All-Heal: Splendor In The Grass

By Kathleen M.  Hale, Western Reserve Herb Society

All HealThis plant’s Latin name has given me my chosen nom-de-Hogwarts:  Prunella vulgaris. It suits me.

Prunella’s common names also speak volumes:  woundwart, self-heal and heart-of-the-earth. This is one potent little herb, widespread in Zones 3-9, but particularly common in Ireland. It is a low-growing plant, and spreads both by seeds and by side shoots. In this, it resembles its cousin, the mint, but it lacks mint’s distinctive taste and scent.

In North America, prunella flowers in July and August.  The flowers are small, but deserve a closer look: above a single stem the flowers emerge from a squarish club-shaped cluster.  Each tiny, violet-colored flower is elegantly hooded and lipped, a little like a tiny snapdragon. Because few flowers open at a time from a distance the cluster may appear brown or reddish.  But take a closer look. Pollinators do. It is a favorite host for the clouded sulphur butterfly Colias philodice.

All heal 2If you haven’t seen prunella, chances are that you haven’t been looking.  It’s everywhere.  Where it grows in the grass, it adapts to mowing by keeping its head down, and it flowers at the level of the surrounding turf. Prunella prefers moist partial shade, but it isn’t picky. However, cultivate around it and it is gone.

The uses and benefits of prunella are many.  Every part of the plant is edible. It is antiseptic, diuretic, anti-pyretic and styptic. It is said to lower blood pressure and to be anti-viral. Research is pursuing the suggestion that it might be helpful in the treatment of diabetes, herpes, Ebola and HIV. In the European Middle Ages, prunella was held to be a holy herb, and was credited with being able to repel the devil himself.

Because the open, lipped flowers might look to some like an open mouth and throat, prunella’s most traditional use has been to soothe ailments of the mouth and throat.

Some of its legendary powers are truly remarkable. Prunella has been known as a remedy for the injury of animal bites. And, if you’ve ever been bitten by an animal in your dreams it heals the dream wound. I don’t ever recall having been bitten by an animal in my dreams, but it sounds quite alarming.  It’s good to know that the remedy is so close at hand.

HSA Blog Ranks in Top 25

Feedspot badge herbal medicineThe Herb Society of America’s Blog ranked among the top 25 medicinal herb blogs in the world, according to FeedSpot.

FeedSpot is a content-reader or digest. It helps readers track top information sources in a category, thus saving the time it takes to check each individual site.

FeedSpot’s Anuj Agarwal says, “ Subscribe to these Herbal Medicine websites because they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information.”

HSA has been publishing a blog since 2013. Blogmaster Paris Wolfe took over in July 2015 to bring consistency and twice-weekly frequency to the blog. To date the blog has published nearly 300 posts by a variety of experts, reaching thousands of readers each month.

Check out the entire list of 25 Top Herbal Medicine Blogs.

Bath Bombs Spread Herbal Delight

Bath Bombs Spread Herbal Delight

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America


When my partner’s four-year-old granddaughter was visiting in June, she protested bath time. It interrupted her play time. So, I offered her one of my $2 lavender-scented bath bombs … those compressed powdery cakes that fizz while perfuming the air and softening bathwater.  She couldn’t resist the purple sphere and the light shade it made the water. And, I was proud of my problem-solving skills.

A few minutes later – when her mom told me how easy it is to make bath bombs – I was feeling a silly for spending $2 per “bomb.” So, I hopped online, researched various bath bomb recipes and tweaked a formula.

Within the week I was addicted and used every herbal essential oil in my craft closet … lemon grass, peppermint, lavender, rose geranium, among others. Over the summer I’ve enjoyed the aromatherapy and shared them with house guests.

20180501_152326I couldn’t master the round metal molds. So instead I purchased heart-shaped silicon molds for my version. I might need the beach creature or bug molds for the children in my life. While most ingredients can be found in grocery, drug or craft stores, I purchased my essential oils and more online.  You can find a broad array of essential oils at Mountain Rose Herbs.

Bath Bomb Recipe

  • 8 ounce baking soda (about one cup)
  • 4 ounces Epsom salts (1/2 cup)
  • 4 ounces citric acid (1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 3 tablespoon oil (olive, almond, grapeseed, avocado, hempseed)
  • 20-30 drops essential oils
  • 3-5 drops food coloring (optional)

Bath bomb mold or silicon molds.

Thoroughly whisk dry ingredients in metal or glass bowl. Add wet ingredients and mix. Pack into molds and allow to set for 24 hours. Remove gently and store in dry container.

Chat with Author and HSA Honorary Pres Susan Belsinger

Chat with Author and HSA Honorary Pres Susan Belsinger

sb self portrait moors of ireland (1)We recently introduced you to Susan Belsinger, honorary president of the Herb Society of America (LINK TO POST). In this Q&A we learn more about her depth and breadth of herbal experiences.

QUESTION:  What are your earliest memories of herbal interest?

ANSWER:  I first became enamored with herbs and spices when I went to visit North Africa back in the early 70s. I was intrigued and intoxicated by the sacks of exotic and aromatic herbs and spices piled high in the souk; so I pursued the local women in the Turkish baths and got them to take me home to their kitchens and show me how they cooked their Moroccan dishes. That is when I started writing down recipes.

From there I went to Italy and fell in love with the fresh herbs in their local habitat—rosemary, sage, bay, thyme, lavender and savory—and tasted my first pesto while dining al fresco in the hills of Tuscany. Growing and savoring the Mediterranean herbs was life-changing and magical for me and opened my eyes and palate to a whole new world. I met Carolyn Dille in Tuscany—where we explored cooking with seasonal ingredients and herbs together–and decided that when we returned to the U.S, we wanted to educate Americans about cooking with fresh herbs (which I am still doing today!).

Q. How have you built your herbal knowledge?

susan & rosemaryA.  I learned from hands-on experience. I took some master classes back in the 70s and 80s from Madeleine Kamman, Jacques Pepin, Giuliano Bugialli and Marcella Hazan. I taught a huge variety of classes from growing your own herbs to making your own pasta and pizza to  Southwestern cooking at  L’Academie de Cuisine, an accredited cooking school in Bethesda, Maryland. I also belonged to Les Dames d’Escoffier, a group of women food professionals, for nearly 20 years and through both of those venues I was able to work alongside many amazing and well known chefs and members of the food industry. Although, I learned a lot about cooking during that period of my life, herbs were my passion, and so I moved on. I did a year-long apprenticeship with Rosemary Gladstar, taking her Art & Science of Herbalism course, which was an extraordinary experience. I have had many herbal mentors in the Herb Society of America and the International Herb Association.

Q. How did you start writing cookbooks?

carolyn susanWhen I moved back to the states after living in Italy for two years, my friend and cooking colleague Carolyn Dille, also returned stateside. I went to live in California, where Carolyn was from, so we could collaborate and we decided to try our hands at growing and cooking with herbs, and writing about our experiences. It was truly beginners’ luck, as well as some good recipes.  We approached Gourmet Magazine about writing articles on cooking with fresh herbs—and they went for it! We spent 1979 testing and writing 12 articles, each on a different herb, which was published as the series “A Calendar of Herbs” in 1980. Those original twelve culinary herbs, along with eight more, became 20 chapters in our first book, Cooking with Herbs published by Van Nostrand Reinhold in 1984. Our next collaboration was New Southwestern Cooking printed by Macmillan in 1986. Carolyn moved to Maryland, where we researched and wrote The Chesapeake Cookbook published by Clarkson N. Potter in 1990. From there we co-authored five more books together for Interweave Press and wrote numerous articles for the Herb Companion.

Q. What’s your latest book?

A. The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs co-authored with Arthur Tucker was published by Timber Press in 2016. Art and I just finished a new book with Timber Press titled Grow Your Own Herbs: The 40 Best Culinary Varieties for Home Gardens; it is geared towards beginning herbies who like to grow their own and cook with them and it is due out in Spring 2019.

Q. What does it mean to you to be chosen HSA honorary president?

A.  Well, first of all, I was surprised and a bit taken aback, wondering why me? There are so many worthy individuals in our organization. I am honored and humbled to have been selected as honorary president and take the position seriously. I do hope that I can help to make positive changes for the membership and I look forward to attending board meetings and getting to know the members of the board and how they work. I thank HSA President Rie Sluder for choosing me as honorary president and the board, for supporting her decision. I do not want to just have a title—I would like to make a difference and help move the HSA forward into the future.

Q. What’s your favorite herb?

A. I enjoy so many herbs, it is hard to choose just one. I could not live without garlic or chile peppers. As far as green leaves go, ‘Genoa Green’ basil has extraordinary flavor. Pesto is truly one of my favorite foods, however any salsa verde (green herb sauce) makes my taste buds tap dance. What is so thrilling is that no two green sauces are alike—and they change seasonally—early spring we have chickweed, wild sorrel, violets, field cresses and dandelion; then the nettles pop up and later spring greens like arugula, mustards, lambs’ quarters, green garlic, wild onions, and chives; and in the height of summer of course there is basil, the oreganos and nasturtium leaves. Who can resist a green sauce to slather on sandwiches, tomatoes, grilled vegetables, steamed vegetables, pizza, pasta and more?!

Q. What’s your favorite workshop to present?

tumblr_inline_n7szn7P2U61r09mjvA.  I love to give students or an audience a sensory experience with herbs, the more hands-on, the better. That said, there is no one particular favorite workshop. What I like best is doing research and learning new things—that is why I so enjoy having an herb of the year, or an herb of the month—because I can immerse myself in new knowledge, which I find so exciting and inspiring. And then I can pass this wealth of information along to others. The sharing of gardening, herb plants and everything about them with like-minded people is one of the most rewarding things I know.

Q. How would you advise someone who wants to learn more about herbs?

A. I’d have to say just immerse yourself in the plants. Go to an herb garden, nursery or herb sale and start with rubbing the leaves and sniffing them; then have a nibble in order to get the flavor. Go with a gardener or herbie-type so it will be more fun as well as educational. Choose herbs because you like their flavor or their appearance or because they call out to you. Join an herb group or organization like the Herb Society of America where members share plants as well as information from how to grow the herbs to recipes, health benefits and craft projects. Go to the library and check out herb books and guidebooks, then buy the ones you like best. It is important to have a selection of good herbal resources, especially if you are making products or using herbs medicinally.  I get so excited when I meet newbies, folks who are just getting interested in herbs, because they have a whole new world of herbal horizons before them!

Follow Susan on her blog.

HSA Research Grant Applications Due Jan. 2019

Steven JeffersProfessor Steven Jeffers, Ph.D., and graduate student Daniel Dlugos of Clemson University received the 2018-2019 Herb Society of America Research Grant. The award will support their work “Evaluation of Fungicides for Managing Phytophthora Root and Crown Rot on Lavender.” Phytophthora root and crown rot (PRCR) is an emerging disease affecting, primarily, English lavender and hybrid lavender (L. xintermedia). Currently, applying fungicide is the only method of managing the disease. Researchers will study fungicide effectiveness at preventing PRCR. Results will help lavender growers across the country.

John Taylor

Last year’s award winner, John Taylor, Ph.D., of the University of Rhode Island, is using grant money for a project titled, “Current and Historical Production and Use of Herbs by Ethnic and Migrant Communities in Greater Providence, Rhode Island.” He is interviewing growers and gardeners growing culturally significant herbs and interpreting his results. The Herb Society of America anticipates receiving the outcome of this project in the spring of 2019.

Applications for the $5,000 grant are being accepted for 2019-2020. The grant funds research of the horticultural, scientific, and/or social use of herbs. Research must define herb as useful for flavoring, medicine, ornament, economic, industrial, or cosmetic purposes.

Applications are due by January 31. Winners are announced by May 1.

Eligible applicants may be students, professionals or individuals. Grant recipients will be required to sign a Grant Acceptance Form prior to the award of a grant. Only U.S. residents may apply.

This grant supports small, self-contained research projects over a short-period of time. Allowable costs include:
– compensation for investigators
– professional and technical assistance
– research supplies and materials
– costs of computer time

This grant does not cover indirect costs such as:
• equipment including but not limited to computer, laboratory or office equipment
• tuition, textbooks, or conference attendance
• private garden development
• travel to and/or from research site(s)

Unpublished research will be considered confidential. One paper about the project results must be submitted for use in a HSA publication.


Looking to 2019 Herb of the Year: Anise Hyssop

Looking to 2019 Herb of the Year: Anise Hyssop

By Susan Belsinger, Author, Blogger, Herbalist

Reposted with permission from

IMG_6923Although we are enjoying Hops, which is Herb of the Year 2018, we are gearing up for Agastache, Herb of the Year for 2019. Agastache includes other herbs besides anise hyssop (some even mint scented), however I am concentrating on the anise-scented one here today.

Anise Hyssop was HSA’s Herb of the Month for July 2018.

While commonly called anise hyssop, the odor is more similar to French tarragon, though sweeter, with a hint of basil. The foliage and flowers taste similar to the aroma-sweet, with the licorice of tarragon and basil-and just a bit floral.

All of the thirty or so Agastache species are good for honey production and make great ornamental perennials. The flowering plants go well with the silver-leaved species of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum), which flower about the same time in the July garden and also provide good bee forage. The young, broad, dark green leaves of A. foeniculum, tinged purple in cool weather, are attractive with spring bulbs such as yellow daffodils.

with honeydewAgastache species do not have GRAS  status, even though the leaves of many species have been used for centuries as a substitute for French tarragon, infused in syrups and cordials, or brewed into tea, and the flowers have been used with fruit, in desserts and confections, and mixed in salads. Both the leaves and flowers make good additions to potpourri.

Agastache foeniculum is most often grown, though A. mexicana, A. rugosa, and A. scrophulariifolia provide similar flavors to French tarragon and basil, though may include plants scented of peppermint or pennyroyal.

Growing basics

hardy short-lived perennial, 3 to 5 feet high
hardiness to zone 4, preferring cool summers
full sun to part shade
keep moist but not wet
soil rich in organic matter, pH 7.0

Cultivation and propagation

buncheAgastache species need little more than partly shaded to sunny, well-drained, acid- to near-neutral soil. The seeds (actually tiny nuts, or nutlets) are most easily started by broadcasting; established clumps readily reseed themselves, often in tiny nooks and crannies or the middle of the garden path. Seeds may also be sown in the greenhouse, with transplants in six to eight weeks. Clumps generally last two to three years, becoming very woody at the base and eventually dying. Since reseeding is not a problem, anise hyssop will persist in your garden yet never really become weedy; it is easy to move about. The soil should be evenly moist, well drained, slightly acid, and high in organic matter.

Harvesting and preserving

For tea, harvest leaves early in the day during a sunny, rain-free spell close to when the plants will be flowering. Then dry the leaves and store them in glass jars. Anise hyssop makes an unusual vinegar for salads and a tasty cordial if you like sweet licorice. Our friend puts anise hyssop in his vodka, which he keeps in the freezer, for a preferred libation. Leaves are sometimes candied as a confection for desserts. Blossoms are often harvested fresh as edible flowers for salads, beverages, syrups, and desserts.

sb cropped2.JPGSusan Belsinger lives an herbal life, whether she is gardening, foraging, herborizing, photographing, teaching, researching, writing or creating herbal recipes for the kitchen or apothecary—she is passionate about all things herbal. Recently referred to as a “flavor artist”, Susan delights in kitchen alchemy—the blending of harmonious foods, herbs, and spices—to create real, delicious food, as well as libations, that nourish our bodies and spirits and titillate our senses.

She has been blogging regularly for Taunton Press’ for the past seven years. Her latest publication The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs co-authored by Susan Belsinger and Arthur O. Tucker—was released in January 2016 by Timber Press.

Queen Anne’s Lace: Both Royal Diva and Outlaw

Queen Anne’s Lace: Both Royal Diva and Outlaw

By Kathleen M. Hale, Western Reserve Herb Society

Queen Anne's Lace 2When I was a little girl, and found that the beautiful flower at the side of the road was called, “Queen Anne’s Lace,” I had two pressing questions:

  1. How was I going to get a princess gown made out of those blossoms, and
  2. Who the heck was Queen Anne?

I have never found an answer to the first question.  But, the answer to the second question is this: I still don’t know. 

Two theories exist.  Daucus carota (wild carrot) was introduced to North America by European settlers.  Britain had two queens named Anne around the time its settlers were arriving in North America.  Anne of Denmark was the consort of James I of England (James VI of Scotland), after whom Jamestown was named.  Their granddaughter, Queen Anne, reigned at the time of the settlement of Williamsburg.  Both presided over courts that were lavish in their use of lace. And Queen Anne’s lace does look just like a circlet of delicate, creamy lace, with one tiny garnet spot in the center.  This, legend tells us, is the single droplet of royal blood which fell when the lace maker pricked her finger.

Queen Anne's Lace - KathleenQueen Anne’s lace now grows pretty much everywhere. This can give it an outlaw quality. Although it is labelled a “noxious weed” in Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Washington, it is elsewhere getting some love as a “beneficial weed” because it draws pollinators.  It also seems to be a beneficial neighbor to some food crops, like tomatoes, lettuce and blueberries. However, it tends to be a little temperamental in its beneficence. Where it grows wild, it attracts useful wasps.  Where it is intentionally grown, it generally does not. No diva performs unless she’s feeling it.

Like a true diva, Queen Anne’s lace has an evil twin, poison hemlock. Just as beautiful, but deadly. The secret to distinguishing between the two? The root of Queen Anne’s lace smells like carrots.  The root of poison hemlock smells disgusting. But don’t be too familiar with Queen Anne’s lace.  Many people have an allergic reaction to handling the foliage. Some reactions are light sensitive, leaving a photographic imprint of the foliage on the skin.

Like the carnation, the Queen Anne’s lace flower will draw up dyed fluid through its stem to stain the blossom.  This makes it a useful guest in grade school science classrooms to demonstrate how plants take in water and nutrition.  On its own, Queen Ann’s lace can be used as a dye plant, giving a creamy ivory color. Like a domestic carrot, the root of Queen Anne’s lace is edible in its youth.

After the biennial plant, growing up to four feet high, has produced its creamy flat doily-like flowers, it will set its seeds.  The flower, now a fibrous brown net, draws itself into a pouch.  It looks like a bird’s nest, which gives Queen Anne’s lace one of its popular names.  Once those seeds have dropped to the soil, they can lie in wait for years, waiting for the right circumstances to come back to life.

And what would a diva be, without a love poem in her honor?

NOTE:  Another way of distinguishing between Queen Anne’s Lace and Poison Hemlock is to at the stems and leaves. Hemlock stems and leaves are hairless, with purple/burgundy/black blotches on them. Even very young hemlocks exhibit these blotches. Queen Anne’s lace stems and leaves are always green and hairy!



William Carlos Williams, 1883 – 1963

Her body is not so white as

anemone petals nor so smooth—nor

so remote a thing. It is a field

of the wild carrot taking

the field by force; the grass

does not raise above it.

Here is no question of whiteness,

white as can be, with a purple mole

at the center of each flower.

Each flower is a hand’s span

of her whiteness. Wherever

his hand has lain there is

a tiny purple blemish. Each part

is a blossom under his touch

to which the fibres of her being

stem one by one, each to its end,

until the whole field is a

white desire, empty, a single stem,

a cluster, flower by flower,

a pious wish to whiteness gone over—

or nothing.