Harbingers of Spring

 

I looked out my kitchen window this morning and saw many signs that Spring is just around the corner. Bright green daffodil spears poking out of the muddy soil. Buds sprouting on our cherry tree. A vibrant red male cardinal singing for his mate. Last year’s seed pod tinged with early morning hoarfrost. A pair of bouncing red-breasted robins foraging under the bird feeder.

Nature nudging me with gentle reminders: hang in there, my friend! Spring is in the air and soon windows will be thrown open to the fresh, sunny  breeze and the scent of warming earth and lilac blossoms will waken my senses and bring lightness to my heart.

The days are growing longer and soon it will be time to dig up the garden beds and begin planting the vegetables, flowers, and herbs that we will be growing here on the farm.

 

Lavender, My First Love of Herbs

Lavender

I remember the first time I was introduced to herbs. I was helping my Grandmother May with her weekly laundry, and as we tucked her newly folded night gowns into her dresser drawer, I noticed a small gauzy packet tucked in among her clothes. She called it a sachet, and it smelled faintly of fancy perfume and her herb garden. 

Upon closer inspection, I noticed tiny silver-purple dried flower buds wrapped in that gauze. She told me this was lavender. It smelled sharp and clean. She gave me my own tiny packet of lavender and I felt quite grown up as I tucked it into my underwear drawer. Thus began my love of herbs.

My first batch of natural herbal soap that I crafted was with Lavender essential oil and dried buds; and I have planted Lavender in every garden that I have grown as I moved from place to place, even on my kitchen window sills. As I consider my newest gardening endeavors here in Indiana, Lavender is on the top of my list.

Lavender, or Lavandula officinalus, is a perennial member of the mint family. It likely originated in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and India. The best known is English Lavender (L. angustifolia), which grows between 3-6 feet with dusty blue-green foliage and spikey purplish/pink flowers.

It is often used to soothe headaches and is beneficial in easing the nervous system and the stomach. It awakens the mind and heart after a long winter and can be used to treat depression and lethargy. It is energizing, revitalizing, and inspires hope.

Dream pillows stuffed with dried lavender buds and scented with the essential oil brings soothing, relaxed dreams, and a sound sleep.

One of the many benefits of Lavender that I have only recently discovered, is its ability to soothe minor burns, insect stings, and minor cuts and abrasions. Plus, internally it can ease heartburn and indigestion when taken as a tea.

Lavender is an essential ingredient in herbes de Provence, an important cooking accent to many French dishes. My personal favorite includes the dried buds in Lavender Oat cookies. (See the Recipe Page).

Lavender is a perennial that grows best in a sunny, well-drained area of your garden. Lavender normally is an easy herb to grow, but really does not care for a wet, cold environment. The blossoms, lanky spikes of purplish-pink tight buds, can be harvested once they just begin to open and can be dried for future use or placed in a vase of water to enrich your air with a tantalizing fresh fragrance that will last about a week.

Lavender is easily dried by tying a bunch of lavender flower spikes, about an inch in diameter, and hanging upside down in a ventilated area. You may want to place a clean cloth underneath to capture the buds that fall during the drying process.

For me, Lavender is an essential herb to be included in my apothecary. Both the dried buds and the essential oil are beneficial for many healing applications that come up in my family. It is also one of my most favorite scents for herbal soaps, lotions, and dream pillows.

-TM

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Lavender (Lavandula) – Historical Background and Lore

The use of lavender is nearly as old as recorded history. Ancient Egyptians and Arabians used lavender oils for perfumes and mummification. The linen wraps, soaked in lavender essence, repelled insects, countered unpleasant odors, and may have been believed to be spiritually protective. Some mystics also believed that lavender contributed to long life and acceptance of aging. Cleopatra is rumored to have seduced Julius Caesar and Mark Antony with the aid of lavender. This is logical, since many people of the time smelled strongly of sweat, smoke, and oxen. Even in ancient times, lavender was proven versatile and effective.

Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region, famously in Provenҫe, France. Its name comes from the Latin verb “lavare”, which means “to wash”. It is not a surprise, then, that the Greeks and Romans used lavender to scent soaps and bathwater. People who washed laundry were known as “lavenders” for a time. The Greeks often referred to the herb as “nardus” or “nard”, after the Syrian city of Naardo. It was sold as a curative for insomnia, backaches, and insanity. Lavender is named as “spikenard” in the Holy Bible (The Gospel of Luke), in which its oil was used for anointment as a component of the Holy Essence.

The Romans were gracious enough to introduce lavender to the British Isles, alongside war and conquest. The dried, ground heads of the flowers were used as condiments. Meat was rare and difficult to keep fresh; lavender hid the flavors of partially-rotted food. Lavender evolved in time from a meat preserver to a traditional component of an English garden.

Along the way, lavender played several important roles in Europe during the Middle Ages. It was applied as an aphrodisiac but also to ensure chastity. Sprigs were strewn in homes and other buildings. Spikes were hung on walls and over hearths. Sachets freshened rooms and protected linens from moths. Lavender infusions flavored and scented waters. The oil was known to repel flies. During the Great Plague of London in the 17th Century, people wore springs of lavender or wore gloves imbued with oil to ward off sickness. The insect-repellant properties of the oil also protected against the fleas that spread the plague and likely prevented some disease.

During the 18th through 20th Centuries, lavender provided treatments for various conditions: hysteria, palpitations, hoarseness, palsy, toothaches, sore joints, apoplexy, and colic. It was also used as a carminative, antispasmodic, stimulant, and smelling salt additive. During World War I, it was a go-to disinfectant.

Queen Victoria popularized lavender in England, insisting on having fresh-cut sprigs every day. Later, the Shakers, a sect of the Quakers, or Friends’ Church, were the first people to grow lavender commercially in North America. Lavender is now cultivated and used around the world for culinary, medicinal, herbal, decorative, and aromatic purposes.

-MH

Growing A Farm

Yet another snow storm today. The temperatures are still way below freezing,the sky is bleak, the trees are bare, and the ground is hard. A perfect day to gather my notes and garden sketches, a hot cup of orange spice tea, and consider my Mission Statement for Whimsical Moon Herb Farm.

It is important to create a Mission Statement for your business to provide a road map for your dream and a clear vision of just exactly what your intentions are for your business.

As a cottage herbalist and an herbal soap goddess (:D), embracing plant medicine and an earth centered lifestyle is integral to my purpose and the farm.

The Mission of Whimsical Moon Herb Farm: to create an abundant and prosperous herb farm using sustainable, earth-centered techniques, and living in accordance with the seasons while having a deep connection with Divine, the plants and their allies, and the animals who will be sharing the land with us.

We embrace sustainability, ecology, and service to our community and to Mother Earth. We intend on supporting ourselves by marketing our vegetables; creating natural, hand-made, small batch herbal soaps, body scrubs, balms, and dream pillows; as well as creating (in the works) an on-line and on-farm herbal apprenticeship and an earth-centered herbal school.

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Our neighbors down yonder way.

The farm will  provide most of our fresh vegetables and herbs, and we will be getting chickens this spring and raise them for their wonderful eggs and eventually dairy goats for their milk.

I have come to realize that the way we think, act, and perceive the world is a reflection of the world we wish to inhabit. This farm is my expression of myself: a tree-hugging, Lola Granola, Birkie wearing, eco-bunny, herbal goddess with my sights set on abundance, sustainability, creativity, and connection to Divine.

As Lynn Andrews said, “There is no greater power in the world than the power of living your own truth.”

 

Kitten Chaos

Be careful what you wish for. I’ve heard this idea before and usually shrug it off. Why wouldn’t I want what I wished for?

Now that we’ve been on the farm for almost a year, my room-mate and I thought we should probably consider the idea of a farm cat. A cat to hunt rodents in the barn, to snuggle on my lap while having my morning cup of coffee, and to bask in the sun on the side porch giving our farm the hospitable ambience of coziness and well, an idyllic farm. You know, chickens, vegetable gardens, sunflowers and hollyhocks, an old-fashioned porch swing, and a cat.

Then, one morning, while I was puttering around the tool shed, BOOM! Kittens.Kitten puddle

One fuzzy little face after another crawled out from behind the stack of last year’s flower pots and old potting soil, hesitant but curious. I gently picked one up and ran into the house, waking my room-mate.

“Look what I found in the shed.”

I placed it on her bed and ran back out to fetch the rest of the litter. One, two, three, four kittens. They were old enough to be weaned, but momma cat showed up at the scene of the kitten catastrophe, rubbing against my leg and purring like we were old friends. We figured somebody must have dropped them off and she decided our shed would work just fine for their new home.

It didn’t take them long to get used to our hospitality, taking over the Chihuahua’s dog bed and eating us out of house and farm. Nothing was sacred to them, all was claimed for their kitten antics.Kittens in a basket

We feel confident that our farm now looks cozy and idyllic. Way too idyllic! I’m thinking maybe I should’ve wished for a porch swing instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Stirrings

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Mosey reminds me that Spring will get here soon enough. Let’s play in the snow!

 

There is a silence that comes with the falling snow that you can almost feel. Muted and muffled, the morning takes on a fairy-tale quality. Yes, it is snowing today. Again.

Just yesterday, I swore I could feel the stirrings of root and bud as the unseasonably warm air felt heavy and humid, giving a nudge to the great maple tree, the old lilac bush, and the tiny daffodil spear poking out of the moist earth.

I was sketching garden beds in my head and calculating seedling start days as I surveyed my current garden patch. Lists of vegetables and herbs clicked off in my mind. I could visualize the three-sisters garden I would plant soon with sweet corn, pole green beans, and winter squash, just south of the main garden. The side porch flower bed was already blooming in my imagination with hollyhock, nasturtiums, french marigolds, and lavender. I paced a large circular area where my herbal medicine wheel garden would be constructed and planted with Echinacea, sage, chamomile, rosemary, and mints. I could hear the first callings of the Killdeer foraging the scrubby corn fields and could taste the warm air as I breathed deeply, my mouth open and smiling.

But, this morning Momma Earth gently reminded me that February=Winter. I peered across the bare, open fields from my front porch, a mug of hot orange-spice tea warming my hands, and watched the tiny snowflakes swirl and skitter across our narrow farm road, collecting in the ditches and accumulating on my porch steps.

I still have several more weeks of rest and reflection before me. In just a few more months, I will be standing in the middle of my vegetable garden, stretching the kinks out of my back and wiping my brow with gloves caked in dirt, thinking back to this quiet, calm time of resting. I need to remember that each season has its purpose. The snow is beautiful as it blusters past, teasing our St. Bernard, Mosey, to come out and play. Spring will get here soon enough. For now, I will relax and enjoy the calm.