Bloody dock, boneset, motherwort, skullcap - these sound like things you shouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, let alone eat. However, these and other oddly named herbs are completely safe for human consumption.
An herb is a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory or aromatic qualities. Most plants that can be categorized as herbs make it on the basis of some medicinal concoction derived from root, leaf, bark, flower or fruit. Many herbs are consider weeds, others are shrubs or trees (hydrangias are herbs!) Easy to grow, herbs are a common addition to household gardens.
My herb garden contains several types of oregano and thyme, parsley, rosemary, sage, mint, borage, chives, nasturtiums, lavender, calendula, tarragon, fennel and dill. I added sweet woodruff this spring and still need to plant savory and marjoram. Basil - a household favorite - will be planted in large pots by the kitchen door.
Cook without herbs? That would definitely alter the flavors coming out of my kitchen. Herbs add a dimension to food that salt and pepper cannot.
To illustrate the impact herbs have on food, place cubes of ordinary cheddar cheese on a platter lined with rosemary sprigs. In the time it takes to carry the platter from the kitchen to the picnic table, the rosemary will infuse the cheese, elevating it to artisan quality.
When sanitation was rudimentary and unpleasant odors abounded, the practice of 'strewing herbs' was popular. To mask odors, herb-based concoctions were strewn on the floor and trampled by foot to release a pleasant fragrance. Today, people buy the same fragrances in spray containers or 'plug-ins' to sweeten the smell of their home.
Ancient herbalists were adept at using aromatic herbs to make sweet-smelling soaps, fragrant waters for bathing or rinsing hair, and breath sweeteners. Ever hear of love and sleeping potions? These potions were also made of aromatic herbs.
People throughout the world and ages have credited herbs with healing powers. Herbal home remedies are used as antiseptics, astringents and expectorants, to heal burns, stop bleeding, cure colds and coughs. Today's natural healing and homeopathy remedies are based on scientific data of the healing qualities of these plants.
Want to learn more about herbs? Then meet my new friend and herbalist, Kate Parker.
Kate, owner of Katula Herbs, LLC., is a new vendor at Lake Oswego Farmers' Market this year. Kate moved from the East Coast in 2003, with the intent to combine her passion for growing plants with a long-time interest in homeopathy and natural healing. The first seedlings were planted in 2004, on her McMinnville-area herb farm.
Kate grows more than 40 Mediterranean-type herbs (she pronounces the 'h' in 'herbs') without chemicals or pesticides and with concern for companion planting and creating a diverse, sustainable environment.
One of Kate's favorite herbs this time of year is basil and she grows several varieties for different uses. She uses lemon basil for cooking chicken or fish, Thai or cinnamon basil for salads and insists Greek basil is perfect for pairing with tomatoes. Toisi basil is a rare variety used in Indian cuisines.
Another herb on Kate's 'favorites list' right now is an uncommon herb called zaatar. A Middle Eastern herb, zaatar combines the flavors of oregano, thyme and marjoram and is a wonderful accompaniment to vegetable or egg dishes, soups and stews.
Kate reminded me to make bouquets of the blossoms of the herbs for use in salads, or as garnish for entrees. They are beautiful to the eye and stomach.
There are many toothsome ways to use herbs. You can whip them into butter or make teas, salts or liqueurs. Pesto, traditionally made from basil, is a popular way to use herbs to create a versatile food.
Try this mixed herb pesto for a change of pace from your regular basil pesto. Use it as a dip on grilled pita or baguette or stirred into tortellini!
Bon Appetit! Eat Locally!
Mixed Herb Pesto
Makes about ¾ cup
1 cup packed fresh flat leaf parsley leaves, washed well and spun dry
½ cup packed fresh basil leaves, washed well and spun dry
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves
½ cup freshly ground grated Parmesan (about 1 ½ ounces)
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup walnuts or pinenuts, toasted golden brown and cooled
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
In a food processor, blend together all ingredients with salt and pepper to taste until smooth.
Cook's notes: Refrigerated and with the surface covered with plastic wrap, pesto will keep for one week.