SOME HERB BOOKS are glossy and expensive; some are plain and expensive. Though Lesley Bremness' effort is not as awesomely beautiful as "Herbs," by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead, it is quite handsome and densely packed with information on how to grow and use these magic plants. Bremness lists each herb, but everybody does that; she includes herb trees such as linden, ginkgo, holly, elder, birch. She presents each herb with photographs of its various cultivars and notes on cosmetic, culinary and medical usages, plus cultivation tips. What really hit homes are the chapters on herbs for decoration, household use and beauty treatments. Potpourris, of course, and wreaths--but also herbal dyes and handmade papers. Several skin-care potions--lemon cleansing cream, comfrey and calendula cream (good for rough, dry skin; also a good hand cream), avocado and nettle moisturizer--looked good enough to eat (and probably were). Bremness even explains how to give a massage using essential oils derived from herbs. And where else can you find a recipe for sweet-marjoram furniture wax?
There are many pages and tempting pictures of recipes using herbs, from lovage-and-lentil roulade to elderflower fizz, scented-geranium-leaf sponge cake to sweet-cicely-baked mackerel. This is a British book, so some of the herbs may be unfamiliar (coltsfoot, vervain), or the familiar might appear under an assumed name (the succulent Sempervivum tectorum , a variety of hen and chickens, is called houseleek). No matter; part of the fun is sorting it all out. The book is herbal heaven. ($24.95)