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Cooking with Herbs

Did you know that rosemary was a symbol of fidelity for the ancient Greeks? This herb was used in wedding ceremonies in ancient times, and later monks believed the spindly plant helped cure stomach maladies. During World War II, branches of rosemary were burned to repel germs from sick and wounded soldiers.

Today, herbs have many uses. Eastern cultures are particularly open to using them for treating everyday maladies. Westerners tend to the use the plants for complementing the flavors of foods, from pasta to rack of lamb.

The Herb Society of America is a great jumping off point for information and tips about herbs. The group researches the history of herbs in horticulture, science, literature, history, the arts and economics.

Chefs around the world are fascinated with the power of herbs to flavor their most prized dishes. Check out these culinary herb guides for tips and recipes that use herbs:

  • Herbal Tease
    A great place for an introduction to basic herbs and spices, this site from Epicurious.com offers tips for growing, storing, drying and cooking with herbs. You'll also find articles about herbs from magazines like Gourmet and Bon Appetit.

  • Cooking Vegetarian
    The famous chefs of the Wisconsin Dell's Cheese Factory Restaurant use the Herb of the Month to showcase the versatility of one particular plant and its ability to spice up any vegetarian dish. From basil to chives to mint, the site offers folktales about the chosen herb and offers several recipes and growing instructions for the home gardener. Be sure to check out chapters from the restaurant's cookbook, too.

There are several classic herb combinations used in cooking that you can buy already made or create yourself. Try these savory suggestions!

Fines Herbs is a traditional French mixture of 4 fresh or dried herbs including parsley, chervil, chives and tarragon. Great for fresh salads or in egg dishes, this combo also works with sautéed shrimp.

Herbs de Provence is a regional mixture of sun-loving herbs from the Mediterranean. Thyme, oregano, rosemary and savory combine to form an aromatic addition to pizza, stews, grilled foods and baked vegetables.

Is your spice rack missing chervil? Then try using tarragon or parsley. Do you hate the taste of cilantro? Then use the helpful Herb Substitution Chart from About.com for alternatives to the most popular herbs and spices used in recipes.

If you would like to grow the herbs you'll be using in this summer's main dishes, find growing tips from an herbalist group in South Africa. You'll find general information about growing herbs in topiaries and containers, as well as choosing a site for herb gardens and designing them. You'll also learn how to maintain herbs in warmer winter months, too.

Once you've harvested your first herbs of the season, you'll need to know how to properly dry and store them. This P. Allen Smith site offers easy directions that will help any kitchen gardener dry herbs in their own home. Great recipes for mint sorbet and warm spinach and basil salad are a plus!

Just looking for the perfect herbs? Check out The National Herb Garden in Washington, D.C. It's part of the U.S. National Arboretum and is the largest herb garden in the world. Covering 2.5 acres, it is divided into themed herb beds and special purpose herbs. Over 800 types of herbs grow in the garden each year.

   --- N. Magistro

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