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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Five Tenors of Italian Cooking....

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By: Emily Brauchle

The five major herbs used in Italian cooking have made just as much history as in the kitchen but sjust as much history outside the kitchen.. These herbs, basil, fennel, oregano, rosemary, and sage, have spiced up the history books from Greek and Roman empires to Italian cookbooks present day. The difference, however, is the uses. Herbs were prominently used for medicines, superstitions, and perfumes in the first years of human existence. Now, it would be seen as odd for someone to rub a leaf of a fragrant herb on themselves to smell better.

Basil represents a complete spectrum of things, from love and courting to hatred and scorpions, throughout different cultures. Basil originated in India, and its leaves were used to swear oaths upon in court rulings. As it was introduced to Italy however, it gained a softer respect, as basil was used for courting and represented love. Basil leaves have many medicinal uses you can use. Basil is most commonly used for digestive problems, from clearing gas to stomach cramps, to constipation. Basil can be ingested as basil tea, as well as herbal capsules, where the leaves are ground and dried.

Fennel originated in India, Egypt and China. It symbolizes flattery and heroism in Roman societies, while in medieval times it was kept in rafters and keyholes to keep out ghosts and spirits. In 812, Charlemagne declared it essential in all gardens due to its healing powers, which popularized fennel in Europe for fighting diseases. Fennel also has a reputation for weight loss, as it means marathon in Greek, which means ‘to grow thin’. It is known to promote digestion and jumpstart your appetite.

Oregano, probably the most commonly thought of Italian herb, actually originated in the Mediterranean. The goddess Aphrodite was said to have created oregano, giving it its fragrance and flavor for men to enjoy. In medieval times, oregano was chewed to cure rheumatism, toothaches, indigestion, and coughs. Oregano contains acid, which has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-viral properties, making oregano the most potent plant-derived antiseptic, according to studies at Delaware State University. Who would’ve known? You can be curing toothaches while flavoring you favorite dish or olive oil.

Rosemary just reeks of superstition along the ages. A rosemary twig under your pillows keeps away the nightmares, but a rosemary necklace attracts elves. Rosemary is the emblem of fidelity for lovers. Sicilians believed that youthful faeries hid along rosemary branches. Burning rosemary will keep away everything and anything, from evil ghost and spirits to illnesses. Nowadays, rosemary can be used to treat symptoms of nervousness and improve memory by burning it as incense.

Sage was known as the herb of the mind, as it improved mental acuteness, wisdom, and psychic powers. Sage was said to have come from satyrs, half-man, half-goat creatures who loved parties, wine, and sex, so who knows what affects this magical herb can have on someone? Sage tea is beneficial for sore throats.

Who would have known that the same spices sprinkled on your food, were created by gods, fought evil spirits, and cured sicknesses? The next time you pop a forkful of pasta into your mouth and wonder how someone could achieve such perfection, remember the magic of the herbs, because apparently, there’s a lot of mojo mixed up in them all.

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