CILANTRO (Coriandrum sativum)

CilantroIn his engaging book, Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, author Scott Cunningham tells us that cilantro, and its seed coriander, have long been used in love sachets and spells. He claims that adding the crushed seeds to warm wine makes an effective “lust potion.”

Cilantro, also known as Chinese parsley, is the leaf of the coriander plant. The spice coriander is the seed. The names cilantro and coriander are sometimes interchanged. In England, for example, only the word coriander is used and they are differentiated by referring to the coriander seed or coriander leaf. This can be confusing in recipes as the seed and the leaf have very different flavours, although each will complement the other.

There are those who don’t like the flavour of cilantro and they like to remind everyone that the generic name, Coriandrum sativum, is derived from the Greek word koris, which means “bedbug”, as one is supposed to smell like the other. I can’t vouch for this as I’m fortunate enough to never have smelled a bedbug. I do love the flavour of cilantro however. It enhances wonderfully the taste of soups, stews and salads.

Cilantro is a short-lived annual and a member of the carrot family. It is native to southern Europe and the Caucasus. The herb resembles flat-leafed parsley with green-segmented leaves on stems rising about 20 centimetres from a crown. Leaves may be harvested about one month after germination

Cilantro is best planted as a seed directly into your herb bed as soon as the danger of frost has passed. The roots are long and difficult to transplant. Place seed in drills 1-1½ centimetres deep and 10-20 centimetres apart, although some gardeners prefer close planting to shade the roots and help keep them cool. Cilantro is a difficult herb to grow because it is short lived and needs cool temperatures. This herb will bolt (send up a flower stalk) as soon as the roots get above about 24 degrees Celsius.  This will happen quickly in a small pot in hot sun. Another reason to sow the seeds directly into your herb beds.

Cilantro is best grown in early spring or fall when the weather is cool. With the best conditions Cilantro will last about 8-10 weeks before flowering.  Once it does flower, it will make seeds, which can be harvested as coriander or replanted to grow more cilantro.

Cilantro does not like to compete with weeds so conscientious weeding or mulching is important especially early in the season. Mulching will also help keep the roots cool. It prefers a moderately rich, slightly alkaline, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade.

Do not over fertilize cilantro as too much nitrogen reduces the flavour. Good companion plants are caraway, anise and dill. Cilantro, because of its powerful scent, has a reputation of attracting beneficial insects and deterring harmful ones.

Fresh cilantro does not keep well, and looses its flavour when dried. To store fresh cilantro, first pick only the small, young leaves (removing any wilted ones) with the stems, and place them in a jar with water like a bunch of flowers. Cover them with a plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator. Change the water every two days or so, eliminating any wilted leaves in the process. Rinse the leaves before use.

Harvest the coriander seeds as soon as the leaves and flowers have turned brown, but before the seed disperses. Cut the whole plant and hang it to dry upside down in paper bags, shaking occasionally to thresh the seeds. Coriander seeds only partially dried have a bitter taste.

To release the flavour of coriander, first dry roast the seeds in a frying pan over low-medium heat, shaking the pan frequently. Allow to cool, and then crush the seeds with a mortar and pestle (or grind them in a coffee grinder used only for that purpose) just before use.

The unique and powerful flavour of the herb is due to a high number of aldehydes, chemicals produced by the oxidation of alcohol. Aldehydes are used in the production of perfumes and artificial fruit flavours such as strawberry and peach.

The Spanish introduced cilantro to their American colonies and the herb is now very popular in Mexican and South American dishes (the word “cilantro” is Spanish for coriander leaves). This may be partly due to the fact that the herb’s flavour mixes well with corn. The following is an unusual combination of flavours that works. The use of maple syrup as a sweetener adds a nice Canadian touch.

Cilantro Cornbread with Maple Syrup

  • 1¼ cups of unbleached white flour

  • ¾ cup of cornmeal

  • ¼ cup of maple syrup

  • 2 tsp. baking powder

  • ½ tsp. salt

  • 1 cup of milk (or milk substitute such as soy or nut milk)

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 1 egg, beaten

  • ½ cup of fresh, chopped cilantro

Heat oven to 400ºF. Butter a 20-centimetre square pan. Combine dry ingredients and cilantro. Stir in the beaten egg, milk, oil and maple syrup until just moistened. Pour batter into pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Test with toothpick for doneness.

Here’s a great summer salad recipe:

Chicken Salad with Cilantro & Ginger

  • 1lb. of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into quarter inch strips

  • ½ cup of soy sauce

  • ¼ cup of oriental sesame oil

  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

  • 2 tsp. of grated, fresh ginger

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • ½ tsp. chilli oil

  • 1 head of romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces

  • ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves

  • ½ red onion, sliced thinly

  • 1 large tomato, sliced

  • ¼ cup of sesame seeds, toasted

  • ¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted

Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar and ginger. Set about one quarter of this mixture aside and add more oil and vinegar to taste as a dressing for the finished salad. Marinate the chicken in the rest for at least one hour, but preferably overnight, turning the chicken occasionally. Do not use the marinade that has contained the raw chicken as a salad dressing. Sauté the chicken strips in the heated olive and chilli oil until cooked through, but not overcooked. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool.

Combine the lettuce, cilantro, onion and tomato in a large bowl and then arrange on a large platter. Top the salad with the cooked chicken and sprinkle it all with the sesame seeds, almonds and reserved marinade. Serves four.

A good summer vegetarian salad using cilantro is the following:

Mango Rice Salad with Cilantro

  • 1 cup of cooked and cooled long grain brown rice

  • 1 avocado, peeled, stoned and cubed

  • 1 large mango, peeled, stoned and cubed

  • ½ cup of fresh, chopped green onions or chives

  • 4 Tbsp. of fresh squeezed lime juice, or more or less to taste

  • 3 Tbsp. of flax oil, or healthy oil of your choice

  • ¾ cup of fresh, chopped cilantro

Toss all the ingredients together and serve. Non-vegetarians may want to add some sliced cold roasted chicken.

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ChivesThe botanical name for chives is Allium, after the botanical family, schoeonoprasum. The latter word is derived from the Greek schoinos, meaning rush, and prason, meaning leek. When the herb first reached medieval Europe from China, where it had been eaten for 3,000 years, it was known as “rush-leek.” The word “chives” probably originates with the French word cive, which in turn is derived from the Latin cepa, meaning onion.

Chives, unlike their great cousin, garlic, have minimal medicinal use. As with many herbs they are anti-fungal and the oil of chives has been used to reduce blood pressure, although both onions and garlic are far more effective in this role. In Asia, chives are recommended to treats colds, flu and chest congestion.

Their anti-fungal and insecticide properties make chives a useful companion plant in the garden. Reputedly they check mildew and black spot on roses and scab on apples. They also chase away aphids and Japanese beetles. The only threat to chives is from snails and slugs when the herb is young.

Gardening books vary in their advice on growing chives. Some recommend full sun while others suggest partial shade. Our experience is that the herb tends to grow lusher when not exposed to full sun. Unlike most herbs however, chives like a moist soil that is slightly acidic and they are heavy feeders, particularly of nitrogen and potassium. If these minerals are not replaced with manure, compost or fish emulsion, the leaves will turn yellow.

Chives can be grown from seed, but young plants, bought, begged, or borrowed will give you faster results. This perennial herb (to zone 3) needs to be divided every few years anyway, so gardeners should be keen to share. Grow some chives in pots which can be brought indoors come the fall. This way you can continue your culinary clipping on into winter. One species of chives, the strong-flavored Grolau, has been cultivated especially for indoor growing and produces best when constantly cut.

Chives thrive on habitual snipping once the plants have reached a height of six inches or more. Cut them about half an inch from the soil, but don’t clear-cut them. They seem to do better if some leaves are left. If allowed to flower, the leaves will lose some of their flavor, but the purple flowers (garlic chives – a flat leafed variety – have white flowers) are beautiful in the garden and they make an attractive, nutritious, and tasteful addition to salads. They also add a beautiful colour and flavor to herb vinegars.

Chives are very nutritious. While one Tbsp. of the herb contains only one calorie, it furnishes two mg. of calcium, 0.05 mg. of iron, 192 IU of vitamin A and 2.4 mg. of vitamin C. It is also rich in phosphorus, sulfur, and pectin.

In the kitchen, chives’ mild peppery onion flavor makes them a hit in almost any dish except dessert. Chives have to be used fresh. When frozen or dried they lose most of their flavor, although when dried the flowers add elegance to any arrangement of everlastings.

The following two recipes are both good substitutes for the usual rice or potatoes with either vegetarian or meat based dishes.

Herbed Chickpea Pancakes

  • 1¼ cups of chickpea flour
  • ¾ cup of water
  • ½ cup of chives, chopped fine
  • ½ cup of fresh cilantro, chopped fine
  • 1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger root, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (or use garlic chives)
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne
  • 1 tsp. salt.

Blend the chickpea flour, cayenne, and salt, then add the water and mix thoroughly. Add the chives, garlic, cilantro, ginger, and tomato and stir. If the consistency is too thick or thin, add more water or chickpea flour respectively. Lightly oil a large frying pan and heat to medium high. Spoon enough batter into the pan for each pancake to be about four to five inches in diameter. Cook for a couple of minutes each side or until well done.

Sweet Potatoes with Chive and Ginger Butter

  • 4 medium to large sweet potatoes
  • ¼ lb. soft butter
  • 1 inch long piece of fresh ginger root, grated
  • 4 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt to taste

After washing the sweet potatoes and pricking their skins, cook them in a lightly oiled pan for 60-75 minutes at 375ºF or until done. Mix all the other ingredients and serve on the sweet potatoes after cutting them in half lengthwise.

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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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BayNeyther falling sickness, neyther devyll, wyll infest or hurt one in that place where a bay tree is,” wrote Thomas Lupton in 1575, referring to the putative ability of the bay laurel to offer protection from misfortune. The Roman emperor, Tiberius (42 BC – 37 AD), would always take refuge under his bed wearing a crown of bay leaves during a thunderstorm as he was convinced this would protect him from the thunder and lightning.

The death of a bay tree was also historically regarded as a portent of evil or pending disaster. In Richard II, Shakespeare wrote:

Tis thought the king is dead; we will not stay.

The bay trees in our country are all wither’d.

In mythology, bay leaves were worn as an amulet to ward off evil and were burned and scattered as a strewing herb in exorcism and purification rituals. Leaves placed under a pillow are supposed to induce inspiration and prophetic dreams. One old legend maintains that if a wish is written on a bay leaf, which is then burned, the wish will come true.

In Greek mythology, Apollo the sun god fell in love with Daphne who had been pierced by one of Cupid’s darts causing her to dislike Apollo. She spurned his advances and Daphne’s father, Peneus, changed her into a bay tree to help her escape. Apollo knelt before the tree and declared it forever sacred. Henceforth he wore a crown of laurel leaves on his head in remembrance of his unrequited passion for Daphne. From this myth, somewhat curiously, the bay came to symbolize glory and honor. The ancient Greeks crowned Olympic winners, scholars and poets with bay wreaths and they are still today placed on Boston Marathon winners.

In the garden the bay tree is a tender perennial and extended freezing temperatures will kill it. Although the bay will grow to 20 meters in its native Mediterranean habitat, in a temperate or cooler climate it is best grown in a pot where it can be moved to a protected area during the coldest months.

Bay laurel is used medicinally primarily to treat upper digestive tract disorders, having a similar effect as spearmint. It is also used to ease muscular aches and pains. The following recipe for Laurel Bay Mint Bath will ease and relax tired muscles after a hard day:

  • ½ cup of dried mint leaves
  • 1 cup of chopped bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. Coconut oil
  • 1 tsp. Almond extract.

Toss all the ingredients in a mixing bowl then place in a piece of cheesecloth, one-foot square. Tie with string and submerge it under very hot running bath water. Allow the bath water to cool to a comfortable temperature while the bouquet infuses. Relax in the bath for at least 30 minutes, adding warm water to maintain a comfortable temperature.

Bay leaves are an effective insect repellant and can be placed in closets and drawers and even into a flour canister to deter weevils.

Unlike most herbs, bay is stronger semi-fresh than completely dried, with its flavor and aroma peaking between three and seven days after picking. Bay contributes more aroma than flavor to food and differs again from most herbs by not losing its flavor with long cooking. Bay leaves should be removed from dishes before serving. A dinner guest will not remember your culinary skills if he or she gets a bay leaf stuck in their throat.

Bouquet garni is de rigueur in French cuisine and bay leaves are de rigueur in bouquet garni. For convenience prepare your bouquet garni in bulk ahead of time so you have lots on hand. Following is a convenient recipe for this:

Bouquet garni

  • 12 whole bay leaves;
  • 12 tsp. whole celery seeds;
  • 24 whole cloves;
  • 36 peppercorns;
  • 12 Tbsp. dried parsley;
  • 6 tsp. thyme.

Divide all the ingredients equally on to 12, four-inch square pieces of cheesecloth. Tie with heavy white kitchen twine, leaving a long string for easy removal.

The taste of bay is tangy and slightly peppery. It enhances the flavor of just about everything, but especially soups, stews and tomato-based dishes. Pot roasts and shellfish should almost never be served without bay. It will even improve the taste of custard sauces if the milk is scalded with one or two leaves.

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ASAF0ETIDADevil’s dung sounds like a less than appetizing ingredient to add to your recipe, but when a pinch is used judiciously, it is sinfully good.

Asafoetida is native to Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. A perennial plant growing to about six feet high, it is one of several species of ferula, or giant fennel. Asafoetida has finely toothed leaves, clusters of white or yellow flowers in umbels and a hollow stem growing from a fleshy taproot. It is the root that produces the spice. In summer, the stems are cut from four-year-old plants and the root is sliced. A gum is excreted which dries into a resin. This is then crushed into a powder to produce the spice.

The name originates with the Persian word Aza, which means resin, and the Latin word Fetida, which means smelly. Stinking gum (another name for the spice) earns its name. When bought, you will usually find it tripled wrapped for the smell can be quite offensive. However, sauté it lightly in oil and it develops a pleasant onion or garlic like aroma. A mere pinch is all you need in any recipe.

Medicinally, asafoetida is used in Middle Eastern and Indian herbal medicine for simple digestive problems such as gas, bloating, indigestion and constipation. It has been used for respiratory problems such as bronchitis, asthma and whooping cough. Like garlic, asafoetida’s volatile oil contains components such as disulphides that leave the body via the respiratory system and aid in the coughing up of congested mucus. Asafoetida has also been used as a sedative. It also thins the blood and lowers blood pressure. Although safe for adults, asafoetida may be harmful to young babies.

One beneficial use for asafoetida’s unpleasant smell is that of a natural pesticide. Two of the sulfur compounds isolated from asafoetida are similar to the insect repelling qualities of marigolds and nasturtiums. Asafoetida’s odour will also repel deer and rabbits.

In magic and mythology, asafoetida is used to gain insight and to banish all negative energy, evil spirits and demons. It is used to invoke male gods, especially those of a phallic nature. One myth claims that asafoetida developed from the semen of a god of fertility when it soaked into the earth. Asafoetida is sometimes worn around the neck as an amulet to ward off colds and fevers.

Although very reasonably priced today, in ancient times it was a precious and expensive condiment. The Roman epicure Apicius recommended adding an uncrushed piece of asafoetida resin to a jar of pine nuts. When the asafoetida flavour was required, a few of the pine nuts were crumbled and added to the dish.

Culinary uses of asafoetida include the flavouring of pickles and sauces (it is one of the ingredients in Worcestershire sauce) and it is used extensively in the Middle East to flavour spicy vegetable dishes. Some people simply rub their broiling rack with the spice prior to cooking meat.

Here are a couple of recipes that can be prepared individually or together as a vegetarian meal or as accompaniments to a meat dish.

Nutty Rice with Mushrooms

  • One cup of long grain brown rice, cooked
  • 8 – 10 mushrooms, sliced
  • A large fistful of chopped fresh parsley
  • A small fistful of pine nuts
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Two Tbsp. butter
  • Pinch of ground asafoetida
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Sauté the mushrooms in the butter, pouring the lemon juice over them after they are nicely browned. Lightly roast the pine nuts for a few minutes in a small, unoiled pan, which should be constantly shaken. Mix all the ingredients into the cooked rice and reheat if necessary. Serves four.

PepperyTomatoeswithMushroomsPeppery Tomatoes with Mushrooms

  • About 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 5 medium-sized fresh tomatoes, cut up
  • 2 fresh jalapeno peppers, diced
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Quarter tsp. turmeric
  • Pinch of ground asafoetida
  • Half tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • Quarter tsp. brown sugar.

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a deep-sided, lidded frying pan. Add the spices in the order listed allowing a few seconds between additions. Stir in the mushrooms and lightly brown them before adding the tomatoes, salt and sugar. Cook over medium to high heat uncovered until the liquid from the tomatoes has been reduced to a stew-like consistency. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Serve after about 10 minutes of simmering or, even better, prepare ahead of time, allow to cool and then reheat. A few hours of dormancy really develops the flavours. This recipe will serve 2-4 as a side dish. Increase ingredients proportionately if serving more or if preparing as main dish.

ASAF0ETIDA (Ferula foetida): DEVIL’S DUNG” is excerpted from Herbwise: growing cooking wellbeing

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Chervil (Anthriscus Cerefolium)

ChervilChervil (Anthriscus Cerefolium) is one of the four components of fines herbes, the others being tarragon, parsley and chives. It differs from most herbs in as much as it is just as easy to grow indoors as out and when grown in the garden prefers dappled shade to full sun. Too much sun will impair the herb’s delicate flavour and make it bolt and go to seed.

There are two varieties of chervil, one plain, and the other curly. The latter is generally agreed to have an inferior taste.

Chervil is a self-seeding annual that, with its long taproot, doesn’t take to transplanting, germinates quickly, and is best sown directly and frequently (to ensure a constant supply) into the chosen location – ideally under a deciduous tree that affords good shade. Chervil is a must in a complete herb garden. It is a difficult herb to find fresh in the stores and when bought loses its freshness and flavour very quickly. Chervil is readily available as a dried herb, but, as with parsley, its delicate flavour is lost. If you dry your own, do so quickly in an oven rather than using the customary method of a dark warm room. A better way of preserving chervil is to mix with butter and then refrigerate or freeze.

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CARAWAY (Carum carvi)



Caraway, a member of the carrot family, is a self-seeding annual, sometimes growing as a biennial, which likes a sunny location and, unlike most herbs, well-watered soil. Seeds should be sown in shallow drills as early as possible and, in milder climates, in the fall. Thin the seedlings and keep the bed weeded. Caraway does not need fertilizer. For some reason the spice does not like to grow near fennel, but it makes a good companion for peas and will help keep the weeds down under your pea rows. When the seeds are brown (mid to late summer), check their ripeness with a gentle tug. If ready, cut off the whole plant and turn it upside down in a paper bag. When dry, the seeds will fall to the bottom of the bag when it is rolled between your hands.

There is evidence of caraway’s use dating back over 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest known spices. Medicinally, caraway is a carminative, soothing the digestive tract, relieving colic, cramps, bloating and flatulence. As English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote in The English Physitian (1652), caraway is “conducive to all the cold griefs of the head and stomach … and has a moderate quality whereby it breaketh wind, and provoketh urine.”  Caraway is reputed to increase breast milk production and its antispasmodic action will also relieve menstrual pain. The spice is frequently used in cough syrups, especially for children, and will successfully combine with white horehound in this role.

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