Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

25 Days of Herbs and Celebrations - December 12

Dear Folks,

Celebrating the Multicultural festivities of December, I thought I would pick an herb or spice which is referenced in the Bible (land of three of the Major Religions of the world) and used in many cuisines around the entire world, as a way of gathering together all the wealth of diversity around us - in true celebration.

Sweet Lavender
Day 12
Herb:  Lavender (called Spikenard in the Bible) Song of Solomon
4:14 (Nard)  Solomon Admires his Beloved  13"Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates With choice fruits, henna with nard plants, 14 Nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, With all the trees of frankincense, Myrrh and aloes, along with all the finest spices."  John 12:3 "Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment."
Fernleaf Lavender

Hanukkah  Continues

Lavender, Lavandula a member of the mint (Lamiaceae).
Lavendula (the Latin name is believed to come from "lavare" — to wash, a possible reference to the ancient Romans’ habit of adding lavender to their bath water) Augustifolia, is an herb so versatile I call her the Queen of Herbs for this fascinating herb is used in cooking, teas, cleaning (it has antiseptic qualities), in cosmetics, as a headache remedy, and as a pest control (most bugs stay away from lavender). The fragrance is evocative — the fragrance of the fields of spring.
            There are over 200 varieties that have been identified. The Augustifolia [English or French] or official lavenders are the preferred varieties for cooking, but all are edible. As with other multiple variety herbs—some are more palatable than others.
            One of its essential oils (linalool) is shared with other herbs including basil and rosemary.
            Many American cooks have never considered lavender as anything other than a cosmetic herb. If experimenting, consider substituting lavender for rosemary in cooking. It is one of the traditional components of Herbes de Provence, a mixture used on everything from meat to vegetables and in egg dishes.
            A common use for lavender is to flavor lemonade and cookies, and to make flavored syrups for use with poached fruits.
            Lavender was reported as such a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, she ordered the gardeners to keep it available at all times to make her favorite relish (a conserve of lavender and confectioners sugar: suggested ratio is 1:3), which could be put in tea, made into icing, etc.
Lavender is an excellent headache remedy and relaxant. Place some in a small piece of cloth and tuck into your pillow for more restful sleep. Queen Bess sipped lavender tea for her migraines” – “101+ Recipes From The Herb Lady
With our Mediterranean-type climate Lavender grows well here in the desert and all 200 varieties can be grown here, whereas in 4-season areas they are limited to a few of the Augustifolia varieties.
Plant in SUPERIOR draining soil, in full sun.  Give them room as they can eventually get happy and big.  Plants can take a year or two to start really growing, so be patient.  DO NOT overwater.  Lavender is one of the few herbs which will not give you a second chance if you over water it.
These recipes are from my cookbook “101+ Recipes from The Herb Lady”
Hot Herb Crusted Tofu

            Tofu is not just for vegetarians any more; with new science indicating the benefits of regular additions of soy to our diets, this simple recipe can take the mild-tasting tofu up a notch. This dish can be made savory or sweet.

1/2       package of firm tofu*, drained well           
1-2      teaspoons dried lavender flowers
1/4       cup raw almonds, coarsely chopped
            Have a non-stick pan ready on medium heat. Mix lavender and chopped nuts together on plate. Cut tofu into 1/2 inch slices, press one side into nut/herb mix, and place nut side down in hot pan. Cook until nuts brown (about 3 minutes).
            For Savory, place on bed of mixed greens (which have been dressed with a light vinaigrette dressing), nut side up, salt to taste and drizzle with a touch of olive oil.
            For sweet, place on piece of firm sweet bread or pound cake, drizzle with honey.
            *If desired, any firm mild flavored cheese can be substituted.

Lavender/Lime Sugar Cookies

1/2       cup sugar (lavender colored optional)
2          tablespoons dried lavender flowers (divided)
2 1/4    cups flour
1/4       teaspoon salt
2          teaspoons of baking powder
1/2       cup shortening (or softened butter)
1          cup sugar
2          eggs, beaten
1+       teaspoon fresh lime juice
Zest     of 1 lime
1          tablespoon milk
            Grind together half cup sugar and 1 tablespoon lavender. Reserve stored in tight container (if you do not use all of this lovely sugar for the cookies, you can add to teas and beverages).
            Sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Cream shortening and sugar, add eggs, lime juice, zest and rest of lavender. Add sifted ingredients and milk, mix, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Roll out to 1/4 inch and cut out cookies. Place on cookie sheet, sprinkle with lavender sugar, and bake at 375E for 12 minutes. Do not over bake.

Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy
Heat & Cold Miser

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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David Oberpriller said...

I'm a few days behind in my reading. I've heard that lavender was equated to spikenard, but I haven't found the source of that. It appears that most Bible commentators accept a rare plant of the Himalaya foothills -- Nardostachys jatmansii -- as spikenard. Lavender would have been easily available in ancient Israel and thus doesn't fir the description of "costly" -- as N. jamansii does.

Catherine, The Herb Lady said...

Thank you David for those thoughts. I focused on the culinary herb if there was a question of which herb the Bible referred to. These references are part of why I chose to go with Lavender in this context. -- Catherine

The origin of most of these quotes comes from Dr. William Thomas Fernie, in his book "Herbal Simples" (Bristol Pub., 1895. ASIN: B0014W4WNE). A digital copy of the book can be read online via google books. 'By the Greeks the name Nardus is given to Lavender, from Naarda, a city of Syria near the Euphrates, and many persons call the plant "Nard." St. Mark mentions this as Spikenard, a thing of great value. In Pliny's time, blossoms of the Nardus sold for a hundred Roman denarii (or L.3 2s. 6d.) the pound. This Lavender or Nardus was called Asarum by the Romans, because it was not used in garlands or chaplets. It was formerly believed that the asp, a dangerous kind of viper, made Lavender its habitual place of abode, so that the plant had to be approached with great caution.'

The assumption of the history of Lavender, originating from Naarda, along with the facts about the price in Roman time, are quoted widely throughout the web (over 350 entries in a google search) calling the city Naarda, Nerdus or Nardus. The Bible has many mentions of a fragrant plant called "Nard" and an ancient Jewish Mishna recited daily in Jewish prayers, refers to "Shibolet Nard" (Hebrew for "Nard Spike") as one of the herbs used for making the holy essence at the biblical Temple. Dr. Fernie is the first known to link "Nard" with the city of Nerdus - Naarda, one of the major cities of Jewish study and origin of the Talmud, during the years 150-1100 AD Since Naarda or Nehar-D'Ah - river of Ah - was on a canal between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, it could never have been a Syrian city, but rather in present day Iraq, somewhere in the Baghdad area. Dr Fernie refers widely to Jewish studies, probably quoted from a former botanist Robert Turner.

David Oberpriller said...

As mentioned at the beginning of the month, there is often some (or more) disagreement as to the correct interpretation of the plants mentioned in the Bible.

By the way, the last two paragraphs of your comment appear to be right out of the Wikipedia footnotes for the entry for "Spikenard".

I'm going with my Moldenke & Moldenke "Plants of the Bible" (1952). One of the points mentioned there is the fact that the best spikenard ointment was imported from India in sealed alabaster boxes which were then broken open when needed. Honored guests were anointed by the master of the house with spikenard (this underscores its use in the Mark 14 and John 12 passages). The distance it had to be shipped also added to the cost. The M&M book is also very thorough in referencing the opinions of many of the major Bible commentators and does not mention Lavender at all in relationship to spikenard. (The only mention of lavender in M&M is an off-hand comment about confusion with calamus.) Both Michael Zohary "Plants of the Bible" (1982) and Lytton John Mussleman "Figs, Dates, Laurel and, Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and the Koran" (2007) agree with the Nardostachys jatmansii interpretation. It appears this Fernie book is a minority (however, I looked that book up and the entry there on "Lavender" does not mention spikenard and there is no entry in the Table of Contents for "Spikenard" -- that makes the reader wonder). Wikipedia does not even reference those other three books, which are pretty well-respected modern treatments.

The Old Testament Hebrew/Aramaic lexicons (Genesius and the Brown, Driver, Briggs) lists spikenard as being a plant fro m India. And I can find no entries for spikenard, nard, or lavender in the Encyclopedia Judaica -- no help there. i would suspect that the Old Testament Hebrew pre-dates Greek references (and similarity of words does not prove etymology).

No doubt, though, that lavender had its uses in the ancient world. And I have heard this spikenard = lavender connection before, but have not been able to substantiate it.

Catherine, The Herb Lady said...

Thank you David for the additional thoughts. Yes the reference I provided was from wikipedia's footnotes.

An Extension agent writing on whether Lavender is the Spikenard of the Bible does rely on M&M but adds:

"Spikenard is a perennial herb of the Valerian family. All of its parts contain an aromatic essential oil, especially the roots that were mixed with other oils to make the expensive spikenard ointment. This precious imported salve was commonly kept in sealed boxes of alabaster that were only opened on very special occasions. Although the Roman belles used spikenard as their favorite perfume, most modern women find its smell quite disagreeable, and it has almost become obsolete." --

For the purposes of this post - I will let the "usability" of Lavender be the focus, over spikenard's unappealing aspect.