In praise of rocket

The herb rocket

The herb rocket, Eruca sativa, is my favourite salad item. It is easy to grow, and in my opinion has a much more interesting flavour than lettuce, being slightly peppery.

I think it’s great on pizza, or teamed with steak and new potatoes as an alternative to peas and chips. Being high in vitamin C and potassium, it is good for you too.

rocket herb pizza

Rocket adds interest to pizza

There is evidence of rocket being grown since Roman times, and Virgil even mentions it as an aphrodisiac. During the Middle Ages, it is thought to have been avoided in monasteries for similar reasons, but was often grown by the general public and was considered suitable to eat when mixed with other lettuce leaves. From its home near the Mediterranean, it is widely grown across the World, being found in the cuisines of Europe, North Africa, South America, the Gulf states, West Asia and Northern India.

Growing rocket from seed

Rocket is a suitable seed for children to try as it germinates reliably and grows quickly. Sow in a warm position March to July 0.5cm deep, and thin to 15cm apart. Keep well watered and harvest May to October. The great thing about thinning salad seedlings is that you can eat the rejected plants! The seeds are best germinated on a windowsill or somewhere warm, but can be moved to a cooler position once they have come up. Keep the tips pinched out to encourage bushy growth and discourage flowering, which makes the leaves tough. Sow a few seeds every few weeks so that as one batch is used up, another becomes available.

rocket seedlings

Rocket seedlings in a pot in the greenhouse in April, awaiting thinning

Due to rocket’s high nutrient levels, it is popular for culinary purposes. Other than use in salad, leaves can be briefly wilted in a stir-fry, and the seeds are also edible and are sometimes pressed for their oil. Do comment below if you know of a medicinal use for the plant!

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Are Hobbits Herbalists?

Hobbiton is a wonderful place to visit

I haven’t read Tolkein’s The Hobbit for a few years, but greatly enjoyed the films, so couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit the Hobbiton film set when I was in New Zealand a few weeks ago.

Herbs everywhere

Ruth at Hobbiton

Ruth at Hobbiton

The film set was built to last as a tourist attraction after the filming had finished and each home was completely believable with its own back-story…

Most hobbits are clearly gardeners. There are 44 hobbit homes in Hobbiton, and nearly every one had a beautiful front garden.

Hobbiton is a well-defined society with each home having its own character – there is even a cluster of alms houses and a communal veg plot. Fruit trees grow everywhere.

 

Gardening hobbits

herb dryer

A pretty Hobbiton house with herb dryer hanging by the front door

vegetable gardening Hobbiton

The communal veg plot at Hobbiton clearly utilises companion planting

lavender nasturtiums herbs

Herbs growing in the veg plot – lavender and nasturtiums

lemon verbena herb

Another herb in the vegetable plot – lemon verbena

salvia herb

This Hobbit likes salvias

echinacea herb grown by hobbits

I saw quite a few front doors with an echinacea plant nearby – Hobbits see the importance of boosting their immune systems!

herbal tinctures

Was this Hobbit responsible for herbal tinctures and decoctions?

beneficial pollinators

Beekeeping not only provides a source of food, but also beneficial pollinators

decorated gourds

Hobbits have time for natural crafts such as decorating gourds

bag end front door

Bag End is the most important house in Hobbiton and has a beautiful front garden with echinacea

hobbits grow fruit

Fruit growing in front of Sam’s front door

sams herbs

Sam has left his waistcoat outside. He has a bunch of herbs drying by his door.

greenery at hobbiton

I commented to my travelling companion that I would prefer a water-front apartment if I were a Hobbit!

 A great afternoon out for herbalists and non-herbalists alike!

Flowering herbs in my garden | Spring

Many herbs in my garden are now in flower

I live on the Sussex coast in a Victorian terraced cottage about a mile from the sea. I have a small town garden and try to squeeze in a few herbs wherever I can. From March onwards you can see a succession of traditional culinary herbs flowering in my garden such as thyme, chives and rosemary. Chamomile, comfrey and violas have their uses too, and I love my jasmine and scented leaf pelargoniums flowering under glass.

front door

Making herb tea

I am not knowledgeable about the medical uses of herbs, but I enjoy flowers and my garden, and use the plants wherever I can. I enjoy making fresh peppermint, lemon balm and chamomile teas. Chamomile flowers are a big favourite of mine with their apple-like fragrance and simple blooms. Once dried, they can be used in a sleep pillow in a similar manner to lavender. In fact my main hobby is using flowers from the garden in craft, and that often means drying them for use later.

harvesting chamomile herb flowers

Harvesting chamomile flowers to make tea – I dry them for use year-round.

Herbs under glass

scented leaf pelargoniums

My friend Mercy is an avid collector of scented leaf pelargoniums so there are always a few overwintering in my lean-to. Sometimes I dry the leaves and flowers for potpourri.

jasmine flowers

Jasmine flowering in my greenhouse – I don’t make use of it in any way other than to enjoy the enveloping fragrance, but I do hear it has a role to play in hormone regulation.

Flowers in my garden

garden flowers violas

Violas are such a cheery plant in early Spring. I press them for art projects or crystallise them to decorate cakes.

early comfrey flowers

This yellow comfrey (traditionally named knit-bone) is one of the earliest herbs in my garden, flowering from early March.

blue comfrey herb

This comfrey Hidcote Blue grows up to five feet tall and greatly improves the quality of my compost when I cut it down after flowering, due to its high nutrient levels.

early rosemary herb flowers

Rosemary flowers: my plant is still small, but I am looking forward to being able to harvest straight twigs for use as skewers on the barbeque.

Herbs later in the year

As I write this in early June, my pots of lavender are just coming into flower. My favourite flower, the ancient stripy rose Rosa mundi has two buds just thinking about opening, with many more behind. Other herbs such as borage and calendula are on their way. So perhaps another post later in the year!

Do you have any herb pics you’d like to share?

Do email them to me at ruth@herbsociety.org.uk and I will share them with other herb enthusiasts on Facebook and Twitter.

Herb Day at Hooksgreen

Local Herb Society Meetings

One of the great benefits of becoming a member of the Herb Society is the opportunity to meet like-minded people locally and join in with events.

A few weeks ago, such an event took place for the Northwest Herb Group at Hooksgreen Herbs (Stone, Staffordshire) led by Herb Society Treasurer Malcolm Dickson and his son Thomas.

Malcolm was pleased that the Spring weather was kind on the day. After a welcoming coffee, he made a presentation on “Showing and Growing Herbs” which gave everyone an idea of what Hooksgreen Herbs’ main activities were during a busy show year.

propagating herbs from cuttings

The members were then split into two groups and Thomas demonstrated sowing seed while Malcolm showed the other group how to take cuttings and split mint and oregano. Everyone had a chance to fill a tray with a variety of species which they took home. After a lunch break the groups swapped around.

propagating herbs from seed

Malcolm was pleased to report “The youngest member of the group Ronan was keen to source the herbs he had listed prior to his visit and was able to fill his tray with cuttings and seed.” We think Malcolm should be proud of his ability to inspire new generations, not only within his own family, but from outside it too.

young members welcome Some of Malcolm’s propagation methods were surprising, and he says “Some of the group were amazed to see the use of an old wood saw to split the large pots of mint and oregano, but the resulting four pots illustrated the need to slit and proliferate.”  The day was rounded off with tea and cakes and a quiz by Susie Dickson.

 
See more photos of the day on our facebook page at Facebook.com/herbsocietyuk

Local herb group information is available to members inside the Herbs journal and via our website at herbsociety.org.uk

The Dickson family sell their herbs online and through shows, winning a well-deserved RHS Silver Gilt Medal at the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show. Find out about their 2014 stand