• Grow your own chocolate – herbs, that is
• Spice up your Valentine's Day with these herbs!
• St Valentine's Day traditions
• Make Your Own Herbal Salts!
• Juniper Helps Save Washington Island!
• Announcing a new HSA member discount!
Pycnanthemum, The HSA 2016 Notable Native Herb of the Year

• Trending Archives – older Trending articles

Grow Your Own Chocolate – Herbs That Is

By Jen Munson, Blogmaster, HSA Northeast District Delegate

SPLike Charlie Brown and Lucy, Valentine’s Day and chocolate are inherently linked. We could easily debate whether it’s chocolate’s aphrodisiac qualities or plain old commercialism that links the two. But who cares. Chocolate (Theobroma cacao) is technically an herb. And, that’s a good thing.
SPIt’s generally accepted that chocolate releases endorphins in our brains which reduce stress and pain as well as provide cardiovascular benefits.  Unfortunately the beneficial qualities of chocolate come from the bitter cocoa bean. And so they need a delivery system such as added fats and sugars. That’s where the health benefits are challenged.

Wish you could have chocolate more often? Consider a chocolate-themed herb garden!

Chocolate Mint  (Mentha x piperita f. citrara ‘Chocolate’)
SPThis easy-to-grow perennial survives in nearly all zones, most soil and light conditions. It’s a fun herb to brush against as you’ll be rewarded with a lovely scent of chocolate and peppermint. Like its relatives it can spread prolifically, so you’ll want to grow it in a container or keep it slightly unhappy by growing it in a shady area. I used in as a substitute for chocolate chips in zucchini bread and it makes a lovely tea. The other benefit: it dries easily for chocolate mint tea. The flavor holds up well.

Chocolate-Scented Pelargonium  (Pelargonium tomentosum ‘Chocolate Peppermint’)
SPThis is a perennial in zones 10–11 and a tender perennial in the northeast. Like chocolate mint it is pleasing to run your hands against and have a lovely mint scent with just a hint of chocolate. It’s a vigorous grower and much like its cousins can tolerate heat and dry soil. I find that it loses its scent when dried so this one is best used fresh. Ideas for use include lining the bottom of a pan when making quick breads or cakes or using it to infuse its scent into sugar.

If you are trying to increase the use of native plants in gardens, then Geum rivale ‘Chocolate Root’ might be for you
SPPerhaps a chocolate theme is in your future garden plans. When you factor in color and scents the world of plants really opens up for you. Ideas include Chocolate Sunflower, Chocolate Viola, Chocolate Daisy, Chocolate Hollyhock, Chocolate Sweet William (‘Sooty’) and Chocolate Pincushion Flower, the darkest flowering forms of Nasturtium, Sunflower, Chocolate Orange Rudbeckia, Pincushion Flower, Snapdragon and a charming Chocolate Viola.

Spice up your Valentine's Day
with these herbs!

Story by Dawn Combs   |  SOURCE:
February 8, 2017

SPIf you grow your medicine along with your vegetables, you may already grow remedies for things like the com-
mon headache or cuts and bruises. I hardly need a reason to try growing a new and interesting plant. I’ve
had specimens in my garden because of their place in American history, because I wanted to make my own cooking extracts, and because I wanted to make my own paper. So with Valentine’s Day upon us, why not add something to the garden that can spice up date night?

Growing Love Plants
SPThere are so many plants that are reputed to be aphrodisiacs. Many of them work primarily by bringing blood flow to the pelvis, while others work to balance important hormones. Choosing one or two is simple, but because many of the most popular “love plants” are tropical, we need to have special equipment—namely a greenhouse or a sunroom—to enjoy watching them grow. However, here are two aphrodisiacs that will overwinter inside an unheated greenhouse in the Midwest. In the interest of fairness I’m sharing one for the men and one for the ladies!

Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)

Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
SPThis plant is native to the Himalayas but can be grown in hardiness zones 8 to 12. On my Ohio farm, it requires slightly acidic soil and a dedicated greenhouse bed where it has plenty of room for its tuberous roots. We built a raised bed from concrete block in our greenhouse, and plants like this one overwinter well in it.
SPIf you grow Shatavari indoors, you need to give it a trellis. It looks very much like asparagus, but it is a climber that uses sharp thorns to get a leg up. The spring shoots, leaves and roots are all used as a female reproductive tonic and aphrodisiac, though you will most likely find just the root when you buy this plant commercially. It is a very popular Ayurvedic herb, whose name in Sanskrit translates to “one who possesses a hundred husbands.”

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
SPAlso happiest in zones 8 to 12, this plant makes a nice greenhouse companion to shatavari. While shatavari is known for its aid to women, ashwagandha has been very helpful for men who struggle with a lack of enthusiasm in the love department. It is an adaptogen most often recommended for both men and women for support of the body’s stress response and immune system support. It’s not a surprise to find that it’s terrific in balancing hormones.
SPWe have grown this plant quite successfully in a pot before. It won’t want to share the soil with shatavari because it enjoys alkaline soil. The leaves of this plant will remind you of eggplant, which is appropriate since they are in the same family. The root of ashwagandha is what we’re after, which means you can even grow it as an annual if you would like.

Serve It Up Fresh
SPRemember that, just like our vegetables, botanical supplements are better the fresher they are. How much more meaningful is that Valentine’s Day gift when it is made from a plant you grew from seed and nurtured all year long? These plants can be infused into alcohol and turned into a delicious homemade liquor, or they can be powdered and baked into brownies. You are only limited by your creativity! Happy Valentine’s Day, and grow something this year that makes loving your love a bit spicier.

Traditions of Love on Valentine’s Day

SPIn anticipation of the world’s best-known lovers’ occasion, Valentine’s Day, the ubiquitous symbols of love abound – with roses, chocolates, cupids and red hearts adorning the retailers and leisure establishments in many parts of the world.  So how did all this excitement over Valentine’s Day start and how do people in different parts of the world celebrate love, Valentine’s Day or not?
The General Legend
SPLong ago, in Ancient Rome, our traditions of Valentine’s Day began with the celebration of the Goddess of women and marriage, Juno.  Each year, on the 14th of February, the names of unwed Roman girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jars.  Roman boys, who had virtually no contact with girls during their daily lives, would draw a name and spend the day with whomever he chose from the jar.  Lucky pairings would often last up to a year and even lead to marriage.
SPUnder the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II, however, marriage was forbidden for eligible Roman boys. The Emperor had decided that too many boys were marrying rather than enlisting for the army, depleting the military of ancient Rome. According to legend, St. Valentine continued to hold secret weddings for lovers, refusing to comply with the Emperor’s order.  In a final resistance, St. Valentine was martyred by the Emperor on February 14th, forever establishing the day as the day for lovers.
SPToday, we continue to celebrate the holiday on the same day, offering some warmth in the frigid month of February.
Two Prevailing Theories – one quite raucous and another more romantic 
SPSome scholars claim that Valentine’s Day may have its root in pagan festivals, Lupercalia, celebrated annually in ancient Rome on February 15, where men stripped naked, grabbed whips and spanked young maidens in hopes of releasing fertility. Wildly popular, the fervor over Lupercalia lasted well into the fifth century A.D. – at least 150 years after Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire despite the attempts by the ancient Christians to stamp it out.
SPFor example, even today young South Africans often find out who their secret admirers are on February 14, as it is common for young girls in South Africa to pin the name of their sweetheart on their sleeve on Valentine’s Day. This tradition is literally called Lupercalia in South Africa in honor of the ancient Roman festivals. Hence, “wearing your heart on your sleeve” is not just a proverbial phrase that was popularized by a Shakespeare’s play in the 17th century, but is thought to be derived from the activities from the Lupercalia festivals, which included a matchmaking lottery where the names of willing young women were placed into a jar and drawn by young, unmarried man to form a pair. A similar tradition also exists in Scotland where Valentine’s Day is celebrated with a festival – at this festival, an equal number of unmarried males and females write their name on a slip of paper which is then folded and placed into a hat.
SPLegend has it, the Christian church in the Middle Ages was at least successful in placing a veil of gentility over the pagan overtone when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as Valentine’s Day, pegging its origin to the legend of Saint Valentine who supposedly died in prison on February 14 for performing secret marriages for young lovers. According to the church, Saint Valentine valiantly defied the decree of the Roman Emperor Claudius II who, in an attempt to bolster his army for many unpopular wars, forbade all marriages in Rome, assuming that unattached men make better soldiers. Some also suggests that while in prison, Saint Valentine fell in love with his jailer’s daughter, and before his death, sent her a love letter, which he signed “From your Valentine,” an expression used to this day, often by secret admirers.
SPWhile the origin of Valentine’s Day may be contested, this informal, now secular, holiday is well-known all across the globe and celebrated in many places. Of course, the occasion is also marked with a healthy dose of cynicism, seen as hype roared on by commercial opportunism. Cynicisms and debates aside, the significance of the occasion has grown in scope over the years to encompass friendship and gratitude beyond romantic love.
SPIn every culture and society, love has been celebrated in some way, big or small, since the dawn of the time and it’s a sure bet that the celebration will continue as long as there are people who fall in love and stay in love. So, we explore different love traditions and the variations of Valentine’s Day around the world.

SPIt is ironic that she represents marriage as her own marriage was plagued by the numerous affairs of her husband Jupiter. Despite the behaviour of her husband she was faultless in her fidelity as a wife. Her association with the peacock relates to ancient mythology about the goddess and the mythical legend of the beautiful Io, one of the many lovers of Jupiter. Juno was extremely jealous of Io, who was one of her priestesses, and fell into a great rage. Jupiter transformed Io into a white cow, in order to defeat the jealous intrigues of Juno. However Juno placed Io (in her guise of the white cow) under the watchful care of a man called Argus Panoptes, who fastened her to an olive-tree in the grove of Hera. Argus Panoptes had a hundred eyes, of which, when asleep, he never closed more than two at a time so kept continuous guard of Io. Mercury, however, by the command of Jupiter, succeeded in putting all his eyes to sleep with the sound of his magic lyre and killed him. In commemoration of the services which Argus had rendered her, Juno placed his eyes on the tail of a peacock, as a lasting memorial of her gratitude.

Saint Valentine
SPSaint Valentine (Italian: San Valentino, Latin: Valentinus), officially Saint Valentine of Terni, is a widely recognized third-century Roman saint commemorated on February 14 and since the High Middle Ages is associated with a tradition of courtly love.
SPAll that is reliably known of the saint commemorated on February 14 is his name and that he was martyred and buried at a cemetery on the Via Flaminiaclose to the Ponte Milvio to the north of Rome on that day. It is uncertain whether St. Valentine is to be identified as one saint or the conflation of two saints of the same name. Several different martyrologies have been added to later hagiographies that are unreliable.
Courtly Love
SPCourtly love (or fin'amor in Occitan) was a medieval European literary conception of love that emphasized nobility and chivalry. Medieval literature is filled with examples of knights setting out on adventures and performing various services for ladies because of their "courtly love". This kind of love is originally a literary fiction created for the entertainment of the nobility, but as time passed, these ideas about love changed and attracted a larger audience. In the high Middle Ages, a "game of love" developed around these ideas as a set of social practices. "Loving nobly" was considered to be an enriching and improving practice.

SPCourtly love began in the ducal and princely courts of Aquitaine, Provence, Champagne, ducal Burgundy and the Norman Kingdom of Sicily at the end of the eleventh century. In essence, courtly love was an experience between erotic desire and spiritual attainment, "a love at once illicit and morally elevating, passionate and disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent".
SPThe term "courtly love" was first popularized by Gaston Paris and has since come under a wide variety of definitions and uses. Its interpretation, origins and influences continue to be a matter of critical debate.


Make Your Own Herbal Salts! Great for holiday gifts...

Herb-infused salts are easy to make and great for gifts or party favors. They add great flavor to cooking and a personal touch too! Use herb-infused salts on meat, fish or chicken, roasted vegetables, popcorn, homemade potato chips, soft pretzels, top focaccia or bread loaves, or even desserts for a savory touch!

SP• Coarse Kosher, Sea Salt or other salt
SP• Fresh rosemary (or blend of fresh herbs such as rosemary and sage or rosemary and lemon thyme)
SP• Start with 2 parts salt to 1 part rosemary and if necessary, add additional rosemary to
SPataste. The ratio of salt to herb is personal preference.

Our favorite method
SP• Wash herbs in cold water and blot or air dry
SP• Strip leaves from the stems
SP• Measure herbs and salt to desired ratio, keeping in mind that 1 tablespoon fresh herbs = about 1–1.5 teaspoons dried
SP• Alternate layers of salt and  fresh herbs (a single herb or a blend), ending with a layer of salt
SP• Let container sit in a cool dry location away from direct sunlight
SP• After herbs are “corn flake crisp” to the touch, and working in small batches if necessary, pulse herbs and salt in a food
SPAprocessor until the herbs reach the desired size.
SP• Package in airtight small glass jars
SP• For best flavor, use within 6 months to 1 year


Juniper Helps Save Washington Island

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

SPWith a challenged economy on Washington Island, Wisconsin, in the early 2000s, business leaders were looking for new revenue streams for their 23-square-mile island. Tourism is a summer business, and the population — thus workforce — drops in the off season. Lake winds freeze this rocky land six miles off the Door County Peninsula in winter.
SPWhat sustainable business would keep the island solvent?
SPTheir conclusion was that agriculture and wheat farming was a good place to start. Since the demand for baked goods was limited and unlikely to expand, grain farmers needed another outlet for their crops. One with a higher profit margin. And, so a craft beer emerged. Then, the idea expanded — to craft vodka.
SP“I went to Michigan State University to take a distilling class,” says entrepreneur Brian Ellison who founded Death’s Door Spirits. Death’s Door refers to the treacherous stretch of water between the island and mainland, the most dangerous passage in the Great Lakes
SP“I found a small distillery that let me use their pot still to do some test batches,” he says. “People got excited about test batches. So, in addition to my day job, I spent nights and weekends in Iowa distilling spirits.”
SPAs demand for the vodka grew, Death’s Door Spirits needed more wheat. But, much of Washington Isand’s farmable land was covered with wild, native juniper bushes. These had to go.
SPOr not!
SPJuniper, HSA’s herb of the month for December 2016, is a prime ingredient in gin. Ellison had an “aha moment.” And, Death’s Door Gin was born.

SPLike every brand of gin, it has a signature formula “We wanted to use only local ingredients, and since we don’t grow citrus [a common gin ingredient] in Northern Wisconsin, we chose a simple botanical blend of juniper, coriander and fennel. The whole idea was that the best flavors come from the simplest things.”
SP“It wasn’t like we did massive market research, we did it because that’s what we thought was nice,” he says. And, consumers agree.
SPMade in Middleton, Wisconsin (near Madison), gin production has outgrown the juniper supply on Washington Island and the distillery sources additional herbs from nearby states.

Learn a little more about the story of Death's Door brand.


Fun Movie-Themed Herb Grinders

An interesting gift we heard about recently were these herb grinders shaped like the Death Star from Star Wars! If you're looking for a timely little gift for your movie buff inlaws – or want to get your grandkids interested in herbs and cooking – this is certainly worth a look. Ready for action any time you want to 'go rogue' in the kitchen!

Star Wars® Death Star Grinder•••Zinc alloy herb grinder, 3 pc construction, w/pollen catcher
Works with all herbs and spices. You can grind pepper, curry powder, coriander, fennel seed, mustard, saffron, cinnamon and many more. This herb grinder is secured by powerful magnets to prevent any odor or herbs from escaping the device. Take your Herb Grinder with you wherever you go – just 1.9" dia. and weighs only 4 ounces.
SP• A great conversation piece, this hand-crafted Star Wars grinder will give any kitchen pizazz.
SP• Built to last – made from high-quality zinc alloy that will last a lifetime. All parts have been
SPA extensively tested to guarantee a flawless grinding experience for thousands of uses.

You can find these gems at


Announcing a new HSA member discount!

Special $10 one year subscription to each of four Mother Earth publications, including Mother Earth News, Mother Earth Living, Capper's Farm, and Grit.



Trending Archives

CLE Metroparks Great Golden Digger Wasp

Pycnanthemum, The HSA 2016 Notable Native Herb of the Year

   Mountain mint is the commonly accepted name for roughly 20 species of Pycnanthemum native exclusively to North America. French botanist Andre Michaux called the fragrant plant mountain mint after encountering it while exploring for useful plants in Pennsylvania around 1790. The generic name Pynanthemum is from the Greek pyknos, dense, and anthos, flowers, which refers to the plant’s crowded flower heads.  
   Pycnanthemum is the 2016 Notable Native Herb, selected by members of the Native Herb Conservation Committee (NHCC), and the subject of a short webinar to explore its uses. This the fourth Notable Native Herb has an interesting history and a wide growing range, presenting great opportunities for herb study groups and others interested in learning more about our native herbs.


Congratulations to member Rhonda Fleming Hayes on her new book!

Want to do your part in helping your local pollinators flourish? The new book Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Fleming Hayes, a member at large in the Central District, makes it easy!
For more information, click on Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies, and Other Pollinators

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