Herbs and Friends: National Herb Week

Herbalists all over the country celebrate this once-a-year holiday.

| April/May 1995

Spring is greening the roadsides and gardens, and herb enthusiasts in small towns and big cities are getting ready to celebrate ­National Herb Week, May 8–14, a once-a-year occasion to fan the flame of a growing national passion for herbs. Evidence of this infatuation can be seen in the increasing number of herb groups around the country, where members join with old friends and new to explore the beauty and usefulness of their gardens, to organize events and tackle projects, and to share ideas with others over a cup of tea. Here’s a look at seven such groups to show you the diversity that exists and perhaps inspire you to join the fun. If you haven’t yet met the other herb fanciers in your community, look them up and discover what’s on the agenda for the coming months. The National Herb Week calendar on page 39 is one place to start, and if there isn’t a group in your area, why not create one? National Herb Week is a fine time to begin.

Caring and sharing

Herb enthusiasts in the Trumbull, Connecticut, area not only create beautiful herb gardens for their own pleasure, but share their bounty with ­others less fortunate. Members of the Trumbull Unit of The Herb Society of America make Victorian tussie-mussies —herbs and flowers bound into delicate, beribboned bouquets that speak the universal language of love and heartfelt sympathy—and deliver them to hospice patients. Group spokeswoman Nancy Moore reports that the patients enjoy the tussie-mussies enormously “because of the thought that goes into each one.”

The Trumbull group sponsors other helping-hand projects. Members bring to each meeting small items appropriate for women and children who have taken refuge in battered women’s shelters—personal-care gifts for women, books and toys for children, food, and clothing. A YWCA distributes the donations to shelters around the state. ­Several years ago, the group helped to refurbish the greenhouse at Niantic Women’s Prison and establish an herb garden there.

“We’re very diverse,” Nancy says of the group. “We have fifty active members, and they’re all accomplished in many different professional areas. They bring all sorts of connections, for each knows a different part of the community. They make us conscious of the needs of others.”

Northern lights

Herbs in Alaska? Of course. The herb group in Anchorage is so new that it hasn’t yet decided on a name, but members are generating enthusiasm despite the challenges of their climate. Among the herbs that do well there are angelica, horseradish, French tarragon, tansy, mint, and most annuals except basil, according to spokeswoman Cathy Sage, who is helping the new group get organized. “Our season is short,” she explains. “We plant on Memorial Day and harvest before the first frost in September—124 days in all. But the summer days are long, up to 191/2 hours at the summer solstice, and we still have 12-hour days when the first frost hits.”

This spring, the Anchorage group, which currently has about fifteen members, will host its first herbal program—an afternoon tea and workshops and classes taught by local herbalists. The event is planned as a benefit for a new botanical garden to be established in Anchorage. “With the money we raise, we hope to have a great herb garden there,” Cathy says. “People are full of enthusiasm. It’s wonderful to be in at the beginning of such a special project.” Plans for the herb garden include beds for all the familiar culinary and fragrance herbs as well as native plants, and activities such as demonstrations by Native Americans on how local plants were used traditionally.

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