When it comes to what we eat, this country is in something of an interesting mess. The convenience and efficiency of the big stores seems to have triumphed over nutrition and taste, making food just another colorful package we shop for alongside toiletries, lampshades, and clothes. At the same time, something else is happening, proving that food means much more to us on a deeper level. Memoirs celebrating food and gardening are taking center stage in the bookstore. Enthusiastic chefs are glorifying food and becoming national celebrities. Organic, natural, and local are the new, chic pursuits, and they are winning us over—so much that we don't always know how to shop for food anymore. Wherever we look, authors, organic farmers, and chefs are treating food in a new, even spiritual sort of way—and we the (hungry) people are a little confused.
It's too early to tell where all this is heading, but it's obvious we are rebelling against homogenization and rediscovering an extraordinary, personal connection to food. As the weather warms and farmers' markets start to open, I know I will be among those folks in pursuit of local, healthy, and colorful things to eat. Throughout the spring and summer months, I load up on fresh herbs and produce and rifle through my cookbooks to find ideas on what to do with everything. The authors I reference all have a personal approach to food and I find myself browsing for recipes with my chef "friends" in mind.
Judy Griffin, a master herbalist and horticulturalist with a Ph.D. in nutrition, is another one of those authors bound to become a faithful guide. Mother Nature's Herbal is primarily a book for herbalists and gardeners, but it's so extensive it has the chef in me excited, too. Griffin shows us the remarkable ways in which herbs have been grown, cultivated, and mixed into salves, baths, teas, tonics, breads, pies, deserts, sauces, drinks, salads, and entrees all throughout the world.
Those with a green thumb will find instructions on growing organic herbs and companion plants, sample garden layouts, and an herbal nutrient and purchasing guide. Those with an eye on holistic health will understand the way in which herbs and essential oils can be used to make simple remedies for physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Cooks like me will find recipes that are simple and authentic, the way food should be. With a warm, encyclopedic approach and an index you can get lost in, this book quickly becomes a reference to keep around for years to come.
If your refrigerator is full of artichokes, chicken, or broccoli, your backyard flowering with basil or coriander, and your pantry stocked with quinoa, sesame seeds, or seaweed, you will easily find short work of a tasty meal. Did I mention that you'll also learn how to make therapeutic baths, skincare products, herbal wine, and medieval rosary beads, too? I should probably just stop right now and let you discover Mother Nature's Herbal for yourself. Happy growing, shopping, and eating!