Defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as “a seed-producing annual, biennial, or perennial that does not develop persistent woody tissue but dies down at the end of a growing season,” herbs have been grown for centuries throughout the world for culinary, medicinal, and other purposes. Herbs can be found in essential oils, spices, teas, potted plants, dyes, cosmetics, and health products. Traditionally a crop of choice for smaller growers, in recent years larger operations have begun integrating herbs with other vegetables for shared packing, cooling, transportation, and marketing methodologies.
Much of the world’s herbs are found in countries other than the United States, because of favorable climate conditions. A prime example is Cyprus, an ideal location for growing several types of herbs, allowing year-round availability. Most indigenous herbs grown on the island are exported.
For the purposes of this profile, we are concentrating on basil, chives, and mint; cilantro and parsley have separate coverage.
References: Cyprus High Commission Trade Centre, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, University of Florida/IFAS Extension.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Within each type of herb, there are several varieties. The traditional Sweet Basil, Ocimum basilicum, is the most popular of basil varieties often used in Italian dishes, but there are several others, including Cinnamon Basil, a very spicy variety with shiny leaves and pink flowers which can be used in vinegars, jellies, and dried arrangements; Lettuce Leaf Basil, which has large, sweeter leaves, grows vigorously, and is excellent in salads; Lemon Basil, which has a distinct lemon smell and is often used in salads, teas, and potpourri; and Thai Basil, often used in Asian food preparation, which has a licorice flavoring with purple stems and flowers.
Chives are the smallest of the onion species native to the Mediterranean. They produce purple flowers and can often be found in perennial gardens. Garlic Chives, sometimes called Chinese Chives, are known for their garlic flavor, and bloom later in the season (July and August).
There are more than 600 varieties of mint, each having a distinct flavor. Spearmint has lavender flowers that attract bees, while Peppermint can grow to a height of two to three feet and has icilin, known to sooth pain associated with digestive issues. Red Stemmed Applemint is a mild-flavored hybrid containing ingredients from both spearmint and peppermint, and is often referred to as “doublemint.”
References: Herb Society of America, Ohio State University Extension, University of California-Davis, University of Minnesota Extension, Worldcrops.org.