by Marnie Record, workforce specialist, LLCC Value Added Local Foods program
“An herb is the friend of physicians and the praise of cooks” said Charlemagne, emperor and father of Western Europe, at the beginning of the century. The use of plants as herbs has played a prominent role in all cultures since long before recorded history. Symbolisms, folklore and uses vary throughout the world. Many different tribes of Algonquian Indians used elderberry bark infusions to cleanse the body of infection. The Romans ate anise seed cakes at the conclusion of feasts to aid digestion. And in folk medicine, garlic offers a cure for all that ails including bronchitis and respiratory problems, gastrointestinal problems, flatulence, leprosy, menstrual cramps, high blood pressure and diabetes. Each of the several thousand different herbs contains complex properties that offer a range of benefits to enhancing flavor, beauty and health.
Most herbs are easy to grow in pots or backyard gardens during the spring, summer and fall, while some herbs grow well in windowsills during the winter. An herb garden close to the kitchen saves money – you pick just what you need – and produces the fresh, full flavors of a just-picked plant.
Herbs are prepared through a variety of methods such as:
- decoctions by boiling barks, roots and berries to extract the active ingredients
- tinctures by soaking herbs in water and alcohol to extract and preserve the active ingredients
- infusions by steeping in water like teas
- infused oils with chopped herbs and oil
- creams and ointments from herbs and either oil or fat.
Herbs are widely used today in foods, beverages, cosmetics, vitamins and natural supplements. Inhale a fresh mint plant and feel a jolt of energy, or stand in a lavender field as the aromas wash calm into your being. Then you will know the power of herbs, and why their storied histories continue to hold a place of reverence in medicine cabinets and kitchens around the world.
Herbal Salt Scrub
Salt scrubs get rid of dead skin cells, improve skin tone, boost circulation and stimulate the lymphatic system, which in turn helps to prevent cellulite.
1 cup sea salt
5-6 medium basil leaves, chopped into small pieces
zest and juice of ½ of a lime
1 teaspoon coconut oil
Add all ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together until combined.
Place in a jar.
Lemon Sun Tea
*1/2 cup fresh lemon balm leaves
*1/2 cup fresh lemon verbena leaves
*1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
*Handful of calendula petals for color
Place fresh herbs into the canning jar.
Add water, a lid and shake.
Place the jar where it will receive full sunlight, such as on a rooftop, open field or driveway. If possible, give the mixture a couple more shakes throughout the day. Length of brew time depends on personal taste.
The tea should appear rich and translucent in color. While still warm, shake the mixture, strain the contents and use the plant material for mulch. Pour fresh tea on ice and enjoy.
Herb Sauce for Fish and Seafood
Juice from half fresh lemon (about 2-3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled shallot or scallion (separate green from white)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
1 drop Chinese Chili paste or 5-6 flakes dehydrated red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley (or fresh basil, tarragon, sorrel, marjoram, thyme)
1 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
Salt to taste
Put lemon juice, shallot (or white part of scallion) and salt in a small sauce pan. Heat to a low simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
If you use a scallion, add the green part along with 2 tbs. parsley and cook for 2 minutes more. Taste and correct seasoning with salt if necessary. Stir in butter until it melts. Remove from heat and cover loosely until fish is ready to serve.
To serve: ladle over cooked fish or seafood and scatter remaining parsley over the sauce as garnish.
1/4 cup dried lavender flowers
5 to 7 drops lavender essential oil
2 tablespoons grated beeswax
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
Pour the oil into a heavy saucepan.
Add lavender flowers. Stir to combine.
Warm slowly over low heat. Once warm, turn off heat and let sit for 20 minutes.
Place cheesecloth over glass measuring cup and secure with a rubber band.
Strain lavender oil mixture through cheesecloth.
Once most of the oil has dripped through, remove rubber band and pull the cheesecloth around the lavender. Squeeze any excess oil into the measuring cup.
Put a few inches of water into pan, place measuring cup (with olive oil) into pan. Warm slowly over low heat until the water is simmering.
While the water is warming, add the 5 drops of lavender essential oil and 2 tablespoons of beeswax to the olive oil.
Let this mixture sit in simmering water and stir occasionally until the beeswax has melted.
Once melted, pour into clean jars. Allow to cool completely before putting the lid on.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value-Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.
To learn more about herbs and their uses, LLCC offers Value-Added Herbs, Sept. 14-Oct. 31, Saturdays, noon-4 p.m.
Cooking or food questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org