Herbs and Vegetables

JANE M. RENFREW AND HELEN SANDERSON

Herbs and vegetables play an important part in the human diet by adding flavors and vitamins. This chapter is concerned with the origins and uses of culinary herbs and of vegetables (other than the pulses, roots, and tubers which are considered separately). For convenience this chapter will be divided into two sections.

Culinary Herbs

Probably the best answer for the question "What is an herb?" is the quote attributed to the emperor Charlemagne, "The friend of the physician and the praise of cooks." It is the culinary uses of herbs that will be examined here (see also Plants as Medicines chapter). On the whole herbs are aromatic plants, and very many of them are native to the flora of the Mediterranean. A large number of herbs belong to the onion family, Liliaceae (Alliaceae); the mint family, Labiatae or Lamiaceae; the parsley family, Umbelliferae or Apiaceae; and the tarragon family Asteraceae (formerly Compositae). Quite a few were known and used by the ancient Greeks and especially by the Romans and were spread by the latter throughout their empire in Europe. Many herbs reached the New World from Europe after Columbus's arrival, especially with the Pilgrim Fathers.

Aniseed Pimpinella anisum Apiaceae

Aniseed is an annual herb native to the eastern Mediterranean and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians as well as the Greeks and Romans. The ripe dried fruit, which contains a volatile oil, is the part of the plant used. It occurs wild but has been grown in herb gardens in Britain since the 15th century, and seeds were carried to North America by the first European settlers. The seeds are strongly licorice-flavored and are used in cooking fish, poultry, and creamy soups. It is used principally to flavor drinks such as ouzo, liqueurs such as Pernod and Ricard, and also in confectionary. As an herbal tea, aniseed has been used medicinally for bloating and colic.

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