Archive for September, 2007

Hierba Santa

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Hierba Santa

Even though I have been in Texas for seven years, I am still adapting from my northern gardening notions. The seasons seem reversed, with the challenge to beat the summer heat rather than the fall frost.

But one of the pleasures of Austin’s subtropical climate is the ability to try new plants. An easy one is Hierba Santa, sometimes called Hoja Santa, sometimes called Root Beer Plant and sometimes called Piper auritum

Here is one picture of my hierba santa, before it grew about four feet taller later in the summer:
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I started with one small plant that I picked up at the Downtown Austin Farmer’s Market and the Hierba Santa just took off. In Austin, the plant dies back to the ground with the first frost, but comes back with a vengeance in the spring, sending up new plants within about a two foot radius of the original plant and growing taller the second year.

During the time that I have spent in Oaxaca, Mexico, I have tried Hierba Santa in various dishes. It is often used to flavor beans and fish.

Disclaimer: Hierba Santa has been reported to have some toxic properties. However, people have been eating it in southern Mexico for quite some time.

I first tried Cua’a Za’a a few years back in Juchitán at the house of my good friend Omar Angel. I was amazed at how good a simple dish could be. He was kind enough to pass the recipe along to me. In Zapotec Za’a means bean and Cua’a means cooked corn.


  • Black Beans– 2 Cups
  • Shelled Sweet Corn– 1 Cup
  • Garlic–4 Teeth
  • Onion-1/2
  • Hierba Santa– 2-3 leaves
  • Salt to taste
  • Water-Sufficient to cover the beans
  • Cook the beans in water with the garlic and onion. When the beans are half cooked add the corn, hierba santa and salt. Be sure to add more water if needed, the dish should have the consistency of a broth. When the beans are well-cooked the dish is done.

    Transportation Solutions

    Monday, September 24th, 2007

    There are a lot of nice things about living in a small town. The air is fresher, the stars are brighter, and the streets are quieter. Unfortunately, living in this quiet town also means that I have to drive over twenty miles if I want to take in a movie, go to a concert, or buy organic groceries (the kind we can’t grow in our own organic garden, of course).

    I’ve felt guilty about all this driving for some time now, but the guilt has grown quite a bit in the past year or two (the price of gasoline doesn’t help either). So far, the guilt has not actually prevented me from driving if I have no other alternative, but it has caused me to seek out alternatives. My bike, for example.

    Since I moved back here a year ago, I’ve biked around town a lot. The side streets are safe, and we’re fortunate to have some very nice nature trails that run alongside Koshkonong Creek. Biking is also one of the best ways for me to exercise my rambunctious dog. She loves to run. I don’t.

    So, while my bike was a great way to transport myself, it was fairly useless if I wanted to carry anything that didn’t fit inside the little basket that clips onto the handlebars. We tend to have a lot of outgoing packages, so this is a daily issue. I decided to do a little research. I found out that Burley, the company that makes the tow-behind trailers to haul small children, also makes a flatbed trailer with a 100 pound capacity. Problem solved! I no longer have to take the car if I have more than a few packages. The larger and heavier boxes make me work a bit harder, but I like the fact that I’m burning calories instead of fossil fuels.

    Shiitake and Tofu Recipe

    Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

    Using our homegrown mushrooms……….

    Sautéed Shiitakes

    1-2 T. Olive oil
    1-2 Cloves garlic, chopped
    12 Oz. Sliced shiitakes
    1 T. Tamari
    1 T. Sesame Oil
    2-4 T. Dry white wine
    Optional – 1/2 lb. cubed tofu

    Sauté garlic in oil for 1 minute. Add shiitakes & sauté for an additional 3-4 minutes. Mix Tamari, sesame oil & wine together & pour over mushrooms. Simmer over low for 10 minutes. (I didn’t really measure anything the first time I tried this & it seemed a bit salty so I added 1/2 pound of cubed tofu to soak up some of the juice. It did the trick.) This was served with garden fresh simmered baby new potatoes, sliced cucumbers & tomatoes.

    Shiitake Mushrooms

    Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

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    Last April, my friend Michael Ball asked me if I’d be interested in helping him split the work of starting a crop of shiitake mushrooms. He supplied the cut red oak logs from the woods on his farm, I bought the mushroom spawn and we shared the work of drilling and plugging the logs with the spawn. I ended up with about fifteen logs each with about four dozen plugs or more and each plug a potential mushroom.

    Typically, the mushrooms appear the following spring, but because of the exceedingly wet period we had a few weeks back, we’re getting mushrooms now. The first harvest was yesterday, about a half pound.

    Judy fried them up with olive oil, sesame oil, garlic, and cubed tofu. They were succulent and meaty, perfectly delicious. The mushroom flavor got sucked up by the tofu, so every morsel had this great shiitake taste.

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    Until yesterday, the logs were on the ground, but after fruiting starts, they need to be stood upright so all the plugs have a place to put out their growth.

    I got my mushroom spawn and equipment from Field & Forest Products Inc., Peshtigo, Wisconsin 54157. 1-800-792-6220. An excellent and highly recommended company.

    Harvesting Potatoes – Double Digging

    Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

    I’m happy with my potato harvest this year. I’ll end up with over forty pounds each of Red Norlands, Kennebec, and Russets which will last us well into next year.

    Growing your own potatoes is difficult to justify economically. Factory farm potatoes are practically given away here in Wisconsin, and even at a price of $2.00 per pound for locally grown organic potatoes my crop at most would be worth about $250. Mine are worth a lot less actually, since my potatoes starts were not organic, but conventional seed potatoes purchased from the local greenhouse.

    However, I’m not selling my crop, so the economics don’t count. I’ll continue to grow my own, and I’ll start paying a premium for organic seed next year. I see potatoes as a very good crop for home growers for several reasons: Almost anything you grow yourself is usually better than almost anything you buy at the store, especially the food in the mainstream food stores. I also think the process of rotating potatoes through the beds accomplishes everything that a stand-alone double digging of my dense clay beds would do and I’m getting the bonus of harvesting potatoes while I’m doing the grunt work of moving all the soil in the beds.

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    This picture shows the weedy bed being harvested. I use a garden fork and my CobraHead to do all the digging with a little help from a flat spade to move soil from the bed edges.

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    This picture shows the bed clean of weeds, and shaped back up. Here I use a steel rake and my CobraHead Long Handle to do the work. But I first have to use a wheelbarrow and spade to move the excess soil from one end of the bed back to the other end. A couple buckets of compost have been added and the bed is ready for a fall planting, or else it can be covered with leaves and I’ll have a bed ready to go in the spring.

    Welcome to the CobraHead Blog!!

    Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

    CobraHead LLC is a small family-run company that produces hand tools for gardeners and small-scale growers. We promote home gardening, grow-your-own food projects, and the idea that growing good food properly is important to the well-being of humanity and the planet. In our blog we would like to share gardening ideas, talk about what we do with food from the garden and what we are doing to promote CobraHead and good gardening.

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