Photograph by Wee Keat Chin
The sun-worshipping Aztecs of Peru decorated their temples with wrought-gold sunflowers and crowned their priestesses with sunflowers.
Introduced into Europe by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, sunflowers are now extensively grown for oils and for ornamental value.
Little gets wasted; the stems yield a paper-making fibre, the seeds produce a low-cholesterol oil, and the leaves are used for herbal tobaccos and cattle fodder.
The growing plant is an excellent soil improver, and is also effective in draining water-logged soils.
Bees get wax and nectar from the flowers, which also yield a yellow dye.
Medicinal: The seeds have diuretic and expectorant properties and have been used to treat coughs, colds and bronchitis.
Culinary: The seeds are high in protein, minerals and vitamins and can be eaten fresh or used as a flour.
Easy to grow, especially in manure-rich soil and with plenty of sun and water.
Harvesting & storage: The seeds are ripe when the flowerheads droop. Cut off heads and leave to dry. When dry the seeds will easily fall out. Store in cool, dry place until needed.
June 6, 2008 2 Comments
Our friends at Knocklofty Press have released the first in a new series of eBooks about herbs.
Kitchen Quartet #1 tells you all you need to know about growing and using coriander, basil, dill and oregano, as well as some of the fascinating folk wisdom and myth that has collected around these important food plants.
It includes botanical information, recipes and advice on cultivating and preserving the herbs in an attractive, easy to read format.
Read it on screen or print it for your kitchen and garden libraries.
Download it now for just $9.95.
June 4, 2008 No Comments
Matthias Grünewald’s famous painting depicting St Anthony’s agony
The ultimate cure-all of all time must be Galen’s Theriac — a true witches’ brew concocted by Roman herbalist Galen (130-200ad). Besides its opium base, it contained more than 70 ingredients, including dozens of herbs, minerals, bits of animal flesh, honey and wine.
The blender first had to compound sub-recipes, then mix them together. Even then, the mixture was expected to mature for at least 40 days—or longer!
The curious mixture survived for many centuries and the Elizabethan herbalist John Evelyn reported a ceremonial compounding of Theriac he saw in Venice in 1645.
Not all brews were as dramatic, and some of the most effective herbal medicines are known as “simples”, so-called because they feature a single herb.
Simple cause of epidemic
A fungal “simple” was the infamous cause of 600 years of epidemics of St Anthony’s Fire. In its most common form of the “fire”, the victim suffered sharp, firelike pain in the joints, which would eventually turn gangrenous.
Delirium, hallucinations and death, were common. It was named after St Anthony, the saint who protects against fire, epilepsy and infection. A religious hermit, he lived in Egypt, where he died in 356ad.
During the Crusades his remains were moved from Egypt to Dauphiné, France, the site of the first epidemic in 1039 of what was to become known as St Anthony’s Fire.
It was finally isolated in 1676 when millers discovered it was a fungus called ergot often infecting rye grain. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a synthetic derivative of ergot.
May 23, 2008 No Comments
For maximum flavour in herb and spice salts, use only sea salt as a base — it has the finest flavour, and is without the additives of commercial salt.
To mix your own herb and spice salts grind together sea salt and aromatic seeds such as celery, fennel, lovage or cumin.
A basic recipe is 500g of sea salt ground with 30g each of black peppercorns and coriander seeds and 7g each of bay leaves, cloves and dried basil.
Store in an airtight jar.
Herb pepper is a subtle seasoning with many uses.
Mix together 30g each of black and white peppercorns, 7g each of dried and powdered garden thyme, summer or winter savoury and marjoram, and a pinch of dried, powdered rosemary.
May 14, 2008 No Comments
They were once known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World — a manufactured mountain towering above the Babylonian plains, build by King Nebuchadnezzar II for his favourite wife, who was homesick for trees and mountains on the featureless Mesopotamian landscape, in what is now Iraq.
The Hanging Gardens were terraced roof gardens, built over a massive arching stone foundation and huge storage rooms.
The roofs were waterproofed with layers of bitumen, reeds, bricks and lead, and enough soil was added to suit trees. Deep wells supplied water to the gardens by means of a hydraulic machine.
Herbs would have been a popular ingredient in the famous gardens, as Babylonian records of the day show that the citizens had thyme, coriander, saffron, anise, poppy, mandrake, rosemary and hemp, as well as ornamentals such as roses, lupins and anemones.
There were probably many more exotic plants in the gardens as Iraq was on the classic Silk Road between East and West. In the millenia before Christ, the Arabs took full advantage of their location between the spice-producing eastern countries and the spice-consuming Western countries, to establish a virtual monopoly on trade.
However, in about 40ad, the secret of the wind systems over the Indian Oceans was unlocked by a Greek merchant named Hippalis. He observed that twice a year the prevailing winds — the monsoons — changed direction.
The Romans soon took advantage of this to establish a regular sea route to the East from Egypt, virtually killing the overland route in the process.
May 9, 2008 No Comments
Photograph by Amberdc
By one definition a herb is “a useful plant.” These “uses” can be culinary, medicinal, cosmetic and even poisonous — hopefully only for garden pests and insects..
The herb enthusiast could probably find every plant useful in some form or other. I like to constrain herbs to that collection of plants that are “life-enhancing” — those delightful plants we use to enhance our cooking, the simple plants that resolve a multitude of common ills, the fragrant plants that perfume our day to day lifes, and the curious group of plants that provide us with dyes, soaps, resins, gums, insecticides and pesticides.
It is a long list, and provides a lifetime of study for the enthusiast.
While not providing major plant products — timber, staple foods (grains and rice) or textiles — and seldom life-supporting, herbs quietly enrich our daily lives. Imagine cooking without herbs, for example?
The history of herbs stretches back through time ever since man (and woman) first harvested wild plants for food, medicine and creature comfort, and continued as they learned to farm plants.
Today our knowledge of herbs is enjoying a resurgence as modern scientific research into their nutritional and health benefits continues to support historical reputations.
May 2, 2008 No Comments
Photography by Dan Zen
Yarrow has always been considered a plant of great power—and was used by the Chinese as a herb of divination.
In fact, the I Ching (The Book of Changes) is also know as The Yarrow Stalk Oracle.
Its name is said to derive from Achilles who was reputed to have used it to staunch the bleeding wounds of his soldiers.
Medicinal: Yarrow is a wound herb, astringent and healing, and rich in vitamins and minerals. Bruised, fresh leaves bound to cuts help speed up healing. It is anti-spasmodic, anti-imflammatory, anti-flatulent and a tonic. It is also effective in lowering blood pressure, relaxing spasms, and arresting haemorrhage. A tea restores lost appetite and promotes perspiration during colds and fevers.
Culinary: Finely-chopped leaves added to a salad or sandwiches add a pleasantly sharp taste.
Garden: In the garden, yarrow is said to increase the health of nearby plants. It is also a good compost activator, and its flowers attract many beneficial insects, including ladybirds and parasitic wasps that prey on garden pests, in particular aphids.
A tough adaptable plant that survives in most climates as a perennial weed, it is easy to grow from seed or root.
Divide the roots of mature plants in early spring or autumn.
It can be invasive. Modern cultivars produce fine-coloured flowers on the end of stems.
Harvesting & storage: Harvest leafy stems and flowers on a dry morning when the plants are in the early stages of bloom. Hang upside down in a dark, dry and airy space. To store for teas, wait until the s tems are dry and crumble stem, leaves and flowers and store in airtight jars.
April 24, 2008 No Comments