Friday, 31 October 2008

Herbs in History

Herbs in HistoryA herb is a plant that is valued for qualities such as medicinal properties, flavour, scent, or the like. This has been known for thousands of years and it worth just looking back in time where in some cases the use of herbs hasn't changed much.

Historically herbs have always played a part in society. The study of herbs dates back over 5,000 years right back to the Sumerians. They had recorded proven medicinal uses for herbs such as laurel, caraway, and thyme. The Ancient Egyptians used herbs for medicine of 1000 BC. Evidence of the use of garlic, opium, castor oil, coriander, mint, indigo and other varieties of herbs used for medicine. In the Bible from The Old Testament is indeed testament that herbs were used and cultivated. Typical herbs that were used included andrake, vetch, caraway, wheat, barley, and rye.

Going back to around 1900 BC, the Indian Ayurveda had been using herbs such as turmeric and curcumin for medicinal purposes. There are many other herbs that have been recorded in Ayurveda. Later on the Charaka and Sushruta both Indian herbalists are evident around 1000 BC. The Sushruta Samhita in the 600 BC describes over 700 medicinal plants as well as 64 preparations from mineral sources. THerbs in Historyhis for its time was a comprehensive catalogue of the use of herbs.

In China the first herbal book called the Shennong Bencao Jing was written during the Han Dynasty. However this dates back to 2700 BC. It lists 365 herbs used for medicine with instructions and procedures for their uses. Generations beyond this in China increased the reference book culminating in a republished edition called 'Treatise on the Nature of Medicinal Herbs.' This was finalised in 700 AD and is still used today as a reference.

Ancient Greeks and Romans made good use of medicinal use of herbs. Most of their practices are recorded and preserved the writings of Hippocrates. Galen was probably the most famous as he provided many foundations for modern day medicine we use now. Herbs in HistoryHippocrates taught the use of a few simple herbal drugs alongside fresh air, rest, and proper diet for a healthy life. Nothing much has changed with advice in the 21st Century! A contemporary of Hippocrates was Galen, his view was to use large doses of drug mixtures which also included plant, animal and mineral ingredients. Herbs in HistoryHe drafted the first European treatise on the properties and uses of medicinal plants called 'De Materia Medica'. In 100 AD, yet another Greek, Dioscorides, composed a compendium of more that 500 herbal plants, a masterpiece of reference to herbs that stood firm right through to the 17th Century.

The fascination of herbs stands firm throughout time, but even today we are still finding new uses and new undiscovered herbs that continue to improve the health of those who use them.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Chickweed for Chickens and Humans

Chickweed for Chickens and HumansI have heard of chickweed before, but never really knew much else about it until doing a bit of research. Then a few days later I found some growing wild on my farm, which we had as an addition to our salad that very same evening. I always used to weed it out and feed it to the chicken and turkeys. This was a major discovery and with the health benefits behind the herb a new source to draw upon that is absolutely free.

Chickweed has other names, Chickwittles, Mischievous Jack, Starweed, Starwort and Winterweed but this is not exhaustive. It is an annual herb and is widespread in mainly temperate zones, It can mature and produce seeds in a very short space fo time, typically in just 5 to 6 weeks. With this there can be several crop in a single year. The seed can remain dormant for many years only germinating when the ground is cultivated and this can be for up to a staggering 40 years.

Chickweed for Chickens and HumansThe chickweed has an interesting habit of sleeping, every night the leaves fold over their tender buds and shoots. Rich in vitamins A, B and C, calcium and potassium chickweed makes a good tonic for poultry and other caged birds. hence the name.

Chickweeds are Medicinal and is edible and nutritious. As I have already found out added to salads or cooked as a potherb, the chickweed tastes a bit like spinach.

Crushed in a poultice chickweed will relieve roseola, fragile superficial veins or itching skin conditions. It soothes burns, stings and bites, rashes and abscesses as well as easing and moisturizing dry or chapped skin. It is also known and used to relieve constipation. An infusion dried chickweed is used in coughs and hoarseness with additional medicinal treatment of kidney complaints.

Chickweed for Chickens and HumansAs an internal remedy, chickweed is used for stomach ulcers and sore throats and acts effectively as an appetite suppressant. With this some people use it as a supplement while dieting. This backs up the old wives tale of Chickweed water as remedy for obesity.

Crushing a few leaves to release the sap and rubbing onto the skin, should relieve irritation. An infusion taken twice daily should ease a cough or applied externally as a wash for wounds, rashes and sores.

Chickweed for Chickens and HumansI have given some online shops which you can obtain chickweed cream. They are pretty expensive seeing as you can make your own quite easily with some freshly picked chickweed and a poultice, but they are here nevertheless:
Finally, if you have a cold or flu symptoms, simply following this recipe can make a homemade Medicinal tea. It should be taken 4 times daily.
  • 1 tablespoon dried chickweed (double this if fresh)
  • 1 cup boiling
Just steep the chickweed in the water for around 10 minutes.
Take in ½ cup doses.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Canadian Rosemary and Cheese Muffin Treats in Bulgaria

Canadian Rosemary and Cheese Muffin Treats in BulgariaCanadian Rosemary and Cheese Muffin Treats in BulgariaIt was such a delight that even here in Bulgaria you can recreate a recipe that originated in Canada. We had some Canadian friends over and they took charge of the cooking. one evening The highlight of that Canadian food festival in Bulgaria was a herb based recipe that exceeded all expectations. Muffins with Rosemary and Goat's Cheese! Goat's cheese here in Bulgaria is called sirene.

They gave me the recipe and I have laid it out here for everyone to share.

The combination of rosemary, rasins goat cheese blend in to make a taste uniques and very special. These muffins were served alongside wild game this time round, but can be just as good with lamb, or pork dishes or even with salad.

Take note and enjoy this rosemary based herb dish.

Rosemary and Cheese Muffins Recipe

Serves 12


Canadian Rosemary and Cheese Muffin Treats in Bulgaria¾ cups Fresh full fat milk
¾ cups White raisins
1 tbsp Freshly chopped rosemary
¼ cups Unsalted butter
1½ cups Sieved White Plain flour
½ cups Sugar
2 tsp Baking powder
¼ tsp Salt
1 Large Egg
8 tbsp Goat's cheese (Bulgarian sirene cheese)


Place the milk in a saucepan and warm a very low heat, add the butter and stir until melted. Remove from the heat an let stand for around thirty minutes until cooled down.

Canadian Rosemary and Cheese Muffin Treats in BulgariaMix the raisins, rosemary, sugar, flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Take the egg and whisk into the cooled milk/butter mixture. Add the ingredients from the bowl and mix lightly just until everything is moist. Taking 12 greased muffin cups, ladel one third of the batter into them. Then put 2 teaspoons of goat cheee in centre of batter in each respective cup. Top the cups, covering the cheese with with remaining batter equally. Bake for around 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 350F or to the point of the muffins having turned brown with a spring in the centre.

You can serve these muffins hot or cold or cream cheese may be substituted for goat cheese. Even without any cheese at all these lovely Candian folk tell me that these muffins remain a superb treat! I don't doubt it.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Herb Switches - Alternative Herb Substitutions

Sometimes when preparing food you find that you are short of a herb that is important to this recipe. It could be that your supplies have run out or it is not in season at that time. This usually means that your intended recipe would have to be put off for another time. This doesn't have to be the case. I found some alternatives for herb ingredients you can use instead. This list will help you pick a herb substitution and should work well with your chosen recipe. The flavour obviously will not be as desrcibed in the recipes so I suggest you just add half the said amount and work your way with more if needed later.

Sometimes a brand new recipe creation is found by a little experimentation using the suggestions that are given here. The rule is to not deviate too far and taste as you go along.

Herb - Herb Alternative(s)

Basil - Oregano or thyme

Chervil - Tarragon or parsley

Chive - Green onion, onion or leek

Cilantro - Parsley

Italian Seasoning - Any combination of: basil, oregano, rosemary or ground red pepper

Marjoram - Basil, thyme or savory

Mint - Basil, marjoram or rosemary

Oregano - Thyme or basil

Parsley - Chervil or Cilantro

Poultry Seasoning - Sage plus: thyme, marjoram, savory, black pepper or rosemary

Red Pepper - Black pepper

Rosemary - Thyme, tarragon or savory

Sage - Savory, marjoram or rosemary

Savory - Thyme, marjoram or sage

Tarragon - Chervil, fennel seed or aniseed

Thyme - Basil, marjoram, oregano or savory

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Mustard and Cress - Child's Play

Mustard and Cress - Child's PlayThe first thing I ever grew indoors was mustard and cress. It was a school project that had to be carried out at home and i remember it was an exciting moment when the first seeds sprouted. If I remember rightly all I used was a damp bathroom flannel and a saucer. The greatest moment was the harvest and putting the produce into a sandwich, I'd been hooked on home growing herbs indoors every since.

Cress has properties that and stimulate the metabolism and kidney activity. It can also strengthen the stomach and gallbladder systems. It is widely believed in many medical circles that cress has a curative effect on joint disorders and gout. Alongside this, cress is also an important source of calcium, iron, vitamin A and vitamins C and E. All necessary as part of your daily requirments for a healthy diet.

Mustard and cress are often grown together and are perfect providing a spicy vibrant green garnish a salad addition of used in sandwiches like my first ecperience. The beauty is mustard adn cress are are available all year round if growm indoors and only require the minimum of space on a windowsill.

Mustard and Cress - Child's PlayThe mustard seedlings germinate around 2-4 days before the cress and this should be takeninto account when starting them off. You can get mustard and cress in little plastic container to grow on at home nowadays but they are usually overpriced compared with your own homegorwn results and the cost of the seeds fo this is nominal if purchased through mail order companies.

Thousands of years has seen cress being grown orinially coming from Persia. The is a folklore that Persians before baking bread they always has eat cress before the work begun.

Mustard and cress go very well with avocado or cucumber. The mustard was added to the cress as cress on its own just didn't work as a salad but the mustard spiced up the flavour.

Although Mustard and cress grows best in sunlight so next to a window is and ideal position to get the best results.

Here is a guide to growing them:
  • Fold a few sheets of kitchen tissue to a suitable size to over a shallow dinner plate or tray and place it down flat.
  • Slowly pour some water onto the kitchen tissue until there's enough water is totally soaked in. There shouldn't be any standing water.
  • Sprinkle on some cress seeds over damp tissue covering the whole area and place the tray or plate here it will get the most sunlight.
  • After ensuring the tissue keeps damp by added more water when need on a daily basis you should sprinkle on some mustard seeds in the same way as the cress.
  • After around two weeks the mustard and cress should be fully grown and around 5 cm tall and ready to eat. The best method for harvesting is to use a pair of sharp scissors.
  • Once gathered, rinse the cress under a cold water shake off the excess water and use of store an air-tight container. You will find that the mustard and cress will deteriate after a day or so so harvest when it is needed, it is better than storing.

Again, get the children involved in this as I was at a young age. They can use fun things to grow them in such as cotton wool sztuffed egg shells stuffed with faces painted on, they will sit happily in an egg cup on a windowsill. What an adventure for the children watching the hair grow, giving the egg face a haircut and eating the hair!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Fine Old Fennel

Fine Old FennelFennel has been an established plant in my gardens wherever I am based. It is easy to grow an has a magic scent that is unforgettable.

In Ancient Greece the fennel used to be called marathon, which meant place of fennel. The stalk of the herb was used to steal fire from the Greek gods.

Fennel can be grown all year round, as it is a perennial herb. It can grow up to 150 cm high with the leaves commonly extend to 40 cm. They are very similar to dill leaves but slightly less broad. Yellow flowers are formed in season averaging around 30 on the end of each stem. The small seeds are formed with many uses as well as sowing more fennel.

Fennel is cultivated not just in its Mediterranean homeland but now worldwide. The flavour of the fennel is reminiscent of anise and star anise from Southeast Asia, although slightly milder in taste.

Fine Old FennelAll parts of the fennel are used; the bulb and seeds mainly for recipes that are now have worldwide tradition. Even the fennel pollen, the most intensely flavoured part of the herb is used.

Fennel seeds have a variety of uses from flavour salads, sausages, meatballs and even toothpaste with its distinctive taste.

The Fennel bulb is commonly used in mainland Europe as a main or side dish in salads, pastas and risottos. The dried leaves of fennel are often used in the blanching or marinating process

In terms of medicine fennel water can be mixed with sodium bicarbonate and sugar syrup is the same as 'Gripe Water,' which is used to treat wind in infants. It can also be made into syrup to treat babies with painful colic or teething. Then there is the essential oil of Fennel, Fennel tea that use to be used as a carminative It is made simply by putting some boiling water on a teaspoonful of bruised Fennel seeds.

Fennel juice in syrup form used to be given for coughs fits.

Fine Old FennelUsed in conjunction with cattle and domestic animals powdered fennel driving away fleas, they absolutely hate it. Very useful in kennels and stable compounds. Further a field in the Indian subcontinent, Fennel seeds are eaten raw some as it is said to improve eyesight.

I love fennel and as well as using it in main dishes it a great display as a garnish on many side dishes, especially soups. I tend to leave some to seeds and collect the seeds by tying plastic bags over the old flowering top. With the remaining stock I cut fresh leaves throughout the year until autumn and dry them for winter use. There isn't any need to protect them from the winter weather although I do build up the soil around the base of the herbs, just in case!

For me, life without fennel wouldn't be nearly as good.

Here is a recipe with fennel I commonly used to make when in France. It is great hot or kept and eaten cold the next day, if it lasts that long. The fennel make a wonderful quiche as you will find out if you try.

Fennel Quiche Recipe


200 g shortcrust pastry
2 sticks of celery
500 g fennel bulb
25 g plain flour
260 ml fresh full fat milk
25 g butter
80 g grated yellow cheese
salt and pepper


Roll out the pastry and line a flan tin. Then bake blind for around 20 minutes at 200°C.

Next, take out the beans and finish cooking the pastry.

Clean the vegetables and split the fennel bulb(s) and celery into manageable sizes.

Boil both the celery and fennel it becomes tender.

Fine Old FennelMake the sauce with the flour, butter and milk, adding 75% of the grated cheese and season with pepper and salt.

Put the vegetables in the pastry case then pour over the sauce, then finally sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the top and brown under the grill.


Saturday, 11 October 2008

Lavender - Sight and Scent to Remember

It was my time in south France that created a love of the lavender scent. It was overpowering throughout many towns and villages that had processed the harvest in the late summer. The beautiful blue fields also stand out as one of the most memorable moments in time.

As well as being attributed to being one of the holy herbs, in biblical times ,during Roman times, lavender flowers were used as a bartered as currency and used in Roman baths to scent the water. Lavender was yet another herb that was introducted to Britain by the Romans. During Black Death, lavender oil was claimed to ward off the Plague.

The lavender flowers can be sugared and used as cake decoration. The most renown use for lavender is the ingredient of herbes de Provence and lavender sugar. Still with the French cooking in and around Provence, they have been incorporating this herb into their cuisine for countless years and long may it live.

There are around 30 different species now cultivated and grown worldwide. The most common cultivated lavender is aptly called the Common Lavender. Many will know that lavenders are widely grown in gardens. Its flower spikes are used extensively for dried flower arrangements. The pale purple flowers and flower buds are used in potpourris and when dried and put in pouches scattered amongst clothing gives a wonderful fresh fragrance. not many know that lavender also acts as a deterrent to moths. Commercial extraction of lavender oil from the flowers is used as an antiseptic and for aromatherapy.

The flowers produce nectar, which yields a high quality honey and is highly prized and marketed worldwide as a premium product.

Essential oil of lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. The oil is also popular used as fragrances for baths. An infusion of lavender acts as a soothing and healing remedy for insect bites. Lavender gathered in bunches are also used to ward off insects.

If laid on your forehead the lavender oil is said to soothe headaches and aid sleep and relaxation. Lavender diluted 1 to10 ratio with water is another remedy claimed for curing acne. This potion can also can be used in the treatment of skin burns.

Many lavender products can be found from food based products right through to cosmetics and oils based health supplements. The diversity is enormous. With all this the herb can still remain a fantastic addition to your garden and is basically very easy to grow and look after.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Grow Your Own Herbs - No Garden, No Problem!

There are literally millions of people who could quite easily grow herbs whether they have a garden or not. All that is needed is a Terracotta pot or equivalent and to adhere with simple instructions to get guaranteed results. Once set up either in the garden, balcony or windowsill there will be a constant supply of herbs throughout the growing season for free.

The whole cost of this can be reduced further by not using terracotta but cheaper plastic pots. Also, if you know someone who already grows herbs you can take some to plant from them either as cuttings or whole plants. Many herbs take quite easily to their new homes this way.

You need a pot which has cup-shaped holes or better described as holes with lips. There is a good reason for this as plain holes in your terracotta are difficult, clumsy and messy to water. Generous protruding lips which catch the water and ensure it all drains into the terracotta. If you can't get hold of a lip-holed pot a good tip is to put a perforated plastic tube through the centre before packing the compost in the pot. This way you will have a central watering system that works just as effectively

Soil based compost is always going to be the best choice for terracotta, John Innes No. 2 or another similar gritty compost with soil added is a good alternative. This composition of soil is important for drainage and the compost won't shrink or dry out. The shelf life will be longer for your potted herbs as well as giving good health, better flavour, scent and all round condition.

When choosing your herbs try to pick out young, healthy and small-growing herbs. Another good tip is to look at the root ball. Unless it is smaller than the holes in the pots, plant them from the inside of the pot, this will avoid any damage the roots.

Broken pieces of brick, pebbles, glass or other hard non-toxic material waste should be place at the bottom of the pot, but at the same time giving a loose covering over the drainage hole.

The pot can now be filled with compost to just below the level of the first set of holes and then lightly tapped firm. Removing the plants from their containers, lay first root ball on the compost with the plant lying slanted. Tease the foliage and stem through the hole with one hand whilst at the same time guiding the root ball towards the inside of the pot with the other. Once the first level of holes have all got new herb residents, sprinkle in some more compost to settle in the herb roots. Make sure all the air pockets are filled with the compost. With one hand gently lift the foliage of the herb and with the other hand fill the cup or lipped hole with more compost firming in the plant when done.

This system should be repeated until all the levels are reached and filled with settle in herbs. A herb plant can now be planted in the top and the whole system watered with a watering can with a rose end. This will disperse the water into all the holes.

The next step is to just watch your herbs grow and make sure the compost doesn't dry out. That's it, well apart from picking a few harvests to eat. Heathier, infinitely cheaper and better tasting by a mile than anything you can buy in the shops.

If you liked this way of growing herbs you may want to find out about window boxes

Friday, 3 October 2008

Borage - Borrowed for Now

Borage is a herb that is highly decorative and although I have never actually grown any, I know quite a few people who do and quite often visit for a little pickings to take back home.

The borage herb originates in Syria, but now has found a home throughout Europe and the Mediterranean region. It has even spread as far wide as Asia Minor, North Africa and South America.

It grows to a height of up to one metre and has brush-like hairy stems and leaves. Traditionally borage was cultivated for culinary and medicinal uses, but typically today commercial cultivation is mainly as a valuable oilseed.

The flower, has a sweet honey-like taste and is one of the few truly blue-coloured edible foods. It is often used to decorate dessert such as cakes and ice-cream dishes. Both the flowers and leaves of the borage are used to give a cucumber-style effect in flavour when added to cool summer drinks. Bees are attracted to the borage plant. In Iran traditional Borage Flower Tea is made from the dried flowers, which brings about calmness to the sippers. The flower, which is a rich purple colour, turns bright pink when lemon juice is added so don't be too surprised is this is what happens is used with lemon in recipes.

Folklore says that borage is rumoured to give strength of heart, bring about fearless courage and provide happiness to all who eat the leaves or indeed drinks wine with the flowers or leaves floating on top.

Used as a fresh vegetable, borage, again with a cucumber tasting characteristic, is often used with salads or as a decorative but edible garnish. It is often used in soups the most famous being a German borage recipe called the 'Green Sauce' traditionally a Frankfurt based meal. The leave can also be used in pickling or eaten like spinach such is the versatility of the herb. The borage flowers and leaves are also used to give a cool, cucumber-like flavour to summer drinks. Bees are attracted to the borage plant.

This easily managed herb can be grown from seed and will sow itself year after year. The plant prefers dry, sunny places and thrives on slightly poor soil. You can you can extend the length of harvest by sowing three times at four-week intervals. Pick the blossoms as they open. The fresh leaves can be picked anytime but rarely used in a dried version.

I like borage and maybe next season I may well reserve a patch on my farm for growing this herb, it will save on neighbours' plants that I keep scrounging!

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