HERBS: “Any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring food, medicine, or perfume or parts of such plants used in cooking.”
Do you ever wonder why everything seems to taste more exotic and exude delicious aromas when you eat at a fine restaurant? The seasoning they use often includes fresh herbs. Herbs are nature’s surprise packages that contain vast bursts of flavor without adding sodium. They differ from other vegetables in that they provide flavor rather than substance.
My wife started growing some of the more common and widely used herbs a few years ago, and I must admit, it has added a great deal of flavor to our meals. We have herbs growing in a few large flower pots on our deck and our window sill. When cooking, she will pick the herbs when they are at the peak of freshness. If you wish to keep herbs fresh, rinse well under cool water to remove any insects and dirt, then gently shake off excess water and pat dry with paper towels. Cut off excess stems and place them in a cup or glass filled with cool water, then place in the refrigerator. For basil, rather than putting it in the refrigerator, keep it on the counter in a container. A lesson learned, if you are growing any type of mint, make sure to keep it contained, as it will take over your garden in a very short period of time but oh so good in ice tea or Mojitos.
Because of the growing interest in various ethnic cuisines, there has been a renewed interest in herbs. Nearly every farmer’s market will have helpful and knowledgeable herb vendors. One of my favorites is the Staunton Farmers Market where you will always find one or two herb vendors and a vendor who sells mixed bottles of freshly dried herbs. Oakhill Greenhouse offers a variety of bottled fresh herbs, my two favorites are the Tuscan Herb Blend a mixture of about 7 or 8 different herbs and the French Herb Blend. The last market of the year I stopped to pick up a few bottles from John at Oakhill, and a lady in front of me ordered nine bottles of the French herbs saying that should hold her till they open in the spring. I mentioned that she must like that particulate blend and she replied that she put it in everything except her breakfast cereal.
Strong herbs: winter savory sage Herbs strong enough for accent: dill, mint, tarragon, thyme, sweet basil. Herbs for blending: chives, summer savory, parsley.
A simple use of herbs is to make herbal butter or cream cheese by mixing one tablespoon of freshly chopped or dried herbs to one-half cup of butter or cream cheese. Experiment till you find the taste you enjoy.