Add Lemongrass to Your Garden Plans

By Peggy Riccio, member, Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America

lemongrassSeptember.JPGLemon grass is probably one of the easiest, cheapest herbs you can grow. You can purchase short, unrooted culms (stalks) at the local Asian grocery stores and simply stick them in the soil in large containers or in the ground.

This year I bought three culms for less than a dollar in July. They were a foot tall with little to no roots. I planted the three in one large plastic container. I left them in full sun, on the deck, and ignored them. Here in Virginia we had an unusually wet summer, so they were watered. By September, the three plants had grown to 4 feet tall and the container was heavy.

I was growing mine for culinary purposes but lemongrass can be used as an ornamental for the summer garden. Its graceful slender foliage is a great thriller plant for large container plantings and its height can serve as a screen for the back of a perennial border or even as a summer hedge.  Plant them about two feet apart to give them plenty of space to let the foliage arch gracefully downward. Grow lemongrass in full sun and rich soil with plenty of water at first to have the roots become established.

Lemongrass is versatile in the home. The fragrant leaves can be used for floral arrangements, even dried floral arrangements, and potpourri. In the kitchen the leaves are best used fresh or dried in a liquid where you can remove before eating or drinking, much like bay leaves. I infuse the leaves in my black tea for a lemon flavor and I use them in coconut curry soup and egg drop soup. When cooking dishes like stir-fry, fish, seafood, chicken, rice, and even baked goods, cut a culm that is at least a foot tall with a half-inch swollen base. Cut below the swollen end, which is what you will use in the dish, and remove the outer, fibrous layers (the remaining culm in the container will re-sprout). Cut to the inner, white heart, which should be soft enough to eat in dishes. If you have too much, store in plastic bags in the freezer.

lemongrassLemongrass, Cymbopogon citratus, is native to India and Sri Lanka and hardy to Zone 9. I have to treat lemongrass as a tropical plant in my Zone 7 Virginia garden. As frost approaches in October, I have several options for my plants. Option one: I could drag this heavy container to my office where I have good light to overwinter until next May. Option two: I could cut the culms into small sections and dry or freeze them. Option three: I can dig the plants up, cut down to a few inches, re-plant in small pots, and place indoors at a south facing window. By keeping the soil barely moist, the roots remain alive through the winter so the pots can go back outside next year. Option four: Since the three culms cost less than a dollar, I can do nothing and simply start all over again next year.

This year, I elect option two so I can continue to have hot, lemon-flavored tea during the cold winter months. Next year, I will pay another visit to the Asian market and for less than a dollar, plant lemongrass again for flavor as well as beauty.

Author Peggy Riccio gardens in a typical suburban Northern Virginia home. She graduated from Virginia Tech with a horticulture degree and has been involved in horticultural communications for more than 20 years. Currently, she is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America. Riccio produces, a local gardening website for the Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC metro area. Pegplant offers local gardening news, resources, and information about gardening, gardens, and plants.

Contest 2: The Winner is …

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

In September we relaunched the “Showinner 2w us Your Herb Garden” Contest. Folks were invited to send herbal planting efforts. Names were placed in a “hat” and a winner was selected. Winner Susan Maasch in Bangor, Maine, will receive a copy of the book What Can I Do with My Herbs by Judy Barrett.

About her herb garden Maasch writes:

“My herb garden is right outside my kitchen door. I focus on culinary herbs which we eat all summer and early fall and then dry or freeze for all winter long. We have four kinds of thyme, four kinds of sage, garlic chives, summer savory, parsley, oregano, basil and 40 kinds of garlic from all over the world.

We grow lemon verbena and different mints to use for tea. I use the lavender for my chai tea and to make lavender cookies. The garden is my meditation and joy giving me great flavor and gifts to give others.”

Maasch started herb gardening about 46 years ago when urban and suburban kids were inspired by the back to the land movement, holistic living, Earth Day, and “general hippie values” of the 1970s. She hasn’t stopped.winner

“I love the labor, the earth in my hands, the rewards of growing my own food and herbs including the tea we drink,” she says. “I always say the garden is a visually beautiful place to be and when I enter it I leave the world and all its troubles behind. I am somehow transported to the moment and a place of peace in a way nothing else does for me.”

300 Posts Published by Herb Society Bloggers

300 Posts Published by Herb Society Bloggers

hsa-logo-seal-364On Wednesday, October 31, 2018, we published our 300th blog post for The Herb Society of America.  With today’s post the counter rolls to 301. The first post, published five years and nine months ago in February 2013, was written by Holly Cusumano of HSA’s Philadelphia Unit. The latest is by Beth Schreibman-Gehring of the Western Reserve Herb Society Unit in Cleveland.

The award-winning blog built momentum after July 2015 when Paris Wolfe became the first Blogmaster, a role she continues today. She both writes original posts and works with numerous writers to bring twice weekly posts to HSA’s social media audiences.

This success is possible because of the writers and readers who participate and support the blog and The Herb Society. The blog’s mission is quite simple … to promote the essential experience of herbs from cultivation and use to learning and research, for members and the public throughout the United States

  • to protect botanical heritage,
  • to steward scientific diversity and
  • to promote personal enjoyment.

For blog followers and readers who don’t already belong to The Herb Society of America, the organization is a non-profit founded in 1933 with more than 40 units located in seven regional membership districts. Two of The society’s most important activities are found in the GreenBridgesLogo_LoGreenBridges™ Initiative, a pollinator protection program, and Notable Natives™, a native herb conservation effort.

Whether you are looking for a local unit to join or if you are simply looking for a trusted resource for information on herbs, The Herb Society of America community is your connection the world over to help you learn and to share your ideas, knowledge, and observations with other herb enthusiasts.

Get to know us better at Better yet, become a member. And, keep reading as we reach for 400 posts over the next year.

Thank you.

A Bewitching Reflection on the Season

A Bewitching Reflection on the Season

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


Will you follow me? Yes, I know that the woods are dark, but isn’t the smell intoxicating this time of year? The leaves are wet and seductively sour, sweet ripe apples are still hanging on the cool bare branches and the musky scent of deer lingers all around us in the still night forest.

The winds are stirring tonight and if you listen carefully they will tell you anything that you need to know. Take a deep breath, notice the smells that come to you. Yes, we are in the deep woods and there are the familiar sounds of animals curling in the brush and the musky, sweet smells of wet leaves, mushrooms and windfall apples.  An owl flies past, wings strong and silent and suddenly the shriek of its prey breaks the still, dark night yet another part of the great dance among the strands of the web of life.

Come gather with me around this friendly balefire. The flames smell absolutely wonderful, burning brightly with the magical woods of apple, oak and ash and scented with fresh branches of lavender for peace, white sage for cleansing and purification, mugwort for protection and rosemary, for remembrance!  It’s a beautiful evening, cool and crisp and I’ve laid piles of fragrant fresh hay all around so we can sit.

cauldronI hope you’re hungry, because I’ve brought homebrewed hard cider  infused with nutmeg, fresh honey and apples. The cauldron is filled with steaming hot pumpkin soup, laced with golden sage, curry and cumin and the last of the season’s sweet corn is roasting by the edges of the fire waiting to be drenched in the melted butter that has been laced with the disarmingly robust flavors of earthy black truffles, chilies from the garden and salt.

The waning moon is hanging by a silvery, slivery thread in the sky and the woods are quiet, except for the disconcerting sense that we are not alone. We’re probably not. It’s All Hallows Eve or All Souls Night, also known as the great Celtic feast of Samhain, the gateway between autumn and winter in the Northern Hemisphere that draws us into the darkest time of the year.  This is the time of year when the veil between the worlds becomes especially thin and the place where all souls can meet is the easiest for us mere mortals to see. I love this time of year, because I always feel so alive and connected to the wisdom of those who have walked before me.

“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all of my ancestors are behind me. Be still they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands. “Linda Hogan

Samhain is a special time for me because it’s a moment that I simply stop for a long period of quiet reflection. Samhain or as you’ll know it Halloween, is the Celtic New Year and I am definitely all witch, or all Rosewitch as my husband teasingly calls me! Don’t worry; I’m a good witch to be sure. I really do believe in magic. Samhain is my time for deep reflection and divination, the time to honor endings and a time for us all to cast powerful new wishes and create empowering dreams for the new year.

tea spoonsTonight, witches all over the world will look to the night sky while casting spells for dreams of peace and a prosperous world for everyone. We’ll bless and say prayers of gratitude for our ancestors. We’ll give thanks to mother earth and her green blessings that sustain us and keep us healthy and vital. Our creed is to harm none; we are the keepers of the earth’s most magical secrets. For years we’ve been the healers, the quiet herbalists who walk unnoticed among you.  We tend the gardens. We mix and brew the teas that heal and the potions that make life just a bit more interesting. Our recipes are passed down to our children hidden in our cookbooks and on bits of paper tucked away in old books. They are hidden in old bibles and hymnals along with tiny bits of pressed herbs and flowers.

We are the keepers of the older ways, the wiser ways.

For years we’ve lived cloaked in secrecy, afraid to be known.

No longer. The world is clamoring for our juicy green magic.

sage bundles

Yes, sometimes I think that people are afraid of us simply because our very nature is so earthy. Magic for me is happiness, playfulness and tenderness. It’s also about knowing that there are some things that you can control and many things that you can’t. It’s about acceptance and taking care of others as you would want to be cared for yourself. It’s about living powerfully with all in the world, not being afraid to see all that the world has to offer. It’s about tolerance. It’s about being at peace with the dualism of creativity and destruction. It’s about creating your own reality, not waiting for it or someone else to create you. Our gardens do that naturally year after year. Mother Nature is our greatest teacher. She understands the nature of magic inherently. She alone can show us how to evolve or die.

Am I truly a witch? I’ve known these things about myself for my entire life, since the first time I lay in the grass and watched magic unfold as I blew on the seeds of a dandelion. Am I a witch because I seek out the herbal knowledge that this fast-paced world seems to no longer have time for? Is it because the change of the seasons quickens my blood?  Is it because I follow the rhythms of the earth, honor the turning of the wheel of the year?  Because I believe more in the energy and the potency of the green recipes handed down from all the wise women who came before me? Because I would always choose the old ways first? Because I will not quickly forget the knowledge and the wisdom of those who came before me?

Here is what I know to be true.   I am an herbalist who instinctively knows that regardless of how many positive strides are made by western medicine, that there will always be a need for green magic and nature in the healing process. I will be here holding the space of the wise woman. I am the kitchen witch who loves nothing more than to spend long days in my gardens tending the healing herbs, fruits and vegetables, promoting healing through herbalism, flower and gem essences, aromatherapy and Reiki, while brewing delightful herbal potions to help keep you healthy, gorgeous and sexy all over, inside and out!

Witch broom

I dream of a world where we are completely connected to our mother earth and each other again. I’m finally beginning to see it appearing, even among all of the current madness. There are farmers markets on every corner, where we gather together to buy our fresh foods for the coming week. I can’t walk into a bar without being offered the latest craft beer or mead, in fact I’ve even begun to make my own beer and cheese again because everything I need is available for me to do so. We knit, sew and weave our own textiles. We keep chickens and bees. We make candles, soaps, herbal medicines and perfumes. Backyard herb and vegetable gardens have sprung up everywhere and so have community gardens. Every city that I’ve been to recently has its own delightful distillery.

What’s next? Maybe the return of the community bread and stew oven? And why not? One fabulous by-product of the last 20 years is that so many of us are finally cooking again. My phone and more often lately my email is pinging constantly with questions about herbalism, Reiki and natural healing. It seems that we are begging for all of the older knowledge that is tried and true. The old ways may be slower, but there is no better prescription for health and wellbeing than the food that you put on your fork, the water that you pour into your glass or the magical Cocoamicrobes found in a spade full of rich brown dirt.

If that’s not magic alive and afoot, I don’t know what is!

So, come dance under the moon with me tonight.  There’s truly a little witch in every woman and here’s a copper mug filled with my favorite steaming brew to help you find yours!  It’s made from steaming almond milk and fragrant dark chocolate, raw honey, my homemade rose syrup for love and healing, allspice for a year full of good luck, cinnamon for health, chili to warm you, a touch of vanilla for creativity and a lusty shot of herb infused amaro to enable you see between the worlds. I’ve also grated the last bit of my contraband Tonka bean from Paris over the top because who wouldn’t desire more love and prosperity in the New Year?

Sip it slowly, savor its smoky aroma and make a wish. Now tell me, what spicy magic would you like to create in your life this year?

Blessed Be ……. Beth

Witching Herbs and their Lore

By Andrea Jackson, Western Pennsylvania Unit of The Herb Society of America

When I started my herbal adventure many years ago, I was drawn to unusual herbal topics.  Oh, I made my vinegars (still do) and my wreaths. My cooking was much improved. But as my herbal interests broadened and my library grew and grew and grew, I became fascinated by the history and lore of herbs.

With fall comes the witching season. What better time to explore some of the witching herbs?  While many of the plants in our gardens can be used for charms and spells, some are truly sinister plants that every self-respecting witch needs.

Image result for Mandrake root plant freeMandrake (Mandragora officinarum) … In ancient times this plant was used as an aphrodisiac and treatment for infertility. It was mentioned in Genesis when the childless Rachel asked Leah for some of the mandrakes (likely the fruit) she has gathered. It must have worked since she subsequently gave birth to Joseph. Pieces of mandrake were found in the Egyptian tombs and it was mentioned in the Ebers papyrus.  How is came to be associated with magic may be lost in the mists of time but someone noticed the resemblance of the root to the shape of a man and a new charm was born.

Recall from Harry Potter how the plant screams when removed from the ground. This ear-piercing scream was said to be able to kill whomever tried to remove it. So, a special procedure was devised. Three circles were drawn around the plant for protection. Then, the soil was loosened around the plant and a black dog was tied to the plant.  The witch stepped out of the circle and called the dog which pulled up the plant.  In some telling of the tale, the dog would live if it stayed in the first circle but in most the dog was sacrificed to obtain the plant.

As if it wasn’t difficult enough to obtain a mandrake, a special procedure was needed to maintain it.  It must be bathed in wine, wrapped in white silk then covered with a black velvet coat. Each week it should be bathed and the bedding and silk changed.

Perhaps all of this was worthwhile since mandrake was believed to contain the red earth of paradise which was necessary to produce the philosopher’s stone. Oh, and it also made one invincible in battle.

Wolfsbane (Aconitum lycoctonum)Closely related to monkshood (Aconitum napellus),Image result for wolfsbane wolfsbane contains aconitine, a deadly poison, and was considered the most dangerous of all the magical herbs. This baleful plant was made by Hecate from the foaming mouth of Cerberus the three-headed dog who guarded the gates of the underworld.

If you have a stray lizard around, you can bind wolfsbane with the skin of your lizard and you will become invisible. Then think of all the candy you could snatch on Halloween.  If you are plagued by vampires and werewolves this is the plant for you since it is an effective deterrent.

Image result for henbaneHenbane (Hyoscyamus niger)  … The plant looks and smells of death, perhaps because its favorite home is graveyards. Legend has it that henbane seeds were smoked by the Oracle of Delphi to increase his prophetic powers. Meanwhile the Celts considered it sacred to Bel, their god of prophecy.

Henbane contains atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine which in large doses increase the heart rate. They also cause dry mouth, dilated pupils, weakness and agitated excitement.  The herb can produce the sensation of the soul separating from the body and flying through the skies. It can also produce a sense of body dissolution and erotic hallucinations. Then, when it wears off the person remembers nothing of what has happened.

(It is interesting to note that atropine is used in medicine to increase the heart rate and scopolamine was a component of “twilight sleep” formerly administered to women in labor so they did not remember childbirth.)

Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) and Image result for nightshademandrake all contain atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine.  The plants and sometimes a bit of opium and fly agaric were included in flying ointments. This was a dangerous brew indeed.  Undoubtedly some witches got to the other side in a way they never intended.

If all this seems a bit frightening, just remember that you can keep witches away by throwing a yarrow leaf into the fire or by rubbing your floor with rue.

Happy Halloween!

Andrea Jackson, R.N.,  is a master gardener with a certificate in sustainable horticulture. She has more than 30 years’ experience studying, lecturing and loving herbs. She belongs to the Herb Society of America, American Herbalist’s Guild and Piccadilly Herb Club, and the American Botanical Council.

Calendula: Versatile Healing Herb

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

image1My first memory of the bright calendula flower (Calendula officinalis) was the cheerful patch that my first riding teacher — a tiny, feisty Irish woman who was more fairy than folk — grew in her garden. Everything had a purpose in her tiny stable yard and she grew calendula to macerate into vegetable oil for therapeutic purposes. We used this healing oil when our ponies got scrapes, burns, or skin rashes. She explained that it prevents infection and soothes irritated skin. It definitely seemed to stop the bleeding if there was any and the affected areas would heal nicely within a few days. Since then I’ve had a soft spot for this golden plant and a place for it in my gardens.

Calendula is truly one of the most versatile of the healing herbs. It is traditionally made into a mineral rich herbalists’ infusion of the dried petals and water which is then drunk to help soothe the stomach spasms caused by inflammatory bowel disorders.  My husband who periodically suffers from canker sores will use this same tea cooled and with raw honey added as a mouth rinse to soothe his gums. I’ve used that same calendula infusion (without the honey) as a cooling splash for my sunburned skin.

Infused calendula oil can be used on its own, but blended into a creamy salve made with beeswax and coconut oil it becomes a soothing dry skin remedy.

image3Calendula has a spicy, interesting, and delicious flavor when used as a culinary herb. I love to use the fresh petals sprinkled onto deviled or scrambled eggs, steamed vegetables, and salads. It has a very important history of usage as a winter tonic. Traditional German folk medicine calls for the dried flower heads to be used in soups and stews in the colder months, because calendula has been historically used to boost immunity. I love to add dried calendula petals, dried stinging nettle, leeks, and butternut squash to a bowl of steaming chicken broth into which I’ve whisked a beaten egg. These additions turn a simple bowl of soup into a mineral rich and comforting tonic that always helps to rescue me from the wintry doldrums.

I have always found calendula easy to grow. It’s a bushy, aromatic, and upright annual with about a 28-inch spread. It really prefers a well-drained soil and a lot of sunshine, but it will grow just fine in partial shade. I’ve grown it in containers as well. It’s a voracious self-seeder, so don’t’ be surprised when you find it everywhere.  It’s not native to my northeastern climate, but I have seen it naturalized along the sunny southern California coastline. Calendula is found in the most glorious shades of yellow and orange. Please don’t confuse calendula with the common French marigold. It’s definitely the same family, but they are not interchangeable for our purposes of supporting and promoting wellness.

This is a very easy plant to harvest. Just cut off the flower heads, put them on a tray in a warm, sunny location and let them air dry. When the heads are fully dried, pull off the petals and store them in a glass jar.

image2Don’t drink the tea or use the ointments and oils on your skin during pregnancy because calendula is a known emmenagogue…in other words it can cause miscarriage; ,and don’t use calendula internally if you’re breast feeding.  If you’re allergic to ragweed, daisies, or chrysanthemum you should be extremely careful as it’s a member of the same family.

Calendula Infusion or Tea

  • 1 heaping teaspoon dried petals or 2 teaspoons fresh petals
  • 6 ounces boiling water

Place the calendula petals into a large mug or teapot and pour over the boiling water. Cover and steep for ten minutes. Strain before use.

You can use the infusion as a tea or a facial toner. Its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties make calendula wonderful to use for a sore throat, canker sore or urinary tract infection.


Calendula Oil

  • 3 ounces dried petals or 10 ounces fresh petal, finely chopped
  • 16 ounces of light vegetable oil (sunflower, almond , coconut or extra virgin olive oil. You can even use a mixture of oils).

Put half of the chopped or dried calendula into a glass or metal bowl and add enough oil to completely cover the petals. Place this bowl over a pan of boiling water, cover the bowl and heat it gently for about two hours.  You may need to add more water. Strain the oil mixture and add more plant material into the bowl of heated oil. Put it back over the boiling water and continue heating gently for one more hour. Strain the oil completely and put it into a dark and sterilized bottle. Label with the name and date. You can use this oil all by itself as a massage oil or bath oil.  Personally I love to use this oil as a base for soothing calendula salves, creams and lotions.


Calendula Salve

  • Macerated calendula oil
  • Grated beeswax, approximately one ounce per one cup of infused oil
  • Essential oils of lavender and carrot seed, 10-20 drops per cup of infused oil

Place infused oil into a double boiler and bring the water to a simmer gently heating the oil. If you do not have a double boiler you can use a pot of water and a stainless steel bowl. Add the grated beeswax, whisking occasionally until the wax has completely dissolved into the oil. Add the essential oils and continue whisking. When they are blended, pour the salve into a tin or a shallow glass container and let it cool. Once it’s cool you can use it on skin eruptions such as diaper rash and eczema.

I’ve also discovered that calendula salve makes an excellent wound dressing, especially when mashed with a little bit of garlic and raw honey.  Also, grab this salve the next time you have sunburn or dry and cracked chapped lips.  It’s healing and soothing.

Medical disclaimer Please, if you have any questions at all, please contact me in the comment section below.

Aloe Vera Soothes

Aloe Vera Soothes

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Herb Society

aloe-vera-2.jpgHerbal gardeners who dabble in (or industriously practice) using herbs to concoct home remedies are accustomed to dropping in essential oils or adding a sprig or two of something garden fresh.  Some judiciously consider the day and hour of harvest based on the phase of the moon or the alignment of the planets.  We may actually rely on our deep connection to Amazon Prime, but we cling to the alchemical romance.

Aloe vera juice or gel may be available in a multi-gallon jug from many retailers, but I cherish the aloe plant growing on my kitchen windowsill, a daughter of the mighty mother plant which has outgrown the space. But obviously, someone out there is hard core.

True aloe — aloe vera — is a species of the genus, aloe, in the Liliaceaed family. Originally a native of the Arab peninsula, aloe vera was introduced widely and now it grows freely in warm climates throughout the world. Aloe will also grow happily as a houseplant in colder regions as long as you don’t give it too much attention.  It has a long history as a friend to mankind, the most beneficial of medicinal plants. The Egyptians called it “The Plant of Immortality”.

Aloe VeraBecause aloe vera is a succulent, each long serrated leaf is plump with gooey, liquid-filled flesh.  I learned as a child to break off a leaf and squeeze out the juice to ease the pain of a burn, which is why a plant in the kitchen window is an heirloom custom.

Aloe vera juice is made by crushing the entire leaf of the plant. Thus is contains both the clear interior gel and the yellow latex that is situated just under the skin of the plant.  The juice is then filtered, and sold as a health supplement. Consumed as is or added to other beverages, it is a source of various nutrients, including zinc and B-12, which can be helpful to vegetarians and vegans.  Proponents feel that it aids the digestion, relieving heartburn and constipation. However, the laxative effect of too much aloe vera can lead to dehydration.

Interesting the gel component may aid healing by increasing blood flow, acting as a mild disinfectant and protecting cells from damage. Meanwhile the latex part may act to aid digestive health and as a laxative.

Like my first aloe vera, which my children have named “Cthulu,” a mother plant will, when content with its surroundings, produce many smaller plants around its base. These are called “pups.”  The pot will quickly become crowded, and the younger plants should be moved into their own pots and given away to unwary students, newlyweds and others who are not actively trying to escape one’s largess. They will thank you later.

Medical disclaimer