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Growing and using herbs

August 23, 2009
By MICHELE ACQUARO, Sacandaga Garden Club, For The Leader-Herald

Gourmet cooking has become a very popular pastime and herbs play an integral roll in producing tasty dishes. Gardeners always provide a spot in their gardens to accommodate growing their favorite herbs. Herbs are easy to grow outside and inside, thus making them a year-round crop for us.

Herbs not only have culinary properties, they can also have medicinal value. Many common herbs such as oregano, basil and sage have antiseptic value. Mint and chamomile are familiar to us for their ablility to aid digestion.

We can cultivate herbs easily in well-drained neutral or alkaline soil. If testing the soil, a pH reading around 7 is best. Herbs prefer a sandy loam type of soil. These plants grow well in the garden or in containers outside or inside. Some herbs can reseed themselves and turn up again after winter. Not all herbs will be able to do this. It will depend on your location and climate zone.

Oregano isan herbthat is considered perennial in many locations. My yard falls into the zone 3-4 range and oregano pops up every year.

Oregano also is known as marjoram. There are many varieties of oregano. Some are the Mediterranean native varieties that have a stong flavor andare used in Mexican and Italian cooking. Marjoram is a milder variety that adapted itself to Britain and North America. The word "oregano"is derived from the Greek "oros" meaning mountains and "ganos" meaning joy. Oregano translates into "joy of the mountain."

The Greeks wove oregano into crowns worn by bridal couples. Venus was the first to grow oregano in her garden. The Greeks and Romans used oregano as a scent and massage oil, disinfectant and preservative.

Oregano is easy to harvest and preserve for cooking. It is best to harvest herbs in mid-morning when they have dried from the morning dew and before the hot sun wilts them. Oregano can be used fresh right from the garden.

However, a bountiful harvest can provide seasoning for months, so the oregano cuttings should be allowed to dry out either by hanging bunches upside down in an airy, warm location or setting them on paper towels on top of baking sheets and leaving them in a slightly warm oven.

Oregano can be harvested fresh and immediately put into plastic bags and popped in the freezer. It is most important to remember that cooking with dried herbs is different than using fresh. The dried herbs have a more concetrated flavor, therfore, use less dried herbs than fresh when making a recipe.

Here is a nice recipe to try using oregano:

Herby stuffed tomatoes

1 chopped small onion or shallot

3 tbsps chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1 tsp oregano

cup dried bread crumbs

2 tbsps olive oil

4 tomatoes or 24 cherry tomatoes

salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 350

Mix together the onion, parsley, oregano, bread crumbs and olive oil

Slice tops off tomatoes and save. Scoop out the seeds and stuff bread crumb mix inside the tomatoes.

Stand the stuffed tomatoes in a greased ovenproof dish and heat for 15 minutes or until heated through. Serve hot or cold.



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