Sorrel: The Sour Herb


The word sorrel is derived from a French word meaning sour. It is a relative of buckwheat and different from Jamaican sorrel, which is in the hibiscus family. The sorrel herb has been in use since ancient times in both …

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Bouquet Garni: The Foundation Of French Provencal Cooking

Bouquet Garni

A bouquet garni is simply a bundle of herbs. The traditional implementation involves placing the herbs into a cheesecloth bag and tying them up, but the bag not essential; the term refers simply to the herb.

The first use of the bouquet garni has been lost to history, but the first mention of it is in The Oxford Companion to Food first published in 1999. It described the use of the bouquet garni as a tool for masking the flavor of different foods during the Middle Ages. During the 1600s, French and English cooks began using herbs more precisely to create subtle flavor combinations.

By this point, the use of herb bundles was already an established cooking technique; however, the components varied. In 1656, Pierre de Lune described a bundle consisting of thyme and chervil along with parsley. He wrapped his herbs in bacon.

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Angelica: The Viking Herb


Angelica comes from Northern Europe where it grows in damp areas like woodlands and alongside rivers. The Vikings are thought to have brought this herb with them to Eastern Europe. One story about how the plant got its name is that an angel supposedly visited a monk to offer angelica as the cure for a plague. Another story is that angelica got its name because its blooming season roughly coincides with the feast day of the archangel Michael.

The herb was an ingredient in the Carmelite water used to ward off witches and spells during the medieval period. Angelica was also used during the London Black Plague outbreak in 1665. It was included along with nutmeg and treacle as a supposed cure formulated by the College of Physicians.

Angelica still grows wild throughout Northern Europe, especially in Germany and Romania. It is cultivated in France as well as in parts of Southeastern Asia, including Thailand.

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Shiso: An Essential Japanese Herb


Shiso is considered one of Japan’s seven main flavorings, which have been in use in that nation’s cuisine for more than 300 years. Shiso started out as a Chinese medicinal herb that migrated to Japan in the eighth century. Its use was documented as a part of a medicinal formula that dates back to 1110 AD, in a book written during the Song Dynasty. The shiso plant is now cultivated throughout Southeast Asia and is used extensively in Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean cuisines. In Korea, the herb’s name translates to “wild sesame.” Note that shiso is not really a relative of the sesame plant.

In parts of North America, the shiso plant has become naturalized and can be invasive in some of those places; however, the weed varieties do not have the distinctive fragrance common to the cultivated varieties and are therefore inedible.

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Lemon Thyme: An Essence Of Citrus

Lemon Thyme

The region from which all thymes originated includes southern Europe, Asia and northern Africa. The name “thyme” comes from the Greek word that means to fumigate. The Ancient Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides considered the herb thyme an effective expectorant and the herb was also mentioned by Roman naturalist Pliny as an effective fumigant.

The Roman legions brought thyme to England and it went on to be grown and widely used by the English during the Middle Ages.

At one time it was considered to be a hybrid of common garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and broad-leaved thyme (Thymus pulegioides), but lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) is actually its own distinct species of thyme. Note that broad-leaved thyme is also sometimes referred to as lemon thyme.

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Holy Basil: The Sacred Herb

Holy Basil

Holy basil or “Tulsi” has been a medicine in India for nearly 3000 years. Over this period, Indians have grown it in their gardens and temples and it is considered the most sacred plant in Hinduism.

The plant plays a major role in Hindu mythology as it is supposed to be the incarnation of a goddess named Tulsi. This type of basil is indigenous to the subcontinent, though it has spread across southern India and Southeast Asia. It has been found as far away as Greece.

When the English colonized India, they would make the non-Christian Indians swear on holy basil in court rather than on the Bible. The Indians also believed that washing the dead in basil water would ensure their entrance into heaven.

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Summer Savory: A Mediterranean Original

Summer Savory

Cooks have used summer savory to flavor food for more than two millennia. It comes from the Eastern Mediterranean and the ancient Romans considered it an effective substitute for salt.

Pliny referenced it as an aphrodisiac; the name “savory” comes from “satyr.” A satyr is a mythical creature that is half man and half goat. Satyrs possess an insatiable sexual appetite. The poet Virgil wrote that it was a highly fragrant plant and suggested that it be grown near beehives.

The Roman armies introduced the herb to England and other parts of northern Europe and eventually its flavor became popular among the locals. Until the discovery of spices like black pepper in Asia, winter and summer savory were among the only seasonings that Europeans had available to them. In the 17th century, herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote that winter and summer savory were useful for their ability to combat gas and believed that they were effective treatments for asthma.

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Thai Basil: The Taste Of Southeastern Asia

Thai Basil

Thai basil is native to Southeast Asia, but is believed to have originated in India; however, some experts believe that it may actually have originally come from Iran. It has been cultivated on the subcontinent for approximately 5,000 years. One relative of Thai basil is called tulasi in India and is considered a sacred plant. Tulasi holds an esteemed place in Ayurvedic medicine.

Like the Mediterranean variety, Thai basil is a member of the mint family.

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