Herb of the Year

2016 - Chillie Peppers

Chile peppers have been cultivated for over 7000 years. While they originated in South and Central America, chillies quickly spread throughout the world following the travels of Christopher Columbus. Chilies were brought to Asia by Portuguese navigators during the 16th century. India is the world's largest producer, consumer and exporter of chili peppers. Birds were responsible, at least in part, for the spread of the seed throughout the Americas, being unaffected by the capsaicinoids, the compound that gives chillies their burning sensation. The chillie pepper is not at all related to black pepper Piper nigrum but is the genus Capsicum which belongs to the Nightshade family.

Historically, chile peppers have been used as money, tribute, spice, ornament, vegetable, medicine, as pest control and in spiritual ceremonies.

There are more than 10,000 varieties of chillie peppers in the world.

Pepper hotness is measured by the Scoville Heat Unit System, invented by Wilbur L. Scoville in 1912. It rates how much capsaicin or heat is present in a pepper.

The three primary spellings are chili, chile and chilli, all of which are recognized by dictionaries.

  • Chili is widely used in historically Anglophone regions of the United State and Canada. However, it is also commonly used as a short name for chili con carne (literally chili with meat). Most versions are seasoned with chili powder, which can refer to pure dried, ground chili peppers, or to a mixture containing other spices.
  • Chile is the most common Spanish spelling in Mexico and several other Latin American countries, as well as some parts of the United States and Canada, which refers specifically to this plant and its fruit. In the Southwest United States (particularly New Mexico), chile also denotes a thick, spicy, un-vinegared sauce made from this fruit, available in red and green varieties, and served over the local food, while chili denotes the meat dish. The plural is chile.
  • Chilli was the original Romanization of the Náhuatl language word for the fruit (chilli) and is the preferred British spelling according to the Oxford English Dictionary, although it also lists chile and chili as variants. Chilli (and its plural chillies) is the most common spelling in Australia, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore and South Africa. The name of the plant is almost certainly unrelated to that of Chile, the country,


2015 - Savory

Summer savory is an annual, but otherwise is similar in use and flavor to the perennial Winter Savory. It is used more often than winter savory, which has a slightly more bitter flavor. This herb has lilac tubular flowers which bloom in the northern hemisphere from July to September. It grows to around 30 to 60 cm (0.98 to 1.97 ft) in height and has very slender, bronze-green leaves.

 

Winter savory is a perennial herb native to warm temperate regions of southern Europe and the Mediterranean. It is a perennial plant growing to 16 inches tall. The leaves are opposite, oval 1-cm long and 5 mm broad. The flowers are white. Easy to grow, it makes an attractive border plant for any culinary herb garden. It requires six hours of sun a day in soil that drains well. Both it and summer savory have been grown and used, virtually side by side. Both have strong spicy flavor.



2014 - Artemisias

Plant Characteristics of Artemisias
Life span: Depending on the species, Artemisias are perennial, tender perennial, or rarely annual.

Plant form: Shrub

Size: Ranges from small 6 to 8 inch mounds to erect stems and branches reaching up to 10 feet in height. Most garden varieties are between 1 and 4 feet tall with a 3-foot spread.

Flowers: Arranged in panicles or umbels; although some are attractive, most are very small, mainly pale yellow to bright yellow, and relatively insignificant.

Foliage: Pinnate leaves range from almost filigree to sturdily broad and raggedly erose (irregularly toothed). The leaves of a number of species are silvery white or gray green, although many are darker greenand some are brown-purple. The leaves have fine hairs which cool and defend the plants from extreme heat and help them survive adverse conditions. As in other plants, white varieties are more heat and drought tolerant than their greener cousins.

Hardiness: Hardy as far north as Maine in the U.S. (Zone 5)

Exposure: Sun, semi-shade; although most prefer full sun.

Soil: Artemisias do not like clay or rich soil and cannot stand sodden roots. A well-drained, sunlit spot with a soil in the neutral pH range is ideal.

2013 - Elderberry

Common Name: Elderberry, Elder
Family: Adoxaceae
Latin Name: Sambucus nigra (European Elder), Sambucus canadensis (American Elder)
Growth: A multi-stemmed shrub or small tree, potentially 30 feet tall
Hardiness: Hardy from zones 3-9, depending on species. May survive in colder regions with protection
Light: Semi-shade to full sun
Soil: Prefers rich soil
Water: Moist, well-drained soil
Use: Culinary; medicinal; cosmetic; ornamental; economic [Caution – Use flowers or ripe berries (cooked) only – remove all stems because they are toxic. The leaves, stems, branches, seeds, unripe berries and roots all contain a toxic cyanide-producing glycoside.]
Propagation: By seed sown in spring

Elder can be described as a rhizomatous, multi-stemmed shrub or small tree with a light gray to brown-colored bark. The dark green to deep purple-colored leaves have an unpleasant smell which is thought to act as an insect repellant. The flowers are creamcolored and appear in flat clusters. The individual florets open randomly in a flower structure called a cymose corymb. The black fruits (berries) also mature randomly. Only the nutrient-rich flowers or ripe berries (after cooking) should be consumed. While many chemical constituents have been identified, some of the common nutrients include vitamin C, vitamin A, flavonoids, beta-carotene, iron, and potassium.

While the information in this fact sheet pertains to primarily S. nigra and S. canadensis, it must be noted that there are numerous other species. Those of particular interest to gardeners include S. cerulea (Blue Elderberry), a smaller, slowergrowing ornamental; S. ebulus (European Dwarf Elderberry), a plant with very robust rhizomes from which arise usually unbranched and non-woody stems which reach 2 to 6 ft. in height and form large colonies; S. racemosa (Red Elderberry), a more cold tolerant species often selected as an ornamental because of its red berries and dense, erosion-preventing, root systems.

2012 - The Rose

Family: Rosaceae
Latin Name: Rosa spp.
Common Name: rose, Queen of flowers
Growth: Shrubs, 2 to 30 feet (61cm to 9 m)
Hardiness: Many routinely hardy to Zone 6
Light: Full sun
Soil: Well-drained garden loam
Water: Moist but not constantly wet
Use: Culinary, crafts, landscape
Propagation: Cuttings or grafts

A rose is a woody perennial of the genus Rosa, within the family Rosaceae. There are over 100 species. They form a group of erect shrubs, and climbing or trailing plants, with stems that are often armed with sharp prickles. Flowers are large and showy, in colours ranging from white through yellows and reds. Most species are native to Asia, with smaller numbers native to Europe, North America, and northwest Africa. Species, cultivars and hybrids are all widely grown for their beauty and fragrance. Rose plants range in size from compact, miniature roses, to climbers that can reach 7 meters in height. Different species hybridize easily, and this has been used in the development of the wide range of garden roses. The name rose comes from French, itself from Latin rosa.

2011 - Horseradish

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana, syn. Cochlearia armoracia) is a perennial plant of the Brassicaceae family, which also includes mustard, wasabi, broccoli, and cabbages. The plant is probably native to south eastern Europe and the Arab World (western Asia), but is popular around the world today. It grows up to five feet tall and is mainly cultivated for its large white, tapered root.

The intact horseradish root has hardly any aroma. When cut or grated, however, enzymes from the damaged plant cells break down sinigrin (a glucosinolate) to produce mustard oil, which irritates the sinuses and eyes. Once grated, if not used immediately or mixed in vinegar, the root darkens, loses its pungency, and becomes unpleasantly bitter when exposed to air and heat.

Horseradish is perennial in hardiness zones 2-9 and can be grown as an annual in other zones, though not as successfully as in zones with both a long growing season and winter temperatures cold enough to ensure plant dormancy. After the first frost in the autumn kills the leaves, the root is dug and divided. The main root is harvested and one or more large offshoots of the main root are replanted to produce next year's crop. Horseradish left undisturbed in the garden spreads via underground shoots and can become invasive. Older roots left in the ground become woody, after which they are no longer culinarily useful, although older plants can be dug and re-divided to start new plants.

2010 - Dill

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a perennial herb. It is the sole species of the genus Anethum, though classified by some botanists in a related genus as Peucedanum graveolens.

It grows 16-24 inches with slender stems and alternate, finely divided, softly delicate leaves 3.9-7.9 inches long. The ultimate leaf divisions are 0.039-0.079 inches broad, slightly broader than the similar leaves of fennel, which are threadlike, less than 0.039 inches broad, but harder in texture. The flowers are white to yellow, in small umbels 0.79-3.5 inches in diameter. The seeds are 0.16-0.20 inches long and 0.039 inches thick, and straight to slightly curved with a longitudinally ridged surface.

Successful cultivation requires warm to hot summers with high sunshine levels; even partial shade will reduce the yield substantially. It also prefers rich, well drained soil. The seeds are viable for 3-10 years.

The seed is harvested by cutting the flower heads off the stalks when the seed is beginning to ripen. The seed heads are placed upside down in a paper bag and left in a warm dry place for a week. The seeds then separate from the stems easily for storage in an airtight container.