Down to Earth: Read Men Smell Herbs

Men are more interested in plants than you think

| August/September 1999

  • Photography by Anybody Goes

A big, tough oil rig ­worker is transformed into a giggling kid when he sniffs lemon verbena and gets a taste of Vietnamese cilantro. 

Recently a young couple visited my garden. She was learning about herbs to start a business, and he worked on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Often husbands accompany their wives on trips to our farm, showing support or, at the very least, tolerance for their wives’ interests. I’ve come to regard those husbands as well meaning, even though many make it clear that they would rather be watching football than following their mate around an herb shop.

The couple visited with me in the shop, looking over the books and the dream pillows. She asked questions about organizations, workshops, and other things that a new shop owner considers. The husband was quiet but showed enthusiasm for his wife’s questions. I confess that I assumed that because he worked on an oil rig, this big, tough guy would guffaw at the subtle flavors of any herbs with less substance than a sizzling hot pepper.

While his wife shopped inside, the man asked me if I’d give him a brief tour of the herb garden. We walked down the steps and paused under the grape arbor by a pot of allspice bush (Pimenta dioica). I pulled off a slender, shiny leaf, broke it in half to release the aroma, and handed it to the guy, thinking I’d tell him how useful allspice leaf is in aftershave lotions. I expected a grunt or a nod or maybe even an “uh-huh”; I definitely wasn’t prepared for what I got. His eyes lit up, a big grin came across his face, and he yelled over his shoulder to his wife, “Honey, you’ve got to come out here. This is incredible!”

If he’s excited by that plant, I thought, wait until he experiences some of the ­others.

We moved on to the culinary bed, where I picked a couple of lemon verbena leaves and told the guy I use them in cheesecake. I crushed the leaves slightly and handed them to him. He giggled. Not laughed, not chuckled, not guffawed, but giggled like a kid. “Honey! Honey! Get out here. You’re not going to believe the smells of these herbs. Please, come out here now!” As he called to his wife inside, he literally jumped up and down.

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