Country Moon

The Road Less Traveled

Country MoonRecently we took a trip to Colorado and Utah. Naturally, it was so much different than the Midwest, not a lot of greenery and a whole lot more rocks, mostly red rocks.

It was a very different kind of beauty. Even if you are like me and not so much of a desert person, you still have to appreciate the vastness of that part of the world.

We saw four of our national parks including Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado; Canyonlands, Arches and Capital Reef in Utah as well as Dead Horse State Park in Utah. After 4,149 miles, 946 pictures and memories too many to count, we are blessed to have had this adventure that will be with us for the rest of our lives.

Rocky Mountain National Park was a snap decision on our part and it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. We were headed for Denver when Ron remembered that some friends had visited the park several times.

So, we got off I-80 and headed for Estes Park. We saw some great scenery on the way by taking the backroads and saw some of the most beautiful peaks in the Rockies.

From there we headed to Moab, UT with the intent of seeing Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. On the way there we saw a sign for Dead Horse State Park, which is where wild mustangs were rounded up, the best culled out and the rest left to die of thirst even though the Colorado River was right below them. This was a hidden gem that wasn't on our itinerary.

scenic view

Ron has made several trips to ride the trails around a little town called Antimony in Utah, a tiny town about three hours southwest of Moab. Let me say that the large national parks around Moab were beautiful but this little piece of the world captured my heart.

It is a tiny town with a population of only 168 (yep, you read that right!) but a great big heart. It is tucked away in the Dixie National Forest, which straddles the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River.

We rode the Ranger on a few trails that offered scenic views of plateaus, various fir and aspen tress, sagebrush and grasslands. We went around Jones Corral Guard Station, which has been used by generations of Forest Service employees working the surrounding back country. It sets on Mount Dutton on the edge of a meadow with spectacular views.

scenic view

We rode to the summit of Mount Dutton on Mount Dutton Road, one of the highest and most treacherous roads in Utah because it is a gravel 4wd track. On top of Mount Dutton there is a small communication structure, which is located 100 yards away from the highest point. Although the northeast is blocked by forest, views to the west and southwest from the summit included Powell Point and much of the Aquarius Plateau... simply breathtaking.

The next day we drove a little further south near Panguich and rode in Casto Canyon, which is a miniature Bryce Canyon. Spires of orange and red rock rise up to form the canyon walls amid pine and cedar trees. Needless to say, the views here are also breathtaking.

What I liked about both of these off-the-beaten-path trails is that we were basically alone to take in the beauty. In Arches National Park we were literally in line behind other visitors on the trails.

Here, it was just us and nature. On both trails we only saw six other people total in the two days of riding. Yes, it is a little different knowing you are alone in this vastness, but if you come prepared, it has its advantages.

scenic view

With no television or other connections to the outside world, you would think that evenings would be boring, but the better word would be exhilarating. We sat outside in Adirondack chairs and watched the starts emerge. It has been a long time since I have seen so many stars that shone so brightly. The Milky Way was so close that you could almost reach up and touch it!

Antimony only has one country store with a small café where locals gather for coffee, one church and a two-room schoolhouse. We were in luck as the second night we were there the town was having their annual Dutch Oven potluck. The main courses were all cooked in Dutch ovens and most everyone in town gathered at the local park by the fire station.

scenic view

We were welcomed like we had lived there all our lives. The year has been unusually dry out there, even for Utah, so that was the main subject of conversation.

Of course, everyone knew everyone else and the main thread that we heard over and over again is that the folks wouldn't live anywhere else, in spite of the harsh living conditions. One rancher summed it up by saying, "We'll get through this year just like we always have and always will."

On our way home, we were traveling on I-70 just west of Vail, CO, when a flashing light warned us of a crash east of Vail that closed the freeway. We got off and waited a while and then saw there was another road going south that would add miles to our trip but would at least let us make progress.

It turned out to be one of the prettiest drives that we have taken. Had not the road closure changed our route, we would have missed out on seeing Pike's Peak and all the scenery.

This is what I love about the road less traveled. I am not taking anything away from the better-known national parks like Arches, Bryce, Zion, etc.

But, in the whole scheme of things, I will choose these lessor-known out-of-the-way places. They offer equally gorgeous views, a chance to really connect with nature and rare opportunities to get to know the local folks who are the backbone of our country.

Yep, a full tank of gas in the pickup, a cooler with drinks and snacks and the camera and we are ready to head to the backroads for the best life opportunities that this country has to offer.

Photos property of Lois Hoffman.

Wintering Herbs

Country MoonHerbs add flavor and zing to many of our favorite dishes. It is so nice to step outside the door and snip what you need.

Just because cold weather hits, it doesn't mean you have to give up the flavor punches that herbs add. Some, more than others lend themselves better to being brought inside in pots. The trick is to know which herbs prefer the indoors and which like to brave the cold.

Some are perennials and, even though their growth dies back, their roots remain healthy and prefer to stay outside in the lower temperatures. Annual herbs, on the other hand, are not cold-tolerant and like to spend their winters potted on sunny windowsills.

Sage, common thyme, oregano, chives, chamomile, mints, lavender and tarragon are winter herbs that can survive the cold. Softer, woodier perennial herbs like germander, marjoram, oregano and winter savory can be cut back by half to get rid of old foliage that may not have been harvested to spur new growth. Cut stems back until the plant is sporting a pair of leaves, no more than a third of the way down.

Winter-hardy chives should be cut back hard. Mint lends itself well to being dug up and potted if you have an abundance. Catnip left outside makes a great snack for kittens while beebalm makes a great pet rabbit snack.

Although many herbs can be brought inside, they may not gain much new growth during winter but they will be ready to go in the spring. Sometimes herbs are brought inside, not for their protections, but rather for convenience and enjoyment. Not much can beat the taste and scent of fresh rosemary all winter long.

Some varieties can be started in pots and remain there all year long. Some that lend themselves well to surviving inside are:

  • These can be left outside in a pot until the leaves die back in early winter and then moved to a cool spot like the basement to wait for spring or put in a bright window to encourage growth. If this is the case, they need 4 to 6 hours of sun and watered twice a week. If it gets too dry, its tips will turn yellow. Once it is 6 inches high, cut the leaves back to a length of 2 inches.
  • This can be potted as long as it sits in a south-facing window.
  • This herb likes a south window and likes to live in a mixture of half all-purpose potting mix and sand or use a cactus potting mix. Water twice a week but do not over water. When it reaches 6 inches high, cut it back leaving 2 leaves.
  • This likes an east or west window. This herb that gives a light taste to roasts, vegetables and fish and likes an all-purpose potting mix, watered once a week and pruned back to 2 inches.
  • This is a natural air freshener and will help keep your kitchen smelling fresh. It likes cactus potting soil and the top few inches of growth to be dry. It is a slow grower and one third of the plant should be harvested at a time. It prefers a south window.
  • This herb is not fussy and will do well indoors or out but does like a south window.
  • This herb that complements roasts and most meats. It likes cactus potting soil and the top inch of this to be dry. An east or west window is fine.

Herbs are versatile. In addition to bringing them in during cold months, they may be dried which will eliminate caring for them.

First, wash them by dunking in a bowl of cold water. To dry them, place them outside in a paper bag or hang them upside down. If you want a faster process, place cut herbs one quarter inch deep on a cookie sheet and place in a 180 degree Fahrenheit oven for 2 to 4 hours or until they crumble easily.

Store fresh herbs by placing stems in water and store dried herbs in tightly-sealed containers. Just remember, when using in recipes, you need three times more fresh as dried because dried herbs are more potent. Dried herbs are better if they are to be added during cooking and fresh is better when added on top.

Herbs may even be frozen. If you go this route, first wash them and chop them and spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze. Chives, lemon balm, parsley and rosemary lend themselves well to this process.

When planting herbs in gardens, remember that some prefer shade and some like sun. Shade lovers include parsley, cilantro, tarragon, golden oregano, wild bergamot, lemon balm and thyme. Sun worshippers include parsley, basil, mint, thyme, lemon balm, chives and rosemary.

Some herbs like to be partnered with certain vegetables when planted. Basil likes to be planted with tomatoes while chives should go with carrots.

Dill does well with cabbage and mint likes not only cabbage but also tomatoes. Marjoram is a good companion for all vegetables.

Herbs are so versatile that some can be swapped for others in recipes. These substitutions include mint and basil, cilantro and parsley, rosemary and thyme, oregano and marjoram and chervil and tarragon.

In a class all their own, herbs are versatile not only to grow but also in ways to use them. Our culinary dishes would be pretty dull without herbs to spice things up. Learning the properties of this food group will make it easier to prepare and use these additions in tantalizing ways.

hanging drying herbs
Photo by Getty Images/robynmac.

Welcome Fall

Country MoonOf all the seasons, fall is my absolute favorite. This is not to say that I don't love them all; I really do.

Each season that we are in, I hate to see it go but I love to see the next season come. I could never live in a place where we didn't have the four seasons.

Autumn, though, makes me smile. It is a forgiving season. With all the vibrant colors, the crispness in the air and the bounties of harvest, how can you not feel a little more light-hearted and carefree.

People talk about the lazy days of summer. Well, I certainly haven't seen any of those for a very long time. Maybe it is the modern world that we live in, maybe it is the technology or maybe we are just a busier generation, but it seems as though once summer gets here there is not a free minute to enjoy it.

Every weekend there is a wedding, a graduation or anniversary party or a get-together with friends. These are all great, but it doesn't leave much time to just enjoy the beauty of the season.

Fall is different. Our lives tend to slow down a bit.

There is time to breathe and take a walk to enjoy those crisp mornings, to take a break from raking the leaves and shuffle through them. Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular too... and there is time for that cup of coffee on the swing to soak them in.

We look at this season differently too. Most of the other seasons are centered around holidays.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and most other special occasions are steeped in emotion. They are times for reflecting on previous ones and are sometimes melancholy when loved ones are no longer sharing those holidays with us.

Not so with fall. We have Halloween, which is meant to be purely fun, no emotions tied to it. So it is with the whole season.

It is the time to reap the rewards of everything that was planted in the spring, whether it be crops, garden vegetables or flowers. This itself is a reason to be jovial. The fruits of our labors mean the yearly paycheck for farmers.

Bounty from the garden mean a well-stocked pantry. Even for those that don't harvest or preserve their own produce, a good harvest means a plentiful supply, which means lower prices at the store. Good harvest is good for all.

Even the chores don't seem so daunting at this time of year. Yes, I hear the comments like "I'd like fall if I didn't know what was coming next." Well, I, for one, do not intend to let anything take away from the joy of this season.

Sure, we do mundane tasks like changing furnace filters, changing batteries in smoke alarms, putting lawn ornaments away, etc.

There is even joy in this, most of these chores are outside tasks, which means we get to enjoy the great fall air. The hot, humid air days of summer are (hopefully) a thing of the past for a while. The annoying bugs of summer have gone by the wayside. What's not to enjoy by being outside!

OK, back to the social scene. People tend to get less busy. Weekends are not always booked for three months in advance.

This is really sad, but my best friend and I have not done one thing together all summer. Every single weekend has been full for her and the same with me. Yep, these are the lazy days of summer.

Autumn brings a different social life. Bonfires and tailgate parties replace weddings and other formal events.

Sometimes these are thrown together at the last minute and the guest list consists of whoever can make it. Grabbing the grandkids and heading for the local apple orchard to pick apples or to load up on cider and doughnuts replaces the rigors of baseball practice and scheduled games.

It's time to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. Catch up with your neighbor or actually just enjoy sitting on the deck. It's a time to stop and take a breather, not only from the hard, physical work of summer but also from the stresses of our lives.

I walked past the fall decorations in the basement today. Their cheery, smiling and whimsical faces brightened my day.

It's time for them to come up and brighten my outside world. After all, they have a very short time to shine.

As I am writing this, I notice a vivid sunset out of the window. Time to take a break and enjoy it.

After all, the sunset, like this autumn season is way too short. Most good things don't last long enough.

fall season landscape
Photo by Getty Images/Kenneth_Keifer.

When Less is More

Country MoonLife changes. It's funny how some things that we have worked for all our lives, like our home, suddenly does not hold the same significance that it once did.

A neighbor that I have known since I was 10 years old just announced the other day that he and his wife are selling their dream house and all the contents and moving to a condo closer to their youngest son. He wants to be free of the maintenance and other obligations that go along with owning a home.

Many folks make this decision to go from owning their own home to an apartment or a condo to make life easier. There has not been much choice between these two extremes... until now. There is a new trend called the "tiny house movement."

What is a tiny house? Well, the average American home is around 2600 square feet. Tiny homes are usually between 100-400 square feet and come in all shapes, sizes and forms. Hardly any two are alike, but the one thing that they all do have in common is that all enable simpler living in a smaller, more efficient space.

Tiny homes redefine what makes a house a home. Many people need "stuff" around them and, if that is the case and you need a lot of space, then a tiny home is not for you.

But for those that are looking for a change and a chance to live life on their own terms, tiny living may just be for them. The key is learning to live with less and there are definite advantages.

The average tiny home costs between $10,000 and $40,000. A few other statistics are: 68 percent of tiny home owners have no mortgage, 55 percent have more savings, 78 percent own their own home, two out of five tiny home owners are over 50 years old and 89 percent have less credit card debt (no reason to buy anything because there is not room to put it!)

Tiny homes have all the necessities, just not all the extra amenities. They have a full functioning kitchen, small living space and bedroom.

Many do have a compact bathroom with just the necessities. There is a small sink instead of a big vanity. Sometimes the shower has a sunken floor that can be used as a tub and also provide extra head space for tall people in the shower.

However, sometimes people choose not to put a bathroom inside the tiny home at all, but rather locate it outside the living space. Remember, the old outhouses? Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same, just a little updated version.

Tiny homes can be rented or owned and can be on wheels or on its own foundation. Most are independent structures that are built from tiny home kits, purchased already built, adapted from trailers or designed and built by the owner.

They are parked on the owner's land, on a rented piece of ground like a mobile home would be or parked on land with another home. They provide the ideal living quarters for an aging relative to be near family and yet have their own space.

The tiny home trend is becoming more popular for a number of reasons. The biggest one being that people are tired of the rat race, tired of feeling the need to always strive for more material things. They want to simplify, to live life de-cluttered.

Many are tired of the upkeep of the house and lawn. They want to live their lives more adventurous, spending their leisure time pursuing their interests and traveling instead of being tied to their homes.

Most Americans spend one third to one half of their income to putting a roof over their heads, usually taking at least 15 years to pay for it and trying to figure out how to keep up financially after it is paid for.

One of the tricks to living in a small space is to have public places to go and things to do. If you are more of a homebody, this probably isn't the thing for you.

It also depends where you live if this is right for you. Some places aren't "tiny home friendly." California is the state that is most welcoming to tiny homes. Others are Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Texas. Four tiny home friendly areas are Spur, Texas; Fresno, California; Walsenburg, Colorado and Brevard, North Carolina.

So, why hasn't tiny homes become big business? One of the main reasons is that tiny homes may be cheap but buying the land to put them on is not.

Bankers aren't too receptive to lending money for these homes because they don't feel that they have the resale value of larger homes. Many townships have laws with minimum square footage requirements because they like the higher tax assessments. Many also insist on full water and sewer services, which makes the cheap tiny homes not so cheap.

As enticing as the thought may be, some people succumb to social pressures. Our society is geared toward bigger is better and is conditioned to always want more. Fear is also a deterrent and downsizing to a tiny house is a big lifestyle change.

The tiny house movement is more than simply living in a small space. A friend is starting her life over and is downsizing and considering a tiny house in whatever area she feels is right for her.

It's a starting point, a place to start for her and to see where it leads. Perhaps it is just the right fit for her.

For me, not so much. It is not that I need all my stuff, but rather my space. I like being the caretaker of this little piece of the earth that God has entrusted me with. But, that is me.

Tiny houses are a matter of personal choices. They definitely provide additional options for those who want to simplify.

cabin in woods
Photo by Getty Images/frankreporter.

Returning to a Memory

Country MoonSometimes we remember things like a certain food that our mothers used to make or a special place that we used to visit and we long to go back. The problem is that when we make that food or visit that place, it isn't as sweet as the memory. The mind tends to embellish these things.

But, every once in a while, we are pleasantly surprised and we can go back. That is exactly what happened this past weekend and the best part is that it was just as good as the first time.

I guess I better start at the beginning. More than 20 years ago now, my Aunt Sharlene and Uncle Don started camping at Wieland's Whistling Pines campground in Michigan's northwest corner of the mitten near Ellsworth which is just south of Charlevoix. That first time they stayed there they had actually started out with another camping destination in mind but, when they got up there, the campground was full. Their daughter Cathy Jo and her husband Ron who was with them found this other campground.

Wieland's actually is an old farm on Wilson Lake that has been converted into a small campground with just a few sites. The old toolshed has been converted into the only rustic cabin on the property.

Well, my aunt and uncle fell in love with the campground, the owners and the area. They returned every year for the next 17 years and introduced us to it the last three years they were up there. It didn't take long for us to also fall in love with it.

The Petoskey/Charlevoix/Central Lake area is amazing. It literally has everything that a person could want. Lake Michigan is never far away and offers smaller beaches that are just as charming as the larger ones but not as crowded. There are orchards, farmland, vineyards, rolling hills and flat land. Did I leave anything out? This area really has something for everyone.

This charming area is one of Michigan's better kept secrets. Upper Michigan gets a lot of publicity for its remoteness, crystal-clear waters and open spaces. Well, northwest Michigan can certainly boast about some of the same attributes. However, the locals like it just that way; they say that they have enough tourists already.

There was a time that I thought the grass was always greener on the other side and I couldn't see the treasures that were always around me. I have come to appreciate being a Michigander and I have come to realize that here in southwest Michigan we do have quite a few places to brag about. However, nothing can compare to northwest Michigan.

My aunt had not been back in seven years, not since my uncle had passed. So, we made the trip this past weekend and were definitely not disappointed. It was great to see the campground, to see everyone that we knew up there and to visit some of the places that we had always held dear.

The Jordan River valley is spectacular in any season but late summer and fall is when it shows its best colors. Lake Charlevoix and the surrounding area offers spectacular views and is home to many antique and pottery shops. Of course, Petoskey has its Petoskey stones that folks come hoping to find.

All of this is true for the area but, the best part is the people and the feeling or personality of the area. Maybe it is because Aunt Sharlene and I both remember the campfires, the fishing, and the laughs that we shared just hanging out. That is what coming back is all about. And, isn't this what memories are all about?

We both stayed in that small cabin and talked late into the night. We shared a lot of laughs, a few tears and a sense of belonging to something good. I have come to realize that this is what families do. When it comes right down to it, it is not about the where, but rather about the why, the who-with and the little things that get stuck way down inside us and make us smile every time they creep to the surface.

I feel the same when I go back to Jim's home in Pennsylvania. It also is a beautiful area but the real beauty lies in the warm and fuzzy feeling that stirs deep inside every time I visit, also that feeling of going home. More recently, I get the same feeling every time I spend time at Ron's home in Indiana.

It's a feeling of belonging to somewhere, where we leave pieces of our hearts. The people in these places make the difference. I don't mind these pieces that I leave behind because I know they are what will grow into sweet memories that I will always cherish.

I may sound a little melodramatic, but I just feel so fortunate to have so many of these places to go back to. I know some people are so busy that they forget to make memories along the way. Too many make the mistake of thinking that these places have to be some extravagant, expensive adventures. So not true. They can be as close as your neighbor's house down the road.

Another misconception is that the "where" makes the difference. Wade and Wyatt and I go to the Shipshewana Flea Market every year. We go, sometimes we buy and sometimes we don't, but we always have fun. It's not really the flea market that makes the memory, it's just the reason for the being together.

Yes, I love Ellsworth in northwest Michigan. I love the Union City area in southwest Michigan. I love Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. And now I love Economy, Indiana. In all these places there are sweet memories with some very special people in each place. I have brought back the best souvenirs from these places, memories and pictures. Because of these, I can go back and part of me will always live in all of these places.

red barn autumn
Photo by Getty Images/Ken Wiedemann.

Killing Thyme

Country MoonThere are just some things in life that don't make any sense and probably never will. The curious creatures that we are, those little things stay in the back of our minds and crop up from time to time. One of those oddities that I have never been able to figure out is how can someone (like me) be a reasonably successful gardener and yet do so badly with my house plants?

Having healthy house plants has always been a challenge for me but it was brought front and center recently. My friend Steph was over and, among her other talents, she is a florist.

I have always wanted to raise my own fresh herbs so I got in on the end of the season this year with some thyme and rosemary. Her eye caught them in their pots on the windowsill as she passed by and she exclaimed, "You're killing thyme, no one can kill thyme!"

Now, seriously, just the day before when I watered it, my thyme looked good but, I have to admit, that today it didn't look so healthy. As a matter of fact, it did look like it had seen its better days and was on the way out.

How does this happen so fast? Then she added, "Well, no one kills thyme, well maybe..."

OK, OK, house plants aren't my niche. I do everything I am supposed to do. I give my plants ample water, not too much and not too little. I give them either direct or indirect sunlight, whichever the variety prefers.

I fertilize them regularly. I do all this for my garden and it rewards me with glorious plants and ample bounty. Not my houseplants. Do they not like me?

Now, before you laugh, there is scientific evidence that plants have feelings. Maybe feelings in the flora world aren't quite as intense as those in the fauna, but they are still present.

The book, "The Secret Life of Plants," goes into great detail how plants respond to stimuli just like animals do. A lie detector was even wired onto leaves of some plants and then they were exposed to both positive and negative actions. As expected, the plants actually perked up when they were exposed to positive feelings.

In a different study, the same results were achieved with a little more "human" interaction. Two identical plants were placed in a classroom and each received the same water and nutrients.

Each day students talked rudely to one of the plants while the other one received positive compliments. At the end of the test period, the one that had received positive reinforcement was thriving while the one that did not was stunted in growth and was not as healthy.

So, what is the deal? I do talk to my plants... nicely! I always have music on when I am in the house. They should be able to feel that warm and fuzzy feeling.

I do feel a little better after hearing the story from a flower delivery person. It seems that a few years ago a florist in the area needed to leave her shop for a few weeks and left it in very capable hands.

A peace lily, which can survive almost anywhere in any conditions, was sitting by the back door of the shop. The delivery person noticed that it was continuously looking poorer.

He tried to be positive and instill in the shop keepers that no one can kill a peace lily. One day he couldn't conceal it any longer and told them that they probably should dispose of it before the owner returned!

So, it is not just me and there is another positive note. My Norfolk pine was looking pretty sad. It was dropping its bottom branches and was pretty sickly.

This little fella has a special place in my heart and I really did not want to lose it. Even though the bottom is mostly bare, the top half of the tree is thriving. Half a tree is better than none.

Perhaps my luck is changing. Or maybe I should concentrate on the garden and the flowers outside. After all, it is two different worlds and not everyone has to be good at everything.

So, why do I put so much effort into these houseplants when it is obviously not my strong point? Well, first of all, I really don't like to admit that I have failed, but there is a little more to it.

House plants are natural air purifiers, which is especially important during winter months when houses are closed up and air flow is limited. Plants are able to remove toxins from the air by absorbing them through their leaves and roots. NASA did a study and concluded that it would take between 15-18 plants planted in six or eight-inch pots to purify the air in an average 1800 square foot home.

Plants also absorb carbon dioxide that people breathe out and convert it to oxygen, which is why they are beneficial to have throughout the home. Ironically, the mother-in-law's tongue produces the most oxygen, which is why it is recommended to have one in your bedroom.

So, I am really going to try to give my plants my best. After all, they are doing their part by cleaning the air. But this is easier said than done.

Alas, my rosemary that smelled so good when I snipped a few sprigs for my spaghetti sauce isn't looking so good now. In addition to killing thyme, I wonder, am I also killing time with these plants?

Kudos to all who have a green thumb inside as well as out. I am heading back to the garden.

Photo by Getty Images/Insanet.

Flower Power

Country MoonMany of those flowers that grace our gardens are more than just pretty faces. Some are not only edible, but also possess medicinal properties which make them good for us.

Flowers have been used for this purpose for hundreds of years. They can add nutrients to our diet, variety to our meals and beauty in the form of garnishes and decorations for desserts. The best part of this is that they provide food that does not have to be purchased.

Just be sure and know your flowers before adding them to your food sources. Keep in mind also that not all parts of a flower are edible; it may only be the leaves, the flowers, the stems or the roots. Also, be sure that no pesticides have been sprayed on them.

For this reason, refrain from gathering any flowers along roadsides where even automobile exhaust fumes can cause them to become toxic. Always wash the flowers under running water before consuming and try only a small amount initially until you see how your body reacts to them.

With that said, here are some edible flowers that are commonly grown in gardens:

  • Borage blossoms. These are beautiful, blue star-shaped flowers on the borage plant. They taste a little like cucumbers and have been used in salads since the Elizabethan age. They are also delicious in lemonade.
  • Also known as "poor man's saffron," calendula's flavor resembles saffron when sautéed in olive oil to release its flavor. The petals of marigolds, calendula's cousin, have a more subtle and a slightly spicy taste.
  • Zucchini blooms. These bright yellow flowers have a slightly sweet taste. Combined with herbs and goat cheese, they are great on a pizza.
  • Both tart and sweet, the petals have a cranberry-like flavor that makes them perfect for tea or cocktails. Drop fresh buds in glasses of bubbly and watch them bloom before your eyes.
  • With a slightly perfume-like taste, the buds make good accents on cakes and in cocktails.
  • These pretty flowers have a slight peppery taste similar to watercress.
  • These and their cousins, Johnny-jump-Ups and violas, have a grassy or minty flavor and add flavor to herb-flavored fruit salads. For pretty hors d'oeurves, spread cream cheese on crackers and top with a pansy.
  • Although they have a strong floral scent, the flower is subtle and fruity which is good in teas, jams and desserts.
  • Sage flowers. These are both sweet and savory.
  • Sweet and floral, these add flavor to salads and iced drinks. They add a nice touch to frosted desserts.
  • With a slightly spicy to strongly pungent flavor, a little bit of these petals goes a long way in spicing up salads and stir fries.
  • These flowers go from sweet and floral to vegetal and slightly metallic which makes them a savored addition to Asian cuisine, salads and desserts.
  • These have a delicate flavor with a hint of chives.
  • All squash, broccoli, cauliflower and artichoke blossoms are edible as well as all culinary herb flowers.

Now, for the medicinal properties. The following flowers offer an array of health benefits:

  • Chives, signet marigolds, nasturtiums, portulaca and roses are rich in vitamin C.
  • Calendula and elderberry blooms aid digestion, reduce fever and stimulate the immune system.
  • California poppies, chamomile and lavender ease stress and are gentle sleep aids.
  • Goldenrod relieves allergens, urinary tract infections and aids digestion.
  • Hibiscus is an antioxidant, helps prevent cholesterol build up and aids in liver disorders.
  • Honeysuckle and hyssop flowers relieve respiratory problems and soothe the stomach and colon.
  • Nasturtiums have natural antibiotic properties.
  • Red clove blooms make an excellent blood purifier.
  • Violas and violets have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Yarrow helps relax blood vessels and reduce fever and colds.
  • Many common herb flowers like basil, borage, rosemary, dill, oregano and thyme have the same flavor and medicinal values as their leaves, although not as intense. All varieties of mint such as chocolate and apple calm the stomach and aid digestion.

There is also a bright note when it comes to plants that we usually perceive as weeds. Although we have been trained to only see certain plants as food, those that we usually classify as nuisances do have some surprising medicinal properties. Among them are:

  • Please eat the dandelion, seriously, every part is edible rather eaten raw or cooked. The flowers can be breaded and fried, the leaves are eaten as greens and the roots make a nice coffee substitute when dried and roasted. They can also be added to any recipe that uses root vegetables. A tea made from the roots serves as a diuretic.
  • This common weed has recently come into the limelight as a nutritional powerhouse. It has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable. Its peppery flavor adds zing to stir fries, salads, soups and stews.
  • Lambs quarters or goosefoot have long been eaten as greens.
  • This plant is used topically to soothe burns, stings, rashes and wounds. Its seeds are related to psyllium seeds and are natural laxatives.
  • This lends itself to topical poultices for minor cuts and scrapes. Made into a tea, it is a mild diuretic.
  • Mallow and chickweed. Seed pods can be eaten raw or cooked.
  • Wild amaranth or pigweed. This plant is a good source of protein.

Plants give us so much good. We must only learn their individual properties to benefit from them and to know which ones are toxic like foxglove and sweet peas, among others.

There are some that just plain don't taste good. I do believe that God did not give us any condition for which He did not give us the cure; we just need to find the key. Plants, both cultivated varieties and those that we traditionally think of as weeds, are part of that key.

edible flowers
Photo by Getty Images/ThitareeSarmkasat.