HSA Webinar: Texas Tough Herbs

By Jen Munson, Education Chair

texas tough

Texas is so large that growing zones can vary from one part of the state to the other. Northern Texas is zone 6B, while much of the remainder of the state varies from zone 7a to 9a. Join us on Wednesday, January 22nd, at 1pm EDT when HSA Member, Gayle Southerland, returns to the HSA Webinar series on an exploration of “Texas Tough Herbs.” She will discuss plants that thrive in the extremes of hot Texas summers and droughts while surviving freezing winters, too. Even if you are not in Texas, you will expand your garden knowledge and will be inspired to experiment with some lesser- known plant varieties to trial in your own garden. Sign up for this webinar on the HSA website.

Gayle Southerland_Texas Tough WebinarGayle became interested in herbs when she and her husband, Rick, bought their first house and had room to garden. Gayle has been a member of the Herb Society of America for over 30 years. She has served in many capacities from being the chair of the North Texas Unit to participating on The Herbarist committee, HSA’s yearly publication. Gayle has given presentations for The Herb Society of America national, district, and local meetings, as well as to local master gardener groups, Dallas MakerSpace, and various other garden clubs.

Jen Munson is The Herb Society of America’s Education Chair. She discovered herbs when she stumbled upon her local unit’s herb and plant sale and hasn’t looked back since. Just recently she celebrated being a member of the NorthEast Seacoast Unit for 15 years!

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.

HSA Educates with Four Member Newsletters

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Vol20_SpringNewsletter_CvrThe Herb Society of America keeps members informed with 14 to 16 newsletters each year. HSA members have the option of instant newsletter delivery via email, which they can read online or print. For those who prefer printed newsletters, a subscription is available for an annual price.

“Timely communication is essential for a group with members spread around the United States,” says Executive Director Katrinka Morgan “The newsletters address information that’s important to members. This includes organizational information, a calendar of events, what’s new and herb news from the natural world.”

“These publications support our mission to promote knowledge, use and delight of herbs through educational programs, research and sharing experience of its members with the community,” says Katrinka. Anyone with an interest in herbs can join HSA to receive this educational benefit.

  • The National Newsletter, published four times per year, includes a message from the HSA President, a calendar of events by district, special articles about herbs or herb-related topics and what’s new with HSA.
  • District Newsletter – three times per year – contains news from the District Membership delegate, local district as well as national news, and unit updates from around the district.
  • Herbal Bytes e-mail newsletter is sent to members four times per year. Herbal Bytes is a short, quick newsletter sharing the latest information on herbs and HAS. An HSA business member spotlight and the Executive Director message are always included.
  • The Leaf, a library newsletter — three times annually – tells what’s new in the library.
  • GreenBridges Newsletter – twice yearly — is newly created to support GreenBridges members by sharing information and working toward a more sustainable gardening style.

Vol19_FallNewsletter_Cvr (1)All newsletters can be accessed in the Members-Only section of HSA’s website.

New Signs Announce GreenBridges Garden Certification

Herb-garden-wSignBy Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Among the various things I am planting in my garden this year is a GreenBridges Garden Certification sign. It’s attention-getting and, I hope, will spark discussion of its meaning. That way I can educate others on the importance of bees and other pollinators. And, maybe even inspire them to choose pollinator-friendly plants in their gardens.

GreenBridges SignThe 8.5- by 11-inch signs — developed by HSA’s editor/designer Brent Dewitt — are durable all-weather PVC. Carrying the new logo, these colorful signs are included in membership to to GreenBridges Certification.

The GreenBridges Program encourages native, pollinator-friendly gardens that offer safe passage and help avoid habitat fragmentation. Each GreenBridges garden is a link in the chain across the nation, providing safe movement for the plants and pollinators that help maintain healthy ecosystems.

Call me a bee-vangelist and I’ll wear the label proudly. While honey is a sweet product of bees, these busy little guys are important to agriculture as a whole. That’s because more than two-thirds of the food we eat depends on their role as pollinators. Alas, many bees, butterflies and other pollinators are suffering from loss of wildflower habitat, pesticide poisoning, and more. Imagine what that could mean to our food supply?!

Can’t imagine? Just google it and you’ll find more than you can read over lunch.

To qualify for the GreenBridges Program (and receive the sign) I’m saying “good-bye” to the wisteria vine that’s hiding my yellow siding and amping up my coneflower collection. When that’s in place I’ll fill in the HSA application with a description of my gardens and garden practices, pay a fee, join the movement and feel good.

Foraging: Find Free Food in the Weeds

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

If you’re making a weekend of the Herb Society of America’s annual meeting on April 29 in Asheville, consider going on a wild food adventure with No Taste Like Home.  You’ll forage for wild herbs, “weeds,” and other edibles. Alan Muskat and his expert guides identify what’s edible and common, how to tread lightly, where it’s legal to forage and how much, proper preservation and preparation, and much more.

Foraging saladWhen I was about eight, I loved to lounge in the lawn behind my parents’ light green ranch home. The grass was mixed with clover (edible), dandelions (edible), plantain (edible), chickweed (edible), violets (edible), purslane (edible), ground ivy (edible), onion grass (edible). Who knew I was laying in the salad?

In the good old days, the lawn could be a first course. Not so much today with chemically cultivated homogenous grass.  For many reasons, the perfect lawn became a middle-class American standard and gone was any connection to some of the most sustainable, locavore foods.

Reclaim that culinary heritage with a foraging hike in Asheville, NC.  Alan Muskat’s wild food tour company,  No Taste Like Home, has 30 private hiking spots scoped out to collect edible “weeds.” He has negotiated permission for all of the sites.

Foraging brifeIn January, when we visited, our guide Abby Artemisia handed out little, brown paper bags, round basket with handles round baskets with handles and an affectionately labeled “brifes.” A “brife” is a combo knife and paint brush for picking and cleaning specimens. Ours is a duct-taped prototype that may be followed by the real thing.

20160130_140908We spent three hours stepping around the ten acres surrounding Alan’s home in the mountains a few miles east of downtown Asheville. There we found more than 20 herbs and edibles.  An amazing number for a dormant season.

Among these were white pine needles that are used for seasoning and tea and wild rosehips that are good by themselves, in preserves, or made into tea. Just when it seemed everything was edible, Abby pointed out a few poisonous leaves and berries to avoid as well.

When the hike was over, Abby distributed a sheet to record our “catch of the day.” It listed possibilities found in other seasons such as ramps, wood nettle, autumn berry, and so much more. The list noted which can be particularly hard to identify and which must be cooked.

If we scored 20-plus in mid-winter, imagine the menus you can build with a mid-summer’s collection of mushrooms, berries, flowers and so much more.

Speaking of menu, you can even take your harvest to one of four Asheville restaurants where a top-name chef will transform it into a free appetizer. Kind of like Iron Chef meets Survivor Man.

Creating No Taste Like Home is part of Alan Muskat’s journey to Foraging Alanself-actualization.

About 25 years ago, studying philosophy at Princeton, the Miami native of Cuban ancestry first went hiking, learned to cook, and discovered taoism. These three encounters led to an interest in natural foods. At that point, Alan’s next comment is no surprise: “I decided to drop out, become a hippie and live off the land.”

In the best sense of doublespeak, he continues: “Foraging means taking things as they come. It was grounding for me. It gave me a sense of abundance.”

No Taste Like Home began, quite simply, because Alan ran out of money.  “I fell into it,” he says. “It was an outgrowth what I was already doing for myself. No one else was doing it and I thought, ‘I can teach this.’ I must have gotten the jump on the trend, because in the past three years, my business has twice doubled.”

Pausing, he says that for many reasons, the growing interest in wild food is really inevitable. “We have to get back to what’s truly natural. Even organic agriculture is neither local nor sustainable unless you’re growing what would thrive there on its own.”

Alan is working with Asheville schools to dispel any stigma about “eating weeds.” His company is offering a seven-month training program, starting this April, for people who want to learn to be wild food instructors, whether with his company or elsewhere.

It’s hard for Alan to pick a top wild food. He compares one of his favorites ­– autumn olive juice – to lychee fruit.  He sings the praises of what he calls fairy potato (commonly known as cinnamon vine).  But mushrooms top his list.  Or, then again, maybe it’s amaranth…

What’s your favorite wild edible? Favorite wild herb?

Register for Annual Meeting ON OR AFTER Feb. 9

annual meeting - 2016

Four speakers highlight the agenda for the The Herb Society of America Annual Meeting  on April 29, 2016, in Asheville, North Carolina.

Members recently received a reminder postcard.  Registration begins FEBRUARY 9th.

Follow the above link AFTER that day to sign up.

Add Biltmore to Annual Meeting Plans

Biltmore housefront12x8__large
All photos courtesy of The Biltmore Company


By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

When you plan for this year’s Herb Society of America Annual Meeting  on April 29, 2016, schedule extra time in Asheville, North Carolina. One of the most significant attractions is the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate.

House tours are self-guided and take 1.5 to two hours. Tickets include a free visit to the property’s winery. You can purchase add-ons such as audio, guided tour, rooftop tour and more.

Biltmore italiangarden12x8Tours of the estate gardens – 2.5 miles of manicured paths — may be more delightful for Herb Society members. Acres of formal and informal gardens were designed by America’s foremost landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. From the beauty of the Italian Garden to the breathtaking trees in America’s first managed forest, Biltmore’s lush landscape is a living tribute to Olmsted’s genius.

As a century-old model for forest conservation (and, more recently, for sustainability, thanks to nine acres of solar panels), Biltmore continues to honor Vanderbilt’s legacy of environmental protection.

While the property lacks a formal herb garden for visitors to wander, it has a utilitarian kitchen garden for use in the Biltmore’s six, sit-down restaurants. By the end of April, most of the kitchen garden fields will still be at rest.  The only sprouting things will be a couple thousand broccoli plants. The greenhouse, however, will be in full production with microgreens, flowers, lettuce, and herbs.

Field to Table Manager Eli Herman answered a few questions for HSA …

Biltmore production_garden12x10__largeQ. Is there a dedicated herb garden? Kitchen garden? 

A. We don’t have an herb/kitchen garden any more but we do have our Field to Table Production Garden. FTT focuses on larger plantings and less diversity than a kitchen garden.

Q. How big is the garden? 

A.Our current planting is about 2 acres and one 30- by 80-foot greenhouse.

Q. What herbs/produce are grown? 

A. Some of the crops we grow are blackberries, butternut squash, broccoli, tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, and sweet potatoes. We also have a small greenhouse where we grow microgreens, edible flowers and are developing hydroponic production for lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and chives.

Q. What are the crops used for?

A. Everything grown in FTT is used in one of the six restaurants on the estate.  Our goal is to have something available to every restaurant year round. The chefs determine where they will feature the products

Q. Can the visit the food gardens?  

A. USDA and USFDA food safety guidelines forbid visits by the general public.