Growing and Using HERBS
Andi Clevely and Katherine Richmond
pub. Anness Publishing Ltd., 1999
Paperback, 256 pages, £9.99
This is a large and glossy paperback, packed with photographic illustrations. Split into four main sections the authors begin with a brief, historically-based Introduction; reminding the reader how much we take herbs for granted, whereas in times past the population had a more intimate relationship with plants. As a 'history' the information is pretty scant. [You'll get a much better insight into that aspect of herbs from the Caxton 'Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism' edited by Malcolm Stuart, and other history-specific books.]
The section on 'Growing Herbs' devotes a couple of pages to each of the fundamental reasons for raising herbs - colour, fragrance, as foliage, for their flowers, for salads and seasoning, healing and dyeing - before explaining various do's and don'ts about planning, structuring, propogating and maintaining a herb garden of your own. Included are an illustrated design for a walled herb spiral, as well as caring for potted herbs, herbs in containers and growing herbs indoors. Importantly, there are tips for the best methods for harvesting your herbs, and drying them for storage.
The 'A - Z of Herbs' section offers pretty comprehensive coverage of the herbs you'll find in Britain, although they are ordered by their Latin names rather than the commonly used ones - not particularly helpful if you don't know your Latin. The one saving grace is that each listed herb is accompanied by a photograph of a plant specimen which will help herb unsophisticates.
Each herb covered includes a reference to any 'popular' name for the plant before providing a 'description' section, and others on 'uses', 'cultivation' and 'parts used', and finally concluding each entry with a boxout on 'related species'.
'Cooking with Herbs' forms the next part of the book, and includes 80 odd recipes, nicely illustrated and with full preparation details. At first glance many of the recipes appear rather ordinary. Steak and Kidney Pie with Mustard and Bay Gravy, for one, and Smoke Salmon and Dill Pasta don't strike you as culinarily adventurous. But tucked away among the recipes are ones that may inspire you: Venison Steaks with Elderberry and Orange, Stuffed Parsley Onions, and Beef, Celeriac and Horseradish Pâté. Now that does sound interesting.
The final part of the book is devoted to 'Herbs in the Home', which provides a heap of ideas about what to do with all those herbs you've been growing and not been able to boil, bake, stew or cremate. Among the ideas are recipes for dill aftershave, parsley hair tonic, footbath and massage oil, making scented cards, and how to decorate Christmas crackers with herbs. Now you know!