Friday, July 13, 2012

Handbook in Herbology

The year was 1998.  We were seniors in college, and my roommate and I decided to celebrate our last semester by taking a course together in Herbology.  After three years of watching me study all manner of things green and growing, my accounting-major bunkmate was ready to try her hand at plant ID quizzes.  And as two practical, country girls, we figured we’d have a leg up on the subject material.  After all, we’d grown up running barefoot through gardens of lemon balm and basil.

Our professor had other plans.  He was 100% granola, a tie-dyed hippie, ravenous to enflame the next generation with rage against the FDA and the American pharmaceutical industry.  His lectures were an in-depth study of Chinese medicine and German pharmacopeia.  Now, we girls certainly appreciated herbal remedies.  Two dear friends - Echinacea and Goldenseal - had stimulated our immune systems through many germ-laden months on campus, but this course went beyond our expectations, and not in a good way.  It should've been titled, "Boot Camp for Activists".  The syllabus was loaded with yin and yang and governmental regulations.  Our exams covered more about the eastern concept of balancing body fluids and less about making pesto.  So much for lemon balm and basil.   

I could’ve saved us both a semester of suffering with one copy of Herb Gardening for Dummies (2nd Edition).  Of course, adults hesitate to be caught with these types of books in their possession.  Just last week, our neighbor girl took mine off the shelf, surveyed the cover and turned to me.  “Are you a dummy?” she asked.  “Yup!” I replied without hesitation.

No point in hiding it.

As far as I’m concerned, being teachable is the highest sign of intelligent life.  And this book makes learning fun.  So what if the word "Dummies" is emblazoned on the front in highlighter yellow? 

If the Dummy authors muddled through their own fair share of off-kilter courses, it certainly isn’t reflected in this manual.  Each page is filled with engaging information that’s been seasoned with enough off-the-wall enlightenment to keep you turning the pages.  Apparently ‘informative’ and ‘interesting’ don’t have to be mutually exclusive. 

I was riveted from the opening chapters on the basics.  Yes, the basics.  Surely no one can make an explanation of the latin binomial (two-name) system interesting.  They did it.  Their education on climate was captivating.  Plant anatomy?  Enthralling.  Soil preparation? Spellbinding.  Their history of the dandelion plant (p. 20) alone is enough to make the book worth a look.  

Beyond the basics, the writing team blends the history and how-to of herb gardens.  Want to create a knot garden?  They provide a sample plan and a simple guide to create the challenging knot outline.  Details on mixing vegetables with herbs caught my attention.  Did you know that basil and tomatoes are as wonderful together in the garden as they are in our dishes?  A sample garden design shows which plants to combine.  All told, there are seven plans drawn out to whet your herbal landscaping appetite.  

Two chapters cover herbal concoctions throughout the home.  In the kitchen, in the bathroom, at the table, in the shower, no place is left unexplored.  There are recipes to make your food taste tastier, your hair shine brighter, your lips more kissable, your clothes smell better, and your guests feel more welcome.

In the chapter on medicinal uses, the subject matter was far less intimidating than our pony-tailed professor’s presentations.  With the same sparkling intellect that hypnotized me in the early chapters, the authors covered a score of herbal remedies, including those for bad breath, migraines, insomnia, and motion sickness. 

The last section of the book is an encyclopedia of over 65 herbs.  Each herb is covered thoroughly, including how to identify, grow and use it.  No humdrum horticulture here: there’s plenty of historical and scientific seasoning to fascinate old and new gardeners alike.   The line drawings are wonderful, but I confess, I am a visual girl and nothing grips me like a full-color photo.  Expanding the very limited photo section would be a great addition for the 3rd edition, if ever one is published. 

1 comment:

Casa Mariposa said...

This sounds like a great book. :o) I'm a science teacher with an Astronomy for Dummies book. I couldn't teach astronomy without it!

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