Sensory Herb Gardens for Special Needs Children

By Candace Riddle

IMG_0317Ever since Beatrix Potter wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit, children and gardens have had a special friendship. That friendship is even stronger between children with special needs and special gardens called “sensory gardens.” 

The difference between a sensory garden and a “regular” garden is the human factor— regular display gardens are designed primarily for visual beauty, while a sensory garden is designed to stimulate all the senses: sight, sound, scent, touch, and taste. A display garden is meant to be viewed or seen from either a short or long distance, whereas a sensory garden is meant to be experienced close and personal using all five of the human senses.  

Educators describe a sensory herb garden as peaceful and calming with the ability to draw kids into the moment; even non-verbal kids can show their feelings about their garden experience.

When we use the term “children with special needs” in this writing, we are painting with a broad brush including physical, mental, emotional, and educational disabilities. When planning a sensory herb garden, consideration must be given to not only the garden plan—both hard and soft scaping—but also how children with any of these special needs can interact with the garden.  

_DSC0301As with any garden plan, sensory herb gardens start with the lay-out and hardscape: the beds should be narrow enough for children to reach into (from any side, the depth should be no more than 24 to 30 inches; that is one of the advantages of the tiered square design–it allows access on four different sides at three different levels, see photos), and the paths must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, which would preclude the use of gravel or a soft ground cover and mandate concrete, bricks, or flagstones. Mulch can also be used as part of the sensory experience. Pine needles, for example, have a sweet scent; wood chips have a tactile feel; and oyster shells have a scent of the sea and a smooth or sharp feel. A water feature can bring several things to the sensory garden: trickling sounds, the sensation of feeling water or wetness, even taste (usually happens when you are not looking!). Windchimes can be a pleasant addition for both the sound they provide and the visual appearance of wind moving through the garden.  

Once the hardscape has been planned, it is time to move on to the plant material, which is, of course, the fun part. Plants should be chosen for the special values they possess to enhance the sensory experience of the children. Below are some examples of plants that may be used in a sensory garden: 

Sight: lavender, nasturtiums, English thyme, anise hyssop, sage, and other Salvias 

Sound: pollinator plants, including Mondarda spp. (bee balm), that will encourage bees to make their happy buzzing sounds (of course, special instruction and close supervision must be in place to protect children and bees!). Balloon flowers and false indigo could be included for sound, as their seed pods make popping and rattling noises as they mature.  

Smell: Any strongly scented herb would be a good addition. Some of the most popular are rosemary, hop, fennel, thyme, sage, basil, chives, and, of course, scented geraniums.

Touch: lamb’s ear, yarrow, coneflowers, rosemary, and lemongrass 

Taste: basil, dill, and anise hyssop 

As you can see from the examples above, there is a lot of crossover as far as the plants go; they can provide multiple sensory experiences. Children should be supervised closely when in the garden to ensure their safety. While you want the fullest experience, the safety of the children is the most important factor. 

While the best way to provide a sensory garden experience is outdoors, children can have a satisfactory adventure using enclosed areas such as an enclosed courtyard or even a container garden. These are both good options for populations of students with a tendency to bolt or elope from the area.

IMG_0824The photograph depicts a newly created sensory garden in Maryland’s northern Baltimore County farmland. This garden was designed to be a part of the agricultural tourism initiative that is taking hold in rural areas. “The Farmyard” is a new agriculture venture started by a local farming family to introduce children to all aspects of a working farm, not the least of which is allowing children to sponsor farm animals and help in their care throughout the year. “Farm School” runs all year long offering classes in animal care and upkeep, crop growing, food preservation, and self-sufficiency. As part of the farm school, a class on herbs and their uses is taught. The sensory herb garden is a part of the education of students in the knowledge of herbs in daily life. All students are encouraged to touch all the herb plants, smell them, and taste them. An herbal educator is available during public events to guide children through the garden and explain the uses of the different plants. The focus in this garden is useful herbs in everyday life. (Though all of the senses are considered in this garden, touch, taste, and smell probably are better represented than sight and sound.)

The design of this garden was limited to the structures already in place, which worked out well as the terraced beds allow children of all heights to view at different levels, and the beds are also shallow enough to allow visitors to reach into the entire garden—all tiers are accessible. To increase the visual appeal of the gardens, snapdragons and zinnias, with their colorful flowers, were added to each garden section. Some of the other plants that were included in the gardens are: 

Rosemary—scent, touch, taste 

Sage—scent, touch, taste (The turkey in the pen next to the garden was a bit uncomfortable with the Thanksgiving herb right next door!) 

Fennel—scent, sound (for the wind moving the fronds and the pollinators that they welcome); visitors were invited to dig up the bulbs and taste them in the fall

English thyme—scent, sight (pointing out that the little flowers are used for baby fairies’ sleep!)

Dill—scent, sight (the full seed pods are beautiful!), and of course, the taste (just like dill pickles)

Lamb’s ear—touch, sound (the bees love this herb) 

Marigolds—sight, smell 

Basil (sweet and Thai)—scent, taste, sight 

This sensory garden is a work in progress, and it is expected to welcome children of all ages and circumstances for years to come. It is the long-range goal to have schools target this farm and garden as a field trip destination once schools resume a normal schedule.  

IMG_0427While the herb sensory garden at The Farmyard is on private property and maintained by dedicated volunteers, this is not the case in most public gardens. While public gardens often attract groups to plan and build sensory gardens, ongoing maintenance during the planning stages, as well as after the garden is established, is often performed by staff of the public facility. 

Gardens are an important element in many people’s lives, and sensory gardens, in particular, can add an immeasurable richness to the lives of children and especially children with special needs. We encourage you to explore supporting a sensory garden in your area.

Photo credits: 1) Sensory garden at The Farmyard (Candace Riddle); 2) Children in the National Herb Garden (Chrissy Moore); 3) Herb collage (Chrissy Moore); 4) Tiered sensory garden, The Farmyard (Candace Riddle); 5) Herb collage (Chrissy Moore); 6) Children and chaperones visiting the sensory garden (Candace Riddle).


Candace Riddle is a retired educator and an herbal enthusiast for forty years. She has been a member of The Herb Society of America for over twenty years and is a founding member of the Mason-Dixon Unit. She lives in Maryland.

HSA Webinar: Virtues of Violets

by Jen Munson, Education Chair

Viola_sororia__Freckles__2010A common harbinger of spring is the showy dandelion with its bright yellow flower that pops against newly greening lawns. With dandelion sightings, so the debate begins between those who want the perfectly manicured lawn and environmentalists who see dandelions as an early food source for pollinators and beneficials. The dazzling dandelion outshines another harbinger of spring, and that is the less-assuming violet. 

Join HSA on March 23rd at 1pm EDT for the “Virtues of Violets. For guest speaker, Katherine Schlosser, the arrival of violets is one of the happiest times in her garden. While her neighbors are out spraying herbicides on their lawns, you can find her swooning over the tiny botanical treasures, harboring in the joy and knowledge that these plants chose to be present in her yard.

Kathy 2-page-001Little do many of us realize that violets have been sought after for thousands of years. They have played a role in medicine, art, literature, myths, and rituals. They found their way into our gardens, our kitchens, and our hearts. This webinar will allow time to explore a little of the botany, where they are found around our country, and some of the ways the shy little plants have found themselves in our homes. There will also be time to share experiences, stories, recipes, and suggestions for locating desired species.

Our webinars are free to members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today and enjoy all our webinars for free. As a bonus, you will automatically be entered into a drawing for a free registration to our June 10-12th, 2021 Annual Meeting of Members and Educational Conference.  To register visit www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/

Photo Credits: 1) Viola sororia ‘Freckles’ (Wikimedia); 2) Photo courtesy of the Herb Society of America; 3) Photo courtesy of Katherine Schlosser


Kathy UpdatedAbout Katherine Schlosser: In addition to being an author and lecturer, Katherine Schlosser has been a member of The Herb Society of America since 1990. She has served on the HSA Board of Directors, chaired the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., assumed many roles within the North Carolina Unit, established the GreenBridges™ program, and is currently serving as chair of the Native Herb Conservation Committee.

Her interests extend beyond herbs to native plants.  She has been a member of several native plant organizations, participated in a Black Cohosh Sustainability Study with the Plant Conservation Alliance and National Forest Service in North Carolina, and was appointed to the Board of the NC Plant Conservation Program, serving as chair for several years.  She writes a monthly column on native plants for her local newspaper and has spoken to groups throughout North Carolina and surrounding states.  

Heartsease–Herb of the Month

A Tiny Herb Worth Knowing

by Maryann Readal

Heartsease, Viola tricolor, also called Johnny-jump-up, is The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for March. It is the perfect time to learn about this delicate little woodland herb that will be popping out of the warming earth very soon. You may know V. tricolor by one of its many other names. There are dozens of names for it including wild pansy, hearts delight, come-and-cuddle-me, love-in-idleness, call-me-to-you, and kiss-me-at-the-garden-gate, etc. 

Viola_tricolor_aggr Muriel Bendel. Wikimedia CommonsV. tricolor is in the violet family (Violaceae). The flowers can be purple, yellow, or white but are most commonly all three colors. The herb is native to Europe and Eurasia and was thought to be brought to the United States by colonists. It can be an annual, biennial, or a short-lived perennial. It will reseed itself and thrives in cooler weather.

This unassuming little herb is rich in folklore. In both Greek and Roman mythology, Viola tricolor was associated with love. The Romans believed that Cupid, the god of desire, hit the flower of Viola tricolor with his arrow by mistake, causing the white flower to become tricolored and the juice to become a love potion. A Greek legend tells of the love that Eros had for the white flowers. Aphrodite, being jealous of his love for the flower, turned it into the three colors to stop his love. Early Christians thought that the three-colored flowers of heartsease symbolized the Holy Trinity. The Druids made magical potions with it and used it in purification rituals. King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table believed the lines on the petals foretold their future. 

Viola tricolor was Queen Elizabeth I’s (1533-1603) favorite flower. She embroidered the flower on gifts to her family, and some of her elaborate dresses had the flower woven into the fabric. 

Elizabeth I (the Hardwick House portrait) 1592 or c. 1599-02 by nicholas hilliardShakespeare (1564-1616) used the love potion legend of V. tricolor in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene 1, saying about heartsease that the “the juice of it, on sleeping eyelids laid, will make a man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that it sees.” Viola tricolor appears in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as well as in Taming of the Shrew Act 1, Scene 1.

 But my favorite story comes from Germany, where heartsease is called “Stiefmütterchen” (little stepmother). The story is that the large bottom petal (the stepmother) sits on two sepals, the two petals on either side of the bottom petal are the daughters and they each have their own sepal. The two petals at the top are the stepdaughters and they share a single sepal and are in the back of the other petals.

V. tricolor is the mother of the beautiful pansies with huge, striking faces that we plant in our gardens in the spring. These pansies were introduced as hybrids of the wild pansy in 1813 in Britain by Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet, who hybridized them with her gardener, William Richardson. Around the same time in England, Lord Gambier was working with his gardener on hybridizing the wild pansy as well. By 1833, there were over 400 named pansies developed from the tiny viola that we call heartsease.

An interesting and observable characteristic of heartsease was noted by Maud Grieve in her book The Modern Herbal: “The flower protects itself from rain and dew by drooping its head both at night and in wet weather, and thus the back of the flower and not its face receives moisture.” V. tricolor is self-fertile and readily reseeds itself. Fritillary butterflies lay their eggs on the plant, and various bees, thrips, and flies visit it.

Viola tricolor and V. arvensisThe flowers of V. tricolor are edible and are used in salads, butters, and in ice cubes to dress up a beverage. They make a colorful garnish. The leaves are mucilaginous and can be used to thicken soup. A tea is made from the leaves.

Other uses include using the leaves as a litmus test and using the flowers to make a yellow, green, and blue-green dye.

Viola tricolor has a long history of use in traditional medicines. Its use is documented in the Pharmacopoeia of Europe. Its anti-inflammatory properties have made it a traditional medicinal remedy for skin diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, scabs, and itchy skin. It has also been used to treat inflammation and chest conditions such as bronchitis and asthma. Research shows that the cyclotides in V. tricolor may have promise in the treatment of cancers. However, more research still needs to be done. 

When I see the dainty little flowers of V. tricolor, I remember the gardens of my sweet mother and grandmother who always had them growing in their gardens. I also think of this quote from William Bullein, an early English physician, who said in 1562, “Pray God give thee but one handful of Heavenly Heartsease which passeth all the pleasant flowers that grow in this worlde.” 

May you be inspired to plant some heartsease in your garden this spring.

For more information of heartsease, Viola tricolor, please visit The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month web page https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html

Photo Credits: 1) Viola tricolor (Muriel Bendel, Wikimedia Commons); 2) Elizabeth I, Hardwick portrait, with Viola tricolor on bottom left (Nicholas Hilliard); 3) Viola tricolor and V. arvensis (C.A.M. Lindman (1836-1928), Wikimedia Commons)

References

Grieve, Maud. A Modern Herbal. Dover Publications. 1971. (reprint)

Hellinger, Roland, et al. Immunosuppressive activity of aqueous Viola tricolor herbal extract . Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2014. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24216163/

Hodgson, Larry. The Year of the Pansy. 2017. https://laidbackgardener.blog/tag/icicle-pansy/

Lim, T.K. Edible Medicinal and Non Medicinal Plants: Volume 8, Flowers. Springer. 2014. https://books.google.com/books?id=-nvGBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA815#v=onepage&q&f=false

Plants for a future. https://pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?latinname=Viola+tricolor, 

North Carolina Plant Toolbox. Viola Tricolor. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/viola-tricolor/

Wells, Diana. 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 1997.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. 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. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America and a Master Gardener. She is a member of The Society’s Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Frost Flowers

By Katherine Schlosser

There is something peaceful about a frosty pre-dawn morning. On the morning that I wrote this, I waited at the front door for our latest grand-dog to arrive. We keep him during the day while our daughter and son-in-law work, he providing as much company for us as we do for him. The sky was just turning a rosy pink near the horizon, but overall it was cold and cloudy.

Verbesina alternifolia Wingstem Strawberry Rd by Kathy SchlosserShivering as I stood looking out the door, a glimpse of white caught my eye.  My first thought was squirrels had again torn open the chairs on the deck, ripping out stuffing to line their nests. Walking down the steps to retrieve the wisps of cotton, I realized these are FROST FLOWERS!!

These fleeting beauties look as though they are made of cotton candy and are not flowers at all. They are found on those days when the ground is still warm and the air suddenly drops below freezing. This morning it was 30°F, humidity 66%, dew point 18°F, and the wind was still. You also need a few plants that, though they may have died above ground, still have roots that are sending water up the stems through capillary action.  When these conditions exist, and you search diligently before the sun rises, you might find a frost flower.

The frost flower is formed as sap is pumped up the stem of the plant. As the sap reaches a break in the old stem, or ruptures the dried stem, it seeps out and freezes as it hits the cold air. As more sap moves up, the ice is extruded, often forming odd ribbon-like shapes, sometimes curling around and forming what can even look like petals. These little icy confections are incredibly fragile, some very thin and melting at the slightest touch or at the first hint of sunlight.

Cunila origanoides1 by Kathy SchlosserAmong our native plants that can form frost flowers are white crownbeard (Verbesina virginica), yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia), and frostweed (Helianthemum canadense). Mine, as pictured, is growing from common dittany (Cunila origanoides).

You have to be up early to find them and lucky to boot. It is possible that other species can “grow” frost flowers when the conditions are right. The challenge is to get out and find them, which means walking through the garden or woods before the sun rises and while it is cold, watching diligently for the fantasy flowers that look like spun glass. They are magical, and while not rare, neither are they common.  

I have grown Cunila for five years and this is the first time I’ve seen frost flowers. Conditions have to be perfect…and it was worth the wait.

Photo Credits: 1) Frost flower on white crownbeard (Verbesina virginica) (Tanya Zastrow) 2) Yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) (Katherine Schlosser) 3) Common dittany (Cunila origanoides) (Kathy Schlosser) 4) Frost flower on Cunila origanoides (Kathy Schlosser)


Katherine Schlosser (Kathy) has been a member of the NC Unit of The Herb Society since 1991, serving in many capacities at the local and national level.  She was awarded the Gertrude B. Foster Award for Excellence in Herbal Literature and the Helen deConway Little Medal of Honor.  She is an author, lecturer, and native herb conservation enthusiast eager to engage others in the study and protection of our native herbs.

Backyard Butterfly Weed

By Kaila Blevins

Butterfly weed flowersI, like many other people preparing for the COVID-19 lockdown, frequented my local garden center to purchase vegetable seeds and buy plants for the different backyard projects intended to keep myself occupied as the weather warmed. One of the projects that I tasked myself with involved creating a pollinator garden in a wonky, pain-in-the-butt-to-mow patch of grass in my backyard. While walking through the garden center’s aisles, looking for plants to complement the coneflowers (Echinacea) and bee balm (Monarda) I had already placed in my cart, I came across butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).

Originally, I was drawn to the numerous orange flowers that would bloom from mid-summer through the fall that would potentially allow me to see a variety of butterflies, moths, and maybe even a hummingbird, when I peer out of the kitchen window while washing dishes. But, once I got home, I researched butterfly weed’s uses outside of being pollinator friendly. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that several Native American tribes in the eastern and southwestern portions of the United States used butterfly weed medicinally.

Butterfly weedBased on the historical texts I read, the seeds and roots of butterfly weed were used in numerous treatments. The seeds harvested from the ripened pods were used to treat diarrhea and dysentery. However, most of the different tribes primarily used the roots, which were applied externally to tighten the skin or smashed to create a paste to treat bruises, cuts, sores, and bites. In addition to topical use, the roots were ingested or steeped to create beverages. Raw roots were consumed to treat pulmonary and respiratory issues; dried roots were administered to treat chest pains as well. Drinks were given to women after childbirth to ease the pain and bring comfort to the new mothers. Lastly, individuals believed that rubbing their legs and running shoes with butterfly weed would enhance their running capabilities.

Butterfly weedSince planting the garden back in May, it has been a delight watching the different insects interact with the butterfly weed, but it was also fun learning how people used it in ways other than just adding pops of orange to their garden. For more information on other native herbs and native herb gardening, check out The Herb Society of America’s Notable NativeTM and GreenBridgesTM web pages.

 

Photo Credits: 1) Butterfly weed flowers; 2) Butterfly weed developing seedpod; 3) Butterfly weed in author’s garden. All photos courtesy of the author.

Sources

Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary: Timber Press, 2009.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. 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. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


57348119_2256114837761256_4232634512942563328_nKaila Blevins is the 2020-2021 National Herb Garden intern. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a B.S. in Environmental Science and Technology and a minor in sustainability. This fall, she will pursue a Master’s in Landscape Architecture at Morgan State University while also interning in the National Herb Garden. She hopes to expand her knowledge of plants, and how they benefit human health and life. In her spare time, she likes to read, paint, brew kombucha and experiment with its flavors, as well as spend time with her family and pets. Kaila also likes to stay active in the community through volunteering.

Nose-Twisting Nasturtiums

By Susan Belsinger

Bloody Mary1Plant Profile
Family: Tropaeolaceae
Scientific name: Tropaeolum majus
Common names: nasturtium, Indian cress, trophy cress, trophywort
Native Habitat: Peru, parts of South America
Plant Type: Annual
Growth Habit: Dwarf bushy cultivars grow from 8 to 18 inches in height, while the climbers can easily reach 6 to 10 feet, or more.
Hardiness: Hardy in frost-free locations
Light: Best in full sun; can tolerate a few hours of shade, which produces more leaves with fewer flowers
Water: Moist but not wet; will tolerate some drought
Soil: Friable and porous garden loam, well-drained soil; does well in containers
                                                                                   Propagation: Seeds in spring

“Nasturtium is an herb which for me has three uses: it lights sober herb beds with its bright colors of orange and yellow; all summer it decorates salads with leaves and gay flowers; and in the autumn it provides green seeds for pickling. Does it not earn for itself a place in an herb garden?”

                                                                                                                    —Annie Burnham Carter
                                                                                                                        In An Herb Garden

One of my very favorite flowers that I grow in all of my gardens for many reasons are nasturtiums, and I affectionately refer to these garden rowdies as “nasties”. They are easy to cultivate and effortlessly fill in garden spaces with their mounds of fun foliage even before their showy colors appear. The unusual foliage has rounded, wavy-edged leaves that are attached to their stems from the underside, directly in the center of the leaves, so that they resemble fairy umbrellas. These center-stemmed leaves radiate veins from a center dot looking somewhat star-like and range in various shades of green: grey-green, bright green, blue-green, and variegated. The spurred, trumpet-shaped flowers are available in a palette of bright colors from tropical creamy yellow, peach, and coral to vivid primary yellows and reds, in addition to knockout oranges, golds and even mahogany. Many are splashed or dotted with colors and my new favorite, ‘Bloody Mary’, has a different design and range of colors on each bloom. It is said that due to the shield-like form of the leaf and the helmet-shaped blooms that the botanical name derives from tropaion, the Greek word for “trophy.” 

DCF 1.0

No wonder Monet cultivated them liberally throughout the gardens at Giverny, where he captured the mounding masses of jewel-colored blooms in numerous of his famous paintings. Thomas Jefferson planted nasturtiums in his garden every year and lamented when he couldn’t get seed enough for a bed of them measuring 10 x 19-yards. In Green Enchantment by Rosetta Clarkson, she writes of a Dr. Fernie commenting on “nasturtium flowers giving out sparks of an electric nature at sunset.” Richard Mabey of The New Age Herbalist notes that, “It is said that on hot summer days sparks are emitted from the heart of the flower due to its high phosphoric acid content.”   Others, however, have attributed this phenomenon to an interesting optical illusion produced by the interplay of our eyes and the contrast of the flowers and foliage at dusk. For further explanation, read this interesting, informative article about nasturtiums: https://heirloomcottagegarden.weebly.com/blog/nasturtium-tropaeolum-majus

We owe our gratitude to the Spanish conquistadores for bringing the fiery-colored Tropaeolum minus back to Europe from South America more than 500 years ago. The species is a vine that can easily grow about 8 to 10 feet and likes a fence or trellis for support, while the more common nasturtium cultivars grow in mounds or trail along borders, spill over walls or over the edges of containers. Nasturtiums start easily from seed in average soil and full sun; I put them in early in my Zone 7 garden (about the same time that I put in early greens) in late March, early April. I like the ritual—going about the garden with my seed packs—poking the fat bumpy-round seeds (which sort of remind me of a small chickpea) in the cold earth with my finger along the edges of the kitchen bed. I plant them anywhere from 8 inches (for masses) to a good foot apart. Keep them well watered; however, do not fertilize too much or you’ll get massive leaf growth with few blooms. Harvest leaves regularly to keep them bushy. 

nasties (3)I just love that their name combines the Latin nasus for “nose” and tortus for “twisted” describing how our nose twists or wrinkles when we inhale their spicy scent. In The Fragrant Path by Louise Beebe Wilder she agrees, “ …perhaps the individual odours of the summer garden are derived from certain plants which persons of hyper-sensitive nasal organs may turn from in disgust. I call these plants Nose-twisters, because the rough and heady scent of Nasturtium, which seems to have in it something bitter, something peppery, and a vague underlying smoky sweetness, is representative of them.” 

In the kitchen, you can use both the fresh foliage and flowers to add a pleasant hint of heat and pungency (this dissipates when cooked so I use them mostly fresh) to many summer dishes. The leaves are high in vitamin C and add a peppery cress-like flavor to salads, sandwiches, green sauces, or they can be shredded and tossed with pasta, rice, couscous or chicken salad, or chopped as a topping for pizza. 

flower & herb butter (14)The blossoms have the same pepperiness as the leaves, but are milder with a hint of floral scent. They make excellent containers for cold salads—egg, chicken, and vegetable—as well as cheese spreads. Since they are a bit fragile when filled, I tend to put them on a slice of vegetable or bread in order to pick them up easily. Whole flowers can be used in salads or as garnishes; vinegar flavored with nasturtium flowers is lovely in color and interesting in flavor; or cut flowers and leaves into chiffonade (thin ribbons) and blend with butter, or toss with egg salad, noodles, vegetables, or fish. The unopened buds, marinated in wine or vinegar, make an unusual refrigerator pickle. Seeds are harvested and pickled and used as a substitute for capers.

To harvest leaves, pick them and remove stems, wash and use like lettuce. For flowers, pick them with long stems and keep them in a glass of water until ready for preparation. Rinse blooms gently and shake or pat them dry. Pull the bloom from the stem and use whole or gently tear into separate petals. While they can stand cool weather, they will succumb to the first frost.

Sources
Belsinger, Susan and Arthur O. Tucker. 2016. The Culinary Herbal. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.

Belsinger, Susan. 1991. Flowers in the Kitchen. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press.

Carter, Annie Burnham. 1947. In An Herb Garden. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus). Retrieved from https://heirloomcottagegarden.weebly.com/blog/nasturtium-tropaeolum-majus

Wilder. Elizabeth Beebe. 1996. The Fragrant Path. Point Roberts, Washington: Hartley & Marks Publishers, Inc.

Photos courtesy of the author. 1) Bloody Mary; 2) Alaska series; 3) Nasty bouquet; 4) Flower and herb butter


Susan is a culinary herbalist, food writer, educator, and photographer whose work has been published in numerous publications. She has authored a number of award-winning books. Her latest book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs was co-authored with the late Dr. Arthur Tucker. Susan is passionate about herbs and her work, sharing the joy of gardening and cooking through teaching & writing, and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell & taste.

Safe Passage for Plants & Pollinators: Building GreenBridges™

By Debbie Boutelier, HSA Past President & GreenBridgesTM Chair

It’s summer and the living is easy for our pollinators. There is an abundance of blooming plants from which to choose. A little here, a little there, moving pollen around from plant to plant and increasing the abundance. It’s glorious now, but come later in the year, it will not be as easy. Our little miracle workers will be struggling to get enough to eat.  I’m also reminded as I watch these miracle workers in action that all of this is threatened, and without our help a lot of the abundance may disappear forever. 

What can we do to ensure that these summer miracles continue? We can construct GreenBridgesTM that will provide places of respite and offer safe passage for our native plants and our pollinators. The Herb Society of America offers a program to do just that. Get involved in the GreenBridgesTM program to learn best practices for creating a sustainable habitat for our native plants and pollinators, learn to identify and grow native herbs that are unique to your region and will best support your region’s pollinators, and best of all, join a community of environmentally aware herb gardeners. 

Learn more about GreenBridgesTM on the HSA website by clicking on this link: https://www.herbsociety.org/explore/hsa-conservation/greenbridges-initiative/  Then, take the next step and get your garden certified as a GreenBridgesTM garden. The process is easy: complete the application found on the web site, attach a check to cover the cost of a plaque for your garden, and mail to HSA headquarters. Be sure to include some pictures of your garden to share with other members. Your plaque and a certificate will be mailed to you shortly after receipt of your application. 

Display the plaque in your garden to open conversations with your neighbors about the importance of providing healthy ecosystems for our plants and pollinators. Introduce your neighbors to the GreenBridgesTM program and invite them to become a certified garden also. Working together by connecting our gardens to our neighbor’s garden and then to community green spaces, we can effectively create GreenBridgesTM across the nation! Our plants, the pollinators, and we will be the beneficiaries of the healthy ecosystems we create.

In closing, I’d like to share a story about continuing to impress upon my granddaughter the importance of pollinators. A couple of weeks ago, my granddaughter and I were enjoying a beautiful early summer day in the garden. She loves to help me in the garden and today we were harvesting her favorite garden treat: blueberries! She remembers me telling her that without the bees pollinating the blueberries, she would not have this luscious treat. Now, when she sees bees hard at work, she no longer runs from them, but watches intently as they complete their work.  Her comment continues to be —”Go bees!” She loves her blueberries. Now she realizes that all of the other garden treats she enjoys are also the result of bees and other garden insects hard at work. So much fun to see nature through a child’s eyes and introduce the next generation to gardening with the purpose of protecting our native plants and pollinators!


A life-long lover of all aspects of gardening and nature, Debbie Boutelier’s interest in herbs and other edibles began in the early ’80s when she planted her first edible garden with vegetables and culinary herbs. Her interest rapidly grew into a vocation spanning the many different aspects of using herbs in everyday life, and incorporating organic techniques in everything she grows. After moving to Alabama, Debbie served as a County Extension Agent for a number of years. She is an Alabama Advanced Master Gardener and has studied the medicinal uses of herbs for many years, completing a three year intensive study of the medicinal aspect of herbs at the Appalachian Center of Natural Health. Debbie now teaches nationally and presents seminars and workshops on the many aspects of herbs, organic gardening, nutrition, and other garden related topics. Debbie’s herb passion has led to the creation of her small cottage herb business, Rooted in Thyme Apothecary. Debbie is a long-time member and past president of The Herb Society of America.

HSA Webinar: How to Grow and Use Lavender for Health and Beauty

By Jen Munson, Education Chair

A program I attended a few years back labeled basil the “King of Herbs,” but in my world, lavender is the true king. From its medicinal benefits to its culinary and craft uses, lavender can’t be beat. The fresh clean scent of lavender has been used in cosmetics and skin care products since ancient times. It smells good, improves circulation, attracts pollinators, and promotes sleep. With over twenty five different varieties, there is likely a lavender variety you can grow not only for its beauty, but for its many uses. 

Join us for our webinar on July 21st at 1pm EST with author Janice Cox when she presents “How to Grow and Use Lavender for Health and Beauty.” Learn how to start a new plant from cuttings, air-dry flowers for year round use, and create your own DIY body care products that can be used for hair care, skin care, and in the bath. Tips, recipes, and herbal craft ideas will be shared throughout this dynamic webinar.  

As an additional bonus, HSA Members can receive 20% off, plus free shipping, on Janice’s latest book, Beautiful Lavender (Ogden 2020). This book is filled with lavender recipes and ideas. Log into the member only area of the HSA website to obtain the code, then go to Janice’s website at http://www.naturabeautyathome.com to order the book. The book retails for $17.99, but for HSA members, it is $14.39 + free shipping!

Our webinars are free to members and $5.00 for guests. Visit https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars or click here to sign up. Become a member today, and enjoy all of our webinars for free, and as an added bonus, you’ll automatically be entered into a raffle for a free educational conference registration to our 2021 conference being held in Baton Rouge, LA, from April 29th – May 1st, 2021.

About Janice Cox

Janice Cox is an expert on the topic of natural beauty and making your own cosmetic products with simple kitchen and garden ingredients. She is the author of three best-selling books on the topic: Natural Beauty at Home, Natural Beauty for All Seasons, and Natural Beauty from the Garden. She is currently the beauty editor for Herb Quarterly Magazine, is a member of the editorial advisory board for Mother Earth Living Magazine, and is a member of The Herb Society of America, International Herb Association, United States Lavender Growers Association, Oregon Lavender Association, and Garden Communicators International. 

Edible Flowers from Culinary Herbs

By Peggy Riccio

Edible flowers with deviled eggs
Deviled eggs with edible herbal flowers (Photo courtesy of Susan Belsinger)

During this time of “unintentional pausing” I have been diving even deeper into the world of herbs. I am growing a wider variety of herbs, watching herbal webinars and cooking demonstrations, and experimenting in the kitchen. Recently, I learned that flowers from culinary herbs are edible. “Edible” in this case simply means one can eat them — not that they are necessarily “tasty.” However, because the flowers are edible, regardless of their taste, they can be used for botanical color and decoration. Think of a painter’s palette with each paint symbolizing a culinary herb in your garden. Think of how that flower can add color and interest to your meals and beverages. Imagine how the flower would look whole, separated, or even minced. The following are great for adding botanical color.

Calendula with egg salad
Pot marigold flowers with egg salad

I love the bright orange/yellow color of pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) flowers. The best thing about them is that they can be used whole, separated, or minced and fresh or dried. I garnish pound cakes by placing a few orange flower heads on the side on a blue platter, and I sprinkle the petals on the white frosting of an angel food cake. For contrast, I sprinkle the gold petals on green beans or broccoli. The petals can add orange color to biscuits, banana bread, butter, cream cheese, egg salad, egg dishes, and rice dishes. If you mince the petals with a knife, you can make orange confetti. You can also combine this with colors of other edible flowers to decorate anything from fruit salad to cupcakes.

Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) flowers are bright red with a funnel shape. The entire flower, or coarsely chopped flowers, can add a splash of red to a fruit salad. The entire flower can float in a clear cocktail or lemonade. Coarsely chopped flowers can add red color to butter, condiments, and sauces or to a chicken, seafood, or fish dish at the end of the cooking period.

Borage (Borago officinalis) flowers have a striking blue flower head — a singular flower adds beauty to a cupcake. Each flower head can be encased in an ice cube for a drink or just float the flower in a cocktail. Separated, the petals can add sky blue to fruit salads, yogurt-based dips, or any baked item. These are also good for topping off appetizers or garnishing a cake.

Tomato soup with cilantro

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), dill (Anethum graveolens), and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) have small white or yellow flowers. These are best used as a garnish, like sprinkling on soups, green salads, and main entrees. They can be added to an appetizer or deviled eggs. Usually they are used for savory dishes or pickling, not desserts and drinks.

Shrimp with rosemary
Shrimp with rosemary

Purple rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and sage (Salvia spp.) flowers are great for adding color and interest because guests will never expect them. The rosemary flowers are smaller than sage flowers but both can be used for the same type of dishes. I add them to seafood, shrimp scampi, pasta, green salad, potatoes, and green vegetables. They can also be used for cocktails and mulled wine. Sage and rosemary flowers pair well with melon, cut up fresh oranges, or poached pears.

Of course, there are many herb flowers with both flavor and color. Lavender (Lavandula spp.), chives (Allium spp.), and basil (Ocimum basilicum) are classic examples. These can be used as well, but knowing that all culinary herbs have edible flowers expands your palette of what you can use in your meals and beverages. To get you started, write down the culinary herbs you have in the garden and post this paper on the inside of your kitchen cupboard. When you are cooking or baking, you can open the cupboard and look at your list to remember what you can pick to add color and interest to your dish.


A horticulturist in Virginia, Peggy Riccio’s website, pegplant.com, is an online resource for gardeners in the Washington, DC metro area. Currently, she is the chair of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America.