Herbs and Vegetables Go Together in Garden and Kitchen

By Maryann Readal, Secretary, The Herb Society of America

daffodilsRecently I attended the Edible Yard Symposium sponsored by my local Master Gardener Association. It seems that a trend now is to plant vegetables and herbs into all of your beds instead of plowing up a special garden for these plants in the back 40. Last year, my husband tried to convince me to plant his peppers among my salvias, his spinach next to my parsley and his green beans on my garden trellis.  Oh no, I said to him then. But this may be the year to give that idea a try.

Garden author Judy Barrett, one of the symposium’s presenters, suggested considering a fruit tree when you have to replace a tree in your yard. You will enjoy the spring flowers and the fruit, she noted — another idea worth trying this year.

rosemaryNo room to garden? Not a problem. Find a large container and plant your herbs or vegetables in that.  Many nurseries make that easy by selling herbs and vegetables already growing in large containers. There is something uniquely satisfying about picking vegetables and herbs that you have grown yourself.

Be on the lookout for plant sales in your area. Many of The Herb Society of America’s units have spring plant sales. A check on the Calendar of Events page on the HSA website may help you locate some of these sales in your area.  These sales are a fantastic opportunity to find unusual plants that do well in your area. And you will find plants that you simply cannot buy in local nurseries and big box stores. Proceeds from these sales go toward scholarships and outreach programs by The Herb Society units.

So….be ready for spring. It IS just around the corner.

Books for Armchair Gardening: Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

Rodale's organic gardening primer

If you’re starting a new garden or amending an existing garden Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening, A Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Healthy Garden (2014), By Deborah L. Martin, is a solid reference. It discusses everything from 10 garden plans to six plans for raised beds, from composting and seed starting  to reliable plants.

The book waxes thoughtful about the meaning of organic gardening on page 8, “…a system of working with nature to create conditions that benefit plants, people, and the environment.”

Learn how to build up soil and maintain its composition. Compost instructions list what to include beyond kitchen scraps – tea bags, hair, nutshells. And what to avoid – meat, grease, carnivore droppings and diseased plants.

There’s a discussion on the contribution of insects and microorganisms. “Think of the beneficial organisms as your “microherd” and treat them well,” writes Martin. That means avoiding pesticides. Millipedes, earthworms and ground beetles are three members of the microherd breaking down plant matter, aerating soil and feasting on “bad” bugs.

Rodale Top 10 Herbs

The book’s writing is easy-to-follow and delightful. The section on Top 10 herbs is a persuasive checklist. If I don’t already grow them, I will this year.

While I’ve been gardening for at least 30 years, I found new information in this primer. I’d probably find more if I read it cover to cover instead of acting all ADD and jumping from interesting thought to interesting thought.

Consider this book for the gardener in your life.

Herb Potions Enhance Your Love Life

Making Love Potions

Eye of newt, and toe of frog, 
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog, 
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, 
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,— 
For a charm of powerful trouble, 
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble. 

Macbeth, Shakespeare

If you could create a magic potion, what would that elixir do? Vanquish your enemies? Improve your love life?

Let’s go with the latter, enhance your love life. Curl up with Stephanie L. Tourles’s  book  Making Love Potions, 64 All-Natural Recipes for Irresistible Herbal Aphrodisiacs  and learn love life elixirs.

Stephanie Tourles

Both playful and serious, Tourles applies science to selecting arousing aromas. She writes, “In clinical studies performed in the 1990s at the Chicago-based Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, Dr. Alan R. Hirsch examined the degree to which various scents can trigger sexual arousal in men and women as measured by an increase in blood flow to the sexual organs.”

While individual history and experience can certainly skew results, the researchers found that women were most aroused by the aroma-combination of Good-and-Plenty candy and cucumber. Meanwhile, men preferred a lavender-pumpkin-pie blend. Don’t ask how they determined that or why those mixtures because Tourles doesn’t say. But, Thanksgiving dessert could make for an interesting nap.

Tourles used the research to formulate several recipes for body powder, including one scented with, yup, pumpkin spice and another with lavender. I’m thinking “lavender.”

The book continues with potions for aromatic baths, massage oils, herbal tonics and edible body butters.  Get energized with a ginseng wine or a tingly mint body honey. Chapter 8, Aphrodite’s  Apothecary is a helpful digest of herbs and ingredients.

With 64 recipes, there’s bound to be a magic potion for everyone.





I’m Trying Fire Cider (Flaming Cider) to Boost Immunity

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170814_150557I have a simple resolution … to be happy, healthy and good. And, as I blogged in August – during a summer cold — I’ve developed a three-part philosophy to include herbal wellness practices in my lifestyle. To remain free of disease, I vowed to

  • 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.

In my research, I came across the folk preventative/remedy known as “fire cider.” Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar is credited with the modern incarnation of this immune booster. While it’s not a cure-all, I needed it in my kitchen.

The base — apple cider vinegar – is usually infused with some combination of garlic, onion, ginger, honey, horseradish, hot peppers and herbs. The resulting concoction is then taken in small doses, mixed into vinaigrettes or otherwise added to food for daily consumption. It is claimed to boost the immune system, address cold symptoms and enhance digestion.

I decided to whip up a batch. So, I purchased $20-plus worth of ingredients. Then, I returned books to the library, met a half-dozen deadlines, went to Florida on a story assignment. You guessed it, my horseradish hardened, the pomegranates withered and my best laid plans faded.

FireCiderTonicWebMy mission remained. So I bought immune-boosting Flaming Cider (same idea, different name) from Field Apothecary in New York. To learn more about its properties, I interviewed maker Dana Eudy.

She’s been making Flaming Cider as she calls her product for the past seven years. To create her immune tonic, she infuses a biodynamic local apple cider vinegar with ginger, cayenne, horseradish, onion, herbs and local raw honey.

Eudy not only sells the product, she uses it. “I use it to enhance my immune response. If I have a cold coming I take it three times a day,” she says. “It’s great to break up congestion. Some people use it for digestive health, too.”

The flavor, says Eudy, is unique spicy sour mix. “It’s very palatable. I like to experiment cooking with it. I add it to guacamole, cole slaw, roasted veggies, potato salad and even flaming cider margaritas.”

field_logoIf only I were so creative. I’m more inclined to drip it into a small glass of water and drink my dose. When I remember.

And, my journey to stay healthy continues. For more information on Flaming Cider visit Field Apothecary.


It is the policy of The Herb Society of America 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.

Why, and How to, Grow Calendula

CalendulaBy Randal Agrella, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

The cheerful orange to yellow flowers of calendula are a delight in late spring, summer, or autumn gardens. The plants are sturdy, easy-to-grow, and bloom generously over a long season. The fact that they are edible, make great cut flowers, and have traditional medicinal applications adds enormously to their value.

Calendula originated along the European shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The name is derived from the Latin word “calends,” the Roman name for the first day of each month, supposedly because this versatile plant could be found in bloom every month of the year in the mild weather of its homeland. The Romans, like the Greeks and Egyptians before them, loved the plants and saw to it that calendula spread throughout their empire.

Since those early days, calendula has been valued. The flowers have been praised as a poor man’s substitute for saffron, both for their color and, used sparingly, for their flavor as well. The young leaves are strongly flavored, but delicious; their use as a cooked green accounts for the plant’s common name of “pot marigold.” (But some authorities claim that this common name comes from the northern European practice of flinging a handful of the dried petals into broth to infuse a rich color to the soup.)

Herbal uses over the centuries have been many, and the plant was used as an antibiotic as recently as World War I. Some modern research seems to support many of the traditional uses, including treatment of burns and other skin injuries, dermatitis, and ear infections.

Calendula is easy and fast from seed, blooming in as little as 60 days from sowing. Direct-seeding into the garden, about a half-inch deep, a few weeks ahead of last spring frost is fine. Germination is rapid, and the large seedlings are easily distinguished from neighboring weeds. But Calendulas tolerate transplanting with ease, and much earlier bloom can be had by starting indoors up to a month or two ahead of last frost and transplanting out. The plants don’t mind a few freezing nights, so long as the temps stay above 25 degrees or so.

At maturity, calendula plants may be about two feet wide, and about as high, so final spacing should be 1-2 feet apart. Be sure to thin carefully and transplant extras anywhere a pop of late-spring color is desired.

The plants prefer full sun, with perhaps a bit of afternoon shade as the weather turns hot. Indeed calendulas languish in intense summer heat, blooming all summer only in cooler climates. In warmer regions, fresh seedlings can be set out in late summer, probably after being started in cool indoor conditions. The plants thrive and bloom until rather cold weather, which means they’ll bloom right through the winter in mild-winter climates.

Baker Creek SeedsRemoving spent blooms certainly increases the blooming season of this treasured annual plant. You’ll want to pick them for cut flowers in any case—their warm tones are particularly stunning combined with blue flowers of various types. But be sure to allow some flowers to mature and drop their seeds, for calendula volunteers readily in most climates.

Story courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed. Seeds available at rareseeds.com

Book Review: The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

20180107_082557I’m chasing sunshine for the next few months in a 40-foot Tiffin Phaeton motorhome. We left Northeast Ohio when it was -3 F and drove South. We’ll soon veer West and continue until we hit San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. I hope the travel adventure will make my blog richer. I plan to visit garden and herb-related sites and will share as I might.

Another goal of this trip is to catch up on reading. And, the second book I read – if The Whole Seed Catalog can count as the first – is The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook by Carrie Schloss. The elegant, 200-page book celebrates honey with both savory and sweet recipes. You might expect something like Mexican chocolate cookies or candied walnuts, but what about chipotle-honey marinated skirt steak or eggplant parmesan stacks?

20180111_133737I’d visited the Bee Charmer retail outlet in Asheville, N.C., in 2016 and was excited when owners Jillian Kelly and Kim Allen introduced their cookbook late in 2017. The first recipe I tried was honey-roasted Brussels sprouts. Score.

This honey cookbook is relevant to herb lovers for two reasons. First, honey characteristics are shaped by flower of origin. Thus wildflower honey tastes different from lavender honey from sage honey. In the cookbook author Schloss describes the characteristics of different honeys then builds recipes around various varietals and infusions.

Lavender, for example, tastes “light, delicate, floral, lavender, peach and slightly acidic.” Meanwhile, sage is more like toasty, smoky, oak. And, dandelion offers flavors of vanilla and chamomile.

Varietals include acacia, basswood, blackberry, blueberry, buckwheat, carrot, clover, corsican blossom, cranberry, dandelion, fir, ginger, lavender, meadowfoam, orange blossom, raspberry, sage, sourwood, Tasmanian leatherwood, tupelo and wildflower.

The second reason for herbal interest is honey infusions created by Jill and Kim. The duo sells seven infusions that inspired Schloss’s recipes.

Infusions include chai, chipotle, cocoa, firecracker hot, ghost pepper, mint and rosemary.

20180111_133800.jpgTo make all the recipes in this book you’d have to stock 28 varietals and blends. You can purchase them at the Bee Charmer retail or online. I don’t have that much space in the RV, so I may cheat and get by with a few substitutions in the recipes I choose. My next project will be the rosemary polenta cake. This will have to wait until we slow down and stay at one campground for two weeks. Then, I can pull out the toaster oven, stir up the corn meal and make friends to help eat it.

Start Gardening Season with Baker Creek

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

20180111_131159After cleaning up Christmas decorations, I was ready for armchair gardening season. My first purchase was The Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. To me it’s the Holy Grail of seed catalogs – 356 pages of unusual, exotic and often extreme vegetables, herbs and flowers from around the world.

I raced through 272 pages of lushly illustrated vegetable porn to get to the herb section. I’ll return later to read about one-pound beets, rainbow corn and celtuce.

In the herb section I savored descriptions from ashwaganda to yarrow. I can’t decide which of the 21 basils I want to grow. I want to try Moldavian balm, a purple-flowered tea herb in the mint family. I could grow dandelion, mullein, nettle and purslane instead of foraging them. But why?

Safflower, toothache plant, white horehound … I want, want, want.

Moldavian balm

Four pages of new herbs for 2018 include three perillas, oyster leaf and self heal, among others.

While the herb section ends at page 290, the herb options continue in a 50-page flower section. Stars include calendula and milkweed. My favorites are the 11 nasturtium and five edible pansy options. Both are impressive in salads.

From the books and gifts section I may order Clyde’s Garden Planner, just $3.

If you don’t want to spend $9.99 on the full-blown catalog, consider ordering the shorter, free version. Then, settle into your armchair and circle your faves. Better yet, order them and get growing.