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What wild and homegrown herbs can we substitute for our store-bought spice cabinet?  RSS feed

 
Destiny Hagest
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I was just making dessert - some shamelessly gooey brownies - when I lamented not having any vanilla extract on hand, and reached (as I usually do) for the bourbon instead.

While bourbon is definitely a nice substitute for vanilla in recipes like this, it got me thinking about what kinds of local wild plants and regionally appropriate ones I could grow on my own might make a good substitute for vanilla beans, which are just so incredibly expensive. It would need to be something sweet and mellow, not citrusy, so the brainstorming has begun.

So with that in mind, let's try to get a thing going here! Post a reply with:

- Your region/hardiness zone
- some local wild or easy to grow herbs
- what it tastes like
- common kitchen spices it might replace


So for me...

I'm in zone 3b - central Montana, montane subalpine forest.

wild edibles we harvest with love:

-
juniper berries
   tastes like: piney, but not astringent
   could be a substitute for: these are almost spicey in their own way - I wonder how they'd do as peppercorns?

- wild bergamot
   tastes like: sweet, citrusy
   could be a substitute for: I use it in place of basil in a lot of recipes. I could also see it replacing lemon in a lot of things. This is a great herb for seasoning game meat as well, and I've used it with lemon cake recipes as well.

- rose hips
   tastes like: sweet, almost like apples after the frost
   could be a substitute for: my grandfather uses the in place of chocolate chips in his cookie recipe. They're very sweet and starchy - a fabulous substitute for raisins and other dried fruits.

- yarrow
   tastes like: very intense, earthy sort of flavor. It's hard to describe.
    could be a substitute for: I could see it standing in for marjoram.


We harvest a lot of other wild edibles, but these are the ones with the most flavor that would be most apt for spices and seasonings I think. Anybody else have any suggestions from their region?
 
Anne Miller
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This is a great topic! I'm in Zone 8a.

We have been cutting up and processing deer for the last few day.  So far we have canned 10 pints and still cutting up some to grind.  So identifying spices that we would use to go with the deer if we don't look in the spice cabinet is a great idea.

I have tried to identify all the plants that grow wild in my area.  I know that garlic and onions grow wild and I have identified a wild onion here.  I also have juniper and sage.

In Mexico they use laurel in place of bay leaves.  While I don't have any there are some chile plants.

Unfortunately, I have not tasted any of them except the Laurel which taste like bay.
 
sam na
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I wonder how they'd do as peppercorns?

I keep meaning to grow one of these for Pepper but haven't got around to it yet http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Zanthoxylum+simulans
 
Rebecca Norman
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Yes, I was also trying to get a Zanthoxylum tree started for Sechuan peppercorns, but after not finding any plants, and the seeds I picked out of the spice bought failed to sprout, I kind of gave up. When I bought the Sechuan peppercorns in order to plant the seeds, I loaded the pods into a peppergrinder in my kitchen. It's a different flavor from black pepper, and not as neutral, so I don't use it as often. So I realised a small purchase of these every couple of years will provide plenty, and I'll still want to continue buying black peppercorns.

I grow a few herbs, either in our maybe Z5 outdoors, or in my maybe z8 greenhouse. Not all of them all the time.
Oregano (took a few tries but now I have a variety that tastes how I like it). Chives and garlic chives. I use these all heavily.
Mint. Lemon balm. Anise hyssop. (all are herbal tea herbs, and I hardly use them)
Fennel, dill, basil, caraway (annuals or biannual)
A delicious local lemony herb in the mint family, a very cold-hardy annual that self-seeds vigorously, Dracocephalum moldovica (Moldavian dragonshead, or I've seen a study online calling it Uighur lemonbalm)

I would use vanilla so rarely that I haven't bought it -- or if I really clean out the box, I might find some I brought over from US 10 years ago (Oops). If you were making gooey choclatey brownies, should they really need vanilla to bring out the sweet chocolatey flavor? I don't know.

I've resigned myself to buying black peppercorns, sesame seeds, and several others that I can't replace locally....

I buy gorgeous red chillies from the next region over, Kashmir, tastier than I could grow myself. I've got a nutmeg from the market; I used to use it but got out of the habit so it's been sitting there a few years (Oops)

Tropical spices are things we use so little of, it seems okay in my life to buy them when they let you make food you love. Now if I could replace locally the prodigious quantities of coffee and tea in my life, that would be great, but I can order them from organizations I know are doing good coordination of small producers. Actually I could get peppercorns, sesame seeds, cinnamon, cardamom and a few others from those two organizations too.

Now, if I could find a way to have our school buy and grind wheat from the neighboring village instead of subsidised government rations, that would make a huge impact, but it would be several times more expensive so I can't impose that.
 
Casie Becker
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For wild, and rather wide spread over North America, don't forget sumac for replacing lemon flavors. I need to figure out how to process the berries we harvested this year.

I think bay leaves are actually "bay laurel" leaves. It's the actual original spice. I have heard of people substituting several native plants for bay leaves, though. Myrtle and Umbellularia californica (which has a huge number of common names including California Laurel) are two of them. Myrtle apparently also has berries that can serve as a substitute for allspice.

I'm in that happy circumstance of living where most common kitchen herbs can grow happily outside for most of the year, so I don't have much experience in this area.
 
Anne Miller
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Destiny Hagest wrote:- yarrow
   tastes like: very intense, earthy sort of flavor. It's hard to describe.
    could be a substitute for: I could see it standing in for marjoram.


I didn't know Yarrow could be used as a spice. Do you use the dried leaves?

Thanks for telling us!  I have it growing in my perennial butterfly garden.  Of the 6 that came up I only have two left and they never bloomed  but I am hoping they will survive and bloom next year,  I planted then because they can be used to stop bleeding.

I also planted Lemon Balm and Lovage but didn't get any of them to come up.

I also have a lot of Plantain that grows wild that I forgot to mention because I wasn't sure it is an herb.

"The leaves are actually edible and somewhat similar to spinach, though slightly more bitter. They can be used in salads or other culinary uses. Herbal Uses: The leaves can also be made into a tea or tincture, and this is said to help with indigestion, heartburn and ulcers when taking internally. ... Its natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties make it great for speeding recover of wounds, and for itching or pain associated with skin problems. A tea made from the leaf leaf can be sprayed on mosquito bites to ease the itch. "

http://wellnessmama.com/4638/plantain-herb-profile/

I checked https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bay_leaf "Bay leaf (plural bay leaves) refers to the aromatic leaves of several plants used in cooking."

I looked at the label of the Tones brand but it doesn't say which kind.  I usually buy the Mexican spices and knew they use Laurel. " Mexican bay leaf (Litsea glaucescens, Lauraceae)."

 
Destiny Hagest
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Anne Miller wrote:
Destiny Hagest wrote:- yarrow
   tastes like: very intense, earthy sort of flavor. It's hard to describe.
    could be a substitute for: I could see it standing in for marjoram.


I didn't know Yarrow could be used as a spice. Do you use the dried leaves?

Thanks for telling us!  I have it growing in my perennial butterfly garden.  Of the 6 that came up I only have two left and they never bloomed  but I am hoping they will survive and bloom next year,  I planted then because they can be used to stop bleeding.



Yes, or well, I'm planning to. It actually grows wild around here, like in crazy amounts. We brew teas with it, but I haven't found an occasion to actually put yarrow on my food yet, mostly because it's still sitting upstairs in these big containers, I still need to strip the leaves from the stems. I was actually going to use the flowers to make some fragrant wreaths this holiday season for around the house, they don't shed that badly, and are so beautiful!

This thread is really blowing up with ideas! I love the idea of replacing something I buy at the store with a wild edible instead. And really, I had herbs in mind when I started this thread, but any food substitution is always interesting to learn about. I've been meaning to try grinding up the kinnikinnick berries I harvested into a meal/flour and see how they do in recipes. As I understand it, the Natives used to use them to make a sort of biscuit meal - they don't really have enough discernible flavor to suit any other purpose.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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At my place, I grow:

Mustard spice
Dill herb and seed
Fennel herb and seed
Lemon Balm
Rosemary
Thyme
Mint
Oregano
Garlic
Onion
Breadseeds
Sage
Basil
Cayenne
Jalapeno
Hyssop
Lavender
Catnip
Parsley
Celery
Coriander
Cilantro
Calendula
Mullein

I add a few more each year.

Sesame and Cumin are on my list of things to try next year. I'll try licorice whenever I can find propagules.


 
Destiny Hagest
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Oh, I should add, we harvested coriander from our cilantro plants this year, and that was really cool - it's incredibly fragrant. We had really great luck with our garden herbs this year, harvesting copious amounts of parsley, transplanting our thyme, rosemary, and sage indoors, and taking the last of our chocolate mint variety to make homemade peppermint schnapps, which are still steeping in a big jar in the cupboard.

I didn't get around to investigating the surrounding forest further for herbs and edibles - I'm pretty sure I stumbled upon mountain cranberry over the summer, but the bears got it before I could harvest it. I'm pretty sure we have wild mustard growing out here, but it looks like so many other plants, I'm a little nervous to try and harvest it.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I love threads like this! I'm in zone 8a/7b.

I actually started one a while back trying to find a peppercorn substitute: https://permies.com/t/51276/kitchen/Peppercorn-Variety-Alternative-Grows-Cascadia. The most appealing alternative to pepper that I saw was Tasmanian Pepper (Hardy to zone 7): Supposedly tastes like pepper! One problem is, many varieties have sasfrol, which is considered carcinogenic (same compound that's in sassafras). http://www.monrovia.com/plant-catalog/plants/2867/mountain-pepper/

Thinking of replacements for vanilla, I remember reading how, during medieval times, anice/licorice/fennel was used a lot as a flavoring, both in sweet and savory recipes. Not only does fennel grow well in my zone, but there is also a native plant with the same flavor profile. Licorice fern has edible roots, and grows abundantly on the Big Leaf Maple trees on my property (yes, I said ON the maples. It grows on the branches and trunk of the maple).

Another sweet flavoring that can grow in my zone (though I've yet to try growing it in our wet climate) is almond. A lot of old recipes call for almond extract (as opposed to vanilla) for use in sweet treats. I'm pretty sure they mentioned using it in Tales from the Green Valley (and awesome documentary that reenacts life in the 1600s in England, and shows how and what they ate back then, too. You can find the videos here: https://permies.com/t/14066/Tales-Green-Valley-documentory-farm).

Other plants for sweet dishes that grow here are Pansies (kind of a cinnamon-y flavor in some varieties), tarragon (my husband thinks it tastes like candy), and sweet Cicily (I REALLY want this sweet-licorice-flavored perennial, but it's hard to find a living plant to buy, and the seeds are complicated to sprout).


For lemony/sour flavors, sorrel and sheep sorrel (both perenials) as well as tomatillo grow here. I gather that seabuckthorn tastes kind of like oranges, and will also grow here.

I'd like to think of more replacements, but my newborn and three year old have both decided that now is the time to wake up!

 
Destiny Hagest
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Wow, as always Nicole, I'm learning so much from your post! We actually have a tarragon plant - it does incredibly well with our volatile and unstable temperatures here - but I'm not sure if it's the Russian or the French variety, and apparently there's a substantial difference in taste, with the French variety being rarer and more flavorful. I'm suspicious that we have the Russian variety, given it's propensity to survive any climate adjustment, and very mild flavor. I'd never considered it a sweet herb, but perhaps I just need to try my hand with the French variety?

The inland northwest is such a challenging place for sweet - anything remotely sweet is generally pine-derived, the only exception to my knowledge being rose hips. It's a tricky beast, growing things in 3b, but I feel like if enough people share in this thread, maybe we'll have enough content for a wiki page in Appropedia, and then we can link back to this page there!
 
S Tonin
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Just this year I discovered nasturtium leaf powder as a substitute for pepper.  I don't remember if I read about it somewhere on the Permies forums or elsewhere, but apparently the Brits used it during WWII when they couldn't get black pepper.  I've only used it in beef stew so far.  It has the same kind of piquancy, but more like a mellow, herby horseradish flavor.  It would make great wasabi for wimps (says a wimp), since the heat is minimal.

I made spruce tip salt this spring, but have yet to use it on anything.  It has a citrussy scent and when I do eventually get around to using it, I'm going to try it on chicken with some black pepper.  Not really a direct sub for anything, but just another alternative flavor profile to add to the list.

As a possible sub for vanilla, you could maybe try rose water or orange blossom water in some things.  I think they're more delicate than vanilla when it comes to heat, though.
 
Nicole Alderman
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S Tonin wrote:
As a possible sub for vanilla, you could maybe try rose water or orange blossom water in some things.  I think they're more delicate than vanilla when it comes to heat, though.


I was watching episode 9 of Tales of the Green Valley (documentary about life in 1600's) and they did indeed use rose water in recipes that nowadays we'd use vanilla. Now I want to try some, as the only rose flavored things I've had is Turkish Delight (mmmmm!), and eating rose petals straight from the plant.
 
S Tonin
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I was watching episode 9 of Tales of the Green Valley (documentary about life in 1600's) and they did indeed use rose water in recipes that nowadays we'd use vanilla. Now I want to try some, as the only rose flavored things I've had is Turkish Delight (mmmmm!), and eating rose petals straight from the plant.


Now I'm wondering if I saw the nasturtium leaf thing on Wartime Farm.  I think a rewatch is in order.  (I'm such a Ruth Goodman fangirl it's silly)
 
Angelika Maier
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zone 3 that is cold indeed! I don't know which of these survive zone 3 winters:
salad burnet
borage
angelica
canadian wild ginger (there is some discussion about that one)
fennel
lemon balm
mints
nepiella
orris
woodruff
these are the plants I grow which might be suitable for your climate.
 
Ken W Wilson
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Has anyone tried spice bush. Lindera benzoin, I think. I have some thing ones planted as part of a hedge.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Destiny, have you heard of Joybilee Garden Blog. She's zone 3, albeit a little closer to the coast than you? You might already know about the plants she mentions, but she often talks about what grows and how to grow it in a zone 3 garden. Here's some of the articles that might help:

42 Plants for Your Edible Landscape in Zone 3 or higher I had no idea goji berries and hardy kiwi could be grown where you are!

10 hardy medicinal herbs for your homestead




And, speaking of pepper, I was just watching the last episode of Tales of the Green Valley, and they mentioned using Alexander (Black Lovage) seeds in place of black pepper. I'd never heard of the plant, and looked it up. According to http://www.seedaholic.com/alexanders.html the seeds supposedly taste like a mix of cumin and myrrh (and supposedly myrrh smells like black licorice, and so tastes kind of licorice-y). Either way, I'm rather tempted to get the plant to see exactly how the seeds taste and if they can be used in place of pepper! I think they are hardy perennial down to zone 5, from what I can see. But, if they are like other plants in their family, they might self seed even if they don't make it through the winter.
 
Steven Feil
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Has anyone tried LICORICE root as a sweetener.

The Asian species (Glycyrrhiza glabbra) is said to be sweeter than the local one (Glycyrrhiza lepidota). Actually the Asian species is too strong for many.

I have the local variety growing here in South central Idaho, but I also have the Asian one growing here that I have planted. Have not harvested either one.
 
alex Keenan
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In my spice cabinet I have ground mushrooms.
One can find or buy wild mushrooms.
Once dried they last a long time.
You will find a number of vege soup stocks use mushroom.
I use a coffee grinder to grind them into a fine powder.
This is then used in soups and stocks to add flavor.
 
Denise Kersting
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Not an herb option, but here's my homegrown spice: I grow saffron (Crocus sativus) here in 7b (Harrisburg, PA). The Amish have been growing it (near) here for a long time. Bonus, it's really easy...bulb in the ground, next fall, pick the flower and harvest the threads, repeat the following year. I don't have a huge harvest, but it's enough for my families use.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Papaya seeds when dried are almost indistinguishable from black peppercorns. Even if you can't grow them but occasionally buy one, dry the seeds and put them in your peppermill.
 
Steven Feil
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Watch out for GMO papaya. Nearly all papaya from HI is GMO, maybe other parts of the world too.
 
Angelika Maier
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i never tried alexanders pepper. I have that plant growing all under shade plants, self seeds and looks after itself and gives a ton (way too much) green leaves in winter. It tastes somewhat like celery.
It is so easy to plant that I consider selling some bundles this autumn and winter.
 
Destiny Hagest
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Nicole Alderman wrote:Destiny, have you heard of Joybilee Garden Blog. She's zone 3, albeit a little closer to the coast than you? You might already know about the plants she mentions, but she often talks about what grows and how to grow it in a zone 3 garden. Here's some of the articles that might help:

42 Plants for Your Edible Landscape in Zone 3 or higher I had no idea goji berries and hardy kiwi could be grown where you are!

10 hardy medicinal herbs for your homestead


Ohh, no I haven't, but I just subscribed, thank you for those links! It's funny, I suppose I take for granted how much we really can grow here - a lot of that list we've actually already cultivated here at some point, or it grows wild (hops!), though beans have proven to be pretty tricky - they're very sensitive to the temperature extremes in my experience. We haven't tried to grow hardy kiwi yet, but I've always heard it rocks and rolls through really nasty weather, so we'll have to give it a shot one day!

Tomatoes I was able to get this year, but juuuust barely. I started them from seed under lights indoors, and kept them in my greenhouse year round (planted directly into the ground). I ended up with a crazy enchanted forest of tomatoes, but managed to snag some large green ones and window ripen them before the frost claimed them.

Herbs are pretty plentiful, but basil is another one that we have to baby to protect it from the frosts.

Denise Kersting wrote:
Not an herb option, but here's my homegrown spice: I grow saffron (Crocus sativus) here in 7b (Harrisburg, PA). The Amish have been growing it (near) here for a long time. Bonus, it's really easy...bulb in the ground, next fall, pick the flower and harvest the threads, repeat the following year. I don't have a huge harvest, but it's enough for my families use.


There are actually saffron plants that grow wild here! I've only stumble upon them a couple of times, very hard to find, but they are so beautiful - I feel like I've found a bit of treasure when I stumble across them. They seem to wind up on moist, forested mountain sides here, in the company of lots of mosses and ferns where the pine needles don't really mulch up quite as badly. Very shady areas, where you can tend to smell the earth a bit more. I wonder if they'd do well with transplanting? They seem like such delicate plants to me, I'd be worried about mangling them.
 
Wes Hunter
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Spicebush berries are apparently used as a substitute for allspice.  I recently harvested some, but haven't tried them yet.

This doesn't exactly answer the original prompt, but we make 'homemade' vanilla extract by steeping vanilla beans in a big jug of budget vodka--something like 3-4 beans to a 1.75L bottle.  A lot cheaper than buying vanilla extract.
 
S Tonin
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Destiny Hagest wrote: There are actually saffron plants that grow wild here! I've only stumble upon them a couple of times, very hard to find, but they are so beautiful - I feel like I've found a bit of treasure when I stumble across them. They seem to wind up on moist, forested mountain sides here, in the company of lots of mosses and ferns where the pine needles don't really mulch up quite as badly. Very shady areas, where you can tend to smell the earth a bit more. I wonder if they'd do well with transplanting? They seem like such delicate plants to me, I'd be worried about mangling them.


It can't hurt to try.  I think I'd wait until late fall to try digging the bulbs up, after they've gone totally dormant.  Maybe put a flag in the ground next to the plant so you can find it easily after the foliage dies back.  I don't know if storing them overwinter like other bulbs would be better than putting them in the ground right away, since I think they're like garlic and need some time to establish roots after a fall planting.  (I bought mine from Peaceful Valley just this year, so I'm by no means an expert.  I mostly just wanted to say go for it!)
 
Denise Kersting
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Spring is a good time to dig and replant saffron bulbs, that is when they are dormant. They are really easy, I live in a city, and they are in my front flower beds west-facing with full afternoon sun, right next to my walkway. just don't bury them too deep, plant two to three times as deep as the bulbs is tall. I wish I could remember where I bought them from it was something like 10 USD for 50 bulbs. I lost the majority of them because I dug them up and planted into a planter (wanted to rework the flower bed in spring) and the planter didn't drain well; they were mush come spring. Right now I have the just the few that I missed when I dug them up, but they are happy enough and will continue to fill in. There are several other crocuses that look very similar but I think?? that the saffron one is the only one that blooms late fall.
 
S Tonin
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Denise Kersting wrote:Spring is a good time to dig and replant saffron bulbs, that is when they are dormant. They are really easy, I live in a city, and they are in my front flower beds west-facing with full afternoon sun, right next to my walkway. just don't bury them too deep, plant two to three times as deep as the bulbs is tall. I wish I could remember where I bought them from it was something like 10 USD for 50 bulbs. I lost the majority of them because I dug them up and planted into a planter (wanted to rework the flower bed in spring) and the planter didn't drain well; they were mush come spring. Right now I have the just the few that I missed when I dug them up, but they are happy enough and will continue to fill in. There are several other crocuses that look very similar but I think?? that the saffron one is the only one that blooms late fall.


How readily do they multiply?  Crazy like daffodils, or slower like tulips? 
 
cesca beamish
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There's a great list of spice substitutes here : http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/wild-spices-of-the-uk/
There was a BBC radio 4 program ' the food program' last week where they wandered around a patch of Scotland (prob about z 8 coastal) then made spicy pakoras.
I once grew Persicaria odoarata - Vietnamese coriander from some from a grocery store. Its delicious but a bit tender for my location. Try taking a bit of houttuynia cordata too
 
Megan Palmer
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S Tonin wrote:How readily do they multiply?  Crazy like daffodils, or slower like tulips? 


It's early summer in the Southern Hemisphere and just lifted my saffron corms in a bid to get rid of the couch grass that keeps creeping in - the rhizomes will grow through and pierce the corms. Found up to 5 or six daughters on each mother corm and they have been in situ for three seasons. The daughter corms ranged in sized from peasized up to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. The minimum size for producing flowers is at least 1" diameter. Deeper planting (6-10") encourages flower production and shallow planting, multiplication of corms.  The leaves have only just started to completely die down, best not to lift them any sooner unless you are going to replant immediately.
 
Denise Kersting
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S Tonin wrote: How readily do they multiply?  Crazy like daffodils, or slower like tulips? 

I'd say closer to tulips in my beds, but I don't give them much if any attention. My front beds had a bunch of old taxus shrubs removed, and I think the soil there really could use some amending, on my list-could move them closer to daffodil-like production.
Thank you Megan for the info, it looks like you certainly have more working knowledge of them than I do! I had no idea about the planting depth differences.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Wandering through a rare seed catalog (http://www.magicgardenseeds.com/), clicking on all the plants I don't know, I ran across Wood Avens. Supposedly it's root tastes like cloves. It's a hardy perennial down to zone 5.
 
Ryan Hobbs
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I grow a lot of peppers, basil, garlic, fennel, leeks, Onions (approx 300 per year), oregano, thyme, etc... And I make my own soy sauce, Miso, cooking wine, yuzukosho (salt fermented green peppers and citrus zest made into a thick paste, lots of zing in it). Juniper berries taste like lemon and black pepper. I used to use it a lot when I still ate meat. Then there is ginger and galangal that can be grown in pots in a hoop house, and black sesame which is available from Kitazawa seed company. We also grow mustard, radishes, shiso leaves (pungent and citrusy, good with radish in beef and fish dishesor pickled), and cilantro/corriander.
 
Ryan Hobbs
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Prickly ash berries also taste good ground and sprinkled on noodle dishes, with veggies, and with meats.
 
Forest Viridiana
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Location: Dallas, TX
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Certain pine barks have a vanilla flavor to them, such as Ponderosa Pine. Vanilla beans come from a climbing orchid. You can buy these plants on Amazon or ebay for about $25.
 
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