It amazes me how plants can be so tender and vulnerable yet so powerful. They depend on us for nurturing and in return they nurture us. We plant, cultivate, and water. In return, flowers, vegetables, herbs, trees, shrubs - all nurture us in some way, either physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Lately I've been thinking about filling my life with more joy which has led me to lemons. Yes, lemons and all things lemony like lemon balm, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, and lemongrass. It shouldn't surprise me, I guess, that my search for things that bring joy would lead me to lemons. Even a lemony-hue can be cheery. Yellow daisies, Coreopsis, marigolds, sunflowers can brighten up a landscape or a bouquet. But lemons? The same fruit that can make us pucker, has a fragrance that can be uplifting! It seems like such a contradiction held in one plant.
As I dig deeper, I discover that lemons have a strong connection with mental health. The vitamin C in citrus have been found to lower levels of stress. It helps restore our adrenal glands when we are under too much stress. The smell of lemons can calm our nervous systems, help with anxiety and depression, and give us a boost of energy. Aromatherapy is definitely a super power of plants!
Here are a few ways to add lemon's uplifting essence into your day:
- Add lemon slices to your water. To take it to the next level, combine 5 lemon slices, 5 crushed lemongrass stalks, 1/2 c. fresh lemon basil leaves, and 1/2 c. fresh orange mint leaves in a carafe of water. Let it steep in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. Strain and enjoy.
- Diffuse lemon essential oil to improve your mood. It energizes and invigorates. The essential oil is extracted from fresh lemon peel, so just a few drops will do. Read more about it's benefits here.
- Add fresh lemon balm and lemon verbena leaves into salads, especially fruit salads. This Roasted Fruit Salad looks especially delicious.
- Make lemon herb tea with dried lemon balm, lemon thyme, and lemon verbena. Click here for several recipes.
For creative ways to use lemon herbs in place of lemons, check out this site.
No matter how you slice it, lemons and all the lemon herbs offer something powerful that we need. So plant them in your garden or in a pot, tend to them, and nurture them and they will nurture you in return. That gift of reciprocity itself is a joy and one that keeps on giving.
It is often in August that the earth’s flowers are singing their loudest. Cosmos, zinnias, self-seeding annuals and native perennials have taken this long to reach their full potential and offer their nectar as a sweet treat to the flocks of bees and butterflies that are drawn to them.
The meadow is like that. Flowers and grasses intermingle in an open expanse and August finds it quiet, calming, but buzzing with activity. What if we could experience the joy of meadows close to home? What if we each planted a mini meadow - a little patch of colorful flowers in our yards?
A mini meadow does not require much: a patch of earth and a handful of annual and perennial seeds. It does not have to be, and should not be, manicured, but rather a loose, informal style as found in nature. A mini meadow could be as small as a container on your deck, or as large as your entire backyard. It is not time-consuming because once established, they require little maintenance.
MINI MEADOW BASICS
WHAT TO DO NOW
Late summer is not the time to plant except for perennial transplants. However, it is the time to plan and prep for next year’s mini meadow.
PLANTS TO CONSIDER
Annuals: Bachelor Buttons, Borage, Calendula, California poppies, Cosmos, Feverfew, Sunflowers, Zinnias
Perennials: Black-eyed Susans, Butterfly weed, Coneflowers, Coreopsis, New England Asters, Liatris, Vernonia
Grasses: Prairie Dropseed, Little Bluestem, Switchgrass
The best part of mini meadows is what they teach us: to loosen our grip of order and control in the landscape, to embrace nature’s free spirit of intermingling plants, and to do our part on our own bit of earth. They also offer this:
In the meadow I found my place, In serenity and silence of grace
My spirit calm, I linger in the breeze Under the rays of sun, I found peace. - Alexis Kho
Mini Meadows by Mike Lizotte is the best book out there on the subject. His detailed lists and the beautiful photography by Rob Cardillo will inspire you to create your own mini meadow.
Tracy Hankwitz is a Horticulture Adjunct at Gateway Technical College and owns Bella Botanica, LLC in an old church located at 1787 Walworth Street, Springfield, WI. You can learn more at www.bellabotanicaboutique.com.
When it comes to herbs, many of us are comfortable with using them in the kitchen to flavor our food. But how about in the medicine cabinet? In addition to their culinary uses, herbs have amazing healing qualities that most of us are unaware of. If you use essential oils, you already may have experienced that lavender calms, peppermint relieves headaches, and lemon energizes. Maybe you’ve even used the salve from an aloe plant to heal a burn or cut. This is a great introduction to the healing power of plants, but it’s only the beginning.
This summer, venture into the world of herbs and learn how they can support your health and well-being. Grow your own apothecary - a few herbs that will support your personal health needs. First, identify what you struggle with, and learn which herbs can help. Then plant that remedy in the garden, and learn how to use it.
Here are some examples:
For brain fog: Herbs in the mint family can strengthen cognition and help you focus: lemon balm, rosemary, spearmint, and peppermint. Use these brain boosters in herbal tea or sip peppermint-infused water as you go through your day.
For digestive issues: There’s a long list of beneficial herbs for digestion and detox. Among them are calendula, yarrow, chamomile, lemon balm, bee balm, oregano, thyme, and sage. Chamomile tea is mostly known as the sleepy-time herb, but it also is anti-inflammatory, eases gas and bloating, and relaxes muscle tension. Use the flowers of this miniature daisy-like herb to make your own tea.
Improve your immunity: Elderberry, Echinacea (coneflowers), Monarda (Bee Balm), and garlic top the list of boosters for a healthy immune system. Recently, there’s been a huge interest in growing elderberry (Sambucus nigra). Use the flowers (dried) and the berries (cooked) to make tea or syrup.
Insect repellent: rosemary, lavender, yarrow, and catnip
Improve blood circulation: garlic, rosemary
Skin rashes: Calendula, lavender, comfrey
This is a mere glimpse at the list of herbs and their healing qualities. But now let’s talk about how to incorporate these herbal remedy plants into your landscape.
You can learn more about the power of herbs in numerous books and other resources. Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies by Maria Noel Groves is one that I recommend for those just beginning on this venture. The journey into the world of herbs as healer is exciting and full of wonder and could be as close as your backyard.
You can learn more about growing herbs and their healing qualities in an upcoming monthly series which begins Thursday, July 15. Learn more on our Makery page found on our website.
Pebble Beach. One of my favorite vacations that we took when the kids were young was to Door County, and more specifically, to Pebble Beach. Watching the kids splash along the water’s edge, hearing their laughter, and gathering the smooth stones on the beach was such good soul food.
It’s a sweet memory, one of many that I’ve collected over the years. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of collecting - not so much stuff, but intangibles that fill my thoughts, my time and demand my attention. I collect ideas, inspiration, recipes, photos (usually of plants), poetry, quotes - all which add up to a lot more time than I care to share as I scroll through my Instagram and Facebook feeds. I have over 2,000 pics on my iphone and adding more everyday! There’s a constant stream of information at our fingertips, on our phones, in the car, on the tv, - so many voices, so many inputs, and not enough time to process it all.
Can you relate?
That’s one reason we take vacations. They offer an opportunity to physically get away from it all, to step away from the daily schedules, and to unplug. We rest, relax and hope to come back rejuvenated. But the phones are usually still present and so is the temptation to scroll through the daily feed. What’s really needed is space on a more regular basis - a few moments every day to quiet the outside noise, to breathe deeply, to be still and quiet, for intentional reflection, and to hear our own thoughts. It’s those quiet moments that are good for the soul.
What we do in the quiet will look different for each of us. For me, I like to read a little scripture and journal. I’ve been journaling for many years. It’s a way for me to process life, to express how I feel, and to work through problems. As I read through old entries, I’m always amazed to see how God has been present through it all. More often than not, I can see His hand and timing. I always can see His grace and goodness.
Creating quiet space for your soul is a life-giving practice. Dallas Willard says ‘If you don’t come away for a while, you’ll come apart after a while.’’ We need to spend time in quiet, thoughtful reflection. Our souls need it. Even Jesus, during his ministry, would often seek time for solitude.
If you’re unsure how to begin, here are some suggestions:
“Perhaps silence makes you uncomfortable. Gradually you may learn to welcome silence, understand that it is a time of great fertility and growth, not of emptiness. Silence cultivates vulnerability toward God, because silence is an outward form of an inward surrender.”
I recently listened to a podcast by Emily P. Freeman, which, by the way, I highly recommend. The purpose of her podcasts and books is to help create space for your soul to breathe. You can find her at The Next Right Thing podcast (be sure to listen to #87 & #88) which is also the name of one of her books. She closed her recent episode with this reading of Psalm 23 in a version that relates it in a fresh way. I’d like to share it with you here.
"The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need. He lets me rest in green pastures. He leads me to calm water. He gives me new strength. He leads me on paths that are right for the good of his name. Even if I walk through a very dark valley, I will not be afraid because you are with me. Your rod and your shepherd’s staff comfort me. You prepare a meal for me in front of my enemies. You pour oil of blessing on my head. You fill my cup to overflowing. Surely your goodness and love will be with me all my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever."
Ps 23 (NCV).
In closing, I’ll leave you with a practice - an encouragement to take this idea of collecting the quiet with you into the day and month that lie ahead. First, name something that you’ve been collecting that you need to either pull back from or carve out time to process. Second, decide when and where you will find a few minutes today to be still. Then do it. Part of self-care is soul-care and it is necessary for a healthy you.
What do you find calming? For me it's always been lavender. I remember taking Lamaze classes when pregnant for the first time. They told me to picture in my mind a scene that calms me, so when the contractions get to be too much, visualizing that place would help. My scene of choice? A field of blooming lavender.
That was 30 years ago, and to this day, that is still my mind's calm place to go - walking through those rows and rows of lavender. A couple years ago, I finally visited one and that was such a treat. We tasted and smelled all the lavender things from hand soaps to ice cream.
I'm not the only one who has this affection for lavender. In 2017, July 9th was declared National Lavender Day as a way to draw attention to all the lavender growers and the lavender industry here in the US. Mid-summer thousands flock to Washington Island to see the fields of lavender. Closer to home, New Life Lavender Farm, in Baraboo, WI is a wonderful place to visit.
How to Grow Lavender
It's not an easy plant to grow here in SE Wisconsin. Of the two hardy varieties, 'Munstead' and 'Hidcote', 'Hidcote' has given me the best luck. Both have that wonderful fragrance, but 'Hidcote's' blooms are a deep purple. 'Hidcote' is also one of the top five varieties with the best flavor. Lavender needs full sun and well-drained soil, so if you have clay soil, it may not be happy there.
If you haven't had luck with hardy lavenders, then treat yourself to Spanish lavender. Enjoy it in it's pot for the summer and fall, then try to winter it over indoors.
Other varieties of note:
'Grosso' has the most concentrated oils so is the most fragrance. It's long stems lend well to lavender wands. Not hardy here, but worth growing in a container all summer.
'Goodwin Creek' is the best variety as a houseplant.
If you are growing lavender for culinary use, look for organically-grown lavender.
When to Harvest Lavender
How you intend to use lavender determines when to harvest it. If used in the kitchen for baking, pick before the flower buds have opened - when the buds are tight. If using it medicinally or aromatically, then pick the flowers as they begin to open. Dry the stems upside down bundled with rubber bands.
How to Use Lavender
Even if you don't grow lavender, you can experience it's calming effects in the form of essential oil. Diffuse it, spritz it on your pillow case before drifting off to sleep, use the oil on bug bites to stop the itching. If you have the flowers, fill sachets with them and tuck them into your drawers.
Below is a fun, easy way to venture into it's culinary uses. Try something new and explore how to make this aromatic herb part of your lifestyle.
4 cups of filtered water
1 cup sugar or honey
2 Tbsp dried lavender buds or 4 Tbsp of fresh buds
1 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed
lavender sprigs for garnish
1. Combine water, sugar or honey, and lavender in a saucepan and heat for approximately 10 minutes or until the mixture begins to boil. Remove from the heat and allow to steep until cool, about 20 minutes.
2. Pour the mixture through a fine-screened colander or cheesecloth into a pitcher. Add the lemon juice and stir. Serve in glasses filled with ice and garnished with a lavender sprig or lemon wheel.
Recipe from The Lavender Lover's Handbook by Sarah Berringer Bader
Purple Sage, Purple Basil, and Parsley - two uncommon herbs and one very common herb. But all three are full of flavor and well worthy of a spot in the kitchen garden.
PURPLE SAGE: The pretty purple leaves of purple sage can be used ornamentally in container gardens, but they also are edible and can be used in dishes in place of common sage. The pungent flavor is known mostly for Thanksgiving stuffing, but has other uses as well. Add it when roasting potatoes or to fish dishes. The flowers of sage are edible, too, and can be added to salads. In the garden, purple sage should be treated as an annual as it is not hardy in our area.
PURPLE BASIL: Basil is probably the herb most in demand and is used for Bruschetta, soups, sauces, and pesto. Purple basil's flavor is clove-like and has a slightly spicy flavor. It makes a pretty purple basil vinegar and adds color to dishes when used fresh. To keep basil from getting too leggy, pinch it back just above a set of leaves.
PARSLEY: The 2021 Herb of the Year
- Parsley has become so common in the kitchen, that we usually consider it an afterthought - a pretty garnish on the dinner plate. But parsley is so much more! Rich in vitamins A, B, C, calcium and magnesium, it has a fresh taste. Add it raw to salads, chop finely and sprinkle on sandwiches and egg dishes. Italian flat-leaf parsley is often preferred by chefs over curly parsley for it's rich, robust flavor.
- In the garden, parsley is a biennial herb. It will often return in the second year and quickly flower and go to seed which is not necessarily a bad thing. Bees and pollinators will visit the flowers, and the finches will eat the seeds.
Hi, I'm Tracy - horticulturist, beauty-seeker, Word-lover, and blessed to be the owner of Bella Botanica. I also love to write about plants, gardening, and about my faith journey. Thanks for reading!