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The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.

The Culinary HerbalThe Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs follows fast on the heels of another title from Timber Press, The Herbal Apothecary. Co-authors Susan Belsinger and Arthur O. Tucker, along with photographer Shawn Linehan, bring “more than a century of experience in gardening and cooking” to bear in Herbal. The book is, in the authors’ words, a “book for gardeners who like to cook and cooks who want to grow the best-flavored culinary herbs, as well as for the everyday herbal enthusiast.” After a few words about taste and scent, and the role they play in cooking and eating (hint: they’re essential!), Belsinger and Tucker move right into the herbs.

Herbal is organized alphabetically by common name, and each herb is presented with a full-color photograph that lays it out, cut, as if ready to be cooked with. The description includes whether or not the plant is annual or perennial, its cold tolerance, preferred light, and moisture and soil requirements. General notes about the history of the plant are included, along with a list of edible parts, comments on how the plant might be prepared in foods, and sections on cultivation, propagation, harvesting, and preserving.

The content of Herbal, in terms of plants profiled, is a bit whimsical. The authors have selected the herbs that “lend the best fragrance and flavor,” including plants from garlic (Allium sativum) to chickweed (Stellaria media) which run the gamut of the fragrance and flavor spectrum. Some photos also showcase different parts of different varieties. For example, the photo of cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) shows five stages of the plant’s life, including “seeds” (technically mericarps or half-fruits, botanically) from an “Indian type” of coriander, supplementing the vegetative photos as well as illustrating different varieties.

The plant profiles section ends with wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) and the authors next devote several pages to the topics of growing herbs, preserving herbs, and cooking with herbs. For being a relatively short and simple book (“short” for a reference book!), Herbal manages to pack a lot of information into its 328 pages. Novice gardeners would be wise to supplement the information from Herbal before taking on an herb garden of their own, but even with that caveat, The Culinary Herbal is a beautiful and appealing addition to the library of any herbal enthusiast. Appropriate for a gardener or a cook, Herbal offers a lovely blending of the senses, and a beautiful glimpse into the possibilities of herbs.

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