Herbs On My Mind. Snow On the Ground.
By HF Contributing Writer, Tony(a) Lemos
The excitement of Pussy Willows this time of year is an exciting one for many New Englander’s (and transplants too), and even more so for herbalists. The seed catalogs are all dog eared. Lists upon lists have been made. Plans of new gardens have been drawn. Books have been referenced… will this be the year I install my chamomile coated napping bed in the garden?
The maple syrup sap is running, the snow is melting, and there’s mud on our boots. Instead of being stuck in the snow, our tires are spinning in the mud. Most of the local folks here in Ashfield, MA know about the local food movement and are pretty savvy when it comes to eating local. Some Ashfield families are members of CSA’s, or personally know the farmers who grows their food (Maribeth and Derek from Sangha Farm; Anna and David from Natural Roots). Many of us shop at farmers’ market’s (Honey from Dan, Blackcurrants from Kate, Peaches from Donna), and are even getting savvy about buying other products locally at the farmers market (Gourds from Liz, Yarn from Roberta) and we support our kids by shopping at the Kids Market in front of the General Store in the summer. Not bad for a small town. Well on our way to sustainabilty.
Now that we grow our food how about growing our families medicine and becoming self sufficient in one more area. Why go to the drug store for medicine when you can grow and craft your remedies from a wide variety of ailments in your own back yard? It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s relatively cheap. And I can tell you that you don’t have to be a master gardener to do it!
Herbal medicine is the people’s medicine. The earth’s medicine. Herbs have been an integral part of medicine from the beginning of civilization. Over 80% of the worlds population still uses herbs as their primary means of health care. Medicinal herb gardening is easy, very enjoyable and rewarding both in the beauty of your gardens, and medicines that can be made for free. It is also a great family activity.
From a young age my daughter has always wanted to know from which plant medicines come from and how each formula is made. Her imaginative play often includes concocting plants into medicine for her dolls. If you are interested in teaching kids about herbs I have written a 100+ page curriculum called “An Herbal Summer.” Email me at email@example.com for more information.
Making Herbal Medicines
Medicinal herbs can be used in many ways. Sometimes steeped in water to make a mineral rich herbal tea, in honey to make an herbal honey, in apple cider vinegar to make a calcium rich brew, or you can mix with other ingredients to make natural home remedy such as cremes, salves and oils. There is nothing quite as empowering as knowing how to make your own medicines. Herbs are magical but preparing and using them doesn’t have to be mystical.
To start with chose a few of your favorite herbs to grow. Common herbs to chose if you are just starting out are:
- Echinacea purpurea
- Lemon Balm
- Mint: Peppermint and/or Spearmint
All the above herbs and many more are easy to grow and have plentiful uses. Here are a few examples
LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis) is the best herb for a delicious summertime tea! So go out and pick the leaves any time between mid-May and late September for a very fresh and refreshing cool beverage. Pick and dry the leaves (preferably in early summer) for later use as a relaxing hot tea in fall and winter. Herbalists also call this herb Melissa, “the cheery herb,” because of its spirit-lifting quality. As a tincture it can be used for herpes sores due to its anti-viral properties. And as either tea or tincture it can be used as a nourishing brew for an exhausted nervous system.
- Culture: Start from cuttings or seed in spring or early fall, harvest just before flowering stage, leave 2 to 3″ of stem above ground. Grow lots!
ECHINACEA (Echinacea sp.) is probably the most popular herb in the western world. It is native to this country so you should not have a difficult time growing it — the “purpurea” variety is the easiest. It is a stimulant to the immune system and is used to treat colds, flu, and infections, including ear aches and yeast infections.
- Culture: It blooms for five or six weeks and thus is an excellent garden ornamental. as well as a superior medicinal herb. You may use all parts of this plant: roots, herbaceous (stems and leaves), flowers and seeds. Don’t forget to save some of the seed heads in October or November for next year’s planting.
Here are a few of my favorite books on growing herbs are
- Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech
- Growing 101 Herbs that Heal: Gardening Techniques, Recipes, and Remedies by Tammi Hartung
- The Herbalist’s Way: The Art and Practice of Healing with Plant Medicine by Phillips and Gladstar
About the Author: Tony(a) Lemos
Tony(a) is the director of Blazing Star Herbal School in Ashfield, MA and maintains an herbal practice in Northampton, MA. She is a graduate of Natural Therapy at Raworth College in England and has apprenticed with many influential herbalist, including Susun Weed. She is the vice president of the North East Herbal Association, and has taught at conferences and festivals all over New England, including Green Nations Gathering and the Women’s Herbal Conference. firstname.lastname@example.org