One Man’s Road to Herbal Success: An Interview

By Chrissy Moore

IMG_8012I have always been fascinated by people’s life stories, particularly those in the herb world. How did they end up where they did? What circumstances led them down their chosen path? Some people take decades—and numerous career maneuverings—before they settle into their career of choice; others know their life’s calling from an early age. For Bill Varney, owner of URBANherbal in Fredricksburg, TX, his life’s work encompassed all those things and more. I recently asked Bill to give me a glimpse into his world as an herbal enthusiast and business owner and what it takes to succeed. Here’s what he said:

When did you first encounter herbs?

IMG_8007BV: I first discovered plants and gardening when I was very young! When I was eight years old, my parents had a greenhouse built for me, and I would start all kinds of plants from seeds and cuttings. Later as my love for all things green grew, I developed a love of herbs. That was about 1985, when I opened a small herbal apothecary shop and small herbal nursery, Varney’s Chemist Laden.

What is your technical background (education or otherwise)?

BV: I grew up tending to people’s gardens, worked for a number of nurseries, then received a B.S. in Business with a Minor in Horticulture from Oklahoma Panhandle State University. I went there because I had volunteered to help my elderly grandparents who lived in the area. Later, I became a Texas Certified Nurseryman.

Have you always known you wanted to work with plants/herbs?

BV: Yes, I have always had a “green thumb.” I have always been intrigued by plants, their use, their contribution to the world, whether they are reproduced by seed, rooted cuttings, etc. After I finished college and had a one -year agriculture stint in Tasmania, Australia, I returned to Houston, Texas, where my family was living and went to work for a well known nursery as their landscape buyer. Later, I wanted to “get out of the big city” and moved to Fredericksburg, Texas, to manage a local nursery. It was soon after that that I started Varney’s Chemist Laden, which later grew into the Fredricksburg Herb Farm. I sold that operation in 2007 and simplified my life to URBANherbal.

Give me a synopsis of your road to URBANherbal. 

IMG_7988BV: When I owned the Fredricksburg Herb Farm, it was a very high end, labor intensive business with acres of manicured gardens, a day spa, bed and breakfast, two retail stores, a James Beard recognized restaurant, and wholesale operation that sold our products all over the world. Life was kind of crazy for me with “fires” to put out daily! I revamped and started URBANherbal. My son had finished his undergraduate degree and came home to help me for a year to open URBANherbal. A much simpler life: a laboratory, greenhouse, smaller gardens, and art galleries. For the most part, a one-man operation with a little help here and there. I make colognes, aromatherapy products, skin care for both men and women, candles, and gourmet foods. I also do landscape consulting and public speaking.

Can you describe your herb gardening style for those who are unable to visit your establishment in person? 

IMG_8017BV: I always try to build gardens that use as many natives as possible, that attract pollinators, and are drought tolerant. I have studied Frederick Olmstead and Adelma Simmons (and got to visit with her a few times) and, of course, Madalene Hill from here in Texas.

What inspired you to start the apothecary shop segment of your herb garden, and how did that lead to the skin care/fragrance lines and the culinary products?

BV: Well, originally, our first store was an herbal apothecary store, Varney’s Chemist Laden. We sold “old fashioned” scents and skincare from old, reputable companies and finally realized we could do better, and our products ended up selling faster than the ones we were retailing. I ended up hiring an elderly retired founding chemist of a manufacturing skincare company to come for a few months and help formulate. Many of our products got recognized by the media and some received awards. I really enjoy custom making things for clients.

From what do you draw the most inspiration, both in your gardening and in your product development?

BV: I always am inspired daily if I can just bring a bit of happiness to one or two people either through products, plants, or foods through all of our senses. My personal life is inspired through faith, hope and love with friends, family, and anyone I meet.

Urban Herbal Map

Is there a fragrance profile or collection of herbs that you gravitate toward more than others?

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BV: Personally, I love woody scents, citrus scents, masculine scents, lavender, lemon verbena, peppermint, eucalyptus, patchouli, musk, just to name a few. But I am always drawn to white flowers and night blooming flowers, not for myself on my body, but just to smell them and make PRODUCTS WITH THEM.

Which herbs/profiles do you find the most challenging to work with and why?

BV: Sweet woodruff and French tarragon because it is too hot here in Texas to grow them.

Who were your biggest herbal influences (alive or deceased), both in your younger years and as an adult? Do you have any herbal superheroes today that provide you with encouragement along your herbal journey?

BV: Well, as I said previously, I was really inspired by reading about Frederick Olmstead and his visions in landscapes. Walafrid Strabo, who around 840 A.D., wrote a beautiful poem called “Hortulus,” in which he lovingly describes clearing a garden of stinging nettles and preparing IMG_7986the soil to plant sage, southernwood, wormwood, fennel, poppy, clary, mint, pennyroyal, celery, betony, agrimony, tansy, catmint, and radish. Strabo introduces his herbs the way a mother might speak of her children, praising their qualities without neglecting their occasional blemish. In my life, Adelma Simmons, who founded Caprilands Herb Farm in Coventry, Connecticut, and Madalene Hill, who founded Hilltop Herb Farm and later built the gardens at Round Top, Texas. In Madalene’s book, Southern Herb Growing, I was really proud that she had a few pictures in the front of her book of my first herb gardens. After her book came out, she came to my place and did a class and book signing. I have always admired Emelie Tolley and all of her books, and she and I have been friends for many years. In my book, Herbs: Growing and Using the Plants of Romance, Emelie wrote the forward. She came many times over the years and did stories on my gardens and business, and I was thrilled to visit her in New York City at her country home in NY. I have also always been inspired by Jeanne Rose. She came years ago and did a class and book signing at my place, and I have visited her in San Francisco. Betsy Williams has always been an inspiration to me. I think that my biggest inspiration is everyday herb gardeners whom URBANherbal gardenwe meet and we can share with. As James Beard, the famous chef, said, “We learn from each other and end up teaching ourselves.” Also, I have always been inspired by Lady Bird Johnson. She came into my store many times over the years and would have me make things for her to give as gifts. Her love of nature and wildflowers has done so much for our island home, Earth.

For 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 URBANherbal?

BV: Yes, having your own business is a huge sacrifice, personally in man hours and struggles. My biggest driving philosophy is: “Touching all of your senses, daily. Hearing, Touching, Seeing, Tasting, Smelling and our Sixth Sense, our Spirit.” I strongly feel that these things are where herbs can really affect our lives in spirit, balance, texture, space, and love.

What brings you the most joy in your herbal day?

BV: Making something that will help someone! Be it a small plant, a cologne, a room freshener, a cream to make someone feel better, or a simple herb vinegar or seasoning that will enhance someone’s food.

Herbs have many stories to tell, from historical uses to modern industries. Do you have a favorite herb story that you find yourself telling over and over again?

BV: I think that hearing people tell me that they can’t handle being around scents. I find that it is because they have been around “commercial scents” that are not good for you, and they are not natural! So many people tell me that they can wear my scents, and they don’t have a negative reaction. Herbs and flowers are nature’s courtesans. They elevate our moods, fragrance the air around us, and so many are edible and medicinal. For instance, rosemary and lavender can be used for fragrance, in foods, and in healing. You should have herbs and flowers around you daily!

Herbs aren’t the first thing people think of when they hear “Texas.” What do you think people are most surprised to learn about herbs or herb growing in your neck of the woods?

Theresa Wylie URBANherbal dinner tableBV: I think that when they find out how easy most herbs are to grow around here and then find out how much they can enhance our lives and they are really surprised! The fact that they attract butterflies, bees, birds, and release beautiful scents in your gardens and in pots, and trigger so many memories through your senses. The air you breathe affects not just your health but also your mood.

I’m not going to ask you your favorite herb, because that is often like picking a favorite child. Instead, what handful of herbs would you recommend every new herbie explore (for various reasons/uses)?

BV: Lavender for scent, Beauty, healing, and flavor.

Rosemary for scent, beauty, healing, and flavor.

Thyme for scent, beauty, healing, and flavor.

Roses for beauty, scent, healing, and flavor.

Rose geraniums for healing, scent, and cooking.

Allium tuberosum2 46966H

Chives for flavor and the beauty of their flowers.

Sage for beauty, scent, flavor, and healing.

Basil for flavor, fragrance, healing, and beauty.

Lemon verbena for fragrance, aromatherapy, scent, beauty, and magnificent flavor for foods and drinks.

These are just a few of my favorite herbs…….

How would you characterize your road to herbal admiration and its impact on your life?

20200507_115313BV: Working with herbs and plants, one gets to know their essence and understand they are not just a commodity. The gardener and herbalist becomes rooted to the ground with them as part of God’s creation. We are trying to be stewards of our environment. It is not an accident that the humus, or the soil, comes from the same word. It’s the base from which everything grows. Gardening and my spiritual life go together. I just can’t imagine a day in my life that I’m not using herbs in some way. I really relate to this simple quote from the designer and architect, Ettore Softass, “basil-flavored architecture,” as a way of expressing the idea of achieving much with little.

Lastly, if you were to give advice to someone embarking on their own herbal “quest,” such as starting a business or a garden, etc., what key elements have you found to be the most important for successful endeavors? 

Theresa Wylie Bill VarneyBV: Make sure you are passionate about what you want to do with herbs! Do everything you can to educate yourself about herbs. Get to know other herb lovers through organizations like The Herb Society of America or garden clubs, or online groups, because that is one of the best ways to learn. Be creative about what you are going to do. Remember, you are going to have to work hard! Have a strategy, write it down. Bounce your ideas off of friends and family. 🌺

Many thanks to Bill Varney for sharing his time and talents regarding his road to herbal success!

Photo credits: 1) Bill Varney in his greenhouse (B. Varney); 2) BV as young horticulturist (B. Varney); 3) Chef Bill (B. Varney); 4) BV with Madalene Hill (B. Varney); 5) Map of Bill’s garden (B. Varney); 6) Calamondin (Citrofortunella microcarpa) fruit and flowers (C. Moore); 7) BV with Adelma Simmons (B. Varney); 8) URBANherbal gardens (Theresa Wylie, Hey,Traveler blog); 9) Herbal salad (B. Varney); 10) Dinner at URBANherbal (Theresa Wylie, Hey, Traveler blog); 11) Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) (C. Moore); 12) Rose blossom (Rosa sp.) and bee (C. Moore); 13) BV in URBANherbal greenhouse (Theresa Wylie, Hey, Traveler blog).

 


Chrissy Moore is the curator of the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. She is a member of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America and is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.

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.

Making More Little Herbalists

By Andrea Jackson

DSC_0161When we love something, it’s impossible not to share it with others, particularly those we care about most. Herbs and children are such a natural combination, it’s easy to draw a child in by offering them a smell or a taste or by telling them a fascinating story about the plant. Then, before you know it, you are making all manner of herbal goodies together.

My granddaughter, Marin, lives about three hours away, but each time she comes to visit, she wants to explore my herb room and I’m thrilled to oblige her. We smell and taste and put things together. Each time she comes, she wants to make a potpourri, and so, has ended up with quite an array in her bedroom. From there, we graduated to making lotions, which she loves to slather on and share with her mom. When she was seven, she wanted to have an herbal birthday party. She invited ten of her friends, and we made rose lavender potpourri and lavender lotion. It was quite hands on for the group, but flower-2510254_1920they all were excited to participate. They loved the way everything smelled, and each little girl went home with a little bottle of lotion and a small bag of potpourri. Now, she is almost a teenager and her interests have waned somewhat, but she still wants to make potpourri each time she comes.

My niece, Gabby, seems to have a natural affinity for plants. From a young age, she was pulling weeds in the parking lots of restaurants. And now, she loves herbs and frequently calls with questions. Her mom grows a wide variety of them, and she sent me a video of Gabby with a necklace of intertwined herbs answering the question, “How can you tell something is in the mint family?” She confidently shouted, “Square stems.” We make jams together whenever we can.

picking-flowers-391610_1920Then along came my granddaughter, Gemma, who not only lives locally but whom I babysit weekly. That provides lots and lots of time for herbal teaching. Since she was eighteen months old, she’s been out in the garden tasting and rubbing leaves and smelling the wonderful scents. On the way to the playground there is a field of weeds, and we always take time to tell their stories. One day my daughter called  to tell me that Gemma was “eating the landscape,” so we instituted the rule never to eat a plant unless I gave it to her.

We plant a tiny container garden each year, which she tends, and she is thrilled when the plants come up and she has something new to taste and share. In addition to caring for her garden, she has been making potpourri with me. She is four now and can distinguish between some mints, and she loves lavender.

When she was three, we took a walk and passed a field of plants. Gemma said, “Look at all the burdock.” I can certainly die happy. 

Photo credits: 1) School children visiting the National Herb Garden (Jeanette Proudfoot); 2) Potpourri (Monfocus, Pixabay); 3) Child gathering wildflowers (SMBlake, Pixabay).


Andrea JacksonAndrea Jackson is a member of the Western Pennsylvania Unit of the Herb Society of America. When she lived in Baltimore, she was a founding member of Partners in Thyme. She also belongs to the American Herbalists Guild, and the American Botanical Council. Herbs aside, Andrea is a registered nurse and a Master Gardener and lectures extensively to groups ranging from professional organizations to garden clubs. Her particular interests lie in the medicinal uses of herbs, herbal lore, and weeds, which she considers to be the first herbs. When she is not spreading the herbal gospel, she is tucked away in her herb room formulating various concoctions.

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.

Dr. Faith Mitchell on Hoodoo Medicine

By Paris Wolfe

Gullah_s_carolina_1790

Gullah slaves, circa 1790

When author and medical anthropologist, Faith Mitchell, Ph.D., was an undergraduate studying anthropology at the University of Michigan in the 1970s, she spent three summers in the Sea Islands. Numbering more than 100, the Sea Islands are a chain of tidal and barrier islands on the Southeastern Atlantic. While they’re home to luxury estates today, they were still very rural in the 1970s.

At that time, Sea Island residents were mostly African-American descendants of plantation slaves. Known as the Gullah people, they had been geographically isolated from the mainland for generations. Because of that, combined with the effects of racial discrimination, Mitchell says, “They had a lot of African traditions that were maintained through oral tradition, more so than in any other parts of the south.”Copy of Sea Islands 512

Among these traditions was folk medicine that had originated in Africa and merged with Native American and European practices. Interestingly, it bears some resemblance to Jamaican folk medicine, but that’s another story.

As a student, Mitchell was fascinated by the use of plants and natural materials in healing, so she started collecting information about what locals called “roots” medicine. It’s important, she says, to distinguish between what people term good and bad “roots” medicine. “Good roots” is the use of plants, mud, and other natural materials with healing powers, she explains. Meanwhile, “bad roots” is the use of natural materials – plants, blood, bones, candles, feathers and more – for magical purposes, akin to voodoo.

CoverTo capture this cultural treasure, Mitchell wrote Hoodoo Medicine: Gullah Herbal Remedies, which was first published in 1978 and then republished in 1999.

The book starts with a brief history of the area and then details medicinal roots, herbs, and plants used in Gullah culture. Artist Naomi Steinfeld produced more than 50 drawings of various medicinal plants to illustrate the book.

Practices described 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. The healing practices remain relevant today for people interested in new pathways to health.

Unfortunately, says Mitchell, much of this tradition has been threatened over the years by the commercial development of the Sea Islands, the exodus of younger generations in search of work, and reduced isolation from the mainland and mainstream. Fortunately, there is renewed interest among Gullah descendants in preserving their unique history and culture.

Cotton Flower

Cotton flower used medicinally on the Sea Islands

Today, Mitchell is the recently-retired CEO of Grantmakers In Health and is a fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, working with the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy and the Health Policy Center. She is also developing the Urban Institute’s American Transformation project, which will look at the implications—and possibilities—of this country’s racial and ethnic evolution.

 

Faith MitchellDr. Mitchell has a doctorate in medical anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. She has written or edited numerous policy-related publications as well as Hoodoo Medicine. For more information and to purchase her book, visit Dr. Mitchell’s website.

 

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.


Paris Wolfe is an award winning writer of business, food, and travel articles.

New Blogmasters for The Herb Society of America

By Maryann Readal

It is with great pleasure that I announce to our blog readers that two very accomplished horticulture professionals are taking over leadership of The Herb Society of America’s Blog. We look forward to them sharing their extensive and diverse knowledge and expertise with you, our readers. They will make certain that you are getting information that is authoritative, useful, and interesting to read. 

Now let me introduce to you our two new HSA Blogmasters.

Chrissy Moore is currently the curator of the National Herb Garden at the U.S. NationalGrayc blog intro photo cropped Arboretum in Washington, DC. She attended St. Mary’s College of Maryland, receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology with a focus in plant biology. After completing two horticulture internships at the U.S. National Arboretum—one of which was in the National Herb Garden—she spent two years in the Education and Visitor Services Unit at the Arboretum. She then served as the National Herb Garden’s gardener from 1998 until September, 2007, when she accepted her current position. 

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 supports the Herban Lifestyles program and facilitates arboricultural symposia for the tree care industry. She is a member of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America and is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist. Chrissy loves learning about the intersection of plants and people and then sharing those stories with whoever will listen. 

Erin Holden also works at the U.S. National Arboretum, as a gardener for the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Erin received a B.S. in biology from Radford University and Me and Arnical cordifolia cropped and zoomed3then an M.S. in herbal medicine from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. While a student at MUIH, she published an article in the Journal of the American Herbalists Guild on herbs for restless legs syndrome and worked in the Herbal Dispensary, filling orders from the school’s herbal clinic. In 2013 she completed an internship in the National Herb Garden (sponsored by the Herb Society of America), and then continued her horticulture career at the Arboretum in her current position. In 2018, she helped launch Herban Lifestyles, an herbal educational series at the Arboretum that teaches participants how to incorporate herbs into everyday life, from dyeing with plants to making herbal salves.

In addition to working at the National Arboretum, Erin is a clinical herbalist and has served as a teaching assistant for different herbal medicine graduate courses. She’s also started a small business creating art with plants, and is currently finishing a horticulture minor through Oregon State University. She is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, United Plant Savers, and a member-at-large of The Herb Society of America. One of her herbal passions is learning about the medicinal uses of plants and sharing that knowledge with others.

Erin and Chrissy both feel that the Herb Society of America blog is a great forum for connecting like-minded herb enthusiasts with educational, interesting, and relevant information about herbs and the people who use them. I think you will agree with me that The Herb Society of America’s Blog could not be in better hands.


Maryann Readal is Secretary of the Herb Society of America and oversees The Society’s social media programs. She is a member of The Society’s Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX.  She gardens in the Piney Woods of east Texas.

Herbalist Hildegard of Bingen

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Unit

Once upon a time, about 1098 to 1179, there was a little girl named Hildegard. She was the tenth of ten children. Her parents were “minor nobility,” but ten kids are a lot of kids. When she was eight years old, Hildegard’s parents gifted her to a convent.

Later, when she wrote her autobiography, she would say that she had started having visions from the time she was six. In these visions, Hildegard witnessed “the fiery life of divine essence,” a living light. This light spoke to Hildegard (in Latin) and explained…everything. Some modern commentators speculate that Hildegard might have suffered from migraines. The visions tended to leave her drained and exhausted.

The care and education of little Hildegard was entrusted to a remarkable woman named Jutta. They lived together in a cottage on the grounds of the Abbey of Saint Disibode, founded by an Irish monk at Disibodenberg. Hildegard became a literate and accomplished woman, took vows as a nun, and continued to have visions. She wrote her first book, Scivias, which means “Know the Ways”, between 1141 and 1151, in which she talked about her visions. She herself painted the image that became the front of the book and portrayed her repeated vision of receiving light. This is the image. She’s writing down things on a wax tablet, discussing things with her secretary. (My children claim the image reminds them of various sci-fi alien visitations.)

Hildegard's visions

The book was a great success. The Bishop of Mainz, (now in Germany), read it, and passed it on to Pope Eugenius III, who became a fan. The literal “enlightenment” that Hildegard received from her visions was examined by the Pope and a special committee. They concluded that her visions were divine. The Pope told her to go on and write whatever the Spirit told her to write. Can you imagine what a big deal that was?

The book was a big hit with women who wanted to join Hildegard, in her rather austere monastic life. The community of women at Disodenberg outgrew its quarters. So she moved to Rupertsberg, near Bingen. Although she traveled widely, she lived mostly at Bingen for the rest of her life, writing other books…and a play…and music. Hildegard wrote about everything. Theology, natural science and medicine were, for her, all part of the same spectrum of knowledge. Just for fun, she made up her own language. She corresponded with four popes and the crowned heads of Europe, giving them personal advice.

This was, as her painting suggests, a woman on fire.

Hildegard’s book, Physica, or Liber Simplicis Medicinae, begins with the study of plants. She goes on, in her delightfully methodical way, to discuss elements, trees, stones, fish, birds, animals, reptiles, and metals. But the section on plants contains entries on more than two hundred plants with medicinal uses. Mostly these were plants that could probably be found in the monastery garden or the nearby woods and fields. Some were exotic but could be purchased. This was, after all, the time of the Crusades. People were traveling, and when they got back from all that bloodletting, they brought back cosmopolitan tastes.

Hildegard organized her observations about each plant in accordance with the understanding of the time: the division of all matter into combinations of the four elements of hot, cold, wet, and dry. It was all a matter of balance. This understanding of the universe sounds strange to modern ears. But Hildegard was a renaissance woman before the Renaissance. She may have made up her own language, but she expressed her understanding of plants in the language of the time.

Hildegard, while aware of the hand of God in all things, was essentially a pragmatist. All things were created by God to serve man. Good plants nourish, and restore elemental balance. Bad plants may be used by the devil to bring ruin to those foolish enough to be deceived by them.

Here are some of Hildegard’s thoughts – from Physica — about herbs you may have in your herb garden or pantry right now:

  • LAVENDER (Lavendula) is warm and dry since it has just a little moisture. It is not worth a person to eat it, but it does have a strong smell. If a person has many lice, let the person smell lavender frequently; the lice will die. And its smell clears the eyes since it contains the power of the strongest aromas and the usefulness of the bitterest one. Therefore, it constrains many evil things, and evil spirits are driven out by it.
  •  NUTMEG (Nux muscata) has great warmth and good temperament in its strength. If a person eats nutmeg, it opens the heart and purifies the senses and brings a good disposition. Take some nutmeg, an equal weight of cinnamon, and a little cloves. Grind these to a powder, add a similar amount of whole wheat flour and a little water, and make a paste from this. Then eat it often. It will calm all the bitterness of heart and mind, open the heart and clouded senses and diminish all the noxious humors; it will contribute good liquid to the blood and make one strong.
  •  ROSE (Rosa) is cold and this same coldness has a useful temperament in it. At daybreak of in the morning, take a rose leaf and place it over your eye; this draws out the humor and makes it clear. Let whoever has a weeping ulcer on his or her body, place a rose leaf over it and draw out the pus. But rose also strengthens any potion or ointment or other medication when it is added to it. And these are so much better if only a little rose has been added to them. This is from the good strength of the rose, as previously mentioned.

Cloves will help a stuffy nose, gout, and dropsy. Hellebore is good for a fever. Wild thyme is curative for those suffering from “a sick brain.” And there are a lot of things that will foster sexual desire, with or without a corresponding increase in fertility.

This is a very small sample. For more, see Bruce W. Hozesli’s translation in Hildegard’s Healing Plants (2001). It’s terrific fun.

Hildegard was obviously a woman of substantial importance in her own time. A Jesuit friend of mine says she used to terrorize her local bishops. I love that. While the process of recognizing her as a saint of the Roman Catholic church began with her beatification in 1326, Hildegard wasn’t canonized until 2012, when she became a Doctor of the Church. Hildegard’s influence was there, quietly waiting for the world to catch up with her. It’s time to share, with delight, her extraordinary divine alchemy.

Herb Garden Springs from Grandma’s Legacy

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

After a four-week hiatus, I’m refreshed and re-energized. Before I launch into herb-centric posts, I’d like to share my reflection on an intense, emotional week.

grandma-with-d2We buried my grandmother this week. She would have been 98 in a three weeks. It was her time to pass, though we earthbound spirits were sad to see her go.

She gave birth to 12 kids and raised 11. I was one of 23 grandchildren and gave her two of her 23 great grandchildren. Her family lived on my grandpa’s income as a coal miner and road crew, supplemented by their small sustainability farm – from fruits and vegetables to livestock and hunting. By living simply and close to the earth they paid off their four-bedroom farmhouse, avoided debt and managed to save enough for her to live and die in her own home.

This wasn’t a fashionable hipster lifestyle choice. It’s what they did to survive; and they did it well.

In her humble, God-fearing ways she was a role model for many outside the family, though I suspect our large, extended family is related to everyone in Northern Cambria County, Pennsylvania.

grandma-as-a-young-womanI can’t even imagine the changes she saw in nine decades of life. One time she told me she felt as though we’d jumped from the horse and buggy to the airplane without pause. Think about the speed of change from 1918 to the mid-1980s when she said that and you can understand why she’d felt overwhelmed. I can’t even imagine the technological shocks of the new millennium.

Her passing makes me reflective. My favorite memories of her involve food. Her gardens. Her fruit trees and bushes. Her kitchen. Her table.  Her homemade bread, chocolate cookies, apple pies. Her shelves of canned goods in the cellar.

She showed me that food is a journey as well as a destination. She showed me that the table is the altar of family. Because of her, gardening is part of my DNA.  And, that is why my herb garden has been so precious to me.

Thank you grandma Rita C. Wolfe. Rest in Peace. I love you.

_________________

Who has inspired your gardening journey? I’d love to know.

 

HSA President Taps Interior Design for Garden Design

Liechty_SusanBy Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Susan Liechty had her first herb garden in 1979 after purchasing her first home. A “self-taught herbie and trial-and-error gardener,” she was one of two woman who, in 1997, started the Delaware County, Ohio, Unit of HSA. Little did she know her involvement would eventually lead to HSA President of the Board of Directors.

In the volunteer position she does a little bit of everything, from board coordination and fundraising to development and research.

She started with HSA on the board of directors in 2005, serving two terms as the Great Lakes district delegate. That led to vice president and, now, president

“My focus is to continue to make HSA relevant into the future as an organization that will inspire future gardeners,” she says. Part of that includes building and maintaining membership. “The Herb Society has always held a special place in my heart for the love of herbs, gardening and the members I’ve met over the years. It is indeed a commitment to serve on the national board but the benefits far outweigh the work.”

“I would encourage any member of HSA to share their many talents and areas of expertise serving on the board of directors in the future for a rewarding experience.”

An Advanced Master Gardener since 1995, Susan has held several positions with the master gardening association, including president, education chair, State of Ohio advisory board as well as started and chaired a local community garden project.

In her real life, Susan has been an Interior Designer for 30 years. Her experiences with interior design have added to the layout, color selections and exterior ‘rooms’ that have been created for the garden.

Susan has many gardens on her six-acre property, including herbs, vegetables, perennials, fruit and specimen trees and shrubs.

“I’m fortunate to have a greenhouse and cold frames so I can extend my greens and herbs into the winter,” she notes. Her opportunity to maintain tender perennials through the winter is enviable. “My 5 feet tall rosemary trees, bay tree, fig tree and scented geraniums are housed in the greenhouse,” she says. “I spend time there during the winter reading a good book in the warmth of the greenhouse with snow on the ground and below 0 F temperatures.”

Susan will be president until July 1, 2016, when the current vice president takes on the role and Susan moves into the role of nominating chair.

She lives in Delaware Ohio with her husband Jerry and rescue dog Piccolo. Other interests are watercolor painting, blogging, cooking with her husband, photography and all things Italian. Susan and Jerry have been very fortunate to have travelled to Italy six times and are currently planning the next trip in 2016.

Hello, This is Amy

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Rogers, Amy_AdjAmy Rogers calls herself an administrative assistant, but her responsibilities reach much further than one might expect. Certainly, she’s the initial point of contact for members and public when calling or stopping by HSA. She handles reservations for the Educational Conference and Annual Meeting of Members, solicits and processes advertisements for The Herbarist, works on the annual appeal and so much more.

With a Bachelor of Science degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and an MBA from Cleveland State University, Amy brings a rich business history to The Herb Society. After years working for various organizations she took time off to raise her daughter through middle school.

The Herb Society marks her return to an office, one so close to home that she’s ridden her bike to work.

Most of Amy’s herbs are grown in pots to save them from the deer around her Kirtland home.

“My favorite herbs are lemon verbena and pineapple sage. I love the fragrance and their look when paired in pots with other herbs and flowers,” she says. “I always have basil, thyme, parsley, dill, sage and chives on hand for cooking.”

When she’s not gardening, Amy loves to bike and read. She lives with her husband, Alan, soon-to-be 15 year old daughter, Lily, two calico cats. She has a horse, Sophie, that lives at a barn 5 miles away.