The Contented Vegan Monthly Newsletter

Hello from London!

I am not the only one to notice that it is the Spring Equinox, when night and day are of equal length. In our tiny allotment garden, I spot minuscule sorrel and nettle leaves emerging beneath the older, winter-worn leaves.

These herbs delight me and bring their exquisite green flavour to a salad or soup; they also feel ultra-nutritious at this time of year. Spring was traditionally the time of year when fresh herbs and young leaves were eaten in abundance. The dose of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals they naturally provide was, in earlier times, well known to ensure good health in the months ahead.

In fact, a question from Josie is right on cue! She asks, ‘When is it better to use fresh herbs, rather than dried?’ The short answer is, ‘Use fresh herbs whenever you can.’ There is a difference in how you use them, though.

    Dried herbs can have a strong, almost concentrated flavour and aroma. Often, you won’t need much to accent your dish. You can add dried herbs earlier in the cooking process, too.  They keep well if kept out of the light but lose their flavour after 6-12 months.

    Fresh herbs each have their unique colour, flavour and aroma but, while these are strong, they are lost quickly. For that reason, add them near the end of cooking or just before serving. The dish will be aromatic, the herbs still colourful and the flavours still intact.

If you have a windowsill, patio or garden you might be astonished at the number of herbs you can grow for your own use. Herbs are generally very rugged – enduring poor soil and not requiring much in the way of care. Young herb plants are quite easy to buy at this time of year, which means you don’t have to grow them yourself from seed or cutting. Just give them a sunny place, water them as needed and watch them thrive.

You can pick a leaf or twig without harming the plant, then chew the leaves briefly or enjoy their delicate scents and flavours in a cup of tea. Gently press a leaf to release the scented oils onto your fingers. This scent will give you an idea of how to use the herb in your meal preparation, too.

The list of easy-to-grow herbs is long and you can swiftly develop a passion for using them in your kitchen. For instance, I love to make herb-flavoured vinegars and oils infused with herbs; but I never make enough! I always think I have, until I start to give them as gifts to family and friends.

    For herb-infused oil, place two or three sprigs of fresh herb (cleaned and thoroughly dried) in a bottle and cover with olive oil. Seal the bottle and leave it to stand in a cool, dark place for 2-4 weeks.

    For herb-flavoured vinegar, place the fresh herb (cleaned and thoroughly dried) in a bottle or jar and cover with wine or cider vinegar that has been gently heated. Seal the bottle and store in a cool, dark place for 2-4 weeks.

We think of herbs as summer plants because that is when many of them flower. It’s true they are especially beautiful at that time. Yet, it is best to bring them into your garden now, in early spring. This gives them time to become established and gives you the chance to get to know their character.

Most herbs will attract bees. You probably know that bees are pollinators: moving pollen from the flower of one plant to the flower of another. This ensures that plants will produce fruits, seeds and eventually young plants. But bees and other pollinators don’t pollinate only herbs.

The Yale School of the Environment published an article in 2013*, which began, ‘One of every three bites of food eaten worldwide depends on pollinators, especially bees, for a successful harvest.’ We need bees!

Currently, there is a great deal of concern for the fate of bees because there has been a serious decline in their numbers. In fact, the drop in numbers is considered a threat to global agriculture. This situation is critical and is thought to be due to the use of chemical pest control.

Bees are not pests! They are essential residents of the planet.

You can plant herbs to encourage and support the bee population. If you can, select herbs whose Latin name ends with ‘vulgaris’ or ‘officinalis’ because these usually are more appealing to bees and other pollinators. Yet any herb you plant will be welcome and every contribution you can make to support natural systems and habitats is an important one.

On that note, I’m off to brew a cup of herbal tea from Melissa officinalis, also called ‘Bee Balm’ or lemon balm.

Have a great day!

Peggy x


*Declining Bee Populations Pose a Threat to Global Agriculture by Elizabeth Grossman

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Peggy Brusseau
The Contented Vegan