How would our food taste without herbs? Dull and boring would be most people’s guess.
Would you like to know more about herbs? They’re available by the handful, especially
in spring and summer. Grow them yourself or buy them on a market. To taste them and
smell them is a pleasure – lemon balm, sage, oregano and basil – to name just a few.
Cooking with fresh herbs is an emotional experience for all the senses. Herbs stand for
aroma, freshness and a healthy lifestyle.

 

A bit of background!

People have used herbs since time immemorial recognising that they influence bodily functions. When your great grandmother cut a large, firm lettuce from her garden, she also cut a big handful of herbs: parsley, chives, dill, salad burnet, borage. She wouldn’t have cultivated a great variety of herbs in her herb bed: apart from the five just mentioned, maybe some sorrel (for spring soups and green sauce), savoury (to cook with lentils and other pulses) and possibly garlic leaves, if you count them as herbs. In the past, herbs were used singly or in combinations for specific purposes. We might find the choice rather limited; today we tend to use exciting mixtures of herbs, often in quite daring combinations. On the other hand, the lore of using herbs, both culinary and medicinal, had been developed and distilled over the centuries. You don’t have to subscribe to the idea of the pharmacy in the garden to acknowledge that certain herbs have a specific effect on our bodies. For example, they “make our mouths water”, or more scientifically put, they stimulate production of saliva. Certain herbs have an effect on our stomach, stimulate the gall bladder and the pancreas and help to relieve digestive problems. Some herbs affect the whole body, for example, they can help to speed a cold on its way by improving your overall well-being and liquefying the mucous. But it would be unhelpful to add handfuls of extra thyme to your cooking if you have a cold – that has to come in the form of herbal medicine.


Nonetheless, a little knowledge of how herbs work can give you some guidelines for combining them with other foods for a beneficial effect. For example, basil stimulates your appetite and improves digestive processes. That’s why it makes sense to eat lots of basil with your tomatoes with mozzarella as an hors d’oevre – they’ve done it in Italy for centuries. By studying traditional dishes, you’ll see how the age-old wisdom of herbalists and monastery gardens is influencing the way we eat today.