Autumn's Garden Bounty

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because we celebrate what is close to our hearts. But does the holiday relate to our gardens? I think so.

We know that when the Mayflower left for the "New World" the women brought culinary mints, sage, marjoram, chamomile, parsley, tansy and rosemary. As soon as possible garden plots were begun and these herbs were incorporated into both new and familiar foods. Many of these folks actually thought of flowers as extravagant but they still brought hollyhocks, lilacs, and peonies to their new gardens

Wheat and peas were usually planted by the males who had also brought them to the North American continent. The Pilgrims in turn were introduced to new species such as blackberries, strawberries, bee balm (monarda), sassafras root, birch tree bark and maize by the Native Americans.

History tells us that in September 1621 the colonists and a group of Wampanoag Native Americans held a three-day celebration. William Bradford, the leader of the separatist settlers of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, recorded that the colonists and the Native Americans shared geese, wild turkey, cod, bass, swans, passenger pigeons and venison. We may celebrate this feast a bit later in the year, but we still use the same herbs to flavor our food. Sage, thyme and rosemary are all woody perennials (or tender perennials in the case of rosemary here in the northeast).

Let's take a look at these important culinary herbs. Garden sage - Salvia officinalis - has a long history as a healing and culinary herb. There is an old saying, "How can a man grow old who has sage in his garden?" The Salvia part of its scientific name comes from the Latin word salveo, which means "I save." I love the gray oval leaves of garden sage in the garden. Its beautiful bluish strap, like flowers and square stems, shows how closely related it is to the garden mints.

I actually grow several types of thyme: woolly, lemon, orange-scented and creeping. The tiny leaves are wonderful in butter sauces, with fish and potatoes. You might appreciate the antiseptic properties of thyme the next time you use a mouthwash, as it contains thymol, a derivative of oil of thyme.

Who hasnít heard "Rosemary for remembrance"? There are many types of rosemary but I grow only Rosmarinus officinalis. It is grown in a pot near the front door and must be brought inside if it is to survive our winters. We have used rosemary in barbecues, in vegetarian dishes and with vegetables.

When you sit down to enjoy your dinner on Thanksgiving, think about the people and the herbs that make it such a natural part of our celebration today.

Forever Young Magazine - November 2008