Everything about herbs

2007-10-31 00:00

FOR anyone who has entertained the notion of starting an organic herb garden but has never got around to it, this book is for you - one that leaves very little room for excuses.

Part recipe book, part gardening handbook, Jekka's Complete Herb Book, a revised and expanded edition of Jekka McVicar's bestselling book, takes a largely practical approach to its subject, setting out information about growing and using over 150 herbs. But there are also tidbits about the historical origins of herbs, which give the book extra depth and interest.

The end result is a beautifully-presented manual which will be at home on a coffee table in the lounge or on a recipe shelf in the kitchen.

The book is divided into two main sections, the first being the encylopaedic A to Z of herbs which lists different varieties of the herb and provides tips on cultivation and uses, including medicinal and culinary. Where relevant, there is also a warning about overuse or inappropriate use of certain herbs.

Recipes for dishes as Vegetable and Lemon Grass Soup and Hazelnut and Mushroom Roast, as well as more unusual confectionery, such as Sweet Marigold Buns, are presented in a coloured panel.

In the second section, there's information about propagation, planning a garden, growing herbs in containers, harvesting, dealing with pests and disease, instructions on extracting natural dyes and methods for making herb oils, vinegars and preserves. I was excited to see McVicar's 10 garden designs, which cater for all needs and aesthetics.

Among the herbs featured, there are several I'd never heard of, which is partly the point. Garden writer Penelope Hobhouse writes in her introduction that McVicar “encourages us to know and grow a great number of herbs which are unfamiliar to many of us, and to experiment with them.”

Despite being based in the United Kingdom, McVicar has included a range of herbs from other countries which have become popular, such as Echinacea from North America, which is shown to raise the body's resistance to infections.

She also features the South African Wild Rosemary or Eriocephalus africanus and the African Bulbine, both known for their healing properties.

Reservation

If I have one reservation about the book, it's the fact that my edition, published by Vancouver-based publishers Raincoat Books and distributed by Wild Dog Press, is geared towards a North American climate, which means the variations in the “cold hardiness” of each herb, measured in terms of the United States Department of Agriculture hardiness zones (with Zone One being the coldest and Zone 11 being the warmest) have less specific application in a South African garden.

But these zones can apparently be roughly translated to a different climate. See www.backyardgardener.com/zone/index.html for more information.

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