The question was asked, which of my novels has the most herbal references. That’s tough to say because herbs and herbal lore enter into all of my novels, more or less. Following are some excerpts from various stories where herbs add flavor, fragrance, or embolden the scene in some way. The first novel that comes to mind is light paranormal, murder mystery/ ghost story romance Somewhere My Love which has many herbal references.
The following excerpts are from Somewhere My Love:
~Remembering the penlight on his keychain, Will pulled it out of his jean’s pocket and skimmed the small beam over the ground as he ran. Every rock and furrowed trunk took on an unearthly appearance, even age-old herbs. The flowering spikes of monkshood seemed especially sinister. Normally the blue-capped flowers struck him as beautiful. Not tonight, perhaps because it was poisonous, also known ominously as wolf’s bane.
He shook off the morbid mood that had gripped him and bore down on Julia. Sweet perfume scented the night shadows. The white bells glistened in his miniature light. He spotted her sunk down among the lilies.~
Hamlet parallels are woven through Somewhere My Love in addition to parts of the play being enacted during the story~a play within a play. The following excerpt is from that scenario:
~Trumpets sounded for the third and final bout. Lyle reached for his sword and Paul shifted it into his grasp. He strode toward Will with the end of his blade dipped in greenish-black dye to resemble the deadly poison called wolf’s bane. Supposedly, the same toxin had permeated the pearl, and consequently, the wine. Queen Nora was about to enact her death scene.~
~Will discovered Julia in the herb garden conducting her first tour. Her hair reflected the sunshine like polished copper and was pulled back in an adorable pony tail. The resident cat, Mr. Tibbs, had also found her and rubbed orange and brown calico fur against her bare legs. Seemingly unaware of the abbreviated length of her skirt, Julia bent down to pluck a handful of lavender blossoms from the purple ribbon outlining the culinary bed.
Several men in the assembly tilted their heads to the side for a better glimpse of her curvaceous thighs, then colored and glanced away at Will’s disapproving stare. Honestly, didn’t the girl have any idea the sensation she was causing? Apparently not. She straightened with an expression of pure innocence.
“Isn’t lavender delightful,” she said in her charming accent, holding out the small bouquet. The visitors sniffed appreciatively as she spoke. “To quote an old herbalist, ‘Tis of especial good use for all griefs and pains of the head and brain.’ I can vouch for its soothing properties in the bath,” she added with a pensive note.
One gentleman coughed under his hand. Will could well imagine what he was envisioning.
Summoning a bright smile, Julia stepped in among the thyme. Again she bent to pluck a sprig, and again revealed more than she realized. But the men kept their eyes averted with Will looking on, arms crossed over his chest. She inhaled the aromatic leaves and spoke out with enthusiasm. “Thyme is an age-old emblem of activity, bravery, and energy. In the days of chivalry it was the custom for ladies to embroider a bee hovering over a sprig of thyme on the scarves they presented to their knights. How romantic.”
Surrounding heads nodded. Several women sighed appreciatively. Julia didn’t have to bend as far to pick a sampling of silvery sage. She extended the leaves, radiating a love of heirloom plants. “This is one of my favorites. It was said of sage among the Ancients, ‘Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto?’ or ‘Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?’”
A responsive murmur ran through the assembly. “Could you speak to my garden club?” asked one lady with bright red lipstick and an enormous navy blue handbag.
“Certainly, if it’s convenient to my work schedule.”
Will stepped forward. “I’m sure we can spare Miss Morrow, and if you would like to conduct your meeting here, the gazebo is available, weather permitting, at a modest fee. Proceeds go towards ongoing restoration.”
“That would be ideal, Mr. Wentworth. You have a real treasure in this young lady,” the woman gushed.
“Yes. We’re quite fortunate,” he said, wishing he could take Julia aside and speak to her about her skirt.
She cast him an entrancing smile. “Now, if you will all follow me to the medicinal garden,” she said, and led her charges the short distance to the next circular bed.
Will let Julia conduct the tour. She was fascinating to watch and clearly in her element.~
Next are several herbal related excerpts from my NA Historical Fantasy Romance Daughter of the Wind. This first one is from the old Scots-Irish woman, Neeley’s, point of view.
~A brooding darkness hovered over the McNeal homestead. Of that, Neeley was certain. And she sensed from where it came. She needed all her wisdom now to prevail against it. She’d limped stiffly through the home sprinkling a sweetly aromatic decoction of angelica root into every corner, the most powerful herb for warding off spells and enchantment. Then she’d hung a bough of rowan wood above the doorway to lend protection from evil. The leafless branch dripped with clusters of orange-red berries, pleasant to behold as she sat by the hearth. ~
And later in the chapter, ~Her needle winking in the firelight, Neeley sewed the blue fringe on the cape collar and around the long hem. The fragrance of angelica, the most sacred of herbs, rose from the linen. She’d sprinkled a decoction of the holy root over the cloth to bring protection to the wearer.
Jack would need all the defense he could get.
As for Karin, her innate goodness would aid her, but Neeley wasn’t taking any chances. An herbal bath of angelica mingled with the purifying power of agrimony, redolent of ripe apricots, awaited the girl. Jack too, if Neeley managed to coax him in.
This excerpt is from the heroine, Karen’s, point of view.
~Neeley rose stiffly from her chair and shuffled forward, her stooped figure a head shorter than Karin’s. “You’ll want my help, John McNeal. Fetch the woundwort, Karin. Sarah, steep some comfrey in hot water and bring fresh linens. Joseph, the poor fellow could do with a spot of brandy,” the tiny woman rapped out like a hammer driving nails. Old, she might be, and as wizened as a dried apple, but Neeley took charge in a medical emergency whether folks liked it or not.
Sarah dashed to the cupboard to take down the brown bowl. Karin flew beside her and grabbed the crock reeking of salve. Sarah snatched a towel and they spun toward the hearth as the men made their way past the gaping crowd. The stranger lifted his head and looked dazedly at both women. Karin met vivid green eyes in a sun-bronzed face stubbled with dark whiskers. A fiery sensation shot through her—and not just because he was devastatingly handsome.
The two following excerpts are from the hero, Jack’s, pov.
~“Thomas, see Sarah gets to bed and brew her a cup of betony. That’ll calm her,” Neeley directed.
Thomas helped his stepmother to her feet.“Come on, Sarah. You’ll do better with a rest and some tea,” he said, and guided the unsteady woman from the room.
Neeley set the white porcelain bowl on the washstand. She squinted down at Jack and then gestured with bent fingers at the girl peering from behind John’s bulk. “Karin, come closer. You’re my hands, lass.”
Her eyes, too, Jack suspected.~
And later in that scene, ~Karin dabbed his shoulder dry, then dipped her small hand into the pungent crock. Pursing rose-tinged lips, she smeared the aromatic paste on his wound. “I’ll give the salve a while to work before I dig the ball out and stitch you up. Ever had woundwort, sir?”
“Dulls the pain right well,” Jack managed, hiding a grimace. Even her soft touch stung like the devil, but he wouldn’t push her away for anything.~
I used willow bark tea in the following excerpt from my historical romance novel Through the Fire.
Blurb: At the height of the French and Indian War, a young English widow ventures into the colonial frontier in search of a fresh start. She never expects to find it in the arms of the half-Shawnee, half-French warrior who makes her his prisoner in the raging battle to possess a continent––or to be aided by a mysterious white wolf and a holy man.
~For a moment, he simply looked at her. What lay behind those penetrating eyes?
Shoka held out the cup. “Drink this.”
Did he mean to help her? Rebecca had heard hideous stories of warriors’ brutality, but also occasionally of their mercy. She tried to sit, moaning at the effect this movement had on her aching body. She sank back down.
He slid a corded arm beneath her shoulders and gently raised her head. Encouraged by his unexpected aid, she sipped, grimacing at the bitterness. The vile taste permeated her mouth.
Weren’t deadly herbs acrid? Dear Lord. Had he tricked her into downing a fatal brew? She eyed him accusingly. “’Tis poison.”
He arched one black brow. “No. It’s good medicine. Will make your pain less.”
Unconvinced, she clamped her mouth together.
“I will drink. See?” he said, and took a swallow.
She parted her lips just wide enough to argue. “It may take more than a mouthful to kill.”
He regarded her through narrowing eyes. “You dare much.”
Though she knew he felt her tremble, she met his piercing gaze. If he were testing her, she wouldn’t waver.
His sharp expression softened. “Yet you have courage.”~
The following herbal excerpt is from my suspenseful Scottish Time Travel Somewhere My Lass:
~Tearing his eyes away from Mora, Neil squirted antibiotic ointment on the deep cut, as he’d often done before, only not to himself. He closed the raw edges of the wound together with a butterfly band aide then covered that with a larger one. “There. That should hold it.”
Aunt Margaret observed the proceedings over his shoulder. “Ye know what yer about, I see. No stitches wanted with that wee dressing. There’s naught like a healing salve fer wounds. The ground berries of hemlock, yarrow root, and opium seeds mixed with lard make a fine unguent. Yet yers will serve, I doubt not.”
Pride in her shining eyes, Mora said, “Neil has much knowledge of healing.”
He basked in her praise but suspected Margaret Mackenzie knew a great deal herself.
“Aye. He does that. And he’ll have need of it.”~
These two excerpts are from my newly released Colonial Native American Romance Novel Red Bird’s Song:
~Where was Wicomechee, and why did she care? Only for protection, Charity reasoned, glad of Posetha’s friendliness. Though not as tall as Wicomechee, he stood a handspan above her. He motioned her knee nearer the water to wet the bandage then carefully unbound the linen. The cut was closing well, though badly discolored with a purpling bruise.
“Wait.” Posetha darted into the trees, returning with a handful of mitten-shaped leaves. “This kind brings healing.”
The spicy scent of sassafras rose around her as he pressed the crushed leaves to her wound and bound the poultice in place with a strip of linen taken from the pouch at his waist.
“Thank you,” she offered.
Was he teaching her Shawnee? “Megwich, Posetha.”
He watched appreciatively as she combed out tangles. “Your hair is colored like a red leaf. Pocoon sisqui. Your eyes are skipaki, the color of leaves in the planting moon.”~
~Rising a little giddily, Charity limped over the mossy stones. A bend in the stream revealed Wicomechee prying a root from a tall leafy plant.
Wicomechee beckoned her near. “This is good medicine.” He mashed the tuber against a stone and licorice scented the air. “Lie down. Rest.”
She sank onto the carpet of leaves beneath a golden sassafras tree. He squatted beside her and reached to her rebound knee then stopped. “Who tended this injury?”
“Posetha. Earlier today. He was very kind.” A wave of fatigue engulfed her as the severe tension of the day faded and she felt herself collapsing under its weight.
Her eyes would not stay open. “He was bringing me to you. I need—your help.” A huge yawn interrupted her.
“My aid you have. I will care for you.”
Reassured, she began to drift. “Like a brother?”
“No. Not like a brother.”
Wicomechee’s throaty chuckle followed her down into the blessed oblivion of sleep.~
I have more herbal excerpts but this is enough for now.