Veggie of the Week - Herbs
sponsored by Coleman Farms
One of the nice things about late Summer is the variety of herbs available at the Farmers' Market. We're taking a fairly broad view of 'herb' here, to include any leaf used in cooking for its aroma or flavor; and we'll be particularly liberal with 'cook', while we're at it.
Say 'herb' and quite likely something like basil or oregano comes to mind, thoughts filled with the vision flavor and odor of pasta sauce, or of basil crushed over sliced tomatoes still warm from the garden. But what if you've already eaten, or it's mid afternoon, and you want something to simply cool you down, or warm you up? What if you feel a bit off?
Well, say 'herb' again. You can make iced tea special by brewing it together with an herb: oregano will add piquancy, while lemon verbena, thai lime or lemon basil will substitute for lemon, each herb also leaving its own flavor signature.
If you want to warm up later in the year, get fresh herbs now and dry them by spreading them out in a dry spot inside with good air circulation and removed from direct sunlight. You can use the dried leaves to make herb tea, varietal or blended with other herbs or China or India tea. A tisane is a traditional european bedtime drink, generally a calmative by its warmth and by association, but there are herbs, such as verbena and lemon verbena, which have demonstrated sedative properties. Infusions of common herbs, such as marjoram, oregano and rosemary, are recommend to help recover from congestion or coughs resulting from colds or 'flu.
Herbs, even what we'd consider common herbs, form the basis of the prehistoric apothecary, and as a glance at either botanical.com or liberherbarum.com will show, their therapeutic uses are many and varied. For internal use, herbs would be combined into some kind of potion. Long ago there would have been a choice of three bases, water, oil or wine; the advent of distillation added alcohol, with its excellent extractive properties. Today such extracts are still found in medical cabinets, either as part of a system like the Bach regime of essential oils ('essential' as in 'essence', not as in 'absolutely necessary'), or as a sort of 'barefoot pharmeceutical' like the extract of verbena in eau de vie used in France to calm nerves and stomachs and, administered on a sugar cube, to help restless children go to sleep.
We often encounter discussions which waver between food and health, and the dividing line between food and medicine can become especially blurry when alcohol is involved. The 'latin' Europeans, especially, seem to have made good use of this, developing a huge variety of elixers, tonics or aperitifs - choose your word - which are just decoctions of various herbs in either wine or spirits, and which have some therepeutic value expressed or implied, be it only the stimulation of the appetite, or, indeed, of conversation.
Though Mint does have medicinal properties, principally as a digestive, I've not heard Mojitos touted as a curative. But herbs do seem to be trendy at the bar, with the lemony aromatics such as lemon verbena and Thai Lime being obvious favorites, sometimes joined by more subtle herbs such as tarragon. How long until the heat of chile leaves or the shadowy liquorice of the wild avocado join them?
photo courtesy of colemanfarms.com