The Magic of Garage Sales

Discover the magic of garage sales, includes suggestions and tips for finding botanical treasures on book sale tables and treasured herbal books to look for.

| December 1991/January 1992

  • Find special items and treasures of the past when visiting your local garage sales.
    Find special items and treasures of the past when visiting your local garage sales.
    Photo By Fotolia/trekandshoot

  • Find special items and treasures of the past when visiting your local garage sales.

Learn tips and helpful suggestions for finding valuable herbal books at garage sales.

I seldom like to be a passenger on trips; I prefer to drive the vehicle myself so I can be in charge of stopping for garage sales or for identifying interesting or new plants along the road. When my friends drive, they tend to chat constantly and ignore these attractions along the highway. For me, garage sales and roadside plants are what make driving an adventure. When I arrive in a new town and someone, trying to make conversation, asks how long it took to drive there, I give two answers: the number of normal hours of driving time, and the number spent lingering over the book tables at garage sales.

People’s reasons for stopping at garage sales are as varied as their reasons for growing one herb instead of another. For me, the attraction is herbal—or, more precisely, herbals. It’s not often that I find an old herbal tome hiding among the outdated college texts and Reader’s Digest condensed books, but it’s often enough to keep me searching. Stories such as that of a close friend, who found an 1847 botanical for $2 in a flea market, entice me to scan the book tables wherever I stop.

In C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books, the children step through a wardrobe into the ancient and magical land of Narnia, where nothing is impossible: horses can fly, all animals can talk, gnomes and elves are common, children are kings and queens, and everyone has magical powers. And just as Lewis’s children can step through the wardrobe, I feel I can step through the pages of an old herbal into the mysterious world of the past.

There is such magic in sitting in my upstairs library and reading thoughts that come directly from the mind and pen of an herbalist who lived generations ago. I imagine I hear the birds the author heard as he wrote, describing digging ginseng and goldenseal in his deep, rich woods. I can almost smell the pungent, spicy roots as they were washed and laid out on screens to dry. I can know the excitement the herb producer felt at selling his shipment of roots after waiting 8 or 10 years for the ginseng to mature.

There’s much to be learned from these old herbals about the origins of herbal remedies. There are hints of knowledge that was yet to be discovered, such as in The Young Lady’s Friend, an 1836 book that covered etiquette as well as remedies and nursing practices: “All the utensils in a sick room should be kept constantly clean . . . . As soon as possible after using an article, wash and wipe it, that it may be ready for the next occasion . . . . Many a poor, feeble sufferer has been disgusted . . . by seeing a nurse put her lips to [a spoon] whilst in preparation [of the meal].” At that time, cleanliness was a matter of preference: knowledge of germs wouldn’t be available for nearly three decades.

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