Herbs for Cooking and Healing – Rosemary!

Would Maltese food taste as good, if we didn’t add herbs to it? Many Maltese recipes would lose their special taste if we left out certain key herbs and spices. Rosemary (klin in Maltese), a herb which is native to our shores, is one of these. Being indigenous and pertaining to the mint family, this herb tends to grow on rocky outcrops and valley sides. Its habitat and also growth is similar to that of wild thyme, and these plants are often found growing side by side on our cliffs. It does not need a lot of water and grows well even when left to fend for itself.

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Rosemary is a very useful herb. Often called names such as ‘Dew of the Sea’, or ‘Old Man’, it was mostly well-known in folk medicine for boosting memory and improving one’s mood. A study conducted in 2016 by Northumbria University aimed at proving how the scent of rosemary oil could titillate cognitive emotions and researchers in fact found that a percentage of the test subjects exposed to the aroma of rosemary oil could in fact, perform better in feats of memory. It is no wonder that in ancient Greece, students would wear rosemary garlands during their exams!

This perennial evergreen plant has needle-like leaves and small purple, white or blue flowers. Apart from being used as a fragrant essential oil, it is also frequently burnt as an incense and used in cleaning and beauty products. Extracts from its flowers and leaves are also used to treat a variety of disorders, since it contains antibacterial and antioxidant rosmarinic acid. Its oil extracts also contain anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties. Rosemary contains a significant amounts of Vitamin A, which is mostly renowned for providing vision protection, healthy skin and mucus membranes, as well as containing Vitamin C, which synthesizes collagen, the protein required for optimal blood vessels, organs, skin, and bones. It also contains manganese, iron, potassium, fibre and copper, among other beneficial properties.

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It is worthwhile to note that when dried, rosemary is more concentrated. Fresh rosemary on the other hand, can be used to make flavored olive oil, as well as for a number of tasty recipes. A good idea would be to mix fresh rosemary with softened butter or Greek yoghurt to create a delicious sandwich spread. Some well-known traditional Maltese recipes which use rosemary as one of the main ingredients include rabbit in gravy with rosemary and bay leaves, lamb stew, lamb rack with rosemary sauce, and poultry marinated in rosemary and olive oil. Another succulent dish consists of fresh lampuki, or any other kind of fish, baked after being marinated in lemon juice and rosemary.

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Rosemary, both fresh and dried, can be bought from any farmer, spice shop, or apothecary in Malta and Gozo, however if you prefer to grow your own, rosemary plant care is pretty easy. It is better to start the new plant off from another plant’s cutting, rather than the seeds. Rosemary needs well-drained, sandy soil and at least six to eight daily hours of sunlight. Rosemary plants prefer to be dry, so be careful not to water them too much.

This article was written by me and originally published on http://livinginmalta.com/miscellaneuos/maltese-herbs-rosemary/

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How are you spending Valentine’s Eve?

   

How to spend Saint Valentine’s Eve

Once again, what is probably one of the most debated and vilified dates on the yearly calendar is approaching. Valentine’s Day – singles say it’s over-rated, others rightly highlight the fact that one needs to show love all days of the year not on one particular day, there are those who maintain that it is nothing but the product of a capitalistic society, while on the other hand certain couples go into an orgy of roses, posed photos, pink-wrapped gifts and love poems.

Whatever your cup of tea, my philosophy is that any excuse is a good one to show someone you appreciate him/her, do something special and spend some quality time. Here are some ideas on how to spend this day on the islands of Malta.

1. TRADITIONAL WINE AND DINE EVENING

Grab your partner, give them some roses, a box of chocolates with a large pink or red bow, and a card full of flowery (probably recycled) poetry, then whisk them away to one of the many tasty restaurants around the island. A location with a view is always more romantic, as is a candlelit atmosphere. Others prefer to break the bank and experience a gourmet or special cuisine. Or why not try sampling something new at an Indian, Moroccan or ethnic restaurant? And the best thing is – you don’t need to be a couple to enjoy a meal out, just grab your friends and do it!

2. DRINK AND DANCE

Whether you’re single or not, one can never go wrong with cocktails. Be it at a traditional wine bar, or a noisier open-bar, relaxing and chatting is surely a great way to spend an evening. And after drinks, why not head to a vibrant club to dance the night (and calories) away? You can either take the opportunity to make some provocative new moves on your partner, or, if you’re single, mingle and meet new people!

3. NIGHT HIKE/PICNIC

Those who don’t want to please capitalists, or those who just want to enjoy nature or do something different, could opt for a simple evening out with a loved one, with friends, or even on their own with a good book, enjoying some peace and quiet near the sea or surrounded by the Maltese countryside. Beware though, as it might be a bit chilly at this time of year. So, pack some coffee in a thermos (perhaps garnished with some vodka), grab your scarves and picnic blanket, and head out for a night under the stars.

4. GOZO

If you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, taking your partner on a day-trip (or weekend) to Gozo, might be what you need. Take a break from your routine and from the places you see again and again every single day. Isolate yourself from social media and the internet. Switch off your phone. Take some time to think and recharge.

5. HOLISTIC THERAPY

Another way to relax, either alone, with friends, or with your significant other, is to take some time to enjoy the moment and de-stress both body and mind. Make an appointment at a spa, a massage parlour or a Reiki practitioner. Taking care of one’s own mental and emotional health is important, and doing so while with the person you care about most, sharing such an experience, could bind you even further together. Whether in a relationship or not, it could also be an opportunity for you to chill out, take a retrospective look at your life, and affirm with yourself what your goals and targets are.

The reality is that you don’t really need to wait for Valentine’s Day to do any of the things mentioned above, however life today is so rapid and we are always so very busy, that the wakeup call tends to arrive mostly during such days – when society and the calendar highlight one date in particular, and you find yourself asking the mirror whether you are happy with how ‘another year’ is proceeding or whether it’s time for a change. Either way, enjoy it!

This article was written by me and originally published at http://livinginmalta.com/miscellaneuos/saint-valentines-eve/

Herbs – Fennel

If you love Maltese food, you’ve surely already sampled the famous ‘patata l-forn’, that is, Maltese baked potatoes. This dish, served as an accompaniment to a number of meat recipes, such as Maltese rabbit or baked poultry, has one particular ingredient without which it wouldn’t really have that wonderful taste we all know and love. That ingredient is fennel (bużbież).

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Fennel is an indigenous herb from the carrot family, which is very common in the Maltese islands. It flowers between the months of May and October and featured so much in the lives of the Mediterranean people, that they even used it in their legends and myths. It was for example, thanks to a stalk of fennel that, according to Greek mythology, the hero Prometheus was victorious in stealing a bit of fire from Mount Olympus and the Greek gods. The ancient Romans used fennel as an eye-wash to treat visual problems, as well as a mouth wash to sweeten the breath, while Russian folk healers used fennel to treat colic.

Fennel, which is most abundant during spring and summer in Malta, sports pretty yellow flowers and is a resplendent plant which can reach up to three meters in height. Both the leaves and the seeds of the plant can be used to garnish or flavor meat, fish or cheese, however the traditional tasty touch which is given to certain particular recipes, such as Maltese roast potatoes or pork, can only be derived from the seeds.

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Fennel is even used in certain cocktails or alcoholic drinks. It is, for example, one of the main ingredients in the fermentation of the notorious 19th century green Absinthe.

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Fennel seeds can act as a laxative and so aid digestion, as well as prevent flatulence and treat constipation. This herb contains iron and histidine, an amino acid which can be helpful in the treatment of anemia. Since fennel also contains high contents of fibre, it can also be helpful in maintaining optimal levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Fennel is also rich in potassium, which is vital for a number of important body processes and functions, such as reducing blood pressure, as well as increasing electrical conduction throughout the body, leading to an increase in brain function and cognitive abilities.

Maltese Herbs: Fennel

According to a number of health and medical sources, fennel can also be used to treat hormonal related issues, such as the female menstrual cycle, which can be a sensitive and painful time. Since fennel is anti-spasmodic, it can be a remedy for uterine cramps. It can also regulate out of control menstrual cycles since it contains an essential hormonal substance called ‘emmenagogue’, which stimulates the blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus, and can therefore aid in re-starting irregular period flows.

Preparations made from fennel seeds are also known to be used in cleansing milks to treat oily skin as well as eczema. Leaves can be used fresh, or prepared in an infusion with oil or vinegar. The seeds may also be ground and drunk with boiling water, as well as chewed as a good breath freshener.

This article was written by me and published on LivingInMalta. To access the original version directly, please go here.

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