When Linda Ligon, creator and former publisher of The Herb Companion, stepped into a natural foods store in November 1987, she didn’t expect to find inspiration for her next magazine, but that’s just what happened. She describes it as “literally an out-of-body experience.” The idea for an herb gardening and cooking magazine came to her, and The Herb Companion was born. The premiere issue, October/November 1988, appeared in subscribers’ mailboxes soon after.
Early on, The Herb Companion, was available only to subscribers and not sold on the newsstand. When Ligon, of Loveland, Colorado, decided to branch out and put copies in bookstores nationwide, her newsstand distributor suggested she change the serene illustrated cover to match the “pop” of other magazines. But she knew the magazine had a special niche that needed to remain soft and simple. “The Herb Companion was reflecting the sensibilities and aesthetics of serenity,” Ligon says. “Herb gardens have that quality of retreat. They’re not showy.”
Over the years, The Herb Companion has covered the ins and outs of a wide variety of herbs. Asked about her favorite issue, Ligon faces a dilemma any parent would understand. “I could pick one for a favorite cover, one for a favorite article or theme, one for a favorite bunch of photos, maybe. But a magazine is such a living, growing, evolving entity — picking one is like picking a flower off a living plant. Single it out, and it dies. I just loved the magazine as a whole, loved editing it, loved working with the authors, loved the community of herb-loving readers,” Ligon says.
Earlier this year, Ogden Publications of Topeka, Kansas, purchased The Herb Companion and its sister publication, Herbs for Health. Ogden is also the new home of Mother Earth News magazine, the venerable publication that has helped foster natural, sustainable living for more than 30 years. K.C. Compton, editor in chief of both the herb magazines and former managing editor for Mother Earth News, says The Herb Companion is in perfect synch with Ogden’s aim of providing practical, helpful information that makes life easier, healthier or simply more congenial for our readers.
“I love The Herb Companion because it is comforting, informative and real. I can’t think of a job more fun than this!
“So many magazines these days seem designed to make readers feel inadequate if they don’t buy into a particular lifestyle or look,” Compton says. “Our approach is very simple: Herbs are good. Grow them, eat them, enjoy them. This is a legacy we’re all honored to help carry forward.”
Ligon graciously attributes the magazine’s success to its strong contributors, all part of the herb community, who for the past 15 years have shared their extensive knowledge with us. Here are some of their reminiscences.
I wrote my first article for The Herb Companion on horseradish, which was published in 1989. Since then, the herb industry has changed enormously in that it has grown in leaps and bounds. There used to be a number of us that would gather around and share our love of herbs, but now there are many more who have herbs in their lives.
For The Herb Companion’s 10th anniversary issue, I was asked to write an article on herbal birthday cakes. It just so happened that my deadline was right after our family vacation, so I decided to do my recipe testing at the beach. I had to load up the van with all of the regular gear but then include cake pans of assorted sizes, my KitchenAid mixer, double boiler, timer, bowls, rubber scrapers, measuring cups, pounds of chocolate, sugar, flour, butter and liqueurs, as well as a variety of fresh and dried herbs. Every morning after the family cleared out and went to the beach, I’d stay and test a different cake. I’d clean up the kitchen, then leave the cake to cool and head for the beach. So every evening after dinner, we’d have a cake taste test. Hard job, but somebody’s gotta do it!
— Susan Belsinger
Contributor since 1989
The Herb Companion is the most beautiful, relevant magazine on herbs today; its use of both photography and sensitive illustration covers all the bases; editorial focus causes stories to have real time/real life application for today’s living.
I loved the way my story on my lemon garden (June/July 1996) turned out, featuring both lemon-scented and lemon-colored herbs and flowers, and the one on herbs in Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit books (December/January 1997) too.
One time a couple of The Herb Companion subscribers moved to Atlanta and called me at home, saying, “Are you the Geri Laufer who writes for The Herb Companion?” I ended up inviting them to come over and get a tour of my two-acre garden.
— Geri Laufer
Contributor since 1991
Our first article was for the August/September issue in 1989. It was “Tastes of Oregano,” and it is still a question that confuses people! We find it is more of a challenge to convey herbal information to the world today because people are much more knowledgeable.
Both the capers (October/November 2001) and bay (April/May 1994) stories were fun to write because they’re ingredients that I (Gwen) love to cook with very much. The use of fresh bay is so totally different than dried and very much underutilized and actually unknown even to many herb growers. The capers story was fun because of our visit to Italy and getting to see and photograph them growing every place at the Castello de Brolio, quite a famous vineyard in the Chianti region near Florence.
Mother (Madalene) especially enjoyed working on the liqueur story (December/January 1991) because of the research involved and for the new and tasty formulas we developed.
—Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay
Contributors since 1989
The Herb Companion was ahead of its time. The magazine, a vision of founder Linda Ligon, foresaw that amid an explosion of technology that impacted every aspect of everyday life, people would hold onto a yearning for grace and beauty, as well as a healthy and wholesome lifestyle that connects the present to the past and to the rest of the planet. Growing herbs in the garden, exploring their history and using them in our lives answer that need.
I think, among the stories I’ve written for the magazine, my favorite was a profile of Tasha Tudor [a well-known illustrator, gardener and craftswoman] (December/January 1995), as she’s such an interesting woman.
— Kathleen Halloran
Former editor and current technical editor
I have been writing for The Herb Companion since the beginning of the “Round Robin” column in 1990. I always enjoy writing about new lavender cultivars, but one of my favorite articles from the past was on Agastache (June/July 1994). I enjoyed this article because it promoted a relatively undiscovered genus to the gardening public in terms of mid- to late-summer flowering, scented foliage and flowers, and butterfly and hummingbird attractant.
— Andrew Van Hevelingen
Contributor since 1990
I started working on The Herb Companion in January 1989. To me, working on the early issues was exciting because every article introduced new information about herbs.
My favorite article is “The Best of Thymes,” by Harriet Flannery Phillips (April/May 1991). Phillips not only tells at length about her research to clarify the relationships of the members of a confusing genus of herbs, but also describes 10 of her favorite thymes. Her writing is not only informative but also engaging — a winning combination!
— Betsy Strauch
Former assistant editor and contributor