Books for Armchair Gardening: Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

Rodale's organic gardening primer

If you’re starting a new garden or amending an existing garden Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening, A Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Healthy Garden (2014), By Deborah L. Martin, is a solid reference. It discusses everything from 10 garden plans to six plans for raised beds, from composting and seed starting  to reliable plants.

The book waxes thoughtful about the meaning of organic gardening on page 8, “…a system of working with nature to create conditions that benefit plants, people, and the environment.”

Learn how to build up soil and maintain its composition. Compost instructions list what to include beyond kitchen scraps – tea bags, hair, nutshells. And what to avoid – meat, grease, carnivore droppings and diseased plants.

There’s a discussion on the contribution of insects and microorganisms. “Think of the beneficial organisms as your “microherd” and treat them well,” writes Martin. That means avoiding pesticides. Millipedes, earthworms and ground beetles are three members of the microherd breaking down plant matter, aerating soil and feasting on “bad” bugs.

Rodale Top 10 Herbs

The book’s writing is easy-to-follow and delightful. The section on Top 10 herbs is a persuasive checklist. If I don’t already grow them, I will this year.

While I’ve been gardening for at least 30 years, I found new information in this primer. I’d probably find more if I read it cover to cover instead of acting all ADD and jumping from interesting thought to interesting thought.

Consider this book for the gardener in your life.

Herb Potions Enhance Your Love Life

Making Love Potions

Eye of newt, and toe of frog, 
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog, 
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, 
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,— 
For a charm of powerful trouble, 
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble. 

Macbeth, Shakespeare

If you could create a magic potion, what would that elixir do? Vanquish your enemies? Improve your love life?

Let’s go with the latter, enhance your love life. Curl up with Stephanie L. Tourles’s  book  Making Love Potions, 64 All-Natural Recipes for Irresistible Herbal Aphrodisiacs  and learn love life elixirs.

Stephanie Tourles

Both playful and serious, Tourles applies science to selecting arousing aromas. She writes, “In clinical studies performed in the 1990s at the Chicago-based Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, Dr. Alan R. Hirsch examined the degree to which various scents can trigger sexual arousal in men and women as measured by an increase in blood flow to the sexual organs.”

While individual history and experience can certainly skew results, the researchers found that women were most aroused by the aroma-combination of Good-and-Plenty candy and cucumber. Meanwhile, men preferred a lavender-pumpkin-pie blend. Don’t ask how they determined that or why those mixtures because Tourles doesn’t say. But, Thanksgiving dessert could make for an interesting nap.

Tourles used the research to formulate several recipes for body powder, including one scented with, yup, pumpkin spice and another with lavender. I’m thinking “lavender.”

The book continues with potions for aromatic baths, massage oils, herbal tonics and edible body butters.  Get energized with a ginseng wine or a tingly mint body honey. Chapter 8, Aphrodite’s  Apothecary is a helpful digest of herbs and ingredients.

With 64 recipes, there’s bound to be a magic potion for everyone.





I’m Trying Fire Cider (Flaming Cider) to Boost Immunity

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170814_150557I have a simple resolution … to be happy, healthy and good. And, as I blogged in August – during a summer cold — I’ve developed a three-part philosophy to include herbal wellness practices in my lifestyle. To remain free of disease, I vowed to

  • Identify immune system-boosting measures and supplements from the herbal world. Add them to my routine.
  • Learn about herb-based treatments for symptoms. Use them when appropriate.
  • Seek modern medicine when deemed necessary.

In my research, I came across the folk preventative/remedy known as “fire cider.” Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar is credited with the modern incarnation of this immune booster. While it’s not a cure-all, I needed it in my kitchen.

The base — apple cider vinegar – is usually infused with some combination of garlic, onion, ginger, honey, horseradish, hot peppers and herbs. The resulting concoction is then taken in small doses, mixed into vinaigrettes or otherwise added to food for daily consumption. It is claimed to boost the immune system, address cold symptoms and enhance digestion.

I decided to whip up a batch. So, I purchased $20-plus worth of ingredients. Then, I returned books to the library, met a half-dozen deadlines, went to Florida on a story assignment. You guessed it, my horseradish hardened, the pomegranates withered and my best laid plans faded.

FireCiderTonicWebMy mission remained. So I bought immune-boosting Flaming Cider (same idea, different name) from Field Apothecary in New York. To learn more about its properties, I interviewed maker Dana Eudy.

She’s been making Flaming Cider as she calls her product for the past seven years. To create her immune tonic, she infuses a biodynamic local apple cider vinegar with ginger, cayenne, horseradish, onion, herbs and local raw honey.

Eudy not only sells the product, she uses it. “I use it to enhance my immune response. If I have a cold coming I take it three times a day,” she says. “It’s great to break up congestion. Some people use it for digestive health, too.”

The flavor, says Eudy, is unique spicy sour mix. “It’s very palatable. I like to experiment cooking with it. I add it to guacamole, cole slaw, roasted veggies, potato salad and even flaming cider margaritas.”

field_logoIf only I were so creative. I’m more inclined to drip it into a small glass of water and drink my dose. When I remember.

And, my journey to stay healthy continues. For more information on Flaming Cider visit Field Apothecary.

Why, and How to, Grow Calendula

CalendulaBy Randal Agrella, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

The cheerful orange to yellow flowers of calendula are a delight in late spring, summer, or autumn gardens. The plants are sturdy, easy-to-grow, and bloom generously over a long season. The fact that they are edible, make great cut flowers, and have traditional medicinal applications adds enormously to their value.

Calendula originated along the European shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The name is derived from the Latin word “calends,” the Roman name for the first day of each month, supposedly because this versatile plant could be found in bloom every month of the year in the mild weather of its homeland. The Romans, like the Greeks and Egyptians before them, loved the plants and saw to it that calendula spread throughout their empire.

Since those early days, calendula has been valued. The flowers have been praised as a poor man’s substitute for saffron, both for their color and, used sparingly, for their flavor as well. The young leaves are strongly flavored, but delicious; their use as a cooked green accounts for the plant’s common name of “pot marigold.” (But some authorities claim that this common name comes from the northern European practice of flinging a handful of the dried petals into broth to infuse a rich color to the soup.)

Herbal uses over the centuries have been many, and the plant was used as an antibiotic as recently as World War I. Some modern research seems to support many of the traditional uses, including treatment of burns and other skin injuries, dermatitis, and ear infections.

Calendula is easy and fast from seed, blooming in as little as 60 days from sowing. Direct-seeding into the garden, about a half-inch deep, a few weeks ahead of last spring frost is fine. Germination is rapid, and the large seedlings are easily distinguished from neighboring weeds. But Calendulas tolerate transplanting with ease, and much earlier bloom can be had by starting indoors up to a month or two ahead of last frost and transplanting out. The plants don’t mind a few freezing nights, so long as the temps stay above 25 degrees or so.

At maturity, calendula plants may be about two feet wide, and about as high, so final spacing should be 1-2 feet apart. Be sure to thin carefully and transplant extras anywhere a pop of late-spring color is desired.

The plants prefer full sun, with perhaps a bit of afternoon shade as the weather turns hot. Indeed calendulas languish in intense summer heat, blooming all summer only in cooler climates. In warmer regions, fresh seedlings can be set out in late summer, probably after being started in cool indoor conditions. The plants thrive and bloom until rather cold weather, which means they’ll bloom right through the winter in mild-winter climates.

Baker Creek SeedsRemoving spent blooms certainly increases the blooming season of this treasured annual plant. You’ll want to pick them for cut flowers in any case—their warm tones are particularly stunning combined with blue flowers of various types. But be sure to allow some flowers to mature and drop their seeds, for calendula volunteers readily in most climates.

Story courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed. Seeds available at

Book Review: The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

20180107_082557I’m chasing sunshine for the next few months in a 40-foot Tiffin Phaeton motorhome. We left Northeast Ohio when it was -3 F and drove South. We’ll soon veer West and continue until we hit San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. I hope the travel adventure will make my blog richer. I plan to visit garden and herb-related sites and will share as I might.

Another goal of this trip is to catch up on reading. And, the second book I read – if The Whole Seed Catalog can count as the first – is The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook by Carrie Schloss. The elegant, 200-page book celebrates honey with both savory and sweet recipes. You might expect something like Mexican chocolate cookies or candied walnuts, but what about chipotle-honey marinated skirt steak or eggplant parmesan stacks?

20180111_133737I’d visited the Bee Charmer retail outlet in Asheville, N.C., in 2016 and was excited when owners Jillian Kelly and Kim Allen introduced their cookbook late in 2017. The first recipe I tried was honey-roasted Brussels sprouts. Score.

This honey cookbook is relevant to herb lovers for two reasons. First, honey characteristics are shaped by flower of origin. Thus wildflower honey tastes different from lavender honey from sage honey. In the cookbook author Schloss describes the characteristics of different honeys then builds recipes around various varietals and infusions.

Lavender, for example, tastes “light, delicate, floral, lavender, peach and slightly acidic.” Meanwhile, sage is more like toasty, smoky, oak. And, dandelion offers flavors of vanilla and chamomile.

Varietals include acacia, basswood, blackberry, blueberry, buckwheat, carrot, clover, corsican blossom, cranberry, dandelion, fir, ginger, lavender, meadowfoam, orange blossom, raspberry, sage, sourwood, Tasmanian leatherwood, tupelo and wildflower.

The second reason for herbal interest is honey infusions created by Jill and Kim. The duo sells seven infusions that inspired Schloss’s recipes.

Infusions include chai, chipotle, cocoa, firecracker hot, ghost pepper, mint and rosemary.

20180111_133800.jpgTo make all the recipes in this book you’d have to stock 28 varietals and blends. You can purchase them at the Bee Charmer retail or online. I don’t have that much space in the RV, so I may cheat and get by with a few substitutions in the recipes I choose. My next project will be the rosemary polenta cake. This will have to wait until we slow down and stay at one campground for two weeks. Then, I can pull out the toaster oven, stir up the corn meal and make friends to help eat it.

Start Gardening Season with Baker Creek

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

20180111_131159After cleaning up Christmas decorations, I was ready for armchair gardening season. My first purchase was The Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. To me it’s the Holy Grail of seed catalogs – 356 pages of unusual, exotic and often extreme vegetables, herbs and flowers from around the world.

I raced through 272 pages of lushly illustrated vegetable porn to get to the herb section. I’ll return later to read about one-pound beets, rainbow corn and celtuce.

In the herb section I savored descriptions from ashwaganda to yarrow. I can’t decide which of the 21 basils I want to grow. I want to try Moldavian balm, a purple-flowered tea herb in the mint family. I could grow dandelion, mullein, nettle and purslane instead of foraging them. But why?

Safflower, toothache plant, white horehound … I want, want, want.

Moldavian balm

Four pages of new herbs for 2018 include three perillas, oyster leaf and self heal, among others.

While the herb section ends at page 290, the herb options continue in a 50-page flower section. Stars include calendula and milkweed. My favorites are the 11 nasturtium and five edible pansy options. Both are impressive in salads.

From the books and gifts section I may order Clyde’s Garden Planner, just $3.

If you don’t want to spend $9.99 on the full-blown catalog, consider ordering the shorter, free version. Then, settle into your armchair and circle your faves. Better yet, order them and get growing.

New Course teaches 7 Rules of Safe, Ethical Foraging & More

words 2Photos and text by Juliet Blankespoor, Guest Blogger, Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine

  1. Only forage abundant plants with a large, widespread population.

In my practice, I favor plant species with a sizable population—preferably widespread over a large geographical area—and avoid using rare or less populous species. I won’t harvest rare plants from the wild at all, and I teach my students the same. Along these lines, you can start by avoiding the harvest of woodland medicinals and instead favor the weedy medicines of field and pasture. If you’re unsure whether a food or medicine is abundant in your area, you can consult resources like the United Plant Savers and state and federal listings of endangered and at-risk species.

Never harvest a plant without first assessing its population and the pressures it might face from habitat loss or commercial demand. For example, a plant may be locally abundant, but if there’s a widespread demand, it can quickly disappear, its population decimated from overharvesting.Harvesting-garlic-mustard-an-invasive-weed-in-North-America-Alliaria-petiolata

  1. Favor harvesting plants that are nonnative.

One of the first things I consider when choosing which plants to forage is whether a plant is native and tied into local food webs or is an escapee from other lands. Nonnatives displace native species by competing with them for natural resources. These opportunistic plants haven’t evolved locally with the same checks and balances that native plants have experienced, and so they often flourish. This makes them prime forage for humans, especially because they stick close to places we inhabit, thriving in cities, gardens, fields, and the like. In the southeastern United States, many of our most common wild weedy medicinals are nonnatives, including multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), mimosa (Albizia julibrissin), burdock (Arctium minus), and many species of blackberry and raspberry (Rubus spp.).

  1. Tend the spaces “in between.”

For those who grow a garden, wild weeds will naturally make themselves at home—and can peacefully cohabitate with planted veggies and herbs. You can employ plenty of tricks to help them play nice, and, as a reward for acting as a botanical referee, you’ll harvest even more food and medicine from your garden! This is the bounty that grows in between: the medicine and food that you didn’t plant yet still get to reap. My plant friend Frank Cook, who has passed on, used to teach in his classes that more than half the bounty of a garden could be found in the “in between” in the form of useful opportunistic plants. People all around the world capitalize on this abundant resource, casually “cultivating” weeds in the in-between spaces.

Let’s take lamb’s quarters as an example of this useful-weed-and-planted-crop-polyculture method. Lamb’s quarters—also called wild spinach—has more fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C, zinc, and calcium than cultivated spinach. Why would you weed out such a nutritious plant that doesn’t need special care or insect control to make room for less nutritious vegetables that are harder to grow?

In my garden, I leave the wild spinach that comes up between recently planted vegetable and herb crops. After harvesting the wild spinach for a few weeks or a month, the veggies fill out, and then I pull out the lamb’s quarters and use them as mulch for the planted crops. Wild spinach requires no cultivation after it finds its way into the garden and is relatively disease- and insect-free.

  1. Be a steward.

Violet-flowers-Viola-sororiaEven when you gather plentiful (possibly pesky) plants, be attune to a code of ethics. You’re interacting with living, breathing beings. Take only what you need, leave beauty in your wake (leave no trace), and bring an offering to make before you go—a song, some water, your hair, a handful of grain. An offering invites a feeling of gratitude, reciprocity, and reverence. If you’re more science-minded, perhaps you’ll take a moment to breathe intentionally, meditating on the reciprocity of plant-human gas exchange, cellular respiration and photosynthesis. You might feel silly at first, but allow yourself the opportunity to be surprised. This is how we participate in the ancient plant-human dance of mutual connection, communication, and care.

If the plant you’re harvesting is native—and you’ve already assessed that it’s abundant enough to harvest—be extra conscientious about not overharvesting. If you’re harvesting an herbaceous plant with multiple stems, take only a stem or two from each plant. Spread your harvest out over a larger area and be sure to leave plenty of flowers and fruit for the plants to reproduce. If you’re harvesting roots, replant the root crown or take only a portion of each plant’s root system. When digging up roots, be sure to cut back the aboveground parts so the plant doesn’t become stressed for water with a root system that no longer matches its aboveground growth. These regenerative practices don’t necessarily need to be followed for invasive weeds with global distribution.

  1. Harvest in areas where you know nobody has sprayed herbicide.

It’s important to avoid gathering plants near roads, railroads, and power lines, as the surrounding soil is typically contaminated with lead, herbicides, and other toxins. Always harvest at least 30 feet from the road and make sure you are not harvesting in an area with environmental toxicity (such as the flood banks of a polluted river). Even hay fields that appear to be untended might be sprayed with herbicides.

The foundations of older homes are also problematic, as they are typically sprayed for insect control or weeds. If you live in the city, consider visiting a local organic urban farm or community garden, where you’re likely to find an abundance of yummy weeds, along with gardeners who are happy to share the bounty.

  1. Properly identify any plant before you harvest it for food or medicine.Harvesting-sarsparilla-root-Smilax-sp.

If in doubt, do NOT harvest! Consult your local extension agent, master gardener, or trusted herbalist if you need help with identification. If someone else shows you a plant, do your own homework and make sure that they are right before you harvest. Spend time with plants over the seasons—double-checking both photographs and written descriptions—before you make your move. Learn the poisonous species in your region. Chant to self: COMBINATION OF CHARACTERISTICS FOR PROPER IDENTIFICATION. This is crucial. Identifying plants requires that you look at a combination of specific traits (rather than one or two traits alone), essentially differentiating your plant from the herd.

I’ve learned from teaching wild foods classes over the years that the beginners are often the ones who are appropriately cautious, whereas the folks who know a little more can get bold, lose their cautiousness, and make the wrong move. One wrong move can end up being your last move! There are over a thousand species of poisonous plants in the world, some of which are so poisonous that one to two bites are enough to kill an adult.

Here are a few poisonous plants to learn before you start foraging. This is not a comprehensive list of poisonous plants, which will vary depending on your bioregion. Consult local field guides, governmental websites, and extension offices.

Here are some resources for helping with plant identification:

  1. USDA Plant DatabaseYou can search by common name or scientific name for plants. The database shows photos of the plant, its current range, and sometimes illustrations.
  2. Go Botany: Simple Plant Key for New England
  3. The Chestnut School’s link pagehas some great resources on the subject, listed under botany and wild foods.
  4. The Chestnut School’s Pinterest pagehas two boards you might find helpful: botany and wild foods.
  5. List of plant identification websites
  6. Facebook group for help identifying plants


  1. Consider the neighbors and legality. 

Always ask permission from the landowner if harvesting on private land. If you want to harvest on governmental land,  check with the managing agency for regulations and permits. Be aware of the different classifications of land management. In the United States, national parks are often visited for their natural beauty and are not generally logged or leased for grazing cattle. The U.S. National Forests are often managed for resources and may be clear-cut and grazed by cattle. You can often obtain permits to gather wild plants for personal use from your local U.S. Forest Service.