Podcast 113: Grow Your Own Herbs
It might seem difficult to grow your own herbs, but like so many things in herbalism, it’s all about being open to experimentation and maintaining good observation. And for the herbalist, there are great reasons to do it! Not only will you be sourcing your herbs as local as it gets, you’ll learn a lot about the plant from tending it, supporting it, and nourishing it as it grows. Then, when you make medicines from it later, it will tend, support, and nourish you in turn – an intimate cycle of life.
Growing herbs for yourself can be simple, especially if you start with the “easy mode” herbs and methods. There’s no shame at all in having your garden live in 5-gallon buckets, whether you live in a city apartment and have only a small porch to work with, or because you’re new to some land and not sure how its ecosystem works yet. Prolific, weedy herbs are not only very easy to grow, they’re also some of our best medicine plants – so they’re a great choice for beginners too.
In this episode we share some experiences with small-scale herb growing at home. We hope to inspire you to get started this spring. Start simple, start small – but start! When harvest time comes around, you’ll be glad you did. 🌱
Herbs discussed include: lemon balm, calendula, evening primrose, mugwort, fleabane, solomon’s seal, sunflower, basil, sage.
Once you’ve grown your herbs, you’ll want to make remedies from them! It’s not hard, and it’s very rewarding to produce your own herbal medicines from seed to sip. You can learn everything you need to make over two dozen different types of preparations in our Herbal Medicine-Making course – check it out today!
As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!
Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power podcasts. All right. So we may not need it this week, but let’s give the reclaimer right up front.
Just to remind everybody.
Right, because we’re going to talk about gardening. And you don’t have to be a doctor to grow a good garden, but just in case. We are not doctors. We’re herbalists and holistic health educators.
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice.
There’s probably going to be some gardening advice.
There may be some of that. Yeah. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. These discussions are for educational purposes only. Everyone’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But they will give you some information to think about and ideas to research further.
Everyone’s garden is different too.
There we go. Nice. How does your garden grow?
All right. And we wish to remind you that your good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is always yours.
You betcha. All right, well, just with that,out of the way for whatever that’s worth, let’s talk about growing your own herbs. People ask us this frequently.
They say, is it hard? Is it impossible? What are the secrets? How scared should I be?
How, how can I learn?
Yes. Right? What is the best herb to plant first? What else?
There’s lots of, how can I learn it? Where can I learn it? And the answer to that one is very easy.
In the garden.
In the garden.
New Speaker (00:02:03):
Is that where you learn.
It is where you learn it.
Yes. But gardens can look like many things. And we’re going to talk about some bucket gardens today. We’re going to talk about some plywood gardens.
Well, two by four, two by sixes, yeah, exactly. Yeah. All different kinds of gardens. You don’t have to have acres and acres of land. You don’t even have to have land at all. You can just have a porch or a corner of your driveway. Iit’s fine.
Yeah. Well, so what got us thinking about this was we were walking about in the city and we saw some Snowdrops blooming in Boston the other day and we realized that, wow, it feels super early for that to be happening. But Snowdrops gonna bloom when it’s the right time.
Snowdrops gonna snowdrop.
They’re going to do it right.
There was no snow, but…
Yeah. So, what that means, though, is that it’s the right time to be thinking about your garden. And if you don’t have snowdrops where you are, there may be some other spring ephemeral, herb, flower that appears as a signal that spring is actually coming.
Yeah. Then it’s time. If you haven’t thought about it yet, it’s time to get thinking about it. So a lot of people ask us for gardening advice. And a lot of times I say something like, well, we’re not herb farmers. And we don’t have experience growing at that scale, which we don’t. So if what you want to be is a full on herb farmer, we can’t so much help you with that. Although we’ve got friends who are really good at it. And I’m thinking about Foster Farm Botanicals and Zach Woods Farm. And there’s just a lot of folks who are doing… Oh, and Muddy River. As soon as you mention one, there’s like 10 million that come right to mind. But the thing is that you don’t have to be a full scale herb farmer to grow buckets and buckets and buckets of herbs. Like you can grow most of your own supply of many different herbs with very little space and also with not a lot of money.
Right? Yeah. Don’t mistake that for most of your own supply of every single herb that you’d want to work with, including some that you might want to work with really frequently, like say ginger. But fortunately that herb is pretty readily available at the grocery store, so that helps you there. And with other herbs it’s going to be somewhere in between, right? So, but yeah, you can grow many of your own herbs. And you can grow a lot of some really friendly herbs really easily. And that’s a particular thing that we’ve done the last few years. Well, you for a long time. But I was around for the last few years to help out with that a bit. And I was kind of blown away by how much a small spot can produce.
Meet Your Herbs Live
Yeah. I think this is one of those places where growing up in this culture, we have the tendency to think that we need more. We need more, we need more, we need more, we need more of everything. And the reality is if you just have a small amount of space, you can actually grow a ton of stuff. And you should, that’s the thing. Even if all you do is grow one single plant, there are so many reasons to grow your own herbs. But the most important one to me is that you get to be in relationship with the plant while it’s still alive. And that is so valuable, right? It’s like if all you have is stories about your great-grandmother, that’s really cool and they might be awesome stories that have a huge impact on your life. But it’s not the same as the people who knew her while she was alive, and had the opportunity to have that direct relationship with her. So think that way about your plants and get to know them while they’re still alive. It matters a lot.
Yeah. And you see them go from, maybe a seed, maybe a seedling, maybe just a young plants. And they go through their life cycle through the course of the year. And then depending on what kind they are, then maybe they die, and they’re totally done and that’s it. And they maybe produce some seeds and drop them. And maybe you gathered some or saw them fall in that same patch of land. And you’re like, all right, I don’t know that you’re going to grow back next time. And there’s a lesson to be learned from them for sure. Other times the herb grows quiet, and you see it retreat into its winter form. And there’s like woody twigs, and you’re like, are you all right in there? What’s going on? And that’s a different kind of a lesson too, right? Like, Nope, I’ve got it. I’m quiet, I’m ready. But when spring comes I’m going to wake up and unfurl and we’re going to have a talk again.
Yeah. And also like, I might look pretty gnarly right now, and I might be a mess.
I’ve been surprised a few times. I’ve been like, I don’t think this one made it, you know. And you wait and then suddenly there’s a tiny little green leaf on there. Check it out.
And then like, poof, and they’re big and beautiful. And I think that even if you never work with that plant internally, just the watching of that lesson. And then the times when you are really gnarly and just hanging on by a thread. And people are looking at you like, man, are you all right? And you’re like, no, no, I got this. It’s going to be okay.
Yeah, for sure. So, you see them through that whole life cycle, from one end to the other. And there’s a lot there.
You know, we’ve talked about this part before, but when you spend a whole year in service to your herbs before you work with them, that’s also a big deal. And I know that I’ve talked about carrying water and stuff like that. But really to put gardening in that perspective, that when you are growing plants, you’re in service to your plants, and that’s appropriate. That’s completely appropriate because you’re asking them to be in service to you. And so why not? Why not be in service to them first. Not only why not, but there are so many reasons exactly to do that. Like first you work for them and then they’ll work for you. You know, like it’s reciprocal. And I think that, especially in terms of reframing the way that our culture thinks about plants, like, well I don’t want to kill anything to feed myself, so I’ll just eat plants. But then if you spend time in service to a living plant, you’re like, wait a minute, this plant is alive too. And then it suddenly becomes, wow, in order to feed myself, I have to take a life. And then that impacts everyone differently. We all make different choices on how to do that ethically. But for me, one huge part of that is that first off, I better make my life worth all of the different living things who have sacrificed for my life. But also that for me to be in service to the life that sustains me.
Yeah. You know, it’s like the cliche to say that life feeds on life, but you can see that very directly. Right? Even if it’s not all of the food that you have on your plate, you know. Like there’ve been times when we had a Basil plant on a pot on the porch, at some tiny little apartment, and that was it. But a handful of times over that summer, it’s like, all right, we’re going to have some salad, and some food, and some Basil leaves right on top, fresh from the plant. And you’re like, wow, think about what’s going on here. We saw this plant grow and develop. And we waited for the right time. And can I take this leaf? And how many can it offer and sustain? And then to like look at the rest of the food on your plate and say, all of that’s true for everything else also, for these carrots, and for that chicken, and for everything else. And to really get a sense of that. Like every single thing that I’ve ever eaten was alive at some point. And that had to be so. And somebody probably had to take care of it be thinking about it and worrying about it when there was a freeze, and a storm and everything else. And all of that is in there, and that’s why you can stay alive from one moment. to the next.
Learn Their Limits
Right. I think about like, so the strawberry plants that we have, they’re going into their third year now. And last year they were just profoundly prolific. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever had more strawberries per plant than those plants. It was just a great year for them. And also by saying that they were profoundly prolific, that meant that I got three or four strawberries a day. I had some almost every day, but it was like three or four of them every day. And then we think about how easy it is to go to the store and just have huge quantities of anything we want at any time.
I need 2000 strawberries today. Great. Can you afford it? That’s the end of the story, right?
Do you have that many dollars? Yes. Okay. Then you can have them. Yeah. And so that skews our understanding of our relationship with the whole rest of the world, proportionally. And so putting that back in context by growing your own food. And like, well this is how much Basil I can have today, because if I have more than this amount of Basil, then the plant won’t be able to bear that sacrifice. Or these are how many strawberries I can have today, because that’s how many there are. Like, there just aren’t any more than that.
So, yeah. So the more that you grow your own plants, the more you start to see them as living things and all of the complexity and interconnection that that requires.
You know, also when we think about that in terms of herbs in particular, I know right now, one thing that I hear a lot from people is like, Oh, well Mountain Rose Herbs is out of whatever. Where else can I get it? And a lot of times I reply with, you can’t. You can’t have it right now. And that’s always really shocking for new herbalists. Because our society thinks you can get anything you want anytime. And when you come into this world and you haven’t experienced it yet, things are seasonal and that things run out.
Sometimes everybody’s out of elderberries.
Yeah. Like there’s just only so many elderberries that are available. And I think that growing your own plants makes you much more a part of that cycle, instead of just a person kind of on the outside of it frustrated because this vendor didn’t have it. So is there another vendor I can call. And sort of still stuck in the consumer culture that we live in. Growing your own plants and providing, at least for one plant, providing your own year long supply, really helps you to start to get an idea of the cycles of availability. How to live within those cycle. How to recognize that there are other things that have their cycles as well. And so to say a year supply doesn’t necessarily mean that you have enough so that you can have it every single day for a year. But that all these plants that we work with also have their own cycles. Their cycles of being alive, and then the cycles of how we work with them.
Yeah. And man, all this stuff is so profound. But then, you know, what else is that sometimes it’s less expensive to grow your own herbs. And that’s way less profound, but occasionally very important. Occasionally very important.
Considerations for Growing/Stewarding Your Own
Yeah. You know, we’ve talked before, I think, about wild harvesting and that I am calling into question the sustainability of that practice. However, wild stewarding is fantastic and I highly recommend it. And so, that is also one way to make sure that it’s less expensive. And even the tea that we’re drinking right now is some of our Mugwort. But the Mugwort is Mugwort that we stewarded in a four by eight raised bed in Dorchester, which is a part of Boston. It’s very densely populated. You know, you don’t have to be in pristine farmland. But the thing is that, Mugwort is a plant that we really love, that we love the tea of. And so we always want to have a couple of pounds of it a year. And we were able to produce all of our own Mugwort just by encouraging weeds that found their way into our raised bed. Noticing them the year before and realizing, Oh my goodness, Mugwort has seeded in here. And then choosing to do things to really encourage that growth. And then also choosing to encourage the spread of that seed. So we had wild plant that we did not have to forage for. We had wild plants that showed up and then we stewarded and then we made sure that they reseeded. So re-seeded, not receded. So maybe to sort of start off by thinking about whether you’re going to encourage wild plants, or you are going to plan to plant things either from seed or from seedlings. Maybe the very first thing to think about is figuring out what kind of growing conditions the plants that you want to plant need. Right. Some of them are going to want dry soil that drains really well. Some of them are going to want boggy soil, especially herbs. A lot of our herbs grow in wetland areas. So, some of the herbs that you want might be herbs that need to have the soil basically damp all of the time.
Yeah. But others might prefer it to be really sandy and well-drained, and more of a dry kind of a spot. Therea re big variations between how much sun various plants are going to want. So that’s another thing that you’re going to need to know about any herb that you’re considering growing. And think about it in both directions. Be like, I really love this plant. I absolutely want to grow it. What does it need and where can I find it, or find the closest thing to that around me or in my area. But also think about, well, what kind of light do I have in this spotty yard, or in this place where my balcony is. And I’m going to put some pots out there, right? How many hours of sunlight does it get over the day? Or if you’ve been there long enough, you know, what is it like at different times of the year? Consider all of that. And then also just your local climate. You know, with plants there’s often growing zones that people refer to. Like this is zone five and that’s a zone six. And those are kind of fluid.
Yeah, they’re kind of changing with climate change. But you can look it up, and the plants are categorized. It’s very easy to look up the zone that you live in. You can just search on the internet your zip code plus USDA growing zone. And then you can, let’s say there’s a plant you want to grow, Mullein. And you can literally just search, will Mullein grow in zone five, like whatever your zone is. And in general, actually, so there’s two ways that I think are the best to get gardening information or growing information, and both of them are free. So one of them is just go find the plant that you want to grow and look around. Like is it growing in a big pile of dry dirt? And I’m thinking about Mullien in that case, you know? Or is it growing in a place that has a little bit of shade. Or is it growing in a place that’s like right on the edge of some water. That’s the very first thing. Where you find it in the wild. That is that plant telling you this is where I want to live.
And where you find it multiple times, right? So one of the first Mullein plants that I met was standing in the middle of a bright sunny field all by itself. And was really very yellow and it was a little too exposed, a little sunburnt basically. And if that was the only Mullein I had ever seen, then I might have some less than helpful ideas about where to go looking for Mullein.
Right. Yeah, it is really helpful to see multiple of them. And just like carry around a little notebook and just make some notes. Oh, I saw Mullein here and this is how it was growing. I saw Mullein there and this is how it was growing. And then the other thing you can do is just Google growing conditions and put in the plant you’re interested in. So growing conditions, Mullein, and it will pop right up and tell you how much sun. It’ll usually be the first or second thing that you get back will just literally be bullet points. Because so many people are writing about this stuff. So it becomes very easy to get the information. And it will tell you like, it likes this much sun. It wants this kind of dirt. It wants this much water. That’s what you need to know.
Spend Some Dirt Time
Yeah. But there’s no real substitute for finding the plant and spending some time looking at it. And looking at it and thinking a little bit about what do you see? What can’t you see, but you can tell is happening. Really spend some dirt time with your plants.
You can get tons of information off the internet, and that’s great and important. But looking at the plants is so much more important. And it is literally the number one thing that you can do to be a successful gardener, is to go outside and look at your plants every day. Like not just sort of walk past them, but like really go out there for 20, 30 minutes and just look at your plants very closely. And if you’re thinking, I wouldn’t even know what I’m looking at. How would I know if they’re happy or not? Well, how do you buy vegetables right? When you’re at the grocery store and you want to buy kale, and you’re standing in front of the, the rack there, the shelf that has kale on it, how do you decide which kale to buy? Right. One of them, maybe one of the bunches has like some yellow on the edges and you don’t buy that one right? You buy the one that has the greenest greeny green color. Right? Or if it’s the purple-y kind of kale, you get the kind that has the purpliest, purple purple color.
Yeah. And so, if you’re trying to buy an apple, and it’s a green apple or a red apple, you want the one that’s most fully saturated. Like this is what you do. You might not even notice it, but the next time you go grocery shopping, notice what you pick up. What you’re choosing is the stuff that is healthiest, right? You’re trying to get the most beautiful one, the one that doesn’t have any like nibbles by bugs. It doesn’t have any brown spots or yellow spots.
Yeah. But I will say, one of the things to learn in your journey of being a very young growing sort of things human, turns out to be that a little bit of bugs on the leaf, and a little bit of yellow spot here and there, It’s not the end of the world.
Turns out that they’re actually okay with that sometimes.
Yeah. But in general, if the whole plant is mostly happy green, like you would want to buy it if it was vegetables, then it’s happy. And if it’s got like one leaf that’s been munched, or one leaf that’s yellow or brown, don’t worry about that.
Yeah. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here.
Right, right, right. But if the majority of the plant is plump and happy, perfect. If the majority of the plant is wilty or if it has a lot of brown spots on it, or a lot of yellow spots on it, then there’s a problem. That plant’s not happy. And then you’ve got to figure out why is it not happy? And you might think, well, how on earth would I ever figure it out?
Where will I start?
Right? You’d Google.
Where do you start for everything else, right?
Just Google. So you could just be like Basil brown spots. Because that’s what you saw. You saw Brown spots on your Basil.
You’re not the only one making searches like this. Right? Tiny, tiny little white bugs are on my catnip plants. Okay. Type that in exactly like that. You’ll get some somewhere to start. Right? And don’t take any of your first, you know, don’t just like click, I’m feeling lucky and then just take whatever shows up as gospel, right? Read multiple different reports here. There will be pictures for you to compare and to look at. Sometimes there’s little video talks and stuff that you can listen to. But we live in an era where this is a way that it is possible to go and to learn things. But the key here, as in any other kind of research that you do through the search engines, is to interpret or to investigate those results critically, right? So keep your mind active, look through it, see if it matches what you’re observing and if it jives with all of your common senses that you have. And if so, then try it and see what happens. Try it and see what happens.
Start with the Easy Ones (Including Weeds!)
That’s the key, right? Like you can read all the stuff you want and you can be like, I think I know the right answer, or I have no idea about the right answer. Either one of those, you just have to try something. And if it wasn’t right, the plant will tell you and then you try again. That’s fine. But really just watching is so important. Go out there, sit out there, look at your plants. Uh, okay. You’re looking at your plants. It’s great. So other than that, I would recommend that you start with the easy ones, like Lemon Balm or Calendula or Sage. Something really, really easy.
If you don’t know where to start at all, then pick your favorite herb from the mint family. Right? So that’s your mints. Yeah. That’s also, well Lemon Balm is a mint, right? Like Sage, Rosemary, Lavender, those are in the mint family. Pick one, give it a shot. These are irrepressible.
Yes. And if you pick some easy ones, those will give you confidence. And if you pick some really tolerant ones like fault tolerant plants, they will give you confidence. And if you don’t know which those are for your area, go to the garden store. Don’t go to like if there’s only a Home Depot, fine, but it’s better if you go to a garden store where they have their own nursery and they’re growing everything from scratch there. Because they’ll be able to give you better advice. But you can say, listen, this is my first garden and I want to grow some herbs. Can you tell me what is the easiest herb that you stock? And so you don’t even have to know what herb is easy. You can literally just go and ask somebody and they will say, Oh, it’s this Spearmint plant and you’ll be like, great, okay, I’m growing Spearmint this year. That sounds fantastic. Yeah.
This Anise Hyssop always does really great. You know, like, yeah, whatever it is.
Yeah. And they’re going to know for your region, so that’s really helpful too.
Yeah. So that’s where to go if you’re looking for, I don’t know, any herb that has officinale in its name probably. But we really, really strongly advocate for letting the weeds of your worlds into your garden. Oh, what’s that all about? I thought most of gardening was weeding. Right.
You know, last year’s garden was 100% weeds. Yeah. And the interesting thing is, so I didn’t weed anything. It was 100% weeds.
We did pull out grasses.
There weren’t as many grasses.
There weren’t as many, right? Especially after it got rolling.
Yeah. There were so many fewer grasses then the previous year when I had done a lot of…so this four by eight bed is two years old now. And we grew plants in it two years. And the first year I wanted to grow some like really specific plants. And the second year, like at the end of that year, I noticed a bunch of weeds seeding themselves. I noticed Evening Primrose, I noticed Mugwort. And I was like, Oh, and a bunch of Erigeron was in there also. And I was like, I’m not gonna do anything. We put some Nettle in. Some of the Cilantro came back because I let it go to seed. And mostly it was a ton of Mugwort, a ton of Primrose, and a ton of Erigeron. And we got probably two pounds of each of those. And then the strawberries on the other side. Yeah. And that was like literally, we didn’t plant any. We didn’t plant it. We just encouraged it. We just noticed that it was there and we were like, okay, you get to have your turn. And it was wonderful because there was so much less grass that grew in between the plants and whatever else. It was great. Yeah.
Yeah. And it was also very low pressure as well. Right? Like these are the weeds. These are the plants that show up places that people aren’t looking for them. And so if you forget to water. If you know that you’re going to be going away for three straight days or for a week or something and you’re like, Oh no, what’s going to happen to my garden? Plants like this, they will brush it off, they will laugh, they will say we’re fine. You don’t even have to worry about us. So that can be nice if you have that kind of a schedule too.
Add Stretch and At Risk Plants
We also didn’t have to worry about the strength of the sun last year, because they were plants who could take it. So that was really good. When we had planted a bunch of Basil in that spot. I ended up having to get a sunshade and I’ll talk about that later. So we moved our Basil to places that weren’t quite so bright, because it was a little too much sun for the Basil. I also want to talk though about some of the more challenging plants, because starting with the easy plants will build your confidence and build your experience. But then of course there’s always like, Oh, but I really want to grow this plant. And maybe it’s hard for you, or maybe you just don’t know if it’s going to be easy or hard. So pick one or two of those every year. And that way you know that you’re going to have some success with some plants that you have experience with. And that you are realizing like, okay, these are pretty easy. I know that I can do that. And then pick a couple that you’re like, those are new to me and I’m not sure if they’re going to be easy or hard. If they’re going to like what I have to offer them. And so that is the way to kind of stretch yourself every year. But don’t plant an entire garden of plants who you’re like, well, I think all these are going to be really challenging. And I don’t really know. Because that’ll be disappointing at the end of the year. So that’s why I just say pick a bunch of easy ones, and then a couple that you’re like, these are my stretch goal plants. Right.
Yeah. And over the years there are plants that started that way for us and then became more of like, all right, we’ve got you figured out. You know, like the first time we transplanted the Solomon’s Seal, it was like, Oh man, are they gonna make it? This is so nerve wracking. Right? And over the years that patch went from three or four different apartments with us.
And finally ended up in Royalston.
Yeah. Moved all around a few times.
And it was fine. It was fine. Every year, every time that we moved it, it was fine.
It was, but it was like that first year was learning like it needs these conditions, this much shade, and this much water in the soil. And now all we have to do is find that spot in the new yard.
Yeah, that’s true.
Or when we brought it out to the land, it was like, all right, we’ve got to find a spot just like that. And we know, because we’ve spent a lot of time sitting next to those Solomon’s Seal and been like, Oh, it feels like this here. The dirt feels like this. The air moving through here feels like that. The light coming down at noon looks like this.
Right. There’s a big tree next to it so it’s not going to get the full sun. Yeah, exactly.
So back to those observations. And that’s what takes those difficult herbs that feel like they’re on your edge for you, and makes them something you’re like, I know I’ve got you all figured out here. I know what you like, I know what you want, I know what you need. Right? And then you can give that to the plant. And then the plant gives back to you love, in the form of plant.
And you know, if you try one that’s really challenging and you don’t get it the first year, that’s fine. Try again next year. It’s okay to struggle a little bit and say, okay, well I learned some stuff, but now I need to learn again. You know.
The plants will not hold a grudge against you.
No, they’re okay. I also think this is probably a good time to talk about some of our native plants that we’re losing. So find out for your area who are the at risk plants in your area. And United Plant Savers keeps a list on their website of all of the plants that are endangered, and also all the plants that are at risk of becoming endangered. And it’s a really good idea to just figure out which of those plants grow in your area, and go ahead and grow some. And don’t even ever plan to harvest them for medicine. Just grow them in terms of part of repopulating. And so, Solomon’s Seal is one of those that in the wild Solomon’s Seal is becoming more and more rare. But it’s so easy to cultivate. So that’s actually super handy that it’s an easy one to cultivate if you can find the right spot for it. So that one is really important to me to grow every year. And, on the other hand, Ginseng and Goldenseal are not easy. They’re challenging. But it’s important to me to try, because eventually I will learn how to do it. And that is part of re-establishing plants who are native. In our area, Bloodroot and Trillium are two also that we really like to plant and then not harvest. Just plant, just so that it can start to grow, get its foothold back, because those are plants that should be here, but have been over harvested. And now it’s very rare to find them in the wild.
Yeah. So then the other thing people ask all the time is where should I get my plants and how should I get them, right? Is it better to start from seed? Is it easier to start from the little square trays? Or those plastic pots things that they come in for seedlings like that? What’s, what’s the best way to do it?
Well, there’s pros and cons to both methods. And mostly you should do the one that appeals most to you. Sometimes it is easier to just buy the seedlings at a local store, a local garden store or whatever. And there are some plants that can start from seed right outside. You don’t have to have all the equipment, the lights and all that stuff. You can just put the seeds in the ground and they will grow. Sunflowers. Yes, it will happen. And so those are awesome. But some plants either need to be started indoors or you can start them from seeds, but you have to do it the year before, right? Because yeah, wild plants …sorry, go ahead.
Oh, yeah. Or sometimes you need to treat the seeds in a particular way, right? Like with some seeds, you can’t just take them from the packet and put them in the dirt and then hope for the best. You have to like rub them with sandpaper, or get them wet and then put them in the fridge for a minute. And then do this. So sometimes there are extra steps to how to go from seed to plant.
So those obviously don’t happen in the wild. There’s not like little squirrels who are putting them in the refrigerator. But that those methods are to recreate winter for the seeds, because there are many seeds that won’t germinate until after they have been frozen.
Or the sandpaper thing is to recreate passing through the digestive tract of a bird.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So, sometimes it’s enough to just spread those seeds before, like in the fall before you actually want them to grow. But, sometimes you do have to go through that whole process. And that can be hard. So don’t start there unless you really want to. Your garden is completely legitimate, even if the whole thing was grown by seedling. It’s still totally legitimate. So you don’t have to start any seeds at all if you don’t want to.
Yeah. Which is good. And if you are going to start from seed, you have to know in advance. And you have to be a little bit early and have the setup for it. And sometimes there’s equipment involved in this.
Oh. So it’s also good to know that when you buy the seed packets, it will tell you, whether you buy them online or whether you buy them in person at a local store, it will say on the seed packet, or it’ll say on the webpage where you buy it, how to start those seeds. So, it might say like, you have to start this indoors eight weeks before the last frost, or something like that. And so if you’re not prepared to go ahead and have all these little seedlings growing in the sun or with a grow light somewhere in your house, don’t buy packets that say that. If you’re not willing to do that, which is fine, you do not have to do it. Then look for seeds that say direct sow or something like, sow outdoors after the last threat of frost, or something like that. And those are plants, and sunflowers are a great example, those are plants where you can literally just stick the seed in the dirt, put some water on it and it’s going to be fine, as long as you do it after the last freeze.
Yeah, Sunflowers are great. They’re so easy and they’re so wonderful.
So amazing. Yes, they are so amazing.
Buckets & Raised Beds
So, some advice here is to start small, right? Because it would be very easy to, you know, have the garden catalog show up and to page through it and say, I’m going to circle everything that’s in here because it all looks cool or fun or handy or, you know, whatever. And that’s great, but not all of us have the money. So you don’t need those things. You don’t, they’re not required to get started. You can start with a couple of buckets and some dirt and your hands and that will actually be enough.
Yeah. If you get those like home Depot buckets, they’re like three bucks or something. And if your plant that you want to grow, needs good drainage, drill some holes in the bottom. Or if you don’t have a drill, just get a hammer and a nail and nail some holes into the bottom. And that way it will drain.
Yeah. Well you can set how much drainage you want. Right? With some plants it’s one or two holes in the bottom. And with others it’s like just perforate the whole thing all the way around.
Just holes everywhere!
New Speaker (00:39:31):
But I mean we have had Calamus growing in a bucket like that for many years now.
Yeah. With no holes, because Calamus wants to stay really wet. And so it is literally in a bucket with no holes so that it will hold on to water. And sometimes it gets really muddy in there. That’s fine. Calamus likes that quite a lot. I also was going to say Wood Betony too. We’ve grown Wood Betony in buckets forever. That one wants a little drainage at the bottom. But we’ve grown that in buckets all the time. And there’s something really actually great about growing in buckets, especially if you’re new to gardening. Which is that if you aren’t exactly sure how much sun your plant will want, or how much water your plant will want, then if you put it in a bucket, it can be very individualized. If you’re like, Oh my goodness. Like I decided one year I was going to grow a bunch of Basil, which was not a plant that I really had ever been very interested in growing before. And then I was like, I’m totally obsessed with Basil now. And it’s Basil year. And I’m going to grow a ton of Basil. And I put it in a place that it didn’t like. And I burned all of it. And so then I tried again, as I was turned off of Basil for awhile. And then I tried again, but I got a sunshade for it and that was better. But then last year was actually my best Basil year ever because I only grew Basil in buckets. And then I just moved the buckets until it was perfectly happy and got like the Goldilocks amount of sun. And when I found that spot, I was like, that’s where you’re staying. I’m not moving the bucket again. And that was great.
Thats real. Thats real, for sure. Yeah. I mean, evening Primrose grows out of buckets just fine. Mugwort, absolutely. You know, Sage is pretty handy that way. The mints, again, the Lavender and Catnip.
They’re all fine in buckets. Yeah.
Well let’s talk about raised beds for a little bit.
We built one a couple of years ago at our apartment in Dorchester. And I think we probably paid, I don’t know, 20 bucks in materials. We used two by sixes, not pressure treated, just regular old two by sixes. And it was four by eight, so we had one, two, three, four, five, six two by sixes. Is that right? No. Five. Yes. Six, because each end was, yeah. So, six, eight foot, two by sixes. And then in each corner we had like a two by four that we just screwed the ends into to make it into a rectangle. We lined it with landscape fabric and we filled it with dirt. And the dirt was the most expensive part. The dirt was like 80 bucks, which was fine because that raised bed was going to last for awhile. We’ve since moved to a new apartment, but that raised bed is still there and the downstairs people are gardening in it, right? Well not right now, but they’re planning to garden in it. And they’re making their plans right now. And so, okay, so $80 might seem like a lot to pay for dirt, but it was really good dirt. And it’s going to last for a long time. After that you just need to put some compost in. So that’s good. But that four by eight bed just grew tons and tons of stuff. So, to me that seems like a really good value. And it works really well if you live in a place where you can’t just dig in the dirt. And that was true. In that part of town, the dirt had tons of lead in it and whatever. So having that barrier in between was important. And bringing in fresh dirt was important.
Yeah, definitely. That, and also choosing herbs and things to grow there, or to encourage to grow there, that weren’t deep diggers.
Yeah. Cause we had 12 inches of soil.
Yeah. I mean you could maybe get away with some burdock there, but honestly, it’s better not to.
No. Yeah, no.
Because it’s going to dig straight down underneath. So yeah. So everything we had had pretty shallow root structure.
Yeah. I’m trying to think, you know. Also we left behind some Mullein because we had some first-year Mullein growing in there last year. And so they’ll have Mullein this year, which is pretty exciting. And even so, whether you plant in a raised bed, or whether you own your own property or you rent, even if you own your own property, it’s still totally legit to plant in buckets. And then just decide, like once you figure out where the plants that you want to grow are happy. Then you can pay to put in a raised bed or whatever. Or then you can rip up the grass and put a garden there. But like having buckets for a couple of years first helps you really get established on, okay, I know where I want things to be.
Sun & Shade
Yeah. And if you’re just anxious to get going. And you just want to put a raised bed up. And you’re like, Oh, we’re going to do it, let’s figure it out later, that’s fine. That’s fine. But probably choose the sunniest spot you can select. Because it’s easy to put shade. It’s less easy to create more sun.
Yeah. So for shade, that was a big thing for us at that garden in Dorchester because it was like…
Got more sun than we thought it was going to.
It was such, it was harsh sun. It was really hard sun. And it was also the only place that we could put it. It was where the landlord told us we could put it. So that’s fine.
Real world constraints, right?
Yes, exactly. But you know, as things were burning in the garden. And you could tell that they were burning because the leaves would get yellow and yellow. And so I just got one of those mesh tarps. And honestly I got it on Amazon and it was like, I don’t know, $10 or $15 or something, for a 10 by 10 mesh tarp. And it’s a tarp and it’s got the grommets and everything. But instead of being solid, it’s like woven mesh. Right? So a percentage of the sun gets through, like 60% of the sun gets through. And the rest of it is shaded. Or there’s different percentages, you can choose the percentage you want. And so we just did that and. Then we strung it, like there was a fence on one side and a balcony on the other. And we just strung it between them. And it was great. And it was just like a little personal sunshade for the garden, and everything was really happy that way. We didn’t need it the second year, because instead we worked with more sun tolerant plants.
Yeah. But it was really very effective. It was like a sail.
It was great.
Yeah, it was, it was really great. Couple of guide lines running from it, to the edges, and there you go.
For this year coming, in our new apartment, we have pretty strong sun also. We’re like very South facing. It’s like every corner of the property is South facing somehow. I don’t even know. Like, how can all four corners be South facing? But like everything is South facing. There’s like really strong sun. So, one of the ways that I’m planning to deal with that is to preferentially choose plants that want really strong sun so that I don’t have to rig a shade again.
So Sage, Rosemary, Thyme.
Chamomile. So much Chamomile! Yes. And then the plants that really want a bunch of shade, we’re just putting in Royalston where there is shade, so that’s fine.
All the trees.
But that’s the thing, if you look at your property and you’re like, well, I get all of the sun. Then you know, we didn’t keep any of the Solomon’s Seal here. All of that went to the forest in Royalston. And we’re not going to try to grow Solomon’s Seal here, because there’s just way too much sun. So make those kinds of choices. Or if you have a super shady everything and you just don’t get very much sun at all, then maybe you choose, Oh, well I’m going to grow things like violet. And I am going to grow a ton of Solomon’s Seal. And I’m going to grow English Ivy and whatever things that will, like Periwinkle, things that will really flourish in amore shady environment. Jack in the pulpit, not an herb to work with internally. But an amazing plant that you definitely should grow if it will grow in your area.
Nice. Yeah. So you try things, right? You try it out, you see what happens, you make mistakes, you fix them if you can. If you don’t, you learn from them. It’s like, a lot of other kinds of learning that you can prepare a lot. And that’s great. And that counts for a bunch and you get gold stars. But then you have to actually go out there and do it and get the dirt under your nails. And you will learn a lot more there than you will listening to us. I mean, you can bring us with you into the garden. That’s what podcasts are for. Yes,
Absolutely. Yeah. I think our culture is all about finding the right answer, and being the right prepared, and then things will go right. And just go out there and try it. Just try it.
Drying your Plants & Tools
Just try it. Oh, Hey. Once you’ve grown your plants, then you probably want to continue. There may be some that you just let them grow, and you admire them, and that’s how you relate. But you know, you’re an herbalist, you’re probably thinking, I bet I could make some remedies out of this stuff.
I bet I could make some tea. Yeah.
So drying your plants is a good place to start. And you don’t need a dehydrator, but it does help. It does help kind of a lot actually.
I mean, yeah, for a long time we didn’t have a dehydrator and so I didn’t dry very much. I dried some Goldenrod in brown paper bags with a space heater, which was really inefficient.
Rigged up on like a folding laundry rack, that had lots of like layers and tiers to it, and then had a space heater next to it or under it. And then bags sort of pressed on top and balanced around. And you know what, it worked.
It did work.
It worked. An actual dehydrator does work better.
It does, it turns out. So we finally got one last year. And we didn’t get like a fancy one. I think it’s a Gourmand or something is the brand. And it’s just a nine tray dehydrator. We literally got it on Amazon.
Like $100 for that one.
I think it was, but there are some that are like $40. And you even can often find them at thrift shops or even just ask around, because you might know people who already have them.
Yeah. Look at Craigslist or Free Cycle or something like that.
But I will also say that when we finally bought one, I mean, there was a solid month where it was running every day. Like we dried so much stuff.
Yeah, and the whole room, you would walk in. And it would be redolent of Mugwort or Fleabane or Evening Primrose leaf and you’re just like, yep, this is all right.
It was amazing. It smelled so good.
I’m good with this. Yeah. We’re keeping the dehydrator in a room that we’re in a lot now. I think in anticipation of when we have some fresh herb material to run in there and just hang out in here and saturate in it. That’s herbalism too, right?
Yes. Every winter I dry orange peels. And they don’t really need the dehydrator, but I am excited for when we start dehydrating again and the whole room smells great. Sometimes people wonder whether fresh herb is better or dried herb is better and when do I want this one or that one? And that is kind of…there’s some personal preference. There’s also like an herb by herb basis. So both in the Medicine Making course and also in the Materia Medica course, we do mention, Oh, okay, this herb, if you’re going to tincture it, you really want to tincture it fresh. And that herb, if you’re going to make oil from it, it really should be fresh. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. But if you are looking for sort of a general guideline, then generally I myself prefer to tincture and make oils from fresh plants, and to make tea from dried plants. That’s not set in stone, but…
No, there are lots of exceptions. But they are the exceptions that more or less enforce the rule.
Yeah. Hey, speaking of set in stone, there is one thing that we forgot to mention, which is do not take all of the rocks out of your garden. If you have a garden and it doesn’t have any rocks in it, put rocks in on purpose. Because that’s one of the ways that your garden gets minerals. It’s like the primary way that your garden gets minerals. So a good rocky garden is really, yeah, that’s where it’s at.
More work for you. But that’s often the way that things go.
That’s okay. You know, the reason that people take the rocks out is because if they till the garden, then the rocks hurt the tiller, the blades on the tiller. But I don’t till my gardens. Honestly, you guys, my garden tools, I have a spoon that I really like. I have a pair of scissors that I really like and that’s, Oh, and I have an old…
We have some of those claws.
I have an old claw thing with one of the claw things missing. Right. Yeah, that’s like, those are my tools. That’s, that’s what I like.
We have one that used to have three claws, but the two of them broke off. And now it’s just one.
But that’s very precise, right?
It’s the best one though. It’s the best one, because the thing is that there’s this huge network in the dirt of all kinds of life form. And you don’t need to disturb all that. You don’t have to till it every year. In fact, don’t till it every year. Don’t ever till it and just scrape it where you want to put stuff in. Loosen some stuff just with your hands, loosen some dirt and put the seed in and it’s good.
Yeah. And maybe this is also worth saying that if you did start from a seedling or if you were even transplanting herbs to rescue them or something like that, when you’re moving plants, you’re not going to like shake all the dirt off of it until it’s just a bare root hanging around in the air. And then you’re going to move that from place to place. If I’m taking a plant from this big bucket it’s been in, and finally putting it into the ground. We’re taking like a big hug full of dirt over here. And then plop the whole thing down. And that’s going to integrate into the ecosystem over there. But you take some of that plant’s soil microbiome and its ecosystem along with it to its new home.
Isn’t that like Dracula?
It’s exactly like Dracula. Yes. It’s also like how when you move from place to place, you like to bring your flora with you.
Yes. Your own microbiome.
The plants like to bring theirs with them as well.
New Speaker (00:55:22):
Yes. So it’s just a matter of like loosening the soil around whatever you’re going to put in so that it can integrate. But you don’t need to like loosen all of the soil everywhere. It’s better if you don’t. Okay. But yes, but we were talking about fresh versus dry herbs. I’m sorry. I think we mostly got that, that in each video in the Materia Medica section, and in each type of preparation in the medicine making course, there are instructions about like for this you really want fresh or for that dried is great. So, yeah.
Cool. Well, we hope that that was helpful.
That’s really all there is.
And interesting. And that you feel inspired and confident and demystified a little bit here. The willingness to experiment is the primary thing. And I know that that’s a theme for us. Most weeks comes down to, well, you should really try it and see how it goes for you. And observe and take notes and you know, like get yourself engaged, and be there directly, and rely on your own experience more than you rely on our theory and our teaching. It is based on our experience. So, like there’s something to it.
Yesterday we bumped into this lovely woman. We were talking about African virus Violet’s together actually. And she was saying, Oh, my father is so good with plants and I wish I had inherited that gene from him, because I’m terrible at plants. And I just want to say, I was terrible at plants. I come from a household that had like no greenness in the thumbs at all. And it really was just about saying, well, I have to grow something. And trying it and failing at it a lot. And then like having some success and being excited about that. And over time and now like…
Now you’re very confident.
I am confident. I’m confident on one hand. On the other hand I’m like, well I’m not like an herb farmer. But I’m confident about my own plants, you know. LIke my plants for me I’m really confident about. So you don’t have to be born with this. You just have to look. You have to really observe, and observe with curiosity. Like, Oh, what’s going on? Oh, you know, and not observe like there’s a bug, I have to kill it. But, but huh, well which bug is that? And is that one of the friendly ones or the not friendly ones? You know, like observing with curiosity. That’s really the way to do it.
That’s where it’s at.
All right. So let’s close up with some shout outs.
So we’ve got a shout out to girl with the braids on Instagram who said that the pain episode came at just the right time. Hey, good.
Yeah, I’m excited about that. Dara wrote in to say that she liked it too. So I’m super happy. And there’s going to be a lot more on that topic in the Nervous System and Emotional Health course. So stay tuned,
Shout out to Sharon who shared a cool mushroom grower with us over in Nebraska.
Yes, I am super excited. This is a grower who has dried Lion’s Mane in stock. So I’m pretty excited to grab some.
Interesting, interesting. To Amy.James2.0 on Instagram. I think that’s how that’s pronounced. Who was excited about the Kava Rose and Vanilla oil in our previous episode. That is exciting, isn’t it?
Yes. And on that theme, Sarah.Swink who is making infused wine for Valentine’s day.
Hope that went well yesterday. Yes. Nice. And we have one to, let’s see, Carlos8amtz4, I’m sorry buddy…I’m not sure how to do that one… who wrote us a review on Apple podcast. Hey, thanks so much. We’re really grateful when y’all write us reviews or share the pod with your friends. That helps us get to the herby love out to some folks who may not have seen it otherwise. So wherever you get your pods, wherever you’re listening now, there’s probably a review function in there somewhere. If you would take a few minutes and dig that out and type in some friendly words there, then we will read them and we will feel warm fuzzies in our hearts. But also other people might see them and be inspired to come and check it out, learn some herbs, grow some herbs.
Grow some herbs.
And feel a little bit more delightful.
Yes. And of course you can always pass along the pod the old fashioned way by just telling your friends, Hey, you should listen to this podcast. And that works too.
It’s the Holistic Herbalism podcast. You can find it wherever wonderful pods are to be downloaded, which is in the internet everywhere. That’s the power of the pod we’re always talking about, right?
That’s what that is. All right, so we’ll be back.
You’re cracking me up today.
So we’ll be back next week with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea, possibly from plants that you grew yourself.
Like we, Oh wait, we drank it. I was going to show it off, but we drank it all. So you can’t see the lovely Mugwort that’s in there. There’s a little left. I’m going to drink it now.
And in case you were wondering how can I see anything on this podcast, then you may not have heard that we put these as video on YouTube every week as well. So you can also find this there. All right.
With tea. That’s it. Bye!
Go. Go get your hands dirty.
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