Gardening: Cuttings: Herbs and spices

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AS A compendium, Sarah Garland's Complete Book of Herbs and Spices (Frances Lincoln, pounds 16.99) is as thorough and comprehensive as anybody could wish. The book starts with the history and uses of herbs and spices, follows on with information about growing, and finishes with an eclectic selection of recipes.

Soon there will be enough fresh new dandelion leaves to make a winter salad. The Garland way is to mix the torn leaves with a tablespoon each of parsley and chives, and then tip over the top a couple of ounces of chopped bacon, sizzled crisp in its own fat.

Often the common names of herbs offer clues as to how they were once used. If the roots and leaves of soapwort are simmered, for example, the result is a soapy sort of liquid that can be used to wash fine china.

Ms Garland lists uses for all the plants in her book. Houseleeks, she says, make good poultices and can be used for wasp and nettle stings, burns, scalds, boils and warts. That explains why they were once commonly seen around old cottages, growing on the tops of bread ovens and hanging off boundary walls. Even if you never make a houseleek poultice in your life, it is comforting to know that you could.