Prime Thyme Mysteries 2, by Susan Wittig Albert

Many thanks to Pam for hosting me today. This blog tour celebrates the launch of Nightshade, the sixteenth China Bayles mystery. China (for those who haven’t read 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. Life in the slow lane isn’t nearly as peaceful as she expected, however, and in spite of China’s best intentions, she keeps turning up mysteries. In this post, I’d like to tell you something about the herbs in three more of her adventures, Books 4, 5, and 6 in the series. (For posts on other books, check out the tour calendar.)

Rosemary Remembered: “For you, there’s rosemary and rue.”—Shakespeare

In China’s fourth mystery, I tried giving the series an even sharper herbal flavor by including bits of herb information and lore at the beginning of every chapter. The signature herb was rosemary (“Here’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance”). I wrote this book while we were all ensnared by the trial of OJ Simpson, and I couldn’t help thinking that the media focus was on the criminal, when it should have been on the victims. So Rosemary Remembered is about remembering the victims of crime.We know rosemary as a culinary herb and treasure it for its fresh, sharply resinous taste. But it has seen a wide variety of uses. The Egyptians used it in the preservation of mummies. The Greeks used it to help preserve meat–lamb, mostly, which is why our Easter lamb dishes are flavored with rosemary. The Romans thought that it helped to stimulate and preserve mental processes, so Roman scholars wore rosemary garlands. By association, it represented unfading love, and was carried by brides and used with funeral flowers. By Shakespeare’s day, everybody knew that rosemary symbolized remembering. And recently, research in Germany suggests that rosemary actually does help preserve memory in the brain, and might be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.

For more about rosemary, you can listen to my podcast, check out a few recipes, and explore links to more pages about this wonderful herb.

Rueful Death

In her fifth mystery, China goes on retreat to a nearby monastery, where the sisters grow garlic for a living. But the peaceful harmony of St. Theresa’s is threatened by arson fires and a rash of nasty poison-pen letters. As she solves the mysteries and identifies the guilty, China learns about forgiveness and mercy, and discovers some hard truths about her own limitations.

While there’s a lot of information about garlic in Rueful Death, rue is the herb that gives this mystery its title. Rue isn’t a popular modern herb, but in previous centuries, it was an important medicinal. The Romans used rue as an eyewash and included it in amulets they wore to protect themselves from contagious illness. It was also thought to repel evil, so medieval priests used the plant as a brush to shake holy water as they gave the blessing—hence the name, “herb of grace.” In Shakespeare’s day, pots of rue were set in front of judges in the courtroom to protect them from any plague that might be carried by prisoners. The plant was also associated with the idea of repentance, or “ruefulness,” and hence with mercy and forgiveness.

Up through the nineteenth century, one of the most important uses of rue was as an abortifacient: an herb that causes an abortion. (Other popular abortifacients were thyme and parsley.) Rue was also thought to be an anti-aphrodisiac, suppressing sexual desire. It was used in food served in monasteries.

There’s some interesting information about rue here. For a serious discussion of rue’s powerful medicinal properties, go here.

Love Lies Bleeding

The folk names of herbs have always fascinated me. Love-lies-bleeding is the folk name for Amaranthus caudatus. Its name inspired the plot of China’s sixth adventure, in which McQuaid (China’s lover) is shot and almost dies. In Love Lies Bleeding, China has to learn some difficult truths about heroes who don’t live up to their reputations. Even good cops can be corrupted by cocaine, heroin, and marijuana—the three biggest herbal cash crops in the world.

Love Lies BleedingLove-lies-bleeding, prized for its rope-like, blood-red blossoms, has been used since ancient times to stanch bleeding and treat internal hemorrhage. It was worn by knights in the Middle Ages to symbolize purity and truth. During the Renaissance (when it was used to treat venereal disease) the herb became a symbol of corruption.

To find out why the Aztecs called this plant (and its other amaranth relatives) the “grain of the gods,” go here. To learn about its nutritional values, check out this Wikipedia page. To find out how to grow it (it’s easy!), go here. But do be careful—all amaranths are notorious self-sowers. You may wind up with more than you bargained for!

And that brings this post to a close. Thanks again, Pam, for hosting me. And thanks to everybody who has dropped in to read and comment! I’ll be around today and for the next couple of days to answer questions.

UPDATE:  March 27, 2009 Wormwood Book Drawing!


To enter the book drawing for Susan’s latest book, please click here on March 27th!

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mary
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 14:56:23

    I have always like the way you have handled the McQuaid and buddies in law enforcement involvment in the plots. You never let them overwhelm the stories or let too much law enforcement language creep into our girls’ dialogue. I was so suprised when the cops had problems in Love Lies Bleeding. It gave these characters more potential for plot twists. I just read in a previous blog from this tour, that the smart cookie is going to have her own book. Can you give us a little more about her book? – She is such a great chatacter.
    Only four more days until the new book:)


  2. Rhonda Esakov
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 20:56:26

    Is there ever any discussion (with publishers) about re-releasing some of your earlier China Bayles books, such as the ones discussed here?


  3. Crafty Gardener
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 08:52:01

    I’m enjoying the blog tour and catching up with some of my favourite China Bayles books.


  4. Susan Albert
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 09:09:23

    Hey, Rhonda–there’s no need for re-release, since all the China books have been continuously in print since the get-go. “Re-release” is a term that’s used when a book goes out of print, stays out for an indeterminate period, and is brought back into print again–sometimes by a different publisher. Example: Charlaine Harris’s Teagarden mysteries, which came out in the 90s, went out of print in the early 2000s, and have now be re-released by Berkley, on the heels of her vampire success.


  5. Susan Albert
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 09:16:07

    Hello, Mary–Thanks for asking about the Sheila book. I was beginning to wonder if anybody had read that comment! There’ll be lots more on this later, but here’s a sneak peek. The next China book (the next one I’ll write: WORMWOOD is #17, out in April 09) will be called HOLLY BLUES (April 2010). Then there’ll be a Sheila, tentative title HARD LINE 2011). Then another China. The book will pick up Sheila’s life, fill in her back story, give her a crime to solve (I don’t want to give too many clues!), and open the possibility for more books from her point of view, if readers like this one. I’ve long thought that a spinoff in this series would be a possibility: I’ve done a short story collection (UNTHYMELY DEATH) and an almanac (THE CHINA BAYLES BOOK OF DAYS). Both were pretty light. Now I’d like to do something more serious, a little darker, more of a crime novel. China is usually categorized as a “cozy” (although I don’t quite agree: if the books are “cozies,” they’re hard-edged cozies). And I write an ultra-cozy in the Cottage Tales. So it’s time for something a little grittier.

    Thanks for asking!


  6. Annie in Austin
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 10:16:11

    The way you concentrated on the victim in Rosemary Remembered impressed me deeply, Susan, but I didn’t catch the OJ connection. Thank you!

    A Smart Cookie spinoff? Cool!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose


  7. Pam
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 11:10:57

    Susan, Even though I absolutely love China, it’s great that you’re growing the other characters and that you’re going to do a Sheila book!

    And you’ve got me going with thinking about just how China’s family is going to grow!

    And remember the seeds you gave with “Loves Lies Bleeding?” It reminds me of all of the Loves Lies Bleeding plants I had growing all over my garden from planting just one of your seeds which grew to a huge plant and spread its own seeds!


  8. Susan Albert
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 12:41:36

    Pam–I’d forgotten all about those love-lies-bleeding seeds! Gosh, what an effort that was. Getting the seeds, 3000 seed packets, getting the seed packets printed, the seeds into the packets and sealed, and then handing them out. Whew. Well, all I can say is, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

    And now, hearing that one of those seeds grew up to grace your garden and start a whole new colony of plants–it was worth all that effort, just for that! How lovely. Thanks for sharing!

    Rereading my comment above, looks like I misspoke, or rather, mistyped. WORMWOOD (#17) is already written and turned in. (Yay!) HOLLY BLUES (#18) is the next one I’ll write, later this year. Sheila’s book will come after that.


  9. Susan Albert
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 18:19:41

    Annie, the O.J. connection isn’t one that’s accessible through the book. I didn’t want to date it by mentioning the trial. So it was one of those circumstances that form a project without ever surfacing in the project itself. Another example: I was trying to come up with a way to kill that chile judge in Chile Death, without much success. I happened to catch a TV show where several lawyers and restaurant owners were talking about a restaurant’s liability in the case of a customer who died from a toxic reaction to peanuts, when she had specifically asked if any of the dishes contained peanuts. That was the circumstance that framed much of that book–never apparent in the book itself. That happens a lot, I think. So many odd little things go into the process of building a story. And you wouldn’t know what kicked off the book unless the author just happens to reveal it.


  10. mon@rch
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 21:09:03

    Susan, so glad that you did a guest host on Pam’s site here! This is wonderful and look like some very interesting book! I will have to check them out!


  11. Judith Shaw
    Mar 30, 2008 @ 13:35:16

    I look forward to a book about Smart Cookie. Was sorry to see her engagement end. Hope there is a love interest for her in ‘her’ book.

    While you are expanding on your characters don’t forget our smart gal, China’s sidekick, Ruby. She has so many interesting aspects to her life (daughter abondoned, business smarts, cancer surviver, new ager, etc.)


  12. Karen B
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 17:09:19

    Hi Susan,

    I have not read any of your books – oh, horrors! – but I will now since I won Nightshade on this site! Thanks for the generous contest and for introducing me to Pam’s blog.


  13. Char
    Apr 07, 2008 @ 10:55:14

    I am joining in on the tour, a little late, but it’s still so much fun!!! I just did get “Thyme of Death” and can’t wait to get started. I want to visit the rest of the tour first, tho.

    What a fun idea!!


  14. Velma
    Mar 29, 2009 @ 10:44:59

    Susan, my favorite China book of all thyme (smirk) is Bloodroot, the wonderful strong female characters, the setting (most certainly NOT my kind of landscape, but powerful and appealing nonetheless). I am so looking forward to Nightshade. I’m learning to work with my new camera and iPhoto, and found a nice pic of deadly nightshade, wonder why I clicked THAT? The herb connection is, I think, a fine thread stitching China’s stories together. My favorite useful plant besides flax: milkweed!


  15. Velma
    Mar 29, 2009 @ 11:50:47

    Woops, Wormwood.


  16. leslie postin
    Mar 29, 2009 @ 16:29:23

    i am so anxious to read wormwood susan! i have already been deviling my library to be first on the list when it comes in!lol i adore the cottage tales also. i revisit all your books frequently. i wonder if you are going to do anymore in the robin page series anytime soon? i love the characters of kate and charles and so appreciate the historical accuracies of that series! you are my favorite author by far, and the new series center around Smart Cookie sounds fabulous! thanks and hugs 🙂


  17. Sharon Kocher
    Mar 30, 2009 @ 20:52:58

    I have read all of your books and I loved them all!! I am so looking forward to reading Wormwood. I hate it when I finish your book , then I have to wait a whole year before I get to hear about China and her friends again. I’m so glad that I got to meet you at the herbal luncheon when you were in Danville, Il. I had Love-Lies – Bleeding plant for 3 years running and then last year it didn’t return from seed. I sure did miss it. It is a great plant!


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