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You don’t even know this is happening...

Sometimes things don’t turn out the way they’re supposed to.

Sometimes you forget the eggs at the grocery store.
Sometimes the FedEx package arrives a day later than it should have.
Sometimes you eat “healthy” and still gain weight.

And sometimes your body does what it thinks is “right”... but it actually betrays you. Like when you develop inflammation.

You may have heard about inflammation, but not know too much about it. Since it’s really important for your overall health, let’s talk about it a little today. In the simplest of terms, inflammation is your body’s response to stress. It could be from your environment, your lifestyle, or your diet.

Your immune system is supposed to protect you from bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. It cleans out damaged cells, irritants, and pathogens, and starts to heal any infections or wounds you may get.

When you see inflammation on your skin, you notice that it produces swelling, due to an increase in fluid to the affected area. This is especially painful, due to the release of chemicals that stimulate nerve endings. It may also look red and feel hot, because the capillaries in that area are filled with more blood than usual.

When you catch a cold, you get a fever as your body heats up to eliminate the invading virus.

These types of acute - temporary - inflammation episodes result from an injury or illness (bronchitis, appendicitis, a cut, sinusitis, etc.)

But there is also chronic inflammation - it lingers on and on, sometimes for years - especially of the internal organs. Although your organs may not have sensory nerve endings, you may still experience chronic symptoms such as:

●      Fatigue
●      Mouth sores
●      Chest or abdominal pain
●      Fever
●      Rash
●      Joint pain
●      Visible signs of aging, like wrinkles
●      Acid reflux
●      Susceptibility to bacterial, fungal, and viral infections

If you suffer from certain chronic diseases or conditions - like asthma, peptic ulcer, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and a few others - it means your damaged cells and tissues are trying to heal, but are unable to eliminate whatever irritant or invader is causing the inflammation.

In fact, even some major diseases - like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s - have been linked to chronic inflammation.

There are a number of reasons you may suffer from chronic inflammation.

You may have food allergies or sensitivities. Or an imbalance of bacteria and fungi in your GI tract. You may live in a toxic environment. You may be experiencing high levels of continual stress. Or your diet and lifestyle can lead to inflammation.

If you are suffering from inflammation, you have several different treatment options, in consultation with your physician. You can relieve pain through modified activities or medications. You can work with a physical therapist. And you can evaluate your diet, and make some changes.

Some of the foods that contribute to inflammation include sodas, refined sugars, and red meat as well as processed meats.

As you might guess, by focusing more on plant-based foods as the foundation for your diet, not only will you reduce inflammation and all the side effects, but you’ll also look and feel much better.

Some foods that especially help to reduce inflammation are:

●      Tomatoes
●      Olive oil
●      Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, collards
●      Nuts, especially almonds and walnuts
●      Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines
●      Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges

Researchers now see that a diet consisting of high levels of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils helps reduce inflammation inside your body.

I don’t know if you’re suffering from chronic inflammation right now, but I find many of my clients struggle with several of the symptoms.  Getting healthy and fit is not just about a number on the scale.  It’s about how you feel and how your body functions – especially as you age.

Do you have some possible signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation? 

Start making changes in your lifestyle today, it could add years and quality to your life.

- Robin Mungall NSCA CPT

Results One Habit At A Time
Robin Mungall Fitness
www.rmfit.com 
780-554-9569

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Translating Seed LabelsBy Jim Hole

Most of the information on seed labels is pretty straightforward. But there is certain terminology that can cause more than a little chin scratching. Here is a list of some of the more common.

GMO and GEO free seed.

GMO is an acronym for Genetically Modified Organism. GEO is similar except that the ‘E’ refers to engineered. “Non-GMO/GEO” and “GMO/GEO Free” both allude to the fact that there haven’t been any genes from a different species inserted into the DNA of the seed that you are buying.

Really, the scientifically correct term for the insertion of DNA into another organism is called ‘Recombinant DNA technology’ not GMO nor GEO. But suffice to say that NO seed can be sold here in Canadian Garden Centres that has had DNA from a different species inserted into it. 

F1 Hybrid

Hybrid can mean different things when it comes to seed but an example that, I think, works for most gardeners are corn hybrids.

Plant breeders might be trying to breed a corn with sweet kernels and early maturing. One variety might be sweet but late. The other variety might be starchy  but early. So breeders will inbreed each variety (no outside pollination) for several years and then bring together the two highly uniform varieties that are subsequently ‘cross pollinated’. 

If everything goes well then—voila—a new hybrid variety that is sweet and early!

Germination Percentage

Some, but not all, seed companies include the percentage germination of each batch of a particular seed variety. Seed germination percentages are often into the 80’s and high 90’s but don’t be surprised to find some seeds down into the 50% range. I’ve seen a number of pepper varieties that have a rather large number of non-viable seeds so don’t be surprised when only about a half of your seeds germinate. It’s just the nature of the beast!

VFN

Sometimes – like is often the case with tomato varieties – letters like ‘VFN’ will appear on the label. 

These letters are really geared to professional growers but they still apply to home gardeners. VFN means Verticillium, Fusarium and Nematodes .

Yes, I would say that these names are headache inducing for many gardeners! But the letters just allude to the fact that a particular tomato variety, with these letters on its package are resistant to two specific plant diseases and a worm-like root attacking pest.  
 

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10 Awesome Reasons To Workout & 1 Terrible Reason

I was having a conversation with a group of people the other day, talking about exercise and why it's important. In our discussion we started listing of reasons why you workout. From that discussion I have plucked out 10 awesome reasons and one reason that isn't so good. 

10 Awesome Reasons

1. Because you enjoy doing it

2. You enjoy being stronger

3. You like having toned muscles

4. You want to support your weight loss goals with the metabolism boosting effects of exercise

5. Because it gives you confidence 

6. Because it helps you sleep better

7. Because of it's "anti-aging effects"

8. To be a role model for your children

9. To improve athletic performance 

10. Because it reduces risk of injury 

These are great reasons to workout, and it's important that when you embark on a plan to workout consistently that you acknowledge the reasons why and the benefits that have meaning to you. 

There is one reason to workout however that isn't so good. That reason is:

To punish yourself for overeating or eating "junk food".

Working out or movement in general can be and should be a joy. It's something that you do for yourself to feel better, look better, and perform better in which ever capacity that suits you.

It's something that allows you to get the most out your body so you can live a high quality of life for a long time. 

But when you start on the path of exercising because you were "bad" you associate exercise in a negative context making it darn near impossible to be consistent with... (unless self punishment is what you're into.)

You don't have to "earn" that family outing by brutal workouts that you do to offset your food choices, you can't win that game physically or mentally. It's a recipe for stress, anxiety and depression. 

Exercise is a celebration of what you can do, not a punishment for what you ate. 

I'll write that again:

Exercise is a celebration of what you can do, not a punishment for what you ate.

So what are your reasons to exercise? Send me an email I would love to find out and if you are struggling or exercising for the wrong reason, let me know I can help. 

 

- Robin Mungall NSCA CPT

Results One Habit At A Time
Robin Mungall Fitness
www.rmfit.com 
780-554-9569

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Why this childhood habit is bad for you as an adult.

You’ve heard of siblings like this, right?

Three brothers, all within about 6 years of each other. Everything is a competition. Even eating. Whoever gets the food onto their plate first gets to eat it, but it had better be gone fast or it could get stolen.

If the serving dish on the table only has one piece of chicken left, you can be sure someone will be stabbed with a fork as everyone grabs for it at the same time. Blood everywhere… Tears… Pointing fingers…Whining…

And that’s NOTHING compared to when they were kids! ;-)

Seriously, it’s not just males who eat quickly, without thinking. Many people have developed the habit of eating as fast as possible. Often it’s because you developed the habit while in elementary school, when lunch breaks were short.

And then you continued when you got home from school, wolfing down dinner in order to get to some rehearsal, or practice, or study session on time.

Then as an adult, you work long hours, rush home through painful traffic or on overly-crowded public transportation, only to rush through eating again, because there are bills to pay, bathrooms to clean, kids to shuttle….

Our fast-paced society includes fast-paced eating.

Yet, there are plenty of reasons to eat slowly.

If you eat slowly, it helps your digestion, you stay hydrated more easily, it’s easier to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, and you enjoy your food more. If eating slowly creates these benefits, eating too quickly obviously causes the opposite effects.

One of the most important reasons to eat more slowly is it allows your brain to catch up with your stomach. It takes about 20 minutes from the time you begin eating for the brain to recognize when you are satiated, that is, full.

Many people eat so fast, their brain doesn’t have time to tell them they are done eating, and they end up consuming more calories than they need!

In addition, if you eat slowly, you help your digestion. Like any system, digestion has to go from step 1 to step 2 to step 3, etc. But it takes time to get ready for each step.

Here’s what I mean. When you think about eating, you start to salivate. Saliva contains enzymes that break down your food and moisten your mouth for easier swallowing.

While this is happening, your stomach starts to secrete more acid in order to digest the food completely. In addition, your small and large intestines begin to get ready to do their jobs. Etc.

When you eat too fast, you send food into this relatively fragile system before it’s ready. This is especially true if you don’t take time to chew your food sufficiently; it lands as a lump in your stomach without having been as well processed as it should be.

So if you suffer from indigestion or other GI problems, you might want to evaluate how quickly you eat your food.

Let’s take a look at a study done by the University of Rhode Island in which they brought in 30 women of “normal” weight, for two visits.

The women were told to eat until full (satiated), but one time they were told to eat quickly, and the other time they were told to put down their fork after each bite.

When they ate quickly, they consumed 646 calories in 9 minutes. When eating slowly, they consumed 579 calories in 29 minutes. That’s 67 fewer calories in 20 more minutes! In addition, when they ate slowly, the women drank 209 grams of water (fast) vs. 410 grams (slow).

Finally, when they ate quickly, the women felt hungry sooner than when they ate the same amount of food slowly.

If you imagine these kinds of results three times a day, seven days a week, week after week, you can see how quickly these women would eat more calories and drink less water, when eating fast.

OK, so I hope I’ve convinced you that eating slowly is much better for you than wolfing down your food. So how do you do that?

There is actually a mindful eating movement afoot. This is when people count their bites, or how often they chew each bite. To do mindful eating very thoroughly, people first sit and look at their food, experiencing it with as many senses as possible - sight, smell, touch - just thinking about what it’s going to taste like and feel like. After five or more minutes of this, THEN they begin to eat their food… slowly.

So sitting and looking at your food for five minutes doesn’t fit your particular lifestyle, here are a few suggestions you can consider incorporating. Even doing a few of them each day will make a big difference in how quickly or slowly you consume your food, and give you the attending health benefits:

●      Eat more high-fiber foods (like fruits and vegetables) that take longer to digest.

●      Cut your bites smaller before putting them in your mouth. Then actually count how many times you chew before swallowing.

●      Drink a glass of water before you sit down to eat - and during the meal - as this will make you feel more full, and less desperate to get the food into your mouth.

●      Use smaller plates for smaller portions.

●      If you usually use a fork, try using chopsticks! (If you’re not familiar with them, this will definitely slow you down.)

●      Give yourself at least 20 to 30 minutes to eat…. Not the usual 5 to 10.

●      Eat with others and engage in witty, engaging conversation. ;-) 

●      Put down your utensil after each bite to savor both the flavors and the company

●      Don’t eat when you’re bored; only when you’re truly hungry

●      Don’t multitask while you eat; pay attention to the experience of eating

●      Eat on a schedule, not all day long

●      Pause to consider where your food came from. The people who harvested it, transported it, stocked the shelves with it, and prepared it; maybe even the animals that were raised for your sustenance. Consider the cultural traditions that brought you to that table, and the recipes shared among family and friends. When you stop to consider all this, it may slow you down and help you make wise choices about sustainability and healthy food.

If you’re like most people I know, you probably lead a pretty busy, hectic life. But when you mindfully, intentionally slow down during your mealtime, you will feel healthier, have more control over your weight, and feel more connected to your food and to those at the table with you. 

- Robin Mungall NSCA CPT

Results One Habit At A Time
Robin Mungall Fitness
www.rmfit.com 
780-554-9569

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Is it better to grow my annuals from seeds, or should I just buy bedding plants?

Lois—Let your interests be your guide! Growing annuals from seed is a great pastime, especially if you’re eager to start gardening while there’s still snow on the ground. However, some varieties are easier to start from seed than others. We had a heck of a time growing bells of Ireland from seed until we discovered, quite by accident, that they require a cold treatment before they will germinate. If they hadn’t been set down on a cold concrete floor, we never would have discovered what were doing wrong!

Jim—Mom’s right. There’s nothing more frustrating than planting a tray full of seeds only to be faced with a barren pack even after weeks of care. To avoid disappointment, choose easy-to-germinate seed like marigolds and nasturtiums, and buy bedding plants if you want to grow the more demanding annuals like begonias and alyssum. Of course, if you like the challenge of growing the picky species from seed, by all means, give them a try. Just take the time to learn a little about their needs.

 

When should I start my seeds?

Lois—It depends on when you’re going to transplant your seedlings outdoors. For example, here in St. Albert the average last spring-frost date is May 6. We transplant our pansies outside 3 weeks before that in mid-April. Pansy seedlings take about 14 weeks to grow from seed, so we start the seeds in mid-February. It takes a bit of planning, but it’s worth it. By May last year, I had pots filled with pansies on my deck, and they received rave reviews.

Jim—People spend a lot of time worrying about frost. They don’t realize that many annuals need to be outside and growing in the early part of the growing season. More plants are finished off by heat and drought in the summer than by frost in May! In our experience is actually better to put annuals like pansies outside and cover them than to leave them indoors and have them stretch out from being too hot. There’s really no substitute for planning. Read your seed packets carefully, check on the average last spring-frost date for your area, and do the math for yourself.

 

What are the easiest annuals to start from seed?

Lois—By and large, the bigger the seed is, the easier it is to grow. If you start off with larger seeds such as sweet peas, nasturtiums, and marigolds, you’re almost guaranteed success. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can move on to smaller seeds, which tend to be more challenging to grow.

Jim—The sweet pea is the easiest annual to grow from seed. Not only is a sweet pea seed big, it’s nearly indestructible! It doesn’t mind if you give it too much water or too little. It’s disease resistant and easy to handle because it’s so big.  On the other hand, tuberous and fibrous begonias are among the trickiest annuals to seed.  The seeds are almost as small as dust particles. You can barely see them, let alone pick them up with your fingers. These seeds require consistently warm soil, and just the right amount of fertilizer; otherwise they starve. Raising begonias from seed is definitely a challenge compared to the easygoing sweet pea!

 

What do I need to grow my own plants from seed?

Lois—First you need the very best-quality seeds. My mother-in-law, Grandma Hole, always said, “Only the rich can afford to buy cheap things!” If you start off with inferior seed, you might as well not even bother. Also, you’ll want to give those seeds a good home, so be sure to buy a professional seedling mixture.

Jim—You can start with as little as seeds, potting soil, flats, and a sunny window. If you’re ready to get a bit more serious, though, it’s worth investing in the right equipment

Basic equipment checklist
• the best available seed
• the best-quality soilless mix (Seedling Starter Mix)
• a mister bottle
• clean plastic flats
• grow lights
• covers (plastic or fabric)
• fine-textured vermiculite to cover your seedlings
• a thermometer with a probe (an oven meat-thermometer works well)
• heating cables/mats
• fungicides (optional)
• Earth Alive Soil Activator
• tags to label the different varieties

 

Do I need a special kind of soil for my seedlings?

Lois—Yes! Even though you can get reasonably good results from regular potting soil, you’ll have better luck if you use a special mix for your seedlings. I always use Seedling Starter Mix. It has just the right components for healthy seedlings.

Jim—I agree wholeheartedly. For the best seedlings, you should always start off with the best soil. Spend the few extra dollars and invest in a professional seedling soil. Regular potting soil is too coarse and variable to risk using on your seedlings.

 

What are hybrid seeds?

Lois—There are many different kinds of hybrid seeds. One hybrid seed tends to be very similar to the next, unlike non-hybrid seeds, which sometimes surprise you when they bloom! Hybrid seeds are more expensive than their non-hybrid cousins, but the extra pennies are worth
it! Plants that grow from hybrid seeds tend to have all kinds of bonuses, like bigger and more colourful blooms, greater disease resistance, and better growth habit.

Jim—Development of hybrid plants is a complex procedure that ultimately, if everything goes right, results in very uniform varieties.

 

Can I plant the seeds collected from hybrid plants?

Lois—You can, but only if you’re prepared for unpredictable (and often downright unsuccessful) results. Hybrid plants don’t make good parents!

Jim—Seeds taken from hybrid plants don’t grow “true to type.” You can collect and sow hybrid seeds, but only half of the resulting plants will look like the variety that you collected the seed from. The other half will be divided evenly—the two quarters resembling the two parents that gave rise to the hybrid.

 

What other factors are important for good germination?

Lois—Even though I always emphasize the importance of watering, oxygen is just as important for your seeds. If you keep your flats saturated with water, your seeds will drown. You also need to check your seed packets to see if your seeds require special conditions to germinate.

Jim—Oxygen and moisture must penetrate a seed’s coat in order for it to germinate.  Apart from that, different seeds have their own requirements. For example, the smallest seeds (like alyssum, begonia, coleus, and petunia) generally require light in order to germinate. Other seeds, such as larkspur, phlox, and verbena, prefer to germinate in the dark.

Some seeds actually need a little abuse to get started! In one process, scarification, the seed coats are cut or abraded in order to allow water and oxygen to penetrate. In another process, stratification, the seeds are stored in a cold, moist environment for several weeks or months, to simulate the passing of winter.

 

What things can contaminate my seedlings?

Lois—Take the time to practice good sanitation. You must be careful to work in a clean space with clean tools. And wash your hands, too!

Jim—Disease can enter the picture at several points.

• Containers or other tools. Rinse your tools, plus any previously used flats or trays, in a 10%-bleach solution.

• Improper sanitation. Listen to Mom! Always wash your hands before working with your seedlings. Tobacco carries the mosaic virus, while certain foods like lettuce carry damping-off diseases.

• Unpasteurized soil.

• The seeds themselves. Some diseases live in the seed or on the seed coat itself. Buy only the best-quality seeds.

• Dirty water or dirty watering cans (tap water is fine, provided it’s not high in salts—sodium in particular).

 

Do I need to use pesticides to grow seedlings?

Lois—No. Pesticides are not the answer. Ted and I used to grow our seedlings without using pesticides, and to this day, we still do. The key is sanitation, sanitation, sanitation! If you keep everything perfectly clean, you won’t have to rely on chemicals.

Jim—I agree. You don’t need pesticides to grow your seedlings, especially if you use a professional seedling mixture. This is the key—garden soil introduces many unwanted potential problems for seedlings. Fungicides, on the other hand, can be an important investment. Even with the best sanitation, fungal diseases can occasionally find their way to your seedlings.

 

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2018 Fitness Resolution Top 5 Tips

I would like nothing more than to hear you tell me in 2019 that your New Years Resolution is to be more charitable or something noble like that and not to get into shape... again.

Why? 

Because this year I want your “Get into shape” resolution to be something that becomes a sustainable practice and in 2019 you already ARE in shape. 

If you would like that as well here are my top 5 Tips to follow: 

1. Pause and Write Down Why

How will getting into shape be it weight loss or better endurance etc. do for you? What are the deep and meaningful benefits to you? Don’t just think about it, write it down and review it every single morning. 

2. Create a Smart Strategy

 Don’t fall for the hype. The “6 pack in 6 weeks, 3 day belly be gone detox and the magic supplements that promise the results right now.... they all prey on your current fragile emotional state but they very rarely deliver on any sort of sustainable change. Once your willpower is all used up you are left more tired and hating fitness for the rest of the year. 

Instead create a strategy that focuses on practicing one or two changes at a time for 2-4 weeks that you can confidently do. Here are three key questions you need

A: What do you have to do differently?
B: How will you do it?
C: What roadblocks are there and how will you overcome them? 

Example:

A: Get 3 workouts in a week
B: Schedule it in at 4pm Mon-Wed-Fri
C: Work stuff — Be flexible with a lunch time and/or Saturday 9am workout option 

3. Be Compassionate

Getting into shape requires healthy lifestyle changes, that’s not easy to do and you will make mistakes. There is no room for perfectionist mindsets. Where most people quit after the first slip up or when life gets hard, this is where I want to see you practice being compassionate with yourself. You will make mistakes, that’s called being human and that’s a great time to laugh and learn not cry and quit. Keep going that’s how sustainable change is done. 

4. ASK FOR HELP!

I have been helping people get into shape since 2003. I can count the number of people who have done it alone with no support on one hand. 

Getting support is key to getting you through that stage when motivation dissipates but your actions are not quite a habit just yet. 

Think of support as a sporting event. You have fans in the stands, teammates and a coach all helping you win. Fans will cheer you on but won’t help you take action. They still want to see you win. This is the bulk of your friends and family. 

Teammates are taking action with you, all moving toward the same goal. A group of likeminded people like in my semi-private training program are going to war with you. They will help you stay consistent when times are tough.

Coaching will help you with an effective game plan and accountability for the best chance at winning. 

5. Keep A Record

No matter what you try, write down what you are doing. Your chances of fully succeeding DOUBLE when you write it down. No one can do this for you and deliver the same effect. YOU need to take responsibility for recording your actions, reviewing them and making progress. There is nothing worse than when I hear “I think I am doing it”. By recording your actions you can confirm your actions and know exactly how you are doing.

 

Have a healthy and happy New Year!

- Robin Mungall NSCA CPT

Results One Habit At A Time
Robin Mungall Fitness
www.rmfit.com 
780-554-9569

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Lemon Verbena

Aloysia triphylla [aka A. citriodora, Lippia triphylla]

Tender perennial; grown as an annual in most parts of Canada

Height 1 to 2 m; spread 45 cm to 1 m.

Herb with stiff, apple-green, willowy leaves and small, pale-lilac flowers in pyramid-shaped clusters.

Try these!

Only Aloysia triphylla is readily available in North America.

Planting

Lemon verbena is best grown from young plants purchased from a garden centre.

How much: At least two plants.

When: One to two weeks after the average date of last spring frost in your area.

Where: Full sun, sheltered; a south facing wall is ideal. Prefers rich, well-drained soil. Space plants at least 30 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Lemon verbena is easy to grow! It loves heat, but don’t let it dry out.

Harvesting

Harvest leaves throughout the growing season. The flowers are also edible and tasty, but verbena rarely blooms in Canada’s short growing season.

For best flavour: Harvest mature plants: the lemon fragrance and flavour grow stronger with age.

Leaves: Strip leaves from the woody stems with your fingers; discard any tough stalks.

Flowers: Harvest as they appear; clip from stem and use whole.

Preserving the Harvest

Lemon verbena leaves will retain their flavour for years. Dry and place immediately in an airtight jar, and keep the jar in a cool, dark place. You can also freeze the chopped leaves and flowers; use the ice-cube method (see page XXX).

Tips
  • Give lemon verbena the sunniest location you can. The plants respond well to warmth and light.
  • Lemon verbena usually grows best when it is free of competition. However, I like to plant lemon verbena in a pot with 'Dark Opal' basil: the plant's contrasting leaf colours look fantastic together, they like the same growing conditions, and one never overgrows the other.
To Note:
  • Put lemon verbena leaves in the vacuum cleaner bag to freshen the house while you clean.
  • Infuse sprigs of lemon verbena for use in finger bowls.
  • Lemon verbena's essential oils are used in soft drinks, liqueurs, and perfumes. The dried leaves are good for potpourris.
  • Lemon verbena is native to South America. The Latin Aloysia comes from Maria Louisa, wife of Charles IV of Spain.
  • In the film Gone With the Wind (1939), lemon verbena is one of the favourite fragrances of Scarlet O'Hara's mother.

 

 

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Thyme

Thymus spp.

Tender perennial; ornamental varieties are hardy.

Height 15 to 50 cm; spread 15 to 30 cm.

Herb with small, dark-green or variegated leaves with hairy undersides and tiny, tubular, lavender, mauve, pink, purple, or white flowers borne in loose whorls.

Try these!

Thymus vulgaris (English thyme, German thyme, Winter thyme, Common thyme): Most common variety; broad-leaf variety; grows vigorously, with a full, strong flavour

Thymus vulgaris (French thyme, Summer thyme): Narrow-leaf variety; greyer and sweeter than English thyme

Thymus x citriodorus (Lemon thyme): Best for tea; less pungent, with a citrus flavour, and thus better used in desserts and custards

Planting

Thyme is best grown from young plants purchased from a garden centre.

How much: One plant of each type you enjoy.

When: As soon as the ground can be worked; quite frost-tolerant.

Where: Full sun. Grows well in containers. Prefers light, sandy, well-drained soil; will grow in poor soil. Space plants 45 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Thyme is easy to grow! Trim lightly after flowering to encourage compact, bushy growth. Fertilize only lightly for best leaf flavour. Thyme does not like to dry out, but overwatering and excessive fertilizer make the leaves taste bland. To ensure continued vigour in perennial varieties, divide the plants every 3 to 4 years.

Harvesting

When gathering wild thyme, taste and smell the plants as you pick to find those that are the most aromatic. For maximum leaf production, don’t let the plant flower.

For best flavour: If you’re harvesting leaves, pick them just before the plants bloom; if you’re harvesting flowers, pick them just as they open.

Leaves: Harvest throughout the season, as needed. Thyme leaves are too small to pick individually. Clip upper stems; use whole or strip leaves from tougher stems. Throw stems on the BBQ.

Flowers: Pick flowers as they appear. Flowers grow in clusters; clip cluster from growing stem and gently separate into individual florets.

Preserving the Harvest

In milder climates, thyme is an evergreen, so fresh leaves can be picked year-round. Thyme leaves dry well (see page XXX for methods) and can also be preserved by the ice-cube method (see page XXX). Thyme flowers should be used fresh.

Tips
  • Culinary varieties will generally over winter if you are careful about the location. Find a sheltered spot with good snow cover and light sandy soil.
  • Although we have listed only a few common varieties, there are more than 120 varieties of thyme, some from Europe, western Asia, North Africa, and the Canary Islands. Here are some other edible varieties you may want to try.
    • Golden lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus 'Aureas') has a bright lemon flavour; its leaves have scattered yellow edges.
    • The unique aroma of caraway thyme (Thymus herba-barona) is a cross between sweet caraway and pine.
    • Orange balsam thyme (Thymus x Orange Balsam)has a wonderful orange fragrance and flavour.
    • Nutmeg thyme (Thymus praecox ssp. articus) is a small-leafed trailing species with the scent and flavour of nutmeg.
    • Oregano thyme (Thymus sp.) bears a hint of oregano in its scent and flavour.
    • Wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum), also known as mother of thyme or broad-leaved thyme, can be used for cooking, but makes a better groundcover. It exudes a lovely scent when stepped on. Woolly mother-of-thyme or woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) is another ornamental variety with a superb scent, but is not recommended for cooking. Try growing it around patio stones or in a rock garden.
  • In most areas of Canada, perennial thymes require mulching and protection to survive the winter.
To Note:
  • Thyme's essential oil, thymol, can be used to preserve meat. Thymol is also used as the fungicidal ingredient in mildew control products, and serves as an important component of many mouthwashes, lozenges, cough syrups, colognes, detergents, and toothpaste.
  • Dried thyme flowers are used in sachets to repel moths from clothing.
  • Thyme grown in and around Grasse, in southern France, is used in perfumeries. The thyme also supplies bees with pollen, yielding the thyme-flavoured honey that is sold in district markets.
  • Scottish highlanders drank wild thyme tea to give them strength and courage and to prevent nightmares. Similarly, a sprig of thyme in a bed pillow is said to repel nightmares.
  • One of the most important herbs in human civilization, thyme was cultivated in Sumeria as early as 3000 BC. Indeed, an ancient Sumerian stone tablet mentions thyme in what could be the world's oldest prescription: "After grinding together the seeds of saffron and thyme and putting them in beer, the patient shall drink."
  • The preserving properties of thyme were well known to the Egyptians, who used it for embalming.

 

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French Tarragon

Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa

Tender perennial

Height 60 to 120 cm; spread 30 to 45 cm.

Branching herb with smooth, shiny, dark-green, lobe-shaped leaves.

Try these!

Artemisia dracunculus sativa (French tarragon, True tarragon) is the only variety worth growing: the flavour is distinctive, with a slight hint of anise—wonderful!

Planting

Grow from young plants purchased from a garden centre. French tarragon cannot be grown from seed.

How much: At least two plants.

When: Around the date of the date of average last spring frost.

Where: Full sun. Demands light, well-drained soil; cannot tolerate wet or poorly drained soil. Space plants at least 60 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Tarragon requires some care to grow well. Water regularly to keep plant lush and full. Tarragon doesn’t require much fertilizer. Tarragon spreads, like mint, by underground runners, but is not nearly as invasive or hard to control. Tarragon tends to die back or get woody in the centre; it requires regular division and should be renewed every 3 or 4 years. Because tarragon is not completely hardy, it requires mulching in the fall for winter protection.

Harvesting

The leaves can be harvested from early spring until fall.

For best flavour: Choose tender growth; harvest only as much as you need immediately.

Leaves: Harvest individual leaves by clipping the leaf stalk where it attaches to the stem. Cut sprigs where they attach to the main growing stem; use whole or strip the leaves. Discard tough stalks or use on BBQ.

Flowers: Edible, but not normally eaten.

Preserving the Harvest

Tarragon is best used fresh, but can be preserved by freezing. Tarragon is also commonly preserved in white vinegar—tarragon vinegar is a typical gourmet product. Don’t bother drying tarragon: it loses its essential oils when dried.

Tips
  • Never buy Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus dracunculoides)! Its flavour is poor—in fact, it’s almost tasteless. If you see tarragon seed for sale, it will definitely be the inferior Russian tarragon, so don’t buy it. The true French variety can only be propagated vegetatively.
  • Tarragon prefers warm but not hot locations in full sun. I like to plant mine in a sunny location that is protected from the hot late-afternoon sun.
To Note:
  • Tarragon contains high amounts of calcium and potassium.
  • Tarragon has been used to reduce swellings, alleviate toothaches, and to freshen breath.
  • Tarragon is related to wormwood, southernwood, and mugwort.
  • Hippocrates used tarragon to draw venom from snakebites.
  • The Okanagan, Shuswap, Kootenay, and Blackfoot peoples all used tarragon as an insect-repelling smudge. Several tribes would bake tarragon leaves between two hot stones and eat the leaves with salt water.
  • The Mongols and the Crusaders introduced tarragon into Europe.
  • Tarragon gets its species name from a strange superstition recorded by Pliny, the famous Roman author and scientist. He wrote that anyone carrying a twig of the plant would be protected against snakes and dragons. The species came to be known as Dracunculus or “little dragon."

 

 

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Sunflowers

Helianthus annuus

Annual

Height 30 cm to 2 m (some varieties can grow to heights of 6 m or more); spread 15 to 45 cm.

Huge flower heads sport bright-yellow petals around a centre of black seeds.

Try these!

Helianthus annuus (sunflower):

Helianthus annuus giganteus (giant sunflower):

Planting

Seed sunflowers directly into the garden or, to get a jump on the season, set out young plants purchased from a garden centre. If you use young plants, be sure they come in individually celled containers: sunflowers don’t like to have their roots disturbed.

How much: Two to three plants; more for ornamental use.

When: Seed as soon as the soil can be worked. Set out young plants one week after the average date of last frost in your area.

Where: Full sun. Prefers rich, well-drained soil; will grow in any soil. Space tall varieties 60 cm apart; space short varieties 45 to 50 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Sunflowers are very easy to grow! Rain generally provides all the moisture they require, but if conditions are dry, additional watering will produce larger, lusher plants and bigger flowers. Sunflowers self-sow readily, so don’t be surprised if a few plants keep turning up year after year, either in your own yard or your neighbour's.

Harvesting

The flower buds, ray petals, and dried seeds can be eaten If you’re growing sunflowers for the flower buds, choose a perennial or multi-stemmed annual variety, rather than a single-stem annual variety: they produce lots of flower heads. If you’re growing them for the seeds, choose a single-stem variety and don’t harvest petals from the flower heads.

For best flavour: Pampered sunflowers will produce the best growth.

Leaves: Not harvested.

Flowers: Harvest buds as they appear. Clip buds cleanly from stem. Once the flower opens, use only the petals. Pull individual ray petals from growing flower heads, or cut whole flowers and strip the ray petals. Discard the central disc florets.

Seeds: Cut the mature flower heads of sunflowers when they droop, the back of the head is dry and brown, and the seeds are dark and dry. Brush off any remaining petals with your fingers.

Preserving the Harvest

Use the petals and flower buds fresh—they do not store well. I like to tie the mature sunflower heads to the beams of my garage until I’m ready to use them. It’s cool and dry there, and the heads get lots of air movement, preventing decay.

Tips
  • Grow small varieties in containers. Ikarus and Soraya look great in large containers; you can also try Pacino, Big Smile, and Teddy Bear (my favourite, since its flowers looks like those in the Van Gogh painting).
  • Perennial sunflowers tend to deplete the soil where they grow; they should be replanted in a new site every few years, with plenty of well-rotted manure and compost added to the new spot. I prefer to add lots of well-rotted manure and compost each fall so I don’t have to move my plants. Instead, I divide the plant every 3 or 4 years.
  • One year, some people who lived down the road from us planted sunflowers close to their corn. Unfortunately, crows swooped down and devastated both crops. To prevent birds from eating all the seeds before you harvest them, cover the flower heads with brown paper bags as soon as they mature.
  • The best fertilizers for sunflowers contain twice as much potassium as nitrogen, e.g., 15-15-30.
  • Perennial sunflowers tolerate poor soil but they don’t like to dry out.
To Note:
  • Sunflowers are wonderful in backgrounds, borders, and hedges. They’re also a great choice for children's gardens because the seeds are large enough for little fingers to handles and the plants come up quickly and are easily maintained.
  • The name Helianthus is derived from the Greek words helios (sun) and anthos (flower). Sunflowers are heliotropic, meaning that they follow the sun. The flowers and leaves turn to the rising sun in the east and follow it across the sky.
  • Tall Mammoth sunflowers have heads with a width of up to 40 cm, containing 2000 seeds.
  • Each day, a large sunflower uses 17 times as much water as a person does!
  • It is purported that chickens will increase their egg laying if they are fed sunflower seeds.
  • Sunflower pith is one of the least dense substances known, and is used in many scientific experiments and laboratories.
  • In China, sunflowers have been cultivated and used for making delicate silks and cobise ropes.
  • Sunflowers have an incredible ability to absorb water from soil. They have been used in the reclamation of marshland in the Netherlands.
  • Dried sunflower stems are very hard and make an excellent fuel. Scatter the ashes as a potash fertilizer.
  • Boil sunflower petals to make a yellow dye. Sunflower is a good bee plant as it gives the hives large quantities of wax and nectar.
  • Sunflower oil has an incredible variety of uses. The oil cake, when warm pressed, yields a less valuable oil used for soap making, candle making, and the art of wool dressing. This cheaper oil is used as a drying oil for mixing paint and is an excellent lubricant.
  • The common sunflower is a native of Mexico and Peru. It was cultivated by American Indians 3000 years ago. In the Aztec culture, sunflowers were symbolic of the sun and Aztec sun priestesses were crowned with sunflowers. They carried them in their hands and wore gold jewelry decorated with sunflower emblems. Sunflowers were introduced into Europe in the 16th century by returning Spanish explorers.

 

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