Saturday, February 22, 2014

What Plant Would You Be?

Many years ago, journalist Barbara Walters was widely mocked for asking the actress Katherine Hepburn what kind of tree she would be.  She asked that question in response to Hepburn stating that she would like to be a tree.  Hepburn chose oak, because they are strong and pretty.

I've been working on a book lately, and the process of writing leads my mind in a lot of unusual directions.  Last night that meant considering what kind of plant I would be.  Lots of my friends talk about what sort of animal they would be, often based on the Animal Tarot, or totem animals, yet even though so many of us work with plants day in and day out, I can't recall talking the plants we feel we are most like.

My own first thought last night was of thick, dense moss growing by a creek.  Soft and lush, close to the earth, that seems familiar.

A couple of years ago I took a workshop at The Rosemary House with Pam Montgomery that involved sitting with plants and really observing them. While I was looking forward to it, at no point did I actually think that I'd "get it."  We all want to connect with the plants, but seem to think that they only talk to others.  Being compelled to sit there with a hops vine, it wasn't long before I was observing how strong it was, and how the tendrils reached ever higher, letting nothing stop its progress.  I remember looking at the flowers and noting how hard it worked to procreate.  15 minutes in, I realized that I was relating to the growth of the vine, the struggles, and her appearance that while not particularly showy, was stunning when looked at on more than a superficial level.

Since then, I think of plants differently.  For example...

Wild Ginger, with such hidden, unassuming blossoms, spicy roots, and glossy leaves.

Blueberry - dainty blooms, vibrant fruits.  Grow in bunches.  Vivid tough leaves.

The ultimate trumpet - but remains hidden, building strength underground for 10 months each year.

Toadflax - beautiful, under appreciated, little dragons

Motherwort - prickly, layers, flowers nearly invisible, up, up, up.

Plantain - lush rosette, ribbed leaves, close to the ground with inconspicuous bloom stalk.  Whip like.

Poppy - stunning, papery, soft, swelling ovary, waving in the wind above cut leaves.

So you see, there's a start.  A very rudimentary beginning to thinking about the personalities of plants.  So often we name them after people, and vice versa.  Rose, Sage, and Jasmine, for instance.  I know some people who are Stinging Nettles.  They are lush and nourishing, but take an awful lot of work to stay on their good side.  I know mighty white pine people, with soft needles, pliable arms, and a notable weakness when piled too high with heavy snow.  I know beautiful echinaceas that offer creatures shelter in storms and seeds for birds in winter, and appear strong in the spring, ready to do it again.  Many times when I get to know a plant these days, I can align it with a human acquaintance.

So what plant would you be?  Have you thought about it at all?  I think we're all several plants, depending on our moods and circumstances, but it's fun to consider.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

March April '14 Issue - The Essential Herbal Magazine

 We're going to just go ahead and think of spring, even if we're sitting in a house that is looking more and more like an igloo with each passing day.
This issue is absolutely stunning.  Full of information and herbal love.  I know that sounds a little cheesy, but can't really think of a better way to put it.  Our writers are simply in love with herbs, and they aim to take you down that primrose path too.

Take a look at the table of contents (below) and I think you'll see what I mean.
Subscribe today on our website:

Field Notes   
Exciting times at TEH, and for the herbal community, turning lemons into lemonade.

About the Cover
Linda Kneeland ( provided this luscious taste of spring.

Elders & Herbs - Valuing Our Elders, Janice Masters
Janice begins a touching series about how herbs fit into the lives of our elders.

Chickens Love Herbs!  Michele Brown
Ready to start your own flock?  Combine your love of herbs with these fine feathered friends.   

Four Thieves, Amber Sheehan   
Many uses for this age-old traditional remedy that you might not have considered.

Spring Cleaning your Garden, Heddy Johannesen
Ready?  Set?  Time to get some dirt under our fingernails!   

Lunar Gardening, Aubree Sanders   
Planting in harmony with Nature's rhythms.

Herbs for Helping and Healing Coughs and Colds, Marita Orr
We're not quite done with the coughs, colds, and sore throats, but here are some good helps.

The Language of Herbs, Rita Richardson   
Let the plants speak for you.

Ground Cover Herbs. Suzan T. Scholl
Some fabulous ideas for herbal ground covers that are as useful as they are lovely.

Poultice and Compress Making, Stephany Hoffelt   
Granny medicine or modern medicine?  Stephany makes the case to keep them in the 22nd century.

Song of the Archangel, April Coburn   
An ode to a favorite herb with hand-drawn illustration.

Pizza Party in the Garden, Kathy Rohrbaugh
You'll love this pizza shaped garden that contains all the toppings you can grow.

Tincturing for Beginners, Jackie Johnson ND
Choose your booze wisely!   

Design Your Own Gardener’s Hand Soap, Marci Tsohonis   
Marci leads us through the creative process of another spectacular soapmaking adventure.

Herbalism in Iowa, Adrian White   
Do you think "corn" when you hear Iowa?  Learn of unique and entrancing herbal diversity that we haven't heard so much about.

Upcycling to Make Garden Accessories, ?Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Make some gardening tools from household items.

Yarrow, Jamie Jackson
Dainty and unassuming, yarrow packs a wallop and belongs in your herb cabinet.

Wildcrafting and Processing Herbs, Sandy Michelsen
Some ideas on getting started.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Who or what is the herbal community?

In the last couple of weeks, I've heard tales of several "takes" where what can only be considered vultures, swoop in and seeing the glimmer of gold, take it from someone else.  Just tonight I read about the brutal Candy Swipe trademark take away.  This morning it was an article about a quilt pattern being trademarked.  There are also tales about trademarks on terms like "soap loaf", "lotion bar" and "tub tea".  Of course the one that is really on my mind right now is the very old remedy made with vinegar and honey blended with lots of hot roots, etc that herbalists have been making for decades, and Rosemary Gladstar wrote about (and named) in her books and class texts.  Chances are, if you know an herbalist, they make this firey cider brew.

The hardest part for me to watch is that herbalists, who have every right to be outraged by this action, are being portrayed as backwoods hippies and  hicks who are supposedly jealous because they didn't make this selfish move first.  Yes, that's it. Thousands of people who have peacefully and generously shared, taught, and sold this brew for all these years are just jealous.  Because that's how we roll, right?  

Well let me tell you a little about herb folks - just in case you might actually believe that bilge.

Nearly everyone I know in herbs gives back more than they take.  Always.  Let's not even bother talking about all the work they do to rebuild habitat for plants and wildlife all around them.  Nor the urban FREE gardens they build for inner city people.  Instead, I'd like to say that any time you see a natural disaster or a country that needs help, you can be sure that herbalists have worked to get help into the area.
A good example is Samara Botane, whose website states, "We also directly support a variety of nonprofit organizations that go into the field and provide valuable services such as midwifery education and aromatherapy help for our troops and emergency disaster workers across the globe."  I've personally been involved in several group efforts, beginning with Hurricane Katrina, and most recently with Hurricane Sandy.  Soapmakers are to me a sort of subset of herbalists, and members of a forum I've frequented challenge each other to make donations to Kiva Loans, an organization that helps people start their own micro businesses all over the world.  They continually reinvest the money they loan as they are paid back.  As a group, I imagine these soapers have loaned 100's of 1000's of dollars to help make life better for others.

But that's really the tip of the iceberg.  There are free clinics, street medics, people who feel called to help wherever they can.  Others disseminate information, teaching others through blogs, informal gatherings, books, writing for magazines like The Essential Herbal, and on and on.  This is one generous community, and herbalists have heart.  Yes, they are trying to make a living, but it's pretty hard to find someone who would stand by and not help someone who couldn't afford to pay for a remedy.  Many times we squeak by financially, but usually happily cheer each other on when success comes to one of our cohorts.  What's good for one of us is good for all of us.  I can't say herbalists never step on each other.  We're human.  But that isn't the typical behavior

Who are they?  The others?.

In something like 1993 or 1994, The Natural Product Expo arrived on the East Coast for the first time.  Somehow, my sister and I found it and attended that first year, thrilled to have found exactly the wholesale show we needed for the herb shops we had at the time.  Almost every booth was staffed by the people making the products.  Blue jeans, long hair, and happy people selling their wares, proud of the things they'd made.

THE VERY NEXT YEAR we attended again, and were mortified to see that "the suits" had arrived.  Gone were the tidy little booths.  There was glass and steel, booth bunnies, and track lighting.  Every thing gleamed.  A couple aisles in, we were stopped by a big sweaty dude (I can only assume he'd been guzzling the all natural energy drinks) in a suit who wanted to tell us about the pills he had that cured genital herpes.  "Cure?" I said, "Reeeeally.  What's in it?"  He had to stop and look at the label on the box, and I suppose due to an inability to pronounce the ingredients, he said, "Oh, it's all natural.  A bunch of herbs!"  I asked if I might take a look.  There was a list of vitamins, some other stuff, and NO herbs at all.  When I told him there were no herbs, he said, "herbs... vitamins... whatever."

And THAT, my friends, is what happens when people who haven't the heart or the soul to understand herbs or the herbal community decide they can make big bucks from them.

It is a total lack of respect for the incredible abilities of herbs, a lack of respect for herbalists, and a complete and utter disregard for the customer.  They see dollar signs.  They think that if we don't play it that way, it's because we have no business savvy.  They themselves don't think the product has any real value, but that the packaging and marketing and the "snake oil biz" is what it's all about.  They get all bent out of shape when the government won't let them make medical claims, because they are alllllll about the medical claims.  They bring scrutiny to the industry because they want alllll those dollars.

So back to the firey cider brew.
Is it any wonder that we want to protect our tradition, community, and old remedies from that?  This kind of disregard is more than insulting.  For weeks, people have been trying to explain these concepts to the people who appropriated the name of this formula, forcing others who have been using it for decades to remove it from their on-line shops, but it has fallen on deaf ears.  Instead, they mock the herbalists, making fun of the qualities and sensibilities that make us who we are.  It's no wonder, really.  It's two different worlds, two different languages.  Unfortunately, I'd hoped that they would be able to hear, but they have chosen to force a legal battle.  Please sign the petition to help make that happen.
The Petition and watch the video in which Rosemary Gladstar teaches it (again) and gives the recipe!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

about starting on a (broken) shoestring

We're working on getting a few of our small books ready for reprints.  When I say "we", it really means Maryanne, who thankfully does all the lay-out work these days.  I am terrible at that.  It used to bring me to tears before she offered to do it.
Right now she's working on Making and Using Herb Vinegars.  It will soon have a color cover and have a better (!!!) layout.  There are only about 50 copies of the old one left, so we're thinking ahead. 
Working on this really took me back.  In discussion, we talked about how adding a recipe or two would require adding pages.  In printing, you can't just add one page.  It must be in multiples of 4.

It took me back, that discussion.  The vinegar book was one of the first.  Probably 11 or 12 years old now.
The maroon cover was chosen not because it is a cool color that stands out.  No.  It was chosen because it was leftover from another job at the printing company where I worked, and I rescued it from the trash.
The table of contents was assigned to the inside front and back cover - not because it was cool and unique - but because adding pages to that first printing would have added $10 or $15 dollars to the overall cost of printing, and I seriously didn't have it to invest.

I will be sure to hold on to a couple copies of the first edition before they are gone.  There are so many of us working with herbs, getting the word out, struggling with that torn or broken shoe-string.

So if you find yourself at an herb festival or gathering sometime and see a great product with less than spectacular packaging, give it a second look.  Not always, but sometimes there is someone with a good product struggling to find a way to share it with the community.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Starting from Scratch with Seeds

Starting from Scratch with Seeds

Kathy Musser, Cloverleaf Herb Farm
The Essential Herbal Mar/Apr ’10
Even though there are plenty of potted herbs and flowers ready for purchase, starting plants from seed can be both economical and satisfying.  The cost of a pack of seeds is generally less than the price of a single potted plant.  Seed catalogs provide a huge variety of choices.  New cultivars, interesting colors or forms, and hard to find varieties are in abundance in catalogs.  If you’re unsure of a plant’s color or form or how it will grow in your garden environment, the economical nature of seeds allows you to try a new plant without a large investment.  Lastly, there’s the satisfaction of the process.  Seed starting gives a hint of spring to come in dreary months.  I love the process of starting seeds, transplanting the seedlings, planting out in the garden and harvesting and using these plants.  It completes the cycle and provides satisfaction all along the way.
Kathy giving a tour of her display gardens.
Materials aren’t expensive and are easily found.  In addition to seeds, you’ll need lightweight soil-less mix.  Try to get one labeled for seedlings, as it will be lightweight and drain well.  Assemble your containers – plastic cell-packs, small pots or egg cartons.  Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of containers or poke holes to provide drainage.  Trays to hold your containers and a plastic covering to hold in humidity are helpful.  Plastic dome lids are made to fit right over flats or you can use clear plastic wrap stretched over the containers and attached with masking tape.
Place some mix in a bucket, etc. and apply water.  Mix thoroughly so soil-less mix is uniformly moist.  Fill your containers.  Place seed in containers, press lightly into the mix.  Label containers with variety name and date sown, using popsicle sticks or plastic stakes.  Cover containers.
There is much helpful information on the back of the seed packet.  The pack will tell you how many weeks (often 6-8) before setting out to start your seeds.  Count back that number from the last frost date in your zone.  For example, here in zone 6, our last frost date is usually mid-May.  If the packet lists 6-8 weeks, start your seeds between mid-March and the beginning of April.  Annuals (those you plant every year) generally grow easily from seed.  Since they only grow one year, they must reproduce easily and fairly quickly.  Perennials (which survive multiple seasons) often take longer to germinate and do so more sporadically.  You may notice perennials often have a longer lead up time than annual seeds.
All the little baby plants, growing strong.
Seed packets often indicate a variety of needs, light or dark for germination.  Seeds requiring light should be pressed into the soil, but not covered.  Those requiring dark should be pressed into the mix and covered with more moistened mix.  Larger seeds should be pressed into the mix and covered.  If light vs. dark is not indicated, I follow a general rule:  do not cover very small seeds and do cover larger ones.
Seeds have an outer coating that must break down before germination can occur.  Seeds must be kept moist in order to germinate.  For many varieties, bottom heat promotes germination.  Heat mats are available from garden catalogs.  You can also place seed trays on top of the refrigerator, which will provide sufficient, although not constant, bottom heat.
When seeds have germinated, remove plastic cover or wrap.  Now the seedlings need sun for growth.  Place seedlings in a sunny spot, preferably south-facing.  Heat is not important now.  In fact, seedlings grown in the lower range of normal household temperatures tend to be sturdier.  If you’re growing a large number of seedlings, it’s worth investing in supplemental lighting.  If you can set up a table with over-head fluorescent lighting, you don’t need to worry about finding enough space on sunny windowsills.  Regular fluorescent tubes are fine.  They should be hung on chains so the lights can be raised as the seedlings grow.
After germinating, seedlings need to be watered when they dry out.  Overwatering at this point can lead to damping off, a fungal disease, which attacks at the base of the seedling, turning the stem gray and fuzzy and causing the plant to fall over.  It can occur fairly quickly and there’s no reviving the plant once it happens.  I find that even as seedlings, it’s better to let them dry out between waterings.  This virtually eliminates damping off as a problem.  Many sources recommend bottom watering.  This is fine to do, but the necessary close monitoring of your seedlings for water is the most important factor.  It’s easy to tell when soil-less mix is dry as the color lightens considerably.
Seedlings can be transplanted when they develop a second set of leaves.  The first set are the same on almost all plants.  The second set are actually the first set of “true leaves” and will vary according to the specific plant.  Fill pots or peat pots with soil-less mix.  Use a small spoon or seedling lifter (available in garden catalogs) to gently lift seedlings from container.  Make a hole in the transplanting soil with your fingers and gently place seedling in soil.  Don’t handle the seedlings by the leaves.  Handle by the stem or better yet, by the root ball.  Firm soil around seedling and water.  Put seedlings back in sunny window or under lights.  As the seedlings develop, you can begin the hardening off process leading up to planting in the garden or containers.  Put potted plants outside in a protected spot, out of direct sun and shielded from wind.  Bring them back inside at night.  Each day, move them so they are more exposed to the elements.  Watch watering carefully, as they will dry out more quickly as they’re exposed to more sun and wind.  Follow this procedure for 10-14 days.  At the end of this time, they can be transplanted to their final location once the last frost date has passed.

Me, getting a late winter, early spring dose of green.
 Some seeds require special treatment to help break down the protective coating.  Very hard seeds can be soaked in warm water for an hour before planting or nicked with sandpaper or a nail file.  Some perennial seeds should be sown, then placed in the refrigerator to simulate a cold dormancy period.
Whether it’s to stretch your plant buying budget, grow the perfect variety, or simply enjoy the process, get a jump start on spring by starting some plants from seed.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Back on the Ranch

Our neck of the woods has been a little hectic despite the ice and snow. So I’ll be writing the latest blog post. My name is Molly and I have been working for my mother for the past few weeks.

Lately things have been a busier than usual. After returning home from a wholesale show, my mother and aunt had more soap orders than soap, I started learning the ropes, and mom had a book to well, write.

But we’ve managed to keep everything going.

Mom was able to find some pretty neat stuff at the show.  Bags, incense, head bands, among other things showed up at our door a few days ago.

And we were able to start up a Pinterest and an Instagram. That way whenever we have something new to show off, like our fire cider.

We can post it and find out what you guys think!

As the snow continues to fall, we’ve sent the Mar/Apr issue off to the printer and it will be hitting the mail in about a week, and Mom's crankin' away on the book that will be sent off to the publisher in about a month (first half due Monday!).  We're so ready for spring to get here, but in the meantime we'll be curling up with some tea and hope you will be doing the same.