The Myrtle, the Nepita, the Arba barona: what to know about these herbs of the Corsican maquis?

The Corsican aromatic herbs are known to bring an originality worthy of the Corsican cuisine, when they are used for the preparation of meals. Several aromatic herbs are frequently used in Corsican cuisine, but we will mainly deal here with Myrtle, Nepita and Corsican thyme still known as Arba barona. You will discover in this guide their original use, their culinary interest and some of their uses in cooking.

Myrtle: what is this plant?

Still called in Greek Myrtus communis, the Myrtle is a shrub of Mediterranean origin belonging to the myrtaceae family like the eucalyptus. It is particularly considered as a plant with many therapeutic virtues. Let's discover this mysterious plant.

The use of the Myrtle at the origin

According to history, in the first century AD. Dioscorides and Pliny, who were both scholars, had discovered some medicinal assets in the Myrtle. For Dioscorides, the fruits of the shrub, whether ripe or not, are effective in stopping bleeding in case of serious injury. He also maintained that the myrtle leaf once crushed could relieve a person suffering from ulcer when ingested orally. In the 15th century AD, medical botanists like Mathiole, used Myrtle as a stomach tonic.

 The botanist was also surprised by its formidable efficiency against certain diseases resulting from bad food such as dysentery and enteritis. In the 19th century, this plant was used to treat diarrhea and leucorrhea. Moreover, in Greco-Roman mythology, Myrtle was used for the worship of certain gods. It is the case for example of Demeter which was regarded as the goddess of the agriculture.

The current use of Myrtle

Today, with the industrial revolution supported by technological advances, Myrtle can now be transformed into several products for different uses. Indeed, this plant is used in the manufacture of cosmetic and food products. Thus we have for example ointments which were conceived on base of extracts of oil of Myrtle. For the making of some perfumes, the aromas coming from the Myrtle leaf are also used to produce good scents.

On the food level, the Myrtle leaf is used in the manufacture of pate and beer. In medicine, health specialists have recognized its importance in the treatment of certain respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and colds. It contributes to the good digestion by reducing the risks of burns gastritis. The Green Myrtle of Corsica also reinforces the sleep thanks to its natural effects produced on the organization. Its essential oil also relieves the cold. One can thus say that thanks to the scientific research, other virtues of this plant were brought to light what makes it possible to use it in an optimal way, whatever the field.

The interest of having Myrtle in your cupboard to cook

Since a kitchen cupboard is full of spices that contribute to the preparation of various dishes, you can benefit from having Myrtle leaf in your home. It can indeed be used as an aroma to give your dishes beautiful scents. Therefore, classifying this leaf among the spices in the kitchen cupboard is essential. Just like the can of tomatoes and the can of chilli, the purpose of the dried Myrtle leaf is to delight the taste buds.

To test also new recipes, its presence in your kitchen will probably make you a great service. Let's add that in case of health problems, having Myrtle near you will allow you to prepare a green tea infusion to relieve you. By having this plant in your home, you will no longer need to run to the gardener's before getting something to make your daily preparations delicious.

The difference between the Myrtle of Corsica and the Myrtle of Provence

If we must speak about a difference between the Myrte of Corsica and that of Provence, we could say that it is at the level of the area where the plant grows. As its name indicates, the Myrtle of Corsica is cultivated and gathered in Corsica whereas that of Provence is cultivated and gathered in one of the regions of Corsica like the province of Sardinia. It is there that is all the difference if not the common Myrtle or myrtle of Corsica presents the same characteristics as that of Provence.

 It is a shrub with a height of about 1 to 3 meters and with small oval or round leaves with dark green colors. Depending on the variety, the leaves are tightened on the stem. Thus the Myrtle grows as well on the island of Corsica as in its provinces. Sardinia being the northern region of Corsica, the Myrtle has then the same origin. One notes however some differences on the level of the variety growing in Corsica or in Provence. However whatever its origin, the Myrtle is easily recognizable thanks to its berries and its fruits which compose it.

The use of Myrtle in cooking

The Myrtle is much more used in the traditional French cuisine because of the good scent of its leaves. Its fruits can also be used as kitchen ingredients. The oil infused from the leaves can be used to prepare salad dressing, tea, fish, cakes and pastries. Its aroma can be used as a spice in the preparation of sauces, or for seasoning poultry or game meat. Myrtle berries are also used for cooking because of the special aroma they give off. The fruits of the shrub can also be used for the preparation of liqueurs such as beer or wine.

However, it is most often recommended to dry the freshly picked leaves in the sun for more flavor. This process will allow during the preparation of the meal to draw from the plant all its nutritional values. Possessing very high nutritional properties, the use of this plant in the kitchen participates in the maintenance of good health on a daily basis. It is simply an essential ingredient to create or revisit certain recipes.

Nepita: what do you know about this plant?

The Nepita or Calament Nepita, pronounced Nebida is an aromatic plant of the Corsican maquis. It has a minty and peppery smell close to oregano and mint. Its aroma is fresh and slightly spicy. The Corsicans hang this plant in open bouquets or dry it in pots. It is used with grilled meats (but also fish, like red mullet) and vegetables (tomatoes, zucchini, etc.). This plant is similar to mint, although its leaves are darker in color and less ordered. In Corsica, it is also known as marjoram. Freshly picked or dried in the sun, it is very appreciated in Corsican cooking.

The uses of Nepita

Nepita is an herb with many virtues and benefits. It has a strong smell, close to mint and oregano, with a touch of camphor. It is in particular for this reason that it is regarded as the most aromatic grass of the Corsican scrubland. In the past, this herb was mainly used with grilled meats and vegetables and was used in the preparation of many local specialties. Thus, Nepita is traditionally used to make pies, herbal stews and herbal teas, or to replace mint.

Today, this plant that grew in simple gardens is used in cooking as a spice or spice blend, especially in Mediterranean cuisine. It is therefore a perfect complement for the preparation of pizzas and many other Italian specialties. Its delicate aroma also enhances vinaigrettes, fish sauces, soups and marinades. In Corsica, it is also used to make aniseed aperitifs.

Besides its aromatic profile, this herb is full of medicinal properties. It is known for its soothing, relaxing and warming properties. It is therefore ideal to fight against anxiety, tension, insomnia, mental and nervous excitement, stress and migraines. It can also intervene in the treatment of sleep disorders, in particular in association with valerian infusions.

Nepita is also known for its effective antiseptic properties. In case of colds, bronchitis and other winter illnesses, you will just have to drink an infusion of these leaves to relieve them. Nepita is also very good for digestion. Indeed, it stimulates the appetite and regulates certain digestive disorders. It also has an antispasmodic effect.

Finally, Nepita is a great source of antioxidants. It is beneficial for general health. It is also a good source of vitamins K and E, iron, manganese and calcium. As such, it is the perfect ally to fight against flatulence and bloating, colic, respiratory problems, motion sickness, menstrual cramps, herpes and toothache. Let us add that the simple fact of chewing the leaves of the plant calms the pain.

Why have Nepita in your cupboard for cooking?

Nepita is a wild cousin of marjoram and one of the basic medicinal herbs of Corsican cuisine. Digestive and tonic in spirit, it is widely used, dried and used in cooking or infusion. Nepita has long been an integral part of many Mediterranean cuisines. It is used in cooking to flavor dishes, especially vegetables and omelets. Be aware, however, that it has a strong taste. Therefore, it should be used in small doses to prevent it from dominating the rest of the food.

In Provence and Italy, it is used with other herbs in tomato-based dishes and sauces, as well as in meat and fish stews. Infuse it in white wine vinegar, alone or with other herbs. You will have something to flavour your green salads and coleslaw.

 

Difference of land between Corsica and Provence

The Nepita is a variety which is found not only in Corsica, but also in Provence. However, the Nepita varieties cultivated in these different lands each have their own particularities.

  • La Nepita Corsica

The Calament Nepita has this taste and this smell which characterizes it only when it is cultivated on the Corsican ground. It is not magic, but chemistry, and what it receives from the ground allows him to amplify its taste and its smell.

This plant grows in the central mountains of all Corsica and it has several names. One calls it Idyllic Nepeta, Corsican Marjoram, Nepeta agreste or still nepeta of Corsica.

Let us recall that the endemic flora of Corsica is estimated at 280 species or subspecies, of which 140 species are found only in Corsica. However, this figure could change as botanists strive to discover new species.

  • La Nepita Provence

The Nepita cultivated in Provence is, sometimes annual, sometimes perennial, from 20 to 40 cm high. The plant is often confused with oregano and gives off a strong smell when crushed. The leaves and flowering tops are used to flavor infusions and fresh or dry dishes. Marjoram is a good antiseptic for general use, both internally and externally. It is also a very good antispasmodic.

Use of Nepita in the kitchen

Nepita has a flavor quite similar to thyme, being more delicate and slightly more bitter than oregano. It can be used almost anywhere. Like most herbs, it does not tolerate long cooking times, so it should be added at the end of cooking. Nepita is widely used in all sauce dishes (tomato sauce, fish sauce, etc.), marinades, soups, stews and other casseroles. It goes well with vegetables, especially eggplant and baby carrots. As far as meat is concerned, there is no doubt that it can be used on lamb, veal and pork, as it will work wonders.

Use of Nepita in the recipe for Grilled Swordfish

Grilled Swordfish is one of the recipes that goes perfectly with Nepita. To help you discover the flavors of the Nepita, we present here a recipe for Grilled Swordfish for 4 people.

To prepare this culinary marvel, you will need the following ingredients

  • 4 locally caught swordfish steaks (Corse Marée),
  • 60 ml of old fashioned mustard sauce,
  • 14g of Nepita,
  • 2 cloves of garlic,
  • 4 g of salt,
  • 2 g of pepper.

To prepare, use a rectangular dish to mix all the ingredients for the marinade (mustard, oil, chopped Nepita, chopped garlic, salt and pepper). Add the swordfish steaks, coat well with the marinade and cover with cling film. Grill the swordfish steaks on a grill, barbecue or non-stick pan for 3 minutes on each side. Serve the grilled swordfish steaks with extra virgin oil (20 mL) and salad.

The Arba barona or the Corsican thyme: how is this plant?

The Arba barona is a low aromatic plant, not exceeding 15 cm in height. It has rhizomes with nodes and clusters of flowers starting from the same point of the stem and reaching the same height, with short and erect stems. From July to August, its fragrant green leaves have a purple sheen in the sun and are covered with small white or pink flowers in clusters. After flowering, the fruit is formed by four small achenes. The arba barona or Thymari grows mainly in mountainous areas.

Its original use and its current use 

Arba barona is a herb from the Corsican scrubland that has been used for a long time. Since its origin until now, it continues to be used and its usefulness is no longer to be demonstrated.

  • Its original use

The Greeks used thyme for various purposes. The plant was mainly used to perfume dishes, but it was also used for showering. It was burned in front of the altars of the gods, to stimulate their courage.

Arba barona was also used by the Romans who had spread its trade and consumption over a vast territory. They used it mainly to purify their houses, to enhance the taste of liquors and cheeses, etc.

Thyme was still used in the Middle Ages, especially during the crusades. It is reputed to chase away depression and bad dreams and to promote sleep when placed under the pillow. The thyme that accompanies the dead should facilitate their passage into another life. Scarves embroidered with thyme were offered to those who participated in the crusades to give them courage. Moreover, witches used it to make love potions, combining it with marjoram, myrtle and verbena. The French revolutionaries associated Thyme with the 28th prairie festival in the Republican calendar.

  • Its current use

To this day, thyme retains its usefulness and ancient uses. In addition to the uses mentioned above, it can also be used as a ground cover and is particularly suitable for rock gardens. In addition, it has a strong and very fragrant flavor of cumin. It is also used for its antiseptic properties and its many other virtues. 

Why have it in your cupboard for cooking?

According to its name, it is the great lord of aromatic herbs. Thyme is an integral part of culinary bouquets and can withstand long cooking sessions. It can be used in cooking as a substitute for ordinary thyme, but it does not necessarily go well with all foods. It flavors many dishes of our traditional cuisine: game, lamb, boiled carrots, stews, tripe and offal, pâtés and roasted meats. Its name Herba-barona, the Baron's herb, comes from the fact that it is mainly used to flavour meat, especially baronial beef. 

This aromatic plant can also be consumed in the form of herbal tea.

Cumin thyme contains the same thymol as common thyme, which has antiseptic properties. It is used to treat flu symptoms and coughs. It is good for digestion.

Difference of land between Corsica and Provence

The Arbra barona can come from the Provence land, but also from the Corsica land. However, there are slight differences between the thymes coming from these different lands.

  • Thyme of Provence 

The seeds of the cultivated thyme of Provence come from the endemic species Thymus vulgaris, of the variety Carvalia. The herbs and thymes of Provence are organic or come from sustainable agriculture. Their essential oil content is such that it is not necessary to treat them. Nearly 100 tons of thyme are produced, of which 65% are over-selected. It will be sold individually or mixed with other authentic Provencal herbs, wholesale or retail, to professionals and the public. The thyme of Provence (common thyme with grey leaves), is recommended only in the Mediterranean area, because it is very sensitive to moisture and cold.

  • Thyme of Corsica 

Corsican thyme needs well-drained soil, even sandy soil, and sun exposure. It is a creeper that grows to 4-8 cm tall and covers several square meters, making it an ideal plant for low maintenance corners or rock gardens. It is as dense as thyme, but occupies the ground less well, as it suffers from competition from grasses. It is very popular with bees and protects all wildlife. Corsican thyme has narrower leaves than common thyme and tolerates humidity and cold better in winter. It is cultivated for 2 to 12 years, depending on the climate and soil. This fragrant plant does not need to be pruned. It is preferable to plant it between September and May, outside the periods of frost. Corsican thyme is a very dense thyme (1 to 2 cm thick). It does not support weediness and generally grows in dry rocky areas and in limestone.

The culinary uses of the Thyme of Corsica

The leaves of the Arba barona have a garrigue aroma and are very popular in cooking. They can be used alone or with bay leaves, parsley and rosemary to give a stronger flavor to simmered dishes, sauces, marinades and court wines. They are also used in infusions and are known to relieve digestive problems. They are part of the famous bouquet: thyme, bay leaf and parsley, which is found in pot-au-feu, daube. They are also combined with nutmeg, rosemary and sage. Dried thyme is added at the beginning of cooking. In addition, these aromatic herbs can be used with grilled meats. They are often used to flavor tomato and mushroom sauces. They can be found on pizzas. Some vinegars or oils are also flavored with thyme.

Ideal for roasting meat, you can also put the thyme directly into the fire and let the embers release the aroma. After extracting the juice from the thyme herb with a rolling pin, it is used to flavor lemonade and ice cream.

The recipe for veal with thyme aroma

Arba barona is used to cook several recipes. Among these, the roasted veal with thyme aroma is a perfect recipe. Thyme is used to enhance the taste of the veal and to perfume it with its salivating smell. For this recipe, you will need

  • the meat of the veal,
  • the Arba barona,
  • olive oil,
  • vinegar,
  • salt and
  • pepper.

For the proportions, you will have to take into account the number of people. To begin the preparation, remove the veal from the refrigerator 1 hour before marinating. In a low dish, drizzle the veal with olive oil. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the meat. Moisten the salt with the vinegar until it becomes translucent. Add the Arba barona (thyme) and pepper. Wait 10 minutes.

Heat the pan over high heat and score the meat on all sides to a caramel color with brown streaks. Place meat in a heatproof dish and bake at 160°C, turning every 3 minutes for 12 minutes. Remove the meat from the oven and place it on a rack for at least 1 hour. When ready to eat, return the meat to the oven at 200°C (th.7) for 2 minutes, turning twice. Cut into slices and serve. 

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