Plants Go To War – A Book Review

By Maryann Readal

To quote author Judith Sumner in the preface to her new book, Plants Go to War: A Botanical Plants go to war coverHistory of World War II, “The war could not have been won without rubber, but the same might be said about wheat, cotton, lumber, quinine, and penicillin, all with botanical origins.” In her book, Sumner documents many of the plants that were critical to World War II efforts on all sides of the battlefield. Indeed, her research is exhaustive in that she covers not only the military uses of plants but also civilian uses as well by the major countries involved in the war.

As the war disrupted supplies of plants needed for medicine, food, and manufacturing, governments had to look for alternatives. Some were successful in growing tropical plants and food crops on their own soil; some began to look for chemical alternatives. A chemical synthesis of quinine to fight malaria was one of those discovered alternatives.

Sumner reveals that adequate nutrition was a monumental consideration for governments. Not only troop nutrition, but also civilian nutrition, as it was important that good physical and mental health of all people was critical to support the war effort. Victory gardens were born then, with many people growing their own fruits and vegetables so that soldiers would have enough to eat. In Great Britain, people were encouraged to grow vegetables even in bombed-out craters. Schoolchildren would go on farming vacations in order to grow and harvest crops due to victory-gardens-for-family-and-country-these-victory-gardeners-are-transferring-1024the shortage of men to do the farming. In Germany, the Lebensraum idea was the impetus behind Hitler’s attempt to secure more land for German farmers to grow German native plants for food and other purposes.

In reading Judith’s book, I got a glimpse into the incredible foresight and organization governments need to conduct a war on the battlefield, while simultaneously sustaining the home front. Reading the book also enabled me to better understand some of my parents’ attitudes about food and thrift that carried over into everyday life, even when the war was over.

To those of us who are involved with the collection and spreading of plant, and particularly herb, knowledge, this book demonstrates how important that work is. For as Ms. Sumner says in her book, “practical information about how plants could be used for survival came from botanical gardens, herbaria, and notes archived in botanical libraries.”

Sumner says that her “goal was to write an encyclopedic synthesis of civilian and military plant uses and botanical connections as they relate to World War II.” I believe she has accomplished this goal with her authoritative and informative book. I am sure that it is destined to be a classic source on this topic. Her book is a reminder of how important plants and plant knowledge, collected during peace time, can be in a world crisis.


JUDITH SUMNER is a botanist and author with particular interest in the historical uses of plants. She is a frequent lecturer for audiences of all kinds and has taught for many years at colleges and botanical gardens. She lives in Worcester, MA. Judith received The Herb Society of America’s Gertrude Foster writing award in 2007.

Plants Go To War: A Botanical History of World War II by Judith Sumner. Publisher: McFarland. McFarlandBooks.com


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

 

Six Reasons to Read The Culinary Herbal

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

The Culinary Herbal bookAn herb gardener and enthusiast for nearly 30 years, it’s been a while since I’ve met an herbal reference I couldn’t live without. Well, I just met one:  The Culinary Herbal, Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs (Timber Press, 2016, $27.50) by Susan Belsinger & Arthur O. Tucker. Both are members of HSA.

The book is  a guide, not a cookbook. With carefully chosen words, and straightforward pictures by Shawn Linehan, it sates the appetite for information. You don’t walk away hungry for more or overwhelmed by too much.

Six reasons to add The Culinary Herbal to your library include

  • It discusses common and uncommon herbs. For example, the first listing is “ajowan.” The seeds smell/taste of thyme and are used in savory Indian dishes.
  • It covers food uses. About lemon verbena the authors write “[the leaves] make a delightful syrup. Extracts and tinctures are used in the formulations of liqueurs. They can also be made into an aromatic paste for baked goods.”
  • It explores taste like a good wine catalog. Violas or Johnny-jump-ups “have pleasingly mild sweet tastes like baby lettuce. Some of them have a slight, mild hint of wintergreen, and a few bring bubblegum to mind.” 
  • It notes growing information. Atop the page for each herb is a summary of ideal conditions. French Tarragon prefers full sun in well-drained soil of a 6 to 6.5 pH. 
  • It cautions of dangers. Did you know that green, unripe elderberries are poisonous? 
  • It offers lush, definitive photography. Relevant photos of each herb show essential parts such as leaves, flowers, fruit, seed, roots.

The only thing missing is a spreadsheet so I don’t have to flip pages to find like-herbs for my shade garden with dry soil, etc. Then, again, the growing information is a top each listing. So, flipping page by page is simple enough.


What’s your favorite herb reference book?

 

 

 

Preparing a Punny Planting Plan

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

old teapotI am a thrift shopping junkie. And, it’s part of my gardening life.

At a garage sale last spring, I grabbed 6-inch concrete angel from a paved driveway before the woman next to me could claim it. At the end of an estate sale in late fall, I gave up $40 for a curved cement bench that no one wanted. Both were deals. Both were accidental.

For 2016, I have a plan. In fact, I have plenty of punny planting plans.

I’m putting kitchen herbs in kitchenware.

Mint pouring from a vintage aluminum teakettle. Lavender standing in a shiny, tin flour sifter. Thyme draping from a tall metal coffee server. Parsley and oregano crowded into a weathered aluminum pasta pot garnished with a wooden spoon.

junk bookIt’s not a novel idea. Just check out Adam Caplin’s “Planted Junk” from 2001. It’s one of several available garden junk books inspiring my summer fantasies.

“Junk pots—often beautiful in themselves – can be planted to enhance the overall garden look,” writes Caplin.

Exactly. But, it requires forethought to do it well. That’s why I’m starting now. I need time to find the right size, shape, color AND price.

I’m challenging myself to find containers that cost less than $5, are rustically attractive and have outlived their kitchen use.

Why? Because junk shouldn’t cost too much. And, it’s a shame to trash perfectly good kitchenware … at least that’s what my Catholic guilt pings me.

With that in mind, I’m haunting Goodwill and Salvation Army stores, thrift shops and antique retailers. And, I can’t wait for garage sale season. That won’t happen until Spring in Northeast Ohio.


TIP: Check out http://www.shopgoodwill.com for kitchenware you can repurpose. My recent search for “tea kettle” was rich with possibilities.


Visualizing this twist on a kitchen garden gives this gardener something to do when not looking through seed catalogs. Stay tuned for my progress. And, please share your own.

 

 

 

Book Interview: A Garden to Dye For

Book Interview: A Garden to Dye For

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

A-Garden-to-Dye-for-Cover-small-300x300 Author Chris McLaughlin shows readers how to use botanicals to dye fiber and fabric in her book A Garden to Dye For (St. Lynn’s Press, 2014, $17.95). Her palette includes the obvious and the obscure. Indigo and madder root are well documented. But, did you know the properties of pokeberry, mint, bee balm, purple basil, marjoram, tansy? Check out Chris’s book and learn to coax color from nature.

 The book itself is small enough to tuck into a purse for reading on long journeys or in busy waiting rooms. And, it’s full of garden layouts and step-by-step instructions illustrated by lush pictures.

We recently caught up with Chris for an interview about her all-natural, organic options for dying fiber and fabric.

Garden to Dye For authorHow did you get interested in using plants for dye?

As a lifetime gardener I was aware that some plants could be used as natural dyes, but for years the only project I had ever used them for was Easter Eggs. Once I become involved with hand-spinning fiber, I rediscovered botanical dyes — this time using natural fibers such as mohair, silk, and cotton.

How do you use dyeing in your life?

I mostly use botanicals to dye the yarns that I handspin. One of my favorite uses is to make artisan silk scarves and play silks for young children.

 What’s your favorite color? Your favorite herb?  

I don’t truly have a favorite color nor herb. However, it’s really exciting to watch the purples come out of the lichen dye pot. Also marigolds are usually within reach for almost everybody and so easy to use. That’s my go-to much of the time. I was surprised to find how much I love the walnut dye. It’s the richest brown ever.

 What results have you had? 

 My results are often consistent with what I set out to achieve. However, if they are not, then I consider it a learning moment. I also experiment with botanical materials collected at different times of the years to see what results come from them. I’ve never had so much fun with experimentation.

 Will people fail and move on? Can they fix things? 

If you’re trying to achieve a specific color and it turns out differently than you’ve heard it “should” then you might have to adjust the pH of the bath by adding something alkaline such as baking soda or acidic such as vinegar. So, in that sense, it can be fixed it altered.

If I have dyed something already and can’t alter the dyebath, then I simply make a new one or dye over it.

What should everyone remember to do?

Have patience. Many times people assume that their dyebath has failed” to produce a certain color. When the truth us that if they have more patience and slow down, it often shows up.

 What pointers/tips would you offer dyers?

The best piece of advice I can offer is to try dyeing with several plant materials and various textiles. I find that cotton has the hardest time taking natural dyes and that can be discouraging if that is the first (and only) thing that you try dyeing. If you want results immediately, go for wool or silk the first time around.

Also, if you are getting various natural dye “recipes” — try all of them. See what works for you and what you enjoy best. And don’t forget to write everything down! You think you’ll remember what you used to achieve a certain color…but you honestly won’t.

The Bookshelf: The Herb Lover’s Spa Book

The Bookshelf: The Herb Lover’s Spa Book

Review by: Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

pg37 HLSBDraw a bath, drop in lavender essential oil, fluff an oversized towel, silence your mobile phone. OR slouch into your favorite garden chair, with sassy sunglasses and a sweating glass of iced tea.

Designate a relaxation place in your own space. Then, cozy up with The Herb Lover’s Spa Book by Sue Goetz (St. Lynn’s Press, 2015, $18.95).

Put a journal and pen nearby. When you’ve dried off from the bath or finished your tea, you’ll want to create a list. Goetz uses 19 herbs to build 50 recipes. You might harvest the botanicals, but you’ll want a shopping list for salts, oils, packaging and more.

Hers are recipes for women of the 2010s. Sophisticated and easy on your time. Peppermint foot soak uses four ingredients; lavender green tub tea uses just two. Not sure how to package your final products? The lush images throughout the hardcover book are inspiring: Canning jars, antique glassware, ribbons and tags.

Goetz says her creative drive inspires her garden. “I tend to think ‘What can I make with this plant?’ before I put it in my garden,” she says. Working with these herbs through time has been both inspiration and test laboratory for her.

“The recipes I have included are ones that I have made over the years,” she notes. “But I must say I am always experimenting, refining and learning with new ideas, recipes and keeping up with the study of what herbs can do for us.”

pg102 HLSBWhile she doesn’t claim a favorite recipe, she admits, “The ones I tend to make regularly are the lavender salt scrub because it is a nice way to treat my hands after a day of gardening; and rose water or lavender water in a spray bottle is a refresher to lift the mood in my office or a mist of fragrance on my clothes and hair as I go out the door.”

Goetz has chosen both her bathroom and garden as relaxation spaces. “This morning I hung a fresh bundle of eucalyptus (I grew it in a pot over the summer) from the shower to clear my head and have a mini-spa moment. The house still smells wonderful,” she says. “In the garden, I have a comfy wicker chair that gives me a quiet retreat space.”


Herb Society members get a 10% discount on herb materials at Richters. Find membership login information on the society’s website.

The Herb Lover’s Spa Book is in the HSA library.  Like all books, members can borrow it via email or phone call. It will be mailed out and must be returned after 30 days. Non-members can stop by the Herb Society to peruse it in the library.