From the Garden to the Kitchen
An Edible Mary Garden – Yardboy, as you know, I devote a portion of my herb garden to Biblical herbs. I love the history and stories that accompany them. I have had several requests for growing a Bible garden in, guess what, a container! In fact, the last few presentations I had on Bible herbs & foods came with questions from the audience about appropriate sized herbs that have Biblical significance, but that would fit into a container garden. So, here goes, along with a bit of history about Biblical herbs.
Mary Gardens were started during medieval times and were usually gardens that were enclosed, often in monasteries. I have always felt that an herb garden needs a statue of Mary, even before I had ever heard about Mary Gardens. In antiquity, they were places of quiet beauty where one could pray and meditate. Flowers and herbs fit well in a Bible/Mary garden. In ancient days, people realized that out of all God’s creations none could rival the flowers in representing his Mother’s purity, her holy beauty and her glory. So, fragrant herbs and flowers remind us of her spiritual sweetness, the soothing and healing herbs remind us of her heavenly mercy and compassion and we even have the bitter and sour herbs, which remind us of her bitter sorrows. The Christians saw these plants as special signs of heaven so they gathered them for churches, and eventually started placing them on altars and strewn throughout the church. They were also woven into garlands and crowns worn by priests. Crowning Mary with a crown of flowers dates back to ancient times. When we were kids, May crowning was a big event. I remember the grotto that Mary was in. We had Mary Gardens without realizing it!
What kinds of plants would be appropriate in a container Mary Garden? I like smaller varieties of traditional Bible herbs; roses certainly. And I would plant the miniature roses which are hardy perennials. Roses are the emblem of Mary and she is called the First Rose of Martyrs. Roses are the herb of the year and their petals can be eaten. The rose hips (seed pods) are used in teas, and provide nutrients. Rose petals are mildly astringent, are good for the heart and are considered a refrigerant, which cools you down.
Rose hips – Contain Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and are also a good source of pectin, B-complex vitamins, etc. Wait until the hips are mature (red in color). Rose hips can be used fresh or dried. If drying hips, rinse, drain, and spread them out on a screen or clean sheet and dry in shade for two to three weeks or in a dry place away from sun in the house. Make a tea by steeping 1 – 2 tbsp hips in hot water for 5-10 minutes. Sweeten with Stevia, honey or sugar. I make rose petal jelly, rosehip tea.
Basil – Not mentioned specifically in the Bible, but Bible scholars believe it was used extensively throughout the Mediterranean. Legend has it that it was found growing outside of Jesus’ tomb after the resurrection. Minet, Bouquet or Globe basil is good for a container, as it stays nicely rounded in shape and about 12” high. Good companion for tomatoes, basil makes tomatoes taste better; also good for peppers and likes to grow next to oregano. Basil’s aroma repels flies and mosquitoes, so place some potted basil on your outside decks and by house entrances; and you will also be protected. Basil acts as a fungicide.
Cilantro – It’s a vibrant green and is a good background plant. Try DelFino, which has very narrow leaves and won’t bolt to seed as quickly as some varieties. The seed of this plant, Coriander, is mentioned as the manna of the Bible. Exodus 16:31 -”And the food became known as manna – meaning “What is it? It was white like coriander seed and flat and tasted like honey bread.” Helps spinach and repels or distracts white flies and aphids. Cilantro is rich in anti-oxidants and dietary fiber which help reduce LDL or “bad cholesterol” while increasing HDL or “good cholesterol” levels. It contains lots of vitamin C and vitamin A and also vitamin K which help your bones. Cilantro helps remove heavy metals from the body. Anise grows well with cilantro, and together they are a good deterrent for snails and slugs.
Dill (Matthew 23:23) – Woe to you Pharisees – you pay tithes of cumin, mint and dill, but ignore the important things like justice, mercy and faith. You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” Try Dukat or Fernleaf – lots of leaf production before bolting to seed.
Helps cabbages, cucumbers (plant cucumbers first then plant dill a week or so later), lettuce, onions; repels squash bugs and cabbage-loopers. The flower heads of dill are one of the best nectar sources for beneficial insects in the garden. Do plant dill in an appropriate spot in ground for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars to feed on. Even their caterpillars are beautiful. It’s the orange yellow & black butterfly.
What about Forget-me-nots, those pretty little blue flowers? In a German legend, the Lord named all the plants when a tiny unnamed one cried out, “Forget-me-not, O Lord!” God replied, “That shall be your name.” Forget-me-nots are edible and represent the beautiful blue eyes of Mary.
Impatiens are great container flowers, especially for the shade. Impatiens represents a mother’s love, and their size is nice for containers. I like sprinkling the flowers on cakes.
Marigold has significance, too. (Tagetes, French or Calendula species.) Tomatoes love marigolds, and so do peppers, and cucumbers, even cabbage. Plant them everywhere! Certain varieties of marigolds, like the French marigold, produces a pesticide chemical from their roots, so strong it lasts years after they are gone. One of the reasons marigolds are good as companion plants is their scent – it’s strong! Pests don’t like that aroma at all. Marigolds are called “Mary’s gold”, and the one I would suggest is lemon gem, it’s a delicate plant with tiny golden flowers. Early Christians scattered the flowers around the statue of Mary, and the blossoms were offered to her in place of money/coins. Legend has it that Mary used the blossoms as coins, and during the flight into Egypt, legend has it that the family was threatened by thieves who took Mary’s purse to steal coins, but what came out was marigold petals. Marigold petals are pretty in rice dishes.
HYSSOP (OREGANO) – Mentioned several times in the Bible. Exodus 12:22; Numbers 19:6 – We know Moses told the Israelites to dip a branch of “hyssop” in lamb’s blood to mark their doorposts. Some scholars believe hyssop to be a type of oregano/marjoram.
Try Thumbles or Golden Oregano; a beautiful low growing oregano. You can also grow oregano’s cousin, marjoram, which is a smaller specimen. Oregano helps tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. It acts as an insect repellent for cucumber beetles; repels aphids – a Physician plant. Oregano has many healing qualities. It’s good for joints, colds, flu, even yeast infections (for that you would purchase Syrian oregano capsules). It has more antioxidants than many fruits.
How would rosemary fit in a container Mary Garden? Rosemary’s name comes from the legend that Mary tossed her blue cloak over the bush which had white flowers. They turned blue in her honor. Try trailing rosemary, and I would plant it toward the rim of the container so it can trail over. This herb is full of antioxidants. A Mary Garden wouldn’t be complete without mint. Mint was a tithing herb. Peppermint helps members of the cabbage family, including kales. Repels cabbage fly. Plant a container near the kitchen door to keep ants away, and attracts beneficial insects. Mint, with its white flowers, attracts pollinators like bees. Mints can quickly take over. Try a mint called chocolate mint – actually black stemmed peppermint – smells like a peppermint patty – it grows lower than traditional mints so is good for containers. Also pineapple mint is pretty with variegated cream and green colored leaves. Mint is a good digestive herb.
Pansies – Perfect for a container Mary Garden. This edible flower is often called “Our Lady’s Delight” and the flowers can be crystallized, added to vinegars for color and flavor, etc.
Thyme – Try one of the creeping thymes or “steppin” thymes, both low growing. Some people use it as bedding for Jesus’ manger.
What about chives? Chives – A member of the onion family. Numbers 11: 5-6 – When the people wept “Oh that we had some of the delicious fish we enjoyed in Egypt – cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” Helps carrots, tomatoes and members of the cabbage family grow well. You can make a spray out of chives steeped in water to kill powdery mildew. Also repels cabbage worms. Onion chives stand out in a container. Put them in the middle or toward the back. These are relatives to onions, mentioned in the Book of Numbers.
So you can grow both flowers and herbs in a container Mary Garden as long as they have the same soil and climate requirements, the flavors do not transfer to each other.
MARY’S VINEGAR – Using herbs from your Mary Garden, make healthful vinegar. No real recipe but here’s how I do it: choose up to 3 different herbs and fill a glass jar halfway up with them. Pour white wine vinegar over to cover generously. Tap down the herbs with a spoon to release oils. Herbs will infuse the vinegar and that process can be as little as a day or two in a sunny spot outside, or up to a couple weeks indoors. Strain and use in salads, marinades, etc.
-Rita Nader Heikenfeld, CCP, CMH