HSA Webinar: A History of Chocolate

By Jen Munson, HSA Education Chair

20190613_150017Chocolate: food or medicine? For centuries, chocolate was consumed primarily as medicine. Cacao, from which chocolate is derived, was the basis for prescriptions promising relief from such ailments as anemia, alopecia, fever, gout, heart disease, kidney and liver disease, along with tuberculosis. Prescriptions from the 16th and 17th centuries would combine cacao with cinnamon, sugar, pepper, cloves, vanilla, and/or anise to ease common complaints. Certainly modern day amoxicillin could benefit from such a delicious concoction.  

It was only in the 19th century that chocolate became more of a food staple and less of a medicine. This was in part because of the expansion of where cacao could be grown. Cacao is a New World food, but the Portuguese brought the cacao tree to the African tropics. The development of machinery made it easier to separate cacao butter from the seeds, and so the making of chocolate became easier. As advances were made, chocolate became mainstream with Nestle, Godiva, La Maison du Chocolat, Fauchon, Lindt, Suchard, and Sprüngli elevating chocolate to a decadent treat. Today, it is consumed in all sorts of shapes and for different reasons: to soothe the day’s stress, to celebrate birthdays, or to show one’s love on Valentine’s Day. 

0004Join us on January 12th at 1pm EST when HSA’s guest speaker and author, Sarah Lohman, joins us for a “History of Chocolate.” During this program, we’ll uncover the history of chocolate, from its roots as an ancient Meso-American beverage to a contemporary melt-in-your-mouth chocolate bar. You’ll learn how a yellow, football-shaped tropical fruit transforms into high-end dark chocolate and what “Mexican Hot Chocolate” actually has in common with what Montezuma drank. We’ll cover botany, “Chocolate Wars,” and what makes Hershey’s distinctive flavor.

Our webinars are free to members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today and enjoy all our webinars for free along with access to the webinar library with over 50 program titles. To register visit www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

Photo Credits: 1) Box of chocolates (Chrissy Moore); 2) Author and speaker Sarah Lohman (Sarah Lohman).


Sarah Lohman is a culinary historian and the author of the bestselling book Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine. She focuses on the history of food as a way to access the stories of diverse Americans. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as on “All Things Considered.” Sarah has also presented across the country, from the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., to The Culinary Historians of Southern California. Her current project, Endangered Eating: Exploring America’s Vanishing Cuisine, will be released with W.W. Norton & Co. in 2021.

Parsley – Herb of the Month and Herb of the Year

By Maryann Readal

The spotlight is shining on parsley this month. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for January and the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year for 2021. The three most common varieties of parsley are P. crispum or curly-leaf parsley,  P. crispum var. neapolitanum or flat-leaf Italian parsley, and P. crispum var. tuberosum or turnip-root parsley which is grown for its root and is used in soups and stews.

Parsley has an interesting history dating back to Greek and Roman times. To the Greeks, parsley symbolized death and was not used in cooking. However, according to Homer, the Greeks fed parsley to their chariot horses as they thought it gave them strength. The Greeks believed that parsley sprang from the blood of one of their mythical heroes, Archemorus, whose name means “the beginning of bad luck.” From then on parsley had an association with death and misfortune. Victorious athletes in the Nemean games were crowned with wreaths of parsley, symbolizing the contest’s origin as a funeral game dedicated to Archemorus. The Greeks had a saying: “De ‘eis thai selinon” (to need parsley), which meant that a person was near death. They also decorated their tombs with parsley.

parsley italianThe Romans, on the other hand, wore wreaths of parsley to ward off intoxication and used it at meals to mask the smell of garlic. Perhaps this is where the idea of parsley as a garnish originated. It is said that the Romans also covered corpses with parsley to cover the smell of decay. 

The Romans and the Greeks used parsley as a medicine. Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE), in Chapter 20 of his book The Natural History, talks about using a decoction of parsley seeds for  kidney troubles and ulcers in the mouth, and goes on to say that “fish also, if they are sickly in ponds,  are revived by fresh parsley.”  

The Romans brought parsley to England, where colorful folklore arose around the herb, much of it centering around death and ill luck. In Devonshire, it was believed that transplanting parsley would offend the guardians of the parsley bed and that the person doing the transplanting would be punished within the year. In Surrey, it was believed that if someone cut parsley, that person would be crossed in love. In Suffolk, it was thought that parsley should be sown on Good Friday to ensure it coming up double. It was believed that when planting the seeds of parsley, the seed went to the devil nine times and back, with the devil keeping some of the seeds for himself.  This may have been an explanation for the slow germination of parsley seeds. 

parsley root school projectParsley began to be eaten during the Middle Ages.  Charlemagne was said to have grown large quantities of parsley in his gardens for this purpose. Early immigrants brought parsley to the Americas where it was used as a culinary herb.

The association of parsley with death and misfortune played out again in 1937 with the execution of Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic. An immigrant’s safety depended on if they could pronounce the word “parsley” correctly. This was called the Parsley Massacre and you can read about this tragic piece of history connected with parsley at https://www.ibtimes.com/parsley-massacre-genocide-still-haunts-haiti-dominican-relations-846773.

parsley pestoParsley is a versatile herb in the kitchen. It adds brightness when sprinkled over any finished dish, and is good in salad dressings, soups and stews. It is one of the ingredients in fines herbes, the French persillade, South American chimichurri, and Mexican salsa verde. The Japanese deep fry parsley in tempura batter, and the Swiss serve deep fried parsley with their fondue. And of course, it is used in pesto. It truly is a universal herb.  Herbalist Madalene Hill, former President of The Herb Society of America, in her book Southern Herb Growing, says that her green butter recipe “should accompany most steaks and that its use will probably relegate the steak sauce and ketchup bottle to the back of the refrigerator where they belong.”  Her recipe is simply one stick of softened butter combined with two cups of finely chopped parsley and one tablespoon of lemon juice.

Parsley is a biennial herb and is easy to grow in moist soil in sun or part shade. It is a good companion plant in the garden, warding off asparagus beetles.  Tomatoes, peas, carrots, peppers and corn will also benefit by having parsley nearby.  The flowers attract bees and hoverflies which eat aphids and thrips. It is also said to improve the scent of roses and keeps them healthier. I like to use parsley as a border plant in my garden, which the Greek and Medieval gardeners were also fond of doing. A benefit of including parsley in your garden is that it is a host plant for the swallowtail butterfly, which will frequently lay eggs on the plant.

Parsley swallowtailWithout a doubt, parsley does have medicinal benefits. It is high in vitamins A, C, and K, and contains antioxidants. The leaf, seed, and root are used in medicine. People have used it to treat bladder infections, kidney stones, gastrointestinal disorders, and high blood pressure. Some apply parsley to the skin to lighten dark patches and bruises. It is also used for insect bites.  Pregnant women are advised not to take parsley in medicinal amounts, as it increases menstrual flow and has been used to cause abortion.

For more information on parsley, go to The Herb Society’s Herb of the Month web page and the Essential Facts for Parsley.

Photo Credits: 1) Curly leaf parsley (Amanda Slater); 2) Italian parsley (Maryann Readal); 3) Parsley root (schoolphotoproject.com); 4) Parsley pesto (Wikimedia Commons); 5) Swallowtail caterpillar (Wikimedia Commons) 

References

Fowler, Marie. Herbs in Greek mythology. The Herbarist. 2010. 

Gardening Know How. Information about parsley. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/parsley  Accessed 12/13/20.

Ghosh, Palash. Parsley Massacre:  The genocide that still haunts Haiti-Dominican relations. International Business Times. https://www.ibtimes.com/parsley-massacre-genocide-still-haunts-haiti-dominican-relations-846773  Accessed 12/21/20.

The Herb Society of America. Essential facts for parsley. https://herbsocietyorg.presencehost.net/file_download/inline/140a12b8-0fe0-4a52-ac2c-2b61ea6e786a Accessed 12/22/20.

Hill, Madalene and Barclay, Gwen. Southern Herb Growing. Fredericksburg, TX., Shearer. 1997.

History of parsley-Proverbs & folklore.  http://www.ourherbgarden.com/herb-history/parsley.html Accessed 12/15/20.

Pliny the Elder. Natural History.  Internet Archive. http://www.attalus.org/info/pliny_hn.html Accessed 12/21/20.

WebMD. Parsley. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-792/parsley Accessed 12/22//20.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America and a Master Gardener. She is a member of The Society’s Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Christmas Herbs of Trinidad, Part II

By Amy Forsberg

Trinidad_tobago-esLast week we looked at some of the beverages important to a Trinidad Christmas. Now let’s talk about some of the foods and the special ingredients needed to make them.

So what is on the menu in Trinidad for Christmas? Here is what Ann told me. “Dinner is ham, of course, pastelles, baked chicken, fried rice, pelau, callaloo, macaroni pie…and everybody makes homemade bread. And, of course, sorrel drink and ponché de crème. And you have to have black cake, of course….Everything is homemade, nobody buys anything.” 

Pastelles are the West Indian version of tamales and reflect the Mexican/Aztec heritage in the Caribbean. Making pastelles can be labor intensive, and according to Ann, many families make the work fun by turning it pastelles on leafinto a party and making large quantities assembly-line style. This is part of what makes them such a Christmas treat. Every island has their own version, and in Trinidad, it is traditionally cornmeal stuffed with beef, chicken, or pork (or a mixture) with olives, capers, and raisins and steamed in banana leaves. There are also versions made with fish or shrimp, and vegetarian versions made with soy products, lentils, or mushrooms. It is the flavorings that really make them special, and the usual additions include onion, garlic, tomato paste or ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Trinidad pimento peppers, and roucou.

Pimento peppers are ubiquitous in Trinidad cooking, but they are NOT the same pepper we call pimento here in the United States; they do not look or taste the same other than both being non-spicy. They are a completely Trinidad Pimento Peppers Seedwisemild Capsicum chinense (the species known for blazing hot peppers like habaneros) and are easily found in most Caribbean markets here in the U.S., as well as most backyards in Trinidad, according to Ann. The taste is described as the flavor of very hot peppers without any of the heat, and they are an essential ingredient in many dishes. This pepper seems relatively unknown outside of Caribbean circles, but you may find seeds marketed as Capsicum ‘Trinidad Pimento’ or ‘Trinidad Seasoning Pepper.’ 

Roucou (pronounced roo’-koo) refers to the fruit of Bixa orellano, a shrub or small tree native to Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America and is cultivated in many countries. It is more widely known by the common names annatto and achiote and is used as red/orange dye and food coloring and flavoring. The rou coucolor comes from the waxy coating that covers the seeds. In Trinidad, it is common to grow roucou in your yard. The spiky capsules are harvested when ripe, split open, and the seeds are removed. The seeds are placed in water, then soaked and agitated (wear gloves!) to release the coloring. The now vibrant red/orange liquid has salt added as a preservative, the seeds are strained out, and the liquid is refrigerated to use as needed. It is a common ingredient in many dishes in Trinidad and adds not only a beautiful color but a subtle unique flavor as well. Annatto powder may be substituted and is easily purchased online and at International markets.

Another dish commonly eaten at Christmas, and especially at New Year’s (which is called “All Years Night” in Trinidad), is the unofficial Trinidad national dish pelau (pronounced pay-lauor puh-lau’). Pelau is a hearty one-pot meal of chicken, rice, and pigeon peas flavored with onion, garlic, Trinidad pimento peppers, and a delicious flavor concoction called green seasoning. 

What is green seasoning, you ask? If you looked inside many refrigerators in Trinidad, you would find a fresh batch of this green herbal magic. There is no set recipe, and it can be simply made with whichever ingredients are on hand. It can also be purchased bottled, but fresh is far superior. Ann says it generally includes garlic, Trinidad pimento peppers, chives, cilantro, celery, green onions, thyme, chadon beni, and pudina.  

Eryngium foetidum1 20050729 CU 65949HChadon beni (pronounced “shadow benny”) is the common name for the leaves of Eryngium foetidum, a tropical perennial in the carrot family (Apiaceae) and known in the United States as culantro. Imported by French settlers, the name derives from “chardon béni,” which means “blessed thistle.” (It is not actually a thistle but looks a bit like one.) According to Ann, it grows like a weed everywhere in Trinidad and is easy to cultivate. The flavor is similar to cilantro but even stronger and more pungent. It is one of several herbs that are an essential component of the flavor of Trinidadian cuisine. The fresh leaves can usually be found in Caribbean markets.

Pudina is the local name for Plectranthus amboinicus (syn. Coleus amboinicus), a fleshy-leaved perennial in the mint family that is known by many common names: Mexican mint, SpanishPlectranthus amboinicus thyme, Indian borage, Cuban oregano, and many more. It is naturalized and cultivated widely in the tropics and as an herb. It has a strong oregano-like flavor.

For dessert, they have black cake, a dense, rich, and alcohol soaked fruitcake believed to have descended from British desserts such as plum pudding. It is quite different from American fruitcake. It is made with lots of butter, eggs, and rum, and is almost black in color due to the addition of “browning,” which is made by almost burning brown sugar syrup. Browning can be purchased, or in a pinch, molasses can be substituted. Black cake is one of those foods for which every family has their own closely guarded recipe with a slightly different ratio of spices and fruits. Most recipes I found online direct you to soak the dried fruits in alcohol for at least a few days or weeks. But according to Ann, it is an important tradition to soak them for an entire year! Just after Black CakeChristmas, you prepare the fruits and cover them in a jar with a blend of alcohols and leave it in a dark place for a year, shaking periodically. Spices are also essential to making the quintessential black cake, which typically include cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove, and tonka bean. 

Tonka bean is the seed of Dipteryx odorata, a tropical tree in the pea family (Fabaceae) that has a complex and highly prized flavor said to remind one of a blend of vanilla, cherry, almond, cinnamon, caramel, and honey. Tonka beansBecause it contains coumarin, a chemical that is toxic in larger amounts, tonka bean has been banned as a food ingredient in the U.S. since 1953. It is now better understood that the concentration of coumarin in tonka bean is too low to cause illness without one consuming a nearly impossible quantity. However, the ban remains. 

So, now you can set your table with a feast including ham, pastelles, pelau, and black cake. And to drink you’ll have sorrel drink, ponche de crème, and ginger beer. The house is freshly painted and new curtains have been hung. Neighbors and family will be dropping by soon. Panang music will fill the air, and the rum will flow. Merry Christmas from Trinidad!

Ann AbdulRecipes

Recipes from Ann Abdul and/or adapted from “The Multi-Cultural Cuisine of Trinidad & Tobago & the Caribbean” which is the 2002 updated version of “Naparima Girls’ High School Diamond Jubilee 1912-1987, Trinidad & Tobago Recipes”. These are the quintessential books on Trinidadian cuisine found in almost every home.

 

Pastelles

Makes approx. 24 

  • 2 lb. boneless beef, chicken or pork, diced 
  • 3-4 TBSP roucou liquid
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • ½ cup finely chopped chive
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • hot pepper to taste
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 TBSP vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup finely chopped pimentos
  • 3 TBSP capers
  • 2 TBSP stuffed olives, chopped
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 3 cups hot water
  • 2-3 TBSP vegetable oil or 2 oz. or 4 TBSP margarine
  • Soharee or banana leaves, cleaned, greased and cut in 7” or 8” squares

(If using banana leaves, scald until soft and pliable.)

Directions

  1. In a bowl, mix meat with onion, chive, and thyme, garlic, hot pepper, black pepper, and 1 tsp salt.
  2. Heat oil in skillet and add roucou liquid and beef mixture and fry until tender; cool and mince.
  3. Return beef to skillet and add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, pimentos, capers, olives, and raisins.
  4. Cook for 2-3 minutes more and adjust salt and pepper; leave to cool.
  5. Combine cornmeal, water, oil, and 1 tsp salt; stir until mixture sticks together.
  6. Take heaped tablespoons of cornmeal and form balls (approx. 1½” in diameter).
  7. Place a ball of cornmeal on a piece of leaf, cover with a piece of plastic wrap and roll or press to desired size approx. 6” square. Remove the plastic. 
  8. Place a heaped tablespoon of meat mixture along one side of cornmeal and fold leaf in half, then fold edges of leaf over to seal.
  9. Place a few pastelles in steamer or colander, and steam for about 20-25 minutes.

Pelau 

Serves 8-10

  • 3 lbs. chicken pieces, skinned
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 TBSP mixed green seasoning (or as much as half a cup! Depends on your taste. Ann says more is better.)
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 TBSP ketchup
  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 2-3 TBSP brown sugar
  • 2 cups parboiled rice
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped pimento peppers (any mild pepper can be substituted)
  • 1½ cups cooked pigeon peas
  • 1 TBSP salt
  • 1 whole hot pepper with the stem
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 2 cups chicken broth or water

Directions

  1. Season chicken with salt, pepper, green seasoning, minced garlic, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and ketchup.
  2. Heat oil in large heavy iron pot or skillet.
  3. Add sugar and allow to burn until brown
  4. Add seasoned chicken, and stir until pieces are well coated with burnt sugar; brown for 5 minutes.
  5. Add rice, and turn often until well mixed. Cook for 3 minutes more.
  6. Add onion, sweet peppers, and peas, and cook for a few minutes, stirring a few times.
  7. Add salt, hot pepper, coconut milk, and broth. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer until rice is cooked and all liquid is evaporated (about 25-30 minutes).
  8. Add more liquid if rice is still hard and continue to cook for a few more minutes.

Notes: Pelau could also be baked in the oven. Cover pot with lid or foil and bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes. 

Green Seasoning (recipe adapted from https://healthiersteps.com)

  • 1 bunch chadon beni leaves (can substitute cilantro)
  • ½ bunch parsley
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 3 green onions/scallions
  • Small bunch of chives
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 small onion
  • 1” piece fresh ginger
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  • 3 sprigs pudina (optional, can be found at Caribbean markets)
  • 5 Trinidad pimento peppers (or other mild peppers such as ‘Aji Dulce’, banana, or Cubanelle)

Directions

  1. Roughly chop up all ingredients and add to a food processor.
  2. Process until the mixture looks pureed like baby food, scraping down sides as necessary.
  3. Store in the refrigerator. Use about 2 TBSP of green seasoning per recipe. 

You can also prepare in large batches and freeze in ice cube trays and store cubes in freezer bags. These quantities are merely suggestions. Most people develop their own recipe with their own preferred ratio of ingredients based on personal preference. 

Trinidad Black Cake (Christmas Cake)

Serves 36 (or three cakes)

  • 1 lb. prunes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 lb. raisins
  • 1 lb. currants
  • 1 lb. sultanas
  • ¼ lb. candied mixed citrus peel (e.g., lemon, orange)
  • ½ lb. cherries, chopped in half
  • ¼ lb. chopped almonds
  • 1½ cups cherry brandy
  • 2 cups rum
  • 2 cups butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar  
  • 10 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. grated lime peel
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup browning (darkly caramelized sugar)
  • 3 cups mixture of rum, cherry brandy, and sherry, 1 cup for each cake

Directions

  1. A few days, or up to one year, before baking the cake, combine prunes, raisins, currants, sultanas, mixed candied peel, cherries, almonds, cherry brandy, and rum in a jar or other suitable glass container. Cover, and leave in a dark place to meld flavors, shaking the container occasionally, until ready to use.
  2. Line three 8” round cake pans with double layers of wax or parchment paper.
  3. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Beat in eggs one at a time; add lime peel and vanilla.
  5. Combine flour, baking powder, and cinnamon; fold into creamed mixture gradually.
  6. Drain soaked fruit and add to mixture. Add enough browning to give desired color; stir well.
  7. Put in lined baking pans ¾ full and bake in a preheated oven at 250 F for one hour; reduce heat to 200 F – 225 F for the remaining 1½ hrs or until tester comes out clean.
  8. Prick hot cakes, and soak each with the mixture of rum, brandy, and sherry.

As alcohol soaks in, pour more and continue to do so for 12 hours.

Photo Credits: 1) Map of Trinidad and Tobago (Wikimedia Commons); 2) Pastelles (Wikipedia); 3) Pimento peppers (Capsicum chinense) (seedwise.com); 4) Roucou (Bixa orellano) (Wikipedia); 5) Chadon beni (Eryngium foetidum) (National Herb Garden); 6) Pudina (Plectranthus amboinicus) (National Herb Garden); 7) Black cake (dishmaps.com); 8) Tonka bean (Dipteryx odorata) (Wikipedia); 9) Ann Abdul (Ann Abdul).


Amy Forsberg is a horticulturist who was the 2000-2001 National Herb Garden intern. She has gardened at the U.S. Botanic Garden (2002-2005) and the U.S. National Arboretum (2006-2018). She has long been fascinated by the history of herbs and spices and their role in creating culture and cuisines.

Tamarind – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

The tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica) is one of many tropical herbal trees. Its leaves, bark, wood, roots, and fruits have many uses. The tamarind tree Tamarindus indicais also an evergreen, long-lived landscape tree, reaching a height of 40 to 60 feet tall and a width of up to 25 feet wide. Its pinnate leaves close up at night. The branches droop to the ground, making it a graceful shade tree. A mature tree can produce up to 350-500 pounds of fruit each year. It is native to tropical Africa and is in the Fabaceae family. 

One of the earliest documented uses of tamarind was found in the Ganges Valley of India, where wood charcoal dating back to 1300 BCE was discovered. Tamarind was mentioned in ancient Indian scriptures as early as 1200 BCE. Arab physicians were reported to be the first to use the fruit pulp as medicine. It was the Arabs who named the tamarind, calling it “tamara hindi” or Indian date. It is thought that the Arabs were responsible for the spread of the tamarind through the Persian Gulf region and Egypt. There is documented use of tamarind in Egypt in 400 BCE. The tamarind was brought to the Americas by the Spanish in the 1600s. A tamarind tree was planted in Hawaii in 1797.

Tamarind-based drinksThe tamarind tree grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 10-11 and therefore, is not commonly seen in the continental United States, except in southern Florida. It produces a showy light brown, bean-like fruit, which can be left on the tree for up to six months after maturing. The sweet-sour pulp that surrounds the seeds is rich in calcium, phosphorus, iron, thiamine, and riboflavin and is a good source of niacin. The pulp is widely used in Mexico to make thirst-quenching juice drinks and even beer. It is also very popular in fruit candies. The fruit is used in Indian cuisines in curries, chutneys, meat sauces, and in a pickle dish called tamarind fish. Southeast Asians combine the pulp with chiles and use it for marinating chicken and fish before grilling. They also use it to flavor sauces, soups, and noodle dishes. Chefs in the United States are beginning to experiment with the sweet-sour flavor of tamarind pulp. Did you know that tamarind is a major ingredient in Lea & Perrins® Worcestershire Sauce? Tamarind CandyThe fruit pods are long-lasting and can be found in some grocery stores, especially those serving Hispanic, Indian, and Southeast Asian populations. 

All parts of this ancient tree have been used in traditional medicines in Africa and Asia and have a long list of maladies that they have treated. According to Purdue’s Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Department (https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/tamarind.html), “Tamarind preparations are universally recognized as refrigerants in fevers and as laxatives and carminatives.” The ground-up seeds have been used as a poultice for boils, while the boiled leaves and flowers were used as poultices for sprains and swollen joints. The bark is astringent, tonic, and a fever reducer. An infusion of the roots has been used to treat chest complaints and leprosy. It has also been used to treat sunstroke, Datura poisoning, and alcohol intoxication. According to WebMD®, there is not sufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of tamarind to treat most of these illnesses. However, research has shown that eye drops containing tamarind seed extract do improve dry eye.

Throughout the tropical world, there are many legends and superstitions regarding the tamarind tree. Here are a few:

  • A Buddhist parable about tamarind seeds says that they are the symbol of faithfulness and forbearance. 
  • Some African tribes believe that the tree is sacred, and some Indians believe that one should not sleep under one because of the acid it “exhales” during the night.  
  • Some even believe that nothing will grow under a tamarind tree. However, Maude Grieve, in her 1931 book, A Modern Herbal, claimed that “some plants and bulbs bloomed luxuriantly under the tamarind trees in her garden in Bengal.”
  • The Burmese believe that the tree is the dwelling place of the rain god, and that the tree raises the temperature of the ground beneath it.
  • In Nyasaland, tamarind bark is soaked with corn and fed to livestock as a way of guaranteeing their return if they are lost or stolen.
  • In some Asian countries, it is believed that evil spirits inhabit the tamarind tree and building a house where it grows should be avoided.
  • In the Caribbean, old tamarind trees are believed to have spirits living in them.

The tamarind is an incredibly useful tree. The young leaves and shoots are eaten as a vegetable, and the flowers and leaves can be added to salads. The flowers are also important as a pollen source for bees. The leaves can be tamarind seed podsused as fodder for domestic animals and food for silkworms. The leaves are also used as garden mulch. 

The seeds are ground to make flour, or roasted and used as a coffee substitute or as an addition to coffee. The seeds are also processed to produce a natural pectin and food stabilizer. There are many more uses of the seeds that are too numerous to list. 

The oil produced from the tamarind is culinary grade oil and is also used in specialty varnishes, adhesives, dyeing, and tanning.

The wood of the tamarind is another example of exceptional usefulness as it is very hard and insect resistant. It makes great handles for tools and is prized for furniture and paneling. It is considered a valuable fuel source because it gives off intense heat. The branches of the tamarind are used as walking sticks. The bark contains tannins and is used in tanning hides and is also used to make twine.

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire SauceThe fruit pulp is useful as a dye fixative, or combined with sea water, it cleans silver, brass, and copper. In addition to all of these uses, school children in Africa use the seeds as learning aids in arithmetic lessons and as counters in traditional board games.

The next time you reach for a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, remember the ancient tamarind tree and its usefulness in the tropical parts of our world.

 

 

Photo Credits: 1) Tamarindus indica (JIRCAS); 2) Tamarind-based beverages; 3) Tamarind-based confections; 4) Tamarind seed pods; 5) Lea & Perrins® Worcestershire sauce (Photos 2 – 5, courtesy of the author).

References

Ebifa-Othieno, Esther, et al. “Knowledge, attitudes and practices in tamarind use and conservation in Eastern Uganda. Journal of Ethnobiology & Ethnomedicine. Vol. 13. Jan. 2017. Available from Ebscohost. Accessed 10/16/20. 

El-Siddiq, K., et al. Tamarind, Tamarindus indica. England, Southhampton Centre for Underutilized Crops, 2006. Available from Google Scholar. Accessed 10/18/20.

Grieve, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal. Harcourt, Brace, & Company. 1931.

History of tamarind.  Available from https://www.world-foodhistory.com/2011/07/history-of-tamarind.html.  Accessed 10/16/20.

Missouri Botanical Garden. Plant Finder. Available at http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/plantfinder/plantfindersearch.aspx. Accessed 10/16/20.

Tamarind. Purdue University Horticulture and Landscape Department. Available from https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/tamarind.html. Accessed 10/18/20.

Tamarind. WebMD.  Available from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-819/tamarind. Accessed 10/18/20

Tamarind tree. Available from https://www.permaculturenews.org/2009/02/20/tamarind-tree/. Accessed 10/16/20.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America and a Master Gardener. She is a member of The Society’s Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Hyper-local Hydroponics in Restaurants

By Keith Howerton

Basil harvested from Farmshelf hydroponic growth chamberThe chef looked up at me, astonished, with a crumpled up Genovese basil leaf in his hand. “Oh my god, that smells fantastic,” he said, laughing and shaking his head. We had just gone over proper basil harvesting technique, and I had invited him to pinch off a leaf of the basil he had just grown for the first time inside the restaurant. It’s funny, even chefs at nicer restaurants get used to subpar quality when it’s all they have access to. It’s just so difficult for chefs to get really fresh, high quality herbs in the consistent, predictable quantities they need to run a kitchen. So, they settle. How did he grow basil inside the restaurant? We’ll  get to that in a minute. 

Back in college, I worked in a fairly upscale restaurant. A couple times a week, I remember seeing a delivery person from a big distributor back into the loading dock in a huge refrigerated truck, offload “fresh” produce, and bring it into the kitchen. Then, a few of the cooks would unpackage these boxes filled with Genovese basil, rosemary, and mint. I still remember the first time I gave the basil a smell. It didn’t smell bad, but it didn’t smell good either. And the mint used as a garnish for some of the fancy desserts smelled vaguely of mint, and that’s being  generous. 

Anyone who has grown basil at home knows and loves its rich, sweet scent. But when you shove that beautiful, fragrant basil in a plastic bag and cram it in a refrigerator for a week, it  doesn’t smell so good anymore. It develops off flavors and loses some of its vibrant green color. Sadly, this is what the vast majority of restaurants are forced to do when they want fresh herbs. 

And it’s not their fault! Nor is it the farmers’ fault. You cannot have exceptional quality fresh herbs when there is that lag time between harvest and food preparation. Most fresh herbs, especially basil, have very short shelf-lives. But these restaurant owners have businesses to run, so they choose consistently mediocre quality rather than fantastic quality in inconsistent quantities. 

Anyway, back to the present.  

Hydroponic BasilThis chef is now able to grow top-notch herbs inside his restaurant, just feet away from the kitchen, because he has a sophisticated hydroponic growing system called a Farmshelf.

For those who are not familiar, hydroponics just means growing plants without soil. Instead, the plant’s roots are bathed in water with nutrients dissolved in it. The only thing reminiscent of soil is the very small amount of growing medium used to germinate the seed and anchor the plant. 

Hydroponics is a very complex topic, and there are lots of pros and cons to growing in a hydroponic system rather than growing in the ground. (That’s a discussion for another day.) But for those of us in the restaurant industry, it’s a no-brainer because it allows Basil in Farmshelf Hydroponic Growing Chamberbusy restaurant staff with no in-ground space to grow high quality produce year-round. Additionally, since it is kept nice and clean, this method prevents just about any pest or plant pathogen you can think of. 

The quality difference between what comes out of this chef’s set-up and what comes from the distributor is phenomenal. (Disclaimer: I do work for a hydroponic systems company geared toward the restaurant industry, so I applaud anyone who is using these technologies to innovate and work toward more efficient food systems that provide higher quality produce. In college, I did some work with hydroponics and was excited to learn that there were companies using hydroponics to fill gaps and solve inefficiencies I had seen in the fresh herb supply chain.) As much as I would love to say the quality difference is because we’re just so super incredibly talented, I think this massive quality difference comes down to two main factors: a controlled growing environment and the freshness. 

You know how in hot weather basil goes to flower and develops that off, licorice-type smell? Well, when you’re inside a controlled environment, where the temperatures stay around 80 degrees or less, it may as well be springtime. I have never seen the basil try to flower in this particular set-up. So, you effectively get springtime-quality basil year round when you grow in a system like this. Farmshelf Hydroponic Chamber

As for the freshness, how much fresher can you get than inside your restaurant? And thanks to the massive energy savings afforded by recent advancements in LED technology, it’s now feasible to have some systems plug right into a wall outlet. 

I know I am biased, but man… it’s a beauty, isn’t it?

Photo Credits: 1) Freshly harvested basil; 2) Basil in hydroponic pots; 3) Roots of basil grown in hydroponic situation; 4) Farmshelf hydroponic growth chamber. All photos courtesy of the author.


After getting a horticulture degree from Texas A&M University, Keith was the 2017 National Herb Garden intern, and then spent a year and a half in the Gardens Unit at the U.S. National  Arboretum. He now works for an indoor farm company called Farmshelf and is obsessed with  all things growing food, foreign languages, and cooking (and eating).

HSA Webinar: Molé, Pan and Chapulin–Oaxacan Style

by Jen Munson, HSA Education Chair

Face it, 2020, for the most part, has been a bust! The pandemic has cancelled events, reduced travel, and all but eliminated herbal adventures. As we dream of a future where we can begin to move about the globe more easily and safely, now is the perfect time to research new destinations. mapInterestingly, just south of the US border in Mexico there is a unique community that is home to sixteen distinct indigenous peoples living in a mild climate, enjoying unique botanic diversity. 

Oaxaca, Mexico, is a community known for its culture, crafts, textiles, ceramics, cuisine, and complex use of plants. While Mexico is known for its Day of the Dead celebrations, Oaxaca offers the most spiritual and unique Dia de los Muertos Celebrationcelebrations of them all. The Day of the Dead festival (or Dia de los Muertos) is celebrated from October 31st thru November 2nd. During this time, locals believe the gap between our world and the spirit world opens, and loved ones are invited back for a celebration. Offerings are placed on altars in homes, schools, cemeteries, and more. Of course, the spirit world needs nutrition to support their return to the mortal world, so delicious foods play a central role. This melting pot of cultures has created signature dishes including molé (generic for sauces used in Mexican cuisine), pan (an egg based sweet bread made especially for the Day of the Dead), and chapulines (Sphenarium grasshoppers).

Dia de los Muertos panJoin the HSA Webinar series on October 28th at 1pm EDT to celebrate the Day of the Dead with HSA members Sara Holland and Mary Doebbeling as they present, “Molé, Pan, and Chapulin–Oaxacan Style.” A recent journey took them to Oaxaca, Mexico, where they had the opportunity to study and use local herbs and plants. Our webinars are free to members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today and enjoy all our webinars for free. Visit https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars or click here to sign up.

Photo Credits: 1) Enchantedlearning.com; 2) Dia de los Muertos Celebration (Holland/Doebbeling); 3) Pan bread (Holland/Doebbeling).


Sara Holland and Mary Deobbeling

Sara Holland and Mary Doebbeling are active members of the Pioneer Unit, giving local presentations and traveling throughout southwest Texas presenting interesting herbal programs. In addition to being active locally, they have both served as South Central District Membership Delegates and have made contributions to HSA Essential Guides, worked on steering committees for district gatherings, and contributed to various committees including the Research Grant Committee.

Herbal Hacks, Part 1: Food and Drink

We asked and you delivered! Over the summer we asked folks to share how they used herbs to make their lives easier or more fun. We received many great responses, and want to thank everyone who contributed a little snippet of herbal how-to. We received so many responses, in fact, that we’ve decided to offer them in installments, categorized by topic for easy reference. Please enjoy this week’s selection – herbs in food and drink.

Violet banner_Creative Commons via Pxfuel

I love to use fresh herbs as drink garnishes and in ice cubes. Edible flowers and leaves enhance my beverages, from my morning smoothie to my afternoon glass of wine! – Janice Cox

Dried blue cornflower petals sprinkled over salads – or as a garnish on other foods – for a beautiful blue punch of color! Flowers are harvested each year from my garden at the end of a hot day, dried on white cotton tea towels on cookie sheets for two to three days before removing petals, then I hang the petals in mesh bags to finish drying for a week or more before putting them into clean, labeled jars to use throughout the year. – Becki Smith

I infuse sugar with herbs to punch and kick it up a notch or two when baking special treats. – Eliza G

In late fall I heavily prune back many of my herbs. After washing, I put them – stems included – in a large pot, cover with water, and make a strong herbal broth. I freeze it in two and four cup amounts to use as a base for soups through the winter. The two cup amounts can be mixed with chicken or beef broth if I want that flavor. – Terry Senko

Infusions! ‘Rober’s Lemon Rose’ (a Pelargonium) simple syrup for our margaritas, and lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) infused into heavy cream for our homemade ice cream! – Lois Sutton

Colorful herb drinksA cool tip I learned my first season in Herb Society of America was how to make canned lemonade taste like fresh: add the juice of one lemon. How simple is that! I had success with other citrus as well. Add your favorite herb to make it chic. The first tip I learned from Madalene Hill was put an herb in the bottom of the cake pan to add complexity and surprise to your cake. The second was her mantra: “fat delivers flavor”. – Adrianne Kahn

A roll of goat cheese covered in fresh chopped thyme, with crackers on the side, makes for a quick appetizer tray to serve or to bring to a gathering. – Becki Smith

When the first snow is expected, I harvest my fresh garden herbs. I cut thyme, oregano, and basil fine, and put the mix in ice cube tray pockets. Then I pour olive oil (any oil would do) over the herbs, freeze, and package. When I need to oil a pan I add one or two. As the oil melts, the herbal fragrance smells of summer, and the taste is fresh herbs. – Lola Wilcox

When serving white pasta dishes, garnish with a chiffonade of purple ruffles basil – looks fabulous and tastes wonderful. Add borage to your Pimms cup – pretty colored flower and refreshing cucumber flavor. – Kim Labash

Tiny bits of finely minced anise hyssop can be added to sliced strawberries macerating with a bit of sugar, or to chunks of cantaloupe, or to almost any fruit to add an ethereal, spicy sweetness that transforms and elevates a simple fruit dessert. Pair it with a floral rosé wine and linger at the table with your guests on a soft summer night. – Kathleen McGowan

Water infused with herbs. – Linda Hogue

Borage and creamI grow herbs and vegetables. I also save onion peels, potato peels, carrot shavings, the hard bits of celery, etc. Instead of sending them directly to the compost, they go into a freezer bag. After I fill a one gallon bag, the veggie bits go into the crock pot along with fresh herbs, salt, and pepper, and one to two quarts of water (enough to cover the veggies). I slow cook this for about six hours, strain the broth, and put it into Mason or Ball quart or pint jars (within one inch of the top), and freeze it. Finally, all of the leftover veggie bits get to go back to the compost pile to feed the next round of herbs and vegetables. – Catherine O’Brien

I planted a beautiful bay laurel bush just outside my kitchen door so I can add fresh bay leaves to potatoes, soups and more by walking out the door, and to use for wreaths when I prune the bush. – Becki Smith

I like to put fresh herbs in ice cubes for drinks in summer. Some favorites are a borage flower in a cube for a gin and tonic, or lavender petals to chill my glass of Earl Grey tea! Cheers! – Cheryl Skibicki

Photo Credits: All photos from Pixabay

Don’t Throw That Away!

By Angela Magnan

A former roommate once picked on me because I saved the crumbs from the bottom of cracker, chip, and pretzel bags. A few years later, he admitted he was rather impressed with all the different uses I found for them, from incorporating them into quiche crusts and coating fish, to topping casseroles and mixing them into meatballs. So it is not surprising that I am often astounded by the bags of trash that get brought to the curb after my neighbors host summer barbecues. I can’t help but wonder: how much of my neighbors’ food waste could be used for something else?

corn silkOne of the great pleasures of summer is fresh corn on the cob, and one of my least favorite things is the silk that often interferes with that pleasure. But these silky strands can be dried and used as a tea. Corn silk was used by Native Americans to treat urinary tract infections, malaria, and heart problems. It has been used in China, Turkey, and France as well to treat kidney stones, prostate disorders, bedwetting, and obesity. Studies on rats have shown some merit for its use as a diuretic agent, a blood sugar regulator, and an antidepressant. It also has high antioxidant activity. Traditionally, corn silk was collected prior to pollination, but research has shown that mature corn silk from fully developed ears actually has a higher level of antioxidant activity. 

onion skin teaOnion skins can also be used for tea. Simply add boiling water to onion skins and let it steep to a beautiful chestnut color. Onion skins contain quercetin, a compound found in many other fruits, vegetables, leaves, seeds, and grains, including apples, grapes, and black and green teas. Quercetin has shown anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties in studies on rats, but some research has shown that quercetin degrades without the presence of Vitamin C, meaning that both would need to be present to be beneficial. 

Although not as tasty and naturally sweet as the purchased corn silk tea I tried, I found the onion skin tea only slightly bitter with a smooth, pleasant earthy taste. It might taste even better, and be more effective, with a splash of OJ. 

wood trim stained with onion teaOr let it steep longer and use it as a fabric dye or wood stain. After steeping for 24 hours, I dipped one side of a spare piece of basswood trim in the onion skin tea and let it soak for more than an hour. It made a light honey-colored stain that is certainly less smelly and more eco-friendly than oil-based stains. Initially, I tried to wipe the stain onto the wood with a rag, and that didn’t work, so I would recommend this only on dippable small projects.

Do you have leftover lemon peels from making lemonade or lemon bars? Lemon peels are used for fragrance and deodorizing and have antimicrobial and insecticidal properties. Internet searches return results such as “50+ Ways to Use Lemon Peels.” Some of the recommendations include adding lemon peels to your bath; putting dried peels in mesh bags IMG_1934and placing the bags in a drawer or in your shoes to make them smell better; rubbing the peels on your skin when you run out of insect repellent or to eliminate garlic and onion odor; using them to polish your stainless steel sink or chrome faucets; starting a fire with the highly flammable dried peels; and rubbing the peel over your cutting board to sanitize it.

Although research validates that lemon peels do have antimicrobial properties, they seem to be more effective on some microbes than others. One research study found that lemon juice was very effective against Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that often causes food poisoning, but it was slightly less effective against Salmonella and even less so against E. coli. Another study using essential oils found lemon oil to have similar results. So, I am not sure I would trust a lemon peel to sanitize my cutting board, but I might be more inclined to add lemon to my water when attending my next barbecue. Just in case.

Sources:

Clax, J. “10 DIY wood stains that are homemade easily.” The Basic Woodworking: A Complete Guide. https://www.thebasicwoodworking.com/10-diy-wood-stains-that-are-homemade-easily/

Hasanudin K, Hashim P, Mustafa S. Corn silk (Stigma maydis) in healthcare: a phytochemical and pharmacological review. Molecules. 2012;17(8):9697-9715. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6268265/

Li Y, Yao J, Han C, et al. Quercetin, Inflammation and Immunity. Nutrients. 2016;8(3):167. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808895/

Oikeh EI, Omoregie ES, Oviasogie FE, Oriakhi K. Phytochemical, antimicrobial, and antioxidant activities of different citrus juice concentrates. Food Sci Nutr. 2015;4(1):103-109. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4708628/

Ozogul Y , Kuley E, Uçar Y, and Ozogul F. Antimicrobial impacts of essential oils on food borne-pathogens. Rec Pat on Food, Nutr & Agr. 2015;7(1):53-61. Retrieved from: https://www.eurekaselect.com/132210/article

Vrijsen R, Everaert L, Boeyé A. Antiviral activity of flavones and potentiation by ascorbate. J Gen Virol. 1988;69:1749–51. Retrieved from: https://www.microbiologyresearch.org/docserver/fulltext/jgv/69/7/JV0690071749.pdf?expires=1597169419&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=3E98B31038B249A2FA74F0BDF07D4707

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

Photo credits: 1) Corn silk (FreeImages.com); 2) onion skin tea (author’s photo); 3) wood trim stained with onion tea (author’s photo); 4) lemon peel fire starter (author’s photo).


Angela Magnan grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and has degrees in biochemistry, horticulture, and science writing. She now lives in Maryland and has worked in the Gardens Unit at the US National Arboretum since 2012.

A Weed Lover’s Manifesto


By Andrea Jackson

I love weeds. There, I said it.  Don’t worry, I do pull them (there’s a reason why they’re called weeds, after all), but I am much more likely to make a tincture or a salve or something good (yes, good) to eat than to discard them completely.

After all, weeds were really the first herbs. Emerson said “weeds are but an unloved flower.” They have also been called a plant out of place. Consider a field of commercial dandelions with a single forlorn rose bush growing in the middle. Now which one is the weed?

Plantago_major_SZ356869_Freshwater_MCotterill_IWNHASWeeds tell wonderful stories, and as we learn them, they take us on a journey to discover where they came from and how they came to be who they are today. 

For example, there’s the common broadleaf plantain (Plantago major). Broadleaf plantain is everywhere, which is a good thing for us because chewing a leaf and applying it to a sting will relieve it instantly. It is an unparalleled remedy for skin conditions and finds its way into just about every salve I make. The common name evolved from the Roman name planta, or the sole of man’s foot, because it seemed to follow the Roman legions wherever they went throughout Europe. This is certainly a good indication that plantain has been around for quite a while. The Anglo-Saxons called it the mother of herbs and used a magical verse anytime it was applied to a wound.

If you have a garden, you almost certainly have purslane (Portulaca oleracea). It has succulent leaves, which look rather like a prostrate jade plant spread out in all directions. Although it is an annual, even the tiniest stem left behind will sprout a new plant. Purslane has been enjoyed all over the world as a potherb, thus its specific epithet, oleracea, meaning “used as food.” It is known as the vegetable for long life in China. 

purslanePurslane is one of the highest plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids and can be used in simple summer soups and salads. Each summer, I make a wonderful purslane relish that far surpasses any relish from the grocery shelf. The recipe is in my current favorite wild foods book, The Forager’s Feast, by Leda Meredith.

Garlic mustard (Alliaira petiolata) and black mustard (Brassica nigra) are certainly some of the most invasive plants around; fortunately, they are also delicious. A yummy pesto can be made with the young leaves. You can also sauté a crushed clove of garlic, toss in a handful of garlic mustard leaves and violet leaves, and cook for no more than 30 seconds; then, sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and a dash of soy sauce, and you have a healthy, garlic mustarddelectable side dish.

This is just a teaser to help you to see weeds in a different way. Since they have always been with us and will always be with us, perhaps it’s time to get to know them better. For more fascinating information about these plants, read Just Weeds by Pamela Jones or A City Herbal by Maida Silverman.

 

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Andrea Jackson is a member of the Western Pennsylvania Unit of the Herb Society of America. She started her herbal adventure over 30 years ago after attending an herb walk led by Piccadilly Herb Club, of which she ultimately became a member.  When she lived in Baltimore, she was a founding member of Partners in Thyme. She also belongs to the American Herbalists Guild, and the American Botanical Council.

Herbs aside, Andrea is a registered nurse and a Master Gardener and lectures extensively to groups ranging from professional organizations to garden clubs.  She was featured on the local affiliate of ABC news in a segment on medicinal herbs.

Her particular interests lie in the medicinal uses of herbs, herbal lore, and weeds, which she considers to be the first herbs. When she is not spreading the herbal gospel, she is tucked away in her herb room formulating various concoctions. 

Nose-Twisting Nasturtiums

By Susan Belsinger

Bloody Mary1Plant Profile
Family: Tropaeolaceae
Scientific name: Tropaeolum majus
Common names: nasturtium, Indian cress, trophy cress, trophywort
Native Habitat: Peru, parts of South America
Plant Type: Annual
Growth Habit: Dwarf bushy cultivars grow from 8 to 18 inches in height, while the climbers can easily reach 6 to 10 feet, or more.
Hardiness: Hardy in frost-free locations
Light: Best in full sun; can tolerate a few hours of shade, which produces more leaves with fewer flowers
Water: Moist but not wet; will tolerate some drought
Soil: Friable and porous garden loam, well-drained soil; does well in containers
                                                                                   Propagation: Seeds in spring

“Nasturtium is an herb which for me has three uses: it lights sober herb beds with its bright colors of orange and yellow; all summer it decorates salads with leaves and gay flowers; and in the autumn it provides green seeds for pickling. Does it not earn for itself a place in an herb garden?”

                                                                                                                    —Annie Burnham Carter
                                                                                                                        In An Herb Garden

One of my very favorite flowers that I grow in all of my gardens for many reasons are nasturtiums, and I affectionately refer to these garden rowdies as “nasties”. They are easy to cultivate and effortlessly fill in garden spaces with their mounds of fun foliage even before their showy colors appear. The unusual foliage has rounded, wavy-edged leaves that are attached to their stems from the underside, directly in the center of the leaves, so that they resemble fairy umbrellas. These center-stemmed leaves radiate veins from a center dot looking somewhat star-like and range in various shades of green: grey-green, bright green, blue-green, and variegated. The spurred, trumpet-shaped flowers are available in a palette of bright colors from tropical creamy yellow, peach, and coral to vivid primary yellows and reds, in addition to knockout oranges, golds and even mahogany. Many are splashed or dotted with colors and my new favorite, ‘Bloody Mary’, has a different design and range of colors on each bloom. It is said that due to the shield-like form of the leaf and the helmet-shaped blooms that the botanical name derives from tropaion, the Greek word for “trophy.” 

DCF 1.0

No wonder Monet cultivated them liberally throughout the gardens at Giverny, where he captured the mounding masses of jewel-colored blooms in numerous of his famous paintings. Thomas Jefferson planted nasturtiums in his garden every year and lamented when he couldn’t get seed enough for a bed of them measuring 10 x 19-yards. In Green Enchantment by Rosetta Clarkson, she writes of a Dr. Fernie commenting on “nasturtium flowers giving out sparks of an electric nature at sunset.” Richard Mabey of The New Age Herbalist notes that, “It is said that on hot summer days sparks are emitted from the heart of the flower due to its high phosphoric acid content.”   Others, however, have attributed this phenomenon to an interesting optical illusion produced by the interplay of our eyes and the contrast of the flowers and foliage at dusk. For further explanation, read this interesting, informative article about nasturtiums: https://heirloomcottagegarden.weebly.com/blog/nasturtium-tropaeolum-majus

We owe our gratitude to the Spanish conquistadores for bringing the fiery-colored Tropaeolum minus back to Europe from South America more than 500 years ago. The species is a vine that can easily grow about 8 to 10 feet and likes a fence or trellis for support, while the more common nasturtium cultivars grow in mounds or trail along borders, spill over walls or over the edges of containers. Nasturtiums start easily from seed in average soil and full sun; I put them in early in my Zone 7 garden (about the same time that I put in early greens) in late March, early April. I like the ritual—going about the garden with my seed packs—poking the fat bumpy-round seeds (which sort of remind me of a small chickpea) in the cold earth with my finger along the edges of the kitchen bed. I plant them anywhere from 8 inches (for masses) to a good foot apart. Keep them well watered; however, do not fertilize too much or you’ll get massive leaf growth with few blooms. Harvest leaves regularly to keep them bushy. 

nasties (3)I just love that their name combines the Latin nasus for “nose” and tortus for “twisted” describing how our nose twists or wrinkles when we inhale their spicy scent. In The Fragrant Path by Louise Beebe Wilder she agrees, “ …perhaps the individual odours of the summer garden are derived from certain plants which persons of hyper-sensitive nasal organs may turn from in disgust. I call these plants Nose-twisters, because the rough and heady scent of Nasturtium, which seems to have in it something bitter, something peppery, and a vague underlying smoky sweetness, is representative of them.” 

In the kitchen, you can use both the fresh foliage and flowers to add a pleasant hint of heat and pungency (this dissipates when cooked so I use them mostly fresh) to many summer dishes. The leaves are high in vitamin C and add a peppery cress-like flavor to salads, sandwiches, green sauces, or they can be shredded and tossed with pasta, rice, couscous or chicken salad, or chopped as a topping for pizza. 

flower & herb butter (14)The blossoms have the same pepperiness as the leaves, but are milder with a hint of floral scent. They make excellent containers for cold salads—egg, chicken, and vegetable—as well as cheese spreads. Since they are a bit fragile when filled, I tend to put them on a slice of vegetable or bread in order to pick them up easily. Whole flowers can be used in salads or as garnishes; vinegar flavored with nasturtium flowers is lovely in color and interesting in flavor; or cut flowers and leaves into chiffonade (thin ribbons) and blend with butter, or toss with egg salad, noodles, vegetables, or fish. The unopened buds, marinated in wine or vinegar, make an unusual refrigerator pickle. Seeds are harvested and pickled and used as a substitute for capers.

To harvest leaves, pick them and remove stems, wash and use like lettuce. For flowers, pick them with long stems and keep them in a glass of water until ready for preparation. Rinse blooms gently and shake or pat them dry. Pull the bloom from the stem and use whole or gently tear into separate petals. While they can stand cool weather, they will succumb to the first frost.

Sources
Belsinger, Susan and Arthur O. Tucker. 2016. The Culinary Herbal. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.

Belsinger, Susan. 1991. Flowers in the Kitchen. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press.

Carter, Annie Burnham. 1947. In An Herb Garden. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus). Retrieved from https://heirloomcottagegarden.weebly.com/blog/nasturtium-tropaeolum-majus

Wilder. Elizabeth Beebe. 1996. The Fragrant Path. Point Roberts, Washington: Hartley & Marks Publishers, Inc.

Photos courtesy of the author. 1) Bloody Mary; 2) Alaska series; 3) Nasty bouquet; 4) Flower and herb butter


Susan is a culinary herbalist, food writer, educator, and photographer whose work has been published in numerous publications. She has authored a number of award-winning books. Her latest book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs was co-authored with the late Dr. Arthur Tucker. Susan is passionate about herbs and her work, sharing the joy of gardening and cooking through teaching & writing, and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell & taste.