Herbal Tea Harvest Time

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

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I’ve been thinking about Christmas since March, brainstorming what I’m going to make for family and friends. Last year I gifted baskets of homemade jams and chutneys. A handful of folks received mint syrup for their ice cream and drinks …the result of a failed mint jelly attempt.

Among other things, this year’s package may be beverage themed. It will probably include herbal cordials. And, now I’m thinking mint tea blends. For those blends, I’ve been cutting mint every few days as it’s so prolific in its sunny corner by the barn. If only the catnip and lemon balm would catch up. I haven’t yet identified my blends, but I’m collecting other herb materials like fragrant rose petals, pineapple sage, lemon verbena and more.

Chamomile maybe be prolific and boast sleepy-time properties, but I avoid it because it gives me hay fever. Then, my sleep is inspired by the Benadryl that I take to counteract it.

While loose tea is lovely in a metal tin, I’ll source paper tea bags to make brewing easier for my friends. I know they’re more likely to use bags. And, that gives a new presentation opportunity.teabag

I will design tags for the string end, something happy and fun. After all, packaging is a key part of experience. And, I’m watching garage sales and thrift stores for tins and canisters to hold those tea bags. (I may use half-pint canning jars or whatever I find in the dollar section at Target.)

As for blends, it’s hard for me to follow recipes. Those are mere guidelines for mortals. LOL.  I have to tweak things my way. And, tea blends depend on the resources. If I have more mint, I use more mint. More lemon herbs, I spike my teas with them.

I insist that my teas must be homegrown and organic. The rest will be spontaneous magic.


What do you mix to make herbal tea?

Mint gains popularity on restaurant menus

This article first appeared in  Nation’s Restaurant News, October 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission


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Two years ago, mint was used sparingly on the menu at Wok Box Fresh Asian Kitchen, mostly to tone down spice on a few dishes. These days, the herb has found its way into 40 percent of the items on the six-unit, fast-casual chain’s menu.

“Mint is really hot right now,” said Clay Carson, director of U.S. franchise development for Vancouver, Canada-based Wok Box. “Mint makes it magic.”

Mint, a common herb in Vietnamese cooking, is a key ingredient in Wok Box’s signature herb mixture, made with mint, basil and cilantro, that tops many of the restaurant’s noodle, rice and curry boxes.

“The cilantro gives it a brightness, the basil adds savory, but the mint really mellows everything,” Carson said.

The chain also puts mint in more than half of its custom infused waters, such as cucumber mint, watermelon mint and, the most popular, lime mint.

While Wok Box has always used mint in its curry dishes, it began increasing use of the herb after some kitchen experimentation and testing revealed that customers found it particularly appealing, especially when paired with the lime wedge included on many dishes.

MojitoMint is growing in more places than just Wok Box’s menu. According to the latest research from Datassential MenuTrends, the fragrant herb has grown 25 percent on menus at all segments in the last four years. While the strongest growth is coming from beverages, mint has been growing in appetizers and entrées as well. Mint now appears in 50 percent more appetizers, 19 percent more sides and 16 percent more entrées than it did four years ago.

There are more than 30 different varieties of mint, several of which appear in dishes on the menu at Easy Bistro + Bar in Chattanooga, Tenn. For example, black mint, also known huacatay, appears in the Roasted Wagyu Hanger Steak entrée with chive horseradish whipped potatoes, baby carrots, and peppercorn Burgundy truffle jus. Pineapple mint, a mild, citrusy-tasting variety, is in a small plate of Maine Lobster Salad with candied grapefruit, rémoulade blanc, pickled baby fennel and Bibb lettuce. And petite mint is used in a small plate of Sea Scallop Carpaccio with cucumber, sorghum popcorn and winter radish.

“I always have mint on my menu somewhere,” said Easy Bistro chef de cuisine Peter Barlow. “It’s very versatile. They all work in different ways and they all taste different.”

Also using pineapple mint is Michael Kornick, chef and owner of MK in Chicago. Kornick serves a late summer/early fall tomato salad made with local heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, dried cured olives and a buttermilk crisp topped with pineapple mint.

At Tulio in Seattle, chef Water Pisano serves lamb sirloin with mint syrup and mint and basil yogurt, a riff on the old-fashioned fine-dining dish of rack of lamb with mint jelly.

“That was the traditional dish that inspired me, but I wanted to update it with the fresh mint, the sweetness of basil and the tartness of Greek yogurt,” Pisano said. “I like the brightness and freshness it instantly gives to a dish. Reminds me of great Mediterranean, Greek and Italian flavors.”

Pisano’s modern take starts with mint and basil yogurt on the plate, followed by fregula sarda pasta with Castelvetrano olives and currant, topped with sliced lamb sirloin (which has been dry rubbed and roasted), and finished with a drizzle of strained mint syrup. Though the dish has been on the menu a few years, Pisano says it sells too well to remove.

At Tre Enoteca, a Tuscan-inspired spot in San Antonio, Texas, executive chef and owner Jason Dady uses mint as a finisher to add “fresh and vibrant flavor” to two side dishes: pan-roasted Brussels sprouts with dates and preserved lemon, and Mint and Mascarpone Mashers with fried egg.

And chef Dave Becker of Juniper in Wellesley, Mass., is currently serving classic fried calamari with mint yogurt.

“We were after the richness of a tartar sauce but wanted to add something a little different,” Becker said. “Something that made people pause after they tasted it. By adding mint you can take a dish that is heavy and make it lighter.”

Does color matter?

Does color matter?

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Perhaps my favorite homemade jelly was made from Queen Ann’s lace. I love the novelty … the “wow” factor. I remember a soft floral flavor, the profile one associates with German-style wines. Trouble was, no one ate it. I did for a bit, but it lost its appeal.

I blame that on merchandising; specifically, its colorless appearance. People are attracted to bright colors, and that’s especially important in food. But, not just any color, the colors we associate with the food. For example, ketchup is red like tomatoes. It was a horrible fail when Heinz introduced blue and green ketchup in 2003. Too unnatural.

So what color would we perceive at “natural” for Queen Ann’s Lace jelly? I guess, if I had to choose, I might try a golden yellow much like white-grape jelly. That way it communicates what it is, while adding appeal.

Mint jellyBut, what about mint jelly. On the grocery store shelf it’s Kelly green. In its raw, homemade form it’s yellow. Maybe if you squint you can imagine green?

So, what’s with the bright green color at retail? We associate the color of mint leaves with the color of the herb, and thus the color of the jelly. Hence, commercial mint jelly is green.

As a purist, that leaves me with a dilemma: To color or not to color? I want natural and I want appealing. Can I have both?

A google search on the web, scares me that any/all(?) food coloring causes misbehavior in children and potential for cancer in everyone. Because of that, often undocumented, and possible fear-mongering, many a mommy blogger has directions for homemade, even organic, food dye. But, spinach whizzed in a blender is outside the chemistry of my jelly recipes.

When I surfed onto the site of the slightly alarmist Center of Science in the Public Interest I found a report on food colors. This study seemed to identify green food coloring as among the most benign in a small scale experiment on mice.

Laura

Laura Dobson — master gardener, CSA coordinator, local food advocate — always has dirt under her nails.

I consulted my friend Laura Dobson of Virginia. A certified Master Gardener,  and food purist, she says:

“I would not add food coloring to anything. Period. I don’t care what color something is, even if it looks unappetizing. To me, things that are psychedelic colors have become unappetizing, such as neon orange Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, those frou-frou drinks in all colors of the rainbow or even Gatorade which people actually think is good for them. Ick. There are natural food colorings available, so if you really want to color your mint jelly, then I’d suggest using those.”

To color or not to color? What would you do?