Get Your Pumpkin On

By Jen Munson, Northeast District Member Delegate, Herb Society of America

stingy-jackU.S. growers produce approximately 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins each year with the majority of them being used for carving. My hometown of Portsmouth, NH, does its best to adopt its fair share of this valuable member of the Cucurbitaceae family. You know for certainty that Halloween is just around the corner when Jack O’Lanterns appear on doorsteps and creatures topped with carved pumpkin heads adorn lamp posts.

Today’s pumpkin carving craze may have had its start in Irish folklore. Legend described a trickster name Stingy Jack who tormented everyone including the Devil. When it was Stingy Jack’s time to cross the pearly gates of heaven God wouldn’t accept him because of his antics. The Devil wouldn’t welcome him and instead gave him an ember with an eternal flame from hell. Stingy Jack placed the ember in a carved turnip to light his way thru eternal darkness. The Irish referred to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern” and later just “Jack O’Lantern.”

The Irish and Scottish carved their own versions of Jack’s Lantern using turnips and gourds filling them with burning coal. They were placed in windows and by doors to scare away Jack and other unsavory spirits. These early renditions were a fright. Likely they were more frightful simply because of the nature of carving turnips. If you’ve ever taken a bladturnip-lanterne to a turnip you can appreciate that they require a lot of muscle.  My own sad attempt at a turnip lantern is more comical than anything.

Early colonists arriving to America discovered pumpkins from the Indians relying on them as a winter food source and as a treatment of intestinal worms and urinary ailments. The legend of Stingy Jack and carved lanterns traveled to America with the Irish who were fleeing the potato famine. Pumpkins were quickly adopted for their large size but more likely their ease of carving.

Current day Jack O’ Lanterns are a standard Halloween decoration. Celebrated traditions have evolved to include family outings to select the perfect pumpkin for carving and contests for artistic design. One of the many delights of the season is driving through town and seeing my neighbors’ creativity.

How do you will celebrate pumpkin season?

Herbal Tea Harvest Time

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America


I’ve been thinking about Christmas since March, brainstorming what I’m going to make for family and friends. Last year I gifted baskets of homemade jams and chutneys. A handful of folks received mint syrup for their ice cream and drinks …the result of a failed mint jelly attempt.

Among other things, this year’s package may be beverage themed. It will probably include herbal cordials. And, now I’m thinking mint tea blends. For those blends, I’ve been cutting mint every few days as it’s so prolific in its sunny corner by the barn. If only the catnip and lemon balm would catch up. I haven’t yet identified my blends, but I’m collecting other herb materials like fragrant rose petals, pineapple sage, lemon verbena and more.

Chamomile maybe be prolific and boast sleepy-time properties, but I avoid it because it gives me hay fever. Then, my sleep is inspired by the Benadryl that I take to counteract it.

While loose tea is lovely in a metal tin, I’ll source paper tea bags to make brewing easier for my friends. I know they’re more likely to use bags. And, that gives a new presentation opportunity.teabag

I will design tags for the string end, something happy and fun. After all, packaging is a key part of experience. And, I’m watching garage sales and thrift stores for tins and canisters to hold those tea bags. (I may use half-pint canning jars or whatever I find in the dollar section at Target.)

As for blends, it’s hard for me to follow recipes. Those are mere guidelines for mortals. LOL.  I have to tweak things my way. And, tea blends depend on the resources. If I have more mint, I use more mint. More lemon herbs, I spike my teas with them.

I insist that my teas must be homegrown and organic. The rest will be spontaneous magic.

What do you mix to make herbal tea?

Herb Garden Springs from Grandma’s Legacy

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

After a four-week hiatus, I’m refreshed and re-energized. Before I launch into herb-centric posts, I’d like to share my reflection on an intense, emotional week.

grandma-with-d2We buried my grandmother this week. She would have been 98 in a three weeks. It was her time to pass, though we earthbound spirits were sad to see her go.

She gave birth to 12 kids and raised 11. I was one of 23 grandchildren and gave her two of her 23 great grandchildren. Her family lived on my grandpa’s income as a coal miner and road crew, supplemented by their small sustainability farm – from fruits and vegetables to livestock and hunting. By living simply and close to the earth they paid off their four-bedroom farmhouse, avoided debt and managed to save enough for her to live and die in her own home.

This wasn’t a fashionable hipster lifestyle choice. It’s what they did to survive; and they did it well.

In her humble, God-fearing ways she was a role model for many outside the family, though I suspect our large, extended family is related to everyone in Northern Cambria County, Pennsylvania.

grandma-as-a-young-womanI can’t even imagine the changes she saw in nine decades of life. One time she told me she felt as though we’d jumped from the horse and buggy to the airplane without pause. Think about the speed of change from 1918 to the mid-1980s when she said that and you can understand why she’d felt overwhelmed. I can’t even imagine the technological shocks of the new millennium.

Her passing makes me reflective. My favorite memories of her involve food. Her gardens. Her fruit trees and bushes. Her kitchen. Her table.  Her homemade bread, chocolate cookies, apple pies. Her shelves of canned goods in the cellar.

She showed me that food is a journey as well as a destination. She showed me that the table is the altar of family. Because of her, gardening is part of my DNA.  And, that is why my herb garden has been so precious to me.

Thank you grandma Rita C. Wolfe. Rest in Peace. I love you.


Who has inspired your gardening journey? I’d love to know.


Chart Pairs Herbs with Wine and Cheese

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESBy Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

When I was a child in the 1970s family dinners were usually roast meat, mashed potatoes, gravy and a vegetable. Seasonings were salt and pepper. And, everything was washed down with whole milk or tap water.

Fortunately, the American food scene began to shift. Table-side grinders replaced powdered black pepper shakers. Olive oil with balsamic vinegar became an alternative to butter. And, salsa outsold ketchup.

Then, the culinary culture got more exciting. International flavors added variety to the average American diet. And, fresh herbs available at retail stirred up many a kitchen.

In the 1990s, the first fusion trend mashed up flavors of different cuisines to create bold new dishes. Today, foodies are talking about the best food and beverage pairings.

IMG_1351Need a little assistance? Consider the Herb, Cheese and Wine pairing chart put together by William “Bill” Varney of UrbanHerbal in Fredericksburg, Texas. The four-color, 11- by 17-inch poster is both utilitarian and decorative. I plan to hang mine on the wall of my kitchen.

Cheeses, listed down the left side of the chart, are paired with wine, herbs, fruit, bread and accompaniments. The chart is like a cheat sheet for a currently popular cheese tray.

Choose, for example, my favorite goat cheese. Bill suggests pairing it with dry white or light red wine; chives, dill or oregano; figs, strawberries and peaches; pita, breadsticks, rye toast; and olives, walnuts and dried apricots.

Bill says he started working on the chart years ago. “I checked and double checked. I finally decided to have the charts made,” he says. “People are amazed when they taste something paired perfectly.”

To order a chart, visit

What’s your favorite food/herb and beverage pairing?


Jamie Jo’s and Mitzi’s Lemon Liqueur

lemon herbs for liqueur and jarBy Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Jamie Jo Washburn and I were chatting about the fun of HSA’s annual meetings, when we discovered some things in common – a love of lemon herbs and an interest in making herbed liqueurs.  An 18-year member of The Herb Society of American, Jamie Jo is a founding member of the South Jersey Unit.

When we were done with our official business, our conversation turned to our mutual appreciation of all things herbal. That’s when Jamie Jo told me that she and her fellow HSA friend Mitzi Kowal have infused vodka with lemon herbs. If we could only turn that into popsicles my life would be complete.

I had to share their idea here while lemon herbs are abundant and in season throughout the country.

  • Pack a wide-mouth, quart mason jar 2/3 full of softly flavored lemon herbs like lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon grass. You won’t want the savory bite of lemon basil or lemon thyme.
  • Use a peeler to remove the outermost layer from a lemon, a lime and a grapefruit. Add the peel (without the bitter white pith) to the jar.
  • Pour unflavored vodka into 1/3 of the jar.
  • Make simple syrup by boiling 1 1/2 cup sugar and 1 1/2 cup water until dissolved. Cool slightly.
  • Fill the remaining 2/3 of the jar with warm simple syrup.

“In five minutes, it’s drinkable,” says Jamie Jo. “In two weeks it’s divine.”

She suggests straining the liquid through cheesecloth after two weeks. “People get weird about green things they can’t identify floating in their liqueur,” she laughs.

Lemon herb liqueurI sampled mine every hour and strained it after four. The result is a lush mellow yellow with a sharp lemon bite. I’m going to refill the jar and let it sit longer to make another batch.

While this can be done with different herbs, fruits or herb-fruit combinations, Jamie Jo advises avoiding chocolate mint. That, she says, tastes like cough syrup.  Regular mint, I can attest, duplicates many a crème de menthe.

In addition to sipping on small quantities, Jamie Jo says the lemon-herb liqueur is good in lemonade and hot/iced tea or sprinkled on fruit salad.

Do you have an herb liqueur to share? Post is here or email it to and we’ll do a wrap-up.

Save May 3-7, 2017 for Conference and Annual Meeting in Little Rock



Photo courtesy of Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Mark your calendars for the 2017 Herb Society of America’s Educational Conference and Annual Meeting of Members on May 3 to 7, 2017, in Little Rock, Arkansas. During a handful of committee and business meetings members will have a chance to meet each other and exchange ideas.

“Attending HSA’s Educational Conference and Annual Meeting is such a fabulous experience” says Rie Sluder, a member of the NorthEast Seacoast Unit and HSA board secretary. “It is exciting to be among a group of people who are as passionate about herbs as you are. There are so many opportunities to learn from other members’ experiences and to make new friends from all over the country. In addition you attend lectures from nationally known experts and get to explore an area of the country that you might not otherwise visit.”

The agenda includes presentations by

  • P. Allen Smith, celebrity lifestyle expert and garden designer,

    felder rushing

    Felder Rushing

  • Felder Rushing, garden author and international founder of Slow Gardening,
  • and the culinary team from the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.

Jamie Jo Washburne of the South Jersey Unit plans to be among the attendees at next year’s event. Jamie Jo joined HSA about 18 years ago after taking a class to learn uses for her oregano and savory plants. She continues to study and teach about herbs and their uses. Information sessions at the educational conference add to her expansive body of knowledge.

“I like going someplace new, meeting people and learning new things,” says Jamie Jo. “Some information presented is technical and some simpler; then there’s everything in between. Plus, I do the pre- and post-conference trips around town. I recommend to anybody, if they have the time and money, to start on Wednesday and do the meetings and the weekend.”

Stay tuned to this blog or Herb Society website for upcoming details. If you’re a member of The Herb Society, watch you inbox for HSA newsletters that will include the latest information.

To take advantage of the most significant opportunities, if you’re not already a member, join The Herb Society of America. Membership benefits include industry information, shopping discounts, and monthly member only webinars, as well as reduced or free admission to arboreta and gardens throughout the United States.

Any Mint, but Peppermint

By Jen Lenharth, NorthEast Seacoast Unit – HSA, Guest Blogger

Mint in glassI have never really been a fan of peppermint.  Yes, I love those Andy’s brand brown-and-green chocolate layered mints, but let’s be honest they are more about the chocolate.  It used to sadden me to find a giant peppermint candy cane in my Christmas stocking. It can be so tricky to find treats, or even toothpaste, with spearmint, my preferred mint flavor.

It really shouldn’t be so hard to find the right mint products at retail. Mentha is a diverse genus with more than 600 recognized plants.  There are many identified species such as spearmint (M. spicata), peppermint ( M. piperita), orange mint  (M. piperita var. citrata) and the apple mints (M. suaveolens).

Because mints readily hybridize among species, unlimited variations on the theme exist. And, that’s why it’s recommended to get new plants from divisions not seeds. That way you can identify what you are getting.  Even at retail, new variations of mint seem to abound, I just picked up one labeled ‘chocolate mint,’ which actually tastes like one of those Andy’s candy mints.

Mints are identified by their erect, square stems, opposite, and oblong serrate leaves.  Mint leaf colors vary with species and can range from dark green to nearly yellow. Leaves can be smooth or downy.  Mint’s assertively growing stolons (underground horizontal stem structures) help it survive and spread in moist soil.  Assertively growing is code for “it takes over the garden.” It can be contained by a 10-inch deep, underground barrier that rises above ground a bit.

Mint has a multitude of uses, in both the garden and home.  Mints tend to repel ants, white cabbage moths, rodents and other pests; and so they make good planting companions for cabbage, broccoli and tomatoes.

In addition to culinary uses — teas, juices, fruit, vegetable, and even meat dishes –mint has health and beauty uses. It can be used in a face freshener to combat acne, and it is used in muscle rubs, foot powder, toothpaste and other hygiene products. Mint, peppermint in particular, is also helpful in easing headaches, even if you just smell it.

The “cooling” sensation we feel and taste with mint is a nervous system illusion caused by menthol, one of mint’s essential oils. Physical temperature doesn’t change on the skin or in the mouth but menthol triggers the same receptors as cold does. And, when those receptors are triggered our bodies don’t know the difference.

Different mints contain different menthols and that changes their uses. For example, my least favorite — peppermint —  has a high menthol content which makes it a favorite for teas and sweets as well as home and beauty uses. However, a fresh peppermint leaf may convey a strong, bitter, menthol flavor in cooking, so other mints may be preferred. Spearmint, meanwhile, has a much lower amount of menthol and also has carvone which we taste as sweet and ‘spearminty.’ Spearmint is most commonly used in cooking, as is  apple mint which has a mixed spearmint/peppermint taste.

mint toothpasteI find it frustrating that mint-flavored toothpastes never seem to identify a species. Labels read ‘cool mint,’ ‘fresh mint,’ and ‘mint blast.’ That leaves me to guess if the product will be more peppermint or spearmint.

Because of my interest in the flavors, I have a variety of mints growing in my garden.  I add a few leaves of spearmint or apple mint to my daily brew of iced tea in the summer.  I have been steeping chocolate mint in milk to add extra yum to my chocolate pudding. But I do not grow peppermint.