Saturday, February 6, 2010

On Herbs and Winter

For my work I have to, or I should say 'get to', research medicinal plants. There are so many herbs that are not only wonderful for flavoring our foods, but hold important healing benefits. Herbs season meats, soups, salads, and sandwiches. They are so important to grain and potato dishes. They are the basis of many sauces, and countless beneficial teas. This just hints at their culinary value.
Herbs are invaluable to making other important foods delicious enough to entice us time and again. This value may be surpassed by their tremendous nutritional and medicinal benefits. This week I attended the VNLA Short Course. This annual symposium is always full of great information, but this year it seemed particularly rewarding. One great talk was from Nicole Schermerhorn of A Thyme to Plant herb farm. She really got us thinking about the importance of herbs in the winter diet. Until the recent advent of the twelve month, continuously stocked, virtually seasonless, grocery store produce section, winter hardy herbs provided important nutrients for a more limited diet.
Nicole discussed approximately 15 different herbs, and hit the highlights of their culinary, medicinal, and nutritional value. Parsley was one of the heavy hitters. Known as a breath freshener, Nicole also pointed out it is high in vitamins A and C. According to Nicole's research "one cup of minced fresh parsley contains more beta-carotene than a large carrot, almost twice as much vitamin C as an orange, more calcium than a cup of milk, and 3 times as much iron as one (3oz) serving of liver. A quarter cup covers on third of the DV for vitamin C and 100% the DV for vitamin K..." This seems so amazing, but the more I read about medicinal plants the more I'm am struck by the nutritional and healing powers of winter crops. Take the brassicas for instance, the kale, collards, and cabbages that are still available through my winter CSA. Cabbages have so many amazing benefits. If you'd like to take a quick look at them Ms Martha Stewart just included a beautiful piece on them in her January issue. Click here to check it out.
As for the parsley, I grow it year round, and Nicole described her parsley poking up through the snow this past week. Although it is winter hardy, it is also a biennial so you do have to plant it every year. In additional to all their direct benefits to us so many of the herbs are also an important farmscaping plants drawing beneficial insects and helping to repel those unwanted ones.
If your spending these snowy days planning your garden and you haven't already made a place for lots of herbs I encourage you to make room for them. On top of all of their benefits they also tend to be so easy to grow and tend. If you don't have a garden keep some in pots in a sunny spot by the door, or add them to your shopping bag next time your at market.

For tons more information on herbs visit the Thyme to Plant website at Lavender Fields (its the same spot). Best of all take a trip out to the farm. It is near Richmond, just off of Woodman Rd. It is beautiful and has so many great enticements... lavender ice cream, blue ribbon honey from the hives kept on the farm, all organically grown herbs and expert advice.

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