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Tuesday, November 1, 2011


It is thought that Clary originated in Syria or south west and central Europe where it can still be found growing wild. It was known to the ancients and the essential oil was prized by Dioscorides, Theophrastus and Pliny. This is still used in cosmetics and the perfume industry as a fixer and cultivated for these industries in France and Russia. It is a member of the sage family and closely related to the sage we commonly use in cooking. Clary can be used in exactly the same way if you have any growing in your garden, or know where to find the herb growing wild.
  These days clary is little used except for its essential oil in aromatherapy. It seems that it acts on the hypothalamus, a ‘primitive’ part of the brain and is used to relieve anxiety, fear and paranoia. It also provokes vivid dreams and gives clarity to them so that you will easily recall those dreams that have troubled you during the night. The calming effect of clary was known to the Physicians of Myddfai who had this to say about its use.
  “If you would never be in an envious mood, drink as much as would fill an egg shell of the juice of the herb called wild clary, and you will not after fall into an evil temper. If you would be always in good health, drink a spoonful of the juice of the herb mallows, and you will always be so.”
  Many Internet sites say that clary can be used to make fritters, and I suppose you could put them in pakoras, but tastes have changed over the centuries, so clary might be something of an acquired taste. The idea that you can cook fritters with them seems to have originated from the Complete Herbal by Nicholas Culpeper, who wrote this in the 17th century. He wrote this about clary.-
  “The seed put into the eyes clears them from motes and such like things gotten within the lids to offend them, and it also clears them from any white and red spots which may be on them. The mucilage of the seed made with water, and applied to tumours or swellings, disperseth and taketh them away. It also draweth forth splinters, thorns, or other things got into the flesh. The leaves used with vinegar, either by itself or with a little honey, doth help boils, felons, and the hot inflammations that are gathered by their pains, if applied before it be grown too great. The powder of the dried root put into the nose provoketh sneezing, and thereby purgeth the head and brain of much rheum and corruption. The seeds or leaves taken in wine provoketh to venery. It is of much use both for men and women that have weak backs, and helpeth to strengthen the reins; used either by itself or with other herbs conduces to the same effect, and in tansies often. The fresh leaves dipped in a batter of flour, eggs, and a little milk, and fried in butter and served to the table, is not unpleasant to any, but exceedingly profitable for those that are troubled with weak reins, and the effects thereof. The juice of the herb put into ale or beer, and then drunk, bringeth down women's courses and expelleth the after-birth.”
  It is from Culpeper then that we learn about the use of clary as an aphrodisiac (“venery” is sexual activity), as well as its use for kidney (reins) problems. There is no medical evidence to support these statements, so if you use clary for any of these ailments, remember that such uses belonged in the 17th century. Please also note that pregnant women should not use this herb as it acts on oestrogen production and the uterus. While it may help some menopausal problems it is not advised to take it while pregnant as its effects are not known.
  The herb has been used not only to flavour ale (which didn’t traditionally use hops), but also some liqueurs and vermouth. Wine can be made from the flowering plant too, but it taste better when mixed with other flowering herbs and blossoms such as elderflowers. Also the herb may be infused in other white wine to give it a muscatel flavour.
   It is also found in some cosmetic products such as shampoos to increase sebum production and in some ointments and creams.
  The Latin name “sclarea” is a corruption of “clarus” meaning “clear” and it is thought it got this name because it was used to get foreign bodies out of the eyes. Salvia means salvation or to save, and this is because of the reputation the plants of the sage family had in ancient times. It is thought to be a native of south western and central Europe and parts of Asia; in other places such as Britain it is naturalized.
  The leaves when young can be eaten raw, or you can add them to dishes as you would sage, but use the young, tender leaves only, as older ones tend to have a bitter taste. The flowers are also edible and can be added to salads.
  Clary is a herb which has been overlooked in modern times, but perhaps we should be using it more as it was so prized by the ancients, who, when all is said and done, knew a thing or two about medicine that we have forgotten.

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