olive oil.

The taste of sage was warming and delicious but not overpowering like sage leaves or even basil leaves.

So we hollowed little cherry tomatoes, filled with goat cheese or coconut yogurt, and topped with our little pesto experiment. Success! (in four unforgettable bites…)

 

Next up was flowers from Marjorie’s spring crop of nasturtiums, their days numbered with the increasingly hot and dry weather.

This batch started with a bright chiltepin or two.

 

 

Then garlic, pine nuts, salt, olive oil and nasturtiums.

Peppery, bright, and sooooo worth all the fuss!!!!

To serve this pesto, we scooped it into whole nasturtiums, again with a bit of goat cheese or coconut yogurt. (These are diary free and vegan, but don’t tell anyone unless they need to know, because they aren’t lacking anything!)

Enjoy with tea and friends.

(Happy birthday, Marjorie!)

Categories: Cooking, edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, herbs, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Not All Sage Is

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Salvia officinalis, the sage now used for culinary purposes.

Jacqueline Soule here this week, offering apologies to my English teachers, but I hope I caught your attention with the title. I used it to call attention to the fact that many plants are called “sage,” but only some of them should be used for culinary purposes.

The culinary sage you purchase in the store is Salvia officinalis. This doesn’t mean it is the “official” sage, it means it is the medicinal sage. The word officinalis is Latin for “of or belonging to an officina.”  The officina was the storeroom of a monastery where medicines were kept.

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Tricolor sage – looks good in the garden and can be used for cooking.

Plant Nerd Note: Like iris (Iris), the scientific name and the common name for salvia (Salvia) are the same.

Salvia is a massive genus, with over 1500 named species and varieties of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals. Many of these salvia are used, often for cooking or medicinal purposes, in ritual (Salvia apiana, the white sage), and to simply bring us pleasure as cultivated garden ornamentals.

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The white sage used in ritual, Salvia apiana.

Salvia officinalis once had many medicinal uses, including to help ward off bubonic plague (not a common ailment today). Studies done in recent years show that sage does have some medicinal value – including as a local anesthetic for the skin, as a hemostatic agent, and as a diuretic.* Sometimes savoring the Southwest includes savoring that “ahhh” of soaking your feet after a long hike.

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Salvia officinalis, the common culinary sage, is said to help reduce swelling in tissues.

In my garden I grow a slew of salvia.  Salvia officinalis or true sage is for the kitchen. Shrubby Salvia greggii (Gregg’s salvia, autumn sage) comes in vast array of colors (I have 7 different colors so far) and I keep it for the hummingbirds and for the edible flowers.

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Greggs sage, Salvia greggii, is a lovely garden plant with edible flowers.

Salvia coccinia, the scarlet sage, is non-shrubby and blooms in winter when the autumn sage doesn’t. The scarlet flowers are edible by humans and the hummingbirds hover within millimeters of the ground to sip the nectar.

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Scarlet sage does best in our area with afternoon shade. (Edible flowers!)

I have killed several plants of Salvia leucantha, the Mexican bush sage because I do not cover my plants when it freezes and this semi-tropical Mexican native is not frost hardy.

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Tropical Mexican bush sage needs protection from frost.

To finish on a positive note, both species of chia, Salvia hispanica, and Salvia columbariae grow well in my Sonoran Desert yard.  Salvia hispanica likes containers with nice rich potting soil and some afternoon shade in summer. Salvia columbariae grows in the desert soil and comes back as a winter wildflower every year, especially if I sprinkle the soil with water once a week. More on chia in a future article.

Salvia columbariae by Las Pilatas nursery

Salvia columbariae, one of the species of “chia.” Photo courtesy of Las Pilatas nursery.

Salvia hispanica

Salvia hispanica, one of the species of “chia.”

 

 

 

JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Fruit & Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest (Cool Springs Press, $23).
© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

* The information in this post is true to the best of our knowledge. It is offered without guarantees on the part of the author or any shareholders in this website, who disclaim any liability in connection with the use of this information. Be aware that if herbs are misused, they can be harmful.

Categories: Cooking, edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom crops, herbs, Kino herb, Southwest Food | Tags: , | 7 Comments

Pear Prickly Pear Desert Dessert

Hello, Amy here, preparing a dessert for some new friends completely new to the desert, passing through on their way to Costa Rica. A few pears that had seen some travel were sitting on the kitchen counter…

So I pared, sliced and put them in the oven with a few cubes of frozen prickly pear juice.

After baking and stirring, they looked like this!

Then I made a crumble topping, staring with plenty of desert seeds, from left to right: saguaro, amaranth, chia, barrel cactus.

The bulk of the mixture was mesquite meal, rolled oats, pecan meal, butter, sugar (evaporated cane juice). For seasoning, I used cinnamon, cardamon, dried rose petals and dried ocotillo flowers.

Once mixed, I crumbled the mixture over the pears and put back into the 350 degree F oven to bake until browned and crunchy.

It is best served warm, here with a little homemade goat yogurt, but cream or ice cream works, too!

The recipe can be found in the Desert Harvesters’ Cookbook:

This recipe is so forgiving. I was short on oats so increased the pecans. I doubled the cardamom, traded evaporated cane juice for the brown sugar, substituted water for milk, changed the orange/apple juice to prickly pear, and doubled the seeds. Coconut oil works fine instead of butter for this, too.

 

Amy’s Apple Crisp

2 pounds apples, local organic heirlooms if possible (Or pears. No need to weigh!)

2 tablespoons orange, apple or prickly pear juice (or more)

 

Topping:

1 cup mesquite meal

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup seeds, like amaranth, chia, barrel cactus, saguaro

1/3 cup evaporated cane juice or brown sugar (0r less)

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter

2 tablespoons milk or water

Slice the fruit into a baking dish, add juice, and bake at 350 degrees while preparing the topping. Mix all the topping ingredients in the food processor, distribute over sliced fruit, and bake at 350-375 degrees F until browned. Enjoy!

 

Categories: Cooking, edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, heirloom grains, herbs, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Marvelous Mints

Mint is one of those plants that want to spread everywhere in the garden, and that can be a good thing if you use a lot of mint – like I like to.  Mint is useful for all manner of beverages, from mint tea to mint julep to crème de menthe, or you can use it to make jelly, various sauces, make tabouli, throw some in salad, in wine,,,, the list goes on, but you get the idea.  Oh, and mints are used medicinally and for bath and beauty products too.

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Mint gets a bad rap because it can spread in the garden and crowd out other, less aggressive, plants.  The solution is to grow your mint in pots – and make sure those pots are up off the ground so the mint can’t creep out the drainage hole.  I put my pots of mint up on bricks.

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There are over 100 species of mint, plus many hybrids, and more being bred all the time – to offer new flavors – like “berries and cream mint” I spotted the other day in Rillito Nursery in Tucson. Since we are here to savor the Southwest, today I will talk about using mint for culinary purposes.

Mint and Sweets

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Mint is an herb that offers a tangy counterpoint to foods, especially sweets. A slice of luscious chocolate torte offered with sprigs of mint is one good example. Several bites of rich creamy torte followed by a nibble of mint offers a refresher for your palate, allowing you to savor the chocolaty flavor all over again when you bite back into it.

 

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Mints work well with all manner of sweet things. Lime juice and chopped mint leaves combine to make a tangy and refreshing frosting on orange flavored cupcakes.

Mint and Fruit

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Mint pairs well with many fruits. Like savoring the torte, a few bites of strawberry followed with a nibble of mint offers a refreshing and more flavorful experience.

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Don’t limit your mint use to dessert, wake up your morning yogurt and granola with a sprig or two of mint. Mint is said to aid digestion.

Mint and Drinks

Summer is coming – perk up your lemon-aid and make it even more refreshing with some sprigs of mint.

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And last but not least, plan ahead for Kentucky Derby Day, and make some mint syrup to make mint julep with. Here is the recipe I got several decades ago from my friend Karen from Kentucky. Sorry that I don’t recall her last name, but I remember her sweet nature every year as we watch the Derby and sip minty drinks.

Mint syrup. In a mason jar, put one cup sugar, one cup compressed fresh mint leaves, and add one cup boiling water. Stir as needed to help dissolve the sugar. When cooled, store in the back of the fridge for up to a month. Mint syrup can be used for mint juleps but it’s also a dandy way to sweeten iced tea.

Mint julep. In a glass add 2 ounces of bourbon, ½ ounce mint syrup, sprigs of mint, and stir, bruising the mint leaves. Fill the glass with finely crushed ice. Optionally garnish with fresh mint. Sip and enjoy!

 

JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
© Article is copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos are courtesy of Pixabay and may not be used.

 

 

Categories: Cooking, edible flowers, fruit, herbs, Kino herb, Libations, medicinal plant | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Pretty & Pretty Zesty – Oxalis

Oxalis 1102808_1280Jacqueline Soule here today, posting at the end of the month – in time to get ready for next month!  For  February, I wrote about the edible flowers called heartease (also called pansy and violet).  Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day it’s time to add another edible flower to your repertoire – oxalis (also called shamrock and wood sorrel).  Oxalis has a long history of use as human food, including here in the Southwest.

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Oxalis Overview
There are over around 600 species of Oxalis, plus numerous horticultural varieties, and all of them contain the same chemical that gives rhubarb it’s tart flavor, oxalic acid.  Don’t be put off by the “acid!”  Vinegar is acetic acid, and you’ve had that before.

Oxalis tuberosa wiki free

Most Oxalis species have tubers, some quite large, and those are sold for eating as “oca.” They can be tart and are generally mixed in stews, soups, or with other tubers.  In Michocan, Mexico, the vegetable vendor recommended mixing them with potatoes and turnips to add flavor.  I promptly bought some and grew them for many years, eating only the leaves and flowers and preserving the roots to grow more of these lovely plants.

oxalis wrap 1974 webEnjoy.
Oxalis commonly sold as “shamrocks” have tiny, scaly tubers, about the size of a mung bean, so the leaves and flowers will be the part you will use. Flowers and leaves can be added to salads and soups for a zesty, citrusy tang. Or capitalize upon this lemony flavor and puree leaves with fresh dill and a drizzle of olive oil to use on fish – delightful!  The flavor of oxalis also works well to make a “lemon” chicken.

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So far I have also mixed diced oxalis flowers and leaves into omelets, fritattas, potato salad, egg salad, and put it in “wraps” with cream cheese, turkey, or ham.  A friend chops oxalis and adds it along with fresh oregano her goat cheese.

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Grow.
Oxalis plants grow well in the Southwest, but they may go dormant is summer. Not to worry, they come back from tubers as the weather cools – as long as you keep the soil dry while they are dormant.

The pink flowered species found in Tucson barrios grows well in our alkaline soils, and there is much botanical discussion as to it’s true name (I won’t bore you with the details). I call mine barrio oxalis when I share tubers with friends. What ever the correct name may be – it adds zest to many of my meals.

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Caution.
Don’t eat oxalis just purchased unless it is labeled “organic.” Ornamental plants such as oxalis are very often treated with toxic insecticides and fungicides (biocides) that are systemic (throughout all plant tissues) and stay in the plants for around three months. Herbs and vegetable plants are not legally treated with systemic biocides because they are edibles.

 

JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).

© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.  Featured image is courtesy of the Netherlands Bulb Information Center.

 

 

Categories: Cooking, edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom crops, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Heartease

In a few short days it will be February – and it can be a dreary month, often rainy and cold, even in southern Arizona. All hearts need some easing in this upcoming shortest of months. Luckily, here in southern Arizona, February is the month we can easily grow one of the most hearteasing and cheerful flowers on the face of the earth. Heartease is the common name for Viola tricolor, best known as one of the mothers of the pansy. The simple beauty and delightfully friendly tricolored faces of heartease, pansies, and violets have long been admired by poets, artists, lovers, and cooks!

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Use.
Pansies and violets have a long history of human consumption. The flowers, fresh or candied, were a favorite edible decoration at medieval banquets. Tarts made from pansies or violets were a Victorian delicacy.

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Top a custard tart with berries and heartease.

Heartease flowers can be used to flavor and color salads, herbal butters, jams, jellies, syrups, desserts, herbal vinegars, and even wines. Studies indicate that flowers contain appreciable amounts of vitamins A and C, so along with adding color to the salad they are healthy for you.

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All of these are high in Vitamin C.

Ethnomedicinally, pansies and violets have been used to treat health problems ranging from epilepsy to depression. A tea made from the leaves was prescribed for quelling anger and inducing sleep. Roman revelers wore wreaths of violets in hopes of preventing hangovers.

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Smoked salmon salad with purple pansies – colorful and yummy.

 

Grow.
Heartease, pansies and violets grow well in Tucson from seed sown in October. At this time of year it is best to buy “seedlings” or already growing plants. Replant seedlings into the ground or containers in partial to full sun, and keep these temperate climate plants watered.

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Tiny Viola odorata is incredibly fragrant and grows well in our area.

I like planting pansies and violets in containers with potting soil for three reasons. First, Viola do best in rich, moist soil with good drainage. Second, I put the containers up on a table with metal legs so the critters can’t climb up and eat my plants. Third, these charmers are up where I can easily see them and enjoy their beauty. Harvest them too, when I’m making a dinner salad.

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Yogurt with chia, berries, and hearease. A great way to start the day.

Caution.
Ornamental plants from “big box” nurseries are very often treated with toxic insecticides and fungicides (biocides) that are systemic (throughout all plant tissues) and stay in the plants for around three months. Herbs and vegetable plants from a nursery are not treated with systemic biocides because they are edibles.

 

JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).
© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.

Categories: Cooking, edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, Kino herb, medicinal plant | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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