This week we're in Charlotte, North Carolina visiting the Duke Mansion, today a wonderful bed and breakfast. Not only are the grounds beautiful but the food is delicious. Many fresh ingredients, like the herbs, come from their garden. Herbs have many wonderful health and medicinal properties.
John Neville is the horticulturist for The Duke Mansion. He finds it enjoyable to grow herbs and likes to educate the guests about herbs, their history and uses, and cooking with them.
Herbs are relatively easy to care for, most are Mediterranean in origin. That means they can take dryness and wind. Many were originally found on the coast, thus can often take a salty environment. They are tough plants and can succeed in a variety of locations. Many herbs if allowed to go to seed or flower have a beautiful flower. Often both the leaves, foliage and flowers are edible. Most herbs are medicinal - either antibiotic, antiseptic or antibacterial to some degree. As well they're aromatic, they can be used not only in cooking but in sachets. Some herbs like dry conditions while others like moist conditions. John has done a wonderful job using herbs and flowers in the garden to create a beautiful area.
There are about 100 different varieties of Thyme. We look at two, the common Green variety and Lemon Thyme. Lemon Thyme has variegated leaves and if barely touched has a nice Lemon fragrance. Thyme has medicinal uses. Thyme is often called Thymus and is used in products like Vicks Vapor Rub. As well it's a good expectorant and antiseptic. Some will use it as a tea if they have sore gums. In ancient Persia it was used as an appetizer. The plant doesn't require a lot of care. It can be cut back by removing the top, shearing it, with a weed eater, for example. The best way is to cut it back when using it for the kitchen is to lightly prune the tips. If cut back too dramatically the plant could go into shock, so leave it 4-5 inches high. By doing that it will rejuvenate itself quickly and within several weeks the process can be repeated. If planted in an area with high humidity, open the plant and area up and allow air circulation and sunlight. Thyme doesn't like wet feet or wet leaves. By planting in a bed with good drainage and good compost it should thrive.
In this garden the focal point is Lavender, this variety is called Providence. John uses Providence because it tolerates the high humidity in his area. Ancient romans used Lavender in their baths because of the aroma, Lavender means wash. Lavender is also a sleep aid, it doesn't make one go to sleep but relaxes the senses enabling one to fall asleep easier. It makes a good tea although don't make it too strong because Lavender is a strong herb. Use about one teaspoon of fresh leaves and mix in a cup of water, let it steep for a while, remove the leaves, even mix in Chamomile if desired to enhance the taste.
Another garden close to the kitchen has Basil, Sweet Basil, called the royal herb. It has a large leaf which contrasts nicely with Rosemary or Lavender. The flower is potent and powerful. When growing remember that the oils are at their highest point when the plant is ready to flower. When it flowers pinch off the flower bud and let it send out new shoots. The longer the flower stems stay on, the leaves tend to become more bitter. Basil when grown with Tomatoes will help keep White Fly under control. In past times Basil was bundled and hung over the entrance to the home, supposedly repelling insects, like flies, from entering the home.
Rosemary is called the herb of remembrance. Ancient Greeks thought that if Rosemary was worn around the neck or in the hair it would stimulate the mind and things wouldn't be as easily forgotten. That is why one sees pictures of it tucked behind the ear. Rosemary comes from the word Rosemarinus which means dew of the sea. That is because Rosemary grows wild off the coast of Italy. It comes in a variety of sizes. Prostrada is a ground cover and can cascade over a wall or down steps but other varieties can grow to as much as 6 feet tall. It has a strong smell and can be used in many ways. It is good in cooking dishes like chicken, beef and it's good for kabobs. Take a stem, strip off the leaves, put it in with the potatoes, onions and meat and grill the kabob. The oils of Rosemary will seep into the food. Rosemary likes full sun and well drained soil. It has very few insect problems, John has experienced a few problems with White Fly. If that occurs he lays down cedar mulch, uses insecticidal soap or utilizes sticky strips that attract White Fly. The sticky strips act as an indicator and collect many insects.
Herb Sage does well in sun and in shade, although the growth isn't as heavy in partial shade. This variety is Pineapple Sage and is one of the oldest herbs known to man. It is called the herb of the heart, it is a great antibacterial. Sage is good for Laryngitis or a sore throat. To cure these ailments, make a tea. At the end of the season, John cuts the Sage back and hangs it upside down in the basement. Once dry he strips the leaves from the stems and bags it. It will last about one year. Remember dried Sage is more concentrated, thus the oils are more concentrated than that that of fresh Sage. So if a recipe says 1 tablespoon of fresh Sage, don't use 1 tablespoon of dried Sage, use only half the directed amount.
John has an area where he grows 4 different types of Mint - Orange, Spearmint, Peppermint and Chocolate. He keeps them in their own individual beds because they're fairly aggressive, if not they'll creep and take over an area. The Chocolate Mint is used in making homemade ice cream. The leaves are steeped, then poured into the extract for the homemade ice cream. It provides a sense of excitement because your eyes see vanilla but the taste is chocolate. The Spearmint is used mainly in ice tea, as a garnish and in ice cream. The Orange Mint is primarily used in tea. Peppermint aids in digestion, after eating, grab a sprig, it soothes the stomach.
Parsley has been around since about 3 B.C. and is still one of the most popular herbs. Many use it as a garnish but it is also known as natures' breath freshener. Romans used it after a meal to freshen their breath. There are two kinds, one has a curly leaf the other has a flat leaf. The curly leaf variety is known as French Parsley, the flat leaf is called Italian Parsley. It is a great herb, good for ornamental purposes and good for medicinal purposes.
One of the keys to successful herb gardening is well drained soil, since most herbs don't like wet feet. Two strategies work well in addressing this. One is raised beds. By raising the soil 4-6 inches, gravity pulls excess moisture out and keeps the roots a little drier. Another strategy is to add liberal amounts of organic matter, something with a reasonably coarse texture. This too allows water to move through and provides needed nutrients. It will hold water when needed but isn't soggy. Add about 25% organic matter and the beds will be rich and well drained.
John Morey is the chef at The Duke Mansion. He feels herb gardens are great because they add flavor to foods and they add appeal the an area. Walking up to a beautiful, flowering herb garden and knowing their medicinal qualities is exciting.
John takes pride in the fact he uses fresh ingredients but also finds it important to understand why he uses them. He uses Rosemary because when he extracts the natural oils from them he obtains a certain flavor, they create a sense of texture in his mouth. At The Duke Mansion they want their guests to leave feeling good, good about the Mansion, the service, the rooms, everything involved with The Duke Mansion. Guests can walk into the herb garden, see the ingredients, go into the kitchen, watch them cook the dish, then experience the delicious meal.
John will saute a chicken breast. He starts with the marinate for the chicken, using fresh Rosemary and fresh Thyme. He likes these two herbs because they have essential oils, they will penetrate the chicken, they infuse the flavors inside the chicken. The fresh herbs are important because often with dried herbs the oils may be dried. With fresh herbs the oils can come out in the marinate providing more of the Rosemary flavor, for example. He likes to cut the herbs immediately before using them, although they will last in a refrigerator for awhile. As long as they retain their moisture they should be fine. He also marinates the chicken in Lemon juice, it adds a little acidity. And, he uses a little white wine, not too much because it will break down the fiber of the chicken. Marinate no more than 8 hours, with at least an hour in the refrigerator. After more than 8 hours the acidity in the Lemon juice will break down. Again, the Rosemary infuses itself inside the chicken.
John lightly sautes the chicken. For the marinate he uses red onion and adds shallots. He caramelizes them, which brings some of the natural sugar out and makes it sweet. This occurs when it develops a little color. This lighter sauce will go on top of the fresh Parsley and Lemon sage. At the end he adds a touch of an 8 year old Balsamic Vinegar, it provides a contrast in flavors and some acidity.
Another part of this meal is the greens, they have a deeper flavor than the chicken. John browns the greens and builds a sauce. He uses virgin olive oil. Virgin olive oil is the first press of olive oil. Pomice oil is produced later in the press, thus the first press has more flavor and is more natural. He adds baby Spinach, adds Shallots, lets it cook for a second and lets them wilt. He then adds a little Sorrel, but not too much or it would be bitter. Romaine and Sprouts are then added and wilted. This marinate or sauce is finished off with Pineapple Sage, fresh Parsley and Lemon juice and a little chicken broth. The chicken broth adds validity to the sauce and provides balance and moisture.
Vegetables and fingerling potatoes have been blanched in the oven making them wilted. But they still have texture. He adds salt and pepper and a little white wine, Pinot Grisio.
This is best served with a nice piece of bread. It's a great lunch.
When growing herbs, place them where their looks as well as their smell can be enjoyed. Rosemary has a great aroma, place it by a walkway so its smell can be enjoyed as well as its' beauty. John thinks three things are important to remember for a good herb garden. One, is sunlight. Summer vegetables need 5-6 hours of sunlight per day. PH levels are also
important. A PH of 6 and 1/2 to 6.8 is typically needed. Herbs normally need a neutral or very slightly alkaline soil. If one has an alkaline soil, if it is acidic, add lime. John has raised beds enabling good drainage. These beds are 8-10 inches deep and are tilled twice a year. This allows rain to percolate away from the root system. The roots stay moist, they get the water they need but aren't water logged. If drainage were a problem the beds could be raised even higher, built right on top of what is presently there. John has made a formal bed, a defined walkway. It enables people to easily walk around, it provides different areas and people can easily step into the garden itself, they know where to walk. If it is no more than 4 feet across one can easily reach across the garden, not stepping inside. To keep the weeds down John uses a fabric, called a weed barrier. It lets water penetrate but doesn't let weeds come up from the soil. He then lays a cypress mulch which also suppresses weeds. To keep out rabbits John has learned to put up a barrier or fence around the perimeter. It brightens the area. Rabbits won't jump but will burrow, thus the fence is 3 feet high and buried several inches in the ground.
Thanks John we had no idea that herbs had such a rich history. You have done a masterful job combining vegetables and flowers, the French term is potege. We've enjoyed our lesson on herbs today.
The Duke Mansion
Notes from Skippa's Garden
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