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The Herb Society of Nashville
Unit of
The Herb Society of America, Inc.

All About Herbs

The following articles are on this page:

Rosemary

Ginger

Roses

Sorrel

Sweet Marjoram

Citrus

Fennel

Savory

Lavender

Lemon Verbena

An Idiosyncratic Primer to Culinary Herbs

A Chart of Herbs with their Description, Culture, Harvest and Use


ROSEMARY

Rosemary is an evergreen herb whose pungently aromatic leaves are commonly associated with, but not restricted to, Mediterranean cooking; it is also used in aromatic oils and sachets. Both trailing and upright forms are commercially available. In some climates, rosemary is used as an ornamental garden plant or groundcover and in topiaries.

Cultivation. Rosemary thrives in containers or the garden and is drought and pest resistant. It requires direct sun, soil (preferably slightly alkaline) with good drainage, and only occasional watering. Year around, I keep my rosemary plant in a large pot against a rock wall where it receives full sun. On the bitterly cold nights, I sometimes cover it with a beach towel. Some prefer to purchase a rosemary plant to begin the adventure with this herb. The plant should be put into a spacious pot with good drainage because if kept in the right conditions, it will soon begin to spread. It can be propagated using cuttings (4-6 in in length) from new growth on an established plant. If this approach is used, the leaves near the bottom of the sprig should be removed after which the sprig can be placed in water or directly into potting soil (soaking the sprig in rooting stimulator may be helpful). Place in a sunny window, and regularly moisten the potting soil. When roots are formed, the new plant should be placed in well-drained soil in a sunny place. I have had very good luck rooting rosemary in water. While commercially available rosemary topiaries (e.g., small rosemary Christmas trees) are attractive, my own experience with these has not been good. It is possible that the plant has already been overly stressed by aggressive pruning. Rosemary plants form tiny delicate blossoms that vary in color (lavender, blue, pink, and white) depending on the type of rosemary, and these are highly popular with bees, butterflies and other insects.

Culinary uses. Rosemary is very easy to use in cooking and is high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6. Sprigs of rosemary can be cut from the plant throughout the year. Sprigs can be placed between slices of French bread that have been brushed with olive oil or butter, wrapped in foil and warmed in the oven at 300 degrees for about 25 minutes−delicious complement to any meal. A fresh sprig of rosemary (or the chopped leaves peeled there from) can be dropped into broth when preparing a homemade soup, gravy or stew; the rosemary should be added early on in the preparation so that the aroma can fully penetrate the components, and if a fresh sprig is used, the stem should be discarded prior to serving. Some prefer the leaves to be stripped from the stem and chopped before being added to a dish. Before roasting a leg of lamb, poke numerous holes in the soft tissue and then insert a sprig of rosemary followed by a bit of fresh garlic into each pocket. This is truly a delicious flavoring for lamb. Rosemary is also a nice addition to bread-based stuffings. Rosemary leaves soaked in olive oil for several weeks generates a flavored oil for use in salads, rice and grilling. For the grilling crowd, sprigs of dampened rosemary can be placed beneath meats and vegetables where it will add a delicate but distinct taste. It is also used in roasted nut recipes.

Other uses. Rosemary oil is used in perfumes, sachets, incense, shampoos and household products. Although there are numerous claims for efficacious medicinal uses for rosemary products, these are still considered controversial.

Storage. When stored in a plastic bag, fresh rosemary sprigs last well in the refrigerator for about a week. Cuttings can be frozen in plastic bags for later use of the leaves, or they can be dried by tying the stems together loosely and hanging the bundle upside down in a cool area with good air circulation.

Pruning and Harvesting Rosemary. As summer draws to an end and as you look forward to fall, you might consider pruning your rosemary. It is not necessary to prune rosemary but many prune in order to shape or contain its size. Rosemary may be pruned in late spring or summer but should be pruned no later than 4-6 weeks before the first frost. If rosemary is pruned too close to the time of frost, the new growth might not have time to harden making it susceptible to winter damage. Before you begin pruning, make sure that your pruning shears are clean and sharp. Dull or dirty shears may cause ragged cuts that are vulnerable to pests. Rosemary may be pruned back as much as 1/3 at any one time but further pruning should be after 2 to 3 months. Individual branches may be pruned back by ¼.

Harvesting. If you make the decision to prune, what should you do with your harvest? Many dishes are enhanced by rosemary. One of the most popular uses is with lamb. Rosemary is thought by some to have both a strong taste and smell so should be used sparingly. One popular method is to use a rosemary sprig dipped in olive oil as a replacement for a basting brush for a subtle flavoring. One way to take advantage of your harvest for months to come is to make rosemary herbed vinegar. A recipe for the cold method is listed below.

Rosemary Herbed Vinegar

A good quality apple cider or wine vinegar (You may use the bottle that the vinegar is purchased in for storage)

3 or 4 sprigs of rosemary

1 clove garlic

3 or 4 peppercorns

Pour a small amount (approximately ½ cup) of the vinegar into a small clean bowl to reserve for later use after the herb sprigs have been added.

Place the fresh rosemary sprigs in the bottle of vinegar.

Top off to fill the bottle with the reserved vinegar and seal tightly.

Place the bottle on a sunny window sill for 3 to 4 weeks, gently shaking the bottle every day or so to mix the flavors of the herbs.

This flavored vinegar is great for marinades for meat and poultry, in salad dressings and many other recipes requiring vinegar. It can be stored in the pantry for up to 3 months.

GINGER

Order: Zingiberales - Family: Zingiberaceae - Genus: Zingiber (comes from the Greek word for ginger- Zingiberis)

Species: ~100 species; all native to tropical Asia. Zingiber officinale is most commonly used in the west, but other species may be preferred in their countries of origin. Z. cassumar across SE Asia, Z. mioga (Japanese ginger-flowers and shoots used in cuisine), Z. zerumbet (wild ginger, bitter ginger used medicinally in China).

Related Spices: Other spices that are members of this plant family include turmeric, cardamom and galangal (Thai ginger).

**The North American wild flower known as “wild ginger” (Asarum canadense) has similar aromatic properties, but it is not related to true ginger.

History: Zingiber officinale has been cultivated for medicinal and culinary purposes since ancient times. In Ayurvedic medicine (Hindu system of traditional medicine native to India), Z. officinale is known as “universal medicine,” and it occurs in about half of all prescriptions in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. From 1585, ginger was the first oriental spice to be grown in the New World (in Jamaica) and then imported back to Europe. Much of the ginger that is commercially available in the west is grown in Jamaica, which produces some of the finest. It is also grown in South Asia and eastern Africa.

Plant Description and Cultivation: Gingers grow in subtropical regions. A perennial creeping plant, with thick tuberous rhizome (rhizome definition at end of report) that grows beneath the soil surface. It produces a 1-3 ft tall stem. Lance-shaped leaves (6-8 in) are bright green with a prominent longitudinal rib, enclosing conical clusters of small yellow-green flowers marked with purple speckles.

Growing Requirements: It is propagated from rhizome cuttings, planted on rich, well drained loam. It requires a tropical climate with both a heavy rain season and a hot dry season. Hardiness is listed as Z7-11. Some websites say that you can cultivate the plant by placing the rhizome over a container of water with ~1/3 of the rhizome submerged-does not work for me. Some have success with burying the rhizome in a pot of well-drained soil and placing in a bright window.

Spice Description: It is described as having a sweet, pungent, and aromatic flavor. Ginger is rich in volatile oil, gingerols, and shogaols. Chemically, gingerol is related to capsaicin and piperine, the compounds that give peppers their spiciness. Cooking ginger transforms gingerol into zingerone, which is less pungent and has a spicy-sweet aroma. Shogaols are breakdown products of gingerols produced upon drying and are twice as pungent as gingerols; thus dried ginger is hotter than fresh. The ginger rhizome should have smooth skin and firm texture. Z. officinale is of worldwide importance as a flavoring.

Cooking - Zingerone is similar in chemical structure to other flavor chemicals such as vanillin and is used as a flavoring in spice oils and perfumery. Shogaol is produced from the zingerone in ginger when it is dried, cooked, exposed to excess heat or stored.

Availability: Ginger is available in various forms:
1. Whole raw roots are generally referred to as fresh ginger and provide the freshest taste. It has a pale yellow interior and a skin varying in color from brown to off-white. Jamaican ginger, which is pale buff, is regarded as the best variety. African and Indian ginger is darker skinned.
2. Dried roots are sold either ‘black’ with the root skin left on, or ‘white’ with the skin peeled off. The dried root is available whole or sliced.
3. Powdered ginger is the buff-colored ground spice made from dried root.
4. Preserved or ‘stem’ ginger is made from fresh young roots, peeled and sliced, then cooked in a heavy sugar syrup. The ginger pieces and syrup are canned together. They are soft and pulpy, but extremely hot and spicy.
5. Crystallized ginger is also cooked in sugar syrup, then air dried and rolled in sugar.
6. Pickled ginger has the root sliced paper-thin and pickled in a vinegar solution. This pickle is known in Japan as gari, which often accompanies sushi.

Preparation and Storage: In Asian cooking ginger is almost always used fresh (minced, crushed or sliced.) Fresh ginger can be kept for several weeks in the refrigerator salad drawer, or when submerged in a dry sherry, vodka, canola or peanut oil, it can be preserved in the refrigerator for long periods. It can be frozen and used by “shaving” off pieces as needed, or it can be sliced or minced and frozen for future use. Store powdered ginger in an airtight container.

Culinary Uses: Culinary uses of ginger are almost endless. Fresh ginger is essential to Asian cookery. It is used in soups, marinades, curries, chutneys, pickles, meat and fish dishes, and stir-fried dishes. To maximally flavor oils for cooking or salad dressings, crush the ginger before submerging in the oil. Ground dried ginger is a component of many curry powders. Tender young ginger can be sliced and eaten as a salad; ginger root can be finely minced and tossed with rice or sautéed in oil before searing meats or vegetables. Sometimes the roots will produce green sprouts that can be added to a salad. In western cuisine, powdered ginger is mainly used in cakes, cookies and quick breads. It is also used in puddings, jams, preserves and in drinks like ginger ale, ginger beer, ginger wine and tea. Pickled ginger is an accompaniment to many Chinese and Japanese dishes. Preserved ginger is used as a flavoring in candies, eaten as a confection, chopped up for cakes and puddings, and is sometimes used in ice cream.

Economic Uses: Ginger oil is used in perfumery. Dried ground ginger and essential oil are used in food flavoring, especially in candy, soft drinks, and condiments. Extracts are added to herb teas, cordials and soft drinks (notably ginger beer and ginger ale).

Attributed Medicinal Properties: As with most herbs, medicinal use of ginger should be approached with great caution and with consideration to your physiological condition (pregnancy, heart disease, etc.) Many legends surround the usefulness of ginger; these include its use as a digestive aid or relief of indigestion/nausea, as an aphrodisiac, and for relief of motion sickness.

***What is a rhizome? Although often called “ginger root” it is actually a rhizome. A rhizome is a stem of a plant that is usually found underground. The rhizome often sends out roots. Iris are good examples of plants that have rhizomes (the bulbular structures that we normally see) and the fine roots of the plant extend off these “bulbs/rhizomes.”

Information: Gathered from “Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses” by Deni Bown, Wikipedia, website for Medline Plus at National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus).

ROSES - Rosa--Rosaceae Family

In The Noble Kinsmen Shakespeare confesses: Of all flowers Methinks a rose is best.

The genus Rosa includes about 100 species from temperate regions to tropical mountains and thousands of different named cultivars. The genus Rosa derives its name from Latin, rosa, in turn from Greek rhodon, which in turn, was derived from the original Indo-European root-word, ward, still retained in the Arabic.

Fossil records show that roses were around prior to the existence of man. One of the oldest fossils, discovered in the United States, dates back approximately 30-35 million years. Rose fossils have also been found in Asia and Europe. Cultivation dates back to the fifth-century in China, Asia, and the Mediterranean regions. Most species are native to Asia, with smaller numbers native to Europe, North America, and northwest Africa. Roses, from different regions hybridize readily. Of the more than 100 species of roses, fewer than 10 species (most native to Asia) were involved in the crossbreeding that produced today’s many types of garden roses.

A rose is a woody perennial in the family Rosaceae. They form a group of erect shrubs, and climbing or trailing plants, with stems that are often armed with sharp prickles. Many are cultivated for their large, showy, and fragrant flowers in colors that are commonly white, yellow, orange, pink, or red. Hybrids are grown for their beauty and fragrance which varies according to variety and to climatic conditions. Rose plants range in size from compact, miniature roses, to climbers that can reach 20 feet high. Roses have enthralled humans for their beauty, form, and scent down through the ages and today we use rose petals for perfumes, cosmetics, and even salads. The fruits, known as hips, are high in Vitamin C with a tomato-like taste are made into jam or jelly, brewed for tea, and produce Rose hip seed oil which is used in skin products.

Roses have long symbolized romance, and we find special pleasure and meaning in being able to grow, touch, and inhale the fragrance of roses.

Garden Roses

The best-known and most popular class of rose are the hybrid tea roses which come in a complete range of rose colors and have large, symmetrical blossoms. Hybrid teas resulted from the crossbreeding of fragile tea roses with vigorous hybrid perpetual roses. These roses were the supreme class during the Victorian era but were supplanted by twentieth century hybrid teas which are the quintessential modern rose today, Polyantha roses are a class of very hardy modern shrub roses with flowers in clusters and a strong repeat blooming habit. These roses are very disease-resistant and are useful as a container plant or in perennial beds. Floribunda roses are hardy hybrids resulted from crossing hyprid teas with polyanthas but are bigger in stature and flower. They are wonderful for large containers and as shrubs for small gardens. Grandiflora roses are relatively new hybrids resulting from the crossbreeding of hybrid teas and floribunda roses. These roses produce full-blossomed flowers growing on tall, hardy buses. Grandifloras are not as popular in Tennessee gardens because it takes more work to maintain and the large size which is sometimes 6 feet. Shrub roses are large bushes and are perfect for the beginning rosarian since these roses require less care and provide constant color and fragrance spring through fall. Miniature roses are pygmy-sized plants bearing tiny blossoms. Because they are grown on their own root stock (will explain in later paragraph) they will handle unpredictable Tennessee winters and can be planted in hanging baskets, patio containers and as a mass border for flower beds.

How to Choose a Rose

A rose is usually chosen for its beauty and fragrance or how the flower will be positioned in the garden but how the rose is produced is an important consideration. Roses sold today in North America and Europe are budded on three different rootstocks but some companies sell plants grown on their own roots (“own root roses”). Most heritage roses perform better with their own roots while modern hybrids such as teas and floribundas, whose own roots tend to be weak, do better grafted to a more vigorous rootstock. The choice of the rootstock is important so be sure to check if the commercial company does not give that information in their catalogue.

Cultivating and Growing Roses

Roses require good organic-enriched well-drained soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Roses must be in at least five hours of intense sunshine to thrive and prefer full sun all day. All roses do best when planted in their dormant stage, bet once the rose breaks dormancy, you can plant throughout the growing season. Some gardeners prefer fall-planting to give the roots extra time to establish themselves, but the Herb Society of America has found that in Zone 7 and north, some winters will be so cold that the fall-planted roses will not survive.

How to Fertilize Roses

Don’t fertilize newly planted roses; wait 4-6 weeks for the plants to become established. The one thing all Rosarians agree on is that roses love to be fed but do not agree on the type of fertilizer or the rate of application. HSA recommends yearly feedings of about a cupful of 5-10-5 fertilizer per established rose bush, sprinkled around the base, supplemented with monthly feedings of fish emulsion, manure tea, or other organic products. Personally, I use a commercially-packaged rose food that contains systemic insecticides. Experiment to see what works best for you in your garden.

Diseases and Pests (from HSA)

The worst rose pests are thrips, leaf hoppers, rose slugs, and Japanese beetles. The first three can be controlled by spraying a dormant oil in early spring when you have twenty-four hours of above-freezing temperatures but before the buds have begun to burst. Japanese beetles can be controlled by strains of Bacillus thuringiensis applied to adjacent lawns or use Japanese beetle traps. Black spot and mildew are the most common diseases, and various claims of success have been made for sprays of baking soda (3 tablespoons per gallon of water) applied with an insecticidal soap (5 tablespoons per gallon of water) or summer horticultural oil. Baking soda sprays must be reapplied after each heavy rain, and avoid overhead watering.

“Katy Road” or “Carefree Beauty” - Hardy in Zone 4-9

Upright ever-blooming shrub that can grow 3-5 feet high and 3-4 feet wide. Dark Green leaves are shiny and have a leather appearance. Thorns are present on the canes. Large pink blossoms grow in clusters from late spring to first frost. Flowers have a slight fragrance. Orange hips appear in the fall after bloom period is complete. Overall, this rose shows good disease and pest resistance and is heat tolerant.

“Peggy Martin Rose” - Hardy in Zone 4-9

This rose is a climber that reaches 12 to 15 feet with medium green leaves and is semi-thornless. Blossoms are in clusters and it is a repeat bloomer. This is an extremely hardy vigorous climber. It is called the Hurricane Katrina Rose because it survived the salt water flooded yard of Peggy Martin in New Orleans.

Rose Potpourri - Old Recipe Book, 1820. Source: Lotions and Potions - National Federation of Women’s Institutes

Pick your roses at midday, when dew has gone from them and remove the stalks. Spread to dry on sheets of paper (but not in the sun). When they are dry, mix them with any other dry flowers you like, clove pinks, violets, orange flowers, also lemon verbena, sweet geranium and bay leaves, with balm of gilded and dried lavender. Then add your spices; 1 oz. Each of cloves, mace, and cinnamon; ½ oz. of storax, allspice, and gum benzoin, and put in some thin slices of orange and lemon peel and a handful of rosemary. Mix it very well.

In the Pink Rose Petal Salad - from the American Rose Society

2 Belgian endives

1 head Bibb lettuce, torn

1/4 cup pine nuts

Petals of 4 mature pink roses

1/4 cup light olive oil

6 tablespoons raspberry vinegar

Arrange endive leaves on 4 chilled salad plates. Sprinkle with Bibb lettuce, pine nuts and rose petals. Whisk olive oil gradually into vinegar in small bowl. Drizzle over salad. Serve immediately. Yields 4 servings

Information from: Herb Society of America, Herb of the Year 2012 - Wikipedia.org, Rose - 2012 Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. - Rose The Tennessee Gardener’s Guide, 1996, Walter Glenn and Lark Foster Chamblee’s Rose Nursery, Peggy Martin Rose


SORREL (Rumex acetosa) - Common name: garden sorrel

Sorrel is the best kept secret in town! Once you have tried growing sorrel you will never stop. It is truly one of the easiest, most forgiving herbs to grow. It is a perennial herb that is hardy from zones 3-9. It likes partial shade but can be grown in a sheltered sunny spot. It can get up to 2-3 feet tall. You can grow it in the garden or in a pot on your patio. Sorrel was once a common ingredient in soups, stews, salads, and sauces and then it vanished for hundreds of years. It’s back! It hasn’t become the trendy restaurant herb as yet, but look out, you might be seeing it on menus soon. Garden sorrel has long, arrow-shaped leaves and a tart, lemony flavor. Europeans grew and used garden sorrel for years until the milder, round-leaved variety known as French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) was developed in Italy and France during the Middle Ages. By the 17th century, French sorrel was the preferred variety. Sorrel frequently appears in Medieval cookbooks because it was a common ingredient in “fasting day soup” which could be eaten on “fasting days” when no meat was allowed by the church. Don’t confuse the garden and French varieties of sorrel with Jamaican sorrel (a species of hibiscus), which is dried and used in flavoring drinks. They are not similar at all. Sorrel is rich in vitamin C but it also contains oxalic acid, so if you have arthritis or are prone to kidney stones, be careful because it can aggravate these conditions.

How do you grow sorrel? You can sow the seeds directly in the ground either in the spring after the danger of frost has passed or in the fall two weeks before the first frost date. It likes moist, rich soil with iron. The seeds take about 7-10 days to germinate. When the seedlings are about 2 inches tall, thin them. Instead of planting the seeds, however, you can purchase the plants from us at our plant sale here in Nashville. You will want to get several plants because most sorrel recipes call for quite a lot. When planting in the garden, place them about 12-18 inches apart. Divide and replant every 5 years in the fall. Garden sorrel is frost hardy, but the French sorrel is not. French sorrel is hardy only from zones 6-10. We will be selling the garden sorrel variety at the plant sale.

Harvest the young leaves often in the spring and fall, and use them in salads and on sandwiches as a substitute for lettuce or spinach. Nothing dresses up a BLT or chicken salad sandwich like a few sorrel leaves. Use the larger, tougher leaves in soups, sauces, and pestos. Don’t let your sorrel flower or set seeds. In the really hot summer time your sorrel will fade, but once it cools down it will be back. Watch out for snails; they really like sorrel.

You will love cooking with sorrel, but you might want to try using the juice from the leaves to bleach rust, mold, and ink stains from linen, wicker, and silver.

To preserve sorrel either chop it up, add a little water, and freeze it in ice cube trays or make a pesto out of it. Don’t try to dry it because it loses its flavor when it is dried.

On to the recipes! You will want to use the leaves of sorrel. The average amount of chopped leaves for six servings is ½ cup. It goes well with fish (especially salmon), shellfish, salads, eggs, spinach, and other greens. Sorrel’s best herbal partners are dill, chives, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lovage, mint, parsley, and tarragon.

Smoked Salmon Benedict with Sorrel Sauce - from The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld

serves 4

4 English muffins split (toasted)

8 large eggs (poached)

8 wide slices of cold-smoked salmon, at room temperature

Snipped fresh chives

Sauce:

2T unsalted butter

3T finely chopped shallot

8 oz. sorrel leaves (stems removed and coarsely chopped)

¼ Cup heavy cream

¼ tsp. salt

Freshly ground pepper

Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until soft. Add half the sorrel and stir until wilted. Add remaining sorrel and cook until it is melted into a puree, 2-3 min. Stir in cream and salt. Season with ground pepper.

Assembly:

Arrange 2 of the toasted English muffins halves on each of the 4 warmed plates. Place a poached egg on each muffin. Arrange smoked salmon slices on each egg. Reheat the sorrel sauce and pour over the salmon and egg muffins. Sprinkle with chives. Serve immediately.

Sorrel Vichyssoise - The Best of Gourmet 1993 Edition from The Editors of Gourmet

serves 6-8

1 Cup finely chopped leeks (white and pale green parts)

½ Cup finely chopped onion

2T unsalted butter

Salt and ground pepper

1 lb. boiling potatoes (peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces)

4 Cups chicken broth

2 Cups water

½ lb. fresh sorrel, stems removed and coarsely shredded

½ Cup heavy cream

¼ Cup snipped fresh chives (additional for garnish)

In large saucepan cook leeks and onion in butter with salt and pepper over low heat until soft. Add potatoes, broth, and water. Cover and simmer for 10-15 min., or until potatoes are very tender. Stir in sorrel and simmer for 1 minute. Puree mixture in blender and let cool. Stir in cream and chives. Salt and pepper to taste. Chill soup (covered) for at least four hours or overnight. Serve sprinkled with additional chives.

Information from: www.herbcompanion.com The Herbfarm Cookbook, 2000, by Jerry Traunfeld

The Complete Book of Herbs, A practical guide to growing & using herbs, 1988, by Lesley Bremness

SWEET MARJORAM

The genus origanum includes oregano and marjoram and is a member of the Lamicceae or mint family. There are over 44 species of Origanum but I will discuss the two species of marjoram sold at the Herb Sale. I should mention that origanums are often mislabeled by commercial nurseries so use your nose when purchasing anywhere besides the HSN Sale.

Sweet Marjoram--Origanum majorana

Sweet Marjoram is named for the city of Marjori in Sicily, which has a sprig of Marjoram in its coat of arms. It is a low-growing bushy plant that can reach 1 foot tall. It produces small, oval, gray-green, velvety leaves and knot-like buds (thus called knot marjoram) that blossom into white to lilac flowers in August and September. The plant is an annual in zones 3-7 and 10, perennial in zones 8 and 9. In my garden it grew for a few years and did not return last spring so I will plant again this year. Thus this variety of sweet marjoram is a tender perennial in Tennessee and should be grown as an annual. This herb is suited for edging in the garden and also makes an attractive potted plant that combines well with basil and parsley. Like its cousin oregano, marjoram likes average well-drained alkaline soil and grows best in full sun but it can take some shade. Add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil before or during planting. Trim plants before they flower and fertilize again with a balanced liquid fertilizer. Be careful not to overwater since this plant is a native of the Mediterranean and prefers a slightly dry climate.

Uses:

The Greeks knew marjoram as “joy of the mountains” and used it as a remedy for sadness. European singers preserved their voices with marjoram tea sweetened with honey. The herb also has antioxidant and antifungal properties. Marjoram gargles and steam treatment relieves sinus congestion and hay fever.

Preservation:

Pick leaves as needed being careful not to harvest more than 1/3 of the leaves at one harvest. You may want to dry the leaves since dried marjoram retains its full flavor. Harvest leaves just before flowering and hang them to dry.

Cooking:

Sweet Marjoram tastes like a mild oregano with a hint of balsam. It is often preferred over oregano as a seasoning whose leaves enhances all types of meats, egg dishes, soups, and vegetables. Its aroma is damaged by heat, so use the leaves in uncooked or lightly cooked dishes, or add it at the end. I always use sweet marjoram in Herb Butter which is a blend of 1 tablespoon fresh herbs to 1/2 cup (1 stick) of salted butter. Usually I use parsley, sage, and chives but have used whatever is growing in the garden.

Recipes:

Brussel Sprouts with Marjoram and Pine nuts

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup pine nuts

1 1/2 pounds fresh brussel sprouts, halved, or 1 1/2 pounds frozen brussel sprouts, thawed, halved

1 cup canned low-salt chicken broth

2 shallots, minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram

1/3 cup whipping cream

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add nuts and stir until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer nuts to small bowl.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in same skillet over medium heat. Add sprouts; stir 1 minute.

Add broth; cover and simmer until sprouts are almost tender, about 7 minutes.

Uncover and simmer until broth evaporates, about 5 minutes. Using wooden spoon, push sprouts to sides of skillet.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in center of same skillet. Add shallots; sauté until tender, about 2 minutes.

Stir in marjoram, then cream. Simmer until sprouts are coated with cream, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill. Stir over medium heat to rewarm.)

Transfer brussel sprouts to serving platter. Mix in half of pine nuts. Sprinkle with remaining pine nuts.

Courtesy of Epicurious.com

Zaatar Marjoram--Origanum syriaca

This marjoram is a mound-shaped sub shrub that grows to 3 feet and has soft, gray-green leaves. It blooms in late spring to early summer and likes moderately fertile soil preferably alkaline. Like sweet marjoram it grows best in full sun and likes a dry climate. This plant is perennial in Zones 8-10 and can be grown in containers. Be sure to fertilize very lightly. Another good thing, zaatar marjoram is deer resistant and makes a nice perimeter planting and is quite oranmental.

Cooking:

Zaatar Marjoram is closer in flavor to a mild thyme than sweet marjoram. Actually, it is a combination of the flavores of oregano, marjoram, and thyme. It is commonly used to season grilled mutton, and is also added to breads. It is the key ingredient of a popular spice blend of the same name in Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel. This herb is so treasured for its wonderfully heady, richly scented and spicy seasoning that it is called “king of herbs.” The plant is topped with flower spikes that are used for seasoning as well as the leaves.

Za’atar Spice Blend:

Since the zaatar herb is rarely exported it is safe to assume that recipes calling for za’atar refer to the spice blend. The spice blend is a combination of dried zaatar, sesame seeds, ground sumac, and other herbs and spices. The blends vary from region to region, but, generally, the flavor is herbal and nutty. I suggest that you try using the Zaatar Marjoram that you purchase at the sale and the spice blends and see which seasoning you prefer.

Recipe:

Sautéed Zucchini with Za’atar and Crispy Chickpeas

Couscous makes a nice bed for this simple side dish flavored with Za’atar, a zesty Middle Eastern blend of spices and sesame seeds.

Serves four

2/3 cup cooked chickpeas

2 Tbs. cornstarch

1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. olive oil

1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. Za’atar

Kosher salt

1 lb. small zucchini (3 to 4), cut into 1/2-inch-thick half moons

1/2 small red onion, finely diced (3 to 4 Tbs.)

In a colander, rinse the chickpeas. Pat dry in a clean dishtowel.

Spread the cornstarch in a pie pan or on a dinner plate with raised edges. Add the chickpeas and roll them around to coat.

Transfer to a mesh strainer and shake to remove excess starch.

In a small (8-inch) skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering hot. Add the chickpeas, cover with a splatter screen, and cook, gently shaking the pan from time to time, until golden-brown, about 5 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chickpeas to a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle the chickpeas with 1 tsp. of the Za’atar and a generous pinch of salt. Roll the chickpeas around to evenly coat with the spice mixture. Set aside.

Heat the remaining 2 Tbs. oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until shimmering hot. Add the squash, arranging it to fit in a single, snug layer.

Season generously with salt and cook undisturbed until deep golden brown, about 2 minutes. Push a spatula through the pan to turn the squash over, following with tongs or a fork to flip any unturned pieces.

Sprinkle the diced onion and remaining 1 Tbs. Za’atar over the zucchini and stir with a spatula to blend.

Transfer the zucchini to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the fried chickpeas and serve.

From Fine Cooking 106 , pp. 66, July 8, 2010

References: Complete Book of Herbs, American Herb Association, 1997 White Flower Farm, Spring 2012 Southern Living Herb Guide, 1997, Editor, Nancy Fitzpatrick Herb Society of America Fact Sheet, 2008 Park Seed, Spring 2012 Fine Cooking, Discover Za’atar: A Middle Eastern Herb and Spice Blend, July 8, 2010

CITRUS

Citrus--Genus - Rutaceae-Rue Family

It is believed that citrus originated in the part of Southeast Asia bordered by Northeaster India, Myanmar (Burma) and the Yunnan Province of China. Citrus fruit has been cultivated in this area since ancient times. The genus name originatated in Latin and was derived from the ancient Greek word for cedar. Some feel that the similarities in the smell of citrus leaves and fruit of the cedar was the reason. Best known examples are oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and limes.

The number of natural species is unclear since many of the named species are hybrids. It is believed that cultivated citrus is derived from only four ancestral species. Naturally and cultivated origin hybrids include commercially important fruit such as oranges, lemons, some limes, and some tangerines. The genus Fortunella (Kumquats) is closely related so is considered to be a citrus.

These plants are large shrubs or small trees, reaching 5-15 meters tall that have shiny evergreen leaves, fragrant flowers, and attractive fruit. Citrus grows best in Zones 9-10 and the warmer parts of Zone 8. Some types of citrus are more cold-hardy than others but all citrus fruit is vulnerable when frost occurs. For this reason citus grown here in Zone 7 is usually grown in containers and over-wintered indoors. For this reason we are going to discuss citrus grown in containers.

Size and Type of Container

Select a large container that is about the size of a half whiskey barrel. Traditional European orangeries us a container 24 inches square and deep. Plastic and faux clay pots in the 30 to 36 inch diameter range work well, but plastic will transmit the sun’s heat more readily than wood or clay and may damage roots. Make sure that the pot has good drainage. Drill extra holes if necessary. Use small sections of window screen to cover holes not gravel or stones. Place pots on casters or wheeled stands so movement is easy and to faciltate drainage and allow good air circulation.

Soil, Watering, and Fertilizing

Use a premixed sterile potting soil designed for containers and add bonemeal. During the winter citrus needs warm days (70-75 degrees) and cool nights (45-55 degrees). Summer citrus likes it as warm as possible. Water whenever the top 2 to 3 inches of soil is dry. Water thoroughly allowing water to drain fom the bottom. If the water drains without soaking the rootball or the rootball dries and shrinks slightly, rewet the rootball by placing three or four drops of a mild dish soap on it and water with slightly warm water. The soap helps the water soak into the rootball. Mist leaves frequently and group plants to conserve humidity. Apply a contolled-release fertilizer at least once a month and more often a water soluble release fertilizer depending upon the directions on the label of the fertilizer you choose. More than most plants, citrus are prone to deficiencies of the micronutrients iron, manganese, and zinc. If a plant is low on any of these nutrients the leaves will yellow while veins remain green. In early spring (once a year) when new growth emerges apply them in “chelated” form.

Growing Citrus Indoors

If you hope to harvest fruit, choose a naturally acidic citrus, not a sweet orange or grapefruit. Examples of acidic varieties include Improved Meyer, Ponderosa lemons, calamondins, and kumquats. These are most likely to produce fruit indoors in winter. Other citrus will grow and flower but are less likely to produce fruit. Be careful to not put a pot from indoors directly into the sun since leaf burn can occur. Move plant to an intermediate location to allow the plant to adjust to new surroundings. Before moving pots back indoors, shower plant completely with warm and slightly soapy water to wash off any bugs. Container-grown citrus need a light yearly pruning. Thin branches rather then shortening them. When plants become rootbound, repot in fresh potting mix in a larger container. To keep the plant small prune off circling roots and cut back some of the remaining roots. Cut back top growth by about 1/4.

Which Types to Grow

Compared to many of the usual “green shrubs” citrus trees tolerate poor container care. Many citrus are naturally dwarf and adapt well to containers. Generally the best are the naturally small varieties such as Improved Meyer lemon, Bearss lime, Satsuma mandarin, and kumquat. These varieties are more likely to remain both healthy and productive in containers for several years. Or choose any citrus that is grafted to Flying Dragon (Hiryu) rootstock. Citrus growing on this rootstock will be significantly dwared, thereby extending its useful life in a container. These plants are suitable for Tennessee and for growing in containers.

Meyer Lemon--Citrus limon X Sinensis

Meyer Lemon is an acidic fruit thus more likely to produce fruit indoors. This tree produces lemons which are not as tart as regular lemons with a slightly orange flavor. This tree is very hardy and can tolerate temperatures in the low 20s. These lemons make great lemonade and can be used in a variety of dishes.

Persian Lime-Citrus latifolia, also known as Tahiti lime or Bearss lime

A huge, yellow-green, lumpy lemon. The Persian lime tree has no thorns and produces thicker-skinned fruit larger than the Key lime which keeps longer. The fruit is oval-shaped, about the same size as a lemon, with a vivid green peel which turns yellow when ripe. It is usually seedless, and has light-green to yellow pulp which is tender and acidic, yet lacking the distinctive bouquet of the Key lime. It can be used interchangably for the same purposes as Key limes and lemons. This is the lime most commonly found in grocery stores.

Ponderosa Lemon-Citrus limon X Citrus Medica

Ponderosa Lemon Citrus is thick skinned, very hardy and can handle a little frost. Very large fruit. Ponderosa is not a true lemon although its fruit are much like citrons and lemons. It originated as a chance seedling during the 1880s. Ponderosa trees are rather small and somewhat thorny; its fruit are very large and seedy, with yellow, thick, bumpy-textured peel. Ponderosa is more cold sensitive than true lemons. Ponderosa lemon trees can flower and bear fruit at the same time which is the reason it is commonly grown as an ornamental plant. While the fruit are larger than that of a normal lemon, they have the same flavor and acidity. As such, the fruit can be used in place of true lemons.

Eustis Limequat--Citrus japonica X Citrus aurantiifolia

A limequat is a cross between a lime and a kumquat. It's similar in size and shape to a kumquat, but with a green or yellow-green skin. It has a strong lime flavor. Fruit gets it's shape from Kumquat and it's flavor from Mexican Lime. Ever bearing and highly productive. Sweet to tart fruit. It was named after the city of Eustis, Florida.


Meyer Lemon Bread

1/2 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup nuts, chopped fine

Grated rind of 1 Meyer lemon

1/4 cup sugar

Juice of 1 Meyer Lemon

Cream the shortening and sugar; mix in eggs.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.

Alternately add the flour mixture and the milk to shortening mixture, stirring constantly.

Mix in the nuts and lemon rind.

Bake in a greased 5x9 inch loaf pan in a 350º oven for 1 hour.

Combine 1/4 cup sugar with the lemon juice and pour over the top of the loaf when it comes from the oven (poke a few holes in the bread top with a toothpick so the lemon-sugar mixture is better integrated in the bread--the glaze is great!)

Makes 1 loaf.

Information From: Wikipedia, Citrus; National Gardening Association, Growing Citrus in Containers; Petals from the Past, Citrus

FENNEL

Fennel is a biennial or perennial to Zone 7, often cultivated as an annual, for its leaves, seeds, and stems. With its feathery leaves, fennel looks much like a large version of its relative dill. Both Green/Sweet or Bronze fennel (both sold at the Herb Sale) can grow to 6 feet and spread to 3 feet; blooming in large, flat umbels of golden yellow flowers in late summer. Both types are used for culinary but the Bronze fennel is considered to be an ornamental in the garden because of the bronze color. Florence or Bulb fennel, the vegetable fennel has a bulbous stalk base and grows only to 2 feet and is grown as an annual. Stalks and bulbs are used for cultivation. All three varieties taste similar to anise or licorice. Fennel is native to the Mediterranean region but is now naturalized in northern Europe, Australia, and North America.

Cultivation

Fennel grows best in a humus-rich soil that drains well but prefers alkaline soil. Grows in full sun to partial shade. Shelter fennel from heavy winds because the plant’s fragile stems blow over easily. Do not plant fennel near dill or hybrid plants or an uncertain flavor will result. Although Sweet and Bronze Fennel are biennial perennial in middle Tennessee, Bronze fennel only came back once for me. If you allow the seeds to fall in the garden the fennel should reseed itself. If necessary to plant seed do so directly in the spring when the ground is warm.

History

Fennel is an herb with a history of medicinal, magical and culinary uses. Fennel was used by the ancient Egyptians as food and medicine, and was considered a snake bit remedy in ancient China. During the Middle Ages it was hung over doorways to drive away evil spirits.

Uses

Early physicians considered fennel a remedy for poor eyesight, weight loss, hiccups, nausea, gout, and many other illnesses. Today Fennel tea is used to soothe the stomach. All parts of the plant are considered safe for human consumption and work well as a spice or a vegetable. Fennel tastes like a softer and nuttier version of anise. Use leaves in salad and as garnishes. You can eat tender stems as you would celery, and add seeds to desserts, breads, cakes, cookies, and beverages. Mince bulbs of Florence fennel and eat raw or braise.


Below are recipes from HSN members. Try them.

EMERIL LAGASSE’S FENNEL TOMATO SOUP

Serves: 6

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 cups coarsely chopped fennel

1/2 tsp chopped onion

6 whole cloves garlic, peeled

1 Tbsp salt

1-1/2 tsp white pepper

1-1/2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped

Italian plum tomatoes

1/4 cup plus 2 tsp. Pernod

2 qts. chicken stock

1/2 cup cream

1 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

6 sprigs fresh fennel leaves

Heat oil in large soup pot over high heat. Add fennel and onion and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in garlic and sauté 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and pernod and cook 2 minutes. Stir in stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour. Whisk in cream, stirring it slowly, and cook 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and puree. Serve hot, garnished with Parmesan and fennel.


Fennel Baked in Cream

1 1/2 lbs. fennel - about 2 large bulbs, stalks removed, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch wedges

2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed


Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a bowl, toss together fennel, cream and 1 cup cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer to a 3 quart baking dish and dot with the butter.

Cover dish with foil and bake for 1 hour.

Uncover the baking dish and sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese.

Continue baking until fennel is tender and top is well browned, about 30 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Serves 6-8

Information From: Herb Society of America Fact Sheet, 2005

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Claire Kowalchik, William H. Hylton, 1998

Complete Book of Herbs, American Herb Association, 1997


SAVORY

Summer Savory (Satureja hortensis) Half-hardy annual. Height 12 inches and spread 8 inches. Small white flowers tinged with mauve appear in summer. The aromatic leaves are oval, pointed, and green. A favorite in Europe and America, it is known as the bean herb, because when it is used with bean dishes, it helps prevent flatulence.


Winter Savory (Satureja Montana) Hardy semi-evergreen perennial. Height 12 inches and spread 8 inches. Small white, with a hint of pink-mauve flowers. The leaves are dark green linear and very aromatic. This herb is more pungent than summer savory, with a peppery undertone. It is ideal for flavoring vegetable stews and bean or legume dishes.

There are some fourteen species of herbs or woody small shrubs of the genus Satureia, most of the Mediterrian origin. Winter and summer savory are the most-used. The savories are among the most documented of traditional herbs, both for medicinal value and use in the kitchen.


History of Savory

The old English word “saverey” was derived from the Latin “satureia.” Roughly translated, it means “satyr’s herb.” It has been associated with love potions for centuries. The famous French herbalist Maurice Messegue suggested savory instead of ginseng to help couples restore happiness in the bedroom. It has long been used to restore the sex drive. Romans used savory as a medicinal and culinary herb long before they discovered pepper. They used it as a medicinal herb for bee stings, and as an aphrodisiac. When the Romans brought savory to England, it was used there as an herb for poultry stuffing instead of a medicinal.

The early colonists brought savory to America as an aid for indigestion. A lot of the old cookbooks discuss savory and its uses.


How to Grow Savory

Savory is best grown from seed and cuttings. It grows well in average soil with a PH balance of 6.8. Savory like full sun, so plan your herb garden accordingly. Savory is a bush annual with finely haired stems. There are about 30 species of savory, but summer and winter are the best known. The savory plant is highly aromatic. It is woody at the base and forms a compact bush about 1 to ½ feet in height. Leaves are soft and linear, and about 1 inch long. They are grayish, turning purple in late summer. Savory flowers in mid-July with white or pale pink ½ inch blooms grouped in terminal spikes. Savory seed germinates quickly. Planting in flats at a depth of ¼” and then transplanting the seedlings after all danger of frost works best. Space about 10 inches apart, and keep the plants well watered for optimum growth.


Tips For The Chef

Mince fresh summer savory leaves and combine with garlic, bay and lemon for a good marinade for fish. Make baked mozzarella sticks by cutting the cheese into squares, dip in eggs and dredge in bread crumbs with minced savory leaves.  Bake in a 450 degree oven until the cheese just begins to melt.

A recipe I like to use a lot is making a pot of white beans, throwing in a whole head of garlic, no peeling necessary, toss in a few bays leaves, a tablespoon of summer savory leaves….season with salt and pepper to taste.

The savories have been used in cooking for over 2,000 years. Try growing both summer and winter savory in your herb garden this year. Purchase this year at our plant sale!

Information from: Spices – the cook's reference, 2002, Jill Norman

The Spice and Herb Bible, Second Edition, Published by Robert Rose Inc. in 2006


LAVENDER

If you want your lavender plant to produce the most fragrant foliage, it should be pruned at least once a year. Fall can be a good time to prune your established lavender (starting in the second year) as long as it is 4 to 6 weeks before the first frost. Lavender should be pruned up to 1/3. Lavender that is not pruned can become too woody. Pruning should be close to the woody area but without cutting into the wood. Never prune out old wood unless it is completely dead. Lavender that has never been pruned should be pruned gently the first year and then each year may be pruned a bit heavier. Always leave some foliage when pruning as removing all foliage will likely result in the death of the plant.

Once your lavender is pruned you may use your harvest in many ways to scent your home or to make gifts. One of the easiest uses of lavender flowers is to buy a small muslin or organza draw string bag (found in craft stores) and fill with the dried flowers. Lavender is easily dried by fastening the stalks together with string, a twist tie or rubber band and hanging in a dark, dry place until dry (approximately one month). For gift giving you might embroider the bag with a monogram for a personal touch. Lavender sachets add a delightful fragrance to your linen closet or clothing drawer or they may be placed under your pillow.

Another easy use of your harvest is to make a lavender eye pillow. Eye pillows block out the light and the scent adds a relaxing touch. Many use eye pillows for resting their eyes and others claim that they may ease a mild headache.

Instructions for Lavender Eye Pillow

Materials

Fabric cut to approximately 5 inches by 20 inches (silk or silk like fabric works well)

1 cup of uncooked rice (rice should be placed in the freezer overnight to destroy any bugs)

½ cup of lavender buds

Take the fabric and fold with right sides together so it is about 5 inches by 10 inches. Stitch the fabric together leaving a small opening at one end. Turn the fabric right side out. Mix the rice with the lavender buds, fill the bag with the lavender mixture and sew closed. Enjoy your eye pillow or give as a gift.


LEMON VERBENA

Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) or Scarlet O’Hara’s mother’s favorite fragrance

If you have never grown lemon verbena you must try it, but beware! You will fall in love with it! What a fabulous lemon flavor and fragrance! Lemon verbena is a tender perennial and is only hardy in zones 9-10 so here in Nashville you will need to treat it like an annual or grow it in a container and bring it in before it frosts. Keep in mind that it is also deciduous and if you do try to winter it over it will drop its leaves and play dead. Be patient and water it once a week, keeping it on the dry side, and you should have a nice surprise come spring.

Lemon verbena is a shrub that was brought to the new world by Spanish explorers who discovered it in Argentina and Chile. Down there it can grow up to 15 feet tall! However, here in Nashville don’t expect it to grow taller than 3-5 feet. Lemon verbena will be happiest in rich moist soil (pH 6.5) and in full sun. It is a hungry plant and really likes regular applications of fish emulsion. You can expect it to flower in late summer or early fall but keep the blooms pinched off. Watch out! Spider mites and whiteflies like it too. You will want to cut it back about half way midsummer and just before the first frost. This will be a good time to try making Lemon Verbena Pesto (recipe below) since it calls for quite a lot of lemon verbena. However, all summer long you can snip the leaves and use them in all sorts of recipes that use smaller amounts like Lemonade Slushies with Mint and Lemon Verbena (recipe below). Once you have tasted lemon verbena you will be hooked. One plant should be enough for the average kitchen. When cooking with lemon verbena you would use only about ¼ cup chopped leaves for 6 servings because it has such an intense lemon flavor. You can also use the stems for smoking fish and meats. Lemon verbena goes well with fish, carrots, beets, chiles, ginger, citrus, fruits, and berries.  Its best herbal partners are basil, cilantro, lavender, mint, and rose geranium.

Should you want to make an herbal infusion for a dessert you would use 6 (4 inch) sprigs for 2 cups of milk/cream or with 1 cup of sugar for a simple syrup. Try these infusions with apricots, berries, melons, nectarines, and rhubarb.

Now that you have learned a little about lemon verbena here are a couple of recipes to try.


Lemon Verbena Pesto

1/3 Cup walnuts

6 large garlic cloves

2 Cups fresh lemon verbena leaves

1 Cup fresh basil leaves

½ Cup olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar


Finely chop walnuts and garlic in a food processor. Add lemon verbena and basil leaves and finely chop. Pour in olive oil and vinegar and process until smooth. This is especially good with roasted lamb or pasta. It can be frozen in ice cube trays and used all year.


Lemonade Slushies with Mint and Lemon Verbena from www.foodandwine.com

1 ¼ Cups water

½ Cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar

¼ Cup dried lemon verbena leaves

Zest of two lemons cut into 3 inch long strips

¾ Cup fresh lemon juice

½ fresh mint leaves

2 Cups ice


In a small saucepan combine water and sugar. Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Add lemon verbena leaves and lemon zest and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and mint leaves. Let stand at room temperature until cool. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes. Strain the mixture into blender with ice and blend on high speed until smooth and frothy. Pour into tall glasses and serve immediately.

Information from: Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, 1987, edited by Claire Kowalchik and William H. Hylton

The Herb Farm Cookbook, 2000, by Jerry Traunfeld


AN IDIOSYNCRATIC PRIMER TO CULINARY HERBS

The following is not a comprehensive listing of herbs but rather a highly personal selection of herbs that have found their way into our hearts, our bellies, and our garden. There is a unique pleasure in going out to our garden and cutting some herbs to enhance the evening meal.


SORREL—a hardy perennial that loves spring and fall. Vigorous in growth, it is wonderful as a pesto on grilled salmon. It also makes a delicious and easy to make soup that is perfect served cold during the summer(in a bowl or a glass)(P)

BLOODY SORREL—a spectacular landscaping plant with vigorous growth and beautiful foliage. We haven’t found good culinary use but it is so pretty that it should be included in your gardening plans. (P)

LOVAGE—the leaves taste like celery with some pepper on it and make a delightful addition to any salad. Also good in soups. Since the stalks are hollow they make the best straw one can imagine to sip a bloody Mary. The leaves function as a garnish as well. (P)

SAVORY— has an oregano like taste and is useful in similar applications but has its own unique flavor profile. Winter savory is a hardy perennial that is low growing and spreads nicely. It becomes a pleasant ground cover. Summer savory has a more intense flavor but won’t last through the winter. (P)

PURPLE PEPPER—produces small (2-3 centimeters) peppers that pack a wallop. Why buy red pepper flakes when you can make your own that are far tastier? Easily the prettiest plant in the garden during August to September with dark purple foliage and peppers changing from purple, to orange to shades of red. It becomes a spectacular gum drop tree. If you harvest the peppers in October, string up the peppers on nylon fishing line and hang them in your kitchen as a garland. After drying a few months you can either leave the peppers hanging as décor or better yet place the dried peppers in a mill and you have your red pepper flakes. Somehow they taste better coming from your own garden and they are hotter than the commercial variety. These plants love the sun. (A)

BASIL—think pesto when buying. Lettuce leaf variety is the easiest to harvest and has a great flavor profile. Genovese and sweet basil also have good flavor profiles. Columnar basil adds a spicy profile and is easy to harvest. Consider mixing basils for a complex and satisfying pesto. Remember pesto can be frozen under a cover of olive oil and used throughout the winter. Lemon basil helps make a blueberry sorbet that is truly remarkable. Purple basil not only looks terrific in the garden but steeping purple ruffles basil in ordinary vinegar not only adds to the flavor but the pink/purple color is gorgeous and makes a delightful gift throughout the year. In the fall let your basil go to seed and then strip the seeds where you want the plant to come back next year. Scratch the ground and you have already planted next year’s crop. Remember that all basils love the sun. (A)

BAY—have you noticed the price of bay leaves at the supermarket recently? Why buy them when you can easily grow them? These plants are tender perennials so plant them in a pot. They will grow vigorously, are lovely to look at, and can be used for many soups and sauces for their wonderful flavor. (TP)

LEMON VERBENA—a tender perennial that shows vigorous growth during the summer. Has a lovely lemony profile that enhances a variety of applications. Our most useful culinary application is as a wonderful sorbet. It is like eating perfume! Also useful in fruit desserts. Best grown in a pot. (TP)

ROSEMARY—there are multiple varieties that have different applications. Rosemary is great with chicken or lamb. The woody stems of mature plants make great stalks to grill shrimp and scallops. Nashville weather can make growing rosemary outdoors challenging but either Arp or Hill Hardy, or Salem varieties are best suited to survive middle Tennessee cold. Since plants don’t like wind chill any more than we do locate these plants close to the house to minimize windchill. Other cultivars make great plants for shaping but must come in during the winter. Protrate rosemary makes for an interesting ground cover but is unlikely to last the winter. (P) (TP)

THYME—there are a myriad of choices in this family. For culinary use the best are either English or French thyme. They are easy to harvest and have an upright growth pattern. Consider mixing upright with lower growing thymes such as mother of thyme, golden thyme, creeping thyme, caraway thyme, and Doone valley. Vigorous pruning of plants in the fall will help the health of your plants for the following year and prevent the plants from getting too leggy. These plants prefer good drainage and do well with less water. Steeping thyme in vinegar with basil and other herbs gives truly distinctive flavoring. (P)

SAGE—there are many varieties to choose from. Some varieties survive the winter better than others. Sage Berggarten is easy to harvest, has a very good flavor profile, looks very good in the garden, has a vigorous growth habit, and does well over the winter. The large leaves can be flash fried, crumbled on asparagus, or used in numerous pasta dishes, breads, or ravioli. Purple sage, variegated sage, and other varieties make for very attractive landscaping additions and have culinary application. (P)

MEXICAN SAGE—tall, pretty landscaping plant that flowers in the fall with purple or purple and white flowers that make for lovely cut flower arrangements. No culinary application that we’ve found but it sure is pretty and is just about the tallest plant(over 5 feet) in the herb garden other than large bay trees. (A)

OREGANO—there are many types of oregano. From a culinary standpoint Greek and Italian are the most flavorful. Other types such as vulgare or golden make great landscaping contributions to the garden. Marjoram is a close cousin and can function in the same way. Variegated marjoram or golden oregano make very interesting visual additions to the herb garden and can be used in food but have less intense flavor. (P)

TARRAGON—while officially listed as a hardy perennial we have had difficulty growing this as a perennial and treat it as an annual. The leaves have multiple applications and are very useful with fish. Make a tarragon butter and put it on grilled fish for a real taste treat. (P?) (A)

MEXICAN TARRAGON—lovely upright growth and can substitute for the French variety but not as sweet a taste profile. Has lovely yellow flowers and is the last plant in the herb garden to flower, usually in mid to late October. (P)

ARUGULA—buy the very sharp tasting variety. It functions as a perennial in our garden and comes back year after year but also propagates vigorously via seeds. It is good in salads, as a pesto, as a garnish, and as a bed for fish and chicken. (P) (A)

PARSLEY—it seems we never have enough parsley to go around. Useful in salads, as a garnish, in pesto, and chimichurri sauce. Although it is listed as a bi-annual plant we often lose plants over the winter and therefore we treat it as an annual. Since it goes to seed the second year it is usually less productive the second time around. (A)

LEMONGRASS—not only does this look good during the summer but also as a sculptural element during the winter. It has application in Thai food, particularly soups. This functions as an annual although it can survive a mild winter in middle Tennessee. (A)

DILL—can be used in salads, as a garnish, and in a variety of recipes. Combined with softened butter it makes a great way to finish off grilled fish. Once it goes to seed then you get going with the second use of dill as dill seed in salads, breads, and many other applications. Strip the seeds in late summer and make sure that some fall to the ground. Scratch the ground and you will have ensured next year’s crop. (A)

ANNUAL(A)—must be planted every year (purple peppers).

PERENNIAL (P)—will come back each year although the above ground part of the plant may die back (lovage or sorrel).

TENDER PERENNIAL (TP)—will continue to grow throughout the year but must be brought inside in middle Tennessee to survive the winter (bay, lemon verbena). These plants are best grown in a pot to facilitate transfer/transport indoors during the winter.

Just like the tip for basil, let several of your purple peppers fall to the ground in the fall and then scratch the surface to permit the peppers to sit in the soil. You will have helped mother nature to provide a bountiful crop for the upcoming year. This technique works reliably only for plants that go to seed in the fall, not necessarily in late spring. This also works for grape tomatoes.

The triumvirate for flowering herbs in late summer and early fall (September and October) includes pineapple sage (red), Mexican sage (purple and white) and Mexican tarragon (yellow).

Enjoy!! CAROL AND ROB STEIN


CHART OF HERBS

Click here to see Chart of Herbs with Descriptions, Culture, Harvest & Use