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.

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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.

Katrinka Morgan Leads The Herb Society of America

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

When Katrinka Morgan joined The Herb Society of America as Executive Director in 2007, she brought more than 20 years of non-profit experience to the role.

Katrinka and Laurel

Katrinka (left) and her best friend Laurel

As Executive Director, Katrinka makes certain the organization operates efficiently to fulfill its mission of spreading herb education. Her goals include empowering the staff to support and assist members, by providing programs and services.

Under her leadership the Society has moved into the 21st century with improvements to the physical structure of the headquarters building during the 2009-10 remodel, a transition to increased digital communications with electronic newsletters and a reduction in the operating budget.

“Working with The Herb Society brings something new to each day,” says Katrinka. “We never know who might call or come to visit. Most visitors have driven by the headquarters office and finally decided to stop and see what we are all about.”

Katrinka is always looking for new initiatives to better serve members. “Currently we’re working on updating the brand and enhancing our social media presence including the HSA website, Facebook, Pinterest and even Twitter,” she says. “We’re also excited for the new Annual Meeting format at an ideal destination in Asheville, North Carolina.”

Katrinka quilt

Executive Director Katrinka Morgan’s hobby results in beautiful quilts like this one.

Katrinka’s interest in herbs started with healthy cooking. At home she grows a number of herbs. She organizes her culinary cultivars in a wine barrel to ease their cultivation and beautify her front yard. Scattered throughout the garden beds are elderberry, calendula, blueberry lily, lavenders, several varieties of Echinacea, salvias and St. John’s wart for color, flowers, bees and butterflies.

Her favorite herb to grow and use is basil for pesto or for fresh, homegrown tomatoes. She’s learning to grow and use lesser recognized herbs such as lovage, savory and chervil.

Katrinka, her husband Jim and dog Henry live on two acres in Willoughby Hills, Ohio. Away from work she likes to quilt for friends and family, and always seems to end up being part of Lucy and Ethel adventures with her bestfriend Laurel.

Meet Blogmaster Paris Wolfe, MA

lavender 2IMG_3843Paris Wolfe has been a journalist since the mid-1980s. She’s been herb gardening since she moved into her first house in 1990. Writing about food, and herbs, has been a passion throughout her career. She’s written for The (Lake County) News-Herald, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, Cleveland Magazine and so many more publications. Her credentials include a Master of Arts degree in public relations. Working on a blog with The Herb Society of America is a natural progression of her writing talents.

“I’m excited to be working with the Society. There is so much potential to extend its reach into untapped communities,” she says. “Gardening is on the upswing with 35 percent of 12 percent or 14 million households (2009) engaging in herb gardening.”

“The herb gardening market is a $653 million industry with the average home gardener spending $85 per year,” Paris notes. “Of these gardeners millennials (18-34) are the fastest-growing segment.”

Paris believes in research-based communication and that includes talking to experts about their experiences and knowledge. She hopes to incorporate those talents in the blog and other activities of the Society.

Her favorite herbs are basil, cilantro and lavender. Just ask “Why?” And, she’s partial to mint for mojitos. She can’t grow catnip because it attracts stray cats and she already has four.

Paris lives in Concord Township, Ohio, with her sons Dante and Dominick. She enjoys gardening, cooking, dining out, reading and skiing.

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If you have questions or blog ideas, you can contact her at pariswolfe@yahoo.com