Before you yank out those unwanted weeds growing alongside your prized begonias, keep in mind you may be throwing out the perfect culinary embellishment for your marinara sauce.
Through the ages, civilization has got down on its collective knees and pulled from the earth a plethora of vegetative growth, using it to add flavor and aroma to an otherwise bland dish.
"Technically, anything without bark is an herb," Jean Conrad said.
On one acre, just outside of Moorpark, Conrad says she grows "one of the nicest collections of herbs in the county."
Conrad's organically grown herbs are available at the Ventura Farmers Market. She will also participate at the Camarillo Farmers Market, which opens Saturday.
Hillside Herbs offers a wide selection of culinary herbs, including rosemary, dill, parsley, mint, thyme, anise, bay, chervil, chives, oregano, sage, fennel and many, many more.
Regarding the amount of a particular herb one should use, Conrad has a bone to pick with modern-day recipe book authors who call for specific portions.
"Everybody is an individual," she said. "Just use it to taste like the old-fashioned recipe books called for. You just have to play with them."
A spice is generally a very aromatic part of an herb plant, ground from the root, fruit or flower.
Although Conrad offered a couple of "medicinal" suggestions, she said "people should study herbology before they go around doctoring."
Conrad said her horehound syrup has been known to relieve a persistent sore throat:
"Horehound is a weed that grows wild in the area," she said. "Mix one-ounce of horehound leaves to a pint of boiling water; upon adding leaves, stop boiling and let sit five minutes, then strain leaves. Add two parts (two pints) honey. You'll want to take four teaspoons a day (one every four hours).
"If you need a pick-me-up," Conrad suggests a cup of sage or mint tea.
How about a bring-me-down?
"Chamomile and lemon balm are great for relaxing," she said.
Soon to be available to Hillside Herbs' customers are Conrad's own packaged teas.
Got a penchant for sweets? Conrad would have you try the pretty petals of violets.
"Brush on a little beaten egg white," she said, "and sprinkle with powdered sugar. They're delicious and wonderful for decoration." Conrad's herb varieties are offered at one price--$1 a bunch. "That's real close to one ounce," she said. Call 529-3709.
If you'd like to learn about the identification and numerous applications of herbs, Moorpark College Community Services is offering the class "Herbology: Uses of Native Plants." The class will meet 1 to 4 p.m. on March 10. Participants will take a leisurely walk through an area of the Santa Monica Mountains, learning to identify edible, medicinal and poisonous plants--many of which probably grow right in your back yard. The class will gather herbs for a wild salad and discuss medicinal uses of various herbs. To register and for further information, call the college at 378-1408. The cost is $25; $10 for children age 8 to 12.