How to Use Culinary and Medicinal Herbs
In my back yard I have a small garden with a variety of herbs. The gentle smell they release when you brush against them is reason enough to incorporate them into your garden. They generally do not take a lot of space and you can plant them just about anywhere. Try planting some of the more fragrant plants along a walkway so when you brush against them, it releases a wonderful scent. Plant just above a retaining wall so you can watch them trail over the wall as they grow creating an appealing visual (English Thyme or Marjoram is great for this). Planting Herbs for a nice look or smell is not the only reason to have these gems in your yard! Herbs have many uses, incorporating herbs in everyday cooking is one of my favorite things, especially when I can get them from my own yard. Some other great uses for herbs are using them for a Potpourri, drying them for a nice arrangement, and of course there medicinal purpose for using them.
There are so many Herbs available I couldn’t possibly include all of them, so let me start with a few of my favorites that I grow myself here in Western Pennsylvania.
English Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
English Thyme is the traditional variety of this commonly used culinary herb. English Thyme, a basic in herb gardening, has small evergreen, gray-green leaves and blooms white/pale purple in the summer. It is a robust grower, making it a good ground-cover in the garden. Like all Thyme herb plants, it is shallow-rooted and needs a moist, well-draining soil. It does best in full sun to partial sun. English Thyme is a great compliment to lamb, beef, eggs, infused in honey and more. Try this delicious herb in breads, butters, with cheese, on your eggs or fish, sprinkle some in your salad or on your veggies.
In addition to be a delicious and multifaceted culinary herb, English Thyme is an insect repellent and will keep your garden pest free. For indoor use, mix some dried Thyme and Lavender to ward off moths in your closets and drawers. Thyme has also been proven to encourage healthier growth of eggplants, tomatoes and potatoes when grown near them in the garden. This herb also makes a very nice border to any flower garden.
English Thyme has been historically used for its antiseptic properties on battlefields as well as in the home. Extracted oils from English Thyme have also been used to treat epilepsy, depression, headaches, and respiratory issues.
French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
One of my favorites, this herb has a flavor that resembles licorice! This herb is fantastic on eggs, fish or any delicate flavored dish. Making flavored vinegar is another popular way to use French Tarragon. Simply place 4 or 5 sprigs in a jar and fill with nice white vinegar, set it in the sun for a few weeks to infuse the flavor, shaking it daily. Then simply remove the herb from the vinegar and strain it through some cheesecloth. You are left with wonderfully flavored vinegar to use as you wish; it’s a nice treat with fresh greens in a tossed salad.
Tarragon is commonly used in cooking but also has medicinal history of use. It has been said that chewing on tarragon was used to treat a toothache due to the ability to numb the mouth. It is also used as a digestive aid relieving stomach cramps and promoting the appetite, a mild sedative and as a heart disease prevention aid. Tarragon can also be used to fight fatigue and calm the nerves. Try substituting this herb for salt if you are concerned with high blood pressure.
Being a Chef, I enjoy the flavor it gives certain food items, but it is great to know that there are other ways to use herbs, that is what makes them so wonderful!
Well there are two of my favorite herbs, what do I do at the end of the season? I dry them of course! Drying herbs is a great way to keep them for use over the winter months when you don’t have the fresh garden to pick from. I simply gather a few sprigs and tie them together and hang up-side-down in a warm area with good air flow and allow them to dry naturally for a few weeks. I then take them down and gently remove the leaves from the stems and store them in a jar to be used as needed. Another way to dry them if you don’t like them hanging around is by using an electric dehydrator, just follow the directions on your dehydrator and in a short time you will have the same or better results. You can always freeze the herbs in an ice cube tray with a small amount of water and use the frozen cubes in your favorite dish.
As I mentioned before, there are so many different herbs, and so many things you could do with them, I couldn’t possibly list all of them. I will however keep writing about these wonderful plants and how to use them, so stop back soon for more on herbs.