One single herb can make the world of difference to any dish but when herbs are used in combination with each other, the effects can be even more delicious. Some herbs work well together, their flavours blending and complementing each other. One such example is the traditional bouquet garni, which consists of parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Another is a traditional French blend called fines herbes.
Fines herbes consists of tarragon, parsley, chervil and chives. Although the blend is sometimes used dried, none of the herbs have much flavour in the dried form. So, it’s practically worthless as a dried herb blend.
Maximum flavour is obtained by using fresh herbs. Rather omit a herb that is not available fresh than to substitute it with dried herb.
All four herbs used in fines herbes have subtle flavours that blend well together and complement and enhance each other’s flavour. The subtle nature of the blend also ensures that it does not overpower any dish.
To make your own fines herbes, finely chop equal parts of tarragon, parsley, chervil and chives. Fines herbes should be added to cooked dishes at the end of the cooking period as the herbs, with the exception of tarragon, do not stand up well to heat. For the best results, sprinkle the mixture over dishes as a garnish, or place it in a bowl on the table.
Fines herbes are excellent when sprinkled over green salads. It goes particularly well with egg dishes, especially omelet’s. Use it to garnish light vegetable or simple cream-based soups.
Chicken, especially when poached, greatly benefits when sprinkled with this blend before being served. Fines herbes are excellent with simple fish dishes. Steamed vegetables, like beans, marrows and broccoli becomes a delicacy when flavoured with this blend.
We hope these hyssop recipes and cooking tips will stimulate your imagination. Some of these recipes you will recognize, others might sound too adventurous. Our only intention here is to show you how easy it is to use herbs to relieve boredom in the kitchen.
Please note: As many of our recipes dates from pre-computer days (meaning they are in files and files of hand written notes), I’m not including the ‘authors/creators’ of all these recipes. Because we simply collected recipes for our own purposes, never with the intention of sharing them with a wide audience, we did not always record the source. If I infringe your ‘copyright’ by not giving you credit please accept my apologies and please send me an email.
Parts used: We use the leaves fresh or dried; the flowers only fresh.
When to harvest: The leaves can be harvested at any time during the year. We pick the flowers and young flowering tops as flowering begins.
How to dry: Hang in a warm, dark, well ventilated place.
How to store: Fresh leaves and flowers – In tightly sealed plastic bags or ‘tupperware’ containers in the refrigerator. Dried leaves – In airtight containers in a cool, dark place.
Cooking tips: At first use small amounts of leaves (especially dried) in your dishes as the bitter, slightly minty (or camphor-like if you wish) flavour can easily overpower a dish. As you become used to the flavour you will increase the amounts naturally. We never use both the leaves and flowers to flavour the same dish as the stronger flavour of the leaves dominate that of the delicate flowers. The leaves stand up well to long cooking periods but we prefer to add it just before serving. Experiment a bit to find out what suits your taste buds.
Taste good with/in: Dried or fresh leaves – soups, stews, herbal teas. Fresh leaves – soft cheeses such as goat cheese and cottage cheese, flavoured butters, sandwiches, sauces, dips, hot or cold pasta dishes. Flowers – green salads.
Herb Blends: Mostly used on its own but we often combine it with one or more of the following: chervil (my favourite combo), chives, parsley, bay, basil and sage (especially in fatty dishes, but be careful as both can overpower). Tip: Both hyssop and sage aids digestion of fatty fish and meat.
Historical uses: Hyssop is frequently mentioned in the Bible, from Moses to John the Baptist. It was also venerated by the Arabs. The ancient Greeks boiled it with rue and honey, and used it as a cough remedy. Much used as a medicinal herb. Also used to flavour liqueurs, such as the well known Chartreuse. A wine called hyssopites, made from hyssop was mentioned by the Roman writer Pliny (first century AD).
Glazed Carrots with Hyssop
Here’s one way I can easily convince my dear wife, who’s not too fond of carrots, to eat carrots. She loves chicken though, so its sort of a compromise.
About 500g young carrots, scraped and thinly sliced; 1 cup chicken stock; 1 tbsp honey; 1 tbsp unsalted butter; 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh hyssop leaves; salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste.
In a saucepan, combine the carrots, stock, honey, butter and salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and cook over low heat until the carrots are tender and the liquid is a syrupy glaze, about 20 minutes or so. Be careful that it does not burn. Toss the carrots with hyssop and serve immediately.
If you don’t want to ‘ruin’ 500g carrots, try this tester: 2 large carrots thinly sliced, 1 tbsp water (or chicken stock), 1 tbsp butter, 1 tsp honey or brown sugar, 1 tsp finely chopped hyssop. Proceed as above. This needs only about 10 minutes to cook, but beware, it burns very easily.
Corned Beef, Cheese and Hyssop Spread
My national service days cured me from eating any Corned Beef, unfortunately not so for the rest of our family. My biggest challenge in the early days of experimenting with herbs was to find ways to make Corned Beef edible – according to my taste buds anyway. This is one of my ‘favourites’. The original recipe called for 250g minced, cooked ham, but I’ve never tried that.
1 tin minced Bull Brand Bully Beef (but any brand will do), remember to put the excess fat on the bird feeder for the insect eating birds; 3/4 cup cottage cheese (or a cream cheese, I’ve even used grated cheddar), 1/2 cup soft unsalted butter; 2 tsp finely chopped fresh hyssop; salt and pepper.
Combine all ingredients, blend well, add seasoning to taste. Place in a serving dish and chill before serving with crackers or toast.
Meat Balls with Hyssop
My mom makes the most divine meat balls, and I’ve ruined, and devoured, a couple of beef herds trying to improve her recipe. Admittedly, without success, but this one comes close. It also makes an exceptional pure beef hamburger patty.
250g minced meat; 1 minced onion; 1 beaten egg; 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley (preferably Italian parsley); 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh hyssop; salt and pepper; seasoned flour; oil for frying.
Combine minced meat and onion, mix in herbs and season to taste. Stir in beaten egg and mix well. Form into small balls, roll in seasoned flour, fry quickly in very hot oil, turning to brown them on all sides. Reduce the heat and cook them a little longer if they are not cooked in the middle.
Chicken with Hyssop
Next time you stuff a roasting chicken with your favourite stuffing substitute the herbs you usually use with 2 tsp finely chopped fresh hyssop. While the chicken is roasting baste it with its own fat or 2 tbsp melted unsalted butter and a little lemon juice. Sprinkle with 1 tsp finely chopped hyssop.
We are not too fond of stuffed chicken. We simply put a sprig of hyssop in the cavity of the un-stuffed chicken. To improve the flavour we add a knob of butter and some thinly peeled lemon rind.
Cauliflower and Hyssop Salad
Hyssop adds a new dimension to salads and its a wonderful way of benefiting from all those wonderful health building properties of fresh greenies and hyssop.
2 cups thinly sliced, raw cauliflower; 1 diced red apple; 1 1/2 cups plain yoghurt; 2-4 tsp finely chopped fresh hyssop; 1 tsp salt; 1 tbsp lemon juice (or your own home-made herb vinegar).
Mix cauliflower and apple together in a salad bowl. Combine other ingredients in a basin, mix well, pour over cauliflower and apple mix. Toss and chill before serving. Garnish with hyssop flowers or hyssop sprigs.
Recipe Variations: All the above recipes lend themselves to endless variations. For starters substitute the hyssop with any of your favourite herbs. Next try some of the bouquet garni’s above or just use your imagination to create your own. Using herbs, “Aagh no mom, not meatballs (or whatever) again!”, becomes a phrase expressed before the first bite, not after.
Queen Elizabeth’s Cordial Electuary of Hyssop
Her Highness’s original recipe called for some ingredients that’s quite hard to obtain on short notice, and quite expensive. After some experimenting (it took exactly 22 batches), I’m convinced that she won’t know the difference. This licorice flavored remedy, soothes sore throats, relieves cough, does wonders for an upset stomach and helps shortness of breath. You can take a tablespoon 1-3 times a day. Please read the cautions for using hyssop in medicinal dosages in last weeks newsletter.
2 tbsp dried hyssop (preferably flowering tops) or 1/3 cup fresh hyssop (chopped flowering tops); 1/4 cup water; 1 cup honey; 1 tsp aniseed; a pinch each ground pepper and ground ginger.
In a saucepan combine honey and water. Stir until the mixture is consistency of pancake syrup. Bring slowly to a boil (over a medium heat). Skim off any scum that rises to the surface. If using dried hyssop, use 1-2 tbsp water to moisten the dried material. Crush the aniseed. Stir both into the honey. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Add a small pinch of ground pepper and a small pinch of ground ginger. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat, strain, and allow to cool. While the mixture is still a little warm, strain into a sterilized jar. When completely cooled, screw on the lid. Keep in the refrigerator for not more than one week.
Hyssop Air Freshener
If you have a aromatherapy oil burner take a good handful of fresh hyssop, or 1 heaped tablespoon of dried hyssop and bring it to boil in a pan of water. Pour into a your aromatherapy oil burner. . You need to watch this as the water evaporates quicker than oil. So keep on replenishing. This keeps the air sweet and healthy.
To flavour a glass of tomato juice or cocktail add 1 tablespoon minced young borage leaves. Add borage flowers when serving alcoholic drinks and fruit drinks. Especially good with a claret cup. Add borage leaves and flowers to hot or iced tea or lemonade.
Borage Wine Cup
Makes about 2 liter
30ml castor sugar
750ml bottle dry white wine
125ml orange juice
250ml crushed ice
750ml bottle pink champagne
250ml ginger ale
250ml chopped fresh borage leaves
Borage flowers to garnish (optional)
Blend brandy, sugar, wine, juice and ice until combined.
Combine champagne, lemonade, ginger ale, borage and wine mixture in large bowl just before serving.
Decorate with borage flowers.
Borage Ice Blocks
Half fill ice block trays with cold water and freeze solid. Remove from freezer and tip out the half blocks. Put a borage flower into each division, replace the half blocks and top them up with water. The flower is then trapped between the water and the ice. When the tray is returned to the freezer the borage flower will be set in the middle of the ice block. Otherwise the flowers tend to float to the top.
¼ cup lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons sugar
3-4 medium-sized borage leaves
2 cups water
Put all ingredients in a blender and blend for approximately 30 seconds. Strain into a tall glass, and garnish with borage flowers.
Strawberry and Borage Cocktail
4-5 borage leaves
250ml dry vermouth
450ml orange juice
450ml soda water
450ml ginger ale
1 lemon thinly sliced
1 punnet small strawberries
Lightly crush borage with mortar and pestle.
Place in a large punch bowl and add all other ingredients, except strawberries; chill.
Clean and prepare strawberries and float in a punch bowl just before serving.
To Candy Borage Flowers
Pick the borage flowers, each with a small stem, when they are quite dry. Paint each one with lightly beaten egg white, using a water colour paintbrush. Dust them lightly with castor sugar and set to dry on waxed paper in a warm place like an airing cupboard or in a very cool oven.
Tropical Fruit Salad with Lime Syrup
Make a mixture of fruit e.g. Passion fruit, kiwi fruit, pineapple, selection of berries, paw paw, melon, water melon. Combine fruit in a large bowl. Add lime syrup, toss gently to combine, cover, refrigerate for several hours, even overnight.
125 ml lime juice
125 ml sugar
60 ml chopped fresh borage leaves
Combine juice and sugar in small saucepan, stir over heat without boiling, until sugar has dissolved.
Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer, uncovered without stirring for 5 minutes, cool.
Stir in borage.
Preserves with Borage
Add flowers to herbal vinegar as a dye and for a slight cucumber flavour.
A great spread with cream cheese and crackers.
6 cups borage leaves and flowers parts soaked in a 4 cups of cold water overnight, drain
4 cups of borage infused water
4 ½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon
1 pack commercial pectin
a pinch of salt and red pepper
Cook according to commercial pectin direction.
Salads with Borage
Red, White and Blue Salad
1 medium cucumber
3 medium vine ripened tomatoes
¾ cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon course black pepper
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped dill leaves
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon finely grated red onion
salt to taste
borage flowers togarnish
Combine all the ingredients except for the tomatoes and flowers.
Slice tomatoes and arrange them, overlapping, around the edge of a serving platter.
Mound the cucumber mixture in the center of the platter, just covering the inner edge of the tomatoes.
Chill well, and place the borage flowers decoratively on the salad just before serving.
Serves 4 to 6
Mixed Herb Salad (La Salade de Plusieurs Herbes)
Adapted from a 16th century French translation of a book originally written in Latin in 1474.
2 heads lettuce
1 handful young, tender borage leaves
1 handful chopped fresh mint leaves
1 handful fresh lemon-balm leaves
1 handful tender fennel shoots and flowers
1 handful fresh chervil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon oregano or marjoram flowers and leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
Wash the lettuce and herbs well, dry them and place them in a large dish.
Sprinkle with salt, add the oil and finally the vinegar.
Let the salad stand a while before serving.
Eat the salad heartily, crunching and chewing well.
To serve 6
Borage and Cucumbers
3 large cucumbers
200ml sour cream
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon celery seed
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup fresh, young borage leaves (chopped finely)
Slice the cucumbers thinly. Salt lightly and set aside in a colander for 30 minutes, then rinse and pat dry with paper towels.
Mix the remaining ingredients, add the cucumbers to the mixture, and toss lightly.
Serve with fish salads, fried seafood and green salads
5 ml soy sauce
salt and pepper
10 ml lemon juice
5 ml orange or lemon rind
5 ml made mustard
a dash of cayenne
20 ml chopped borage leaves
125 ml mayonnaise
Grate the cucumber and shallots. Add all other ingredients and blend in electric blender.Makes ± 375 ml
Frankfurter Gruene Sauce (Frankfurter Green Sauce)
3 cups mixed herbs (parsley, chives, chervil, borage, dill, spinach greens, watercress, tarragon, basil, pimpernel)
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
2 small onions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
¾ cup low-fat cottage cheese (pressed through a fine sieve in order to smooth curds)
ground white pepper
small pinch of sugar
1 to 2 eggs, hardboiled and coarsely chopped
Choose all or merely a selection of the herbs and greens mentioned in the list of ingredients (using the tarragon more sparingly than the others). Wash them thoroughly and drain on paper towels.
Coarsely chop the greens; loosely packed, they should amount to about 3 cups altogether.
Take 2 cups of the greens, combine with the sour cream or yogurt and the onions, and puree in the blender or processor; add a few tablespoons of cream if it doesn’t seem to be fluid enough.
The rest of the greens should just be finely chopped and stirred in a mixing bowl with the puree in order to give the sauce a little bite.
Stir in as much mayonnaise and low-fat cottage cheese as it takes to produce a smooth, creamy sauce.
Season with salt, pepper, and a little sugar. The hardboiled eggs can either be mixed in with the sauce or strewn over it as a garnish.
Makes 2 to 3 cups
Add one tablespoon young freshly chopped leaves to every 4 cups beet, cabbage, green pea or spinach soup
Acquacotta di Verdure – Cooked Water with Greens
Acquacotta literally means cooked water. It is generally served as a one coarse meal and in the past was eaten by shepherds and stockmen. There are as many versions as there are cooks.
A loaf of day-old Italian bread
1 cup potatoes, peeled and cubed
500 g ripe tomatoes, chopped (and peeled, if you like)
500 g spinach washed and coarsely chopped
500 g vegetables such as peas, beans, bell peppers or whatever else is in season
Bouquet garni of minced borage, marjoram, thyme, parsley
125 ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Fill a fairly large pot ¾ full of water and add the vegetables and herbs. Season with a little salt and cook for about 40 minutes.
When the vegetables have finished cooking, cut the bread into thick slices. Dip each in the pot, let it drain, and put it in a bowl.
Spoon some vegetables and a bit of the vegetable broth over the slices, drizzle some olive oil over them, and serve them with freshly ground pepper.
Borage flowers makes an attractive edible garnish and may be added to any green or fruit salad to taste. Young finely chopped borage leaves may be added to any green salad, but do not add too much because of their hairy texture. Especially good with beans, green peas and spinach.
Borage Leaves as a Vegetable
Wash young borage leaves and remove stalks. Chop finely and cook in a little butter in a covered saucepan over a very low heat. Season to taste. The dampness of the washed leaves should be enough to keep them from sticking to the bottom; they should soon be tender and their hairy texture disappears when cooked.
Try to combine the borage leaves with cabbage or spinach using about one-third borage leaves to two-thirds cabbage or spinach and cook in the same way.
It is makes a great ‘marog’.
250 ml flour
8 ml baking powder
125 ml milk
1 beaten egg
125 ml – 250 ml cooked, chopped borage leaves
15 ml grated onion
oil or butter to fry
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a basin.
Make a well in the centre and stir in combined milk and egg to make a stiff batter.
Add chopped, cooked borage leaves and grated onion.
Heat oil in a frying pan and fry the mixture in tablespoons, turning to brown both sides.
Drain on brown paper and eat hot with mashed potatoes and grilled tomatoes.
Sweet basil, also known as basilie and basiliekruid, originated in India, where it is regarded as a herb sacred to the gods Krishna and Vishnu. It is thought to protect against evil and every Hindu is buried with a leaf of basil – a tulasi – on his or her breast.
How To Use Sweet Basil in Your Cooking
Best used fresh (dried basil does not have the same flavour, a minty taste predominates), sweet basil has a pungent, aromatic and spicy flavour that resembles cloves. It’s an outstanding choice as a home cuisine herb and you can never have too many sweet basil plants growing in your garden.
Sweet basil has a special affinity for tomatoes and tomato-flavoured dishes, and it is an essential ingredient to make a truly wonderful pesto sauce. You can also add sweet basil to beans, cheeses, chicken, eggs, fish, marinades, marrows, mushrooms, pasta and pasta sauces and salads. It also makes a great herb vinegar and herb butter.
Always add it just before serving to cooked dishes as its flavour diminishes with cooking. Pound it with a bit of olive oil or tear it with the fingers, rather than chopping it. Sweet basil combines well with garlic, parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme and sage.
How To Use Sweet Basil as a Natural Remedy
Sweet basil is used extensively in aromatherapy for ailments such as stress, migraine, colds and hay fever. It has antispasmodic, appetizing, carminative, galactagogue and stomachic properties. It is quite effective for tension headaches, exhaustion and digestive upsets such as stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhea and enteritis.
Make an infusion by adding 2 teaspoons fresh leaves to 1/2 cup boiling-hot water. Steep for about 10 minutes. Strain and drink hot. Take three times a day.
Sweet basil is also used in flower therapy for those who tend to separate spirituality from sexuality, believing the two cannot be integrated.
Traditionally the dried leaves were pounded and, taken as snuff, used as a remedy for colds.
How To Use Sweet Basil for Natural Skin Care
You can make an invigorating beauty bath by adding a strong infusion of fresh basil leaves to your bath. Use 1 cup chopped basil leaves in 2 cups boiling-hot water. Steep for 15-20 minutes. Then add to bath.How To Use Sweet Basil as a Companion Plant
Sweet Basil is a most beneficial companion for your other plants. In particular it enhances the flavour of summer savory and it helps tomatoes to grow larger and more flavoursome.
It’s a good insect repellant for white fly, aphids and fruit fly. A pot of basil, set on a windowsill near an open window, will prevent flies from entering the room through the window.
Nicholas Culpeper observed that ‘… something is the matter, this herb and rue will not grow together, no, nor near one another.’ – but in our experience they are quite happy bedfellows.
You can set pots on windowsills and in open doorways to deter flies, or you can add a few leaves to the barbeque fire to deter moths. You can also grow it as an attractive pot plant for the patio.
How To Grow Your Own Sweet Basil
Sweet basil is a tender annual that grows about 40-60cm high. It prefers well-drained soil in a sunny position. Protect your sweet basil against cold winds and frost. Space the plants about 30cm apart and pinch out the growing tips and flower heads to encourage a bushy habit.
Sweet Basil is propagated from seed and young plants can be purchased from nurseries to plant in your herb garden.
Harvesting and Preserving Your Sweet Basil
Sweet Basil is such a vigorous herb that you’ll always have an abundant harvest to share with others.
Don’t try to dry your sweet basil as the flavour is not the same as fresh basil. You can keep the leaves briefly in plastic bags in the refrigerator or you can preserve them in olive oil or vinegar. To freeze you can puree the leaves with a little water and freeze them in ice cube trays or you can cover both sides with olive oil and freeze them whole.
Purple Splash Basil Vinegar
Definitely one of our favourite basil preservation recipes. Not only because it is a lovely pink, but because the vinegar preserves the flavour of the basil exceptionally as well. We use purple splash in our marinades, salads, stir fries and home-made mustards.
For the bathroom we make it with apple cider vinegar to use as a hair rinse and to add to the bath water. It restores the natural acid mantle of the skin and hair and is exceptionally good for dry, itchy skin – traditional winter skin.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) may not be one of the most aromatic herbs, but its exceptional medicinal properties, and high protein content, makes it a very popular herb with herbalists. (You can also read this comfrey article in Afrikaans.)
In the edible plant world it ranks just behind soya beans for protein content. And it has no equal as a remedy for skin problems, injuries, muscle and skeletal pain, and inflammation.
It’s also highly regarded by organic food gardeners as a compost crop, green manure and mulch. And by livestock farmers as a high protein fodder.
Chef’s Tips for Cooking with Comfrey
Comfrey is a member of the borage family and it has the same faint cucumber flavour as borage. It’s slightly bitter flavour becomes more pronounced when overcooked.
Some say that if prepared correctly, the flavour becomes a bit like endive and asparagus. I wholehearted agree with taking the trouble to prepare it correctly, but I can’t say that my comfrey ever tasted like asparagus. Maybe my palette needs more practice.
Use only the tender young leaves in your cooking. Comfrey leaves are covered in fine hairs and these become quite hard and unpalatable in older leaves. Wash the leaves, dry, and prepare as directed by the recipe.
Like spinach, it’s easy to overcook comfrey. But it’s not great too raw either. Rather err on the side of undercooking it.
Comfrey can be prepared as a starter (they make quite good fritters), soup, or as a side dish. (My mom makes a delicious comfrey marog -a traditional African side dish made with leafy greens, onions and tomatoes.) You can also add it to other veggies and to stews. It also makes a nutritious addition to veggie juices.
Parsley, lemon balm, mint, and caraway seed all go well with comfrey.
If you are worried about the safety of comfrey let me assure you that it’s not such a smashing vegetable that you’ll overindulge on it on a daily basis. But it is nevertheless a good idea to read my article on comfrey safety.
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Parsley is proof that fresh is the best when cooking with herbs. When using parsley in cooking I only use the fresh leaves. If there aren’t any, I’ll rather omit it from the recipe – dried parsley is a poor substitute. For medicinal purposes I use both the seeds and root of the parsley plant.
Fresh parsley has a clean, green aroma with a versatile fresh green taste. Slightly peppery. At times a little like celery with an aftertaste of green apple. Dried parsley smells like old dried grass and tastes like dust.
Fresh leaves keep very well – for up to 10 days – in the refrigerator in an airtight container. It also freezes well – just chop finely and mix with a little water. Pour into ice trays and freeze.
Parsley can be used in virtually any dish. It is a well-mannered and polite herb that will compliment and not overpower other herbs.
Use it freely (about 1 tablespoon per serving), and unless the recipe states otherwise, add it about 10 minutes before serving to allow the flavours to develop.
Parsley is flavour pals with:
Sweet basil, bay leaves, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, garlic, lemon verbena, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, sorrel, tarragon, thyme, watercress and winter savoury.