Sweet Basil

A leafy herb from the mint family with a licorice-clove flavor. Basil is usually green, though there are purple varieties, such as Opal Basil. Lemon basil, anise basil, clove basil and cinnamon basil all have flavors similar to their names. Basil is a key ingredient in Mediterranean cooking. It is a highly fragrant plant whose leaves are used as a seasoning herb for many different types of foods and it has become one of the most recognizable herbs ever since pesto, the mixture of basil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, has become popular. Basil has round leaves that are oftentimes pointed. They are green in color, although some varieties feature hints of red or purple. Basil looks a little like peppermint, which is not surprising since they belong to the same plant family. There are more than 60 varieties of basil, all of which differ somewhat in appearance and taste. While the taste of sweet basil is bright and pungent, other varieties also offer unique tastes: lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil all have flavors that subtly reflect their name. The scientific name for basil is Ocimum basilicum. The name "basil" is derived from the old Greek word basilikohn, which means "royal," reflecting that ancient culture's attitudes towards an herb that they held to be very noble and sacred. The tradition of reverence of basil has continued in other cultures. In India, basil was cherished as an icon of hospitality, while in Italy, it was a symbol of love.

Thai Basil

Thai basil is a perennial herb, that grows as a small, multi-branched shrub, reaching up to a foot in height. It has narrow, arrow-shaped leaves that are about half the size of common sweet basil leaves. Thai basil has purple-tinged stems, which offer a nice contrast to the bright green leaves. The leaves are aromatic and have a strong, spicy flavor with hints of licorice. Some varieties have larger leaves, and some have a purple hue. When the plant matures, spikes of lavender and deep purple flowers grow at the tops of the burgundy stems. The flowers share the same intense spice and hint of licorice flavor. Thai basil is a cultivated Asian variety of sweet basil known for its spicier flavor and its ability to withstand high cooking temperatures. Botanically, Thai basil is classified as Ocimum basilicum var. tenuiflorum though it is sometimes known under the botanical name Ocimum thyrsiflorum. In Thailand, Thai basil is known as bai horapha. It is sometimes confused with holy basil, which has slightly fuzzy leaves with more of a clove flavor. Thai basil has notably high levels of vitamins K and A, as well as significant amounts of vitamin C, beta-carotene, magnesium, calcium, iron, and potassium. Basil is known for its beneficial essential oil, which contains eugenol – a natural compound that has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Dark Opal Basil

Opal basil leaves are egg-shaped with sparsely toothed edges and a variable purple to burgundy color. The color of the basil intensifies with maturity, although variegated green leaves are considered normal in Opal basil. This hybrid basil variety has a slightly stronger anise flavor than the common green sweet basil, with mild ginger undertones and a potent aroma. Opal basil is considered savory when compared to the standard sweet basil and is used for it flavor and color alike. Opal basil, botanically known as Ocimum basilicum purpurascens, has two varieties that have been chosen as All-America Selections winners in 1962 and 1987. Opal basil's deep purple color can be used as a food grade dye for both edible and non-edible products. Opal basil has a compound of vitamins and minerals that make it a powerhouse of anti-inflammatory properties. Unique to the Opal basil variety is the addition of anthocyanins, which are currently being extensively research and discovered to be of particular value to human health. Opal basil leaves make aromatic infused vinegars and oils. The dark color leaches into the infusing vinegar, leaving it a beautiful shade of burgundy. Make a purple pesto or use the leaves as a garnish for desserts, salads, pizza and pastas. Opal basil can replace green varieties in caprese salads and most other recipes calling for standard sweet basil. This purple basil can be used fresh or dry; it can also be frozen for future use. Opal basil can lend flavor and color to many culinary pairings, including Thai, Vietnamese, and Italian.

Mint

Mints are aromatic, almost exclusively perennial, rarely annual, herbs. They have wide-spreading underground rhizomes and erect, branched stems. The mint leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, from simple oblong to lanceolate, often downy, and with a serrated margin. Leaf colors range from dark green and gray-green to purple, blue, and sometimes pale yellow. The mint leaf, fresh or dried, is the culinary source of mint. Fresh mint is usually preferred over dried mint when storage of the mint is not a problem. The leaves have a pleasant warm, fresh, aromatic, sweet flavor with a cool aftertaste. Mint leaves are used in teas, beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, and ice creams. Due to their speedy growth, one plant of each desired mint, along with a little care, will provide more than enough mint for home use. The most common and popular mints for cultivation are peppermint (Mentha × piperita), spearmint (Mentha spicata), and (more recently) apple mint. Mint has one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any food. Learning how to use fresh herbs and spices such as mint to add flavor when cooking can also help to cut down on sodium intake. Mint, also known as mentha, is actually a genus or group of around 15-20 plant species, including peppermint and spearmint. Mint oil is often used in toothpaste, gum, candy and beauty products while the leaves are used either fresh or dried for teas and food.

Green Oak Leaf Lettuce

The shape of this looseleaf lettuce's leaves are similar to that of the oak tree, thus, its name. From a distance, one could mistake it for red leaf and green leaf lettuce, but a closer look will reveal differences in shape and texture: Oakleafs are a little shorter and more squat, and the tops of their leaves have a softer texture than their red leaf and green leaf counterparts. This delicate, tender lettuce acts a great bed for food and won't compete with other flavors. Oak Leaf lettuce is good source of vitamin A, vitamin C and folate. Green Oak Leaf lettuce is an attractive staple green to have on rotation in the crisper. Structurally, it prefers the companionship of other lettuces and greens for their textural and flavor contrasts. This includes Red Butter, Romaine, Radicchio, Arugula and Frisee. The combined greens serve as an edible vessel to ingredients of varied flavors from rich to bright, earthy, savory and sweet. The more important ingredient combinations are those that happen to be selected for the salad. When choosing salad ingredients, choose ingredients that naturally compliment one another. Pair bright fruits with those ingredients rich in fat, such as avocado and citrus or berries and bacon. Another good rule of thumb is earthy and savory are a perfect marriage, ex. wild mushrooms and shallots or root vegetables with herbs and garlic. The final element is composing a salad based on the season and regionally availability. Oak Leaf lettuces were first cultivated in France from what was originally considered a weed found growing wild.

Red Russian Kale

Red Russian kale grows in a large loose rosette shape that ranges from .3-.5 meters tall. This variety is easily recognized by its richly colored burgundy stems and purple tinted leaves. They are flat and toothed like an oak leaf with an overall dark green color and deep red veins. Red Russian kale offers a mild nutty flavor that is slightly sweet and earthy with a hearty texture. When choosing Red Russian kale look for fresh, bright, firm leaves. Red Russian kale is available year-round with peak season during fall, winter and early spring. Red Russian kale or Ragged Jack kale is a subspecies of Brassica oleracea, a cousin to other decorative cabbages and kales. It is a cool weather vegetable that produces more vibrantly colored leaves as the temperature drops. Red Russian kale is an heirloom variety that is grown as a biennial in most climates. Until the end of the Middle Ages, kale was one of the most common green vegetables in all of Europe. It has since become a commonly grown crop world-wide, valued for its rich nutrient supply. An excellent source of vitamin C, Red Russian kale provides iron, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, potassium, protein, carbohydrates and dietary fiber. One half cup of chopped boiled kale contains about 18 calories. No amount of cooking will soften the stems so it is best to use only the leaves. This meaty green compliments rich complex flavors such as grilled pork, pancetta, sausage, garlic, chiles, onions, thyme and caraway. Sautee or braise the mature leaves, or use the new sprouts raw in salads.

Kale

Kale can provide you with some special cholesterol-lowering benefits if you will cook it by steaming. The fiber-related components in kale do a better job of binding together with bile acids in your digestive tract when they've been steamed. When this binding process takes place, it's easier for bile acids to be excreted, and the result is a lowering of your cholesterol levels. Raw kale still has cholesterol-lowering ability—just not as much. Kale's risk-lowering benefits for cancer have recently been extended to at least five different types of cancer. These types include cancer of the bladder, breast, colon, ovary, and prostate. Isothiocyanates (ITCs) made from glucosinolates in kale play a primary role in achieving these risk-lowering benefits. Kale is now recognized as providing comprehensive support for the body's detoxification system. New research has shown that the ITCs made from kale's glucosinolates can help regulate detox at a genetic level. Researchers can now identify over 45 different flavonoids in kale. With kaempferol and quercetin heading the list, kale's flavonoids combine both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits in way that gives kale a leading dietary role with respect to avoidance of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.