Editorial: As Medical Costs Rise, Will People Use More Herbs?

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170814_150549Given the rising cost of health care, I wonder if more people are turning to herbal medicine to address symptoms and seek treatment. While I’ve been skeptical and gone the “easy” route of modern medicine, I’m starting to think differently.

I have a summer cold … raging sore throat, swollen sinuses, puffy glands and general acheyness. I’ve waited a few days to see if it will resolve. It’s hasn’t. At this point I’d usually see my doctor. I’d pay my $35 deductible and get my Rx for $10 and be done with it.

That was until this year’s insurance plan. I have a $5,000 deductible. One doctor’s visit costs me $100 and my prescription adds another $40. Do the math. Last year I paid $45, this year I pay $140.  The increase hurts. Almost as much as my throat.

And so, I begin to overthink my situation — Am I overreacting to a simple cold? Or is this bad enough for a medical appointment? Am I being cheap? Am I being a baby? What should I do?

20170814_150557Because I’m developing a light rash, I’m going for a strep test. And, if it’s positive I will get antibiotics. (P.S. It was negative.)

In the meantime, I’m adjusting my philosophy about herbal medicine and adopting a new, three-step process

  • Identify immune system-boosting measures and supplements from the herbal world. Add them to my routine.
  • Learn about herb-based treatments for symptoms. Use them when appropriate.
  • Seek modern medicine when deemed necessary.

My goal is to be healthier in body and budget.

How are you using herbs in your approach to health and wellness?


Choose Different Lavender for Different Recipes

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

FB_IMG_1476498273986My children (now 18 and 20) are accustomed to playing in the kitchen. Ever since they were small we taste-tested and compared foods … farm-raised salmon vs. wild caught salmon, grey sea salt vs. Morton salt and on and on …


Recently I’ve been comparing herb varietals – thyme, basil, oregano, sage – that I grow in my garden. I might, for example, simply bite into sage, tri-color sage, and variegated sage to observe different characteristics.

That brings me back to last month’s question about finding the best lavender for cooking when I blogged about Edgar Anderson of Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, Shop & Le Petit Bistro on Washington Island in Door County, WI. He suggested that English lavender varieties are the best for cooking.

Obsessed with information gathering, I posed many of the same question to Luvin’ Lavender’s Laurie Hedjuk. Her family grows 19 varieties of the purple treasure, with seven best suited to culinary use.


“There are over 400 varieties of lavender worldwide. While all of them are edible, certain varieties are more suited for culinary use. Generally, the English (lavandula angustifolia) are more pleasing to the palate. The only French (lavandula intermedia) we recommend — that we grow — is ‘Provence.’”

That’s because most French varieties have a stronger camphor component. Camphor has been described as smelling a bit like eucalyptus. That aroma may make them better for perfumes, cleaning products and the like.

At Luvin’ Lavender in Madison, Ohio, the Hedjuks grow the following varieties for cooking.

  • Melissa- peppery undertones (savory)
  • Sharon Roberts- sharp floral (savory)
  • Buena Vista- tangy spice (savory)
  • Hidcote- all purpose/ sweet floral/ gentle citrus (sweet or savory)
  • Folgate- citrus floral (sweet or savory)
  • Royal Velvet- smooth gentle floral (sweet or savory)
  • Provence- very mild spice (sweet or savory)


“Keep in mind these are general recommendations and everyone has their own tastes,” says Laurie. When following a recipe, she cautions that you’ll need twice as much fresh to equal a dry measurement. Then, you can use whole buds or grind with mortar and pestle.

As one might suspect, Laurie uses lavender in the kitchen far more than I. Some of her favorites are

  • Lavender tomato chowder
  • Lavender cream cheese
  • Lavender lemon shortbread
  • Lavender sweet and sour sauce

20170804_124823“Experiment experiment experiment,” she advises. “Lavender is can overtake a dish fairly easily but can really make a statement when used sparingly.”

If you can’t find the culinary lavender you like, consider growing your own.



What is an Herbalist?

What is an Herbalist?

By Jackie Johnson ND, Northeast Wisconsin Unit


“What is an herbalist?” is a perplexing question.

Is it someone who cooks with herbs?  Or cleans with herbs?  Is it the person who has grown them in their backyard for the past 30 years and incorporated them into their life?  Or the person who played with them to the point they felt they wanted formal schooling to learn their chemistry, botany and current research?  Is it the person who offers suggestions to others for a healthier lifestyle that includes herbs?  Is it the person who gives herb classes? Or the person who hangs out a shingle? Can you be an herbalist at age 30? Or do you have to be 40, 58 or 65 years old?


In the 1990s Frontier Natural Products hosted wonderful HerbFests.  Speakers were knowledgeable, helpful and willing to share.  Several made comments that impacted my herbal being.

One gentleman spoke of an elderly client he was helping with a particular tincture.  He said he had a choice – he could have the client return daily for a $5 tincture, or he could teach him to make it.  He chose the latter.  As a teacher, he epitomized an herbalist.

20160806_054440But, what is best  –a degree from an herbal school or university, an herbal internship or 30 year of hands-on experience?

It depends. Who would I want beside me if needed?

I value practical experience.  But I also respect the discipline and focus demonstrated in earning  a degree, especially when dealing with health problems.

As an aside I remember studying for my bachelor of science in criminal justice and wondering why I needed some of these classes. Many years later, I understand. They gave me greater perspective; the opportunity to recognize there may be several methodologies available to solve any problem.

Recognizing only one herbal approach is a self-imposed restriction.  With so much of our herbal knowledge lost through the ages, do we really know if one way is the only way?

20170511_191241I like the herbalist who points me in a direction with herbs I can readily attain, or better yet, grow.  And I love cooks who can make a handful of green stuff taste better than the best restaurant.   I’m equally comfortable with the herbalist who knows 100 herbs, and another who “knows” 20 herbs, but knows 20 uses for each of them.

Many types of herbalism exist – traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, folk, western, science-based, or a happy combination of any or all of them.

Check out all of them. Learn from as many people as you can. Make your decision of what feels best for you. Each piece makes up the whole and offers yet another chance for growth and wisdom.

An herbalist/author/teacher was once said, “You’ll know when you’re ready to say ‘I am an herbalist.’”

Guide to Root Division for Herbs

Guide to Root Division for Herbs

By Juliet Blankespoor, Herbalist, Teacher, Gardener, Writer and Botanical Photographer

Following is adapted, with permission, from the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine’s 1,000-hour Herbal Immersion Program. The program is the most comprehensive handcrafted online herbal course available. Learn more at Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine..

root division two plantsAs a gardener, you’ve undoubtedly bought many plants to populate your garden, but you can’t beat the satisfaction of propagating your own. Dividing roots is perhaps the easiest and least expensive way to quickly fill your garden with mature plants. In a nutshell, this involves digging up a plant and separating a portion of the root system, and then replanting the separated portions, or divisions. The daughter plants, or divisions, may be planted directly in the garden or potted in preparation for moving to a new location. Depending on the plant, it’s possible to make more than 20 divisions from just one mother plant.

When you propagate a plant by root division, the new plant will be an exact clone of the parent. This is how we maintain a specific set of desired traits, such as height, flower color, flavor, aroma, or any number of distinct qualities that allow for that plant to stand out from the rest of its species.

Most herbs can be divided through root division, especially plants that run or clump. I don’t recommend dividing plants with taproots or a single stem, as they typically won’t “take.”

root division toolsEarly fall and early spring are the best times to divide roots because plants are more dormant. In the fall, just make sure to divide your roots before too many hard freezes, as the cold can stress your divisions. You’ll want to divide roots when the ground isn’t too wet, as the soil will be clumpy and adhere to the root system, making it challenging to get to the roots and see what’s going on.

To start, its best to gather a digging fork, pruners, flat-ended shovel, and a Japanese digging knife, or hori-hori. The digging fork is especially helpful, as the tines minimally disturb the soil. The blade of a Japanese digging knife has a sharp or serrated side to saw through difficult roots. Finally, some roots are just so tough that you’ll need to jump on a flat-ended shovel to sever them.

 Step-by-Step Guide to Root Division

  1. Dig the plant. Choose a vigorous, large plant that can withstand some stress. Use a digging fork or shovel to loosen soil in a circle around the plant. Gently pry plant from soil, excavating side roots if needed.


  1. Remove excess soil. Shake away just enough soil to see what you’re working with. You may need to thump the root system in its hole to dislodge soil clumps. Be careful, as removing all the soil will damage the tender microscopic root hairs.


  1. Size up the root system. Determine how many buds or shoots the root system has and decide how many cuts to make, yielding a few large divisions or many small divisions. Each plant is truly unique in how small of a division will actually survive. Be certain to have at least one shoot or bud per division and a large enough root system to support it.

Root division hori hori

  1. Make divisions. Using one of the tools mentioned above, divide your roots. For roots that are growing loosely, pry apart divisions with your hands. Denser root systems may require sawing into segments with a hori-hori. And tough root systems require a shovel.


  1. Trim the tops. This is the most important step in successful root division. When you disturb the root system, the plant can no longer support the original aboveground vegetation. If the plant is dormant, you can skip this step. If your plant is an herbaceous perennial that is already dying back for the winter, you can completely cut back the aboveground growth. If the plant is actively growing with many stems, cut the stems back by half. If it just has emerging leaves, remove half the leaves. If you’re replanting the mother plant, make sure to cut back its growth as well.

Root division cutting back

  1. Transplant into the garden or pots. Transplant “divisionlings” into their forever home in the garden or pot them. Make sure to plant at the same soil depth they were originally growing. Potted divisions can be grown until their root system is established and has filled up the pot, and then they can be transplanted or shared with a friend.


  1. Water. Water your divisions with fresh water or prepare a solution from willow or seaweed that encourages rooting.


  1. Enjoy.

HSA (2)The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine is located in the botanically rich Appalachian Mountains, outside of Asheville, NC. Their passion for healing plants, herbal education, and medicinal gardening is at the heart of all their teachings. Their online courses: the Herbal Medicine Making Course, the Herbal Immersion Program, and the Foraging Course (launching in early 2018).

 Juliet Blankespoor is the botanical mastermind behind the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, which she founded in 2007 after deciding to become a professional plant-human matchmaker. She has more than 25 years of herbal experience.

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

I love a good garage sale. So it only makes sense that I’d like foraging. It’s like garage sale meets farmers market. But it’s organic and free … if you know what you’re doing and stay away from chemically treated or publicly protected lands.

Foraging & Feasting CoverOver the past few years I’ve collected a few foraging books to teach myself what I can and cannot eat. I learn something new from each book. My latest addition/edition is Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender (Botanical Arts Press, 2013)

The book starts with a philosophical celebration leads into practical harvesting tips and continues with lushly detailed illustrations and identification information for 50 plants. Charts in the middle summarize seasonality and culinary uses. And relevant recipes are an inspiring finale. Did I already say it’s delightful to the eye?

Dina with Angelica 6_1_13

Dina’s interest in herbs and, then foraging, was sparked at 11, when she received her first herb book.

“I became conscious of the healing properties of food, clearly grasping the concept that food is my medicine,” she writes. “From that point forward, my commitment to and exploration of finding, preparing and eating healthful foods began.”

In flipping through I recognized my favorite chickweed. And, for the first time I came upon the day flower, a plant that I’ve been fighting (and losing) all summer. In the future it’s going into the salad, not the compost pile.

Dayflower-Commelina erectaI must admit my favorite recipes are herbal spirits and ice creams. The spirit combinations include lemon balm-strawberry vodka and black currant-fennel vodka. Ice cream inspirations include rose petal, lavender, bee balm and lemon verbena.

Therapeutic recipes include digestive bitters which are a scotch-based herbal root infusion.

My biggest problem with this book is that I don’t know if I should keep my copy on my nightstand for studying, in my kitchen for cooking or on the porch for relaxing. It’s that useful.

Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender is available from Botanical Arts Press.

Herbs Attract Good Insects to Garden

By Peggy Riccio, HSA Potomac Unit Member

The herbs in my garden live among the annuals, perennials, vegetables, and shrubs. I never designed a separate, formal herb garden and now every new herb plant gets tucked in any space I can find. If I remember and have time, I harvest the leaves for teas or for cooking. If I forget or get too busy, the herbs just thrive without me. By summer, they are blooming along with everything else but that’s okay, they still serve a purpose. Even if I didn’t get to harvest them, they are helping the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and beans by attracting beneficial insects.

agastache with insect flyingIn addition to attracting pollinators such as bees and butterflies, flowering herbs can attract beneficial insects that will destroy the “bad” bugs. These beneficial insects are either predators, i.e., they eat harmful bugs, or parasites–they lay their eggs in or on the “bad” bug which release larvae that consume the bug.

Many of these beneficial insects are small, thus preferring easily accessible nectar chambers in small herb flowers. In many cases the adult insects need the nectar and pollen of the herb flower while the “babies” or larval stage eat the insects we don’t want in the garden. For example, the larval stage of ladybugs, which look like mini alligators, consume aphids, many beetle larvae, and spider mites, among others. One can attract ladybugs into the garden by planting cilantro, dill, fennel, oregano, thyme, and yarrow so the adult form, the ladybug, can enjoy the pollen.

fennel with hover flyLacewings are beautiful slender green insects with translucent wings. Their larvae, known as aphid lions, eat a large number of aphids –thus they have a lion’s appetite — and many beetle larvae to name a few. Lacewings are attracted to angelica, caraway, tansy, yarrow, dill, fennel, and cilantro.

Parasitic wasps are small, non-stinging wasps. There are many types but they all destroy pests by laying eggs inside or on the pest. The eggs hatch to release larvae that consume the prey, eventually killing it. Parasitic wasps will destroy tomato hornworms, bagworms, cabbage worms, Japanese beetles, and squash vine borers. The wasps are attracted to dill, fennel, lemon balm, thyme, yarrow, and cilantro.

cilantro with hover flyTachinid flies look like houseflies but as parasites, they destroy many kinds of caterpillars, Colorado potato beetles, cucumber beetles, Mexican bean beetles, and Japanese beetles in the same manner as parasitic wasps.  The flies prefer cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley, feverfew, and chamomile.

Hover or syrphid flies look like small wasps because they have yellow bands but they don’t sting. The adults–the flies–will “hover” as they drink nectar from dill, fennel, feverfew, lavender, mint, yarrow, and cilantro flowers. The larvae will consume aphids, cabbage worms, other caterpillars, and mealy bugs.  lavender with bug

Herbs also help beneficial insects by providing pollen and nectar when other annuals or perennials are not blooming yet.  For example, cool season herbs such as cilantro and chervil bloom in the spring, providing an early source of pollen to beneficial insects.

Many aromatic, perennial herbs, such as oregano, thyme, and lemon balm, are not eaten by deer and small animals so they become permanent fixtures or “houses” for beneficial insects. Plus herbs are usually planted in bunches or become small shrubs, providing a large “neighborhood” for these insects.

Despite the number of plants in the garden, these insects will only stay if there is a need, i.e., food for them, and if the surroundings are hospitable. Beneficial insects seek large populations of bad bugs in order to feed their own population. Some beneficial insects wait to lay eggs until there is enough “food” so it may be that the appearance of many aphids is the trigger to have ladybugs increase their own population because they now know there is plenty of “food.”

In other words, if there a lot of aphids on bearded irises, wait to see if many ladybugs will arrive on the scene to correct the problem before reaching for an insecticide. Spraying chemicals may kill or alter the balance of beneficial insects. It is now known that plants that are under attack by bad bugs release chemicals which are signals to the particular type of beneficial insect that would be needed to correct the problem. There may be a little or minimal plant damage in order for the beneficial insects to receive the signal to come to that plant.

Herbs can be useful for their flowers as well as their foliage. Planting several different types of herbs in the garden helps protect the rest of the plants against pests.

Peggy Riccio is a Potomac Unit member who lives in Northern Virginia. Her website, pegplant.com, features local gardening news, resources, and plants for those who have started gardening or who have moved to the Virginia, Maryland, DC metro area.

Discover the Best Lavender for Cooking

Discover the Best Lavender for Cooking

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

In early July I was invited to a potluck picnic for Edible Cleveland magazine. Potlucks push my overachiever button and I wanted to impress my fellow writers. So, I challenged myself to making something apropos of the magazine — local, seasonal and organic. As the blogmaster for The Herb Society of America I thought it would be fun to reflect my passion for herbs.

20170714_191450 (2)

Lavender scones seemed like a great idea, but they just weren’t impressive enough. So, I picked up The Art of Cooking with Lavender by Nancy Baggett. There I found a recipe for lavender chicken salad.


(The boyfriend said he’d chose Wendy’s over lavender-spiked food, but he ate the chicken salad without notice.)

My next step was to gather significant ingredients … free-range, organic chicken from New Creation Farm in Chardon, Ohio, and lavender from Luvin’ Lavender in Madison, Ohio. That’s where I learned that not all lavender is created equal when it comes to the kitchen.

20170630_150338 (2)Luvin’ Lavender grows 19 varieties, with a seven best suited to culinary use. That’s because each variety has subtle (or even bold) taste differences. Some are sweeter or more floral; others have a stronger camphor component.

Having learned from the owner Laurie H, I turned to my friend Edgar Anderson of Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, Shop & Le Petit Bistro on Washington Island in Door County, Wisconsin, with more questions on lavender in the kitchen. Anderson and his wife Martine operate a 21-acre farm with 14,000 plants – 10 varieties — on five acres of land. In addition to their Washington Island retail shop, they operate another retail shop in Fish Creek, WI and a bistro with a lavender-based menu.

“For cooking, it’s best to stay within the English varieties – Lavendula angustifolia,” he says.  The most commonly found L. angustifolias as retail are ‘Hidcote’, ‘Munstead’ and ‘Royal Velvet’.

“Within the English there are minute nuances. They’re usually very sweet in taste and smell. One might be more lemony or flowery, but all are easy to work with in the kitchen,” says Edgar. Fragrant Isle uses royal velvet in most of their edible products.

English lavender is usually harvested from June through July. Fragrant Isle harvests twice, once for buds and once for distilling into oil. Harvesting for dry buds – unopened flowers – is done by hand. Flower stems are cut and made into small bundles tied with rubberbands.

mediakit07The bundles hang in a barn for six weeks until they’re dry enough to separate purple flower buds from gray-green stems. While the farm mechanizes separation, home growers can gently shake or brush the crop into a bag or onto a cloth.

Leaves, stems and debris should not be part of the process . “You don’t want them because they will give a grassy scent to your cooking. We have vibrating sifting screens to remove debris. They go through three different screenings.” At home colanders and mesh sifters might be useful.

DSC_1908The culinary lavender oil is distilled from fresh lavender bundles.   The fresh lavender bundles are placed in their copper still, usually 40 pounds of fresh lavender bundles, and once the water reaches 212 degrees F, the lavender is “cooked” for 90 minutes.   Then the lavender flowers release their essential oil and hydrosol, which are captured in a glass container.   The essential oil, being lighter than water floats to the top.   Once the hydrosol is drained, the essential oil remains and is placed in a glass bottle.   Culinary essential oil is used for baking, as it is more potent than culinary lavender buds.

Once processed Fragrant Isle either uses the lavender in the bistro or packages it for sale. Home growers should put it in a sealed container – preferably glass — and store away from humidity.

AK1D2050-2Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm & Shop, is hosting its 3rd Annual “All Things Lavender” Festival Friday, July 21 – Sunday, July 23, 2017.  Festival highlights include daily seminars presented by Lavender Industry Experts, Experiences to explore one’s inner artist with painting classes, pampering with massages, Destiny Readings, Lavender U-Pick Field, Entertainment by Musical performers & Washington Island Scandinavian Folk Dancers and Food be it a taste of “lavender,” from sweet to savory, exquisite chocolates, Apple Lavender Cider, or Light Belgian style beer with bright lavender and honey tones.