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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Unusual Herb Presentation.

On Tuesday evening I gave a presentation for the Monroe Herb Study Group, at the library in Frenchtown MI.

The presentations I have done so far this year were all aimed at getting basic information to beginning herb gardeners, to help them start an herb garden.

I usually discuss the basics of herb history and soil preparation, and then give some tips on herb selection. I end with some specific information and tips on several of the most common herbs grown by beginners.


After I had agreed to do this presentation, I got an email from one of the officers of the group, pointing out that most of the members of this group were experienced herb growers, and I may want to gear my presentation toward advanced topics rather than novice herb information.

So I picked some of the more unusual herbs to talk about. As the group members arrived, they saw this picture projected on the screen:



I gave them each a blank answer sheet so they could fill in the ones that they knew.

Most of the people there were able to identify at least a few of them. want to play along?

Take a pencil and paper and see how many of them you can name.

OK, times up.

Here is a brief recap of eight unusual or uncommon herbs that the experienced herb gardener may want to consider adding to their garden.



Epazote
Dysphania ambrosioides

Other Names: Jesuit's tea, Skunkweed, Mexican Tea, Wormseed,
Pigweed, West Indian Goosefoot, Hedge Mustard, Jerusalem Parsley

Used in Mexican cuisine for thousands of years dating back to the Aztecs who used it for cooking as well as for medicinal purposes. Considered by many to be essential in any authentic Mexican dish. The taste is strong, slightly bitter, with hints of lemon or citrus.

It also known as wormseed because of it's effects on preventing worms in animals. It is often added to animal feed for this reason.

Epazote is poisonous in large quantities, and the pure concentrated oil is an explosive.

When cooked with beans, it can help relieve gas. (This is called a carminative)

The smell has been described as a combination between kerosene and dirty socks. The word epazote comes from the Aztec words 'epatl' and 'tzotl' meaning smelly animal.

Although it is not the same, Savory can be substituted for Epazote in many recipes. The flavor will be different but they both go well with similar foods, and they are both carminatives.

A self seeding annual, it prefers full sun, dry but not arid, neutral light soil, and can grow as tall as 36” tall.


Tea Berry
Gaultheria procumbens

Other Names: Eastern Teaberry, Checkerberry, Boxberry, or American Wintergreen, Canada Tea, deerberry, ground berry, hillberry, mountain tea, spiceberry


Grows in acid soil, In full sun to full shade,, although it generally produces fruit only in sunnier areas

Leaves and fruits (berries) have a clean minty flavor used in teas and candies. Inspired the name of Clark’s Teaberry chewing gum.

Native Americans brewed a tea from the leaves to treat, headache, fever, sore throat and various aches and pains. During the American Revolution, wintergreen leaves were used as a substitute for tea, which was scarce.

Wintergreen oil is made almost exclusively of methyl salicylate, a precursor to common aspirin. People with allergies to aspirin should not use wintergreen oil.

In the spring, Wintergreen leaves are bronze-colored, tender, and edible. They toughen in the summer, turning a dark green, and emit the familiar wintergreen aroma when broken. Wintergreen is a nice autumn ornamental, as its leaves become red or purple in colder regions.

The leaves will have a much stronger flavor if allowed to ferment for 24-72 hours before using.



Red Shiso
Perilla frutescens
Other Names: purple mint, Japanese basil, or wild coleus Beefsteak plant

Used in Japan to make tempura, and to color pickled plums. Its purple-red leaves add a splash of color to the herb garden.

An attractive annual, Shiso aggressively self-sows.

Use fresh in salads, soups, and as a garnish for fish

In the summer of 2009, Pepsi Japan released a new seasonal flavored beverage, Pepsi Shiso.

Perilla oil has a rich taste and scent slightly resembling dark Sesame Oil. Perilla seed can be cooked with meals, roasted, crushed to intensify its taste and/or mixed with sesame and salt.

The pure oil, while toxic to some animals, is a source of Omega 3 fatty acid.


Cuban Oregano
Plectranthus amboinicus

Other Names: Spanish thyme, Indian borage, Mexican thyme, Mexican mint, in Cuba, interestingly enough, it is known as French Oregano.


A succulent perennial herb it can reach up 10 20 inches in height with fleshy leaves in opposite pairs. It occasionally produces pale violet flowers.

Cuban Oregano is neither Cuban, nor Oregano. It is actually of Middle Eastern Origin, most likely from India and it is actually more closely related to Coleus than it is Oregano.

This is a sprawling herb that will take up a lot of room indoors, but is also a tender herb, very sensitive to the cold, so in Michigan, it will need to be taken inside in the winter..

Although not grown for its flowers, occasionally it will produce spikes of a small purple flower in the fall.

It is sometimes used as a substitute for Oregano, and if you find a food that is labeled "Oregano Flavored" odds are that this is the plant that was used.

It can be used as a substitute for sage in many recipes, is widely used in stuffing and has a flavor somewhere between Oregano and Thyme, with just a hint of sage.



Costmary
Tanacetum balsamita

Other Names: scented salvia, farmers' salvia, balm leaf, fragrant leaf, bible leaf

Costmary is an "old-fashioned" herb which gardeners are beginning to re-discover. In the Victorian era, nearly every kitchen gardener grew this sweetly scented plant

A flowering perennial, Costmary should be renewed by division every few years, since the old plant becomes bare at the center. Costmary blooms from late summer until long into the fall. The daisy-like flowers are small and yellow and, like the leaves, have an exquisite fragrance.

Costmary obtained the name 'Bible Leaf' when sermons were unendurably long. A leaf was placed between the pages of the Bible; when fatigued it was taken up and sniffed in an effort to keep one awake. It still makes a fragrant and fun bookmark and has the added benefit of repelling insects, especially the small ones that like to feed on paper.

Has a mint like flavor and smell with a hint of citrus.

This herb loves light and sunshine. Plants are quite hardy and survive cold winters.


Salad Burnet
Sanguisorba minor

Other Names: Salad burnet, Garden burnet, Small burnet, Pimpinela (not to be confused with Pimpinela anisum)

An herbaceous perennial, it grows from up to 20“ tall and the same distance across.

It is used as an ingredient in both salads and dressings, having a flavor described as "light cucumber". Typically, the youngest leaves are used, as they tend to become bitter as they age.

Brought to the New World by the first English Colonists, it was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and Francis Bacon.

In summer the plant produces tiny red blossoms on green flower globes and these can be used as an attractive garnish. They are edible, but lack flavor.

It will self seed if the flowers are not cut, but cutting the flowers will produce a fresh crop of tender leaves.

Sanguisorba translates literally at “drink up blood”. This plant was used medicinally in Elizabethan times to treat internal bleeding. Knowing this soldiers would drink it in tea or wine before going into battle.


Anise
Pimpinella anisum

Other Names: Anis, Aniseed,, Anisi Fructus, Pinella, Shatpushpa, Sweet Cumin.


An herbaceous flowering annual member of the carrot family, known for its’ flavor which is also found in licorice, fennel and tarragon.

Sow directly into the ground or transplant very early, established plants do not transplant well.

Hippocrates recommended it for coughs, and the Roman scholar Pliny used it as a breath freshener.

Anise seed will germinate more rapidly if sown near coriander. It has been shown that the presence of coriander improves the actual seed formation of the anise plant.

The leaves are used in salads or as a garnish and dried for teas and in eggs, fruit, cheese, pastries, cakes, and cookies

The delicate white flowers are a favorite of honeybees.



Comfrey
Symphytum officinale

Other Names: Knitbone, Ass Ear, Black Root, Blackwort, Bruisewort, Consolidae Radix, Consound, Consuelda, Gum Plant, Healing Herb, Knitback, Salsify, Slippery Root, Wallwort

Known for centuries as the Miracle Herb because it was a favorite of herbal practicioners and healers.

Has a deep tap root that will go as deep as six feet into the ground to draw out minerals and nutrients, especially potassium.

Plant it where you want it, because it will be very hard to move it once established.

The leaves have concentrated potassium and nitrogen, but very little carbon, so they decompose very rapidly. This makes them a natural compost plant and an excellent source of organic fertilizer.

The plant is very tolerant and grows in almost any site except shallow or dry chalky soil. It does not do well in containers.

The leaves and roots contain allantoin, an anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory compound found in medicated creams and lotions shown to stimulate and accelerate cell proliferation.

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