Posted 15 July 2011, by Lesley Simla, Northumberland News/The Independent (Metroland Media Group), northumberlandnews.com
The cultivation of herbs has a history stretching back into ancient times when they were the source of all healing, the mainstay of the wise woman or the shaman.
The ‘still’ room or distilling room was an essential part of every household, with the secrets of herbs prized for their curative and culinary powers. Our modern world is discovering the claims hold up very well even under our “scientific” scrutiny.
So what comes to mind when you think of a herb garden, a pot of parsley, a sprig of rosemary, a clump of chives? How about a six foot by six foot shrub of lovage towering over everything or a bush of sage big enough to supply stuffing for every turkey in Brighton at Thanksgiving?
Lovage was quite a surprise. Tasting like celery, the stalks are hollow, making it a natural straw for a cool summer drink involving tomato juice. It imparts a nice flavour to potatoes, but is a little bitter for salads. It is best when young, at a mere three feet high. Catching it young is a challenge as it can put on a foot of growth in a day.
The sage was a garden faux pas, as it spread like wildfire by seed and has insinuated itself in every corner. It is easily pulled out when young, but tough to tangle with as it matures. Keeping it dead headed is imperative.
We all know that mint can run rampant, so I did the recommended thing and planted it in a pot with the bottom cut out. That worked the first year. Now it has slipped its prison and is running merrily in all directions.
Oregano is another wanderer. The mint and oregano are facing each other like two opposing armies vying for a few inches of bare space. I am curious to see who wins the battle.
The Mediterranean herbs are taking this dry spell in stride, preferring poorer, well drained soil. The flavours and essential oils are actually better than if they were planted in a richer loamy soil. Lavender is thriving under the sun, blooming profusely, while nearby plants have their tongues hanging out.
The queen of all herbs for me is rosemary. I love the smell of it on my fingers and can not pass it without stroking it. The flavour is wonderful too. Most of summer eating has some rosemary tucked into the recipe somewhere. Soak a long spear of rosemary in water for a few minutes, then throw it on the barbecue along with your choice of meat.
Along with taking time to smell the roses, take time to smell the herbs.