Visit the WRHS Rose Garden

Visit the WRHS Rose Garden

“Love, which, in concert with Abstinence, established Faith, and which, along with Patience, builds up Chastity, is like the columns that sustain the four corners of a house. For it was that same Love which planted a glorious garden redolent with precious herbs and noble flowers–roses and lilies–which breathed forth a wondrous fragrance, that garden on which the true Solomon was accustomed to feast his eyes.” – Hildegard of Bingen

Untitled design (94)By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America

My husband says I seem to wake up craving roses and sleep dreaming of them. Maybe it’s because the scent and flavor of the beautiful historic and fragrant roses in my gardens bring back so many of my best memories. They remind me of my father and the happy times that I spent with him in his rose gardens. Or maybe it’s because the magic spell of the roses helps my skin stay happy and smooth and my heart stay open and gentle.

The entire Western Reserve Herb Society (WRHS) herb garden at the Cleveland Botanical Garden is glorious, but Historic Rose Gardens are overwhelming. When they bloom, it is feast for all the senses. I spend about two weeks harvesting and drying rose petals from them to make wonderful products for WRHS Herb Fair which will be held at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens on October 12. 2019.

“The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.” — Gertrude Jekyll

Judy Kutina, Gwen Zeitz, Jane CavanaughThe Historic Rose Gardens of the Western Reserve Herb Society cannot ever be celebrated without mention of the three beloved Rosarians and Master gardeners who still lovingly tend the beautiful roses as they have for so many years. Judy Kutina, Gwen Zeitz and Jane Cavanaugh can still be found in the garden every week caring for this extraordinary and historically relevant collection of roses, with the help of WRHS Unit and current Rose garden chair Kathleen Hale, and other Western Reserve Herb Society gardeners.

“In 2012, the WRHS Historic Rose Garden became the proud recipient of the Certification of the Historic Rose Collection from the Herb Society of America. This rose garden was the first rose collection in the United States to receive this recognition. Starting with Blanche Harvey, who researched and planted some of the most cherished historic roses in the collection, Judy Kutina, Section Chair along with Jean Ingalls (Past Chair) and the members of their committee, (Jane Cavanaugh, Gwen Zeitz, Toni Becker, Debra Brink and Nancy Gustafson) documented the historic authenticity of each rose. A bronze plaque was placed in the historic rose collection on June 5th, 2012, commemorating this honor, placing the Collection in the elite company of the National herb Garden in Washington DC and the Chicago Botanical Garden.” — “50 seasons of growing- The Western Reserve Herb Society Herb Garden 1969- 2019″

IMG_9590Receiving this certification was a four-year project, meaning that all of the renovating, documentation identification and research began four years before the actual certification was granted.

Judy, Gwen and Jane and late member Jean Ingalls, were the four Western Reserve Herb Society members who were instrumental in ensuring that the garden met every classification needed for this special certification.

When it comes to the roses in the WRHS garden, we all have favorites. Mine is the beautiful and ancient Rosa gallica officinalis, more commonly known as Apothecary’s Rose, also known as the Red Rose of Lancaster.

The Apothecary’s Rose is just a joy, a rose older than the Renaissance and used for medicinal purposes during Medieval times. It is extraordinarily beautiful to see and smell when blooming. Its intense, deep pink-to-light red coloring and luscious old rose fragrance make it a must in any herbalist’s garden.

I have always found it easy to grow, which may be the source of its longevity and popularity. It only blooms once in a season, but it’s a generous rose. Mine bloomed in my northeast Ohio garden for more than a month. I return to it time and again to make rosewaters, jams and jellies.

Untitled design (97)It gives me a real thrill of connection to my medieval sisters to be able to use this ancient rose to infuse into my rose honey and other rose preparations. I find rose-infused honey to be ever so helpful when I have a sore or scratchy throat and although you can buy it, it is just so easy to make. Stirred into a cup of hot water, or simply taken by the spoonful, the anti-inflammatory properties of the rose petals and the antibacterial properties of the honey seem to relieve any irritation quickly.

Rose Petal Honey
6 cups fresh rose petals (4 cups dried)
2 cups honey, room temperature
1-quart glass jar with lid

Add petals to the jar until half full and firmly packed. Pour honey over rose petals and stir to remove air pockets. Cap the jar tightly. After several hours stir petals and honey. (I use chopsticks for this.) Add more rose petals and stir. Leave the jar in a warm place for about two weeks, stirring from time to time.

After two to four weeks, warm the jar in a pot of hot water (do not boil). Strain the warmed honey through a cheesecloth into a clean jar. Press the rose petals to remove all honey. Cap the jar and enjoy on toast, over yogurt, with ice cream and in cocktails.

I use rose water in my drinks consistently because I believe that it is so helpful for hydrating the skin from the inside out.

I also spray rose hydrosol (a fancy name for rosewater) on my skin every morning after my shower to moisturize my aging skin. I spent way too much time in the sun without sunscreen as a teenager and I have noticed that this daily spritzing with rosewater seems to have softened some of my wrinkles as well as tightens my pores.

I’d love to know some of your favorite uses for your favorite roses, so please feel free to share them with me in the comments.

May everything be coming up roses for you all summer long!

HSA Webinar– Incredible Edibles: Flowers in the Kitchen

HSA Webinar– Incredible Edibles: Flowers in the Kitchen

By Jen Munson, Education Chair, The Herb Society of America

Did you know many herb flowers are also edible? Experience for yourself the dimension that flowers can add to your meals. To start with, flowers of edible herbs are consumable. They offer the same flavor as the other parts of the plant but generally are a bit milder. Learn about herb and other tasty flowers that are safe to eat by signing up for HSA’s webinar, 1 p.m. Eastern, July 25, 2019, when Honorary President Susan Belsinger will wow attendees with Incredible Edibles: Flowers in the Kitchen. To sign up for this webinar click here. It’s the perfect time to surprise family and friends by throwing some edible flowers into your next summer dish.

matricaria-discoidea-846636_1920Webinars are free to members and $5 for non-members. As an added incentive join HSA on or before August 8th and your webinar registration will be applied to your membership. Can’t make the date? Register anyway as recorded webinars are sent to all registrants once available.

One of my favorite edible flowers is pineapple weed, Matricaria discoidea. This lesser-known plant surprises folks with its mild, pineapple aroma and taste. Pineapple weed, aka wild chamomile, is a native plant that can be found in compacted poor soil. The shortness of the plant makes it easily overlooked; however, once you realize that it emits a light pineapple scent and has an equally refreshing pineapple taste you will be on the hunt for it. It’s best used fresh in teas but the following recipe makes a nice alternative use.

Pineapple Weed / Zucchini Bread

2 eggs
1 cup mild vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup grated zucchini
¾ cup fresh ground pineapple weed
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease loaf pan.
2. In large mixing bowl, beat eggs until foamy.
3. Stir in oil, sugar, zucchini, pineapple weed, and vanilla.
4. In separate bowl mix dry ingredients.
5. Blend dry ingredients into pineapple weed mixture.
6. Pour into greased loaf pan, and bake 1 hour or until inserted knife is removed cleanly.

St. John’s Wort and Midsummer Celebrations

By Maryann Readal, HSA Secretary

Many years ago farmers called June 24th “Midsummer Day,” as it marked the halfway point between planting and harvesting. As such, it was a time to celebrate.

St. Johns wort plantMidsummer Day is also St. John’s Day and according to the Bible, the day John the Baptist was born. And it heralded the birth of Christ just six months later. For this reason, June 24th was an important day for early Christians. St. John’s Day and Midsummer Day occur near the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, which for its own reasons was celebrated since Greek and Roman times.

In pre-Christian times, turning points in the year were thought to be magical. The evening before Midsummer Day was especially so. It was thought that this was the time when magic was more powerful and the spirit world was close. It was the porter’s wife in Washington Irving’s Old Christmas who said that this was a time “when it is well known all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and fairies become visible and walk abroad.”

In Medieval times, it was common to celebrate Midsummer Eve with bonfires and to collect special herbs. These herbs included the perennial herb St. John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum. St. John’s wort was believed to have special protective powers. It could protect one against demons and witches. Carried in your pocket it would protect you from thunder. Smelling the leaves or drinking a potion made from the plant would cure you of madness. In Medieval times, it was hung over doors, windows and religious icons to keep witches and evil spirits away. One needed to have some on hand on Midsummer Eve.

St. Johns wort flowerSt. John’s wort was also considered a special plant on this day because its bright yellow flowers looked like the sun, which was a significant coincidence around the longest day of the year. Even the Greeks and Romans thought this to be important. The flowers have five petals and long stamens that look like the rays of the sun. The stamens are topped with little golden balls of pollen giving the appearance that each flower is a sunburst. Also, it is said that the flowers are heliotropic, following the sun from east to west as it crosses the sky, which was considered a supernatural phenomenon in olden days. Some even claim that squeezing the petal of the flower will produce a red juice, reminiscent of the blood of John the Baptist, although I have not found that to be true in the species growing in my garden.

Still today in European countries, St. John’s Eve is celebrated with bonfires and is marked with the gathering of the herbs of midsummer. Indeed in some Spanish villages, special bouquets called herbas de San Xoán are made up and sold for this day.

st. johns wort mixIn northern Spain’s Galicia, it is the custom for women to place St. John’s wort and other herbs in a bowl of water after sunset on St. John’s Eve. The bowl must be left outside all evening so that dew can collect, adding its special magic to the water. According to Lithuanian custom, the dew on Midsummer Day was said to make young girls beautiful and old people look younger. On St. John’s Day, women splash the scented infusion on their face and let it dry. It is said the infusion will stop all wrinkles. A very dear Spanish friend says that it won’t cure existing wrinkles but it will prevent future ones. Who knows if it works, but the women in the north of Spain, in Galicia ARE the most beautiful in the country – so says my friend’s husband!

Whether you are celebrating Midsummer Day, the Summer Solstice, or St. John’s Day, do enjoy the sun on this the longest day of the year. Enjoy the cheerful uplifting blooms and the history of St. John’s wort and remember that it could make you beautiful, too.

Thai Basil – Herb of the Month for May

Thai Basil – Herb of the Month for May

thai-basil-1.jpgDid you know that Thai basil, Ocimum basilicum, has purple stems? Or that it has a spicier taste than sweet basil? Like all basils, Thai basil thrives best when soil temperature reach about 70 degrees. Its thicker leaves tend to hold up well when used in cooking. As its name indicates, Thai basil is perfect for Southeast Asian stir fries and curries. It is a kitchen staple in Thailand.

The color and arrangement of the flowers on the stems makes it an attractive plant in the garden as well.

For more information and recipes using this beautiful, anise-licorice scented basil, go to The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage.

Happy Herbal May Day/Beltane

Happy Herbal May Day/Beltane

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America

“Tra la, it’s May, it’s May, the lusty Month of May
That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray
Tra la, it’s here, it’s here, that shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear.
Whence this fragrance wafting through the air?
What sweet feelings does its scent transmute?
Whence this perfume floating everywhere?
Don’t you know, it’s that dear forbidden fruit,


It’s May! It’s May!
The month of “yes you may,”
The time for ev’ry frivolous whim,
Proper or “im.”
It’s wild! It’s gay!
A blot in ev’ry way.
The birds and bees with all of their vast
Amorous past
Gaze at the human race aghast,
The lusty month of May. “
From Camelot ~ Lerner & Loewe

Beltane or the festival that we know today as May Day, was originally the day of the Celtic year that celebrated love and fertility, passion and life, in all of its forms. Beltane or Beltaine as the Irish speak of it, is a lusty, fiery feast full of surprises. None of us can ever know what the muses have in store on May 1st, but I can promise you that if you are open to their magic you will enjoy every minute of it.

Untitled design (76)It’s impossible to ignore all the trees that are blooming, and the flowers and wild potherbs appearing all over the fields and forests as if by magic. The honeybees have reappeared and are busy making love to the fragrant blossoms and with luck we will find our trees filled with ripe fruits come fall. We till our gardens and plant the seed that we’ve saved from last year’s harvest and we take long walks outside, grateful that the sun has finally come again and brought with it a deep rich warmth.

You needn’t go too far into your imagination to see that centuries ago, these simple things would have seemed deeply magical. Nature has a magic all her own and for the ancients, Beltane was a reminder to stop and pay attention to those thundering rhythms and perhaps create a few of their own. After all when the winter has been so barren and cold, you could hardly blame any soul for wanting to frolic a bit!

Sometimes, I think that it would serve us well to embrace the same simple wonder our ancestors did, an excitement that comes from enjoying a life of following the seasons simply and passionately. For me, springtime is marked by so many things that I look forward to, knowing that they will not pass through my life until the wheel comes full circle again. The beautiful fragrant violets, the precious lilacs, and viburnums…wild ramps with their deep oniony flavor and fiddlehead ferns. Fresh pea tendrils, daffodils, and the very first dandelion greens that I love to harvest for salads.

image1In a class by itself comes the freshest spring asparagus. I love to eat it raw from the garden, but I can’t think of anything more wonderful than a meal of steamed asparagus and a silky tarragon-laced béarnaise sauce. Living as locally as possible and respecting the seasons and the gifts that each one brings is not only a healthy way to eat, but a sustainable way to live.

The first thing I did when we bought our home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was put in an asparagus bed. An asparagus bed is one of nature’s most useful clocks. When my first thick shoots of asparagus come up, I know that spring is truly here. Several years ago all of my asparagus came up in March and I knew that we were in for a very interesting year.

For me one of the greatest joys of the merry month of May was always the flowers that would bloom in my parents’ gardens. They grew many beautiful flowers but none were more precious to me than the beautiful patch of lilies of the valley that grew behind the terrace in a secret place that only a few knew about. I’d wait and wait and then every year on the 1st of May I would run into the back and there they would be, pure little bells of white with strong green leaves just begging me to bury my face into their flowers and inhale their sweet green scent. I’d pick bunches of them to put in little vases all around the house. Then I’d make little bouquets of lilies, bluebells, and lilacs for all my teachers.

Untitled design (78)All these beautiful greens and flowers come but once a year in a fashion that is fleeting and beautiful. I think that if I could have them all year round it would be a disappointment, because the yearning for them is every bit as delightful. Besides, every season has its pleasures and treasures.

Crabapple trees and their fragrant blooms can only come in May, but their fruits are late August’s treasures. The old-fashioned roses in my gardens that bloom so abundantly will produce generous rosehips for my tea in September. To everything there is a season, and to every time a purpose. The joy that May Day brings is the abundant renewal of life and passion.

Be love and give love generously on this day. Gifts of flowers and bright May Baskets  are traditional gifts of love that are perfect. Hang a May Day basket on your neighbor’s door! Weave a colorful May Pole with your children! If it’s a beautiful evening spread blankets outside, light lots of candles or a firepit, have a picnic, and dare to fall asleep under the stars! Grab your beloveds and dance the night away!

image2Beltane eve was the night that we traditionally lit ritual fires in the freshly plowed fields with the intent to create life, celebrate our passion, and ensure the fertile harvest not only of our fields, but of our souls. Tonight is the night to light those ancient fires once again by spending time with those you love, walk in the fields and forests, smell all of the beautiful flowers, and just listen to the spring time peepers for a little while. Enjoy the mystery and magic of simply being alive. Remember that it’s the very things that we don’t really know that can bring us the most joy and above all remember to be glad…very glad to be alive. Life is juicy, fragrant, and sometimes bittersweet.

Life is also all about diving headfirst into all your passions. Do be careful though…Passions run high on the first day of May. That’s my only warning, but you’d be wise to heed it, not that you’ll really be able to control the outcome. Lots of adorable babies and extraordinary ideas are conceived on May Day!

Just remember that the muses of May will always have their way…….

What’s Your Language of Herbalism?

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America

Untitled design (66)What is the true language of herbalism? How do these beautiful plants that we love speak to us?  What does the herbalist actually do?

The herbs we love to grow and grow to love, speak to us in so many different ways. The practice of herbalism, through growing and harvesting brings the magic of these plants straight into our fingertips.

As herbalists we work with the plants that we love as individuals and in individual ways.  That means there’s no one right or wrong way to be an herbalist; there is only your way.

Untitled design (67)Many of us blend tinctures, tonics, and teas. Many of us receive the healing herbal support we crave by being in the garden, amending the soil, and nurturing our seedlings into vibrant plants that we use to cook meals with that infuse our dinner tables with love. I still believe in my heart of hearts, that the most important supplement that we can ever ingest Vitamin L – the very love we put into our herbs and into our cooking.

Some of us are writers and some of us are teachers. Some of us prefer to sit quietly in the garden and absorb the wisdom of the natural world.  We are photographers, painters, and poets. We bring our grandchildren into our gardens and tell them stories about how things grow and we teach them to garden, carrying on the traditions that keep our world lush, green, and alive.

Untitled design (68)We all bring value to the garden as herbalists. We all know different aspects of the same whole, and like the very plants themselves, we thrive with the sharing of the herbal experience. An herbalist isn’t just one who supports healing with herbs. An herbalist is one who speaks and expresses themselves in whichever unique voice that the herbs themselves joyously ask them to. 

I’ve always loved the way these amazing plants support us in health and in life.

The herbalist’s language, when spoken and applied correctly, harms none.

Those who are herbal practitioners have laws telling us what we can and cannot do; I believe in following them. It makes sense.

Lately I find myself turning to my roots of traditional folk and kitchen herbalism. I avoid buying my herbal supplements in capsules, I prefer to make my own tinctures, tonics, and teas from whole plants with their sweet-smelling souls energetically intact.

Untitled design (70)I no longer rely on exotic herbs from faraway lands, preferring to grow and harvest sustainably almost everything I use from my own forest and gardens.  Like local honey, it’s my personal belief that everything and anything you need to support your happiness and your health can be found growing very close to where you live. I want to interact with the plants and learn what I can from their quiet wisdom.

In my opinion, herbalism must be approached differently than medicine. We must practice safety always and take care to preserve cultural tradition. We don’t need to mimic a medical practice. The fact that isolated supplements are so readily available in bright little bottles, blatantly using the language of pharmaceuticals, has brought us perilously close to the latter.

I am saddened when beautiful plants are simply used as a commodity rather than a tool for connection, education. and empowerment. I want empirical evidence for their effectiveness, but that’s not because I’m prescribing them to anyone. It’s my desire to understand how they support health and how they can also harm. I want to educate my associates well and I want to protect this ancient, local,  and colorful tradition.

Untitled design (69)If you take a deep dive into the history of traditional herbalism you will be fascinated. My personal vision is to keep people empowered around their life and health, and to keep the conversation around herbal wellness safe and fun.

People ask me all of the time, “What’s the best way to learn about the qualities and properties of herbs?”  For me the answer is simple. Choose only one or two. Plant a few varieties. Spend a season with them and harvest them. If they die, learn what killed them. Read about them. Listen to them. Ask them questions.  Keep a journal, draw or paint them. Take pictures of them throughout their lifecycle. See what insects love them. Cook with them or make a tincture, a lotion or a tea. Make all three. After a summer of observing and learning from a lavender plant, you’ll really know quite a lot about lavender.

That’s my herbal love language. What’s yours?



Celebrate Cherry Blossom Season

Celebrate Cherry Blossom Season

Petals falling
unable to resist
the moonlight

Sakura, sakura
they fall in the dreams
of sleeping beauty”

-Yosa Buson

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society Unit of The Herb Society of America

Cherry blossom (2)My childhood worldview was shaped by the foreign students that my parents sponsored through the Council on World Affairs from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.  Every four years I’d have a new “brother or sister,” although in truth none of them ever left us.

There was Santosh, the student from India, who brought us beautiful saris and sandals to wear. And, Riet, from Holland, who used to take me berry picking and foraging in the fields behind my parents’ home. There was Michael, from England, who is probably more responsible for my love of curry than anyone. There was Farhad, who came from Iran, and every year would bring me gifts of nougat, rose-covered almonds, rose oil, rose water, and absolutely beautiful, hand-painted, mother of pearl jewelry.

Cherry blossom (4)My earliest memories though are of Hisashi and Kazco who were married in my parents’ back yard in a beautiful Japanese tea ceremony. They talked to me about many things, but the things I remember most were their memories of the beautiful springtime celebrations of Hanami, the ancient cherry blossom viewing festival.

We didn’t have cherry trees, but my parents had glorious crabapple trees that circled all three acres of their property and I remember spreading out blankets and having magical fairy parties every spring under the fragrant and falling petals. I can’t wait to have grandchildren of my own to do this with. I’m already planning menus of fairy cakes, mochi, and sweetened jasmine tea.

Cherry blossom (3)n Japan celebrating the transient beauty of spring flowers in a ritual called Hanami is a beloved custom that happens for a glorious two-week period when the cherry blossoms burst into bloom. The word Hanami literally means “flower viewing,” although it is most commonly used to refer to the viewing of cherry blossoms.  I am told that the celebration of Hanami dates to the 8th century – although I guess the flower of choice then was the equally beautiful, and fleeting, plum blossom.

Traditionally, Hanami celebrations would include afternoon picnics under the blossoms and gaily strung lanterns with family and friends.  Fragrant green tea, sake, dumplings, pink rice, and delectable Japanese sweets would be served. This could, and often would even, continue into the evening.

Cherry blossom (1)This mysterious and romantic version of Hanami is called Yozakura which simply means “the night cherry blossom.” It seems that, after nightfall during blossom time, a different fragrance occurs. I think aroma is more pronounced at nightfall because the visual beauty is no longer distracting.

I appreciate the blossoms as part of my springtime cleansing, renewal, and awakening ritual each spring. When the blooms begin, my husband Jim and I go for long walks hand-in-hand, stealing kisses underneath blossom clusters. We spread blankets under the trees and drink in the sweet nighttime air, bathing in the warm, spring breezes and falling blossoms. Hanami is a magical celebration and is so very easy to celebrate. As the trees start blooming in your neighborhood take a walk and take the time to appreciate the beauty of the blooms.