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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Plants Go To War – A Book Review

By Maryann Readal

To quote author Judith Sumner in the preface to her new book, Plants Go to War: A Botanical Plants go to war coverHistory of World War II, “The war could not have been won without rubber, but the same might be said about wheat, cotton, lumber, quinine, and penicillin, all with botanical origins.” In her book, Sumner documents many of the plants that were critical to World War II efforts on all sides of the battlefield. Indeed, her research is exhaustive in that she covers not only the military uses of plants but also civilian uses as well by the major countries involved in the war.

As the war disrupted supplies of plants needed for medicine, food, and manufacturing, governments had to look for alternatives. Some were successful in growing tropical plants and food crops on their own soil; some began to look for chemical alternatives. A chemical synthesis of quinine to fight malaria was one of those discovered alternatives.

Sumner reveals that adequate nutrition was a monumental consideration for governments. Not only troop nutrition, but also civilian nutrition, as it was important that good physical and mental health of all people was critical to support the war effort. Victory gardens were born then, with many people growing their own fruits and vegetables so that soldiers would have enough to eat. In Great Britain, people were encouraged to grow vegetables even in bombed-out craters. Schoolchildren would go on farming vacations in order to grow and harvest crops due to victory-gardens-for-family-and-country-these-victory-gardeners-are-transferring-1024the shortage of men to do the farming. In Germany, the Lebensraum idea was the impetus behind Hitler’s attempt to secure more land for German farmers to grow German native plants for food and other purposes.

In reading Judith’s book, I got a glimpse into the incredible foresight and organization governments need to conduct a war on the battlefield, while simultaneously sustaining the home front. Reading the book also enabled me to better understand some of my parents’ attitudes about food and thrift that carried over into everyday life, even when the war was over.

To those of us who are involved with the collection and spreading of plant, and particularly herb, knowledge, this book demonstrates how important that work is. For as Ms. Sumner says in her book, “practical information about how plants could be used for survival came from botanical gardens, herbaria, and notes archived in botanical libraries.”

Sumner says that her “goal was to write an encyclopedic synthesis of civilian and military plant uses and botanical connections as they relate to World War II.” I believe she has accomplished this goal with her authoritative and informative book. I am sure that it is destined to be a classic source on this topic. Her book is a reminder of how important plants and plant knowledge, collected during peace time, can be in a world crisis.


JUDITH SUMNER is a botanist and author with particular interest in the historical uses of plants. She is a frequent lecturer for audiences of all kinds and has taught for many years at colleges and botanical gardens. She lives in Worcester, MA. Judith received The Herb Society of America’s Gertrude Foster writing award in 2007.

Plants Go To War: A Botanical History of World War II by Judith Sumner. Publisher: McFarland. McFarlandBooks.com


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

 

Love and bayberry

When I was young, my mother would put branches of bayberry in a pewter teapot. She received the twigs each year from a friend who had bayberry (Myrica) bushes around her yard. My mother would put the pewter teapot with its silver berries on the mantle next to the clock. When I saw the arrangement I knew that Thanksgiving was coming. We would soon be celebrating with cousins, aunts, uncles, and of course grandparents. During this stage of my life, the sight of bayberry evoked thoughts of friendship and family.WP_20140529_014

Later, when I was in graduate school at Rutgers University, I began a research project examining the soil arthropods under bayberry bushes. I went to a field every other week to take samples of the soil. It was hot, itchy, sweaty, and dirty work. I had to watch out for spiders and ticks—and anything else that might be lurking. But I was happy. I was following my dream.

One day when I was struggling under the canopy of beautifully scented leaves I heard a familiar voice. My long-time friend, Bill, had ridden his bicycle to the field with ice cold root beers for us to enjoy. He parked the bike and himself under the sassafras tree adjacent to the bayberry thicket and handed me the refreshment. While I drank, he asked me to marry him! Most men choose a romantic spot or setting. They try to make everything perfect. Bill, in his usual understated and reassuring way, decided to demonstrate that he wanted me, all of me, just the way I was. Sweat, dirt, ticks, and all! At that point bayberry came to represent acceptance, support, never-ending loyalty, and, most of all, love. My old plant friend had taken on a new meaning for me.

We married and moved to Cleveland Heights, OH. There the bayberry hedge around the garden of the Western Reserve Unit of the Herb Society of America gives me a quiet pleasure as I help tend the garden.WP_20140529_008

This year Bill and I celebrate our thirty fifth anniversary. We are planting bayberry bushes to make our own hedge around a new patio that is just big enough for two. Fifteen years from now the hedge will be large enough to shade us on our fiftieth anniversary, while I tell him how very glad I am that he came to visit me in the field all those years ago!WP_20140529_016

submitted by Priscilla Jones, Western Reserve Unit, Great Lakes District

The Fragrance of Herbs

Fragrance is one of the characteristics of herbs that appeals to me greatly. The scent of a rosemary bush when you brush by it, the aromas of gardenias and roses, mints and pelargonia, lavender, lemon verbena, and the lovely fragrance of this year’s long gone Meyer lemon blossoms are just a few of the wondrous olfactory delights of these herbal plants.

In December, the scents of fir, spruce, juniper and other evergreens herald the joyous season. Spices, too, increase odiferous delight. Cinnamon, clove, star anise, and ginger, embodied in baked goods, mulled ciders, or simmer pots create a warmth of feeling on the chilly winter days and nights.

Fragrances may evoke memories of those we have known and loved, cultivating delight.

I have been blessed through the years to meet some amazing herb enthusiasts. Each has taught me, nurtured me, encouraged me, and inspired me. Some are no longer in our midst, but remain safely in my heart. And so, as I conjure seasonal herb and spice aromas, I think of them.

In 1979, I met the only remaining living founder of The Herb Society of America, Ann Burrage. She was petite and feisty and introduced me to Coffee Nips from Holland. I have a treasured picture of her from a few years later with my dad, Rollie Remmel, an herbal treasure in his own right.

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Three herbal stars were Nancy Howard, Caroline Cadwalader, and Joanna Reed. Each of them became dear to me. And while I do not have a fragrant plant to remind me of Caroline, I think of her often. As for Nancy and Joanna, Nancy’s cardamom plant has survived decades. Its leaves emit a nice scent when rubbed. Joanna’s apothecary rose resides along my fence, offering up the wonderful scent of roses in early summer.

Fuzzy Lord and Madeleine Hill provided plants, knowledge, books and friendship and dwell in my thoughts on a regular basis. Fuzzy taught me about jojoba and folklore – another passion of mine. Madeleine became a mentor and friend.

As for the first herbal enthusiast I met, who is happily still with us, I think of my mom, Ruth Remmel, who now has lost her sense of smell. She can remember scent, though, and delights in those memories.

As you surround yourself with the aromas of the holidays, who or what do they bring to mind? I hope the memories evoked are as special as mine…

submitted by Mary Remmel Wohlleb, former HSA President
Arkansas Unit, Southeast District

Bad timing

Last year I purchased plants from my unit at the South Texas Unit Herb Fair. In 2012 in particular, we offered exceptional plants to our faithful customers. For my own garden, I bought lamb’s ears, nasturtium and passionflower. 

Many of my friends grow passionflower in their Houston gardens, but I had never tried one. Passiflora is such a beautiful, useful plant and I wanted to supply larval food to the Gulf fritillary butterfly.

All the plants I purchased did extremely well in my garden. The nasturtiums sprawled across an area like an orange carpet. Stunning! The lamb’s ears did equally well. I love their texture and the silvery-white glow they provide in the evening garden. 
 
The passionflower grew very fast, as I had been told. My friends warned me that it has a mind of its own and I would be pulling up volunteers all through the yard. Yes, that happened too. I would run out and pull them out before my husband discovered them taking over. 
 
I had found a perfect place on the west side of our house to allow the passionflower to grow up some ironwork. I carefully staked it as it grew. Mr. Lain, being the tidy clipper that he is, kept its tendrils cut back so it did not attack unsuspecting guests walking up the sidewalk. 
 
In the meantime, life goes on. I am busy traveling back and forth between Houston and Fort Worth. Then we decide it is time to sell our Houston house and make the permanent move to the Fort Worth area. 
 
Moves are momentous distractions from gardening! I had cared for the Houston garden for 25 years; it was going to be hard to say goodbye to our plants. 
 
The move is now accomplished. On my computer, I signed the necessary closing documents from my location in Fort Worth. Billy, on the other hand, was to be present in Houston at the closing on the 29th of August. The day before closing he returned to the house for the final time. Can you guess what he saw? Yup, the passionflower was in bloom! He was amazed and told me that the flowers were as beautiful as I said they would be. 
 Passiflora
Like the closing documents I signed, I only got to see the passionflower bloom electronically. Oh well, it bloomed in its own time, not mine.
submitted by Linda Lain, former HSA President
South Texas Unit, South Central District

Power of a green bottle

I remember standing in the kitchen watching the sun reflect off the colorful glass bottles lined up on my Mother’s windowsill. I do not remember all the plants that were rooting in the bottles, but I do remember the fragrance of mint. Mother put mint in our summer tea and I often chewed on a leaf, if one escaped into my glass.

Women of the 1940’s and 50’s were resourceful gardeners. Mother had little money to spend on plants; so she saved seeds, divided her perennials, and relied on friends to provide our small garden with “pass-a-long” herbs and vegetables. She was happiest when she had free time to work in her garden.

My parents were educators, Daddy, an elementary school principal and Mother, a classroom teacher. Summers were a reward for the long hours in the classroom. Weekend get-togethers were spent with friends, which usually consisted of a game of cards or dominos.

We often enjoyed covered dishes using fresh garden vegetables, flavored with parsley, sage, and shallots. The shallots were dug from under the big tree in the side yard. I followed Mother most Sunday mornings on our ritual to that same tree where we dug garlic for our after-church roast beef luncheon, filled with potatoes, carrots, and onions from the garden.

It was not until I began my own herbal journey that I once again remembered the green, brown, and blue bottles on the sill. I had heard stories of how the colored bottles helped plants root. I am sure there is no scientific evidence, but they did seem to work for Mother and friends.

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I had a difficult time rooting my rosemary cuttings and the green bottle of so long ago seemed like a good idea. I washed off the label from a small, green, glass bottle, carefully stripped the lower leaves from my rosemary cutting, and placed it in the water-filled bottle. The rosemary lived happily on my sill. I changed the water often and allowed the sun to reflect, just as Mother did so long ago. Before long, the rosemary cutting rooted and I felt as if Mother was there at my side encouraging me. With this success, I continue to use powerful green glass bottles for many of my herb cuttings.

Today when friends come to visit my garden, I am sure to gift them with a small green bottle and all the herb cuttings they desire, carefully explaining Mother’s method. I can just imagine Mother’s delight!

submitted by Mary Nell Jackson, Member at Large, South Central District

Herbal Memories of a Dear Friend

When I was a child in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, we had neighbors who had four children about the same ages as the four children in our family. Both of their parents were passionate about herbs and kept an herb garden, which they used regularly for seasoning their meals.

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Fordham Webster Calhoun

The father was a physician. The mother, Fordham Webster Calhoun, was a loving and giving person and a wonderful cook. She grew up in an herbal family. Her mother, Helen Noyes Webster, wrote the book, Herbs – How To Grow Them and How To Use Them, in the late 1930s. She had been involved with the Herb Society in New England.

When I was a young bride, Fordham took me under her wing and taught me a great deal about herbs as she shared her love of them with me. She showed me how to make horehound candy. I still make it each year with one of her daughters. I trim the plants several times during the growing season and dry them. We make the horehound drops on a clear day each December in time for giving to family and friends at Christmas time. The candies take care of any throat irritations during the winter and are ready in time for cold and flu season. We have learned to store them in sealed plastic bags in the freezer to keep them crisp and hard indefinitely.

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Source: The University of Arizona Press

When my friend Fordham was elderly, she fell and broke her hip on a beach in New England. I spoke with her about how she was doing and she said she was fine but did not like the food. It was tasteless without any herbs to season the meals. Hospital food! I knew she was getting better at that point.

Years later, when she was near death, her children included me in those final precious days and moments with her. What a gift it was to be there with each of them. I took a sprig of rosemary since the sense of smell is the last sense to go. I knew that she would appreciate the fact that rosemary symbolizes love, friendship and remembrance. We had shared all of these over the years.

submitted by Amy Borer, Unit chair, Philadelphia Unit

Editor’s notes

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned horehound from cough drops in 1989 due to insufficient evidence supporting its efficacy. However, horehound is currently widely used in Europe, and it can be found in European-made herbal cough remedies sold in the United States (for example, Ricola®).
  • Members can borrow the book, Herbs – How To Grow Them and How To Use Them by Helen Noyes Webster, through The Herb Society of America’s library.