June 17, 1997


Visit Longboat Key Club near Sarasota, Fla., which maintains one of the best herb gardens in Florida


Trans World Travel Writers

or thousands of years, herbs have added flavor to our foods and health to our bodies. Many of the types of herbs grown in gardens today were planted by the ancient peoples of China, Egypt and India. The Chinese and Greeks cataloged herbs for their effects on the body, describing their preparation in detail. The distinctive flavor of present day Mediterranean cuisine was derived from the basic herbs of Roman times.

My guide to the adventurous world of herbs was Billy Daniel, herbs grounds keeper, and Rick Sordahl, executive sous chef, at Longboat Key Club near Sarasota, Fla.


According to Sordahl, herbs are important to the preparation of superior cuisine. To achieve this, The Longboat Key Club maintains one of the best herb gardens in the state of Florida. These gardens are under the care of Daniel.

As we walked along the path between the many culinary herbs, Daniel told me to brush my hand lightly over the tops of the herb plants. The oils from the herbs were pleasantly pungent on the palm of my hand. We tested the aroma of many herbs this way. Billy said fragrance is often the easiest way to identify an herb.

Sordahl and Daniel explained that every kitchen can benefit from a few cloves of garlic, a bunch of parsley, and herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary. We all can cook with herbs to the degree that we desire. What's more, we can grow them in the smallest garden.

Home-grown herbs

Recently, there has been a great surge of interest in home-grown herbs. These assist us in providing nutrition and alternative medicines for our families.

With garden tools in hand, Daniel began to show me how to plant an herb garden. He explained that he maintains more than 40 varieties of herbs in the garden at Longboat Key Club. Daniel related that herbs require good drainage. Herbs are sun lovers and appreciate wind protection. He surrounds the plant with landscape timbers, old bricks (leeched out), or limestone.

The soil should be 14 to 18 inches deep. His soil mixture is comprised of 75 percent peat and 25 percent sand, adding perlite, bonemeal, blood meal and lime. Coffee grounds are beneficial to the soil because they hold moisture; the acid will not affect the herb seeds or plants. Plant about 2 to 3 inches apart with seeds about 1/4 inch deep unless otherwise specified on the seed package. Caring for herbs involves regular watering but allowing for some drying between applications. Liquid fertilizer can be useful, if directions are followed.

When your herb garden reaches maturity, cut leaves from the tops as your first priority.

For freshness, cut only the herbs that you will need for that day. Within two to three days, the leaves begin to lose flavor.

The French named the seven best herbs as follows: Sweet basil, chervil, sweet marjoram, thyme, rosemary, tarragon and English mint.

Basil, oregano and garlic-chive are the best herbs for pasta. Sweet marjoram tastes somewhat like thyme and is used for soup, stews and meat, especially in Italian, Spanish and Mexican dishes. Sage is used for seasoning meat and dressing. Tarragon leaves are very aromatic and have an agreeable taste that is similar to anise. Dill has a good flavor for soups, sausage, sauces, salmon and in the preparation of pickles.

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For information on cooking with herbs, write to Rick Sordahl at Resort at Longboat Key, P.O. Box 15000, Longboat Key, Fla. 34228, call 1-813-383-8821 or fax 1-813-383-0359.

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