NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

July 9, 2014

The world of herbs

Local gardener and cook offers easy tricks for adding flavor

It all started with children’s books.

Nearly 50 years ago, Betsy Williams had just moved to Andover with her husband and their three small children. Because her husband, Ned, had to take the family’s only car to work every day, she was always looking for new things to do around the house.

While reading Beatrix Potter’s stories to her children, she was inspired to start a garden.

“Mrs. Rabbit was a single mom with four children that she had to support, because Mr. Rabbit had ended up in a pie,” Williams said. “She grew and harvested rabbit tobacco, and every Saturday, she was off to the rabbits farmers market to sell her bunches of rabbit tobacco, which left the four children home alone.”

The daughter and sister of librarians, Williams put her research skills to work and soon discovered that rabbit tobacco was a nickname for lavender in England. Williams was also intrigued by the chamomile tea that Mrs. Rabbit used to get her son to sleep in “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”

At the time, chamomile wasn’t a well-known herb in the United States and she wasn’t sure what it was, Williams said.

“Between the chamomile and the lavender, I fell in love, and I’ve been a very happy camper ever since,” she said. “That started a whole career of it.”

Now, Williams is an author, gardener, florist and founding member of the International Herb Association who teaches others all about herbs, including how to grow them and how to use them to make condiments such as vinegars, mustards, jellies, butters and even nuts. She was also the longtime owner of a retail store in Andover, The Proper Season.

The Proper Season is where Williams’ alter ego — or, as she describes her, “very close friend” — Mrs. Thrift was born.

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