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Peel potatoes, if desired, and cut into 2-inch chunks. Place the potatoes and 1 tablespoon salt in a large heavy saucepan. Add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook until potatoes are very tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain well.
Meanwhile, crush the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt with garlic, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a mortar and pestle until a paste forms. (Or very finely chop garlic and herbs, then combine with salt and pepper in a bowl.) Stir in oil.
Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl. Mash with a potato masher, an electric hand-held mixer or by working through a ricer.
Stir the herb mixture, buttermilk and pepper to taste into the mashed potatoes.