Have an Herbal Halloween

Here we are in October, the month of Halloween! When we think of Halloween, we think of scary characters like ghosts, witches, and vampires. We think of carving jack o’lanterns and placing them on our front porches. Pumpkin spice is everywhere and in everything. But did you know that there are herbs, many of which you might grow in your garden, that are associated with Halloween? As you know, Halloween evolved from many ancient festivals and rituals, and the herbs, many of which were associated with harvest and magic, were used in these activities.

Artemisia (Mugwort) – used to protect against evil spirits. This herb was also said to play a role in dreaming and divination. If you wanted to cast demons out of a possessed person, then you definitely wanted to wear a sachet of mugwort to protect yourself. And come Halloween, it might even keep the little miscreants from egging your house.

Chamomile – To repel magic or psychic attacks, sprinkle or plant chamomile around your house. Still single and not having much luck attracting the right partner? Make yourself a garland of chamomile; it will attract suitors. It also attracts good luck, so maybe the suitor will be rich.

Rosemary – want to keep that spouse or significant other from straying? Then rosemary is what you want. This herb was used to cast spells to ensure fidelity. Also, a rosemary bundle was supposed to keep negative energy and evil people from entering your house. So if you want to avoid family conflict on Thanksgiving, hang some rosemary over your door. Then those troublesome relatives will disinvite themselves, and peace will reign over the dinner table!

Sage – People talk about receiving sage advice, and why not? Sage is associated with wisdom, protection, purification, and immortality. An old legend states that carrying around a sage leaf will attract money – which you can then use to purchase more seeds, plants, and gardening supplies!

St. John’s Wort – an herb with strong medicinal value, it also plays a role in repelling bad luck and evil spirits, and, in combination with other powerful herbs, it was packed in amulets and talismans for protection. And, to prevent fevers and promote good luck, wear a sprig of St. John’s Wort around your neck.

So if this celebration of scary creatures is leaving you feeling a little creeped out, then a few of these powerful herbs hung around your door, scattered around your yard, or worn on your person should put your mind at ease that these evil creatures won’t be able to get anywhere near you. And while you’re at it, remember to hang a garlic braid on your front door. Garlic keeps the vampires away. Heck, garlic keeps everybody away!

The Changing Moods of Autumn

Those foxes barking at the moon
Tell me easy weather will soon be gone
Frost is in the air
Change is everywhere, darling
This time of year, a change comes over me

-Dillon Bustin

As autumn leaves begin to fall, days change from long to short, and weather changes from warm to cold, many of us, to paraphrase Dillon Bustin, feel a change coming over us. A change of clothing, a change of activities, a change of meals to be sure, but many of also feel a change from happiness and serenity to one of sadness and despair. We lament the disappearance of “easy weather” and dread the long dark nights, chilly temperatures, piles of blowing and drifting snow, and hazardous driving conditions. And this year we also lament all the spring and summer fun and frolic that COVID-19 has stolen from us, and we fear that that winter weather will only exacerbate this terrible pandemic.

But we gardeners know that, in the words of Audrey Hepburn, “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Yes, spring and summer do not last forever. But neither do fall and winter. All seasons have their time and when that time is concluded, the next season takes hold. Yes, autumn and winter can often be miserable and depressing. But they will eventually pass, spring and summer will once more take hold, temperatures will change from cold to warm, days will change from short to long, and we can once again be outdoors with our faces to the sunshine and our hands in the soil.

In the meantime, we can soothe out misery with some sadness-busting activities. We can write letters to family and friends – real letters, not e-mails or texts. We can relax and meditate. We can grow herbs, sprouts, and microgreens indoors. We can cook delicious meals with the garden vegetables we’ve preserved. We can eagerly anticipate the new gardening catalogs filling our mailboxes, and then we can look through them to plan out next year’s garden. Doing some or all of these can greatly help to make winter’s misery a lighter shade of blue. So cheer up, my gardening friends. Autumn and winter may bring on some sadness, but only for a short while. Soon, spring and summer will be at your door with a fresh delivery of joy!

All Together Now

 

On a few occasions I’ve been asked, “Mark, I know that you do both fruit and vegetable gardening and home cheeesemaking. Are those two distinctly separate topics, or can they work together?”

Most definitely, yes, they can work together! In fact, if you combine the two just right, you create wonderful foods that can enhance your dining experiences for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Here are some suggestions.

Salads – You can enhance a salad of homegrown garden greens by sprinkling it with some of your homemade Feta cheese. Or how about using your homemade Blue cheese to create your own Blue cheese dressing to pour on your salad?

Infusing cheese with herbs – When making your own cheese, how about creating something distinctive by mixing some herbs into the curds before putting those curds into your cheese press? Some typical herbed cheeses include Caraway Swiss and Havarti with Dill.

Incorporating vegetables into cheese – The sky is the limit when it comes to making vegetable infused cheeses. How about adding some sun-dried tomatoes to your homemade cream cheese? Or a cheddar cheese infused with finely-chopped onions?

Wine-infused cheeses – At first glance, this sounds off topic. What, you might ask, does making a wine-infused cheese have to do with incorporating fruits and vegetables into cheese? Well, if you grow the grapes yourself, make your own wine, and soak your newly-pressed cheese in the wine for a few weeks, then, in a roundabout way, you are combining fruit and cheese. And if you substitute vodka for the wine you now have infused your cheese with a potato byproduct.

“Gee Mark, I’m not sure about this,” you say. “This sounds rather unusual.” Well, I have a one word answer for you – experiment. Try different combinations of fruits, vegetables, and cheese. After all, that’s how new foods are discovered.

“But what if I create something that looks awful and tastes worse?” Seriously? What if you create something that looks pleasing, tastes even better, and wins Cheese of the Year? Isn’t that worth the risk of maybe creating something awful? And if the worst happens, and your Limburger with Brussels sprouts tastes like the inside of a garbage truck? Then you simply toss it away and try a different combination. No one has to know about it but you.

So go ahead. Experiment with different fruit-cheese-vegetable combinations. And embrace the results – good, bad, or otherwise!