Herbs of Provence

I am terrible at keeping in touch. Just ask any of my friends. Woeful. I have gotten worse with age. Emails may get read. They may even get replies – usually short and days later. I may find time to write a longer reply – weeks down the line, in the middle of the night, once the Little Paddler is finally asleep and hours past my bedtime. Now that I think about it, I can’t remember when the last time I got to bed at a decent hour was. What constitutes a reasonable bedtime for a grown-up these days?

Anyway. I am rubbish at keeping in touch. Every so often I try and turn over a new leaf. There are a lot of leaves in my life. You may have noticed. This year I got myself a pen-pal. One of my god-daughters is in the states. She is my godchild living furthest away from me and I am very conscious that I don’t see her. I am not really in to the buying of lots of presents or even the giving of money to children as gifts. I prefer spending time. But when there’s an ocean between us, it’s not as easy. I wrote a letter. I told her about life here. She likes maths so I sent her puzzles and logic problems like my dad used to give me.

It sounds old-fashioned but I like the idea of a pen-pal. My mom’s uncle used to tell me that he loved to hear the “plop” of a letter coming through the letterbox. He’s right. It’s great. I love when our postman drives in. Well, not when he is bringing the bills – not so keen on that.

Recently I received a package from my aunt – she of the garden slips fame. A card and a wee note. And a lovely book. It’s small. And full of pictures – exquisite hand drawings. It’s called Secretes and Remedies of the Herbs of Provence by Claude Gardet. Provence conjours up romantic images full of stunning scenery, history, great literature, culture, food and wine. I need to improve my French and save for a holiday.

But in the meantime, I will make do with books and plants (and the occasional pan au chocolat). This little gem, dedicates a page or a page and a half to each plant and is full of little titbits that would certainly come in handy at a table quiz. Did you know that rosemary was considered by the Egyptians to be a symbol for the immortality of the soul, the Romans saw it as a protective genie sent to earth by Jupiter and the Greeks used it as an antiseptic for the plague? The Romans used marjoram to crown young brides and the Greeks offered myrtle to their dead, considered it a symbol of glory and happiness in love?

Each section also has information on medical treatment; what parts to use, internal applications, external applications and recipes for these remedies – lots of teas, rinses, rubs, etc. I like them. Simple. Straightforward. Easily done. And the best thing is that I have quite a few of the plants already – garlic, basil, fennel, lavender. Others are easily gotten – tarragon, bay, thyme. One or two such as olive trees, I may just have to give up on but I’m ok with that.

Even though it’s a small book, I have been picking it up every so often and reading a few paragraphs here and there. You could site down and read all thirty-two pages in one sitting if you wished but I prefer taking my time with it; dipping in and out. Not a book I would have gone out in search of, but if you happen to come across this book in your travels, grab it.


“Hail to the empire of the sun

which, like a silver rim, borders the dazzling Rhone,

empire of pleasure and joy,

the fantastic empire of Provence

whose very name casts a spell over the world.”

Frédéric Mistral



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