Celebrate Cherry Blossom Season

Celebrate Cherry Blossom Season

Petals falling
unable to resist
the moonlight

Sakura, sakura
they fall in the dreams
of sleeping beauty”

-Yosa Buson

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society Unit of The Herb Society of America

Cherry blossom (2)My childhood worldview was shaped by the foreign students that my parents sponsored through the Council on World Affairs from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.  Every four years I’d have a new “brother or sister,” although in truth none of them ever left us.

There was Santosh, the student from India, who brought us beautiful saris and sandals to wear. And, Riet, from Holland, who used to take me berry picking and foraging in the fields behind my parents’ home. There was Michael, from England, who is probably more responsible for my love of curry than anyone. There was Farhad, who came from Iran, and every year would bring me gifts of nougat, rose-covered almonds, rose oil, rose water, and absolutely beautiful, hand-painted, mother of pearl jewelry.

Cherry blossom (4)My earliest memories though are of Hisashi and Kazco who were married in my parents’ back yard in a beautiful Japanese tea ceremony. They talked to me about many things, but the things I remember most were their memories of the beautiful springtime celebrations of Hanami, the ancient cherry blossom viewing festival.

We didn’t have cherry trees, but my parents had glorious crabapple trees that circled all three acres of their property and I remember spreading out blankets and having magical fairy parties every spring under the fragrant and falling petals. I can’t wait to have grandchildren of my own to do this with. I’m already planning menus of fairy cakes, mochi, and sweetened jasmine tea.

Cherry blossom (3)n Japan celebrating the transient beauty of spring flowers in a ritual called Hanami is a beloved custom that happens for a glorious two-week period when the cherry blossoms burst into bloom. The word Hanami literally means “flower viewing,” although it is most commonly used to refer to the viewing of cherry blossoms.  I am told that the celebration of Hanami dates to the 8th century – although I guess the flower of choice then was the equally beautiful, and fleeting, plum blossom.

Traditionally, Hanami celebrations would include afternoon picnics under the blossoms and gaily strung lanterns with family and friends.  Fragrant green tea, sake, dumplings, pink rice, and delectable Japanese sweets would be served. This could, and often would even, continue into the evening.

Cherry blossom (1)This mysterious and romantic version of Hanami is called Yozakura which simply means “the night cherry blossom.” It seems that, after nightfall during blossom time, a different fragrance occurs. I think aroma is more pronounced at nightfall because the visual beauty is no longer distracting.

I appreciate the blossoms as part of my springtime cleansing, renewal, and awakening ritual each spring. When the blooms begin, my husband Jim and I go for long walks hand-in-hand, stealing kisses underneath blossom clusters. We spread blankets under the trees and drink in the sweet nighttime air, bathing in the warm, spring breezes and falling blossoms. Hanami is a magical celebration and is so very easy to celebrate. As the trees start blooming in your neighborhood take a walk and take the time to appreciate the beauty of the blooms.

Check out Western Reserve Herb Society’s 50th Anniversary Garden

Check out Western Reserve Herb Society’s 50th Anniversary Garden

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education, The Western Reserve Herb Society Unit of The Herb Society of America

“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.” — Gertrude Jekyll


Herb Society member Sara Fenderbosch leading a wreath-making workshop in the garden.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays from early April through late fall, members of Western Reserve Herb Society (Herb Society of America’s Northeast Ohio unit) work their sizeable organic herb garden at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. April work begins with cleaning beds to prepare for May planting. This year, 2019, marks 50 gardening seasons for the 77-year-old unit.

Nine individual sections are part of a working garden and almost every plant is useful. Plant materials become herb blends, potpourri, teas, wreaths, baked goods, jams and jellies and so much more to be sold at the annual Herb Fair, which helps fund the garden. The 74th Herb Fair will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, October 12, at the Cleveland Botanical Garden.


Beth Schreibman-Gehring in the rose garden. Photo by Lou Ann Rossi

Photos aren’t nearly enough to represent the spacious, educational garden. To celebrate 50 years of the official garden, WRHS members commissioned a 42-minute video.

Click here to watch the Western Reserve Herb Society Garden video

Members narrate the film introducing viewers to the plants, their delight, and uses. Garden visitors on Tuesdays and Thursday learn more when working members share secret stories and favorite plants. Volunteers offer tastes of culinary herbs, answer questions about herbal dyes, share recipes for herbal teas and intoxicate guests with the fragrance of the historic rose garden when in bloom.

Visitors are encouraged. As part of the Cleveland Botanical Garden, the herb garden is open every day except Monday. Members of other gardens and arboretums may have reciprocal admission privileges.

Show us your personal or organizational garden. Send pictures or videos to pariswolfe@yahoo.com. To improve your photos see  4 Tips for Great Herb Garden Photography



March 2019 Herb of Month: Licorice

By Maryann Readal, HSA Secretary

HOM LicoriceWhen I think of licorice, the black chewy candy from my childhood immediately comes to mind. However, there is much more to this herb than those early memories. To discover some unusual and fun facts about our April Herb of the Month – licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, go to The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage. You will:

  • Learn about what part of the plant is used.
  • Find surprising uses for licorice.
  • Discover famous historical figures who have used it.
  • Wake up your culinary imagination and try one of the licorice recipes.

HSA business supporter, Mountain Rose Herbs carries licorice as a powder, root slices, and as an extract. Mountain Rose also carries the seeds.  If you are a member of The Herb Society of America, you are eligible for a discount on Mountain Rose products.

To become a member of The Society, click here.

Growing and Protecting At-Risk Herbs

Growing and Protecting At-Risk Herbs

By Jen Munson, Education Chair, The Herb Society of America

blue cohosh

Blue Cohosh Caulophyllum thalictroides ¬ – Native American women used this plant to help with childbirth.

Unless you live an unplugged life you know about the difficulties facing bees, monarchs, and other beneficial creatures. These pollinators struggle because of habitat fragmentation and the impact of chemicals used in the environment.

The problem goes beyond pollinators. Habitat loss is affecting another delicate system, native medicinal herbs. To learn more attend Growing and Protecting At-Risk Medicinal Herbs, at the Herb Society of America’s Mad for Herbs in Mad City educational conference in Madison, Wisconsin. To learn more click here.

Beyond habitat fragmentation native herbs are suffering because of overharvesting and bioprospecting.  According to the World Conservation Union between 50,000 and 80,000 flowering plants are used medicinally and at least 15,000 of those face the threat of extinction. Closer to home the United Plant Savers lists 20 Northern American medicinal natives as at risk and places 23 more on their watch list.  These plants include slippery elm, American ginseng, yew, black cohosh, goldenseal, blue cohosh among others.


Bloodroot Sanguinaria Canadensis¬ – The fresh roots give off a reddish dye.

You can help. The obvious solution is to grow more natives, particularly at-risk species. Beyond adding them to your landscape you need to be certain to purchase nursery propagated natives and NOT wild-sourced plants. Make a point of asking the nursery staff before making your next purchase. Better still learn to propagate your own native plants and share the extras with friends.

Still further, when you require herb-based medicine, assess whether alternative plants will  ease your ailment. For example, Japanese barberry Berberis thunbergii is a potential alternative to goldenseal. Not only will you protect goldenseal but you’ll be removing the highly invasive Japanese barberry from our forests. And finally if you lack garden space you can still support the efforts by learning and joining organizations that support conservation like The Herb Society of America’s Greenbridges™ program or United Plant Savers among others.

lady slipper

Lady Slipper Cypripedium spp. – This was once widely used as a substitute for the European plant valerian for its sedative properties.

Herbs de Provence Essential to Ratatouille

HDP spilled

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society

My introduction to the classic French blend of Herbes de Provence was in the early seventies, when my long-haired and lovely, hippie sister came home from Chatham College having learned to make a sophisticated country French vegetable dish known as Ratatouille. I remember that day. She was standing over my mother’s stove and she looked like a kitchen goddess, surrounded by piles of diced vegetables, an exotic-looking bottle of extra virgin olive oil, a wooden spoon, sea salt and pepper grinders, and a ceramic jar that contained the most magical combination of herbs that I’d ever smelled.. I remember her recipe perfectly and it’s still a good one, actually the best I’ve ever made. Most make ratatouille by throwing all of the vegetables in a pot and cooking them all together slowly, but my sister’s ratatouille was different because she added the vegetables one at a time.

This way she produced a layering of flavor that cannot be accomplished by just impertinently throwing everything together and letting the whole thing quickly cook. It was one of those classic moments between sisters, where I just watched, listened, and absorbed what she was teaching. It took hours which I measured in tastes and laughter. It was the perfect way to pass on such a recipe.

I love to make this in the wintertime, because it turns my kitchen into the sunniest place in the house. The fragrance is remarkable and the flavor sublime. Layered into a tart shell and topped with fresh parmesan and mozzarella and a turn under the broiler you have a perfect supper when paired with a salad and a crusty loaf of bread. A few tablespoons of this on top of a grilled chicken breast or a piece of fresh tuna will transport you to the south of France.

Making a perfect Ratatouille is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. The secret is the slow cooking over the low flame and of course the Herbes de Provence (or as I love to refer to them as “the magic of the South of France in a bottle”).

HDP containerIt’s much fun to make Herbes de Provence but fortunately you can buy it at different places and still even find it in that fancy little French ceramic pot with the wooden spoon attached. Truthfully though … why buy it when it’s so easy to make.

The classic Herbes de Provence blend is a mixture of dried savory, fennel, basil, thyme, chervil, marjoram, and lavender flowers with a bit of dill. Or is it? I am told many variations exist depending upon whose Grandmère has passed the recipe along.  I love to dry my chive blossoms and add these to the blend as my personal touch.

I always have the classic herbs growing fresh in my gardens so I play with the combinations, somet

imes adding a little more dill or a bit of fresh rosemary, based on what I am cooking. Usually, I start with a ¼ teaspoonful of each and then add a little more of whatever is needed.  While I love to use this blend to flavor grilled fish or lamb, I find it most delicious blended into butter with a bit of garlic and tucked under the skin of a roasting chicken. Herbes de Provence are an integral part of my beef stew recipe and a perfect blend of seasonings to be whisked into a bit of homemade mayonnaise for a tuna, salmon, shrimp, or chicken salad. 

HDP freshI infuse my soup stocks with a bouquet garni of these fresh herbs. Just take the long stalks and tie them together with some kitchen string. Place them into the pot and remove when straining. This leaves behind fragrance and flavor into the soup without messy bits floating around. You can also infuse these herbs in olive oil to create wonderfully scented dressings or drizzles.

A little aside here:  If you use sweet almond oil and increase the lavender and add a few drops of lavender essential oil, it makes a massage oil that’s relaxing and divine for your skin.

Now, back to my sister’s magical recipe.

A great ratatouille takes time to make and lots of it. You must begin with a good cast iron pot, a wooden spoon (and a frilly apron!).  You’ll need lots of cubed eggplant, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, green, red and yellow peppers, and green and yellow zucchini, about 8 cups total. Make sure to have your first glass of chilled white wine handy and a lovely runny piece of brie and a toasted baguette…cliché maybe, perfect YES!

Liberally lace the pot with about 4 tablespoons of olive oil and bring up the heat. Add about 6 cloves of minced garlic and stir gently, allowing the garlic to softly infuse the oil but not burn. Add two cups of mixed bone broth or a vegan broth, your choice. Then add the onions, sip the wine and cook this gently for about 10 minutes. Add the eggplant, the juice of one fresh lemon, and a bit of sea salt. Allow the eggplant to cook until translucent (about 15 minutes). Next press the juice from tomatoes and add the flesh. Stir gently and allow the combination to blend for about 10 more minutes. Then, add mushrooms, stir and continue sautéing for another 5 minutes while enjoying wine and brie.

HDP ratatouilleAdd the peppers and follow the same instructions as before. The zucchini goes in last. You can add more olive oil if needed and by now you’ve begun to create a lovely vegetable stew. At this point, add one cup of good white wine, a large knob of grass-fed butter, two additional cloves of minced garlic, and more salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the ratatouille gently for about another 10 minutes, stirring continuously. Then add three  tablespoons of your favorite Herbes de Provence blend and let the ratatouille slowly simmer gently for about two and a half hours or until the wine has evaporated. Add a little more butter if necessary and then take about three handfuls of fresh basil leaves and stir them in. Let the ratatouille just sit peacefully for a few moments. Now take a piece of the baguette spread with the brie and about two tablespoons of the ratatouille. Breathe deeply, imagine that you’re sitting in the warm French sunshine.  Do you need anything more?

Herb of Month for March 2019: Lemon Thyme

By Maryann Readal, HSA Secretary

Lemon thyme, HOMThe Herb Society’s Herb of the Month for March 2019 — lemon thyme — has undergone DNA testing to determine whether it is a separate species or a hybrid species.  Interestingly, botanists in 1811 considered the lemon thyme they knew to be its own distinct species. Can you imagine that the classification of this understated herb could be the subject of so much study and concern?

But correct names for plants are important so that gardeners, researchers and history share a common language. And so, we are glad that botanists strive to name plants accurately.

Lemon thyme’s antibacterial properties have been used to treat colds and sore throats and other respiratory illnesses. It was also thought to strengthen the nervous system.

lemon thyme HOM 2019In the kitchen, it can be added to any savory and some sweet recipes that call for lemons. For maximum flavor, it should be picked in the morning before flowering when essential oils are abundant.

In the garden lemon thyme thrives with sun and good drainage. It is hardy to USDA Zone 6, and is evergreen in my Zone 8b garden in Texas.  The low-growing species makes a nice addition to a rock garden or between paving stones. However, it does not like to be trampled upon. There is also a bushy, upright variety of lemon thyme.

And to top it off, lemon thyme’s tiny little flowers are like honey to bees. Another plus is that it is deer resistant and a mosquito repellent. Get recipes and read more about lemon thyme from HSA’s Herb of the Month page.

Ready for Dandelions?

Ready for Dandelions?

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Unit

dandelion KH1Is there anything more all-American than the dandelion, ubiquitous bane of the perfect suburban lawn?  Wrong on all counts.

While there are North American natives that are part of the genus Taraxacum, T. officinale – the common dandelion was an immigrant to these shores.

The dandelion as we know it was introduced from Europe. There it was well known in every herbal. Part of the aster family, the Taraxacum’s common name comes from French for lion’s tooth, “dent-de-lion.”  That, in turn, comes from the Medieval Latin, “dens lionis.” Unfortunately, the actual common French word for the dandelion is “pissenlit,” which means “to wet the bed.” Similar names persist in parts of Great Britain and Ireland.

No two snowflakes may be identical, but many dandelion flowers start out that way.  They can propagate without pollination, producing seeds asexually, each new plant a clone of the parent. The flowers produce a choreographed wave of gold sometime in April through June. Each composite flower head is made up of many small florets held high on a single stem over the flat round mat of toothed leaves.

The early mass flowering of dandelions makes them the first to the pollinator party and an important contributor to nature. Coltsfoot has a similar but smaller flower head, and is another early bloomer, but has no leaves at the base of the stem.

Picture1Dandelion flower heads open in the day, and close at night. The stem is hollow, and produces milky latex when severed or bruised. The flower heads are sheathed in a double row of sepal-like green bracts, which begin to arch downward as the seeds mature.  Everyone who was ever a child knows those seed heads, sometimes called “clocks,” look like downy, perfect globes.  A breath (or several) can disperse those seeds on their web-like parachutes. The theory that blowing away the seeds in one breath will grant a wish remains unproven.

Some people, especially those allergic to ragweed, might also be sensitive to the dandelion.  But generally, all parts of the dandelion, from its long tap root to its downy golden head, are edible and have been revered for being beneficial.

Like so many early appearing plants it is a traditional bitter spring tonic, both emetic and diuretic in its effects. The root and the latex in the dandelion’s stem produce inulin and tannin. Extracts, tinctures, and solutions from dandelion parts have been used to do everything from increasing bile function to treating acne. If you can find a tangle of dandelion roots that resemble the male anatomy, it has been said that one can bid the desired male person to follow by throwing the tangle behind the enchanter…but I’m trying to cut down on that sort of thing.

I am trying to be more courteous to dandelions by discontinuing my lawn service. It might not save the pollinators, but bringing back the dandelion is a good beginning. And, as for the perfect suburban lawn, let me quote the dandelion’s entry in Flora’s Dictionary, The Victorian Language of Herbs and Flowers, by our fellow herbalist and HSA member Kathleen Gips: “…absurdity; ‘I find your presumptions laughable’”.

Pick those dandelions for wine. Check out a previous HSA blog post.

Save those dandelions for wine