Gooseberry elderflower jam

One of my favorite food blogs, and a super delicious and calming, immune boosting herbal recipe.  If you can get your hands on the ingredients, give this one a try. You wont regret it!

Nettle and quince

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For years there was an acidulated gap in my life.

While I grew up on the sour tinge of gooseberries (as well as raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants…) just-picked from the fairy-tale garden of my grandparent’s neighbor in Switzerland, for all the intermittent years since, gooseberries virtually disappeared from my life. They are not all that popular in France, and were not common at the Turkish market in Berlin where I did most of my shopping; markets have since proliferated there, I am sure gooseberries now feature prominently. The berries magically reentered my world In New York at Union Square market, and they are impossible to overlook in London. I have moved to gooseberry heaven.

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Gooseberries grow wild in Northern Europe, they thrive in cool, moist climates, which explains their prevalence here, and a notable claim of northern superiority: Scottish gooseberries were historically considered superior to those of England (conversely, English gooseberries…

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Best Books for Budding Plant Lovers…3 in one review!

Now that school is almost out, we want our kids to get outside, but we don’t want them to get lazy and quit reading either. That’s the best thing about plant fiction for kids. They make you want to do both! Now, I think we all want to instill a love of the things we love into our own children. So if you love plants or books or both, and your kids don’t yet, help them learn through stories! Read aloud, read together or start a book club to talk about the books you read and make up some stories of your own. Doing activities that match the new ideas from books is always fun too. Here’s what I think you ought to be reading and doing with your children this summer!

I considered doing a full review for each of these books individually, because they’re all so great, but then I thought you might like to have them all in one easy to read place. They’re also bit shorter than the books I usually review (but just as good), so the reviews get to be shorter too. So read all three of them!  It was so hard to choose, but I narrowed it down; here are a few of me and my kids’ favorites.

  Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver: Mary takes on the heavy task of supporting her family after her father dies. By living off the land and selling local wild-crafted herbs, she thinks she has a pretty good chance of getting by. But as winter comes on, the responsibilities wear on her young shoulders, and she must find another way if they are all to survive. A serious but easy book that would be a great conversation starter for some difficult issues.- Best for 4th grade and up.

Activitiy Idea- Go wild-crafting together. Spring is the perfect time of year to gather dandelions, elder flowers or wild mustard! Then make something tasty out of them to share.

 The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell: This one is a wonderful retelling of the classic fairy-tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, with a smattering of Greek mythology thrown in for good measure. It’s told from the perspective of a young herbalist’s apprentice Reveka. One of the things I really appreciated about this book was the historical accuracy with which the herbs and herbalist are portrayed. It has so many of the elements I enjoy in my books, a great respect for plants, adventure, and a new spin on old stories. – Best for 4th grade and up.

Activity Idea- One of Reveka’s duties is to make up the bath herbs for the princesses, unlike her nasty smelling cabbage bath, create a nice smelling bath tea with soothing herbs like chamomile or calendula, and take a bath.

 This list wouldn’t be complete without The Secret Garden by Mary Hodgson Burnett. If you haven’t read this classic yet, you are in for a treat! It is a beautiful story about a hidden garden, an orphaned girl, her sickly cousin, and how the three of them save each other in equal measure. -The language can be a bit difficult in this one for younger children, but is great as a read-a-loud for 1st through 4th graders. If reading independently I would recommend it for 5th grade and up.

Activity Idea- Start your own secret garden. Hidden spaces beside the house, in a back alley way or a neglected corner of the back yard work well. Be sure to use plants that like the environment you’ve chosen. Violets are great for shady hidden areas.

What passions do you love to share with your kids, and how do you do it?

Need more tips on getting your child to love reading? Check out this post I wrote for the public library.

The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian- Book Review

 The cover of this one caught my attention immediately; quirky and fun. Kinda like the book it’s self. Is that a Gargoyle holding a whisk you ask? In fact it is.

Zoe, is a 300 year old herbalist, antiques dealer and retired alchemist.  In an attempt at a new start, she buys a fixer-upper in Portland, Oregon. While unpacking her things she is surprised by a French stowaway, Dorian a living, breathing, and gourmet cooking gargoyle. When 14 year old Brixton, the neighborhood trouble maker, who just knows the house is haunted, spies the gargoyle through window while snooping around, Zoe tricks him into helping her clean up the house, in exchange for not pressing charges. After all she can’t let him tell the world about their secrets.

Dorian is convinced that Zoe is the only one who can help him decode his ancient book and save him from returning to his stone state forever. Zoe is not so sure she can help, she has, after all given up on alchemy. Then one day she comes home from a  walk to see the handy-man she hired dead on her door step surrounded by an odd smell. She may have to reopen her alchemical lab, and painful past memories, to figure out what is really going on.

The unlikely murder mystery solving trio team up to investigate. They delve into the city and it’s resident tea shop patrons secrets. Soon there is another attempted murder, this time on someone they know and care about. Dorian is dying, and there’s a murder on the loose. Things start to get more serious, and they all could be in danger. The police investigator assigned to the case suspects the new girl in town, and in return Zoe thinks she might be falling for him…

It’s a mystery, so I’ll leave it at that. No spoilers here. It was a fun read, and as an herbalist it was refreshing to see the few herbal references were researched and not unrealistic, as were the historical alchemy references. Though I thought Zoe was bit too much of the stereotypical herbalist type (we’re not all like that!) What really brought it all together for me was reading the afterword. The author shares her story of the writing of this book as a tool to help her through her cancer. She also thoughtfully shares a few of the recipes from the book (and a link to her website with more!) I haven’t made any of them yet, but plan on it. They sound pretty good! I am certainly looking forward to the continuation of this series.

Did this book encourage you to explore more? Wanna read more about plant alchemy or maybe you’d like to try a few more vegan recipes? Here’s a few recommendations you might enjoy.

The Alchemists Daughter by Katharine McMahon

The Chemical Choir: A History of Alchemy by P.G. Maxwell-Stuart

A Druids Handbook to the Spiritual Power of Plants by Jon G.Hughes

Chloe’s Kitchen: 125 Easy, Delicious Recipes for Making the Food You Love the Vegan Way  by Chloe Coscarelli

Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers by Hazel Gaynor-Book review

 Since seeing the beautiful Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady as a young girl, and later reading Pygmalion, I have been enamored with London’s flower sellers. So when I saw this book on the “new” shelf at my library, I didn’t think twice about taking it home with me. I didn’t even read the back cover or the first page before jumping right in, and once I did I couldn’t put it down.

This is a story within a story. Tilly Harper is a young woman beginning a new life, far away from her country home, as an employee of Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls in London. Florrie and Rosie are children doing their best to survive on the streets of London selling flowers, and looking out for one another. Shortly after she arrives at the Home for Watercress and Flower Girls, Tilly finds a journal that once belonged to Florrie, written more than 30 years earlier.

As the story unfolds the great love of Florrie for her little sister Rosie is told along side Tilly’s jealousy of her own sister and the events leading up to their falling out. When Tilly reads of Rosie’s disappearance in the journal she becomes determined to discover what became of the little girl, and in the process learns more about herself than she bargained for. Though I found it a tad predictable, I didn’t think the characters could see the whole picture like I could, and they believably took longer to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

It is more than a historical drama. It is a story of love and redemption. It is a story of self realization, for more than one character. It is as beautifully told as the flowers in the story.

That alone makes for a great novel, but the part that really captured me, was the truth behind the novel. Hazel Gaynor goes above and beyond by sharing her inspiration for the book with us. She shares fascinating additional resources that she came across while researching the book, and the story of the man who inspired her character, Mr. Shaw. I love to learn new things through historical fiction, Hazel Gaynor helps take the challenge out of it. I can follow her carefully researched path to more knowledge on the subjects instead of stumbling down my own. It’s kind of a two in one fiction/non-fiction book. Because of all this, I will certainly be watching for more books from her in the future.

Curious about some of the themes in A Memory of Violets? Here’s some additional reading.

Covent Garden: The Fruit, Vegetable and Flower Markets

Indoor Paupers by ‘One of Them’: Life Inside a London Workhouse

Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London

Silk Flowers: The Complete Guide to the Fine Art of Silk Flower Making. From Anemones to Roses

Charles Booth’s London, a Portrait of the Poor at the Turn of the Century, from his Life and Labour of the People of London

Outlander on Starz?….yes, please.

Another installment will air tonight. Am I looking forward to it? Well, yeah, but I wasn’t too sure to begin with.

For a book series that is near and dear to my heart, I was admittedly pretty worried about how it would translate on screen. So many of my favorite books have been turned into horrible movies. I’ll also admit that at first I wasn’t too excited about the casting. Claire’s too skinny and Jamie is not big enough, and his hair’s not red enough. But I have come around. The actors are convincing, and now I can’t decide if Sam Heughan is actually really hot, or if I only think so because he’s Jamie Frasier. Because we all know Jamie Frasier is smokin. That’s just a fact. They really have done a pretty good job with it, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here. Will they stick to the books? I do hope so, but how are they going to age the characters?

So if you haven’t seen it yet, I will warn you, it’s not one to watch with the in-laws. It gets pretty steamy right from the get go. Mr. Herbs and I watch it together, often with a dram of my favorite scotch (just to get us in the right highland-like mindset). It has enough action and adventure to keep him happy, and the steamy bits? Well, I don’t think he’s complaining about those either…

What do you all think, is Sam Heughan really a hottie or is it my imagination? Is he the right guy to play Jamie? What about Caitriona Balfe, is she the best Claire? Who would you have cast?

My first book review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Welcome to my first real post! In considering what to possibly write I decided I should focus on whats important to me. I am a Certified Master Herbalist and a librarian, and have, for so many years been seeking out books that have to do with plants, herbal medicine and the history and folklore of healing. I thought why not focus on that unique, little genre of fiction? You can look up all the great herbal resources out there on any herbalists website. But if you’re like me and love a good story, you want more than a dry text book. You want to feel apart of another world, become immersed in your learning in every way possible; something I think can only be accomplished through reading fiction.

So, I hope you enjoy reading my reviews and recommendations!

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I wanted to start off this blog by briefly reviewing a book that I think will appeal to a wide variety of readers, Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest novel, The Signature of All Things. It is a story about life and love, suffering and beauty.

This is the story of the life of Alma Whittaker. She is born into a life of science. From an early age she is encouraged to study the world around her, and to engage in conversation with great men of science and discovery. Her world is the huge estate she grows up on, and it’s impressive library and greenhouses. Alma is not the kind of character which you can imagine yourself in her shoes, but she is still relate-able enough to gain your sympathies. Through her lifetime you will follow her on her journey of self discovery, and then onto self actualization and appreciation.

Like her heroine, Gilbert’s writing is filled with stoic grace and dignity. She conquers the topics of botany, evolution, and theology, reaching those not just looking for a good story, but also those interested in these sciences and the history behind them. I loved it because it introduced me to the real world history of the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Captain Cook, and the plant hunters that made botany what it has become today. It touched on the history of botanical illustration, the roots of evolutionary theory, and the first western contact with Tahiti and the surrounding islands by missionaries and naturalists. I found myself heading to Google more than once to find out more about a subject Gilbert mentioned in passing. This is the kind of story I enjoy because I went into it with a little knowledge of the subject, and came out inspired to find out even more.

Interested in reading more about the ideas explored in The Signature of All Things? Try these non-fiction books:

The Plant Hunters: The Adventures of the World’s Greatest Botanical Explorers

The Golden Age of Botanical Art

The Gardens at Kew

The Heretic in Darwin’s Court: The Life of Alfred Russel Wallace

Enjoy!