It’s too bad there’s not an Herbalists’ Hall of Fame. There’s a Hall of Fame for baseball players and one for football stars—and Hollywood has its own Walk of Fame. These memorials are understandable because the people they honor doubtlessly have contributed great joy to millions of fans.
But what about herbalists? Why isn’t there a hall of fame for the people who have written the books, concocted the recipes and formulas, and brought joy to the herbal masses?
To rectify this oversight, I have made my garden my personal Herbalists’ Hall of Fame. Instead of bronze plaques in a darkened, hushed museum, the very plants I grow represent the notables and greats of the herb world.
On the occasional moonlight walk through the garden, I can see Betty Wold—one of the wackiest, most creative and most curious plant ladies I have known—among my pastel buds. Betty convinced me of the importance of having white, pink and yellow flowering plants in my garden. Before Betty came along, I took no delight in the pastel shades of larkspur or hollyhock, and experienced no joy from white poppies and white baptisia. When I asked her why she thought pastels were important, she said, “Because whites, light yellows and pinks are the only colors that show up in the moonlight, and midnight picnics wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without them.”
A few steps along my culinary path brings me to my little rosemary collection and Madalene Hill. A plant of ‘Hill Hardy’ rosemary, discovered and named by her, stands in tribute to this great herbalist’s lifetime of wisdom. When she visited my garden several years ago, I told her how I envied her Texas climate and her ability to grow rosemary. “I just can’t grow it here,” I said.
Madalene responded with twinkling eyes, “You can grow rosemary here. You just don’t know what you’re doing wrong.” Then she told me how to keep my rosemary alive and well in my schizophrenic Ozarks Zone 6 climate.
Farther along is my memorial to the late Adelma Simmons in the form of a healthy, robust hyssop plant. It reminds me of dinner with Adelma. Picture it: a dark January night, snow and ice outside the plate glass window. Eight of us —including Adelma, Pat Gould, Chuck Voigt and me—are gathered around a big, round restaurant table on the Fox River in Illinois. Adelma and I are both scheduled to speak at Chuck Voigt’s “Herb Day,” to be held the following day on the University of Illinois campus.
We all are chatting when we see flames reflected in the window. Someone in the restaurant had ordered Bananas Foster, and the waitstaff was delivering the flaming dish in all its glory. Adelma laughed and said how much that dish resembled the flaming bean dish she liked to serve at special events at Caprilands, her famous herb farm in Coventry, Connecticut.
“It’s a dish of black beans slowly cooked with hyssop and thyme and lots of onions, then baked into a small bean pot. Just before serving it, I pour brandy over the dish and set it ablaze,” she said with a laugh. “And the second we bring it out, we toss a grand pinch of well-crushed, dried hyssop into the flames. It’s like having little sparklers for a couple of seconds—very impressive,” she said. “Of course, one has to be careful not to use too much or you could have a fire on your hands.”
Down the path from Adelma is Dr. Art Tucker, the walking encyclopedia of herbs. An author, researcher and brilliant expert on plant oils, Art contributed a Russian variety of clary sage to my garden. Each year it blooms with waist-high clusters of fragrant, white-green flowers that send the bees into a tizzy of activity. This prolific plant is used to flavor tobacco products elsewhere, but in my garden, it reminds me of this remarkable herbalist.
I grow a few hundred herbs of various sorts, most contributed by herb friends. Some are recognizable authors, researchers and inventors. Some are “just folks” like you and me. But each and every plant has a story and a person behind it.
Yes, there needs to be a Hall of Fame for herbalists somewhere. Until there is, my garden will stand as a memorial to the greats and the everydays of the herb industry.
Contributing editor Jim Long writes and gardens at his farm, Long Creek Herbs, located in the Ozark Mountains. To contact him, visit www.HerbCompanion.com/Contributors .