Herbs have been used as much for their healing powers as their flavours at least since 2500 BC, when the earliest detailed information was recorded in China.
Growing herbs Make a herb bed in your garden, or grow herbs in pots on your windowsill. Grow thoSee that you will use most frequently in the kitchen.
Drying herbs Pick herbs, rinse in clear water, tie in bunches with string, and hang upside down to dry — outside, in the sunshine; in an airing cupboard; in your kitchen or in an oven at a very low temperature.
You can keep the green colour of parsley and mint if you first blanch them for a few seconds in boiling water.
Once dry, crumble the leaves and pack into small jars. Cover, label with the date, and store in a cool, dark, dry place.
Buying dried herbs Always buy dried herbs in small quantities. Label with the date of purchase and keep for no longer than six months.
TYPES OF HERBS
- Basil A pungent herb, used with tomatoes, especially in pasta sauces and salads.
- Bay This slightly sweet leaf is used in a bouquet garni, to flavour casseroles and soups, and to garnish pâtés.
- Chervil This has a delicate, slightly spicy fragrance. Use it in omelettes, soups, sauces, savoury butters and potato salads.
- Dill Both stalks and seeds have an aromatic flavour, a little like caraway, but milder. Use it in dishes which contain cucumber and fish. Fennel The leaves and bulb have an aniseed flavour. Use with fish, lamb or in sauces.
- Marjoram A small-leaved herb, used mainly for flavouring meats, savoury stuffings and tomato dishes.
- Mint A fast-spreading garden herb with many varieties. A traditional accompaniment to roast lamb, use also to garnish vegetables, fruit salads and cold drinks. Oregano Related to marjoram but stronger and hotter. Used in Italian dishes.
- Parsley A very popular, mild-flavoured herb, used for garnishing. It is included in a bouquet garni, for flavouring sauces, soups, and a wide variety of meat and vegetable dishes.
- Rosemary A highly aromatic herb, used to give added flavour to roast lamb, poultry and potatoes.
- Sage A strong-flavoured herb, used in a stuffing with onion for rich meat and poultry; gives its unique flavour to Sage Derby cheese.
- Savory There are both summer and winter varieties of this slightly peppery herb. Use it with eggs, fish, salads and green beans.
- Tarragon Two varieties are widely available, French and Russian: French has the better flavour. Use tarragon to flavour vinegar; in chicken dishes and with eggs.
- Thyme A strongly flavoured herb, with a sweet aroma. An essential part of a bouquet garni, add it to meats and stuffings.
Spices come from tropical plants. They are the edible, aromatic parts dried: the fruit, berries, bark, roots or buds of the plants.
- Allspice Small berries, with a flavour of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Use ground, in cakes, meat casseroles and milk puddings.
- Cardamom A seed with a
- tough shell: crack it to release the eucalyptus-like flavour, and use in curries. Caraway The seeds of this herb are used in bread, cakes and East European dishes. Cayenne Pepper from ground chillies. It is very hot, so use with care.
- Chilli A fruit grown in warm and tropical countries. As spices, the pods may be bought green or red.
- Cinnamon The inner bark of a tree grown in India and Sri Lanka. Use it in puddings, mulled wine and meat casseroles, whole or powdered.
- Cloves Dried buds from a tropical tree, cloves, whole or ground, are used with apples, hams, and milk puddings.
- Coriander A plant whose origins are in southern Europe and the Middle East. Use its spicy seeds in curries and stuffings.
- Cumin A small herb, whose aromatic seeds are used in curries, and with rice, beans and pickles.
- Fenugreek Seeds used in curry mixtures.
- Garam masala A mixture of ground spices, used to flavour Indian food just before serving. It most often contains cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cloves, ginger and pepper.
- Ginger A warming spice with a sharp, tangy taste. Buy it fresh, dried, powdered or crystallized.
- Mace The outer covering of nutmeg, mace is sold powdered or as ‘blade mace’. Use in sauces and stews.
- Mustard Yellow (white) and black mustard are in greatest demand. The ground seeds are used in a variety of different combinations, often with added spices and wine vinegar, to give zest to beef, ham and cheese.
- Nutmeg The seed of a tropical tree, covered with a scarlet network of mace, nutmeg has a pleasant, crisp flavour. Grate and add to milk puddings, custards and cakes. Paprika From a sweet red pepper, buy it ground to add a sweet pungency to a goulash, or to garnish a sauce. Pepper The most widely used of all spices, both black and white pepper come from a tropical climbing vine. Black peppercorns are the berries, dried in the sun. White peppercorns have been husked of their outer skin.
- Poppy seed Tiny seeds; sprinkle on bread, pies, mashed potatoes or noodles. Saffron The most expensive spice used in cookery, saffron comes from the stigma of a crocus. Gold in colour, with a subtle, slightly bitter taste, use it to flavour fish soups, rice and some rubbed-in cakes and buns.
- Sesame An important food plant; use the nutty seeds to flavour cakes and biscuits. Tamarind The pods of the tamarind tree are pulped to make a delicate, slightly sour ingredient for curries. Turmeric Always sold ground, turmeric comes from a plant related to ginger. It is bright yellow, with a warm, pungent flavour. Use it with rice and in curries.
- Vanilla The plant is a variety of orchid. Its pods are dried, giving a sweetly scented flavour to milk puddings and cakes.