In this week’s parcel there are Basil, Oregano, Sage, Thyme & Garlic Chives.
Basil’s refreshing clove and anise-like aroma conjures up memories of summer, hardly surprising when one considers how this warmth-loving annual thrives in heat and expires with the first chills of winter. The sweet taste is far less pungent than the permeating, heady aroma of the freshly picked leaves would suggest, thus large quantities can be used with safety. The origin of basil goes back to India, where it was considered a sacred herb. It is also native to Iran and Africa and was known in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.
In Romania a young man was considered to be engaged if he accepted a sprig of basil from a young lady.
The flavor and aroma of Oregano is mildly savory and grassy and resembles thyme, with an agreeable bitterness and lingering camphor quality. Native to the Mediterranean region, for centuries Oregano was cultivated as a flowering and strewing herb. Oregano has a more complex flavor profile when dried, and for this reason is uses almost exclusively in its dried form in many traditional regional dishes. Oregano complements basil, and the combination of these two herbs with liberal amounts of tomato has become synonymous in most developed and developing countries with pizza and Italian pasta.
The name of the species, Origanum, comes from the Greek word oros and ganos and means “joy of the mountain,” an expression coined because of the joyous aroma and appearance created by drifts of this fragrant herb growing on the picturesque rocky Greek hillsides.
Sage has a high pungency level similar to that of rosemary and thyme with an aroma that is fresh, head-clearing and balsamic. The flavor is herbaceous, savory and astringent with hints of peppermint. Dried sage leaves retain the characteristic aroma and flavor of fresh sage so well, it seems more like a concentrated version. Sage is native to the northern Mediterranean coastal areas of southern Europe and still grows wild on hills in Dalmatia, who are famed for the quality of their sage. Sage is the perfect accompaniment to fatty foods such as pork, goose and duck. It gives the best result when used in moderation and in dishes that are being cooked for a long time. Such is the power of sage that its flavor is rarely diminished by exposure to extended cooking times.
As the leaves mature and harden, their greenness turns to a soft, silvery gray. Long stems bear the purple-lipped flowers in spring, a natural attraction to bees, which produce the much-valued sage honey in sage’s native Dalmatia, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea.
Garden thyme is a small perennial shrub that may vary widely in appearance depending upon the soil and climatic conditions it is growing under. Generally this variety of thyme is stiff and bushy in appearance with many thin erect stalks no higher than 12 inches (30 cm) that are covered by pairs of small, narrow, elliptical gray-green leaves. The aroma of thyme is pungent, warming, spicy and agreeable. Its flavor is similarly pungent and warming with a lingering, medicinal, mouth-freshening sharpness that comes from the presence of an important volatile oil, thymol. Thyme is indigenous to the Mediterranean, and many species come from an area that encompasses southern Europe, western Asia and North Africa.
Among the Greeks, the phrase “to smell of thyme” was a sincere compliment implying gracefulness.
Garlic chives, native to China, are the smallest species of the onion family. The herb has a fresh garlic-like taste. This variety resembles common chives in its clumping growth. Use them as you would regular chives, such as a garnish, in marinades, and during the last few minutes of cooking to add zest to a dish.
Garlic chives have been used as culinary herbs for thousands of years and were probably used first by the Chinese and ancient Greeks.
Ian Hemphill – Kate Hemphill – The Spice and Herb Bible – R. Rose – 2006