My culinary and medicinal herbs

Guatemalan dishes use many tasty herbs

Guatemala has a tradition for cooking with herbs, very important ingredients in many of our recipes, since pre-hispanic times. Some of our most loved dishes like “tamales” and “tamalitos” are wrapped and cooked in banana or corn leaves. This is also true for healing herbs, widely known by the first dwellers of our highlands and coasts. We use culinary and medicinal herbs since the beginning of our times.

During the Spanish rule, in mostly all homes people used to grow their own cooking and healing herbs too. From Spain came new flavors and with them, the herbs and spices that were the ingredients that shaped today’s Guatemalan cuisine when they merged with our pre-hispanic cooking traditions and techniques.

Today I read about the many possibilities of a gardening niche. As I understand a gardening niche starts with that plant or plant-related thing you can be very good at, the one you enjoy the most. I even read a couple of articles giving you tips on how to do business and earn money with your gardening niche.

Well, in my country, to grow culinary and medicinal herbs has been, in many homes, more like a tradition. Of course, this will vary from one home to another. I can only talk from my own experience.  In my family, for as long as I can remember or been told, there has been a long tradition of excellent and very skilled cooks, all of them women, that married -or not-, and taught everything they knew to the next generation.

My grandmothers (from both sides) were excellent cooks, with very different preferences (my grandparent´s from my father´s side came from Spain when they were very young, and my mother’s mother was born in Mexico). They both learned to cook Guatemalan Guatemalan dishes, their own way. And they both grew their cooking herbs. I must say that I learned to cook from my Mexican grandma. My mother never learned how to cook, she just wasn´t interested.

When my grandmother died, 18 years ago, I inherited her herb garden. There were almost 50 pots planted with the herbs she used to cook and heal for more than 50 years. Well, maybe grandma had too many herbs; it took me some time to learn how to use all of them in the kitchen or how to boil them for headaches, colic pain, or even her famous tea to fight sadness and depression.

Nowadays, you can buy almost any herb at the supermarket, some even have the organic type. When I have visited neighbor´s or friend´s houses, I don´t see herb gardens anymore. It looks like, after all this generations, things are finally starting to change.  Nevertheless, I hope that, in my case, things will not be this way, at least for the next generation. My daughter is now 17 years old and she started learning to cook when she was twelve. By the age of 15 she was perfectly able to cook Christmas dinner for the whole family, with a little help from her cousin, age 10, who also loves to cook. ¿Our Christmas favorite? Turkey stuffed with herbs and dried fruits.

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