Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus)

Plectranthus amboinicus is a tender perennial herb with many common names including Cuban oregano, Spanish thyme, oregano brujo, broadleaf thyme and big thyme.
The leaves are chopped and used with stuffing, salads and meats. It can also be used as a substitute for oregano or sage. If you've picked a few leaves for use in the kitchen and didn't use them all, do not refrigerate what's left. This is a tropical herb and refrigerator temperatures quickly cause brown deteriorating spots. Excess leaves store very well in a sealed plastic baggie or container at room temperature for up to two weeks.
The leaves are large, fleshy and covered with fine hairs.
In full sun the leaves are generally 3-4 inches in diameter, but with a little shade they can easily reach 6" or more in length. Long stems tend to flop over, so keep the plant compact by frequent harvest of the growing tips for use in the kitchen.

This plant is recommended for USDA Zones 9B-11. In areas that experience frost, Cuban oregano is best grown as an annual during the warm months. In frost-free areas the plant is perennial, developing a woody stem at the base and growing about 2 feet in height.
Older plants are not as vigorous, so I like to plant fresh starts each spring that quickly become large specimens. Cuban oregano thrives in sun or part shade. There is also a variegated form that is slower-growing.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Alpinia galanga

Alpinia galanga is the spice that is most frequently used in Thai food. While it is botanically known as a ginger, and is even sometimes known as Thai ginger, for culinary purposes it is referred to as galangal. The flavor is more peppery when compared to ginger root.

The older, tan-colored rhizomes have the most intense flavor, while the new tender sections are milder. If you often flavor your cooking with ginger, this species is a good one to grow because the rhizomes may be dug at any time of the year for use in your favorite recipes. Unopened flower buds are also edible when steamed. 

The large inflorescence of greenish-white flowers is very showy for a short period of time in mid-summer. The canes are evergreen when grown in frost-free locations, and flowers will appear at the tops of the previous year's growth.

The erect canes grow 4-6 feet tall and individual leaves are 2-3 inches wide by 12-14 inches long.
Although they will grow in sun or shade, the plants perform best in moist environments. I had a clump growing for years in a part of the garden with no irrigation. It survived, but barely produced enough rhizomes to keep the clump going, much less have any for harvest. Since I moved the clump to an area that receives over-spray from the nursery irrigation I now have to harvest the rhizomes on a regular basis to keep the clump a manageable size.
Alpinia galanga is recommended for USDA Zones 8B to11.
Use it in curry pastes, stir-fries, soups and tea. Most cooks peel galangal before use. The rhizome is very dense and requires a longer cooking time than ginger, so it is usually cut in thin strips or crushed before being added to a recipe.

The rhizomes have been used in folk medicines to treat a wide range of ailments. It has strong anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.