Herbal Essence: No, not the shampoo!

A former professor once told that the way to entice people to read your blog or peak their interest in your sermon was to come up with a catchy title. So if you are reading this, then hopefully that means my title worked. I was playing with the tile “parsley, sage, rosemary, and time”, but decided I liked Herbal Essence better because it really got at the essence of what I have been thinking about this week: herbal essence.

There was a time (not thyme), when I never used fresh herbs and spent my entire cooking life using dried herbs and spices. Then I expanded my repertoire and began using fresh herbs. However, as a scripture says, “for everything there is a purpose under heaven.” This is true of herbs as well. There is a time for dry and a time for fresh. There is a thyme for every seasoning under heaven. (Hope you do not mind my humor). However, the essence of my herbal humor is true.

When I first began to move from dried to fresh herbs one of the things I needed to learn is the difference in when and how to use them. Fresh herbs needed to be added to the recipes at different times to allow time for them to release their maximum flavor. Some herbs I learned needed more time then others. Dried herbs need time to absorb the fluids they lost while they were being dried. The difference between how they taste when they first are added and after they have had time to release their flavors is like night and day. When they are being used in a marinade, dip, soup, or sauce they need time to release the essence of what they can bring to your dish.

The other lesson I have learned is that a little goes a long way. I learned this the hard way when I added ¼ cup of dried thyme to a recipe, which called for ¼-cup fresh thyme. Let’s just say this thyme I learned my lesson. Dried herbs are more potent then fresh because their flavor became condensed when they were dried. 

Unlike the other things I have which have expiration dates, I rarely pay attention to the dates on my spice bottles. A trick I learned to tell if the herb or spice was still fresh was to rub it between my fingers to activate the oils and smell it. If I can’t smell it, then it has lost its essence. If I can, then regardless of what the bottle says, it stays.

Spices can be quite expensive; however, after hundreds of cooking shows (thank you Food Network and Cooking Channel) and a variety of cookbooks, I have come to realize there are 10 spices, which are my core herb/spice wardrobe. They are oregano, garlic, basil, bay leaves, cinnamon, thyme, rosemary, curry, salt, and pepper. Even within those basic 10, there are variations, but these are my basic spices, which I tend to go through quite frequently. However, the world is full of spices and periodically I add them to my pantry as I explore the cuisine of a different culture.

Understanding all the lessons herbs have taught me has also been similar to my own spiritual journey. There has been in my life a time for everything, which I have experienced. There are times when my spiritual needs were met through organized religion. There have also been times when what I needed was something different and have found what I needed in quiet times of reflection, prayer, journaling, musical divina’s, drumming, reading, and writing. In the process, what I have learned is that sometimes, like dried herbs, a little reading can go a long way. A song or a meditational reading, or a paragraph in a book can go a long way and produce as much or more thought and reflection then a freshly preached sermon.

Spiritual wisdom never expires. There is no expiration date on what the journey reveals. There are some basic aspects of my journey, which like salt, pepper, and the other eight spices, get included in my daily ritual. However, there is also room for spiritual inspiration and wisdom from the teachings of the world. Some people tend to focus on one basic body of wisdom, like your core 10 spices, and others find spices and spiritual inspiration from every corner of the world.

What is most important is that one pays attention to the essence of what your “herb or spice” brings to your life, your spiritual evolution, and your journey. Not all seasonings work in all dishes. So find those, which work for you at every point in your life and allow them to bring the essence of who they are to you and your spiritual palette.