The Happy Gardener: Naturally Occurring Soil Bacterium Helps Depression

By Andrea Jackson, HSA Contributor

IMG_0140Digging in the dirt provides a different experience and reward for each gardener.
For some, it’s the creative expression involved in designing a garden. For others, it’s nurturing new plants and watching seeds grow. There is enormous satisfaction to be found in the herb garden because all our senses are aroused by the scents and tastes and textures in which we are immersed.

For me, working in the garden is meditative. Sometimes I will find something truly wonderous like butterflies mating or a baby bunny so small it will accept a tentative stroke from my fingers. I wonder why the hydrangea flowers on the side of the shrub where the deer grazed are so much smaller. I am amazed by the borage that comes up every few years in the same spot when I haven’t planted it in a decade. I puzzle over how the bloodroot moved itself from one side of the garden bed to the other. I grit my teeth and wonder why I ever planted mugwort in an already overcrowded bed. This year I will make mugwort vinegar.

I am grateful that my volunteer dill doesn’t quite take over the whole garden but provides me with enough to make an abundance of vinegars, salts, seasoning mixes, and salads. I can’t remember ever planting motherwort although I must have and yet here it is, year after year providing me with good medicine.

But more than that it is the solace. It is the smell and feel of the soil between my fingers and sometimes my toes. Do try barefoot gardening for a true connection to the earth.
I wonder if there is more than just the pleasure of herbs that explains the joy in the garden.

Well, it turns out there is a bacterium that is naturally found in soil all over the world that actually improves depression and anxiety. This wonderous “bug” is Mycobacterium vaccae and it has been shown in many studies to have numerous health benefits. It improves immunity, helps with asthma, and has even demonstrated an ability to treat tuberculosis among many other things.

You can get a dose just from holding soil in your hands and inhaling the aroma. It seems that M. vaccae acts like a mind-altering drug once it is in the body, boosting the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, chemicals responsible for mood. This is the same mechanism by which antidepressant drugs works.

Nature is not something to be appreciated from afar but rather something that is a part of who we are.

Perhaps we should get back to what we have always known playing in the dirt is good clean fun and good for our health too.

The Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer It is the policy of The Herb Society of America not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment.

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.

Growing Native: What’s All the Fuss?

Growing Native: What’s All the Fuss?

By Rie Sluder, Guest Blogger, HSA Vice President * From the NorthEast Seacoast Unit newsletter Snippings

Queen Anne's Lace 2Exactly what is a native plant? To most people’s surprise the wildflowers that populate our road sides are not all native plants. Queen Anne’s lace, the ox-eye daisy, dame’s rocket, and common chicory were introduced to North America by early settlers. They escaped cultivation and have adapted to the environment so much so that they have become ubiquitous throughout New England and beyond. So exactly what is a native plant and why all the fuss?

Many define a native plant as a plant that was here before European settlement. It evolved over time with the other organisms in the area creating an ecosystem that is beneficial to all. In Grow Native: Bringing Natural Beauty to Your Garden, Lynn Steiner defines a native plant as a plant that is an integral part of a biotic community, establishing complex relationships with other local plants and animals.  Steiner points out that indigenous people lived in harmony with the natural ecosystem while the colonists did not. When settlers arrived, they chopped down the trees, ploughed the land and planted seeds from their homeland to replicate a lifestyle they had left behind. Many of these imported plants escaped cultivation and invaded the countryside changing the local habitat.

purple coneflowerOver time many native habitats were destroyed affecting the population of animals and insects that depended on them. The practice continues to this day. The decline in the Monarch butterfly population is an example of what happens when its natural habitat becomes threatened.

The plant industry often looks at plants as decoration only. Plants are chosen and developed because they are a particular size, color, have attractive leaf variegation or have double blooms. While this is pleasing to the eye and promotes sales, little thought is given to how it will impact the environment or the local wildlife. While we all want beautiful gardens we must realize that we do not live in isolation.

Growing natives helps to secure the biodiversity of our environment. Native plants attract pollinators which in turn help the plants produce seeds to replicate themselves. Having genetic diversity allows for new combinations of plants to form over time resulting in new adaptations that allow our planet to evolve and survive as climatic conditions change.

Another good reason to grow natives is that they are more sustainable to grow. They have developed a natural resistance to local insects and diseases and, therefore, need little if any intervention such as the use of pesticides. When grown in the proper conditions for a species, native plants thrive with less water and maintenance then many nonnative ornamental plants do. For many parts of the country having survived a drought last summer, this becomes an important asset.

goldenrodDeciding what to plant in your garden is a personal decision. If you want to go native, Steiner recommends that the best way to start is to integrate native plants with your established nonnative landscape plants. Choose plants that fit the conditions of your garden rather than trying to force them to adapt. A strong healthy plant is more resistant to insect infestations and to disease.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Database is a good resource to use to determine if a plant is native. You may discover that many of the plants that you already grow are native plants such as black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), bee balm (Monarda didyma), purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea) sunflowers (Helianthus), lance leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), blazing star( Liatris spicata), lupine (Lupinus perennis), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa L), and mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum).

The Herb Society of America has two programs that support native conservation. The Native Herb Conservation Committee, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, identifies and promotes the use of native herbs. Its fact sheets and essential guides can be found on the website ( under “Explore”. The 2017 Notable Native HerbTM is Solidago spp.

GreenBridgesLogo_LoThe second program offered by HSA is the GreenBridgesTM program which was created to secure safe passage of plants and pollinators by helping to prevent habitat fragmentation. Become a GreenBridgesTM partner by registering your garden with HSA. Details can be found on the HSA website .

Asheville’s Bee Charmer: Oh, Honey

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

honey-store-1There’s a lot of buzz about bees lately. For good reason. Their populations are in jeopardy. And, that could lead to pollination problems, thus less produce, thus food supply issues. Using honey to build awareness, Jillian Kelly and Kim Allen are doing their part.

If you’re headed to HSA’s April 29 annual meeting, prepare for a sweet time at Jillian’s and Kim’s The Bee Charmer, 38 Battery Park Avenue downtown Asheville. You can belly up to the bar for a honey tasting similar to a winetasting. Sample honey from different states, countries and flowers – lavender, blackberry, sunflower, wild carrot.

As winemakers might say: Taste the terroir. The source location.

Sourwood honey — made from the flowers of a tree that grows in southeastern forests of the United States —  is a local specialty. Its characteristics are considered superior, by some, to clover, orange blossom, fireweed or any other honey.honey tasting

Behind the bar at The Bee Charmer your hostess will interpret what the tastebuds perceive. It goes far beyond sweetness and color. Flavor profiles can be boldly obvious. Taylor, our hostess for the trip, was an articulate guide.

  • Sage is herbaceous with a finish of tobacco and roses
  • Dandelion is grassy, and a bit like a French sancerre (sauvignon blanc)
  • Meadowfoam, my favorite, has a toasted marshmallow finish

I don’t want to stop. But, after 10 or so my palate is fatigued. Then, Taylor tells me about the “reserved” honeys, those which have sold out because of popularity or rareness. I’m recharged and holding out my tasting spoon.

That’s when I discover real gold – leatherwood honey from Tasmania. Like a fine wine, it has three movements. Up front it has big floral characteristic. The midnotes are leathery. And, the finish is light menthol. I want, especially because I can’t have it.

We walk out with lavender, meadowfoam and sourwood. Now, what will I do with so much honey?

Probably backtrack and start my own pollinator garden to keep these precious providers alive in a changing, challenging ecosystem.

Meanwhile I’ll be waiting for the cookbook being written by Jillian and Kim.

Tell us about your bee garden and plans for using honey.

ScottsMiracle-Gro Makes Pollinator Promise

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

Bees lavenderI’m a dedicated supporter of small and local businesses. I buy organic, grass-fed, cage-free. I avoid corn syrup and hydrogenated fat. I advocate social responsibility and promote social justice.

Given my crunchy idealism, I sometimes, even unfairly, snub corporate America. I forget small movements turn into big movements that change the world. When big business seizes those opportunities we all benefit.

I was reminded of that in a previous blog post about seasoning giant McCormick & Co. going organic. Organic demand may have started small, but McCormick heard the demand and initiated the supply. And, thus, a considerable market shifts.

With that in mind, I applaud $3 billion gardening giant ScottsMiracle-Gro Company for its mid-December announcement of the “Pollinator Promise.” This is yearlong effort to improve consumer education about pollinators and promote backyard and urban habitats where pollinators thrive.

Sounds a lot like The Herb Society’s Green Bridges Program which shows members and others how to develop butterfly- and bee-friendly gardens. These create “green bridges” linking islands of habitat so critical pollinators can move safely around the country.

Scotts recognizes that bees, butterflies and other pollinators are critical to the sustainability of one-third of the planet’s food supply and the health of flower gardens. The company’s program also combats the loss of pollinator habitats and encourages new ones.

Following is the text of the company’s press release explaining the “promise” and funding effort to support it. Every effort helps.

The “Pollinator Promise” will fund the establishment of at least 50 pollinator gardens throughout the United States in 2016, as part of the company’s GRO1000 community gardening initiative.  The GRO1000 initiative, now in its sixth year, partners with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Pollinator Stewardship Council, and others, to promote the availability of grants for gardens and green spaces throughout the country.

“The importance of pollinators is unquestionable and it is easier than most people think to create a habitat where they can thrive,” says Jim King, senior vice president of corporate affairs at ScottsMiracle-Gro. “The Pollinator Promise is a year-long effort to help home gardeners and urban planners understand the critical role these creatures play in our ecosystem and to provide them the tools necessary to grow successful pollinator gardens.” provides online answers to common questions about backyard pollinator gardens.

“We are calling upon individual gardeners and communities to help reverse the downward population trend by restoring the natural habitat bees and butterflies need to survive,” says Michele Colopy, program director of the Pollinator Stewardship Council.

To join the effort, non-profit organizations can submit a grant application by February 22 for up to $1,500 in funding.