How to use herbs

Busy with other things, DonQui has been a bit lax of late when it comes to his writing. Never mind — his hooves are once again tapping the keyboard.

Recently he had the delightful experience of spending a day at Jekka’s Herb Farm just outside Bristol.

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Jekka McVicar is the Herb Guru of the UK. Her many acolytes include Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal. DonQui can now also be counted amongst their number having completed Jekka’s How to Use Herbs masterclass.

DonQui loves his herbs especially those from the Lamiaceae family which includes thyme, rosemary, mint, basil and oregano amongst others. Until now he did not know that much about them and his attempts to grow various herbs have been rather hit and miss. Now he knows much more although the paradox of knowledge is that the more he learns the more he realises just how much more there is still to learn.

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So what did he learn?

In no particular order the things that stand out most for DonQui are:

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In the West we use the wrong part of lemongrass. In many parts of Asia it is the leaves which are prized, not the stalks. The stalks are exported to the West and the leaves are used at home. DonQui therefore purchased a lemongrass plant so he can start experimenting with the leaves.

Rosemary has been proven to improve memory. This is a good thing to know as DonQui is hopelessly forgetful. This is not just down to his ageing brain — he has always been that way. When he was a young colt his father once told him that it was a good thing his head was screwed on as otherwise he would forget it.

Oregano (and marjoram) is good for stomach upset and indigestion while fennel seed can prevent heartburn. This is why fennel seeds are a key component of Mukhwas, an Indian after-meal digestive. Mint is also a natural digestive and helps to calm the gut. A glass or two of fresh mint tea after a meal is probably a much better bet than DonQui’s usual espresso!

Aniseed, tarragon and fennel seeds help to break down cholesterol. DonQui is rather fond of cream sauce with tarragon (with fish and chicken breast). Now he knows that the tarragon not only adds to the taste — it also helps his body deal with the cholesterol overdose.

Garlic helps to reduce blood pressure — something DonQui needs to do. He also learned that the little shoot in the middle of the bulb (often slightly greenish) can taste bitter in old garlic. It can easily be removed by splitting the clove length-wise down the centre before slicing or crushing.

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The flowers of most herbs are not only edible but they pack a fabulous flavour punch. They do loose their taste in cooking so use them in a salad or by sprinkling over a dish after cooking. After flowering the herbs should be cut back,

It is incredibly simple to create a herb infusion. Simply pour boiled (but not boiling) water over a sprig of your favourite herb to make a refreshing tea which can also be kept to drink cold. DonQui hopes that the occasional Rosemary infusion may help him to remember where he left his keys, or his phone, or his wallet.

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With over 300 culinary herbs, Jekka’s Herb Farm is the largest single collection in the UK. Delivered with dry humour by Jekka and her two adult children, the masterclass was as fun as it was informative. There was plenty of opportunity to create and try various concoctions and decoctions as well as a lovely lunch which showed off the use of many of the herbs.

DonQui highly recommends taking a class or just visiting on one of the open days. Be advised that classes fill up almost as soon as they are advertised. It took DonQui almost a year to secure a place which he got off a waiting list. It is worth persevering!

 

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