I thought of a Beatles song as I walked through a lovely church garden in Carlsbad.
“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me. Speaking words of wisdom, let it be. And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me. Speaking words of wisdom. Let it be.”
The entire grounds are lovingly cared for by a number of gardeners and my favorite is the herb garden named “Mary’s Garden.”
The spikey, well-trimmed rosemary hedges are set in a somewhat formal pattern with smaller, rounded English lavender placed symmetrically between the hedges.
And a small statue of the Virgin Mary overlooks “Mary’s Garden.”
As I rubbed my hands over the tops of each plant, I immediately felt a sense of calm and I tried to imagine how to preserve that feeling for a longer time in your household.
When you grow herbs at home, there are multitudes of ways they can be used and preserved.
Culinary herbs are the most useful to herb gardeners. Parsley, cilantro, sage, bay, chives, thyme, marjoram, mint, lemon grass, tarragon and basil are just a few to add to your collection.
Aromatic herbs are useful for flowers and foliage. Oils can be used to produce perfumes and cosmetics. These herbs include calendula, lavender, rosemary, mint, feverfew and basil.
Medicinal herbs have long been thought to have curative powers. Many herbs have been studied and have been found to have healing powers but should be used carefully. (See references below).
Harvesting fresh leaves may be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. Pick leaves and seeds after dew has disappeared but before the sun gets too hot. If drying leaves, harvest before the flower buds open. If using just the seed heads, harvest when the color changes from green to brown and feels dry.
After harvesting herbs with leaves and stems wash with cold water. Dry with towels and hang upside down in the sun until water evaporates.
When harvesting leaves, strip them from the stems and store whole in a canning jar with sealed lids. Seeds should be stored whole and ground when needed.
Mint, basil and lavender can be dried in large bunches while still on the stem by hanging them upside down in a dark and warm place and used as arrangements or for cooking.
One of my oldest friends, Sue King Elkan, a fellow master gardener from Cooperstown, New York, owned a large 50-acre family farm. Although the farm had not been a working farm for many years, she took on a project of growing ¼ acre of calendula and astragalus as an herbal experiment.
She processed the root of astragalus as an arthritis ointment and eventually created a salve out of the calendula blossoms.
“Calendula officinalis slight astringency may help to heal wounds and cuts,” according to the Reader’s Digest “Complete Ilustrated Book of Herbs,” (Reader’s Digest, 2009).
Sue attended a course at the Vermont Sage Mountain Retreat Center, taught by herbal expert Rosemary Gladstar, who “reignited herbalism in America and helped us tap into ancient notions of wellness.”
While attending the course, Sue learned about the complicated process of creating herbal medicinal and cosmetic products. She proceeded to return home to New York and experimented with a salve made out of calendula blossoms. Instructions for creating your own salves and lotions can be found at www.learningherbs.com.
Much to Sue’s surprise, the King Calendula Ointment became such a hit with her friends that we encouraged her to sell it!
Unfortunately, she passed away before it went to market, but her friends and fellow master gardeners remember it well.
Even if you are a small home gardener, you can create herbal products for yourself or as a potential salable product.
If you are a serious herb grower and want to find out more about processing herbs and possibly producing products, I encourage you to research Rosemary Gladstar’s website (scienceandartofherbalism.com) or contact me for further references.
Tinctures and salves
Simple tinctures and salves can be made at home with just a few supplies with herbs from your garden. Starting with fresh calendula flowers (no leaves), fill the blender with flowers and chop.
Add herbs to a glass-canning jar, along with one cup vodka, and seal with screw-top lid. Process mixture for at least two weeks. To use the tincture to create salves or lotions go to www.learningherbs.com.
I hope that your garden is giving all you some solace and sparks your creativity! Contact me at [email protected] with any questions.
Jano Nightingale is a master gardener and the former director of the Master Gardener Program at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Cooperstown, New York. She lives in Vista and works on local community gardens.