Category Archives: Herbs

The Shelf Life of a Spice Rack

Basil and oregano grow in my garden.  Spices and dried herbs grow in my cabinet.  Just like rain lily bulbs, the little jars multiply as time passes and I forget about them.  There are two chili powders, two nutmegs, two cloves, and three ground mustards.  The ground mustard is baffling.  I can’t think of one recipe I use it in, so why do I keep buying it?  It has to stop.  I’ve compiled a list of every spice, seed, herb, and extract in my cabinet.

The majority of my herbs are McCormick brand, which made my project much easier.  If there’s no best by date on the jar, McCormick has a website where you can find out when the spice or herb was packaged.  On that same page, they provide basic shelf life information.  The maximum shelf life for herbs and ground spices is three years.  The maximum shelf life for whole spices, seeds and extracts is four years with two exceptions – poppy and sesame seeds are only good for two years.  The overall exception is vanilla extract, which never goes bad. 

Something that never goes bad is great for my budget but bad for my brain.  It doesn’t make any sense; edibles rot.  Why doesn’t vanilla extract go bad?  My mother refuses to eat Cool Whip for this very reason.  A storm interupted her barbeque once.  The plates, pies, burgers, buns – they were all destroyed and washed away from the rain but not the Cool Whip.  It survived the storm, and as my mother would say, “That ain’t right.”   

So I went about entering the codes, and most of my spices checked out.  But to my dismay, there were three rogues that have been hiding out since the nineties!  It’s embarrassing and disgusting.  But luckily, 15 year-old spices are only flavorless; they don’t actually make you sick.  I’d know by now if they did. 

To make myself feel better…or worse…to be determined by your responses, check your cabinets and best buy dates.  Comment here and whoever is kind enough to take the Old Spice title from me gets a replacement spice, herb or extract.  I’ll check back on May 1, 2011 to crown the title.  The year to beat is 1996!  

Leftover Mashed Potatoes and Garden Chives

There was a lot more eating than gardening going on around here last week.  With thanks comes leftovers and when the turkey is gone and you’re looking at four pounds of mashed potatoes, it’s time to get creative.  Leftover mashed potatoes served as a main ingredient in yesterday’s dinner and dessert.  For dinner, we each enjoyed a rich, fluffy mashed potato egg cup garnished with garden chives.

Preheat quiche cups or a muffin tin in a hot oven, 400-450 degrees.  Use cooking spray or a pat of butter to prevent sticking.  Then press potatoes into cups leaving a well for the egg.  Sprinkle Parmesan over the mashed potatoes and drop in the egg.  Salt, pepper, bake - Simple!  My hearty little bush of garden chives provided the perfect garnish for these crispy, creamy potato treats. 

Chives used to be hung in bunches to ward off disease and evil spirits…this odd tidbit of history was provided by…Rodale’s!  The chives also topped my Black Friday leftover feast of Turkey Tostadas with Spicy Cranberry-Chipotle Sauce.  The tostadas were better than my Thanksgiving dinner, but back to dessert…

Potato Fudge Cake with whipped cream, pomegranates and raspberries.  The combination of it all was delectable, but the cake alone was somehow moist and dry all in the same bite – I suppose, a little like mashed potatoes.  Maybe I’ll try potato-coconut candies next year. 

Blooming Basil

Normally I love to see plants bloom in my garden but not basil.  A friend/former restaurant owner told me when basil blooms the leaves tend to taste bitter.  Flowers also stifle growth.  Since the plant is blooming and producing seeds, it thinks the work is over and experiences a shut-down of sorts.  If you want the basil to keep producing new leaves, then take no mercy when pinching - off with their pretty little heads!   

It’s become sort of a thing that every time I write about an herb I pull out my outdated but highly enjoyable 1987 copy of Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.  Although it’s full of useful information, I reference it purely for the bizarre.  Here’s an exemplary tidbit about the history of basil courtesy of Rodale’s:

Basil hasn’t always been associated with romance and fine dining.  In fact, there was a time when people feared this herb.  According to an anecdote attributed to Tournefort, a seventeenth-century botanist, ‘A certain Gentleman of Siena being wonderfully taken and delighted with the Smell of Basil, was wont very frequently to take the Powder of the dry Herb, and snuff it up his Nose; but in a short Time he turn’d mad and died; and his Head being opened by Surgeons, there was found a Nest of Scorpions in his Brain.’ In keeping with this view of the herb, some believe its name was derived from that of the legendary basilisk, a reptile who could kill with a glance or a breath.

Spoooooky…had I known, basil would’ve definitely made it onto my Halloween pizza.

My Plethora of P’s

There are so many Purely Pretty P‘s in my garden that I couldn’t Possibly decide on just one…First up are the edibles: Peppers, Purple Dark Opal Basil and Pineapple.

Now for the non-edibles: Purple Pentas, a Planter full of Periwinkle Plumbago and a Perennial Perfume Delight Hybrid Tea Rose.  Roses are actually edible but not around this house.   

And finally my number one Pick of all the P‘s found in my garden today: Luke’s one Pink Paw Pad.

Happy ABC Wednesday!

O is for Oregano

The two plants in my herb garden that manage to survive summer after summer are rosemary and oregano.  I’ve already given you the rundown on rosemary, so this time I pulled out my Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Herbs to find some random facts on oregano.  The name translates to “joy of the mountains” and bald men used to rub it on their heads mixed with oil in the hopes of regrowth.  Oregano’s medicinal uses date back to the Greek physician Dioscorides in the first century.  The Greeks used it to treat aches, sores and bites from scorpions and spiders.  It’s fascinating what doctors are doing with oregano today.  Studies are finding it more effective in treating giardiosis, a parasitic infection, than one of the standard drug treatments…and no side effects!  Oregano is quite the superb herb! 

N is for Nasturtiums

There’s nothing not to like about nasturtiums.  Their petals are bright, vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange.  They help keep bugs away from your garden edibles, and the colorful blossoms are edible themselves.  Nasturtiums are my favorite salad topping – more for their color than for their taste, although I don’t dislike the flavor.  It’s along the lines of arugula – a little bit peppery.  They’re a great pick for Florida gardens because they’re low-maintenance and heat-tolerant.  They’ll grow no matter how sandy the soil and the more sun the better.  Shade greatly reduces the amount of blooms.  I like to mix my nasturtiums in with my vegetables because they’re common companion plants.  They repel insects, particularly squash bugs, and supposedly make cucumbers taste better.  Another random fact about nasturtiums: Back a few centuries when every bouquet of flowers came with a meaning, nasturtiums represented patriotism.

I’m sorry Rosemary

Yesterday I posted about having too much rosemary, but today I may not have enough.  Stacy commented that she uses a rosemary and ginger shampoo, but she doesn’t know why it’s good for her hair.  Thanks for the comment; it prompted me to pull out my Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.  It’s a 1987 edition that undoubtedly came from a Good Will book store – the absolute best source for cheap books.

Back to your question, Stacy – a rosemary rinse will brighten up brown hair, but the most likely reason it’s in your shampoo is the pleasant piny scent.  The next best reason is that it can perk you up in the morning.  Rosemary contains a volatile oil that gets your blood pumping.  It can stimulate and refresh a tired, worn body.  Make a strong tea from the leaves and add to a bath.

A few of the more reaching reasons of why rosemary could be in your shampoo are to improve memory, treat headaches or ward off bad dreams.  In ancient Greece, students wore rosemary garlands in their hair when studying.  They believed the rosemary would help them remember.  In the Middle Ages, rosemary was thought to have protective powers.  People would place sprigs under their pillows to ward off demons and bad dreams.