I discovered a herb that was new to me the other day: English Mace. Having brought my trophy home I looked it up and it turns out to be a variety of Yarrow (Achillea Ageratum Decolorans). Achillea are grown both for their decorative flowers and aromatic leaves in the border and for their medicinal uses. The Achillea family was named after the ancient Greek hero Achilles as legend has it that his soldiers used Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) to treat their wounds – hence some of its common names such as Allheal, Bloodwort, Soldiers Woundwort.
Traditionally Yarrow has been valued for centuries for its ability to heal wounds made by iron. The French know it as ‘herbe aux charpentiers’ – the carpenter’s herb – for its use in stemming bleeding from injuries caused by tools.
Yarrows were once used to flavour ales and as an ingredient of 'sweete washing water' but English Mace is one of the few Yarrows that is known for its culinary use. The sharply toothed leaves are supposed to have a mild but distinctive Nutmeg or Mace scent. (I wonder if it takes its name from the spice Mace or whether it comes from the old English weapon?).
The best time to harvest the leaves is in the Spring - only the sweet, young, tender shoots are suitable for use in the kitchen as later, the taste is bitter and resinous. As the leaves have a mildly astringent taste they are great for sauces made with cream as their flavour cuts the richness of the fat. English Mace is apparently a good combination with asparagus – for example using it in Asparagus Quiche, or in Cream of Asparagus soup.
The leaves can be used fresh or cooked and add piquancy to chicken, pork, fish, cheese, pasta and rice dishes. They can be used in stuffings, salads (especially potato salads), soups and stews. Dried leaves are used as a tea.
I intend to try my English Mace out with Jekka McVicar's recipe from The Complete Herb Book:
Chicken with English Mace
4 chicken breasts
2 tbsp yoghurt
2 tbsp dijon mustard
6 tbsp chopped English Mace leaves
juice of 1 lemon
Mix yoghurt and mustard and coat chicken. Season. Place on foil with mace leaves. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Wrap foil into parcel. Cook for 30 minutes at 190C/375F
Bordeaux White – Chateau Mayne Pargade 2010 (80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc) from Soulignac in the Haut Benauge. This is very aromatic with notes of sweet summer hay, fragrant broom blossom and beeswax. With good crisp acidity, great structure and balance with flavours of pear, quince and lime, Mayne Pargade will pair really well with this dish.