A portion of the town of Scarborough is perched upon limestone cliffs towering over the North Sea in the English county of North Yorkshire. With a population of about 50,000 souls, it is, these days, the largest holiday resort on the Yorkshire coast.
Of course, hosting holidays are nothing new to the ancient town of Scarborough.
No one is actually sure how long people have been living in the area that is now called Scarborough. Archaeologists have dug up evidence of several settlements in that neck of the woods going back to the Bronze and even the Stone Ages. We do know that English King Henry II built a stone castle there and granted town charters for Scarborough way back in 1155.
In 1253, Richard the Lionheart’s nephew, King Henry III, signed a royal charter that established a six-week trading festival at Scarborough. Running from Assumption Day on August 15 to Michaelmas Day on September 29, the Scarborough Fair attracted merchants from all over Europe for over five centuries and would be the inspiration to a folk song that remains popular to this day.
It is a curious piece of work.
“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine.”
What’s up with the second line of that little ditty? At first glance, listing four herbs right after the opening question doesn’t make a bit of sense. Cruising the Internet on this wintry day, I’ve come across a bunch of explanations and theories for that line ranging from a way to remember what herbs you need to make sausage to the recipe for a health tonic to a way to remove a curse. I’m kind of fond of the idea that the parsley is mentioned as a way to remove bitterness, the sage is mentioned for cleansing, the thyme gives courage, and the rosemary stands for evergreen love.
Then again, they could just be there as placeholders. Traditional folk songs are funny that way.
I might not be sure what “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme” are doing in the Scarborough Fair song, but I do know why I like to grow them. They add pizazz to my cooking, and they’re easy to grow.
While some people like to grow their herbs right along with their vegetables in their survival gardens , I prefer to give them a separate space. Some herbs can be a bit unruly. Sage, for instance, has a tendency to sprawl, while unsupervised mint will try to take over your entire garden. If you are strapped for space, there is no harm in growing your herbs in the same plot with your veggies—just make sure you keep an extra eye on them.
Let’s kick off our closer look at what I’ll call the Scarborough Herbs with one of the least appreciated herbs you can grow: parsley.
Parsley , which carries the scientific name Petroselinum, comes in many varieties that can be simply grouped as the curled leaved (a.k.a. crispum), fern leaved (a.k.a. filicinum), and rooted (a.k.a. Hamburg or radicosum). Americans are most familiar with the curled leaf form, which often shows up, uninvited, on their plates in certain restaurants and is later discarded as a mere garnish.
This is rather sad because parsley has a number of health benefits. Two tablespoons of parsley provide 16 percent of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin C and 12 percent of your RDA of vitamin A. In addition to these essential vitamins, parsely includes luteolin, a valuable anti-inflammatory agent which also promotes carbohydrate metabolism. If that isn’t enough, that humble sprig of parsley also comes bearing the gift of myristicin, a miraculous organic compound that not only neutralizes certain carcinogens but also inhibits tumor formation.
Since parsley seeds are pretty slow to generate, I recommend soaking the seeds overnight in warm water before planting. Sow the seeds about a foot apart in early spring and cover with about a half an inch of soil. Later, you’ll want to thin the plants to stand about six inches apart. Although the gardening books list parsley as a biennial (good for two years), I prefer to put in a new batch every year.
Sage has a long history of health benefits going back to ancient Egyptian medicine, where it was used as a fertility drug. While modern science has cast some doubt on sage’s ability to aid conception, sage is a potent source of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds . Sage also contains several substances which recent studies indicate may improve cognitive functions.
Unlike parsley, it is usually best to begin sage indoors or in a cold frame. When your sage plants are large enough to move, plant them about eighteen inches apart in a clean growing area. Although sage tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, it grows best in a rich clay loam that you have pre-treated with a naturally balanced organic fertilizer like Protogrow. As your plants begin to thrive, you’ll want to thin them out to about two and a half feet apart.
Rosemary is a hardy evergreen shrub that contains a multi-beneficial substance called rosmarinic acid. Incredible as it may seem, rosmarinic acid is an antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and an antioxidant. It is also a potential anxiolytic, which means it may help reduce anxiety. This aromatic herb is also rich in many B-complex vitamins, folates, vitamin A, vitamin C, and a variety of useful minerals.
Rosemary, like sage, is best started in a protected environment or grown from cuttings. When transferring outdoors, place your rosemary plants about a foot and a half apart in a sunny, well-drained spot. Rosemary really doesn’t require much water or fertilizer to prosper. This tough but tasty herb can even handle temperatures as low as five degrees Fahrenheit. As for our final Scarborough Herb, if you’ll forgive the pun, thyme really is on your side. Don’t believe me? Well, 100 grams of fresh thyme leaves pack 266 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, 158 percent of the RDA of vitamin A, 218 percent of the RDA of iron, and 38 percent of your dietary fiber requirement. If you needed added incentive to add more thyme to your diet, consider the fact that you’ll also be picking up 75 percent of your daily requirement of manganese and 40% of your recommended amount of magnesium and calcium, along with 27 percent of your needed vitamin B-6.
As an added bonus, thyme  also contains an essential oil called thymol which has antiseptic and anti-fungal properties and a bundle of flavonoid Phenolic antioxidants.
Thyme grows best in light, well-drained soil that receives a decent amount of sun. Although starting your plants indoors works best, thyme is pretty hardy and will also grow pretty well from seed after the last frost. One word of warning, though; thyme takes a while getting started so it is essential to maintain good weeding practices until it has established itself in your selected spot. Thyme also makes an attractive edging plant among or even over rocks. Harvest thyme when the first lilac colored blossoms open by cutting the leafy tops and flower clusters.
While growing your own vegetables is an essential step towards self-sufficiency, don’t forget to save a spot or two in your garden  for the herbs that will add an extra dose of flavor, nutrition, and pizazz to your life. I hope you’re having a great time planning this year’s garden—drop by again soon when I’ll present four more herbs you might want to consider adding to your plans. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to check my music collection for another song that mentions four herbs.
©2012 Off the Grid News