• Garlic

    Garlic
    When most people think of the history of garlic, they likely think of the people of medieval Romania wielding garlic against suspected vampires. However, garlic was used long before the middle ages. So long before, in fact, that the actual origins of garlic (Allium sativum) are uncertain. It has been used historically in the Middle East and much of Asia to treat bronchitis, hypertension, tuberculosis, liver ailments, dysentery, colic, intestinal worms, rheumatism, diabetes, and fevers. Garlic has been used as a medicinal plant in India since the beginning of recorded history. The herb may have originated...
  • Cumin

    Cumin
    Had Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman actually walked the streets of Morocco while filming Casablanca—rather than the streets of a Warner Brothers Studios film set in California—the air around them would have been filled with the scent of Moroccan street food, with cumin being one of the chief aromas. However, though strongly associated with Moroccan street cookery, cumin is not actually native to that country. The cumin plant, Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family, is indigenous to Egypt and the Levant, where the spice has been used since ancient times in both cookery and...
  • Nutmeg

    Nutmeg
      Nutmeg, like cinnamon, is a spice that many people associate with hot drinks and desserts. But its history isn’t so sweet. The colonial policies of Europe’s erstwhile empires were driven in part by the profits that could be derived from the spice trade—and European colonizers did not tend to treat indigenous populations well. As a result, the history of many spices is marred by war and subjugation; however, nutmeg’s history is considered to be one of the more tragic tales. Though nutmeg would become incredibly popular amongst the European nobility during the Middle Ages, the...
  • Cinnamon

    Cinnamon
    Everyone knows cinnamon. The spice is sprinkled on warm beverages, baked in pastries, and taken by the spoonful by teenagers and preteens participating in the social media-based “cinnamon challenge” (an activity that Vanillablossom wholeheartedly does NOT encourage). But what most people may not realize is that the spice sitting in their pantry is likely not “true” cinnamon. That’s right, there’s more than one type of cinnamon. Two, in fact: Ceylon and cassia. Though both Ceylon cinnamon and cassia are produced from the bark of trees belonging to the laurel family, Lauraceae, Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) is...
  • Paprika

    Paprika
    Paprika Paprika is paprika is paprika, right? Wrong! The red spice actually comes in three varieties: sweet, smoked, and hot. Sweet paprika is generally just called “paprika,” with the other two varieties being labelled accordingly.  Paprika is made by grinding the pods of Capsicum annuum peppers, which belong to the nightshade family, and are indigenous to Southern Mexico, Central America, South America and the Antilles. However, the name “paprika” is Hungarian, and stems from the Greek peperi and the Latin piper—both of which mean pepper. Why, you may be wondering, is a spice from Mexico and...
  • Black Pepper

    Black Pepper
    Black Pepper Today, “black gold” refers to crude oil. However, once upon a time, the term was used in reference to a spice that today is found in nearly every North American kitchen: black pepper. The spice was so valuable that at least one ancient Egyptian emperor was buried with it, and when the city of Rome was besieged in 410 AD, part of a ransom offered to the attackers was 3,000 lbs of pepper. Though black pepper is now grown in nearly every tropical region in the world—with Vietnam exporting approximately 35% of the world’s...
  • Thyme

    Thyme
    If you are a spice and herb aficionado, you might one day ask yourself, “Hmmm, I wonder if there’s a herb that was once prized by both Roman emperors and Victorian children?” ...Okay, so maybe no one would ever ask themselves that question. But, as it happens, the answer is “thyme.” Thyme is thought to be one of the oldest herbs known to humankind. The herb is a member of the mint family and is indigenous to the Mediterranean, thriving in Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. Like other herbs from this region—such as basil—thyme has...
  • Basil

    Basil
    Basil’s Latin name, basileus, means “king,” so it’s no wonder the fragrant green plant is known as the King of Herbs. People have used basil for a variety of purposes for 4,000–5,000 years, and over time it has been associated with death, love, religion, and virginity. Modern North Americans tend to associate basil with Italian cooking, but basil is actually native to the tropical regions of central Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. In India, a variety of the plant known as “holy basil” or “tulsi,” is sacred in Hinduism. Tulasi, or Tulsi, the wife of the...
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