Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ten Culinary Herbs & Their Uses

Notes from the Jackson County Master Gardener class on culinary herbs, 2015.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. Be as creative as you like with herbs ... you never know what your favorite flavor or combination is until you try it.


(Petroselinum crispum). Apiacaea family (Fennel, Caraway, Queen Anne's Lace, etc). Biennial, or annual in subtropic/tropic climates.
Parts Used: Leaf & Root
Characteristics: Deep green, slightly serrated leaves with a potent fragrance reminiscent of carrot leaves and parsnips. Has aromatic, hollow stems. Take great care when identifying in the wild. Lookalikes can be very dangerous
Planting/harvest: Full to part sun, loamy soil. Water evenly throughout summer. Dry leaves or freeze 'parsley pesto'. Potted plants keep well indoors in a sunny window over winter. Plant parsley near asparagus, corn, and tomatoes. Left to seed it will spread far and wide!
Flavor: Parsley offers a mild, but very clean flavor similar to that of parsnips.
Use it in: Fresh in tomato and other salads, as a garnish to soups and light poultry and fish. Take care not to overcook it lest the herb lose its potency and color.
Pairs with: Carrots, parsnips, tomato, onion, garlic, mint, thyme, chives.
Medicinal Uses: Parsley’s medicinal effects rest in its volatile oils and flavonoids: apiole, myristicin, terpinolene, appin and others. These components also account for parsley’s notable flavor. Parsley is known to offer therapeutic uses in the treatment of the urinary tract and is approved by Germany’s Commission E – a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine – for use in the treatment of urinary tract infections as well as kidney and bladder stones. Parsley is used for gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, constipation, jaundice, intestinal gas (flatulence), indigestion, colic, diabetes, cough, asthma, fluid retention (edema), osteoarthritis, “tired blood” (anemia), high blood pressure, prostate conditions, and spleen conditions. It is also used to start menstrual flow, as an aphrodisiac, and as a breath freshener.
Notes: Use fresh or dry. High in iron, Vitamins A, B, C, and trace minerals. Parsley was used during World War I on soldiers with kidney complications from dysentery. It was brought to Newfoundland before 1620 by British sea Captain John Mason and grown by Plymouth Colonists in their first gardens.

Bay Laurel

(Laurus nobilis). Lauraceae family (Laurels, Cinnamon). Evergreen.
Parts Used: Leaves, fruit, oil.
Characteristics: Native to the Mediterranean, bay laurel or sweet bay is a shrub/small tree with thick, leathery, deep olive-green, oblong leaves that have an unmistakable aroma. It produces small yellow flowers which develop into purple berries in the fall. Usually does very well in containers.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, moderately rich, well drained soil. Bay trees are slow growing, but after one year in pots they can be transplanted into the garden or a larger container. Dry mature leaves. Growing bay near other plants is not a problem unless the tree gets too large and the roots take nourishment from nearby soil.
Flavor: Sweet bay is rich and deep, faintly spicy.
Use it in: As a flavoring for soups, stews, pilafs and with seafood.
Pairs with: parsley, peppercorns, allspice, fennel, thyme, mustard seed.
Medicinal Uses: Bay has warming, analgesic properties and is used medicinally to relieve topical pain, especially muscle and joint pain (rheumatism), and as a stimulant for the skin. Bay laurel contains parthenolides, the same chemical in Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) that is thought to prevent migraine headaches. Sweet bay is also used to treat intestinal gas, stimulate bile flow, and cause sweating.
Some people apply sweet bay to the scalp for dandruff.
The fruit and fatty oils of sweet bay are used on the skin to treat boils (furuncles) caused by infected hair follicles.
Some veterinarians use sweet bay as an udder ointment.
Notes: Commonly used in teas, herbal baths, or as infused oil. Cultivated in Britain since the 16th Century. Bay is a source of the material used to make ancient crowns and wreaths for heros and poets. Nicholas Culpeper said in 1653, “A tree of the sun, and under the celestial sign Leo, and resisteth witchcraft very potently, as also all the evils old Saturn can do to the body of man, and they are not a few.”


(Artemisia dracunculus). Asteraceae family. Perennial.
Parts Used: Leaves
Characteristics: Tarragon is a low-lying plant with long stems and thin oblong leaves. It has a flavor reminiscent of anise and is used often in French cooking.
Planting/harvest: Full to part sun, sandy to loamy soil. Prune regularly to around 2'. Divide every 3-4 years in the spring or fall. Best used fresh in summer. Freeze or dry leaves, store in airtight container. Good companion to most vegetables.
Flavor: Tarragon offers a faintly anise- or licorice-like flavor – sweet and slightly stringent.
Use it in: Classic French sauces, vinaigrettes and vinegars. Add it to roast chicken.
Pairs with: Parsley, chives, chervil, anise, lemon balm, sweet cicely, cream, vinegar.
Medicinal Uses: Tarragon is used to treat digestion problems, poor appetite, water retention, toothache, and to promote sleep. In folk medicine, some parents used it to stave off intestinal parasites in their children. Much like parsley, tarragon has also been used as way to induce menstruation.
The medicinal oil in the leaves is mostly lost in drying. Best to use fresh.
Notes: Writer and gardener John Evelyn said, “Tis highly cordial and friendly to the head, heart and liver.”


(Ocimum basilicum). Lamiacea family (mints). Annual.
Parts Used: Leaves, flowers
Characteristics: There are many varieties of basil, and basil can include many color variations, but most can easily identify the low-growing plant by its large, thin, oval and easily bruised leaves.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, loamy soil. Plant near tomatoes. Water freely during dry periods in summer. Pinch off flower heads as soon as they appear to make sure the leaves continue growing. Dry leaves or freeze chopped leaves in olive oil inside ice cube trays, then store cubes in an airtight freezer container.
Flavor: Basil is sweet, peppery and offers a slight anise-like aftertaste.
Use it in: Fresh in salads and dips, pesto, in soups or sauteed with greens and, classically, in pasta sauces.
Pairs with: tomato, garlic, onion, cilantro, mint and fennel.
Medicinal Uses: Basil has strong antioxidant and antimicrobial activity. It is traditionally used for stomach spasms, loss of appetite, intestinal gas, kidney conditions, fluid retention, head colds, warts, and worm infections. It is also used to treat snake and insect bites. In Chinese medicine, basil is thought to support kidney function and ease gum ulcers. In classic Indian medicine, basil has been used to treat everything from earaches and itching to malaria, arthritis and anorexia.
Women sometimes use basil before and after childbirth to promote blood circulation, and also to start the flow of breast milk.
Notes: Nicholas Culpeper noted that Basil was "an herb of Mars and under the Scorpion, and therefore called Basilicon". Originally native to India, cultivated there for more than 5000 years. Reached Europe in the 16th century. In Europe, some still place Basil in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey. In India, some place it in the mouth of the dying to ensure they reach God. Ancient Egyptians and Greeks believed it would open the gates of Heaven for a person passing on.


(Anethum graveolens). Apiaceae family. Annual.
Parts Used: Seed, leaf, oil.
Characteristics: Dill can grow quite tall with beautiful, fragrant flowering heads and feathery, fragile leaves.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, loamy soil. Water freely during growing season. If the soil remains undisturbed throughout the growing season, more dill plants will grow the next season (hearty re-seeder). As soon as the plant has four to five leaves, you can start harvesting. Pinch off the leaves or cut them off with scissors. Dry leaves & seeds. Plant next to cabbages and onions, but keep away from carrots.
Flavor: Dill’s flavor is slightly licorice-like, deeply fragrant and unmistakable.
Use it in: pickles, beet soups, fish stews and chowders, with cream cheese.
Pairs with: fish, cream, garlic, mustard seeds, coriander, parsley.
Medicinal Uses: Dill and parsley share a commonality: apiole, the volatile oil that accounts for so much of their individual flavors. Dill is traditionally used to ease stomach upset and to treat gastrointestinal or digestive disorders such as loss of appetite, intestinal gas (flatulence), liver problems, and gallbladder complaints. In folk medicine, it is also used to treat sleep disorders – particularly insomnia. Some parents give a dill infusion or tea to their young babies as a treatment for colic. It is also used for urinary tract disorders including kidney disease and painful or difficult urination.
Other uses for dill include treatment of fever and colds, cough, bronchitis, hemorrhoids, infections, spasms, nerve pain, genital ulcers, and menstrual cramps. Dill seed is sometimes applied to the mouth and throat for pain and swelling (inflammation).
Notes: There is evidence of its cultivation beside Neolithic settlements. Egyptians and Scythians both used dill in rituals for the dead. Christian monks of the old world believed it would keep the devil at bay. It later became one of the herbs dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus.


(Lavandula spp.). Lamiaceae family. Treated as a perennial, but may not overwinter in less than ideal
growth situations (soil, drainage, etc.) and extreme cold. Most grow as an annual north of Zone 6.
Parts Used: Flowers, buds, leaves
Characteristics: Lavender is a low-lying bushy flower with long stems and many tiny, pale purple buds.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, light, well-drained soil. Lavender does best when planted 'high and dry'. Pinch or cut flower stalks when buds appear. Dry leaves and flower buds. Thyme and lavender help each other grow. Also, lavender helps most vegetables stay healthy and produce more flavor.
Flavor: Lavender is faintly floral and very herbaceous with green overtones.
Use it in: Teas, cookies, scones and sweets.
Pairs with: Honey, oats, mint, rose.
Medicinal Uses: Lavender is approved by Germany’s Commission E for loss of appetite, insomnia and circulatory disorders. Lavender is used for restlessness, nervousness, and depression. It is also used for a variety of digestive complaints including meteorism (abdominal swelling from gas in the intestinal or peritoneal cavity), loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, intestinal gas (flatulence), and upset stomach.
Some people use lavender for painful conditions including toothaches, sprains, nerve pain, sores, and joint pain. It is also used for acne and to promote menstruation.
Lavender is applied to the skin for hair loss (alopecia areata) and pain, and to repel mosquitoes and other insects.
Lavender is often added to bathwater to treat circulation disorders and improve mental well being.
By inhalation, lavender is used as aromatherapy for insomnia, pain, and agitation related to dementia.
Notes: Lavender has been under cultivation for so long that garden lavenders have become difficult to identify.
Traditionally, fragrant bundles of lavender were placed in the hands of women during childbirth to bring courage and strength. Growing it in your garden is said to bring luck.


(Origanum vulgare). Aka 'Wild Marjoram'. Lamiaceae family. Perennial.
Parts Used: Leaf, stem
Characteristics: Oregano is a short, shrubby herb with small, deep-green leaves. The leaves have a kind of soft and almost fuzzy texture.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, loamy soil. Oregano loves the sun; ensure your placement has full, strong sun for strong flavor. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Better to water thoroughly and less often. Trim regularly. Harvest leaves as needed, dry excess. The most flavor-filled leaves are found right before the flowers bloom. A good companion for any vegetable.
Flavor: Oregano is bold, deep and strong and the fresh herb is considerably stronger than in its dried form. It is deeply herbaceous and slightly similar to thyme with faint mint-like undertones.
Use it in: To flavor olive oil, in tomato sauces, to season lamb, in chili’s, to season sheep’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses.
Pairs with: Goat cheese, olive oil, lemon, saffron, garlic, tomato, marjoram, thyme.
Medicinal Uses: Oregano is used for respiratory tract disorders such as stuffy noses, coughs, asthma, croup, bronchitis and is an expectorant. It is also used for gastrointestinal (GI) disorders such as heartburn and bloating. Other uses include treating menstrual cramps, rheumatoid arthritis, urinary tract disorders including urinary tract infections (UTIs), headaches, and heart conditions. Oregano has very potent antimicrobial activities and is a powerful antioxidant.
Notes: The name Origanum derived from the Greek 'oros' (mountain) and 'ganos' (joy). The Greeks used it extensively, both internally and externally. It was a remedy for narcotic poisons, convulsions, and dropsy (edema). Among the Greeks, if Wild Marjoram grew on a grave, it predicted happiness of the departed. Among both Greeks and Romans, it was the custom to crown young couples with it.


(Salvia officinalis). Lamiaceae family. Treated as a perennial, but may not overwinter in less than
ideal growth situations (soil, drainage, etc.) and extreme cold. Annual in humid climates of Zone 9 and farther south.
Parts Used: Leaf
Characteristics: Sage is a low-lying, silvery bush with oblong, soft and fuzzy leaves.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, sandy to loamy soil. Water young plants regularly. Prune heavier, woody stems every spring. Harvest lightly during the first year. After, leave a few stalks so that the plant can rejuvenate. If fully established, one plant can be harvested up to three times in one season. Sage's flavor is best when fresh, but it can be stored frozen or dried. Dry the leaves and store them in an airtight container. Plant near rosemary, cabbage, and carrots, but keep away from cucumbers.
Flavor: Sage has a slightly medicinal flavor that is very herbaceous with slight grassy undertones. It is deeply fragrant.
Use it in: Roast poultry and as a rub for pork.
Pairs with: Roast meats. Beets. Cheddar and other sharp cheeses.
Medicinal Uses: Sage is approved by Commission E to improve appetite and to ease inflammation, particularly of the mouth. Sage is used for digestive problems such as gas (flatulence), stomach pain (gastritis), diarrhea, bloating, and heartburn. It is also used for reducing overproduction of perspiration and saliva; and for depression, memory loss, and Alzheimer's disease.
Women may use sage for painful menstrual periods, to correct excessive milk flow during nursing, and to reduce hot flashes during menopause.
Sage is applied directly to the skin for cold sores; gum disease (gingivitis); sore mouth, throat or tongue; and swollen, painful nasal passages.
Notes: There are over 900 Salvia species. American Colonists used Sage as a regular seasoning as frequently as salt and pepper. Like many culinary herbs, familiar use has led to many underestimating the power of Sage. The Arabs, along with everyone from the Chinese to the Gypsies, all believed at one time that it was the key to long life. Sage was a sacred ceremonial herb of the Romans and was associated with immortality. It was also said to increase mental capacity (note it contains rosmarinic acid, not a coincidence). The Greek Theophrastus classified Sage as a “coronary herb”, able to flush disease from the body, easing undue strain on the heart.
It is still used as a natural gray hair dye (on naturally dark hair).


(Rosmarinus officinalus). Lamiaceae family. Evergreen perrenial.
Parts Used: Leaf
Characteristics: Rosemary is a pine-like shrub with long stems and short, needle-like leaves.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, sandy to loamy soil. Plant near beans, cabbage, carrots, and sage. Water evenly throughout growing season. Prune regularly to prevent 'lankiness'. Prune stems to use fresh or dry whole stems out of direct sunlight and then strip leaves. During extremely cold winters, bring a rosemary plant indoors.
Flavor: Rosemary is pine-like in its scent with almost floral undertones. It is deeply aromatic.
Use it in: Roasts, tomato sauces and herbal vinegars.
Pairs with: Roast meats, potatoes and root vegetables,
Medicinal Uses: Rosemary is used for digestion problems, including heartburn, intestinal gas (flatulence), liver and gallbladder complaints, and loss of appetite. It is also used for gout, cough, headache, and reducing age-related memory loss. Some women use rosemary for increasing menstrual flow. Consult your physician before using rosemary medicinally if you have high blood pressure.
Rosemary is used topically (applied to the skin) for preventing and treating baldness, for wound healing, in bath therapy (balneotherapy), and as an insect repellent. It is also used for treating circulation problems, toothache, eczema, and joint or muscle pain such as myalgia, sciatica, and intercostal neuralgia.
Notes: Rosemary originated in the Mediterranean, now cultivated worldwide. It was an essential part of the Renaissance era apothecary. The French regarded it as a “cure all”.
Rosemary stimulates the central nervous system and circulation, making it beneficial for low blood pressure and sluggishness. The common phrase, “Rosemary for Remembrance” is attributed to rosmarinic acid, which has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities. The antioxidant activity of rosmarinic acid is stronger than that of vitamin E. Rosmarinic acid helps to prevent cell damage caused by free radicals.


(Mentha piperita). Lamiaceae family. Perrenial. May thin out and go dormant in winter.
Parts Used: Leaf, stem
Characteristics: Peppermint is a bushy plant characterized by its long square stems, and bright green, slightly fuzzy, opposite leaves.
Planting/harvest: Full sun, loamy soil. Minimal care. Mint is highly invasive. If you don't want an entire yard of mint (which I personally would not find unpleasant at all), buy some plants or take some cuttings from a friend and plant them in containers filled with potting mix enriched with compost. Keep potted plants evenly moist. Dry leaves for storage. Plant near cabbages and tomatoes.
Flavor: Peppermint is very aromatic and one of the most loved of the mint family.
Use it in: Sweets and confections, whipped cream, fruit salad, tabbouleh, in lemon aioli, and as a garnishment to roast lamb.
Pairs with: fruit, lamb, lemon, yogurt, marjoram.
Medicinal Uses: Peppermint is a cooling, relaxing herb with properties that help ease inflamed tissues, calm muscle spasms or cramps, and inhibit bacteria and harmful microorganisms. Mostly taken as a tea or in infusions, peppermint is traditionally used to treat colic and digestive upset (particularly indigestion and heartburn), but it’s also been popularly used in the treatment of colds, flu and stuffy noses thanks to its ability to open the sinuses and to ease a sore throat. Peppermint leaves have been approved by Germany’s Commission E in the treatment of liver and gallbladder complaints.
Peppermint is also used for nausea, vomiting, morning sickness, bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine, inflammation of the mouth and throat, and allergic rhinitis (hay fever).
Peppermint contains rosmarinic acid (also found in rosemary), which may help to reduce inflammation-causing chemicals in people with asthma.
Notes: Pliny (23AD – 79AD) said, “As far as the garden mint, the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes the spirits.” Pliny also noted that the Greeks and Romans crowned themselves with Peppermint at their feasts and adorned their tables with its sprays. Their cooks flavored both their sauces and wines with its essence. It was only recognized in America as a distinct species in the late 17th century. Peppermint's generic name, Mentha, is derived from its mythological origin, and was originally applied to the Mint by Theophrastus. 'Menthe' was a nymph, who because of the love Pluto bore her, was metamorphosed by Proserpine (from motives of jealousy) into the plant we now call Mint.

Medicinal Spices: A Handbook of Culinary Herbs, Spices, Spice Mixtures and Their Essential Oils – Medpharm
A Handbook of Herbs: Their Culinary, Medicinal and Aromatic Uses - Richard Marshall, Charles J. Ziga
The Complete Book of Herbs & Spices - Sarah Garland
The Herbal Handbook: A User's Guide to Medical Herbalism - David Hoffmann
Common Herbs for Natural Health - Juliette De Bairacli-Levy
The Old Farmers Almanac
Penn State Extension, College of Agricultural Sciences Online
Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Mills & Bone
Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide
Nicholas Culpeper: Culpeper's Complete Herbal

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