Herbs are the leaves of aromatic plants while spices are any other edible part of the aromatic plant. Some plants, such as dill, produce an herb and a spice, dill seed. Herbs can be classified for uses such as food, flavoring, medicine, perfume and for spiritual uses. Herbs also fall into categories such as perennials, biennials and annuals. Perennials, such as thyme, live for longer than 2 years. Biennials such as parsley last for only two years and annuals such as basil will complete their life cycle in 1 year.
Nevada has become an area that is booming in producing locally or regionally grown produce. The Nevada Department of Agriculture states that agriculture is a major industry in Nevada that contributes to the state economy as well as many rural economies within the state. Livestock, especially cattle, is a major component of the state’s industry, but sheep, lamb and hogs are a contributor to this industry as well. Alfalfa hay is the largest cash crop, used to feed dairy cattle in neighboring states. Nevada also produces enough alfalfa that it is exported overseas every year. The state also produces quantities of potatoes barley, wheat, corn, oats, onion and honey. Mint is another large crop produced in Nevada.
Besides adding flavor to foods, herbs can help with digestion. To soothe an upset stomach and restore an unbalanced digestive system you can drink chamomile tea, or chew on some dill or fennel. These herbs soothe an irritation in the digestive tract which will lessen the inflammation. Basil has been shown to help with kidney problems and tarragon is used to neutralize snake bites.
The Chinese have been using herbs for thousands of years to help alleviate pain as well as cures for many illnesses including cancer. RSYRT Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang, therapy has been used to treat such maladies as postpartum illness, tuberculosis, depression, chronic fatigue, infertility, Alzheimer’s, inflammation, autoimmune disease and skin tumors.
Fresh herbs are readily available in most supermarkets, but with the many farmers markets available the variety, volume and prices for fresh herbs has made them become more commonplace in restaurant cooking, as well as in people’s households. Dried herbs have been readily available forever, but whenever possible fresh herbs will be a better choice due to the flavor and freshness they add to a dish. If a recipe calls for fresh herbs but you do not have the availability to get it, dried herbs can be substituted, but you would use 1/3 the amount of the dried herbs due to the concentration of flavors. Another adjustment that needs to be made is when to add the herbs. Dried herbs are added at the beginning of the cooking process to give the herbs the chance to rehydrate and infuse their flavor throughout the whole dish. Fresh herbs are usually added at the end of the cooking process since this fresh flavor will dissipate easily in a short cooking time. Some herbs that I have had luck using a dried version include more woody herbs such as thyme, oregano and rosemary. I try to only use fresh herbs when a recipe asks for more tender herbs such as basil and chives.
If you do not have a living plant that allows you to snip and use the amount you need you may have to buy it in larger quantities than you immediately need. If this is the case you will need to store the fresh herbs correctly to help maintain their flavor and freshness. Fresh herbs will stand tall when you buy them, no sagging or droopiness. To store them you should wrap small amounts in a damp paper towel and seal them in a zippered bag. For larger quantities you put the stem end in a glass of water and wrap the leaves in a damp towel. Another option is to dry them; this is done best in the microwave for smaller quantities and in an oven for larger quantities. You should separate the leaves from the stems and lay it out in a single layer.
If you plan on growing your own herbs, most require a lot of sunlight, up to eight hours a day. A very few such as parsley will grow well in a more shaded area. This sunlight issue is why many growers use containers to grow herbs so that they can be moved around to follow the sunlight. Having access to a variety of fresh herbs makes menu planning a much more challenging and rewarding task. I love to create herb themed multi-course meals, including fresh herbs as a component of a dessert course.