Category Archives: Spice School

All About Sage

By Angela Keyser, Director of Marketing for High Quality Organics

When I ask you what herb reminds you of Thanksgiving, most of you will probably say sage.  This perennial herb, native to the Mediterranean, is indeed quite popular at Thanksgiving. Often added to a stuffing or roasted turkey recipe, sage has a wonderful, slightly sweet and citrusy smell.  Some say it smells camphorous, cleansing or purifying and it can linger for some time – good if you enjoy the smell, not so good if you don’t!

The botanical name for sage is ‘Salvia’ which, in Lattin, means “to heal” or “to save.” The reason sage was named this way is because it’s essential oils contain antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. (Sage is an excellent source of vitamin A, C, E and K  – important antioxidants for health and wellness.)

Sage has been used for centuries not only in cooking but for medicinal purposes for many things including healing the common cold or flu and soothing insect bites.  The Native Americans believe it wards off evil spirits and the Arabs believe it helps with immortality. At one time, the Chinese regarded sage so highly they would trade up to four pounds or sacks of tea (camelia sinensis) for one pound or sack of sage leaves to make tea. (While sage tea isn’t commonly found in most grocery stores, you can find it online.)

The sage plant is quite easy to grow, will weather over the winter and is fairly drought tolerant. So, it’s a great herb to try if you’re new to (or not so good at) gardening.  It’s leaves are soft and blue-greyish in color and the plant can have delicate purple or blue flowers, depending on the variety.

Sage is an extremely versatile herb to use in the kitchen. Here are just a few delicious ways to play with it in your everyday cooking:

Steep in hot water for tea
Infuse in water with blackberries
– Added to ice cubes (fresh only)
Eggs
Flavoring for white bean dishes
Infuse with salt
Rub on poultry, pork or lamb
– Incorporate into sausage
Savory flavor to bread or rolls
Simple syrup for cocktails
Savory flavor for homemade crackers
– Soups and stews
– Vegetables or potatoes

Vanilla (Spice, Not Ice Silly!)

By Stephanie Rayburn, Sales Trainee for High Quality Organics

Plain ‘ol Vanilla?  Actually, Vanilla is quite an exciting flavor:
 exotic, well-traveled, a little mysterious- and has a great story to 
tell.

Photo Courtesy of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Photo Courtesy of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

You may know that the lovely vanilla bean, pieces of which you see
 speckled throughout your scoop of ice cream, actually comes from an
orchid.  The potent oils of the dried black pod and bean are known to 
calm, soothe and make delicious and versatile deserts.

It is thought 
that the Totonaco Indians of Mexico were the first to cultivate the
 pale white orchid flower.  As the Aztecs and then the Spaniards came 
to rule the region, the secrets of the vanilla bean were carried 
outside the tropics and into the greenhouses of European royalty.

Melipona Bee Courtesy of Pollinators.comAlthough the vanilla bean quickly became a trendy drink for the rich
 (a pre-cursor to the vanilla latte, perhaps?), it remained rare and 
difficult to procure. The key to the successful propagation of the
orchid is the special symbiotic relationship with the Melipona bee. In keeping with the sweet and pure reputation of Vanilla, the 
stingless, dainty bee mysteriously buzzes in to pollinate the orchid 
on the one morning a year that the flower blooms. The bloom, if not 
pollinated, wilts and drops after just a single day and the
 opportunity for vanilla bean production is lost for a full year.

It was not until the mid-1800’s, when a 12-year-old boy from the 
French colonial island of Reunion discovered the method of hand
 pollinating the Vanilla orchid, that the bean became widely
 cultivated.

Vanilla Bean & Powder from iFood.tvA global fervor for the flavor has led to the cultivation
 of over 60 varieties of Vanilla orchids; from the rich, spicy Tahitian variety to the 
highest quality Madagascan vanilla used in Bourbon.

The uses of this fragrance and flavor go beyond just pleasing the 
pallet and the nose; vanilla has long been utilized as a soothing and sensual tonic with many health benefits.  Keep calm my friends, and reach for the Vanilla!

StephLakeTahoeStephanie (often referred to as Steph) is from many beautiful places, including East Texas (she still lets the occasional “ya’ll” slip), Oregon, Arizona and West Africa, where she served in the Peace Corp.  She is most in her element when traveling and exploring, and is loving her current adventures in ‘The Biggest Little City’ she’s ever lived. 

Steph is passionate about organics and the sustainable agriculture practices that the industry encourages, but her favorite part of being on the High Quality Organics team is the wide range of fun characters she gets to work with! Steph has a twin sister (fraternal) and an older brother who live in the area; her mom is a self-taught herbalist, and HQO’s biggest Facebook fan.  On weekends you can find her hiking in the pines of Lake Tahoe and enjoying the music and craft beers of Reno.