TOM WOLFE didn't start out in herbs. He just sort of fell into them. It began as a summer job, stuffing herbs into little bags. Then in the fall the owner of the basement herb business split, leaving Wolfe with the herbs, the basement and the little bags. "She was sort of a gypsy," Wolfe (not the writer) said.
The gypsy was going to sell him the business for $1,000, but he didn't have the money. That was cool. She didn't really need it anyway.
The herbs grew and two years later he moved next door into an 1895 Victorian farmhouse. More herbs grew. He put $20,000 into restoration. Now he has a very large business in College Park called "Smile Herb Shop."
(Wolfe pronounces "herb" as 'urb , not as it is used in "Hi, Herb, howareya." The dictionary says either urb or hurb .
This is what Wolfe sells in fresh herbs: chervil, fennel, summer savory, bay laurel, horehound, lovage, pennyroyal, peppermint, spearmint, rosemary, rue, sage, thyme (German, golden edge, Longwood, thymus minus, creeping red and pink), sorrel, tarragon, lemon verbena, oregano, basil (opal and common), caraway, coriander, anise, dill (mammoth and regular), parsley (curly, Italian and dwarf), tansy, angelica, borage, marjoram, scented geraniums -- and anything else you'd like.
He says he will plant any herb in the shop's backyard if he doesn't already have it. No charge for the planting. Then you can take them home and put them in your kitchen. They will die, eventually, but for about $1.50 a plant, you will have enough fresh herbs to see you through the summer.
If you are growing herbs indoors, forget those peat-pot kitchen herb kits. The plants, when they don't get a fuzzy mold, grow long and spindly or they die of malnutrition. Indoor herbs need plant food. Start with a few plants that are easy to grow in a sunny (full morning or afternoon sun) window such as basil (green and purple), chervil, chives, dill, marjoram, parsley, red pepper, rosemary, sage, winter savory, tarragon and thyme.
The best time to pick herbs for preserving is just before the plants flower. The flaveors are strongest at this time. Herbs can be frozen with other foods -- rosemary sprig in corn, dill with broccoli or peas, marjoram and oregano with squash -- but they wilt when thawed so should be used in cooking, not as a garnish.
Herbs that freeze well are chives, dill, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley and tarragon. Place sprigs or chopped leaves in small labeled plastic bags. They may also be put in a blender with water to cover and the puree frozen in ice cube trays. The cubes can then be added to stews or sauces. Herbs
Angelica: Named after the angels because it was supposed to have protected people from the plague. In France the flowers are candied and used as flavoring. The leaves, which taste like jumiper berries, are good in fish dishers.
Basil: Usually added to tomatoes and tomato-based sauces, it gives a hot clovelike flavor. All basils -- bush, lettuce leaf, lemon -- have a similar flavor.
Borage: Has a cooling cucumber flavor useful in soups, fish and salad dressings.
Burnet: Has a nutty-cucumber flavor-- those who won't eat cucumber can substitute burnet. Leaves are used in salads and iced drinks.
Chervil: Like parsley or celery, but sweeter with a subtle pepper taste. It should be added to foods at the last minute in combinatin with other spices, as it tends to lose its flavor if cooked.Used with white meats, fish, eggs and cream-based soups.
Chives: The easiest herb to grow indoors, but should be trimmed regularly with scissors. Chives can be added to salads, bread, vegetables, soups and meat; or used as a subsitute for onions.
Coriander: Fresh coriander is very pungent and is definitely an acquired taste. It is also known as Chinese parsley, cilantro, and dhania and is an essential ingredient in Vietnamese cooking and Indian tandoori barbecue. Fresh coriander bears no resemblance to dried or coriander seeds.
Dill: The feathery leaves are a very mild spice, but when used in generous portions are a good substitute for salt. The seeds have a stronger fragrance and are usually used in pickling. When using fresh dill weed in cooked dished add near the end of preparation.
Fennel: A multi-purpose plant, the bulbs (eaten raw or cooked), leaves and seeds all have a sweet anise-celery flavor. Usually added to fish and seafood.
Geranium: There are over 100 varieties of leaf geraniums tasting like apple, camphor, lemon, nutmeg, orange, almond, peppermint, licorice, rose, etc. aThey should be used cautiously as the leaves can be very pungent. Used in salad dresings and poultry stuffing.
Horehound: Remember horehound cough lozenges? Bitter-sweet, musky and acidic, used more in teas and candies than in cooking.
Lemon Balm or Melissa: Had to mention this one . . . A lemony mint herb used in fruit salads, ice tea and Greek lemon soups. Add chopped leaves to any dish that calls for lemon juice.
Lovage: Has a strong celery flavor and can be used in any dish you would use celery. Use sparingly in salads, soups and stuffings.
Marjoram: A member of the mint family, but it has a sweeter and more aromatic perfume; often used in Italian dishes and tomato-based sauces.
Mint: Grows like bamboo -- forever and wherever. More than a dozen mints are readily available: spearmint, peppermint, apple mint (like spearment, slightly fruity, but not like apples), pennyroyal (bitter), bergamot or bee balm and orange mint (oily, citrus-flavored leaves).
Oregano: Marjoram's partner in tomato sauces and pizza (it is also known as wild marjoram). It comes in many types from mild to O. vulgare which is too strong for most tastes. In Italy oregano is known as the mushroom herb.
Parsley: Eat your parsley. It is high in iron, vitamins A and C. The most common forms are curly and flat-leafed Italian which has a stronger flavor. An easy way to chop fresh parsley is to squish it in a garlic press which releases the oil from the leaves.
Rocket, Roquette or Arugula: Very robust mushroom-turnip-mustard-flavored herb added sparingly to salads (as a seasoning), greens and collards. Like fresh coriander in that it is an acquired taste.
Rosemary has a pungent odor. Lay sprigs on top of roasts and vegetables while they cook. Good with lamb, strong-flavored fish, beets and cabbage.
Sage: Fresh sage comes in many varieties (pineapple sage smells like fresh pineapple), but most have a mild zest and should be used sparingly -- it dominates other spices. Can be used like bay leaves -- place a sprig on roasts.
Savory: Called the bean herb because it enhances the flavor of lentils, favas, soybeans and limas or a few springs can be added to green beans. Savory comes in two forms: summer and winter. Winter savory is sharper, spicer and used more sparingly than summer. Savory has a slight peppery flavor. It is most often used in stuffings, sausage and bouquets garnis, but is a good substitute for salt.
Tarragon: Do not buy Russian tarragon (A. redowski ) or other types which smell like grass when crushed, but only French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus ). It has a licorice, anise, camphor odor that is strong, but sweet and should not be mixed with other herbs. Often used in chicken, fish and fresh young vegetable dishes.
Thyme: Has a pungent minty, pepery, clovey flavor and is used in small amounts. Most often used in bouquet garni, Provence and Creole dishes and essential in New England clam chowder. Fresh thyme can be added to salads, but sparingly. Use only the leaves for cooking. Where to Buy
Smile Herb Shop, 4906 Berwyn, Rd, College Park, Md. (474-8791). herb cosmetics and herb potions. The staff is extremely knowlegeable about herb lore and usage.
Catherdral Herb Cottage, Wisconsin and Mass. Aves. NW (537-6230). The herb cottage sells only dried herbs, but the greenhouse has almost every herb imaginable: The perenials are thyme (English, French, golden, silver, creeping, lemon and garden), pot and sweet marjoram, Italian oregano, rosemary, curry plant, chives, pineapple mint, pennyroyal, mint Corsica, tarragon, rue, tansy, winter savory.
Annuals are: basil (sweet, Greek, dwarf and purple), dill, coriander, fennel, parsley (flat leaf and curly), celerac, roquette.
Reston Farm Market, 10800 Baron Cameron Ave., Reston, Va. (459-3127):
The market has a pick-your-own herb garden where for 20 cents an ounce you can gather: sage (purple, golden, green or opal), thyme, chives, rue, borage, dill, fennel, chives, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, horehound.
A large and flavorful variety of herb or scented geraniums like coconut and apricot are also sold. Herb demonstrations are given free if there is a group of 10. See Dee Dee La Rocque concerning culinary herbs and Linda Focht about cosmetic herbs.
Johnson's Flower Center, 4020 Wisconsin Ave. NW (244-6100): Call to see what is available, but summer savory, chives, marjoram, oregano, parsley, Russian caraway, sage and basil usually are in stock.
Hudson Brothers, 3206 Grace St. NW (337-8585): Fresh cuttings of root basil, tarragon, chives, mint, rosemary, sage, dill, thyme and coriander are sold for $1 to $1.50 a bunch.
Farm Women's Market, 7155 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda. Md. (652-9600): Open on Saturday and Monday. Call for availability.
The Hispanic grocery stores in Adams Morgan sell fresh coriander, but it is delivered on Wednesdays, so they may be out by Monday. Orikental grocery stores in Chinatown and elsewhere also sell fresh coriander. The grocery shops in Little Saigon in Arlington on Wilson Boulevard sometimes sell fresh lemon grass. Herb Plants Catalogues
Bittersweet Hill Nurseries, Route 424, Davidson, Md. 21035.
The herb Farm, Barnard Road, Granville, Mass. 00134.
Smirz's Herb Nursery, 5573 Northridge, Route 20, Madison, Ohio 44057.
Pine Hills Herb Farm, Box 307, Roswell, Ga. 30075.
Tool Shed Herb Farm, Purdy's Station, N.Y. 10578.
Waynefield Herbs, 837 Cosgrove St., Port Townsend, Wa. 98368.
Well-Sweep Herb Farm, Mount Bethel Rd., Port Murray, N.Y. 07865.
The Yarb Patch, 3726 Thomasville Rd., Tallahassee, Fla. 32303.