Herbs, Spices & Seeds
Similar to spices, aromatic culinary herbs are used in the kitchen in small amounts to lend flavor, rather than substance, to recipes. They can be perennials such as mints (Mentha), sage (Salvia Officinalis) and lavender (Lavandula), biennials such as parsley (Petroselinum Crispum) and angelica (Angelica), or annuals, such as basil (Ocimum Basilicum) and dill (Anethum Graveolens).
Some aromatic herbs can actually grow as shrubs or bushes, such as rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis) or trees, such as bay laurel (Laurus Nobilis), thus are not strictly botanical herbs, which by definition cannot be woody plants. Some other plants are used both as aromatic herbs and spices, such as mustard leaves and mustard seeds, or dill weed and dill seeds. Still other herbs, such as oregano (Origanum Vulgare) and mint, are used for culinary as well as medicinal purposes.
This list is far from being complete or exhaustive, it rather includes common herbs and seeds that are widely used in the kitchen and are mentioned in some recipes published on this web site.
Anise is an herbaceous, or a non-woody annual plant member of the Apiaceae family, which includes carrot, parsley, dill, fennel, coriander, cumin and caraway. The seeds have been used for their medicinal properties from time immemorial, and there is evidence that the Egyptians used anise back in 1500 BC, while the Romans made anise-flavored cakes to help them digest their famous bacchanals, or heavy meals.
The flavor of anise is reminiscent of that of liquorice, fennel and tarragon. Because of its strong flavor, anise oil is mixed with wine to make anisette liqueur. In Turkey it is also found in the traditional alcoholic beverage, raki, while the Greek make ouzo with it, another traditional alcoholic beverage.
It was known to American Natives as 'Tut-te-See-Hau', which means '‘it expels the wind', because of its carminative properties.
- Anise seeds are useful in treating digestion related disorders, as they help the digestive process, while they improve the appetite as well.
- Anise seeds stimulate proper bowel movements, and help with nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, gastritis and spasmodic flatulence.
- Anise seeds have expectorant properties, help loosen phlegm, and provide relief from congestion and cough due to cold or allergies. Anise seeds are in fact found as one of the main ingredients in numerous cough medicines.
- Anise seeds are helpful in treating asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and sinusitis.
- Anise seeds are effective breath freshener and has anti microbial and antibacterial properties as well, thus steeped in boiling water provide a natural, healthful, home made mouthwash. In fact, anise seeds are found in various over-the-counter mouthwash and toothpaste products.
- Anise seeds contain anethole, an aromatic compound which helps increasing prolactin levels in the body, thus stimulating milk production in breast-feeding mothers. A cup of anise tea every day, made with 2 Tsp. of crushed seeds steeped in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes, is believed to be helpful to women who want to improve their milk supply.
- The mild estrogenic properties of the compounds dianethole and photoanethole, which are found in anise as well, has been proved to provide relieve for menopausal symptoms. Anise is also used to promote the onset of menstruation, to ease cramps and facilitates child birth.
- Anise is among the best natural antiseptics and may be used to cure various skin disorders and to help destroy germs in hard-to-heal wounds.
- Anise seeds are also popular in curing acute abdominal pain and hiccups in babies.
Basil is a tender, low-growing, herb of the Lamiaceae (mints) family. It is originally native to Iran, India and other warm, tropical parts of Asia, where it has been cultivated for over 5,000 years.
Today, in addition to being an important ingredient in various Southeast Asian traditional and modern cuisines, including those of Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, basil is featured prominently in Italian cuisine also.
The leaves and flowers have a strong, pungent, sweet smell. The flavor, which is more or less strong depending on the variety, it is somewhat reminiscent of anise. The variety used in Italian cuisine is generally known as sweet basil, while the common Asian varieties are Thai basil, lemon basil and holy basil.
Despite the fact that most common types of basil are annuals, some varieties which grow in hot tropical climates, such as the African Blue and Holy Thai basil, are perennial.
The word basil derives from the Greek word βασιλεùς (basileus), which means 'king', as the legend tells that basil grew on the spot where Saint Constantine and his daughter, Helen, discovered the Holy Cross. The Oxford English Dictionary states that basil may have been used in "some royal unguent, bath, or medicine", while from a culinary point of view, basil is considered the 'king of herbs' by many chefs and food writers.
Fresh basil leaves are generally used in cooked recipes, adding them at the last moment, as cooking would quickly destroys the flavor. Fresh basil keeps for about one week in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer after it has been blanched briefly in boiling water. Dried basil loses most of its flavor, and what's left is just a pale trace of the strong aroma which identifies the fresh herb.
Basil is the main ingredient in the traditional Italian pesto alla Genovese (Genoa style pesto,) a flavorful, green looking, pasta sauce and spread which also includes ground pine nuts and Parmigiano Reggiano, or Pecorino cheese, salt and extra virgin olive oil. The most common Mediterranean cultivars are the 'Genovese' (from Genoa), 'Purple Ruffles', 'Mammoth', 'Cinnamon', 'Lemon', 'Globe', and 'African Blue'.
In Asia, the Chinese use fresh or dried basil in various recipes, in Taiwan fresh basil leaves are added to traditional thick soups, or they serve it deep-fried with fried chicken.
Basil is also steeped in cream or milk to create an interesting ice cream or chocolate flavor, and sometimes it is used in fruit jams and sauces, particularly with strawberries, raspberries, and dark-colored plums. Soaked in water, the seeds of various basil cultivars become gelatinous and are used in Asian drinks and desserts, such as falooda and sharbat.
The seeds, known with various names, such as sabza, subza, takmaria, tukmaria, tukhamaria, falooda, selasih (Malay/Indonesian), and hôt é (Vietnamese), are used in traditional Ayurveda medicinal system in India, as well as in Siddha medicine, the traditional Tamil system of medicine.
In particular, the tulsi, or holy basil, is believed to have various healing powers and to be effective in particular for the treatment of:
- Fever and common cold
- Sore throat
- Respiratory disorders
- Kidney stones
- Heart disorders
- Mouth infection
- Insect bites
- Skin disorders
- Tooth disorders
- Eye problems.
First of all, eating Chili Pepper helps keep weight under control and is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin C.
The spicy ingredient in chili peppers, capsaicin, triggers fluid formation in the air passages of the lungs and upper respiratory system, thus mitigating the symptoms of asthma, chronic bronchitis, sinusitis and congestion, by washing away the irritants. Capsaicin also triggers the release of endorphins, which are endogenous painkillers produced by the brain, which help in lowering blood pressure and pain mitigation.
In addition, capsaicin reduces the stickiness of blood platelets, acting as an anticoagulant and helping cardiovascular health. According to a research study published in the September 15, 2009 issue of the Circulation Journals, there is new medical evidence that capsaicin can dramatically reduce damage from heart attacks. The researchers applied capsaicin on the abdominal skin of mice before cutting off blood supply to their coronary (heart) arteries for 45 minutes, essentially mimicking a heart attack. In 24 hours these mice lost only 15% heart cells compared to the amount lost by the control mice which had received a placebo gel application before the same procedure. The researchers conclude that capsaicin applied to the abdominal skin helps the heart recovery by stimulating the nerves connected to the spinal cord, which in turn energize the survival-oriented nerves in the heart muscle.
Add dried chili pepper, either whole or crushed, to taste to extra virgin olive oil and let it spice up. I always have two or three different bottles brewing and refill the empty bottle with fresh olive oil after using it. After a couple of refills use the chili to spice up vegetarian dishes and stews.
Fennel seeds are very effective against digestive problems, and may be chewed or drunk in a tea-like infusion for beneficial effects upon the stomach. In India, fennel seeds are routinely chewed during or after meals to aid in digestion as a herbal mouth freshener. Fennel seeds often provide quick and effective relief from many digestive disorders. In addition, they are very rich in minerals including magnesium and help overcome gas, cramps, acid indigestion, and many other digestive tract problems.
Two of the main active constituents found in these seeds, which amazingly have a licorice-like flavor, are Anethol and Fenchone. While Anethol may inhibit spasms in smooth muscles, such as those in the intestinal tract, Fenchone may be responsible for the medicinal properties associated with fresh fennel, which, according to recent studies, can increase the production of bile and may also have diuretic, pain-reducing and anti-microbial properties.
To season your extra virgin olive oil, add one Tbs. of seeds, either salted or au naturel, into a 250-milliliter bottle and fill it with EVOO.
Lemon mint, known also as purple horse mint or lemon bee balm, is an aromatic winter annual with unusual, tuft-like, lavender- to pink-colored inflorescence, with a citrus smell. It is part of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and when crushed, the scent of the leaves is reminiscent of the fruit of the actual lemon plant, while late in the season the scent is reminiscent of that of oregano. The flowers are a magnet for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Several stems grow from the base and are lined with pairs of lance-shaped leaves. It is very easy to grow and tends to expand into large patches, especially if wells watered.
Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus named the genus Monarda in honor of a 16th century Spanish physician and botanist, Nicolas Bautista Monardes (1493-1588) who, though he never had the opportunity to visit the Americas, was able to study medicinal plants from the New World while in his own country, since Spain had control of the navigation and commerce from the New World.
Lemon mint is used to make herbal tea. I use it, either fresh when in season or dried in winter, to flavor a variety of dishes, in addition to flavor EVOO and Grappa. To do this, simply insert one or more dried stems or dried leaves and flowers of lemon mint into a sterilized glass bottle, then fill with either EVOO or Grappa. The flavor will be noticeable after about two weeks, but of course, it increases the longer it is let to steep.
In addition to being commonly used in the kitchen for its pleasant flavor, oregano has been used as a drug and herbal remedy since the time of the ancient Greeks, who made compresses from the leaves to relieve sores and aching muscles. To this day, traditional Chinese doctors prescribe oregano for relief of fever, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, and itchy skin.
The active constituents are found in its leaves, and are thymol and carvacrol, which are found in thyme as well. According to researchers, both compounds help loosen phlegm in the lungs and relieve spasms in the bronchial passages. In fact, many popular cough remedies, including cough drops and skin rubs such as Vicks VapoRub, contain thymol. Harvested during the flowering season and dried on the field or under a roof, oregano has bright purple flowers and an aromatic scent. Its medicinal value lies in the oil.
Oregano is used as an herbal remedy for respiratory problems such as coughs and bronchitis, even though there is no scientific proof of its effectiveness with these conditions. Prepared as herbal tea, oregano has been used to relieve bloating, gas, urinary tract problems, painful menstruation, rheumatoid arthritis, swollen glands, and lack of perspiration. Sweetened oregano tea may be drunk as needed, while unsweetened, it may be used as a gargle or mouthwash.
It is easily grown in gardens or in pots inside the house.
It can be used to season extra virgin olive oil for added flavor. To do this, simply insert one or more fresh or dried stems, or crushed dried leaves of oregano into a clean, sterilized glass bottle, the fill with EVOO. The flavor will be noticeable after about two weeks, but of course, it increases the longer it is let to steep. When using fresh oregano, make sure that all the herb is covered by oil at all time, plus discard the herb once beginning to use the oil. Experiment with doses and duration to find your own taste. Should the flavor be to strong for you, just dilute the flavored EVOO with regular extra virgin olive oil.
First cultivated in London in 1750, peppermint has long been known for its effectiveness for indigestion, by calming the muscles of the digestive tract to alleviate intestinal gas and cramping (Dr. Tieraona Low Dog.)
In addition, it tastes great and, brewed in tea, it helps thin mucus, loosen phlegm, and soothe sore throats. Applied topically it takes the itch out of bug bites, eases muscle cramps, arthritis and headaches.
It is easily grown in gardens or in pots and leave snipping can begin two or three weeks after plant is established. Needs plenty of water. (Tip: plant under hose faucet.)
Peppermint is used to make herbal tea. I use it, either fresh when in season or dried in winter, to flavor a variety of dishes, in addition to flavor EVOO and Grappa. To do this, simply insert one or more dried stems or dried leaves of peppermint into one sterilized glass bottle, then fill with either EVOO or Grappa. The flavor will be noticeable after about two weeks, but of course, it increases the longer it is let to steep.
The pomegranate, which originated in the Iranian Plateau and the Himalayas of Northern India, has been cultivated in the Caucasus since ancient times. Today, it is widely cultivated in various parts of the world, including among others Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, China, Burma, Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean area, and Tropical Africa, as well as Latin America and California, where it was imported by Spanish settlers in the mid 1700s. Today, pomegranates are cultivated in California and Arizona to produce juice and have become more popular than ever.
The flavor of the watery, tasty arils, or the juicy seeds found inside the pomegranate differs depending on the subspecies of plant and the ripeness of the fruit. In fact, the flavor of pomegranate juice ranges from very sweet to sour, though most fruit tends to be in the mellow middle of the flavor range, with more or less intense sour notes due to the acidic tannins found in the juice of the arils.
In the kitchens of the world the pomegranate arils are used, either fresh or dried, in various recipes, from salads to soups , to sauces, spices, syrups, cocktails, and of course, juices and soft drinks. Pomegranate juice, a traditional popular drink in Persian and Indian cuisines, became widely available in the United States and Canada at the beginning of the millennium. The success of the product on the American market is due in part to the fact that one 100 milliliters serving (3.4 oz., or about seven Tbs.) of pure pomegranate juice provides about the 16% of an adult's daily vitamin C requirement, in addition to being a good source of vitamin B5, potassium and polyphenols, such as tannins and flavonoids.
Both preliminary lab research and human pilot studies found that the pomegranate juice may be effective in reducing risk factors in arteriosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases, affecting LDL oxidation, macrophage oxidative status, and foam cell formation. A different study of hypertensive patients showed that the consumption of pomegranate juice for a period of two weeks reduced systolic blood pressure in the patients by inhibiting the serum angiotensin-converting enzyme.
Pomegranate juice may also inhibit viral infections and pomegranate extracts have antibacterial effects against dental plaque. Test tube experiments proved that extracts of the fruit can inhibit the proliferation of human breast cancer cells, however there is no proof that eating pomegranates has any effect on the development of breast cancer. So far the research is preliminary and far from possibly acquiring approval for health claims printed on product labels, however US produced and/or distributed pomegranate juice have quoted liberally from research results promoting in particular the supposed antioxidant health benefits.
In any case the research continues seriously, so much so that in 2010, the US National Institutes of Health registered 23 clinical trials to study the effects of pomegranate extracts or juice consumption on various diseases including prostate cancer, prostatic hyperplasia, diabetes, lymphoma, rhinovirus infection, common cold, oxidative stress in diabetic hemodialysis, arteriosclerosis, coronary artery disease, infant brain injury, and hemodialysis for kidney disease. More about the perceived and possible health benefit of pomegranate
Infusing EVOO and Grappa, or other clear spirit
To flavor clear liquors such as grappa, vodka or gin with pomegranate, insert the arils of one ripe fruit in a 75 centiliter bottle and fill with the liquor. Every two to three weeks decant the spirit into another bottle containing the arils of another pomegranate. Repeat three or four times. The spirit starts out transparent as water, but the longer the arils have been in the infusion, the deeper the pink-orangy color of the liquid becomes, and the flavor more intense, as the liquor acquires flavor from the fruit, and possibly some of the supposed healthful characteristics. Leave the last set of arils in infusion until liquor has been drunk.
To infuse extra virgin olive oil, insert the ripe arils into a glass bottle, add extra virgin olive oil and let to rest for two months or longer.,
The use of rosemary as a memory enhancer dates back to the early western civilization, in fact, Greek students used to wear rosemary garlands around their heads, while in ancient Rome they massaged their temples and foreheads prior to exams.
According to botanist, Dr. Jim Duke, the herb may also reduce joint pain. The topical ointment is obtained by soaking rosemary needles in almond oils for two weeks.
To flavor EVOO, insert lose needles or stems of fresh rosemary into a glass bottle sterilized in advance by washing it in hot water and drying it in hot oven and add oil. Flavor will be noticeable after a couple of weeks. The more rosemary twigs are added, the stronger the flavor of the condiment. You need to experiment to find your own taste. Should the flavor be to strong, transfer some EVOO in a different container and add fresh oil to the original bottle.
The most common variety of sage was first found in the area surrounding the Mediterranean sea, but currently it is found in North America as well. For thousands of years sage has been used for a variety of culinary and medicinal purposes.
In medicine it has been used in connection with sprains, swelling, ulcers, and bleeding.
Research conducted in 2009 at the Allergy Clinic in Landquart, Switzerland, found that combined with echinacea, sage is as effective as the painkiller lidocaine in relieving sore throat pain, confirming the traditional use of sage tea for sore throats and coughs. Herbalists have also used this herb for rheumatism, menstrual bleeding, strengthening the nervous system, improving memory, and sharpening the senses.
Other studies show that the herb's bacteria-figthing qualities makes it a potent breath freshener.
Sage is best started from a plant since it can take up to one year to establish itself.
To flavor EVOO, insert either loose fresh leaves, or tips including flowers, when the plant is in bloom, in a glass bottle sterilized in advance by washing it in hot water and drying in a hot oven, then adding oil. Flavor will be noticeable after a couple of weeks. As for the other herbs, the more leaves are added the stronger the flavor of the condiment. Please experiment to find your own taste. Should the flavor be too strong, transfer some EVOO into a different container and add fresh oil to the original bottle.