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Herbs Take Center Sage

Dec 05, 2017 02:57PM ● By Lesley Stiles

Delicious Uses for Sage, Thyme, Rosemary, Tarragon …

Any garden worth its earth salt has perennial herbs taking up space for as many years as the garden is old. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, savory, lavender, sage, and tarragon produce year-round in some form, or surprise us every spring with luscious green blooming sprouts, popping up underfoot to cries of first time delight. Most summer perennial herbs do double duty by being drought resistant in our Mediterranean climate.

Summer, winter, and year round, woody stems with fragrant purple and pink blossom adorn rosemary, which was known in ancient times as “dew of the sea.” Legend has it that rosemary was draped around Aphrodite as she ascended from the sea. Staunchly aromatic with “needle” leaves, a small amount, cut or crushed, goes a long way to enhance characteristics of meats and vegetables and kicks up taste a few notches. Placed on the sides of a hot grill, steaming, blistering rosemary perfumes all that sizzles near. Winter herbs such as cilantro, parsley, thyme, and oregano become lushly tender for holiday roasting and braising. Turkey, roasted pork loin, slabs of beef, and ham are greatly enhanced by the addition of chopped herbs that smother outside flesh as well as inside cavernous cavities, especially with the addition of zest and juice of lemons and oranges.

Sage perfectly foils with birds and pork as well as rosemary with beef. Sage is a native perennial in California and mostly drought resistant. It harbors astoundingly beautiful spears of intensely purple late fall/early winter blooms and is an enchanting enhancer of culinary dishes when chopped and sprinkled judiciously upon favored dishes. It also cleans blood and calms nerves as a tea or tincture. Used and revered in the Middle Ages as a “curer of all that aileth thee,” sage has a long and important history. Perhaps one of this writer’s favorite uses for sage is fried. Heat a saucepan with about a half-inch of peanut oil to hot. Drop leaves in and allow to crisp up for a minute, carefully removing with a slotted spoon to drain. Sprinkle on dang near anything but especially seasonally perfect iconic pumpkin ravioli with brown butter sauce.

Evergreen in nature, thyme also has many different varieties in its family line. Decorative for sure, thyme definitely takes up more space in a culinary garden while ensnaring a food freak’s mind with comforting cold weather possibilities to warm the tummy and heart. Hailing from mint lines, thyme is proud to call oregano part of its family. Supposedly used for embalming in ancient Egypt, Greeks used it for bathing and scenting temples. Touted with purification properties, thyme has also been called a harbinger of courage when consumed in drinks.

Thyme is a major enhancement of French bouquet garni as well as a contributor to herbs de Provence. Thyme pairs amazingly well with tomatoes and substitutes for basil in winter months. Roast vegetables ascend to a new level when tossed with copious amounts of freshly chopped thyme, garlic and lemon peel. 

Whether decorative or culinary, herbs take center stage in mouths as well as minds and make the heart smile.

Winter Root Vegetable Stew

1 large celery root, peeled and cubed

1 garnet yam, peeled and cubed

1 red potato, cubed

1 turnip, cubed

2 carrots, sliced

1 cup chopped butternut squash

1 cup sliced fresh shitake mushrooms

1 red onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups vegetable stock

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Sauté onion, garlic, and shitake mushrooms in olive oil for 3 minutes. Add rest of the vegetables and sauté for 4 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Let simmer 30 minutes. Add parsley and oregano and season to taste. Alternately, you can put the whole thing into a big roaster, put a lid on it, and cook the whole thing in a 350* oven for an hour or two and finish with the herbs and seasonings like above. Serves 6.

Lesley Stiles is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and a sustainable caterer. Contact her at [email protected], and visit her new website at


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