Making More Little Herbalists

By Andrea Jackson

DSC_0161When we love something, it’s impossible not to share it with others, particularly those we care about most. Herbs and children are such a natural combination, it’s easy to draw a child in by offering them a smell or a taste or by telling them a fascinating story about the plant. Then, before you know it, you are making all manner of herbal goodies together.

My granddaughter, Marin, lives about three hours away, but each time she comes to visit, she wants to explore my herb room and I’m thrilled to oblige her. We smell and taste and put things together. Each time she comes, she wants to make a potpourri, and so, has ended up with quite an array in her bedroom. From there, we graduated to making lotions, which she loves to slather on and share with her mom. When she was seven, she wanted to have an herbal birthday party. She invited ten of her friends, and we made rose lavender potpourri and lavender lotion. It was quite hands on for the group, but flower-2510254_1920they all were excited to participate. They loved the way everything smelled, and each little girl went home with a little bottle of lotion and a small bag of potpourri. Now, she is almost a teenager and her interests have waned somewhat, but she still wants to make potpourri each time she comes.

My niece, Gabby, seems to have a natural affinity for plants. From a young age, she was pulling weeds in the parking lots of restaurants. And now, she loves herbs and frequently calls with questions. Her mom grows a wide variety of them, and she sent me a video of Gabby with a necklace of intertwined herbs answering the question, “How can you tell something is in the mint family?” She confidently shouted, “Square stems.” We make jams together whenever we can.

picking-flowers-391610_1920Then along came my granddaughter, Gemma, who not only lives locally but whom I babysit weekly. That provides lots and lots of time for herbal teaching. Since she was eighteen months old, she’s been out in the garden tasting and rubbing leaves and smelling the wonderful scents. On the way to the playground there is a field of weeds, and we always take time to tell their stories. One day my daughter called  to tell me that Gemma was “eating the landscape,” so we instituted the rule never to eat a plant unless I gave it to her.

We plant a tiny container garden each year, which she tends, and she is thrilled when the plants come up and she has something new to taste and share. In addition to caring for her garden, she has been making potpourri with me. She is four now and can distinguish between some mints, and she loves lavender.

When she was three, we took a walk and passed a field of plants. Gemma said, “Look at all the burdock.” I can certainly die happy. 

Photo credits: 1) School children visiting the National Herb Garden (Jeanette Proudfoot); 2) Potpourri (Monfocus, Pixabay); 3) Child gathering wildflowers (SMBlake, Pixabay).


Andrea JacksonAndrea Jackson is a member of the Western Pennsylvania Unit of the Herb Society of America. When she lived in Baltimore, she was a founding member of Partners in Thyme. She also belongs to the American Herbalists Guild, and the American Botanical Council. Herbs aside, Andrea is a registered nurse and a Master Gardener and lectures extensively to groups ranging from professional organizations to garden clubs. Her particular interests lie in the medicinal uses of herbs, herbal lore, and weeds, which she considers to be the first herbs. When she is not spreading the herbal gospel, she is tucked away in her herb room formulating various concoctions.

From Playland to Penitentiary

Last summer, our backyard garden went through a significant change. The swing set that had occupied the prime real estate in our backyard for the past ten years, finally came down. It was time. In fact, the little boys who played there were the big boys who disassembled it.

When spring came around, we were ready to replace the sad spot of struggling grass and weeds where the play area had been with new hardscaping, including four raised beds and a small square bed in the middle for salvia leucantha and a bird feeder.20130717_180045

The boys are used to having lots of herbs in the yard, but their one request for the new garden was to grow some “food.” This first year, we decided to try eggplants and peppers – something we could be assured of growing successfully. It didn’t take long for the herbs and veggie plants to fill the beds.

Since the kitchen window looks out onto the garden, we all enjoy the satisfaction of peeking out in the backyard every morning and seeing the new herb garden continue to mature. It was so exciting the first time we realized that one of the pretty purple blossoms was turning into a cute little eggplant.

Ah, the anticipation of picking our first “food” from the garden! Oh, the disappointment of realizing that a squirrel beat us to it.

You see, that bird feeder in the center of the garden feeds not just the finches and cardinals but also the fat gray squirrels scavenging around on the ground below. They love our garden. The little thieves have made it necessary to put cages around every plant that has fruit on it.

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My kids and I have nicknamed the garden our eggplant penitentiary. So far, I’ve gotten the price of my eggplants down to $3 a piece ($42 worth of rabbit wire and netting divided by 14 beautiful eggplants). There are several peppers and quite a few more eggplants undisturbed at this point, so the incarceration has been successful.

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It’s been worth the investment to have my kids excited about gardening with me. And it’s true what they say about children liking to eat what they grow. My kids are adventurous eaters, but you can tell how excited they are to eat the grilled eggplant with basil that comes from their own garden.

submitted by: Beneé Curtis, South Texas Unit, South Central District

Edible gardens for children

Many have said, “You can only be happy if you look to the future,” “Be in the moment,” and “Breathe!”

Well, I’m happy to report that you can obtain all this good Karma by working in an edible school garden or by cooking with children.

Our children are our future; they react in the moment, absorbing everything they see, smell, touch, taste, and feel. Their emotions and reactions are instantaneous, enjoying every garden or cooking activity.

Making pesto!

Kids want to taste and cook the food they harvest. They are like the bees – buzzing from plant to plant. They love to snip, smash, and chop herbs. Children are free to interact and help each other. They love to work together. It can be noisy. Laughter, moments of wonderment, and even shrieks of insect identification fill the air.

Young chefs create cucumber noodles.

By the time you finish one short garden session and perhaps cook something right there in the garden, a wild sensation runs through you. You are exhausted, dirty, smiling, laughing, and happy! This very giving act of volunteerism does wonderful things for the kids. For the adults involved, it can become addictive. I know I can’t get enough of it!

Tips for gardening with children

  • Combine your talents with others. I work with a gifted teacher, Rebekah Ellis. Her classroom experience and my garden knowledge work hand-in-hand.
  • Start small. Vegetable are great, but seasonal. Herbs have an advantage to extend the seasons.
  • Rally the community. Ask for support from the parent-teacher organization, faculty, and local master gardeners’ groups.
  • Financial support can come from your seasonal harvest, and sales of blended herbal tea bags, herbal soaps, bird and butterfly houses, and plants. We have also applied for and received grants, including one (I’m proud to say) from The Herb Society of America!
  • Don’t get nervous! Creativity, commitment, and continuity make for a successful edible garden experience.
  • Keep it simple. Please remember that the kids will benefit greatly from all your attention, enthusiasm, and knowledge.

Herb Society members, I encourage you to exercise your “Use and Delight” of herbs!

Go with the flow!
Embrace the seasonal changes!
Embrace the children! (They will embrace you!)
And “Breathe!”

Linda Franzo, owner Passionate Platter, Herb Garden & Cooking Classes, Slidell, LA
email: Linda@passionateplatter.com
website: http://www.passionateplatter.com/home.html
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