Yarb Tales

August 8, 2016

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.

The pepper plant collection in the Herb of the Year™  is yielding fruit. I have been tasting them for flavor and heat. The Scoville heat scale (SHU) is a subjective way to describe the burning sensation of various chile fruit. I am interested in experiencing the potency of our peppers for myself.

‘Biquinho’ (Bird Beak), Capsicum chinense, is rated at 500-1,000 SHU. This little cousin to the habanero is just a peck on the cheek for anyone who is a real chile-head.

We are growing two jalapeño varieties; Jalapeño 'orange' lacks the heat and has an indented rather than smooth shape—the flavor has a hint of insecticide to it. Jalapeño 'La Bomba' is by far superior in flavor and heat at 2,500-5,000 SHU. The plants are exceptionally beautiful. In the words of Susan Belsinger, “You have to lift the lush, green petticoat of leaves to find the fine fruits.”

The ‘Brazilian Starfish’ Capsicum baccatum at 10,000-30,000 SHU is fruity and hot and looks like it could be from outer space.

‘Tabasco’ Capsicum frutescens is a serious 30,000-50,000 SHU. It is the chile that is used to make the famous, fermented, trademarked hot sauce. It has an oily heat that slides over the tongue, down the throat, coats the solar plexus and immediately stimulates digestion. The tobacco pepper has given me the hiccups and doubled me over more than once.

‘Bellingrath Gardens’ Capsicum annuum  is a very respectable 50,000-100,000 SHU for such a beauty. This pepper is named in honor of the famous Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile, Alabama. The foliage is purple. The peppers ripen from greenish-purple to purple-orange to red.
‘Fatalii’ Capsicum chinense is in the super hot category with 200,000-350,000 SHU. It has a thin  skin and flesh that ripens from green to yellow to red. I have only had the patience to wait for yellow streaks because this is my favorite for taste and big heat. The first flavor upon biting this pepper immediately warns you that it is going to light you up.

Finally, the ‘Carolina Reaper’ (HP22B), Capsicum chinense  is a whooping 2,000,000-2,200,000 SHU. It is currently The World’s Hottest Pepper. I have eaten sections of this chile, with food, for several sittings. It has not killed me or sent me to the hospital. I ate it because I really love the way I feel when I eat hot chiles and I wanted to be sure that it is, without a doubt, possible to eat a Carolina Reaper. So far I have not been able to eat an entire reaper during one meal.

The reason that this is important to me is because the Mountains, Music and Motorcycles event, August 18-21, 2016 features a chile eating contest. If I can eat a Carolina Reaper than surely a burly biker or a wild woman on two wheels has a chance of taking the prize!

The Herb Harvest Fall Festival, October 6, 7 and 8, 2016 will include chiles as a part of the important plant contributions of South America to the Ozarks. Registration is now open for this exciting annual herb festival. See details at www.ozarkfolkcenter.com or call 870-269-3851.

If I don't see you in the future—I'll see you in the pasture!