Book Notes: Garden-pedia and The New American Herbal

Curl Up with A Good Book . . . Or Two

By Debra Knapke

It’s another cold evening and instead of curling up with a good book, I am writing about two good books that I have had the pleasure to peruse.


We use words to communicate, but one person’s definition may be greatly or ever so slightly different from another’s. And, there may be several meanings for a word. Capturing and documenting the meanings of words and concepts is what drives the creation of dictionaries and encyclopedias. The Ohio team of Pamela Bennett and Maria Zampini offers us a lexicon for the modern gardening world in Garden-pedia.

All entries have a concise definition, and most include an expanded explanation of the term or concept. This is the fun part, because here Pam and Maria discuss controversies and variations on a theme. Here is where the book shines. Anyone can write a definition, but it takes years of experience to offer concise, accurate information and advice for the beginner to intermediate gardener. And, that they have in abundance.

For instance, there is a lot of discussion over the definitions of the words/concepts: native plant and nativar. They are, respectively: “a plant that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human intervention” and “a cultivar or hybrid of a native plant”. The definitions seem straightforward, but the “story” behind them isn’t. Nativar is a recently coined word and one that has riled some designers and ecologists who work with native plants. Check out Garden-pedia for the short backstory.

The pictures are excellent and add to the overall attractiveness of the book. This isn’t a book you take out of the library once; it’s a book to own.

The New American Herbal

Another beautiful book is Stephen Orr’s The New American Herbal. A common, but unwarranted, complaint about herbs is that they are not beautiful or colorful. This book counters this with artful pictures of herbs and mouthwatering images of herb-filled food. I can’t wait for late spring when my green garlic is up as it is an essential ingredient for the Socca Pancake on page 190. And in summer I will make the Baked Stuffed Tomatoes with Oregano with fresh, sun-warmed heirloom tomatoes.

The first sixth of the book covers general topics and specialty herb groups. The rest of the book is plant portraits and recipes. The usual species are covered along with a sampling of herbs that less represented in general herbal books like muitle (Justicia spicigera) from Mexico, ngò om (Limnophila aromatica) from Viet Nam and Indian hemp/marijuana (Cannabis sativa). Each herb is categorized as to its basic uses, safety and growing tips. Other content varies with respect to its history, expanded use information and available cultivars.

This book seems to want to be everything herbal. And as much as I enjoyed reading it, I feel that a beginner might be overwhelmed by the amount and organization of the information. And, if you want pictures of the whole plant, you will need to look in another reference or log onto the internet. This book appears to be for the more advanced “herbie”. Although, it could be one of those books that you grow into.

A final thought

Both are references books, both display the voices of the authors and both go well with a cup of tea.

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