Food for thought – Our Herb Bouquet

This week we’re actually looking at a whole array of ingredients – the components of our herb bouquet. Lemon thyme, rosemary, English lavender and Cape may form the bouquet which is incorporated in the delicious dish, fallow deer with caramelised Packham pear, African wild garlic, elderberries, lavender, lemon thyme and Cape may.

Botanically speaking, lemon thyme, rosemary and lavender are all members of the mint family. They are also some of the best-known herbs in the world, with histories dating back to ancient Rome and Greece. Cape may, on the other hand, is special in that it is native to South Africa, and more particularly, the Cape Floral Kingdom. This is the smallest

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of the six floral kingdoms on Earth, and is unique to the Cape, including the slopes of Table Mountain around The Roundhouse.

Rosemary, as you may know, has hardy, pine-like leaves, but dainty blue flowers. What you may not know, is that there are at least two stories as to the origin of the herb’s name. The plant’s Latin name is rosmarinus, or ‘dew of the sea’, as it was prevalent in the Mediterranean. The alternative account is mythical: according to folklore, the Virgin Mary lay her blue cloak on the plant, rendering the flowers the same colour; from there the name ‘rose of Mary’ or rosemary. The budding rosemary added to our fallow deer dish, is freshly picked daily from The Roundhouse garden. Considering our location, perhaps the former origin of the name is most apt.

Thyme also has ancient roots, albeit with more masculine connotations than rosemary. In Greece, this aromatic herb was given to soldiers as a symbol for bravery and courage. And if that didn’t work out for the unfortunate warrior, thyme was also used for embalming. In modern cuisine, various thyme cultivars are included in dishes for their different aromatic qualities, including lemon thyme, orange thyme and caraway thyme. Lemon thyme, the variety used in our dish, therefore, provides both the aromatics of thyme and the fresh, citrus notes of lemon.

Possibly better known for its cosmetic and aromatherapeutic uses, English lavender flowers and leaves are used for culinary purposes, including candied flowers, and in cakes and desserts. They are also used in a number of dishes to add a floral, slightly sweet flavour to dishes. In fact, lavender flowers are one of the herbs that make up the traditional French herb bouquet, herbes de Provence.

The final herb of our featured four, is the lesser-known Cape may. This herb, with its needle-like leaves and white, star-shaped flowers,

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also grows in The Roundhouse garden alongside the rosemary and lavender. The flower has a honey, herbal perfume, and happens to be a natural insect repellant. The plant was also used in traditional medicine by the Khoisan, the first inhabitants of the Cape.

Even though each herb has its own story, all come together to make a contribution to the flavours of the fallow deer offering in a beautiful overall balance and harmony.