Herbarium is a directory of one hundred herbs. Each plant is treated the same way, with two to three paragraphs of useful and interesting background, anecdotes and occasionally cooking advice. Plus details on the side as to how to grow the herb, what to eat it with and a recipe suggestion (if it’s edible), and how it might heal.
And yet it’s much, much more than the anodyne description above.
The author, Caz Hildebrand, and her design studio Here. have created an absolutely beautiful compendium of herbs based, in part, upon Medieval ‘herbals’ – illustrated books of herbs used by apothecaries. In this modern update the wood cut prints or fine illustrations of yesteryear have been replaced by arresting, contemporary graphics and patterns. This is a book to refer to for when curious, but also to potter through at any point, mindlessly (or mindfully?) appreciating the imagery and design, whilst barely registering the shape of the words (though of course both serif and san serif fonts suit the occasion perfectly).
It’s worth noting the decision to apply a loose definition of ‘herbs’: i.e. “plants that are useful to humans for flavouring, food, medicine or perfume” or, more romantically, “in many cases, herbs are simply weeds in the right place at the right time.”
A narrower, purely culinary definition might not have provided the content needed to make this book worthwhile. In fact, whilst plain vanilla herbs like basil, chives and parsley are given quality treatment, it’s the lesser known herbs that standout – Rice Paddy Herbs, St John’s Wort, Woodruff and Salad Burnet, for example.
Hildebrand closes her introduction by writing that “encouraging their appropriate use – with justified appreciation for their beauty – is the purpose of this book.” It certainly achieves that …
… and I can’t even fault Herbarium for the fact that, actually, more than merely being book, it is really a calling card for the design agency and the launchpad for a brand; for numerous other products to springs from the illustrations and design found within – cards, wrapping paper, homeware and more.
They’ll appeal to many. But, if I were you, I’d get the original book first.
Format and design
Where to begin? You can tell from the striking, debossed cover that this is a book with design running through every spinal thread, fibre of paper and droplet of ink. Surely a shoe-in for whatever the yearly book design awards are, this is an absolute fitty. A ten out of ten, it’ll go front and centre on your cookshelf.
Recipes that tempt
There are cooking suggestions when relevant, though this is not really a recipe book. What herb are you particularly interested in? Chervil? Perilla? Meadowsweet? Goldenrod? (nope, new to me too), there are details and designs for one hundred of them.
I do think the information provided is useful, though. I’m intrigued, for example, at the description of Salad Burnet’s “cucumber-cum-melon” flavour, which might work as well crushed and added to a gin and tonic, as it would stirred into mushroom soup or chopped over broad beans glossed with butter.
Who is it for?
Kitchen gardeners, wannabe kitchen gardeners, coffee table book enthusiasts, loo library curators, curious cooks. Also, fans of design and things that look nice.
Will make an excellent gift.
4 thoughts on “Herbarium by Caz Hildebrand”
My grandfather used to make golden rod vinegar, preserving the leaves and flowers in apple cider vinegar and it can also be mixed and pounded with rosehip, nettle, ginger and honey to make a kind of hedgerow pesto. Golden rod isx an old country treatment for nephritis and kidney stones (and I believe Allison Uttley might have referred to it in one of her books). Other uses include saddle sores on horses and toothache poultices.
Its latin name is Solidago (L: ‘to strengthen’) and its a ruderal species like Buddleja, taking advantage of recently disturbed ground such as old bombsites, wasteland etc. I believe Henry Ford and Thomas Edison once tried to make a form of rubber with it too.
From a temperance point of view it can be used to make simple syrups and cordials and it is also a primitive flavour enhancer: added to simple vegetable soups it is said to potentiate their flavour. I’ve also seen the stems turned into an angelica-like candy snack where they are dipped into a honey or other sugar stock syrup then baked in the oven.
Apols for essay, it’s an interest of mine!
Nic – GOOD KNOWLEDGE
I’m pretty stoked about the revival of old country ways with foraged plants and other edibles. It seems so in keeping with our heritage (if that doesn’t sound too Brexit- argh) and something that chefs and cooks should really go for.
Hi Nic – absolutely. Though quite why ‘foraging’ is not just called ‘picking’ like it was in my yooof…