Their Cultivation, Harvesting, Curing and Uses
M. G. KAINS
Associate Editor American Agriculturist
Ah, Zephyrus! art here, and Flora too! Ye tender bibbers of the rain and dew, Young playmates of the rose and daffodil, Be careful, ere ye enter in, to fill Your baskets high With fennel green, and balm, and golden pines, Savory, latter-mint, and columbines, Cool parsley, basil sweet, and sunny thyme; Yea, every flower and leaf of every clime, All gather'd in the dewy morn: hie Away! fly, fly!
NEW YORK ORANGE JUDD COMPANY
LONDON KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH, TRUeBNER & CO., Limited 1912
Copyright, 1912 ORANGE JUDD COMPANY All Rights Reserved
ENTERED AT STATIONERS' HALL, LONDON, ENGLAND
Printed in U. S. A.
* * * * *
A small boy who wanted to make a good impression once took his little sweetheart to an ice cream parlor. After he had vainly searched the list of edibles for something within his means, he whispered to the waiter, "Say, Mister, what you got that looks tony an' tastes nice for nineteen cents?"
This is precisely the predicament in which many thousand people are today. Like the boy, they have skinny purses, voracious appetites and mighty yearnings to make the best possible impression within their means. Perhaps having been "invited out," they learn by actual demonstration that the herbs are culinary magicians which convert cheap cuts and "scraps" into toothsome dainties. They are thus aroused to the fact that by using herbs they can afford to play host and hostess to a larger number of hungry and envious friends than ever before.
Maybe it is mainly due to these yearnings and to the memories of mother's and grandmother's famous dishes that so many inquiries concerning the propagation, cultivation, curing and uses of culinary herbs are asked of authorities on gardening and cookery; and maybe it is because no one has really loved the herbs enough to publish a book on the subject. That herbs are easy to grow I can abundantly attest, for I have grown them all. I can also bear ample witness to the fact that they reduce the cost of high living, if by that phrase is meant pleasing the palate without offending the purse.
For instance, a few days ago a friend paid twenty cents for soup beef, and five cents for "soup greens." The addition of salt, pepper and other ingredients brought the initial cost up to twenty-nine cents. This made enough soup for ten or twelve liberal servings. The lean meat removed from the soup was minced and mixed with not more than ten cents' worth of diced potatoes, stale bread crumbs, milk, seasoning and herbs before being baked as a supper dish for five people, who by their bland smiles and "scotch plates" attested that the viands both looked "tony" and tasted nice.
I am glad to acknowledge my thanks to Mr. N. R. Graves of Rochester, N. Y., and Prof. R. L. Watts of the Pennsylvania State Agricultural College, for the photographic illustrations, and to Mr. B. F. Williamson, the Orange Judd Co.'s artist, for the pen and ink drawings which add so much to the value, attractiveness and interest of these pages.
If this book shall instill or awaken in its readers the wholesome though "cupboard" love that the culinary herbs deserve both as permanent residents of the garden and as masters of the kitchen, it will have accomplished the object for which it was written.
M. G. KAINS. New York, 1912.
A Dinner of Herbs 7
Culinary Herbs Defined 11
Production of New Varieties 15
Status and Uses 19
Notable Instance of Uses 21
Methods of Curing 22
Drying and Storing 25
Herbs as Garnishes 30
Propagation, Seeds 32 Cuttings 34 Layers 36 Division 37
Location of Herb Garden 44
The Soil and Its Preparation 45
Double Cropping 48
Herb Relationships 49
The Herb List: Angelica 55 Anise 59 Balm 63 Basil 65 Borage 71 Caraway 73 Catnip 77 Chervil 79 Chives 80 Clary 81 Coriander 82 Cumin 84 Dill 87 Fennel 89 Finocchio 93 Fennel Flower 94 Hoarhound 95 Hyssop 96 Lavender 97 Lovage 99 Marigold 100 Marjoram 101 Mint 105 Parsley 109 Pennyroyal 119 Peppermint 119 Rosemary 120 Rue 122 Sage 125 Samphire 129 Savory, Summer 131 Savory, Winter 132 Southernwood 133 Tansy 134 Tarragon 134 Thyme 137
Herbs and Children, a Happy Harmony Frontispiece
Spading Fork 1
Barrel Culture of Herbs 2
Transplanting Board and Dibble 5
Assortment of Favorite Weeders 8
Popular Adjustable Row Marker 10
Popular Spades 13
Lath Screen for Shading Beds 16
Harvesting Thyme Grown on a Commercial Scale 18
Garden Hoes of Various Styles 20
Dried Herbs in Paper and Tin 22
Herb Solution Bottle 24
Paper Sacks of Dried Herbs for Home Use 26
Hand Cultivator and Scarifier 27
Flat of Seedlings Ready to Be Transplanted 32
Glass Covered Propagating Box 34
Flower Pot Propagating Bed 35
Holt's Mammoth and Common Sage 38
Marker for Hotbeds and Cold Frames 39
Leading Forms of Trowels 40
Wooden Dibbles 43
Combination Hand Plow 45
Surface Paring Cultivator 47
Thinning Scheme for Harvesting 48
Center Row Hand Cultivator 50
Hand Plow 52
Prophecy of Many Toothsome Dishes 56
Anise in Flower and in Fruit 60
Sweet Basil 66
Borage, Famous for "Cool Tankard" 70
Caraway for Comfits and Birthday Cakes 74
Catnip, Pussy's Delight 78
Coriander, for Old-Fashioned Candies 82
Dill, of Pickle Fame 86
Sweet Fennel 90
Sweet Marjoram 102
Mint, Best Friend of Roast Lamb 106
Curled Parsley 110
Rue, Sour Herb of Grace 124
Sage, The Leading Herb for Duck and Goose Dressing 126
Holt's Mammoth and Common Sage Leaves 129
Dainty Summer Savory 130
Tarragon, French Chef's Delight 135
Thyme for Sausage 137
In these days of jaded appetites, condiments and canned goods, how fondly we turn from the dreary monotony of the "dainty" menu to the memory of the satisfying dishes of our mothers! What made us, like Oliver Twist, ask for more? Were those flavors real, or was it association and natural, youthful hunger that enticed us? Can we ever forget them; or, what is more practical, can we again realize them? We may find the secret and the answer in mother's garden. Let's peep in.
The garden, as in memory we view it, is not remarkable except for its neatness and perhaps the mixing of flowers, fruits and vegetables as we never see them jumbled on the table. Strawberries and onions, carrots and currants, potatoes and poppies, apples and sweet corn and many other as strange comrades, all grow together in mother's garden in the utmost harmony.
All these are familiar friends; but what are those plants near the kitchen? They are "mother's sweet herbs." We have never seen them on the table. They never played leading roles such as those of the cabbage and the potato. They are merely members of "the cast" which performed the small but important parts in the production of the pleasing tout ensemble—soup, stew, sauce, or salad—the remembrance of which, like that of a well-staged and well-acted drama, lingers in the memory long after the actors are forgotten.
Probably no culinary plants have during the last 50 years been so neglected. Especially during the "ready-to-serve" food campaign of the closed quarter century did they suffer most. But they are again coming into their own. Few plants are so easily cultivated and prepared for use. With the exception of the onion, none may be so effectively employed and none may so completely transform the "left-over" as to tempt an otherwise balky appetite to indulge in a second serving without being urged to perform the homely duty of "eating it to save it." Indeed, sweet herbs are, or should be the boon of the housewife, since they make for both pleasure and economy. The soup may be made of the most wholesome, nutritious and even costly materials; the fish may be boiled or baked to perfection; the joint or the roast and the salad may be otherwise faultless, but if they lack flavor they will surely fail in their mission, and none of the neighbors will plot to steal the cook, as they otherwise might did she merit the reputation that she otherwise might, by using culinary herbs.
This doleful condition may be prevented and the cook enjoy an enviable esteem by the judicious use of herbs, singly or in combination. It is greatly to be regretted that the uses of these humble plants, which seem to fall lower than the dignity of the title "vegetable," should be so little understood by intelligent American housewives.
In the flavoring of prepared dishes we Americans—people, as the French say, "of one sauce"—might well learn a lesson from the example of the English matron who usually considers her kitchen incomplete without a dozen or more sweet herbs, either powdered, or in decoction, or preserved in both ways. A glance into a French or a German culinary department would probably show more than a score; but a careful search in an American kitchen would rarely reveal as many as half a dozen, and in the great majority probably only parsley and sage would be brought to light. Yet these humble plants possess the power of rendering even unpalatable and insipid dishes piquant and appetizing, and this, too, at a surprisingly low cost. Indeed, most of them may be grown in an out-of-the-way corner of the garden, or if no garden be available, in a box of soil upon a sunny windowsill—a method adopted by many foreigners living in tenement houses in New York and Jersey City. Certainly they may be made to add to the pleasure of living and, as Solomon declares, "better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox with contention."
It is to be regretted that the moving picture show and the soda water fountain have such an influence in breaking up old-fashioned family evenings at home when everyone gathered around the evening lamp to enjoy homemade dainties. In those good old days the young man was expected to become acquainted with the young woman in the home. The girl took pride in serving solid and liquid culinary goodies of her own construction. Her mother, her all-sufficient guide, mapped out the sure, safe, and orthodox highway to a man's heart and saw to it that she learned how to play her cards with skill and precision. Those were the days when a larger proportion "lived happy ever after" than in modern times, when recreation and refreshment are sought more frequently outside than inside the walls of home.
But it is not too late to learn the good old ways over again and enjoy the good old culinary dainties. Whoever relishes the summer cups that cheer but do not inebriate may add considerably to his enjoyment by using some of the sweet herbs. Spearmint adds to lemonade the pleasing pungency it as readily imparts to a less harmful but more notorious beverage. The blue or pink flowers of borage have long been famous for the same purpose, though they are perhaps oftener added to a mixture of honey and water, to grape juice, raspberry vinegar or strawberry acid. All that is needed is an awakened desire to re-establish home comforts and customs, then a little later experimentation will soon fix the herb habit.
The list of home confections may be very pleasingly extended by candying the aromatic roots of lovage, and thus raising up a rival to the candied ginger said to be imported from the Orient. If anyone likes coriander and caraway—I confess that I don't—he can sugar the seeds to make those little "comfits," the candies of our childhood which our mothers tried to make us think we liked to crunch either separately or sprinkled on our birthday cakes. Those were before the days when somebody's name was "stamped on every piece" to aid digestion. Can we ever forget the picnic when we had certain kinds of sandwiches? Our mothers minced sweet fennel, the tender leaves of sage, marjoram or several other herbs, mixed them with cream cheese, and spread a layer between two thin slices of bread. Perhaps it was the swimming, or the three-legged racing, or the swinging, or all put together, that put a razor edge on our appetites and made us relish those sandwiches more than was perhaps polite; but will we not, all of us who ate them, stand ready to dispute with all comers that it was the flavors that made us forget "our manners"?
But sweet herbs may be made to serve another pleasing, an aesthetic purpose. Many of them may be used for ornament. A bouquet of the pale pink blossoms of thyme and the delicate flowers of marjoram, the fragrant sprigs of lemon balm mixed with the bright yellow umbels of sweet fennel, the finely divided leaves of rue and the long glassy ones of bergamot, is not only novel in appearance but in odor. In sweetness it excels even sweet peas and roses. Mixed with the brilliant red berries of barberry and multiflora rose, and the dark-green branches of the hardy thyme, which continues fresh and sweet through the year, a handsome and lasting bouquet may be made for a midwinter table decoration, a fragrant reminder of Shakespeare's lines in "A Winter's Tale":
"Here's flowers for you; Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram; The marigold, that goes to bed wi' the sun And with him rises weeping."
The rare aroma of sweet marjoram reminds so many city people of their mother's and their grandmother's country gardens, that countless muslin bags of the dried leaves sent to town ostensibly for stuffing poultry never reach the kitchen at all, but are accorded more honored places in the living room. They are placed in the sunlight of a bay window where Old Sol may coax forth their prisoned odors and perfume the air with memories of childhood summers on the farm.
Other memories cling to the delicate little lavender, not so much because the owner of a well-filled linen closet perfumed her spotless hoard with its fragrant flowers, but because of more tender remembrances. Would any country wedding chest be complete without its little silk bags filled with dried lavender buds and blooms to add the finishing touch of romance to the dainty trousseau of linen and lace? What can recall the bridal year so surely as this same kindly lavender?
A DINNER OF HERBS
In an article published in American Agriculturist, Dora M. Morrell says: "There is an inference that a dinner of herbs is rather a poor thing, one not to be chosen as a pleasure. Perhaps it might be if it came daily, but, for once in a while, try this which I am going to tell you.
"To prepare a dinner of herbs in its best estate you should have a bed of seasonings such as our grandmothers had in their gardens, rows of sage, of spicy mint, sweet marjoram, summer savory, fragrant thyme, tarragon, chives and parsley. To these we may add, if we take herbs in the Scriptural sense, nasturtium, and that toothsome esculent, the onion, as well as lettuce. If you wish a dinner of herbs and have not the fresh, the dried will serve, but parsley and mint you can get at most times in the markets, or in country gardens, where they often grow wild.
"Do you know, my sister housewife, that if you were to have a barrel sawed in half, filled with good soil, some holes made in the side and then placed the prepared half barrel in the sun, you could have an herb garden of your own the year through, even if you live in a city flat? In the holes at the sides you can plant parsley, and it will grow to cover the barrel, so that you have a bank of green to look upon. On the top of the half barrel plant your mint, sage, thyme and tarragon. Thyme is so pleasing a plant in appearance and fragrance that you may acceptably give it a place among those you have in your window for ornament.
"The Belgians make a parsley soup that might begin your dinner, or rather your luncheon. For the soup, thicken flour and butter together as for drawn butter sauce, and when properly cooked thin to soup consistency with milk. Flavor with onion juice, salt and pepper. Just before serving add enough parsley cut in tiny bits to color the soup green. Serve croutons with this.
"For the next course choose an omelette with fine herbs. Any cookbook will give the directions for making the omelette, and all that will be necessary more than the book directs is to have added to it minced thyme, tarragon and chives before folding, or they may be stirred into the omelette before cooking.
"Instead of an omelette you may have eggs stuffed with fine herbs and served in cream sauce. Cut hard-boiled eggs in half the long way and remove the yolks. Mash and season these, adding the herbs, as finely minced as possible. Shape again like yolks and return to the whites. Cover with a hot cream sauce and serve before it cools. Both of these dishes may be garnished with shredded parsley over the top.
"With this serve a dish of potatoes scalloped with onion. Prepare by placing in alternate layers the two vegetables; season well with salt, pepper and butter, and then add milk even with the top layer. This dish is quite hearty and makes a good supper dish of itself.
"Of course you will not have a meal of this kind without salad. For this try a mixture of nasturtium leaves and blossoms, tarragon, chives, mint, thyme and the small leaves of the lettuce, adding any other green leaves of the spicy kind which you find to taste good. Then dress these with a simple oil and vinegar dressing, omitting sugar, mustard or any such flavoring, for there is spice enough in the leaves themselves.
"Pass with these, if you will, sandwiches made with lettuce or nasturtium dressed with mayonnaise. You may make quite a different thing of them by adding minced chives or tarragon, or thyme, to the mayonnaise. The French are very partial to this manner of compounding new sauces from the base of the old one. After you do it a few times you also will find it worth while.
"When it comes to a dessert I am afraid you will have to go outside of herbs. You can take a cream cheese and work into it with a silver knife any of these herbs, or any two of them that agree with it well, and serve it with toasted crackers, or you can toast your crackers with common cheese, grating above it sage and thyme."
Whether this "dinner of herbs" appeals to the reader or not, I venture to say that no housewife who has ever stuffed a Thanksgiving turkey, a Christmas goose or ducks or chickens with home-grown, home-prepared herbs, either fresh or dried, will ever after be willing to buy the paper packages or tin cans of semi-inodorous, prehistoric dust which masquerades equally well as "fresh" sage, summer savory, thyme or something else, the only apparent difference being the label.
To learn to value herbs at their true worth one should grow them. Then every visitor to the garden will be reminded of some quotation from the Bible, or Shakespeare or some other repository of interesting thoughts; for since herbs have been loved as long as the race has lived on the earth, literature is full of references to facts and fancies concerning them. Thus the herb garden will become the nucleus around which cluster hoary legends, gems of verse and lilts of song, and where one almost stoops to remove his shoes, for
"The wisdom of the ages Blooms anew among the sages."
CULINARY HERBS DEFINED
It may be said that sweet or culinary herbs are those annual, biennial or perennial plants whose green parts, tender roots or ripe seeds have an aromatic flavor and fragrance, due either to a volatile oil or to other chemically named substances peculiar to the individual species. Since many of them have pleasing odors they have been called sweet, and since they have been long used in cookery to add their characteristic flavors to soups, stews, dressings, sauces and salads, they are popularly called culinary. This last designation is less happy than the former, since many other herbs, such as cabbage, spinach, kale, dandelion and collards, are also culinary herbs. These vegetables are, however, probably more widely known as potherbs or greens.
It seems probable that many of the flavoring herbs now in use were similarly employed before the erection of the pyramids and also that many then popular no longer appear in modern lists of esculents. Of course, this statement is based largely upon imperfect records, perhaps, in many cases only hints more or less doubtful as to the various species. But it seems safe to conclude that a goodly number of the herbs discussed in this volume, especially those said to be natives of the Mediterranean region, overhung and perfumed the cradle of the human race in the Orient and marked the footsteps of our rude progenitors as they strode more and more sturdily toward the horizon of promise. This idea seems to gain support also from the fact that certain Eastern peoples, whom modern civilization declares to have uneducated tastes, still employ many herbs which have dropped by the wayside of progress, or like the caraway and the redoubtable "pusley," an anciently popular potherb, are but known in western lands as troublesome weeds.
Relying upon Biblical records alone, several herbs were highly esteemed prior to our era; in the gospels of Matthew and Luke reference is made to tithes of mint, anise, rue, cummin and other "herbs"; and, more than 700 years previously, Isaiah speaks of the sowing and threshing of cummin which, since the same passage (Isaiah xxviii, 25) also speaks of "fitches" (vetches), wheat, barley and "rie" (rye), seems then to have been a valued crop.
The development of the herb crops contrasts strongly with that of the other crops to which reference has just been made. Whereas these latter have continued to be staples, and to judge by their behavior during the last century may be considered to have improved in quality and yield since that ancient time, the former have dropped to the most subordinate position of all food plants. They have lost in number of species, and have shown less improvement than perhaps any other groups of plants cultivated for economic purposes. During the century just closed only one species, parsley, may be said to have developed more than an occasional improved variety. And even during this period the list of species seems to have been somewhat curtailed—tansy, hyssop, horehound, rue and several others being considered of too pronounced and even unpleasant flavor to suit cultivated palates.
With the exception of these few species, the loss of which seems not to be serious, this absence of improvement is to be regretted, because with improved quality would come increased consumption and consequent beneficial results in the appetizing flavor of the foods to which herbs are added. But greatly improved varieties of most species can hardly be expected until a just appreciation has been awakened in individual cultivators, who, probably in a majority of cases, will be lovers of plants rather than men who earn their living by market gardening.
Until the public better appreciates the culinary herbs there will be a comparatively small commercial demand; until the demand is sufficient to make growing herbs profitable upon an extensive scale, market gardeners will devote their land to crops which are sure to pay well; hence the opportunity to grow herbs as an adjunct to gardening is the most likely way that they can be made profitable. And yet there is still another; namely, growing them for sale in the various prepared forms and selling them in glass or tin receptacles in the neighborhood or by advertising in the household magazines. There surely is a market, and a profitable one if rightly managed. And with right management and profit is to come desire to have improved varieties. Such varieties can be developed at least as readily as the wonderful modern chrysanthemum has been developed from an insignificant little wild flower not half as interesting or promising originally as our common oxeye daisy, a well-known field weed.
Not the least object of this volume is, therefore, to arouse just appreciation of the opportunities awaiting the herb grower. Besides the very large and increasing number of people who take pleasure in the growing of attractive flowering and foliage plants, fine vegetables and choice fruits, there are many who would find positive delight in the breeding of plants for improvement—the origination of new varieties—and who would devote much of their leisure time to this work—make it a hobby—did they know the simple underlying principles. For their benefit, therefore, the following paragraphs are given.
PRODUCTION OF NEW VARIETIES
Besides the gratification that always accompanies the growing of plants, there is in plant breeding the promise that the progeny will in some way be better than the parent, and there is the certainty that when a stable variety of undoubted merit has been produced it can be sold to an enterprising seedsman for general distribution. In this way the amateur may become a public benefactor, reap the just reward of his labors and keep his memory green!
The production of new varieties of plants is a much simpler process than is commonly supposed. It consists far more in selecting and propagating the best specimens than in any so-called "breeding." With the majority of the herbs this is the most likely direction in which to seek success.
Suppose we have sown a packet of parsley seed and we have five thousand seedlings. Among these a lot will be so weak that we will naturally pass them by when we are choosing plantlets to put in our garden beds. Here is the first and simplest kind of selection. By this means, and by not having space for a great number of plants in the garden, we probably get rid of 80 per cent of the seedlings—almost surely the least desirable ones.
Suppose we have transplanted 1,000 seedlings where they are to grow and produce leaves for sale or home use. Among these, provided the seed has been good and true, at least 90 per cent will be about alike in appearance, productivity and otherwise. The remaining plants may show variations so striking as to attract attention. Some may be tall and scraggly, some may be small and puny; others may be light green, still others dark green; and so on. But there may be one or two plants that stand out conspicuously as the best of the whole lot. These are the ones to mark with a stake so they will not be molested when the crop is being gathered and so they will attain their fullest development.
These best plants, and only these, should then be chosen as the seed bearers. No others should be allowed even to produce flowers. When the seed has ripened, that from each plant should be kept separate during the curing process described elsewhere. And when spring comes again, each lot of seed should be sown by itself. When the seedlings are transplanted, they should be kept apart and labeled No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, etc., so the progeny of each parent plant can be known and its history kept.
The process of selecting the seedlings the second year is the same as in the first; the best are given preference, when being transplanted. In the beds all sorts of variations even more pronounced than the first year may be expected. The effort with the seedlings derived from each parent plant should be to find the plants that most closely resemble their own parents, and to manage these just as the parents were managed. No other should be allowed to flower.
This process is to be continued from year to year. If the selection is carefully made, the grower will soon rejoice, because he will observe a larger and a larger number of plants approaching the type of plant he has been selecting for. In time practically the whole plantation will be coming "true to type," and he will have developed a new variety. If his ideal is such as to appeal to the practical man—the man who grows parsley for money—and if the variety is superior to varieties already grown, the originator will have no difficulty in disposing of his stock of seed and plants, if he so desires, to a seedsman, who will gladly pay a round price in order to have exclusive control of the "new creation." Or he may contract with a seedsman to grow seed of the new variety for sale to the trade.
It may be said, further, that new varieties may be produced by placing the pollen from the flowers of one plant upon the pistils in the flowers of another and then covering the plant with fine gauze to keep insects out. With the herbs, however, this method seems hardly worth while, because the flowers are as a rule very small and the work necessarily finicky, and because there are already so few varieties of most species that the operation may be left to the activities of insects. It is for this reason, however, that none but the choicest plants should be allowed to bloom, so none but desirable pollen may reach and fertilize the flowers of the plants to be used as seed producers.
STATUS AND USES
Some readers of a statistical turn of mind may be disappointed to learn that figures as to the value of the annual crops of individual herbs, the acreage devoted to each, the average cost, yield and profit an acre, etc., are not obtainable and that the only way of determining the approximate standing of the various species is the apparent demand for each in the large markets and stores.
Unquestionably the greatest call is for parsley, which is used in restaurants and hotels more extensively as a garnish than any other herb. In this capacity it ranks about equal with watercress and lettuce, which both find their chief uses as salads. As a flavoring agent it is probably less used than sage, but more than any of the other herbs. It is chiefly employed in dressings with mild meats such as chicken, turkey, venison, veal, with baked fish; and for soups, stews, and sauces, especially those used with boiled meats, fish and fricassees of the meats mentioned. Thus it has a wider application than any other of the culinary herbs.
Sage, which is a strongly flavored plant, is used chiefly with such fat meats as pork, goose, duck, and various kinds of game. Large quantities are mixed with sausage meat and, in some countries, with certain kinds of cheese. Throughout the United States it is probably the most frequently called into requisition of all herbs, probably outranking any two of the others, with the exception of parsley.
Thyme and savory stand about equal, and are chiefly used like parsley, though both, especially the former, are used in certain kinds of sausage. Marjoram, which is similarly employed, comes next, then follow balm, fennel, and basil. These milder herbs are often mixed for much the same reason that certain simple perfumes are blended—to produce a new odor—combinations of herbs resulting in a new compound flavor. Such compounds are utilized in the same way that the elementary herbs are.
In classes by themselves are tarragon and spearmint, the former of which is chiefly used as a decoction in the flavoring of fish sauces, and the latter as the universal dressing with spring lamb. Mint has also a more convivial use, but this seems more the province of the W. C. T. U. than of this book to discuss.
Dill is probably the most important of the herbs whose seeds, rather than their leaves, are used in flavoring food other than confectionery. It plays its chief role in the pickle barrel. Immense quantities of cucumber pickles flavored principally with dill are used in the restaurants of the larger cities and also by families, the foreign-born citizens and their descendants being the chief consumers. The demand for these pickles is met by the leading pickle manufacturers who prepare special brands, generally according to German recipes, and sell them to the delicatessen and the grocery stores. If they were to rely upon me for business, they would soon go bankrupt. To my palate the dill pickle appeals as almost the acme of disagreeableness.
NOTABLE INSTANCE OF USES
The flavors of the various herbs cover a wide range, commencing with fennel and ending with sage, and are capable of wide application. In one case which came under my observation, the cook made a celery-flavored stew of some meat scraps. Not being wholly consumed, the surviving debris appeared a day or two later, in company with other odds and ends, as the chief actor in a meat pie flavored with parsley. Alas, a left-over again! "Never mind," mused the cook; and no one who partook of the succeeding stew discovered the lurking parsley and its overpowered progenitor, the celery, under the effectual disguise of summer savory. By an unforeseen circumstance the fragments remaining from this last stew did not continue the cycle and disappear in another pie. Had this been their fate, however, their presence could have been completely obscured by sage. This problem in perpetual progression or culinary homeopathy can be practiced in any kitchen. But hush, tell it not in the dining-room!
METHODS OF CURING
Culinary herbs may be divided into three groups; those whose foliage furnishes the flavor, those whose seed is used and those few whose roots are prepared. In the kitchen, foliage herbs are employed either green or as decoctions or dried, each way with its special advocates, advantages and applications.
Green herbs, if freshly and properly gathered, are richest in flavoring substances and when added to sauces, fricassees, stews, etc., reveal their freshness by their particles as well as by their decidedly finer flavor. In salads they almost entirely supplant both the dried and the decocted herbs, since their fresh colors are pleasing to the eye and their crispness to the palate; whereas the specks of the dried herbs would be objectionable, and both these and the decoctions impart a somewhat inferior flavor to such dishes. Since herbs cannot, however, always be obtained throughout the year, unless they are grown in window boxes, they are infused or dried. Both infusing and drying are similar processes in themselves, but for best results they are dependent upon the observance of a few simple rules.
No matter in what condition or for what purpose they are to be used the flavors of foliage herbs are invariably best in well-developed leaves and shoots still in full vigor of growth. With respect to the plant as a whole, these flavors are most abundant and pleasant just before the flowers appear. And since they are generally due to essential oils, which are quickly dissipated by heat, they are more abundant in the morning than after the sun has reached the zenith. As a general rule, therefore, best results with foliage herbs, especially those to be used for drying and infusing, may be secured when the plants seem ready to flower, the harvest being made as soon as the dew has dried and before the day has become very warm. The leaves of parsley, however, may be gathered as soon as they attain that deep green characteristic of the mature leaf; and since the leaves are produced continuously for many weeks, the mature ones may be removed every week or so, a process which encourages the further production of foliage and postpones the appearance of the flowering stem.
To make good infusions the freshly gathered, clean foliage should be liberally packed in stoppered jars, covered with the choicest vinegar, and the jars kept closed. In a week or two the fluid will be ready for use, but in using it, trials must be made to ascertain its strength and the quantity necessary to use. Usually only the clear liquid is employed; sometimes, however, as with mint, the leaves are very finely minced before being bottled and both liquid and particles employed.
Tarragon, mint and the seed herbs, such as dill, are perhaps more often used in ordinary cookery as infusions than otherwise. An objection to decoctions is that the flavor of vinegar is not always desired in a culinary preparation, and neither is that of alcohol or wine, which are sometimes used in the same way as vinegar.
DRYING AND STORING
When only a small quantity of an herb is to be dried, the old plan of hanging loose bunches from the ceiling of a warm, dry attic or a kitchen will answer. Better, perhaps, is the use of trays covered with clean, stout manilla paper upon which thin layers of the leaves are spread. These are placed either in hot sunlight or in the warm kitchen where warm air circulates freely. They must be turned once a day until all the moisture has been evaporated from the leaves and the softer, more delicate parts have become crisp. Then they may be crunched and crumbled between the hands, the stalks and the hard parts rejected and the powder placed in air-tight glass or earthenware jars or metal cans, and stored in a cool place. If there be the slightest trace of moisture in the powder, it should be still further dried to insure against mold. Prior to any drying process the cut leaves and stems should be thoroughly washed, to get rid of any trace of dirt. Before being dried as noted above, the water should all be allowed to evaporate. Evaporation may be hastened by exposing the herbs to a breeze in a shallow, loose basket, a wire tray or upon a table. While damp there is little danger of their being blown away. As they dry, however, the current of air should be more gentle.
The practice of storing powdered herbs in paper or pasteboard packages is bad, since the delicate oils readily diffuse through the paper and sooner or later the material becomes as valueless for flavoring purposes as ordinary hay or straw. This loss of flavor is particularly noticeable with sage, which is one of the easiest herbs to spoil by bad management. Even when kept in air-tight glass or tin receptacles, as recommended, it generally becomes useless before the end of two years.
When large quantities of herbs are to be cured a fruit evaporator may be employed, the herbs being spread thinly upon wire-bottomed trays so that an ample current of air may pass through them. Care must be taken to keep the temperature inside the machine below 120 degrees. The greatest efficiency can be secured by placing the trays of most recently gathered herbs at the top, the partially dried ones being lowered to positions nearer the source of heat. In this way the fresh, dry, warm air comes in contact first with the herbs most nearly dried, removes the last vestige of moisture from them and after passing through the intervening trays comes to those most recently gathered.
Unless the evaporator be fitted with some mechanism which will permit all the trays to be lowered simultaneously, the work of changing the trays may seem too irksome to be warranted. But where no changes of trays are made, greater care must be given to the bottom trays because they will dry out faster than those at the top. Indeed in such cases, after the apparatus is full, it becomes almost essential to move the trays lower, because if fresh green herbs, particularly those which are somewhat wet, be placed at the bottom of the series, the air will become so charged with moisture from them that the upper layers may for a time actually absorb this moisture and thus take longer to dry. Besides this, they will surely lose some of their flavoring ingredients—the very things which it is desired to save.
No effort should be made to hasten the drying process by increasing the temperature, since this is likely to result as just mentioned. A personal experience may teach the reader a lesson. I once had a large amount of parsley to cure and thought to expedite matters by using the oven of a gas stove. Suffice it to tell that the whole quantity was ruined, not a pinch was saved. In spite of the closest regulation the heat grew too great and the flavor was literally cooked out of the leaves. The delicate oil saturated everything in the house, and for a week or more the whole place smelled as if chicken fricassee was being made upon a wholesale plan.
Except as garnishes, herbs are probably more frequently used in a dry state than in all other ways put together. Perhaps this is because the method of preparing them seems simpler than that of infusion, because large quantities may be kept in small spaces, and because they can be used for every purpose that the fresh plants or the decoctions can be employed. In general, however, they are called into requisition principally in dressings, soups, stews and sauces in which their particles are not considered objectionable. If clear sauces or soups are desired, the dried herbs may still be used to impart the flavor, their particles being removed by straining.
The method of preparing dill, anise, caraway and other herbs whose seed is used, differs from that employed with the foliage herbs mainly in the ripeness of the plants. These must be gathered as soon as they show signs of maturity but before the seeds are ready to drop from them. In all this work especial care must be paid to the details of cleaning. For a pleasing appearance the seed heads must be gathered before they become the least bit weather-beaten. This is as essential as to have the seed ripe. Next, the seed must be perfectly clean, free from chaff, bits of broken stems and other debris. Much depends upon the manner of handling as well as upon harvesting. Care must be taken in threshing to avoid bruising the seeds, particularly the oily ones, by pounding too hard or by tramping upon them. Threshing should never be done in damp weather; always when the air is very dry.
In clear weather after the dew has disappeared the approximately ripe plants or seed heads must be harvested and spread thinly—never packed firmly—upon stout cloth such as ticking, sailcloth, or factory cotton. A warm, open shed where the air circulates freely is an admirable place, since the natural temperature of the air is sufficient in the case of seeds to bring about good results. Usually in less than a week the tops will have become dry enough to be beaten out with a light flail or a rod. In this operation great care must be taken to avoid bruising or otherwise injuring the seed. The beating should therefore be done in a sheet spread upon a lawn or at least upon short grass. The force of the blows will thus be lessened and bruising avoided.
For cleaning herb seeds sieves in all sizes from No. 2 to No. 40 are needed. The sizes represent various finenesses of mesh. All above No. 8 should be of brass wire, because brass is considerably more durable and less likely to rust than iron. The cloths upon which the herbs are spread should be as large as the floor upon which the threshing is to be done except when the floor is without cracks, but it is more convenient to use cloths always, because they facilitate handling and temporary storing. Light cotton duck is perhaps best, but the weave must be close. A convenient size is 10 x 10 feet.
After the stalks have been removed the seed should be allowed to remain for several days longer in a very thin layer—the thinner the better—and turned every day to remove the last vestige of moisture. It will be even better still to have the drying sheet suspended so air may circulate below as well as above the seed. Not less than a week for the smallest seeds and double that time for the larger ones is necessary. To avoid loss or injury it is imperative that the seed be dry before it is put in the storage packages. Of course, if infusions are to be made all this is unnecessary; the seed may be put in the liquor as soon as the broken stems, etc. are removed subsequent to threshing.
HERBS AS GARNISHES
As garnishes several of the culinary herbs are especially valuable. This is particularly true of parsley, which is probably more widely used than any other plant, its only close rivals being watercress and lettuce, which, however, are generally inferior to it in delicacy of tint and form of foliage, the two cardinal virtues of a garnish.
Parsley varieties belong to three principal groups, based upon the form of the foliage: (1) Plain varieties, in which the leaves are nearly as they are in nature; (2) moss-curled varieties in which they are curiously and pleasingly contorted; and (3) fern leaved, in which the foliage is not curled, but much divided into threadlike parts.
The moss-curled varieties are far more popular than the other two groups put together and are the only ones used especially as garnishes with meat dishes in the hotels and restaurants of the large cities. The plain-leaved sorts cannot be compared in any way except in flavor with the varieties of the other groups. But the fern-leaved kinds, which unfortunately have not become commercially well known, surpass even the finest varieties of the moss-curled group, not only in their exquisite and delicate form, but in their remarkably rich, dark-green coloring and blending of light and shade. But the mere fact that these varieties are not known in the cities should not preclude their popularity in suburban and town gardens and in the country, where every householder is monarch of his own soil and can satisfy very many aesthetic and gustatory desires without reference to market dictum, that bane alike of the market gardener and his customer.
Several other herbs—tansy, savory, thyme, marjoram, basil, and balm—make pretty garnishes, but since they are not usually considered so pleasant to nibble at, they are rarely used. The pleasing effect of any garnish may be heightened by adding here and there a few herb flowers such as thyme or savory. Other flowers may be used in the same way; for instance, nasturtium.
There is no reason why herbs so used should not be employed several times over, and afterwards dried or bottled in vinegar if they be free from gravy, oils, fats, etc., and if in sufficient quantity to make such a use worth while. Other pretty garnishes which are easily obtained are corn salad, peppergrass, mustard, fennel, and young leaves of carrot. But surpassing all these in pleasing and novel effects are the curled, pink, red and white-leaved varieties of chicory and nasturtium flowers alone or resting upon parsley or other delicate foliage. So much by way of digression.
Most herbs may be readily propagated by means of seeds. Some, however, such as tarragon, which does not produce seed, and several other perennial kinds, are propagated by division, layers, or cuttings. In general, propagation by means of seed is considered most satisfactory. Since the seeds in many instances are small or are slow to germinate, they are usually sown in shallow boxes or seed pans. When the seedlings are large enough to be handled they are transplanted to small pots or somewhat deeper flats or boxes, a couple of inches being allowed between the plants. When conditions are favorable in the garden; that is, when the soil is moist and warm and the season has become settled, the plantlets may be removed to permanent quarters.
If the seed be sown out of doors, it is a good practice to sow a few radish seeds in the same row with the herb seeds, particularly if these latter take a long time to germinate or are very small, as marjoram, savory and thyme. The variety of radish chosen should be a turnip-rooted sort of exceedingly rapid growth, and with few and small leaves. The radishes serve to mark the rows and thus enable cultivation to commence much earlier than if the herbs were sown alone. They should be pulled early—the earlier the better after the herb plantlets appear. Never should the radishes be allowed to crowd the herbs.
By the narration of a little incident, I may illustrate the necessity of sowing these radish seeds thinly. Having explained to some juvenile gardeners that the radish seeds should be dropped so far apart among the other seeds that they would look lonesome in the bottoms of the rows—not more than six seeds to the foot—and having illustrated my meaning by sowing a row myself, I let each one take his turn at sowing. While I watched them all went well. But, alas, for precept and example! To judge by the general result after the plants were up, the seedsman might justifiably have guaranteed the seed to germinate about 500 per cent, because each boy declared that he sowed his rows thinly. Nevertheless, there was a stand of radishes that would have gladdened the heart of a lawn maker! The rows looked like regiments drawn up in close order and not, as was desired, merely lines of scattered skirmishers. In many places there were more than 100 to the foot! Fortunately the variety was a quick-maturing kind and the crop, for such it became, was harvested before any damage was done the slow-appearing seedlings, whose positions the radishes were intended to indicate.
No herbs are so easy to propagate by means of cuttings as spearmint, peppermint, and their relatives which have underground stems. Every joint of these stems will produce a new plant if placed in somewhat moist soil. Often, however, this ability is a disadvantage, because the plants are prone to spread and become a nuisance unless watched. Hence such plants should be placed where they will not have their roots cut by tools used close to them. When they seem to be extending, their borders should be trimmed with a sharp spade pushed vertically full depth into the soil and all the earth beyond the clump thus restricted should be shaken out with a garden fork and the cut pieces of mint removed. Further, the forked-over ground should be hoed every week during the remainder of the season, to destroy lurking plantlets.
The other perennial and biennial herbs may be readily propagated by means of stem cuttings or "slips," which are generally as easy to manage as verbenas, geraniums and other "house plants." The cuttings may be made of either fully ripened wood of the preceding or the current season, or they may be of firm, not succulent green stems. After trimming off all but a few of the upper leaves, which should be clipped to reduce transpiration, the cuttings—never more than 4 or 5 inches long—should be plunged nearly full depth in well-shaded, rather light, porous, well-drained loam where they should remain undisturbed until they show evidences of growth. Then they may be transplanted. While in the cutting bed they must never be allowed to become dry. This is especially true of greenwood cuttings made during the summer. These should always have the coolest, shadiest corner in the garden. The cuttings taken in the spring should be set in the garden as soon as rooted; but the summer cuttings, especially if taken late, should generally be left in their beds until the following spring. They may, however, be removed for winter use to window boxes or the greenhouse benches.
Often the plants grown in window boxes may supply the early cuttings, which may be rooted in the house. Where a greenhouse is available, a few plants may be transplanted in autumn either from the garden or from the bed of summer cuttings just mentioned, kept in a rather cool temperature during the winter and drawn upon for cuttings as the stems become sufficiently mature. The rooting may take place in a regular cutting bench, or it may occur in the soil out of doors, the plantlets being transplanted to pots as soon as they have rooted well.
If a large number of plants is desired, a hotbed may be called into requisition in early spring and the plants hardened off in cold frames as the season advances. Hardening off is essential with all plants grown under glass for outdoor planting, because unless the plants be inured to outside temperatures before being placed in the open ground, they will probably suffer a check, if they do not succumb wholly to the unaccustomed conditions. If well managed they should be injured not at all.
Several of the perennial herbs, such as sage, savory, and thyme, may be easily propagated by means of layers, the stems being pegged down and covered lightly with earth. If the moisture and the temperature be favorable, roots should be formed in three or four weeks and the stem separated from the parent and planted. Often there may be several branches upon the stem, and each of these may be used as a new plantlet provided it has some roots or a rooted part of the main stem attached to it. By this method I have obtained nearly 100 rooted plants from a single specimen of Holt's Mammoth sage grown in a greenhouse. And from the same plant at the same time I have taken more than 100 cuttings. This is not an exceptional feat with this variety, the plants of which are very branchy and often exceed a yard in diameter.
Layering is probably the simplest and most satisfactory method of artificial propagation under ordinary conditions, since the stems are almost sure to take root if undisturbed long enough; and since rooted plants can hardly fail to grow if properly transplanted. Then, too, less apparent time is taken than with plants grown from cuttings and far less than with those grown from seed. In other words, they generally produce a crop sooner than the plants obtained by the other methods set in operation at the same time.
Division of the clumps of such herbs as mint is often practiced, a sharp spade or a lawn edger being used to cut the clump into pieces about 6 inches square. The squares are then placed in new quarters and packed firmly in place with soil. This method is, however, the least satisfactory of all mentioned, because it too frequently deprives the plants of a large amount of roots, thus impairs the growth, and during the first season or two may result in unsymmetrical clumps. If done in early spring before growth starts, least damage is done to the plants.
Artificial methods of propagation, especially those of cuttage and layerage, have the further advantage over propagation by means of seeds, in the perpetuation of desired characters of individual plants, one or more of which may appear in any plantation. These, particularly if more productive than the others, should always be utilized as stock, not merely because their progeny artificially obtained are likely to retain the character and thus probably increase the yield of the plantation, but principally because they may form the nucleus of a choice strain.
Except in the respects mentioned, these methods of propagation are not notably superior to propagation by means of good seed, which, by the way, is not overabundant. By the consumption of a little extra time, any desired number of plants may be obtained from seed. At any rate, seed is what one must start with in nearly every case.
No more care is required in transplanting herbs than in resetting other plants, but unless a few essentials are realized in practice the results are sure to be unsatisfactory. Of course, the ideal way is to grow the plants in small flower pots and when they have formed a ball of roots, to set them in the garden. The next best is to grow them in seed pans or flats (shallow boxes) in which they should be set several inches apart as soon as large enough to handle, and in which they should be allowed to grow for a few weeks, to form a mass of roots. When these plants are to be set in the garden they should be broken apart by hand with as little loss of roots as possible.
But where neither of these plans can be practiced, as in the growing of the plants in little nursery beds, either in hotbeds, cold frames or in the garden border, the plants should be "pricked out," that is, transplanted while very small to a second nursery bed, in order to make them "stocky" or sturdy and better able to take care of themselves when removed to final quarters. If this be done there should be no need of clipping back the tops to balance an excessive loss of roots, a necessity in case the plants are not so treated, or in case they become large or lanky in the second bed.
In all cases it is best to transplant when the ground is moist, as it is immediately after being dug or plowed. But this cannot always be arranged, neither can one always count upon a shower to moisten the soil just after the plants have been set. If advantage can be taken of an approaching rainfall, it should be done, because this is the ideal time for transplanting. It is much better than immediately after, which is perhaps next best. Transplanting in cloudy weather and toward evening is better than in sunny weather and in the morning.
Since the weather is prone to be coy, if not fickle, the manual part of transplanting should always be properly done. The plants should always be taken up with as little loss of roots as possible, be kept exposed to the air as short a time as possible, and when set in the ground have the soil packed firmly about their roots, so firmly that the operator may think it is almost too firm. After setting, the surface soil should be made loose, so as to act as a mulch and prevent the loss of moisture from the packed lower layer. If the ground be dry a hole may be made beside the plant and filled with water—LOTS OF WATER—and when it has soaked away and the soil seems to be drying, the surface should be made smooth and loose as already mentioned. If possible such times should be avoided, because of the extra work entailed and the probable increased loss due to the unfavorable conditions.
When herbs are grown upon a commercial scale the implements needed will be the same as for general trucking—plows, harrows, weeder, etc.—to fit the soil for the hand tools. Much labor can be saved by using hand-wheel drills, cultivators, weeders and the other tools that have become so wonderfully popular within the past decade or two. Some typical kinds are shown in these pages. These implements are indispensable in keeping the surface soil loose and free from weeds, especially between the rows and even fairly close to the plants. In doing this they save an immense amount of labor and time, since they can be used with both hands and the muscles of the body with less exertion than the hoe and the rake require.
Nothing, however, can take the place of the hand tools for getting among and around the plants. The work that weeding entails is tiresome, but must be done if success is to crown ones efforts. While the plants are little some of the weeders may be used. Those with a blade or a series of blades are adapted for cutting weeds off close to the surface; those with prongs are useful only for making the soil loose closer to the plants than the rake dare be run by the average man. Hoes of various types are useful when the plants become somewhat larger or when one does not have the wheel cultivators. In all well-regulated gardens there should be a little liberal selection of the various wheel and hand tools.
Only one of the hand tools demands any special comment. Many gardeners like to use a dibble for transplanting. With this tool it is so easy to make a hole, and to press the soil against the plant dropped in that hole! But I believe that many of the failures in transplanting result from the improper use of this tool. Unless the dibble be properly operated the plant may be left suspended in a hole, the sides of which are more or less hard and impervious to the tiny, tender rootlets that strive to penetrate them. From my own observation of the use of this tool, I believe that the proper place for the dibble in the novices garden is in the attic, side by side with the "unloaded" shotgun, where it may be viewed with apprehension.
In spite of this warning, if anyone is hardy enough to use a dibble, let him choose the flat style, not the round one. The proper way is to thrust the tool straight down, at right angles to the direction of the row, and press the soil back and forth with the flat side of the blade until a hole, say 2 or 3 inches across and 5 or 6 inches deep, has been formed. In the hole the plantlet should then be suspended so all the roots and a little of the stem beneath the surface will be covered when the soil is replaced. Replacing the soil is the important part of the operation. The dibble must now be thrust in the soil again, parallel and close to the hole, and the soil pushed over so the hole will be completely closed from bottom to top. Firming the soil completes the operation.
There is much less danger of leaving a hole with the flat than with the round dibble, which is almost sure to leave a hole beneath the plant. I remember having trouble with some lily plants which were not thriving. Supposing that insects were at the roots, I carefully drew the earth away from one side, and found that the earth had not been brought up carefully beneath the bulbs and that the roots were hanging 4 or 5 inches beneath the bulbs in the hole left by the dibble and not properly closed by the careless gardener.
I therefore warn every dibble user to be sure to crowd over the soil well, especially at the lower end of the hole. For my own part, I rely upon my hands. Digits existed long before dibbles and they are much more reliable. What matter if some soil sticks to them; it is not unresponsive to the wooing of water!
LOCATION OF HERB GARDEN
In general, the most favorable exposure for an herb garden is toward the south, but lacking such an exposure should not deter one from planting herbs on a northern slope if this be the only site available. Indeed, such sites often prove remarkably good if other conditions are propitious and proper attention is given the plants. Similarly, a smooth, gently sloping surface is especially desirable, but even in gardens in which the ground is almost billowy the gardener may often take advantage of the irregularities by planting the moisture-loving plants in the hollows and those that like dry situations upon the ridges. Nothing like turning disadvantages to account!
No matter what the nature of the surface and the exposure, it is always advisable to give the herbs the most sunny spots in the garden, places where shade from trees, barns, other buildings and from fences cannot reach them. This is suggested because the development of the oils, upon which the flavoring of most of the herbs mainly depends, is best in full sunshine and the plants have more substance than when grown in the shade.
THE SOIL AND ITS PREPARATION
As to the kind of soil, Hobson's choice ranks first! It is not necessary to move into the next county just to have an herb garden. This is one of the cases in which the gardener may well make the best of however bad a bargain he has.
But supposing that a selection be possible, a light sandy loam, underlaid by a porous subsoil so as to be well drained, should be given the preference, since it is warmed quickly, easily worked, and may be stirred early in the season and after a rain. Clay loams are less desirable upon every one of the points mentioned, and very sandy soils also. But if Hobson has one of these, there will be an excellent opportunity to cultivate philosophy as well as herbs. And the gardener may be agreeably surprised at the results obtained. No harm in trying! Whatever the quality of the soil, it should not be very rich, because in such soils the growth is apt to be rank and the quantity of oil small in proportion to the leafage.
The preparation of the soil should commence as soon as the grass in the neighborhood is seen to be sprouting. Well-decayed manure should be spread at the rate of not less than a bushel nor more than double that quantity to the square yard, and as soon as the soil is dry enough to crumble readily it should be dug or plowed as deeply as possible without bringing up the subsoil. This operation of turning over the soil should be thoroughly performed, the earth being pulverized as much as possible. To accomplish this no hand tool surpasses the spading fork.
One other method is, however, superior especially when practiced upon the heavier soils—fall plowing or digging. In practicing this method care should be taken to plow late when the soil, moistened by autumn rains, will naturally come up in big lumps. These lumps must be left undisturbed during the winter for frost to act upon. All that will be necessary in the spring will be to rake or harrow the ground. The clods will crumble.
I once had occasion to try this method upon about 25 acres of land which had been made by pumping mud from a river bottom upon a marsh thus converted into dry ground by the sedimentation. Three sturdy horses were needed to do the plowing. The earth turned up in chunks as large as a man's body. Contrary to my plowman's doubts and predictions, Jack Frost did a grand milling business that winter! Clods that could hardly be broken in the autumn with a sledge hammer crumbled down in the spring at the touch of a garden rake!
Having thoroughly fined the surface of the garden by harrowing and raking, the seeds may be sown or the plants transplanted as already noted. From this time forward the surface must be kept loose and open by surface cultivation every week or 10 days and after every shower that forms a crust, until the plants cover the whole ground. This frequent cultivation is not merely for the purpose of keeping the weeds in check; it is a necessary operation to keep the immediate surface layer powdery, in which condition it will act as a mulch to prevent the loss of water from the lower soil layers. When kept in perfect condition by frequent stirring the immediate surface should be powdery. Yes, powdery! Within 1 inch of the surface, however, the color will be darker from the presence of moisture. When supplied with such conditions, failures must be attributed to other causes than lack of water.
When desired, herbs may be used as secondary crops to follow such early vegetables as early cabbage and peas; or, if likely to be needed still earlier, after radishes, transplanted lettuce and onions grown from sets. These primary crops, having reached marketable size, are removed, the ground stirred and the herb plants transplanted from nursery beds or cold frames.
Often the principal herbs—sage, savory, marjoram and thyme—are set close together, both the rows and the plants in them being nearer than recommended further on. The object of such practice is to get several crops in the following way: When the plants in the rows commence to crowd one another each alternate plant is removed and sold or cured. This may perhaps be done a second time. Then when the rows begin to crowd, each alternate row is removed and the remainder allowed to develop more fully. The chief advantages of this practice are not only that several crops may be gathered, but each plant, being supplied with plenty of room and light, will have fewer yellow or dead leaves than when crowded. In the diagram the numbers show which plants are removed first, second, third and last.
Those readers who delight to delve among pedigrees, genealogies and family connections, may perhaps be a little disappointed to learn that, in spite of the odorous nature of the herbs, there are none whose history reveals a skeleton in the closet. They are all harmless. Now and then, to be sure, there occur records of a seemingly compromising nature, such as the effects attributed to the eating or even the handling of celery; but such accounts, harrowing as they may appear, are insufficient to warrant a bar sinister. Indeed, not only is the mass of evidence in favor of the defendant, but it casts a reflection upon the credibility of the plaintiff, who may usually be shown to have indulged immoderately, to have been frightened by hallucinations or even to have arraigned the innocent for his own guilt. Certain it is that there is not one of the sweet herbs mentioned in this volumes that has not long enjoyed a more or less honored place in the cuisine of all the continents, and this in spite of the occasional tootings of some would-be detractor.
Like those classes of society that cannot move with "the four hundred," the herbs are very exclusive, more exclusive indeed, than their superiors, the other vegetables. Very few members have they admitted that do not belong to two approved families, and such unrelated ones as do reach the charmed circles must first prove their worthiness and then hold their places by intrinsic merit.
These two coteries are known as the Labiatae and the Umbelliferae, the former including the sages, mints and their connections; the latter the parsleys and their relatives. With the exception of tarragon, which belongs to the Compositae, parsley and a few of its relatives which have deserted their own ranks, all the important leaf herbs belong to the Labiatae; and without a notable exception all the herbs whose seeds are used for flavoring belong to the Umbelliferae. Fennel-flower, which belongs to the natural order Ranunculaceae, or crowfoot family, is a candidate for admission to the seed sodality; costmary and southernwood of the Compositae seek membership with the leaf faction; rue of the Rutaceae and tansy of the Compositae, in spite of suspension for their boldness and ill-breeding, occasionally force their way back into the domain of the leaf herbs. Marigold, a composite, forms a clique by itself, the most exclusive club of all. It has admitted no members! And there seem to be no candidates.
The important members of the Labiatae are:
Sage (Salvia officinalis, Linn.). Savory (Satureia hortensis, Linn.). Savory, winter (Satureia montana, Linn.). Thyme (Thymus vulgaris, Linn.). Marjoram (Origanum Marjoram; O. Onites, Linn.; and M. vulgare, Linn.). Balm (Melissa officinalis, Linn.). Basil (Ocimum Basilicum, Linn., and O. minimum, Linn.). Spearmint (Mentha spicata, Linn., or M. viridis, Linn.). Peppermint (Mentha Piperita, Linn.). Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, Linn.). Clary (Salvia Sclarea, Linn.). Pennyroyal (Mentha Pulegium, Linn.). Horehound (Marrubium vulgare, Linn.). Hyssop (Hyssopus vulgaris, Linn.). Catnip (Nepeta Cataria, Linn.). Lavender (Lavandula vera, D. C.; L. spica, D. C.).
These plants, which are mostly natives of mild climates of the old world, are characterized by having square stems; opposite, simple leaves and branches; and more or less two-lipped flowers which appear in the axils of the leaves, occasionally alone, but usually several together, forming little whorls, which often compose loose or compact spikes or racemes. Each fertile blossom is followed by four little seedlike fruits in the bottom of the calyx, which remains attached to the plant. The foliage is generally plentifully dotted with minute glands that contain a volatile oil, upon which depends the aroma and piquancy peculiar to the individual species.
The leading species of the Umbelliferae are:
Parsley (Carum Petroselinum, Benth. and Hook.). Dill (Anethum graveolens, Linn.). Fennel (Foeniculum officinale, Linn.). Angelica (Archangelica officinalis, Hoofm.). Anise (Pimpinella anisum, Linn.). Caraway (Carum Carui, Linn.). Coriander (Coriandrum sativum, Linn.). Chervil (Scandix Cerefolium, Linn.). Cumin or Cummin (Cuminum Cyminum, Linn.). Lovage (Levisticum officinale, Koch.). Samphire (Crithmum maritimum, Linn.).
Like the members of the preceding group, the species of the Umbelliferae are principally natives of mild climates of the old world, but many of them extend farther north into the cold parts of the continent, even beyond the Arctic Circle in some cases. They have cylindrical, usually hollow stems; alternate, generally compound leaves the basis of whose stalks ensheath the branches or stems; and small flowers almost always arranged in compound terminal umbels. The fruits are composed of two seedlike dry carpels, each containing a single seed, and usually separating when ripe. Each carpel bears five longitudinal prominent ribs and several, often four, lesser intermediate ones, in the intervals between which numerous oil ducts have their openings from the interior of the fruit. The oil is generally found in more or less abundance also in other parts of the plant, but is usually most plentiful in the fruits.
The members of the Compositae used as sweet herbs are, with the exception of tarragon, comparatively unimportant, and except for having their flowers in close heads "on a common receptacle, surrounded by an involucre," have few conspicuous characters in common. No further space except that required for their enumeration need here be devoted to them. And this remark will apply also to the other two herbs mentioned further below.
Marigold, Pot (Calendula officinalis, Linn.). Tansy (Tanacetum vulgaris, Linn.). Tarragon (Artemisia Dracunculus, Linn.). Southernwood (Artemisia Abrotanum, Linn.).
Rue (Ruta graveolens, Linn.).
Borage (Borago officinalis, Linn.).
Fennel-flower (Nigella sativa, Linn.).
Before dismissing this section of the subject, it may be interesting to glance over the list of names once more. Seven of these plants were formerly so prominent in medicine that they were designated "official" and nearly all the others were extensively used by physicians. At the present day there are very few that have not passed entirely out of official medicine and even out of domestic practice, at least so far as their intrinsic qualities are concerned. Some, to be sure, are still employed because of their pleasant flavors, which disguise the disagreeable taste of other drugs. But this is a very different matter.
One of the most notable of these is fennel. What wonders could that plant not perform 300 years ago! In Parkinson's "Theatricum Botanicum" (1640) its "vertues" are recorded. Apart from its use as food, for which, then, as now, it was highly esteemed, without the attachment of any medicinal qualities as an esculent, it was considered efficacious in cases of gout, jaundice, cramps, shortness of breath, wheezing of the lungs; for cleansing of the blood and improving the complexion; to use as an eye-water or to increase the flow of milk; as a remedy for serpent bites or an antidote for poisonous herbs and mushrooms; and for people who "are growen fat to abate their unwieldinesse and make them more gaunt and lanke."
But let us peep into the 19th edition of the United States Dispensatory. Can this be the same fennel which "is one of our most grateful aromatics," and which, because of "the absence of any highly excitant property," is recommended for mixing with unpleasant medicines? Ask any druggist, and he will say it is used for little else nowadays than for making a tea to give babies for wind on their stomachs. Strange, but true it is! Similar statements if not more remarkable ones could be made about many of the other herbs herein discussed. Many of these are spoken of as "formerly considered specific" for such and such troubles but "now known to be inert."
The cause is not far to seek. An imaginative and superstitious people attached fanciful powers to these and hundreds of other plants which the intervening centuries have been unable wholly to eradicate, for among the more ignorant classes, especially of Europe, many of these relics of a dark age still persist.
But let us not gloat over our superior knowledge. After a similar lapse of time, may not our vaunted wisdom concerning the properties of plants look as ridiculous to the delver among our musty volumes? Indeed, it may, if we may judge by the discoveries and investigations of only the past fifty years. During this time a surprisingly large number of plants have been proved to be not merely innocuous instead of poisonous, as they were reputed, but fit for human food and even of superior excellence!
THE HERB LIST
Angelica (Archangelica officinalis, Hoffm.), a biennial or perennial herb of the natural order Umbelliferae, so called from its supposed medicinal qualities. It is believed to be a native of Syria, from whence it has spread to many cool European climates, especially Lapland and the Alps, where it has become naturalized.
Description. Its roots are long, spindle-shaped, fleshy, and sometimes weigh three pounds; its stems stout, herbaceous, fluted, often more than 4 feet tall, and hollow; its leaves long-stalked, frequently 3 feet in length, reddish purple at the clasping bases, and composed, in the larger ones, of numerous small leaflets, in three principal groups, which are each subdivided into three lesser groups; its flowers yellowish or greenish, small and numerous, in large roundish umbels; its seeds pale yellow, membranous-edged, oblong flattened on one side, convex on the other, which is marked with three conspicuous ribs.
Cultivation. Since the seeds lose their vitality rapidly, rarely being viable after the first year, they should be sown as soon as ripe in late summer or early autumn, or not later than the following spring after having been kept during the winter in a cold storeroom. The soil should be moderately rich, rather light, deep, well drained, but moist and well supplied with humus. It should be deeply prepared and kept loose and open as long as tools can be used among the plants, which may be left to care for themselves as soon as they shade the ground well.
In the autumn, the seeds may be sown where the plants are to remain or preferably in a nursery bed, which usually does not need protection during the winter. In the spring a mild hotbed, a cold frame or a nursery bed in the garden may be used, according to the earliness of planting. Half an inch is deep enough to cover the seeds. The seedlings should be transplanted when still small for their first summer's growth, a space of about 18 inches being allowed between them. In the autumn they should be removed to permanent quarters, the plants being set 3 feet apart.
If well grown, the leaves may be cut for use during the summer after transplanting; the plants may not, however, produce seed until the following season. Unless seed is desired, the tops should be cut and destroyed at or before flowering time, because, if this be not done, the garden is apt to become overrun with angelica seedlings. If the seeds are wanted, they should be gathered and treated as indicated on page 28. After producing seed, the plants frequently die; but by cutting down the tops when the flower heads first appear, and thus preventing the formation of seed, the plants may continue for several years longer.
Uses. The stems and leaf stalks, while still succulent, are eaten as a salad or are roasted or boiled like potatoes. In Europe, they are frequently employed as a garnish or as an adjunct to dishes of meat and fish. They are also largely used for making candied angelica. (See below.) Formerly the stems were blanched like celery and were very popular as a vegetable; now they are little used in the United States. The tender leaves are often boiled and eaten as a substitute for spinach. Less in America than in Europe, the seeds, which, like other parts of the plant, are aromatic and bitterish, are used for flavoring various beverages, cakes, and candies, especially "comfits." Oil of angelica is obtained from the seeds by distillation with steam or boiling water, the vapor being condensed and the oil separated by gravity. It is also obtained in smaller quantity from the roots, 200 pounds of which, it is said, yield only about one pound of the oil. Like the seeds, the oil is used for flavoring.
Angelica candied. Green says: The fresh roots, the tender stems, the leaf stalks and the midribs of the leaves make a pleasing aromatic candy. When fresh gathered the plant is rather too bitter for use. This flavor may be reduced by boiling. The parts should first be sliced lengthwise, to remove the pith. The length of time will depend somewhat upon the thickness of the pieces. A few minutes is usually sufficient. After removal and draining the pieces are put in a syrup of granulated sugar and boiled till full candy density is reached. The kettle is then removed from the fire and the contents allowed to cool. When almost cold the pieces are to be taken out and allowed to dry.
Anise (Pimpinella Anisum, Linn.), an annual herb of the natural order Umbelliferae. It is a native of southwestern Asia, northern Africa and south-eastern Europe, whence it has been introduced by man throughout the Mediterranean region, into Germany, and to some extent into other temperate regions of both hemispheres, but seems not to be known anywhere in the wild state or as an escape from gardens. To judge from its mention in the Scriptures (Matthew xxiii, 23), it was highly valued as a cultivated crop prior to our era, not only in Palestine, but elsewhere in the East. Many Greek and Roman authors, especially Dioscorides, Theophrastus, Pliny and Paladius, wrote more or less fully of its cultivation and uses.
From their days to the present it seems to have enjoyed general popularity. In the ninth century, Charlemagne commanded that it be grown upon the imperial farms; in the thirteenth, Albertus Magnus speaks highly of it; and since then many agricultural writers have devoted attention to it. But though it has been cultivated for at least two thousand years and is now extensively grown in Malta, Spain, southern France, Russia, Germany and India, which mainly supply the market, it seems not to have developed any improved varieties.
Description.—Its roots are white, spindle-shaped and rather fibrous; its stems about 18 inches tall, branchy, erect, slender, cylindrical; its root leaves lobed somewhat like those of celery; its stem leaves more and more finely cut toward the upper part of the stem, near the top of which they resemble fennel leaves in their finely divided segments; its flowers yellowish white, small, rather large, in loose umbels consisting of many umbellets; its fruits ("seeds") greenish-gray, small, ovoid or oblong in outline, longitudinally furrowed and ridged on the convex side, very aromatic, sweetish and pleasantly piquant.
Cultivation.—The seeds, which should be as fresh as possible, never more than two years old, should be sown in permanent quarters as soon as the weather becomes settled in early spring. They should be planted 1/2 inch deep, about 1/2 inch asunder, in drills 15 or 18 inches apart, and the plants thinned when about 2 inches tall to stand 6 inches asunder. An ounce of seed should plant about 150 feet of drill. The plants, which do not transplant readily, thrive best in well-drained, light, rich, rather dry, loamy soils well exposed to the sun. A light application of well-rotted manure, careful preparation of the ground, clean and frequent cultivation, are the only requisites in the management of this crop.
In about four months from the sowing of the seed, and in about one month from the appearance of the flowers, the plants may be pulled, or preferably cut, for drying. (See page 25.) The climate and the soils in the warmer parts of the northern states appear to be favorable to the commercial cultivation of anise, which it seems should prove a profitable crop under proper management.
Uses.—The leaves are frequently employed as a garnish, for flavoring salads, and to a small extent as potherbs. Far more general, however, is the use of the seeds, which enter as a flavoring into various condiments, especially curry powders, many kinds of cake, pastry, and confectionery and into some kinds of cheese and bread. Anise oil is extensively employed for flavoring many beverages both alcoholic and non-spirituous and for disguising the unpleasant flavors of various drugs. The seeds are also ground and compounded with other fragrant materials for making sachet powders, and the oil mixed with other fluids for liquid perfumes. Various similar anise combinations are largely used in perfuming soaps, pomatums and other toilet articles. The very volatile, nearly colorless oil is usually obtained by distillation with water, about 50 pounds of seed being required to produce one pound of oil. At Erfurt, Germany, where much of the commercial oil is made, the "hay" and the seeds are both used for distilling.
Balm (Melissa officinalis, Linn.), a perennial herb of the natural order Labiatae. The popular name is a contraction of balsam, the plant having formerly been considered a specific for a host of ailments. The generic name, Melissa, is the Greek for bee and is an allusion to the fondness of bees for the abundant nectar of the flowers.
Balm is a native of southern Europe, where it was cultivated as a source of honey and as a sweet herb more than 2,000 years ago. It is frequently mentioned in Greek and Latin poetry and prose. Because of its use for anointing, Shakespeare referred to it in the glorious lines (King Richard II., act iii, scene 2):
"Not all the water in the rough, rude sea Can wash the balm from an anointed king."
As a useful plant it received attention from the pen of Pliny. From its home it has been introduced by man as a garden plant into nearly all temperate climates throughout the world, and is often found as an escape from gardens where introduced—occasionally in this role in the earliest settled of the United States. Very few well-marked varieties have been produced. A variegated one, now grown for ornament as well as for culinary purposes, is probably the same as that mentioned by Mawe in 1778.
Description.—The roots are small and fibrous; the stems, about 18 inches tall, very numerous, erect or spreading, square; the leaves, green (except as mentioned), broadly ovate with toothed margins, opposite, rather succulent, highly scented; the flowers, few, whitish, or purplish, in small, loose, axillary, one-sided clusters borne from midsummer until late autumn; the seeds very small—more than 50,000 to the ounce.
Cultivation.—Balm is readily propagated by means of divisions, layers, cuttings, and by its seeds, which germinate fairly well even when four years old. Owing to its small size, the seed should be planted in a seedpan or flat in a greenhouse or hotbed, where all conditions can be controlled. The soil should be made very fine and friable, the thinly scattered seeds merely pressed upon the surface with a block or a brick, and water applied preferably through the bottom of the seedpan, which may be set in a shallow dish of water until the surface of the soil begins to appear moist.
When an inch tall the seedlings should be pricked out 2 inches apart in other, deeper flats and when about 4 inches tall set in the garden about 1 foot asunder in rows about 18 inches apart. When once established they may be increased readily by the artificial means mentioned. (See page 34.) Ordinary clean cultivation throughout the season, the removal of dead parts, and care to prevent the plants from spreading unduly, are the only requisites of cultivation. Preferably the soil should be poor, rather dry, little if at all enriched and in a sunny place. The foliage of seedling plants or plants newly spring-set should be ready for use by midsummer; that of established plants from early spring until late autumn. For home use and market it should be cured as recommended on page 25, the leaves being very thinly spread and plentifully supplied with air because of their succulence. The temperature should be rather low.
Uses.—The foliage is widely used for flavoring soups, stews, sauces, and dressings, and, when fresh, to a small extent with salads. Otto or oil of balm, obtained by aqueous distillation from the "hay," is a pale yellow, essential and volatile oil highly prized in perfumery for its lemon-like odor, and is extensively employed for flavoring various beverages.
Basil (Ocymum basilicum, Linn.), an annual herb of the order Labiatae. The popular name, derived from the specific, signifies royal or kingly, probably because of the plant's use in feasts. In France it is known as herb royale, royal herb. The generic name is derived from Oza, a Greek word signifying odor.
The plant is a native of tropical Asia, where for centuries, especially in India, it has been highly esteemed as a condiment. Probably the early Greek and Roman writers were well acquainted with it, but commentators are not decided. They suppose that the Okimon of Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Theophrastus is the same as Ocimum hortense of Columella and Varro.
The plant's introduction into England was about 1548, or perhaps a little earlier, but probably not prior to 1538, because Turner does not mention it in his "Libellus," published in that year. It seems to have grown rapidly in popularity, for in 1586 Lyte speaks of it as if well known. In America it has been cultivated somewhat for about a century partly because of its fragrant leaves which are employed in bouquets, but mainly for flavoring culinary concoctions. In Australia it is also more or less grown, and in countries where French commerce or other interests have penetrated it is well known.
There are several related species which, in America less than in Europe or the East, have attracted attention. The most important of these is dwarf or bush basil (O. minimum, Linn.), a small Chilian species also reported from Cochin China. It was introduced into cultivation in Europe in 1573. On account of its compact form it is popular in gardens as an edging as well as a culinary herb, for more than a century it has been grown in America. Sacred basil (O. sanctum), an oriental species, is cultivated near temples in India and its odoriferous oil extracted for religious uses. Formerly the common species was considered sacred by the Brahmins who used it especially in honor of Vishnu and in funeral rites. An African species, O. fruticosum, is highly valued at the Cape of Good Hope for its perfume.
Description.—From the small, fibrous roots the square stems stand erect about 1 foot tall. They are very branching and leafy. The leaves are green, except as noted below, ovate, pointed, opposite, somewhat toothed, rather succulent and highly fragrant. The little white flowers which appear in midsummer are racemed in leafy whorls, followed by small black fruits, popularly called seeds. These, like flaxseed, emit a mucilaginous substance when soaked in water. About 23,000 weigh an ounce, and 10 ounces fill a pint. Their vitality lasts about eight years.
Like most of the other culinary herbs, basil has varied little in several centuries; there are no well-marked varieties of modern origin. Only three varieties of common basil are listed in America; Vilmorin lists only five French ones. Purple basil has lilac flowers, and when grown in the sun also purple leaf stems and young branches. Lettuce-leaved basil has large, pale-green blistered and wrinkled leaves like those of lettuce. Its closely set clusters of flowers appear somewhat late. The leaves are larger and fewer than in the common variety.
The dwarf species is more compact, branching and dainty than the common species. It has three varieties; one with deep violet foliage and stems and lilac white flowers, and two with green leaves, one very dense and compact.
East Indian, or Tree Basil (O. gratissimum, Linn.), a well-known species in the Orient, seems to have a substitute in O. suave, also known by the same popular name, and presumably the species cultivated in Europe and to some extent in America. It is an upright, branching annual, which forms a pyramidal bush about 20 inches tall and often 15 inches in diameter. It favors very warm situations and tropical countries.
Cultivation.—Basil is propagated by seeds. Because these are very small, they are best sown in flats under glass, covered lightly with finely sifted soil and moistened by standing in a shallow pan of water until the surface shows a wet spot. When about an inch tall, the seedlings must be pricked out 2 inches apart each way in larger-sized flats. When 3 inches tall they will be large enough for the garden, where they should be set 1 foot asunder in rows 15 to 18 inches apart. Often the seed is sown in the mellow border as early in the spring as the ground can be worked. This method demands perhaps more attention than the former, because of weeds and because the rows cannot be easily seen. When transplanting, preference should be given to a sunny situation in a mellow, light, fertile, rather dry soil thoroughly well prepared and as free from weeds as possible. From the start the ground must be kept loose, open and clean. When the plants meet in the rows cultivation may stop.
First gatherings of foliage should begin by midsummer when the plants start to blossom. Then they may be cut to within a few inches of the ground. The stumps should develop a second and even a third crop if care is exercised to keep the surface clean and open. A little dressing of quickly available fertilizer applied at this time is helpful. For seed some of the best plants should be left uncut. The seed should ripen by mid-autumn.
For winter use plants may be transplanted from the garden, or seedlings may be started in September. The seeds should be sown two to the inch and the seedlings transplanted to pots or boxes. A handy pot is the 4-inch standard; this is large enough for one plant. In flats the plants should be 5 or 6 inches apart each way.
Uses.—Basil is one of the most popular herbs in the French cuisine. It is especially relished in mock turtle soup, which, when correctly made, derives its peculiar taste chiefly from the clovelike flavor of basil. In other highly seasoned dishes, such as stews and dressings, basil is also highly prized. It is less used in salads. A golden yellow essential oil, which reddens with age, is extracted from the leaves for uses in perfumery more than in the kitchen.
The original and famous Fetter Lane sausages, formerly popular with Cockney epicures, owed their reputation mainly to basil. During the reigns of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth farmers grew basil in pots and presented them with compliments to their landladies when these paid their visits.
Borage (Borago officinalis, Linn.), a coarse, hardy, annual herb of the natural order Boraginaceae. Its popular name, derived from the generic, is supposed by some to have come from a corruption of cor, the heart, and ago, to affect, because of its former use as a cordial or heart-fortifying medicine. Courage is from the same source. The Standard Dictionary, however, points to burrago, rough, and relates it indirectly by cross references to birrus, a thick, coarse woolen cloth worn by the poor during the thirteenth century. The roughness of the full-grown leaves suggests flannel. Whichever derivation be correct, each is interesting as implying qualities, intrinsic or attributed, to the plant.
The specific name indicates its obsolete use in medicine. It is one of the numerous plants which have shaken off the superstitions which a credulous populace wreathed around them. Almost none but the least enlightened people now attribute any medicinal virtues whatever to it.
The plant is said to come originally from Aleppo, but for centuries has been considered a native of Mediterranean Europe and Africa, whence it has become naturalized throughout the world by Europeans, who grew it probably more for medicinal than for culinary purposes. According to Ainslie, it was among the species listed by Peter Martyr as planted on Isabella Island by Columbus's companions. The probability is that it was also brought to America by the colonists during Queen Elizabeth's time. It has been listed in American seedsmen's catalogues since 1806, but the demand has always been small and the extent to which it is cultivated very limited.
Description.—Borage is of somewhat spreading habit, branchy, about 20 inches tall. Its oval or oblong-lanceolate leaves and other green parts are covered with whitish, rather sharp, spreading hairs. The flowers, generally blue, sometimes pink, violet-red, or white, are loosely racemed at the extremities of the branches and main stems.
"The flaming rose glooms swarthy red; The borage gleams more blue; And low white flowers, with starry head, Glimmer the rich dusk through."
—George MacDonald "Songs of the Summer Night," Part III
The seeds are rather large, oblong, slightly curved, and a ridged and streaked grayish-brown. They retain their vitality for about eight years.
Cultivation.—No plant is more easily grown. The seed need only be dropped and covered in any soil, from poor to rich, and the plants will grow like weeds, and even become such if allowed to have sway. Borage seems, however, to prefer rather light, dry soils, waste places and steep banks. Upon such the flavor of the flowers is declared to be superior to that produced upon richer ground, which develops a ranker growth of foliage.