Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Curious Gardener

Winter is traditionally the time for gardeners to cocoon, reading seed catalogs and gardening books, but after the last 2 years of heat and drought, I had precious little interest in either this winter...

...until The Snow.  The Snow occurred in late February and rejuvenated much more than my flickering gardening spirit.  With a little moisture and the beginning of spring's warmer temperatures, daffodils and other bulbs started pushing their way up through the soil, chorus frogs soon started singing, and it seemed like there was some hope for a growing season after all.

The Snow revived my interest in gardening-type publications, as well.  For some unknown reason, I was compelled to pick up a book I'd never heard of but had purchased, on a whim, at the Half Price Book Store in San Antonio, Texas, several years ago.  It had aged appropriately on one of my many (book) piles and seemed to be calling my name.

The Curious Gardener is by Jurgen Dahl, a German bookseller turned garden writer.  He received several journalistic awards during his life and was the author of a dozen books.  Dahl passed away in 2001, but this translation of 3 of his books was published by Timber Press in 2004.

I have not, to my knowledge, read any other books by German gardeners and it was interesting to see that gardening in Germany gave him a slightly different outlook than gardening in England or in the U.S. would have done.  The cultural myths surrounding plants varied from the myths I've been accustomed to reading, for example.

Particularly striking, for me, were Dahl's passages on our native plants, which were, of course, not native for him.  For example, on page 157 he talks about eating the flower buds of sunflower (Helianthus annuus), saying that they taste rather like artichokes when properly prepared.  In fact, some people apparently prefer them to artichokes.

Dahl gives a lot of information on culinary and medicinal uses for plants of all types.  He is an adventurous eater, trying many things that seem a little "on the edge" to my more American palate.

Here are just a sampling of the tidbits I found interesting in this book....

If you cover dandelions with a clay cloche, their leaves blanch and are less bitter when you eat them.  Apparently, this is very popular to do in England.

Turkey tail shelf fungus, dried, used to be worn as a decoration on ladies' black velvet hats.

Sweet potatoes, sliced and panfried, then served with oil and vinegar, are said to strengthen the body...and the libido!

There is a plant called opium lettuce, in the lettuce genus, whose sap can be dried and then supposedly used as a painkiller and sleep aid.  It apparently is not addictive and has no side effects.  (Please note:  I am in no way advocating this!  I am just reporting what someone else has written.)

I'll leave you with Dahl's description of sassafras, a native-to-the-U.S. tree that is rarely glorified here in our own country,
Perhaps [our new tree] will be a sassafras, an Appalachian fever tree, a miracle in scents and colors.  Its timber and bark and roots smell of cloves and camphor with a whiff of fennel.  An oil distilled from it can be used to add that tempting scent to soaps and tobaccos.  And the magnificent orange and red of its leaves are said to be among the most beautiful fall colors to exist anywhere.  Finally, its leaves have differing oval and lobed shapes, so it is just the right thing to commemorate unique people.
Dahl's description of sassafras is rather different from the normal description heard here, where it's native, isn't it?!


Jason said...

We also have had a lot of precipitation the last couple months, almost erasing our moisture deficit. This is very comforting, even as we wait for this tardy spring to arrive. Nice pictures, and an interesting review.

ProfessorRoush said...

I have that book but it's also sitting on my "notice me" pile.

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

The snow will certainly make our spring flowers do well. It is encouraging. Beyond that, we shall see.
Interesting book. I often read "The Amish Cook" column in our newspaper. They eat dandelion leaves a lot. Not really interested even with the cloche trick. Ha!

Melanie said...

So glad to know that I wasn't the only one that was a little unmotivated about the gardens after the way the last two summers treated us!! Am sure hoping this is a good sign for a better summer in 2013~