Editorial: As Medical Costs Rise, Will People Use More Herbs?

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170814_150549Given the rising cost of health care, I wonder if more people are turning to herbal medicine to address symptoms and seek treatment. While I’ve been skeptical and gone the “easy” route of modern medicine, I’m starting to think differently.

I have a summer cold … raging sore throat, swollen sinuses, puffy glands and general acheyness. I’ve waited a few days to see if it will resolve. It’s hasn’t. At this point I’d usually see my doctor. I’d pay my $35 deductible and get my Rx for $10 and be done with it.

That was until this year’s insurance plan. I have a $5,000 deductible. One doctor’s visit costs me $100 and my prescription adds another $40. Do the math. Last year I paid $45, this year I pay $140.  The increase hurts. Almost as much as my throat.

And so, I begin to overthink my situation — Am I overreacting to a simple cold? Or is this bad enough for a medical appointment? Am I being cheap? Am I being a baby? What should I do?

20170814_150557Because I’m developing a light rash, I’m going for a strep test. And, if it’s positive I will get antibiotics. (P.S. It was negative.)

In the meantime, I’m adjusting my philosophy about herbal medicine and adopting a new, three-step process

  • 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.

My goal is to be healthier in body and budget.

How are you using herbs in your approach to health and wellness?


Choose Different Lavender for Different Recipes

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

FB_IMG_1476498273986My children (now 18 and 20) are accustomed to playing in the kitchen. Ever since they were small we taste-tested and compared foods … farm-raised salmon vs. wild caught salmon, grey sea salt vs. Morton salt and on and on …


Recently I’ve been comparing herb varietals – thyme, basil, oregano, sage – that I grow in my garden. I might, for example, simply bite into sage, tri-color sage, and variegated sage to observe different characteristics.

That brings me back to last month’s question about finding the best lavender for cooking when I blogged about Edgar Anderson of Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, Shop & Le Petit Bistro on Washington Island in Door County, WI. He suggested that English lavender varieties are the best for cooking.

Obsessed with information gathering, I posed many of the same question to Luvin’ Lavender’s Laurie Hedjuk. Her family grows 19 varieties of the purple treasure, with seven best suited to culinary use.


“There are over 400 varieties of lavender worldwide. While all of them are edible, certain varieties are more suited for culinary use. Generally, the English (lavandula angustifolia) are more pleasing to the palate. The only French (lavandula intermedia) we recommend — that we grow — is ‘Provence.’”

That’s because most French varieties have a stronger camphor component. Camphor has been described as smelling a bit like eucalyptus. That aroma may make them better for perfumes, cleaning products and the like.

At Luvin’ Lavender in Madison, Ohio, the Hedjuks grow the following varieties for cooking.

  • Melissa- peppery undertones (savory)
  • Sharon Roberts- sharp floral (savory)
  • Buena Vista- tangy spice (savory)
  • Hidcote- all purpose/ sweet floral/ gentle citrus (sweet or savory)
  • Folgate- citrus floral (sweet or savory)
  • Royal Velvet- smooth gentle floral (sweet or savory)
  • Provence- very mild spice (sweet or savory)


“Keep in mind these are general recommendations and everyone has their own tastes,” says Laurie. When following a recipe, she cautions that you’ll need twice as much fresh to equal a dry measurement. Then, you can use whole buds or grind with mortar and pestle.

As one might suspect, Laurie uses lavender in the kitchen far more than I. Some of her favorites are

  • Lavender tomato chowder
  • Lavender cream cheese
  • Lavender lemon shortbread
  • Lavender sweet and sour sauce

20170804_124823“Experiment experiment experiment,” she advises. “Lavender is can overtake a dish fairly easily but can really make a statement when used sparingly.”

If you can’t find the culinary lavender you like, consider growing your own.



What is an Herbalist?

What is an Herbalist?

By Jackie Johnson ND, Northeast Wisconsin Unit


“What is an herbalist?” is a perplexing question.

Is it someone who cooks with herbs?  Or cleans with herbs?  Is it the person who has grown them in their backyard for the past 30 years and incorporated them into their life?  Or the person who played with them to the point they felt they wanted formal schooling to learn their chemistry, botany and current research?  Is it the person who offers suggestions to others for a healthier lifestyle that includes herbs?  Is it the person who gives herb classes? Or the person who hangs out a shingle? Can you be an herbalist at age 30? Or do you have to be 40, 58 or 65 years old?


In the 1990s Frontier Natural Products hosted wonderful HerbFests.  Speakers were knowledgeable, helpful and willing to share.  Several made comments that impacted my herbal being.

One gentleman spoke of an elderly client he was helping with a particular tincture.  He said he had a choice – he could have the client return daily for a $5 tincture, or he could teach him to make it.  He chose the latter.  As a teacher, he epitomized an herbalist.

20160806_054440But, what is best  –a degree from an herbal school or university, an herbal internship or 30 year of hands-on experience?

It depends. Who would I want beside me if needed?

I value practical experience.  But I also respect the discipline and focus demonstrated in earning  a degree, especially when dealing with health problems.

As an aside I remember studying for my bachelor of science in criminal justice and wondering why I needed some of these classes. Many years later, I understand. They gave me greater perspective; the opportunity to recognize there may be several methodologies available to solve any problem.

Recognizing only one herbal approach is a self-imposed restriction.  With so much of our herbal knowledge lost through the ages, do we really know if one way is the only way?

20170511_191241I like the herbalist who points me in a direction with herbs I can readily attain, or better yet, grow.  And I love cooks who can make a handful of green stuff taste better than the best restaurant.   I’m equally comfortable with the herbalist who knows 100 herbs, and another who “knows” 20 herbs, but knows 20 uses for each of them.

Many types of herbalism exist – traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, folk, western, science-based, or a happy combination of any or all of them.

Check out all of them. Learn from as many people as you can. Make your decision of what feels best for you. Each piece makes up the whole and offers yet another chance for growth and wisdom.

An herbalist/author/teacher was once said, “You’ll know when you’re ready to say ‘I am an herbalist.’”

Guide to Root Division for Herbs

Guide to Root Division for Herbs

By Juliet Blankespoor, Herbalist, Teacher, Gardener, Writer and Botanical Photographer

Following is adapted, with permission, from the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine’s 1,000-hour Herbal Immersion Program. The program is the most comprehensive handcrafted online herbal course available. Learn more at Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine..

root division two plantsAs a gardener, you’ve undoubtedly bought many plants to populate your garden, but you can’t beat the satisfaction of propagating your own. Dividing roots is perhaps the easiest and least expensive way to quickly fill your garden with mature plants. In a nutshell, this involves digging up a plant and separating a portion of the root system, and then replanting the separated portions, or divisions. The daughter plants, or divisions, may be planted directly in the garden or potted in preparation for moving to a new location. Depending on the plant, it’s possible to make more than 20 divisions from just one mother plant.

When you propagate a plant by root division, the new plant will be an exact clone of the parent. This is how we maintain a specific set of desired traits, such as height, flower color, flavor, aroma, or any number of distinct qualities that allow for that plant to stand out from the rest of its species.

Most herbs can be divided through root division, especially plants that run or clump. I don’t recommend dividing plants with taproots or a single stem, as they typically won’t “take.”

root division toolsEarly fall and early spring are the best times to divide roots because plants are more dormant. In the fall, just make sure to divide your roots before too many hard freezes, as the cold can stress your divisions. You’ll want to divide roots when the ground isn’t too wet, as the soil will be clumpy and adhere to the root system, making it challenging to get to the roots and see what’s going on.

To start, its best to gather a digging fork, pruners, flat-ended shovel, and a Japanese digging knife, or hori-hori. The digging fork is especially helpful, as the tines minimally disturb the soil. The blade of a Japanese digging knife has a sharp or serrated side to saw through difficult roots. Finally, some roots are just so tough that you’ll need to jump on a flat-ended shovel to sever them.

 Step-by-Step Guide to Root Division

  1. Dig the plant. Choose a vigorous, large plant that can withstand some stress. Use a digging fork or shovel to loosen soil in a circle around the plant. Gently pry plant from soil, excavating side roots if needed.


  1. Remove excess soil. Shake away just enough soil to see what you’re working with. You may need to thump the root system in its hole to dislodge soil clumps. Be careful, as removing all the soil will damage the tender microscopic root hairs.


  1. Size up the root system. Determine how many buds or shoots the root system has and decide how many cuts to make, yielding a few large divisions or many small divisions. Each plant is truly unique in how small of a division will actually survive. Be certain to have at least one shoot or bud per division and a large enough root system to support it.

Root division hori hori

  1. Make divisions. Using one of the tools mentioned above, divide your roots. For roots that are growing loosely, pry apart divisions with your hands. Denser root systems may require sawing into segments with a hori-hori. And tough root systems require a shovel.


  1. Trim the tops. This is the most important step in successful root division. When you disturb the root system, the plant can no longer support the original aboveground vegetation. If the plant is dormant, you can skip this step. If your plant is an herbaceous perennial that is already dying back for the winter, you can completely cut back the aboveground growth. If the plant is actively growing with many stems, cut the stems back by half. If it just has emerging leaves, remove half the leaves. If you’re replanting the mother plant, make sure to cut back its growth as well.

Root division cutting back

  1. Transplant into the garden or pots. Transplant “divisionlings” into their forever home in the garden or pot them. Make sure to plant at the same soil depth they were originally growing. Potted divisions can be grown until their root system is established and has filled up the pot, and then they can be transplanted or shared with a friend.


  1. Water. Water your divisions with fresh water or prepare a solution from willow or seaweed that encourages rooting.


  1. Enjoy.

HSA (2)The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine is located in the botanically rich Appalachian Mountains, outside of Asheville, NC. Their passion for healing plants, herbal education, and medicinal gardening is at the heart of all their teachings. Their online courses: the Herbal Medicine Making Course, the Herbal Immersion Program, and the Foraging Course (launching in early 2018).

 Juliet Blankespoor is the botanical mastermind behind the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, which she founded in 2007 after deciding to become a professional plant-human matchmaker. She has more than 25 years of herbal experience.

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

I love a good garage sale. So it only makes sense that I’d like foraging. It’s like garage sale meets farmers market. But it’s organic and free … if you know what you’re doing and stay away from chemically treated or publicly protected lands.

Foraging & Feasting CoverOver the past few years I’ve collected a few foraging books to teach myself what I can and cannot eat. I learn something new from each book. My latest addition/edition is Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender (Botanical Arts Press, 2013)

The book starts with a philosophical celebration leads into practical harvesting tips and continues with lushly detailed illustrations and identification information for 50 plants. Charts in the middle summarize seasonality and culinary uses. And relevant recipes are an inspiring finale. Did I already say it’s delightful to the eye?

Dina with Angelica 6_1_13

Dina’s interest in herbs and, then foraging, was sparked at 11, when she received her first herb book.

“I became conscious of the healing properties of food, clearly grasping the concept that food is my medicine,” she writes. “From that point forward, my commitment to and exploration of finding, preparing and eating healthful foods began.”

In flipping through I recognized my favorite chickweed. And, for the first time I came upon the day flower, a plant that I’ve been fighting (and losing) all summer. In the future it’s going into the salad, not the compost pile.

Dayflower-Commelina erectaI must admit my favorite recipes are herbal spirits and ice creams. The spirit combinations include lemon balm-strawberry vodka and black currant-fennel vodka. Ice cream inspirations include rose petal, lavender, bee balm and lemon verbena.

Therapeutic recipes include digestive bitters which are a scotch-based herbal root infusion.

My biggest problem with this book is that I don’t know if I should keep my copy on my nightstand for studying, in my kitchen for cooking or on the porch for relaxing. It’s that useful.

Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender is available from Botanical Arts Press.

Make Herbal Vinegars

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Homemade herbal vinegars have been in Melissa McClelland’s kitchen for as long as she can remember. Her mom, Lenore McClelland — a long-time member of the Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America — made them every year.

“While she may not have been the best cook on the face of the earth, she could make a mean vinaigrette,” laughs Melissa, a photo stylist who lives in Cleveland Heights and has turned her entire front yard into raised herb beds. Because of her mother Melissa has become quite the expert at infusing various vinegars, something she often gifts to friends.


“I started out doing classic combinations like basil- or tarragon-infused white wine vinegar,” she says. “I love garlic so I always have a garlic vinegar on hand.”

20170704_100759 (2) “As I started doing them more I started thinking of the herb and spice mixtures that I love. I have a poultry seasoning combination that I love to do,” she says. “It’s great when making vinaigrette for a chicken salad. You have that built in flavor profile.” For poultry she uses 10 sprigs of thyme and four each of sage and rosemary per quart of white wine vinegar.

Another of her creations uses rinds from organic lemons and oranges with an herb or two.  Her favorite combinations include basil or thyme with orange. “They have been such useful combinations. It makes a nice base for marinating chicken or pork.”

“The newest I’m starting to experiment with is a Chinese five spice mix in rice wine vinegar to use in Chinese cooking,” says Melissa.  “I’m still working to get the ratios right.”

“Herbing” vinegar is relatively easy and has few health safety concerns, something Melissa appreciates.

She usually starts with a quart of vinegar – most often white wine or cider vinegar. She prefers organic cider vinegars for the health benefits. White vinegar, she says, can be harsh and red vinegars too strong.

“There are a couple of ways to make the herbal vinegar,” she say. “Some people pack the jars, strain then repackage with a decorate sprig. That gives them a super-saturated herbal flavor.”

“For me it’s been a balancing act. It’s easy when you love herbs and are enthusiastic to use too many. I like having it more subtle, I want to be able to use it freely.”

First, she sterilizes wide-mouth mason jars with boiling water. After placing herbs inside, she makes certain they’re fully immersed in vinegar. Then, she places the jar in a dark place for at least a week.  While she will strain and repackage for a gift, she may just leave the “pickled” herb in the jar for home use.


Melissa keeps her home vinegars in a dark pantry. With vinegar’s preservative properties the infusions last a year and beyond.

When vinegars remain in mason jars with metal lids, the lids may rust. For gifting presentations consider Timbertops, eco-friendly bamboo storage lids for mason jars from masontops.com or their plastic lids or chalk tops. They make delightful presentations. Readers can get a 10 percent discount by entering the discount code HERBSOCIETY10. Discount expires August 11, 2017.


Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine Teaches Online

Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine Teaches Online

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

herbs for medicineWith July 4th passed, the next big calendar date is “Back to School.” When the kids return to their studies you can, too. Make your studies about medicinal  herbs.

Consider the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, an online school with a home base in the botanically rich Appalachian Mountains just outside Asheville, NC. The school offers several opportunities to learn online, including the Herbal Medicine Making Course and the Herbal Immersion Program.

“We believe that direct connection with healing plants is the best way to learn about their medicine, and so we’ve infused our programs with a plant-centered approach to herbal medicine,” says owner and teacher Juliet Blankespoor, who has a degree in botany and a life of experience.

“One of the perks of our online format is the community support from herb lovers from around the globe. Our students range from total beginners to seasoned herbalists with established gardens and businesses. We welcome anyone who wants to learn more about growing or preparing medicinal herbs.”

Juliet-Blankespoor-in-her-gardenJuliet has had a connection to the earth since childhood.  “As a child I was a geeky introvert and bookworm,” she says. “I loved to dance and spend time alone in the woods.

“When I was eighteen I became involved with environmental activism and my vision started to turn toward the natural world. Somehow, almost overnight, I became infatuated with plants and have been involved in a love affair with the green world ever since. I wanted to know who every plant around me was.”

It only made sense to formally study plants, which Juliet did at the University of Florida. “I absorbed all I could about our local flora from my professors. In school, I would learn how to identify a plant, recognize it as a medicinal,” she recalls, “and then rush home to read about its herbal uses from one of the few books I owned on the subject.”

plantingAfter graduating Juliet founded and formulated a tincture line, Green Faith Herbals. She spent her twenties growing and wildcrafting medicine for her tincture business. At the same time she furthered her herbal studies.

In 2007, settled in the southern Appalachians, she started the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine and began teaching from home. After time, Juliet decided that she’s “a raging introvert” and moved the school online.

The virtual format offers more flexibility to students and her staff of highly experienced instructors. Studies can begin any time. The Herbal Medicine Making Course is a six-month program, while Herbal Immersion Program—which focuses on growing medicinal herbs—is completed in two and a half years.

“My mission with the school is to encourage more people to grow herbs and enjoy their medicinal and culinary bounty,” says Juliet, who uses herbal medicine as her family’s primary form of health care. “We also go to the doctor when needed but for the most part, we address everyday ailments at home.”

HSA (2)“We use herbs for preventative medicine. For example, we eat raw garlic daily to help ward off colds and to reduce the chance of cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

She also drinks a homemade tea blend of green tea, hibiscus, and calendula to support the immune system and to provide plenty of antioxidant compounds (which reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, and inflammation, in general).

“We make herbal pestos from lemon balm, holy basil, and bee balm and use just about every kind of culinary herb (homegrown, of course) in our daily cooking,” says Juliet.

For more information, visit The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine.

Medicinal Disclaimer – This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.