Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
Sweet Herbs
By Amos Bronson Alcott (1799–1888)
 
[From Tablets. 1868.]

AS orchards to man, so are flowers and herbs to women. Indeed the garden appears celibate, as does the house, without womanly hands to plant and care for it. Here she is in place,—suggests lovely images of her personal accomplishments, as if civility were first conceived in such cares, and retired unwillingly, even to houses and chambers; something being taken from their elegancy and her nobleness by an undue absorption of her thoughts in household affairs. But there is a fitness in her association with flowers and sweet herbs, as with social hospitalities, showing her affinities with the magical and medical, as if she were the plant All-Heal, and mother of comforts and spices. Once the herb garden was a necessary part of every homestead; every country house had one well stocked, and there was a matron inside skilled in their secret virtues, having the knowledge of how her
 “Herbs gladly cure our flesh, because that they
Have their acquaintance there,”
her memory running back to the old country from whence they first came, and of which they retained the fragrance. Are not their names refreshing? with the superstitions concerning the sign under which they were to be gathered, the quaint spellings;—mint, roses, fennel, coriander, sweet-cicely, celandine, summer savory, smellage, rosemary, dill, caraway, lavender, tanzy, thyme, balm, myrrh; these and many more, and all good for many an ail; sage, too, sovereign sage, best of all excellent for longevity—of which to-day’s stock seems running low,—for
 “Why should man die? so doth the sentence say,
When sage grows in his garden day by day?”
This persuasion that the things near us, and under our feet, stand in that relationship from some natural affinity they have to our welfare, appears to be most firmly rooted with respect to the medical herbs, whether growing wild in the fields and woods, or about the old homesteads, though the names of most of them are now forgotten. A slight reference to the herbals and receipt-books of the last century would show the good uses to which they were applied, as that the virtues of common sense are also disowned, and oftentimes trodden under foot. Certainly, they are less esteemed than formerly, being superseded, for the most part, by drugs less efficacious because less related geographically to our flesh, and not finding acquaintance therewith. Doubtless many superstitions were cherished about them in ancient heads, yet all helpful to the cure. The sweet fennel had its place in the rural garden, and was valued, not as a spice merely, but as a sacred seed, associated with worship, sprigs of it, as of caraway and dill, being taken to the pews, for appetizing the service. So the balm and rue had their sacredness. Pliny commends these natives to every housekeeper. “A good housewife,” he says, “goes to her herb garden, instead of a spice shop, for seasonings, and thus preserves the health of her family, by saving her purse.”
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