Many herbs go unnoticed and are often overlooked simply because we are not familiar with them or perhaps we didn’t realize they had a culinary use.
Take lavender for example. Typically appreciated for its distinctive smell, it is often used to scent soaps, shampoos and even sprays to refresh bed sheets or bath towels. In the average kitchen lavender is not often considered a culinary herb but in fact it can be quite nice.
Native to the sunny and rocky slopes of the Mediterranean, lavender is grown all over the world today. Oil in its tiny, often blue flowers is what gives lavender its scent. A little lavender goes a long way when used in cooking.
Lavender can be used fresh or dried and it gains potency in its dried form. Delicious when combined with other herbs like fennel, rosemary or oregano, it can also be used alone to flavor lemonade, chocolate cake or a savory beef stew.
Another herb that is overlooked for its culinary uses is hyssop. Attractive to pollinators in the herb garden, it is often mentioned in the Bible and was commonly used to flavor liqueurs. Like lavender, only a small amount is needed to add a distinctive flavor to savory dishes.
Both the leaves and the flowers can be used in cooking, with the flowers being more delicately flavored. When combined with other herbs, hyssop is excellent in soft cheeses, compound butter or pasta.
Epazote, if you have never heard of it, is common in Mexican cooking. Sometimes called stinkweed, it is, ironically, used in bean dishes because of its anti-flatulent properties. In addition to its use in beans, it is also used to flavor mole sauces, stews and salsas.
Epazote is easy to grow, as are most herbs, and it actually prefers poor soil as long as the drainage is good. Highly invasive, it will self-seed easily and pop up in places that will make you wonder.
A member of the carrot family, chervil even looks a bit like carrot tops with its delicate green leaves. Rather like a combination of the familiar licorice-like anise and parsley, chervil comes in a plain and curly variety.
Native to Eastern Europe, roving Romans spread it around. An essential herb in most French kitchens, chervil is excellent when used in egg dishes, salads and in mashed potatoes. True Béarnaise sauce is simply not the same without chervil and Fines Herbes would not exist without it.
When choosing what herbs to grow in the herb garden this summer, consider trying something different. Herbs are easy to grow and are virtually pest resistant. They are stunning when used in landscaping and be fine companions in the vegetable garden.
Most herbs require full sun to thrive and will tolerate too much or too little water. Growing your own herbs opens you up to a variety of flavors that are nearly impossible to find in the spice aisle or the produce section of your local grocery store.
Because you only pick what you need, storage is not an issue until the threat of frost occurs in autumn.
Published: June 5, 2012