Three Rare and Ancient Herbs: Clary, Angelica, and Rue
Copyright 2012 - Kris Heeter
I stumbled across a wonderful manuscript dated back a century ago on 36 culinary herbs from that era -- "Culinary Herbs" by M.G. Kains, 1912.
Of the 36, there were several that I had not heard of before:
Upon further investigation, it seems that many of these date back to early centuries and some would be considered "rare" in terms of culinary use in today's society - particularly in the United States.
Below, I've described three that I found to have a rich and interesting history.
According Kains, clary (Salvia sclarea) is mentioned as an herb that may have originated in Syria or Italy. The presumption was is in favor of the former, as it is an older established country. The plant was then probably carried westward from it by soldiers or merchants.
In England, clary was known even prior to 1540. However in early America, it was described as being found in "foreigners' gardens" and was rarely seen in America in the 19th and 20th century. By the time the 20th century came about, sage had taken it's place in the kitchen and clary was really only used to occasionally to make wine.
A Century Old Recipe from 1912
Note: this recipe is conveyed exactly as described a century ago, hence the reference to boiling in a kettle over the fire.
"The fresh roots, the tender stems, the leaf stalks and the midribs of the leaves make a pleasing aromatic candy. When fresh gathered the plant is rather too bitter for use. This flavor may be reduced by boiling. The parts should first be sliced lengthwise, to remove the pith. The length of time will depend somewhat upon the thickness of the pieces. A few minutes is usually sufficient.
After removal and draining the pieces, they are put in a syrup of granulated sugar and boiled till full candy density is reached. The kettle is then removed from the fire and the contents allowed to cool. When almost cold the pieces are to be taken out and allowed to dry."
Angelica (Archangclica officinalis) is a biennial or perennial herb of the natural order Umbelliferse, so called from its supposed medicinal qualities. It is believed to be a native of Syria that then spread to many cool European climates, especially Lapland and the Alps, where it has became naturalized.
The stems and leaf stalks were used, while still succulent. They were eaten as a salad, or roasted or boiled like potatoes. And it's been noted that the leaves can be boiled and eaten as a substitute for spinach.
At the turn of the 20th Century, in Europe, angelica was frequently used as a garnish or as an adjunct to dishes of meat and fish.
Seeds were used for flavoring beverages, cakes and candies. Oil of Angelica was also used for flavoring.
This was an herb not frequently used in the United States during this era.
Rue - the "Sour Herb of Grace"
Rue (Riita gravcolcns) is a hardy perennial bushy herb, native of southern Europe. It is a member of the same botanical family as the orange, Rutacese.
In early centuries it was highly reputed for seasoning and for medicine among the Greeks and the Romans and in ancient times considered to be effectual for 84 maladies!
Because of the exceedingly strong smell of the leaves, rue was found to be disagreeable to most Americans.
It appears to be no longer used much for seasoning probably because of its
acridity and apparently it can blister the skin when frequently handled.
Historically, rue was often chosen by poets to express disdain. Shakespeare speaks of it as the "sour herb of grace".
Are these truly rare herbs?
For the herb lovers and culinary experts out there, please feel free to share any additional knowledge you may have on the use of these herbs (currently or historically) in the comments section below!