Herbs and the Earth

From one of America’s most sensitive and fervent nature writers comes this classic of herbal lore and legend, new in paperback. This is not strictly a gardening book (although there is plenty for the gardener to learn in it), but a singular example of a man thinking about what he grows—not only how it grows, but its roots in religion, the Bible, history and medicine. The book was written at Chimney Farm, the Maine homestead immortalized in Northern Farm‚ to which he repaired in 1931 with his wife Elizabeth Coatsworth, and where he died in 1968.

Beston described his efforts as “part garden book, part musing study of our relation to nature through the oldest group of plants known to gardeners.” But, as Roger Swain observes in his moving introduction, “Herbs and the Earth has an intensity that evokes the herbs themselves, as if, pressed between the pages, their aroma has seeped into the pages.” The book is lovingly illustrated with the woodcuts of the great American stone cutter/letter designer/craftsman John Howard Benson.

One of the few writers who can match his prose to the mood of nature. —The New York Times

Henry Beston Sheahan was in born in Boston in 1888, and grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts with his parents, Dr. Joseph Sheahan and Marie Louise (Maurice) Beston Sheahan, and brother George. Beston attended Adams Academy in Quincy before earning his B.A. (1909) and M.A. (1911) from Harvard College.

After leaving Harvard, Beston took up teaching at the University of Lyon. In 1914, he returned to Harvard as an English department assistant. Beston joined the French army in 1915 and served as an ambulance driver. His service in le Bois le Pretre and at the Battle of Verdun was described in his first book, A Volunteer Poilu. In 1918, Beston became a press representative for the U.S. Navy. Highlights from this period include being the only American correspondent to travel with the British Grand Fleet and to be aboard an American destroyer during combat engagement and sinking. His second book of journalistic work, Full Speed Ahead, described these experiences.

Following the end of World War I, Beston began writing fairy tales under the name “Henry Beston”. In 1919, The Firelight Fairy Book was published, followed by The Starlight Wonder Book in 1923. During this time, he worked as an editor of The Living Age, an offshoot of The Atlantic Monthly. He also met his future wife Elizabeth Coatsworth, a fellow author of children’s literature, during this time. They were married in 1929, and in 1932, had a daughter, Kate Barnes.

Beston died on April 15, 1968 in Nobleboro, Maine, and is buried in a small cemetery at Chimney Farm.

Roger B. Swain was the longtime host of the gardening television series The Victory Garden on PBS and People, Places, and Plants on HGTV. He holds a PhD in Biology from Harvard University and has written five books about gardening. He lives and gardens in New Hampshire.