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Herbs for the Kitchen


Last updated 2/1/2007 at Noon

The weather has been unseasonably cold. We have seen agriculture devastated by freezing temperatures. Eighty percent of the citrus crops have been ruined. We have seen damage to bananas and a lot of tropical plants in our normally frost-free backyard. Even though we are out of the bad freeze weather for a moment, let’s be cautious.

Taking the above into consideration, plants are growing slower, or in some microclimates (the valley floors), you probably lost lettuces and other tender vegetables.

With the cold weather, and if you live where the temperature drops below 20 degrees at night, wait a couple of weeks before planting tender greens. You can, though, repeat the planting we did at the beginning of January. Plant two to three broccoli or cabbages. Onions and even a couple of celery in between the main large plants are great. Another short row of carrots will keep them coming fresh. If you like, plant some radish and turnip seeds, though just a short row.

Today I want to focus on a culinary herb garden. These plants, for the most part, are very winter hardy. The use of fresh herbs in cooking can create great flavors. Since we all consume too much salt, using herbs to season can reduce the need for a lot of salt.

The herb garden can be formal and planted all in one place or blended into the landscape near the house. Also, they lend themselves to container growing and this can make them very accessible to the kitchen. They should be close enough that you can go out and pick them for the meal you are preparing.

The main varieties of herbs are rosemary, thyme, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, chives, tarragon, mint, peppermint and lemongrass.

This week we will focus on rosemary, thyme, marjoram and sage.

Let’s start with rosemary. Rosemary is a wonderful landscape herb. It will grow to a medium-sized (five-foot) shrub. Rosemary Officinalis is the upright plant, but it comes in many other forms, including a prostrate ground cover. To my taste, the upright is the best for culinary flavor and ease of growing and harvesting. It can be used in soups, stews and vegetables; with grilled fish or chicken; and tastes great when baked with onions in bread. There are even medicinal qualities to rosemary, as a gentle stimulant and for circulation. Strip and chop the leaves to use. The more woody stems can be used as skewers.

Thyme: a low growing plant that spreads two to three feet wide. It’s a very popular herb that comes as common thyme and lemon thyme, to name a couple of the many varieties. It’s a wonderful herb to cook with and flavors a wide variety of dishes, including soups, stews, meats, veggies and fish. Its oil is used in aromatherapy. Medicinally, it is good for respiratory, digestive and circulatory disorders. Strip the leaves and chop finely.

Sweet marjoram: It is easier to grow if you replant this one every six months. Strip the leaves of marjoram and chop into tiny pieces and add fresh (in small quantities) to a garden salad. Marjoram blends well with thyme and basil. Its delicate flavor is use to enhance sausages, pizza, spaghetti, stuffing and tomato dishes. Marjoram has strong sedative properties and, when used mildly, has a soothing effect on the nerves. It can also be a sleep aid.

Sage: Sage is a beautiful landscape plant. They have delightful flowers that come in many colors. The two best culinary sages are common sage and pineapple sage. Pineapple sage is tasty if added to fruit salads. Common sage is used a lot to flavor meat, fish, stews and soups. Due to its positive digestive qualities it is frequently used with high-fat foods. In the Middle Ages the herb was used for colds, fever, epilepsy, cholera, constipation and nerves and to improve circulation. Use the leaves chopped or whole, as called for.

The next article will cover oregano, chives, savory, mint, peppermint, lemongrass and how to get an early start on basil and summer squash. Use twice the quantity called for in recipes with fresh herbs compared to the dried. Bon appétit!


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