Herb Gardening-Welcome Spring!

The snow is finally melting, the ephemerals are starting to pop up, the streams are trickling, the robins are back! This is such an exciting time in New England-especially after the winter we just had, with more snow and colder temperatures than ever recorded in history.
Time to dive into the growing season-if you have perennial herbs, they will start poking through soon if not already, and if you’re starting seeds indoors, now-if you haven’t already, is the time to start them. I whole-heartedly love growing herbs-its so incredibly fulfilling, creates a sense of security and empowerment for me, knowing that my medicine is close at hand-not to mention the vibrant beauty of them in the garden-whether harvested each year or not.

Here’s an excerpt from the Book!

People have used plants as medicine since the beginning of time.  Every culture around the world has or has lost a relationship to the plants of the region, whether wild or cultivated.  These healing plants have served our species well.  There was once a time, not in the too distant past, that people had some knowledge of plants to heal themselves, and in every village a person of more expertise on treating serious conditions.
Today we are focused on so many different things in our busy lives, and most of us have come to depend on systems of medicine that are outside of ourselves.  We have forgotten how to take care of ourselves, prevent illness, and treat common ailments when they arrive.  We may be fearful when something is off balance, in turn running to the nearest hospital or pharmacy.  We have forgotten how to grow and prepare the simplest of medicines to treat colds, flues, fevers, and headaches, promote sleep, etc.  We can get this knowledge back for vibrant well being.  We can grow a small number of herbs, take a small amount of time in our lives, and have security in knowing that we can heal.
Let us be empowered to take at least some of our health into our own hands, it is us who know our bodies from the inside out!  Growing a small number of medicinal herbs is a wonderful place to start.  By doing this, we start to remember our connection with these allies, this support system that lies within the earth, and our own optimal health.
Growing herbs is easy, and super fun!  Herbs are wonderful “weeds” that, when put into the right environment, will grow big and strong and full.  They want to spread, take over, and multiply, which is great, when they are planted where we want them!  The task becomes pruning, thinning, pulling, and harvesting.  Once herbs are established and growing in your yard, there is more abundance each year, rarely a worry of shortage.  They are flexible and hardy to many growing conditions, often times extreme or harsh weather. The key is to choose plants that are generally suited to your area, and the ones we have chosen for this book are very common and easy to grow in most areas.  Perennial herbs for the most part are the focus in this book, as they will proliferate for many years, therefore establishing the garden is a one-time endeavor.
Plants are effective medicine, not only for us, but for the garden.  They serve as pest control, and they heal the earth where it may have been stripped, or polluted.  Incorporating them into our lives enriches us, by soothing or stimulating the senses, and helping us feel better when sick.

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Transition into Spring

It’s been quite the winter here in Vermont, the coldest one recorded ever actually!

Spring feels exciting and long-awaited, but never the less, can be a struggle for our bodies to go through the shift.

The frosting and heaving that the earth is doing, to create mud season, and eventually true spring, is sort of a mirror to what our bodies go through, hence the very common spring cold that so many of us get for this right of passage. It’s like traveling, and our immune systems appreciate some support and gentle loving care at this time.

Starting in April most likely, the herbs will start to emerge, and the ones that do, are the ones that we must pay the most attention to: they are our allies for the time, and young shoots can be collected and eaten or made into teas.

baby-nettlesKeep your eyes open for nettles—filled with blood building and cleansing properties and packed with minerals, vitamins, and chlorophyll. Nettles support the kidneys, are a general tonic to the entire body, and can help with asthma-type conditions, as well as spring allergies!

I’d suggest drinking a daily infusion through March and April that goes something like this: nettle, dandelion, plantain, comfrey and mint. Of course vary it to the plants around you, or what your body is craving, but its generally a good time to cleanse and build the blood.

Enjoy this time! Don’t work too hard!

 

Herbal Abundance

July!!! Everything is blooming and growing a mile a minute! It is the highpoint of the growing season here in Vermont. What a wonderful time of overwhelming abundance and absolute beauty. I sometimes have to calm myself down, take some deep breaths, and realize that everything will not get harvested, and processed to its full potential.

I’m interested in what each herbalist prioritizes this time of year, because the options are endless….

Recently I’ve been focused on:

~setting up drying racks in the school bus so that it can become a drying tunnel for herbs!

~Harvesting Elder blossoms, Echinacea leaves and flowers, Mugwort, Yarrow, Lemon balm, Peppermint, Sage, Lavender, Thyme, and Roses.

~Harvesting Calendula, St., Johnswort, Comfrey, and Plantain, and using them to make fresh oils for the year to come. I will use some of these in formulas, and salves. This is one of the most simple yet rewarding things you can do with herbs! Here’s how: Step 1- fill a jar with the fresh herb you’ll be wanting to extract the healing properties from. Step 2- pour oil (I usually use a high quality Olive oil, because of its inherent medicinal properties and ability to extract many of the herbs benefits) over the herbs to fill the jar, poke at it-with a knife or chop stick to get the air bubbles out, make sure all herbs are submerged. Step 3- cover and let sit, shaking daily, in a warm window for 2-4 weeks. Step 4- strain the oil and squeeze as much as you can from the herbs, bottle into dark colored bottles, label and store!

Summer Herbal Blessings!

June News From Harvest Hill

In the photo essay, we want readers to see Alyssa who is now harvesting elder blossoms, and they have the herbs drying in the school bus on the property at Harvest Hill!!

Herbalist, Alyssa Holmes, and her daughter, Sage, worked together to cut and harvest the blossoms.

The weather in southern Vermont has been glorious this June. The cool nights and long summer days of late June have helped to increase the bounty in our surroundings.

~~~
Elder
Sambucus nigra
Parts used: Flowers and berries. Properties/Actions: Diaphoretic, alterative, stimulant,
antirheumatic, antiviral.
Benefits: Eases colds, flus, fevers, acne, burns, rashes, wrinkles.
Suggested uses: Syrup (berries), infusion (flowers), herbal oil (flowers), salve (flowers).
Growing, harvesting, and wild crafting tips and specifics: Perennial. Divided roots. Prefers moist, well-drained, fertile soil.
Cautions: Only the black elderberry (nigra) is safe to use. The red variety is toxic.

Here is a good overview from the Cornell Unversity Department of horticulture:

Elderberries are popular for their unusual taste in pies, jellies, and jams. They are occasionally used in winemaking. The plants are very hardy (usually to Zone 4 but some kinds to Zone 3), and because they flower in late June, the crop is seldom damaged by late spring frost.

They are attractive and easy to grow, and are great in landscape plantings. Elderberries contain more phosphorus and potassium than any other temperate fruit crop. The fruit is also rich in vitamin C.</blockquote>

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Ode to Nettle

IMG_6578It would be difficult to do, because I have such a deep love for so many herbs, but, if I had to pick a favorite that I hold dearest to my heart…it would be nettle.

Nettle has been such a faithful and steadfast daily herbal ally for me for about ten years. I feel that we have merged and become one, that when I drink nettle infusion, it is bonding with my very blood, and every cell of my body. I sometimes feel like Popeye when I drink my infusion, strong and robust. I usually brew up a quart and let it stand overnight, excited to unveil my deep green drink in the morning. It feels so nourishing and hydrating–similar to an electrolyte drink such as coconut water.

Nettle as been especially beneficial for me during my two pregnancies. I drank it almost every day, sometimes alternating with red raspberry leaf, and a few others, but for the most part nettle was my drink of choice. I felt that it helped me with all aspects and symptoms of pregnancy making for a healthy, enjoyable time in my life. I also believe that it delivered vitamin K to my infants, which they so need for proper blood clotting in the first few weeks of life.

I feel a foundation of health and strength in my body, which I attribute in large part to the regular consumption of nettle. I rarely drink plain water-it does not feel as hydrating!

 

The Book is Out & Spring has sprung!

ChamomileSpring is a time of motion, and massive transition—not only with the earth and the change of the season, but within ourselves and our bodies. Spring is a beautiful time to do some gentle cleansing by eating foods such as fresh greens, asparagus, dandelion, and nettle shoots. It is also a good time for drinking infusions filled with rejuvenating, mildly cleansing herbs such as red clover, nettle, dandelion, yellowdock, and plantain.

As the rivers are melting and flowing again, it’s the time when we start moving, frolicking, leaping about in the wild places, or on the sidewalks and in playgrounds and parks.

Let us go easy, and remember to not push too hard— remember that we don’t have to get the entire garden planted right away in May; to take it slow and notice, sit, be. The green world is unfolding, and we don’t want to miss it.

This is the time to dig, to turn, and to fortify the soil you will be planting herbs into. Have you decided what you’re going to grow this year? What perennials you may get from a friend or neighbor, or what annuals you are starting from seed, or buying seedlings of at the farmers market?

I got a whole lot of Tulsi Basil seeds to put into the ground this year, and plan on making a large area filled with Chamomile that will be trimmed down frequently, so that we can actually lie in it to take naps!

I urge each of us to do one fun thing like this each year…just for our pleasure, to be able to reflect on all our hard work, and reap the many benefits.

Enjoy the spring. work. relax. admire.

~Alyssa

PS/Today is the big day! Our book is officially out and available online and in bookstores nationwide. Local (Brattleboro, Vermont) readers will find the book at Everyone’s Books on Elliot Street; others can simply call or visit their local indie bookstore and ask for it! Thanks for all your support.

Hunger Moon

In want and hunger was their lot,

They who fled to the parched wastelands:

They plucked saltwort and shrubs;

The roots of the broom plant were their food.

~Job 30:3-4, Translated from the Hebrew

 

What a great time of year for the herbalist. A quiet time when the plants are in relaxed dormancy beneath the snow….a time to dream, reflect, and plan.

By mid winter I have usually let go of the past season, and am ready to plan for the next. Each new year is so exciting, with so much green promise. I like to flip through seed catalogs, map out new garden beds if need be, reflect on what worked or didn’t work in the garden in the previous year, and plan what annuals I will plant to augment the perennials.

Along with planning the spring and summer, this is such a beautiful time to enjoy the medicines we have made from the plants we have grown last season. I find myself being drawn to the roots, berries, and barks at this time–there will most often be a simmering pot on the stove filled with astragalus, echinacea, cinnamon, ginger, dandelion, burdock, or yellow dock, just to name a few. Drinking infusions and decoctions daily for winter health is vital!

Enjoy this time of the hunger moon, for it will be so short–and soon enough we will be in the busy fray of the rapidly growing green again.