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Herbal Landscape : Jean Cozart's yard--even the parkway--features a variety of plants. Her passion extends indoors--to recipes and journals.

September 17, 1993|JUDITH SIMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER; Judith Sims, a Times staff writer, holds a certificate in horticulture from UCLA Extension

CANOGA PARK — "This is Origanum maru , the hyssop mentioned in the Bible," Jean Cozart says, bending to a tall plant. "It's not Hyssopus, what we call hyssop today."

In Cozart's Canoga Park back yard, small brick paths wind around tightly planted areas chock-full of herbs, including a number mentioned in the Bible--butcher's broom, bedstraw, costmary, Cistus laberniferus , Atriplex halimus . She also has golden oregano and eight varieties of thyme, including caraway and lavender.

Her passion extends to the curb: She has planted the parkway with rosemary, lavender and Mexican sage and, when viewed from the street, the parkway and front yard make a seamless herbal landscape leading to the front door.

But the herbs don't stop there. Cozart is also an archivist, with magazines, society journals, notebooks and recipes. "I do a lot of research," she says. An understatement: One bedroom has been converted to an office, but it's really one big file cabinet, the closet crammed with orderly rows of notebooks and magazines, the walls lined with shelves of books, the middle of the room stocked with file cabinets, notebooks, magazines. All of them about herbs.

Stacked on the table in Cozart's dining room are works in progress such as lavender wands, essentially useless but heavenly smelling items made by weaving satin ribbon in and around lavender flower spikes. From a tall cabinet, Cozart takes down glass jar after jar, uncapping potpourris that she has concocted from herbs, spices and flowers: scents of rose geranium, lavender, rose and lemon verbena perfume the air. She shows herb jellies and sachets that she has made with her garden bounty.

"Herbs have been a passion with me for many years," she says. The Chicago native traveled all over the country because her father was a civil engineer for the Illinois Central railroad. "I learned to cook in any language," she says.

She kept traveling once she married Aaron Cozart, a miner and cattleman, before settling in Los Angeles in 1943. "I've lived in lumber camps and in mining camps; my husband dredged for cinnabar in Pope Valley, and I cooked for 17 men in a tent."

In 1964, they moved to Canoga Park, where Cozart ripped out the lawn--"I'm allergic to all grasses"--and started on her herb garden. Although she has the basics, of course, she also has culinary plants not found in most nurseries: chocolate mint, grapefruit mint, lemon mint (not a true mint and not the commonly designated lemon mint Monarda citriodora ; this one is Elscholtzia ciliatia ).

"I get them from all over," she says. Her latest acquisition is Hibiscus sabariffa , a tropical plant used to make jamaica, the sweet red drink found at many taco stands. "And my husband just brought me an apple banana, and I have a jasmine sombec, the Chinese jasmine used in tea. I use it in potpourris and to flavor sugar."

An active member of herb societies since 1945 (she recently received an award from the National Herb Society), Cozart does not rest on her herbaceous laurels; she's venturing into spices, with an allspice tree and caper bush. And when she isn't busy in her herb garden, she lectures on 60 different herb subjects.

At 75, she does not seem to be slowing down much. "My grandfather, a scientist and physician, had a wonderful garden; he got me started," she says. "He lived to be 100. I hope I do too."

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