(The following was written by Yvette L. Maurey, and is reprinted from “Reflections”, a collection of local stories available at the Grove City Welcome Center and Museum).
Herbal use extended into virtually every aspect of colonial life. Since the earliest of times, it has been known that herbs enhance the natural flavors of foods when added to the cooking process. Minced fresh herbs were mixed with salt or sugar to make herb salt for cooking, and herb sugars, which were stored for later use in cakes, puddings, and other sweets. Vinegars and sauces flavored with such as thyme, basil, fennel, and tarragon are still among favorites today. Mint sauce is easy to make and is a perfect companion to be served with lamb. Herbs serve not only as flavorings, but we’re often used as food itself.
Kitchen herbs, for centuries, have been grown in their own special gardens, away from the main crops, near the house. Herb gardens enjoy a reputation of beauty and tranquility, as they have often been planted with symmetrical patterns with decorations and paths winding through them.
Before the days of electrical fans and air conditioning, beating the summer heat was the greatest summer pastime anywhere! Iced tea and other cool drinks aided in keeping the body temperature tolerable.
Sun tea could be made without heating up the kitchen. Herbs in a clear glass jar, cool water, and a place in the sun for just a few hours was all that was needed, and of course it was always double strength to stand up to melting ice!
Several herbs have natural properties for chasing the hot weather blahs. Catnip is cooling and soothing. Iced Borage or Sweet Woodruff tea will give the boost needed if high temperatures lower one’s energy level past the danger point. For a stimulating brew, blend either of these with lemon balm. Iced Rosemary tea conjures up a vision of a cool, piney woods. The mints – peppermint, spearmint, bergamot, and lemon balm – make delicious teas, warm or cold.
Beauty rituals were secrets, indeed! The search for these secrets was endless, and the pioneers depended on trees and plants for everything from toothbrushes to hair tonic. In those days before personal hygiene products were invented, the housewife found ways of dealing with the unpleasant odors and pests of her world.
Sachets and potpourris are combinations of aromatic and fixative herbs enclosed in pretty containers – – small pillows for sachets, and glass or ceramic jars or vases for potpourri or “sweet jars.” The sweet-smelling concoctions were often simmered in a pot of water on the cook fire, allowing their fragrances to fill the air.
Nose-gays, or “tussie mussies” were tiny bouquets of fragrant herbs carried by ladies to sniff whenever confronted with an unpleasant odor.
(The conclusion of this story in the next blog entry.)