We love herbs. During the summer their scent surrounds the outdoor deck, and in winter I incorporate the crop that I’ve harvested and frozen into my everyday cooking to make it...well, less everyday! Here I'm going to present five herbs that have multiple uses.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) was first brought to Europe by the Spanish. Named after Maria Louisa, Princess of Parma, it is close to being the Queen of lemon-scented herbs. In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O'Hara's mother declared it to be her favorite plant. Perhaps she looked forward to a daily tea of lemon verbena blended with mint. Used to brighten fish, poultry, salad dressings, and jellies, when combined with rosemary and thyme it makes a memorable herb vinegar.
Many dried herb leaves tend to lose their scent, but not lemon verbena, thus making it perfect for long-lasting potpourris, sachets, and pillows. The oil is used in cologne, toilet water, perfume and soap. The infused oil, when blended with lavender and rosemary, is perfect for creams and lotions. Place a lemon verbena compress on your eyelids to reduce puffiness. Because of its relaxing, sedative effect, it is used for indigestion, as well as bronchial and sinus congestion.
A zone 9 plant, it can be taken indoors to winter, but expect it to lose its leaves. In mid-summer, cut the plant halfway back for your primary harvest, and then once more before bringing it inside. This is a plant that will bush out if you pinch the stem tips.
It's no secret that Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is an august addition to any garden, but did you know that this is the multi-tasker of herbs? For culinary purposes, the flowers add a saucy eye-appeal to salads; lavender butter or sugar is wonderful when spread on toast; lavender honey is a sweet reminder of past times; combine lavender cookies with lavender ice cream for a party favorite; top your morning bagel with lavender jelly for a great start to the day; and don't forget that lavender plays well with rosemary, basil, and lemon verbena.
As a natural antiseptic agent, lavender is used in soaps, shampoos, hand lotions, and bath oils and salts. Aromatherapy practitioners use lavender misting to "clear negative energy;" the essential oil is simply added to water and spritzed on the skin and hair. And if you spend numerous hours in one location, such as your cubicle at work or your home office, generously spray the air. It will not only smell wonderful, it it is also said to soothe your skin and nerves. The oils are a delightful additive to one's bath, and top all off with a scented night's sleep by adding a few drops to your pillow.
Flies dislike the scent of lavender, so if you're bothered whilst gardening, rub some of the lavender onto your skin, or display a sprig in your hat and you've created a pretty purple fly repellent.
It will draw your cat to its location, and was also said to attract benevolent fairies. The Victorians are somewhat cryptic as to lavender's use in the "floral language of love"; traditionally an urging for silence, it was believed that to dream of lavender was a prediction of a reunion. It is also, confusingly, said to act as an attractant for suitors, as an aphrodisiac, and as a protection for chastity.
I think that whenever not cooking with lavender, it's best to toss some lavender stems into the fireplace during the cold months for a scented reminder of the warm gardening season to come, light a lavender scented candle for added fragrance and glow, and sit in your favorite chair and weave lavender stems into wreaths.
I stumbled onto the marvels of mint (Mentha) last summer. I had planted some in my herb garden, thinking it was something else. I clipped off a sprig, garnished my Sunday brunch mimosa, and was dazzled by the aroma. I then took every opportunity to add it to whatever beverage I was drinking. Lemon sorbet with a mint garnish is probably the best summer dessert one can have without suffering guilt. Steep it for 10 minutes in hot water and you have terrific tea; combine some (zero calorie) orange flavored seltzer, about ¼ cup of cranberry juice, and a sprig of mint and I guarantee your face will carry a smile on it all day long; cook a few sprigs with peas and new potatoes for a side dish that will delight.
Medicinally, peppermint is the mint of choice. The menthol in it soothes the lining of the digestive tract, and stimulates production of bile, thus aiding in settling your stomach after a big meal. It is an excellent breath freshener; whilst gardening, pinch off a few leaves, rinse them under the hose, and chew on them. Any unexpected guest will thank you for it!
As there are numerous types of mint, we feel obligated to warn you about pennyroyal, which is toxic if taken internally. However, if you rub it on your skin, you have an effective insect repellent. Rubbing it on your dog's coat deters fleas, and planting it under roses helps to retain moisture, thus improving the overall health of your rose bushes. A perennial herb, mint is an invasive that will take over your herb garden; we recommend growing it in pots as a control, or sinking it into your garden in a container.
Perfect for potpourri, combine ½ cup of orris root and 1 Tbsp. of essential pennyroyal oil. Add 2 cups each of dried orange mint, dried spearmint, dried peppermint, plus 1 cup each of dried thyme and rosemary. Combine gently, trying to not crush leaves. Store in a covered jar until ready to place in a shallow dish, or sew into a sachet.
Shakespeare's Ophelia tells Hamlet, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance, pray, love, remember." Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is reported by scientists at the University of Cincinnati to have a scent that is an effective memory stimulant. A potted plant for your desk at work, or where the kids do their homework, might aid in the re-reading of the Bard's classic tragedy.
Its name is derived from the Latin "Ros marinus," loosely translated as "fond of the sea." It is an attractive evergreen shrub with pine needle-like leaves and pale blue flowers that often grows by the sea. Aside from its culinary treasure as an additive to just about any dish, rosemary has many other traditional uses. In Spain and Italy it is considered a safeguard from witches and evil influences; following that line of thought, it is the herb of remembrance and friendship. It is said that hanging a few sprigs of it on your porch and door will keep out thieves--and attract elves. It is also the emblem of fidelity for lovers.
Rosemary is an anti-bacterial, an antioxidant, an anti-fungal, an antiseptic, an antispasmodic, an astringent . . . whew! And those are just the "A's"! The herb, root, and oil (which is obtained from the flowering tops), are used for insomnia and nervous disorders, to stimulate the brain and nervous system and to cure migraines. It improves circulation, rids one of bad breath when used as a mouthwash, and has a calming effect on indigestion.
But aside from smiling each time I pass by the rosemary in my herb garden just because it smells so good, my favorite usage is to add it to some sautéed chicken along with lemon juice (freshly squeezed), 1 cup white wine, freshly pressed garlic and tarragon. Serve brown and wild rice with a lemon slice and a sprig of rosemary as garnish, sit back, and enjoy the magical qualities of this perfect plant.
Chervil ( Anthriscus cerefolium ) or "herb of joy" has a delicate anise flavor considered essential to French cooking. Closely related to parsley, this fragrant shade-tolerant herb thrives in the cooler weather of spring and fall, and does best in the shade of taller plants such as lemon balm and pennyroyal. An ingredient in French fine herbs along with tarragon, parsley and chives, it is best used fresh, added in the last few minutes of cooking; this will preserve the flavor. Added to soups, eggs, vegetables and salads, it also complements fish and chicken.
As this is an article on the multiple uses of these five herbs, we would be remiss to not point out that chervil has historically been used as an aid to sluggish digestion, as a soothing eye wash, a circulatory aid when ingested as a herbal tea, and most sybaritically, as a skin freshener when the leaves are infused in water.
So this season, if you haven't already embraced the joys of herb gardening, why not begin with just a few planted in pots or window boxes. I guarantee that by the end of summer you'll be plotting out where a full-sized herb garden will be created on your grounds. Herb gardening is an addiction that goes back to the ancients, and is immediately rewarding no matter how you choose to use the herbs.
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