Author: Rick Tonoli

Quick maturing veggies for winter gardens

Quick maturing veggies for winter gardens

Following on from my first post in my “how to” series for new gardeners during this time of global pandemic (see “How to Sow Seeds”), here’s a list of a few quick to mature vegetables that will give you food on the table soon, and 

How to sow seeds

How to sow seeds

With such an influx of brand-new gardeners, I thought I’d make a few quick how-to tutorials. Starting with sowing seeds.   Take into consideration what you can grow this time of year – most seed packets have this information, but if not, a website 



This weekend I have started making my new batches of herbal remedies for winter wellness, concentrating on warming, immune building and supportive herbs for the coming cold and flu season. First up I made a batch of elderberry oxymel and followed it with a batch of bergamot oxymel.

What is an oxymel?

An oxymel is a herbal prepration made with apple cider vinegar (Greek "oxy", οξύ) and honey (Greek "mel", referring to the honeybee Apis mellifera).

It has a long history, and was noted by Hippocrates, Pliny the Elder, and prescribeb by olde English doctors. Today it has seen a revival as the health benefits of its constituents: honey, apple cider vinegar, and a selection of herbs, come into the spotlight again. A very famous oxymel is one popularized by Rosemary Gladstar, and named "Fire Cider", and I'll be making Fire Cider again as soon as I harvest my new season horseradish.

Why elderberry oxymel?

Elderberry is known as the Medicine Chest of the Country People, and the flowers as well as the berries see pages dedicated to them in any book on herbal medicine. Some scientific studies, especially with new mutations of viruses creating panic world wide, concur that there does indeed seem to be truth to the old wives' tales of elderberry to boost the immune system, and help fight of viral and bacterial infections.

Elderflowers are expectorant and pectoral, making them excellent for chest complaints, while elderberries are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and is herbally known to be one of the best preventatives against the advancement of influenza and the common cold.

Why bergamot oxymel?

Bergamot, bee balm, or Monarda (M. didyma and M. fistulosa) has been used by the Native American people as a remedy for digestive complaints as well as for lowering fevers, soothing sore throats, and help with bronchial coughts.

How to make an oxymel

Combine one third part herb with one third part vinegar and one third part honey. Use raw unpasteurized apple cider vinegar with the "mother" and use local top grade honey where you can. Infuse the herbs with the apple cider vinegar and honey for a few weeks (2-6) at which point it can be strained and taken in spoonfuls.

With the elderberries, I quickly boiled the berries in a tiny amount of water, just to the point where the berries burst, before adding to the honey and vinegar mix.
With the bergamot, I wilted the herb (leaf and flowers) for a few days before adding to the warmed (not boiled) vinegar and honey mix. You can use dried herb too. If using fresh, check for mold and fungal growth and after infusing, keep in the refridgerator.



Herb of the Month: March 2020

Herb of the Month: March 2020

This month we celebrate Bergamot, but not the bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia) that famously flavours Earl Grey and Lady Grey teas, although our herbs were commonly named bergamot because of the leaves having fragrance reminscent of the bergamot orange. And although the herbs are also 

March in the garden

March in the garden

While March can still be hot, weather traditionally becomes a bit more variable as we enter our first month of autumn. Following on from a warm and dry February, weather forecasters are predicting an increase in humidity, moisture and rainfall for March – if these 

Edible Flowers #7: Lavender

Edible Flowers #7: Lavender

Hand harvested organic lavender

What an enchanting herb, Lavender (Lavandula spp) is! Long associated with the English cottage garden, or picturesque purple lavender hills in the French countryside, Lavender is loved and grown all over the world today.


Lavenders have long been used as a medicine for various ailments, and in the household to perfume and repel insects. Today, it is mostly the essential oils extracted from lavenders that are used commercially.

Grown close together, Lavenders can make a good hedge, but they also make striking single feature plants in the garden. They are ideal plants to grow to attract bees to your garden.

With over 30 species and probably close to 150 cultivars, amazing new lavenders are available each year to delight with their scent and beautiful flowers.

Popular Lavender Species

Lavandula angustifolia

English (Common) Lavender

This hardy perennial has narrow fragrant green leaves and long spikes of small blue-purple flowers from spring through summer. Many named varieties exist, e.g. Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, L.a. ‘Munstead’, L.a. ‘Rosea, L.a. 'Lady', and L.a ‘Alba’

French (L. dentata) Lavender

French (Toothed-leaf) Lavender

This half-hardy perennial has light green and finely toothed leaves and pale blue lavender flowers in summer to late autumn. A grey-leaf variety is also quite popular.

Spanish (Showy) Lavender

This hardy evergreen perennial has leaves similar to common lavender, but they are shorter and more grey-green. The flowers which bloom all summer have very showy bracts and come in a variety of colours from deep purple to pink and white.



Other noteworthy species include Dutch Lavender (Lavandula x intermedia), Woolly Lavender (Lavandula lanata AGM), Green Lavender (Lavandula viridis) and Feathered Lavender (Lavandula x christiana).

45cm - 1m height; 

30cm - 1.2m spread (depending on variety) 

Sunny and open position 

Well drained, sandy soil 

Propagated through cuttings, seeds

Use as an Edible Flower

With a name hailing from the Latin lavare meaning “to bathe” or “to wash”, and being a very popular fragrance for health, beauty and home cleaning products, Lavender is not often associated with the culinary side of herbs, but it can be a wonderfully surprising addition to your food repertoire!

Very pungent and slightly bitter, perfumy with a heavy muskiness, the flowers when used sparingly, make a delightful ingredient to baked goods such as cookies and biscuits, scones and muffins, cakes and pies. Lavender is also used to flavour meringues, creams, jellies, jams and syrups, and compliment berries and fruit. But far from being only used for sweets, Lavender can be used very impressively in savoury dishes pairing well with poultry and fish.

Which is best?

All edible, but not all equal in taste. My order if preference goes:

  1. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  2. Lavandins (Lavandula x intermedia)
  3. French lavender (Lavandula dentata)
  4. Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas)...and then only really when I must and there's nothing else about.

Recipe ideas

Edible Flowers

More on my fascination with eating flowers

Recipe: Lavender Shortbread

Recipe: Lavender Shortbread

Ingredients 225g unsalted butter (1 cup), softened Pinch of sea salt 115g caster sugar (½ cup + 1 tbsp) 285g high grade all purpose flour (2 1/3 cup) 55g corn flour, or rice flour (5 ½ tbsp) 1Tbsp lavender blossoms (or to taste) Directions Add