Hazelwood Herb Farm is in Yellowpoint, just off Cedar Road. The farm is open Wednesday to Sunday and visitors are welcome to stroll along the paths past meticulously groomed, raised beds, to shop for plants in the seedling house, to browse through the shop for specialty vinegars, oils, mustards, jellies and soaps and to rub noses with Saffron, the yellow Lab.
Jacynthe Dugas and Richard White are the husband and wife team who created this herbal paradise 11 years ago. Their production garden contains over 450 varieties of herbs. “Actually, some of them aren’t even in the garden yet,” Jacynthe says. “We haven’t managed to find the room. I’ll keep them in the greenhouse until the spring when I hope I have another bed ready for them.”
Jacynthe and Richard grow all the culinary herbs and supply many of them to restaurants in Nanaimo. “But we also grow lots of medicinal herbs,” she adds. “And we use them to make healing creams. The most popular herbs right now are basil for cooking and echinacea for boosting the immune system.”
Richard is the chef in the family. He loved to cook even as a young man in England. Richard had a small garden when they lived in Nanaimo and he discovered the delight of cooking with fresh herbs. It dawned on them that they should make a living doing something they both enjoyed and they decided to take the plunge and create a herb farm. They put in hard work and long hours.
“But we’re successful now because we’re doing what we want to do. We’re never going to be rich but we knew that from the beginning,” Jacynthe says.
Jacynthe loves the healing herbs. “I enjoy chamomile. I’ve been experimenting with skin care creams and I’ve also been making soap with chamomile.”
Richard, on the other hand, loves basil and rosemary. “Rosemary and lamb; a marriage made in heaven,” he laughs. Richard spends many hours in his kitchen making basil paste, mustards, herb butters, oils and vinegars and running a cooking school.
“We can take 12 people at a time. We do everything from soup to salad to a main course and dessert. Basically, we’re teaching people how to cook using fresh herbs.”
Richard is eager to point out some of the more unusual and exotic herbs that he grows. “Some of these herbs are enjoying a resurgence but they have a history and they’ve had uses for hundreds and hundreds of years. This plant here, Chaste Tree, today its a popular medicinal plant but in the past, the seeds were ground up and made into a condiment and it was used in Monasteries to reduce libido. The old-fashioned name is Monk’s Pepper.”
And is it used for the same purpose today? Richard shakes his head, “I don’t have too many monks come here asking for it.”
He points to the Lady’s Mantle. “This was used in pagan rituals to keep away demons. A lot of these plants go back thousands of years. We have Rue. It was used centuries ago in Europe. At the time of the plague people would go around robbing the bodies of the dead and they put rue into a vinegar they concocted. It was called Four Thieves’ vinegar and they believed that if they splashed this vinegar all over their bodies before robbing the dead, it would give them immunity from the plague.
“Wormwood,” Richard points out, “was used in a drink called absinthe and it’s toxic in large amounts.” Farther along the plant beds there’s a plant called Joe Pye-weed, named after a native American Indian who used the plant to break the fever of people who had typhus.
And there’s Marshmallow. The roots were used to make the original marshmallow. “This huge one here, that’s about 20 feet tall, is the Black Mulberry. It grows about six feet a year,” Richard says.
Back inside the kitchen, Richard process his famous basil paste. He freezes this and has the ingredients for frozen pesto sauce to use year round: 1/4 tub of basil paste 1/4 – 1/3 cup olive oil 2 – 4 cloves garlic 1/3 – 12 cup Parmesan cheese 1/2 cup chopped parsley 2 – 4 Tbsps pine nuts (or walnuts or pecans or almonds)
Process all ingredients except nuts in a food processor or a blender. Add oil and process until smooth. Add the nuts and cheese and process a few seconds. You can thin it and stretch it out by adding oil, pasta water, chicken stock or whipping cream.
Richard says that pesto sauce is wonderful on pasta. “And it’s really nice in bread. You make a loaf of French bread, roll it out, spread it with pesto and then roll it back up. It makes a very special loaf of bread.”
Richard goes through his mental file of favorite recipes. “I really like rosemary with lamb,” he says. “But the trick is to use the herbs in the last stages of cooking. Fresh herbs don’t last very long. They have volatile oils and the heat just releases them. When people use herbs the old fashioned way and put them in at the beginning of the cooking process they find the kitchen smells wonderful – that’s because the oils have all come off – but the taste is disappointing.”
“So, take your lamb chops and broil or barbecue them until they’re about a minute away from being ready. Then put a bit of Dijon mustard on them with some freshly chopped rosemary mixed up in it and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. That’s it. Simple as that,” Richard says.
And I like to cook with our homemade jellies. A lot of people buy these jellies and take them home and have them on crackers with cream cheese. I try to encourage people to be a bit more creative. If they like pork, they can make pork chops with thyme and plum jelly:”
- 4 pork chops
- a bit of chopped garlic and minced onion
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 3 Tbsps thyme and plum jelly
- 1 Tbsp herb vinegar
- a bit of fresh thyme
- 1/2 cup whipping cream (optional)
Put a bit of oil in a skillet and let the pan get quite hot. Brown the chops on each side. Add the garlic and onion and then the wine, herb vinegar and thyme and plum jelly. Put the lid on the skillet and simmer the chops in the liquid to give it a bit of life. You can get decadent and add whipping cream and make an even nicer sauce. Richard points out that their fruit vinegars make really nice salad dressings:
- 2 Tbsps fruit vinegar
- 1 tsp of berry sugar
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup of low-fat yogurt
“Add the sugar to the vinegar and then whisk in the yogurt. That’s it. That’s the salad dressing. And I tell people to follow the directions the first time they make it. But everybody’s tastes are different and they can adjust the quantities. That’s a mid-week recipe. If you want to get really fancy for the weekend, you add some freshly grated ginger root and some zest from a lemon or a lime or an orange or just be creative.” Creativity is the key to Richard’s cooking and to his recipes. He encourages people to experiment, to play, to have fun. “I make a dessert in my cooking classes. It’s a basil watermelon sorbet. It’s wild! People just love it:”
- 1-1/4 cups sugar
- 1-1/4 cups water
- 4 cups pureed watermelon
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 egg white
- 3 Tbsps finely chopped basil
Combine sugar and water in a saucepan; stir over heat until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for five minutes; cool. Combine syrup, lemon juice and watermelon puree in a large bowl and freeze for several hours or until firm. Place the mixture into the large bowl of an electric mixer or food processor with the egg white. Beat until creamy. Stir in the basil. Return to the freezer for several hours or overnight. Richard loves cooking so much that he often finds recipe ideas popping into his head at unexpected moments. “Sometime in the last few years, some turkeys escaped from a farm around here,” he says. “So now they’re kind of wild turkeys. I was picking basil this morning in the garden and saw the turkeys. They were eating berries from a blackberry bush. And I just looked at them and started daydreaming and thinking, “Mmmmm, turkey stuffed with blackberries and basil. I wonder what that would be like?”