April has been officially deemed Mediterranean Herb Month at the IEUA. Throughout the month we will be posting factoids, pictures, and recipes for different Mediterranean herbs. Today’s post should provide some background information on these unique plants and throughout the rest of the month we will showcase several herbs individually. In addition, we’ll also discuss some commonly used herbs (like basil and cilantro) that didn’t make our Mediterranean herb list and explain why they didn’t make the cut.
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Mediterranean climates have allowed certain types of plant species to thrive within its environs. These regionally-adapted plants require relatively small amounts of water, somewhat arid conditions, and can usually withstand extreme temperatures. Over many generations Mediterranean agriculturalists have been able to cultivate several highly aromatic herbs. These particular plants have become famous throughout the world for their culinary and medicinal uses. Herbs have a tendency to proliferate quickly, especially herbs like mint, oregano, or thyme, which spread rapidly by using crawling stolons or by attaching their stems directly into the soil with roots.
Any of the following plants listed below can be used in local gardens in the Inland Empire. Luckily each type of herb has several varieties within it, so try planting a few of each in your garden.
Bay: Bay leaves come from the Bay Laurel, a mediterranean evergreen tree or large shrub. The leaves are usually dried and used to flavor soups, stews, hummuses and pates.
Chives: Chives are actually the smallest species of edible onion. Unlike most onion species, chives are not usually grown for their edible bulbs, instead they are cultivated for their tasty, green stems. The scapes (leafless, flowering stems) of the chive are used to flavor stews and soups, or they can be finely chopped and used as a garnish.
Dill: Dill can used in dry, fresh, or seed form. It originates from Mediterranean climates, but has been adopted by the cuisines of colder climates (Baltic, Russian, and Scandinavian cultures) to use as a flavorant for preserved vegetables (such as pickles) and soups.
Fennel: Fennel is native to the shores of the Mediterranean. It produces a large, flavorful bulb that can be used as a vegetable and its frawns can be used for flavoring as well. Fennel has a sweet, licorice-like flavor and is common in salads, pastas, and risottos. Fennel seeds are often used in bread-baking as well.
Image of Fennel provided by Satrina0.
Mint: Mints are highly aromatic herbs that grow by anchoring themselves into the earth with stolons; this process occurs quickly and this plant has a tendency to become invasive. They can double their size easily in one growing season. Mint is commonly used in Mediterranean cooking, particularly with lamb and regional side dishes. However, it is also commonly used in beverages, such as hot teas, mint juleps, and mojitos.
Oregano: Like many Mediterranean herbs, Oregano has been cultivated by several regions resulting in a variety of names and flavors (Italian, Greek, Turkish, Cretan, etc.). Oregano leaves can be used either fresh or dry and are most well known in the U.S. for being the flavorant of pizza sauce.
Rosemary: Rosemary is a woody, perennial herb that is well known for needing to little to no water once it has been established. It has a sharp, bitter taste and maintains its distinct aroma throughout the cooking process. Rosemary also has a long history as an herbal medicine for memory loss and cognitive development.
Sage: Sage is another woody, perennial herb that is regarded for its aesthetic beauty as well as its culinary potential. As a seasoning, it can be used in a fresh or dry form. It is also used as an essential oil that can be added to butters and other, less fragrant oils in cooking applications.
Thyme: Thyme is a perennial herb that thrives in semi-arid climates. Similar to bay leaves, thyme is slow to release its flavor in the cooking process and usually needs to be added rather early to achieve full flavor. Thyme’s fragrance becomes more potent once it is dried.