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Tag: Cooking

Salsa Gardening – Grow your own Fresh Ingredients

In part one of Salsa Gardening – Before the thaw, we talked about getting your tomatoes and peppers planted.

So what other plant “ingredients” can you add to your salsa garden?  I should also mention that all of the “salsa plants” need sun so be sure to choose an open area.

Onions – You can start seed along with your tomatoes but I recommend starting with sets. Plant them in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Kids love planting these “big seeds”.  Or you can use “Winter Onions”.  Here is some more information on winter or “walking” onions.  My very favorite onions are Cipollini onions.  These flat heirloom onions are so sweet and delicious when caramelized.  Here are a few more onion growing tips:

  • You can plant them kind of close but only if you intend to thin them to use for green onions. They need room once the bulb starts to swell.Cipollini onions
  • Onions are heavy feeders so add plenty of compost.
  • Make sure the soil is loose. The bulbs can’t fill out in a heavy or compacted soil.
  • Keep the area weeded. This is even more important than the rest of your garden.  The onions won’t fill out with competition from weeds.

Garlic music, shatili, bogaryrGarlic – you may have to add this one next year because its best if planted in the fall. You can plant it in spring in areas with a longer growing season. Order some or get them from the garden center. Avoid grocery store garlic as it’s been treated so it won’t sprout.  There are lots of varieties of heirloom garlic for you to try. Here are three of my favorites; Music, Shatili and Bogatyr.  Try some white German porcelain (hard neck) varieties which store really well and some red Rocambole types which are great for roasting and are easy to peel. My favorite is Spanish Roja. Garlic is in the allium family so all of the tips for onions apply for garlic too. Here are a few more growing tips.

  • Separate the bulbs and plant the cloves individually. Keep the husks on. You will get the larger bulbs from the bigger cloves.
  • I have seen different recommendations for how deep and how far apart. I like to do them about 4 inches apart and 6 inches deep. Some recommendations are as little as 2 inches deep. I think deeper is better in the north.
  • Keep them watered during development but not overly wet. Let them dry out before harvest.
  • Garlic scapes, flowers and bulbils are all edible (more on that later) but remove them so the energy goes into producing larger bulbs.
  • Harvest when about half of the leaves have dried out.
  • Hang your garlic and let it dry and cure in a warm area and then store it in a cool, dry place but not in a sealed container.


Tomatillos – these are optional, for Salsa Verde. They are grown just like tomatoes except for a few major differences.

  • You will need at least two plants. One plant will not pollinate itself and you will not get much fruit.
  • The plants will get large and sprawl just like tomatoes, but I don’t usually prune them like tomatoes. Just cage them up.
  • The fruits have a papery outer cover that will need to be removed before using. They are ready when they fill out the shell. Leave this on for storage.


CorianderHerbs – Many people have a separate herb garden. You can still have that too, but put some herbs with your vegetables too. They attract pollinators and can help repel insect pests. They are also pretty and having them together makes harvest easier.

  • Oregano – make sure you get the Greek oregano which has white flowers. It tastes much better than Oregano Vulgare which has pink flowers and can be invasive. Having your herbs near the peppers and tomatoes will help with pollination because they draw bees.
  • Marjoram is similar to oregano but it is an annual. Pinch back often. You can read “Oregano can be confusing” for more on Oregano and Marjoram.
  • cilantroCilantro and Coriander are the leaves and the seeds of the same plant It will have to be planted more than once as it is a “quick plant”. I keep cilantro seeds in a waterproof container in the garden so I can replant whenever I harvest. Or, let the plant go to seed; it will self sow. The leaves can be used in fresh salsa, but they lose their flavor when used in salsa that is cooked down for a long time. For this type of salsa use ground coriander instead.
  • Cumin – This herb is grown for the seed which is ground to make the spice. You can grow it if you like but if you do start seeds indoors along with the basil because it takes a very long season to mature. It is difficult in northern areas so it is okay to buy this one. It does make a great addition for the way it attracts beneficial insects, even if it never ripens.
  • Basil is not usually used in salsa, but you can make some Bruschetta, too! Basil is an excellent companion plant for tomatoes. I think it actually helps them taste better…and it repels bad bugs like white flies and aphids. Plus, it draws bees to help with pollination.
  • Borage; although I have not used it in my salsa, it will help repel the tomato horn worm.
  • Thyme, Parsley, Dill, Garlic Chives and Chives could also be added to your salsa garden.

Some other fruits and vegetables that will add a delicious twist to your fresh salsas include:  watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, pomegranate, mango, peach, apples, cranberries, black beans, corn, jicama, cucumber, pumpkin and avocado.

There are also some common salsa ingredients that will probably not be grown in your garden. Of course no two salsas are alike so these are just suggested additives…You don’t have to use them all.

  • Salt and Pepper
  • Chili Powder – You could make your own if you want. There are many types to experiment with including cayenne, chipotle and paprika.
  • Hot Sauce – Here’s another project you could try.
  • Cinnamon – Just a little
  • Sugar – just a little; or consider trying a “better” sweetener like honey, maple syrup, agave or stevia.
  • Lime or Lemon Juice
  • Citric acid powder
  • Vinegars like apple cider, red or white wine or balsamic
  • Oil of various types
  • Various nuts or pepitas
Big Zac

Big Zac

The miracle of planting a seed and watching it sprout is sure to give a kid “ownership” of his or her Salsa garden.

“Getting it in the Garden” will be featured in next blog. Happy growing!

Oregano Can Be Confusing

Greek OreganoEveryone loves Italian food, and of course, the most common spice in it, we all know, is OREGANO.

But what does that mean?

The botanical name for oregano, Origanum, comes from the Greek words “oros” for mountain and “ganos” for joy; a reference to its plentiful growth along the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean.

Oregano HeracleoticumThe oregano that we all know and love from our pizzas and spaghetti is Greek Oregano (Origanum heracleoticum). To add to the confusion some sources have renamed it Originum vulgare hirtum.  It has white flowers. This is the easiest way to tell, when at the nurseries, if you are getting the best culinary oregano.  This one is only hardy to zone 5 so it sometimes lives in our gardens, but often not. If you want to try and grow it make sure that your site has excellent drainage. Avoid cutting it down until spring and provide winter cover if there is no snow.

Oregano-vulgare-300x225 (2)The oregano that is most often sold in nurseries is Origanum vulgare. Just to confuse you they often call this Italian oregano, but there is a different type of oregano frequently called Italian oregano that is a cross between Origanum vulgare and Marjoram. This one has pink flowers and although it is pretty and attracts bees, it has little culinary value and if it likes where it is place it can become a garden thug.  Origanum vulgare is fully hardy, however. I should probably put the fact that it is invasive in bold print. If you want to grow it you may want to contain it like mint.

Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is also in the oregano family. It is only hardy to zone 8 so must be grown as an annual here. To confuse you even more it can have either white or pink flowers. Marjoram as cooks know is also great in Italian food.

Oreganum tyttanthumThere are 44 other plants that go by the name oregano.  An interesting one that is very high in the flavor compound carvacrol is Russian Oregano (Origanum tyttanthum). This one is not very common, but I’m going to give it a try if I can find it.  Much shiner leaves. Not hardy…of course.

Carvacrol, a creosote-scented phenol, is the signature chemical responsible for the sharp, pungent flavor of the culinary oreganos, and can be found in plants from other genera. That is why many plants from south of the border also have the common name Oregano.

Oregano cuban vatigatedThese herbs are not true members of the oregano family but contain the same chemical components that give oregano its distinct taste. One is Cuban Oregano, which is actually a Coleus (Coleus amboinicus). Again, just to confuse you it has another name, Plectranthus amboinicus. The large, fleshy light green or variegated green & white leaves grow on a thick stem and resemble a Jade Plant in its growth habit. This is one of the few herbs that will grow well indoors in a container. It is not cold hardy at all. Pinch out the flower spikes and top set of leaves occasionally to give it a strong, sturdy base to support itself and place in bright, indirect light, away from direct sunlight. You can also break of stems and easily root them to make new plants, just like other plants in the coleus family.

Black Beans with Cuban Oregano

Makes 2-3 servings

1 12 oz. bag black beans
2 cups water plus more as needed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. Cuban oregano, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped

  1. Add the black beans and water to a medium saucepan, place over medium heat.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat.
  3. Sauté the onion until caramelized.
  4. Add the Cuban oregano and garlic, sauté until garlic is lightly golden.
  5. Add the onion, Cuban oregano and garlic to the black beans.
  6. Add bay leaf, salt and pepper.
  7. Cover beans and simmer for 30 minutes.
  8. Check and stir the beans frequently to see if you need to add more water so that they don’t burn.
  9. Serve black beans, and garnish with cilantro and green onion.

Oregano Mexican 2Two plants share the same name of Mexican Oregano. One is Poliomentha longiflora, a woody shrub, 3-5’ tall, with pretty pink tubular flowers that bloom spring to fall. It is used quite extensively in xeriscaping. The other Mexican Oregano, Lippia Oregano Mexicangraveolens, has small, rough textured foliage, much like a lantana, and small, whitish clusters of blooms. Its leaves are more widely spaced on the stem and it needs regular pruning to give it a nice shape.

Oregano Kent BeautyOregano goldenOregano variegatedThere are also many ornamental varieties of oregano to choose from; like Kent Beauty, golden, variegated, Saso, Hopley’s Purple, and Rosenkuppel just to name a few.

Now that “Oregano” is clear as mud for you I hope you will cook up a nice fresh sauce in the near future. Remember, white flowers, that’s the one you want.

Maple Sugarin’

Early spring in Catrina’s Garden means maple sugarin’ time. We’ve been sugarin’ for 20 years since moving “up north”, beginners by the standards of our neighbors. We are not a large commercial operation. We do it for fun and currently tap around 30 trees each year. We do it the old fashioned way, making actual maple syrup “liquid gold” to feast on.

We look at maple sugarin’ as a time to celebrate the changing of the seasons, spend some time in the woods and use the sweet gifts that the trees around us provide. After the first year; experiencing the magic of turning a byproduct of nature into a delicious treat, we have done it year after year. We consume it ourselves and give it as gifts. We also use it to “barter” for other products from nature that we love….like morel mushrooms. It’s a great activity for kids, or a chance to invite the neighbors over.

sugar Maple Acer saccharum in fall

sugar Maple Acer saccharum in fall

The trees most commonly used to make syrup are Sugar maple (Acer saccharum), but other maple species and even walnuts or birch can also produce syrup, though it is not commonly thought to be as good. I am often asked how to tell them apart from the red maple which also grows in abundance here. Look at the leaf margins; the area between the lobes of the maple leaf. A sugar maple will have a smooth U shaped leaf margin Maple Syrup Sap sign in the snow1and a red maple will have a slightly serrated V shaped leaf margin.

Maple Syrup drilling holes1Maple Syrup Pounding in taps1Maple Syrup Sap Dripping 21The ritual starts in March when those first lovely warm days roll around. Usually our modern weather people can predict these days. That way we can start getting ready ahead of time, but when we start seeing signs in the snow like this, we know it’s time to start tappin’. Simply drill a hole, stick in the tap and hang the bucket. You drill in at a slight upward angel, about an inch and a half to 2 inches. Be careful not to pound too hard when inserting the tap or you could split the tree. Use trees that are at least a foot around and if you have a really big tree you can place more than one tap.

1Maple Syrup Sap Dripping 5When the days are warm and the nights are cold this is when the clear sap begins dripping….or pouring from the trees. It’s a lot of work. Sap is collected daily or sometimes more often. We have no “lines” like the big guys and since we don’t tap too many trees we store the sap until we have enough to “cook”. It’s a lot of work. You can burn of that winter fat. The sap must be kept cold. We keep 40 or 60 gallon cans packed in snow on the north side of the shed where it slides off the roof.

So what makes a “good tree”? I think more than anything it is placement.  If the sun shines on the trunk it runs well. Some years when we are lazy and the snow is really deep we just tap the trees that are near the driveway and we do fine.

Filter the sap when you put it in the pan and again when you take it off to remove impurities and debris. Rain is your enemy. If you use open buckets you may have to dump some sap if you have a lot of rain. A sugar shack is nice for cookin’ but if you don’t have one cover the pan and wait till it stops if you have a hard rain.

It’s time to cook when we have about 150 gallons.  It roughly takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Sap is usually around 2-3% sugar and syrup is 62% sugar.

ACD Systems Digital Imaging

We add nothing to the sap but heat; lots of heat. We cook in a shallow pan over a wood fire. We cook….and cook….and cook….for days. Sometimes foam will develop. Skim that off. This is a good chance to “make wood” too! What else are you going to do while you are standing around waiting for the sap to cook? If it was a hard winter you may need some more wood to cook the sap, because you are out, and you may as well put some up for next year so that it can age.

1Maple syrup in jarMaple Syrup on spoonWhen it starts to get thick you better watch it closely. We used to “finish it” in the pan but we lost a few batches by burning it, having it turn to rock candy or spilling it on the ground when “taking it off” in the middle of the night. Now we cover it when it is getting close and let the fire go out; getting to bed at a reasonable hour, and finish it the next day in a turkey roaster. I wouldn’t recommend finishing it in your kitchen though some people do it. The cupboards and floor stay sticky for a very long time. Keep a 5 gallon bucket of sap on the side that you can add at the end if necessary. Sometimes it can “turn the corner” quickly.

The old timers can just tell when it is done. We use a hydrometer to measure the viscosity of the syrup; to make sure that it is perfect every time. Bottle and enjoy!


Jambalaya in the CrockpotMy bad, I should have got this posted a few weeks ago. We made this dish on Fat Tuesday. I have made Jambalaya many times since I first learned how to make it from a little Cajun lady at a “cooking school” in New Orleans. This was really a lot of fun, and now that I feel like I know how I’m going to send the pictures that I took for this piece, and see if I can get my “degree”. I’ll keep you posted on that.

The theory behind Jambalaya is that you are using up your left overs. This is why it frequently, but not always, has more than one meat in it. Isn’t it really like Cajun Casserole? That was always the idea for the casseroles in our family. Use up the meat and veges in the frig, but have them taste different than they did before.

Jambalaya has influences from France, Africa and the Caribbean. The Cajuns were from Brittany and traveled through France, and then on to Nova Scotia, where they were actually the first white settlers; 15 years before the Mayflower. When the protestant Brits moved in, the Catholic Cajun people were forced to move again; this time to southern LA. They were not the only French speaking people in LA, the Creoles also settled there after first living in the Caribbean. Creole food has some similarities, but is distinctly different.

RouxFrom what I can tell (as a non-Cajun) it’s all about the Roux. The herbs are important too, but really, the Roux is what gives it the color. The whole idea of the Roux originated with French cooking, where a much lighter “blond” roux is used. If you keep cooking your Roux you will come to “peanut butter” which is what is desired for Creole dishes. You’re not done yet. Keep cooking until you reach a Cajun Rue which is a deep caramel color. This is what gives jambalaya its beautiful characteristic color; the darkest Roux.

Add the RouxTwo things you should know about Roux. Whatever you do…no matter how good it looks…don’t taste it. If you do it will be a very long time, if ever, before you can taste again. This is essentially hot oil, so be really careful. Next…this stuff needs your undivided attention. You have to stir CONSTANTLY. Don’t answer the phone or try to direct the kids’ activities while making the roux. Sometimes it seems like the color just won’t turn (maybe you don’t have your fire hot enough), but then turn your back and the stuff is a burnt mess. Burnt roux cannot be “fixed”, just start over.

Basically you take a stick of butter and a cup of flower and slowly stir the flower into the melted butter until smooth and darker than peanut butter, kind of the color of caramel. You can adjust the amounts if you like, you can use different fats like bacon grease, lard, olive or other oils, or pan drippings., I have tried most of these and as you would expect, the ones that are worse for you tend to taste better. I try to use half olive oil.

Add Shrimp LastYou’re going to have quite a few pans on the stove, as you want to get different parts of the dish going and then mix them together. If you use shrimp or crayfish you should wait to add that until near the end or it will get overcooked and mushy. If you want to really add to the flavor, you can peel them and then boil the shells and bodies. Strain, to make a nice seafood stock to add to get the rice cooked. I add the bay leaf to the stock and then remove them from the final dish. Some add crushed bay leaf to the spice mix.

Brown your MeatYou will want too brown your meat. I didn’t always do this but now I think it is one of the most important steps. It seals in the juices and keeps it firm so the dish doesn’t turn mushy. Mainly any sausage, pork or chicken that you use should be browned. You can add any drippings that you have to your roux. The traditional sausage to use is Andouille [ah(n) doo’ ee]. Really though; in the spirit of using up the left overs, you can use what you have. We found this time around that it is really good with kielbasa.

The Trinity and the PopeTraditionally onions, celery and peppers are used. This is lovingly referred to as “the trinity” while the primary flavoring ingredient; fresh garlic, is called “the pope”.  These can be cooked together until the onion is translucent before adding to the dish. The Pope should be added near the end of this phase so that it doesn’t burn. You will want to chop them pretty small for this dish. So, how many? It really doesn’t matter, I think more is better, but for a big batch (2 cups of rice) I would use at least 2 onions, 2-3 large peppers, and a package of celery or a The Trinitylittle less. After the veges are softened add your tomatoes. Of course your fresh garden tomatoes will always be best, but you can use canned frozen or if you must sauce or paste. You may want to blend or peal your tomatoes if you are using fresh to avoid the curled up skins.

Now for the Spice; it’s not wrong to use a pre-made Cajun spice. There are lots of great ones out there. My favorites are Joe’s Stuff and Ms. G’s. If you want to make your own, why not just mix up a big batch and use it on lots of different things, rather than just making it for this dish. I can’t give you exact amounts, but Add the Trinityhere are some of the spices that you may want to add:  salt, thyme, basil, oregano, cayenne pepper (how much depends on how hot you like it), ground Ancho pepper, really any pepper flakes (we grow tons of different peppers and all are good), cumin, freshly ground black pepper and or white pepper, paprika, and garlic powder (you can leave this out if you use lots of fresh garlic).

Worcestershire sauce and/or hot sauce are sometimes also added, but I like to just put these on the table and let the eater add them to taste.

Finish in the ovenSlowly add some of your stock to the roux. Once you get it thinned a bit, then add it to the veges and meat, and season with your seasoning to taste. You can always add more after it cooks a bit. Add the uncooked rice and some more of your broth. Most often Jambalaya is cooked in large pots on the stove or even over the fire, but I have also had good luck taking the big Dutch oven and sticking it in the oven. Check and stir from time to time. Add more broth as needed until the rice is just right.

Serve with CornbreadServe with fresh scallions, if you have them…and corn bread; ya, that’s a must but I’ll have to talk about that in another blog.

Au revoir – Goodbye

Bon appetite – Good eating!



Blaukraut (German Red Cabbage)

(adapted from “my family”)
This was one of the vegetables that I actually liked as a kid. My grandma made it so when I started gardening “Red Acre” was one of the first things I grew.

Here’s the original recipe and you can see how I updated it below.


1 medium head red cabbage, shredded
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup red wine
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup water
Kosher Salt and Pepper


Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the 1/3 cup of red wine. Add 1/2 of the shredded cabbage, 1/2 of the apple, 1 bouillon cube, 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, 1/2 cup of water, season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Repeat the layer adding the other half of the ingredients in the same fashion.
Give a quick stir, cover and simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes or until the cabbage is soft. At this point stir, taste for seasonings and adjust if a little more salt and pepper is needed.

For each cabbage used I increased the wine to 1/2 cup, and used a whole onion instead of a half. I caramelized it instead of cooking to translucent. I also used 2 apples instead of one and added a can of mandarin oranges and their juice. If you can find the natural kind they are the best. I used more vinegar than called for and instead of apple cider vinegar I used white wine vinegar in which I had steeped osmin basil for about a month. I love this stuff. I didn’t add any extra water because of the extra wine and the orange juice. Lastly I substituted a little less than 1/4 cup of agave nectar for the sugar.

Served with a pork chop and some parsley buttered noodles…comfort food.

Root Cellar Carrots – Maple Glaze Recipe

Purple Haze carrots and sugar snack carrots I got a little carried away with the carrots this year. We had quite a few different colors. The gold and white varieties are pretty but I really like the dark red and purple ones. The have way more beta carotene than a standard carrot, and are simply beautiful on the plate. Having unusual colored veges is always a great way to get people talking at the pot luck too. These are Purple Haze and Sugar Snack Carrots at the peak of the season.

Holly with carrots1Carrots are such a fun crop for kids to grow too. They just love all the different colors and are more likely to actually eat them if they saw them being produced.

This time of year all of the best and most beautiful veges are long gone. The sweet crisp, thin skinned carrots don’t store very well, but I still had a bucket of Danvers and Bolero carrots which I grow for eating later in the winter. I do have a root cellar, so that helps. It’s best to store them at a temp from the high 30’s to the low 40’s. The trick is to keep them moist enough so that they don’t shrivel up but not so moist that they rot. I use a mix of half sand half garden soil. Whatever you do don’t wash them before you store them, you can remove the leaves, but don’t cut off the tops and when you bury them in the sand, try to arrange them so they don’t touch. These storage varieties have more fiber and starch but bolero has a thinner core than Danvers, and both of them are great cooked; much better than anything you would get in the grocery store this time of year.

So I dug the last of them out and this is what I made with them. The maple syrup and orange makes up for these storage carrots being a little less sweet. We cook our own maple syrup here in Wisconsin; not for production or sale…yet. We just do small batches for ourselves and for gifts.

1Maple Syrup Sap Dripping 5You could use store bought syrup but nothing beats pure 100% maple syrup. Check back for more on “sugarin” in spring.

So here’s the recipe:

Maple Glazed Carrots

½ cup pure maple syrup

1 cinnamon stick

¾ cup orange juice – You can use a little lemon or lime juice in place of the orange if you like it a little more tart

2 oranges or one small can of mandarin oranges

¼ cup water

1 ½ tbsp. cornstarch

1# sliced or diced carrots

1-2 tbsp. butter (you can use olive oil if you are worried about it)

½ cup Parsley (you can use fresh mint too if you have some. Pineapple or other fruit flavored mints are especially good.)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Maple Glazed Carrots - CopyFirst make the maple the glaze: Place maple syrup, cinnamon stick, orange juice and oranges in pan and simmer lightly. Break up the oranges with the spatula. In a cup, stir together water and cornstarch until smooth. Add the cornstarch slurry slowly into the maple mixture, and continue to simmer and stir over low heat until it is thickened. This may take a while; be patient and don’t turn up the heat too high. Remove the cinnamon stick and any skins and pith from the oranges.

Sauté the carrots in the butter or oil until they are starting to get soft; how soft is really up to you, I know people who insist that the carrots aren’t done unless they are really soft, I tend to like them a little firmer.

Add the maple glaze, salt, pepper and herbs. If you use fresh oranges you can zest them before you peel them and then add the zest at the end for extra bright citrus flavor. This makes 4 to 6 servings.

Enjoy a taste of summer from your root cellar.

Is it an Herb or a Spice?

My herbs are looking pretty good, even though it is very early in the season. Here on the border of zone 3 and 4, I moved some of them to the in-ground beds of my greenhouse so that I was able to use them all winter. After doing this for a few years, I learned that it is a good idea to dig them up earlier so that they can get a good root system developed before the cold weather sets in. This way they will live through the winter…even Rosemary.  Soon they will be moving back out to the herb garden.

Garlic Chives allium tuberosum

Garlic Chives allium tuberosum

We (meaning most cooks that I know) often use the words herb and spice as though they were the same animal. Herbs and spices both come from plants. Herbs and spices are both used to flavor food and add that all important aroma. Both are best when used fresh, but they can be saved by drying or in some cases freezing. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this will keep them forever.

Powdered Spice (2)

Powdered Spice (2)

So, what’s the difference? Herbs usually, but not always, come from the leaves of herbaceous plants. What’s an herbaceous plant you say? Well, it is a plant that is non woody. This is why I say usually, but now always. I think rosemary and thyme among others can be a bit woody. Herbs usually are used in larger amounts than spices. There are some that say that an “herb” is any “useful” plant. The “use” doesn’t have to be for cooking. It can be used for medicinal purposes, for dying, or in any other useful way. In the middle ages they threw them on the floor to cover the stink in the house. The term “herb” is also used by botanists to mean simply that the plant dies down, and may not even be referring to its use. Most herbs originated from temperate climates like England, Italy, France, and yes; the “new world”. Some examples of herbs include: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (thanks S&G), but also basil (my favorite), oregano, marjoram, chives and mint, to name a few.



Spices on the other hand come from parts of the plant other than its leaves, like the bark, roots, seeds, fruits or flowers. To confuse you a bit, they can come from “herbaceous” or woody plants. The flavor of spices is, as a general rule, a lot stronger, so again, usually but not always, less is used. Most spices come from warm tropical places. Sorry dear, you can’t plant a Catrinas-Herb-Garden-159x300cinnamon tree in your yard here in Wisconsin. There are a few spices that actually help food keep longer as well as adding flavor. I suppose this could be helpful in a warm tropical climate. Examples of spices include: Cinnamon (this is the bark of the cinnamon or should I say Cassia tree-more on this in a future post), nutmeg, cumin, coriander and dill (all from seeds), Vanilla (from the underdeveloped fruit of an orchid), Ginger (a root), and Cloves (from a flower bud).


Some plants are both herbs and spices. The leaves of Coriandrum sativum are the source of cilantro (herb) while coriander (spice) is from the plant’s seeds. Dill is another example. The seeds are a spice while dill weed is an herb derived from the plant’s stems and leaves. In case you were wondering, salt is not an herb or a spice, it is a mineral.

Whole Spice (2)

Whole Spice (2)

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