Monday, February 27, 2012

It's A Matter of Thyme

Thyme is one of my all-around favorite cooking herbs. But - there's a lot more to this lovely little plant than sprinkling it over your chicken, oh yes indeed! The genus Thymus offers us an amazing variety, from shrubby to creeping and from wonderfully fragrant to beautifully ornamental.

Along with its usefulness, Thyme also has a message for us! According to Kathleen Gips in her book Flora's Dictionary: The Victorian Language of Herbs and Flowers, Thyme's meaning in a bouquet is "Thriftiness, Happiness, Courage". And Lemon Thyme says "My time with you is a pleasure"! The species name Thymus might derive from the Greek thymon, meaning "courage".

So, just now, I gathered my courage and sat down with pen and paper... and came up with twenty-one different types of thyme without even heating up a brain cell: Common, French, Orange Balsam, Lemon, Lemon Variegated, Lime, Yellow Transparent, Elfin, Pink Ripple, Pink Chintz, English Wedgwood, Caraway, Hop-Headed, Thracicus, Ibukiensis, Red Creeping, Doone Valley, Longwood, Golden, Wooly, Silver...  and the list goes on and on from there!
Here's a lovely grouping, planted in a large, handmade hypertufa trough. The little variegated one in center front is 'Doone Valley' - I neglected to write down the rest! 

(Might pop those names in later, if I think to go back to the greenhouses and take a peek.)

Is it any wonder that Thyme was thought to enable one to see fairies? I can just imagine them peeking through the tiny branches to take a look in return.

In general, thymes like a well-drained soil, full sun, and not too much water. In my garden, I fertilize thyme only if I'm growing it in a pot. Bloom colors range from white to pink, lavender, and near-red. 

And this miniature "tree" is actually a hop-headed thyme. It looks like a bonsai, but actually achieves this look without the years of pruning and shaping. Love it with the succulents around it - and they all like similar conditions (dry, well-drained).

Wouldn't you love to hang a tiny swing from the lowest branch... ;-)

 A lush little "Ibukiensis" thyme - this variety has lovely pinkish blooms in the summertime. 

The one thing that this photo can't convey is the soft, cushiony feel of this plant. After I photographed it, I just ran my hand over it and smiled.

Rock gardens are ideal for these lovelies, and they are just gorgeous when tumbling over the edge of a stone wall.There are quite a few low-growing types that work well in pathways or between stepping stones, too. "Red Creeping" is a reasonably-tough favorite for paths, and the dainty leaves of 'Elfin', 'Pink Chintz', and fuzzy little Wooly Thyme are precious in lower-traffic areas.

Culinary Thymes

For most culinary uses, I usually like either Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) or French thyme (T. vulgaris spp.).

For a little flavor twist there's Lemon thyme, which comes in both green-leaved (picture to the right) and  gold-and-green variegated forms.

So. We have a bunch of culinary thyme on our hands... what next? Thyme pairs well with many types of food. I especially love it with lighter-flavored meats (fish, chicken, pork), eggs, vinaigrette-type salad dressings, and lots of different vegetables (dried beans, corn, potatoes, and tomatoes for sure). It also goes well with citrus flavors, and believe it or not, in sugar cookies!

Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette
From Herbs: Cultivating & Cuisine by Carol Asher, ISBN 913383759 
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon thyme leaves, chopped*

Whisk mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper together. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add thyme. Makes about ¾ cup.
*note from Jules: regular thyme works fine, too.

Jules' Poultry Seasoning
4 tsp sage
2 tsp thyme
2 tsp rosemary
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano

Grind all herbs to a powder.  Store in a tightly closed container, in a cool, dark place. For every-day use, I blend 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of the mix with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, brush over chicken or fish, and bake. In fact, that's what's going on some bone-in chicken for supper tonight! ;-)

Fish Baked with Thyme-Scented Mushrooms
From The Courier-Journal newspaper
1 pound sliced mushrooms (a mix of fresh mushrooms is good)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon (freshly ground) black pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound tilapia fillets, or other firm-fleshed fish

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spread mushrooms over a wide, shallow baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt, peppers, thyme and garlic. Stir to distribute evenly. Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove pan from oven, stir mushrooms; push them away from center. Place fish in the middle. Turn the fillets over, drizzle with remaining tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Bake 15 minutes, or until fish is cooked through. Serve with wilted spinach and garlic toast (or wild rice mix).
Serves 4. 

Thyme-Lemon Cookies
Recipe appeared in SUNSET magazine, credited to Janet Moore, Beulah, CO
1 cup (1/2 lb.) butter
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
2 large eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. dry thyme leaves
1 Tbl. grated lemon peel

Combine butter and 1 ½ cups sugar; beat until thoroughly blended.  Beat in eggs until smooth.  Add flour, baking powder, thyme, and lemon peel; mix well. Chill dough for 1 hour. Put remaining 1/4 cup sugar into a small bowl.  Shape spoonfuls of dough into balls; drop into sugar & roll to coat.  Place 1 inch apart on ungreased 12x15" sheet.  Bake at 375° 12 to 15 minutes.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.


Hopefully these give you a few reasons to get some thyme on YOUR hands - Thanks for reading, and a heartfelt bouquet of Lemon Thyme to you - my time with you certainly is a pleasure!

- Jules

(And a big "THANK YOU" to Thieneman's Herbs and Perennials, for allowing me to play for a while in their sandbox and photograph their beautiful plants.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Herbs for Fragrance

Here are a few ideas to have your home smelling sweet for Valentine's Day, and all year round!

Cinnamon Spice Simmering Potpourri
This is a great blend to use after cooking – my Mom used to use a simpler version after she fried fish or onions, to freshen the air.
1 Tbsp. Cinnamon chips
2 tsp. whole allspice
2 tsp. whole cloves
2 tsp. dried orange peel
1 tsp. star anise pieces

Mix all ingredients, and use 1 Tbsp. per cup of water. After simmering, you can usually strain out the potpourri and spread it on a paper towel to dry for another use. 
(If you’d rather not make your own, I do offer a similar blend at my craft shows. For my out-of-town friends - feel free to contact me for prices and shipping information.)

Simple Lavender Sachets
Lavender has been used for centuries as a “closet herb”, to repel insects and scent linens. To make a simple sachet:
  • Fill a muslin drawstring tea bag (or “bouquet garni” bag) with lavender buds and tie securely. For a decorative touch, you can stamp or paint designs on the bag before you fill it. With this type of sachet, I tie a triple knot and throw one in the dryer with wet towels or sheets.
  • Use wide, wire-edged ribbon to sew a sachet:  Cut about a 6-inch length of wide ribbon. Fold one third of the ribbon up, and hand or machine stitch the sides to make a pocket. Fill the pocket with lavender buds, fold the other third of the ribbon down, tuck raw edge under, and stitch it closed.
  • Pretty art paper makes a great sachet – cut two 3” x 3” squares (or whatever size you’d like), put them together with the right sides facing out, and sew up three sides with a sewing machine. Fill with lavender, sew the last side. Finish edges by trimming with a pair of fancy-edged scissors (I use a “deckle-edged” rotary cutter for mine).
  • Organza drawstring bags – these are widely available at craft and party stores (check in the wedding supplies area)
  • Handkerchief sachet  - just pour some lavender or other herbs in the middle of a pretty vintage handkerchief, bandana, or other square of fabric. Gather in the edges, and tie with a ribbon.

You can get as fancy as you’d like – heart-shaped sachets trimmed with lace, with a ribbon loop to go over a clothes hanger… lavender-filled, padded hangers… You can also cover a styrofoam form (heart-shaped, perhaps?) with white glue, and roll it in lavender buds. Let it dry, and attach a ribbon loop with pins or cool-melt glue. For decoration, glue on lace, little dried rosebuds, or anything else that suits your fancy!

If you don't happen to have a stash of lavender and other herbs around, check with a health-food store, herb shop, or some of the links I have posted to the right. Frontier, Atlantic Spice, and the San Francisco Herb are all good sources, and they all have the muslin drawstring bags as well. 

A Few Favorites for Fragrance
As I promised on today's show, here are some of my favorite herbs for fragrance, both in the garden and out of it:
Lavender (Lavandula spp.) - English, French, and hybrids' scents will all vary. To my nose, English will be sweeter, French and hybrids lean more to the camphor (but still very nice).
Roses (Rosa spp.) - Not every rose has a beautiful scent! If you can, sniff before you take one home.
Scented Geraniums - These are actually the species Pelargonium, and are related to the annual geraniums that so many people grow on the front porch in the summertime. I'll be doing a whole show on them in April, but for now, my favorite fragrances are "True Rose", "Attar of Rose", and the lemon ones, especially "Frensham Lemon" (the leaves smell like real lemon oil!).
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) - a member of the mint family, with a fresh lemony scent. Great in tea, and in the bathtub.
Lemon Verbena ( Aloysia triphylla) - probably the most strongly lemon-scented herb. Dried leaves hold their scent and flavor very well. If cooking with it, be sure to remove the center spines from the leaves, as they can cause trouble in the digestive system. 
Rosemary (Rosmarinus) - Lovely, fresh, invigorating scent.
Thyme (Thymus) - there are all kinds of different thymes, too. Look for Lemon, Lime, Orange Balsam... Some forms are upright, and others are low-growing and make lovely scented paths or benches. 
Southernwood (Artemisia abronatum) - A lovely, feathery, semi-woody shrublet, Southernwood has a musky citrus scent and is an insect repellent. Beautiful in flower arrangements as a filler.
Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) - Low-growing perennial, makes a lovely scented path or bench. When bruised, the foliage smells a little like sweet apples.
German (true) Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) - Taller-growing annual, this one is the plant you want for tea. Although it's a totally different plant than the Roman, it still has the lovely sweet-apple scent.
Mints (Mentha spp.) - Again, this is an herb with a whole array of scents and flavors. Spearmint, peppermint, orange, lemon, lime, chocolate, candy, pineapple... the list is nearly endless. If you plant them in the garden, be sure to contain them well so they don't spread everywhere. 
Bee Balm (Monarda) - also called "Bergamot", another mint-family member. This lovely herb attracts bees and hummingbirds, and has blooms and leaves that taste like the peel of the Bergamot orange - the characteristic flavoring of Earl Grey tea.
Pinks (Dianthus spp.) - Some of my favorite plants in this group are carnations (the real ones, without the scent bred out of them!), clove pinks, and especially Bath's Pinks (D. gratianopolitanus). A sweet, spicy fragrance is their hallmark, and many of them have grey-green foliage that stays pretty all through our Kentucky winters. 
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) - lovely little shade plant with whorls of bright green leaves and tiny white flowers. Its scent comes after the leaves are dried, and it smells like a mix of vanilla and hay. This was one of the first non-culinary herbs I ever planted, and I've been in love with it ever since.
Yarrow (Achillea spp.) - Ferny foliage has a camphor scent to it, and bears flat clusters of flowers in any of a variety of colors. Here in Kentucky, white yarrow is a native wildflower, but yellow and pink are probably the most common garden colors. It's an old-timey medicinal plant, and attracts bees and butterflies.
Curry Plant (Helichrysum angustifolium) - This isn't a culinary herb at all - it takes its name from the strong curry scent of its thin, felt-y, silvery leaves. It's a lovely as an ornamental and a novelty plant. 

*whew*.... Well, that scratches the "Fragrant Herbs" surface, at least! If you'd like to see pictures of most of these beauties, just click the Thieneman's link on the sidebar to the right of this page - they have a wonderful library of photographs. And above all, enjoy your herbs!

Have a sweet and fragrant Valentine's Day! <3   - J.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Herbal tea, anyone?

It’s early February…late winter in most of North America. What better time for a cup of something warm, a fuzzy blanket, and a good book? With just a little thought (and maybe a little something yummy to nibble) you can turn it into a real party. For my friends in the Southern Hemisphere (or in the American South!) – make your brew a little stronger, add some ice, and keep cool – and enjoy any lovely fresh herbs you may have in your garden right now!

Actually, the term “herbal tea” is a misnomer. When you steep dried herbs in boiling water, it’s more properly called an infusion. Using fresh herbs, it’s a tisane. “Tea” more properly refers only to the leaves of Camellia sinensis, which give us black, green, and white tea.

But “tea” is easier to say than “infusion” or “tisane”. Or “plant leaf drink”… so, herbal tea it is. ;-P

‘Nuff said - here are a few ways to go about making your own Herbal Hot or Cold Plant Leaf Drinks!

Basic method for steeping most herbal tea blends: Place a heaping teaspoon of dried herb mix in a tea infuser, muslin bag, or seal into a heat-sealable tea bag. (Or, you can put herb mix directly into a cup and strain it out after it steeps.) Add one cup of briskly boiling water, cover the cup, and allow to steep for five to ten minutes. Sweeten if desired, and enjoy! If you’re using fresh herbs, use triple the amount or more, to taste. To prepare in a teapot, use one teaspoon of tea for each cup the pot holds, plus one extra teaspoon “for the pot”.

1 tsp. dried peppermint

Simple, yes? Sweet black peppermint is a wonderful place to start for tea, and there are many different types and flavors of mint to play with. Most varieties of mint grow abundantly and pair well with black tea, green tea, fruit juices, and different sweeteners (honey, sugar, stevia, artificials, etc.).

3 parts peppermint
1 part catnip
1 part rose petals
1 part lemon verbena

Here’s a different side of peppermint - rose petals for aroma, lemon verbena for a little zing, catnip for a little green sweetness. Catnip isn’t just for the kitties – it is actually a gently calming herb for people. You can grow your own or purchase dried catnip at any health food store, but don’t buy it at the pet store! The quality of people-grade “nip” is much better than what Kitty usually gets. (If you have cats, be sure to store this tea somewhere they can’t reach it. I’m serious. They will find it.)

1 tsp. green tea (or 1 tea bag)
3 tsp. fresh mint (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 tsp. honey

Antioxidants, all freshened up! Mix all ingredients and infuse in 2 cups boiling water. Lemon-flavored herbs also go well with this blend: Experiment with lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemongrass, or a little organic lemon zest.

Adapted from Another Taste of Herbs  (The cookbook of the Kentuckiana Herb Society)

I love this punch, and serve it whenever I host a garden party of any type. (I rarely use the full amount of sugar.)
2 cups strong black tea
4 cups herb tea (mint or mixed herbs)
2 cups sugar or to taste
1 pint orange juice
1 pint lemon juice
1 pint pineapple juice

Brew black and herb teas; while still warm, add sugar and mix to dissolve. Add fruit juices and mix well, adjusting sugar to taste. Chill and serve over ice. Yield: 12 8-oz. servings.

Wait – didn’t  someone mention “nibbles”, earlier?

Hmm… I do believe so! Here are just a few of my favorite recipes for herbal party food:

From Herbs – Cultivating & Cuisine, Carol Asher ISBN 0 913383 75 9

1 clove garlic, minced
16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 Tbl. fresh oregano, chopped
1 Tbl. fresh dill, chopped
1 Tbl. fresh basil, chopped
1 Tbl. fresh thyme, chopped
¼ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients, mix gently and thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature prior to serving.

Note: This is actually a good method for testing out blends of herbs you’d like to sample – take a little bit of cream cheese (or fat-free Neufchatel, since its flavor is more neutral), mix in the herbs you’re considering and let it sit at room temperature for half an hour to let the flavors blend. Stir again and sample it on a plain cracker to see how your mix works.

From The Complete Book of Herbs by Lesley Bremness
( I LOVE this book!)
For this recipe… think “Savory granola bars”.

2 oz. butter                                                                          
2 cups rolled oats                                                
1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated          
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. chopped rosemary (fresh or dried)
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350°.  Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Place remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix in the butter.  Lightly press the mixture into a greased 8” square pan.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, cut into fingers.

Adapted from
Here is a sweet, buttery little cookie with a tart citrus zing – and the unexpected flavor of thyme.

2 ¼ cups (10 ounces) unbleached flour
½ tsp. salt (optional)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest (about 1 large lemon)
1 Tbsp. finely grated lime zest (about 1 large lime)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. each lemon and lime juices
½ tsp. dried lemon thyme (or 1 tsp. fresh, finely minced)
1 ½  tsp. pure vanilla extract
Colored sanding sugar

Sift the flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Using a mixer or heavy spoon, beat butter and lemon and lime zests until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the 1 cup of sugar slowly; mix well. Blend in the lemon and lime juices, thyme, and vanilla. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in two sections, mixing just until blended.

 Shape half of the dough into a log about 10 inches long and place on a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Roll tightly, twisting the ends tightly to seal and pressing them inward with your hands to compact the dough. Repeat with the remaining dough. Refrigerate the cookie log for about 2½   hours, or freeze until ready to use.

Heat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, cut cookie log into 1/8 inch rounds. Set the rounds 1 inch apart on the baking sheets, sprinkle with colored sugar, and bake one sheet at a time on the center rack of the oven. Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 10 minutes, rotating cookies as needed. Let cool about 5 minutes before transferring cookies to racks with a spatula.
Makes about 8 dozen.

1 cup (1/2 lb.) butter
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
2 large eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons dry lavender buds
1 tablespoon grated orange peel.

In a food processor, pulse lavender and 1/2 cup of sugar until lavender is powdered. Combine butter, lavender sugar, and 1 cup plain sugar; beat until thoroughly blended.  Beat in eggs until smooth.  Add flour, baking powder, and orange peel; mix well.  Put remaining 1/4 cup sugar into a small bowl.  Shape into 1 Tbsp-size balls (chill for an hour for easier handling); drop balls into sugar & roll to coat.  Place balls 1 inch apart on ungreased 12x15" sheet.  Bake at 375° 9 to 12 minutes.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

ROSE GERANIUM POUND CAKE (featured in the photo at the top of this post)
From A Taste of Herbs
This has become something of a “signature” cake for me – if I’m having a garden party, it seems that I Must bake this cake, or I’ll be hearing about it later. :D

4 to 6 medium large rose geranium leaves, flattened* and oiled
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
3 cups sugar                                                         
6 eggs                                                                    
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 cup (8 oz.) sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Arrange geranium leaves, dull side up, in bottom of a greased and floured Bundt pan; set aside. Cream butter; gradually add sugar, beating well.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, salt, and soda; add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning with flour and ending with flour. Stir in vanilla.  Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1½ hours or until pick comes out clean.  Cool 40-60 minutes; remove from pan and cool completely.

(*To flatten leaves, arrange them between two paper towels and place a couple of phone books on top. Flatten for several hours or overnight.)

All righty then... I'm going to exercise a tiny bit of self-control and stop here, even though I'd love to share every single recipe I've ever found or concocted! (There is, after all, a Monday in every week of the year.) Hope you have some fun with these - and if you have a favorite recipe, I'd love to hear it! Just throw me an e-mail:

Pick a day, and make it a tea party just for you! Enjoy. <3