WHAT ARE CULINARY HERBS
It may be said that sweet or culinary herbs are those annual, biennial or perennial plants whose green parts, tender roots or ripe seeds have an aromatic flavor and fragrance. The flavor and fragrance is due either to a volatile oil or to other chemically named substances peculiar to the individual species. Since many of them have pleasing odors, they have been called sweet, and since they have been long used in cookery to add their characteristic flavors to soups, stews, dressings, sauces and salads, they are popularly called culinary. This last designation is less happy than the former, since many other herbs, such as cabbage, spinach, kale, dandelion and collards, are also culinary herbs. These vegetables are, however, probably more widely known as potherbs or greens.
MARKET DEMAND AND VALUE
It is interesting to note that it is difficult to obtain the annual crops of individual herbs, the acreage devoted to each, the average cost, yield and profit an acre, etc. The only way of determining the approximate standing of the various species is the apparent demand for each in the large markets and stores.
Unquestionably the greatest call is for parsley, which is used in restaurants and hotels more extensively as a garnish than any other herb. In this capacity it ranks about equal with watercress and lettuce, which both find their chief uses as salads.
CULINARY HERBS COMPARISON AND RATE OF DEMAND
As a flavoring agent, parsley is probably less used than sage, but more than any of the other herbs. It is chiefly employed in dressings with mild meats such as chicken, turkey, venison, veal, with baked fish; and for soups, stews, and sauces, especially those used with boiled meats, fish and fricassees of the meats mentioned. Thus, it has a wider application than any other of the culinary herbs.
Sage, which is a strongly flavored plant, is used chiefly with such fat meats as pork, goose, duck, and various kinds of game. Large quantities are mixed with sausage meat and, in some countries, with certain kinds of cheese. Throughout the United States, it is probably the most frequently called into requisition of all herbs, probably outranking any two of the others, with the exception of parsley.
Thyme and savory stand about equal, and are chiefly used like parsley, though both, especially the former, are used in certain kinds of sausage. Marjoram, which is similarly employed, comes next, then follow balm, fennel, and basil.
CLASSIFICATION OF CULINARY HERBS
Culinary herbs may be divided into three groups; those whose foliage furnishes the flavor, those whose seed is used and those few whose roots are prepared. In the kitchen, foliage herbs are employed either green or as decoctions or dried, each way with its special advocates, advantages and applications.
Green herbs, if freshly and properly gathered, are richest in flavoring substances and when added to sauces, fricassees, stews, etc., reveal their freshness by their particles as well as by their decidedly finer flavor.
In salads, they almost entirely supplant both the dried and the decocted herbs. Their fresh colors are pleasing to the eye and their crispness to the palate. Whereas the specks of the dried herbs would be objectionable, and both these and the decoctions impart a somewhat inferior flavor to such dishes.
Since herbs cannot, however, always be obtained throughout the year, unless they are grown in window boxes, they are infused or dried. Both infusing and drying are similar processes in themselves, but for best results they are dependent upon the observance of a few simple rules.
LOCATION OF CULINARY HERB GARDEN
In general, the most favorable exposure for a herb garden is toward the south, but lacking such an exposure should not deter one from planting herbs on a northern slope if this be the only site available. Indeed, such sites often prove remarkably good if other conditions are propitious and proper attention is given the plants. Similarly, a smooth, gently sloping surface is especially desirable. But even in gardens in which the ground is almost billowy the gardener may often take advantage of the irregularities by planting the moisture-loving plants in the hollows and those that like dry situations upon the ridges. Nothing like turning disadvantages to account!
No matter what the nature of the surface and the exposure, it is always advisable to give the herbs the most sunny spots in the garden, places where shade from trees, barns, other buildings and from fences cannot reach them. This is suggested because the development of the oils, upon which the flavoring of most of the herbs mainly depends, is best in full sunshine and the plants have more substance than when grown in the shade.
LIST OF SOME CULINARY HERBS: DESCRIPTION AND USES
- Balm: a perennial herb of the natural order Labiatæ. The popular name is a contraction of balsam, the plant, having formerly been considered a specific for a host of ailments.
Uses: The foliage is widely used for flavoring soups, stews, sauces, and dressings, and, when fresh, to a small extent with salads. Otto or oil of balm, obtained by aqueous distillation from the “hay,” is a pale yellow, essential and volatile oil highly prized in perfumery for its lemon-like odor, and is extensively employed for flavoring various beverages.
- Basil: an annual herb of the order Labiatæ.
Uses: Basil is one of the most popular herbs in the French cuisine. Basil is especially relished in mock turtle soup, which, when correctly made, derives its peculiar taste chiefly from the clove-like flavor of basil. In other highly seasoned dishes, such as stews and dressings, basil is also highly prized. It is less used in salads. A golden yellow essential oil, which reddens with age, is extracted from the leaves for uses in perfumery more than in the kitchen.
- Thyme: a very diminutive perennial shrub, of the natural order Labiatæ.
Uses: The green parts, either fresh, dried or in decoction, are used very extensively for flavoring soups, gravies, stews, sauces, forcemeats, sausages, dressings, etc. For drying, the tender stems are gathered after the dew is off and exposed to warm air in the shade. When crisp they are rubbed, the trash removed and the powder placed in stoppered bottles or tins. All parts of the plant are fragrant because of the volatile oil, which is commercially distilled mainly in France. About one per cent of the green parts is oil, which after distillation is at first a reddish-brown fluid. It loses its color on redistillation and becomes slightly less fragrant. Both grades of oil are used commercially in perfumery. In the oil are also crystals (thymol), which resemble camphor and because of their pleasant odor are used as a disinfectant where the strong-smelling carbolic acid would be objectionable.
- Rosemary:As its generic name implies, rosemary is a native of sea-coasts, “rose” coming from Ros, dew, and “Mary” from marinus, ocean.
Uses:The tender leaves and stems and the flowers of Rosemary are used for flavoring stews,fish and meat sauces, but are not widely popular in America. Our foreign-born population, however, uses it somewhat. In France, large quantities, both cultivated and wild, are used for distilling the oil of rosemary, a colorless or yellowish liquid suggesting camphor, but even more pleasant. This oil is extensively used in perfuming soaps, but more especially in the manufacture of eau de cologne, Hungary water and other perfumes.
- Parsley:a hardy biennial herb of the natural order Umbelliferæ, native to Mediterranean shores, and cultivated for at least 2,000 years.
Uses: The Germans use both roots and tops for cooking; the former as a boiled vegetable, the latter as a potherb. In English cookery parsley leaves are more extensively used for seasoning fricassees and dressings for mild meats, such as chicken and veal, than perhaps anything else. American cookery however, parsley is also popular for this purpose, but is most extensively used as a garnish. Also in many countries, the green leaves are mixed with salads to add flavor. Often, especially among the Germans, the minced green leaves are mixed with other vegetables just before being served.