Selections for September

"If a man be wearied...there is not better place in the world to recreate himself than in a Garden...Neither doe the Herbes onely feed the Eyes, but comfort the wearied Braine with fragrant smells, which yield a certaine kind of nourishment"

The Art of Simpling, William Cole
Sunflower
These words from early herbalist William Cole, written in 1656, certainly hold true to this day. Earlier, John Parkinson's Herbal of 1640 talked about herbs being "for use and for delight", which became the motto of The Herb Society of America when it was formed in 1933. Though herbs were generally cultivated or gathered for practical uses - mainly medicinal - they also offered a respite from the trials and tribulations of daily life. Bunches of herbs and flowers were gathered together and carried in a nosegay to counteract the sordid smells of the streets - a sort of room deodorant of its day. Many herbs, such as lavender, hyssop, pennyroyal, tansy and sage, were used as strewing herbs on floors. These, when trampled, gave off a pleasant odor and were also useful in repelling many of the vermin that were likely to invade the home. Up until the 20th cetury, bathing was an occasional event, so strong scented herbs were rather important to give olfactory relief. Today, we rely on sprays and other chemical means to freshen our home - and most of us bathe daily! Bowls or jars of fresh potpourri can help scent our homes in a more natural way. Sachets, made with good smelling herbs and those with proven insecticidal properties, can be useful in scenting linens, clothes in drawers or closets, and garments in storage.

One of the more interesting tales of herbal lore is of the Four Thieves Vinegar. According to some accounts, during the last Great Plague in 1664, a band of thieves looted with impunity homes of those dying of the Plague. As the story goes, the thieves never developed symptons of the dreaded disease. When they were finally apprehended, they were offered a lesser sentence in return for revealing their secret. They had been using a blend of herbs - wormwood, rue, lavender, sage and others - in a vinegar which they then either rubbed on their person or breathed through a cloth soaked in the concoction. Today, we know that these herbs have strong antiseptic and antibacterial qualities, and that they also repel insects. Whether or not the stories are true is anyone's guess. I have made a vinegar using one of the recipes, and though it may not be effective against swine flu, I do know that it is an excellent cleaner, especially for dirty glass. I have windows in my barn that have years of accumulated grime, and this vinegar has been indispensable in returning them to a clear state.
Vinegars
I'll be getting both use and delight from my herbs in the upcoming month as I pick and process herbs before the coming winter. Now that it seems our wet weather is behind us, I can cut my herbs for drying - particularly the artemesias, mints and statice. I've started some herbal vinegars, and took a stab at making herbal liqueurs. I put up batches of elderberry, lemon verbena and bay liqueur, which take 2 - 6 months to properly age. It'll be the winter before I can taste them, but what a great way to enjoy herbs in the off-season! Basil, tarragon, parsley and lemon verbena all need to be frozen for use in winter dishes. Seeds of dill, fennel and coriander need to be harvested for planting next year. The beds need to be tidied up before the winter descends upon us - a killing frost could happen anytime after the middle of September. The last couple of autumns have been fairly mild, allowing me to tackle jobs that I never seem to find time for in the summer (like painting the outbuildings). The weather is more pleasant, though the days are getting shorter.  Truly, the herbs I will be working with will comfort this weary brain, and most definitely bring nourishment to not only body but soul.

 

Happy Fall!

Karen