HERBS & SPICES – Joy Barrow

Lavender flowers isolated on whiteRecently I came across an article which described an experiment made by a doctor for a BBC  program.  He was using a blind test on two groups of people to check the effects of rosemary and lavender.Herbs  & Spices Rosemary

Group one were seated in a room with essential oil of rosemary permeating the air.  Group two were in a similar room but with the essential oil of lavender.  The ‘rosemary’ and the ‘lavender’ groups were given memory tests and the ‘rosemary’ group came out ahead.

The lavender group were however, very relaxed. It appears if we want to study and assist our memory we could use the help of the rosemary plant.

It was whilst I was reading this that I realised rosemary has been the symbol of remembrance for many years. On the other hand if we wish to relax and have a good nights sleep we could consider an infusion of lavender.Herbs & Spices Snake Oil 2

Herbs and spices are a bit of a minefield and of course there are many quack cures bandied around which are no more than snake oils and a total catch penny.

The respected company, Blackmore’s, is renowned for its vitamins and minerals.  It was started by the Blackmore family who have recently donated $1.3 million dollars to the Sydney  University Complementary Medicine Chair.  70% of Australians use complementary medicines and the Dean of Sydney Medical School said complementary medicine can no longer be dismissed.

As so many alternative medicines such as Fish Oil have controversial findings it will be a great relief for both patients and doctors to have solid research into complementary medicines.  There are many websites offering information on the use of a huge variety of alternate medicines.  However not all of these are reliable and above board.Herbs & Spices 1

Ian Hemphill through a lifetime of experience in the herb and spice industry has compiled a comprehensive book ‘The Spice & Herb Bible’.  This wonderful book is colourful and easy to follow and an absolute must for all people interested in these diverse and wonderful plants.  As Ian says in the preface to his book ‘When one grows up on a herb farm and then proceeds to spend the next fifty years working in the herb and spice industry it is easy to assume that everyone feels comfortable using herbs and spices when cooking.  Of course this is far from true and over the years I have been asked many questions from basic to bizarre’.Herbs & Spices 2

The question that is most asked of Ian Hemphill is ‘what is the difference between a herb and a spice’? Ian says ‘generally we refer to  the leaf of a plant used in cooking as a culinary herb; any other part of the plant often dried , is called a spice’.  But of course there are exceptions.  Coriander leaves are herbs and the dried seeds are a spice.

Ian’s book whilst demystifying the use of herbs and spices also gives an excellent history of the spice trade.  There are many tips on growing herbs, buying and storing herbs, 66 different spice blends to create yourself, 170 easy to follow recipes  and even tips for equipment.  I loved the one on using my coffee grinder for spices and to clean it by using a spoonful of rice which is gritty and cleans contact surfaces thoroughly whilst absorbing residual oils.

cinnamon sticks on white Ian also relates wonderful stories of travelling the world looking for spices and the amazing scenes in many of the factories where workers toil barefooted and often stripped to the waist.  You will read how The Heat Source, Capsaicin, causes the brain to release endorphins, which create a sense of well-being and stimulation.  Why chilli powders differ so much in colour and how to test stored herbs for their freshness.Spice Markets Mumbai One anecdote I loved is the story of Ian’s wife Liz, who always carries a packet of ajowan-spiced berbere to liven up bland airline meals.  On one flight the aroma caused such a stir Liz had to pass the packet around to nearby passengers.

Since it is now known that high altitudes diminish our sense of taste, Ian suggests airlines serve more dishes with robust spice blends.  That was something else I learned as I always thought airlines just served bland uninteresting food!  I have included the recipe for Liz’s magic flavour potion:

BERBERE – (PRONOUNCED BER-BERAY) – an Ethiopian Spice Blend

  • 2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp whole ajowan seeds
  • 3/4 tsp whole fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp ground bird’s-eye chile (1 tsp or more will be very hot).
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1.  In a dry skillet over medium heat, combine cumin, coriander, ajowan, and fenugreek seeds, peppercorns and allspice. Roast lightly, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.  Transfer to a mortar or a spice grinder and grind coarsely.

2. Transfer mixture to a bowl.  Add salt, ginger, chile, cloves and nutmeg.  Stir well to ensure even distribution.  Transfer to an airtight container and store away from extremes of heat, light and humidity, for up to 1 year. Makes 13 3/4 tsp

Herbs & Spices 3Note:  don’t forget to pack a small quantity of berbere for your next overseas holiday!

I have learnt so much from Ian Hemphill’s ‘The Spice & Herb Bible’.  I am hoping to become more informed on the medicinal side when there is more information on Complementary Medicine and findings in research at the Sydney University Complementary Medicine Chair.  Hopefully there will be an easy to follow book on how to use the different alternative medicines which will allow the safe use of all products.

Fifty Five Plus would like to thank Ian Hemphill for supplying the information contained in the Herbs & Spices story. You can find further information at www.herbies.com.au   Or visit the store at 745 Darling Street, Rozelle, NSW 2039.  Monday-Friday 10am to 5pm.  Tel:  (02) 9555-6037