A

David

Darling

herb

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) (A)is the classic herb of European cooking. Plain and curly leaved varieties are available, both rich in vitamin C. The stalks have as much flavor as the leaves. Parsley is always used fresh in bouquet garnis and chopped to flavor sauces, salads, fines herbes, and maître d'hotel butter; small fresh sprigs are used for garnishing a variety of dishes. Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) (B) is native to India and Iran. Young, sweetly clove-scented leaves have the best flavor and are used, chopped, in dishes containing tomatoes. Bay (Laurus nobilis) (C) is an evergreen tree from the Mediterranean. The aromatic leaves are used, fresh and dried, in bouquet garnis and as flavoring for meat and fish stews, pates, and terrines. Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) (D) comes from eastern Europe. Its leaves have a slight resemblance to parsley but with a delicate aniseed flavor. It is used chopped in soups, sauces, and egg dishes. Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) (E) is sometimes known as Chinese or Japanese parsley because the feathery leaves are as popular in Eastern cooking as parsley is in Europe. It is one of the oldest herbs known and the seeds are an essential ingredient of garam masala, the spicy flavoring for Indian curries. In Europe and North America dried seeds are used in fish and meat dishes, bread, and cakes.

Fig 1. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) (A)is the classic herb of European cooking. Plain and curly leaved varieties are available, both rich in vitamin C. The stalks have as much flavor as the leaves. Parsley is always used fresh in bouquet garnis and chopped to flavor sauces, salads, fines herbes, and maître d'hotel butter; small fresh sprigs are used for garnishing a variety of dishes. Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) (B) is native to India and Iran. Young, sweetly clove-scented leaves have the best flavor and are used, chopped, in dishes containing tomatoes. Bay (Laurus nobilis) (C) is an evergreen tree from the Mediterranean. The aromatic leaves are used, fresh and dried, in bouquet garnis and as flavoring for meat and fish stews, pates, and terrines. Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) (D) comes from eastern Europe. Its leaves have a slight resemblance to parsley but with a delicate aniseed flavor. It is used chopped in soups, sauces, and egg dishes. Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) (E) is sometimes known as Chinese or Japanese parsley because the feathery leaves are as popular in Eastern cooking as parsley is in Europe. It is one of the oldest herbs known and the seeds are an essential ingredient of garam masala, the spicy flavoring for Indian curries. In Europe and North America dried seeds are used in fish and meat dishes, bread, and cakes.


Dill (Anethum graveolens) (A) is a European herb particularly popular in Scandinavian, German, Russian, and Balkan cookery. Both leaves and seeds are used to impart an aniseed flavor to sauces and vinegars, salads, and pickles. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) (B) comes from the Mediterranean and is much used in flavoring Provencal dishes. Stalks, leaves, and seeds have a liquorice flavors that associates well with pork and veal. It is traditional with fish and as an addition to forcemeats and sauces. Grilled sea bass and red mullet are flamed on a bed of dried fennel. Finely chopped leaves may also be used in Mediterranean cooking to season meat, poultry, soups, and omelettes. It is known in the dried form as oregano. It may be used instead of thyme. Camomile (Anthemis nobilis) (D), both wild and sweet, grows in Europe and Asia. The aromatic flower heads are used dried as infusions and in herbal teas and sometimes in the manufacture of vermouth and other apertifs, as well as lotions. Mint (Mentha sp) (E) has many species and varieties. In many parts of the world the strongly flavored leaves are cooked whole with young summer vegetables and used, finely chopped, in jellies and chutneys. It is also used to flavor cool summer drinks, cups, and juleps. It is relatively unknown in French cuisine but is a common seasoning in the Middle East where it is often added to chutneys and yogurts.

Fig 2. Dill (Anethum graveolens) (A) is a European herb particularly popular in Scandinavian, German, Russian, and Balkan cookery. Both leaves and seeds are used to impart an aniseed flavor to sauces and vinegars, salads, and pickles. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) (B) comes from the Mediterranean and is much used in flavoring Provencal dishes. Stalks, leaves, and seeds have a liquorice flavors that associates well with pork and veal. It is traditional with fish and as an addition to forcemeats and sauces. Grilled sea bass and red mullet are flamed on a bed of dried fennel. Finely chopped leaves may also be used in Mediterranean cooking to season meat, poultry, soups, and omelettes. It is known in the dried form as oregano. It may be used instead of thyme. Camomile (Anthemis nobilis) (D), both wild and sweet, grows in Europe and Asia. The aromatic flower heads are used dried as infusions and in herbal teas and sometimes in the manufacture of vermouth and other apertifs, as well as lotions. Mint (Mentha sp) (E) has many species and varieties. In many parts of the world the strongly flavored leaves are cooked whole with young summer vegetables and used, finely chopped, in jellies and chutneys. It is also used to flavor cool summer drinks, cups, and juleps. It is relatively unknown in French cuisine but is a common seasoning in the Middle East where it is often added to chutneys and yogurts.


Rosemary (Rosmarius officinalis) (A) is a strongly flavored herb that can be reminiscent of camphor. Small springs are used to season roast lamb, pork, veal, rabbit, kid, and grilled fish, particularly in Italy. Age (Salvia officinalis) (B) comes from the Mediterranean. The aromatic leaves are used with onions in stuffings for poultry and meat and to flavor sausage meat and, in Germany and Belgium, eels also. Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) (C) is popular in French cooking. The aromatic leaves are used, finely chopped, in sauces, butters, soups, salads, and vinegars. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) (D) has a pungent aroma and when dried retains much of its flavor. It is a favorite of Mediterranean cooks for casseroles, vegetable stews and soups, with fish and in stuffings for meat and game. It is an essential ingredient of a bouquet garni. Celery (Apium graveolens) (E) is a favorite salad vegetable, and the leaves are equally useful. The feathery, pale-green foliage can be used, finely chopped, to flavor soups, salads, veal, and chicken stews; small, whole leaflets make attractive garnishes when watercress is scarce. The leaves are sometimes dried and used instead of celery salt. Summer savory (Satureia hortensis) (F)is a member of the mint family. The pungent leaves should be used young, before the herb flowers, as flavoring for salads, soups, fish, and vegetable dishes.

Fig 3. Rosemary (Rosmarius officinalis) (A) is a strongly flavored herb that can be reminiscent of camphor. Small springs are used to season roast lamb, pork, veal, rabbit, kid, and grilled fish, particularly in Italy. Age (Salvia officinalis) (B) comes from the Mediterranean. The aromatic leaves are used with onions in stuffings for poultry and meat and to flavor sausage meat and, in Germany and Belgium, eels also. Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) (C) is popular in French cooking. The aromatic leaves are used, finely chopped, in sauces, butters, soups, salads, and vinegars. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) (D) has a pungent aroma and when dried retains much of its flavor. It is a favorite of Mediterranean cooks for casseroles, vegetable stews and soups, with fish and in stuffings for meat and game. It is an essential ingredient of a bouquet garni. Celery (Apium graveolens) (E) is a favorite salad vegetable, and the leaves are equally useful. The feathery, pale-green foliage can be used, finely chopped, to flavor soups, salads, veal, and chicken stews; small, whole leaflets make attractive garnishes when watercress is scarce. The leaves are sometimes dried and used instead of celery salt. Summer savory (Satureia hortensis) (F)is a member of the mint family. The pungent leaves should be used young, before the herb flowers, as flavoring for salads, soups, fish, and vegetable dishes.


Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) (A) leaves may be cooked whole like spinach or made into a puree with butter to be served cold with fish, fatty meat, and poultry; the young bitter leaves can be used in small quantities to season soups and salads. Myrtle (Myrtus communis) (B) is an evergreen aromatic shrub from the mountains around the Mediterranean and is used to season lamb. The scented, purple-blackberries which follow the white flowers were formerly dried and used like pepper. Borage (Borago officinalis) (C) is native to southern Europe and was introduced to Britain by the Romans. The hairy leaves have a cucumber scent and flavor and are most often used in iced drinks; young leaves, finey chopped, may be added to salads, yogurts, and cream cheese. In Italy borage is used as a stuffing for ravioli, boiled like spinach or fried in butter. The paleblue flowers are sometimes candied and used to decorate cakes, desserts, and confectionery.

Fig 4. Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) (A) leaves may be cooked whole like spinach or made into a puree with butter to be served cold with fish, fatty meat, and poultry; the young bitter leaves can be used in small quantities to season soups and salads. Myrtle (Myrtus communis) (B) is an evergreen aromatic shrub from the mountains around the Mediterranean and is used to season lamb. The scented, purple-blackberries which follow the white flowers were formerly dried and used like pepper. Borage (Borago officinalis) (C) is native to southern Europe and was introduced to Britain by the Romans. The hairy leaves have a cucumber scent and flavor and are most often used in iced drinks; young leaves, finey chopped, may be added to salads, yogurts, and cream cheese. In Italy borage is used as a stuffing for ravioli, boiled like spinach or fried in butter. The paleblue flowers are sometimes candied and used to decorate cakes, desserts, and confectionery.


Bouquet garni is the classic flavoring for stocks, soups, and casseroles; it usually consists of parsley sprigs, thyme, and bay leaves tied in muslin or between celery sticks. Rosemary, basil, marjoram, or oregano may be added to give a distinctive flavor. Garlic, peppercorn, and or orange peel can be used as an addition to traditional Provencal casseroles.

Fig 5. Bouquet garni is the classic flavoring for stocks, soups, and casseroles; it usually consists of parsley sprigs, thyme, and bay leaves tied in muslin or between celery sticks. Rosemary, basil, marjoram, or oregano may be added to give a distinctive flavor. Garlic, peppercorn, and or orange peel can be used as an addition to traditional Provencal casseroles.


A herb is a seed-bearing plant (spermatophyte) with soft aerial stems and leaves that die back at the end of the growing season to leave no persistent parts above ground. Most herbs are angiosperms (flowering plants).

 

Herbs have been used in the culinary arts, in medicine and in the cosmetic industry since ancient times – so the excavations of sites in Greece, Italy and the Mediterranean islands tell us. Hippocrates (of the 5th century BC), known as the "father of medicine", cultivated some 400 herbs and made up herbal remedies that continued in common use for centuries for treating diseases.

 


Medicinal herbs

The medicinal use of herbs probably originated after man had discovered them for cooking purposes. Perhaps he first noticed the aromas when throwing plant waste onto the cooking fires. Thereafter he may deliberately have sought them out so that the scent and flavors would impart new zest to roast meat and fish. Later still, herbs were used to disguise meat and game that were no longer in their prime.

 

Herbs were introduced into most of Europe by the Romans who in turn had adopted them from the Greeks. Many were endowed with mystical powers and they were used for ceremonial purposes. Triumphant Roman emperors are depicted wearing crowns of bay leaves (Fig 1C); during the Middle Ages current superstition held that hyssop and garlic would ward off the witches who added concoctions of wild herbs and other plants to their brews. Peasants in some remote eastern European countries still protect their homes against evil spirits and vampires by hanging garlic wreaths over their front doors. Even in the late twentieth century some civilized people insist on sowing parsley (Fig 1A) only by candlelight on Good Friday. Many others believe that trans-planting parsley seedlings will bring had luck.

 

The cultivation of herbs and the use of them became a specialty of the Christian monks and every monastery has its own extensive herb garden. The plants were grown for their medicinal qualities and as late as the eighteenth century physicians still relied heavily on herbal medicines in the treatment of disease. The famous London herbalist John Gerard (1545–1612) published a huge volume in 1597 listing thousands of plants with healing properties. Herbs have dwindled in importance for the medical profession but many are still used in the preparations of soap, cosmetic creams and lotions and skin tonics.

 

The heyday of the herb garden came in the sixteenth century when wealthy land-owners laid out intricate herb gardens whose patterns were picked out with low hedges of lavender or box. An average herb garden of the famous Elizabethan knot garden type might include more than 50 different herbs, some grown for cooking, others for medicine and soothing balms and tonics.

 

The nineteenth century saw a decline in the use and growing of herbs although nowhere as drastically as in Britain where the Victorian cook used few herbs but parsley, sage (Fig 3B) thyme (Fig 3D) and mint (Fig 2E). With the expansion of the tourist trade in the mid-twentieth century many people have a new appreciation of herbs as a result of their eating foreign dishes. Today herbs are used increasingly in everyday meals.

 

The best flavor is obtained from fresh herbs although dried herbs often have a stronger taste than fresh ones and should therefore be used in much smaller quantities – the very essence of a herb, and in particular parsley, chervil and mint, is lost when it is deprived of its water content. The cook can always have fresh herbs at hand for they can be grown in a window box or even in a few pots on a sunny kitchen sill. Some herbs, such as thyme, rosemary and bay, tolerate pro-longed cooking but others, including chervil (Fig 1D), dill (Fig 2A), and fennel (Fig 2B), are best added to the dish at the last minute so that their aromatic qualities are not lost.

 


Fines herbes and their uses

The French term fines herbes is applied to a mixture of very finely chopped herbs. It usually consists of parsley and chives, and some-times of parsley only, but it should correctly also include chervil and tarragon (Fig 3D). In former times burnet, chopped mushrooms and shallots were part of the fines herbes mixture. These herbs are usually added to quickly cooked dishes, particularly omelettes, or sprinkled as a garnish over meat and fish dishes and young vegetables. They may also,be incorporated in butters and sauces to serve with meat and fish.

 

Gremolata, an Italian version of fines herbes, is made up of finely chopped parsley and anchovy, crushed garlic and grated lemon rind. Gremolata is used both as a seasoning and a garnish with many Milanese dishes, notably the veal and tomato dish osso buco (stewed veal knuckle).

 


Potpourri and pomanders

All their other uses apart, aromatic herb mixtures can be enriched with dried, scented flowers to make up a potpourri. Sweet marjoram (Fig 2C) and sprigs of rosemary (Fig 3A) can be mixed with clover and petals and small buds of roses, verbena, and pelargoniums. They are sometimes enclosed in linen satchels but are most often seen in decorative china containers that may be placed in cupboards and on table tops to release their scent throughout the room.

 

Pomander balls are made from oranges, lemons and limes impregnated with a mixture of herbs and spices, including rosemary, nutmeg and cinnamon, and stuck with whole cloves. They were once believed to be effective protection against infections.