Many years ago herbs were considered invaluable; they cost dearly to buy and were very difficult to find. Yet now, herb plants can be grown by seed offered by mail order, plants can be purchased practically everywhere and fresh-cut and dried culinary herbs at the local grocery store.
So why all the fuss you ask? Herbs are making their way back into the tastebuds of many cooks; amateur or professional. To top it off, herbs are becoming more popular medicinally too.
For this introductory to herbs article, I have started with the commonly seen culinary ones; oregano, basil, chives, thyme and mint. These are well-known, easy to grow and care-for, that anyone including children can master.
Oregano – Commonly used in tomato dishes. The plant’s leaves are oval and medium green and travel closely up the stem. The plant can reach 1 1/2 feet tall and bloom a wonderful lavender-purple colour, but it is best to harvest the leaves while they are young and the plant hasn’t bloomed. Simply remove the leaves with your fingers, place them into a sieve and rinse them under cold water, pat dry with a dry towel and freeze them in ziplock bags to use when needed. When using them from the freezer, treat them the same as freshly bought. You can also place the washed leaves into a blender with a small amount of oil, chop fine then place them into ice-cube trays until firm. Once firm remove them from the trays and store the cubes in ziplock bags until needed.
Basil – Very popular in tomato dishes. This annual has many different varieties to choose from, but the most commonly used for cooking has dark green leaves. Use fresh or two methods of freezing can be done. Wash the picked leaves under cold water and pat dry. Either store in the freezer in ziplock bags and use when needed, or place many leaves in a blender with a small amount of oil and puree, then pack into ice cube trays to harden. When the trays are hard, place the frozen cubes into ziplock bags and use when needed.
Chives – These can be added to many dishes to give an onion taste. Plain or garlic chives can be easily grown from seed or purchased as plants. The plain chives have round, grass-like leaves and bloom purple, while the garlic chives have flat, grass-like leaves and bloom white. Harvest the grass-like shoots all through the growing season, by simply using a pair of scissors and cutting them several at a time near the base of the plant. Wash the shoots under cold water, pat dry with a towel and either cut into small pieces using your scissors or sharp knife. Either place these cuttings into a ziplock bag and freeze or layout thinly on a cookie sheet to dry for several days.
Thyme – This is a woody perennial with very tiny, oblong leaves. To harvest, pick the leaves one-by-one as needed or strip many at a time by running your fingers backwards down the stem to the base. Again, wash under cold water, pat dry with a towel and store in your freezer in ziplock bags until needed, or dry several days on a cookie sheet.
Mint – Many, many varieties of mints are available, but the most commonly seen and used is the spearmint or peppermint. Both are equally invasive in your garden, so be sure to plant the plant pot and all into the garden to keep it in check. The leaves are oblong, dark green and serrated and are very aromatic when brushed against. Leaves are best harvested fresh, but storing them in the freezer works well too. Harvest the leaves when young, wash under cold water, pat dry with a towel and freeze in ziplock bags when needed. Green teas can be made by steeping the leaves in a cup of boiling water for a few minutes, remove the leaves and add sugar to taste. This is good as a soothing drink for a sore throat or for refreshing the senses. Or add a few leaves to your bathwater for a vigorating bath!
For your enjoyment, these are a couple of easy recipes for you to get started:
Refreshing Mint Drink
Bruise 2 mint leaves with 1/2 tsp white sugar. Fill glass half full with apple juice or apple cider, add 1 Tbsp Lime or Lemon Juice. Fill remainder of glass with Gingerale, Sprite or 7-Up and decorate with mint leaves. Add ice and enjoy!
2 Cups fresh basil leaves (packed tightly)
1 tsp salt
1 Cup Olive oil
1/2 Cup parmesan cheese (optional)
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds
Place all ingredients in blender and whirl until a thick and uniform paste. Add more oil if it is too thick. Spoon into jars, coat with a layer of melted butter and cover tightly. Keep refrigerated. OR spoon into ice cube trays, freeze until hard. Place into freezer bags until needed. Add cubes to spaghetti sauces, pizza sauce, or soften and spread on hot buttered bread and more!
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Email: Jennifer Moore