Every year at this time, I eagerly await the Richter’s herb catalogue. It’s not just that I love growing herbs. I appreciate the work that goes into this catalogue because it’s so very informative.
Not only does it list an impressive array of over 800 varieties of culinary, medicinal, aromatic and ornamental herbs. It also lists a lot of growing information. Moreover, for those who take the time to read, interpret and understand the symbols included in each entry, the rewards are even richer. Cautions are clearly indicated: a skull and crossbones is a time-honoured symbol denoting a toxic plant.
Such a caution is imperative. There are still far too many people out there who insist that plants are “natural” and thus “safe” for ingestion.
This is far from the truth and Richter’s is up-front about it.
For instance, the very first herb entry is the quite poisonous, flowering plant known as aconite, or monkshood. The skull and crossbones symbol is prominent… but is located beside another symbol: a cross set within a box, the internationally recognized medical symbol popularized by the Red Cross.
How can the two be applicable?
Because a little monkshood, administered knowledgeably, is a traditional herbal medicine. However, take too much and you’ll poison yourself. Here’s Richter’s entire notation, excluding symbols.
Aconite. Aconitum napellus. (Monkshood) Striking bright blue flowerspikes. Recognized as a poison since antiquity, especially to poison arrows. Contains aconitine, a useful sedative for many conditions. Not to be used without medical supervision.”
Symbols tell us it is a perennial that grows in zones 2 through 9, and that its seeds ought to be propagated in spring with moderately easy germination.
Scanning down just the first page provides an excellent read. I learn that Alfalfa (a crop we grow in our fields) is “a well-known fodder plant. Infusion with mint is an excellent nutritious tea for daily use; rich in easily assimilated vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Alfalfa sprouts are popular in sandwiches and salads.” I didn’t know about the tea and mixing alfalfa with mint, though we enjoy the sprouts. As well, it’s an efficient nitrogen fixer, with an extensive root system.
I’m still on the first page. A scarlet word, “BACK!” captures my attention: it’s announcing the Cape Aloe, cousin to the Aloe Vera which many of us know to be a healing plant. The Cape Aloe is a “Pharmaceutical source of aloe used as a purgative. Contains anthraquinone glycosides, principally barbaloin, which are responsible for the purgative action. Also, an ingredient of the “Swedish Bitters” popularized by European herbalist Maria Treben. Attractive succulent from South Africa. Adapts well to home or greenhouse environment.”
Whether or not you want to take a purgative is your business… Nonetheless, Richters supplies enough information to provide historically intriguing as well as nutritional and other information.
And let’s not forget, too, that Richters sells not only seeds, but also plants. I’ve ordered these very successfully, including several of the basils.
Because I enjoy garlic, pesto is a popular food here at my house. And it’s never better than when you grow your own basil. Richter’s catalogue has 17 varieties of sweet basil, including Nufar F1, touted as being “The first fusarium-resistant variety of sweet basil.”
In a separate sidebar of information, this nasty fusarium fungus is explained.
“Fusarium oxysporum is a fungus disease that attacks basil causing sudden wilting of leaves and death of plants. It has become a serious problem for commercial growers who have seen entire fields wiped out by the disease. Soils remain contaminated even if basil is not replanted. The fungus spreads easily by contact, especially at harvest time. It also spread by contaminated seeds. Reports suggest that much of the world’s basil seed supply is now contaminated. There is no cure once the fungus attacks. If symptoms of sudden wilting or defoliation should occur, remove infected plants and destroy and do not replant in contaminated soil or use contaminated equipment. The best strategy, however, is to plant the fusarium resistant Genovese variety ‘Nufar’.”
As well as the 17 sweet varieties, there are two basils in the fancy sweet group, and 16 other basil varieties.
In other words, lots to choose from.
Want to order a Richter’s catalogue, curl up with a steaming mug of herbal tea, and read about the family of herbs? Here’s the address.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (simply send an e-mail & request a catalogue. Give them your full address.
Snail Mail: Richters Herbs, Goodwood, Ontario, L0C 1A0
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based in Quyon, Québec, who enjoys her garden. Contact her at email@example.com