Nasty Plants and the Reasons to Love Them

The Herb Society of America Blog

by Erin Holden

Scrunched up faces. Tongues sticking out. Sounds of choking and disgust. Unfortunately this is the usual reaction when I’m finally able to coax someone into trying medicinal herbs. When we move past the more pleasant plants like lavender, chamomile, and peppermint and delve into the deeper waters of herbal medicine, not everything is so user-friendly. Many plants taste bitter, smell like old socks, or even feel slimy. But often, it’s these same nasty characteristics that provide the therapeutic benefits we’re looking for. Let’s take a look at a few plants and see what makes them so “nasty” as well as useful.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Many people may be familiar with the distinctive aroma of valerian root; old socks, wet dog, and horse manure are just a few things to which the odor has been affectionately compared. In fact, the constituent responsible for the smell, valeric…

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Gathering and Preserving the Herbal Bounty: A New Video Series

The Herb Society of America Blog

By Susan Belsinger

Greetings and Happy Autumn!

Herbal Salts are wonderful condimnts to have on handI am writing this on the evening of the full harvest moon—it is shining bright in the night sky just over the treetops. We are also celebrating the Autumnal Equinox. I know that fall is here by the feeling in the air—cooler nights—and needing to grab that extra blanket; the smells are different—moist, earthy, and leafy; the departure of the hummingbirds since the jewelweed blooms are fading; the slowing down of plant growth in the garden and the ripening of others—herbs are maturing, flowers are showing off their last hurrahs, and many plants are producing seeds. It is time for gathering the bounty and celebrating the harvest!

I am simply delighted to share some news with you. Last harvest season, I made three educational videos featuring “Gathering and Preserving the Herbal Bounty” for members of The Herb Society of America.

These videos give…

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Healing from the Trees: Spruce Resin Salve Recipe

The Druid's Garden

The completed salve! The completed salve!

Since moving to our new homestead a few years ago, I’ve been working to build a local material medica–that is, learning about all of the medicinal plants, herbs, and trees here on our 5-acre property.  This also, of course, means growing a lot of my own herbs but also learning everything I can about the uses of the plants/trees already present on the land.  This post is a follow-up to my Spruce post from a little while ago to share some primary ways of working with spruce: A Spruce Resin Salve (also known as a Spruce Gum and Spruce Resin salve) with bonus fire-starters from the process!

Many conifers produce a tarry, sticky resin or sap that has a range of uses: as a binding agent or glue, as a medicine, as gum you can chew, as incense, as a fire-starting tool, as a waterproofing agent…

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Cardamom: Tropical Spice and…Scandinavian Staple!?

The Herb Society of America Blog

By Amy Forsberg

Green cardamom seed podsI had what seemed like a simple question: How and why did cardamom, the spice native to southern India, become such an essential and beloved baking spice in snowy Scandinavia? I have Swedish ancestry, and absolutely love cardamom bread and other baked goods made with cardamom. In Scandinavian culture, cardamom often represents comfort and home and family and holiday treats–similar to how we in the U.S. view cinnamon, perhaps. (Of course, cinnamon is also of South Asian origin!) I started with some hazy knowledge of the history of the spice trade–that cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, pepper, and ginger spread throughout the world from their places of origin via complex trade routes over the course of many centuries, contributing to the rise and fall of various empires and economies. But I was curious why cardamom, in particular, took root in Scandinavia of all places. Researching that question took…

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Finding Peace in the Garden

The Herb Society of America Blog

By Karen Kennedy
HSA Education Coordinator

LemonBalmClose200911The lazy days of summer quickly transition to the more scheduled and hurried days of autumn. While glorious hues are found in changing leaf color and late season blooms like goldenrod and Joe-Pye weed, the pace of our world undeniably quickens during this season. Add the additional stress and worry about the Covid-19 pandemic and the message is clear–take time to personally cultivate peace and manage stress.

Research by environmental psychologists like Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, as well as landscape architects like Clare Cooper Marcus and Naomi Sachs and others, points to the overall positive impact of plant-rich environments and contact with nature on reducing mental fatigue and increasing feelings of restoration, recovery from stress, and improved mood (Haller, Kennedy and Capra, 2019).

Gardeners, without knowledge of the research, often say they find peace and solace in the garden. The act of gardening, tending…

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Horehound – Herb of the Month

The Herb Society of America Blog

By Maryann Readal

Horehound leavesThe fuzzy, light gray, deeply-wrinkled leaves of horehound (Marrubium vulgare) offer a nice contrast to other colors and textures in the garden. I love that contrast around the base of the red roses in my garden. Horehound is a perennial herb that grows from one to two feet tall, and can spread in the garden. It prefers dry sandy soil and a sunny location, tolerates poor soil, and is hardy in USDA Zones 4‒8. It may be started from seed in the spring, although germination is slow and sometimes not reliable. Cuttings can be taken from a mature plant or the established plant can be divided. Its leaves have a very bitter taste. Horehound produces whorls of small white flowers at the top of the stalk in the second year. The flowers are very attractive to bees, which makes for a tasty honey. The barbed…

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Sacred Trees in the Americas – Black Willow (Salix nigra) – Magic, Mythology, Medicine and Uses

The Druid's Garden

Me under a giant fallen, but yet living, willow tree! Me under a giant fallen, but yet living, willow tree!

One of my earliest memories was of three ancient black willow trees that were down by a little creek where I lived.  Although we lived on a busy crossroads in town, the stream and willows in the backyard were a quiet place, guarded by those three old willows. They looked like gnarled old women, sitting by the edge of the stream, their long branches swaying gently in the wind.  When the stream waters would rise, sometimes they would look like they were wading there, branches swaying in the current.  The Black Willow is an incredible tree, the largest Willow native to North America, and a great tree to get to know.

The Black Willow is also known as the Swamp Willow, Sauz, Dudley Willow, or the Gulf Black Willow.  It is native to all of Eastern North America, from the…

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Summer Savory – Herb of the Month

The Herb Society of America Blog

By Maryann Readal

Satureja_hortensis_Prague_2011_3 by Karelj via wikimedia commonsIt is summer and a perfect time to learn about summer savory, Satureja hortensis. If you have this spicy herb growing in your garden, plan to start using it this summer. It is an easy-to-grow, low-growing annual with white to pale pink flowers and narrow leaves. When in full bloom, the plant looks to be “covered with snow” (Clarkson, 1990). Summer savory requires full sun and good drainage, and can easily be started from seed. It may reseed if given enough sun and water. The leaves are very fragrant and have a warm, peppery taste, which is stronger before the plant flowers. Trim summer savory throughout the summer to encourage new growth. The leaves dry easily and can be stored for later use. Winter savory, Satureja montana, is its stronger, perennial cousin.

Like mint, sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano, summer savory is in the Lamiaceae…

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Herbal Trees and Shrubs of the Plains and Prairies

The Herb Society of America Blog

By Katherine Schlosser

From place to place, season to season, and year to year,

the colorful mixtures and combinations of flowering herbs

are influenced by permutations of weather, grazing,

competition with grasses, and seed abundance.

~David S. Costello

Since childhood the words “For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties, Above the fruited plain” colored my impression of the landscape of the western part of our country. Visits to grandparents, aunts and uncles, and masses of cousins didn’t disappoint my vision. It wasn’t until adulthood that I fully understood that those words were essentially a drone fly-over.

For some of us, it takes paying attention not only to the larger landscape, but to the details as well to appreciate the enormous botanical diversity of our country. From the tallest coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) to the tiny littleleaf pyxie moss (Pyxidanthera brevifolia)and its 1/4-inch flowers peering…

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The Practice of Deep Gratitude

The Druid's Garden

At the heart of the challenges, we face in transitioning from a life-destroying culture to a life-honoring one is to disentangle the many underlying myths and narratives that subconsciously or consciously drive our behaviors.  These myths include the myth of progress, the myth of infinite growth, the lure of materialism, and the assumption that nature is there only to serve our needs. These myths have, in part, been the underlying forces that have driven us to the present challenges of our age. I believe many of these myths are rooted in colonialism, and if we are ever to end this awful practice and its centuries-old impacts, we must address them. They drive both larger systems at play as well as each of us. And while we can look to broader

A nature mandala offered in thanks for our land that provides so much to us.

systems of power and privilege…

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