Bay Laurel & Lemon Verbena

Bay Laurel & Lemon Verbena

When Herbs launched, 15 herbs were available to add to your garden. Now we have over 30 varieties of herbs available to browse through–with more varieties added this week. We would like to introduce Lemon Verbena and Bay Laurel to you and your Smart Gardens.

Bay Laurel

Native to the Mediterranean, the Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) may have more stories and traditions than any other culinary herb I know of! In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he tells the story of the young Daphne turning into the Bay Laurel to escape from Apollo. Daphne is the Greek name for Bay Laurel, and the tree is also a symbol for the Greek God, Apollo. Also in Greece, to have a wreath of Bay Laurel is the highest nobility. In fact, the wreath was given as the prize during the Pythian Games, a precursor to the Olympics. It also translated over to the Romans, as a symbol for victory. Hence the words bacclaureate and post laureate, and the phrase “resting on one’s laurels.”

Show off your garden’s prosperity by adorning it with a Bay Laurel. Although this tree can get rather tall, yearly pruning and regular harvest can keep the plant small and shrub-like. In fact, Bay Laurel is commonly used as a topiary plant! If your winters are too cold to keep Bay Laurel outside, you can also grow it in a large pot, which you move indoors during the winter.

Bay Laurel is a great culinary herb, and I recommend adding it to any meat, stuffing, beans, soup, or stock you make. It has also been known for medicinal uses, such as alleviating arthritis, lowering high blood pressure. It also makes a great astringent, salve for open wounds, or oil to treat ear aches, bruises and sores.

Important Note: When cooking with whole Bay leaves, be sure to remove them before serving; they can be sharp enough to damage internal organs.

Lemon Verbena

As you may imagine, Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citriodora) is well known for its addition of lemon flavor and scent into culinary dishes, herbal teas, adult beverages, and household cleaning products. Although it sounds similar to Lemon Balm, Lemon Verbena is much different. It is native to South America‘s Chile and Peru, while Lemon Balm is native to Europe and found along the Mediterranean. Also, Lemon Verbena requires full sun in order to grow well, while Lemon Balm can survive in partial shade. A significant difference for gardeners, is that Lemon Verbena is a shrub, and can grow as large as 10 feet tall in your backyard! While the size may be a bit intimidating, the large harvest and sweet fragrance will not have you thinking twice about it. You can also limit its growth by growing your Lemon Verbena in a pot. This method is more ideal for those with cold winters, as the plant cannot survive below 0˚ F.

Lemon Pot de Crème
* this recipe will require 6 ramekins or souffle dishes

1 cup water
14 lemon verbena leaves, 2 – 2 1/2″ long (fresh or dried works)
10 lemon peels, 1/2″ wide and 2″ long
6 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
6 egg yolks
1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425˚ F.

In a saucepan bring water, lemon verbena and lemon peels and to a boil until it reduces by half, about 4 minutes. Whisk in sugar and boil until the mixture is now 1/3 cup. Strain out peels and leaves and return liquid to the heat. Whisk in the whipping cream.

In a separate bowl (that can take heat), whisk your eggs together. Gradually whisk in the hot mixture from saucepan. Stir in lemon juice.

Transfer mixture into 6 ramekins and cover with foil. Put ramekins into a baking sheet, at least 2″ tall on the sides. Add hot water to the baking sheet so that it rises to half the height of the ramekins. Bake until it sets, about 45 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool in the water. Transfer ramekins into refrigerator and allow to cool for 4 hours, or overnight. Serve chilled with a lemon verbena leaf for garnish.

Lemon Verbena and Bay Laurel are now available to add to your garden. You can find all of our available varieties by Browsing under Herbs:

Echinacea

Echinacea

This unique cone-shaped flower is native to the United States, and makes a great addition to your garden. The plant produces beautiful purple-pink or yellow flowers with bright, pineapple-like capitula in the center. While many know this plant by it’s flower, it’s medicinal properties are highly concentrated in the roots–which are best harvested after the plant finishes blossoming.

Native Americans used Echinacea after observing sick or wounded elk eating the plant. The native peoples did not use it to treat colds, although they did use it for the common cold’s side-effects including coughing, sore throat, and headaches. Now Echinacea is a well-known plant to use when ill. In fact, most tea blends that are marketed to help treat the common cold include Echinacea! Now you can grow your own Echinacea, and use the harvested root to make your own tea!

Cold Prevention Tea

1 cup Spearmint, dried
1/2 cup Lemongrass, dried
1/2 cup Echinacea root, dried

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Store loose tea in an airtight jar or tin.

When ready to make tea, scoop 1 tablespoon into a loose leaf tea cup or pot. Pour just boiled water over and allow to steep for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove strainer an enjoy. Add honey or lemon for extra flavor, and extra prevention for the cold!

Echinacea is now available to add to your garden; you can find it by Browsing under Herbs.

Oregano

Oregano

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is an aromatic perennial that is essential to Italian and Greek cooking. It is also known as Wild Marjoram and is a close relative of Marjoram. Oregano is native to the Mediterranean, and loves full fun.  In areas with milder winters, it is grown as a perennial. In areas with colder winters, it is treated like an annual.

One of the remarkable things about oregano is its ability to compliment so many different flavors. It goes well with spicy and savory dishes, like chili and soup, as well as sweet and citrus dishes, like salads and glazes. Oregano is typically paired with basil in tomato based dishes, and is a standard in pizza sauces. In some pizza restaurants, shakers of dried oregano are found on the table next to the salt and pepper. It is also common in many Greek dishes, including the standard Greek salad, with sun dried tomatoes, feta, black olives, anchovies, and olive oil.

Lemon Garlic Oregano Dressing
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 tsp lemon zest
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Whisk together lemon juice, lemon zest, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper in a large bowl. Add the olive oil in slowly, whisking it into the mixture evenly.

This makes a wonderful, flavorful yet light salad dressing, perfect for spring vegetables.

It can also be used to dress grilled chicken, pork chops, and even fish. Oregano doesn’t keep its flavor if it is cooked for too long, so it is generally best to add it near the end of cooking. Whether grilling or roasting, simply cook the meat until it is done and then add the meat to a baking dish, cover it evenly with the dressing, and cover. Let it sit for about ten minutes, and then it is ready to serve!

Cumin

Cumin

Native to the Eastern Mediterranean, Cumin is the dried seed of the plant Cuminum cyminum that is so great it was even mentioned in the Bible (Old Testament and New Testament). Its first documented cultivation was along the Nile River Valley over 4,000 years ago by the Egyptians. Through trade and exploration cumin seeds have dispersed around the world as many people have become intrigued by the spice’s earthy, warm flavors. Spaniards are responsible for bringing cumin with them to the New World, where it is now one of the top 10 spices sold in the US.

Cumin has been seen in numerous meals from Asia to the Americas. Indian and Pakistani cuisines commonly add this aromatic spice to dishes, such as Chana Masala and Samosas. Even the popular spice blend, Garam Masala, has been known to have cumin in it from time to time. My favorite way to use cumin in the kitchen is for carne asada. Literally translating to “grilled meat,” carne asada is a common protein found in many carnicerias in Central America and taquerias in North America. Below you will find a recipe just in time for the grilling season!

Carne Asada
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
(use gloves!)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 limes, juiced
1 large handful of cilantro, chopped leaves and
stems (stems have more flavor than leaves!)
2 tbsp white vinegar
½ tsp white sugar
½ cup olive oil
2 pounds steak, flank or skirt
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Toast cumin seed over a dry skillet on medium heat. Keep the seeds constantly moving while toasting, until slightly darker in color and more aromatic (about 1 minute). Grind cumin in a spice grinder, or in a mortar and pestle.

2. Stir in sugar, herbs, and spices to oil, vinegar, and lime juice in a large bowl or baking dish. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Pour over steak in the baking dish, or submerge steak into the bowl, making sure the steak is covered by liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 – 4 hours.

3. Preheat grill to med-high heat, or high heat if cooking on a stove top–if cooking on the stove, a cast iron grill pan works best. Brush grates or pan with a little olive oil to prevent the meat from sticking.

4. Remove steak from marinade. If cooking on the stove, it’s best to remove excess marinade as it can burn and smoke easily. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on both sides of the steak, and place on the grill. Grill on both sides until medium-rare to well done, depending on your preferences.

5. Remove steak from the grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Cut across the grain on a diagonal to make thin strips.

Making It A Meal:
Warm tortillas for tacos or burritos. Top it off with pico de gallo with fresh cilantro and tomatoes from the garden!

Encourage creativity: have a taco night! Supply diners with tortillas, carne asada, grilled veggies (onion and zucchini are a great choice), rice, beans, salsa, guacamole, tomatoes and lettuce from the garden, queso fresco, and sour cream.

 

Basil

Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is one of the most common culinary herbs in the kitchen and the garden. It’s incredibly easy to grow, so it’s great for families that don’t have much time to tend to their plants. It also makes a great windowsill crop for those with little outdoor space.

Once you grow it, it’s not hard to find recipes for your basil. Pesto is a popular choice for Genovese Basil, and Thai basil is wonderful when added to Thai curries. Below you will find two simple recipes for basil that you’re sure not to find in Mom’s cookbooks.

Basil Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
3 large basil leaves

Bring everything to a boil, stirring regularly to ensure sugar is dissolved. Pour into a container and refrigerate until cold, keeping the basil leaves in the syrup. Your simple syrup will thicken more as it chills.

Use to make refreshing drinks, such as Basil Lemonade, or Cucumber Basil Gimlets. A great topping for Strawberry Shortcake, Peach Cobbler, Vanilla Ice Cream or Berry Sorbets!

 

Nam Manglak
(Thai Basil Seed Drink)

Recommended from Frank Tozer
2 Tbsp basil seed (from your basil plants, not from a seed packet)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp honey
2 1/4 cups water
1 cup rosewater

Using a tea strainer, rinse the seeds. Soak the basil seeds in 1 cup of water. Use the other 1 ¼ cups of water and heat with sugar and honey until dissolved thoroughly. Taste it and adjust the sweetness to your preference—it will get more diluted once the drink is finished. Allow sugar water to cool to room temperature. Add swelled basil seeds with sugar water at room temperature. Chill and serve over crushed ice.

Faluda is another beverage made with basil seeds that is very popular in Southeast Asia. Its ingredients are very similar, although it has many variations.

Chervil

Chervil

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is related to parsley, and has a flavor similar to Tarragon. Chervil’s lacy leaves are finely cut and light green, as delicate and dainty as their flavor is subtle. The classic herb is essential in French fines herbs mixtures and is often used as a Tarragon substitute. Chervil has a refined taste reminiscent of Anise and Parsley, delicious in salads or to highlight sauces, sautés and soups. Because it can be difficult to find in the grocery market, Chervil is an important herb for kitchen gardeners to grow – its special flavor rewards your efforts many times over.

Chervil is best grown from seeds sown directly into the soil. It develops a long taproot, and does not transplant well. It prefers a cool, moist location, otherwise it tends to bolt. Even so, it is a good plant for succession sowing, so even if it bolts, the new plants can still be harvested.

Herbed Carrots

1 pound fresh carrots, peeled and cut
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chervil, divided
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. In a mixing bowl, toss the carrots with the olive oil and 1 tablespoon chervil, and salt and pepper. Place the carrots on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Remove the carrots from the oven. While the are still hot, toss with the remaining tablespoon of chervil, the butter, and more salt and pepper, if you desire.

Peppermint

Peppermint

Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is actually a hybrid of watermint and spearmint. With its parentage, you’d be right if you guessed it loves moist conditions — in the wild it is often found growing along the sides of creeks and ditches. In older gardens, it can usually be found under leaky faucets.

If you have ever grown mint, you probably also already know how invasive it can be. It doesn’t generally produce seed, but instead propagates by sending out underground runners, and can be easily restrained by taking simple measures, such as keeping it in pots or contained beds, or staying vigilant at trimming it back.

Mint has long been used in medicinal potions. It has a high menthol content, and its oil can be found in all kinds of products, from ice cream to toothpaste. While usually associated with iced-tea, and as a garnish for desserts, mint also adds a simple, fresh flavor to many typically savory dishes. Lamb with mint jelly is a popular dish in many parts of the world. In India, fresh mint leaves are often added to lightly cooked vegetables.

Spring Salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 cup fresh green peas, blanched
3 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

Rinse and cook the quinoa following the instructions on the package. You can prepare the quinoa the day before and allow it to cool overnight, but you can also spread it out on a baking sheet and place in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the carrots, peas, and green onions and add the garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. Stir in the cooled quinoa, until all the ingredients are well mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the top with the chopped mint leaves and serve.

Lavender

Lavender

Lavender is one of the most popular herbs mentioned when people are asked to name their favorite scented plant, second only to roses, and maybe lilacs. English Lavender (Lamiaceae Lavandula angustifolia) is the most common type of lavender grown for commercial purposes. Its fragrance can’t be met by the other types of lavender. It also makes a great landscape plant, especially in colder climates. In warmer climates, you’ll find Spanish or Mexican Lavender, which also has a nice fragrance, but isn’t as strong.

When you think of lavender, you probably think of sachets, potpourri, body lotions, and relaxing bath fizzes. But did you know there’s a rich culinary history of using lavender in the kitchen? Its flavor is a pleasant change when added to savory dishes in place of rosemary, and it is delightful when paired with sweets. Just remember, a little goes a long way.

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
½ tsp salt
1 tsp lavender flowers, dried
1 tsp lemon zest, finely grated

In a mixing bowl combine chopped lavender, lemon zest, and sugar. In a hand-held mixer at moderate speed, beat the butter into the sugar mixture. Add in flour and salt and mix on low speed, until it begins to form a soft dough (you can do this all by hand, too, it’ll just take longer!). Transfer to a sheet of wax paper and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Roll out to a log that’s 4” thick and refrigerate for 45 more minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Cut the shortbread log into rounds, ¼” thick. Place on an un-greased baking sheet and freeze for 10 minutes. Bake shortbread in oven for 20-25 minutes, until very slightly browned. They will stiffen up once out of the oven so don’t overcook them. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool before enjoying.

Tarragon

Tarragon

Tarragon (Asteraceae Artemisia dracunculus) makes a great companion plant for gardens. The scent and taste of tarragon is disliked by many garden pests, and it does a good job of repelling them naturally. It is also reputed to be a nurse plant — a plant which enhances growth and flavor of companion crops. While Russian Tarragon is easier to grow than French Tarragon because it is hardier, more vigorous and can be grown from seed, it is also much milder in flavor and for this reason it is rarely grown as a culinary herb. For French Tarragon, it is better to purchase plant starts or root cuttings.

Tarragon is one of the four fines herbes used in French cooking, along with parsley, chives and chervil. Tarragon’s delicate flavor is particularly well-suited for chicken, fish, and egg dishes. In fact, tarragon is one of the main components of Béarnaise sauce. But it also is a delightfully delicate flavor-surprise when paired with citrus, in a citrus salad, in an orange-tarragon sauce over salmon, and in this ambrosial sorbet.

Grapefruit Tarragon Sorbet
(Adapted from Gourmet)

2 cups grapefruit juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp dried tarragon, crumbled

Bring sugar, water and dried Tarragon to a boil. Once the sugar has dissolved allow it to simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and whisk in grapefruit juice. Churn in an ice cream maker. Once complete, transfer sorbet into an airtight container place in the freezer to harden even more.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, place in an airtight container in the freezer. Allow to chill, stirring every 30 minutes. It will take roughly 2 hours until the consistency gets thick. Keep in an airtight container.

Will keep 1 week in freezer.

 

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm (Lamiaceae Melissa officinalis) is actually a member of the mint family, except instead of having a minty flavor, it has lemon-scented leaves. Traditionally, it was valued for its calming properties, and historically has been used to create tinctures for soothing nerves, reducing stress and anxiety, promoting sleep, improving appetite, and easing pain and discomfort from indigestion. It has also been used in several cosmetic applications, and makes a good facial cleanser for oily and acne-prone skin.

But did you know it can also be used to give a lemon flavor to many dishes and drinks. Here’s a simple, delicious, delicately flavored  herbal iced tea recipe, just in time for summer!

Summer Herbal Tea
(Adapted from Theresa Loe)

½ loosely packed cup lemon balm
½ loosely packed cup of mint
2 tsp Lavender flowers, dried or fresh
2 peels of orange, 3” long each
1 quart of water

Bring water to a boil, and pour over herbs and peel. Allow it to steep for 10 minutes, then strain to serve. Allow tea to cool and serve over ice for a refreshing treat.