Mr. and Mrs. H. E. Huntington’s Herb Garden (1920’s SMR)

A “Huntington prostrate rosemary”, I bought at the Huntington Library plant sale in San Marino, CA. Prostrate Rosemary is great to cook with because of the soft stems; also the curvy stems give poetry to decorating platters & to garnish plates. Also, some hot pink geraniums in the foreground. These geraniums are different from the scented geraniums that are edible. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

by Nancy Armitage

I’ve been a member of the Herb Society of America; in the 1980’s. The Southern California division of the Herb Society of America had wonderful informative herb classes at the LA Arboretum in Arcadia, CA. Being a herbalist myself, I was very interested in finding out what herbs the Huntingtons had on the San Marino Ranch. Where was Mr. & Mrs. Huntington’s original Herb Garden at the San Marino Ranch? Or did they have a herb garden at all? I thought if I could find out the herbs that the Huntington’s grew at the San Marino Ranch. Maybe, I could figure out some of the recipes & foods that Huntingtons might have ate. Any good cook or chef knows the value of the flavor that herbs add to all recipes.

Flowering Rosemary “Tuscan Blue” Topiary in front of our hothouse. In Mrs. Huntington’s Rooftop French garden (above the Loggia) there were many herbal topiaries. Some were made out of boxwood, & herbs like lavender, & rosemary. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

In my research of the Huntington’s San Marino Ranch, I found many receipts for herbs, flowers, fruits, berries, & trees. In 1914-15, a huge amount of herbs & vegetables & southern vegetables was ordered at the San Marino Ranch (Los Robles Ranch). I think it was a request of Mrs. Arabella Huntington, being a Southern Belle & all.

Location of the Huntington Herb Garden

In my research, there seems to be no formal herb garden at that time on the San Marino Ranch. The Huntington Herb Garden (Huntington Library) was actually Mrs. Huntington’s flower cutting garden in 1914 & on. On old San Marino Ranch maps & photographs I have seen, indicate there was a West Vegetable Garden & a East Vegetable Gardens, (gigantic long gardens). The Huntington Kitchen vegetables & herbs were planted either in the “West Vegetable Garden” (just north of the Shakespeare Garden) or the “East Vegetable Garden” (located where the Huntington Library parking lot is now). The numerous herbs ordered by the Ranch, I suppose were most likely planted in the West Vegetable Garden because of its closeness to the Huntington Kitchen. It would have been closer access for Miss Nora Larsen who was the Head Housekeeper- Cook is the early days, & was in charge of putting up fruits & pickling vegetables, too.

Lovely Lemon Balm (ruffled leaves) & the small glossy leaves are Bergamot (has a lovely citrus scent), growing in my rose garden. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

At the Huntington Library, I found a San Marino Ranch receipt dated, June 24, 1914. It gave me evidence that the Huntington’s actually did have some kind of Herb Garden. This purchase was on a Morris & Snow Seed Company invoice located at 425 Main Street, Los Angeles, CA (downtown LA) . These herbs were sold to Huntington Land & Improvement Co., San Gabriel – there was also a stamp “charge to the Los Robles Ranch” (which was technically the San Marino Ranch). On this 1914 invoice, all these herbs cost 10 cents (they could have been a packet of seeds or 1 lb. of herb seeds, I’m not sure). Listed on the receipt were: Anise, Balm, Basil, Borage, Catnip, Dill, Marjoram, Rosemary, Savory Winter, Angelica, Saffron & 2 lb. large Sunflowers for 20 cents. The “Balm” could have been Bee Balm or Lemon Balm. Document: HEH Collection HEH Coll. HEH 8/9 (San Marino Ranch Papers) at Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

A lovely illustrated Parsley tile. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Herbs purchased for the San Marino Ranch (1914-1915)

In the years 1914-1915, I did find many detailed herb & vegetable invoice herb lists & receipts. These herbs made up a Herb Garden(s) at the Huntington’s San Marino Ranch in Southern California. The following herbs that I found in the San Marino Ranch/Los Robles Ranch papers are in alphabetical order: Angelica, Anise, Balm [Bee Balm], Basil, Bay Leaves, Baby Chives, Borage, Catnip, Chile Peppers, French Chervil, Chives Clumps, Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Garlic, Lavender, Leeks, Marjoram, Nasturtiums, Parsley, Rosemary, Saffron, Sage, Savory [Winter or Summer], French Tarragon, Common Thyme, French Thyme, Watercress, & Winter Savory. HEH Coll. HEH 6/15 & HEH 8/9 (San Marino Ranch Papers) at Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

Petit French Quiche Lorraine pies filled with ham and cheese are delicious with a small side salad like arugula. Herbs like French tarragon or parsley could be added to them to quiche ; but nutmeg is a spice that should always be in them.

Seed packets in the mail

Mr. Huntington was famous for receiving packets of plant seeds from his Head Gardener ( Mr. Welker) at the Chateau Beauregard and from others. French Herbs & plants they could not easily get in America. He could have requested herbs seeds of “rocket” (arugula, a nutty tasting lettuce), chamomile, French Sorrel (tastes like Lemon) Salad Burnet (tastes like cucumber), French cress: “Cresson de Fontaine”, French Lavender, Bay Leaves, & Celery Root, . These French herbs did grow at their 4 -acre herb garden at the Chateau Beauregard by Paris in France.

Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington loved afternoon tea . Herbs like basil , French Tarragon or arugula could have been added to old-fashioned chicken salad sandwiches, Mint & Bee Balm could have been added to tea; sweet herbs like spearmint, bee balm, & lemon thyme & lemon verbena can be added to shortbread cookies. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

To the Victorians, herbs & flowers had a whole language of their own. A man would give a lady a flower & that flower had great meaning, if the couple were friends or intimates. Rosemary was for remembrance, & lavender for sweet devotion, & yellow rose for friends & a red rose for true love. Some very romantic sentiments.

Lavender growing amongst my roses, super happy this February. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

A little herb poem I found in one of Mr. Huntington’s rare books:

“Balm brings you sympathy & Marjoram joy. Sage is long life… sweet woodruff angers will for health. A blessing richer far than wealth. While Lavender means deep devotion, Herb of sweet omen, Rosemary conveys Affection & remembrance all your days. May Heaven & Earth & Man combine To keep these blessings ever thine.” –written by Rachel Page Elliott

Herbs, Seeds, & Spices in the Huntington Kitchen Cabinets (1927) at the San Marino Ranch. In the Huntington Kitchen, their was recorded 65 containers of herbs & spices in the Huntington Pantry:

Herbs: French Tarragon, Thyme, French Chervil, Garlic, Mint

Seeds: Fennel seeds, Rye Seeds, Celery Seed, (grown at SMR: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or “pepitas” seeds)

Spices: Cloves, Ginger, Allspice, Nutmeg, Poultry Seasoning, Mustard (Colemans), Cinnamon, Cardamom, Salt, Mace, White Pepper, Black Pepper, Vanilla Extract, Rock salt (most likely to make vanilla ice cream).

Spring & Summertimes is when fresh herbs really shine. Like basil with tomatoes or arugula leaves in a salad, or baby sorrel soup (it taste like lemon) in a soup. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

Some of the Huntington recipes would have used many types of herbs. Like their French Mushroom Soup could have been garnish with baby chives or French Tarragon. Potage St. Germain (Parisian Split Pea soup with Ham) flavored with French tarragon & garnished with parsley. French Cauliflower soup called “Soup de Chou-fleur” is steamed cauliflower, creme friache, garlic, lemon zest, chiffonade of basil, chicken stock, mixed peppercorns, and garnished with baby chives. The Head Cook, Nora Larson, pickled many vegetables like French green beans & Southern Okra & probably added dill, thyme, or garlic. Also, Mrs. Leslie Huntington (HEH’s daughter in law) made a festive Mint Lemonade with Gingerale (mint tea with lemon & sugar & they added ginger ale) in the 1920’s. Mrs. Huntington loved French fruit compotes: Compote of spiced pears with cinnamon or Compotes of peaches with sweet basil or French tarragon or mint sprinkled on top. They had Creme de menthe in their “libations” bar; as a refreshing after-dinner cocktail they could have added creme de menthe with Appollinaris water & a sprig of mint as a digestive or made Mint Juleps is a very Southern cocktail, made with spearmint.

On New Years Da,y, I didn’t have any roses or flowers in bloom in the garden in my Southern California garden. So I picked some rosemary, I placed it in water & in this cute bottle-vase.. In only a couple of weeks, the little sprigs of rosemary were sprouting roots!! I was so excited!! Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

In my Huntington research, I have noticed by Huntington menus and grocery list that the Huntington family when they were in California they ate California food. Such as Avocados, Chiles, and Mexican corn tortillas. A wonderful California Mexican breakfast likely made for the Huntington’s was a local favorite: “Huevos Rancheros”. Which is a delicious mixture of eggs, tomatoes, mild green chiles (Ortega), red or white onions, fresh avocado slices with cheddar cheese, & salsa. Served on a homemade corn tortilla, topped with pico de gallo (a salsa) or a dollop of sour cream & a sprig of cilantro. The cilantro could have been a garnish on top of Mexican salsa & Pico de Gallos (vinegar, onions & cilantro). In the Huntington kitchen, it was recorded they had a metal tortilla maker, so the Huntingtons could have made this wonderful Mexican dish or beef, pork or chicken tacos or numerous Mexican dishes like Chicken or Beef Enchiladas.

Garnishing your plates with herbs like spearmint, it just gives your meals a extra touch.

I found a interesting herb story about Mr. H. E. Huntington that indicates he was a Herbalist, too. Mr. Huntington’s corporate secretary at Pacific Electric Co. in downtown Los Angeles was Emma Quigley. Miss Emma Quigley stated, “Sometimes Edward [HEH] was driven downtown [by his chauffeur, Mr. Williams] in his black locomobile, & sometimes he went back & forth on the trolley [the Red Car train]; when he did the latter, he enjoyed standing on the platform & talking with the conductor to learn what was going on. He shared an office with Billy Dunn [Wm. E. Dunn, Attorney,]”

Baby Spearmint just starting to grow in my Winter February garden. It comes back every year. Spearmint can get out of hand, so plant in pots; then it can’t take over your bed of flowers or herbs.. I need to weed those pesky little shamrocks out of there, they cause rust in plants. Photo credit; Nancy Armitage

” …..Edward [HEH] talked over all business & financial matters with Dunn, & they always had lunch together at the California Club [downtown LA]. He brought Herb Tea & bottles of mineral water from home [SMR], & his secretary, Miss Emma Quigley, would prepare refreshments for them; Edwards [HEH] call the mineral water their ‘Cocktails’. ” Also, in a another passage it reveals that Dunn was trying to lose weight & the herb tea was good for his health. Document: HEH Coll. MS 19/1-17 uncat (Alfonso Gomez interviews); HEH Coll. HEH Bio File MS 19//1(1) Emma Quigley “Reminiscences”

Mr. H.E. Huntington was the President of the Pacific Electric Railway Co. until he retired at 60 yrs. old in 1910. No one actually believed him because he was such a diligent businessman, but he did . Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Herb Tea a la Pacific Electric

Mr. Dunn was Mr. H. E. Huntington best friend & partner at the Huntington Land & Improvement Co. and many other Huntington companies, also. Mr. Dunn was overweight & had to drink a special herb tea to lose weight. So Mr. Huntington, his supportive friend would drink the “Herb Tea” with him. They also added sparkling water (Apollinaris sparking water) which was quite popular in the 1920’s. Apollinaris was a mineral water and good for your health. They jokingly called their drink, their “Cocktails”. Sassafras root could have also been included to the recipe for flavor; at the San Marino Ranch they also made their own root beer using sassafras.

Herbal Diet Tea

1 t. peppermint or spearmint leaves

1 t. fennel seeds, whole

1 t. licorice root

1 t. fenugreek seeds, whole

1 t. flaxseed, whole

4 c. boiling water

1 qt. Apollinaris water

orange wedges

Add herbs & seeds to (1qt) French coffee press (or place herbs & seeds in a cheesecloth bag.). Add boiling water. Let steep for 8 mins. Let cool. Pour into a mason jar or a thermos. When its time to drink the tea, add some Apollinaris water to it. Garnish with orange wedges. Recipe by Nancy Armitage

Flowering Sweet Basil “wintering over” in our hothouse. I used it often during the Winter this year in sandwiches, salads, & pasta. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Mint Herb Tea a la Huntington Ranch

So what herbs did the Huntingtons use for their flavorful herb tea? They would have used tasty sweet herbs like spearmint, peppermint, bee balm, basil, or ginger add lots of flavorful. They could have placed fresh raspberries or loganberries in a cheesecloth bag & smash it in for flavor & color.

1 qt. mason jar

2 qt. hot water

kitchen string


8 springs Spearmint leaves

8 springs Peppermint leaves

1/2 t. Fennel Seed (tastes like licorice)

1 bottle of Mineral Water (sparkling): Apollinaris Water , Poland Water, or Vichy Water

Lemon or orange wedges to garnish ice tea in glasses

Gather the herbs & roots onto a sq. of cheesecloth & tie with kitchen string. Place the herb bag into a large pitcher & pour over boiling hot water. Let cool. Pour into a mason jar & label. Recipe by Nancy Armitage

Mrs. Huntington owned several patterns of “Old Paris” porcelain plates. French plates have many herbs & flowers illustrated on their dining plates. Photo & Illustration credit: Nancy Armitage

Elegant Maitre d’Hotel Butter (1882)

This flavorful herbed butter is a mixture of wonderful French herbs (which Arabella Huntington loved). The Huntingtons would have enjoyed it at Delmonico’s in NYC & Paris, France, or their beloved Chateau Beauregard near Paris. This herbed butter would enhance not only vegetables, but chicken & fish, too. Adapted from a rare book of Mr. H. E. Huntington’s called 366 menus & 1200 recipes in French & English (1882) written by Mrs. Matthew Clark & Leon Brisse. The original recipe also had egg yolk to thicken the sauce. Mrs. Beeton’s “Maitre d’ Hotel Butter” was very simple: created by adding butter, lemon juice, parsley, salt & pepper. In 2021, we would call it “Compound Butter” & a great recipe is sweet butter, garlic, baby chives, salt, & pepper in a little ramekin.

1 t. French chervil leaves, chop

1 t. Parsley, fine chop or Italian Parsley (Flat-leaf)

1 t. Watercress leaves, chop

2 T. French Tarragon, chop

1 lb. Fresh Sweet butter

juice of one lemon (Meyers lemons are best)

Chop the fresh herbs very fine with knife or scissors. Mash herbs with a fork into soft sweet butter. In a saucepan melt butter, add lemon & herbs then pour over hot vegetables, fish or chicken. Make 1 lb. herb butter. Recipe: Nancy Armitage

Rosemary illustrated on a plaque tile. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Shakespeare Tea

This is a lovely herbal tea influenced by the Huntington’s Herb garden & their romantic Shakespeare garden. I think Mr. Huntington was a little bit of a herbalist & a romantic. Mrs. Huntington was definitely a romantic, a Victorian women, & a Southern belle. She had a great appreciation for afternoon tea, herbs, & theme parties, too. In Mr. H. E. Huntington’s book library, his Shakespeare collection is one of the four largest in the world.

2 c. lavender blossoms, whole

2 c. peppermint or spearmint leaves

1 c. sweet marjoram leaves,

1 c. savory (winter or summer savory)

1 c. calendula blossoms (marigold flowers)

In a large bowl, add herbs and mix with a spoon. Ladle this herb tea in a1 qt. mason jar and label. Makes 7 c. dried tea blend. To make tea: to a 4 c. teapot, add 4 t. Shakespeare tea. Recipe by Nancy Armitage

Scented geranium “rose” flowered, great for tea or lemonade. The Herb Society of America includes all scented geranium as herbs. There are many varieties of scented geraniums like Lime, Lemon, Rose, & Chocolate geranium, too. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

Herbs in the Winter’s Tale:

“….This youth should say ’twere well, and only therefore

Desire to breed by me. Here’s flowers for you:

Hot Lavender, mints, savory, marjoram, the marigold,

that goes to bed wi’ th’ sun, And with him rises, weeping.

These are flowers of middle summer,

and I think they are given to men of middle age. You’re very welcome…

The Winter’s Tale Act 4 by Wm. Shakespeare

This is one of my favorite herb garden signs I have. It is made by a piece of slate & the artist painted a lovely painting of herbs and flowers on it. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Because of Covid-19 virus, I couldn’t take photographs of the beautiful Herb Garden at the Huntington Library. If you ever get a chance, visit this lovely garden in San Marino, its amazing. It has been photographed often in beautiful Herb Books & Victoria Magazine.

Documents: all found at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

Document: HEH Coll. HEH Bio File MS 19//1(1) Emma Quigley “Reminiscences”

Document: HEH Collection HEH Coll. HEH 8/9 (San Marino Ranch Papers) at Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

HEH Coll. HEH 6/15 & HEH 8/9 (San Marino Ranch Papers) at Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

Document: HEH Coll. MS 19/1-17 uncat (Alfonso Gomez interviews); HEH Coll. HEH Bio File MS 19//1(1) Emma Quigley “Reminiscences”

Document: HEH Coll. 12 1/30 uncat (7 boxes Chateau Beauregard) herbs in their 4 acres garden

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