No one who was at dinner at Jeanne Rose's that night could help but admire the centerpiece.
Nasturtiums, borage, geranium, wallflower, honeysuckle, violets - with all those sweet smells and wild California colors, the guests said, it could have decorated a Marin County wedding or divorce.
Instead they ate it.
"Bioflavonoids," Jeanne Rose pronounced as she chomped on a nasturtium. Also an excellent source of Vitamin C. She passed the plate to her daughter, 14-year-old Amber. "Eat your borage, dear," she said.
Herb-child Amber ignored her mother, ignored her borage. Instead, she defiantly plunged a cucumber spear into a bowl of yogurt-garlic dip. "Excellent for . . .," Jeanne Rose began, but her daughter interrupted to finish the sentence: "I know, K know. Disordered digestion."
Amber Rose has heard it all before. Over the last 10 years in San Francisco, a city so health-conscious that bean sprouts are practically sold by vintage, Jeanne Rose has come to be known as the city's herbalist extraordinaire. Clients, mostly men seeking eternal virility, gravitate to her home/office here in the Haiht Ashbury and pay $30 for Rose's total herbal overhaul. The price includes diagnosis of problems of body and soul; restructuring of the diet; unlimited followups and all the herb tea they can stomach.
The Rose treatment is based on a lifetime of research begun with a notebook on herbs and wildflowers she kept as a Brownie scout. She studied zology and chemistry in college, followed by marine biology. Early in the '60s, Rose drifted into San Francisco's nascent rock culture to become what Cosmopolitan magazine once called the top couturiere of rock 'n' roll. Rose became the Jefferson Airplane's answer to Edith Head, and designed rockwear for stars such as Country Joe & the Fish, Donovan and The Rascals.
Driving south toward Big Sur one afternoon in 1969, Rose's sewing career ended abruptly when she lost control of her Porsche on a sharp curve. Faced with sailing over the cliff into the sea or straight into the dining room of the Big Sur Inn, Rose chose the latter. The accident left her half-paralyzed, confined to bed for months.
While she recovered, she dug out her old herb notebook, her biology books and all the ancient books on herbs she could lay her hands on. She discovered ethnobotany, the application of herbs to healing, and chose herself as her first lab specimen.
Poring over a medieval guide, she noted repeated references to garlic as a cure for sinus problems, which had plagued her all her life. Convalescing in virtual solitude, with nothing to lose and no one to offend, she snorted garlicked oil for three solid days. Now so shameless a garlic junkie that she wears a silver clove around her neck, she has never had anothe sinus problem.
Once she was ambulatory again, she began spending all her time on herbs and ethnobotany. Her old Brownie scout notebook became the basis for her first book, "Herbs & Things." She began whipping up homemade herbal cosmetics, and was soon mail-order-marketing under her New Age Creations (See ROSE, H2, Col. 1) (ROSE, From H1 ) label. Friends who marveled at Rose's silky, unwrinkled skin began snapping up the products. Some made the cosmetics themselves, using the recipes in Rose's second volume the "Herbal Body Book." And Rose says both Bloomingdale's and Macy's offered to market her line if only she would improve her mayonnaise-jar packaging.
Meanwhile, back in her own egg-plant-colored kitchen, Rose was refining the recipes she had inherited from her French Canadian mother, Spanish father and hard-cooking friends. In her most recent book, "Jeanne Rose's Herbal Guide to Inner Health" (Grosset & Dunlap, $10), she combines herbal philosophy and herbal cooking.
"I treat people with herbs and diet, she told her dinner guests, as she cleared away the bowls of garlic soup, getting ready to serve her brain tonic: lemon-balm wrapped fish. "I like simple food," she said, "pure, simple food, made with absolutely the best quality available."
Her meal ended with lush fresh strawberries: "Strawberries were made to be served after a meal. They clean the teeth, you know. Sucks the tartar right out of 'em."
Jeanne Rose smiled broadly, and as she did, a flash of blue shot through the air. It was her left upper molar, a tooth as blue as budding borage. Rose denied that she had the tooth made to match her Flower Salad. Rather, she said, "The dentist wouldn't do purple."
DINNER MENU FRESH VEGETABLES WITH YOGURT-GARLIC DIP FLOWER SALAD GARLIC SOUP LEMON-BALM WRAPPED FISH (WITH PARSLEY BUTTER AND LEMON BALM BUTTER) FRESH STRAWBERRIES COFFEE (IF YOU MUST)
YOGURT-GARLIC DIP 1 to 4 garlic cloves Salt or powdered kelp 1/2 cup yogurt Goodly pinch of herb of choice, rubbed between the palms
Finely chop the garlic and pound it with a pestle in a mortar. Add the salt and pound to a paste, while slowly adding the yogurt. When it is smooth, taste the mix and add more salt if neccessary. Stir in the herb.
By adding more yogurt, this dip may also be served as a sauce for: mint with lamb; dill or fennel with fish; basil with tomatoes or over cottage cheese; chives or parsley with eggs; sage; lemon or tarragon for chicken.
On a round tray or plate, create a cirlce of flowers, laying lettuce, chard or comfrey leaves as a base. Begin from the center with a small mound of grated red cabbage; circle this with a border of cauliflower chopped into tiny pieces followed by broccoli bits and then a ring of alfalfa sprouts. Surround all this with nasturtiums. Then gather some other edible flowers of the season: borage with its cooling blue, sweet honeysuckle, hot mustard and radish flowers, violets, wild onion, sage, thyme, rosemary and calendula.
If desired, serve with Herb Dressing: 2 parts olive oil to one part lemon juice, blended well with a pinch of brewer's yeast, sea salt and the herbs of the moment.
GARLIC SOUP 2 to 40 garlic cloves (1 to 4 bulbs) 2 teaspoons or more good quality olive oil 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth or stock 3 egg yolks Chopped parsley, yogurt or ground almonds
Crush the garlic cloves with the flat of a knife and slip off skins. Saute the garlic slowly in oil in a cast-iron skillet until translucent. Add the broth or stock, and simmer gently about 20 minutes, until the garlic is mushy. Press the garlic broth through a ricer or sieve, or squeese through coarse cheesecloth into a bowl.
Beat the egg yolks until thick with a wire whisk in a 2-quart enamelware or stainless steel pot. Then beat in slowly, a teaspoon at a time, some of the warm garlic broth. Beat in about 3 teaspoons all together. Combine the two mixtures slowly, heat but don't boil and serve in wide soup plates.
This soup can be a delicious first course - just add dollops of chopped parsley, yogurt or ground almonds to the soup when it is served. If desired, add any of the following: salt, pepper, cayenne, oregano or parsley.
LEMON-BALM WRAPPED FISH 1 teaspoons vegetable oil 1 whole fish (2 to 3 pounds) 3 garlic cloves, crushed Salt and pepper 10 to 15 long lemon balm sprigs 1 to 2 thickly sliced sweet yellow onions White grapes
Put a bit of vegetable oil in a baking pan. Rub the fish with the garlic, some salt and pepper. Wrap the fish in the lemon balm sprigs, and then put them in the pan. Cover the fish with sliced onions (to add flavor and to hold the sprigs in place). Sprinkle some grapes over the top. Add enough wine to get a little liquid in the bottom of the pan, 1/4 to 1/2 cup. Cover the pan and place in 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until fish is cooked.
PARSLEY OR LEMON-BALM BUTTER
Herb butters are simply herbs chopped finely and blended into sweet, unsalted butter by mixing thoroughly and refrigerating. These butters are delicious on vegetables, or as a spread for toast and crackers.
Cream top quality sweet butter with a fork or the back of a wooden spoon. Finely chop fresh herbs, or powder by hand dried herbs. With a fork, mash the herbs into creamed butter. Add just a toch of lemon jucie or white wine vinegar to bring up the flavor of the herbs, and refrigerate overnight to allow full flavor to develop.
Sage butter is good used over a roasting chicken. Tarragon butter goes well with meat or fish. Chervil-parsley butter is excellent with vegetables. Spearmint or dill butter is good with lamb chops. Fennel leaf butter is natural served with fish. Oregano butter is an excellent topping over green noodies. And there is nothing more satisfying than garlic butter on a crusty loaf of French bread. CAPTION: Picture 1, Jeanne Rose and her lemon-balm wrapped fish. By Roger Ressmeyer; Copyright (c) 1979; Picture 2, Jeanne Rose with her flower salad; Picture 3, and in kitchen with her daughter, Amber; by Roger Ressmeyer