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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

LOE Herbal Garden Spot

Air Date: Week of

This time, Living on Earth gardening expert Michael Weishan meets with Laura Knoy for tips on growing herbs for your home garden.


KNOY: This is Living on Earth, I'm Laura Knoy. And I'm standing next to the grill of Michael Weishan, Living on Earth's gardening expert, and Michael, thanks for having me over.

WEISHAN: Oh my pleasure. You're here just in time. We're about to throw the skewers on the grill.

(Sounds of sizzling)

WEISHAN: And there's one... and there is two. It's some chicken tenders with a little bit of rosemary and lemon juice, and this is one of my favorite summer dishes so I thought today that we would talk about growing and using herbs in the garden.

KNOY: That looks great, I can't wait to eat it!

WEISHAN: We're going to need a couple of minutes, so in the meantime let's go to the garden and there we'll talk about some of the basic herbs that we've used to prepare the meal.


KNOY: Everybody loves basil, it's the herb that lots of people try and plant, and it's the herb that sometimes makes people tear their hair out because it dries up, it goes bad. What advice can you give us on planting good basil?

WEISHAN: A lot of very well manured soil, and a lot of water are really the two ingredients. It's native to the Mediterranean, so it likes warm temperatures, and a lot of care. And you have to keep it pinched back, because of course if it flowers, the game is over. You have to start all over again, the stems get very leggy and very tough.

KNOY: Pinch it back, how far? That's always the question. You feel so bad , you know, tearing at this poor basil plant.

WEISHAN: Well you can actually take basil down almost to the ground and it will pop back up again as long as you leave one or two leaves alone so that it has some energy you can keep cutting it back rather vigorously.

KNOY: What are some of the more exotic herbs that you have here that people might not have heard of?

WEISHAN: Well this is one of my favorites. This is technically not an herb, it's more like a green, it's called sorrel. Taste a piece.

KNOY: Oh God!

(Both laugh)

KNOY: It's awful!

WEISHAN: No, no! You're supposed to say it's delicious.

KNOY: It's delicious!

WEISHAN: It's delicious. Mmm, it's very strong. Eastern Europeans use it extensively in their summer. It tastes slightly like rhubarb, and it makes the most phenomenal cream soup you've ever made. But it may be an acquired taste - raw.

(Both laugh)

KNOY: I didn't mean to insult your favorite herb.

(Weishan laughs)


KNOY: And what do we have here?

WEISHAN: This is actually one of my favorite herbs to grow in the garden. It's lovage. And as you can see it's about five feet tall, and getting taller by the minute. It's also very attractive to bees, they seem to really like the flowers. It's a replacement for celery in many dishes. It has a very strong celery-like taste. One of the things we're preparing today for lunch is a dish with tomatoes marinated with a little olive oil and lovage. It has a terrific flavor for all sorts of tomato dishes. And if you're a Bloody Mary fan, the stems of the plant are hollow, and they make terrific straws.

(Knoy laughs)

WEISHAN: Not all herbs are culinary either. We have a number here, for instance, like this is another fairly rare one, Tansy, and this is what was called a strewing herb.

KNOY: It smells good.

WEISHAN: Yeah, it has a very potent scent, sort of lemon-y would you say?

KNOY: Mint-y.

WEISHAN: Yeah, it's sort of a combination mint, lemon, I'm not.. it's hard to describe. But it was used in Elizabethan times strewn on the floor, and so people would walk on it and it would cover up the smells in the house because as people walked on them they would then crush the scent and release it. But if you have a problem with ants in your house, you just put a few of the leaves wherever the ants seem to be crossing on the trail, and you will have no ant problems at all. It's a complete ant repellent, exactly why no one's quite sure. People actually grow it commercially and use it in commercial ant preparations, so...

KNOY: Now if I ate this, would it taste good?

WEISHAN: No. One of the things when you do plant an herb garden there are certain herbs that have been used in cultivation for centuries that are somewhat poisonous. So obviously if you have young children or pets you want to pay attention to what you're planting.

KNOY: It's mid-June. Is it too late to start these plantings?

WEISHAN: No, now is actually the time to begin doing all of this type of stuff. These days you can probably go to any reasonably good nursery and find a selection of twenty or thirty of the more common herbs to plant in your garden. And it's the time to really use them for cooking as well outdoors.

KNOY: Okay Michael, let's go check on lunch.


(Sounds of utensils scraping)

WEISHAN: Alright here's the chicken, and the rest of the meal as you see is pretty much ready to roll. We have little tomatoes, which are actually store bought at this time of year I'm embarrassed to say, but tomatoes are coming soon. With a little of the lovage that we talked about sprinkled over the top with just a little salt and pepper. And you'll see it's quite a distinctive taste, along with a little fresh mozzarella, and the chicken tenders that we've grilled with the rosemary and the lemon juice.

KNOY: Mmmm. Did you make the bread yourself too?

WEISHAN: No, no the bread came from the store. I was supposed to do the herb bread but someone got a little busy in the office this morning and I didn't quite get up to do what I was supposed to be doing.

KNOY: Michael, thank you so much. This is absolutely wonderful.

WEISHAN: My pleasure, excuse with my mouth full, anytime.

KNOY: Michael Weishan is Living on Earth's gardening expert and he's the publisher of Traditional Gardening. If you have any garden questions you'd like to ask Michael, go to the Living on Earth web site. The address: www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth.org; Click on the picture of the watering can.



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