Herbs - Refreshing by nature
By Kim Klugh, Intelligencer Journal Correspondent
Published: Jul 26, 2006 8:27 AM EST
LANCASTER COUNTY, PA -
Perhaps you fancy basil, bay leaf, bee balm. Perhaps it's parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Maybe you believe tarragon to be a culinary paragon.
Whether your favorite herbs are annuals, bi-annuals or perennials, sun lovers or shade-seekers, you have multiple choices when it comes to their uses and where they can be grown.
At a recent herb garden workshop held at the Lancaster County Environmental Center in Central Park, master gardener Linda Downs offered a working definition of herbs before demonstrating a variety of their uses. She pointed out that herbs can be used in at least one of four ways: aromatically, ornamentally, medicinally, or in a culinary manner.
Herbs also are fun for the average gardener because they are easy to grow. They need no fertilizer or insecticide, and they can be grown in a wide variety of places. In formal gardens or tiny plots of earth, as borders or creeping along rock walls, herbs generally make themselves at home and flourish. If planting space is limited, herbs do fine in containers and can be moved about, or brought indoors. "As soon as an herb can sustain its own growth, it can be harvested for use," said Downs, adding, "don't let herbs blossom unless you're going to use the blooms." To prolong each herb's color and flavor, she suggests gently washing the herb, and then patting it dry before storing it in a zipper-lock bag. She says most herbs will keep several days in the refrigerator (except basil and oregano, which are extremely tender and bruise easily).
You can also freeze fresh herbs; Downs suggests 1/4-cup portions in zipper-lock bags.
Herbs may be dried in the oven for later use, in cooking or crafts, by placing them on cookie sheets on a low setting with the oven door open. Turn the herbs periodically so they dry evenly. When herbs are crisp and break easily, remove them from the oven and cool prior to storage. Herbs may also be dried in the microwave oven, but Downs points out they may have a tendency to overcook with this method.
Tina Sams, of Manheim, remembers being introduced to herbs on foraging excursions with her grandfather. Today, after many years of running wholesale and retail herb businesses, she is a self-proclaimed "herb enthusiast" and current editor of The Essential Herbal Newsletter. Sams makes a distinction between "normal" herbs and "wild" herbs and points out that all herbs have properties. For example, the mint family, historically known for its refreshing and energizing qualities, also has a soothing effect; while echinacea (purple coneflower), a "wild" herb, is thought to increase immune functions.
There are many possibilities for herbs in beverages, said Sams. "Herbs can be used in teas (hot or cold), wines, cordials, and even coffee substitutes." Even though she's never made it herself, Sams has tasted a beverage made from roasted dandelion roots and said it makes a good substitute for coffee, with a hint of unsweetened cocoa flavor mingling with a coffee taste. She said chicory also may be used as a coffee substitute. Chamomile tea, the soothing drink that Peter Rabbit's mother gave him after his tangle with Mr. McGregor in the vegetable patch, is the same tea Sams first remembers preparing for her daughter when she was frightened by a thunderstorm.
Herbs can be used in cocktails also. There's the well-known mint julep, popular when the Kentucky Derby takes place. The recently featured mojito (Intelligencer Journal, May 5 issue) highlighted mixing rum with mint, and basil can also be added for a layer of tastes.
Following are ideas for refreshing beverages:
Minted ice cubes
Fresh mint leaves
Sugar to taste
To make the minted ice cubes, fill ice cube trays partially with water and freeze. Set mint leaves on top, fill with more water and freeze solid. Brew double-strength tea and steep, while hot with 2 bunches of fresh mint. When cool, strain out mint and sweeten to taste, chill.
Using a non-metallic pot, bring 1 gallon of water up to, but not boiling.
Double handful of mint (of your choice)
Double handful of lemon balm leaves
1 1/2 cups lemon verbena leaves
1 cup chopped lemon grass
Add herbs to water.
Reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Lightly mash the herbs with a non-metallic spoon to help release some of the oils. Remove and let set to cool. Strain through a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Refrigerate until time to use. Will keep for several days.
Measure out 2 cups of the infusion to one gallon of weak tea. Add 1 cup of orange juice and serve over ice.
The following recipes were sent for the article, but only the first was used. For some reason the rest of the article won't allow me to post it, so here ya go ...
Tension Re-leaf Tea
4 parts chamomile
4 parts lemon balm
2 parts catnip
2 parts passion flower
2 parts raspberry leaf
1 part valerian root
Mix up this blend and keep it on hand for any time someone in the house is having trouble unwinding.
Luscious Lemon Tea
Blend equal parts:
And a pinch of lemon thyme
Serve sweetened with honey, and garnished with a fresh lime slice. Very refreshing!
Minty Morning Tea
1 part black (orange pekoe) tea
1 part spearmint
Brew as you would regular black tea. This is so yummy in the morning or when you need a pick up in the early evening.
Lemon Herb White Sangria
Iowa State Fair winning recipe by Jo Ellen Whitney
2 bottles (1.5 liters) Reisling or Gewurtztraminer
1/2 cup macerated lemon balm leaves
1/4 cup macerated lemon verbena leaves2 tbsp. macerated orange mint leaves
2 oranges, coarsely chopped
1 lemon, coarsely chopped
1 lime, coarsely chopped
Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher and allow to steep overnight in the refrigerator. Strain and serve with frozen lemon, lime, orange, and herb garnish.
This last one is from Maggie at prairielandherbs.com there's also lavender/rhubarb lemonade, and a chocolate mint martini recipe on the site