THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF HERBS
By Ruth Milstein, author of the Gourmand award-winning recipe book, “Cooking with Love: Ventures into the New Israeli Cuisine.”
Herbs are plants with savory and aromatic properties that are used for flavoring and garnishing food. Culinary use typically distinguishes herbs from spices. Herbs refer to the leafy green or flowering parts of a plant (either fresh or dried), while spices are usually dried and produced from other parts of the plant; including seeds, bark, roots and fruits. Get cooking with fresh herbs and try my recipes: Pumpkin Baked in Herbs, and Penne Pasta with Parmesan Cheese & Herbs.
Herbs have a variety of uses including culinary, medicinal, and, in some cases, spiritual. Generally speaking, the usage of the term “herb” differs between culinary herbs and medicinal herbs. In medicinal or spiritual use, any parts of the plant might be considered as “herbs”, including the leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, root bark, inner bark (and cambium), resin and pericarp.
Herbs have a prolific use in medicine. They have long been used as the basis of traditional Chinese herbal medicine with usage dating as far back as the first century and far before. In India, the Ayurveda medicinal system is based on herbs.
Medicinal use of herbs in Western cultures has its roots in the Hippocratic (Greek) elemental healing system, based on a quaternary elemental healing metaphor. Famous herbalists of the Western tradition include Avicenna (Persian), Galen (Roman), Paracelsus (German Swiss), Culpepper (English) and the botanically inclined Eclectic physicians of 19th century and early 20th century. In America we see the likes of John Milton Scudder, Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd. Modern pharmaceuticals had their origins in crude herbal medicines and to this day, some drugs are still extracted as fractionate/isolate compounds from raw herbs and then purified to meet pharmaceutical standards!
One method and perhaps the best, is the extraction of their natural oils to make body and face cream, face cleanser, lipstick, cosmetics, fragrances, and a wealth of vitamins.
Herbs are very easy to grow with a little sunshine, soil that drains well and some watering, along with a little fertilizer or compost. Herbs can be grown in pots, however these plants always prefer to be in the ground where they can spread out. Some plants grow quite large (4-6 feet), and when placed in pots they can become stunted and stressed, which causes them to be very “unhappy”.
The main requirement for growing herbs is growing them in the proper location. Most prefer full sunshine as long as regular summer temperatures don’t rise above 90 degrees fahrenheit. If you have very warm summers then consider planting them in an area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade in the summertime. You can also place them in an area that receives filtered light such as under a tree that allows some light to pass through.
The most obvious place would be in your own backyard. However, for apartment dwellers, grow the herbs on the ledge of your windows or terrace. Which ever you choose, my experience has shown that a gardener will always be happy to help and direct you; providing informative knowledge about how and where to plant the seeds as well as taking care of the project. If not, always ask your gardening supply store for help.
For planting herbs, you need:
3-4 feet – Rosemary, Sage, Mints, Oregano, Marjoram
2 feet – Basil, Thyme, Tarragon, Savory
1 foot – Cilantro, Chives, Dill, Parsley