"For Use and Delight"

The Herb Society of America Celebrates 75 Years

| June/July 2008

HSA front bed

A colorful herb garden surrounds the 150-year-old stone house that serves as Herb Society of America headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio.

Robin Siktberg

With the enormous popularity of cooking and gardening shows, and with herbal health and beauty products filling the shelves of local supermarkets, it seems hard to imagine a time when herbs were little-known and underappreciated.

Yet that was the case in 1932, when Edgar Anderson, Ph.D., of the Arnold Arboretum in Boston received a call from a woman representing a small garden group. “We want to do something more worthwhile than the ordinary garden club, so we’ve started studying herbs,” she told him. “Will you give us some botany lessons?” So began The Herb Society of America (HSA), now a group of 2,300 members worldwide and celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

Throughout the fall and winter of 1932, the group of seven women (Adeline Philbrick Cole, Anne Shirk Burrage, Harriet Adams Brown, Corinna Searle Mitchell, Florence Bratenahl, Ellen Greenslet and Frances Norton) met with Anderson to study rosemary—growing, drying and mounting specimens for future research.

By May 1933, the group officially organized and invited others from the horticultural world to join its mission, gathering and contributing knowledge of the useful plants. Annual dues were $2, plus a $5 initiation fee. In 1935, Mrs. Cole began an
herbarium collection that grew to more than 2,000 specimens by the time it was donated to the Arnold Arboretum in 1966. That same year (1935), the group put together “A Seventeenth-Century Stillroom,” the first herbal exhibit in the country, winning a gold medal in the Boston Spring Flower Show.

Branching Out

As HSA grew in membership, regional groups formed, many of them beginning their own public herb gardens. The first seeds of a library were sown in 1944 with a gift of reference books from Elizabeth Wade White.

By 1980, 47 years after the original seven women met, membership had grown to more than 1,500, including 16 regional units. By then, HSA had the resources to work on its most ambitious project to date—the 2.5-acre National Herb Garden at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. Supported by $200,000 from HSA members and friends, and matched with a $200,000 grant from the U.S. government, the garden includes hundreds of different herbs, all labeled. Educational signs and programs bring the many uses of herbs to life for visitors.

elderberry, echinacea, bee hive


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