Blooms Anew Among The Sages


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
ave 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.