ALLSPICE Allspice is a dried unripe berry that comes from the allspice tree. It has a biting, spicy taste somewhat like cloves and nutmeg. Excellent in pickling, pea soup and sweet vegetables like carrots and yams. It has been used to soothe headaches and toothaches.
ARROWROOT Arrowroot is a powder that comes from the root of a South American plant. It is used for thickening fruit sauces and glazes. Because of its starchy content it has a mild flavor and is suitable as a seasoning for infants. An excellent remedy for bowel disorders and one of the most common ingredients in baby cookies, which we don’t recommend.
BASIL Basil is the soft green leaves of a plant that grows in warm climates. It has a wonderful peppery flavor, somewhat like cloves, with a strong sweet smell. Basil is excellent with all tomato-based sauces. Garlic and basil are a perfect marriage of flavors and combine well with rosemary and sage. It is an excellent addition to rice and grain dishes. Basil has the reputation for stimulating appetite and nervous system. It is used in the Far East in cough medicines and relieving kidney and diarrhea problems.
BAY Bay leaves come from the shrub-like Bay tree and is the familiar decorative wreath that adorns the brow of Greek statues. Bay has a strong aroma and a spicy flavor. Excellent addition in soups and tomato sauces. A good remedy for relieving skin pain and earaches.
CARAWAY The caraway plant is commonly grown in Holland, Germany, Russia, Scandinavia and England. The seeds have a spicy, sharp flavor. Excellent for flavoring cabbage bread, potatoes, soups and vegetables such as turnips, carrots and beets. The seeds can be chewed after a meal to sweeten breath and are safe to add to young children’s dishes assisting in digestion and helping in bowel disorders. Should be stored in a cool, dark place.
CHICORY With its deeply pointed leaves and hairy stems, the chicory plant grows on limestone hills and roadsides throughout Europe and Asia. The root is roasted and ground as a common additive to coffee, believing to counteract the stimulating effect of caffeine. Chicory is a diuretic and natural laxative.
CHILI PEPPERS Chili peppers are the life of the party. Paprika, cayenne, chili and red pepper all form the large Capsicum pepper family. This family consists of a diverse spectrum of personalities from sweet bell peppers to the hottest chili peppers that are dried producing my personal favorite, cayenne.
CHIVES Chives are in the Lily family and a great addition to any garden, ushering in the first signs of spring. They have a wonderful, mild onion flavor and can be eaten fresh, dried or frozen. When these bright green stems are finely chopped into tiny rings, they make a wonderful garnish for fresh salads, potatoes and cooked vegetables, and are a delicious addition to rice or quinoa.
CINNAMON There is absolutely nothing more pleasant than the aroma of fresh cinnamon. A spice that has been valued since ancient times. In the Old Testament it was used as a perfume and one of the ingredients in the anointing oil used by Moses in the Tabernacle. Only in the last century has cinnamon come down in price from being very costly. Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree that grows in Sri Lanka. Cinnamon has a fragrant sweet flavor and must be stored carefully because it easily loses its fragrant aroma. It can be added to oatmeal, fruit salads, rice puddings, nut milks, sweet desserts, yams, squashes and is breath-taking in hot apple cider with cloves, allspice and nutmeg. Cinnamon is a strong glandular stimulant and was given as a sedative to mothers during childbirth. It is also an antacid for helping upset stomachs and diarrhea. Years ago it was commonly used as a breath sweetener.
CLOVES An evergreen tree that grows in the West Indies bears a brilliant red flower. When the flower buds are dried, they turn a dark brown, almost blackish color, producing our familiar clove that is rich in oil. Cloves have a strong aroma and pungent spicy flavor. A good quality clove will be oily and tough. It is not recommended to grind whole cloves in the coffee grinder because the high oil content leaves a strong clove flavor in whatever you grind afterward. We learned this one the hard way. Several failed attempts in cleaning resulted in a new coffee grinder. Powdered cloves are excellent in all sweet baking. An orange with cloves stuck into its skin fills the room with a beautiful aroma and acts as an insect repellent. A clove can relieve the suffering of an aching tooth.
COMFREY This rough perennial has leaves that grow up to 10 inches long, growing wild in ditches and near streams throughout Europe and parts of Asia. This plant has been used medicinally for hundreds of years, containing allantoin and choline that promote the production of red blood cells and encourage circulation. It was also used to repair broken bones, for poultice and healing wounds, rheumatism, arthritis, bruises and reducing swelling. It has been successful in healing malignant tumors and progressive ulceration. When brewed in herbal tea, it is an effective cough mixture for severe lung disorders such as tuberculosis and pneumonia and for hindering internal bleeding of the lungs, stomach or bowel. Comfrey leaves are bitter, but can be eaten in salads.
CORIANDER It is also referred to as dizzy corn because when the aroma of the freshly crushed seed is inhaled, it can cause dizziness. This seed was also mentioned in the Old Testament, first being introduced by the Romans. It is a medium-sized annual with feathery bright green leaves, grown for the most part, in India. The seeds have a sweet flavor with a spicy scent when crushed. This improves the longer it is aged, but must be stored in airtight containers. Coriander is commonly used with curry powder and can be sprinkled on cooked fruits such as apples, pears and is especially good with beets.
CUMIN Originated in Egypt, Arabia and India but now is cultivated in Malta, Sicily and Iran. The seeds have been used since Bible times in calming digestive problems and flavoring breads. It is used in India to flavor many Mexican dishes. Cumin has a strong spicy taste with a bitter edge, and can be bought whole and ground into a fine powder. It is one of the most common seasonings and is used commercially in meats, pickles and cheeses. It is excellent in soups and can be ground in a pepper mill over vegetables, especially cabbage.
DANDELION Get rid of your grass and start cultivating dandelions because they are considered to be one of nature’s greatest healing aids. They are rich in vitamins, proteins, natural oils, mucilage, saponin, chlorine, mineral salts, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, silicic acid, alkaloids, glycosides and tannins. The young leaves of dandelions are excellent in salads or juicing the root, and can be dried or ground making a wonderful replacement for coffee. The natural habitat for dandelions is in the grass in your yard. Dandelions are the most edible in early spring when they begin to show their troublesome presence in the lawn. The juice of dandelion leaves is believed to cure eczema, blood diseases, dropsy and loss of appetite, having a beneficial effect on the kidneys, liver and gall bladder. One man's weed is another man's treasure.
DILL These wonderful fragrant leaves are in the parsley family and have a long history for their medical and seasoning value. Dill grows wild in the warmer southern European countries. These plants are fairly delicate and must be kept in moist soil. Dill leaves are at their peak in flavor just before the plant goes to flower. The leaves of dill have a piquant flavor. Dill seeds tend to be strong and bitter, but dill leaves are excellent to lift the flavors of cucumber salads or any green leaf vegetable. They are also an excellent addition to potatoes and soups. Dill has become popular in using and producing the famous dill pickle. Make sure you add the leaves at the end of cooking time because the subtle flavor of dill is greatly diminished through heating.
FENNEL This herb grows wild in southern Europe along the seashore and is cultivated for its seed. Fennel is a perfect herb for small backyard gardens and window boxes. It has a sweet delicate flavor and contains a background hidden tang. Fennel is a relative to the dill family. Sweet fennel has a stronger flavor and is less bitter. It is excellent in salads and desserts. Medically it can be used to help digestion and is added to babies’ gripe water. It can be used as a breath sweetener, for earaches, toothaches, and helps relieve coughs and asthma. If you soak the seeds in water, they make a soothing lotion for sore, tired eyes. Fennel is also a common soothing herbal tea.
GINGER Ginger is a reed-like plant with thick stems that grow under the soil. Ginger root can be harvested prematurely while it is still green, then candied and preserved with thick syrup. When allowed to be fully ripened, it is sold in its root form as the ever popular ginger spice. This reed can grow only in hot, humid climates that receive heavy rainfall. It has a spicy, distinct aroma and has a wonderful, sweet, hot flavor. Ginger combines well with the flavor of curry, and its lifting flavor is great in vegetable soups, preserved fruit and of course its popular use in baking spice cakes and gingerbread. Ancient India considered ginger to be an essential part of their diet in protection against diseases. Ginger has natural antiseptic properties that help with colds and sore throats.
HIBISCUS This is a lovely annual flower with beautiful red flowers, commonly grown in flower gardens or indoor pots. The flowers are not just for ascetic pleasure, but have amazing flavoring qualities. In Africa, Karkade is the name given to a delicious hibiscus punch. It is also a great contribution to the popular rosehip tea giving it a lemony flavor and lovely red color.
Here’s a recipe of the popular African hibiscus punch.
2 cups water
2 heaping tsp. hibiscus flowers
1/2 tsp. cinnamon small piece of vanilla pod
Add to boiling water and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey. Can be served hot or cold.
HORSERADISH This hardy perennial is in the mustard family, producing a white meaty root that renders a hot biting, but pleasant flavor. This flavorsome root was used in Eastern Europe during the 13th century for its medical properties. Its antibiotic properties protect the colon from harmful bacteria. It also encourages circulation, clears sinuses and is excellent for insect bites, cuts and stings. Apparently it is effective in eliminating acne. Horseradish is a refreshing addition to salad dressings, avocados, potatoes, cooked vegetables and puts a galloping flavor into any sauce.
HYSSOP Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7). All through Leviticus, hyssop, which translated, means Holy Herb, was used in the cleansing of the Temple. Hyssop is a symbol of the blood of Christ, thoroughly washing us clean of sin. Its bitter flavor is a reminder of the cost that Jesus paid that we may stand before God, holy and pure. The flowers were used medically for irregular blood pressure, nervous disorders and were made into a lotion to treat eye, ear and throat infections because of its disinfectant properties.
LAVENDER There is nothing like the fresh clean fragrance of old English lavender. The Romans added it to their bath water and placed the flowers among their clothes giving them a fresh scent. Lavender has a sweet taste and can be used to make herbal tea. Inhaling its fragrance has been said to calm nerves and lift depression. Lavender tea is used for heart palpitations, headaches and insomnia. Lavender oil can treat wounds, ulcers and sores.
LEMON BALM Surprisingly, the leaves for this perennial plant taste identical to lemons, except for a honey-like sweetness. The leaves make a wonderful addition to fruit and vegetable salads and fruit and vegetable juices. The dried leaves produce the lively Melissa herb tea that has a calming effect resulting in a peaceful night's sleep. Lemon balm is a health remedy for reducing nausea. It grows easily in the backyard.
LICORICE This herb was well-known to the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans for its therapeutic effect on coughs, colds and chills. It originally came from China and the Mediterranean countries. Often its strong flavor is used in sweetening bitter medicines. Besides being an effective cough medicine, it is an effective and gentle laxative. Research has shown that licorice juice has a pain-killing effect on stomach ulcers.
MARJORAM Marjoram grew wild in ancient Rome and was used as a medical herb. Its leaves became a symbol for peace and well-being. This delicate herb has a sweet spicy flavor and varies in bitterness according to the climate in which it is grown. Its flavor blends well with thyme and basil and is commonly used in tomato sauces. Long cooking does not seem to diminish its delicate flavor. Marjoram can be successfully grown indoors.
MINT There is nothing more refreshing than chewing on a fresh mint leaf or drinking hot mint tea. There are many different types of mint, peppermint and spearmint being the most popular. Peppermint has the stronger cooling effect. They are easy to grow in the backyard or in the home. Mint has a history of being used by the Arabs as a tea, and by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans for flavorings and perfumes. Try adding some mint to cooked vegetables or to jazz up fruit and vegetable salads.
MUSTARD ...if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. (Matthew 17:20) I am sure the Pharisees considered themselves to be men of great faith. They prided themselves in their long, phylacteries and their equally long, repetitive, boring prayers, even causing the angels to yawn. Yet, in all their grandiose displays, they could not muster enough faith to believe in Jesus, in spite of the miraculous signs He performed. So with an eloquence that only Christ could display, He used the tiny, humble mustard seed as a symbol of the size of faith which men need in order to tap into God’s awesome power. The mustard seed story illustrated that it is not the greatness of faith, but faith’s focus.
There are two varieties of mustard seeds. The reddish brown or black seed, and the pale yellow or white. The latter has a delicious, nutty flavor, whereas the black seed has a much more pungent taste. The hot bite of mustard is the result of the volatile oils that the seed contains. Mustard powder is a mixture of either seed with the addition of turmeric or saffron that gives it its brilliant, familiar, yellow color. Vinegar and salt are added as the acid in the vinegar increases and stabilizes the mustard’s strength and flavor. Mustard is an excellent addition to vegetable salads, cooked cabbage, sauces and dressings. It is said that adding mustard to your bath water relieves muscular pains.
NUTMEG The evergreen nutmeg tree grows in tropical climates close to the ocean where there is a high level of rainfall. Mace and nutmeg are a tree fruit that is native to the islands of the East Indies. Nutmeg has a spicy, sweet taste and is not as strong as mace. Ground nutmeg is excellent in sprinkling over soups and seasoning vegetables just before serving. It is a popular addition to apple puddings. Medicinally, it has been used in helping with gas and vomiting.
PEPPER It was a highly priced luxury in Roman times. Pepper is now one of the most widely used spices. Its familiar flavor is due to the volatile oil and the alkaloid piperine. It also contains the trace mineral chromium. Pepper originated along the coast of India and was used as currency in payment of taxes, levies and debts. In 408 AD, the king of the Visi-gothes decreed that 3,000 lb. of pepper be part of the ransom for the city of Rome. Pepper comes from a climbing shrub. Its flowers grow in clusters, producing bright red berries. When they are dried, they become black and shriveled, turning into the familiar pepper corn. Pepper’s hot bite goes well with all dishes. It has recently become a fad to sprinkle on fresh fruit. We’ve tried it and surprisingly, it's good! The best way to use pepper is a hand pepper mill. This allows you to experience the fresh flavor of the volatile oils that have not grown stale. Pepper is a great alternative to salt for a low sodium diet. It also seems to fill out food, leaving you with the impression that you have eaten more, which is handy for those trying to lose weight. Eating spicy food will force you to eat slower making you savor each mouthful.
POPPY In the 17th century, opium addiction swept through China. In the 20th century, narcotic addiction has reared its ugly head from man’s production of heroin. It would seem that this lovely little flower was created by the Devil himself. Yet the alkaloids that are produced by the juices that surround the unripe seed have been a blessing to those suffering great pain. Between 5 and 700 AD, it became widely used in treating cholera and dysentery. The natural presence of alkaloids, such as codeine acts as a painkiller when the seeds are infused with water. As a lotion, it may soothe skin and mouth disorders. Poppy seeds that are commonly sold in supermarkets do not contain the natural alkaloids because they are lost when the seed ripens, leaving only trace amounts. Poppy seeds are excellent sprinkled on salads, bread and rolls. When crushed, they add a delicious addition to curry and are an effective thickener. The seeds can be soaked in water and taken as natural pain relief.
ROSEMARY Rosemary comes with a great tradition, being first introduced by the Romans in the eleventh century. It was often burned as incense during weddings, funerals and other church activities. It was believed to grow only in a garden, planted by righteous hands. Rosemary had a reputation for strengthening memory and became a symbol for friendship and fidelity. The leaves of rosemary have a strong flavor which is delicious when mixed with garlic, vegetable soups, fruit salads or hot apple ciders. Because of its medical reputation of strengthening the brain, Greek students would often wear rosemary garlands during intensive examinations. It has been discovered that rosemary has been able to expand tissues, increasing blood flow which is beneficial for heart and circulation. It is even believed to stimulate hair growth.
SAFFRON Tom and I were fascinated with this tiny herb. The thin, red and yellow, thread-like strands in a little plastic container cost $4.00. Not knowing anything about saffron, we added some to our dish, turning it a brilliant yellow color. It did nothing to change the flavor but we suspect our saffron was stale. Quality saffron is the most expensive of all spice, equal to gold. It requires the painstaking task of hand picking stamens from 70,000 flowers to obtain one pound, which explains its high cost. Saffron is in the crocus family which is native to Asia and Mediterranean countries. Fresh saffron, we are told, has a spicy aromatic yet slightly bitter taste. Very little is needed to color and flavor your dish. It is a common spice used in Spanish dishes, especially rice. Saffron promotes perspiration when taken in a tea.
SAGE “Why should a man die who grows sage in his garden?” was an ancient Arab proverb. The Greeks and Romans applied sage to cure snake bites and increase brain activity. In the middle ages it was used to overcome constipation, cholera, fevers and epilepsy. Sage was brewed as a tea long before the common orange pekoe became popular. Today there are over 500 types of sage, and is considered by many famous chefs to be one of the most important seasonings of all. It has a wonderful warm, slightly bitter taste. Sage must be dried slowly or it will take on a musty flavor. Fresh leaves are wonderful in salads and tomato sauces. Sage tea is good for nerves and blood and can be applied as a wash to improve condition of hair and skin. When the leaves are folded among cloths, it discourages moths and other insects.
TARRAGON Widely used in French dishes. It is believed to originate in Siberia where they grow to five feet tall. Its flavor is sweet and bitter, with an undertone of tang. French tarragon is less bitter than its Russian cousin and is preferable in flavor. It is commonly used with vinegar for salads, sliced tomatoes, cooked asparagus, artichokes and is excellent on avocados.
THYME Roman soldiers bathed in water that was infused with thyme believing to give them vigor and strength. Because its leaves contain the volatile oil thymol, the herb has a disinfectant quality and can be used as a poultice. It can be mixed with honey to soothe a raw throat or used as a mouthwash and natural tooth paste. Thyme was one of the herbs that can be grown indoors. Cutting its leaves for cooking will encourage growth. It has a strong, sharp flavor and should be used in moderation. Lemon thyme, which is popular, is less strong, and carries a fresh, lemony tang. It is an easy herb to dry and stores well, maintaining much of its flavor. It is a wonderful herb in flavoring vegetables and garnishes and its flavor mingles well with rosemary and marjoram. Lemon thyme is a great addition to fresh fruit salads and is used commonly in pot-pouris and soaps.
TURMERIC It comes from the root of the turmeric plant. It is dried and ground into a bright yellow powder. Turmeric has been used to add color in foods and cosmetics. It has a refreshing peppery taste and scent and goes well in salad dressings, adding a beautiful, yellow color.
VANILLA The contribution that vanilla has had in baking and cooking is endless. For flavoring sweet foods, there is no other spice like it. The vanilla orchid vine produces a fruit pod. This little pod is where we get the treasured taste of vanilla. Containing no essential oils, its flavor comes from crystals which form on the skin of the pod after fermentation. Most vanilla extracts are imitations, synthetically produced by waste paper, pulp or coal tar. These imitations pale in comparison to authentic vanilla extract. Vanilla can be purchased dried, liquefied, or pods stored in sugar. Try adding vanilla to any nut milks or natural desserts.
Herbs and spices give our food personality and character. There are some excellent herbs and spice books on the market that recommend not only their uses and flavors, but their application as natural medicines. Herbs and spices will assist in our huge reliance of salt for flavoring foods. We would like to share some of our favorite spice mixtures, to start you on the path of creativity.
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