Herbs are for more than just providing flavour

2012-11-22 00:00

JANE Griffiths has produced a book on gardening, cooking and now herbs. She came to visit us shortly before her new book Jane’s Delicious Herbs was published.

I graciously allowed her to cook dinner while I entertained the guests. Who is going to cook for someone who has produced a cookbook? One of our guests had a hacking cough and spent half the evening apologising, but Jane took it all in her stride and went rummaging in her luggage to find some herbs for her.

In a few minutes, she had rustled up a concoction that seemed to do the trick. Even while they travel, Griffiths and her husband Keith Knowlton really do carry a box of herbs with them and I was quite astonished at the effectiveness of this remedy.

I asked her a few questions about her latest book which is jam-packed with information.

 

What are the five most important herbs to have in a garden?

The five I always grow are: basil, parsley, thyme, oregano and rosemary.

 

Which are the easiest to grow?

Many herbs, such as thyme, bay, oregano, rosemary and lavender, are perennials and once established need little more than a trimming now and then. Members of the mint family are the easiest herbs to grow — the hardest part is preventing them from taking over the rest of the garden.

 

Which herbs have great properties - either medicinally or in the kitchen?

Herbs like dandelion, chickweed and nettle are considered weeds by many gardeners. However, they have strong nutritional and medicinal benefits as well as being good companion plants in the garden.

 

Q: Why did you start to use herbs for medicinal purposes?

I am the daughter of a pharmacist and as a child I fully believed there was a cure for everything. Unluckily, I was wrong. Science, for all its progress, does not have all the answers. Realising that modern medicine is as fallible as its human practitioners, I began exploring a more holistic approach to healing. When I began growing my own herbs, it was a logical step to start using them for more than just flavouring food.

 

Which are the best herbs for repelling insects?

Most of the strong-smelling herbs are good — African wormwood, scented pelargoniums (especially the citrus ones), tansy, feverfew, lavender, rosemary and mint. They can be planted among vegetables and because most of these herbs don’t mind being regularly trimmed, their leaves can be used as insect-repelling mulch. The leaves can also be brewed into an insect repelling spray.

 

I know you love chillies — tell me more.

It all began when I visited a friend in California whose garden was bursting with chillies. It was the first time I had seen red, yellow, purple, brown and orange chillies in such a huge variety of shapes, colours and sizes. At that time in South Africa all one could find were little hot red ones. Jalapenos were hardly on the culinary radar yet. Although I knew nothing about gardening, I was so inspired by this rainbow vision that I collected seeds of every variety of chilli I could lay my hands on. Back home, I removed a section of lawn, dug in some compost, scattered the seeds and sat back to watch my chillies grow. That summer I had about 20 varieties growing in my garden.

 

What was the first herbal remedy you made?

A simple infusion of thyme, sage, ginger and honey for a sore throat. It was so effective that I was hooked.

 

The home-made cough drops look divine — where did you find this recipe?

I bought some echinacea cough sweets when I was in Thailand many years ago and they were very effective. When I started growing my own echinacea, I wanted to replicate them. I tried some recipes on the Internet and also used a recipe from James Wong’s book Grow your own Drugs and ended up with this recipe. They are delicious and very effective.

• Jane’s Delicious Herbs is published by Jonathan Ball.

• ½ cup dried echinacea root and stems

• 3½ cups mixed fresh peppermint, lemon balm, and sage leaves, and thyme and anise hyssop leaves and flowers

• 1 teaspoon lemon zest

• 2½ cups just-boiled water

• 1 teaspoon powdered ginger

• 1 cup gum Arabic powder

• 2 tablespoons dried elderberries

• 1 cup hot water

• 2½ cups sugar

• ½ cup icing sugar

 

METHOD

 

Mix the herbs and lemon zest together in a pot and add the just-boiled water. Put a lid on the pot and leave to steep until cold.

Strain and measure 1½ cups of the infusion and stir in the ginger. While the herbs are steeping, crush the gum Arabic and the dried berries together in a pestle and mortar.

Add the mixture slowly to the cup of hot water, stirring constantly until the gum Arabic has dissolved and the mixture is syrupy.

In a pot, combine the herb infusion and the gum Arabic mixture with the sugar. Heat,

stirring constantly and making sure the sugar dissolves before it comes to the boil.

Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring constantly as it thickens. It is ready when it boils down to a thick syrup and pulls away from the edges of the pan when you stir.

Test for readiness by dropping a small amount into cold water. As soon as it holds together in a hard ball and doesn’t spread out in the water, remove from the heat.

Pour into a greased baking tray and leave until cool.

Place the icing sugar in a bowl. Using the handle of a teaspoon, scoop out a lozenge-size piece of the mixture and dip it into the icing sugar. Roll it between the palms of your hands to create a ball and place it on a tray dusted with icing sugar.

Keep your hands well-dusted with icing sugar to prevent sticking, and repeat until finished.

Dust the lozenges with icing sugar and twist each one up into an individual paper wrapper.

Store in an airtight container.

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