Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme
Herbs are products used to flavor foods but come from the leafy green parts of a plant as opposed to spices that come from the root, stem, seeds, fruits or flower of a plant. Herbs offer savory or aromatic properties that are used for flavoring, garnishing food, medicinal purposes or for fragrance.
A few years ago, my wife and I were having lunch at TJ’s Tavern at the DoubleTree Hotel in Charlottesville, and the food seemed to elude a delicious aroma. When asked, the waitress told us to look out the window, below was a garden in which fresh herbs and vegetable were growing. The explanation is that herbs are nature’s surprise package that contains a huge burst of flavor without adding sodium. An obvious win-win!
Over the past few years, there has been a growth in ethnic cuisines and a renewed interest in the use of herbs for both flavoring and garnishing food. In addition, the use of herbs for medicinal purposes has grown in popularity.
We are, after all, a dining magazine, and therefore our interests are more in the growing and the use of herbs in food preparation. However, here is a brief list of herbs that are often used for medical purposes.
Turmeric: A heaping helping of curry could relieve your arthritis pain as turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory.
St. John’s Wert: This herb has been used for years to help relieve mild to moderate depression and anxiety.
Holly Basil: This type of basil has a property to help combat stress.
Garlic: This herb will help lower cancer risk, keep away vampires and make you wonder why your friends are avoiding you.
Cinnamon: A recent study showed that taking the cinnamon extract , daily, will reduce blood sugar levels by about 10% and helps to lower cholesterol.
Ginger: Will help prevent stomach upset and helps decrease blood pressure.
The use of herbs has been around for a very long time, the cave paintings in Lascaux, France dating back 25,000 years depict the use of herbs. The Greek physician Hippocrates listed over 400 herbs in common use in the 5th century B.C.
Back to the tasty food part.
Growing herbs is a simple and healthy way to add edible plants to your diet. You do not need a green thumb to grow your own herbs. You may grow them in pots next to the window, pots out on the patio, in the garden or pretty much anywhere. You may find plants at your grocery store, hardware stores, or your local farmers market. Most farmer markets will have at least one person selling herbs who is knowledgeable and more than happy to give you pointers.
When the herbs are ready to use, pick their leaves at the peak of freshness, rinse under cool water to rid the plants of dirt and insects and then shake and pat dry with paper towel. If you find you have an overabundance of herbs, you may take the herbs after they are dry, put them on a baking sheet and place in the oven at a very low temperature until dried. Do not break up the leaves until they come out of the oven. Store the dried herbs in containers to use as needed.
Here is a list of some of the more common herbs and their properties.
Strong herbs: winter savory, sage, rosemary
Accent herbs: dill, mint, tarragon, thyme, sweet basil
Blending herbs: chives, parsley
Parsley is available in flat-leaf (Italian) or curly leaf and is light and grassy in flavor.
Sage can bring flavor to an incredible number of dishes and has a robust, peppery flavor. Sage is popular in Northern Italian cooking.
Rosemary has a very distinct, strong minty flavor. Rosemary works well with meats of all kinds.
Thyme has a strong lemon flavor and will give character to savory soups, and stews. It is popular in Creole cooking where it is used to add flavor to meats and fish.
Tarragon has hints of anise and mint and yet adds a sweet flavor when using in foods. It works well with dill, chives, and parley and is excellent with seafood and vegetables.
Basil is one of the few herbs that has a better flavor when dried, as opposed to fresh. Basil has a pepper and minty aroma and is sweet and savory when used in food.
Mint comes in spearmint and peppermint with spearmint being the most popular. Mint is used in Greek, Middle Eastern, Turkish cuisines and Mint Julip. Best grown in pots as it spread quickly and can take over an area.
Summer Savory is peppery in flavor, is similar to thyme and is excellent in meats and stuffing.
One of the great qualities of herbs is their versatility. Another idea for the use of herbs is to take fresh chopped or dried herbs, add to butter or cream cheese and mix to taste. It makes an excellent spread for fresh, warm bread.
Wondering how to combine herbs? Read more: Spice – The Secret to Taste.