Oregano and its allies in Sicily

All the good from herbs.

Another trip to Sicily. Another voyage into this beautiful island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. Another tour in its scents.

Spring is in the air, trees are in bloom and Sicily turns into an explosion of colors and pleasant smells, which are not only the ones from cooking food. Thanks to the Arabs and to its geographical position that gives it a mild climate, Sicily’s territory is ideal to grow herbs, spices and aromatics which are used in its cuisine as well as exported.

Oregano

Oregano

It can be said that oregano is the “king” of the herbs in Sicily. Much used to season meat, fish, vegetables and on pizza as well, Sicily is a major oregano producer.

This plant usually grows no more than 80 cm tall, has really small green leaves and tiny pink or white flowers. It needs direct exposure to sunlight and a chalky soil, and harvest is usually made in May and June when the plant is at its peak of flavor and very aromatic. To make sure it lasts longer, it is dried out, but nothing prevents from using it fresh.

Nowadays, the use of oregano has gone beyond people’s and restaurants’ kitchens. As an officinal herb, it is used for medical purposes and to make natural cosmetics too. It is indeed very good to fight cold, arthritis and to clear airways; it has digestive properties and, in cosmetics, it helps blood circulation and prevents cellulite.

Oregano, details

Further spices and herbs

As for spices, saffron and cinnamon particularly lie at Sicilians’ heart, since the former is used in the western part of the island to savor arancini, and the latter in more than a half of Sicilian sweets recipes. Curcuma, coriander, cumin and sweet paprika are used to make cous cous, the Arabs’ inheritance traditionally made in western Sicily.

Two peculiar spices are originated from the union of sea salt and fresh orange and lemon skin: fior di sale al limone and fior di sale all’arancia. Two types of sea salt carrying all the flavor and the healthiness of these two Sicilian fruits’ essential oils.

As for the herbs, you have just plenty of choice: rosemary, mint leaves, capers, fennel seeds. Moreover, bay leaves which are perfect to season meat or lentils (and it’s a natural stomachache pain killer!), basil and parsley, this last used a bit everywhere. And now, the curiosity of the day.

Did you know you can use carrots leaves to aromatize your salad? And that chaste tree fruit can replace pepper? And wall germander replace tea leaves as well as calendula flowers saffron? These and further more are the uses of plants and herbs. A whole wonderful world to discover.

Sources

agrinnovazione.regione.sicilia.it - La coltivazione dell'Origano (pdf)
it.wikipedia.org - Cucina Siciliana

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