HSA Webinar: Molé, Pan and Chapulin–Oaxacan Style

by Jen Munson, HSA Education Chair

Face it, 2020, for the most part, has been a bust! The pandemic has cancelled events, reduced travel, and all but eliminated herbal adventures. As we dream of a future where we can begin to move about the globe more easily and safely, now is the perfect time to research new destinations. mapInterestingly, just south of the US border in Mexico there is a unique community that is home to sixteen distinct indigenous peoples living in a mild climate, enjoying unique botanic diversity. 

Oaxaca, Mexico, is a community known for its culture, crafts, textiles, ceramics, cuisine, and complex use of plants. While Mexico is known for its Day of the Dead celebrations, Oaxaca offers the most spiritual and unique Dia de los Muertos Celebrationcelebrations of them all. The Day of the Dead festival (or Dia de los Muertos) is celebrated from October 31st thru November 2nd. During this time, locals believe the gap between our world and the spirit world opens, and loved ones are invited back for a celebration. Offerings are placed on altars in homes, schools, cemeteries, and more. Of course, the spirit world needs nutrition to support their return to the mortal world, so delicious foods play a central role. This melting pot of cultures has created signature dishes including molé (generic for sauces used in Mexican cuisine), pan (an egg based sweet bread made especially for the Day of the Dead), and chapulines (Sphenarium grasshoppers).

Dia de los Muertos panJoin the HSA Webinar series on October 28th at 1pm EDT to celebrate the Day of the Dead with HSA members Sara Holland and Mary Doebbeling as they present, “Molé, Pan, and Chapulin–Oaxacan Style.” A recent journey took them to Oaxaca, Mexico, where they had the opportunity to study and use local herbs and plants. Our webinars are free to members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today and enjoy all our webinars for free. Visit https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars or click here to sign up.

Photo Credits: 1) Enchantedlearning.com; 2) Dia de los Muertos Celebration (Holland/Doebbeling); 3) Pan bread (Holland/Doebbeling).


Sara Holland and Mary Deobbeling

Sara Holland and Mary Doebbeling are active members of the Pioneer Unit, giving local presentations and traveling throughout southwest Texas presenting interesting herbal programs. In addition to being active locally, they have both served as South Central District Membership Delegates and have made contributions to HSA Essential Guides, worked on steering committees for district gatherings, and contributed to various committees including the Research Grant Committee.

Sansho Pepper Experience Startles Me

Sansho Pepper Experience Startles Me

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170225_100136I seek herbs when I travel, to see how they’re part of a local culture. The Jean-Talon Market in Montreal was a jackpot.

My favorite store in the historic market was Epices de Cru, a colorful exotic vendor of herbs, tea and spices. The husband and wife owners travel the world to bring home the best ingredients from the “ordinary” to the unusual. Think: Cinnamon leaf or avocado leaf (use like bay leaf with a different accent.) I was so entranced I visited twice. The second time I spent an hour perusing shelves and deciding just what to carry to my Ohio home.

Feeling adventurous I asked for the most unusual product and was introduced to sansho pepper. I can’t decide if the person assisting liked me or hated me when I was allowed to sample the small “peppercorn” which comes from the berry of a deciduous shrub – prickly ash — cultivated in Asia.
sansho-pepperIt was like my first experience with wasabi. Intense nerve confusion. I wasn’t sure if I was going to live or die. I lived. Obviously.

First, the tip of my tongue numbed. That electrified numbness spread. From cheek to cheek I sensed a citrus – lemon/lime, maybe – coolness. And, my mouth started to water. It wasn’t hot or spicy, but like something had a hold of the nerves in my mouth. It expanded beyond taste to a physical sensation. And, it lasted nearly 10 minutes.

Once I realized that anesthesia was the expected experience and the limit (I wasn’t succumbing to rare nerve poison), I was fascinated.  But, why would someone want to add this seasoning to their food?

Rumor has it that it cuts through fatty eel richness and minimizes heat perception in some dishes. I can see why.

I didn’t buy sansho because I wasn’t sure my friends were ready for the challenge. But, you can find it at Spice Trekkers.

The unusual herbs and spices are just part of the utility and charm of Epices de Cru. It’s also educational. I plan to compare rosemary from Provence and India as well as Oregano from Oaxaca, Yucatan and Turkey. I know origin has influence.

Lavender Inspires Second Career for Wisconsin Retirees

mediakit02By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

When Martine and Edgar Anderson retired five years ago, they moved to remote Washington Island in Door County, Wisconsin and started their second careers as lavender farmers.  On the north edge of the “lavender belt,” Washington Island is in growing zone 5B.

Martine was following a childhood inspiration; she grew up in the South of France where lavender farms were a part of life. The versatile, aromatic herb romanced her and never left.

The couple started strategically. Martine had been growing a few lavender plants that were doing very well in the growing zone. “Before we got to the scale of the business, we planted several varieties and realized that they could survive,” says Edgar. “But, before we started the farm, we did a lot of research with the University of Washington, talked to growers, talked to researchers and compared notes on soil samples, climate data.”

mediakit06“The soils here are sandy,” he notes. “Good drainage is a must-have for lavender because they don’t want wet feet. Lavender is prone to fungal disease.”

The growing parameters on the Wisconsin island measured up. So Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, Shop and Bistro is a 21-acre farm with 14,000 plants – 10 varieties — growing on five acres of land. Plans call to more than double cultivation in the next five years.

“We’ve been here four years and the plants are growing very well,” Edgar notes.

mediakit07With supply, they needed demand. And, that hasn’t been a problem either.  “The lavender industry in North America is small, compared to Europe and New Zealand. It took a big jump in the United States starting in the 1990s,” he says.  And, he sees a need for U.S. growers to meet mounting demand.

The top lavender producing country is Bulgaria with 150 tons in 2015, according to Ukraine Today and other sources. That’s followed by France, New Zealand, Ukraine, Russia, Australia and the Mediterranean region.

Martine laments that U.S. lavender oil and lavender-scented products often come from China, where quality control is lax and purity may be questionable. “That’s not what you want to buy. We use pure oils, undiluted oils,” she says.

Though all lavenders are edible, Fragrant Isle grows different varieties for aromatic and culinary uses. Martine notes the strong aromatics (some camphor-like scents) are off putting for culinary uses.

Both variety and harvest differ for the two. “For aromatic uses like oil, you want to let them grow longer, so the buds swell and the compounds mature enough so you can extract quality oils,” she says “The weather plays a big role in when to harvest. If it gets hot early in summer, it happens sooner.”

“If you’re harvesting lavender buds, you have to watch when the flowers are only 30 percent open.”

mediakit08-2In addition to the farm, Fragrant Isle has a café that serves lunch and has dinner hours on weekends. The 2,000-square-foot shop sells more than 150 products including body lotions, soap, body wash, linen spray, insect repellent, after shave and more. All use lavender from the farm.

“We are constantly looking for commercial ways to use lavender,” says Martine.

Diners at Le Petit Bistro experience culinary use they may want to repeat at home. “We use it in teas, in baking. We use it on fish, tenderloin, beef. We do sugar infused with lavender. We make jam,” says Martine. A recent menu item was Lemon Glazed Cake with Lavender Rhubarb Puree and Whipped Cream.


While Martine and Edgar are quick to share their knowledge, they’re making it more fun with a Lavender Festival on July 22, 23 and 24, 2016. Timed for the flowering season, they’ll offer lessons in lavender chocolate-making and lavender wand-making. Music is scheduled throughout the festival and visitors double their stress relief with massages in the field. More than 5,000 guests are expected to visit the three-day event. For details on getting to the island and more, check out their website.