The herbs from our territory
Recognize, cultivate, cook and store herbs
Though we do not know exactly when man began to cook, using herbs in cooking dates back to the ancient past. At first people began to use herbs that grew spontaneously and they were selected by simply tasting them. Thus, people were able to make a distinction between poisonous herbs and the ones that could be used in order to satisfy various needs.
Instinct first helped man in seasoning food, probably before fire was used in cooking. Then, little by little herbs began to be cultivated in Egypt, China, India, Arabia, Iran, and Greece, as we can read in ancient documents. They were introduced not only in cooking but also in magic rites and later in medicine, as far as we know from an ancient document of an unknown writer who said that medicine comes from cooking.
Also Plinio il Vecchio, in his `Naturalis Historia` refers to the Druids who connected some plants with the position of the stars in the sky and believed in the influence of the moon on the earth. Plants were not only the basic ingredients in preparing medicines or food, but they were also used in magic rites, thus acquiring strong symbolic values. Consequently, aromatic herbs started to have their tradition and above all their proper geographical position.
Most of the herbs that are grown in the British Isles were not originally British but imported by the Romans. Spices follow later. The place of origin of herbs is the Italian Mediterranean area, while spices, during the Roman Empire, came from Africa.
They both could be used instead of salt, which was much more expensive. The good habit of using fresh herbs instead of salt should be put into practice as they contain vitamins and mineral salt that are very good to our health.
A certain number of farmholidays in the province of Mantua grow aromatic herbs and pick herbs that grow spontaneously in order to season food.
The property of herbs
The Druids knew how to use herbs properly. Nowadays we would call them herborists.
The elder is a shrub which grows spontaneously along ditches and banks. According to an old tradition this wood was used to make magic wands; moreover, according to a peasant tradition, if a little branch is cut during waning moon and is kept on the breast by means of a plaster, on the side of the heart for 15 days, this helps cure haemorrhoids. A syrup obtained from elder flowers helps blood circulation, and it also helps catarrh to mature when taken with very hot water. Syrup and jam from elder fruit are very good when served with ice cream, cooked cream, or tarts…. But don`t mind if your tongue gets light violet!
You can make even more powerful magic wands from hazel wood.
And now some curiosities: would you like to know something more about the relationship with your partner? Just take 2 hazelnuts and shell them; then each of you must clench a hazelnut in one`s hand and throw them at the same time into a basin containing spring water. Your relationship will be lasting or not according to how the hazel nuts resurface.
Moreover, if nettles grow around your house, just cut their tops, put them into boiling water, whip them and prepare a sauce with ricotta and Italian blue cheese to season your favourite pasta: its taste will be great! If goosefoot grows in your kitchen garden you can eat it as a good substitute for spinach.
Some infusions obtained from spontaneous herbs: - Taraxacum, a digestive infusion, from its roots - Camomile, to be served hot as a pleasant tasting infusion, from its flowers - Robinia, a pleasant tasting infusion, from its flowers - Wild rose, from steeping its fruit
If you have a temperature and no aspirin with you, try to eat a lot of blackberry jam and you will feel better. Soap, high-scented perfumes and nice presents for your guest can also be made by melting jasmine or robinia flowers into glycerine.
by Zibramonda Farmhouse
Rumex Acetosa L. Poligonaceae Family
It is very widespread in the Mantuan territory. It grows in fields, in grassy places, along road and ditch edges, plain and hilly areas. The bottom and tender leaves can be added to salads thus giving a sourish flavour. Do not use steel saucepans while cooking them.
Fresh leaves can cure wounds and sores; you can let them brew in a cup containing boiled water in cases of anaemia or lack of vitamins. Blossom time is from May to August.
Crataegus Monogyna Jacq. Rosaceous plant Family
It grows spontaneously along fences, little bushes and degraded woods in our territory. Its fruit remains on the plant till late in autumn and is good to make jams and jellies. The plant has very strong and sharp thorns.
You can use it either as an analgesic or as a tonic in case of myocardial insufficiency. It is often brewed and you can drink 3 or 4 cups a day.
Capparis Spinosa L. Capparidaceae Family
It grows near old sunny walls in hilly areas, around and inside inhabited places where winter frost is less frequent. In April and May, before blossom time, the stalks situated under the buds are cut down and later pickled or preserved in vinegar. They give a good flavour to food while the fruit is a good snack.
The root rind and the buds are suitable to augment diuresis and to cure sensible skins with couperose. Just let 1.5 gr. of rind brew in 100 ml. of water.
Malva Sylvestris L. Malvaceae Family
It is a very common plant that grows in wild grassy places, along road and ditch edges, near ruins or at the bottom of walls of inhabited places.
The leaves and the green shoots are used to cook soups and can be picked almost all the year, not in winter. It is a perennial plant. Mallow is suggested to cure coughs, colds, stuffiness and intestinal inflammations.
Urtica Dioica L. Urticaceae Family
It grows everywhere especially in places overgrown with weeds, along road and ditch edges, at the bottom of walls, in fences and wood glades. Only the tender top leaves are cooked to make soups and side-dishes; they can also be seasoned with oil and salt or pan-fried. They are frequently used to colour rolled pastry. The leaves are picked from April to September. The nettle has depurative, anti-anaemic, vasoconstrictive, digestive, astringent, emollient properties. In case of intestinal troubles let 5 g. leaves brew in 100 ml of water and then take 3 spoonsful every three hours, or one cup a day as a depurative.
Plantago Lanceolata L. Plantaginaceae Family
It grows in fields and pastures overgrown with weeds and along road edges. The tender leaves are picked in spring. They are cooked in boiling water and seasoned with oil and vinegar or pan-fried with little butter.
The plantain is suitable to cure respiratory, mouth, eye and throat diseases, gastric upsets, insect and snake bites, ulcers, wounds and burns. The juice obtained from squeezing the plantain leaves is good to cure insect bites, while conjunctivitis can be cured letting some leaves brew.
Crepis vescicaria L. Compositae Family
It is quite widespread in our Mantuan territory, it grows among weeds, along ditch and road edges. It is picked up at the end of winter or in spring before blossoming.
The leaves are cut at the neck of the plant. Its very good as a salad, it is usually eaten after boiling it and it tastes a little bitter..
Papaver Rhoeas L. Papaveraceae Family
It is very commonly found in cereal fields, along roads and among weeds. Its leaves are picked at the end of winter or in spring before blossoming. They can be boiled or pan-fried with oil and butter and also used as side-dishes. It has analgesic, sleeping and expectorant properties.
You can substitute a sleeping tablet with a brew by pouring 250 ml of water into a cup containing 5 gr. of petals.
Sambucus Nigra L. Caprifoliaceae Family
It is very common in our area. It grows in humid woods, along road and river edges and fences. Both flowers and fruit are good. Elder fruit is excellent for jams. The flowers can be an excellent dessert that you prepare as follows: put the flowers into a batter, fry with some oil, and dust with powdered sugar before serving.
The flowers are picked from April to September. If you let 4 gr. of fruit brew in 100 ml. of water you will discover the well known diuretic, laxative, antirheumatic and analgesic properties of the elder.
Taraxacum officinale Weber Compositae Family
It grows in our Mantuan territory, in different kinds of soils, along road edges and wood glades. It blooms all year round. The leaves are cut at the neck of the plant and picked at the end of winter or in early spring. They are eaten as a salad but not tender leaves are boiled. They taste a little bitter.
Taraxacum is a very good digestive thanks to its bitter-tonic properties and suitable to cure inappetence. You can prepare a juice or a tincture. But you can also brew 3 gr. of rhizome in 100 ml of water and drink 3 or 4 cups a day.
How to harvest aromatic herbs
If the herbs grow spontaneously, first you must know the different kinds of herbs and their parts and you should star picking them with the help of experienced people. Herbs picked near roads or streams must be cleaned very carefully. Moreover, not to damage the plants and to improve their taste it is suggested to pick only the 10% of their leaves before blossom-time and throughout the year. The flowers must be picked when they are open. Drying is the best way for preserving the herbs. First, clean them carefully, then hang them in small bunches in a dry place and at low temperature in order not to alter their flavour. After a week the leaves are crumbly and ready to be put into dark glass containers with a watertight cork or into pottery ware. In case of vapour inside the pottery ware, it is suggested to dry the leaves again. Aromatic herbs can also be preserved by deep-freezing: you can seal them in food bags, or, after chopping them into small pieces, you can half fill ice-cube trays and add water to fill.
Preparation time: about 45 minutes
Ingredients: (for 4 people) - An abundant handful of chopped and well-cleaned top leaves - 1 small onion - 2 carrots - 2 potatoes - 1 spoon of chopped parsley - 70 gr of smoked bacon - 30 gr of butter - one and a half litres of beef or chicken broth - 50 gr of grated Parmesan cheese - salt
How to make it: Chop the small onion with the smoked bacon and let them brown in the butter, then add the carrots previously cut into small pieces. Peel the potatoes and cut then into small cubes. Let all the vegetables brown and stir every now and then. When they are soft pour the broth. Taste, add salt and, if needed, boil the soup for about half an hour. Add the nettles and boil again for another 5 minutes. Serve the soup after covering it with the chopped parsley. You can also cover with grated Parmesan cheese, or serve cheese separately.
Caper preserved in vinegar
Ingredients: - capers - vinegar - cloves - laurel - basil - salt
How to make them: Wash and drain the capers. Put a table cloth on a board, lay the capers on it, let them dry and cover with abundant salt for 2 days. After that boil some vinegar for 2 minutes (1 litre of vinegar/1 kg of capers), add the cloves, one laurel leaf and basil. Put the capers into a watertight cork covered jar, cover only with little salt, pour vinegar, and keep in a fresh dry place. Wash the capers in cold water before using them. They are very good to prepare sauces or to season meat and fish.
Ingredients: - well ripe elder berries - sugar
How to make it: Wash the berries in cold water and let them drain in a colander. Put into a pan, crush them a little to have some liquid and boil them on a low flame. Stir frequently and when the jam is quite solid switch off the fire. Add sugar (half a kg/1 kg of fruit) then boil again till the jam is a little more solid and pour into the jars immediately. If you prefer a less sweet jam, add 1 gr of salicylic acid per kg of jam. It is used to prepare tarts and to stuff crepes.
Taraxacum for dry skins
Heat 25 ml of soya oil and 25 ml of jojoba oil on a low flame. Then melt 25 gr of cocoa butter in a bain-marie. Mix oils and butter. Add 15 gr of melted beeswax and stir to obtain a soft mixture. Warm 25 ml of taraxacum brew, add 0.65 ml of borax. Mix all the ingredients and let them cool. When the mixture begins to thicken, add 5 drops of essential neroli oil. Preserve in dark jars with a screw top. Keep away from heat. Use as a morning and evening cream.
Internal use: It is suitable to cure coughs, colds, stuffiness and intestinal inflammations. Prepare a brew with 3 gr of mallow in 100 ml of water. Drink a cup two - three times a day.
External use: In case of mouth and throat mucosa inflammations, delicate gums, toothaches, red skins, spots, itchiness brew 5 gr in 100 ml of water. You can do mouth rinsing or gargles several times a day, or use flocks of cotton imbued in the brew.
- `Erbe in tavola`, by Giorgio Persico e Gianna Carra. Ed. Tre lune, 2003 - `Enciclopedia delle erbe aromatiche, spezie e aromi` by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz Milano – Fabbri, 1993 - `Guida ai frutti dell`orto`, by Mariella Pizzetti. Mondadori, 1980 - Cd-Rom with the list of medicinal plants that are grown in the province of Mantua, by Emilio Guidotti