Parsley – Petroselinum crispum

by Gini Sage

Both the botanical and common names for parsley were derived from the old Latin ‘Petros selinon’, or Rock Celery. The ancient Greeks honoured parsley as a plant of death, and used it for decorating tombs. The ancient Romans were the first to use parsley as a culinary herb, both for its flavour and its deodorizing properties. Chewing fresh leaves removes the smell of garlic or onions from one’s breath. Parsley is often used to bring out the full flavour of food, and is a key ingredient in the classic fine herbs and bouquet garni.

It is also a rich source of vitamin C, containing more by volume than an orange, and is also a source of iron, calcium and vitamins A and B. Parsley is found most often in either the flat-leaved Italian variety or the curled-leaf varieties. Both are biennials, forming a 2 foot plant the first year, followed by re-growth of the plant with the addition of flower stalks forming umbels of tiny greenish-yellow flowers the second year. Parsley may be grown from seed in the early summer, or from bedding plants. It should be grown in full to partial shade, in a moist, rich soil, either in pots or directly planted in the garden.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, July 2007

Oregano – Origanum vulgare

by Gini Sage

The name oregano is from the Greek oros ganos meaning ‘joy of the mountain’, a reference to the cheerful appearance and smell of the flowering plant on Greek hillsides. Oregano is also known as wild marjoram and as sweet marjoram. Although there are a multitude of uses for wild oregano as a medicinal herb, its most common use today is culinary. Oregano is used both dried and fresh, and gives pizza and spaghetti sauces their characteristic flavour. Italian oregano is a peppery, pungent tasting herb, but the further the north it is cultivated, the milder the flavouring. Oregano also gives a strong flavour to bean casseroles, stews, and sauces based on tomato or aubergines.

Oregano is native to Europe and the Middle East. It was collected in Italy and introduced and naturalized in the North Eastern United States and Canada. It is a aromatic perennial, frequently bushy, with erect, hairy and woody stems to 2 feet tall. It grows best in poor soils, preferring drier, well drained sites in full sun. It should be cut back in the fall or early spring, as the young leaves have the most flavour.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, November 2007

French Tarragon

by Gini Sage

French tarragon’s name is derived from the Greek drakon, meaning ‘little dragon’, which is most likely a reference to the plant’s serpentine root system.

Historically, tarragon was thought to ward off exhaustion, and this belief led pilgrims during the Middle Ages to place sprigs in their boots prior to starting out. Today it is not used medicinally; however, it is one of the most important culinary herbs in classic French cooking. Tarragon is used to infuse flavour in vinegar, and is a key ingredient in “fines herbs” mixtures as well as sauces such as béarnaise, hollandaise, and tartare. It is almost always used fresh, as it loses much of its flavour when dried. Make sure you do not try to cook with Russian Tarragon, as it has little or no flavour.

French Tarragon must always be started from cuttings or seedlings, as the seed always produces the Russian variety. Since it is a tender perennial, it is best to grow tarragon in pots, and over-winter it indoors. Plant it in a well-drained soil, and place in full sun to partial shade, in a sheltered location.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, April 2007

Chives – Allium schoenoprasum

by Gini Sage

The culinary history of chives dates back to ancient China, around 3000 BC, where they were harvested from the wild. Members of the onion family, chives have a much milder flavour, and can be used to replace onions by those who find them difficult to digest.

Both traditional chives and garlic chives prosper in our area. In the kitchen, chives are used most often with soft cheeses, eggs, soups, salads and dressings, and on baked potatoes. Chives lose much of their flavour when dried, but they can be harvested and kept in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Named ‘Infant Onion’, the bulbs may also be harvested and pickled.

Chives are native to Europe, and were introduced and naturalized in North America. They are a hardy perennial, which grows well in full sun to partial shade, forming a clump of thin, tubular leaves. In the late summer, chives form a small light mauve flower. To encourage leaf growth, the flower stems should be removed. Grow in either pots or the garden, in well-drained medium loam. Plant either the seeds in early spring, or divide the clumps in spring or fall.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, June 2007


by Gini Sage

Caraway’s name is derived from the ancient Arabic word for seed, and has been valued for its flavour and medicinal properties since ancient Egyptian times. It has been found in archaeological excavations dating back over 5000 years, and is mentioned in the bible. In the Middle Ages, the roots were boiled as a vegetable, and the young chopped leaves were added to soups and salads. The seeds were added to breads and cakes during Elizabethan England, and offered to farm labourers after the wheat harvest. Today it is a common ingredient in rye bread, cakes, cheese and many German and Austrian recipes such as sauerkraut and kummel, a traditional liqueur.

Native to northern and central Europe, temperate Asia and the Middle East, caraway has naturalized in North America. It grows as a biennial, and tolerates a wide range of conditions, but prefers moist soils and full sun. The seeds should be sown in summer. Caraway is a decorative plant growing up to 80 cm tall, but be cautious about its location, as it can be a vigorous grower and is self-seeding.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, April 2008