In Basket: July 2010


Courtesy The Cook's Garden

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Dear Herb Companion,

I like the e-newsletter, but I can’t get a copy of your magazine, except one I found at a book sale. I re-read the one I have.
—Janette Buhay, Magalang, Philippines

For all of our overseas and/or paper-conscious readers, we now offer digital subscriptions through Zinio. Search our name at to subscribe. —Eds. 

Join the Giveaways

Congratulations to Sara O’Shea, Brenda Davis and Lauren Benard. By commenting on our blog entry “Grow Your Own Vegetable Soup” ( ), these three Herb Companion readers won a packet of broccoli romanesco seeds, courtesy of The Cook’s Garden. Visit our website for more online giveaways!

Planting Poppies 

In the May 2010 article “Grow a Garden from Seed,” you list opium poppy. I thought that this was illegal to grow in this country.
—June Calvin, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The restrictions on opium poppy vary from state to state, and this species is prohibited in some locations. Instead, try Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule). —Eds. 

Avoid Apricot Kernels

In the May 2010 article “The Frugal Foodie,” the recipe for Simple Seed Syrup suggests using apricot kernels or cherry pits. Seeds from fruits of the rose family, such as cherries, apples and apricots, contain cyanogenetic glycosides, which upon ingestion release hydrogen cyanide gas through an enzymatic reaction. The glycoside amygdalin in these seeds is toxic. Deaths have been reported from ingesting apricot seeds. Roasting or cooking detoxifies the substance, so the boiling may do the same. 
—Marcia E. Herman-Giddens, PA, DrPH, Pittsboro, North Carolina
Several readers wrote in about the presence of glycosides that can be converted to cyanide in the gut. Many plants, including rose family seeds—as well as buckwheat, wheatgrass and other plants—contain amygdalin. We asked Lara Starr, author of The Frugal Foodie Cookbook, from which the recipe is excerpted, about the safety of ingesting the seeds. “It’s true that there are concerns about consuming raw apricot seeds, but it is my understanding that cooking them will destroy the enzymes needed to create hydrogen cyanide upon ingestion,” she says. Bob Krieger, Ph.D., extension toxicologist at the University of California, agrees that cooking is said to detoxify the poison, but pointed out that every person’s cooking methods will vary. The safest approach would be to avoid ingestion of apricot kernels and cherry pits altogether: Use the raspberry or blackberry option described in the  Simple Seed Syrup  recipe instead. Proponents point out that it would take a huge amount of apricot pits to equal the lowest lethal dose for humans. But, better safe than sorry. —Eds. 

Chocolate Basil Update

Our hunt for chocolate basil has led us in a circle once again. In the May 2010 issue, reader Kelli Roberson responded to our March 2010 article “Chocolate Basil: The Herb-an Myth.” Kelli said she purchased chocolate basil from Forget-Me-Not Garden Center in Lima, Ohio. Unfortunately, her planting has since died and she thinks it might not have been chocolate basil at all. Owner Greg Austin says that last year his nursery had what they thought was chocolate basil, acquired from a private garden. However, their herb specialist speculates that it might actually have been an accidental hybrid. Austin says he will keep us posted on any news. —Eds.