May 7, 2014

Cultivating the Slow-Herb Movement

It is hard to believe that twenty years have passed since the start of my ‘formal’ herbal training. While that training has merit that garners respect in some circles, I feel even more  blessed for the training I’ve received in the twenty harvest seasons since then, spent on hands and knees, filling my baskets with jeweled blossoms and green treasures. Those seasons have added so much more depth and understanding to my ‘formal’ education.Is it appropriate to label twenty seasons of experience as ‘informal’ education? Makes no matter now. I'll call it slow-herb learning... because while meeting many exotic new green friends might be exciting, cherishing a small handful of familiar green ones is slow, nourishing food for the soul.

Starting an herbal education at the age of 35 made me long for the many years I spent without it. I was so hungry to make up for the lifetime of knowledge that I missed.  I wanted to devour more, but enjoying the gifts of the natural world cannot be satisfied by simply collecting words on paper or screen. In those twenty years, the internet exploded and provided more information than I could ever use. Social media  brought me many far-flung herbal companions and their own regional plants right to my breakfast table every morning.
I have often referred to myself as a woman born in the wrong century. It seems to be an ongoing theme in my life. But rather than lament that unfortunate displacement, I am finally learning to use it to my advantage. When I am feeling overwhelmed by too much technology, too many opinions, too many lectures to attend or new books to buy: I just turn it off and go outside. The immersion into the healing ways of my cultural heritage these past eight years or so, has begun to anchor me and still my awareness to the wealth of knowledge right here under my feet in Pennsylvania. Many years ago I was introduced to the ‘new concept’ of the slow-food movement, which sounded oddly reminiscent of  the agrarian lifestyle in this part of Pennsylvania. I have adapted and applied some of the admirable tenets of the ‘slow movement’ to homestead herbalism and in my teaching of it to others.

*KEEP IT LOCAL & SEASONAL ~ I have simply stopped trying to keep up with the research studies of latest greatest herb flown in from far corners of the world (even the diverse corners of the 48 states).  It is doubtful that my ancestors would have utilized plant medicines that they could never witness growing. They knew countless uses for fewer plants, all of which were abundant for the picking within walking distance. There are old stories of Pennsylvania herbal practitioners who made a walking pilgrimage to the Blue Mountain late every summer to harvest the finest blue-stemmed Goldenrod. These herbalists based their practices knowing how to use goldenrod for every sort of ill that would present in the coming year. While I was trained in the uses of Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs, I have let a lot of that information slowly slip away from my grey matter. I am first and foremost, a regional herbalist who studies the plants that grow under my feet. I feel a strong commitment to sharing that with others who live here, too.

 *TASTE EDUCATION~ Understanding the varied, subtle tastes and energies of foods and plants is a time honored tradition from many cultures. My ancestors tastes were likely more simple  than complex. They may not have understood the proper science behind the properties of plants, but they knew how to utilize them. Ask any old timer what happens to their bodies when they eat a spoonful of horseradish in the winter or a big bowl of dandelion greens with vinegar-sweet dressing  in the spring. The taste and energetic properties of plant medicines and how they actively work on our constitutional imbalances is an important piece of homestead herbalism. This basic knowledge helps us to choose the most specific herb for the task at hand. I have an old friend who I have known over half of my life…long before herbs. Once she offered me a handful of Garden of Eatin’ Red Hot Blues chips when my stomach wasn’t feeling quite right. I thought she was crazy… until it worked like a charm. The chips were coated with warming spices. Thirty years later, I now understand the symptoms and mechanics of cold digestion. But when you aren’t privy to a scholarly blend of warming herbs and spiced tea blends, you grab some Red Hot Blues. No science. No mystery. No schooling. No pretense. Just the simple homestead advice of the workings of energetics from a wise elder. I got it. It stuck. (Her legendary  bitter chocolate with beer advice has sailed me through a few rough seas  over the years , too, but that’s a tale for another time)   A basic understanding of tastes and their effect on our bodies can carry us far. I am an herbalist who touches, tastes and sniffs. Everything. Heightened sensory perception is an important tool to hang on your belt.

*CULTIVATE A GARDEN~ or at the very least, know where your herbs grow or find somebody who can grow them for you.  Not everyone is fortunate to have a few acres to plant a garden or meander upon. Anticipation to dig in the dirt feels the same to an enthusiastic gardener who has a container garden on a balcony as to one with a large plot of land. Hands tending plants can be an empowering universal pleasure. I remember being guided and encouraged in my very first garden back in the summer of 1981.It was small but it was mine and I have fond memories of it to this day. With the garden soon came the desire to preserve the harvest in jars. One phone call to my grandmother, sent her driving forty miles down the turnpike, wearing her apron, to teach me how. Guidance and encouragement are essential.  My spin on the popular “Give a man a fish….”quote is this: “Give a man an herb and you may heal him for a day; teach a man to grow his own herbs and he heals his family for generations”.  I am an herbalist who grows herbs and is happy to inspire, guide and share my garden with others.

*TRADITIONAL PRESERVATION: I prefer to use traditional preservation methods that are easily available to all. Trying to dry herbs properly during a humid Pennsylvania summer is a test. Learning to do it well without using electrical appliances is a skill.  Herbal preservation using alcohol or vinegar, olive oil or animal fats, honey or sugar, using just a few basic recipes is easy. Knowing which preservation methods are the very best for each herb is perfecting that art to a higher level. Dare to experiment. I am an herbalist excited to share and encourage creativity in others.

*GIVING THANKS~ Conscious seasonal selection and preparation of regional food and herbs is wonderful. Being grateful for abundance and its beneficial effects on our health adds another layer of invisible health benefits. Be conscious of the gifts of your land and be sure to leave plenty behind to multiply for next year. Be grateful for your ability to find or cultivate what you need. Have a little extra?? Give it away. Teach someone one simple thing about it. They will thank you, too. It is a wild and wonderful circle! I am an herbalist who gets great spiritual satisfaction from sharing the gifts of my land and my labor.
*DO NO HARM~ Understanding that while all plant medicines are ‘natural’ medicines, they aren’t all created equal.  There are distinct categories of plant foods, plant medicines and plant poisons that need to be carefully observed. I absolutely love wild grazing, but honestly, if it needs six changes of cooking water, I’m not going to eat it (or teach you about it). Being able to identify useful and edible wild plants is an enjoyable hobby and another good tool to hang on your belt. But unless you are an experienced forager, moderation and varietal supplementation is the key.  A healthy respect for proper ID and poisonous look-a-likes is essential. I strongly advise the purchase of a few field guides. Have you ever watched “Into the Wild”? Yes, I will freely admit, I am an herbalist who errs on the side of caution.
I recognize hungry desire in the students I teach every year. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to contain it in them. Nor will I try. My advice to them is to seek and gain deeper understanding of fewer herbs every season. Observe their growth, remember where they live. Study a few reputable books. Spend a slow summer simply learning the endless varied topical applications of plants. Find local plant friends or a teacher. Encourage children by giving them three mints to grow. Make tea with it. Play with lavender. Eat violets and spruce tips. Stay off the internet searches. Search with your vision and your nose. I am an herbalist who looks down. It is the first cardinal rule: know what grows under your feet.

October 16, 2013

Now Accepting Registrations for "Homestead Herbalism" 2014 Sessions!

In the not too distant past, keeping a family strong and healthy with simple home remedies was a common homesteading skill that every woman possessed. Identifying and utilizing wild and cultivated plants was as important and necessary as preserving food for the winter months or learning to stitch.
The "Homestead Herbalism" foundation course , now starting its second decade, was designed to gather small groups of women (and of course men, too!!) with the intent of re-introducing this empowering tradition by learning together, using our hands, and preparing and sharing the herbal harvest.

                                                                             Farm at Coventry's informative, newly revised and expanded twelve month curriculum "Homestead Herbalism" foundation course meets one Saturday (or Sunday-you choose the session block!) every month from January  through December.

The course curriculum weaves informative current herbal wisdom with interesting historical facts and folk traditions. Through the seasons, from planting through harvest, we will learn to create delicious, nutritional snacks as well as therapeutic preparations using edible, medicinal and fragrance herbs that are both cultivated and wild crafted. Our time together will give students basic herbal knowledge and skills that will empower them to use herbs for their own nutritional, therapeutic and creative needs. Our teaching areas include a cozy classroom/farmhouse kitchen, cultivated gardens on the farm and the fields and forests of northern Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Students will receive 72 hours of instruction, a large spiral ring notebook, plentiful full-color handouts and recipes and a wide variety of take-home herbal preparations made together in class. A beautiful certificate will be presented at the completion of the course.
2014 Dates: January 11/12, February 8/9, March 8/9, April 12/13, May 10/11, June 14/15, July 12/13, August 9/10, Sept 13/14, Oct 11/12, November 8/9, December 13/14
Convenient payment plans are available, but there is a nice discount if the course fee is paid in full !

Print out the beautiful double sided tri-fold Homestead Herbalism 2014 Course Brochure.
Registrations have already started coming in and generally fill to capacity by December .
If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to email Susan at

NEW Series for 2014! *Seeds and Stars* An Introduction to Astrology through Plants, Myth and Ritual*

When the ancients observed the ever turning wheel of stars in the sky, they sensed subtle links with the seasons, the elements, the cycles of growing plants and even the human body. Many advanced cultures around the world utilized and documented these important observations and viewed them as gifts of understanding for the health of the land and its inhabitants.This series will explore the starry realm through its influences and expressions throughout the zodiacal year. Participants will delve into the personality of a new planet each month as well as the plants, elements and body systems associated with it. An introduction to the Doctrine of Signatures, medical astrology and body types as well as the chakras, tarot, myth and ritual will be interwoven throughout the course of the year. Included in the cost of the course, participants will receive a copy of their natal astrological chart to further understand their own personal elemental energies. An introduction to personal sun, moon and ascendant signs will also be discussed. An appropriate herbal craft will be created at each class to further deepen and enhance the monthly lesson. **This 12 part series begins on January 25, 2014 and will continue on the last Saturday of each month for 12 months from 1:00 ~ 4:00pm $700 Register soon! Class size is limited to 12. Payment plans are available! *Note: This course is not intended to be utilized as a specific herbal medicine primer but was instead created to explore the rich mysteries and knowledge of ancient cultures and re-member its deep connection to the earth, the skies and our own physical health and spiritual wholeness.

June 21, 2013

Summer Porch Intensive ~ 6 Herbal Evenings in July-Aug-Sept

Get a delicious taste of the year-long Homestead Herbalism course in this new Summer Porch Intensive during the most abundant season of the year! We will spend our evenings exploring in the edges, hedges and gardens,crafting in the kitchen and talking on the porch.Classes will include a wide variety of herbal gleanings, herbal refreshments and take-home herb crafts. As always,abundant informative handouts and recipes will be available at every class. Six Wednesday evening dates: July 17 & 31 August 7 & 21 September 4 &18 Time: 6:30-8:30 pm  $225

Register today! Class size limited to 12 ~ Payment plan options available.

April 22, 2013

Flower Power on Earth Day!

Dandelion Marmalade
2 heaping cups of dandelion flower petals  (all green bits removed)
2 1/2  cups sugar
3/4 cup fresh squeezed o.j.
3T organic orange zest
2T organic lemon zest
I packet of powdered SureJell (yellow box)
3/4 cup water

Pulse flower petals, sugar, orange juice and zests together in food processor until well-blended. Leave mixture in processor bowl. In a small saucepan  over medium heat: mix  3/4 cup water and one packet of SureJell pectin, stirring constantly until well blended. Bring to a hard boil for one minute. Remove from heat and   immediately add to the flower mix while the processor is running. Jam sets up very fast!!! Have ready: six  4 oz sterilized jam jars and lids. Fill, seal and refrigerate or water bath can for pantry storage. Enjoy!

Best  Ever Violet Jam
2 heaping cups violet blossoms  
3/4 cup water
 Juice of half a large lemon  
2 1/2  cups sugar 
 1 package powdered Sure Jell  (yellow box)
3/4 cup water

In blender combine: 3/4 cup water and lemon juice. Then add the sugar and blend until dissolved. Heat remaining 3/4 cup water in a pan, stir in the pectin until smooth and boil hard for 1 minute. Pour this mixture into the blender with the other ingredients, blend 30 seconds, throw in violets and pulse 10 seconds more. Pour into sterile jars.Seal and refrigerate or water bath can for pantry storage.

October 1, 2012

Community Supported Wellness on the Farm

Beginning November 2012 through September 2013!
**Four Quarterly Community Supported Wellness Shares**
Bring the 'backyard healthcare' movement right into your own home by supporting locally grown,high quality handcrafted herbal products that have been carefully selected by seasonal need. Each share will include any abundant combination of culinary, therapeutic or scent-sational herbal gifts such as : *herbal/floral jams*dried/fresh herbs *salves  *tinctures/elixirs*herb-infused syrups/honeys/vinegars/shrubs* herb-infused massage oils/liniments *tea blends *culinary/therapeutic pastes & so much more. A full color seasonal newsletter will also  accompany each share detailing it's contents and how to use them!       
Our first  'Winter Wellness' share will be available for pickup or shipping approx. November 1, 2012  and will include: 2oz. Echinacea tincture, 2 oz. Elderberry elixir, 4 oz. Dragon’s Delight Tonic Vinegar, 4 oz. Sage/Hyssop/Horehound infused Honey, Vaporbomb Chest rub, and one bar of  Auntie Germaine's Tea Tree Soap 
Members will be notified by email of future share pickup dates a few weeks in advance of availability. Approximate dates for 2013:*Early Spring: March-April *Early Summer: May-June *Late Summer: August-Septembe.  The cost for the complete four season CSM Share Package is $250 for the year (plus an additional $30 shipping if needed) Purchase your Community Supported Wellness Share Package online or send check  or money order to ‘Farm at Coventry” 1889 Little Conestoga Road Elverson, PA 19520 Questions? Phone: 610.587.7301