Welcoming our new editor at HSA

BrentDeWitt   Brent DeWitt has joined the HSA as our Editor, and brings nearly 30 years of experience as a graphic designer, art director and marketer. He has worked in advertising agencies as well as in-house in corporate marketing and creative teams, where he developed engaging advertising, collateral pieces, publications, corporate identity, illustrations and web designs. He is excited at the opportunity to strengthen our marketing and advertising, and to unify and rejuvenate the HSA brand.
“When I learned of this organization I was immediately impressed with it’s history and mission. At the same time, I recognized the challenges HSA is facing. Increasingly, organizations such as ours need to demonstrate relevance and a clear value to their audience, easily digested material, interesting topics and a consistent dialogue from both a visual and writing standpoint.
What I see is a group that has a great depth of resources and knowledge, but needs to work on reaching both members and the public more often and effectively. This will make HSA more valuable for everyone, keep us relevant in our field and interest new members in joining. Many have noticed those improvements being implemented in recent months.
HSA materials such as brochures and guides need a consistent and contemporary look that will make them more interesting and effective communications, representing the organization in a more authoritative and professional way. Migrating that new look to the website and other online outlets will also be essential, in addition to updates to make the website simpler, more user-friendly and useful to our audience.
This year will be full of changes that will strengthen HSA’s professional presence and authority in horticulture, and will strengthen HSA as a relevant and important resource in horticulture. I look forward to working with everyone to make these improvements a reality!

The Pharmacy at Santa Maria Novella – Florence

The Pharmacy at Santa Maria Novella – Florence

By: Susan Liechty, President, Delaware Ohio Unit

The Pharmacia of Santa Maria Novella

The Pharmacia of Santa Maria Novella

The Pharmacia of Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, still in operation. The origin of the ancient pharmacy dates from the Dominican friars who settled in Florence in 1221. The monks’ reputation for making cures and potions spread quickly, catching the attention of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and in 1612 the pharmacy opened.


The entrance to the church

Most of the perfume formulas and their famous potpourri blend are all thanks to the chemist friars and the formulas created in the 1500’s for Catherina de’ Medici. Headquarters and product production have always remained in Florence. They have opened outlets in Lucca, Paris, London, Milan and Rome over the last several years.

Hand creams, body lotions, bubble baths and soaps are a small portion of their complete line of products. Soaps hand molded one by one, aged for 60 days in ventilated cabinets, and hand wrapped, produced in the same manner as they were in the 1700’s. Their ever popular perfumed powder has a base of the ground rhizome of the iris—a flower that grows freely in the area.

A portion of the church presented to the friars in 1335 for their recognition of services, today houses the showroom. Part of the showroom is the old Herbalists’ Shop where you will find a mortar and pestle collection, bottles from the 1300-1500’s, and an array of laboratory products. All the rooms are adorned with frescoes from the original church, walnut cabinetry, marble floors, bronze statues, and beautiful vaulted ceilings.

You can buy syrups, honeys, teas, fruit compotes and sweets, and the personal care line of products. While most of the products are ancient formulas, they recently introduced a new fragrance called “Angels of Florence”, to honor the 40th anniversary of the 1966 flood that destroyed many cultural works throughout Florence. Can you imagine, the same scent worn by refined women over 300 years is still enjoyed today?

HerbalistShop_adj_0049  When we first visited in 2006 I bought their famous potpourri, its ingredients created from herbs and flowers collected in the hills that surround Florence. A secret formula since its inception in the 1400’s and remains the signature product of the company. We visited again in 2014, while nothing has changed; it is still a special place to visit for some quiet reflection in the busy city of Florence. Visit their website at: http://www.santamarianovellausa.com/

Favorite Flora: hellebore, Lenten rose (Helleborus ×hybrida)

  By: Debra Knapke, Member At Large, Great Lakes District

03_02_2015_FavoriteFlora2A bowl of hellebore flowers is a spring tradition in our home. Hellebore or Lenten rose isn’t really a rose, but it does bloom during and after Lent, and sometimes before. The nodding flowers are single, double; white to cream to pink to deep dusky purple. They are dotted, spotted, picoteed, shaded and blushed.

If I had to point to a true workhorse in the garden it would be this group of plants. I use the term group, because the complex, hybrid cross is made up of at least five different species, one of them being the original Lenten rose: Helleborus orientalis. Culturally, hellebores are easy to establish and maintain. They grow well in part sun to shade and will tolerate full sun (6+ hours) if most of that sun is from the east and south. They bloom for 2-3 months. You will notice that some flowers are “in seed” while others are just opening. If you are looking for winter interest, the large, glossy, evergreen leaves offer an alternative to bare soil. A bonus is that hellebores do not allow light to filter down to those pesky winter weeds that need light to germinate.

Hellebores take two to three years to establish roots that are drought tolerant. Do not let them dry out the first year and watch them the second and third during dry times and water accordingly. Usually, deer do not eat the leaves, because they are well armed with very sharp serrations, or the flowers which are poisonous. However, if a deer is hungry, all bets are off. If you are a lazy or very busy gardener who doesn’t always get to dividing your perennials, hellebores are happy to grow in the same place for years. I have plants that are three foot wide that have been in the same place for 14 years. When you do divide them, do so carefully, as they are not fond of excessive root disturbance.

So what’s the downside of this plant? They do have a tendency to self-seed; a lot. But, the seedlings are easily raked up and left under the plant to compost back into the soil. Or, thinking about this in another way: you have lots to share.
Previously published on www.heartland-gardening.com

Love and bayberry

When I was young, my mother would put branches of bayberry in a pewter teapot. She received the twigs each year from a friend who had bayberry (Myrica) bushes around her yard. My mother would put the pewter teapot with its silver berries on the mantle next to the clock. When I saw the arrangement I knew that Thanksgiving was coming. We would soon be celebrating with cousins, aunts, uncles, and of course grandparents. During this stage of my life, the sight of bayberry evoked thoughts of friendship and family.WP_20140529_014

Later, when I was in graduate school at Rutgers University, I began a research project examining the soil arthropods under bayberry bushes. I went to a field every other week to take samples of the soil. It was hot, itchy, sweaty, and dirty work. I had to watch out for spiders and ticks—and anything else that might be lurking. But I was happy. I was following my dream.

One day when I was struggling under the canopy of beautifully scented leaves I heard a familiar voice. My long-time friend, Bill, had ridden his bicycle to the field with ice cold root beers for us to enjoy. He parked the bike and himself under the sassafras tree adjacent to the bayberry thicket and handed me the refreshment. While I drank, he asked me to marry him! Most men choose a romantic spot or setting. They try to make everything perfect. Bill, in his usual understated and reassuring way, decided to demonstrate that he wanted me, all of me, just the way I was. Sweat, dirt, ticks, and all! At that point bayberry came to represent acceptance, support, never-ending loyalty, and, most of all, love. My old plant friend had taken on a new meaning for me.

We married and moved to Cleveland Heights, OH. There the bayberry hedge around the garden of the Western Reserve Unit of the Herb Society of America gives me a quiet pleasure as I help tend the garden.WP_20140529_008

This year Bill and I celebrate our thirty fifth anniversary. We are planting bayberry bushes to make our own hedge around a new patio that is just big enough for two. Fifteen years from now the hedge will be large enough to shade us on our fiftieth anniversary, while I tell him how very glad I am that he came to visit me in the field all those years ago!WP_20140529_016

submitted by Priscilla Jones, Western Reserve Unit, Great Lakes District

Monarchs need milkweed

Little did we members of the Native Herb Conservation Committee know when we chose redring or white milkweed (Asclepias variegata) the Notable Native Herb for 2014 that monarch butterflies would suffer a precipitous drop in numbers in the summer of 2013.

We were well aware of the uses of many members of the Asclepias genus for medicines, food and fiber and we knew we wanted to highlight its importance as a larval food source for Danaus plexippus. Even then, it was clear that monarch butterfly numbers were continuing to drop due to habitat loss and pesticide use and it was our intention to help in the effort to bring that to our members’ attention. But we could not have anticipated that there would be the fewest adults measured in recent memory during the summer and fall of 2013 and that the cry to preserve and restore habitat by planting regionally appropriate milkweed species would be such a focus for the spring of 2014.

Although a large number of Asclepias species may be found throughout the continental US and into Canada and Mexico, Asclepias variegata has a relatively limited range.

While many members across the country may desire to grow our 2014 Notable Native in our gardens, I suggest you seek out milkweed species that are regionally appropriate and found growing wild in your own region.

Here on Long Island in southeastern New York, there are three species found growing wild: Asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed; A. syriaca or common milkweed; and A. tuberosa or butterfly milkweed.

Several years ago, I joined the board of the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, Inc. We collect seed from wild lands on Long Island and grow many of our collections for sale at our annual plant sale. We grow all three milkweed species and find an appreciative audience for these natives.

Butterfly weed (A. tuberosa) is the crowd favorite at our June plant sale. Eager buyers flock to it. Is it because of its charismatic name or the promise of those flame-orange flowers in the hot, dry Long Island summer sun? I am not sure but we cannot grow enough of it to satisfy demand.

I adore the nodding umbels of A. syriaca — the delicate shading of its petals is in such contrast to the coarse paddle-shaped leaves. If it is local to you, don’t be afraid to find places for several of these on your property. They will weave themselves through grasses and other perennials in an exuberant border and are easily pulled if they stray.

But my favorite for ease of growth, beautiful color and attracting monarchs is A. incarnata or swamp milkweed. You don’t need a swamp to grow it! Any well drained and somewhat well watered garden soil will do. It grows three to four feet high with several flowering stalks to each plant. One of its greatest attributes is that it will bloom the same year grown from seed.


By growing Asclepias native to your region, you will join legions of other gardeners and conservationists in 2014 across this continent attempting to aid in the resurgence of the beloved monarchs.

submitted by: Dava Stravinsky, Long Island Unit, Northeast District
Source for plants: www.monarchwatch.org
Fact sheet from HSA: http://www.herbsociety.org/herbs/documents/AsclepiasvariegataFactSheet-1.pdf

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.


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.


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.


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.