For a good part of the summer the house is cluttered by bunches of herbs hung up to dry. The children disapprove of them. The cat is reluctant to approach them. The surface below them gets messy.
I keep gathering the fragrant sprouts, excited by their fast growth in June, and tend to put off grinding and storing them in jars, a task which gets tedious after ten minutes.
By the time I finally resign myself to process them, the bunches are crunchy and the herbs release their scent freely when crushed, as if trying to assert their flavors from a distance. The kitchen smells like mint, then like thyme, then like dill, then like lovage, while the jars get slowly filled, labeled and stored neatly on the shelves in the pantry.
When this time consuming task ends, I forget all about the tedium of crushing a table full of herbs by hand, and am again inspired to go out into the garden and gather more. Some, like bee-balms, are a bulk item, because I have to harvest all the stems at once, after the flowers have faded, to make room for the late summer flowers. Others, like marjoram and thyme, I gather in diminutive quantities, a few dainty stems at a time, over the length of the season.
I know I should store the dry leaves whole, in brown paper bags, to keep out the light and preserve their potency and allow them to breathe, but then I wouldn't be able to see their cheerful colors, so, by the time temperatures start to cool, they're all packed neatly in glass jars, ready for winter.
The real reward comes later, when comforting soups and stews simmer in the pot, seasoned with the taste of summer.
Rosemary is the memory herb. This is both a fact and a metaphor: the smell of rosemary improves retention and concentration, and its stems were traditionally offered as tokens of devotion, especially between lovers who were driven apart.
I don't know if it works for memory and concentration, but I became fond of its fragrance, which is both sharp and soothing. For some reason it reminds me of rain, a strange memory association for an herb that thrives in dry soils.
The dried herb version, the one that comes in spice jars, doesn't do the plant justice. Fresh rosemary is tender, fragrant, and soft to the touch, and its scent lingers, roused by the lightest breath of air.
According to plant lore you should always plant rosemary by the door for luck, and you should never buy the plant for yourself; it is supposed to be received as a gift, otherwise it will not thrive.
Romantic and superstitious associations aside, rosemary's main utility is to flavor meat, fish and poultry. An infusion of rosemary, especially in combination with sage, makes a great leave-in rinse for dark hair: it strengthens its roots, eliminates dandruff, makes the locks smooth and shiny and gives them rich highlights.