In the beginning, there was a hunch. In 1988, Linda Ligon, founder of Interweave Press, was looking to diversify her publishing business, which focused on crafting. She noticed a surge in herb content in mainstream home magazines.
“Herb gardening, cooking and crafting were gaining interest, and the mainstream media were just beginning to put their toes in that water,” Ligon says.
Ligon sensed an opportunity to reach out to the growing community who lived and breathed herbs–intelligent, committed herbies who wanted more than a basic pesto recipe. “I think the whole herb community was ready for a serious magazine,” Ligon says.
With the help of leaders within the field–Rita Buchanan, Steven Foster, Tom DeBaggio, Dr. Art Tucker, Portia Meares, Betsy Williams and many more–Ligon launched The Herb Companion in November 1988. Over the next 11 years, Ligon continued to lead the magazine, as public interest in herbs took root. In 1999, Ligon sold The Herb Companion. Today, it is owned by Ogden Publications, the country’s leading publisher of books and magazines on self-sufficiency, sustainability and rural lifestyles.
To mark the 20th anniversary of The Herb Companion, we recently caught up with our founder, at home in Loveland, Colorado:
The Herb Companion: What changes have you observed regarding the role of herbs in everyday culture since you launched The Herb Companion 20 years ago?
Linda Ligon: Herbs were still rather exotic in the 1980s, but now they’re ubiquitous. Every cooking magazine includes recipes rich in herbs; every garden center offers tons of started herb plants. And herbal essential oils are in many, if not most, mainstream cosmetic, soap and household fragrance products.
HC: What was publishing The Herb Companion like in those early days?
LL: Really primitive! I was the editor, publisher, chief cook and bottle-washer (as well as being CEO of Interweave). All the other staff already had full-time commitments on other books and magazines. Our design team was in Boulder, Colorado, 45 minutes away, and we didn’t have the Internet. So we’d rendezvous in a town halfway between us to check pages, hand off film, etc. Sometimes, we’d make two or three trips a day.
HC: How do you hope people will use herbs in the coming years?
LL: I hope people in the general population will continue to have herb gardens and cook with fresh herbs. I hope they recognize and cherish the many lovely, life-enhancing qualities of these wonderful plants, including how to use them judiciously to keep the doctor away.
HC: What is your favorite herb and why?
LL: I love lavender–lavender soap, lavender laundry soap, lavender pillows–it makes me happy. I have it lining my front walk, a patch out front and by my back door, too. Every time I walk by, I pinch it to release its fragrance. It’s a very happy thing.
Allison Martin is associate editor of The Herb Companion.