Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year! At Jekka’s this also means it’s time to bring your herbs into the kitchen and use them to profusion. If herbs are the ‘high notes in the orchestra as the conductor makes the music swirl around the auditorium', then at Christmas they are the “choir that raises the roof”.
Building on Jekka’s tips for using herbs and Jekka’s various other blogs and guides, we now focus on Jekka’s favourite 12 herbs for Christmas with some lovely herb-based recipes to try over the festive period
Jekka’s Favourite 12 Herbs for Christmas are:
1. Bay (Laurus nobilis) that has leaves to make hearty stews and other long-simmering dishes. Bay leaves impart a slightly sharp, peppery, almost bitter taste. Add the whole leaves at the beginning of the cooking process and remember to remove them before serving. Fresh leaves are stronger in flavour than dried ones.
Be warned, the priestesses of Apollo, the Greek god of prophecy, ate large doses of Bay as a narcotic before expounding Apollo’s oracles at Delphi; so, use in moderation unless you wish to speak to the gods (or be sick).
Want to know more? Read Jekka’s Blog “All about Bay”.
2. Lavender (Lavandula), which is a wonderful perennial herb that is suitable to be grown in both your herb borders and containers.
As a family we use Lavender sparingly in cooking as it has a strong, sometimes overpowering, floral flavour. However, it is extremely good infused in sugar for making cakes, biscuits and puddings. For example, try Jekka's Lavender Oat Cake Recipe. Jekka recommends harvesting the leaves before flowering with the best flavour being in early summer.
Want to know more? Read Jekka’s Guide to Lavender.
3. Mint (Mentha) which is a culinary delight and has been cultivated for its medicinal properties since ancient times and has been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 1000 BC. It can be used to make either wonderful vinegars and jellies or as a tea that aids digestion; see Jekka's recipe for the perfect Mint Tea / Herbal Infusion. We find that drinking too much peppermint tea can be over stimulating so with our Mint Fiesta Herbal Infusion we combine peppermint with spearmint to making a soothing digestive.
You can also force Mint for Christmas. This technique is shown by Jekka & Nathan Outlaw in a video found in Jekka’s Guide to Mint.
Want to know more? Read Jekka’s Guide to Mint.
4. Myrtle (Myrtus) that forms an attractive evergreen shrub whose leaves are culinary like Bay. In the summer it has beautiful fragrant white flowers with golden stamens, followed by black/blue berries. The best flavour leaves appear in mid-summer and have a warm, spicy, slightly bitter aromatic flavour that can overpower a meal, but when mastered can transform soups, casseroles, stews and meat dishes into feasts. The berries have a dry, spicy flavour that are used as a spice in the Middle East or can be used to make wonderful chutneys; like Jekka's Myrtle Berry, Apple and Walnut Chutney.
A relative of Myrtle, is Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae) that produces delectable round dark red, edible fruit known affectionately as “Queen Victoria’s Strawberries”; Jekka's Ugni Muffins, definitely worth a try! (Ugni is found in Jekka’s Winter Culinary Herb Box)
5. Oregano (Origanum) that aids digestion, acts as an antiseptic and as a preservative. Grown for its strong tasting, slightly spicy and pungent leaves, Oregano is an important herb in Italian, Greek and Mexican cooking. It goes particularly well with tomatoes, aubergine and lamb and is generally added just at the end of cooking, so that it retains its pungency.
As the weather turns colder nothing is more soothing than a tasty bowl of Roast Tomato and Oregano Soup.
Want to know more? Read Jekka’s Guide to Oregano.
6. Parsley (Petroselinum), which has both the curly and flat leaf form, is a hardy biennial that can be grown happily in a container. Jekka advocates using Parsley for flavour not just as a garnish. It has lovely clean slightly earthy, peppery flavour that brightens the taste of other foods and herbs.
(Parsley is found in Jekka’s Winter Herb Boxes)
7. Rosemary (Rosmarinus) that is a wonderful evergreen herb with a great culinary flavour. Its flavour is a combination of pine, eucalyptus, mint, wood and citrus. It has many culinary uses including with roast vegetables, meat, especially lamb, casseroles and baked fish. It is also lovely in this fragrant teatime cake recipe where we see it’s pine and floral notes shine through to perfectly compliment the orange; try it here: Rosemary and Orange Olive Oil Cake.
Want to know more? Read Jekka’s Guide to Rosemary.
8. Sage (Salvia) that aids digestion of fatty foods and has antiseptic properties. Its flavour is quite difficult to describe, it has hints of pine, eucalyptus and citrus with a hint of earth. It has long been used in stuffings and with sausages due to its preservative qualities. Try our Sage and Fennel Sausage Rolls as a tasty treat this Christmas.
Want to know more? Browse Sage in Jekkapedia.
9. Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor) which is one of the few soft leaved hardy evergreen perennials making it a wonderful addition to any herb bed. The leaves have a bitter yet cooling, cucumber flavour. They can be picked all year round but the best period for harvesting is from spring to early autumn. Use young leaves in salads, with egg dishes or with cream or cottage cheese and in drinks. For Christmas, we recommend using a sprig of Salad Burnet as a garnish for your Gin & Tonic. (Salad Burnet is found in Jekka’s Winter Culinary Herb Box)
Want to know more? Read Jekka’s Blog “All about Salad Burnet”.
10. Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), which has aromatic, long narrow smooth, green leaves that have an anise flavour. Its flavour promotes the appetite and complements so many dishes; such as chicken, veal, fish, stuffed tomatoes and, of course, it is the main ingredient in sauce bearnaise and the traditional ingredient of Fines Herbes. Its name, Dracunulus, means ‘little dragon’, which could be the result of the shape of its roots or, as we believe, its fiery flavour. For fans of French Tarragon, there is also Winter Tarragon (Tagetes lucida) for you to try that is at its best now and has a strongly aniseed scent and flavour.
Want to know more? Read Jekka’s Blog “All about Tarragon”.
11. Thyme (Thymus) that is such a useful herb in the kitchen, the flavour of Thyme is gentle and is a combination of pepper and mint with slightly bitter notes. It is a ‘must-have’ in the kitchen and it is one of the main ingredients in bouquet garni and is good in stocks, marinades, stews and as a stuffing. Try a Thyme, Taleggio and Red Onion Tart for some lovely comfort food this winter.
Want to know more? Read Jekka’s Guide to Thyme.
12. Winter Purslane (Claytonia perfoliata) that is also known as miner's lettuce and is a very nutritious herb. For example, it is full of vitamins A, B & C and omega-3 essential fatty acids as well as minerals such as magnesium, calcium and potassium. The whole plant is edible and it has succulent, round leaves with juicy stems. It tastes quite like spinach and is often used like spinach in both salads and soups.
Want to know more? Read about Winter Purslane in Jekkapedia.
Happy Herbs from all at Jekka's
Want to know more?
For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out Jekka's How to Grow Herbs videos and ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs.
Please also see Jekka's herbs of the month blogs: Bay (January), Rosemary (February), Salad Burnet (March), French Tarragon (April), Angelica (May), Alliums (June), Lavender (July), Basil (August), Mint (September), Szechuan Pepper (October) and Thyme (November).
Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar). Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us (email@example.com). We no longer offer a general mail order service for our plants but we do offer a limited selection of Jekka's Culinary Herb Boxes.