Sage is a hardy perennial with woody, squared stems, covered in down. There are many varieties of sage, and the plants grow from 1 to 3 feet in height. The long oval leaves are opposite, about 2 to 4 inches long. They look pebbly and puckered and are grayish green. The leaves are softly hairy or velvety and the edges are round toothed. They are at peak flavor just before the plant begins to flower. The flowers are tubular and pink, purple, blue or white, a little over a half inch long and grow in whorls of four to eight per stem.
Sage is easy to grow, needing full sun and well draining soil. It will come up year after year in most climates, though after 4 or more years the plant may become too woody and need to be replaced. The plant itself is quite decorative and is a great addition to any garden purely for its looks. The flowers of common sage are a striking lovely blue. Sage's flavor is of camphor and balsam and is pleasantly bitter. It is a good partner for strongly flavored foods.
Although these days sage is more known for its culinary use, it is also well known as an herbal medicinal. Sage oil has antiseptic, astringent and irritant properties and is believed to be anhidrotic, or able to dry up body secretions such as perspiration. Sage used as a mouthwash or gargle is useful in treating sore throats and mouth irritations. Sage tea after a meal benefits digestion. It is known to help in the digestion of rich or fatty foods such as pork, and even sweets. While sage has many wonderful and healthful properties, it should not be taken in great quantity for any length of time.
The four most common varieties of sage found readily in plant nurseries are: Common Sage, Salvia officinalis, is the one found most commonly, with solid pale ashy green leaves. Variegated sage, Salvia o. Icterina has green leaves with a yellow to white border. Purple Sage, Salvia o. purpurea, has deeper purple veined and tinged leaves, and some varieties of purple sage have the underside of the leaf a paler pinkish color. Tri Colored Sage, Salvia o. Tricolor, has variegated leaves in cream, purple and green. Any of these are fine for use in cooking and are purely a matter of taste and esthetics.
Curry Leaf, above
Curry Leaf in Flower, below
Sweet Basil - Ocimum basilicum
Purple Opal Basil
"Purple Ruffles" Basil
Rosemary flowers, closeup: pale blue clusters, above
Prostrate Rosemary, below, flowering all season
Borage is an annual self seeding plant, borago officinalis, that bears many leafy, branched, hollow succulent stems covered with stiff white hairs. Its sprawling habit makes it difficult to contain as a decorative plant, but its delightful blue, star shaped flowers with their cone of prominent black anthers, are about 3/4 inch in diameter, and are certainly a decorative element. The whole plant looks grayish green, due to the hairs on every surface. Borage is native to Europe, Asia Minor, northern Europe and Africa and naturalized in Great Britain. It is widely cultivated in North America. Its habitat is sunny locations, including waste places and along roadsides. Borage attracts bees and wasps, so try to keep plants away from walking paths.
One of the ways in which borage brings joy is as a flavoring in foods. It has a crisp cucumber flavor. The leaves can be eaten raw, steamed or sauteed like spinach. The stems are also edible. Peel, chop and use them like celery. Fresh borage flowers can be tossed into salads or used as a garnish. They will turn pink on contact with vinegar or lemon juice. Candied, they make lovely decorations for pastries and dessert trays.
The Bay Tree, also called Sweet Bay or Bay Laurel, is indigenous to the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, though it is now cultivated in many temperate climates. It does not tolerate strong winds and very cold temperatures, so container growing is an alternative. In the wild, the tree can grow to 60 feet, though outside its natural growing area, it may not grow to more than 10 to 15 feet. Container plants generally do not get more than about 5 feet tall, though this is more than adequate if growing for kitchen use. The leaves maybe used either fresh or dried for culinary purposes. For crafts, the branches may be woven into wreaths while still supple and green, and will maintain shape when dry. If not from plants sprayed with poisons, wreaths are great for use both as a decoration and as a handy place to grab a bay leaf when needed for cooking.
Bay leaves are key ingredients in many spice mixtures, such as the French bouquet garni, and some garam masala mixtures. The leaves themselves are very stiff, with a strong vein and stem. Remove leaves from a dish before serving, to prevent any choking hazard. In making a garam masala, all the ingredients will be ground, so any vein or stem that has not been pulverized is easily removed.
Besides use in spice mixtures, use bay leaves in marinades, stock, soups, stews and gravies. Also, use in potato or other creamed soups, pate, curries, game and poached fish liquid. Boiled in milk they will flavor custard and rice pudding. Cooks instinctively add bay leaves to Creole, French and Spanish cooking. They are also an essential part of pickling spices. They are great used in combination with peppercorns, saffron, garlic, allspice, citrus, prepared and dry mustards.
Bay leaves are also said to relieve indigestion, relieve flatulence and stimulate the appetite. It is said that bay leaves deter kitchen insects. While there is no solid proof, many still keep a bay leaf in their flour bin, or rice and other dry staples. While this may or not work, it is best to maintain a clean pantry so as not to invite pests.Return to main Flavors page
When thyme is growing in abundance, fresh bunches may be tossed onto coals on the grill for the last 5 minutes or so of grilling chicken or other meats. The green plant will smoke, giving the wonderful fragrance and flavor to the grilled meat. As a medicinal, thyme leaves can be simmered gently for 2 to 3 minutes and strained. The liquid may be consumed as a digestive tonic. With added honey it is said to be excellent for coughs. Thyme has natural antiseptic qualities and has long been an ingredient in cleaning products, mouthwashes, antiseptic creams and massage oils. Find a sunny spot in the garden to plant and enjoy.
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Thyme: thymus vulgaris, above
Closeup of tiny Thyme flowers, below