The sage words of Mary Berry

Watching BBC2 the Great British Food Revival the other evening, I was transported back to last August, when Mary Berry

Picture from the Great British Food Revival

visited Jekka’s Herb Farm. We have known each other for over 20 years but to date she had not visited the herb  farm  so it gave me huge pleasure to show her around and to be able to share together our enthusiasm not only for the flavour and texture  that  herbs can bring to food but also their social history.

During the transmission Mary said   ‘try something new’.   I know like myself she is concerned that the knowledge of how to use herbs in cooking is disappearing. We were both lucky that our mothers and grandmothers both cooked and handed down their knowledge. Sadly today,  as the availability of  many herbs becomes more difficult, we are all becoming more cautious about what we can and cannot eat.  So not only try something new in 2012, try something that our grandmothers used  in their kitchens .

Three of the herbs we chatted about in the programme were

Marshmallow, Althea officinalis

This native herb of the UK can be found growing wild mainly in the south and west of the country.  The Romans considered it a delicious vegetable, they used the young leaves and  roots  in barley soup and  in a stuffing for suckling pigs . I remember the soft , sweet marshmallows which were originally flavoured with the root of this herb.  It also has many beneficial medicinal properties.

Broad leaf sorrel, Rumex acetosa

Photograph by Torie Chugg

As a child, I remember going on many walks with my father all of which were adventures. He taught me to pick and eat Rumex acetosella, Sheep’s sorrel, that grows wild throughout the UK, and to chew on if  I was thirsty, just as the Roman Soldiers did. My mother on the other hand always had a large patch of broad leaf sorrel that she used with gusto in the kitchen. One of her recipes I use to-day is Sorrel and Lettuce soup, which can be found in Jekka’s Complete Herb Book, it is delicious on a hot summers day.

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis

Melissa originates from the Greek word for Bee.

Lemon Balm is a native of the Mediterranean but unlike many of its cousins, for example Thyme and Sage,  it has adapted happily to our climate so much so that I know it can be invasive in the garden. But despite that fact it is certainly worth growing, for not only is it beneficial for bees, they love the high nectar flowers, it is also incredibly useful  in the kitchen.  It is great with stewed fruit as it takes away the tartness.  You can make Mary’s wonderful Lemon Balm ice cream   and  you can also make a tea from the leaves, which is said to relieve headaches, tension and to restore the memory.  What more could you ask from a cuppa.

So I do hope that in 2012 you do try something that our ancestors used with relish.

© Jekka McVicar , Jekka’s Herb Farm,  November 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jekka McVicar and Jekka’s Herb Farm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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