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Turkey Stuffing Herbs

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 23 September 2001

When I got tired of battling the groundhog family that lived under our garage, and switched from vegetable gardening to flowers, I kept my cooking herbs. Luckily, the critters don't go for either the flowers or the herbs. At this time of year, I am happy to have leaves from my own plants to make turkey dressing. The classic recipe calls for four herbs of Mediterranean origin: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

However let me confess right away that I have not succeeded in growing rosemary in Townsend. It's marginally hardy in our USDA zone 5; bringing it indoors for the winter is often recommended. When I did that, the poor thing still became sickly, and didn't make it. Then Ward and I spent a few years in Provence, where rosemary grows wild. After seeing the plant in conditions it likes, I have not had the heart to try growing it here again.

Many thymes do well for me. The one for traditional dressing is common thyme; the French variety has superior flavor but the English is hardier — important in wet winters (even with our sandy soil). Give it full sun and not much nitrogen.

Flat parsley — often called "Italian" — has much more flavor than the curly kind, which is best used only for decoration. But the seed of both is finicky; for example an old saying declares that it goes seven times to the devil and back before it germinates. About ten years ago I switched to a close relative of parsley, Japanese Mitsuba (Cryptotaenia japonica). It has a robust parsley taste — and is easy to grow. In fact, it self-sows reliably in my garden; I've never had to plant it again, after that first crop. A biennial, it will grow in part shade.

But the most successful herb for me is sage. Plain Salvia officinalis has great variation in taste; I went around from nursery to nursery, rubbing the leaves to release the aroma, to choose the one I eventually planted. It's quite hardy in my garden, even aggressive: tip-rooting its branches when they get long, sprouting new stems from the roots, even for the first time this year sowing a seedling. I have to cut it back drastically every spring to keep it from taking over. Of all my herbs, it's the most ornamental, with its big, pebbly gray-green leaves and long spikes of little blue flowers.

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark