Herb of the Year for 2023: Ginger ( (Zingiber officinale). Named by the International Herb Association
Flower of the Month for July: Larkspur: Each blossom color has a different meaning: pink suggests fickleness, white a happy nature, purple a first love.
July is National Blueberry Month, National Ice Cream Month
July Feature: Prairie Doctor
July 4: A day to celebrate America and the spirit of inclusiveness and unity that makes us who we are as a nation. Happy birthday to us!
July 9: National Sugar Cookie Day.
July 17: National Peach Ice Cream Day. But climate change threatens Georgia’s best.
July 20: Let’s declare today Love Your Basil Day. Susan’s garden is full of it—is yours?
July 24: Nestle introduced Nescafe instant coffee on this day in 1938. And yes, of course coffee is an herb! (We know you knew that.)
July 28: Beatrix Potter–the plucky heroine of Susan’s Cottage Tales series, was born on this day in 1866.
July 30: National Avocado Day
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) is blooming now, its purple petals a colorful contrast to its bright orange centers. On this firecracker-hot July afternoon in Texas, it is the prettiest thing in the garden. The bees and butterflies think so, too.
Echinacea is native to the Great Plains of North America, and the native people of the region, schooled as they were in the resources around them, understood its usefulness long before white people brought in their doctors. In their larder of staple plant medicines—golden seal, slippery elm, chickweed, goldenrod—echinacea held the highest place. It was used to treat toothaches, coughs, infections, sore throats–you name it. Preparation was simple: they dug a fresh root, washed it, and sucked on it.
European botanists learned about the coneflower in the early 1700s. But it was not until the Plains People shared their knowledge with the settlers that word of this American treasure, often called the “prairie doctor,” got around. It is still in use by herbalists, recommended as a treatment for colds, flu, and related ailments. There’s a great deal of scientific reporting about this herb; here is a summary of pros and cons.
If you have access to the plants, you can make a tincture or (more simply) a tea. Pick a flower, chop it fine, and put it into a tea bag or non-reactive strainer. Steep in hot water for 15 minutes, and sip to combat flu and colds. No access to the plants? You can go for the capsules, either alone or in combination with another herb (often goldenseal). And even if you’re not interested in its medicinal properties, the Prairie Doctor is a colorful addition to a summer garden.
All the world loves a cookie! Observe Sugar Cookie Day by baking some of China Bayles’ famous curry and cardamom sugar cookies, re-posted on the Spice House website. You can read the story the recipe comes from in An Unthymely Death and Other Garden Mysteries.
If you’re French, celebrate Bastille Day. You’re not French? Celebrate anyway: bake a classic Quiche Lorraine. Bon appetit!
Have some special fun on Vanilla Ice Cream Day by helping the kids make vanilla ice cream in a bag (yes, really!). Or maybe you’d rather follow Oprah’s vanilla bean recipe or (omigosh!) fennel seed basil vanilla ice cream. (We haven’t tried this. If you do, let us know how it tastes. We’re wary.) And for more about vanilla, you’ll want to dip into China’s 27th adventure, A Plain Vanilla Murder.
Instant coffee has been around longer than you think. It may not be your favorite choice of this herbal beverage, but you can make it a little more tasty. Try a couple of teaspoons of one of these refreshing mixes in a mug of hot water. Start with a basic mix of 2/3 cup instant coffee and 2/3 cup sugar. For a mint-flavored mocha, add 1 teaspoon dried mint leaves (powdered) and 2/3 cup non-dairy creamer. For an orange-mocha treat, add 1¼ teaspoon crushed dried crushed orange peel, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and a pinch of cloves.
To celebrate Miss Potter’s birthday, read one of the delightful books in Susan’s Cottage Tales series about her village life and treat yourself to some of her gingersnaps. You’ll find the recipe at the bottom of the page for The Tale of Hill Top Farm.
St. Swithin is the patron saint of apple growers. It’s traditional to celebrate his day (rain or no rain), with an apple cake. Here’s an easy version, with the full story of Swithin’s magical weather-forecasting skill.
Avocados have been on the menu for eons. Also called “alligator pears,” they were gathered and eaten in Mexico as early as 8000 BCE, and grown in orchards by 3000 BCE. For a bushel of avocado recipes, go here And yes, the avocado is an herb. To learn about its medicinal uses, go here.
Find out what Susan is up to these days by visiting her blog, Lifescapes. There’s always something interesting going on in the Texas Hill Country. On her “other” blog, BookScapes, she posts book reviews, bookish thoughts, and notes on the fast-changing world of books. And stay tuned for an announcement of her September 2023 Substack launch of Place & Thyme, a newsletter/blog and community forum.