Thursday, July 27, 2006

Mrs. Todd

A long time ago I read Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs. I loved it from the first sentence, and I love it still. I wondered what the herbs looked like that Mrs. Todd, the herb lady, grew or collected in the wild, so I started an herb garden and grew those herbs: pennyroyal, elecampane, thoroughwort (also known as boneset), borage, wormwood, southernwood, thyme, balm, sweet mary, mint. Most of them definitely weren’t herbs you could use in cooking. I bought herb books and read up on the lore.

Over a period of twenty five years the garden had to be uprooted four times, and after the fourth, I decided I didn’t have the physical energy to begin again. Many of the herbs, however, were hardy and continue to thrive beside the fence, along the house, or in the top soil pile where they can’t be mowed down.

I used the lore of the herbs in Flora, Write This Down. I became interested in other medicinal herbs as well: tansy, angelica, comfrey, ladies mantle, and I learned to identify many others in the wild, St. Johnswort and yarrow for example.

The Country of the Pointed Firs is by far the best of Jewett’s books. It seems as if it must have been inspired by a higher power.

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