Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Rise and Fall of the Herb of the Year

In 2007, the Herb Society of America declared that lemon balm was the Herb of the Year!*
Caption: Lemon Balm Receives the Happy News and Rejoices, Yet Feels Guilty and Undeserving Because It Figures It Is Really Just Lemony Mint With A Different Name (see how some of the leaves are kind of sadly looking off into the distance, as other leaves shrug?)

I know, I know. I don't need to recap this for you. You were there, eyes glued to your television sets, when Walter Cronkite announced the 2007 Herb of the Year. In fact, where were you when it happened? Many of us found ourselves pausing while ironing our ironing board covers and gathering our little ones around us to hear the news. If we didn't have little ones, we went next door and kidnapped our neighbor's children, and boy, block parties are awkward now, huh? But, it was a moment in our country's history that needed to be shared: LEMON BALM! HERB OF THE YEAR! GET OUTTA HERE! I mean, we were all happy for it, but LEMON BALM? It's a WEED! Who even knew that it had a name?

Unfortunately, Lemon Balm, also known as Melissa Officinalis in the courts, felt much the same way. The pressure! Oh, the pressure! And, the harsh, glaring beam of the spotlight of public adoration! All of a sudden, Lemon Balm was thrust into high-end Garden Center showcases--the kind of Garden Centers that look shabby but have million dollar irrigation systems concealed beneath the adorably rusted $500 tricycles (the seats of which have been removed and where orchids now grow) and the $750 Radio Flyer wagons brimming with pedigreed roses that won't even let you sniff them on the first date. The kind of Garden Centers that give away DOUGHNUTS and let you drive away without making a purchase because they're so well-off (not that I, personally, have ever done that...okay, yes, yes I have done that).

Every day, Lemon Balm sat there, flanked by two giant, pitying Buddha garden statues ($950 each), while its leaves were pinched and sniffed, and customers asked, "But, what can I DO with this stuff? Isn't it just mint?" and the Garden Center staff would cry, "SMELL it! It's so relaxing and balmy and lemony and soothing!" "But, isn't it a WEED?" the customers would say, and "It's Herb of the YEAR!" the Garden Center staff would croon. So, customers felt guilty about eating the free doughnuts and bought a lot of Lemon Balm because, while expensive, it was the cheapest thing in the Garden Center. Nobody was fooled. Lemon Balm felt like a fraud.

As the year wore on, Lemon Balm began to run with a rough crowd. In sketchy public parks everywhere, when the hoarse cry of "Weeeeed! Weeeeed!" came out of the shadows, Lemon Balm found itself stuffed in little plastic baggies and rapidly pocketed by people who were really, genuinely happy to get it. Even though Lemon Balm was a weed, the people seemed thrilled with this. Finally, to be accepted as is! Yet, the joy was short-lived and Lemon Balm soon became known as neither Herb or Weed, but: "This vile crap, he screwed us, man."

It was with a great sense of relief that Lemon Balm greeted 2008 and the coronation of a new Herb of the Year. Before Lemon Balm slunk off to grow wild and fragrant along the banks of country creeks, as was its preference, it hung around to see what poor sucker would be next.

"CALENDULA! Calendula is Herb of the Year for 2008!" the Herb Society of America declared, while reporters dutifully scribbled the news down, muttering among themselves, "What the hell is calendula?" One bold, pugnacious scoop pushed his pork-pie hat back at a jaunty angle, cigar waggling in the corner of his mouth and bellowed the question out loud, "Now see here, ya mugs, what the hell is calendula?" Nervously, the Herb Society of America representatives consulted with each other, and held the party line: "Calendula is calendula."

As Calendula preened before the flashbulbs, nudging a few puny pots of spindly Lemon Balm out of the way, there was a very soft noise. Was it the wind? We'll never know for sure. What we do know is that as Calendula spread its leaves and strutted beneath the klieg lights, it and only it heard a soft whisper as Lemon Balm prepared to crawl off silently and spread across the land.

"Psst...Calendula? You're really Pot Marigold or Poor Man's Saffron." And although Calendula swiftly whipped its heads around, it could only see a sea of adoring--if slightly confused--new fans.
*Actually, it really was Herb of the Year and it is a pretty cool herb described as "This refreshingly humble member of the Mint family, often considered to be a weed, plods along as a hardy faithful, and yet it is a surprisingly hip and helpful herb." Humble, hardy, hip, and helpful. Yo, what could be better. Plus, I understand that you can use it for pesto and tabbouleh. You can also use it to make something called "Carmelite Miracle Water," and here is the recipe for "Carmelite Miracle Water." Lemme tell ya, I'm pretty sure the "miracle" part is the vodka and not the Lemon Balm, but whatevah. (Oh, wait. I see. You're not supposed to DRINK the Miracle Water, you're supposed to dab it daintily upon yourself. Huh. Still and all, perhaps more miracles would be found through the internal application of the vodka sans herbs.)