24 June, 2011

garden article: Demystifying Herbs for cooking and more

Herbs are as popular as ever despite the fact there are not many new varieties overtaking the market. Seemingly every day there is a new variety of some outrageous ornamental flower that promises to revolutionize the floriculture industry. It is very strange to see how many new flowers are coming on to the market being the economy and garden trends are for more home food gardens rather than flower gardens. There are a few new varieties of vegetables that have come to market or at least become popular such as Patio Tomato and grape tomatoes. Herbs on the other hand have seen little in the way of new varieties with claims coming anywhere near those of flowers. So what then leads to herbs continued and ever growing popularity in the home garden?
The answer is actually quite simple. Herbs continue to do this day what they have done for centuries, outperform most other crops in their ease of growth and dependability. Yes holistic and medicinal uses have helped support and spur the growth of herbs in the gardens. But the natural home remedies are not enough to keep the herbal engine running. Good old fashioned "word of mouth." I mean word of mouth in the eating sense not just the talking sense.
I have determined in my opinion that the huge increase in "foodies" and wannbe foodies has been the driving force behind the continued and growing popularity of herbs. simply put herbs taste great and add multiple dimensions to any dish no matter how few the ingredients. I love perusing cookbooks to read how recipes are derived at. What I do not like are recipes that call for huge numbers of ingredients. Yes they do add a lot of ingredients add subtle nuances to the flavor palette. But multitudes of ingredients are not necessary to improve the flavor and taste of any dish.
The best way to  take the mystery out of herbs is to group them together in a themed garden. That way a simple trip to a themed garden plot in the backyard promises instant success in the kitchen. And by themed gardens I don't just mean a cooking garden vs. tea garden. Break it down all the way to a particular cooking style or ethnic region.
Start with your favorite style of cooking. Italian, French, Mexican, Thai, Fish etc. There is even a plan for salt substitute garden. These gardens do not need to be large. The size is determined solely on how many you are cooking for or how much room you have to grow, and store dried herbs while drying and then stored for use later on. Since you can't pick basil outside in winter and fresh herbs are a hard find as well a jar of dried herbs labeled "Italian Herb Blend" makes for a wonderful and very inexpensive  spruce up to a winter meal.
Here are some themed herb garden ideas:
Italian: basil, bay, dill, fennel, garlic chives, marjoram, flat leaf parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme
French: basil, fennel, lavender summer savory thyme
Mexican: bay, cilantro, garlic, oregano, thyme, lemon or lime basil
Thai/Asian: Thai basil, coriander, garlic,lemon grass, ginger, mint
Fish: bay, fennel, lemon basil, lemon grass, lemon thyme, parsley, tarragon, savory, sage
Salt substitute: basil, bay, dill, lovage, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory (winter or summer) thyme, tarragon
Tea: chamomile, lemon balm, lemon grass, lemon verbena, mints, pineapple sage, lemon thyme and stevia for a dash of natural sweetening.
To cheat a little on a tea garden simply mix a bunch of mint varieties together harvest when needed, dry and make a pot of tea.
Of course these herbs can be used fresh right from the garden for immediate rewards. But remember to save some for drying to use over the winter months. Drying is best done by cutting new growth in the late morning tying bunches together with a rubber band. String can be used but as the stems dry they become smaller and tied bunched fall apart very easily. When dry as fallen autumn leaves strip the leaves from the stems and place in clean dark containers. Label them according to their uses of kind. Stored in a dark place at room temps they remain fresh for about a year.  

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