The Book For Knowing, Growing and Using Herbs

The cover price may seem steep, but if you get your green thumbs on this book, you’ll never need to buy another herb volume of any kind again—no joke.

by Cory Hershberger

Rodale's 21st Century Herbal (

At First Glance
Title: Rodale’s 21st-Century Herbal: A Practical Guide for Healthy Living Using Nature’s Most Powerful Plants
Author: Michael J. Balick
Publisher: Rodale Books
Release Date: 2014
Cover Price: $35.00
Target Audience: Gardeners and homesteaders with more than a passing interest in herbs, from growing to using to preserving

Even if you’re not a gardener, you understand the power of herbs. You’ve sprinkled oregano and crushed red pepper on pizza slices; you’ve experienced vanilla’s warm, sweet fragrance; and you’ve had pasta in delicious basil-rich pesto sauce. Maybe you’ve even sipped a relaxing chamomile tea after a stressful day on the farm. But do you really know how powerful and useful herbs are? Michael J. Balick is out to teach and inform with his comprehensive guide to all things herb, Rodale’s 21st-Century Herbal.

“Comprehensive” barely describes the scope of this book, as Balick takes readers on a journey through all stages of an herb’s life, from seed and start to cultivation and harvest. However, this is no mere volume on how to grow herbs; this book will teach you how to cultivate and use almost every imaginable herb worldwide, from common gardens inclusions, like basil and oregano, to rarer finds, like kava and guarana.

The centerpiece of the weighty tome is “An Encyclopedia of Useful Herbs,” a catalog of nearly 200 of the world’s most useful herbs, including a photo of each, growing tips, and details on their suggested culinary, medicinal and ornamental uses. Because Balick is an ethnobotanist, aka a scientist who studies the relationship between people and plants, he intersperses his own personal anecdotes with various herbs throughout the book, as well as cultural myths and legends surrounding these storied herbs.

Come for those encyclopedic herb profile pages, but stay for the latter third of the book, a comprehensive guide to using herbs in a variety of household arenas, including dozens upon dozens of ideas for incorporating herbs into your cooking, your health and beauty routine, and your home. (Check out this excerpt on repelling home pests with herbs.) No matter the issue—stomachache, soap scum, flavorless pork, dry skin, just to name a few—Rodale’s 21st-Century Herbal has a well-rounded solution for you.

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The book isn’t just an info dump, either; Balick does an excellent job of making the book relevant to gardeners and homesteaders of all interest and skill levels. Even if you merely want to broaden your herbal horizons in the kitchen, Rodale’s 21st-Century Herbal is likely both the starting and ending point in your search.

The Final Word: The cover price may seem steep, but if you get your green thumbs on this book, you’ll never need to buy another herb volume of any kind again—no joke.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Eggs
(I’m going whole-hog this week. This basically is THE end-all, be-all herb book.)

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