Book Review (Gardening With Herbs for Flavor and Fragrance by Helen Morgenthau Fox)

"The first European to write on plants was the Greek Theophrastus, called the father of botany, who was born in 370 B.C. He was a pupil of Plato and later of Aristotle." Page 22, Gardening With Herbs for Flavor And Fragrance by Helen Morgenthau Fox.

Recently I traveled to the small town of Franklin N.Y. to check out the annual Library's book sale. I went specifically to find some books on gardening and to get some text for our children whom we homeschool. I found a few interesting books and after being of accused of trying to steal them from the book sale by the Head Librarian I paid for them and made the short drive home. (That of course is a whole separate story)

One of the books that I purchased was the book Gardening With Herbs for Flavor And Fragrance by Helen Morgenthau Fox. Originally published in 1933 the edition I found was from 1970 with an inscription on the inside that said "For Doris, birthday 1973".

I have been thinking about how I want to approach this review for a few weeks now. I have been thinking seriously about writing a gardening book myself for the last year or so and when I first started reading this particular book I was blown away. I thought to myself, "now this is the way to write a gardening book!". It was deeply poetic in content and style, it also had some fantastically obscure information. Information that is not necessarily useful per say but historically interesting none the less. For example there was a recipe for the famous vinegar used by the Four Thieves during the plague at Marseilles in 1722 that was used by the thieves who were robbing the bodies of the dead. It also contained an order by Charles the Great dictating what one should have in their gardens.

There was obviously a ton of research put into individual herbs and it was written during a time period when knowledge was not simply a keyboard away. Some of the herbs we can readily purchase at any country farm stand was a journey for Ms. Fox that took on aspects of searching for the Holy Grail itself.

My internal debate on the book began to arise when she began to describe southern plantation owners in a romantic light rather than individuals who "owned" other human beings. She also went into fanciful print imagining pioneer women taking part in activities that simply were not possible for someone struggling to exist. I am willing to allow some sort of artistic quarter but in the end it really was enough to take this book from being one of a kind for it's poetic prowess to being a gossip session at a high society tea party. So you may be asking yourself why I am suggesting it at all. For this reason alone, the parts of the book that are quality are superior pieces of garden literature. Just go into it knowing you are reading a book written by an individual living in pre-civil rights America and at times it shows. This book is an interesting historical dialogue at the very least.

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here


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