Penelope’s Garden has been very busy! As you can see from my basket, there are lots of choices, some with which you may not be familiar. Please notice how full the basket is with a good handful of each herb. We have enough of many of the herbs for you to collect sufficient quantity for a tincture, a bottle of vinegar, drying for teas and oil infusions. Let’s look at a few:

CALENDULA has thick, fibrous roots and grows in thick patches, it can be used as a cover crop or as a living mulch to protect the soil. The orange flowers provide nectar and pollen that attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The nectar—along with the pests that it traps—attracts beneficial insects such as ladybugs, hoverflies, and lacewings. This flower has powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, and is often used to soothe a long list of skin ailments including—but not limited to—cuts, scrapes, bruises, bee stings, insect bites, fungal infections, eczema, and rashes. Cut the flowers on the stem ¼” above where the next lower leaf is meeting the stem (a new flower bud will form there). I use the flowers to make an infused oil. I also dry the flowers and use them in teas and culinary creations. 

LEMON BALM  Melissa officinalis  The patron herb of bees, lemon balm encourages a bounty of sweetness in the world—not only does it gladden the heart, but it’s traditionally planted near honeybee hives to dissuade the bees from swarming (they adore lemon balm’s aroma).

With bright green leaves that waft an uplifting lemony fragrance into the air, lemon balm is known to levitate the spirit. It is especially helpful for digestive problems that are exacerbated by stress or mood. The calming effects of lemon balm extend to the nervous system, where it is used for anxiety and panic attacks. The heavenly smell of lemon balm comes from its content of volatile oils, which are responsible for many of its medicinal properties. These oils dissipate particularly quickly when lemon balm is dried and so it is best to use it fresh where possible. It can be made into syrups, tinctures or honeys, or frozen in ice cube trays to preserve its fresh lemon scent. It is always a nice addition to a blend of dried herbs for tea.

SKULLCAP  Scutellaria latiflora  Once the skullcap herb plant is in bloom, harvest the aerial parts, cut to 3 inches (8 cm.) above the ground for use as an excellent calmative nervine strong tea, tincture or liniment. As with most herbs, the skullcap herb plant may be used fresh or dried. It is preferred fresh for tincturing.  Skullcap was used before the advent of pharmaceutical tranquilizers. For a delicious soothing tea, try combining skullcap with other calmative nervine such as tulsi, oats, lemon balm and rose. As with all herbs, check with your physician about drug interactions.

BEE BALM  Monaarda fistulosa  A must-try herb for tea and many other uses. Also called Wild Bergamot, this is not the same as bergamot orange in Earl Grey tea. This herb is native to North America and has an involvement with the Boston Tea Party. One of the most popular plants to figure in Liberty Teas was wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). The leaves of wild bee balm are edible raw or cooked. They are also used as a flavoring in salads and cooked foods. The flowers and petals make an attractive edible garnish in salads. This beneficial tea not only tastes great, but is good for helping fight off colds and the flu. So it’s especially nice to have on hand in the winter months! 

Once bee balm flowers begin to bloom, cut the stems often to encourage more growth. Harvest them by cutting 10 to 12 inches worth of stem. Cut above where the leaves attach to the stem, tie the stems together and hang upside down until the flowers dry and are brittle to touch. Then, crush the leaves and flowers and store in a sealed container for use as tea. I am pleased to offer this herb for harvest this season. Most often Monardas are stricken with downy mildew, making the leaves unusable. Our patch has not shown this yet, so harvest now!

Book recommendations for further reading:

Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide

Sweet Remedies Healing Herbal Honeys by Dawn Combs