Another Side Of The Herbal Story, What Do Herbs Look Like?

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“Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”

Herbs, Herb Garden Huntington Library

Herbs, Herb Garden Huntington Library—DominusVobiscum (

“Herbs”, those things that come in tiny little bottles at the super-market in the spice isle(pun intended). Those tiny little bottles that cost anywhere from five to fifteen dollars for in some cases a few grams of content.  Have you checked out real saffron recently? Nice little bottle, now look closely inside the bottle there is an envelop, a very small envelope, and inside the envelop is enough saffron to make one batch of bouillabaisse…maybe.

You probably have a bunch of them tucked in your cupboards that you drag out for “recipe occasions” when you take your cook-book and head for the kitchen to experiment with something you never tried before.  Chances are, that you also have a bunch of favorites that you use and replace on a regular basis.

Using herbs and spices in your cooking can also incorporate some health benefits as well.  How about using more garlic to aid in your heart health?  Speaking of heart health, your circulation system is highly stimulated by the use of capsicum (Red Pepper or  Cayenne).  “It acts mainly on the circulation, but also on the nervous structures.  Its influence, which is immediate on the heart, finally extends to the capillaries giving tone to the circulation but not increasing the pulse so much as giving power to it.”  (Jethro Kloss, Back To Eden page 219)  So are you adding red pepper to your diet on a regular basis?

Yes, I love my herbs and spices!

They come from countries all over the world, in several cases the places they grow are the only place on the planet where they can grow, in other cases the original locations produce a flavor of that plant that is prized above all the other locations where it also grows. The worlds history would be very different if it were not for the allure of different herbs. What was Marco Polo doing on his famous journey to the to the east? Where was Christopher Columbus headed and what was he looking for? He was only one among many who were looking for an easier way to get to the East in quest of spices.

Look at this Wikipedia quote

“By trading with Muslim states, Venice came to monopolize the spice trade in Europe between 1200 and 1500, through its dominance over Mediterranean seaways to ports such as Alexandria, after traditional overland connections were disrupted by Mongols and Turks. The financial incentive to discover an alternative to Venice’s monopoly control of this lucrative business was perhaps the single most important factor precipitating Europe’s Age of Exploration.”

You can read the Wikipedia article here


Did you ever wonder what the plants look like? Are you a little bit curious about the names a various herb may have in other cultures.  Here is an all day journey into the wonderful world of herbal knowledge.  Gernot Katzer has assembled the most complete site that I have ever visited with regard to herbs.  No, he does not have any recipes, no he will not tell you what herbs go with what, though you can read the etymology sections of his pages and get some hints about family’s of herbs and their groupings.

You will find the web’s most stunning group of photographs of all of the 117 herbs and spices that he lists.  You will find out what the many other cultures around the world name their herbs.  You will find out why for instance curry powder was invented; hint the curry plant looses its flavor too rapidly to travel much beyond the shores of India. You will find out more about some of the myths you may have heard on certain spices.

Take vanilla for instance, in my local super-market a single bean comes in a bottle for a mere $12, a one ounce  bottle of “pure extract” sells for about $8 and right next to it on the same shelf a bottle of  “Imitation Vanilla” sells for $3.95 for three ounces.   When you read about the arduous process of pollinating, harvesting and curing the bean to get it to yield its phenomenal flavor you will appreciate why it is among the most expensive spices in the world

For some reason, I had heard that vanilla beans were the stamen of an Orchid plant, well that is not true, the beans grow on the plant but they are not the stamen. Originally native to tropical Mexico, the vanilla orchid vine has been transplanted as far away as Tahiti.   Interestingly, except for the beans that grow in southern Mexico other plants growing in other areas need to be manually pollinated.   (You can read the whole Epicentre article on the link below)

 ” In nature they are only pollinated by Mexican bees and hummingbirds that are capable of penetrating a tough membrane that separates the plant’s pistol and stamen.”

Another page with a fascinating story is the “saffron” page which will tell you all about the worlds most expensive and often imitated Crocus plant.  This is a site to book-mark and visit often, will the real wasabi please sign in.  Enjoy,

Michael Brown

PS. By the way you don’t have to spend your hard earned cash buying the supermarket version of herbs and spices. One of the reasons that small quantities of items are so expensive is the fact that they need to be packed or loaded into those tiny bottles. In a commercial kitchen a 16 to 30 ounce size of will typically average around $25 for dried herbs making them cost around a dollar an ounce. You can take advantage of those same savings by visiting you local health foods store. Very often you will find that you are able to buy small quantities of your favorite herbs at bulk prices.

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