Saturday, September 6, 2008

Borage

Borage is a coarse, hardy, annual herb of the natural order Boraginaceæ. Its popular name, derived from the generic, is supposed by some to have come from a corruption of cor, the heart, and ago, to affect, because of its former use as a cordial or heart-fortifying medicine. Courage is from the same source. The Standard Dictionary, however, points to burrago, rough, and relates it indirectly by cross references to birrus, a thick, coarse woolen cloth worn by the poor during the thirteenth century. The roughness of the full-grown leaves suggests flannel. Whichever derivation be correct, each is interesting as implying qualities, intrinsic or attributed, to the plant.

The specific name indicates its obsolete use in medicine. It is one of the numerous plants which have shaken off the superstitions which a credulous populace wreathed around them. Almost none but the least enlightened people now attribute any medicinal virtues whatever to it.

The plant is said to come originally from Aleppo, but for centuries has been considered a native of Mediterranean Europe and Africa, whence it has become naturalized throughout the world by Europeans, who grew it probably more for medicinal than for culinary purposes. According to Ainslie, it was among the species listed by Peter Martyr as planted on Isabella Island by Columbus's companions. The probability is that it was also brought to America by the colonists during Queen Elizabeth's time. It has been listed in American seedsmen's catalogues since 1806, but the demand has always been small and the extent to which it is cultivated very limited.

Borage is of somewhat spreading habit, branchy, about 20 inches tall. Its oval or oblong-lanceolate leaves and other green parts are covered with whitish, rather sharp, spreading hairs. The flowers, generally blue, sometimes pink, violet-red, or white, are loosely racemed at the extremities of the branches and main stems.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Herb Garden: Parsley as a Garnish

As garnishes several of the culinary herbs are especially valuable. This is particularly true of parsley, which is probably more widely used than any other plant, its only close rivals being watercress and lettuce, which, however, are generally inferior to it in delicacy of tint and form of foliage, the two cardinal virtues of a garnish.

Parsley varieties belong to three principal groups, based upon the form of the foliage: (1) Plain varieties, in which the leaves are nearly as they are in nature; (2) moss-curled varieties in which they are curiously and pleasingly contorted; and (3) fern leaved, in which the foliage is not curled, but much divided into threadlike parts.

The moss-curled varieties are far more popular than the other two groups put together and are the only ones used especially as garnishes with meat dishes in the hotels and restaurants of the large[Pg 31] cities. The plain-leaved sorts cannot be compared in any way except in flavor with the varieties of the other groups. But the fern-leaved kinds, which unfortunately have not become commercially well known, surpass even the finest varieties of the moss-curled group, not only in their exquisite and delicate form, but in their remarkably rich, dark-green coloring and blending of light and shade. But the mere fact that these varieties are not known in the cities should not preclude their popularity in suburban and town gardens and in the country, where every householder is monarch of his own soil and can satisfy very many æsthetic and gustatory desires without reference to market dictum, that bane alike of the market gardener and his customer.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Uses of Dill

The French use dill for flavoring preserves, cakes and pastry. For these purposes it is of too strong and pronounced a character to be relished by American palates. The seeds perhaps more often appear in soups, sauces and stews, but even here they are relished more by our European residents than by native Americans. Probably they are most used in pickles, especially in preserving cucumbers according to German recipes. Thousands of barrels of such pickles are sold annually, more especially in the larger cities and to the poorer people; but as this pickle is procurable at all delicatessen stores, it has gained great popularity among even the well-to-do. An oil is distilled from the seeds and used in perfuming soap. The young leaves are said to be used in pickles, soups and sauces, and even in salads. For the last purpose they are rather strong to suit most people, and for the others the seeds are far more popular.

Dill vinegar is a popular household condiment. It is made by soaking the seed in good vinegar for a few days before using. The quantity of ingredients to use is immaterial. Only a certain amount of the flavor can be dissolved by the vinegar, and as few samples of vinegar are alike, the quantities both to mix and of the decoction to use must be left to the housewife. This may be said, however, that after one lot of seed has been treated the vinegar may be poured off and the seeds steeped a second time to get a weaker infusion. The two infusions may then be mixed and kept in a dark cupboard for use as needed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dill

Dill, a hardy annual, native of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea regions, smaller than common fennel, which it somewhat resembles both in appearance and in the flavor of the green parts, which are, however, less agreeable.

In ancient times it was grown in Palestine. The word translated, "anise" in Matthew xxiii, 23, is said to have been "dill" in the original Greek. It was well known in Pliny's time, and is often discussed by writers in the middle ages. According to American writings, it has been grown in this country for more than 100 years and has become spontaneous in many places.

Ordinarily the plants grow 2 to 2½ feet tall. The glaucous, smooth, hollow, branching stems bear very threadlike leaves and in midsummer compound umbels with numerous yellow flowers, whose small petals are rolled inward. Very flat, pungent, bitter seeds are freely produced, and unless gathered early are sure to stock the garden with volunteer seedlings for the following year. Under fair storage conditions, the seeds continue viable for three years. They are rather light; a quart of them weighs about 11 ounces, and an ounce is said to contain over 25,000 seeds.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Drying Herbs

When only a small quantity of an herb is to be dried, the old plan of hanging loose bunches from the ceiling of a warm, dry attic or a kitchen will answer. Better, perhaps, is the use of trays covered with clean, stout manilla paper upon which thin layers of the leaves are spread. These are placed either in hot sunlight or in the warm kitchen where warm air circulates freely. They must be turned once a day until all the moisture has been evaporated from the leaves and the softer, more delicate parts have become crisp. Then they may be crunched and crumbled between the hands, the stalks and the hard parts rejected and the powder placed in air-tight glass or earthenware jars or metal cans, and stored in a cool place. If there be the slightest trace of moisture in the powder, it should be still further dried to insure against mold. Prior to any drying process the cut leaves and stems should be thoroughly washed, to get rid of any trace of dirt. Before being dried as noted above, the water should all be allowed to evaporate. Evaporation may be hastened by exposing the herbs to a breeze in a shallow, loose basket, a wire tray or upon a table. While damp there is little danger of their being blown away. As they dry, however, the current of air should be more gentle.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cultivation of Basil

Basil is propagated by seeds. Because these are very small, they are best sown in flats under glass, covered lightly with finely sifted soil and moistened by standing in a shallow pan of water until the surface shows a wet spot. When about an inch tall, the seedlings must be pricked out 2 inches apart each way in larger-sized flats. When 3 inches tall they will be large enough for the garden, where they should be set 1 foot asunder in rows 15 to 18 inches apart. Often the seed is sown in the mellow border as early in the spring as the ground can be worked. This method demands perhaps more attention than the former, because of weeds and because the rows cannot be easily seen. When transplanting, preference should be given to a sunny situation in a mellow, light, fertile, rather dry soil thoroughly well prepared and as free from weeds as possible. From the start the ground must be kept loose, open and clean. When the plants meet in the rows cultivation may stop.

First gatherings of foliage should begin by midsummer when the plants start to blossom. Then they may be cut to within a few inches of the ground. The stumps should develop a second and even a third crop if care is exercised to keep the surface clean and open. A little dressing of quickly available fertilizer applied at this time is helpful. For seed some of the best plants should be left uncut. The seed should ripen by mid-autumn.

For winter use plants may be transplanted from the garden, or seedlings may be started in September. The seeds should be sown two to the inch and the seedlings transplanted to pots or boxes. A handy pot is the 4-inch standard; this is large enough for one plant. In flats the plants should be 5 or 6 inches apart each way.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Basil

BasilBasil, an annual herb of the order Labiatæ. The popular name, derived from the specific, signifies royal or kingly, probably because of the plant's use in feasts. In France it is known as herb royale, royal herb. The generic name is derived from Oza, a Greek word signifying odor.

The plant is a native of tropical Asia, where for centuries, especially in India, it has been highly esteemed as a condiment. Probably the early Greek and Roman writers were well acquainted with it, but commentators are not decided. They suppose that the Okimon of Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Theophrastus is the same as Ocimum hortense of Columella and Varro.

The plant's introduction into England was about 1548, or perhaps a little earlier, but probably not prior to 1538, because Turner does not mention it in his "Libellus," published in that year. It seems to have grown rapidly in popularity, for in 1586 Lyte speaks of it as if well known. In America it has been cultivated somewhat for about a century partly because of its fragrant leaves which are employed in bouquets, but mainly for flavoring culinary concoctions. In Australia it is also more or less grown, and in countries where French commerce or other interests have penetrated it is well known.

There are several related species which, in America less than in Europe or the East, have attracted attention. The most important of these is dwarf or bush basil (O. minimum, Linn.), a small Chilian species also reported from Cochin China. It was introduced into cultivation in Europe in 1573. On account of its compact form it is popular in gardens as an edging as well as a culinary herb, for more than a century it has been grown in America. Sacred basil (O. sanctum), an oriental species, is cultivated near temples in India and its odoriferous oil extracted for religious uses. Formerly the common species was considered sacred by the Brahmins who used it especially in honor of Vishnu and in funeral rites. An African species, O. fruticosum, is highly valued at the Cape of Good Hope for its perfume.

From the small, fibrous roots the square stems stand erect about 1 foot tall. They are very branching and leafy. The leaves are green, except as noted below, ovate, pointed, opposite, somewhat toothed, rather succulent and highly fragrant. The little white flowers which appear in midsummer are racemed in leafy whorls, followed by small black fruits, popularly called seeds. These, like flaxseed, emit a mucilaginous substance when soaked in water. About 23,000 weigh an ounce, and 10 ounces fill a pint. Their vitality lasts about eight years.

The dwarf species is more compact, branching and dainty than the common species. It has three varieties; one with deep violet foliage and stems and lilac white flowers, and two with green leaves, one very dense and compact.

Anise

AniseAnise is an annual herb of the natural order Umbelliferæ. It is a native of southwestern Asia, northern Africa and south-eastern Europe, whence it has been introduced by man throughout the Mediterranean region, into Germany, and to some extent into other temperate regions of both hemispheres, but seems not to be known anywhere in the wild state or as an escape from gardens. To judge from its mention in the Scriptures (Matthew xxiii, 23), it was highly valued as a cultivated crop prior to our era, not only in Palestine, but elsewhere in the East. Many Greek and Roman authors, especially Dioscorides, Theophrastus, Pliny and Paladius, wrote more or less fully of its cultivation and uses.

From their days to the present it seems to have enjoyed general popularity. In the ninth century, Charlemagne commanded that it be grown upon the imperial farms; in the thirteenth, Albertus Magnus speaks highly of it; and since then many agricultural writers have devoted attention to it. But though it has been cultivated for at least two thousand years and is now extensively grown in Malta, Spain, southern France, Russia, Germany and India, which mainly supply the market, it seems not to have developed any improved varieties.

Its roots are white, spindle-shaped and rather fibrous; its stems about 18 inches tall, branchy, erect, slender, cylindrical; its root leaves lobed somewhat like those of celery; its stem leaves more and more finely cut toward the upper part of the stem, near the top of which they resemble fennel leaves in their finely divided segments; its flowers yellowish white, small, rather large, in loose umbels consisting of many umbellets; its fruits ("seeds") greenish-gray, small, ovoid or oblong in outline, longitudinally furrowed and ridged on the convex side, very aromatic, sweetish and pleasantly piquant.

Cultivation of Angelica

Since the seeds lose their vitality rapidly, rarely being viable after the first year, they should be sown as soon as ripe in late summer or early autumn, or not later than the following spring after having been kept during the winter in a cold storeroom. The soil should be moderately rich, rather light, deep, well drained, but moist and well supplied with humus. It should be deeply prepared and kept loose and open as long as tools can be used among the plants, which may be left to care for themselves as soon as they shade the ground well.

In the autumn, the seeds may be sown where the plants are to remain or preferably in a nursery bed, which usually does not need protection during the winter. In the spring a mild hotbed, a cold frame or a nursery bed in the garden may be used, according to the earliness of planting. Half an inch is deep enough to cover the seeds. The seedlings should be transplanted when still small for their first summer's growth, a space of about 18 inches being allowed between them. In the autumn they should be removed to permanent quarters, the plants being set 3 feet apart.

If well grown, the leaves may be cut for use during the summer after transplanting; the plants may not, however, produce seed until the following season. Unless seed is desired, the tops should be cut and destroyed at or before flowering time, because, if this be not done, the garden is apt to become overrun with angelica seedlings. If the seeds are wanted, they should be gathered and treated as indicated on page 28. After producing seed, the plants frequently die; but by cutting down the tops when the flower heads first appear, and thus preventing the formation of seed, the plants may continue for several years longer.

Angelica

Angelica is a biennial or perennial herb of the natural order Umbelliferæ, so called from its supposed medicinal qualities. It is believed to be a native of Syria, from whence it has spread to many cool European climates, especially Lapland and the Alps, where it has become naturalized.

Its roots are long, spindle-shaped, fleshy, and sometimes weigh three pounds; its stems stout, herbaceous, fluted, often more than 4 feet tall, and hollow; its leaves long-stalked, frequently 3 feet in length, reddish purple at the clasping bases, and composed, in the larger ones, of numerous small leaflets, in three principal groups, which are each subdivided into three lesser groups; its flowers yellowish or greenish, small and numerous, in large roundish umbels; its seeds pale yellow, membranous-edged, oblong flattened on one side, convex on the other, which is marked with three conspicuous ribs.

Double Cropping

When desired, herbs may be used as secondary crops to follow such early vegetables as early cabbage and peas; or, if likely to be needed still earlier, after radishes, transplanted lettuce and onions grown from sets. These primary crops, having reached marketable size, are removed, the ground stirred and the herb plants transplanted from nursery beds or cold frames.

Often the principal herbs—sage, savory, marjoram and thyme—are set close together, both the rows and the plants in them being nearer than recommended further on. The object of such practice is to get several crops in the following way: When the plants in the rows commence to crowd one another each alternate plant is removed and sold or cured. This may perhaps be[Pg 49] done a second time. Then when the rows begin to crowd, each alternate row is removed and the remainder allowed to develop more fully. The chief advantages of this practice are not only that several crops may be gathered, but each plant, being supplied with plenty of room and light, will have fewer yellow or dead leaves than when crowded. In the diagram the numbers show which plants are removed first, second, third and last.

Cultivation

Having thoroughly fined the surface of the garden by harrowing and raking, the seeds may be sown or the plants transplanted as already noted. From this time forward the surface must be kept loose and open by surface cultivation every week or 10 days and after every shower that forms a crust, until the plants cover the whole ground. This frequent cultivation is not merely for the purpose of keeping the weeds in check; it is a necessary operation to keep the immediate surface layer powdery, in which[Pg 48] condition it will act as a mulch to prevent the loss of water from the lower soil layers. When kept in perfect condition by frequent stirring the immediate surface should be powdery. Yes, powdery! Within 1 inch of the surface, however, the color will be darker from the presence of moisture. When supplied with such conditions, failures must be attributed to other causes than lack of water.

Soil and its Preparation

As to the kind of soil, Hobson's choice ranks first! It is not necessary to move into the next county just to have an herb garden. This is one of the cases in which the gardener may well make the best of however bad a bargain he has.

But supposing that a selection be possible, a light sandy loam, underlaid by a porous subsoil so as to be well drained, should be given the preference, since it is warmed quickly, easily worked, and may be stirred early in the season and after a rain. Clay loams are less desirable upon every one of the points mentioned, and very sandy soils also. But if Hobson has one of these, there will be an excellent opportunity to cultivate philosophy as well as herbs. And the gardener may be agreeably surprised at the results obtained. No harm in trying! Whatever the quality of the soil, it should not be very rich, because in such soils the growth is apt to be rank and the quantity of oil small in proportion to the leafage.

The preparation of the soil should commence as soon as the grass in the neighborhood is seen to be sprouting. Well-decayed manure should be spread at the rate of not less than a bushel nor more than double that quantity to the square yard, and as soon as the soil is dry enough to crumble readily it should be dug or plowed as deeply as possible without bringing up the subsoil. This operation of turning over the soil should be thoroughly performed, the earth being pulverized as much as possible. To accomplish this no hand tool surpasses the spading fork.

One other method is, however, superior especially when practiced upon the heavier soils—fall plowing or digging. In practicing this method care should be taken to plow late when the soil, moistened by autumn rains, will naturally come up in big lumps. These lumps must be left undisturbed during the winter for frost to act upon. All that will be necessary in the spring will be to rake or harrow the ground. The clods will crumble.

I once had occasion to try this method upon about 25 acres of land which had been made by pumping mud from a river bottom upon a marsh thus converted into dry ground by the sedimentation. Three sturdy horses were needed to do the plowing. The earth turned up in chunks as large as a man's body. Contrary to my plowman's doubts and predictions, Jack Frost did a grand milling business that winter! Clods that could hardly be broken in the autumn with a sledge hammer crumbled down in the spring at the touch of a garden rake!

Location of the Herb Garden

In general, the most favorable exposure for an 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.

Introduction

Probably no culinary plants have during the last 50 years been so neglected. Especially during the "ready-to-serve" food campaign of the closed quarter century did they suffer most. But they are again coming into their own. Few plants are so easily cultivated and prepared for use. With the exception of the onion, none may be so effectively employed and none may so completely transform the "left-over" as to tempt an otherwise balky appetite to indulge in a second serving without being urged to perform the homely duty of "eating it to save it." Indeed, sweet herbs are, or should be the boon of the housewife, since they make for both pleasure and economy. The soup may be made of the most wholesome, nutritious and even costly materials; the fish may be boiled or baked to perfection; the joint or the roast and the salad may be otherwise faultless, but if they lack flavor they will surely fail in their mission, and none of the neighbors will plot to steal the cook, as they otherwise might did she merit the reputation that she otherwise might, by using culinary herbs.