Five reasons I love Anise-Hyssop.

1. I consider Anise-hyssop one of the most underused of unusual salad greens.  It tastes like licorice, but in my opinion, better.  Its flavor is stronger than most common salad greens,  so you might want to chop the leaves up into small pieces before using them in a salad.  I like the leaves’ flavor most before the flowers get very big, but I do often use it in edible bouquets.

2. Anise-hyssop is easy to grow.  It does well in partial shade throughout our summers and also in cooler weather.  It often self-sows in the garden.  It also often comes up from its roots where it was planted the year before.  The anise-hyssop we planted last year is coming up now in our herb garden.  This is also a fine time to start it from seed.

3. Anise-hyssop has beautiful purple flowers.

4. Anise-hyssop attracts butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

5. Anise-hyssop makes a delightful tea.  I think this is it most common use.  Leaves, flowers, and stems are all suited to tea brewing.  Fresh, it is one of  my favorite tea herbs, and you can dry it, too.  Anise-hyssop both tastes great and soothes the stomach.  (Here, you can also see the branches above reflected in the surface of the tea.)

It’s not anise.  It’s not hyssop.  It’s really quite different from both of them.  And it’s almost impossible to find in grocery stores, so we make sure to dry our own for winter teas. Click here to buy anise-hyssop seeds.

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Seedlings being born

Most people find harvest to be the most enjoyable stage of growing a vegetable in your garden, but sowing seeds and watching them germinate can also be a lovely experience.

When a seed starts to germinate, first it anchors itself in the soil with a root; here, one white root is visible near the top right. Then, most of the remainder of the seed transforms into cotyledons, or seed-leaves. Cotyledons generally look completely different from a plants’ other leaves. These are mustard seedlings.

Even within one crop type, some varieties will take noticeably longer than others to germinate. Often varieties that are more similar to the plants’ wild ancestors will take longer. Wild plants don’t get as dependable a supply of water or protection from cold. These collards and kale seedlings are for our 2015 trial and observation plot.

Knowing your plant families can help a lot with seedling identification.  Seedlings from the same family often look very similar.  For example, these pepper seedlings look a lot like tomato seedlings. The front center seedlings shows it strength by pushing a lump of soil up and out of the way.

Bigger seeds unsurprisingly make for bigger sprouts, but these two kinds of flower seedlings should take about the same amount of time to get to transplanting size, so we planted them in the same flat.

Anise-hyssop, at left, takes a lot longer to germinate than Holy basil, at right.  Once they germinate, both grow quickly.

As the cotyledons unfurl, we can still see parts of the dark red seed coats of these red lima bean shoots.  Below the red layer, we can see that a brown membrane and a thicker green layer also encased the cotyledons.

This okra seedling looks a lot like a cotton seedling.  They are in the same family.



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A Heat-Tolerant Leafy Green Vegetable Disguised as a Flower

A wonderful surprise for us in our 2014 trial garden was Jewels of Opar. Last spring, when I planted a couple of pinches of these tiny seeds in a flat in our greenhouse, I certainly didn’t imagine we would harvest enough seed to put it in our 2015 catalog. My plan was only to evaluate its taste, texture, yield, and other eating qualities, to save and test a bit of seed, and to decide if we wanted to grow a real seed crop of it in 2015.

Soon that little row of seedlings was spread out to cover two seedling flats.  When we were sure our spring frosts were over, we planted 15 bedfeet in our kitchen garden, and then another 30 bedfeet in our high tunnel. The plants started to flower before they got more than 2 inches wide, sending up tiny stalks with pink buds.  I worried that maybe the transplants had needed more care than I had given them, or that maybe something else had caused them to bolt early. I had no real need to worry.

From June until frost, our Jewels of Opar plants sent up panicle after panicle of tiny pink flowers without deadheading. It did well in full sun and in part shade.  In the late afternoons of July the flowers opened in impressive profusion and really did bring jewels to mind. And then I knew why this wonderful green leafy vegetable is better known to flower gardeners than to vegetable farmers.

Each panicle continued making new flowers and buds even as its earlier seeds matured.  The plants also continued sending up new flower panicles throughout the season.  They attracted bees and other pollinators.  The seed pods have a very attractive set of earth tones, and even after they are blackened by frost (as below right), the seed stalks could make a great addition to dried flower arrangements.

I tasted a few leaves as I transplanted the seedlings, and found the succulent greens surprisingly appealing.  It’s hard to find greens that both do well in the height of our summers and have an appealing taste and texture for eating raw in significant quantities. Lettuce requires extra care in summer.  Many succulents such as Malabar Spinach have a mucilaginous texture.  Jewels of Opar is a bit mucilaginous, but less so than Malabar Spinach, and much less so than okra. The small size of the leaves – up to about 4 inches long – was probably the most significant factor limiting my own consumption of this vegetable.

As it continued to flower, our Jewels of Opar also continued to taste good. If lettuces are allowed to flower, they become extremely bitter, so they get harvested long before that. When arugula, mustards, kales, and other plants in the brassica family go to flower, the leaves and stems become tougher, stronger-flavored, and, according to most Americans’ tastes, less palatable. But the leaves of Jewels of Opar remain tender and mild.  And after I cut the plants back in one section of the bed, they sent up a profusion of tender new shoots (below right).

Jewels of Opar often self-sows in gardens, coming up on its own in areas near where it’s been planted. For us, new self-sown seedlings were already coming up by early fall of 2014. Sometimes it even escapes and comes up year after year as a wild plant.  However, most gardeners don’t find it to be problematic even when it self-sows.  Extra seedlings are easy to pull up, and the seedlings that you decide to keep can be a great addition to your summer diet and your garden aesthetic.  Also, Jewels of Opar is listed as a native species in the Caribbean and parts of the Southeast US, which is an advantage if you want to attract native pollinators or if you want to grow native species for any other reason.

Click here to order Jewels of Opar seeds.

I turned the photo below into my personal e-mail backdrop.  Click here for a version large enough to do that.

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