Monday, 27 February 2017

How to Use Basil

Herbs are an essential ingredient in cooking to add flavor as well as a garnish. Many top chefs recognize the importance of fresh herbs in their dishes to the extent of having their own herb gardens from which they can grow and pick only the freshest and best herbs for their cooking. Every country has it's favorite herb that is used extensively in their cooking and often becomes synonymous with that style and flavors of that country. For example Basil is recognized for Italian dishes while Coriander is often used in Indian dishes. So I am going to look at a few methods of cooking with herbs  which can  give dishes their unique flavors.


Basil is a versatile and widely used aromatic herb.  There are many varieties of basil; some have scents reminiscent of pineapple, lemon, cinnamon or cloves.  In Mediterranean regions, basil and tomato is a classic combination. However, one of the most popular uses of Basil is for making the classic Pesto sauce. This can be used on pasta dishes, fish or meat, pizza etc. It is an extremely versatile and easy to make sauce.

Recipe For Pesto. 

125g pine nuts
125g parmesan cheese, cut into small chunks
1 large bunch of fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic, crushed
200ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
squeeze of lemon juice


1. First toast the pine nuts by placing them in a dry frying pan on a medium heat until just browned.
2. Put the cheese, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and basil in a food processor and blend until all the ingredients come together in a smooth mixture. This should only take a few seconds.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze of lemon juice. 

Your pesto can be stored in a jar in the fridge for up to a week if not using straight away. Pesto can also be frozen for longer life by placing it in ice-cube trays and freeze. 

What I am doing on my plot.

Well, I cut my grass for the first cut of the year...makes it look much tidier.

I have also dug up all my raspberries. The problem was they were becoming full of bindweed, so I dug down as deep as I could and removed as much as I could and replanted.

Hoed and tided up my raised beds.

Went through my seed box and sorted them out in order of sowing. I got rid of a few packets that were well past their sow by date.

It has been quite mild here in Oxford...17c the other day......however do not be fooled for it is still winter. It is very easy to be fooled and rush out sowing seeds all over the plot.

There are one or two problems with early sowing: your seeds will rot in the ground because of the wet and cold and your seeds will grow because a short spell of warm weather and be knocked over by a late frost.

I want sturdy, strong plants that will give me a good yield and be more resistant to pests and diseases and to get that : I wait a while yet

Thoughts while digging:

What is the question to ask to get the right answer?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

How to grow Lavender

In tending my garden I seek three things: Wisdom,courage and truth and I some times feel that God only allows me to find how much I can take at any given time.

Culinary and ornamental herbs are a very welcome addition to any garden, but most will grown with equal success in pots on your windowsill or patio. Most herbs prefer dryish position,and develop and scent when grown in poorish soil. Many, also like semi-shade.

I have chosen to look at Lavender this week, because quite a few people seem to grow it around me on their allotments; however very few people seem to harvest it, maybe because they do not know how or what to do with it. 


Lavender derives it's name from the Latin lavare, meaning to wash. It has been a favorite herb for centuries and has been in documented use for over two and a half thousand years.

The Egyptian's used Lavender for mummification as well as perfume. The Greeks and Romans used Lavender scented water to bathe in, which is where it first took it's name from. The use of Lavender spread across Europe from Greece and is now commonly found and used around the world both in cooking and for medicinal purposes. 

One of the most widely used types of Lavender is English Lavender. This was developed in the 1600 about the same time the first Lavender plants were making there way to the Americas. It was to gain royal status when Queen Elizabeth I of England commanded that the royal table should never be without Lavender conserve. She also valued Lavender for it's perfume and drank Lavender tea to help ease the pain of her migraines. 

Another royal to favor Lavender was Queen Victoria of England. She was known for having it in every room and to be used in a variety of ways such as cleaning the floors and furniture as well as an air freshener. This in turn gave rise to it's popularity across the country. A bit like Christmas trees!

To demonstrate how important an herb it was considered for it's medicinal qualities, it was used during the First World War by nurses to bathe soldiers' wounds. It has a long established tradition for being valued not only for it's scent, but as a remedy for many complaints and ailments. It is generally regarded as one of the most versatile essences therapeutically. 

Lavender has a powerful calming scent that is now used in a vast range of perfumes, cosmetics and soaps or in it's natural state in Lavender bags or as dried flower decorations. The essential oil in the flowers has a sedative, calming effect. This is why it is widely used to relax muscles, calm the nerves, ease anxiety and help to promote a good nights sleep. 

Lavender For Medicinal Use

As an essential oil, Lavender can be used to treat a huge variety of ailments and should be an essential component of any first aid box. It is one of the most useful skin care oils. Not only does it have excellent antiseptic properties but it is also very mild to the skin. Due to it's healing as well as analgesic properties, it can be used to bring instant relief to sunburn, preventing blistering. it also relieves heat rash or red and sore skin.Lavender contains many volatile oils that repel insects, especially mosquitoes

 By using a lotion of 12 drops of lavender essential oil in 1 tablespoon of distilled water dabbed gently onto the area it is very soothing. It can also be applied neat to insects bites and stings.

Taking Lavender as a tea or tincture  has soothing effects on the central nervous system. It is thought to help to slow nerve reactions, ease pain and irritability and calm nervous tension. It is most effective for sleeping disorders. Drinking a cup of Lavender tea an hour before bed acts as a mild sedative. It can also aid digestion, relieving intestinal spasms. Lavender is also has sedative properties and is very good for calming anxiety and tension. A massage with lavender oil will relax muscles and ease pain. 

Lavender is very useful for use with children as it has such a pleasant smell. It is particularly useful in the treatment of head lice in children as commercial products can be very harmful and unpleasant to use. To treat head lice, dilute 5-10 drops of oil in water or use neat on a fine tooth comb. 

For painful muscles dilute 1ml Lavender in 25ml carrier oil such as sweet almond oil, and massage into painful muscles. For relief of a tension headache or the first sign of a migraine, dilute 10 drops in 25ml of carrier oil and massage into the temples and nape of the neck.

These are only a few of the many ailments that Lavender is used for. The list is vast and includes many skin problems such as eczema, (although I prefer to use Aloe Vera for this athlete's foot), wounds etc. It is also used for muscular problems, respiratory conditions, digestive and nervous system complaints. It is no wonder that Lavender has remained so popular throughout the ages. 

Lavender In Cooking

Although thought of mainly for it's medicinal properties, it is also an incredibly versatile herb for cooking. Fresh edible flowers are making a comeback in many fashionable restaurants as well as being used as an ingredient. It can both enhance the flavor as well as the appearance of the food. Adding Lavender to a dish or drink as a garnish can give it that 'wow' factor.  

Both flowers and leaves can be used in food preparation. They can be used fresh or dried. There are many different varieties of Lavender but English Lavender has the best and sweetest fragrance of all the different types. It has a sweet, floral flavor with lemon and citrus notes. 

If using in cooking note that dried Lavender increases in potency, so less should be used. If new to cooking with Lavender start with a small amount and experiment, as adding too much will be like eating perfume and make your food taste bitter.  

The flowers can add a beautiful color to salads and other dishes. It can be used as a substitute to rosemary in recipes such as bread. To use in cakes or custards, grind the Lavender in a coffee or similar grinder and place in a sealed jar with sugar. This adds a wonderful flavor to your baking. 

Apart from Lavender being one of the most versatile and useful of herbs in both cooking and for medicinal purposes, it is also a wonderful herb to grow in your garden for it's scent and beauty alone.  It can provide an attraction for bees to your garden as well as create an all year round supply of home remedies. This is certainly an herb that no home should be without.


There has been a very interesting development caused by floods and snow in  Italy and Spain - a shortage of broccoli, lettuce and courgettes which has seen supermarkets rationing supplies. I have been round most shops in Oxford and this appears to be true.

There is also a reported a boom in people growing veg.How they work that out I do not know. The allotments that I am on have eight empty lots and cannot fill them for love nor money.

Thoughts whilst digging

Do we love God out of hope  or out of possibility?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

How to use Basil


Basil is a very popular herb used in cooking, mainly associated with Mediterranean cuisine. However, Basil is also widely used for medicinal purposes, much used in Far Eastern medicine especially in the Ayurvedic tradition, where it is also known as tulsi.  

The name of the herb "basil" comes from the Greek word meaning "king" or "royal", reflecting that this herb was regarded extremely highly. In Italy, basil is a symbolic for love and was sometimes used as an aphrodisiac. Perhaps explaining it's wide use today in Italian dishes. However, it originated from India and was introduced into Europe in ancient times.

For medicinal purposes, it is widely used for respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, coughs, colds, asthma, flu and emphysema.

 Basil is an expectorant, making it good for treating upper respiratory symptoms.  The plant has also been used as an antidote to poisonous insect or snake bites as well as being used in the fight against epidemics and fever, such as malaria. 

Basil improves blood circulation and the digestive system. It is considered a 'cooling' herb with anti-inflammatory properties and is used to relieve symptoms of rheumatic pain, irritable skin conditions and soothe the nerves. It is good for rubbing the leaves on insect bites to reduce itching and inflammation. 

The leaves can also be used as a warming tonic for nervous exhaustion or any cold condition. You can do this  by pouring boiling water on to the leaves and inhale the steam. It smells lovely. 

Like most other mints, Basil is often recommended for digestive complaints. When drunk as a tea after a meal it can enhance digestion and dispel gas. 

To prepare the tea,
Pour 1 cup of hot (not boiling) water over about 1 teaspoon of fresh chopped Basil leaves    

steep for 5 minutes.

 Strain and drink. 

Honey can be added if a sweeter taste is required.

A basil infusion (tea) is recommended for treating vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and constipation. 

As Basil also has slight sedative properties,  this makes the plant very useful for headaches and anxiety especially in combination with other sedating herbs like chamomile and catnip.

Basil is an excellent natural insect repellent, sprigs of basil burned on the barbecue will repel mosquitoes and a pot of basil in a windowsill will discourage flies, they will go elsewhere as they cannot stand the smell of this lovely plant.

You may be surprised to know that there are many varieties of basil, each one has their own distinct flavour such as Lemon or Clove Basil which are used in cooking as well as for medicinal purposes. 

Although Basil is native to India and Persia it is also commercially cultivated in the Mediterranean,however it will grow outside during most English summers. Basil is a member of the mint family and is very similar in appearance only with a broader leave The most popular type of basil that is used in cooking is sweet basil.

Basil is an excellent source of iron, calcium, potassium and Vitamin C. It also contains smaller amounts of Vitamin A, magnesium and manganese. Along with its medicinal value, basil is nutritionally rich in anti-aging antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.  As it can be consumed in fairly large quantities compared to some herbs, it makes it a very beneficial health food. 

Basil is easily available from your local supermarket, fresh, dried or even frozen. Fresh basil sold already cut, will keep for a few days if refrigerated and wrapped in a damp paper towel. 

Basil  grows very well in pots and can easily be kept on your windowsill This is the way that I keep myself  suppled during the winter months with fresh Basil. The plant will keep going for weeks even months if cared for properly and work out very inexpensive compared to regularly buying ready cut Basil. 

As with most herbs fresh basil is much more aromatic and flavour some than dried basil and gives a completely different taste to your dishes. I always use fresh basil where possible. 

Basil is an exceedingly versatile herb that may be used in an abundant variety of foods. It is especially excellent in tomato-based dishes, spinach, and all types of squash. 

I find that Basil gives a great flavor to my winter soups but do not add it until the last few minutes of cooking as it will destroy the flavor. It can also be used in cream cheese for sandwiches, dips, and pasta dishes. Basil is the main ingredient in pesto. 

 Sprinkle fresh basil over the top of your pizza or sprinkle torn basil over a tomato and mozzarella salad. Add to stir-fried vegetables. Use in a marinade with garlic and olive oil. 
Add fresh leaves of basil to your salad. 

Basil is delicious, nutritious and an effective natural treatment for many common ailments. It should therefore be an essential feature  for your outdoor or indoor organic herb garden. 

Thoughts while weeding my garden:

I find that we live in strange times and I often ask myself “What can I do to get rid of the evil?’

But then I think: How to use the evil for good.

How can I learn discernment so that I can say, yes; this is the weed and this is the wheat, however they must both grow together to make life.  That is the question...that is the true challenge for life to live in darkness and light at the same time?
only then will evil be used for good. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017


Wednesday Log  

In tending my garden I seek three things: Wisdom,courage and truth and I some times feel that God only allows me to find how much I can take at any given time.

Herbs have been grown and used long before people stated to write things down and the first documented use of herbs was in about 2000BC. This was in Babylon where Herbs were use  for medicinal uses.

These first Herbs were thyme, mint, sage, marjoram, rosemary and hyssop.

The ancient Greeks did a lot to further our knowledge and uses of Herbs for medicinal reasons.  Hippocrates is know as the Father of Medicine and it was he who taught  us the value of Herbs for easing pain and curing disease.

Dioscordies, in the first century Ad, listed over 500 plants having medicinal properties.

It was in the Middle Ages that the monasteries became centers of learning and healing. Herb folklore flourished during this time.

If you are interest in reading more about Herbs you might want to take a look at :
Complete Herbal by Nicholas Culpeper which was published in 1653 

Herbs bring the fragrance of the spring and summer right through the year in our cooking.

To have Herbs at their best most of them must be grown in soil that is rich in humus and also the Herb must be harvested at the right time.

It is difficult to draw a line of demarcation between the culinary Herbs and  the medicinal ones, for there are plants which are covet by cooks for their flavors and yet are considered just as important medicinally. 

Some people have tried to show a difference by classing the culinary herbs as ‘ sweet’ herbs however this is equally misleading, because there are plants like Southernwood which are bitter and certainly not sweet.

Nearly all are cultivated and this is especially applies to those used for cooking. The herbalists may go out into the countryside looking for special herbs for their cures but we growers grow those that we need in a border, preferably near the kitchen.

One word of warning before you start to think about growing the different kinds of herbs  that are available and that is, beware of heavy-handedness.

There is always a danger that because you are growing your own herbs and have therefore plenty of them that you use them in a big way.

It is when the soupcom of a herb is used that you get the wonderful flavour which makes everybody say what a good cook you are.

However when you use too much, the dish will promptly be nondescript and you will have lost that light ,delicate touch that marks the French Chef.

Thoughts while weeding:

There are three kinds of dreams:

The first is just scribble in your mind. It means nothing. It is just your brain unwinding like a clock spring.

The second kind of dream does mean something. Your unconscious mind is trying to tell you something, however it is up to you to interpret what it means.

And the third; Ah yes the third is what the mystics call Barakka, the place of the Dreaming Void. It is a waking dream, a vision, when you glimpse the workings of God. 

If go there, it is only in the third dream that you go down the pathway to your deeper self.

Saturday, 11 February 2017



I love Spinach, not because it is healthy and very good for you but because I find it delicious in a sandwich. However, Spinach is normally eaten cooked.

I also love to grow Spinach because not much will trouble the plant and if you get your sowings right, you can have Spinach all the year round.

There are two main types of Spinach in my view : New Zealand Spinach which is perennial and summer Spinach.

The great advantage of Spinach is that the plant is rich in iron, calcium,   and Vitamins A,B and B2.

Spinach will grow in most soils, however the plant does not like too much water. So well drained light soil is best.

As I say, the secret for growing Spinach all the year round, is sowing times. There are two main times periods for sowing the seed :

  1. the summer Spinach which is usually put in once a fortnight from the beginning of March onwards.   
  2. the winter Spinach which is best sown once a fortnight from 1st of August till the middle of September. 

As to the cultivation, the main thing with the summer Spinach, is to keep the plant growing and prevent it from going to seed. This is done by:

  1. giving thorough soaking with water if the weather is dry.
  2. hoeing regularly between the rows.

I do find that winter Spinach needs protection and I do this by using a very fine mesh. I also sow a few plants in my poly tunnel once the Tomatoes are out.This will will to keep the cold wind of it and to stop pigeons eating it when there is nothing else for them to have a go at.

I harvest my plants with a pair of scissors and cut when I need it all year round.

As too varieties to sow best to look in your own seed catalog or ask you neighbors what works best for them.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017


Wednesday log 

Give a cheer for snowdrops...The weather is still cold however the delicate white flowers that I see in my winter garden gives a much needed lift to my spirits.

Just when I am beginning to get fed up with the dull days of winter, snowdrops start to carpet the ground . Once their little nodding heads appear, I know that Spring really cannot be far away.

What I am doing on my Allotment:

Tidying: Up my beds by cutting back old growth and putting on my compost. We had a bit of a storm this week and it is surprising what get blown about. Had to tidy that all up.

Cutting the grass: I gave it a trip, mainly to get rid of the leaves.

Trimming: Back my raspberries and bits of growth of my apples and other fruit. I just cut off the new growth that gets in the way.

My Shed: Has got a leak and so I had to fix that. It was through the wall not the roof. The wood had warped.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Wintertime on the plot

I go down to my allotment two or three times a week, at this time of year. Most of the time, I am alone. There are 240 plots on the site. However I find that the hobby growers have decamped for the winter and the allotments are dark,silent and cold.

Meanwhile, badges and squirrels are running amok. Ghostly trees, striped of leaves, spread their shadowy fingers across the Thames on a moon lit night.

Yet, I still find crops to eat : leeks, kale, apples and soft fruit from my freezer.

I am re-digger my raspberry bed because it has got very weedy, a job worth doing,