BOOK REVIEW:

Herbarium
A book of herbs

 

By Caz Hildebrand

I have a tendency towards the aesthetic.  I pick up things at first because they are beautiful and i keep holding on to them if they touch some place in my heart or soul. Looking at the very non-traditional cover of Herbarium, it was an easy grab from the book store shelf (do people still go in to book stores?  I do and I wonder, are they becoming terribly old-fashioned?  I still just love wandering the aisles and picking up beautiful things.)
Traditionally illustrated botanical books can be so...well...so...2 centuries ago, if you know what I mean.  I picture Darwin on his skiff in the Galapagos or the international plant hunters of yore dutifully cataloging their discoveries.  I'm of this century and what fits in MY life, and maybe in yours, are things that are useful and applicable to how life works today.
So while i did wish this book had photos to accompany the herbs so that i could more easily identify and locate the herbs that were new to me, I did find that I loved how each herb got a full page of attention. I do appreciate the artful representation of the plants. It's most definitely on purpose as a modern interpretation that merely nods to the history of herbal illustration, using geometric forms and vibrant colors.   I can see how the graphics of these illustrations easily lend themselves to really fun wallpaper and textiles.  Its overall stylish nature makes it a good gift for the artist in your life.
Besides being pretty, there is much more to this book than merely its looks. It's packed with anecdotes and tales of all the herbs you know:  rosemary, oregano, basil, spearmint, lavender  etc.  But have you ever heard of Houttuyania?  Neither had I.  Or how about Micromeria?  Sweet Cicely? Lovage?  Meadowsweet?  Orach? Ya, me neither. So it was a delight to read Herbarium and to learn why I might want to grow, cook or heal with these herbs.
This history and uses of 100 herbs is absolutely fascinating.  The Aleut people of Alaska traditionally applied the boiled roots of Angelica to speed wound healing.  Sassafrass tea aides digestion and purifies the blood.  Fat Hen (Chenopodium album--did I mention the author provides the Latin name for each herb in case common names like 'Fat Hen' make them unlocatable?) makes a good substitute for spinach in curries or is tasty when eaten with cheese, fish, anchovies, cream, eggs, onions, tomatoes and potatoes.  Or use it as in traditional Indian medicine to treat burns.  The book is absolutely packed with charming stories of magic and mythology, tips for growing, foods to pair with, ideas for well-being and all manner of thoughts for how in modern times we can reincorporate herbs into our daily lives, because there was a time once, where these gifts of the Earth were extremely important to people.
Lastly, I had NO idea that herbs had categories such as sweet, tart, minty, oniony and bitter.  After a lifetime around plants, it's a joy to keep learning.  You will enjoy this book whether you are a history buff delving into old time herb usage, a healer looking to experiment with natural remedies or one who loves to cook on the hunt for some new chef-y ideas.  Happy reading!
Siri Jostad

KEY TAKEAWAYS 

Herbarium is an artful encyclopedia of herbal mythology, folklore and uses.  If you are using the book for a reference, here is what you will learn from it:

  • Understand the differences between Herbs and Spices

  • Anecdotes and uses for 100 herbs, many of them will be new to you

  • Symptom-Herb matches

  • Symbolism for herbs

  • The best Herbs for use as/in:

    • Flowers​

    • Tisanes

    • Cocktails

    • Flavored Waters

    • Veggies

    • Meat

    • Fish

    • Salads

  • Herbal mixtures like Bouquet Garni + Herbs de Provence

  • How to store herbs

  • Whether an herb is suited for indoors, containers, shade or sun

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caz Hildebrand is a creative partner at Here Design the award-winning designer for Nigella Lawson, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Samuel and Samantha Clark of Moro amongst others, which fills in the backstory as to why she has approached this herb book with a nod to the history of herbal illustration but by adding a contemporary, Modernist style.  She is also the coauthor of The Geometry of Pasta and the author of The Grammar of Spice.

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