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The Complete Book of Herbs & Spices    by Sarah Garland order for
Complete Book of Herbs & Spices
by Sarah Garland
Order:  USA  Can
Frances Lincoln, 2004 (1979)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This large softcover provides a compleat coverage of herbs and spices - 'An Illustrated Guide to Growing and Using Culinary, Aromatic, Cosmetic and Medicinal Plants'. It's full of watercolor illustrations of individual plants, and of color photographs of herbs and spices in different locations. It begins with herbal 'History and Traditions', then moves on to 'A Modern Herbal', 'The herb garden', 'Cooking with herbs and spices' (my favorite section with 60 pages of recipes), 'Household herbs and spices', 'Cosmetic herbs', and 'Herbs for health'.

We learn that the Roman Empire spread Mediterranean herbs through Europe, as did the 8th century Muslim Empire, during which the practice of herbal medicine flourished. In the 16th and 17th centuries, American plants made their way to European botanical gardens. Garland tells us that her book 'aims to increase awareness of the old empirical knowledge of herbs and to encourage an open-minded and practical approach to their enjoyment and use.' Next, 'A modern herbal' introduces (alphabetically) close to 300 herbs and spices - familiar names like garlic and rhubarb as well as those more esoteric, such as mullein. Common names, cultivation, uses, and associated myths and legends, are provided for each. We learn the history of herb and 'physic' gardens, and receive in-depth advice on designing a formal or informal herb garden, and populating it with herbs of various heights and colors. Specific tips are given for a 'water garden', a 'bee garden', hedging herbs, herbs on walls, herbs in winter, and indoor cultivation. Culinary herbs are recommended, with propagation, harvesting, drying and storing all explained.

Cooking with herbs and spices! Garland recommends buying fresh or whole where possible and replenishing regularly. She discusses spice mixtures, marinades, dressings, mayonnaises and sauces. Soups include 'Green gazpacho' and 'Watercress and orange soup'. How about 'Potato salad with horseradish and dill'? A 'Purée of Bruseels sprouts with nutmeg' catches my fancy. Recipes include a variety of herbal omelettes, herb butters and cheeses, grains and pastas, breads and puddings. How about 'Grilled cod with aniseed and yoghurt' or 'Prawn satay'? We're even told how to 'pit-roast a suckling pig'! The desserts look delicious, the candies enticing. There are jams and jellies, pickles, and drinks from 'Hop lemonade' to alcoholic 'Metheglin' and 'Wassail bowl'. Herbal household recipes include those for insecticides, washing and polishing, pot pourri and pomanders, incense and candles, dyes, cosmetics, perfumes and bath oils. Herbal skin care is discussed, with recipes for lotions as well as for herbal shampoos and hair dyes. Finally, there's a history of 'Herbs for health', with recipes for commonsense treatment of mild ailments like sore throats and indigestion.

Curious about herbs, and intrigued by their possibilities? The Complete Book of Herbs & Spices is the most comprehensive volume that I have found on the subject, with a fascinating historical perspective, pictures that will allow you to recognize specific plants, and detailed instructions and recipes for all kinds of herbal applications.

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