Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review - Encyclopedia of Herbs

The Encyclopedia of Herbs: A Comprehensive Reference to Herbs of Flavor and Fragrance
By Arthur O. Tucker, PhD and Thomas DeBaggio (published by Timber Press, 2009)

I have always wanted the definitive book on herbs, which is really an impossibility, but this book is probably the closest I've found.  Written by a botanist, Arthur O. Tucker and an herb specialist Thomas DeBaggio it is  a "meticulously researched compendium provides every aspect of growing, identifying, harvesting, preserving, and using more than 500 species of herbs."

It begins with sections on plant identification and naming then progresses through understanding an identifying the flavors and tastes to maximizing flavor and fragrance of herbs into how to grow them and keep them healthy.  Then it provides a profile of 500 different plants.  Providing a plant's botanical name and family, (as well as common names in various countries where it is grown,) whether it is an annual or perennial, its height, hardiness, light requirements, water consumption, required soil type, and pH. The often fascinating history of the plant, the chemistry of its essential oils, and its culinary, landscape, and craft uses are also included, as is advice on how to propagate.  The practical parts of the text, like how to propagate and tidbits of history were the brain child of Thomas DeBaggio.  This is actually a revised version of their first publication The Big Book of Herbs.  The authors received The Gertrude B. Foster Award for Excellence in Herbal Literature from the Herb Society of America. With this version they have added new plants and updated the nomenclature.  It does have an index which is invaluable with a book of this magnitude.  They also went to the trouble of providing plant name pronunciation guides including a way to know what the letters should sound like.  I thought that was a great touch, so we can say them right in the company of our herb peers and not feel silly.  The book also references GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) characteristics for the various plants profiled.

It has line drawings of herbs rather than photographs which I think was helpful and not so helpful depending on how you wish to use the book.  For plant identification it is not as helpful without a few color photos, but the other information it provides, more than makes up for this.  There are 145 line drawings included in the 604 pages of text.  The index includes topics as well as Scientific names and common names to make searching for herbs easier.

About the Authors

Joyce and Thomas DeBaggio taken by Melissa Block/NPR
I have to admit that I am biased toward Thomas DeBaggio, he was a self-taught herb grower who I got to know through his writing for the Herb Companion magazine back when I first got interested in herbs in the late 1980s. He was the founder of DeBaggio's Herb Farm and Nursery, now located in Chantilly, Virginia, and run by his son, Francesco.  He unfortunately died in 2011 after a long fight with Alzheimer's Disease.  One of my friends in herbs once said, Tom had forgotten more about herbs than he would ever learn in his lifetime.  Mellisa Block of NPR, had this to say in her obituary of this remarkable man:

"DeBaggio lived for plants and the garden. He started out selling tomato plants in Styrofoam cups from his driveway in Arlington, Va., for 25 cents apiece. That backyard business grew into a thriving herb farm and nursery with 100 varieties of tomato plants, three dozen kinds of basil — everything leafy and beautifully strong and fragrant.

"When DeBaggio was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's, he set to work, writing two books about living with the disease. He described with remarkable candor the frightening progression of his illness.
"This is an unfinished story of a man dying in slow motion," he wrote in the first book, which he titled, with his typical brutal honesty, Losing My Mind."

Dr. Arthur O. Tucker is a professor of botany at Delaware State University. He is a botanist specializing in the identification and chemistry of plants of flavor, fragrance, and medicine. He teaches and writes and is a Research Professor and Director of the Claude E. Phillips Herbarium.  He has published widely on many herbs and essential oils, is an acknowledged authority of the lavenders, and is on the editorial board of Economic Botany and Journal of Essential Oil Research as well as an advisor for many other journals and groups. 

If you want to get your self a copy of this wonderful hardcover book, check out this link to DeBaggio's Herb Famr and Nursery:

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