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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Herb Of The Week - Dill

The herb of the week is Dill. (peucedanum graveolens) also known as (anethum graveolus) This is another one that my mom grew a lot when I was a kid. Her Homemade Dill Pickles are some of the best I have ever had. I use her recipe, and they are almost as good as hers. I’ll include the recipe later.

The word Dill is believed to have come from the Norse “Dilla” meaning to calm or to lull.This has a dual meaning in that not only is Dill tea used to treat insomnia, but Dill seed is said to help relieve gas and acts as an antiflatulent.

Dill, like Cilantro and a few other herbs, is a plant that produces leaves, that are used as an herb, and seeds that are used as a spice

When speaking of the leaves, either in fresh or dried form, it is customary to call it “Dill Weed“, while the seeds (technically these are fruits of the plant, that contain a smaller seed, but let’s not get technical) are generally simply referred to as “Dill” although some cooks use the term “Dill Seed”

For my purposes, I will differentiate where necessary by using the terms Dill Weed, to refer to the feathery plants, and Dill Seed to refer specifically to the seeds.
When making pickles, my mother used the whole plant, the fronds, stems and seeds included, and simply called it “Dill”.

Dill is technically a perennial, and in the right climate will last several years, but it is sensitive to cold, will lose its hardiness at temperatures below about 40° F and will winter kill at temperatures below freezing so, for most people it is easier to just reseed every year.

I just let a few heads seed completely off at the end of the season, and I have enough Dill plants growing everywhere the next year that I never have to plant it. I simply move them around to where I want them and let them go.

When planting from seed plant directly in the ground, in mid spring. It should grow well in most soils, and do well in full sun or partial shade. It doesn’t do quite as well in full shade, however, it will grow in full shade, so if that is the only place you have room to plant it, don’t let that stop you. Keep in mind that the plants can get up to 30” tall, so you want to make sure you plant them where they have room to grow. They will be spindly, so if you live in an area where there is a lot of wind, plant them closer togther so they can support each other, or you may end up staking them to keep them from falling over.

You should see plants in about two weeks and be able to harvest in about 8 weeks. Some gardeners recommend reseeding in early summer, so that you have an ongoing crop. But we always have more Dill than we need anyway, so have never done this.

Dill should not be planted to close to Fennel, as the plants can cross pollinate and you will get a hybrid mix between the two. This may be good or bad, but hybrids generally do not reproduce effectively, so you likely won't have any new plants next year.

Small amounts of Dill can be harvested throughout the season, and if taken from the end of the stalk, will encourage some new leaf growth, and prolong the growing season. The plant will stop producing leaves or fronds as soon as it starts to produce flowers. So if you are not looking for flowers or seeds, as soon as flowers appear, you can cut the entire plant down to about 2”. Although not all of the plants will regenerate, you should have some new growth from the existing roots before the end of the season.

If you are harvesting seeds, wait until the heads have fully developed and just started to turn from yellow to brown, but before they have completely turned brown. Then the heads can be cut and allowed to dry in a paper bag. The seeds should loosen and fall free as they dry.

Ancient Romans believed Dill had fortifying qualities. Gladiators were given food covered with Dill, to give them strength. It is one of the earliest medicinal herbs known in Europe, widely regarded as one of the best for stomach aches in small children. Dill is mostly a culinary herb today, but it does have some value in medicine, mostly as a stomach soother and anti-gas remedy. Dill is known for acting as an antibacterial and antispasmodic agent and as a diuretic. It is also said to increase mother's milk and help treat breast congestion from nursing. It is mild, and makes a good remedy for colic in babies.

Dill water is used often for relief of the above symptoms, and can be made by adding 8 drops of Dill oil to 1 pint of water. Take up to 8 teaspoons per day of this concoction. Dill can also be made into a Tea, and sweetened with honey, or prepared as an infusion by steeping 2 teaspoons of Dill Seed in 1 cup of boling water for 10-15 minutes, then straining. Take 1-2 cups per day.

An alternate method to administer Dill is to place 5 drops of Oil on a sugar cube.

Instructions for how to make your own essential oils from herbs can be found by clicking here.

Dill is widely used in pickling, where most of the plant is used. “Dill Pickles” have become a North American classic and in Europe Sauerkraut and Dill vinegars have been popular for centuries.
It is especially popular in Russia and Scandinavia, where it is used in sauces, casseroles and soups.
It is also used on cakes and breads, particularly in rye breads, the way caraway is used. Dill should be used sparingly as the flavor grows. Its' flavor works well in sour cream and yogurt sauces. The chopped fresh leaves are frequently used with trout and salmon, shrimp, deviled eggs, green beans, cauliflower, beets, soups, cottage and cream cheese. Fresh, frozen or dried, the ferny foliage and seeds are a tasty flavoring for fish, lamb, new potatoes and peas.
Remember to add Dill at the end of cooking process, because cooking will destroy much of its flavor. It has a strong flavor so be sparing when adding it to food or it can overwhelm other flavors.

Moms Dill Pickles

Pickling Brine.
4 C Hot Water
1 C White Vinegar
¼ C Salt.

Mix well, until salt is completely dissolved. It may help to cook this on the stovetop in order to dissolve the salt, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.

Fill prepared wide mouth quart jars as full as possible with whole pickling cukes. (Any cuts in the skin of the cucumbers will result in a soggy pickle.)
3 cloves fresh garlic
1 small handful of dried Dill (stems, heads, seeds are all ok) I tried to get a measurement for this, and failed, but she uses about 5-7 pieces of Dill 4-6 inches long.
Fill to just below the top with Pickling Brine.

Place jars in cold water bath and heat to boiling. As soon as they boil, take them out, turn them upside down and let them seal. (You are not trying to cook the pickles, just seal the bottles.)

No matter what month the pickles are made, My mom always said they wouldn’t be good until Thanksgiving. So, she made pickles all summer, and by Thanksgiving they were ready. Now, it’s possible they may be ready sooner, I don’t know. I do know that if you eat them before they are done pickling they taste very nasty, so I always wait until Thanksgiving and open the first bottle of this years pickles to go with Thanksgiving dinner.

Baby Carrots with Dill Butter

1 (16 ounce) package baby carrots
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Dill Weed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place carrots in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook 10 minutes, until tender. Remove from heat, and drain. Gently toss with butter, Dill, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Dill is commonly used as a protection herb, and is often placed in a child's crib to keep him safe. It can also be carried on the person in a sachet or charm, and dried seed heads are hung in doorways for protection purposes. A sprig was hung over a doorway in bygone days in Europe, to protect against witches and sorcery.

Dill is said to inspire lust and passion, and to elevate existing feelings of love. To use in love and lust charms and sachets. Place the seeds in a muslin bag under your shower water, or bath water to make you irresistible to your lover.

I wonder... ...if I eat a Dill pickle, instead of taking a bath in Dill water, hanging a sachet of Dill seed around my neck, and putting Dill sprigs under my pillow and over my doorway, will I still be safe from witches and sorcerers, and irresistable to my wife?

Maybe I should do it both ways, just in case.

Luckily, we have plenty of dill growing.

A special thanks to the following sites, that I used in my research this week:

Epicenter, Encyclopedia of Spices
Garden Action
Gardens Ablaze

You may also want to visit these sites, where this article is linked:
A High and Noble Calling
Hooked on Houses (Hooked on Fridays)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Herb Of The Week - Sage

The herb of the week is Sage (salvia officinalis).

Sage is one of the herbs my mother grew when I was a kid. I didn’t know a lot about it then, but I knew that if you picked a leaf and rubbed it between your finger and thumb, it smelled really good.

Growing up out West, I heard constant references to “sagebrush“, and although sagebrush (artemisia tridentate) also has a distinct smell, it is important to note that the two are separate, unrelated, and distinctly different plants.

On a side note, sagebrush was widely used medicinally by the Western Native Americans. It has a very potent oil, which will kill internal parasites and other bacteria. It will also make you "sicker than a dog” for about 48 hours, so I don’t necessarily recommend using it.
But back to Sage, better known as Common Sage, or Kitchen Sage.

Although there are multiple varieties of this particular member of the mint family, when I use the term Sage in this article, I am referring to Common Sage (salvia officinalis)

The word “Sage”, comes from the Latin salvia, which is derived from salvus, meaning healthy.
Although the effectiveness of Sage is open to debate, it has been recommended at one time or another for virtually every ailment. Modern evidence supports its effects as an anhidrotic antibiotic, antifungal, astringent, antispasmodic, hypoglycemic and tonic.

Interestingly enough, while researching the history of the name, I stumbled upon the history of the word “sage’ in another context. A wise person, especially one who can offer good advice, is often referred to as a sage, and the word is also applied to the sound advice that they give. Because of the Latin reference above initially one may think that sage advice is healthy advice, and perhaps it is, but that particular usage of the word actually derived from the Gallo-Roman sabius, which derived from the Latin sapere meaning have good taste.

So, we start with a plant that we can argue is healthy, and has good taste. What more can you ask for?

Growing Sage is not too challenging. Sage requires a little sun, and a bit of water, but is relatively low-maintenance. English Folklore suggests that Sage will grow best at homes where the wife is dominant.

Sage can be grown from seed, but the seed has a very low germination rate and you will likely have more success with a transplant. Sage is a blue-gray evergreen shrub, that can and will grow into a substantial bush if allowed, or can be kept trimmed into tight border elements if desired. It blooms in late spring or early summer, with long spikes of blue to purple flowers.
Sage leaves are at their peak flavor for harvesting shortly before, and immediately after the plant blooms. Your plant may, or may not bloom the first year, but it is recommended that you refrain from harvesting the first year, in order to allow the plant to establish itself. This doesn’t mean you can’t snip a leaf or two from time to time, but a full harvest may be more of a shock than a young plant can handle.

A sage plant can start to lose some of it’s flavor after 3-4 years. For maximum flavor, some gardeners suggest that you keep a steady supply of new cuttings or shoots growing to replenish the older plants.
Our sage plant is about 8 years old, and still has a full, rich flavor, so I take that advice with a grain of salt personally, but I wanted to pass it on, lest someone have a sage plant that is losing its’ flavor.

To fix this problem, if you do have a fatigued plant, simply “earth up” the plant in the fall after the first frost, but before the ground has frozen. This is done by covering the entire plant with soil, leaving only the tips of the banches exposed. This will force those tips to send out new root systems, and in the spring, when you are ready to plant your garden, you will have a new sage plant, complete with roots, growing from each of the branch tips.

As I said, I have not yet felt a need to do this.

Sage can be harvested throughout the season a few leaves at a time, as needed. Fresh sage has a different taste from dried sage. Leaves can be frozen individually and kept in a ziplock baggie in the freezer. When dried, the leaves have a tendency to become very brittle, and I like to run them through a food processor to break them down. For maximum flavor wait until you are ready to use them to do this. For maximum convenience, do it as soon as the leaves are dry, so you will have a constant supply of dried crumbled sage leaves when you are ready top cook.

If you feel that you lost a bit of flavor in the drying or grinding process, then when you are cooking, sprinkle in a bit more to compensate for it.

Sage has a very long history of medicinal use. Its antiseptic qualities make it an effective gargle for the mouth where it is said to heal sore throats. The leaves applied to an aching tooth may relieve the pain.

Sage is also used internally in the treatment of digestive issues, excessive lactation, night sweats, excessive salivation, profuse perspiration, anxiety, depression, female sterility and menopausal problems. Many herbalists believe that the purple-leaved forms of this species are more potent medicinally. This remedy should not be prescribed to pregnant women or to people who have epileptic fits. The plant is toxic in excess or when taken for extended periods - though the toxic dose is very large. Externally, it is used to treat insect bites, skin, throat, mouth and gum infections and vaginal discharge.

Sage Tea or infusion of Sage can be used to treat the delirium of fevers and in the nervous excitement frequently accompanying brain and nervous diseases and has considerable reputation as a remedy, given in small and often-repeated doses. It is considered a useful medicine in liver complaints, kidney troubles, hemorrhage from the lungs or stomach, for colds in the head as well as sore throat and quinsy and measles, for pains in the joints, lethargy and palsy. A cup of the strong infusion may help to relieve nervous headache.

Sage also has multiple culinary uses, that have evolved over the years. In the 17th century, an English author, Parkinson, wrote: "The Kitchen use is to boyle it with a Calves head, minced, to be put with the braines, vinegar and pepper to serve as an ordinary serve as a sawce for peeces of Veale.." Additionally, Clary sage ( Salvia sclarea), leaves could be "taken dry, and dipped into a batter made with the yolkes of egges, flower and a little milke, and then fryed with butter until they be crispe."

Madeline Wadja, a Master Gardener from Adams County PA, writes: Today we know that garden sage has many uses in the kitchen-none of which involves "braines," fortunately. She goes on to point out that, as a digestive aid, sage is often paired with fatty meats, such as pork and sausages. But is more commonly known for it’s use in poulty, especially stuffing.

Many herbs must be added toward the end of the cooking process, as heat starts to break down the essential oils, but sage is not one of them, and therefore can be added early to stuffings, roasted meats, or stews.

Try covering a pork roast with sage leaves before roasting; or gently separate with your hands the skin from the breast meat of a chicken or turkey, rub a little butter on the meat, then place a small sprig or two of sage under the skin on each breast, pat down the skin, then roast.
Heavy bean or split pea soups are tasty with a little sage added.
Try sage with onion rings (add 2 tablespoons minced sage to the batter for two large onions) or in apple dishes, such as baked apples, applesauce, or apple pie (3 tablespoons of minced leaves for a 9-inch pie).
A delicious bread pudding can be made by layering bread with apples, onions, Swiss cheese, and sage.
Sage is also a natural with eggplant, asparagus, winter squashes, mushrooms, string beans, stewed tomatoes, pumpkin, cherries, and blueberries.
Sage honey (about one-third cup minced leaves warmed with three-quarters cup mild honey) is a wonderful addition to tea or biscuits. Sage cider vinegar makes great marinades.
Marinate goat cheese with olive oil, peppercorns, garlic, and some small sage leaves. Or add one-quarter cup minced sage leaves to an 8-ounce package of cream cheese and let sit for at least an hour before spreading on bagel chips.
You can also throw a handful of leaves and branches on top of the coals at your next barbecue and let the smoke flavor your burgers, chicken or steak.
Or, if you are up for adventure, try this:

Sage Pecan Cheese Wafers (Makes 3 Dozen)
1 Cup (4 oz.) Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
¾ Cup Flour
¼ Cup Chopped Pecans (or Walnuts)
¼ tsp. Rubbed Sage
1/8 tsp. Ground Red Pepper
1/4 tsp. Salt (one-fourth)
One-third-Cup Butter or Margarine in Small Pieces
Process first six ingredients in a food processor for 10 seconds. Add butter a piece at a time while processor is running until mixture forms a ball. Roll to one-fourth inch thickness on lightly floured surface; cut with 1 and one-half inch round cookie cutter. (The dough can also be shaped into a long roll, refrigerated, then sliced and baked.) Bake at 350 degrees on ungreased cookie sheet 12-14 minutes until edges turn golden.

Sage has many uses in magic and superstition as well; Sage absorbs negativity and misfortune. It drives away disturbances and tensions, and lifts the spirits above the mundane cares of life. Burn it to consecrate a ritual space. Carry it as an herb of protection. Use it in the ritual bath and chalice. Tradition holds that those who eat sage become immortal in both wisdom and years. Sage is used in wish manifestations and to attract money. Smolder to promote healing and spirituality. Carry to promote wisdom. Use in spells for: Protection; Wisdom; Health; Money and Riches; Spirituality

The Native Americans have long used sage in their cleansing and purification rituals, and Wiccans have used it in banishing, vision quests and fertility and healing rituals, as well as a way to add deep earth respect to other practices.

So, if you want to be rich, clean, wise and positive, and live forever, sage should definitely hold a prominent place in your garden.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Herb Of The Week - Savory

The herb of the week is Savory. There are two main varieties of Savory.

Summer Savory (satureja hortensis), is an annual, that must be replanted every year.

Winter Savory (satureja montana) is a perennial, that creates a ground cover and will return year after year.

We have been trying to build a solid base of perennials, so that we could just tuck a few annuals in around them, so we have Winter Savory in our garden. In this picture, Winter had just ended, and the spring growth was just starting.

For the rest of this article, I will just use the term Savory, when referring to the Winter Savory that we grow.

Whether used for its medicinal properties or to flavor food, Savory has been around since the days of the Romans, and before. The English word Savory means “Pleasing in taste or smell” and was derived from the Old French word savoure meaning to taste, which came from the Latin word satureia.
There is an argument made that this meant “herb of the satyrs“, as it was known to be an aphrodisiac, but I have been unable to positively confirm either this history of the word, or this particular property of the plant. Nevertheless, I like the story.

Easy to grow, Savory, a close relative of Thyme, and a distant relative to Mint, makes an attractive border plant for any culinary herb garden. According to plant experts, it requires around six hours of sun a day in soil that drains well. Savory does not grow in full shade.

Having said that, let me just say that ours has been growing in full shade for several years now, and is a thriving healthy happy and flavorful plant.

In spring, sow seeds 1/8" deep in dry, well-drained soil. Winter savory is slower to sprout than summer savory and requires less water. Too much moisture in the soil can cause winterkill. This savory should be replaced with new plants every 2-3 years. It can be pruned to form a loose, low aromatic hedge. Cut as needed prior to or immediately after flowering for culinary or medicinal use. Hang in bundles upside down in an airy place. Savory does not lend itself well to freezing in a paste form, as the leaves are very small, and dry, but they can be frozen individually on a cookie sheet and then transferred into ziplock bags, or other airtight containers, once they are frozen.

Medicinally, it is reported to be a stimulant, and an aphrodisiac. It is said to have many health benefits, particularly upon the whole digestive system. the whole herb, (and more specifically the flowering shoots), is mildly antiseptic, aromatic, carminative, digestive and mildly expectorant
It is said to be a remedy for colic and a cure for flatulence, it is also used to treat gastro-enteritis, cystitis, nausea, diarrhea, bronchial congestion, sore throat and menstrual disorders. It should, therefore not be prescribed for pregnant women. The essential oil forms an ingredient in lotions for the scalp in cases of incipient baldness. An ointment made from the plant is used externally to relieve arthritic joints.

A sprig of the plant, rubbed onto bee or wasp stings, brings instant relief. Being especially sensitive to mosquito bites, I tried this myself this week on a particularly irritating bite and was mildly surprised to find the swelling and itching disappear within minutes.

In cooking, winter savory goes very well with both beans and meats, very often lighter meats such as poultry or fish

Winter Savory is a great mixing herb. It blends well with different culinary oreganos, thymes and basils and can be added to meat, poultry or fish. Its small leaves are the perfect compliment to herb cheeses or as last-minute additions to sautés. Even though it has a strong flavor when fresh, it does not hold up well to prolonged stewing. Famous for making its mark on beans, dried Savory also perks up stuffings and can be mixed with Sage, Thyme, and Bay. Add to ground Turkey or Pork with Fennel Seed, Cayenne Pepper, and Thyme. Or, add a pinch to Chicken, Seafood, or Tuna salad or to a hearty soup. There are very few dishes that a little Winter Savory won't make better.

Here is a "can't fail" recipe for a universal marinade, using fresh herbs from your garden.

Savory Herbal Marinade

For use on Red Meat:
2 1/2 Cups Red Wine
3/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1 Small Onion or Several Shallots, chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, sliced
2 Fresh Greek Bay Leaves, broken into pieces
2 teaspoons each Fresh Thyme, Oregano and Winter Savory, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons Salt

Allow meat to marinate overnight or for at least 12 hours.

To use on Chicken, exchange the red wine for white wine and the red wine vinegar for white wine vinegar. The herbs may also include French Tarragon, Lemon Thyme or Rosemary or any combination of those listed.

For Pork, add fresh mint to the White Wine Marinade.
For Fish, use lemon juice in the place of the vinegar and the Winter Savory chopped fine and be conservative with any other herbs.

If you prefer to cook without alcohol, you may substitute as follows:
For 2 ½ C red wine, Use 2 C apple juice 1/3 c cranberry juice and 1T Lemon Juice
For 2 ½ C white wine, Use 2 C white grape juice & juice from 1 can of mushrooms

Or you can try this one, simple, but healthy.

Herbed Rice:

1 cup white rice
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoons each, Finely Chopped Savory, Thyme and Rosemary
1 pinch sea salt
1 pinch pepper

Stir all ingredients together well, in a medium saucepan. Set over high heat, and bring to a simmer; cover, and cook 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork, and serve.

There's not much in mythology or modern magic about this herb that I can find, other than you can carry it, eat it, burn it, or wear it for intellect, creativity, and to maintain the good life.

Is it any wonder, then, that Savory has always been one of my favorite herbs in our garden? Subconsciously, I must have known that I was seriously in need of all of those things.

Let me know your favorite recipe using savory.

The following sources were very helpful in my research this week and may provide additional useful information:

Herbal Beauty
Mountain Valley Growers

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Chives

They say that confession is good for the soul, so I have a confession to make.

I have never really known how to use Chives. I have always just grown them because I liked to look at them. I let them flower, because I like the purple blossoms. They look pretty and they make an attractive addition to the garden.
Here are our chives in full bloom:

So writing this weeks article on Chives gave me a chance to learn more about chives than I have ever known before.

Hopefully now, in the future, Chives will be an enhancement to my kitchen, and not just my garden.

Chives are the smallest member of the onion family, a family that also includes leeks and garlic among others.
The English word Chive comes from Latin cepa "onion" via Middle English cyve or cheve, loaned from Old French cive.
In many languages, chives are differentiated as a "grassy" variant of their larger relatives, leek, onion and garlic. Examples are Swedish gräslök, Norwegian grasløk and Finnish ruohosipuli. Other languages use geographical epithets, e.g. Bulgarian luk Sibirski "Siberian onion" or Turkish Frenk soğanı "French onion".
In the Romance languages the names of chives often mean "little onion", e.g. French civette, Spanish cebollana, Italian erba cipolin. German schnittlauch contains the verbal stem schneid meaning "cut", because, unlike onion and garlic, chives are harvested by cutting the leaves.
Source: Aiden Brooks: Trainee Chef

OK, we got the history lesson out of the way, now we can play in the dirt. Let’s plant some Chives.

There are two main varieties of Chives. The most common is the Onion Chive (allium schoenoprasum) Which has vibrant purple blossoms.

The other is the Chinese Chive or Garlic Chive (allium tuberosum) which has bold white blossoms.

Chives grow well in almost all soils and in anything from full sun to partial shade. They do not do as well in full shade.
They don’t require a lot of water, although if allowed to get too dry, they will get tough and woody, and the flavor may get strong and unpleasant.
Chives can be grown from seed or from transplants. They are hardy and reproduce rapidly, so you will have to divide them every couple of years.
The recommended distance between plants when planting, or transplanting them is 4”.
If you start them from seed, start your seeds indoors in March, or outdoors in April (earlier in the month in warmer zones, later in the month in cooler zones.) They can be moved outdoors a month after you plant them. At that point, if the soil is soft and well prepared, (dug and softened to a depth of 6-8” to allow for a strong root base) they are a low maintenance plant and should require little else from you at this time.

Chives should be divided every other year, to keep the bulbs spread out. This allows for healthier bulbs, as they are not fighting each other for water, or squeezing each other for space.
There are few pests that will bother Chives, although if you plant them too near onions, you may see onion flies attacking your chives. These flies generally remain near the onions, and should not bother your Chives if they are planted farther away from the onions.
They should also not be planted too close to beans or peas, as cross pollination will negatively affect the growth and production of your legumes, nor should They be too close to alfalfa, as pollen from the two species will have negative impact on each other.
Research sources:
Garden Action: Growing Chives
Plants For A Future

Harvest chives any time after they are 6” tall. Cut them back to about 2” from the ground. Once they blossom, they may get tough and woody, especially the blossom stems, which are heavier and stronger than the leaves.

Chives should be used fresh or frozen, Although you will see dried chives on the shelf in the grocery store, you should be aware that chives lose most of their flavor when they are dried, so dried chives are mostly a decorative touch used as a garnish.
The best way to freeze chives is to chop them (I’d go about ¼ “ long, but some people like them up to an inch.), then spread them out on a cookie sheet and freeze them. That way, when you put them into a zip lock bags, they aren’t all frozen together in one clump. You can control how much you use.

Of course, you can also choose to run them through a food processor, and then freeze them in ice cube trays. They have enough water, and natural oil in them, that you shouldn’t even have to add olive oil or butter like you would with some of the broader leaf herbs.

How do you use them once you have them? This is the part I have never known.

So here we go, lets learn together.

Medicinal Uses of Chives:

The whole plant has a beneficial effect on the digestive system and the blood circulation. It improves the appetite, is digestive, hypotensive and tonic. It has similar properties to garlic but in a much milder form, and it is rarely used medicinally.
The juice of the plant is used as an insect repellent, it also has fungicidal properties and is effective against scab, mildew etc. The growing plant is said to repel insects and moles and discourage browsing deer.
Chives may be cut and mixed with the food given to fresh hatched poultry, particularly turkeys, as they contain the sulfur necessary in their diet, but are mild enough that they wont upset their stomach like onions or garlic may.

Culinary Uses:

For most cooking purposes here's a rule of thumb to follow:
1t chopped green onion = 1T chopped chives.

~Chives are often used in the preparation of fish and shellfish, also eggs, soups, and poultry. They are combined with soft cheeses like cream cheese or cottage cheese, and often used in cream sauces, They are usually used alone, but a combination of chive, chevril, tarragon and parsley is known in French Cuisine as fines herbs.

~Place a handful of chives in a cheesecloth bag and include it in the water when boiling potatoes for mashing, or for potato salad.

~Slice tomatoes, and cucumbers, arrange the slices alternately on a plate and top with chopped chives, drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

~Cream fresh cut chives with butter and serve on rye or pumpernickel bread. (also good on baked potatoes)

~Stir chopped chives and cottage cheese together, place on tomato slices and toast under broiler.

You may want to try this quick and easy recipe, courtesy of Amanda’s Cookin’

Egg Salad with Chives

6 boiled eggs, chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise (or to taste)
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste
1 small dill pickle, chopped
1 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
Combine all ingredients and keep refrigerated in a tightly covered container.

Or, if you are feeling bold and adventurous, you may even want to try Stir Fried Chive Buds, courtesy of Rasa Malaysiaem>

Stir-fried Chive Buds

1/2 lb chive buds
10 straw mushrooms (cut into half)
5 shrimp (peeled and deveined)
5 scallops (slice each scallop horizontally into 3 pieces of equal size)
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine/rice wine
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 dashes white pepper powder
3 tablespoons water and 1/2 teaspoon corn starch (mixed)
3 tablespoons oil
5 slices peeled fresh ginger

Mix the corn starch with water, set aside. Heat up a wok and add in the oil. Add in the sliced ginger and stir well until you smell the gingery aroma. Add in the shrimp, scallops, and straw mushrooms and stir fry for 1 minute. Add in the chive buds and continue to stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add in the seasoning (oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar, sesame, wine) and the corn starch water. Do a quick stir for 30 seconds, dish up and serve hot with steamed white rice.

Magical and Superstitious uses:

Chives, like all members of the onion family are said to ward off disease and evil influence, because the blossoms are so vibrant and beautiful, chive blossoms may often be added to a swag or a bouquet for this purpose. Chive blossoms will dry beautifully and can be used in many dried flower arrangements.
Chives may be included in cooking when attempting to break a bad habit, and are said to be useful in helping to heal a broken heart.

Like I said before, I have always just grown them as an ornamental plant, but I decided that I would try a harvest this year, even though mine have already blossomed, so I wanted to clear out some of the blossom stems, leaving the more tender leaves behind to harvest.

I hated the idea, of just throwing them away, so I made a bouquet of chive flowers and brought them into the house.
Now, our house should be well protected from evil as well as disease, and heaven knows we could use a little of that.

Leave me a note and let me know what you do with YOUR chives.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Oregano

A popular cyber-myth, found widely on the internet, says that the word Oregano come from the Greek words Oros meaning mountain and Ganos meaning joy. The myth states that the word loosely translates into "Joy of the mountains" because Oregano is found growing wild on the hillsides in Greece.
It's a fun and pretty explanation, and because it sounds so right at first, many herbal websites will see that on the internet and include it in their own information.
Fortunately, you have me, to help clear up any misunderstanding.
Without getting into a long and boring explanation of etymology, although I have the background research if you are truly interested, Oros and Ganos when combined as a plural would not turn into a word that resembles Oregano, but into a much different word.
That being said, the folklore of the myth makes it fun, and since the true origin of the word is unknown, feel free to continue to believe that it means Joy Of The Mountains if you want. Just remember, you heard the truth first here.

The first recorded or known use of Oregano is from the Mediterranean regions, where it does indeed grow wild on the hillsides. Wild Oregano has a much sweeter or smoother flavor than that grown domestically, especially Oregano that is grown in cooler climates, where it can tend to get a slight bitter taste. This is not as strong if it is picked while the leaves are young, and before the plant flowers.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Lets explore how to grow it first, before we talk about picking it.

My research into Oregano has shown me a mistake I may have made when planting mine, and I will probably move the plant at the end of this year. I learned that Oregano will have a better flavor if it is planted in full sun, in soil that is not too rich. Mine is a beautiful plant but has a very mild flavor. I have it growing in full shade.

You can grow Oregano from seed if you choose to do so, but seed grown Oregano will vary in flavor. For the best flavor, grow from transplants. At the nursery, rub a leave between your thumb and finger and check for a strong scent. As with all herbs, the stronger the scent, the stronger the flavor.

Select varieties that are made for cooking (assuming you want to cook with it) like Greek Oregano(Origanum heracleoticum), Sicilian Oregano (Origanum vulgare ssp. hirtum) , or Italian Oregano(Origanum onites) , rather than the ones that are grown primarily as ornamental plants like Golden Oregano(Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’).

A few bits of trivia: The plant commonly known as Mexican Oregano (lippia graveolens), is not really oregano at all, while Marjoram (Origanum majorana, Lamiaceae), an herb I will talk about in an upcoming week, is actually a variety of oregano

Oregano is a perennial that can be grown indoors, outdoors, in your garden, or in containers. It does well as an ornamental border or ground cover, and thrives in rock gardens as well. It will grow in the shade, but as I mentioned above, will have a better flavor in the full sun and full sun is generally recommended. Oregano likes well-drained soil, on the lean side, rich soil tends to dilute the flavor. Oregano can reach a height of 30", but usually grows between 8-12", especially if you are harvesting regularly. Plants will spread about 18" and will send out runners. The plant will have a low, dense ground cover, and then send up taller shoots of leaves.

Once the shoots, or sprigs reach about 5" you can begin harvesting. To produce a fuller, bushier plant, pinch off flowers as they start to form, forcing the plant to produce more leaves. As with any herb, once the plant blooms, the leaves will not have as much flavor. You can divide your Oregano plant if the center starts to die out, or if it gets too woody, or if you just need to make more plants.

You can harvest by picking individual leaves or sprigs to use in cooking as needed, but should also cut the entire plant back to almost a ground cover. This should be done at least once a year, and can be done up to three times. Once, when the plant reaches 6" tall, next when you see the first flower form, and once late in the growing season.
Once harvested, it can be preserved in several ways. Freezing will maintain the most flavor, but takes up the most space, drying will lose a little flavor, but is often the most practical method. Fresh herbs can be wrapped in a paper towel and stored in a plastic bag in a refrigerator for up to several weeks.

To freeze Oregano, you can freeze entire branches on a cookie sheet, then, once frozen strip off the leaves and store them in plastic containers in the freezer. Another method is to finely chop the leaves and mix them with just enough butter, or olive oil, to bind them together and create a rough paste, and then freeze this paste in ice cube trays. Once frozen, the cubes can then be put in labeled zipper freezer bags and returned to the freezer. (Make sure you label them, once chopped and frozen, most green leaves look alike.)

Drying herbs is even easier, I put them on a cookie sheet in my truck and let the smell permeate my truck, as the sun dries them, but I am fully aware that my method won't work for everyone. What you don't want to do is use an oven to dry your herbs. Do this only as a last resort, as this will actually start the cooking process and begin the breakdown of the essential oils, thereby resulting in flavor loss.

One method of drying herbs, that works well for many people, (My mother used this method for dill when I was a kid, although she didn't do it exactly this way), is air drying in a paper bag. If you live in an area that has a high humidity level, it is essential that your herbs be completely free of moisture before you start this process, or they will mold before they can dry.

Pick your oregano in late morning, after the dew dries, but before the afternoon sun hits. Pick or cut full branches (sprigs). Shake them well to remove insects, or dust, but don't wash them unless absolutely necessary. If you must wash them, then make sure you use paper towels and dry them thoroughly.

Strip the leaves from the first inch or so of the branch. Bundle 8-10 branches together. Oregano has a low water content, so it can be bundled in big bundles, moisture rich herbs like basil or chives need to be in looser smaller bundles or they won't dry.

Tie a string or rubber band around the base of the bundle. (Tie tightly, the stems will shrink as they dry.)

Put the bundle in a paper bag with small holes cut in it, and gather the top of the bag around the base of the bundle. Then hang the bag in a warm dry room. (I know, the heat of the laundry room makes it tempting, but don't try it, the moisture will mold your herbs.)

Check in about two weeks and they should be dry and ready to go.

Once dried, strip the leaves from the stems, and store them in airtight containers. Canning jars are good, Ziplock bags will work. The leaves take up more room whole, but will retain more flavor. Crushed leaves take very little room, but will lose some or their flavor. Do what works best for your own situation.

A rule of thumb is that one teaspoon of dried herbs is the equivalent of one Tablespoon of fresh herbs.

So, now you have a whole freezer full of little Oregano cubes, and a shelf of dried Oregano leaves, what do you do with them?

Oregano has many culinary applications as well as medicinal applications.

Medicinally it has a wide variety of uses. Very few studies exist that can verify or refute the medicinal properties of most herbs, And of course, everybody's body is different and reacts differently, so I make no guarantees. But the up-side is, Oregano is perfectly safe so you can experiment all you want with no danger or worry.

Tea made from Oregano leaves is said to help with indigestion, bloating, flatulence, coughs, urinary problems, bronchial problems, headaches, swollen glands, and to promote menstruation. It has also been used in the past to relieve fevers, diarrhea, vomiting, and jaundice. It will have a strong flavor and so you may want to sweeten it with a little honey, or stevia leaves. (OK, sugar or Splenda will work too.) Unsweetened Oregano tea can be used as a gargle or mouthwash.

If you don't like the flavor, or you aren't a tea drinker, the dried leaves can be finely ground or pulverized and put into capsules.

Fresh Oregano leaves can be pounded into a paste, adding water as needed or finely ground oatmeal, until the mixture is a spreadable consistency. This can be used to treat rheumatism and aching muscles as well as itching from insect bites.

If you put a handful of Oregano leaves in a mesh or cheesecloth bag and allow your hot bath water to run over it, then let the bag steep in the tub as you bathe, you will get a nice aromatic bath said to help aching joints and muscles and promote relaxation.

Now, finally we get to my favorite use of herbs, Culinary uses.

Oregano is a versatile herb that appears in most Greek, Italian and Mexican dishes, as well as many other unexpected places such as alcoholic beverages, meat and meat products, condiments and relishes, snack foods and milk products. Origanum oil (the essential oil of the Oregano plant) is used as a food flavor and also as a fragrance component in soaps, detergents and perfumes.

Known as the "pizza herb", Oregano combined with basil make up the basis for most Italian dishes. Recipes abound on the internet, and I believe one would be hard pressed to find a recipe book that did not include Oregano as an ingredient in at least some of the entrees, but for something new and different here are a few fun things you may try:

  • Use handfuls of fresh oregano in salads as a green rather than an herb.

  • Toast fresh oregano leaves lightly in a pan and add them to your favorite chili or taco recipe.

  • Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over a huge hunk of feta cheese that's been topped with oregano leaves and serve with an assortment of green, red, and black olives.

  • Match the woodsy flavor and perfume of oregano by adding some to a sauté of mushrooms.

  • Toss oregano leaves and toasted pecans with mandarin oranges and leeks, drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar and some extra virgin olive oil.

  • Make some crostini by toasting some stale crusty bread with extra virgin olive oil and garlic. When it comes out of the oven layer the surface with fresh oregano and a few twists of fresh black pepper and some diced seeded roma tomatoes.

  • My wife makes a potpourri by simmering fresh herbs, Oregano being one of her favorites, that makes our house smell like she is cooking lasagna. I have tried to do this before and ended up making a mess and making the house smell like burnt offerings. Personally I think that herbal potpourri is cruel. I open the door, take a breath, and think that we are having lasagna for dinner,( did I mention that my wife makes the best lasagna I have ever had?) Only to discover that we are actually having leftover meatloaf.

As you can see, the uses and applications of Oregano are limited only by the limits of your imagination. Remember, any time you cook with fresh Oregano, you should add the leaves as close to the end of the cooking process as possible, because as soon as they get hot the flavor starts to break down.

Let me just finish with a few of the traditional magical, or superstitious uses of Oregano:

Oregano is an herb of happiness, tranquility, good luck, health, and protection. Make a Tea or burn as an incense for any of the above, and for letting go of someone you love - be it a husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, or anyone else that it hurts to leave.
Plant Oregano around your house for protection, and scatter it inside the house to protect it (add violets to protect the family from colds). Carry it in a sachet or charm to bring good luck and good health. It is also said to protect and promote psychic dreams when worn on the head during sleep.

So grow some Oregano to bring good luck, tranquility, happiness, health and protection to yourself and your family, and please, let me know about your success with Oregano. Leave me a comment and share recipes, tips, ideas, and suggestions. Your ideas are as valuable as mine.

Here is a picture of my oregano, let's see picture of yours!