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by Monica Brandies


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Herb Fest Time

Purple coneflower, Echinaces, is both ornamental and medicinal.

It is Herb Fest Time again at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo. If you have never gone there, this is a perfect excuse. If you have been before, you know that every trip is a new adventure, especially this year with our, so far, wonderfully warm winter.

It is an easy trip on a Saturday morning before the rest of the traffic starts. Go to Tampa and cross the Howard Franklin Bridge on I75S. Take the Ulmerton Road exit and be sure to take the left fork near the St. Petersburg Airport. Follow Ulmerton across Alternate 19, by which time the traffic thins, and watch for the signs on the left that direct you to the Pinellas County Extension Service.

The Herb Garden is right behind the main building. The closest place the park is the EMS parking lot just north of and behind the Herb Garden. The large black, double entrance gate will be open. There will be a tent full of vendors selling excellent and unusual herb plants at very reasonable prices. I'll have a table with my books on growing herbs and spices, my other books on Florida Gardening and a few for other states as well.

Calendulas, some of the biggest and brightest of herbal flowers, are excellent for bouquets.

The fun begins at 9am and lasts until 2pm and even after that you can enjoy the other areas of the gardens that include the Gulf Coast Museum of Art and nearby Heritage Village. The Pinellas bike trail runs adjacent to the gardens.

Talks in the Magnolia Room auditorium start with Penny Khaled demonstrating herbal cosmetics toward healthier complexions at 10:45. Vicki Parsons of Brandon will explain the numerous benefits of the Pharmacy Tree--Neem at 12:15, and I will talk on Florida Herb Growing at 1: pm.

The best part will be checking out the beautiful herb garden. This garden was just beginning at the same time I was writing my herb book and therefore I missed it in my original search for great herb gardens in Florida. With its 100 to 150 different plants, excellent design and loving care, it is one of the very best you'll ever see and a must visit for anyone interested in growing herbs here. It always looks good, but never looks better than now with riotous borders of nasturtiums blooming and almost all of the herbs in the prime part of their growing year.

Other years Allen Cordell, Extension Horticulturist, led a formal tour. I left my table last year like I was following the Pied Piper and joined the crowd to listen to his wealth of information. That alone was worth the trip. He will be there this Saturday. Find him. Follow him around. Listen to everything he says to everyone and take notes if you can.

Papaya can grow from seeds into a small tree in a year's time. Both leaves and fruits are high in papacin, an enzyme that aids digestion.

He told us that the border of Puerto Rican oregano, 150 some plants, had all been started from cuttings from one parent. The plants are a bright green with tiny fragrant, edible leaves and upright growth, and they make a reliable low hedge that looks good all year, year after year.

Besides the nasturitums, which come up every year from self sown seeds, calendulas will be blooming with bright yellow and orange double daisy flowers, some of the biggest and brightest of the herb flowers. These annuals grow easily from seed and make excellent cut flowers. The petals are edible and add color and mild flavor to salads, teas, butters, soups, rice, and especially homemade noodles. A tea made from them will bring gentle relief from skin rashes and speed healing of wounds. Make a little extra and use it as a hair rinse to bring out the highlights of blond and brunette hair or add it to the tub for a stimulating herbal bath.

The papaya is a giant herb that bears fruit sometimes called "tree melons." These can also be started from seeds of fruit purchased from the produce section of the grocery. The leaves wil tenderize meats if you wrap them around it, stab through the leaves and meat with a fork and let this sit for an hour or two before cooking. The fruit of the papaya is also very good for digestion and soothes stomach troubles. You can eat it green as a vegetable or ripe like a melon or mash it up for papaya bread made from any pumpkin bread recipe.

Come to the Herb Fest and learn much more. And check the Pinellas Extension on the internet for more of Allen Cordell's wisdom and photos.

February 3, 2007 - Herbfest at Pinellas County Herb Garden in Largo
From 9 am until 2 pm. Talks throughout the day on how to Take Care of Yourself. Plant and books for sale. Give yourself time to tour the whole of the Florida Botanic Gardens there. Free admission.


Allen Cordell leads a group on a tour of the herb garden.