Dried sprigs of several kinds of herb
These are often sold in mercados, tied together like a little
nosegay. As shown at the right a bundle may be tied together with a blade of zacate
de lemon, or lemon grass, and include springs of laurel
(bay leaves), mejorana (sweet marjoram), and tomillo
(thyme), all native to Europe, but now essential ingredients for good Mexican cooking.
This is basil, Ocimum basilicum of the mint
family. According to Mexicans, comes in two sorts. The macho, or male, type is
purple and stronger smelling than the hiembra, or female, type.
Nowadays most North Americans refer to the plant shown at the left
by its Spanish name, cilantro, but Europeans often call it coriander. By whatever name,
it's surely the best-loved herb of Mexican cuisine, finding its way into most stews and
salads. This is another of those herbs originally from southern Europe but now thoroughly
Mexicanized. This herb, Coriandrum sativum of the parsley family,
grows three feet high or so, though many perfectionists insist that the most tasty
cilantro is provided by young plants not over a foot high.
We call it Mexican tea, though I've never heard of anyone making tea
of it. It's one of the best-loved seasonings for bean soup and many kinds of Mexican
stews. It's a strong-smelling herb growing as a weed in my Mississippi garden, Chenopodium
ambrosioides, of the goosefoot family. This is not only an excellent
seasoning but also it can be used medicinally against intestinal worms.
I don't think we have an English name for this leaf (the words
translate literally to "blessed leaf"). Nonetheless it's a wonderfully
minty-odored leaf of the small, native Mexican tree Piper auritum
of the black-pepper family. Hoja santa leaves are often wrapped around tamales to
impart an anise-like flavor. As opposed to red peppers, this plant is indeed closely
related to the black pepper of salt-and-pepper fame.
This is parsley, and in Mexican mercados you typically see a
different variety than what is sold in most North American supermarkets. The Mexican
variety is thinner-leafed, less crispy-margined, less dark-green than ours. It is Petroselinum
crispum, of the parsley family, originating in northern and central Europe,
and it just may be tastier than our northern-supermarket kind, though it not as pretty.