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.

‘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.

Lovely Lumas , Chilean Myrtles

I have a huge love of the Myrtaceae family and  they are one of the many reasons that I started the Herboretum.

Luma display

Luma display

I have found that many gardeners know Myrtles but not Lumas and many  are confused as to which is which.  What is great about Lumas is that, whereas the Mediterranean Myrtle can be a little tender, the Chilean Luma is very hardy and has even adapted to my clay soil. Even though this year they have been crushed by snow, when everything else is taking time to recover, they are now looking lovely.

PL33 luma gleangleam in flower

Luma apiculata ‘Glanleam Gold’ AGM

Another plus that is, similar to Myrtle, if a branch does get broken  or the tips do get scorched you simply have to cut back  and the new growth will come from the old wood.

Luma apiculata AGM

Luma apiculata AGM, Chilean Myrtle

The Luma apiculata has the most attractive cinnamon bark as it matures and makes an ideal specimen evergreen plant within the herb garden.

PL75 Luma Nanum-2

Luma apiculata ‘Nanum’ Dwarf Luma

Luma apiculata ‘Nanum’, the dwarf luma, makes an ideal low hedge as it is very slow growing, it prefers a well drained slightly acidic  soil but will adapt to a well drained loam.

All Luma’s can be grown by the sea as their foliage is not damaged by salty water.

Luma chequen, White Chilean Myrtle

Luma chequen, White Chilean Myrtle

Luma chequen, is the most robust of the Luma’s. It makes and ideal tall edging, hedging plant as it can be cut hard to keep it in shape.

In the kitchen the leaves can be used to flavour soups and stews, but should be used sparingly. After flowering the Luma has a black fruit which, when cooked, makes a very interesting conserve, jelly, which is extremely good with game dishes. 

At our Herb Friday on the 19th April we will be offering 20% discount on all  Luma plants.

It is 7 weeks until the first official day of spring.

It is officially only 7 weeks until the first day of spring, so I thought I would inspire you to grow some new herbs this year because herbs are the one collection of plants that can transform a meal into a feast.   Simply imagine tossing some Chive flowers, Wild rocket, chopped French parsley, amazing red Pak Choi,

some wonderful crunchy Purslane, and some hot spicy Mustard leaves with some Lettuce and you have a salad to whet all palates.

To me herbs fulfil everything one needs in a garden; they  look good, taste good and do you good, what more can you ask of a plant?

Herb garden June

Gardening for the table in landscape terminology is short term gardening.  It allows the gardener to experiment.  It also allows the gardener to be optimistic, for there is ‘always next year’.  So by even growing a pot of herbs on a windowsill or some rows of rocket in a container, it connects what you eat to the process of growing.  That growing process starts from the soil which is the engine of all gardening, be it in a container or a garden plot.   So for those of you who wish to grow your herbs in a window box or container it is well worth investing in a good potting compost .

French Tarragon

When growing plants in containers it is also worth investing in a good liquid fertiliser so that you can regularly feed your herbs.   Why feed the  plants?   Well, this is because the plant will quickly use all the nutrients and minerals from the potting compost and, to keep your herbs productive and healthy when grown in a container, you need to supplement their feed.

If the thought of Spring has inspired you I will be running a Propagation day course for 12 people at the Herboretum on April 6th and April 20th and a Herb garden design day course for 14 people on April 13th and May 4th .  And for those of you in the UK with eagle eyes the first ten of you to email the herb farm  with your postal address will be sent 3 packets of seeds, with our complements, to start your spring sowing.

The joy and beauty of the garden , Oregano.

Origanum dictamnus, Dittany of Crete

The word Oregano is derived from the Greek oros, meaning ‘mountain’ and ganos, meaning ‘joy’ and ‘beauty’, how right.  This is the most wonderful group of plants that not only look stunning at this time of year but are also useful in the kitchen  and very beneficial for bees and butterflies.

The leaves of this herb have a wonderful rounded flavour and a tea can be made from the leaves to ease an upset  stomach.   Sadly this  oregano, is now endangered in the wild.  To grow it in the UK you must plant it in a very well drained soil as otherwise our wet winters will cause it to rot.

Another wonderful oregano in this group is  Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ much beloved by bees.

Origanum ‘Kent Beuaty’

These amazing bracts which surround the small flowers turn an even deeper shade of pink as the flowers fade.

The bracts dry beautifully making them ideal for dried flower arrangements and a wonderful Christmas presents for friends.

Origanum ‘Jekka’s Beauty’

This oregano I found as a seedling growing  along side  Origanum dictamnus.  I propagated it and found that it ran true from cuttings so named it Origanum ‘Jekka’s Beauty’.   The leaves of this oregano are also hairy, just like O. dictamnus, and they also have a good culinary flavour.

With all these special, beautiful, Oregano’s it is essential to cut them back hard after flowering so that they make a new crown of leaves which will then help the plant survive the winter months.  You will then  be rewarded with a spectacular display  in the following summer.