Interview with Emma Cooper

You’re an ethnobotanist. What’s an ethnobotanist?
Ethnobotany is the study of how people make use of plants - I have a Masters degree in ethnobotany from the University of Kent. My personal interest lies in the useful and edible plants that people can grow in their gardens.
When did you become interested in edible plants?
It started with an interest in the environment. I was already recycling, and trying to save energy, and then I moved into a house with a garden. I was concerned about Food Miles, and so I started growing a few herbs in pots on the patio and it grew from there. I discovered that plants are fascinating, and there’s nothing better than growing something that ends up on your plate!
If you were marooned on a desert island, which three books would you take with you?
If I knew where I was going to be marooned in advance then I would pack a copy of a good local field guide, which would help me to identify the edible plants in the vicinity! One of Ray Mear’s books about wilderness survival would come in handy, as well. For entertainment purposes I’d like a copy of The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye, which an epic love story set in India at the time of the British Raj. That’s my favourite book, which I have read countless times. I’m a real bibliophile, so I would miss my library.
What books do you collect, and why?
When I first started gardening I began collecting gardening books, as I was learning about plants and how to grow them. A few years have passed since then, and I find that almost all of the new gardening books cater to novices and are no longer of any interest to me. But there are plenty of books being written that are about plants, and I love to read about how people in other cultures grow and use edible plants. I have new books and vintage books, and an increasing number of ebooks - the format doesn’t matter to me, I am interested in the contents. That being said, it’s far easier to move an ebook library than a crate of books!
What’s your favourite plant?
It’s hard to choose one, because there are so many wonderful plants around. A particular favourite of mine is achocha, which is originally from the Andes. It’s related to squash and marrows, but it’s a climbing plant that grows small green fruits that have soft spines. You can eat them raw or cooked, and they taste a little bit like green peppers. It’s a very generous plant - easy to grow, it is very vigorous and produces a really good harvest. Hoverflies love the tiny flowers, although humans have to look very closely to spot them among the leaves.
What’s your favourite biscuit?
I adore Snickerdoodles, which are little bit like shortbread, but spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. I have to make my own (from a Nigella recipe), but that’s not a bad thing.
What are you working on next?
I have two more books that are nearly ready for publication. The Peat Free Diet has been published as an audiobook, but I’d like to do an ebook version. And I have also written a book about how to keep cats out of your garden, which can be a real problem for gardeners.
What inspired you & does it still inspire you today?
Curiosity about plants inspired me, and that hasn’t changed - it still inspires me today. Having immersed myself in the online gardening community I’m at the centre of a web of information. I have RSS feeds that bring me stories, Twitter and Facebook. Something catches my eye and I’m off delving into the internet to learn more. I find the most fascinating snippets of information, and they grow into a need to know more and to grow the plant. Then I like to come back and share what I’ve learned. So Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs is very much a product of that process, and introduces some of the people I’ve found who have a similar obsession with edible plants.
How has your writing changed since you first began? I'm thinking style and subject.
When I first started blogging, I hardly wrote about gardening at all. The blog transformed itself into a gardening blog as my plant obsession blossomed. Then it was very much a record of what I had been growing, and although I do still cover that (when I have been gardening - I’m emerging from an enforced break), these days I write far more about how people make use of plants. I can see the blog moving further towards actually eating these plants, but it won’t lose its roots in the soil.

As to style… I would like to think I have developed some! The early blogs are very matter-of-fact. I’m still not one for flowery descriptions, but I hope that my personal ‘voice’ comes through. Some of the material I cover now is quite scientific, and my aim is to make it understandable to as many people as possible without dumbing it down. I know that some people shy away from using ‘big’ words, but they’re just labels for new concepts. And I have to use the scientific names for plants, as the common names just aren’t accurate enough when you’re talking about an unfamiliar plant you’re going to put in your mouth.
Published 2014-03-22.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 43,680. Language: British English. Published: May 1, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Home & Garden » Gardening, Nonfiction » Science & Nature » Botany
Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs is a guide book to the world of unusual edible plants, whether they are old or new, rarely grown or from somewhere far flung. It looks at the history of plant hunters moving these plants around the world, and tells the stories of modern day enthusiasts, showcasing some of the unusual plants you may encounter as you begin your own journey into this intriguing world.