Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dan and Betty Pillsbury - Friends in the news!

The following is an article featuring some friends of The Essential Herbal (and I have fun bantering back and forth with Betty via email some mornings). Betty's words can usually be found somewhere in the List Article of each issue. Nice job, Dan and Betty! Btw - there were many more pictures of plants, but between my photo program and blogger.... well, we have some of them :-).

Putting down roots

Couple turn property into fiesta of herbs and flowers

BY JOANNE E. McFADDEN For The Sunday Gazette


When Betty Pillsbury ’s ( teenage friends were out on the town having a good time, she was in the woods. For Christmases and birthdays, she requested items like wildflower-identification guides. When she was 15, her mother gave her a recipe for a salve that had been Pillsbury’s grandfather’s. She was hooked, and began using herbs in food, medicine and crafts.

These days, Pillsbury’s love of herbs and flowers has grown into a passion that she pursues with her husband, Dan, at their home in the Schoharie County hamlet of Huntersland, which is outside Middleburgh. While Betty has been fascinated with growing plants almost her whole life, she found herself leaving garden after garden behind, in places like England, the high desert and the Great Plains, as she and her husband moved to various duty stations throughout the world during his 20-year career in the Air Force. “Moving from place to place, you know you’re probably not going to see that harvest,” Pillsbury said. All that changed when the couple purchased their 1840s home in 2001. They had discovered the area during a genealogy trip when they were stationed at the nowdefunct Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome. “We fell in love with its beauty,” she said of Middleburgh, and they decided to settle here. “We’ve really put down roots — literally and figuratively,” she said. When they purchased the property, it was overgrown with eye-high weeds, including cow parsnip, to which Dan is allergic.


Slowly but surely, the couple cleared the land and transformed the three-acre property, filling it with gardens containing more than 250 different kinds of herbs as well as flowers, fruits and vegetables. Since Betty has rheumatoid arthritis, Dan builds her raised beds in which to plant. This makes it easy for her to sit on a wheeled garden tote to tend to the gardens. Some of the raised beds are made from old wood from the barns that had been on the property. Pillsbury describes her garden as “eclectic,” with a little bit of everything. There are herb gardens filled with not only staples like rosemary, thyme and tarragon, but speciality herbs like chocolate mint (yes, it does smell just like a peppermint patty) and lime balm. Whenever possible, Pillsbury starts the plants from seed herself. While she is able to harvest her herbs from May through October and likes to use them in cooking, Pillsbury, an herbalist, uses all of her plants for much more, including teas, oils, lotions, salves, balms, sprays and powders. Her garden has a cure for whatever ails. For example, her dwarf lemon balm has antiviral as well as calming effects. Ashwagandha is an Indian medicinal plant that is supposed to boost energy. Sage has antibacterial properties. Even plants that most disdain as weeds, such as stinging nettle, has valuable properties, Pillsbury said. The leaves can be made into tea or used in a potato soup, or the seeds can be made into a tincture that is supposed to help the prostate. While plants have wonderful medicinal properties, Pillsbury cautions that a person really needs to know what they are doing to use these plants properly, or use them under the supervision of someone who does.


Besides herbs, the Pillsburys grow about 40 different kinds of roses in addition to other flowers. They are influenced by some of the places they’ve lived, including England. Pillsbury remembers standing in a 40-acre field of blooming lavender, breathing in the sweet scent. “You could just feel the relaxation wash over you,” she said. She has lavender in her garden, and in one section, she and Dan built a miniature Stonehenge, reminding them of the four years they spent in England. Besides the joy of growing different kinds of plants, Pillsbury enjoys the folklore behind them, too. For example, she might ask if you know just why Rapunzel was locked in the tower. It was because her parents loved to eat the roots of the rampion plant (an English kitchen garden favorite), and her parents used to send Rapunzel into the witch’s garden to steal it. One day, the witch caught her and locked her up. The Pillsburys also grow a variety of vegetables and fruits, including peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower, pears, blueberries, elderberries, cranberries, cherries and apples, to name a few. Many of the plants are just starting to mature. For example, they are still awaiting the first harvest of peaches from trees they planted four years ago. A friend in Iowa had delicious, juicy white peaches. He gave Pillsbury some of the pits, and she was able to grow her own trees from them. All of the gardening is done organically, the Pillsburys say, using materials such as manure, compost and fish emollient. They’re also mindful of attracting wildlife to their property. They plant favorites of hummingbirds and butterflies, such as rose-scented bee balm. They also left a patch of land as natural meadow. Betty Pillsbury’s answer to the comment that all of her gardens look like a heck of a lot of work, she simply replies, “When you’re doing something you love, it’s not like work. There’s something satisfying about getting your hands in the earth.” From looking at their property, you might think that the Pillsburys spend all their time in the garden. But believe it or not, both Betty and her husband have day jobs. Dan works for a pharmaceutical company, and Betty is a textile artist.

Her home is full of items she’s created, including an award-winning crazy quilt that was nine months in the making and was displayed in the White House one Christmas. She also travels around the country teaching crazy quilting and other textile classes, and she has appeared on HGTV’s show “Simply Quilts.” When she’s not sewing or teaching quilting classes, Pillsbury is making items from her herbs and other plants. She and her husband started their own business, Green Spiral Herbs. They sell their products at herb festivals and fairs, as well as online. Pillsbury also teaches classes where participants get to cook or make other items from herbs. Recently, Green Spiral Herbs received the status of “Botanical Sanctuary” from United Plant Savers, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting native medicinal plants in the United States and Canada. The Pillsburys grow many of the plants that are on the organization’s “at risk” and “to watch” lists, including American ginseng, bloodroot, echinacea, goldenseal, osha, trillium, wild yam, black cohosh, blue cohosh, arnica, butterfl y weed, mayapple, spikenard, white sage and wild indigo.

Dan and Betty Pillsbury are owners of Green Spiral Herbs in Middleburg. Together they pick from a patch of St. John’s Wort grown in one of their many garden beds.
Dan and Betty Pillsbury’s Green Spiral Herbs was named a “Botanical Sanctuary” by the United Plant Savers, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting native medicinal plants in the United States and Canada.


Wild Rose said...

What an interesting post. How wonderful to have such a beautiful garden full of herbs and flowers. I can imagine the scent of the lavender and the roses and feel the waves of relaxation as I inhale their beautiful perfume.

Marie x

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