Click here to join the FareShare Recipe Exchange Group

 FareShare Recipe Exchange Group: Herbs and Spices

Return to the FareShare Recipe  Master Index

Please bookmark this site so you can come back often.

Search our Recipe Archives.  Click Here!

Home | Chat | Recipes | Metrics | Cooking Temperatures | Links


Food Tips:   Herbs and Spices


A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

FareShare Fun Facts  |  FareShare Educational Segment



Home of
The Spice Rack

Spice History

Spice Book:   A to Z

Which to Use

Seasoning Mixes

Storing Spices

Shelf Life

Preserving Herbs

Spicy Tips & FAQs

Spicy Wedding?

Spice Links


These blurbs on selected spices and herbs were prepared and
included in the FareShare Gazette beginning in December 2007
by Hallie Du Preez.



 Back to Index


Ajwain: Thrachyspermum ammi (aka ajowan). A member of the carrot family.
Ajwain is found in northern Africa, central Asia, western China and India.
The seeds contain thymol (essence of thyme) but are not recommended as a
substitute for thyme in western cuisine. They are used, especially in
India, to flavour curries, pastries and breads (such as naan, pakora and

Allspice: Pimenta dioica (aka pimento, Jamaica pepper). A member of the
myrtle family. It is the dried unripe berry of a tree native to Central and
South America. It got its current common name because it was thought to
combine the aroma of several spices.

Angelica: Angelica archangelica. The carrot family again. Originally from
northern Europe. The foliage is eaten as a vegetable in Greenland and
Scandinavia. The roots and seeds are used to flavour liqueurs. The young
stalks are candied for decorating cakes and desserts. Be aware that,
according to one of my herb books, all angelicas contain a chemical that
can increase skin photosensitivity and cause dermatitis so it might be
prudent to wear gloves while working with the plant; the book doesn't
mention if this chemical is destroyed by cooking.

Anise: Pimpinella anisum (aka aniseed, sweet cumin). Another member of the
carrot family, it was first cultivated as a spice by the ancient Egyptians
and from there its use has spread around the world. The seeds are used to
flavour alcohols, sweets and meats. In France they coat the green seeds
with a sugar shell to make a candy called 'anis de Flavigny'.

Annatto: Bixa orellana (aka achiote). The pigment, found in the seeds, was
used by the ancient Amazonians as a red body dye and today it has value as
a food colouring by manufacturers of cheeses and butter. It is available as
a paste.

Asafoetida: Ferula asafoetida (aka Devil's Dung; Giant Fennel). Did that
make you sit back a bit? There's more. As you might assume from part of its
name it has a strong, disagreeable (foetid) smell. Yet another member of
the carrot family. One of my herb books describes it as having a sulphurous
odor and as being the most foul smelling member of all herbs. However, all
that aside (pinch your nostrils closed if you must), it is a herb that has
been used to season foods since ancient times since, if used judiciously, a
little of the substance can give a very pleasant flavour to a variety of
foods, notably those used in Indian cooking. Because of the presence of the
sulphur compounds, which are often developed and enhanced by various
methods, asafoetida can add an apparent taste of eggs, onions, garlic, meat
and white truffles. This attribute has caused it to be used by a group of
vegetarian people in India, the Jains, who won't even eat onions or garlic
because they contain buds that might develop into new plants. According to
my edition of Larousse, the Romans added it to many dishes under the name
'sylphium' or 'silphion'. "From whence does it come?" you ask. (Come on,
you know you want me to tell you after all that.) It comes from the bulb of
a close relative of fennel; they remove the leaves after they turn yellow,
expose the top of the bulb and scrape at the wound to encourage the bulb to
produce a protective sap which, as it hardens, develops the very strong
sulphurous odor.

Avocado leaf: Persea americana. A member of the laurel family. The leaves
of the Mexican varieties of avocado have the aroma of tarragon and in
Mexico they are used, after being dried and crumbled, to flavour chicken,
fish and bean dishes. The leaves of varieties grown in more tropical
regions apparently do not have this trait.
 Back to Index
Basil:  Ocimum basilicum. Basil, although not a mint, is a member of the
same family as mints. Unlike many of its hardier cousins it is a tender,
cold-hating annual. It seems hard to believe these days but about 350 years
ago it was thought that the scent of basil would cause scorpions to grow in
the brain; then the thinking switched and people decided it was useful in
treating insect bites and stings. Hmmmmm. It was once considered a royal
herb; only the king (basileus) could cut it and he had to use a golden
sickle. Fortunately basil has now become a common sight in gardens and
kitchens. Many varieties have been developed with widely differing flavours
and aromas; some have tiny leaves on very compact globe-shaped plants,
others are dark purple, some smell of lemons. One gardening source suggests
planting basil around tomato plants to help repel insect pests and at the
same time attract honeybees; I must admit I don't know how they sort out
which insect is a pest and which isn't, unless the bees are the only
insects that like the smell of basil. (By the way, tomatoes don't really
rely on insects for pollination, a good shake around noon if there is no
breeze usually does the trick.) Whether or not its reputed insect repelling
qualities exist, there is no denying that the combination of tomatoes and
basils is a winning one. Plop a basil leaf on a slice of tomato, add the
teeniest pinch of salt if you wish and enjoy one of the tastiest snacks
ever invented. For a pretty sandwich worthy of a caterer, lightly butter a
1-inch round of whole-wheat bread, add a slice of one of the larger cherry-
type tomatoes, top with a slice of a small hard-cooked egg and crown the
whole with a little basil tip tucked into the egg. If you plant your own
basil, plant lots of it because many dishes require the use of large
amounts of the leaves. There is another reason to plant lots of it, basil
plants tend to be susceptible to a fungus that can strike quickly causing
the plant stem to darken and the plant to wilt and dye within a day or two.
Even if you don't have a lot of gardening space you can tuck several basil
plants into hanging baskets or window boxes along with the flowers. The
best flavour is found in the younger leaves and it has been found that in
individual leaves the flavour varies from the stem end to the tip of the
leaf. Basil can be preserved by freezing (first coat the leaves with olive
oil), packing in olive oil, salting or making into pesto. It can be dried
but tends to lose its strength rather quickly. Both the leaves and the
flowers can be eaten; in fact, when the plant starts to put out flower buds
it is a good time to pinch off the whole top and use it as this promotes
the production of leafy side shoots.
More Basil Tips:
Sometimes the things you do all the time and are those which you consider
to be something everyone does, you find out that it isn't always the case.
As with fresh basil - all summer long when I cut back the basil, I simply
put it all in a plastic freezer bag and put it in the freezer for use when
I don't have an ample supply of fresh basil for cooking. Also, I pluck the
most tender leaves from my basil plant and include them in my garden
salads. Lately, we carefully remove the basil from the pot, rinse off the
dirt from the roots, carefully wrap in wet newspaper then in plastic, load
them in the car and take the plants to Florida with us where we plant them
again and I get a whole year from the plants. My husband has been rooting
basil and it now seems as though we have plants which just keep on going.
Contributed to the FareShare Gazette by Jennie; 7 October 2008.

Basil Jelly

Bay:  Laurus nobilis (aka Bay Laurel, Sweet Bay). This is an evergreen shrub
or small tree from the Mediterranean where it is grown as an ornamental as
well as for culinary purposes. The word 'laurel' comes from a Latin word
meaning 'praise' and wreaths of laurel leaves were worn as a crown by
Romans who were victorious in battles; 'laureate' means crowned with
laurels as in the 'poet laureate' title given to certain poets considered
worthy of the honor. The bay tree was considered sacred to the god Apollo.
In the language of flowers (it was a common practice at one time to send
posies composed of various flowers and greenery, each having a special
meaning, as 'secret' messages), bay leaf stands for glory. Bay has a
complex flavour/aroma consisting of woody, floral, eucalyptus and clove
notes which make it a very useful herb to keep on hand. Fresh leaves have
much more impact than dried ones but unless you are either lucky enough to
be able to keep one as a houseplant or live close to some place where they
are grown, the dried ones will do very well if stored in a cool, dry, dark
place. If you want to try growing one, many plant nurseries sell the young
plants; look for them in with the herbs; just remember to look for the
proper botanical name if you can although some places may just call it
Sweet Bay. There is another bay, California bay, which, though being a
different plant entirely (Umbellularia californica) is of a similar flavour
and aroma but the eucalyptus note is stronger. Make sure you know the
source of your bay leaf as not only are other members of the laurel family
poisonous but there are 'look-alikes' such as the laurel-leaf willow and
the laurel-leaf cherry (leaves contain cyanide compounds like all prunus)
which are not "food-friendly".

Bergamot:  Monarda didyma (aka bee balm, Oswego tea). This member of the
mint family is native to North America. The leaves are used as a tea and
the flowers can be added to salads. A hardy perennial that can be grown in
the garden.

Bergamot:  Citrus bergamia. A citrus grown mainly in Italy. The floral-
scented oil of its rind is used mainly in colognes, tobacco and Earl Grey

Borage:  Borago officinalis.   One old book on herbs written in the 1500s
states that "...the leaves and flowers of borage put into wine make men and
women glad and merry..." Well, whether true or not it sounds good. Borage
is easily grown from seed sown directly into the garden; be warned,
however, that it also self-sows and the plants will keep popping up in
unexpected places in your yard for years after your first planting (voice
of experience). For those interested in companion planting it is suggested
that planting it with strawberries is of benefit to both and planting it
near tomatoes helps to deter Japanese beetles and tomato hornworm; I've
never tested the theory. The pretty blue five-petalled star-shaped flowers
can be candied for use in decorating cakes, frozen in ice cubes for
decorating drinks, fresh in salads and in some parts of France they are
cooked as fritters. The fuzzy leaves have a taste reminiscent of cucumber
and the young leaves can be used in salads; they are also used to flavour
iced drinks, herbal teas and some wines. The plant has hairs on the stems
which make it a bit prickly to handle so I suggest wearing gloves when you
harvest it. Borage should be used in moderation as plants in this family
contain alkaloids that can be poisonous.

Burnet:  Sanguisorbia minor {Poterium sanguisorbia} (aka salad burnet). A
tender perennial which should be treated as an annual except in very mild
climates, this herb was brought to New England by the early Pilgrims. The
young leaves have a sharp cucumber flavour and can be used in salads, herb
butter, soft cheeses and as a garnish.

Back to Index


Caraway:  Carum carvi.   A member of the carrot family. The name, caraway,
comes from the Arabic word, karawya. The use of caraway seed for culinary
purposes can be traced back to the stone age. In ancient times it was used  in
love potions and was also believe to give protection from witches. It is used to
flavour Kummel and Aquavit. Larousse describes the taste as being halfway
between anise and fennel. The whole plant can be used: sprinkle snippets of
the young leaves into salads and over vegetables; add the seeds to cabbage
to help combat the cooking odors; add the seeds to various breads; serve a dish
of seeds at the end of a meal; the root can be cooked as a vegetable. There are
annual and biennial forms of caraway and as you would expect, the biennial
forms a taproot the first season with flowers and seeds the second season.

Generally, in North America at least, we tend to grow the biennial version. It is
easy to establish in the garden and once you have it ... well, you have it ... but
it is easily weeded out of places where it is not wanted. If allowed to naturalize
in a lightly wooded area or along the edge of paths its ferny, carrot-like leaves
can be very attractive and when you go over it with the mower or trimmer it
releases a very pleasing spicy scent. When the seed heads are full of the green
unripe seed cases I enjoy walking past them and plucking a few to nibble on; like
parsley they make a great mouth freshener, particularly welcome if a person
has been sampling other things in the garden or in need of a sip of water
after a hot session of weeding. Later in the summer, gather the ripe seed
heads carefully into a large paper bag or pail as they shatter rather easily and
you can lose a lot of your harvest.

Cardamom: Elettaria cardamomum. A member of the ginger family coming
from India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Sumatra. It can be grown as an attractive
houseplant but strictly as an ornamental as it is unlikely to produce
flowers under those conditions. The seeds are what we mainly use for
seasoning foods although the oils are used for other purposes. One source
claims that it is the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla.
The seed capsules must be picked by hand as they ripen at different times
even on the same cluster. Cardamom is considered a "warming spice" due to
the combination of aromatics contained in the seeds. There are two main
types that are very different to each other: Malabar and Mysore. Malabar is
best after it has turned from green to off-white while Mysore is often sold
green; which is why you see two different colours in the stores. The Arab
countries take about 80% of the production for their cardamom coffee while
the rest is used in baked goods, mainly by the Norwegians. There is a close
relative to "true" cardamom, Amomum subulatum (aka Large Cardamom, Nepal
Cardamom or Greater Indian Cardamom) which has a harsher flavour; it is
often used in Asia, India and China as a seasoning in savory, dishes, rice
dishes and pickles.

Cayenne and Chili Peppers:  Capsicum annuum.  Native to the Americas,
it is possible the fruit of these plants is the mostly widely grown spice in the
world. The active ingredient, capsaicin, protects the seeds and would
appear to be mainly protecting them from mammals because birds, who swallow
the fruits whole aid in their dispersement by passing them through
their digestive system intact and are thus not bothered by the capsaicin
but animals, who crush and grind the seeds suffer varying degrees of pain
from this chemical as a result. How interesting that humans, having become
sufficiently fond of these fruits to overcome the pain, have now become the
major instrument in spreading the plants around the world. The seeds are
embedded in a spongy mass called the placenta; it is the outer cells of the
this placenta that produce the capsaicin which accumulates just under the
surface. Under certain conditions it can escape from this area and coat the
seeds themselves and small amounts can enter the surrounding wall of the
fruit. There are about 25 species of Capsicum but the one from which most
of the varieties we are familiar with come is Capsicum annuum. Capsaicin
can vary which may be why different varieties of peppers have different
effects and different amounts of pungency. Several varieties of chili
peppers can be grown in the home garden, either directly in the soil or, if
you are in a shorter season area, in containers which can be placed in
warm, sunny areas around buildings or on decks or balconies and in case of
an early or unseasonal frost either covered or brought indoors to finish
the production of immature fruits. A couple of jalapeno plants will produce
a season-long supply of these useful peppers which can either be preserved
by freezing, pickling or drying.  Habanera peppers have a lovely fruity
flavour, if you can get past their fiery heat; when dried, ground and added
to some other varieties make a superb blend. In the morning for an extra
little perk-up I like to add a teeny pinch to a cup of coffee (yeah, OK, so
I'm a chilehead). If you happen to, accidentally of course, discover you
have bitten off more heat than you feel comfortable with, one suggested
remedy is to take something cold and sweet, such as a drink of sweetened
ice water; the sweetness is soothing and the theory is that the ice will
lower the temperature of your pain receptacles to the point where they are
not so sensitive to the chemical action of the capsaicin; carbonated
beverages act as a further irritant however. Capsaicin is very good at
coating things, such as your hands, so it is advisable to wear protective
gloves when working with the peppers; if you don't it will take several
washings with soap and water to remove it from your skin and you will only
need to rub your eyes once to remember this lesson. I have had some success
in reducing the lingering effects by adding a little chlorine bleach to the
water in which I wash my hands but wearing gloves is ever so much simpler
(just don't wear the same gloves the next time you wash the dog or you will
be in deep doo doo; and no, I haven't done that).

"Chili powder" is actually a blend of spices including chili pepper and
various others often including cumin and turmeric.

Chili Powder

Cinnamon and Cassia:  (Cinnamomum spp.)  This one gets a little confusing
as both belong to the genus cinnamomum, however there are different species
of each and sometimes they are blended. They come from Southeast Asia,
India and Sri Lanka mainly. The oils are used (camphorated oil) but for culinary
purposes it is mainly the bark that is of interest. The bark that comes from
Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum syn. C. verum), the cinnamon
tree of Sri Lanka, is thick and light brown in colour. It has a milder and
more delicate cinnamon flavour than the Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum
cassia syn. C. aromaticum), Vietnamese cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureirii) and
Indonesian cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmanii) whose stronger harsher flavour is
more suitable for the familiar "red hot" candies. The flavour of all
cinnamon comes from the phenolic compound cinnamaldehyde, of which there is
a higher amount in the Cassia types than the Sri Lankan type. The fruits of
C. cassia are known as cassia buds and resemble cloves. There is a story
associated with C. cassia, told to Chinese children during the Moon
Festival, about a cassia tree growing on the moon which is more than 5000
feet in height and blooms all year round. Wu Kang chops away at the trunk
but his task is endless because as soon as he takes his axe away the trunk
becomes whole again.

Chervil:   Anthriscus cerefolium. A member of the carrot family, it apparently 
originated in Russia and western Asia. It has a delicate anise
flavour, due to the presence of estragole which is the same component that
gives tarragon its flavour, which is destroyed by heat so it is best used
raw or only slightly warmed much in the way parsley is used. This flavour
does not stand up well to drying either so grow some in a pot if you can't
find it fresh at your local market.

Chives: There are two main species that generally come under the heading of
chives and both are members of the onion family (alliums).

Allium schoenoprasum. This is probably the one that is most commonly found
in stores and market gardens. It has tubular round leaves and purple
flowers, both of which are edible. The flowers make a pretty and tasty
addition to salads. The plant is easily cultivated from seed and by
division. It tolerates poor conditions and will grow well in containers as
well as the regular garden. Tuck it in with other plants in a flower bed or
border and it will be quite happy to come up year after year. It will
readily seed itself so if you don't want that to happen, well, I guess you
will just have to force yourself to pluck the flowers and use them in those
salads I mentioned. When harvesting the leaves make sure to leave about 2
inches (5 cm) for regrowth and you will be able to use the plant all season
long. Chive seeds are suitable for sprouting. I raised my eyebrows when I
discovered that my copy of Larousse Gastronomique gives a brief one-line
description saying that chives are a herb mainly used in seasoning and
salads. I guess that covers the basics but it does seem an understatement
for such a useful and versatile plant.

Allium tuberosum (garlic chives or Chinese chives). This plant has flat
leaves, white flowers and a mild garlic flavour. It is also easy to grow
from seed and although I have found it to be not as robust in my location I
have had it survive for a few years in the garden.
Cloves:  (Syzygium aromaticum syn. Eugenia caryophyllata). Cloves are the
dried flower buds of this tropical tree which is a member of the myrtle
family. These flower buds are picked just before they open then dried. This
pungent and aromatic spice came to Europe around 300AD and is mentioned as
being used in Chinese medicine in about 600AD. The volatile clove oil
contains the chemical eugenol. Cloves are used in potpourris, pomanders and
perfumery as well as in cooking. I suspect that many of our not-so-young
members may remember having clove oil applied to their gums to give relief
from a toothache and there is evidence that it contains antiseptic
properties. Hams are often decorated by pushing whole cloves into the
surface in a decorative pattern.

Comfrey:  (Symphytum officinale) is a member of the borage family. This herb
is included here because although the fresh young leaves were at one time
recommended for use as a raw or cooked vegetable this is no longer the case
due to concerns about their toxicity.

Coriander/Cilantro: (Coriandrum sativum). The seeds and leaves of this
member of this relative of the carrot are what is mainly used for culinary
purposes; the essential oils are used in perfumery. There are two main
types: the European coriander has smaller seeds and a larger percentage of
essential oil while the Indian type has larger seeds and less oil. What we
commonly think of as the seeds are actually husklike fruits with the seeds
inside. Coriander seed is usually sold whole and should be crushed, cracked
or ground just before use in order to get the best flavour. They are an
important component of many sausages, including hot dogs. Those of you who
are familiar with jawbreakers candy may already know that the seed in the
very center is a coriander seed. The feathery leaves, usually known as
cilantro, are an important flavoring agent in many Asian, Indian and Middle
Eastern dishes including curries. This herb is easily grown in the home
garden or in containers in much the same manner as you would grow parsley.
You can start it from seed yourself or purchase some plants from a bedding
plant supplier. If you are not familiar with the taste of the leaves start
by adding only a very small amount to a dish that is strongly spiced
otherwise you may be put off by what has sometimes been described as a
'soapy' taste and it would be a shame to miss out on the added dimension
this herb can bring to many dishes.

Cumin:  (Cuminum cyminum). The seeds of this annual herb that is another
member of the same family as carrots, have a strong flavour and have long
been used to flavour dishes in Asia, India, the Middle East and Europe.
They are a main component of many curries. Although its popularity seems to
have dropped in most European dishes it remained a common spice in Spain
from where it eventually migrated to Mexico where it is now firmly
established as an important part the cuisine. It is fairly easily grown
from seed in light soil and a sunny sheltered spot; it is a tender annual
and needs warmth for the seeds to ripen.

Curry leaf:  (Murraya koenigii). This is the leaf of a small tree belonging
to the citrus family. It doesn't really taste like curry. In India and
Malaysia it is usually added to stews and similar dishes.

Curry plant:  (Helichrysum italicum). You may find this member of the
compositae (same family as daisies and everlastings) for sale in the herb
section of your local plant nursery. It has had some popularity for use in
soups and stews because the leaves have a taste similar to curry. However,
there are some questions as to its safety so if you use it be sure to only
use one sprig and remove it before serving the dish. Some members of this
plant do make attractive additions to gardens however.

Curry powder:  The curry powder sold commercially is a combination of several
spices, sometimes more than 20. The hotness of any particular blend
is determined by the amount of hot chili pepper that is in it. The yellow
colour is from turmeric and/or saffron. Many cooks prefer to select the
individual spices they feel will best compliment the other ingredients in
the dish they are making. Some of the spices that can be used in a curry
powder mixture are: allspice, anise, bay leaves, caraway, celery seed,
chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry leaves, dill,
fennel, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, mace, mustard, nutmeg, pepper, paprika,
poppy seeds, saffron and turmeric.


Back to Index


Dandelion:  (Taraxicum officinale). Don't panic, you can quit reaching for
the herbicide sprayer; I'm not suggesting you start growing them - yet.
Mind you, in areas where water is in sufficiently short supply that there
are restrictions on watering lawns maybe a person should start considering
these tough-as-nails harbingers of spring. They were brought to the new
world mainly from Eurasia where they were used for both culinary and
medicinal purposes. If picked while very young, the bright yellow flowers
make an attractive addition to a salad and have long been a familiar
ingredient in home winemaking; make sure to remove all of the stem and
green parts. In his book "Stalking the Healthful Herbs", the late Euell
Gibbons said that he considered the newly formed flower buds removed from
deep in the center of the crown while they were still white, boiled for a
few minutes then seasoned with salt and pepper one of the most delicious
vegetables he had ever tasted. The very young leaves can be used in salads
much like other chicory but the older ones are tough bitter. The plants can
be grown in beds of straw or in dark places so the leaves don't develop the
strong flavour that comes as the chlorophyll is produced. The tap root can
be dried, roasted and ground for use as an addition to or replacement for,
coffee. Even the seeds can be eaten in times of necessity. However, do be
warned that the plant is a strong diuretic; the French call it "pissenlit"
or "wet-the-bed".

Half a cup of chopped raw dandelion greens weighing 28 grams contains
approximately 13 calories, 24 g water, 0.8 g protein, 2.6 g carbohydrates,
0.2 g fat, 21 mg sodium, 52 mg calcium, 10 mg magnesium, 111 mg potassium,
18 mg phosphorus, 0.87 mg iron, 3920 IU Vitamin A, 10 mg Vitamin C.
Half a cup of boiled dandelion greens weighing 52 grams contains
approximately 17 calories, 46.7 g water, 1.0 g protein, 3.3 g
carbohydrates, 0.3 g fat, 23 mg sodium, 73 mg calcium, 121 mg potassium, 22
mg phosphorus, 0.94 mg iron, 6084 IU Vitamin A, 9 mg Vitamin C.

Dill:  (Anethum graveolens syn Peucedanum graveolens). Another aromatic
member of the same family as carrots, dill is a native of southwest Asia
and was used for medicinal purposes by the ancient Egyptians and the
Greeks. In medieval Europe it was believed to have the power to ward off
evil spells. Early settlers in North America called it "meetin' seed"
because it was given to children to chew during long church sermons.
Although we mostly use the seeds and leaves for culinary purposes there is
a variety, A. graveolens var. sowa, that is used as a vegetable in the
cuisine of India. The plant itself is an annual that can be grown from seed
either in the garden or in containers; however, it does not take well to
transplanting so unless you can start it in a container that can either be
placed in the soil (peat pots for instance) or from which it can be removed
with no root disturbance, it is best sown directly where it is to remain.
If planting in the garden wait until the danger of frost is past or be
prepared to provide protection as the young plants are very tender and late
in the season the mature plants won't stand more than a very light frost.
Dill likes a sunny sheltered location and does best in poor to average soil
that is moist but well drained. There are several different strains for the
gardener to choose from these days ranging from dwarf to very tall. The
main culinary uses for dill today are as flavour enhancers in vegetable
dishes, salads and with fish. It seems to go especially well with eggs and
potatoes. A little chopped dillweed (the leaves) mixed with some cream
cheese, quark or even some soft fresh goat cheese or chevre makes a lovely
quick spread for bagels or crackers; put a little piece of gravlax or
smoked salmon on top of that and you have a nibble elegant enough to serve
at any afternoon tea or party. The ripe seeds, green-ripe seedheads and the
leaves are used with cucumbers to make several types of dill pickles. To be
able to use fresh dill leaves during the winter, chop them very finely and
mix with water then freeze them in ice cube trays; make sure you wrap the
cubes very well in plastic then seal the packages in aluminum foil before
storing in the freezer or the aroma will permeate EVERYTHING (voice of
experience <G>).

Back to Index


No Items

Back to Index


Fennel:  (Foeniculum vulgare). Again, fennel belongs to the same family as
carrots - Umbelliferae. There is only one species of fennel but there are
several varieties. One of these, known as sweet fennel, is grown mainly for
its seeds and ferny leaves. Florence fennel aka finocchio (Foeniculum
vulgare var. azoricum) is a specialized fennel which has an enlarged leaf-
stalk or bulb at the base of the stem. All parts of the fennel plant are
edible but, except for the seeds, they must be used fresh. The leaves lose
their flavour and aromatic properties when dried. The fennel bulb, with its
pleasant licorice flavour, can be sliced and used raw in salads or
sandwiches; it can also cooked as a vegetable, added to soups and stews or
roasted. The seeds and leaves can be added to salads, dressings and
vegetable or fish dishes. The seeds are often added to breads and other
baked goods. Fennel is a tender plant and does not do well indoors so it is
best treated as an annual in cooler climates. If you grow it in containers
you will most likely have to be satisfied with using the fresh leaves and
tender parts of the stalks because it does not readily produce the fleshy
'bulb' under these conditions, although I have had it make a weak attempt
at it but the bulb was never as succulent and tender as those I find in the
markets. The freshly snipped leaves are lovely when added to a salmon
sandwich or sprinkled over a baked potato. As said, fennel is not one of
the herbs that can be stored by drying, however you can treat it in the
same way as dill: chop the leaves and tender parts of the stalk then freeze
them in water in ice cube trays; once frozen you can store the cubes in
securely sealed plastic bags in the freezer. According to one of my
gardening books when growing fennel for the seeds you should not plant them
near coriander or dill as they tend to cross-pollinate which reduces the
production of the seed and also results in a less distinctive flavour. I
have no idea as to the veracity of this statement since I have never,
strictly by chance, grown them near each other.

Fenugreek:  (Trigonella foenum-graecum) This herb, whose botanical name is
from the Latin for "Greek hay", is a legume and is related to beans. It is
not as well-known in western cuisine as it could be but is used in several
Asian and Mediterranean dishes where the plant is a native. An annual,
fenugreek can be grown fairly easily in the garden as it will germinate in
cold soils. The seeds are a bit bitter and a bit sweet; the aroma makes a
person think of maple syrup due to the presence of the chemical soloton.
The larger leaves can be used fresh but are not suitable for drying; chop
up the leaves and freeze them with water in ice cube trays for use after
the season is over. The sprouted seeds can also be used as long as they are
not cooked; eat them as a snack or add the sprouted leaves to salads. The
seeds are a component of many curry powder mixtures.



Back to Index


Garlic:  (Allium sativum). Garlic, like its close relatives, onions and
leeks, is a member of the lily family. There are several hundred varieties
of garlic that are cultivated although the plant commonly sold as "Elephant
Garlic" (Allium ampeloprasum) is not, in fact, a garlic but is a bulb-
forming variety of leek (Allium porrum). All alliums are edible, however
if you are in the habit of collecting wild garlics and onions you would do
well to heed this warning: they often grow in the same places as another
member of the lily family (Death Camas [Zygadenus or Zigadenus]) and in
certain growth stages they can look very similar. There is a saying: "if it
doesn't smell like an onion don't eat it".

Garlic is known to have been used as long ago as around 3000BCE, it was
found in Tutankhamun's tomb and the ancient Greeks and Romans consumed it
in large quantities. Due most probably to its odiferous properties, garlic
has long featured prominently in many legends, myths and superstitions. One
belief was that if athletes chewed garlic it would prevent their
competitors from getting ahead of them in races.
Garlic has been called "The Stinking Rose". Garlic breath has been found to
contain a component "methanethiol" which is also found in skunk spray. The
browning enzymes found in some raw fruits and vegetables can help reduce
the effect of "thiols" in the mouth so eat salads and apples; some
mouthwashes also help.

Each garlic clove is actually a swollen storage leaf growing around a
shoot. The cloves contain less than 60% water and quite high quantities of
fructose which is why they brown and burn more quickly than onions do when
being roasted or fried. Different varieties of garlic contain different
quantities of the sulphur compounds so there is a great deal of variation
in their taste and pungency. Garlic grown in cold conditions tends to have
a stronger flavour. Most commercial growers tend to choose varieties more
for their yields and good storage properties than for their flavour.
When garlic is stored in a refrigerator the garlicky flavour loses its
intensity and the oniony flavours become more pronounced.
Storing garlic in oil can be dangerous as these airless conditions
encourage the growth of the botulism bacteria. Soaking it in a strong
vinegar or lemon juice for several hours before putting it in the oil helps
to prevent the growth of the bacteria; this must then be stored in
refrigeration. Sometimes garlic that has received this acid treatment
develops a bluish-green colour, apparently because of the reaction between
the acid and one of the sulphur compounds in the garlic; this can be reduced
by blanching the garlic before pickling it in the acid.

Ginger:  (Zingibar officinale). This is a tropical perennial that is grown
mainly for the aromatic tuber-like rhizomes that spread just below the
surface of the soil. The name comes from a Latin translation of the
Sanskrit work "singabera" which means antlers and is descriptive of the
shape of the rhizome. It probably originated in Southeast Asia. Ginger is
very distantly related to the banana. Some other members of this family are
galangal (more on this one later), cardamom and turmeric. Ginger, in its
dried form, was brought firstly from Asia to the Mediterranean and from
there to Europe where, in medieval times, it became one of the most
important of the spices. Gingerbread dates back to medieval Europe while
ginger ale and ginger beer are products of the 1800's. Although the main
sources of dried ginger these days are China and India, Jamaican ginger is
considered to be one of the best. Fresh ginger may be stored for 2 to 3
months in a cool dry place or it may be frozen for longer keeping. Ginger
adapts reasonably well to container culture and planting a few pieces just
under the soil surface in a pot kept in a sunny window can be an
interesting project for youngsters. Keep the soil just barely moist and
when the shoots appear keep the humidity up either by misting or placing
the pot in a dish filled with pebbles so it is close to but not in the
water. The pot can be moved outdoors when danger of frost is past and
brought back in after summer is over. It may have a dormant period during
the lower light periods of winter but, with luck and attention, should come
back again later.

Greater Galangal:  (Alpinia galanga) and Lesser Galangal (Alpinia
officinarum) are close relatives but are harsher than ginger with none
of the lemony tones. Galangal is often mixed with lemon grass in Southeast
Asian dishes. The growth habit is similar to ginger.

Back to Index


Hops:  (Humulus lupulus). Hops, interestingly, belong to the fig family
(Moraceae), as do mulberry, breadfruit, jackfruit and hemp among others.
The unpollinated female flowers of this fast-growing, hardy, hairy-stemmed
climber, which are not showy and look a lot like immature spruce cones,
play an important role in the brewing industry. There are quite a few
different varieties, each with their own distinctive aroma, so brewers must
experiment until they find the one which best suits their purposes. I have
been given to understand that there is currently a crisis due to a shortage
of hops. According to several of my reference books the young shoots that
appear in the spring can be cut and cooked like asparagus but I have never
tried it. The hops growing in my yard came from plants growing beside an
old log homestead so I have no idea which they are but I do know they have
survived many winters with temperatures as low as -50C (-55F) and little or
not attention. They can be propagated by cuttings or division. The plant
dies back to the roots in the winter and unless you want to end up with an
almost impenetrable tangle of dead vine growth which can be a fire hazard
as well as unsightly, it is a good idea to cut the dead growth back each
year (of course, I suppose if you're trying to forget about that old car
body in a corner of the back 40 you could let them cover it completely
<G). Wear gloves while doing this as the hairs on the stems can be
irritating. I often leave the old vines through the winter as a shelter
against the elements for small birds but cut them down almost as soon as
the snow goes and before we get into the drier spring weather.

Horehound:  (Marrubium vulgare) aka hoarhound, white horehound. This wooly-
leafed fairly hardy perennial is a member of the mint family (Labiatae).
The ancient Egyptians used a concoction made from the leaves as a cough
medicine. I have felt some relief from a sore throat when I chewed one of
the bitter leaves but since this plant also has other effects on the body
its use for any purpose should be properly researched. Horehound can be
used fresh or dried as it keeps its flavour well. Several cookbooks,
including "The Joy of Cooking" contain recipes for making horehound candy,
a confection that was often to be found in stores at one time and can still
sometimes be found particularly where our pioneering history is being
recreated. Horehound grows to a height of about 18 inches and likes a soil
that is somewhat dry and alkaline with a sunny exposure protected from
strong winds. It can be propagated from seed, stem cuttings or by division.

Hyssop:  (Hyssopus officinalis). Another member of the mint family
(Labiatae), true hyssop is a European herb that was used by the Romans for
medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Hyssop is one of the flavoring agents
used in some liqueurs, including Chartreuse. It is said that if you plant
it near your cabbages it will repel the cabbage-white butterfly. I can't
say that I've seen any particular proof of that in my garden but maybe my
hyssop isn't planted sufficiently close to my cabbage patch to be
effective. Another claim is that if planted close to grape vines the yield
will be increased but since I don't live in a great grape-growing area I
can't speak to that one. One of my sources comments that hyssop has a spicy
aroma with some camphor notes. The purple-flowered hyssop in my garden is
spicy all right but to me at least, also has more than a hint of skunk in
its scent so I have never been tempted to try adding some of the flowers to
salads, sausage or fruit pies as is suggested in many of my books. Maybe
all hyssops are not created equal? However, I do keep it in my garden
because it is an attractive hardy perennial that can withstand dry soil and
cold winters. It prefers an alkaline soil and full sun. Hyssop is best
propagated by dividing an older plant rather than from seed, particularly
in colder climates. The plant can grow to be about 2 feet tall and produces
the purple, deep reddish, pink or white flowers on spikes. One note:
several of my references say that hyssop in any form should NOT be taken
internally during pregnancy.

Horseradish: (Armoracia rusticana) aka redcole, stingnose. This hardy
perennial member of the cabbage family comes from western Asia. Originally
it was mainly used for medicinal purposes but in the 1500's the Germans and
Danes started to make it a component of fish sauces. In the mid 1600's it
arrived in Britain where it was also used to make a sauce which was served
most commonly with roast beef. (Yum!) The plant is closely related to
mustard and the tender young leaves can be used in salads in the same way.
For culinary purposes the root is probably the most-used part of the plant.
The roots can be dug at pretty much any time of the year that you can get a
spade into the ground but you will get the newer more tender pieces later
in the summer after the plant has had a chance to do some growing. As long
as you leave a part of the plant behind it will continue to grow.
Horseradish is one of those plants that seems able to withstand almost any
conditions and neglect. It can be found around long-abandoned homesteads,
in ditches and dotted across pasture land. It is propagated by seed,
division and root cuttings. There is a variety of horseradish, A. rusticana
'Variegate, which has variegated leaves that are green with cream
markings. I haven't come across this particular variety but in the pictures
it looks like it might make an attractive addition to the garden. If you
want to grow your own plant keep in mind that horseradish does have a
tendency to be quite invasive. To preserve the roots you can store them in
sand; wash, grate or slice and dry them; cover them in white wine vinegar.
The leaves can be dried. To really bring out the pungency the raw root must
be grated or the dehydrated root must be reconstituted. Too much
horseradish or wasabi (a close relative) can have an impact on the system
of the unwary that is every bit as dramatic as too much chile pepper. Its
volatile irritants can get into the system very quickly sometimes causing a
person to cough and choke. If this happens it will help to breathe IN
through the NOSE which reduces the amount of irritants entering the lungs
from your mouth and breathe OUT through your MOUTH which saves your
nostrils from being exposed to a dose of the nasty stuff.

Back to Index


No Items

Back to Index


Juniper berries:  (Juniperus spp.). There are about 10 species of juniper, a
member of the cedar family. The 'berries' are actually a cone made by the
leaves or scales that change in form and grow together into a housing for
the seeds. These are borne on the female plant and take three years to
mature so fruit in several different stages of ripeness, from green to
purplish-black in colour, can be seen on one plant at the same time.
Juniper berries are best used fresh or within a relatively short time of
harvest as by the end of a couple of years in storage they will have lost
all their flavour. The French word for juniper is "genièvre" and the plant
gives its name to gin by virtue of the Dutch word "genever" since it is one
of the main flavoring agents of that liquor as well as other spirits. A
non-alcoholic version of a Bloody Mary can be made by soaking some juniper
verries in tomato juice for a few days then straining into a glass. Juniper
is also used to flavour meats, particularly game and poultry, as well as
cabbage. WARNING: Juniper should only be used sparingly and should not be
taken internally during pregnancy nor by people with kidney problems.
 Back to Index
Kaffir Lime:  (Citrus hystrix). The leaves and rinds of the fruit of this
tree are important ingredients in the cuisine of Laos and Thailand (where
it is known as "ma krut"). The leaves can be found in Asian groceries in
many parts of North America but so far I have never seen the fruit in my
area. I have found the leaves in the fresh produce section as well as in
packages in the frozen food section. They can also sometimes be found in
regular supermarkets. The leaves contain citronellal which gives them the
distinctive lemony limey citrus flavour. They can be shredded very finely
and added to stews; if used whole they must be removed from the dish before
serving as they are quite tough. The next time you steam a pot of rice
place 3 or 4 lime leaves on top of the rice during the cooking and they
will impart a citrusy fragrance which is very pleasant and goes well with
curry dishes. If you are lucky enough to find a plant you can grow it in a
container of rich well-drained potting soil; it can be outdoors during
frost-free periods. Keep the tree pruned to maintain a manageable size and
promote a bushier growth habit with more leaves. So far I haven't found one
of these plants but when I do ....


Back to Index

Lavender:  (Lavandula sp). Lavender along with mint, oregano and other herbs,
belong to the same family: Labiatae. The name comes from the Latin word
"lavare" meaning "to wash" and lavender has long been used to scent soaps.
The seeds and flowers are popular in sachets used to give a pleasing aroma
to clothes and linens in storage. The flowers are the part of the plant
that find some culinary use as they can be candied or used in some baked
goods (such as shortbread) or to give an additional dimension to stews.
However, they should be used only in moderation as lavender contains a
chemical called coumarin which can interfere with blood clotting. English
lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is probably the hardiest lavender as far
as growing in the garden is concerned. Lavenders like full sun and an
average well-drained soil; in colder areas it will be necessary to place
mulch around them and give them as much snow cover as possible.

Lemon Balm:  (Melissa officinalis) aka Balm, Sweet Balm, Melissa and Bee Balm
(although there is another herb, Mondarda didyma, which is also commonly
called Bee Balm). This relative of the mints is a perennial but in harsh
(North American zone 2) it should probably be treated more as an annual
unless you get lucky enough to either have it seed off or provide it with
sufficient winter protection to enable the root to survive. It can be
propagated by seed, root division and stem cuttings. The soil should be
rich, moist, somewhat alkaline and the exposure can range from full sun to
partial shade. This herb is fairly easily grown and should find a place in
every herb garden although if it really likes your location it will have a
tendency to spread, like its minty cousins, so should be confined
accordingly (if you are lucky enough to have this happen to you <grin>).
Lemon balm has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries; in the
1500's the Swiss physician Paracelsus called it the "elixir of life" as he
believed it to be a great restorative. For culinary purposes lemon balm is
valued for its citrusy properties which are due to the presence of
citronellal, citral and geraniol. The fresh or dried leaves may be used to
make teas and tisanes; they can be blended with a number of other herbs and
fruits as well as regular tea. Fresh leaves can be added to cold drinks,
salads, jams and marmalades or they can be crystallized for decorating
cakes and other desserts. It is best to use the leaves in their fresh state
as much of the flavour is lost when they are cooked.

Lemon Verbena:  (Aloysia triphylla, syns. Lippia citriodora, Aloysia
citriodora). Lemon verbena is a native of South America that was introduced
to Europe by the Spanish in the 1600's. At one time in Hawaii it was used
for leis and featured prominently in Hawaiian poetic literature; the
Hawaiian name for it is Wapine.

For culinary purposes this plant is valued for the lemony citrusy flavour
and aroma of its leaves which comes from the terpene citral. The young
leaves can be finely chopped and used to flavour drinks, ice cream, cakes,
puddings and sauces. The more mature leaves can be infused for a tisane or
herbal 'tea', either on their own or blended with other herbs; they can be
infused in the same manner for finger bowls. A cautionary note: according
to one source long-term use of large amounts of the leaves may cause
stomach irritations. This source never elaborated on what was meant by
large amounts or described the nature of the stomach irritations however,
in general it is a good practice to be somewhat conservative in your use of
any herbal concoction until you see how your body accepts it.

Lemon verbena is a tender deciduous shrub that is only hardy in frost-free
climates but luckily for those of us in colder regions, they adapt
reasonably well to container culture so we can keep them indoors in cold
weather and move them outdoors during our summers. Give it light, well-
drained, alkaline soil and full sun. Propagate in the spring from seed or
softwood cuttings.

Lemongrass:  (Cymbopogon citratus). This aromatic member of the grass family,
Graminae, is a prominent flavouring agent in Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese
cuisine which has become popular in many other parts of the world. It is
perennial in dry tropical regions but should be considered an annual in
most parts of the U.S. and Canada. Lemongrass is fairly easy to grow. If
you can't find a plant at your local garden center try putting a couple of
stems from the grocery store into a container with a little water; as soon
as some roots appear at the bottom of the stem (I have had almost 100%
success doing it this way) put them into a pot filled with a light potting
soil and place it in a sunny location. You can continue growing it in a
container or, if your summers are long, plant directly into your herb
garden or even a flower bed. They make quite a good container plant and
will eventually form an attractive clump. The bulbous stems should be
harvested in the fall by cutting at the base just above the soil level;
they can then be used fresh, dried or minced very finely and frozen. If you
have a greenhouse or a sunny location in your house you can continue
growing it indoors for a while although I have never managed to keep one
going through the whole winter. For use in cooking only the very tender
leaves and new shoots, finely chopped, should be added to soups or stews;
for other dishes or beverages, bruise the base of the stems and the leaves
to aid in the release of the aromatic oils then add pieces to the dish in
such as manner that they can be removed before serving as they tend to be
tough and fibrous.

Licorice:  (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Licorice, a legume, is a very tender
perennial (zone 9 on the Canadian hardiness map, which as far as I can tell
doesn't show any areas beyond zone 8) that comes from southwest Asia. The
botanical name comes from the Greek word for "sweet root" and if you say it
a few times at different speeds (gly cyrr hiza) you may notice that the
English word "licorice" sounds fairly similar to the botanical name from
which it comes.

Licorice root contains glycyrrhizic acid which is at least 50 percent
sweeter than regular white sugar. The extract from the root is used to
flavour candy, dark beers, stout and tobacco. However, licorice can also
have some undesirable effects on the body, such as interfering with blood
pressure levels, so it should not be consumed daily or in quantity and not
by pregnant women or people with kidney disease.

Licorice is relatively easy to grow from seed but is best grown in
containers that can be moved indoors to a warm, sunny location unless you
live in one of the really really mild spots on this planet (unlike yours
truly). The potting soil should be rich in organic matter. In order to be
able to harvest the roots you will have to keep the plant growing for at
least 3 years.

Lovage: (Levisticum officinale). This hardy perennial member of the carrot
family (Umbelliferae) appears to have its origins in western Asia and the
eastern Mediterranean regions. It was probably brought to the New World by
early settlers but is still more widely used in Europe than in North
America which is a shame because it is a very useful plant. I have grown it
in my Zone 2 garden for over 20 years. Lovage is a large plant that should
be used as a backdrop or focus plant in the garden as it can grow to be
about 6 feet (2 meters) in height with a spread of about 3 feet (1 meter).
Although all parts of the plant can be used for culinary purposes, it is
the leaves and the seeds that seem to find their way into my cooking. The
tenderest young leaves make a most acceptable substitute for celery or
cilantro in salads, soups, stews and Asian dishes. The seeds, which to my
nose have an aroma that is distinctly reminiscent of curry, can be crushed
and added to breads, pastries, potatoes and rice. After the plant flowers
the leaves can tend to become a little bitter but I can usually still find
enough new ones to use that I have never felt it was necessary to trim off
the flower stems. The leaves can be used fresh, dried or frozen. To freeze,
simply chop and place in ice cube trays with water; once frozen they can be
double-bagged and placed back in the freezer until needed for flavouring
soups or stews.

Lovage likes deep rich soil with a location in full sun or partial shade.
It is not suitable for indoor growing. It will self-seed to some extent but
has never been particularly invasive in my garden. It can also be
propagated by root division. If you have the room for it in your yard I
strongly suggest you give it a try.

Back to Index

Mint: (Mentha). The mint family (Labiatea) is very large and includes about
180 genera and some 3000 species of herbs and shrubs. We have already
discussed some of them and others will be covered in the future. Herbs in
the mint family include (and some of these may surprise you): Basil (Ocimum
basilicum); Bergamot (Monarda didyma); Horehound (Marrubium vulgare);
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis); Lavender (Lavandula); Lemon Balm (Melissa
officinalis); Marjoram (Origanum majorama); Mints (Mentha); Oregano
(Origanum); Perilla (Perilla frutescens); Rosemary (Rosmarinus
officinalis); Sage (Salvia officinalis); Savory (Satureja); Thyme (Thymus
vulgaris). When my husband read this list he looked at me and said, "You've
included every herb there is!" Well, he wasn't far from the truth because
in fact this family provides more plants that are in common use for
culinary purposes than any other; the reason for this being that they can
grow in many places where few other plants can survive.

The so-called "true mints" are what I am going to discuss in this article
but I thought you would find some of the above more general information to
be of interest.

There are about 25 species of Mentha but they hybridize easily which can
result in some confusion among those people who identify and catalogue
them. There is one species that is native to North America, Mentha
arvensis, that can be found in moist areas of the plains, foothills and
mountainous areas from the northern parts of Canada and Alaska to New
Mexico. It is commonly referred to as "wild mint" or "field mint" and if
you have walked in these areas you may remember suddenly being surrounded
by the pleasant cheerful unexpected scent of mint when your feet crushed or
rubbed some of the plants. Two mints that have been introduced from Europe,
Spearmint (M. spicata) and Peppermint (M. piperata), have spread to many
locations in North America but are not as hardy as the native species. One
common identifying feature of true mints is the fact that they have stems
that are "square" or with 4 obvious sides but in other members of the
family this may not hold true. All mints should be used with some restraint
and caution as the chemical defenses that protect them from their enemies
can also have unwanted effects on humans. Mints should not be taken during
pregnancy; peppermint oil can cause heartburn and skin rashes; some people
are allergic to menthol; infants and small children should never be given
foods or medicines containing more than a very small amount of menthol and
then only with caution as they may be easily overwhelmed by the intense
fragrance. Mint is often considered to have a cooling effect because
menthol acts on the temperature-sensing nerves in the mouth and causes them
to send signals to the brain indicating they are several degrees (7F to
14F; 4C to 7C) cooler than they really are. Menthol degenerates on exposure
to heat so peppermint should not normally be cooked. Older leaves contain a
higher concentration of menthol.

I have not listed all the varieties of mints that are available at local
plant nurseries. In addition to peppermint and spearmint you may find apple
mint, pineapple mint, 'English' mint, orange mint, chocolate mint and many
others; some will have smooth leaves, some fuzzy leaves and some variegated
leaves and each will have its own flavour variation.

I could go on and on but I think this is enough. If you want to learn more
there is a lot of source material available in book form and on the

Mustard:  (Cruciferae). There are three kinds of mustard that are most
commonly used for culinary purposes: Black Mustard (Brassica nigra); White
Mustard (Sinapis alba or Brassica hirta); Brown Mustard (Brassica juncea)
which is actually a cross between black mustard and turnip (Brassica rapa).
Mustard seed has been found in prehistoric sites and in the first century
A.D. Pliny wrote of several remedies using mustard. The leaves, flowers and
seeds can be used for culinary purposes. The Romans, who named it, were
very fond of the condiments they made from the seeds. The flowers and young
leaves can be used in salads; the older leaves can be used with discretion
but they are much more pungent. The seeds are used to make condiments,
sauces, to flavor pickles and preserves.

Black mustard, a native of Eurasia, has a high amount of SINIGRIN, which is
a defensive compound and is therefore likely to be the most pungent of it
is not an easy crop to manage and has been replaced by brown mustard for
commercial purposes in many countries. Brown mustard contains a little less
sinigrin but is nonetheless the seed of choice in Europe for most prepared
mustards. White (or yellow) mustard is a native of Europe and contains a
different compound that the other two: SINALBIN. This compound is less
volatile than sinigrin so it seems milder since less of it gets into the
nasal passages. White mustard is the one used mainly in the U.S. for making
prepared mustards and as part of pickling spice mixtures.

Ground dry mustard seeds and powder must be mixed with liquid in order to
develop their pungency as the damaged cells react in the presence of the
moisture to revive the enzymes containing the defensive compounds.

Mustard oil contains ERUCIC ACID which has been known to cause heart damage
in laboratory animals; as a result of this its sale for use in food is now
illegal in many western countries although it is a traditional part of
cooking in Pakistan and Northern India. There is some controversy about the
actual effects of mustard oil on humans but at the moment the general
opinion seems to be that while the oil is present in condiments and pickles
it is not normally consumed in quantities high enough to cause harm which
it might be if foods were to be cooked with this oil and eaten much more

Mustard, like other brassicas, are relatively easy to grow. They like a
sunny location but with some shade during hot summer weather will help to
keep them from bolting to seed. If you want to grow them for the seed you
need to plant early in the spring but if you are mainly interested in
greens for salads, make several plantings at approximately 3-week intervals
during the growing season. One of my sources suggests they can also be
grown indoors but I have never tried to do this.


Back to Index

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus originally known as Nasturtium indica), aka
Indian Cress. Some of you may be surprised to see that I have included this
colourful annual plant in my discussion of culinary herbs and spices but
over the years it has become one of those plants I find so many uses for
that I would hate to not be able to include it in my collection.
There are so many varieties of nasturtium available today that the species
from which they have been developed (which has its origins in Peru) is
almost never seen in most places these days. T. majus, which is probably
the most commonly seen variety, has a trailing growth habit so is great in
hanging baskets, window boxes and other container plantings; other
varieties form mounds and some have variegated leaves. Most of the newer
varieties tend to display their flowers more prominently than the older
ones which tend to hide the flowers in among the leaves. All can be used
for culinary purposes.

The leaves and flowers can be added to salads, the leaves in particular
adding a nice fresh peppery bite. They can also be added to sandwiches. The
young seeds have a stronger flavour and can be finely chopped for use as a
substitute for horseradish in some sauces. The flower buds and the young
seeds can be pickled as a substitute for capers; I will post a recipe from
Joy of Cooking for doing this although there are a number of similar
recipes available. The leaves make a nice hors d'oeuvre when folded around
a herbed creamed cottage cheese mixture and chilled.

Nasturtiums are easily grown from seed. Although they appreciate some
moisture the soil must be a mixture that drains well. More flowers will be
produced when the plants are grown in poorer soil while leaf production
will be more vigorous in richer soil. I regularly inadvertently save some
of the seeds when I have nasturtiums planted either in or next to pots
containing geraniums that I winter indoors; they don't germinate until the
next spring because I keep these pots very dry until I want to encourage
new growth.

One of my sources states that nasturtium should be used sparingly with no
more than 1 ounce (30 grams) being ingested in one day (although I think
that would be quite a lot of leaves and/or flowers so I think a person
would have to get out there and browse like a veritable deer) but doesn't
say why. I suspect it may have something to do with the compounds that give
the leaves their peppery bite.

Nutmeg and Mace (Myristica fragrans). These spices come from the fruit of a
tropical tree which probably originated in New Guinea. They are rich in
volatile oils, one of them being 'myristicin' (also present in fresh dill
but in much smaller quantities). When the plum-like fruit ripens it splits
apart to reveal a shiny shell which has a bright red band called an "aril"
wrapped around it. For the tree's purposes this bright ribbon-like band
contains the right combination of colour and sweetness to make it
attractive to birds so they will collect the fruit an carry it away so the
seed gets dispersed. The seed inside the shiny shell is the nutmeg. The
aril, after being separated from the shell and dried, becomes the spice we
know as mace. Although mace and nutmeg are similar in flavour there are
differences due in part to the amounts of myristicin contained in the
different parts. Mace is generally considered to be milder than nutmeg. The
nutmeg also contains tannins which causes the grated nutmeg to be darker in
colour than grated mace so mace is often used in dishes where the darker
nutmeg would spoil the appearance. Both are usually grated over dishes just
before the end of the cooking time as they can develop unpleasant flavours
when exposed to heat for a long time.


Back to Index


Oregano & Marjoram (Origanum). The name for this plant genus comes from the
Greek "oros ganos" which translates to "joy of the mountain". Although
known to the Greeks since ancient times, oregano did not come into common
use in North America until after World War II when pizza became popular.
Among the many species of oregano are: O. dictamnus (Dittany of Crete, Hop
Marjoram); O. majorama aka Majorama hortensis (Sweet Marjoram, Knotted
Marjoram); O. onites aka Majorama onites (Pot Marjoram, Greek Oregano); O.
vulgare (Wild Marjoram, Oregano). The different species hybridize with each
other very easily and it can be difficult to sort out just who's who.
The important thing to note from a culinary point of view is that there are
differences in strengths and flavours. Greek oreganos generally have a
stronger more penetrating flavour due to a larger amount of carvacrol (a
phenolic compound), while the Italian, Turkish and Spanish oreganos are
milder because they tend to contain more thymol. To further complicate
things there are other plants with oregano in the common name that contain
carvacrol and other compounds that give them a flavour similar to true
oregano and the dried leaves from some of these are often combined with
true oregano in dried mixtures.

Mexican Oregano is a member of the genus Lippia which is part of the
verbena family. Some of them contain a high content of carvacrol and some
contain thymol; all of them have a higher essential oil content than true
oregano and so seem stronger.

Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amoinicus) is another plant that, despite its
common name, is not related to true oregano but is rather a member of the
mint family and comes from Asia. It also contains quite a bit of carvacrol
and is popular in India where its fuzzy fleshy leaves are battered and

The leaves of Sweet Marjoram can be infused to make a tisane or chopped
finely for use in salads and sauces. Oregano is used to flavour pizza
sauces, tomato, egg and cheese dishes; it can be rubbed into meat and mixed
with breadcrumbs for a stuffing for fish. Place some stems on the coals to
flavour barbecued meats.

Oregano likes a sunny exposure and well-drained neutral to alkaline soil.
It can be grown from seed (easiest) or cuttings. These plants are an
attractive addition to the garden and are available in several sizes,
shapes and colours. While hardy in milder areas some can be wintered over
in harsher climates if there is sufficient snow cover; some varieties will
also self-sow and while the original plant may die over the winter quite
often new plants will spring up in the vicinity of the parent. They can
also be grown in containers and brought inside during the winter. I have
had varying success doing this; some years it works and some it doesn't.


Back to Index



Parsley (Petroselinum crispum). This important herb, whose name comes 
from the Greek for "rock celery", is a native of southeastern Europe 
and western Asia. Parsley, a biennial, is another relative of the 
carrot. There are three main varieties in common use for culinary 
purposes. P. crispum is the curly-leaf parsley so often seen as a 
garnish. A variety known as Hamburg parsley (P. crispum tuberosum) is 
grown mainly for its large roots which can be grated for salads, 
boiled as a vegetable or added to soups and stews. Italian or French 
parsley (P. crispum neapolitanum) is a flat-leaf variety and has a 
stronger flavour than the curly-leaved parsley.

Parsley is easily grown from seed but this is slow to germinate and 
ideally requires pre-soaking of the seed and a 70F soil temperature 
for germination so unless you want to grow a large number of plants 
you may wish to purchase a couple of them at a local garden center. 
It does not take well to transplanting however, so if you buy the 
plants make sure they are in individual containers or cells and 
transplant them to their permanent location as soon as possible with 
the least root disturbance you can manage. Parsley can be grown in 
full sun or partial shade and likes a reasonably rich, moist but 
well-drained soil. It makes an attractive "stuffer plant" in a window 
box or deck planter where it will be handy to your kitchen. The 
leaves can be used fresh, dried or frozen. To freeze, chop the fresh 
leaves, mix with some water and freeze them in ice cube trays. They 
can then be bagged and stored in the freezer for use when needed.

Pepper (Piper nigrum). Although there are about 1000 different species in
the genus Piper this is the one we will deal with in the main. The berries
from this vine, a native of India, provides the black pepper we most
commonly use on our tables but it is also the source of white pepper, green
pepper and pink pepper. These berries take about 6 months to mature and are
red when ripe; as they dry they turn black but by this time they will have
lost much of their pungency and aroma, therefore what we know as black
pepper comes from berries that are mature but not ripe which have been
blanched in hot water then sun- or machine-dried. White pepper is the seed
from ripe berries that have been soaked and had the outer fruit layer
removed before drying. It is valued because it is pungent but not as
visible in light-coloured sauces and other dishes as black pepper would be.
Green pepper, as you might suspect, comes from berries that have not been
allowed to ripen. They are preserved by freeze-drying, canning, bottling in
brine or treating with sulfur dioxide and dehydration. Pink pepper is the
just-rip red berries preserved in brine and vinegar. The pungency in pepper
comes from piperine. To best preserve the pungency and aroma pepper should
be stored tightly sealed in a cold dark location.

There is another source of pink peppercorns, the Brazilian pepper tree
(Schinus terebinthifolius) which was originally brought to the U.S. as an
ornamental but has since become invasive in the southern part of the
country. It's fruits started to be commercially available around 1980.

Perilla (Perilla frutescens) aka Shiso. Perilla, a member of the same
family as mint, is a native of China and India which was introduced to
Japan and Korea some time around 1000 A.D. In Japan the leaves and flower
heads are used with meat and seafood; the Koreans use the seeds for cooking
oil and flavoring. The oil contains perillaldehyde which give perilla its
distinctive aroma. Some varieties don't contain any perillaldehyde (I just
had to say that word again) so they tend to have a more citrus aroma due
to the presence of limonene. One variety, P. frutescens 'Magilla', which
has an appearance very like that of the Coleus so commonly found in flower
beds and containers, is not recommended for culinary use but rather only as
an ornamental. The leaves of the purple or red variety, P. frutescens var.
crispa rubra, are used to color preserved fruits such as the Japanese
pickled plum, umeboshi. The leaves of the green (P. frutescens var. crispa)
and the red or purple varieties can be chopped and used as a garnish or
battered and treated as tempura. They can also be used in sushi.

This plant makes an attractive addition to the garden as a useful
alternative to Coleus in containers and beds. It likes a rich and moist but
well-drained soil and a location in sun or partial shade.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Rosemary, a shrubby member of the same
family as mint (Labiatae) that comes to us from the Mediterranean, has
become one of our more important culinary herbs because of its distinctive
aroma and flavour. It is also an attractive plant in the garden but unless
you live in an area where the winters are very mild you will have to either
get new plants each spring or grow them in containers and try to bring them
through the winter indoors, which I have done on occasion. In Canada,
probably the only areas where rosemary can be reliably wintered outdoors is
in locations right at the coast in British Columbia. Rosemary is said to
attract bees and repel moths and carrot fly. There are several varieties
ranging from rather large and shrubby (Art had a nice hedge of rosemary
when he lived on the coast) to plants with a definite trailing habit. I've
seen pictures of some rosemary that was clipped as for topiary and others
that were pruned and trained in various styles as bonsai.

For culinary purposes both the flowers and leaves are used. If your
rosemary plant develops woody stems they can be used as flavour-imparting
skewers for grilling meats and vegetables. The flowers can be used fresh in
salads, crystallized for a garnish or pounded with some sugar then mixed
with some cream for addition to a fruit puree. The leaves can be used in
many ways: mince and add fresh to salads; add whole to soups and stews; add
the tender leafy stems to rice during steaming. It seems to go particularly
well with lamb and poultry.


Rosemary retains its flavour amazingly well when dried so you can easily
cut and store a good supply of stems at the end of the season. You can also
strip the leaves from the stems and freeze them with water in ice cube
trays then store the cubes in bags in the freezer.

Rosemary can be grown from seed but this can be slow so it is usually
easier to buy a few plants from your local greenhouse when you buy your
bedding plants. It can also be propagated from cuttings taken in the
spring, by layering and sometimes root division. If you live in the above-
mentioned mild climate you can increase your collection quite nicely by the
cuttings method. Rosemary prefers full sun but will tolerate partial shade
and should be protected from cold winds. It does well in poor to average
soil although apparently the flavour is enhanced when grown in a limey soil
so some people add potash. Rosemary requires a soil that is well-drained
but the area around the roots must never be allowed to dry out. Rosemary
experts have also informed me that it resents disturbance to its roots so
if you plan to bring it indoors during the winter make sure you transplant
it at an early stage into a container that is large enough to last for some
Rosemary Photo

Back to Index

Salt And Pepper Can Make You A Better Cook (Info)

Using a little salt and pepper in your cooking is a simple technique that
will make you a better cook.

Put simply, salt and pepper tweak the taste buds. Salt awakens the taste
buds in the mouth and pepper stimulates our olfactory senses -- making us
more aware and receptive to the flavor of food.

Thankfully, it only takes a small amount of either one to alert our flavor
sensors. Salt: The difference in salts has mainly to do with texture.
Chemically there is little difference -- all are about 97.5 percent sodium
chloride. The differences lie in processing.

Table salt is mined from underground deposits and includes a small amount
of calcium silicate, an anti-caking agent. Many table salts also contain
iodide, a mineral that promotes good thyroid performance. Table salt is
ground into very fine crystals and is relatively sharp in taste.

Table salt is best for baking because its fine crystals dissolve easily
into recipes.

Sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater and receives little or no
processing, leaving in place the minerals that come from the seawater.
Because seawater's mineral content varies from location to location, so
does sea salt. Much of the mineral content of sea salt will evaporate
quickly with exposure to heat. To benefit from mineral flavors, sea salt
should be added as a topping rather than a cooking ingredient. Trace
amounts of these additional flavors can easily be over-shadowed by other
spices, sauces, butters, or other toppings.

Kosher salt takes its name from its use in the koshering process. It has no
preservatives or anti-caking agent and can be derived from either seawater
or underground salt deposits. It is particularly useful for preserving
because its large crystals hold up to the process more effectively than
other salts.

Kosher salt almost always appears as large crystals, making it easier to
control when sprinkling by hand or by pinches. There is some "crunch"
appeal to the bite if it is eaten before it dissolves.

Pepper: Black, white and green peppercorns are all the same seed of the
same plant. How they come to market has to do with their stage of
development and their processing.

Peppercorn berries grow on spikes, with 50 to 60 berries on each spike.
Black peppercorns are picked when the berry has reached its full size, but
is still a little under-ripe. Enzymes in the berries turn the skins black
as they dry. Black peppercorns, and the resulting ground black pepper, have
a pungent taste. They have the best flavor when they are freshly ground.

White peppercorns are mature berries that ripen to a red color before being
picked. Once picked, they are soaked and rubbed free of the outer skin,
which reveals a smooth white under-layer. Ground white pepper is slightly
milder than ground black pepper. White pepper is used in light colored
sauces, seafood dishes, spice blends and vegetables.

Green peppercorns are picked when under-ripe. They are usually pickled in
brine or vinegar and may be freeze-dried and dehydrated, which gives them
pungent flavor. Green peppercorns are not dried after harvesting, except
for freeze-drying, and are milder in taste than either white or black

Red peppercorns are the mature, un-hulled berry. They may be pickled or
dried, but either is hard to find and very expensive.

Salt and pepper are applied to food before it is cooked to better allows
those spices to integrate with the food as it cooks. This is not the time
to be heavy handed, but you will find food tastes better when seasoned in
this manner.

Always include salt as a dry rub ingredient. It doesn't have to be the
dominant ingredient.

Contributed to the FareShare Gazette by Art; 22 August 2009.

Back to Index

Back to Index

FareShare Fun Facts  |  FareShare Educational Segment

Disclaimer: The operators of the FareShare Website are not responsible for the content or practice of any website to which we link for your convenience.

Art Guyer operates this project.

Provide feedback here.

Home | Chat | Recipes | Metrics | Cooking Temperatures | Links

Return to the FareShare Recipe  Master IndexSearch our Recipe Archives.  Click Here!