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Greta’s Herbs – Greta McCarthy O’Brien
A specialist herb grower on the Dingle peninsula, Greta McCarthy O’Brien packages her experience well in this helpful book on the growing, harvesting and use of herbs in Ireland. Her study in the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin and experience of working in garden nurseries in Cork led to her setting up her own enterprise in Bray and later in Greystones, Co Wicklow, then in 1997 at her current base in Annascaul on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry.
The advantage that this book has over many others is the author grows herbs in the same climate than most of us and deals with all its vicissitudes. She is based near the sea, but that is no disadvantage to those who live in Irish cities or countryside. If the plants survive on the Atlantic coastline they will survive anywhere, albeit having a sightly softer climate at times. She makes a good point that growing from seed helps plants to adapt to their environment.
The author tell us that a herb is defined in the dictionary as a plant used for the making of medicines or in cooking. She adds cosmetic to that, though avoids medicinal pronouncements for which she says she is not qualified. Taxonomy is the science of naming, describing and classifying organisms, and throughout the book, we get Latin names, with a reminder that anything named vulgare is common, anything aurea will refer to gold, officinale to medicinal.
Where, what and when to grow are well detailed with various groups of herbs, as well as ideas for storing and cooking them.
For those of us without the dedication to grow from seed, this book has plenty of information on what to do with those we buy from local nurseries. I discovered a long time ago, that locally bred shrubs, flowers and trees survive much better than imported versions. Ornamental herbs are terrific value and echo the subtitle of the book Growing Wild in the West on Ireland. A garden full of herbs will provide satisfaction for all the senses for most of the year.
A good Easter gift for anyone who wonders if they could grow a herb or two, and where they should put them, in the ground or in a pot, on a south facing wall, or where the ground is damp or dry. For me rosemary and thyme are the easiest and most prolific, with parsley (curly and flat) in a pot easier than some say. Sage is easy too and the leaves can be dried and used throughout the year. But never mind what works for me, this author has a wealth of experience that does not rely on the anecdotal. She will ensure a kitchen full of heady scents and organic bouquets, enriched stews and pasta sauces, and even some adventurous ice-creams. There are plenty of ideas on line and in cookbooks. The only limitation is our imagination. If you have never grown anything before, herbs make a satisfying start and this book will help.
Stockists and online purchases (€15 plus postage) : gretasherbs.com.