Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Prime Thyme Mysteries 3
Thank you, Karen, for hosting me today! This blog tour celebrates the launch of Nightshade, the sixteenth China Bayles mystery. China (for those who haven’t yet been introduced to this mystery series) is a former criminal defense attorney who has opted for a quieter life as the owner of an herb shop in Pecan Springs TX. Each book in the series includes a signature herb that has something to do with the story, the characters, and or/the themes of the book. In this post, I’ll be telling you something about the herbs in Books 7, 8, and 9. (For posts on other books, check out the tour calendar.)
In China’s seventh mystery, Pecan Springs is rattled by the news that somebody has put peanuts into an entry in the chili cookoff. Peanuts in Texas chili? All by itself, that’s a crime (Texans never put peanuts in chili)—but it gets worse when a cookoff judge dies. Was it a culinary error (bad enough) or premeditated murder (worse)? The investigation takes China into a couple of hot spots and nearly costs her life. But the good news is that lover Mike McQuaid (shot in the previous book) is on the mend. Are those wedding bells we hear, or the crackle of chiles roasting over an open flame?
The signature herb? Chiles, of course! Chile peppers are not only super in your salsa, but good for what ails you: poor circulation, headaches, stomach distress, and ulcers, maybe even as an alternative to Viagra. (Chiles have long had a reputation as an aphrodisiac.) While the heat of capsaicin (the chief chemical compound in this herb) can burn, it also takes the pain out of shingles, rheumatism, and arthritis.
There’s lots more about this hot herb—a member of the nightshade family—at Wikipedia. If you’d like to try one of China’s favorite chile recipes, add some jalepeno peppers to cornbread. Or put some chile powder in your hot chocolate for an exotic (and seductive) drink.
I always think of this book as the “wedding” book—although between a murder investigation (a local real estate broker is shot to death in his garage) and a surprise guest named Hurricane Josephine, China’s wedding almost doesn’t happen. But it does, and of course it’s an herbal wedding, with rosemary for remembrance, thyme for courage, sage for long life and happiness, and lavender for devotion.
If you’re devoted to lavender, you're not alone. The clean, refreshing scent of its delicate flowers was cherished by the Egyptians (who used it, with other herbs and spices, to make mummies), the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Romans (who called it lavender, from their verb lavere, to wash), and by gardeners everywhere. Lavender is used to scent soaps, cosmetics, potpourris, and sachets. You can also use it in your bath, or put a few drops of essential oil on your hair brush. To help you sleep, put a few drops on your pillow. You can even use lavender flowers to flavor cookies and cakes, make tangy vinegars and punches, and brew fragrant teas.
For recipes from China’s and Ruby’s tea room (newly-opened in Lavender Lies) and ideas for a lavender tea party of your own, check out this page. And for a very good review of lavender’s medicinal properties, read this article from the University of Maryland.
It's Christmas, and China has opened her home for the annual Pecan Springs Holiday Home Tour. But she's also worrying about her friend and partner Ruby Wilcox, who hasn't been herself lately. To further complicate matters, China has to round up a supply of mistletoe, the season's most popular herb. It seems an easy enough task—until her chief mistletoe supplier turns up dead.
Mistletoe is rich in lore, mostly due to the unusual growth habit of this parasitic herb. (In fact, some linguists trace its name to the Old English word mistil, meaning different.) Mistletoe grows on host trees, from seeds planted in the bark by the birds who feast on the white berries that ripen during the winter. The plant has been a part of Yule or winter solstice celebrations since the Druids, and the "kiss of peace" that was once exchanged under this plant by warring North Country clans has now evolved into the Christmas kiss. In folk cultures, mistletoe has been used to enhance fertility and to treat epilepsy; medicinally, European mistletoe is used as a sedative and to slow a rapid heartbeat. Recent research suggests that it may also slow the growth of cancerous tumors, and it is employed in Germany to supplement chemotherapy. Mistletoe is not a culinary herb, but the berries are not deadly, as is popularly believed. Please note that European and American mistletoe are not the same species. Many traditions link the two, but they are very different.
For a serious discussion of mistletoe’s medicinal properties, go here. For a more general overview of the plant (and another view of its cancer-curing properties), check out this page.
Readers often tell me that they enjoy learning about herbs while they are entertained by the story. But I have to say that China Bayles has taught me so much about herbs. For instance, I don’t think I would ever have taken the time to explore the herb mistletoe, if China’s supplier hadn’t gone and gotten himself killed!
Thanks again, Karen, for hosting me here at Rurality. And thanks to all you folks who are trekking through cyberspace with me on this blog tour. I appreciate your notes and comments—I’ll be gone for a couple of days this week, but I’ll be dropping in again when I get back.
About the book drawing and Susan’s blog tour
If you’d like to enter the drawing for a copy of Nightshade go here to register. But do it now, before you forget. The drawing for Rurality closes at noon on April 4, 2008.
Want to read the other posts in Susan’s blog tour? You’ll find a calendar and links here.