Greek Oregano - a subspecies of common oregano, with a much stronger flavour and fragrance. Graced with beautiful white flowers, Greek Oregano is said to have been invented by the Grecian goddess of love, Aphrodite herself! This myth led to the Greek tradition of crowning newly married couples with wreaths of the herb. The term ‘oregano’ can be translated loosely from Greek as ‘joy of the mountains’, a fitting name for a plant found in the naturally rocky habitat of its homeland. Over the centuries, culinary and medicinal uses of oregano spread from Europe to China via the ‘spice road’, before reaching the New World thanks to the American soldiers who discovered it during the Italian Campaign.
Moroccan Mint - a pretty, compact variety of mint that looks good in your garden and can be used to flavour food, make tea or simply scent your patio! Moroccan mint tea is extremely popular in the Arab nations, where the drink often has a ceremonial purpose, especially when made for guests by the man of the house. As it combines imported ingredients (tea from China and imported sugar) with a local ingredient (fresh mint), Moroccan mint tea is an early example of globalisation in cuisine. The tea, which is also known as Tuareg tea, is the subject of this apt proverb: ‘The first glass is as bitter as life, the second is as strong as love, the third is as soothing as death’.
Nigella - also known as Black Cumin, is an annual, flowering plant native to Asia and the Middle East. Its wispy, elegant, blue flowers look stunning in any garden or balcony arrangement and, if you can resist picking the delicate blooms, the seed pods that develop from the flowers are equally glorious. In fact, the seeds are the edible part of the plant and are widely used in Indian, Middle Eastern and Slavic cooking for their strong aroma and spicy taste. If you ever enjoyed Turkish bread and wondered what the tasty little black seed on top of it was—it’s Nigella. It’s hard to believe that such a delicate little flower packs such a flavourful punch, indispensable in Indian and Asian cuisine.
Parsley Gigante d’Italia - is a deep green, broad-leaved plant, with strong stalks, a fresh, slightly spicy aroma and a tangy-sweet flavour. Also known as Sellerina, because its long stalks can also be eaten like celery, parsley is a particularly high yielding variety that is well suited to autumn cultivation due to its resistance to the cold. Although parsley is a favourite of chefs worldwide, it has often been associated with death and evil. According to Greek mythology, the plant sprouted from the blood of the infant prince Archemorus, who was killed by a serpent. Later on, it became associated with Satan—since parsley seeds have a slow germination rate, the popular belief was that the seeds had to travel to hell and back many times before they could germinate.
Thyme De Provence - or ‘Summer Thyme’, is a popular perennial herb that is well known for its culinary, medicinal and ornamental uses. With its tiny, soft, grey-green leaves and small, pinkish flowers, Thyme de Provence is spicier than common thyme and is the preferred option in authentic French cuisine. In fact, it is the leading component in the famous Herbes de Provence dried-herb mix, as well as in the Bouquet garni – a bundle of string-tied herbs used to flavour soups and stews. Thyme can be found beyond the library’s ‘cookery’ section, though; it has long been a key ingredient in folk medicine and is listed frequently in spell handbooks. Historically, it’s had a major role in vision-inducing love potions, fairy-producing unguents and, as the botanist Nicholas Culpeper recommended, nightmare remedies.
Holy Green Basil - Commonly known as holy basil, or Tulsi, is an aromatic perennial plant native to the Indian subcontinent that is cultivated widely throughout Southeast Asia for religious and traditional medicine purposes, such as in herbal teas in Ayurveda. The leaves also are used in the worship of Vishnu, while the plant is viewed as protective for the home. With such grandiose uses, it may seem outrageous to use it in cooking. Nonetheless Tulsi is well-known in Southeast Asia cuisine, and during the hot summer months, you should be able to find big bunches of it at farmers' markets with ethnic stalls.