The Fragrance of Herbs

Fragrance is one of the characteristics of herbs that appeals to me greatly. The scent of a rosemary bush when you brush by it, the aromas of gardenias and roses, mints and pelargonia, lavender, lemon verbena, and the lovely fragrance of this year’s long gone Meyer lemon blossoms are just a few of the wondrous olfactory delights of these herbal plants.

In December, the scents of fir, spruce, juniper and other evergreens herald the joyous season. Spices, too, increase odiferous delight. Cinnamon, clove, star anise, and ginger, embodied in baked goods, mulled ciders, or simmer pots create a warmth of feeling on the chilly winter days and nights.

Fragrances may evoke memories of those we have known and loved, cultivating delight.

I have been blessed through the years to meet some amazing herb enthusiasts. Each has taught me, nurtured me, encouraged me, and inspired me. Some are no longer in our midst, but remain safely in my heart. And so, as I conjure seasonal herb and spice aromas, I think of them.

In 1979, I met the only remaining living founder of The Herb Society of America, Ann Burrage. She was petite and feisty and introduced me to Coffee Nips from Holland. I have a treasured picture of her from a few years later with my dad, Rollie Remmel, an herbal treasure in his own right.

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Three herbal stars were Nancy Howard, Caroline Cadwalader, and Joanna Reed. Each of them became dear to me. And while I do not have a fragrant plant to remind me of Caroline, I think of her often. As for Nancy and Joanna, Nancy’s cardamom plant has survived decades. Its leaves emit a nice scent when rubbed. Joanna’s apothecary rose resides along my fence, offering up the wonderful scent of roses in early summer.

Fuzzy Lord and Madeleine Hill provided plants, knowledge, books and friendship and dwell in my thoughts on a regular basis. Fuzzy taught me about jojoba and folklore – another passion of mine. Madeleine became a mentor and friend.

As for the first herbal enthusiast I met, who is happily still with us, I think of my mom, Ruth Remmel, who now has lost her sense of smell. She can remember scent, though, and delights in those memories.

As you surround yourself with the aromas of the holidays, who or what do they bring to mind? I hope the memories evoked are as special as mine…

submitted by Mary Remmel Wohlleb, former HSA President
Arkansas Unit, Southeast District

In the mists of time

It is a crisp, clear autumn morning. As I walk over a gentle rise toward The Boone House I first see, then smell, the smoke rising from the chimney, letting me know the hardwood fire has been started for our day of cooking. I have been doing this for many years now, and yet it is still a thrill to experience a sense of stepping back in time as I walk toward the house. I close my eyes as I put on my cap, and when I open them I can easily imagine the sounds of a busy 18th century homestead awaking to the demands of the day.

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On the way to the house I stop at the garden to pick the herbs we will need for our menu: parsley, sage, thyme, and lovely rosemary whose scent will stay on my fingers for some time. I pick an extra bouquet to place on our table “just for pretty.”

Two other “herbies” from the area and I will be preparing a typical harvest meal at the hearth to show guests what is involved in such an undertaking. Throughout the day we talk as we cook – about our clothes, about the Boones and their lives, about gardening, and food preparation and preservation at harvest time.

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The ‘receipts’ (recipes) we use are typical of the 18th century English, Welsh, and German families that lived in the house over the years, though admittedly we use rather simple, homestead dishes that are “forgiving” if we forget a step as visitors constantly ask questions and directions. Since most of our cooking days are on Sundays, we do hasten to explain that none of this would have been done on the Sabbath day as the Boones were observant Quakers. Their Sabbath meals would have been prepared the day before and taken with them to the Meeting House down the road in the beautiful Oley Valley.

Leaning over an open hearth cooking (and talking!) all day is just plain hard work, but the great reward is sitting down at the end of the day, after all the visitors have left and the gates are closed, with kindred spirits who love re-enacting. Together we enjoy the food, the stories of the day, and for just a few more minutes by candlelight as the sun sets, we remain in the mists of time.

submitted by: Courtney Stevens, Pennsylvania Heartland Unit, Mid-Atlantic District

editor’s note: Be sure to check out the website for Daniel Boone Homestead. Approximately one hour west of Philadelphia, it’s a great place to visit when traveling through Pennsylvania.

Bad timing

Last year I purchased plants from my unit at the South Texas Unit Herb Fair. In 2012 in particular, we offered exceptional plants to our faithful customers. For my own garden, I bought lamb’s ears, nasturtium and passionflower. 

Many of my friends grow passionflower in their Houston gardens, but I had never tried one. Passiflora is such a beautiful, useful plant and I wanted to supply larval food to the Gulf fritillary butterfly.

All the plants I purchased did extremely well in my garden. The nasturtiums sprawled across an area like an orange carpet. Stunning! The lamb’s ears did equally well. I love their texture and the silvery-white glow they provide in the evening garden. 
 
The passionflower grew very fast, as I had been told. My friends warned me that it has a mind of its own and I would be pulling up volunteers all through the yard. Yes, that happened too. I would run out and pull them out before my husband discovered them taking over. 
 
I had found a perfect place on the west side of our house to allow the passionflower to grow up some ironwork. I carefully staked it as it grew. Mr. Lain, being the tidy clipper that he is, kept its tendrils cut back so it did not attack unsuspecting guests walking up the sidewalk. 
 
In the meantime, life goes on. I am busy traveling back and forth between Houston and Fort Worth. Then we decide it is time to sell our Houston house and make the permanent move to the Fort Worth area. 
 
Moves are momentous distractions from gardening! I had cared for the Houston garden for 25 years; it was going to be hard to say goodbye to our plants. 
 
The move is now accomplished. On my computer, I signed the necessary closing documents from my location in Fort Worth. Billy, on the other hand, was to be present in Houston at the closing on the 29th of August. The day before closing he returned to the house for the final time. Can you guess what he saw? Yup, the passionflower was in bloom! He was amazed and told me that the flowers were as beautiful as I said they would be. 
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Like the closing documents I signed, I only got to see the passionflower bloom electronically. Oh well, it bloomed in its own time, not mine.
submitted by Linda Lain, former HSA President
South Texas Unit, South Central District

From Playland to Penitentiary

Last summer, our backyard garden went through a significant change. The swing set that had occupied the prime real estate in our backyard for the past ten years, finally came down. It was time. In fact, the little boys who played there were the big boys who disassembled it.

When spring came around, we were ready to replace the sad spot of struggling grass and weeds where the play area had been with new hardscaping, including four raised beds and a small square bed in the middle for salvia leucantha and a bird feeder.20130717_180045

The boys are used to having lots of herbs in the yard, but their one request for the new garden was to grow some “food.” This first year, we decided to try eggplants and peppers – something we could be assured of growing successfully. It didn’t take long for the herbs and veggie plants to fill the beds.

Since the kitchen window looks out onto the garden, we all enjoy the satisfaction of peeking out in the backyard every morning and seeing the new herb garden continue to mature. It was so exciting the first time we realized that one of the pretty purple blossoms was turning into a cute little eggplant.

Ah, the anticipation of picking our first “food” from the garden! Oh, the disappointment of realizing that a squirrel beat us to it.

You see, that bird feeder in the center of the garden feeds not just the finches and cardinals but also the fat gray squirrels scavenging around on the ground below. They love our garden. The little thieves have made it necessary to put cages around every plant that has fruit on it.

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My kids and I have nicknamed the garden our eggplant penitentiary. So far, I’ve gotten the price of my eggplants down to $3 a piece ($42 worth of rabbit wire and netting divided by 14 beautiful eggplants). There are several peppers and quite a few more eggplants undisturbed at this point, so the incarceration has been successful.

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It’s been worth the investment to have my kids excited about gardening with me. And it’s true what they say about children liking to eat what they grow. My kids are adventurous eaters, but you can tell how excited they are to eat the grilled eggplant with basil that comes from their own garden.

submitted by: Beneé Curtis, South Texas Unit, South Central District

Power of a green bottle

I remember standing in the kitchen watching the sun reflect off the colorful glass bottles lined up on my Mother’s windowsill. I do not remember all the plants that were rooting in the bottles, but I do remember the fragrance of mint. Mother put mint in our summer tea and I often chewed on a leaf, if one escaped into my glass.

Women of the 1940′s and 50′s were resourceful gardeners. Mother had little money to spend on plants; so she saved seeds, divided her perennials, and relied on friends to provide our small garden with “pass-a-long” herbs and vegetables. She was happiest when she had free time to work in her garden.

My parents were educators, Daddy, an elementary school principal and Mother, a classroom teacher. Summers were a reward for the long hours in the classroom. Weekend get-togethers were spent with friends, which usually consisted of a game of cards or dominos.

We often enjoyed covered dishes using fresh garden vegetables, flavored with parsley, sage, and shallots. The shallots were dug from under the big tree in the side yard. I followed Mother most Sunday mornings on our ritual to that same tree where we dug garlic for our after-church roast beef luncheon, filled with potatoes, carrots, and onions from the garden.

It was not until I began my own herbal journey that I once again remembered the green, brown, and blue bottles on the sill. I had heard stories of how the colored bottles helped plants root. I am sure there is no scientific evidence, but they did seem to work for Mother and friends.

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I had a difficult time rooting my rosemary cuttings and the green bottle of so long ago seemed like a good idea. I washed off the label from a small, green, glass bottle, carefully stripped the lower leaves from my rosemary cutting, and placed it in the water-filled bottle. The rosemary lived happily on my sill. I changed the water often and allowed the sun to reflect, just as Mother did so long ago. Before long, the rosemary cutting rooted and I felt as if Mother was there at my side encouraging me. With this success, I continue to use powerful green glass bottles for many of my herb cuttings.

Today when friends come to visit my garden, I am sure to gift them with a small green bottle and all the herb cuttings they desire, carefully explaining Mother’s method. I can just imagine Mother’s delight!

submitted by Mary Nell Jackson, Member at Large, South Central District

Edible gardens for children

Many have said, “You can only be happy if you look to the future,” “Be in the moment,” and “Breathe!”

Well, I’m happy to report that you can obtain all this good Karma by working in an edible school garden or by cooking with children.

Our children are our future; they react in the moment, absorbing everything they see, smell, touch, taste, and feel. Their emotions and reactions are instantaneous, enjoying every garden or cooking activity.

Making pesto!

Kids want to taste and cook the food they harvest. They are like the bees – buzzing from plant to plant. They love to snip, smash, and chop herbs. Children are free to interact and help each other. They love to work together. It can be noisy. Laughter, moments of wonderment, and even shrieks of insect identification fill the air.

Young chefs create cucumber noodles.

By the time you finish one short garden session and perhaps cook something right there in the garden, a wild sensation runs through you. You are exhausted, dirty, smiling, laughing, and happy! This very giving act of volunteerism does wonderful things for the kids. For the adults involved, it can become addictive. I know I can’t get enough of it!

Tips for gardening with children

  • Combine your talents with others. I work with a gifted teacher, Rebekah Ellis. Her classroom experience and my garden knowledge work hand-in-hand.
  • Start small. Vegetable are great, but seasonal. Herbs have an advantage to extend the seasons.
  • Rally the community. Ask for support from the parent-teacher organization, faculty, and local master gardeners’ groups.
  • Financial support can come from your seasonal harvest, and sales of blended herbal tea bags, herbal soaps, bird and butterfly houses, and plants. We have also applied for and received grants, including one (I’m proud to say) from The Herb Society of America!
  • Don’t get nervous! Creativity, commitment, and continuity make for a successful edible garden experience.
  • Keep it simple. Please remember that the kids will benefit greatly from all your attention, enthusiasm, and knowledge.

Herb Society members, I encourage you to exercise your “Use and Delight” of herbs!

Go with the flow!
Embrace the seasonal changes!
Embrace the children! (They will embrace you!)
And “Breathe!”

Linda Franzo, owner Passionate Platter, Herb Garden & Cooking Classes, Slidell, LA
email: Linda@passionateplatter.com
website: http://www.passionateplatter.com/home.html
friend me on Facebook: Linda Ann Franzo

Herbal Memories of a Dear Friend

When I was a child in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, we had neighbors who had four children about the same ages as the four children in our family. Both of their parents were passionate about herbs and kept an herb garden, which they used regularly for seasoning their meals.

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Fordham Webster Calhoun

The father was a physician. The mother, Fordham Webster Calhoun, was a loving and giving person and a wonderful cook. She grew up in an herbal family. Her mother, Helen Noyes Webster, wrote the book, Herbs – How To Grow Them and How To Use Them, in the late 1930s. She had been involved with the Herb Society in New England.

When I was a young bride, Fordham took me under her wing and taught me a great deal about herbs as she shared her love of them with me. She showed me how to make horehound candy. I still make it each year with one of her daughters. I trim the plants several times during the growing season and dry them. We make the horehound drops on a clear day each December in time for giving to family and friends at Christmas time. The candies take care of any throat irritations during the winter and are ready in time for cold and flu season. We have learned to store them in sealed plastic bags in the freezer to keep them crisp and hard indefinitely.

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Source: The University of Arizona Press

When my friend Fordham was elderly, she fell and broke her hip on a beach in New England. I spoke with her about how she was doing and she said she was fine but did not like the food. It was tasteless without any herbs to season the meals. Hospital food! I knew she was getting better at that point.

Years later, when she was near death, her children included me in those final precious days and moments with her. What a gift it was to be there with each of them. I took a sprig of rosemary since the sense of smell is the last sense to go. I knew that she would appreciate the fact that rosemary symbolizes love, friendship and remembrance. We had shared all of these over the years.

submitted by Amy Borer, Unit chair, Philadelphia Unit

Editor’s notes

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned horehound from cough drops in 1989 due to insufficient evidence supporting its efficacy. However, horehound is currently widely used in Europe, and it can be found in European-made herbal cough remedies sold in the United States (for example, Ricola®).
  • Members can borrow the book, Herbs – How To Grow Them and How To Use Them by Helen Noyes Webster, through The Herb Society of America’s library.