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BOOK REVIEW: The Herbalist’s Kitchen: Cooking and Healing with Herbs by Pat Crocker

| 14 August 2019 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Herbalist’s Kitchen: Cooking and Healing with Herbs by Pat Crocker

Sterling Publishing Co Inc
July 2018
Hardcover, $37.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Cooking, Food & Drink / Cookery by Ingredient

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The Herbalist’s Kitchen: Cooking and Healing with Herbs is a book for anyone who has ever encountered an herb and shrugged their shoulders. While most people know parsley, chilli, and garlic – specialised grocery shops and new markets mean we can buy more herbs than ever before. Pat Crocker demystifies all things herbs with her comprehensive guide and cookbook.

The Herbalist’s Kitchen is actually two books in one. First and foremost, it is a cookbook, so the recipe index lists the recipes as they would be used in a meal. If you are looking for an herbal appetizer or dessert, or any recipe for a course in between, you can see it all at a glance.
It’s also an herbal. An herbal (from the Medieval Latin liber herbalis) is a book of herbs, herbs being the common word for plants. Historically, herbals illustrated and recorded the popular medicinal uses of plants. Like those early, handwritten parchment scrolls, this contemporary herbal offers a comprehensive guide to the traditional culinary, medicinal, and cosmetic uses of herbs backed up by science.

Crocker is a food economist, photographer and self-proclaimed culinary herbalist. She has written 18 cookbooks and is a knowledgeable authority on the subject. This title includes 200 recipes which are organised by herb and indexed at the back of the book. They cover simple and complex dishes including entrées, mains, desserts, and sides. Some of the recipes don’t include photographs and in other instances only small pictures are used, which is rather disappointing. This makes it feel more like a textbook than a traditional cookbook.

Pesto (Italian) and pistou (French) are names derived from the word for pestle, the tool used to grind herbs and spice in a mortar. Both pesto and pistou describe the finely chopped or pounded green sauce made from fresh garlic, herbs, hard cheese, oil, and nuts (though pistou doesn’t usually contain nuts). While many people think that only basil is used for making pesto, in fact any green herb (such as cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage, French tarragon, and even some flower petals) may be used in combination with or without basil.

Forty-two herbs feature in this text. They are organised alphabetically from angelica to turmeric. For each chapter Crocker gives the reader a brief introduction to the herb as well as a description of its flavour and culinary uses. She also writes about how to grow the herb, the parts of the herb typically used, its health benefits, and offers a description of the different varieties.

The [dandelion] leaves are rich in iron, zinc, and potassium, high in B-complex vitamins, vitamin D and antioxidants (vitamins A and C), and are a powerful diuretic. A tea or tincture of the leaves and aerial parts may relieve bloating and the feeling of abdominal fullness. The roots stimulate the appetite, assist the liver, and help treat jaundice and spleen ailments. Dandelion’s leaves and roots are used to treat liver, gallbladder, kidney, and bladder ailments, including hepatitis and jaundice. The flowers are an excellent source of lecithin and a good source of choline, both thought to improve brain activity.

The chapters also include handy primers for different things. For instance, it could be how to make and cook essential oils, how to dry herbs, how to brew herbal teas, and how to make natural creams and ointments. While it is handy to have the information presented like this, it can mean that some of the commentary is repeated at times.

Herbs have tiny sacs, mostly on the leaves, but also on the petals, stems, and other parts that contain aromatic, healing oils that can be distilled into essential oils. Essential oils hold potent concentrated active components and are usually diluted and (mainly) used topically. Except for citrus oils which are pressed from the rind all other essential oils are distilled from fresh plant material, and the resulting concentrated essence of the plant itself is widely used in aromatherapy.

Crocker lives in Canada so a lot of the text has a North American focus. The temperatures are offered in Fahrenheit and there are references to pounds and inches. It is difficult to know whether some of the more exotic herbs are available in places outside of North America. While Crocker often describes where the plants originate, it is uncertain whether they are available elsewhere.

Angelica joins parsley, chervil, fennel, and caraway in the Umbelliferae family but stands out at the tallest and most aromatic. There are between forty and sixty varieties of angelica, with Angelica archangelica or “garden” angelica being the most common in Europe and North America.

This title is an incredibly informative one. Readers can also learn more through an extensive glossary, bibliography and list of resources. The book should encourage some readers to become curious, expand their horizons and try new things, and it’s about so much more than garden variety herbs and spices.

Use lovage whenever celery is called for and add whole, young leaves to dishes by the scant handful. As the leaves mature, they become stronger, approaching bitter in flavor as the age. I don’t use them in cooking but I do use older leaves, fresh or dried, in the bath by immersing them in large (4-inch-square) gauze or cheesecloth bags.

It is obvious that Crocker is a passionate herbalist and she is keen to impart her knowledge with readers. She describes some of he own experiments with herbs, and we can learn from her tried and tested methods. The content traverses many different topics including medicinal uses, fragrances, and other ways herbs can be utilised. Crocker provides many handy hints, tools and suggestions, as well as some potential substitutes.

The Herbalist’s Kitchen is one that should be a staple in any home or garden. Crocker offers us a focused look at herbs and shows us how versatile they really are. In doing so, she empowers readers to experiment and try something different. Crocker’s careful research and development ultimately inspires us to try new things, and with this comprehensive collection at the ready we need not waste any thyme.

Here is a simple recipe for an Herbed Berry Vinegar Refresher:

Fill a glass with chipped ice. Stir in the berry puree and vinegar. Stir in soda water and garnish with a sweet cicely sprig if using.

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Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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