Herbs add unique flavors and scents to the holidays.
When making a pumpkin pie from scratch, one needs to add nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and cloves (depending on the recipe) to the mixing bowl. These plant-derived spices are conveniently available in ready-made form for use in holiday foods.
Nutmeg is a seed-produced from an evergreen tree with its roots in southeast Asia, which gets dried and used whole for grating or ground into a substance used to spice foods. Nutmeg is also used in mulled cider and sprinkled on eggnog as a flavorful garnish.
Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of evergreen trees that belong to the genus Cinnamomum and is ground into a form conducive as an additive to baked goods. The bark may be curled into a stick form for use in beverages and in craft projects.
Ginger is an herbaceous (non-woody) plant from the Zingiberaceae family with a rhizome (underground stem) that is ground and used as a spice to flavor food. Ginger adds a pungent yet earthy taste to foods.
Cloves are unopened buds of the clove tree. The dried cloves can be used whole to stud oranges and hams (not usually turkeys!) or can be ground to add a strong, sweet flavor to menu dishes.
Sage, referred to as the classic Thanksgiving herb, is used in stuffing and other festive recipes. It adds a savory flavor to turkey when used as part of a rub on the outside of the turkey during roasting. The gray-green leaves of culinary sage add texture to the herb garden. Grow it in full sun in a well-drained site.
Thyme is another herb often found in stuffing recipes. The tiny leaves are used to add a pungent, woodsy flavor to foods. There are several different types of thyme plants, so use culinary types in the kitchen and allow ornamental types to add aroma to the outdoor landscape. The foliage of rosemary is also used in stuffing recipes to add a distinctive taste. It is not hardy in our region, so it should be grown as an annual.
Parsley can be used whole as a garnish or chopped to add a light, fresh flavor to menu items. Curly types add decorative interest when used as a garnish, however, the flat-leaf types have a more pronounced flavor and are recommended over curly types in recipes. A hardy biennial in local gardens, the leaves of parsley are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A and iron.
Herbs offer more than taste at holiday events. Their fragrances take us back to past holidays and become part of the memories we create today.
Jeanne Hilinske-Christensen is the UW Extension Interim Horticulture Educator for Kenosha and Racine counties. Submit plant care questions to the Master Gardener Plant Health Advisers. email@example.com or call 262-886-8451.