The magnificent herbs and spices of South East Asia ( part 2)

We sailed in the MV Voyager  from Singapore to the port that serves Kuala Lumpur, we then hopped onto a bus which took us to the most interesting Forest  Research institute that, at the turn of the Millennium, started work on the official establishment of the Kepong Botanical Garden.

Forest Research Insitutue

The Forest Research Institute Malaysia  ©Jekka 2014

This botanic garden has a very interesting collection of Malaysian plants from the wild including this Cucumber tree which I had not seen or eaten  on my previous trip to Malaysia.

Cucumber Tree

Averrhoa bilimbi, Cucumber Tree  ©Jekka 2014

The fruit of the cucumber tree is edible, it tastes rather like Granny Smith’s apples.  It is eaten raw or cooked and then added to curries.

Interestingly they had not had rain for 6 weeks which is, I am led to  believe, is a hundred year record. This was very noticeable when we went on to see the Orchid and Hibiscus gardens which were certainly suffering from the lack of rain.

Platycerium bifurcatum and Platycerium superbum Stag Horn Ferns at the Botanical Gardens Kuala Lumpur ©Jekka 2014

This was made up for by this amazing Platycerium bifurcatum and  Platycerium superbum Stag Horn Ferns

The next day was a relaxing day by the sea  in Langkawi where I saw for the first time Catharanthus roseus growing wild along the seashore.

Catharanthus roseus, Madagascar Periwinkle growing wild

Catharanthus roseus, Madagascar Periwinkle growing wild ©Jekka 2014

This herb is extremely important in so many ways as it is used in traditional medicine to treat malaria, diarrhoea, diabetes and cancer.  Interestingly one of the passengers on the ship was a Surgeon and he told me that they used extracts from this herb in the treatment of child leukemia at Great Ormond Street.

Catharanthus roseus, Madagascar Periwinkle

Catharanthus roseus, Madagascar Periwinkle ©Jekka 2014

After our relaxing day it was off to Phuket where, with friends, we found, purely by chance, the Botanic Garden.

Phuket Botanic Garden

Phuket Botanic Garden  ©Jekka 2014

It was great fun, with the plants divided into rooms, for example Fern, Aromatic and of course, Herbs where we came across this interesting edible vine.

Cissus quadrangularis, Edible Vine

Cissus quadrangularis, Edible Vine   ©Jekka 2014

It is cooked  as a vegetable and eaten throughout Asia.   Medicinally it is used rather as we would use Symphytum officinale, Comfrey, to help heal broken bones

After these three contrasting days we had two days at sea before arriving at the unique Port Blair in the Andaman Islands which will be in the next part of this blog  .

Here at Jekka’s Herb Farm, spring has arrived and the Herbetum is flourishing.

 

Rosmarinus officinalis and Rosmarinus officinalis 'Foxtail'

Rosmarinus officinalis and Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Foxtail’ ©Jekka 2014

We are looking forward to welcoming all those coming to Jekka’s Herb Garden Design Master Class this Saturday.

Please note all the photographs are  ©Jekka 2014.   We would  appreciate if you would kindly respect this.

The magnificent Herbs and Spices of South East Asia ( Part 1)

When the RHS asked if I would like to lecture on the Voyages of Discovery aboard the MV Voyager sailing from Bangkok to Mumbai I immediately said, ‘Yes Please’. This being the first cruise in partnership with RHS Garden Holidays.

MV VoyagerI have always wanted to visit Thailand and India and see the Botanic Gardens and the new Garden by the Bay in Singapore.  So this was a chance not to be missed despite the fact that I am seasick  even when the boat is in harbour!

BANGKOK

Wat Phra Kaew

©Jekka 2014

In Bangkok we visited the  Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew  where we were surrounded by the Tamarind Tree, Tamarindus indica,  which were not only lining the streets but were also  trained and pruned.

Tamarind tree plus fruit

Tamarind Tree plus fruit                                                                                    ©Jekka 2014

The young shoots and leaves are edible and are eaten dipped in ‘sambal’.  They are also used in the preparation of curry and other food in Asian cuisine where they add the sour taste.  Tamarind is also medicinal, the fruit, leaves and bark are all used in various ways  to treat many ailments.   I have seen this tree before in Malaysia, but never have  I seen them pruned and trained.

Trained Tamarind

Pruned Tamarind                                                                                                ©Jekka 2014

Our next port of call was SINGAPORE.  We started our visit at the Botanic gardens which is renowned not only for its Orchids but also for its Ginger collection.      At the entrance I saw this Costus speciosus

Costus speciosus

Costus speciosus                                                                                      ©Jekka 2014

which is native to Malaysia . It is used medicinally to treat fevers and many skin diseases.  It is also reputed to have magical powers including protection from evil spirits.

Once inside it was, for me,  an exciting treasure trove.

Torch Ginger

Etlinger elatior                                                                                                       ©Jekka 2014

This magnificent Ginger is Etlinger elatior, Torch ginger, a  native of Malaysia where it is used in traditional Malay cooking; the flower bud, flowers and flowering stem are all used.

Sadly our time there was far too short as we had to visit the stunning ‘Gardens by the Bay’.

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens By the Bay                                                                                               ©Jekka 2014

It is difficult to imagine that this is all on reclaimed land and that this garden was only officially opened in 2011.

The cloud forest dome

In the Cloud Forest Dome                                                                                    ©Jekka 2014

The Cloud Forest Dome  has the best living wall I have ever seen, it left me speechless.

However my favourite part, from purely showing how imaginative and innovative these gardens are , was the Super Tree Grove

Super Tree Grove

The Super Tree Grove                                                                                    ©Jekka 2014

The Supertrees  are very impressive; they are embedded with environmentally sustainable functions like photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy and they are connected with sky walkways which give a wonderful view across the bay to Singapore.

In my next blog, after our open days which start this Friday 4th and Saturday 5th I will describe the next part of our journey from Singapore to Sri Lanka via the Andaman Island.

Please note all the photographs are  ©Jekka 2014.   We would  appreciate if you would kindly respect this.

Herb Christmas Wreath

Personally I love Christmas,  the enchanting carols,  the family, friends  and the food.  I am also fascinated by the symbolism and this year our wreath outside the back door symbolizes love, long life and  good fortune to all those that cross the threshold.

Christmas WreathEach herb in this wreath has its own symbolism.

All evergreens symbolize  immortality and victory.

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Pine cones symbolize fertility, they also have numerous seeds which are edible. In ancient times pine cones were seen as a gift from the gods.  St. Ambrose considered  the pine cone as the image of the never ending continuance of nature and therefore a symbol of future eternal life.

xmas 3

The pine and spruce were considered good protection against evil and were often hung on doors to keep the ill-intentioned  out!

xmas 2

The ivy is steeped in myth and magic. At Christmas it was traditionally used to decorate the houses and churches as it is said to bring good fortune to the women of the house.  It also symbolized eternal life, loyalty, devotion, patriotism and undying desire.

xmas 5Myrtle was sacred to the goddess of love , Venus.  The plant was reputed to make love grow and also to preserve it.  The Jews saw Myrtle as a symbol of peace and reconciliation.

May I wish you all, Long life, Love, Happiness and Peace for this Christmas and for 2014.

xmas 7

Follow Nature, now is the ideal time to sow seeds.

As summer draws to a close,  not only is it the time to harvest seeds, it is also the ideal time to sow seeds as the soil is  beautifully warm.  By sowing now, either direct into a prepared space in the garden or into a pot,  which is positioned against south facing wall or in a cold green house,  you will have herbs that you can harvest throughout the winter months that will help you transform a meal into a feast .

One of the best is Parsley, both Curly, Petroselinum crispum  and Flat leaved French, Petroselinum cripsum French

PP25 Petroselinum crispum-2By sowing now it will germinate in approximately 10-14 days.  The seedlings will not be hassled by carrot fly and, once established, the plants will withstand frosts. After  a frost they do look rather sad, but very quickly they perk back ready for use in the kitchen.

Another indispensable herb is  Winter Purslane, Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata.  This is a wonderful cut and come again herb that adds fresh succulent leaves to salads throughout the winter months.

PC24 leaf

September is also an ideal month for sowing Chervil,  Anthriscus cerefolium. This will also produce an abundant crop for use through the winter months.  In temperatures below -8c it is advisable to cover in a cloche.

PA33 leaf landscape

Some seeds are far better sown fresh because, if delayed until the spring, they will need ‘stratification’,  frost, or putting in the fridge to trigger germination.   Angleica, Angleica archangelica, is one of these herbs.

PA29 Angleica seed head-2

If the fresh seed is sown now, into a seed tray or pots,  it will take only 14-21 days to germinate and the seedlings will withstand all the vagaries of the weather, but will need protecting from ‘Denis’, our blackbird, and the pesky mice.

‘If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.’  Confucius

***END OF SEASON HERB PLANT SALE ***SEPTEMBER  20th &21st           10am – 4pm.   Herb Teas, Tea, Coffee and home made cakes available.

 

‘A feast for your eyes’.

The skill of the chef is taking ingredients that when served not only taste amazing but they also look a picture on a plate.

The ingredients

The ingredients

It is easy to forget that we not only enjoy food using our taste and smell but we also eat with our eyes. One of the intentions of setting up Jekka’s Herboretum was to have a facility where Chefs could visit, taste the herbs, then cook with the herbs that took their fancy. The first time this happened was when three chefs from The Company of Cooks  came to visit us.

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Claire, Justin and Chris

The herbs that caught the imagination were Savory, Fennel, Bergamot, Chicory and Thyme

Fennel, Chicory, Bergamot, Savory and Thyme.

Savory, Fennel, Bergamot, Chicory and Thyme.

Justin Hammett, head chef at the Opera House, created this dish with Savory; he said it reminds him of his childhood, full of mediterranean warmth  with its pungent, peppery flavour. He created a simple dish of sliced onion, sliced potato and tomatoes sprinkled with the chopped leaves of Summer and Winter Savory and then all covered in a generous drizzle of good olive oil.  This he put into a preheated oven 175C for 40 mins.

Baked, tomato, onion , potato and savory.

Baked tomato, onion , potato and savory.

It was succulent, flavoured and delicious. This simple dish could be a light supper or served , for example with a rack of lamb.

While Justin was creating his dish, Chris Handley, who develops menus and meals for The Company of Cooks, made a wonderful fresh mackerel dish. The ingredients might be simple however it was inspirational to watch him rehearse the layout of the dish before putting it on the finished plate.  This approach was very similar to the way we rehearsed our floral displays before leaving to go to Malvern or Chelsea Flower Show.

Chris platting up

Chris rehearsing the layout.

This attention to detail makes the finished meal look a picture.

Chris composing his plate.

Chris composing his plate.

Claire Clark, who is renowned for her pastry and puddings, is a consultant working with The Company of Cooks.

Claire Clark

Claire Clark

The herbs of  her choice were thyme. lavender and heartsease. Her pudding was magical, not only in looks but in flavour; the contrast of the zesty lemon cake infused with thyme , sitting on sharp clean lemon curd with the light moorish lavender shortbread was excellent.

Lavender short bread

Lavender shortbread

The finish dish not only looked a picture it tasted absolutely fabulous.

Claire puts the finishing touches to her perfect picture.

Claire puts the finishing touches to her perfect picture.

Amazing, cantankerous, Basil!

One of the special herbs of the summer is Basil. It can quite literally transform a meal into a feast and a drink into an elixir !

Bountiful Basil

Bountiful Basil
Photograph © Jekka

It is however one of the most cantankerous plants to grow in our ever changing climate.  Quite simply it hates going to bed wet and cold.  So the best way to grow it is in containers which should then be positioned against a south facing wall.  This way you will protect it from the winds, it will benefit from the warmth of the wall and it will be protected from getting drenched in the rain.  For any plant that is grown against a wall is approximately 25% drier than growing it in the open ground.

There are now so many varieties of Basil available, from Ocimum basilicum ‘Napolitano’ with it’s large lettuce leaf to the delectable Ocimum basilicum ‘Mrs Burns’, which has exquisite lemon flavoured and scented leaves,

Mrs Burns Basil Photograph ©Jekka
Ocimum basilicum ‘Mrs Burns’ basil
Photograph ©Jekka

and the spicy Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’ from Mexico .

Cinnamon Basil Photograph ©Jekka

Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’ basil
Photograph ©Jekka

Whichever you choose the flowers are also edible and will taste very similar to the leaves.  The cinnamon basil flowers are wonderful scattered over couscous or a rice salad.

Basil is immensely versatile in the kitchen and is renowned for use in salads,  however it is also brilliant for making sorbets, biscuits and wonderful cocktails.

Just recently at the HerbFest in London I was introduced to Basil Blossom cocktail.

Basil Blossom cocktail

Basil Blossom cocktail

I have subsequently made my own Lemon Basil cocktail.

Lemon Basil syrup.                                                                                                                         200 gm granulated sugar,  250 ml water, roughly one handful of lemon basil   (preferably Mrs Burns). Place the water, basil leaves and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring, bring to the boil. Cover, leave to infuse for 5 mins. Pour into a container with a lid. Refrigerate once cold.   This syrup will keep in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks, it is immensely useful not only for making cocktails but also with fruit dishes.

Lemon Basil Cocktail                                                                                                             3-4 leaves of lemon Basil,   zest of one washed lemon,   40ml white rum,    the juice of one lemon,  30ml lemon basil syrup,   soda water to top up.                         In a tall glass, add the lemon zest and the basil leaves. Using a spoon, crush and mix them together so that the basil leaves are bruised which will release the essential oils.  Fill the glass with crushed ice, mixing as you go with the basil leaves and lemon zest.      Either using a cocktail shaker or a sealed container  add the rum, lemon juice and basil syrup, shake together, then pour over the crushed ice, top up with the soda water.  Serve with a slice of lemon and some basil leaves.   Enjoy.

The Herboretum and Herb Farm will be open on the following dates, 28th June, 5th July and 12th July. Entry is free and we will have the wonderful  Mrs Burns and Cinnamon Basil for sale.

Food for Free this April in the West Country

Spring has arrived after one of the longest winters that I can remember.  It is joyous to be able to walk along the  lane and around our field and find so many herbs that one can pick and eat just as our forefathers did.

A Peacock Butterfly supping nectar from Ground Ivy.

A Peacock Butterfly sipping nectar from Ground Ivy.

Here’s fine rosemary, sage and thyme.                                                                                         Come, buy my Ground Ivy.                                                                                                           Here’s featherfew, gilly flowers and rue.                                                                                     Come buy my knotted marjoram , too!                                                                                Roxburghe Ballads ( 1740-1804)

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea

In mediaeval times Ground Ivy was used to treat fevers and coughs .  Today the leaves are great with mushrooms or for making a lovely spring tisane.

Primrose was the first herb to appear this year in the garden.

Primrose, Primula vulgaris

Primrose, Primula vulgaris

As the weather had been so cold and grey it was wonderful to see these cheerful flowers.   The young leaves can be eaten as a salad or boiled as a pot herb. Traditionally the flowers were ground with rice,  almonds, honey and saffron to form a ‘Primrose pottage’.

Cowslip, Primula veris

Cowslip, Primula veris

When I was a child Cowslips were picked to make a wine.  Nowadays, due to the fact that this herb has become rare in the wild, this is no longer possible.   Medicinally they were traditionally used as a sedative.

Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica L.

Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica L.

Nettles on the other hand are profuse in my garden, so here is a delicious recipe,

Nettle soup                                                                                                                                              1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped                                                                                     1 clove of garlic,                                                                                                                                   2 potatoes, peeled and sliced.                                                                                                        2 large  handfuls ( do wear gloves) of young nettle heads.                                                1 Litre of vegetable or chicken stock.                                                                                     Olive oil, salt and pepper,                                                                                                                   Cream can be added prior to serving if you wish, but it is perfectly good without.

In a large saucepan add a little olive oil, the chopped onion, garlic and potatoes and gently fry for 3-4 minutes.  Wash and trim the nettles, add to the pan, add the stock. Bring to the boil, cover, reduce the heat, simmer until the potatoes are cooked. Liquidise and add the seasoning.  Serve with a dash of cream if desired .

Wild Garlic is also in profusion. Normally it would be in full flower if not going over by now,  this year it is still in the green.

Wild Garlic, Ramsoms, Allium ursinum L.

Wild Garlic, Ramsoms, Allium ursinum L.

The leaves are great wilted in butter and served with mash potato or added to soups or stews for flavouring.

All photographs are  ©  Jekka McVicar 2013