Belsinger and Tucker have both worked with herbs in culinary and medicinally fields for many years. Between the two of them they have generations worth of experience (from teachers and family) that have culminated into a wonderful, detailed, and stunning book. The Culinary Herbal is perfect for anyone who wants to incorporate herbs into their diet quickly and easily. The breakdown the palate, use, and growing habits of 97 culinary herbs and do so with captivating photography and easy-to-understand entries. After discussing each herb in detail they move on to discuss growing herbs in a garden (container, indoor, propagation, etc.) and then how to preserve and cook them (vinegars, oils, salts, etc.) I cannot suggest this enough for any new couple purchasing their first home or a college grad who is on their own far away from their mother’s kitchen.
The first section of the culinary herbs is detailed and wonderfully illustrated. Each photo is done with care so you can clearly see the aerial and base parts of the herb. From there Belsinger and Tucker go on to describe the most popular dishes that contain the herb and what sort of tastes it gives on its own or in meals. From there they go onto discuss growing behavior and how to harvest and preserve each plant. I personally believe this is a wonderful idea because many new herbies may not know what to do after harvest day. Do I dry it or put it in vinegar? Do I make a paste, a salt, or a sugar? This book offers base suggestions and encourages you to explore further; something that I believe is important in all concentrations of herbalism.
Within the first paragraph I was thrilled by their advice. Don’t, “try to jam peppermint and thyme next to each other in an artificial ecological setting that would make extra work.” While I do love beautifully manicured gardens of the British estates or the meticulously managed vegetable garden from the White House, nothing makes me feel like a real gardener more than when my plants are thriving where they want to be. This sort of advice is crucial for newbies. Don’t feel pressured to become Martha Stewart over night. Your garden will look beautiful no matter how wild because well, it’s a garden.
From that absolutely essential piece of advice they go on to discuss the importance of understanding your plants to keep them healthy and happy and finding a way to make your garden work for you. Wonderful nuggets of advice so new herbies understand they do not need to have massive lush gardens to be successful. Just have happy plants that you can snip for your meals. It doesn’t matter if they are indoor, in containers, or somewhere in a field.
This section was another important point in my opinion. In the section they discuss practices such as drying the herbs and preserving them over time. They also discussed harvesting during the peak hours of the plant. While I believe that if you can do this you should, I do not believe a whole crop is wasted if you don’t. You should harvest when you have a chance. Be that before work in the morning or after dinner with your family. It is always a good time to go out and smell the Rosemary.
Cooking (of course)
Finally the section with the recipes was short and sweet. While I believe that they could have gone into more detail (maybe their own favorite recipes) I’m glad they highlighted the basics of syrups, oils, pastes, and butters. When you are a new herbie sometimes you have to go through the basics so you have new ways to explore.
Overall I believe this book can be a wonderful addition to any beginner’s kitchen. I think it has a lot to offer for inspiration and experimentation. Exactly what an herbal book should do.