All About Thyme
  A Weekly Calendar of Times & Seasonings

  Celebrating the Mysteries, Magic, and Myths of Herbs
Susan Wittig Albert  
Special Feature, April 1, 2019  

Garden Pinks

April 13 is the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. He created a plantation called Monticello, where he enjoyed gardening above all else. Jefferson once said, "No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden."

One of the stars of Jefferson's cottage garden was his collection of heirloom garden pinks or carnations (Dianthus). Jefferson himself sent seeds to a friend in 1786, noting that they were to be sown in March, and were "very fine & very rare." But in those days, the pink was not just a decorative plant. It had several important uses.

The Edible Pink
The pink most often used in cookery was the clove-scented pink (Dianthus caryophyllus), or gillyflower—what we now call the carnation. (Gilly comes from the French girofle, or clove, and refers to the spicy scent of the flower.) The blossom was used to make conserves, preserves, syrups, and vinegars, and as a flavoring for wine. The petals add a clove-like flavor to salads and fruit compotes. (Don't use flowers from the florist, for they have probably been sprayed). Here's an old-fashioned recipe for blush pink carnation-flavored vinegar.

Carnation Vinegar
1 cup red or pink carnation (Dianthus) petals
6 cloves
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
2 cups white wine vinegar

Pull the petals from the flower heads and snip off the white heels. Wash. Place petals in a jar with the cloves and cinnamon stick, and crush lightly. Add vinegar, and store in a dark place at room temperature until it has reached the desired intensity. Strain into a pretty bottle. Use on crisp greens or on a fruit salad.

The Medicinal Pink
John Gerard (1597) praised the clove pink as a restorative, which "wonderfully above measure doth comfort the heart." John Parkinson(1640) recommended it for headaches. Dianthus superbus has been used in Chinese medicine as a tonic for the nervous system, and to treat the kidneys, urinary tract, constipation, and eczema.

The Fragrant Pink
For most of us, the chief reason for including these beautiful plants in our gardens is their spicy-sweet fragrance. Dry the petals for use in sachets, and use the essential oil (purchased) in candles, bath and massage oils, soaps, and as a body oil.

Read more about colonial gardens:



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Susan Wittig Albert is the author of two recent memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place. Her fiction, which has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, includes A Wilder Rose (a novel about Rose Wilder Lane's collaboration with Laura Ingalls Wilder in the writing of the Little House books); the China Bayles mysteries; the Darling Dahlias mysteries; the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter; and a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries written with her husband, Bill Albert, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige. She is founder and past president of the Story Circle Network, a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, and Honorary President (2012-2014) of the Herb Society of America. More

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