March Mayhem

Over the land freckled with snow half thawed

The speculating rooks at their nests cawed

And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flower of grass,

What we below could not see, Winter pass.

                              Edward Thomas

The snow still reigns supreme here, but signs of spring are at hand. The days are longer, and the tree buds are swelling.  The pussywillows' fuzzy catkins are out, and the first red-winged blackbird made his appearance at my feeder. The supply of wood pellets has dwindled, but we look to be in good shape to have what is needed for the reat of the season.

March begins with me almost through with the final edits of the International Herb Association's Herb of the Year (TM) 2014 book on Artemisia. It has been a long road, but this book will be a great example of the coming together of many herbal people to create a comprehensive look at a genus that is often overlooked. This family contains many interesting plants, many of which are not very well known. That is really the purpose of the Herb of the Year - to highlight and showcase herbs which the general public may not be very familiar.

However, in this genus is a culinary herb that is revered by chefs - tarragon. It's spicy, licorice taste enlivens chicken, fish and other foods. It's one of my favorite herbs to turn into an herb vinegar. The dried herb, in my opinion, doesn't taste very good, so making an herb vinegar is a great way to preserve its taste for using year-round. Simple to make, just take a wide mouthed jar - clean and sterilized - and layer as much fresh tarragon as it can hold. Then pour a good quality white wine vinegar (you can also use rice vinegar or white balsamic vinegar) over the sprigs, being sure they are completely submerged. Keep the jar in a warm place, and let sit for 3-4 weeks. Shake it occasionally. it will then be ready to use. You can remove sprigs of the tarragon for use in cooking, and use the vinegar for salads, marinating, etc. tarragon is one herb that does not turn mushy after being in the vinegar, so you get two uses from preserving the tarragon this way.

Another herb in the artemisia family that I love for its decorative effect is Artemisia ludoviciana 'Silver King'. This feathery, grey herb is a great landscape plant, as it adds a soothing color and has graceful, arching stems. It spreads by runners, so once you have it, you will most likely have plenty. It is not invasive, though, and I use lots of it to make wreaths and dried floral arrangements. It presses well, too, and the leaves look stunning on a dark background. My article in the book recounts the first time - many years ago - that I was exposed to this plant, which really began my herbal journey.

This year I am trying to grow several types of artemisia in honor of its status as Herb of the Year. I have plants of A. stelleriana, A. genipi, A. scopari, A. princeps, A. latiflora and A. valesiaca. I have ordered seeds of several more varieties, but they are on backorder so I may not get to plant them this year. These will be added to my 'Silver King', 'Silver Queen', mugwort, wormwood, 'Valerie Finnis', A. frigida, tarragon and southernwood. Not a bad showing for this genus, and they are fairly easy to grow in my area.

The March winds and cold may be a challenge, but the plants (for the most part) are doing well in the greenhouse. They are joined by many more types of unusual herbs, all vying for the precious greenhouse space. Tomatoes are up - basil is to be planted soon, and spring is on the way. it looks to be a banner year - especially for artemisia!

Not minding March,

Karen