Award-Winning Four Elements Organic Herbals: An Interview

By Chrissy Moore

Jane Hawley Stevens owner of Four Elements Organic HerbalsTo continue my periodic series on The Herb Society of America’s business members, I’d like to introduce our readers to Jane Hawley Stevens, owner of Four Elements Organic Herbals in North Freedom, Wisconsin. I first heard Jane speak at an Herb Society annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, a few years ago. She has a thriving business and has herbal insight to share!

When did you first encounter herbs? Have you always known you wanted to work with plants/herbs?

JHS: Yes, I chose horticulture as a career path when I turned 18. This was inspired by picking berries with my grandmother out in the north woods. This is where I felt in heaven, so I knew I needed a career outdoors. My first job after receiving my degree, I was requested to install an herb garden. 

Jane Hawley Stevens with purple coneflowerDo you have formal training in horticulture and/or herb use? Did you have any mentors that particularly inspired or encouraged you? 

JHS: I received a Horticulture degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1981. After establishing my first herb garden for a research facility in 1982, I gained experience in growing herbs, then using them for crafts and cooking. When my son was born in 1987, I started using herbs for medicine. I found herbs way more effective than conventional medicine. Before too long, I was making products for herb events and health food stores. The market was way different back then! I began when there were very few herb books, but always loved herbalists and authors Rosemary Gladstar and David Hoffmann.

Aerial photo of the Four Elements herb farmHow did you go about establishing an organic herb farm?

JHS: I say my land was a gift from Gaia. I was able to secure 130 acres in a protected land area as a single mom with an herb business. This seemed like a miracle. Eventually, my husband and I teamed up. He is a horticulturist that has the same vision, and although he is the curator at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum-Longenecker Gardens, he puts in full time here, too, during our long summer days. 

(To see Jane describe her farm in action and business philosophy, please watch this great video she has provided.)

How many different herbs do you grow, and do you grow everything you use in your products?

JHS: We grow about 80 species of herbs. We aim to grow everything we use in our products, but sometimes fall short and must source out herbs from other organic growers. Our recipes are designed to be made with herbs that we can grow in my region.

Lavandula angustifolia flowersWhich herbs do you find the most challenging to work with and why?

JHS: Our beloved lavender is a challenge due to our cold winters and wet springs. It is hard to get the best-scented varieties to survive our winters. It is [also] difficult to grow some native perennials from seeds, like black cohosh and ginseng, due to the double dormancy of the seeds. 

How did you learn about the methods for drying and processing the herbs you use to make teas, tinctures, salves, etc.?

JHS: Not only have I gone through state certifications for commercial kitchens, but I also have occasional visits from the FDA. This fine-tunes us to all the regulations. I have been on the working group for the state of Wisconsin to create standards for herb drying and processing.

Four Elements Herbals "best sellers" productsFor many business owners, they must sacrifice a lot in terms of personal time and preferences. But, there are also rewards in being the curator of your own products/services. What has been your driving philosophy as you’ve grown Four Elements Organic Herbals?

JHS: Not only do herbs provide a plethora of uses and delights, but my experience using plants for food and medicine makes me believe [that] everyone should try herbs as remedies, because they are so effective with so few side effects. This is where my inspiration comes from. I want to connect people to plants for their wellbeing and the health of the planet. Even pharmaceutical companies look to nature for the wonders of their healing potential to get various molecules to patent. I get inspired by “Cultivating Nature’s Wisdom.” I also feel the sense of family created among the Four Elements employees. We are really a team and make working there, even after 35 years, easy.

Four Elements received the 2020 MOSES (Midwest Organic Sustainable and Education Service) Farmers of the Year Award. That must have been a joyous recognition of everyone’s hard work at 4E.

JHS: Yes, it was wonderful to see this award go to a value-added herb company instead of a typical dairy, field crop, or noble Community Supported Agriculture farm. This was a first!

Beige-White-Blue-Sandwich-Food-Travel-Blog-TitleWhat advice would you give someone interested in starting their own herbal product line? 

JHS: Start out by trying your products at farmers markets. Then, you can fine-tune your recipes and packaging. Make sure and put enough for you in your pricing to honor all your hard work. [Ask yourself], what aspect of herbalism excites you?

Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of Jane Hawley Stevens except 5) Lavandula angustifolia, English lavender (blumenbiene, Creative Commons license).


Chrissy Moore is the curator of the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. As steward of the NHG, Chrissy lectures, provides tours, and writes on various herbal topics, as well as shepherds the garden’s “Under the Arbor” educational outreach program. She is a member of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America and is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.

African American Plant Medicines of the South Carolina Sea Islands

By Faith Mitchell, Ph.D.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Mitchell’s original blog post was featured in April, 2020, in anticipation of The Herb Society of America’s Annual Meeting of Members, which was postponed due to COVID-19. Below is an updated version of Dr. Mitchell’s post, who will now be speaking at the April, 2022, Annual Meeting of Members in Charleston, SC. For more information, please visit The Herb Society of America’s web site.

[A root doctor] told us that he had been born with a special knowledge of healing and had studied the science of herbs from the time he was a small boy. Some of the herbs he uses in his mixtures are Golden Seal, Yellow Dust, Golden Thread, Hippo Foot, Pink Root, Lady Slipper, Yellow Root, Blood Root, Rattlesnake Master, Black Snake Root, and John the Conqueror.

Georgia Writer’s Project, Drums and Shadows; Survival Studies Among the Georgia Coastal Negroes, 1940

Gullah slaves painting circa 1790The South Carolina and Georgia coast, which was settled in the 1670s, is one of the oldest parts of the United States. Worked by enslaved West Africans who came to be known as the Geechee or Gullah, for centuries Sea Island plantations growing cotton, rice, indigo, and other crops produced massive wealth for white plantation owners. Today, Hilton Head, Kiawah, and other Sea Islands are known for their resorts, recreation, and high-end vacation housing.

Map of the Sea Islands, South CarolinaThe Sea Islands have a uniquely resilient African heritage that distinguishes them from other African American communities. There are several reasons for this. Prior to Emancipation, Sea Island slave plantations were typically large and had hundreds of enslaved Black people and very few whites. In addition, long after the legal end of the slave trade in 1808, traders continued to bring enslaved Africans to the islands. Finally, separated by salty creeks and marshes from the mainland, the islands were geographically isolated for more than two centuries. In some cases, connecting bridges weren’t built until the 1950s. The result was that the coastal islands from South Carolina to the upper end of Florida were home to tightly knit Black rural communities that had their own unique culture. These Gullah communities lived close to the land, working the fields, catching oysters, fish, and shrimp, and keeping alive religious, linguistic, healing, and other traditions from their African ancestors.  

The Gullah people were mostly unknown to the outside world until the first Union soldiers arrived in South Carolina during the Civil War. In fact, some of the first spirituals that captivated northern listeners were sung by freed Gullah people. Then, in the early 20th century, the Sea Islands and other Black communities caught the attention of academics who were keenly aware that the oldest of the formerly enslaved people were dying, and with them many folk traditions. These early writings are a good source of stories and songs, despite often reflecting a distressingly demeaning attitude toward the Gullah people themselves.

Cover of Hoodoo Medicine bookWhen I made my first trip to the Sea Islands in 1971, I was awed by the breathtaking, tropical beauty of the land and the water and the sense of community among the Gullah people. Although people were poor by material standards, they were rich culturally and spiritually. 

At the time, there were few doctors on the more remote Sea Islands, so on one of my trips, I decided to find out if there were traditional medicines that people used and, if so, what they were. What I learned resulted in my book, Hoodoo Medicine: Gullah Herbal Remedies.

Practices described in Hoodoo Medicine include using elderberry tea to treat colds, mud to cast bone breaks, and tree leaves to draw out headaches. Healing properties were also attributed to mint, Spanish moss, gum tree leaves, and much more. Some of the plants and roots people described to me were introduced from Africa or Europe, while others are plants that were first used by the American Indians. Local people distinguish between what they call good and bad “roots” medicine. “Good roots” is the use of plants, mud, and other natural materials with healing powers. Meanwhile, “bad roots” is the use of natural materials – plants, blood, bones, candles, feathers, and more – for magical purposes, akin to voodoo. Even though “hoodoo” sounds like “voodoo,” my book is about good roots! 

Botanical illustration of a cotton plant and flowerGullah healing practices remain relevant today for people interested in new pathways to health. In fact, sales of Hoodoo Medicine took off during the Covid pandemic. And fortunately, there is strong interest among Gullah descendants themselves in preserving their unique history and culture.

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.

Photo Credits: 1) Gullah slaves, circa 1790 (freemaninstitute.com); 2) Sea Islands, South Carolina (GoogleMaps.com); 3) Hoodoo Medicine cover art (Faith Mitchell); 4) Cotton flower/plant (Gossypium hirsutum) botanical print (Public Domain).

References

Allen, William F. Slave songs of the United States. 1867). Available from: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/pst.000029312436

Davis, Henry C. Negro folk-lore in South Carolina. The Journal of American Folklore. 27, no. 105 (1914): 241–54. Available from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/534619

Parsons, Elsie C. Folk-lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina. Memoirs of the American Folk-Lore Society. 16 (1923). Available from: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/njp.32101068189925


Picture of author Faith Mitchell, Ph.D.Dr. Mitchell has a doctorate in medical anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to Hoodoo Medicine and a supernatural thriller, The Book of Secrets, Part 1, she has written or edited numerous policy-related publications. For more information and to purchase her books, visit Dr. Mitchell’s website.

Calling All Artists and Designers

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The Herb Society of America
is Seeking Design Art!

Organizers for the Virtual Educational Conference and Annual Meeting of Members (EdCon) to be held June 10th – 12th, 2021, invite artists and designers of all ages and abilities to submit artwork for consideration for the 2021 EdCon logo. The theme is, of course, HERBS!

To enter the contest, participants must:

  1. Choose a theme, and create a design. The theme should reflect a combination of herbs and pollinators. Herbs may include native plants, trees, and bushes. Pollinators may include native bees, honey bees, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, flies, beetles, etc.
  2. Art is often best rendered with strong lines and minimal color to facilitate replication on posters, printed materials, and tote bags. You are welcome to design on your computer or directly on paper.
  3. The design must adapt well to electronic (ideally .jpg or .png format) and print media along with the ability to be reproduced on small and large surfaces.
  4. Artists should include their contact information and a brief biography for inclusion in publicity. The selected artist’s name and/or work will be featured on the HSA Annual Report, EdCon webpage, downloadable handouts, tote bags, and acknowledged in HSA’s EdCon publicity.
  5. Multiple entries from individual artists are permitted. Artwork should be emailed to Jen Munson jenmun08@gmail.com or mailed to: The Herb Society of America, Attn: Jen Munson, 9019 Kirtland Chardon Rd Kirtland, OH 44094. Artwork must be received by January 31st, 2021. Individuals requesting return of their submission should also include a self-addressed, stamped mailing receptacle. 

12-17 - design contest

Prizes:

One winner will be selected and will receive: two tote bags with logo, one complimentary registration to our virtual educational conference, and artistic credit for your winning design. If you are unable to attend our virtual conference, you’ll be awarded a $100 prepaid visa card.

Selection of Winner:

All entries will be judged by The Herb Society of America’s members.

In the event that no entry is selected, the conference committee reserves the right to declare no winner. The Herb Society of America will have all rights to the winning design. By submitting your entry, you agree that if your design wins it will be used by the virtual educational conference committee to design a tote bag and as it deems necessary and in such other ways that are relevant to the promotion of our virtual educational conference.

For further information or questions please contact Jen Munson at jenmun08@gmail.com.

Pitch Pine- Tar and Pitch for Shipbuilding

By Cipperly Good

2015.5.1

Roll of oakum. Image courtesy of Penobscot Marine Museum Collection, PMM2015.5.1

The riches that the British, French, and Dutch explorers found in Maine came not from gold, but in the form of fish and lumber.  Having depleted those resources in Europe by the 1700s, they sent work parties and eventually colonists to extract these materials vital for feeding and shipping goods back to the motherland.   One highly prized resource was Pinus rigida (pitch pine), which provided the tar that preserved the watercraft.  Tar prevented rot in the ship timbers and standing rigging (ropes holding up the masts, yards, and booms).  It sealed the cracks between deck and hull planks from rain coming down and seas washing over them.

When a donor gifted the Penobscot Marine Museum with a roll of tarred oakum, the evocative sweet smell transported me back to tall ship voyages and the attendant memories of fresh sea air, sun, and the mix of peace and adrenaline of sailing.  Oakum is the tarred strands of picked apart rope, wedged into gaps in the planking and sealed with a seam of pine tar to prevent deck and hull leaks. 

Bill of lading

Bill of Lading from the ship ISAAC CARVER. Image courtesy of Penobscot Marine Museum Collection, PMM32-575

To extract the pine tar, shipbuilders put pitch pine logs into a kiln, where the lack of oxygen and high heat inside resulted in tar and charcoal.  The oozing tar was collected.  If the tar was boiled, it became pitch, which when spread on hulls hardened into a watertight seal.  Pitch pine could also be tapped, with the resulting “sap”, when distilled, becoming turpentine.

Like the Europeans before them, Maine depleted its stores of pitch pine, despite conservation measures to prohibit the cutting of trees under 12 inches in diameter.  The industry moved to the southeastern US, especially to the Carolinas where longleaf pine  (Pinus palustris) was the tar tree of choice.  Mainers stayed in the market by transporting tar in Maine-built ships to markets throughout the world.


Cipperly is curator of the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine.

Some Things Get Better with Age

By Chrissy Moore

22423_Herb Garden_Credit--US-National-Arboretum

The early days of the National Herb Garden

As a young intern in the National Herb Garden in Washington, DC, I had no idea the impact that this garden–the largest designed herb garden in the United States–would have on my life. The garden captivated me then, and it still does today.

The Herb Society of America (HSA) member, Mrs. Betty Crisp Rea, championed the idea of bringing a garden dedicated specifically to herbs to a national audience. It was to be an outdoor classroom for all things herbal.

15532_Archives_ Dr. John Creech_ Betty Rea_ Secretary Bergland_ Eleanor Gambee_ and M. Rubert Cutler_US National Arboretum

Dr. John Creech (National Arboretum Director), Betty Rea (HSA), Hon. Robert Bergland (USDA Secretary), Eleanor Gambee (HSA), Rubert Cutler

She, along with many other HSA members, worked tirelessly to bring the idea to fruition. Partnering with the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. National Arboretum meant that that idea–that dream–would come true.

The National Herb Garden (NHG) first opened to the public on June 12, 1980. Though barely a garden then (all of the herbaceous and woody plants were newly installed, of course), the bones of what would someday be a marvelous display of useful plants could clearly be seen in the thoughtful design of landscape architect Tom Wirth of Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Massachusetts.

20909_Herb Garden Construction_Credit--US-National-Arboretum

Holly Shimizu, NHG’s first curator, and Tom Wirth, landscape architect

But, what are herbs, exactly, and why do we need a 2 1/2 – acre garden of them? In the National Herb Garden, an herb  is any plant that enhances people’s lives, including those used for medicine, dyes, flavoring of food, beverages, historical uses, etc. (1).  The HSA members’ goal in developing this garden was to interpret that intensely strong relationship between people and the plants they use and to be an educational resource for those longing to learn more about this amazing group of plants.

Quoting from the NHG’s opening-day program:

Migrating people, across time, have carefully carried along their herbal plants and seeds, which they valued for medicinal, savory, aromatic, or economic qualities.

Cherry Picker 024_2006-1208_Chrissy

The National Herb Garden in Fall

And we still value them today for these qualities: We may take horehound drops to soothe our coughs, polish our furniture with marjoram and lavender oils, sip mint juleps or rosehip tea, and season the simplest or most elegant dishes with basil or tarragon.

Thousands of herbs could be planted in the National Herb Garden. Those you see here have been selected to demonstrate the significance of plants in human life (2).

As stated above, the palette of plants available for display in the garden is astounding: plants from all over the world, from many different cultures, and from many different times. “Knowledge of herb uses is constantly increasing, and the plantings will be changed to reflect these uses. Gardens also change as plants flourish or perish, so the Herb Garden can never be static” (2).

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The Rose Garden in the National Herb Garden

It is this idea that keeps the garden interesting and relevant, no matter the era or the time of year. It is why I have dedicated my career to supporting, promoting, and maintaining the National Herb Garden (with a lot of help from many others) for all the world to experience. It is my hope that the garden remains the national–no, the international–treasure that it is for decades to come. Join me in celebrating your National Herb Garden’s 40th Anniversary!

 

 

 

1  The National Herb Garden—the largest designed herb garden in the United States—showcases plants that enhance people’s lives as flavorings, fragrances, medicines, coloring agents, and additives in industrial products. The garden exhibits these herbal plants from places and cultures around the world in theme gardens, single-genus collections, and seasonal displays for education, research, and aesthetic enjoyment.

2  Full text of “The National Herb Garden at the US National Arboretum”


Chrissy Moore is the curator of the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. As steward of the NHG, Chrissy lectures, provides tours, and writes on various herbal topics, as well as shepherds the garden’s “Under the Arbor” educational outreach program. She is a member of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America and is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.

Black Pepper – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Black pepper, Piper nigrum, is a ubiquitous spice that can be found on tables anywhere in the world where food is served. But what is the story behind this popular spice that is used in kitchens the world over? 

P. nigrum is native to the Malabar Coast of southern India. It is also grown in other parts of the tropical world, including Vietnam, which has taken the lead in production by exporting 287,000 tons of black pepper worth $722 million in 2019. This is about 35% of the world’s black pepper trade. 

pepppercorn drupe from Missouri Botantical Garden

Pepppercorn drupes. Photo credit: Missouri Botantical Garden

Black pepper is a perennial vine with heart shaped leaves and pendulous flowers. It is grown for its fruit, which is dried and then used as a seasoning. The black pepper vine grows in my Zone 8b garden; however, it has yet to produce any peppercorns, although it bloomed for the first time this year. Maybe one day I will have peppercorns.

“Pepper” comes from the Sanskrit word pippali, which means energy and spiritedness. When we say “peppy,” we are referring to the taste of black pepper that can “pep” us up.

Black, white, and green peppercorns come from the same plant. Black pepper is the dried, unripe fruit. White pepper is the seed of the dried, fully ripe fruit. Green pepper is the dried unripe fruit that is brined to preserve its flavor and color. Pink peppercorns are not a pepper at all, since they come from the Peruvian pepper tree, Schinus molle, which is in the cashew family.

Archaeological evidence shows that black pepper was used as a seasoning in India as early as 2000 BCE. Exportation brought it to Egypt, where it was used as a spice and as a medicine. Containers of peppercorns have been found in Egyptian tombs, and they were even found in the nostrils of Ramses II who was mummified in 1213 BCE. Egyptians were early users of toothpaste, which they made from rock salt, dried iris flowers, black pepper, and mint. Cleopatra is said to have had skin lotions made with black pepper.

peppercornsWith exploration came the spread of black pepper to the Roman Empire, where it was considered so valuable that large quantities were stored in the Roman treasury. The first century Roman cookbook, Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome by Apicius, featured recipes in which 80% of them called for black pepper. Pliny the Elder (25-79 CE) could not understand the reason for pepper’s popularity. He remarked, “Whereas pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation to either fruit or berry, its only desirable quality being a certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India!” Romans used black pepper as a treatment for digestive problems and gas relief. They also used it as currency. When Alaric the Visigoth laid siege to Rome around 400 CE, he demanded a ransom of three thousand pounds of black pepper, along with gold and silver. 

After the fall of Rome, the Persians and then the Arabs were in control of the spice trade. They created fantastic, frightening stories about where pepper grew in order to scare other traders away from the source of black pepper. Their trade created a new empire – the city states of Venice and Genoa. The black pepper trade was responsible, in part, for the wealth of these two cities that sold the commodity to the rest of Europe. 

Due to the high cost of trading between Europe and India, black pepper and other spices became a luxury and a symbol of wealth, as the taste for flavored foods and a belief in the medicinal qualities of spices grew.  Again, it was also used as currency: a pound of black pepper could free a serf, and many a young maiden was married with a black pepper dowry.

With the explorations of Vasco Da Gama and others in the 15th century, trade in black pepper fell to the Portuguese, then to the Dutch, and then to the British East India Company. At one time, pepper accounted for 70% of the world spice trade. As it became more available, prices dropped, and more people were able to use black pepper. As a result, many world cuisines developed special spice/herb blends that included black pepper.

nothingtodoinbermuda.com

Annual Peppercorn Ceremony in Bermuda. Photo credit: nothingtodoinbermuda.com

An amusing story about black pepper plays out in Bermuda, where each year, the 200 year old Annual Peppercorn Ceremony occurs. During this event, Freemasons present the Governor of Bermuda with one peppercorn on a cushioned silver platter in exchange for their rent of the Old State house. The idea of “peppercorn rent” is still practiced today in England and in other countries, where a nominal fee is charged to rent a property. This refers back to the time when peppercorns were used as currency. 

Piperine, a key constituent in black pepper, is being explored for its antioxidant properties and as a treatment for vitiligo, which is the loss of skin pigmentation (Mihăilă et al, 2019). In addition, piperine is found to fight inflammation, improve digestion, and increase absorption of some herbal and conventional drugs (Streit, 2019). A relatively recent study showed that smelling hot pepper oil helps to reduce the craving to smoke (Cordell & Buckle, 2013).

Black pepper is used extensively in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat digestive tract problems. Traditionally, it was used to treat worms, coughs and colds, sinusitis, dental problems, diarrhea, etc. The oil was used to treat scalp infections and skin diseases. 

Who would have thought that this common culinary spice played such an important role in world history? It was used to pay taxes, ransoms, rent, and dowry. As a medium of exchange, it was called black gold. It was, and still is, an important medicinal ingredient. And, it was the reason sailors set sail on perilous journeys to find a passage to India. Although no longer considered a luxury spice, the world’s demand for black pepper has not abated through the years, and continues to be an important spice in most cuisines. It has a peppery hold in many of our kitchens and still reigns as the “king of spices.”

For more information and recipes using black pepper, go to The Herbs Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage: https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html

Cordell, B. and Buckle, J. (2013). The effects of aromatherapy on nicotine cravings on a U.S. campus: A small comparison study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19 (8). Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2012.0537

Mihăilă,B., Dinică, R.M., Tatu, A.L., and Buzia, O. D. (2019). New insights in vitilago treatments using bioactive compounds from Piper nigrum. Exp Ther Med, 17 (2): 1039-1044. Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6327422/

Streit, L. (2019). Is black pepper good for you, or bad? Nutrition, uses, and more. Healthline. Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-black-pepper-good-for-you

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

Sorrel – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), a tart, lemony herb, is used today primarily in cooking. However, you may have to grow your own sorrel or visit a farmer’s market or specialty store in early spring if you want to make any recipe with it. 

sorrelChopped and combined with cream and butter, sorrel makes a nice sauce for fish. If you have Eastern European or Jewish heritage, you may have had sorrel soup (schav) growing up. The leaves can be chopped and added to casseroles, or added to any soup to brighten the flavor. You can also make a pesto with the leaves or use it in combination with basil, mint, etc. to give your pesto a different flavor. Leaves can be cooked along with spinach, and baby leaves can be tossed into salads. Add it to salad dressing to give a tangy taste. It’s best to use the young leaves, as older leaves tend to acquire a more sour taste. Combining it with sour cream or cream will lessen its sourness. At one time, meat was wrapped with sorrel leaves to tenderize it. Sorrel is used in French cooking, for which the preferred species is Rumex scutatus. This species has a milder, lemon-like flavor and smaller, rounded leaves.

Sorrel was, at one time, a very popular herb in places where citrus fruits were not available. Because of its high Vitamin C content, it was eaten in the 16th-18th centuries to prevent scurvy. It was thought to also cure diseases of the mouth including loose teeth, which is a symptom of scurvy.  Because of the oxalic acid in sorrel, people with arthritic, renal, and gastrointestinal disorders should eat it with caution. However, light cooking of sorrel decreases the oxalic content of the leaves. Young leaves also have less oxalic acid than older leaves.

sorrel, red

Rumex sanguineus

The roots and seeds have been used in traditional medicines, with the roots as well as the leaves having components that produce a laxative effect. “Currently, studies on sorrel offer promising results in the areas of digestion, infection prevention, topical skin treatments, and anti-proliferative activity.” (American Botanical Council, HerbalEGram, May 2016).

In the past, sorrel was used to remove ink stains, rust, and mold from linen. Juice from the leaves makes an olive green dye, and the roots produce a bright yellow dye.

Sorrel has bright green, long, arrow-shaped leaves, and produces an inflorescence in May-June. It is easy to grow in zones 4-8.  Seeds can be sown directly in the ground before the last frost. Plants can also be divided and shared. It is a perennial in my zone 8b garden. Sorrel does like acidic soil and plenty of sun, but will tolerate some shade. There is a species with red veining, Rumex sanguineus, that makes a nice accent plant in the garden. It is also edible, though it lacks the strong flavor of garden sorrel, Rumex acetosa.

Here is my mother-in-law’s recipe for sorrel soup:

Sorrel Soup

¼ lb. sorrel leaves

1 tbsp. butter

2 cups chicken broth

3 eggs yolks

½ cup cream

Salt and white pepper

Shred the sorrel leaves that have been well-washed, with the stems and center ribs removed. Cook in the butter for a few minutes until soft. Add the chicken broth and simmer for 15 minutes. At serving time, beat three egg yolks with the cream and add to the hot soup, being careful not to let it boil. Season with salt and white pepper to taste and serve immediately.

For more information and recipes using sorrel, please go to The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage.

Medicinal DisclaimerIt 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. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. and is a Master Gardener. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Poppy Seed – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

1586204466164blobPoppies are a colorful springtime addition to the garden bed. Their striking crepe paper-like flowers tower over other perennials that are just beginning to put on new growth for the season. The deeply lobed, light green leaves readily fill in the empty spaces that can later be filled in with summer annuals when the poppy finishes its dramatic display.

These show-stopping blooms are the source of poppy seeds, the Herb of the Month for The Herb Society of America. Each bulbous poppy seed pod contains hundreds, perhaps thousands of gray-black seeds. The seeds are edible and are often sprinkled on top of bagels and used in cakes. They are also added to salad dressings and are the star ingredient in one of my favorite Polish pastries—poppy seed strudel. The seed pod itself creates its own drama in the garden and when dried, makes a striking addition to flower arrangements.

However, the sap, also referred to as opium gum, from the unripe poppy seed capsule, leaves, and to a lesser extent  the stems, contains the compounds morphine, thebaine, and codeine. Morphine and thebaine are then used to synthesize heroine and oxycodone, respectively. Because of its pain-relieving properties, the poppy is an important medicinal plant in the pharmaceutical industry. Most of the medicinal opium comes from Turkey, India, and Australia. According to a United Nation report, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Mexico are the major illegal growers of opium poppies from which heroin is made. 

1586204635445blobPoppies have been used as a medicinal plant for nearly 6000 years, when it was first cultivated in Southwest Asia. The list of its uses in folk medicine is quite extensive. Ancient Sumerians referred to it as hul gil or “joy plant.” Its use and cultivation followed the Silk Road to China where it became the reason for the Opium Wars in the middle 1800s. 

Today, it is illegal to grow the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, for large-scale production in the United States. But growing P. somniferum is typically ok for ornamental uses in the home garden. An interesting read is an essay published in Harpers written by the food writer and journalist, Michael Pollan, who detailed his soul searching deliberations about growing ornamental poppies in his own garden. 

1586204527808blobPoppies are very easy to grow in sun and good soil. There are many different varieties and colors. In the north, they can be a perennial. However, in southern gardens they are only an annual. Seeds, which can be broadcast over the bare earth, are sown in the early spring in the north, and in the south they are sown in late fall.  Mixing the seed with sand helps to evenly distribute the seed. The plants have a deep taproot and do not like to be transplanted. If the seed pods are left on the plants, they will reseed themselves, and you will have plenty of stunning volunteers to color your garden the following year and for many years thereafter. They tend to hybridize easily, so if you want to maintain a certain variety of poppy, you need to keep different types separated. Growing P. somniferum for ornamental purposes can be illegal in some states. Consult with local law authorities.

Flanders poppy_public domain

Flanders poppy

Remembrance Day and Memorial Day are the times when we wear the red poppy to remember those who sacrificed their lives during wars. The Flanders poppy, Papaver rhoeas, grew profusely over the graves of fallen soldiers in WWI when the seeds were exposed to the light they needed to germinate. John McCrae, a brigade surgeon during the war, wrote of these poppies in his poem In Flanders Fields.

For more information, recipes, and a colorful poppy screensaver, visit The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage. 

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

A Healing Herbal Gift

By: Gladys McKinneyIMG_7276

What with the coronavirus outbreak and so many people becoming ill with COVID-19, I wondered what I could do to help, besides staying home, of course. The images seen across social media and press reports are heartbreaking, to say the least.

I wanted to respond with herbs. My sister, my daughter, and my niece are all nurses, and I have a number of family members who are also in law enforcement. So, they have to put on and take off their safety equipment many times throughout the day during this phase of the crisis. The images of our first responders with broken skin, where the safety equipment rubs, seemed to need a response from somewhere, and petroleum jelly was not going to do it. So, I created the following recipe for a healing moisturizer.

The end result has a whipped butter texture that, IMG_7275admittedly, is somewhat greasy when put on due to the oils that are in it. But, keep in mind that these are the healing oils that the skin will need after a long day. After washing your face at night, simply put this moisturizer on. Wash it off in the morning, and then apply whatever moisturizer you would normally use. The healing moisturizer can be used on hands, elbows, and knees in the evening as well. This is not a regular everyday go-to moisturizer, but a way of moisturizing skin that has been through a rough day.

Healing Herbal Moisturizer

First, fill a small mason jar with dried roses* and add enough almond oil to completely cover them. Let this sit for about a week. This creates the rose-infused oil needed in the recipe.

IMG_72901 cup of shea butter

4 tablespoons of jojoba oil

2 tablespoons of rose-infused almond oil, strained from the roses.

2 teaspoons of honey

10 drops of vitamin E oil

10 drops of German (blue) chamomile essential oil

Chamomile is a favorite of mine. The flowers have a sweet apple scent that brings sunshine with each breath. Chamomile has been reputed to help with upset stomachs, colicky babies, insomnia, and soothing emotions. The reason for its application here is that chamomile has been noted to help with skin irritation, sores, and assist in wound healing.**

  1. Heat the shea butter and jojoba oil in a double boiler. Stir. Once melted, remove from heat and add the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Place in the refrigerator. Once this is solid and creamy white, take it out.
  3. Whip this until it looks like whipped cream.
  4. I put the whipped moisturizer in clear 5 gram screw top containers and needed just over 50 of them.IMG_7277

You can give these out to the first responders in your life, drop them by facilities that you think would need them, or if you are a first responder, you can make this for yourself.

Thank you to all the first responders for their loyalty and love for their fellow humans during this time.

*Do not use florists’ roses as they may have been treated with chemicals during processing.

**Never take essential oils internally.

Sources for ingredients:

Note: This recipe’s ingredients can be modified with ingredients of your choice. Just keep in mind not to allow anything with water to touch what you are doing, because it creates an environment for bacterial growth.

While The Herb Society of America does not endorse one establishment over another, we’ve provided some sources to help get you started. Please utilize due diligence in locating the material of your choosing.

Better Shea Butter

Mountain Rose Herbs  (an Herb Society of America business member)

Author’s Note: As of this writing, Mountain Rose Herbs will be temporarily closed until April 24th, 2020. Please read their statement here.

Starwest Botanicals

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.


IMG_7308

Gladys and daughter Cheyenne, a nurse

Gladys McKinney is The Herb Society of America’s Treasurer and lives in Cape May, NJ. She has six children, loves accounting and herbs. When not busy with accounting, her favorite things to do with her children and one grandchild include gardening, going to the ocean, and reading old herbal books.

Membership Raffle Drawing

By: Cheryl Skibicki

HSA HQ

Herb Society of America Headquarters, Kirtland, Ohio

Hello, Herb Society of America members! We would have loved to do this new member raffle drawing with all of you in Charleston, SC, next week, but we hope you and your families are staying home and are in good health. Thanks so much to all of our members who share our love of herbs.

We had 317 new members join us in the past year! Whether they found us through social media, attended a webinar, or were referred by a friend, they all add value to our community of herbal enthusiasts. We’re picking one winner per district to receive one-year of free membership, a $55 value. This raffle was open to anyone who let us know that they recruited a friend to join us in the past year.

Names were drawn out of mason jars from the home office of our Membership Coordinator, Cheryl. Those jars will now be filled with dried herbs, pickled ramps, and Winnerother herbal concoctions. Read on to find out who our lucky winners are:

Central District

Winner: Tricia H. from the Wisconsin Unit

Great Lakes District

Winner: Krystyna W. from the Central Ohio Unit

Mid-Atlantic District

Winner: The Pennsylvania Heartland Unit

After referring Marcia G., who joined us in April 2019, the PA Heartland Unit will get to award one-year of free membership to one of their members!

Northeast District

Winner: Roxanne V. from the New York Unit

South Central District

Winner: Sherrie T. from the Pioneer Unit

Southeast District

Winner: Debbie B. who is a Member At Large

West District

Winner: The Northern California Unit

After referring Deborah M., who joined us in August, the Northern California Unit will get to award one-year of free membership to one of their members!

Congratulations to all our winners!

Not a member of The Herb Society of America? Join now and become a part of the herbal Thankyouexcitement. Benefits of membership include discounts, Reciprocal Admissions to over 300 public gardens and arboreta, free webinars, newsletters, and The Herbarist, the Herb Society’s annual publication. As always, thank you for your support, which makes our work possible.


CherylSCheryl Skibicki joined The Herb Society of America in December, 2019, as the Membership & Development Coordinator at Headquarters. She got her start exploring the fields and forests of Western New York, fundraising for farm to school education in Nevada, farming in Washington, harvesting honey in Montana, and is now planting roots in Ohio. Her “herbal” journey began with an epiphany in a nettle patch that she mistook for mint. Her nose stung for a good while afterward!