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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Tarragon

The herb of the week is Tarragon, (artemisia dracunculu) a low growing perennial with shiny,dark green leaves.

We planted Tarragon two years ago, and it grew well, but did not return in the spring. I had given up on it, so I was surprised to discover it growing in the garden again this spring. I'm not sure why it decided to be dormant for a season, but it was good to have it back. I hope it returns again next year.

There are two main types of Tarragon, French Tarragon and Russian Tarragon. Both are related to daisies and sunflowers. French Tarragon is the more flavorful of the two, while Russian Tarragon is easier to grow. We had French Tarragon growing in the garden, and then I got some Russian tarragon plants clearanced at a nursery for 20 cents this year, so now we have both.

French Tarragon cannot be started from seed, in fact on the rare occasion when it DOES seed, the seeds will in fact produce Russian Tarragon. It must be grown from a transplant and it is a sensitive plant that needs some extra TLC to keep it healthy. But it is a sweet flavorful herb, slightly reminiscent of anise, that goes well with eggs, fish, chicken and seafood.

Russian Tarragon is a hearty, stronger plant that grows taller and has a strong root system, but has a very weak flavor. It is more likely to produce flowers, and when it does they are a small yellow and black flower. Russian Tarragon is good in salads in the early summer, when the leaves are tender, and may be used as a garnish. Of course, you can use it in other dishes, but the flavor is very weak. It is believed to be an appetite stimulant, and although I have no reputable research to back that up, it is certainly something to keep in mind when adding it to any dish.

We grew both this year, and will probably keep both in the future, but if space ever becomes an issue we will definitely keep the French Tarragon and say goodbye to the Russian. I probably would have never bought it had I known what I was getting, and certainly not at full price, but now that it's there, it will be something we add to salads and use as a garnish.

Tarragon gets its' name from the French word esdrago, which came from the Latin word dracunculus (little dragon). In ancient times, Tarragon was believed to be not only a cure for snakebite but also a dragon repellent.

I am happy to report that we had both varieties in our garden this year and did not see a single dragon of any type all summer, so I think we can safely assume that it works. I'm not even sure we saw dragonflies. I wonder... Could that be the reason? Nahh...

Tarragon prefers full sun or partial shade, and does better in well drained soil. It is susceptible to powdery mildew and root rot, so should be planted in a location that has good air circulation, to avoid the powdery mildew, and good drainage, to prevent the root rot.

Plant after the danger of frost has passed, and for best results divide your plants every three or four years. Tarragon has a serpentine root system, that will curl in around itself. If not divided, this root system will form a ball and strangle the plant. If it has been two years or more since you divided your Tarragon, and it is looking a little wimpy this year, chances are it has become root bound. If you don't have room to divide it, at least break the roots up a little.

If you are growing it in a container, and yes, Tarragon will do very well in a container, make sure you loosen the roots up every year and shave some off every couple of years.

I would trim the root system in the spring, so the plant has all summer to recover, before there is a full bushy plant depending on the roots for water, but if you forget, then just like any herb, make sure that when you trim the roots, you also cut the top part of the plant back as well, to compensate.

Russian Tarragon will grown in almost any soil and any condition, but will grow best in the full sun and well drained soil mentioned above.

Tarragon can be harvested regularly through the spring and summer, by clipping the tips. This will produce a fuller and bushier plant. In the fall, you can cut off the entire plant 3-6 inches above the ground.

So, what do you do with Tarragon once you have picked it?

Tarragon, like most herbs, is best if enjoyed fresh, but may be frozen or dried. It is also "pickled". Tarragon makes a wonderful addition to any sweet or sweet and sour pickles, and Tarragon Vinegar is an essential ingredient if you want to be a true French Chef. On an interesting side note, Tarragon Vinegar is a vital ingredient to good Dijon mustard.

Tarragon contains the same essential oil found in Anise, which gives it its' flavor and aroma. This oil is almost all lost when the plant is dried. Dried Tarragon, therefore does not taste like fresh Tarragon, and should not be substituted, but dried Tarragon is a very nice,sweet herb that goes well with fish or chicken. Don't let anyone tell you that it will lose its' flavor if you dry it, it will just change its' flavor.

If you are feeling really adventurous, In Russia and the surrounding areas they have a soft drink that is made out of Tarragon. (I wonder, do they use the Russian Variety, or the more flavorful French Variety?) The bright green drink is called Tarhun, which simply means Tarragon in Russian.

But for those of us who don't get that way very often, I wanted to find some more practical uses for Tarragon.

Years ago, when I was in my 20's I worked in a restaurant. This job was my first exposure to a lot of different foods. One such food was halibut.

When we cooked halibut, we would brush the frozen steaks with melted butter, then, while the butter was still liquid, before the cold made it hard, we would sprinkle on chicken base powder, and dried tarragon. Within a minute or so, the butter would harden. Then we would put them in a pan, cover them with lemon slices, cover the pan with foil and bake them.

I was always surprised at how the chicken base, the butter, the lemon and the tarragon combined to make the halibut taste just right.

So, this is a multi tasking tarragon idea. You can follow the instructions above for halibut or any other fish, or you can combine:
2 sticks melted butter,
1 t. chicken base,
1 T. dried tarragon
1 T. lemon juice

into a sauce that is good on fish, chicken and just about anything else you want to use it on.

I have been known to brush it on bread and toast it on the grill. Yum!

I had heard that Tarragon made excellent pickles, so I went looking for recipes. When I found this one, I was amazed at the simplicity. It was one of those "DUH!" moments, when I thought... "Why didn't I think of that?"

Tarragon Pickles
(I haven't tried them yet, but I intend to do so real soon. They are supposed to taste similar to a bread and butter pickle.

1 gallon jar dill pickles
3 cups Tarragon vinegar
3 cups sugar
Drain pickles and cut each into spears. Make the spears whatever size you like. Mix sugar and vinegar in small bowl until sugar is dissolved. Pour into pickle jar with the cut pickles and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. If you get a particularly sour batch of dill pickles and find the finished product isn't quite sweet enough, just add another half cup of sugar and give them a good shake!

And how do you get Tarragon Vinegar you ask? Well, I'm glad you asked that question.

Tarragon Vinegar

Start with

2 cups of French tarragon leaves, fresh and loosely packed
2 cups vinegar
Additional sprig tarragon for decoration

I'm told that you can use either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Both are good, but each has a distinctly different taste. I personally have only ever used white vinegar when I made herbed vinegar, but this is something to explore and experiment with in the future.

Bruise the tarragon leaves lightly to release the flavour.
Pack the leaves into a glass container.
heat the vinegar slightly, (not boiling) Pour the vinegar over the leaves in the container. (Make sure that all the leaves are completely submerged so they won't mold.)
Cover the container and leave in a dark cool place for 2—3 weeks. This will draw out the flavor of the tarragon into the vinegar.
Pour the strained vinegar into bottles. Add the sprig of Tarragon (one for each bottle) before pouring in the vinegar.
Screw on the lid. Label and date.

As always, the recipes I post are simply to get your mind working. I love to hear how everyone else uses herbs.

For a quick culinary summary, Tarragon is good with fish, pork, beef, poultry, game, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and most mainstream vegetables. It also goes well with lemons and oranges. It can be used in cream sauces, herbed butters and vinegars, soups, sour creams, and yogurt.

And finally, give this recipe a try:

Chicken Salad with Tarragon

2 cups chopped, cooked chicken meat*
1/4 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1-2 teaspoons dried tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste

Simply mix all the ingredients together and add salt and pepper to taste. This can be served over lettuce for a quick and simple salad, inside a hollowed out tomato, or on bread for a chicken salad sandwich.

Medicinally, besides treating dragon bites, Tarragon has been used, at times, as a digestive aid, a mild sedative, and as a heart disease prevention aid, to promote menstruation, fight fatigue and calm the nerves.

Tarragon also promotes the production of bile by the liver, which aids in digestion and helps to speed the process of eliminating toxic waste in the body. Tarragon tea can be made to aid in this process. While tarragon stimulates the digestion, it is reputed to be a mild sedative and Tarragon tea has been taken to aid sleep

The leaves and roots have a mild numbing affect in the mouth, when chewed, and it has been chewed to treat toothache or a mild sore throat.

At Tarragon Central , I learned, among other things, that Tarragon is a recognized herbal treatment for the following conditions and symptoms:

Upset stomach
Loss of appetite
Intestinal Worms
Anti-Bacterial properties for cuts

Tarragon Central gives the following instructions:

Tea for calming benefits: To prepare tarragon tea, take one cup boiling water and pour over one tablespoon tarragon and let stand for ten minutes, and drink. It is recommended to drink at least one cup of tarragon tea per day.
Tea for Parasites:Tarragon tea has been used in helping to remove parasites, take one quart of boiling water and one ounce of tarragon leaves, pour water over leaves and let stand for ten minutes, strain and drink two cups in the morning and refrigerate the remaining. It is recommended to drink at least four cups per day, once in the morning and in the evening.
Tea for insomnia, hyperactivity, depression, or nervous exhaustion. (or anything "jittery") 1 ½ tsp cut dried herb in 1 ¾ cups boiled water, steep 40 minutes, drink warm
Tea to aid Digestion: For digestion steep a handful of dried leaves in a jar with apple cider vinegar, stand 7 hours, strain and seal. Take 1 tbsp before each meal.

Or, to use Tarragon to treat the following maladies they offer these suggestions:

Hiccups: Chew a leaf to stop hiccups.

External use: inhalation: dried leaves in 2 to 3 cups of boiling water; inhale vapors for headache, depression, or insomnia.

Topical application: Apply crushed leaves to small cuts to help fight bacteria before washing and bandaging.

Toothache: try chewing a couple of fresh or dried leaves until it is a paste and hold with tongue against sore tooth or area for oral pain (adults only). It will numb the bothersome area.

Aside from the old European belief that Tarragon would repel dragons and could cure snakebite if eaten, or rubbed on the bite, Tarragon does not play a major role in herbs of folklore.

In magic, Tarragon is used as a banishing herb. Burn an incense made of dried tarragon, while you write the name of the person or thing you wish to banish on a piece of white paper. Then, burn the paper allowing the smoke to combine with that of the incense.

In Kitchen Magic, Tarragon is added to dishes to make a guest feel welcome and at ease.

A charm bag may include Tarragon, to inspire compassion, love, peace and nurturing or to bring the wearer good luck.

Personally, I will continue to grow Tarragon, and hope that my home remains free of dragons.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Fennel

The herb of the week is Fennel (foeniculum vulgare),

Fennel is unique, in that it has so many different uses.
The bulb is a vegetable, the leaves an herb, and two different spices are derived from Fennel, one from the seeds, and one from the pollen. What a versatile and interesting plant!

I learned that tidbit from Alton Brown, on Iron Chef America, just this week, and I was fascinated.

Fennel is native to the Mediterranean region, but is now cultivated worldwide. It is an aromatic perennial that grows to about five feet in height, ( mine has never got that tall, but that’s what the experts say) It has dark green, feathery leaves, yellow flowers, and small, ridged, oval-shaped seeds. The tall stalk looks like celery and is often consumed as vegetables, while the leaves look like dill. The seeds, which resemble caraway seeds are used to flavor foods. Although the taste and aroma of fennel are sometimes mistaken for anise or licorice, the plant is actually related to caraway.

Fennel was one of the nine sacred herbs of the Anglo-Saxtons. We learn, from the Book of Shadows, that the Anglo-Saxtons believed that disease was spread by toxins blowing in the wind. Songs, salt, water, and herbs were trusted means of protection from the flying venom.

There were nine types of evil venom, and nine herbs that would counteract them.

According to a 10th century chant, Fennel conveys longevity, gives strength and curage while its pleasant aroma discourages evil spirits. Fennel in the diet promotes good eyesight and fights obesity.

The word fennel developed from the Latin diminutive of fenum or faenum, meaning "hay".

So, it’s off to the garden we go, to plant some fennel. I say this figuratively of course, since the best time to plant fennel is in April, unless of course you are joining us from New Zealand, in which case, now is the perfect time to start thinking about getting it in the ground! Speaking of New Zealand, be very careful before you plant Fennel. Many places, including parts of Australia and New Zealand have laws against cultivating Fennel, as it is classified as an invasive weed

Fennel will grow in almost any soil as long as it's well-drained, although it will produce more leaves in richer soil. Seedlings do not transplant well, so it is best to plant seeds directly in the soil in late April. Seedlings are delicate and will often bolt from the shock of transplanting. "Bolting" means that instead of forming it's edible part, in the case of Fennel, the ‘bulb’, slowly and nicely, a vegetable plant will send up its flower spike. This is usually brought on by shock to the roots, or a sudden temperature change.

We transplanted ours this year, from some clearanced plants that I bought, and it immediately bolted, but I’m hoping for better results next year.

You should only have to plant it once. Fennel readily reseeds itself and the following year, unwanted seedlings should be removed before developing long tap roots that will be difficult to pull up. Sow in succession 2-3 weeks apart to maintain a continuous harvest of leaves and seeds. I planted it a few years ago, but somehow it got lost in the shuffle, and the next year, I pulled all the seedlings, thinking that they were stray dill that had got too far off course. Now I know better.

If you don’t plan on harvesting seeds, remove flower heads to promote bushier growth. Fennel can be treated like an annual if desired, can be grown as an annual, although the established roots will survive most winters with protection. That’s what the experts say anyway, this will be the first year I attempt to over winter Fennel, so we’ll see what happens next spring. Michigan winters tend to be a bit harder on plants than the wimpy winters one reads about in herb guides.

Fennel seems to be one of those plants that doesn’t play well with others, in fact, one herb guide I checked stated that:
“ Fennel is allelopathic to most garden plants, inhibiting growth, causing to bolt, or actually killing many plants.”

Ok, I had to look it up too.

Allelopathy: al-le-lop-a-thy n. The inhibition of growth in one species of plants by chemicals produced by another species.

I learned a new word today!

I saw two complete opposite positions in my research. Some sources state that Fennel is especially harmful to dill and cilantro, while other sources say that dill is one of the few companion plants that fennel will not harm.

Personally, I keep my dill and my fennel far apart, because the leaves look too much alike and I don’t want to go out and pick the wrong one by mistake.

There seem to be three main types of fennel:
Florence Fennel, a type with a greatly enlarged “bulb” meant for use as a vegetable; Sweet Fennel--a plant grown mainly for its seeds used as a spice, but like Florence Fennel entirely edible; and Common Fennel, a wild plant of little culinary use sometimes called Bitter Fennel.

You may have noticed the quotation marks around “bulb” in describing Florence Fennel. The ball at the base of the plant, while somewhat resembling a bulb, is nothing more than a swollen leaf base. A true bulb grows underground and can be used to propagate new plants. Fennel reproduces from seeds, or from pieces of the root crown. This is the part directly beneath the bulbous leaf base, that grows in the ground.

Florence Fennel is harvested at about 14 weeks. Simply cut off the plant about ¾” above the ground. This will allow for feathery fronds to grow from the root base, and you will get a harvest of leaves later in the season. You will not get another ’bulb’ this year from that root base, but you will get leaves and may get seeds.

Leaves can be harvested at any time. The younger they are the more tender they will be, but also the more delicate the flavor.

If you are growing for seed, let the plant grow until the flowers, or seed heads turn yellow and ripen, then cut them and put them in a paper sack to dry. When completely dry, you can shake the seeds loose.

I would let the seeds dry even longer before storing them, to make sure that they are completely, 100% dry. If they are not, they will mold, and all the work and time and effort it took to get a bottle of fennel seeds will have all been for nothing.

Fennel bulbs can be frozen or pickled, while the leaves are better enjoyed fresh. It is not recommended that you dry them, as they become crumbly and lose most of their flavor.

(I always have to test things like that when I read them though, so I will probably dry some this year, just to see for myself.)

Once you have harvested your fennel, the next step is to figure out what to do with it.

Fennel may be served on it’s own, in a variety of ways:

You can,

Parboil slices, drain and place in a buttered dish. Cover with grated parmesan cheese and bake for 15 minutes in a hot oven.


Parboil the whole bulb for 10 minutes. Remove and cut into thick slices (about 3-4 per bulb lengthways). Brown in butter and garlic until the whole garlic clove takes a little colour. Add a little water, cover and slowly braise, turning a few times until done - about 40 minutes. Keep adding small amounts of water so as not to let it burn. The fennel should be lightly brown - allow the liquid to cook down to a little sauce toward the end of cooking time.


Cut in half lengthwise, cut out core and parboil with a lemon slice for 10 min. Bake in hot oven for 20-25 minutes with a sauce.


Steam or sauté thin slices cooked al dente and serve with a tomato or cheese sauce.

Or try one of these recipes:

Fennel with Ham Casserole

Cook ½ lb fettucine
Parboil 1 large fennel bulb as described above.

½ lb ham (thinly sliced)
½ lb Gruyere Cheese (grated) (any good Swiss cheese will work)
¾ c cream
1 Egg

Butter a rectangular baking dish, layer half the noodles, then the fennel, the ham then the cheese. Repeat, ending with the cheese. Mix the cream with the egg and season with salt and white pepper. Pour over the casserole and bake for 30 minutes.

Pickled Fennel

3 lb Fennel (about 9 bulbs)
1 md Orange
2 c White Vinegar
5 T Salt
2 T Sugar
6 Whole pieces Star Anise

Wash fennel and cut away any bruises or bad spots; trim ends and slice into very thin rings. Cut three 1-inch-wide strips of peel from the orange. Remove any pith from peel.
Bring 1 1/2 C water, the vinegar, salt, and sugar to a boil in a large pot.
Meanwhile, fill 3 pint jars halfway with fennel. Place 1 piece of orange rind and 2 pieces star anise on top of fennel. Fill jar with remaining fennel, using the back of a clean spoon to pack it down. Leave 1/4 inch of space beneath the rim.
Pour hot liquid over fennel, covering it by 1/4 inch and leaving 1/2 inch of space beneath the rim of each jar. Place lids on jars and let stand until cool. Store in refrigerator; serve within 3 to 5 days.

Fennel and Tomato Gratin

3 large bulbs fennel, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 large tomatoes, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup stock made from Marigold Bouillon
1 slice bread
1tbsp finely grated parmesan.

Warm the oil in a shallow pan and arrange the sliced fennel in one layer. Cover and leave 10 minutes before adding the garlic. Stir gently, then rearrange the fennel and cover with a layer of tomatoes. Season and pour over the stock, then cover the pan and simmer on the lowest heat for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop the bread into pieces smaller than sugar cubes, grate the parmesan, and combine.
Now tip the fennel and tomato mixture into a baking dish, cover with bread mixture, and bake in a medium oven (160 degrees C) for 20 minutes.

Fennel is a source of Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, Niacin, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Copper, Vitamin C.

Fennel is used medicinally for treatment of flatulence, colic, urinary disorders, and constipation, as well as an eye bath or a compress to reduce inflammation.

Recent research indicates that fennel also reduces the effects of alcohol, and chewing it sweetens the breath. Fusions using the seeds and roots help strengthen the digestion, treat ulcers, and suppress the appetite. However, excessive doses of the oil should not be taken, nor should it be given to pregnant women.

Although the root is sometimes used medicinally, it is not as effective as the seeds. Fennel seed extracts have proven to calm muscle spasms by reducing smooth muscle contractions.

Studies indicate that substances in fennel can reduce airway congestion by thinning and loosening phlegm, which tends to support the addition of fennel in numerous European cough remedies.

An infusion from the seeds makes a good gargle for sore throats or used as a mild expectorant.

A syrup made from an infusion is given for colic and teething pain in babies.

A decoction from the seeds is used in Chinese medicine to relieve abdominal pains, colic, and stomach chills.

Mouthwash and gargles are made from infusions for gum disorders, loose teeth, laryngitis, and sore throats.

Chest rubs are made from the essential oil and combined with eucalyptus and a neutral oil for upper respiratory congestion.

Decoctions from the roots are prescribed for such urinary problems as kidney stones or such disorders associated with high uric acid content as gout.

Fennel also is rich in folklore and in magic, both ancient and modern.

The Greek God Prometheus (from whom Prometheus the Dragon took his name) went to Mt. Olympus and stole fire from Zeus and hid the fire in a giant fennel stalk and brought it down and gave fire to humankind. Later Zeus got very angry at Prometheus for sharing knowledge with humanity and punished him.

Used in cooking, Fennel is said to bring protection to your dinner guests.

Traditionally Fennel is gathered on midsummer's eve and hung in the home for protection. Fennel is hung above doors and windows to protect your home from evil spirits, sorcerers, and from evil spirits from entering into the house. Fennel seeds are placed in keyholes to keep ghosts from coming into the building.

Wearing a piece of Fennel in the left shoe is said to prevent wood ticks from biting your legs. Fennel is also hung up at windows and doors to ward off evil spirits, and the seeds are carried for the same reason. Fennel is used in purification sachets, as well as healing mixtures.

Fennel is still a relatively new addition to our garden. We grew it once before, with limited success, and added it this year, but not understanding how to do it, and it immediately bolted.

I am hoping that armed with this newfound information, Fennel can become a regular part of our garden in the future.

This post is linked to The Food Renegade ~ Fight Back Fridays, where they invite posts from people who are interested in 'SOLE' food. (Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethnic). You can find a collection of recipes, tips, anecdotes and testimonies

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Thyme

The herb of the week is Thyme. (thymus vulgaris)

The word Thyme, came from the Latin word Thymum which came from the Greek Thymon, which is believed to be a derivative of the Greek word Thyein, which meant to make a burnt offering or sacrifice.
The ancient Greeks burnt it as incense in their temples, believing that Thyme was a source of courage.

There is also another theory, that the word comes from the Greek word Tham, which referred to an herb used as part of the mummification process.

It is generally believed that the spread of Thyme throughout Europe was thanks to the Romans, as they used it to purify their rooms and to "give an aromatic flavor to cheese and liqueurs".

In the middle ages, Thyme was placed beneath pillows to aid sleep and ward off nightmares. At this same time, women would give sprigs of Thyme to knights as they went to battle, believing that the Thyme would bring them courage. Thyme was also included in coffins and burned at funerals, as it was believed to aid in the passage to the next life.

Thyme, a strong flavored member of the mint family, gets its flavor from an essential oil known as thymol, which is incidentally the main active ingredient in Listerine Mouthwash.

Thyme is a perennial and will withstand a hard frost, to grow hearty and healthy the following spring. It likes sun and will tolerate full sunlight, although it will do OK in partial shade. It prefers well drained soil. It can be grown from seed, but I personally have had limited success with this, and find that transplants do much better for me.

A slow growing ground cover, Thyme is a welcome addition to any well balanced herb garden. Thyme pretty much grows itself. In fact, the more you fuss with it, the less hardy it will be. Thyme is most fragrant and flavorful when grown in dry, lean soil. Too much moisture will rot the plants.

In the Eastern Mediterranean countries, there is little distinction made between several aromatic members of the mint family, that include Oregano, Thyme, Marjoram, and Savory, so a recipe that calls for one, may, in fact, depending on the region that the recipe came from be referring to one, or any one, of the others. In fact, many Jordanian recipes simply call for zahtar, a blend of such herbs as may be available to the individual cook.

Although strong, it is not overpowering, and it blends well with other herbs and spices, both fresh and dried. Thyme retains its’ flavor in the drying process better than many herbs.

A good source of Iron, Thyme is used widely in European and Mediterranean dishes. With over 100 different varieties, Thyme is on of the most widely used herbs in the world. There is a rule of thumb among many schools of cooking: “When in doubt, use Thyme.”

Culinary uses for Thyme, therefore are too plentiful to count or name.
It makes a nice complement to tomato sauces, cheeses, eggs and vegetables. It can also be used to flavor jellies, breads, vinegars, marinades, sauces and in bouquet garni. holds its flavor in cooking and blends well with other flavors of the Mediterranean region, like garlic, olive oil and tomatoes

Of course there are hundreds of Thyme recipes available, but here are a few simple ones:


8 oz. Philadelphia Cream Cheese
I Tablespoon freshly chopped Thyme
I Tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
1/2 Teaspoon finely minced garlic

Blend all ingredients thoroughly and roll into a 1" diameter log in wax paper. Refrigerate overnight. Slice into 1/4" wheels and serve on crackers.

Lemon Thyme Tea

2 Cups water
1/2 Teaspoon fresh lemon Thyme leaves
1/2 Teaspoon honey
Bring water to a boil and remove from the heat. Add Thyme leaves and steep for 5 minutes. Strain into cups and add honey. Relax and enjoy

Zucchini with Thyme

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 pound fresh zucchini, cut into 3-by-1/2-inch sticks
1 beef bouillon cube, crumbled (use vegetarian bouillon for vegetarian option)
1 teaspoon dried Thyme or 1 Tbsp fresh Thyme, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter on medium heat. Add the onion and parsley and cook until soft, but not browned.
Add the zucchini sticks, crumbled bouillon cube, Thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper. Gently stir to coat the zucchini. Cover and cook until tender, from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how tender the raw zucchini is to begin with, and how small you have sliced the pieces. Check and stir every few minutes. Be careful not to overcook.

Medicinally Thyme has many uses. It has been used through the centuries as a remedy for many ailments, from epilepsy to melancholy. Nowadays, it is prescribed by herbalists for intestinal worms, gastrointestinal ailments, bronchial problems, laryngitis, diarrhea, and lack of appetite. It has antiseptic properties, and can be used as a mouthwash, skin cleanser, anti-fungal agent for athlete's foot and as an anti-parasitic for lice, scabies, and crabs. For skin inflammations and sores, make a poultice by mashing the leaves into a paste.

To use Thyme as an anti-fungal agent or as a parasitic, mix four ounces of Thyme to a pint of alcohol, or buy the essential oil and use sparingly on the affected area. For bronchitis and gastric problems, make a tea to be used once per day. Add honey as a sweetener, if desired.

This warming herb can help loosen and bring up excessive mucus during upper respiratory diseases or sinus problems, yet, because it has anti-spasmodic tendencies, it can reduce dry coughing. It is said to improve digestion and help reduce spasms; and reduce rheumatic and arthritic pain.

A paste of warm, moistened Thyme leaves applied to the affected area is recommended for the relief of pain from abscesses, boils or swelling. In fact, this has also been known to help sciatica and rheumatic pain. Anti-inflammatory anti-pain salves, made by infusing herbs in oils such as Olive Oil or Sesame Oil, often include Thyme for the ability of its volatile oil, Thymol, to deaden pain and quiet spasms. Because Onions are excellent anti-inflammatories, an Onion broth, with a handful of dried Thyme thrown in, will help with aching joints or muscles from arthritis or from flu. Heating Chopped Onions in some olive Oil, with Coarse Salt and Thyme, until golden, and applying the COOLED mixture to a bruised site, externally, is often also very soothing and effective, even on stubbed toes and twisted ankles.

The essential oil of Thyme (Thymol) can cause adverse reactions if taken in it's pure form, so use Thyme-based medications sparingly. If taken in a tea, drink only once or twice per day, and if used on the skin, be aware that it may cause irritation.

In ancient lore, Thyme was thought to have the ability to attract fairies. In the same way as Sage, it has been burned in many places throughout time to cleanse the air, protect from plague, and ward off evil spirits

In Magic, Thyme is burned in incense to purify an area. A place where wild Thyme grows will be a particularly powerful energy center on earth. A magical cleansing bath can be make by pouring a tea made with Thyme and marjoram into the bathwater. A pillow stuffed with Thyme cures nightmares. When attending a funeral, wear a sprig of Thyme to repel the negativity of the mourners. Use as incense for: Health; Healing; Purification; Clairvoyance; Courage; Love; Psychic Awareness; Energy; Power; Strength. Thyme is often burned prior to magical rituals to cleanse the area. Carried and smelled to give courage and energy.

The Wiccan Herb guide suggests that Thyme promotes love and psychic abilities, heightens empathy and helps to rid oneself of psychic sludge.

Thyme has always been, and continues to be one of my favorite herbs. And if it helps with psychic sludge, I now have one more reason to like it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Basil

The herb of the week is Basil. (ocimum basilicum)

I cannot think about Basil, without thinking of Sherlock Holmes.

Sadly, I also can’t hear the name Basil Rathbone, without picturing a leafy green character reminiscent of Sesame Street, The Muppet Show or Vegi-Tales.

But once I move beyond word recognition, Basil is one of the very most fragrant herbs I have ever grown. I hadn’t cooked with it much when Diann and I first met, and so at first I was reluctant at first to put an annual into our garden. But once we started growing it, I was hooked.

If for no other reason that the aroma, Basil is an essential part of our garden now. We can go outside, and drag our fingers across the plants and the fragrance follows us all the way down the walkway.

Basil got its name indirectly from the Greek word basilieus meaning King. But the story doesn’t end there. Basil was not necessarily the king of herbs.

Legend has it that the name came from a mythical creature known as the basilisk (or king of snakes) . This creature was supposed to have the head of a rooster, the body of a serpent, and the wings of a bat.

It was extremely poisonous and even its breath or glare could be fatal. Its appearance is so dreadful, that if it could see itself in a mirror it would burst apart with horror and fear. Basil was said to be the only cure for its bite as well as its breath, which could kill plants and animals.

Another explanation is that, as it was used in embalming, the name came from the Greek basilikon phuton, meaning magnificent, royal or kingly herb. I have no way of knowing which one is true, but personally, I prefer the Basilisk story, just because it is more exciting.

Basil is rich in folklore and superstition. Because of its believed effectiveness against the basilisk, Basil was presumed to have medicinal properties when applied to the bites or stings of animals.

The ancient Greeks and Romans thought that Basil would only be effective if it were planted while the sower was screaming wild curses. They also believed if you left a Basil leaf under a pot, it would turn into a scorpion. Many believed that even smelling the leaves would cause scorpions to grow in the brain!

When the Hindu god, came down to Earth she was supposed to have taken the form of Basil. As such, Hindus hold the herb sacred and ask forgiveness when they touch it.

In Romania there is an old custom that if a boy accepts a sprig of basil from a girl, he is engaged to marry her.

Legend has it that Basil was found growing around the tomb of Jesus.  **Note,  Although many herbal legends seem to share this claim, it may not be too far from the truth in this case. Basil was often used in embalming, dating back to ancient Egypt, and as such was planted in areas in and around tombs, where it would be readily available when needed.

Today, it is a primary ingredient in Italian and Vietnamese, Laotian and Thai cooking, In addition to its culinary uses, Basil is also used in perfumes, soaps, shampoos and dental preparations.

Basil is a fragrant and tasty annual, good raw or cooked, which can be grown indoors or out. It is very sensitive to frost and even to cold winds. It does best 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. It will grow in full shade, and do remarkably well, but plants grown in the shade do not develop as strong of flavor as plants grown in full sun.

Although it can be grown from seed, there are over 60 different varieties of basil, so there are always many varieties of plants available at the nursery each spring.

One of the most important steps in growing a superb batch of basil is the harvest.

The goal is to grow your plant to the maximum height and produce the bushiest plant possible with the most amounts of leaves. That is the secret to growing great basil, and although most people know how to plant and pick and even cook Basil, many, like myself until this season, do not understand the tricks to getting a big full bushy plant. The key is actually in the pruning that you do to produce the best plant.

Fairly early in the growing season, you should try nipping off the end growth of each branch. The plant should have at least 3 sets of leaves at this point, and be at least 1 foot tall, to ensure that you are not going to kill the plant. It is even better if you wait until they have 4 to 6 sets of leaves so that the plant will flourish for a longer period of time. For the first pruning you should cut the plant right above the second set of leaves. This needs to be done every 3 weeks or so, to see a significant growth. If you do this correctly every time then you should be able to produce 15-24 cups of basil per plant per season.

Like most herbs, the best time to harvest the basil is in the morning. It should be right after the morning dew has dried, and before the heat of the afternoon. The essential oils are at their strongest at that time, giving more flavor to the plant. The night before you harvest, you should water down the plant thoroughly to ensure that all the dust and particles have been washed off.

*Note: This strategy will work for many of your herbs. By nipping the end of the branch, you force growth further down the branch, producing a bushier, leafier plant.

Once you have your Basil harvested, there are several things you can do with it. Of course, fresh Basil can be used for many things, from salads to garnishes, to pesto, to pizza.

Basil can be dried or frozen, as well. Neither method will be as good as fresh Basil, but you will still be able to add the flavor of basil to foods long after the growing season has ended.
Before you go preserving all of it, though, you should try this recipe with some of your fresh Basil:

Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Plate

1 ball (8 ounces) fresh mozzarella
1 large ripe tomato
1/2 cup fresh whole Basil leaves
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Use a serrated knife to halve the ball of mozzarella and then slice into 1/4-inch thick half moons. Slice the top and bottom off of the tomato; chop these pieces into a fine dice and set aside. Slice the tomato in half down through the center and then cut each half into 1/4-inch thick half moons.
Working in a circle on a dinner plate-sized serving platter, overlap the slices of mozzarella and tomatoes. Tuck a Basil leaf in between each layer, allowing much of the leaf to show. Arrange the reserved diced tomatoes in the center of the plate and garnish with another Basil leaf or two. Drizzle the olive oil over everything; sprinkle with the salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with a nice crusty bread, preferably homemade.
Makes two or three servings.

It’s not the same, but this recipe reminds me, Diann makes an absolutely delicious concoction with tomatoes and garlic and Basil that she puts on toasted bread. She knows the fancy Italian word for it, but I just call it good! It was the reason that we decided to grow Basil, even though it is an annual. Basil is one of the few annuals we grow in our herb garden.

And of course, by this time of year, we have all eaten all the zucchini we want for the summer, but the darn plants just wont stop yet, so here is a way to use up a few of those big green behemoths.

Remember, as with most dried herbs, 1 T. fresh basil = 1 t. dried basil.

Zucchini Chowder

2 medium zucchini, chopped (1 large)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. fresh parsley minced
1 1/2 t. dried Basil
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
3 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
Pinch sugar, optional
Chopped fresh herbs, optional garnish

In at least a 4 qt. soup kettle over medium heat, saute the zucchini, onion, garlic, parsley, and Basil in butter until vegetables are tender. Stir in flour, salt and white pepper. Gradually stir in chicken stock and lemon juice; mix well. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add Tomatoes, evaporated milk, and corn; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 5 minutes or until corn is tender. Just before serving, stir in Cheddar and Parmesan Cheese.

Add sugar and garnish with chopped fresh herbs, may also be garnished with homemade croutons.

There are many medicinal uses for Basil, The leaves are said to strengthen the stomach and induce perspiration. They are used as a nerve tonic and  said to sharpen the memory. During the rainy season
boiled with tea, it is said to as preventive against malaria. In case of acute fevers, the leaves boiled with powdered cardamom in half a liter of water and mixed with sugar and milk is reported to bring down the temperature. It is given every 2-3 hours, with sips of cold water given in between.

Basil has been reported to bring on Menstrual cycles, and so pregnant women should not treat with Basil unless directed by a physician.

Basil is a primary ingredient in many cough syrups and expectorants. It can help to mobilize mucus in bronchitis and asthma. A decoction of the leaves, with honey and ginger may be used to treat bronchitis, asthma, and dry cough. A decoction of the leaves, cloves and common salt is said to give immediate relief in case of influenza. In either case they should be boiled in half a liter of water till only half the water is left then add the other ingredients. Common sense reminds us to be careful when administering any hot liquid, so as to not burn the mouth.

Basil leaves are regarded as an 'adaptogen' or anti-stress agent. Studies have shown that the leaves can provide significant protection against stress. Even healthy persons can chew leaves of basil, twice a day, to help prevent stress. As an added benefit this will help counteract bad breath, and will also contribute to healthy gums.

In Magic, Basil is said to open the pathway to prosperity, promote a sense of love and well being and is reportedly an aphrodisiac for women. Basil is used in purification and wealth spells.

Put basil leaves in all corners of the rooms in your house to aid in protection. Make a basil charm and carry on your person or hang in your car to aid in safe trips. Place basil leaves in your wallet to help in the aid of monetary needs. Carry basil in your pocket for luck in gambling.

To foretell relationships place two basil leaves on burning charcoal. If the leaves fly apart so will the relationship. If the leaves burn quietly the lovers will be in bliss. Basil is used in many potions, for love money health and protection. Use basil incense for purification before rituals. Burn basil for visions questing.

Witches flying ointment is made with the juice of basil. To promote fidelity sprinkle basil over your partners heart. Use basil oil in room diffusers to promote tranquillity.

Basil leaves put on computers is said to keep them working.

And on that note, I hope that a picture on my screen will work as well ~!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Rosemary

The herb of the week is Rosemary.

Although officially a member of the Mint family, Rosemary, a perennial, evergreen shrub, with needle-like leaves has very little in common with most varieties of mint.

The name Rosemary, has nothing to do with roses, or Mary, but is derived from the Latin, rosmarinus
ros meaning “dew,” and marinus meaning “of the sea”. The name, dew of the sea, presumable came about since it is found growing wild in Mediterranean regions near the sea.

An herb that is not known for its‘ flowers but rather for its’ foliage, Rosemary is planted almost as often for ornamental purposes as for anything else. But despite its’ attractive appearance, it is a very valuable culinary herb. It does flower, generally in the spring, and the flowers are edible as well.

Rosemary is a low maintenance plant, and can actually suffer from too much attention. But there are still a few things you should know to keep your Rosemary plant healthy.

Rosemary can die outside at temperatures below 30 degrees, although I have kept it alive right up until it hit zero. Sub zero temperatures have killed mine every time I tried to keep one through the winter, no matter how much I mulch and try to protect it.

Rosemary will do well indoors, as long as it gets at least 6 hours a day of sunlight, but indoors, there is a danger of powdery mildew forming on the leaves. This is a white powdery fungus that grows if your air is too humid. You can discourage this by letting the soil dry completely between waterings, and keeping a small fan running to provide air circulation.

Powdery mildew will not kill your plant, but it will make it weak, and of course, nobody wants Rosemary and powdery mildew flavored roasted chicken.

It is difficult to grow Rosemary from seed, and you will have more luck with either cuttings or nursery transplants.

Rosemary likes sunlight, air and good drainage. 6-8 hours of full sun a day is ideal.

If you have a climate that will allow you to grow Rosemary outdoors year round, plant your Rosemary in sunlight, with good drainage in a spot where the breeze will blow through it, and where the water won’t pool around the roots.

Rosemary is harvested by simply cutting off a sprig. It can be used fresh or dried, and is good with wild game, chicken, pork, vegetables, or anything else you want to roast. Rosemary does not shrink much when drying, so it is one of the few herbs that you use the same measurement for, whether using fresh, or dried. Having said that, should you choose to powder, or crush your dried leaves, one teaspoon of powdered Rosemary equals two teaspoons of crushed Rosemary.

Freeze whole sprigs of Rosemary. When you need some, slide your thumb and index finger down a sprig, taking off as many leaves as you need. Remember, frozen Rosemary is stronger than fresh

Fresh leaves can be added whole, or chopped coarsely. If using whole leaves you may want to mash them a bit with a mortar and pestle, or if you don’t have one, put them inside a ziplock back, unzipped, and run your rolling pin over them a few times, to release the oils.

After you have used all the leaves, the twigs can be soaked in water and placed on your coals next time you light up the grill, to add a smoky Rosemary flavor to your food.

A 2-4 inch sprig of Rosemary added to a pot of tea will liven the tea, while the same size sprig added to a pitcher of lemonade will give it a flavor burst that makes it even more refreshing.

Equal parts Rosemary leaves and olive oil, with a dash or hint of soy sauce, makes a good glaze when grilling meats or vegetables.

Mix 1 T each Rosemary, Marjoram, Sage, Olive Oil, And 1 C white wine, for a marinade for meats.

Marinate eggplant “steaks” in this overnight and lay them on the grill for a special treat. Add Rosemary with butter, salt and pepper to flavor baked potatoes.

Rosemary is especially appealing to those on a low sodium diet, as the robust flavor will often reduce the need for added salt.

Besides a culinary herb, Rosemary has many medicinal qualities. It is rich in anti-oxidants and has antibacterial properties as well. Rosemary wine can boost the circulation and nervous systems, while Rosemary tea is used for treating colds, headaches and nervous disorders as well as treating muscle cramps and calming nerves. An emulsion made from Rosemary oil and hot water, when gargled will help a sore throat.
CAUTION: When Rosemary is used as a tea, the dose should not exceed one cup per day. Overdose can cause fatal poisoning.

Laboratory studies in Europe have shown that Rosemary contains chemicals called quinones, which have cancer prevention properties. The studies show that oil from the leaves of the Rosemary plant can help prevent the development of cancerous tumors in laboratory animals. It is quite possible that this applies to humans as well, though the studies have not yet confirmed this.

It has long been believed that Rosemary would help the memory. Shakespeare made reference to this in Hamlet.
In ancient Greece, students wore Rosemary garlands while studying for exams believing it improved their memory.

In superstition and folklore, Rosemary has long been associated with memory or remembrance. At one time Rosemary was used in almost every wedding ceremony. Brides wore wreaths woven with sprigs of Rosemary dipped in scented waters, or they carried Rosemary in their bouquets. At funerals mourners tossed fresh sprigs into the grave as a sign that the life of the departed would not be forgotten. Tapping a fresh sprig of Rosemary against the finger of a loved one was supposed to secure his or her affection. Even today, an offering of Rosemary signifies love, friendship, and remembrance

The folklore doesn’t end there though. For centuries people thought that a Rosemary plant would grow no higher than 6 feet in 33 years so as not to stand taller than Christ. Another story tells that the flowers were originally white but changed to blue when the Virgin Mary hung her cloak on a bush while fleeing from Herod's soldiers with the Christ child. Rosemary possessed powers of protection against evil spirits, or so people thought. In the Middle Ages, men and women would place sprigs under their pillows to ward off demons and prevent bad dreams.

In magic, Rosemary when burned, is believed to emit powerful cleansing and purifying vibrations, and so is smoldered to rid a place of negativity, especially prior to performing magic. It is one of the oldest incenses. It is burned for protection, exorcism, purification, healing, to cause sleep, To restore or maintain youth; to bring love and to increase intellectual powers. Rosemary infusion is used to wash the hands before healing work, and the leaves mixed with juniper berries are burned in sickrooms to promote healing

Rosemary is also thought to be a protective herb. It can be made into a protection wreath, and can be placed above the door or under the bed for protection from evil. Try it in a dream pillow or put it in a pillowcase to protect and ward off bad dreams.

Lastly, and not surprisingly, the fragrance of Rosemary is said to be of benefit as far as emotional spirit, youthful outlook, and pleasant memories. Use it in potpourris and sachets for this purpose.

I grow it because I like the way it smells after a rainstorm, when the sun hits it, and I like to add some when I am grilling chicken. But with all these other uses, I see Rosemary being a more widely used herb for me in the future.