Smudge sticks are tightly bound bundles of dried woody, resinous herbs, that are slowly burned as a way to purify and cleanse the air. While the roots of burning a smudge stick, or smudging, is in North American Native purification rites and ceremony, they can be used by anyone to bring the woody smell of the outdoors inside.
If you have a garden, chances are good that you have enough ingredients to make at least one smudge stick. The traditional and most popular herbs used in smudging ceremonies are white sage (Salvia apiana), Cedar (Thuja), Sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata), sagebrush (Artemisia californica), and mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). However, in my travels I have noticed that the smudging sticks available vary by region and there seems to be a lot of opportunity to branch out (so to speak) with other woody, resinous herbs including, but not limited to: Continue reading
Last weekend I visited my friend Barry Parker, the man with the best backyard garden in Toronto. Barry recently returned from a botanical tour of South Africa (he is starting to post pictures on his blog) and we were treated to a slideshow of photos he took on the trip. So of course, I have added the Quiver Tree Forest to an ever-growing list of places I would like to visit someday.
Back to Barry’s garden. Unfortunately, I was lazy and did not bring a proper camera. As a result all of these photos were taken with my phone. Still, they may not be the best photos I have taken, but there are some wonderful things happening at Barry’s that I know you would like to see.
No matter the season, there is always something of interest (many, many things of interest) going on in Barry’s garden and even though I know not to show up without a proper camera, I can’t deny that sometimes (most times) I am lazy and the camera stays at home. Of course, I always regret it later as I did when I visited his place on Friday to see what was new.
And what was new was everything. It was the day of the epic thaw. One day our city gardens are buried in snow, the likes of which we haven’t seen in ages, and the next the sun is shinning, the birds are getting busy, and some guy is traipsing down the street in a T-shirt and flip-flops like it’s August, except that it isn’t August it’s January, and it may be unseasonably warm, but it’s nowhere near Spring Break in Cancun 2013 (Spring Break! Woooo!). That dude is going to regret it next week when he’s stuck in the bathroom suffering the symptoms of the NoroVirus, I tell you what.
I love these first big thaws. First of all, they are a desperately needed reminder that the winter isn’t forever. Spring will come again. They also reveal that life has not ceased underneath the snow. Plants are alive. Some of them are green and fresh. Take this lush and very alive hellebore (above) in Barry’s garden. Before meeting Barry, I had never paid hellebores much mind. Now I can appreciate their merits, the main one being that they stay green year-round!
Some of them, like this Helleborus niger ‘Praecox’ bloom in December and January when most plants are months away from breaking dormancy, let alone making flowers. Let me repeat: I took this photo just a few days ago. In January. In Toronto. What a plant!
The quest to preserve what remains of the fall garden bounty continues at a fevered pitch. I used to complain that I didn’t have enough green tomatoes at the end of the season, and now… let’s just say, Be careful what you wish for.
One nice way to use up the last of the herbs is to make herb-infused salts. I’ve written glowingly about them in my books — they’re use in the kitchen is endless. We use them as rubs, to flavour roasted veggies and potatoes, to season eggs, as an aromatic baked salmon crust, and as a finish on just about everything.
Sage and rosemary are common culinary companions, but I didn’t think to make a salt of it until I came across jars in a local Italian greengrocer. I initially thought that the strong, resinous herbs would limit the salt’s potential, but we keep a jar of it next to the other salts and I have found myself turning to it far more often than I imagined.
I taught a group how to prepare this particular mix in my Banking the Bounty workshop last month and recently made up a huge batch at home to give to friends as holiday gifts. I’ve provided instructions for a small batch, but it is easily multiplied.
p.s. You’ll love the way your kitchen smells as you make this.
This little rosemary is ‘Blue Boy’ a compact variety that grows into interesting no-work bonsai shapes in a pot. I originally purchased several of these as table decoration and parting gifts for people who attended the Grow Great Grub book launch party back in February. I even took one home myself. And then I lost it. I have absolutely no idea what happened to that plant. It just disappeared. By then I had fallen in love with this little plant, so I bought another.
The plant in this picture is ‘Blue Boy 2: The Sequel” and miracle of miracles it didn’t up and walk away. It even made it here to the new house. So far so good.
As of today it is still outside, up against the house where it gains some warmth from the brick. This is unusual for my part of the world. I always leave my rosemary plants outside until just after a hard frost, but then I bring them in for the winter. I learned this secret to their success on my first trip to Portland, Oregon. I’ve been twice, both times in the month of February when it is cold, wet and blah. Rosemary grows very, very well in Portland. It’s not unusual to see plants that have grown into massive bushes and hedges.
Since those trips I take my cue as to when to bring my rosemary indoors based on how cold and wet it was there. Rosemary does not like how dry and warm it gets inside our homes during the winter months. Keeping them happily hydrated can be a struggle. As long as they seem happy, I try to leave my plants outside until the last possible minute, because once they come indoors it’s a bit of a production to keep them going until spring.
So far fall in Toronto has been relatively mild. I went out this morning after the rain to check on my remaining potted plants that are still outdoors (and shoo away digging squirrels). It felt a lot like Portland on those February trips. Even my calendula is still going and is about to bust out another bloom!
This year I have also been gifted with an unheated sunporch that is doubling as a cold greenhouse. I could put my rosemary in there and be done with it, but I’m keeping this one outside as an experiment to see what I can get away with. Although, come to think of it, I should be experimenting with the average rosemary plant and keeping the special one in the safer, protected spot.
I think I’ll go do that right now. Things are good right now, but I don’t want to have to go back for ‘Blue Boy 3: The Reckoning’ should the weather take a turn for the worse.