Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Few New (to me) Herbs

This year I’m expanding my herbal vocabulary and growing a bunch of new varieties. Here’s a bit about some of my new favorites:

Cuban Oregano- (plectranthus amboinicus)This is a member of the coleus family and has beautiful rounded, fuzzy leaves. It isn’t a true oregano, and the variety I’m growing smells amazing – very green an citrusy. When you bite it, though, the flavor is pretty bland. Cooking this herb would be wasting it, I think, but I would definitely add it to pestos, salads and salsas, or use it to flavor olive oils, vinegar and drinks (white wine sangria, anyone?) This is a tender plant and is best used potted and brought inside before frost.

Purple Opal Basil - (Ocimum basilicum) There are several purple varieties of basil. The leaves of the “Opal” variety aren’t a solid purple, but have almost golden undertones that become more obvious as the plant matures. I like to use them along with the green basil to give a little color variation to caprese salad, or in a green salad to add some flavor. Annual, easily grown from seed.

Chocolate Mint-(Mentha piperita cv)
The leaf edges of the chocolate variety of mint have a pretty reddish-brown color that would make this a beautiful garnish for a chocolate cake. I’ve been using mint lately to flavor cocktails, muddling it with fresh fruit (peach is my favorite) in a shaker with flavored vodka. Would make a great tea. Mint is invasive and perennial around here, so I’ll probably just leave it in the pot and hope it comes back next year.

Vietnamese Cilantro (polygonum odoratum)– My experience growing cilantro in the past has not been good. Around this time of year, it usually turns yellow and leggy or flowers and peters out. This variety doesn’t seem nearly as tempermental. It’s completely pest resistant, very pretty and creeps like thyme, but is easly controlled by cutting it back. The flavor is just like cilantro and I’ve been using the leaves in salads and salsa just the way I do cilantro. Terrific in chicken or egg salad. This is an annual plant that I purchased at a local nursery.

Lemon Thyme – (thymus citrodorus)
Thyme has tiny leaves and the tips of this variety are yellow. It behaves just like English thyme in the garden. Thyme is excellent with potatoes. I make a sliced potato and thyme tart in a skillet that is flipped over and finished in the oven, the thyme leaves are sprinkled on top. Also yummy in potato salad or added to a marinade. It could come back as a perennial and will be left in the ground.

Purple Sage – Salvia officinalis purpurea
I chose this for my Garden of Purple Paisley Delights that I planted in honor of my all time favorite musical hero, Prince. When I smell sage I think of roast turkey and am looking for some ways to use it apart from as a poultry herb. I saw some beautiful crackers recently that had a whole sage leaf pressed into the top of them before baking. Could be extra nice with the purple leaves. Sage can be grown from seed and can be found in most nurseries.

Hyssop- (agastache Foeniculum)I had a crazy time trying to identify this herb. I searched through Martha Stewart’s culinary herb garden at the NY Botanical Garden and didn’t find it, but later found it in another bed of plants that were featured for their smell. They smell a lot like root beer. You could use hyssop to give things a licorice flavor. It’s also used medicinally, boiled, with the steam inhaled for coughs. This is perennial in zone 7.

Got any good ideas for using herbs?


Bangchik and Kakdah said...

I heard about oregano before but never see one. The look is strikingly similar to a local plant here "setawar"... but setawar is a water retaining plant and can grow from leaves...
~ bangchik

Joanne said...

I've never grown herbs, and haven't used them much in cooking, but I do like the suggestions you gave here, esp the ones that add color to a meal. So much of food prep is visual, enhancing the experience. Your first herb pictured resembles (at least on my small computer screen) a jade plant!

Lzyjo said...

You have so many nice herbs! I love the flavor of anise hyssop! Does the chocolate mint really taste like chocolate?! MMM! Mint chocolate chip is maybe my all time favorite ice cream flavor. The purple sage is so much pretties than the regular green, that I have. I think a lot of Italian recipes call for sage, gnocchi with butter and sage comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful piece. I have a nice size herb garden with opal basil, African blue basil, sweet basil and purple ruffle basil and many common herbs, but now you are making me wish I had more room to plant all the herbs you mention.
I do not know if you or your readers would be interested, but I have lots of recipes on my blog using herbs...
May I suggest you try making Mojitos! I make mine with a blend of mint/basil or Lemon Balm. I could see making one with your chocolate mint and opal basil! I'm salivating already!
Thank you for your comments on my blog too. I was at the Nyack Farmers' Market this morning as you were writing it! Maybe one day we'll see each other there.

tina said...

These are neat herbs. I especially love that oregano (false or not it is most pretty).

Gail said...

Herbs are such fun plants to add dto the garden. I love sage lightly sauted in makes a wonderful buttery sauce that is good on pasta and even pizza. The purple basils do look good in the garden as edible ornamentals. I read that some folks use the stems of chocolate mint to stir hot chocolate. gail

JGH said...

Bangchik & Joanne - this plant seems almost like a succulent too -jade is too, isn't it? I might try propogating and see what happens.

Liz, the chocolate mint does have a chocolatey aroma, but I don't think the taste distinguishes it much from regular mint. Gnoochi with sage sounds great!

Viviane, I just bought some African Blue! Love the ideas to make different herb combos in mojitos. Will defnitely look for you at the Farmers Market - Piermont, Nyack or both?!

Thanks, Tina! I'm gonna try this oregano again next year for sure.

Gail, what a great idea to use the chocolate mint for hot chocolate!

tut-tut said...

If you have a big enough space borage is a very nice celery-ish tasting herb, and you can use the flowers.

There are so many thymes to try, you might as well branch out (ha!)

tut-tut said...

Whoops; it's lovage that's celery-ish. Borage is kind of cucumberish.

Alison Dale said...

I found your blog from a comment that you left on another blog I read called Worms and Flowers.

What a fantastic blog you have! Lots of fun and useful information.

I love the idea of planting some chocolate mint and was thinking it would be good in a chocolate martini! Yummy.

I have the same trouble that you mention with Cilantro. It just grows so much better in the spring and fall.

You've got some herbs that I haven't ever tried so I'm excited to follow along and see how your herbs progress. Keep up the good work!

Ottawa Gardener said...

I see the korean cilantro in the row of herbs at the nursery and I swear it's practically (or is) the same as a knotweed? No?

I am growing Agastache this year and have a yellow leafed variety that's quite lovely.