Rosemary – Rosemarinus officinalis

Rosemary – Rosemarinus officinalis

Rosemary, which has long been known as Rosmarinus officinalis, has recently been assigned to the Genus ‘Salvia’. That means, it is botanically grouped with the sages. However, the old name is still acceptable, but it is good to be aware of the name change, to avoid confusion.

Most of us know this woody, aromatic bush as a culinary herb, but in fact, Rosemary is so much more than that. It has some quite remarkable properties that are well worth remembering!

As a kitchen herb, Rosemary is an old stand-by: Rosemary potatoes, Rosemary chicken, Rosemary salt, Rosemary lamb, or Rosemary fish are all familiar menu items.  The needle-like leaves have a highly aromatic, somewhat medicinal scent. The flavour is distinctive, somewhat bitter, and resinous, which perfectly complements fatty foods. It ‘cuts through’ the grease. This is why it is used to flavor greasy meat and fish dishes and to aid digestion. Rosemary acts as a token apology to the liver.

Although it is an herb of the mint family (Lamiaceae), its thin, spiky leaves lend it the appearance of some kind of dwarf conifer. Rosemary is at home in the semi-arid climate zone of the Mediterranean coastal region. It commonly grows in the garrigue, the shrubland that covers the lower hills. Its scientific name – ‘rosmarinus’ means ‘Dew of the Sea’. It indicates that this herb likes to be ‘kissed’ by the salty mist coming in from the sea. Others have suggested that the name perhaps alludes to the light blue flowers. A bush that is profusely covered in flowers has the appearance of sea foam on the crest of a wave. Thus, Rosemary has also been linked to the Greek Goddess Aphrodite, who was born from the foam of the sea.

In the Mediterranean, it is one of the earliest flowers to appear in the New Year. Its pale blue flowers blush the wild coastal hillsides, spreading an aromatic scent that awakens the sleepy bees. Rich in nectar, Rosemary is one of their first sources of nourishment. The highly aromatic Rosemary honey is sold at local markets as a highly prized regional specialty.

Rosemary’s intense fragrance and aromatic flavor are due to essential oils, which are obtained not from the flowers, but from the needle-like leaves. As a key ingredient of the ever-useful herb blend known as  ‘Herbes de Provençe’ it is a quintessential item on the herb shelf.

Rosemary bush

Medicinal uses of Rosemary

This essential oil is also responsible for its medicinal properties. Rosemary oil stimulates blood circulation, particularly to the head. It has a beneficial effect on memory. In herbal lore, this property is associated with the remembrance of loved ones, and friends, and those who have recently passed away.

Rosemary’s bitter principle aids digestion. It ‘warms’ the stomach and stimulates the liver and gallbladder. It helps the body to break down fats and improve digestion.

It also shows anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Externally, a Rosemary infusion can be used to cleanse badly healing wounds.

Cooking with Rosemary

Rosemary goes great with roasts – whether you are roasting a goose, lamb chops, or a pan full of root vegetables, a sprig of rosemary transforms the dish and adds a complex, slightly bitter and highly aromatic flavor.

Purification

Rosemary has also long been used as incense, particularly in combination with Juniper berries. This tradition has continued into modern times. It is still sometimes used to fumigate and purify the air in a patient’s room. It is also popular as a cleansing aromatic that is used in sauna infusions, or to scent bath oils and soaps.

Restorative

Rosemary’ is a tonic and restorative. Its stimulating action on the blood circulation and coronary function and can restore vitality and strength to convalescents or feeble children. In the past it was also used as an aphrodisiac that had the reputation to restore a dwindling manhood. Recent research has shown that Rosemary contains

Cosmetics

Rosemary can be added to home-made shampoos or hair rinses. It will stimulate the follicles and promote hair growth. In the ‘still room,’ its essence would have been added to skin tonics, lotions, and oils.

Rosemary Hair Rinse

The simplest way to let your hair benefit from the tonic power of Rosemary is to simply make a strong infusion of 1 tablespoon of dried rosemary leaves to 500 ml of water – infuse with boiling water and steep until it has cooled down, strain and massage into the scalp. Leave it for a few minutes, then rinse it out. It is best when prepared fresh, but it will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Rosemary Shampoo

Unscented shampoo bases are readily available at many stores these days. Get one you like and add a few drops of Rosemary Essential Oil to it.

Recommended for brown or dark hair as it will naturally darken the hair over time.

Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus)

Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus)

Autumn equinox always arrives with a shock: summer is over, winter is on the approach! How can that be? It seems only such a short while ago that we laughed and played in the summer sun! But all too soon I hear the equinox winds hurling outside my window and watch dark, ominous clouds chasing each other across the sky. I sigh. The last of the foraging days are just around the corner. From now until Samhain or All Saints Day, a flurry of activity lies ahead: I will be gathering mushrooms, berries, and nuts to fill the winter larder.

Strawberries, raspberries, red currents – berry season is already over. Almost – except for one! A sweet reminder of the summer days will take us to the threshold of winter: the lowly Blackberry (aka Bramble). How we curse it in spring and summer when we find our passage across a field blocked by its dangling thorny limbs, when its barbs tear our clothes, tangle our hair, or scratch our skin! When bramble blocks the way it means business. Although it is not impossible to overcome, most will choose an easier route than to engage in direct combat.

Yet, who can resist the sweet berries once summer is over? From the end of August to the beginning of November Bramble bestows a seemingly inexhaustible harvest. Rows of jam jars that line the larder are abundant proof.

Bramble is extremely undemanding. It pops up just about anywhere and is often cursed as a weed. But, like many other so-called weeds, it bears a precious secret.

Blackberries highly nutritious and rich in vitamins, especially Vitamin C and A, and K, as well as in minerals, especially manganese and fibre. They also contain flavonoids and tannins, which means that they are not only delicious fieldfare or raw material for jams, but can also be used medicinally.

The tannins act as an astringent. Medicinally Blackberries (as well as the Blackberry leaves, picked in spring) can be used to tighten the gums and to inhibit bleeding. It makes a good remedy for the upset tummies of small children, can arrest diarrhoea, settle a nervous stomach and even soothe a stomach-flu.

The leaves can be brewed like tea. Sometimes they are mixed with raspberry and strawberry leaves to make a refreshing general-purpose household tea. Their diuretic and diaphoretic properties useful in a blood cleansing tea and help to reduce a fever.

Extremely valuable is their ability to lower blood sugar levels, which would commend them to diabetics as an alternative to regular tea or coffee. The leaves are also astringent and can be used as a gargle to soothe a sore throat. The berries or their juice are beneficial for treating hoarseness. Singers and speakers should make ample use of this freely available and effective remedy.

On a more spiritual note, the lowly Blackberry flower has an honoured place among Dr. Bach’s flower essences. He saw it as a remedy for confusion. Bramble essence is said to help one realise the ‘essential truth’ or underlying pattern of a situation and is thought to assist in finding solutions to a problem, bring about mental clarity, and to aid concentration and memory.

Recipes

 

As blackberries are so commonly found in the hedgerows there are a plethora of recipes for cordials, jams, jellies, ice cream, mousse, pies, chutneys, and tons more. I prefer the fresh berries straight off the vine with just a little cream, but here are another couple of favourites: 

Apple and Blackberry Crumble:

Filling

  • 3 Large cooking apples
  • 1lb Blackberries
  • 5oz Sugar or Honey
  • Cinnamon
  • Lemon
  • ½ oz Butter

Crust

  • 2 oz Butter
  • 2 oz Rolled oats
  • 2 oz Flour
  • 1 oz Walnuts (crushed)
  • 1 oz Sugar or Honey
  • Preheat the oven to 200C/400F

Peel and cut the apples into small chunks. Melt the butter and stir in the sugar and cinnamon. Cook until it carmelises, stirring frequently. After about 5 min add the apple pieces, lemon, and walnuts. Cook until the apples are getting soft.

Prepare the crumble topping by rubbing the softened butter, sugar, flour, and oats into a crumbly mixture.

Take the apples off the heat and add the blackberries. Stir in gently. Transfer the filling into a shallow ovenproof casserole and sprinkle the crumble topping on top. Bake for about 20 minutes at about 180°C or 350°F until the topping turns a light golden brown.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Blackberry Cornbread

2 cups white cornmeal

¼ tsp. soda

¼ tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

1 cup maple syrup

1 ½ cup blackberries

Mix cornmeal, soda, salt, buttermilk, egg in a medium-sized mixing bowl; stir well. Add maple syrup, stir well. Add blackberries, stir into the mixture without mashing them. Pour into a well-greased iron skillet and bake slowly at 350°F/180°C until top begins to brown. Reduce heat to 200°F/100°C until cooked.

Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus)

Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus)

At last, summer has arrived, and with it, the wonderful time of berry gathering. To my taste buds, there is nothing more delicious than a bowl of freshly collected wild strawberries and wild blueberries served with only with fresh milk and sugar – it instantly triggers bliss and brings back happy childhood memories of carefree sunny days spent grazing my way through the woods. My mouth, shirts, and hands stained a deep purplish red for weeks on end. I did not care. I was happy as a bear, gorging myself on this seemingly inexhaustible supply of berries. That is how I came to be a forager at the age of five, a passion that has stayed with me all my life.

Blueberries like an acid environment and are particularly prolific in northern pine forests, heath, and moors. They cling to hillsides or hide among the heather. Although they can be found in the moors of southern England they are more prolific in Scotland and Wales. In the US they are mostly found in the Rockies and other mountainous regions of the western States. Commercial blueberries are widely cultivated in the Northeastern US.

Blueberries are a member of the heather family. The tough, low-growing plants can completely carpet a forest floor, creating a veritable a forager’s paradise. The leaves are small, elliptical with finely serrated margins. The reddish fairy bell flowers, dangling singly from the low bushes, are typical of the heather family. By the end of July/beginning of August, depending on local conditions, they turn into deep bluish-black berries. To be sure, picking each soft little berry requires a certain degree of delicacy and many will squish their sweet juice all over your hands and clothes. Make sure you are dressed for the occasion, as you will never completely get the stain out again (Tip: lemon juice or ascorbic acid works best).

Some find cleaning the berries a chore, as the little stalks can be somewhat tenacious, and tedious to pick off, but the effort is well worth it. Nothing quite compares to blueberry bliss – in fact, my taste buds are performing a little dance of ecstasy at the mere thought of harvesting season drawing nigh.

Blueberries, Vaccinium myrtillus

Medicinal uses:

Both berries and leaves feature in traditional herbal medicine. A tea made from Blueberry leaves can lower blood sugar levels. However, recent animal research suggests that long-term use of large doses can have adverse effects. The berries are known to enhance the peripheral blood circulation, which among other things, improve visual acuity. This property comes to the aid of diabetics and people who find it hard to adjust to poor lighting conditions. They are also hailed to improve blood supply to the brain and thus make excellent brain power food. These findings suggest that Blueberries make an ideal snacking fruit for the elderly. They have also been found to reduce cholesterol and to catch free radicals. In fact, according to a study by Tuffts University, which examined 60 different fruit and vegetables, blueberries demonstrated the highest levels of antioxidant activity. Blueberries also act on the connective tissue, making it stronger and more stable. They have also been recommended for people who suffer from varicose veins. Furthermore, blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, an antioxidant compound found in wine which is known to protect the heart. However, wine made from blueberries has been shown to contain 38% more of this compound than red wine. They also contain another type of antioxidant compound that protects against colon cancer. Thus, blueberries are easily not just one of the most delicious fruits, but also one of the healthiest. Scoff as many as you can while the season is on!

Blueberries have also been found to reduce cholesterol and to catch free radicals. In fact, according to a study by Tufts University, which examined 60 different fruit and vegetables, blueberries demonstrated the highest levels of antioxidant activity. Blueberries also act on the connective tissue, making it stronger and more stable and have also been recommended for varicose veins. Furthermore, blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, an antioxidant compound also found in wine, which is known to protect the heart. However, wine made from blueberries has been shown to contain 38% more of this compound than red wine, as well as another type of antioxidant that is said to protect against colon cancer. Thus, blueberries are easily not only one of the most delicious fruits, but also one of the healthiest. Scoff as many as you can, while the season is on!

CAUTION:

Blueberry leaves contain oxalates, which, when concentrated in the blood can form crystals that can damage the kidneys. People suffering from urinary problems or kidney disease should avoid oxalate-containing foods. Use blueberry leaves in moderation.

Recipes 

If you are lucky enough to find a plentiful patch, perhaps mixed with other berries, such as wild strawberries, raspberries or blackberries, you can make a cold berry soup – a favourite summer dish in Scandinavian countries, fruits of the forest ice cream, sorbet or yogurt cream, which, when stabilized with vegetarian gelatine, makes an excellent cake filling. Blueberry milkshakes are equally delicious. Not to mention jams and syrups for later use. In short, there is no limit to blueberry delights.

Blueberry juice:

Mash about 1 cup of blueberries. Add 1 cup of water (or more if you like it thinner). Simmer briefly, add sugar or honey to taste, strain through cheesecloth and cool.

Blueberry smoothy:

Add one cup of blueberries to 1cup of milk and a ½ cup of yogurt. Whizz in a blender. Add sugar and/or lemon juice to taste.

Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup butter

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease muffin cups.

Tumble blueberries with a little bit of the flour, enough to coat them. Combine the remaining dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

Cream the butter with the eggs and buttermilk; stir into flour mixture until just combined (batter will be lumpy). Stir in blueberries until evenly distributed. Fill muffin cups full with batter. Bake about 20 minutes until golden

Blueberry Pie

There are gazillion delicious recipes for blueberry pies and cheesecakes. To maximize the healthful properties of this delicious treat forget the cheesecake and just fill a pie crust with a slightly cooked blueberry mixture.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Crust:

  • 1½ cup graham cracker crumbs (or digestive biscuits)
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • cup of water

Crumble the Graham crackers and mix with melted butter. Add just enough water to create a dough that sticks together. Press into a deep 9″ pie tin.

  • 8 cups of blueberries
  • 7 Tbs corn flour or tapioca
  • 3 Tablespoons water (or grape juice)
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • ¾ cup of sugar

Wash the berries. Combine corn starch, sugar and optional spices in a mixing bowl. Add lemon juice and water and blend well. Gently combine blueberries with the cornstarch mixture and fill into pie crust. They may overfill the tin, but the volume is reduced during baking.

If you like, add a crumb topping:

  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ¼ cup butter, flaked
  • Rub together until it becomes a crumbly mixture and spread all over the pie. Cook for about one hour at 375°F or 190°C.

Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Blueberry cream

  • 2 cups of blueberry
  • 2 cups of quark (smooth cottage cheese or fromage frais)
  • ½cup whipped cream
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice
  • Cassis

Clean and slightly bruise the blueberries, pour a little cassis over them and some sugar.  Marinate for a few hours until the sugar is dissolved and the blueberries have turned a little mushy.

In another bowl blend the fromage frais with the lemon juice and some sugar until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream and stir in the blueberries. If you add a little gelatine to the quark (follow instructions on the package) you can also use this cream as a filling for a pie crust.

Cold Blueberry soup:

Wonderful dessert/dish for a summer’s day.

Take a quart of blueberries, bruise or mash. Add the same amount of water and a little lemon juice. Simmer, add sugar to taste. If you don’t like the seeds and skins, you can strain the liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Dissolve a little cornstarch and add to thicken, but take care not to use too much. Simmer a little while longer, then allow to cool and put in the fridge. Whip some cream. When the blueberry soup is cold enough, serve with dabs of fresh whipped cream. Some people like to refine this recipe by adding a little cassis to the soup.

 

Acorns

Acorns

I don’t know why I have been ignoring acorns all this time. But this year, out of nowhere, it suddenly struck me that I should give them a try. Oaks are quite plentiful in my region and thus acorns are not in short supply. And so, I unexpectedly found myself filling my pockets with acorns a couple of weeks ago. Acorns actually make for easy foraging – they are plentiful, not prickly and big enough to fill bags without too much effort.

But before you start picking, it may be worth your while to acquaint yourself with the different species that grow in your area. Different species are often found in the same habitat. Oaks (and acorns) come in many different varieties, shapes, and sizes but not all are terribly tasty, (in fact, some taste terrible).

Acorns are rich in tannins, a bitter, acrid substance that was once used for tanning animal hides. Tannins are very astringent and in large amounts, they are toxic to the kidneys, liver, and the entire digestive tract. They also interfere with iron absorption. This is why foragers prefer to search out varieties that are a bit sweeter and lack high levels of tannin. Fortunately, in most parts of Europe, the species that has the lowest tannin concentration is also one of the most common. In the US there is a wide variety of species and all of them, even the bitterest have been used for food.

In the eastern United States, Quercus alba, or common white oak, was generally considered the preferred species to gather, since it is naturally quite sweet. In the Southwest, gamble oak was used, although the acorns are not big. But, just about every kind of acorn has been utilized for food – bitter or not. To make the bitter varieties more palatable, the tannins must be removed. Native people have been very innovative in finding ways to accomplish this task. They used many different methods to render acorns more palatable and to preserve them for later use.

Some indigenous peoples stored the nuts in underground vaults that they would dig near a river. Stored in such vaults the nuts turned completely black but could be kept fresh for years (unless the squirrels should find them). But a more common method is to thoroughly dry or roast the nuts and to store them in jars for later use.

The dried nuts can then be ground into flour as needed. The flour is placed into a finely woven cloth and carefully rinsed to remove the tannins until the water runs clear. Any flour that is not used immediately must be thoroughly dried (e.g. at low temperature in the oven) to prevent it from getting moldy. The flour will ‘cake up’ and must be ground again before use.

Alternatively, you can boil the acorns in several changes of water and then dry them. Gentle roasting will dry them completely. Once thoroughly dry, they can be ground.

acorn biscuits

Acorn biscuits 

Acorns are very nutritious. They contain not only fat and carbohydrates but are also rich in proteins and B vitamins.

 

There are a surprising number of recipes out there for making acorn goodies – acorn grits, cakes, bread, and soup. Coarsely ground acorns (grits) can be used to replace nuts in many recipes, although they may add rather a lot of crunch. Acorn flour can be used to replace a portion of regular flour in just about any recipe. Mix flours in a ratio of 1:1 or 1:3, depending on how nutty a flavour you want to achieve. Experiment to create your own favourite recipes.

My experiment was based on a savoury biscuit recipe that normally calls for cashews. These crackers came out great, except that I should have ground the flour much finer. I used grits, but they turned quite crunchy in the oven. Still, on the whole, they were quite tasty.

Savoury Acorn Biscuits:

Ingredients:

  • 150g Acorn flour
  • 150g wholemeal flour
  • 100g cold butter
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbs. creme fraiche
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 – 3 tbs ground parmesan cheese

Place the flours into a bowl. Add the cold butter, in small chunks, and add the curry powder and salt. Add 1 egg yolk and the creme fraiche. Blend all ingredients to create a smooth shortcrust dough. Cover and put into the fridge for 1 hour.

Line a cookie sheet with baking paper and preheat the oven to 200°C (392°F).

Divide dough into two parts and roll out thinly (to approx 3 millimetres) between two layers of cling film.

Cut 4cm cookies (e.g. with a water glass) and transfer to cookie sheet.

Mix second egg yolk with 2 spoons of water and glaze each cookie

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese

Bake on the middle rack for 15 min until golden brown.