The Way of the Cottage Herbalist

 

“Those who dwell….among the beauties and mysteries of life are never alone or weary of life. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”  –Rachel Carson

A Cottage Herbalist is anyone who honors herbs and has an inner desire to understand and share their healing properties. Spending time with these plants, growing, harvesting, even meditating with them, takes us to our Source. Time with Mother Earth is healing. You won’t find a dictionary definition for cottage herbalist, but I’m pretty certain this is pretty close to how I would define it. This is how I define myself.

I have studied medicinal plants, growing herbs and ethically wildcrafting, making herbal products, and crafting with them for many years. I began my herbal ‘career’ as a young girl when I planted my first herb garden in a scrappy, worn-out iris bed that mom determined would get plenty of sunshine and relieve her from further weeding.

My studies continued when I attended the Seattle School of Massage and found several herbal courses available as elective subjects. I enjoyed every single class. Several years later, I was ecstatic when I found Rosemary Gladstar’s “The Science and Art of Herbalism” course offered through her Sage Mountain Farm. Rosemary has always been my herbal idol and long distance mentor, and she said, “Whatever you choose to do, do it well, and do it joyously”, and I determined herbs, gardening, and crafting would always be my joyous work.

I have learned as I continued my herbal studies that nobody becomes an herbalist overnight. In fact, learning the healing qualities of plants is a life long process. It does require us to grow and harvest, make effective preparations, and then use them in our own lives as well as share them with others. I realized that discovering our own medicines in the fields and woods that surround us, and in our gardens, can be empowering.

Herbal medicine is about creating a deep relationship with the plants and ourselves, and not just about a jar of herbal supplements or a bottle of uncertain tincture we purchase from the shelf of the nearby big name mega-store. An herbalist begins with the healing plants growing outside their door, working hands-on with them, as well as learning from mentors, taking courses, and reading books on the subject.

I believe a Cottage Herbalist understands the everyday use of herbs, studies the traditional use of plant remedies, grows and ethically wildcrafts their regional plants, prepares plant medicines, and even teaches others the aspects of the herbal healing arts. Helping people discover the healthy possibilities for themselves is an important part of being an herbalist.

Creating an herbal livelihood within the context of a sustainable farm and community is important to me. Amanda M. Crawford, an herbalist, said,”Sometimes when technological medicine has nothing more to offer a person, we may find the deepest healing in a simple green blossom”. I wholeheartedly believe this, and I believe that our health, as individuals and as a society, is inextricably linked to that of the earth. Herbal medicine is nature’s ultimate ecological medicine.  Herbalists teach this Earth awareness and the nourishing good health that comes from the plants, clean water, fresh air, and the pursuit of your passion — and laughing often.

I enjoy sharing the adventures and antics here on Whimsical Moon Herb Farm as we continue to grow our herbs, raise our chickens, and scratch the farm cats behind their ears. I also intend on sharing my adventures as an herbalist and herbcrafter. I will alternate my focus on farming and herbalism in future posts, with a bit of everyday whimsy. Please feel free to comment or ask me questions as the seasons progress! I hope you will enjoy learning about the herbs – and healing with them – right along with me.  Have a most whimsical-moon day!

 

 

 

The Pulse of our Farm

 

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”  –Rachel Carson

I recently realized that we have been living and working on our farm for just over a year now. Fourteen months, thereabouts. And as I look back on this past year, I find that I have learned how to accept and work with the rhythm of the seasons and this land.

I have learned how to watch the clouds move across the vast sky, how to feel the differences in the wind, and how to smell the air for moisture or electricity.  Yes, you can smell a thunderstorm as it marches its way across the fields, with low rumbles and crackles of lightning. Our chickens know even before I do that a storm is coming as they make their way to the coop attic, they cluck softly and move closer together.

I have learned how to watch the methodical movements of tractors and plows as the farmers begin preparing the fields for corn and soybean in early spring. I wait and watch for the first bursts of grass-like shoots as the corn pokes through the dirt in their gently curving rows and often check their height as the corn grows quickly in the hot sun. When I notice the first combine (reaper/thresher) tediously make its way down our narrow country road, I know that summer is coming to an end and it is time to harvest.

It won’t be long before the air takes on a crispness like that first taste of fresh-pressed apple cider and the sun light mellows and softens. Pumpkins, nuts, and pears replace the berries, greens, and zucchini at the farmer’s market and I find myself wearing socks and sweaters again. (Barefoot or clogs is my normal footwear during the summer.) The frantic buzz of summer on the farm slows and outside chores reflect the quiet of the gardens and the calm preparations for winter.

The first few snowflakes trigger excitement and childlike glee (yes, I admit to crazy giggling when it first snows) as we scurry around the farm tightening doors and latches, turning over the last of the dried vegetable stalks, and covering the compost pile. We check the seals on the windows of this old farmhouse and make sure the propane tank is full for what I now know will be a long winter season. My pile of books next to my favorite reading chair grows almost as tall as my favorite lavender bush and I check my supply of herbal teas and soup stock. Time to hunker down for the season and nest.

Even though it is now a warm, muggy evening in July, I reflect on the cycles of this farm and find myself feeling a sense of gratitude and comfort in fitting in with the natural rhythm here. I watch Sweetums, one of our farm cats, stalking a lightning bug and savor the creamy, tartly sweet black raspberry ice-cream we churned from berries Mindy picked around the edge of our property. Mosey, our St. Bernard proudly guards his newly found tree limb he has been dragging around the yard, and I prop my garden feet on a stool as I relax and savor the calm.

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of the human being.”  –Masanabu Fukuoka

 

 

 

Critter Crazy!

 

What is a farm without animals? For me, the chickens and the farm cats certainly lend themselves to my farm image, as well as our St. Bernard and two Chihuahuas. (Farm Chihuahuas, you know.) But I am finding this place includes many other critters calling this small herb farm their home.

Last week, while we were relaxing on the side porch just as dusk was darkening the sky, we heard the most interesting sound rustling from our nearby old Maple tree. We have watched red fox squirrels scamper across its branches, downy woodpeckers and nuthatches peck at its bark, and lightening bugs brighten its shadow, but this was a sound uniquely haunting. It took three of us several moments of searching with flashlights until we found a beautiful eastern screech owl looking agitated down on us. I’m sure we were quite a sight, gawking up at it with our mouths hanging open, dancing about excited at our discovery.

Mindy was able to snap a few photographs of our visitor before it got too dark. We felt blessed at this rare sighting as it flew silently away towards the back of the property. I have always loved owls since I was just knee high to a grasshopper and was pleased to have had this visitor.

The next evening when Mindy got home from work, she noticed the cats slowly circling around an object on our porch. She turned on the porch light and began excitedly yelling at me to grab the gloves and high-tail it over there. A very frightened, fluffy and angry baby screech owl was clacking its little beak at the cats as it was trying to find a safe place. Mindy gingerly picked it up with the leather gloves on and placed it in our critter cage while I wrangled cats away from the sweet baby.

We found a quiet, dark corner in our pantry safe from the cats and called the non-emergency sheriff’s department number. A kind operator gave us the phone number for the Department of Natural Resources who then guided us to the Indiana Raptor Center folks in Brown County, Indiana. The next morning, Mindy was able to deliver the baby owl to a knowledgeable veterinarian fairly close to us who would take care of it until the Rescue folks could pick it up. Last time we checked, the baby owl was doing fine with only ruffled feathers and a hearty appetite for filet of mouse. It was housed with other rescued owls and will be released as soon as it was mature enough to fend for itself.  We are proud owl caregivers.

We are also proud to report that we were able to watch the first gawky flight of the young robins who were nesting under the eaves of our porch. A few weeks ago we had suspected they were getting close to fledging and had kept the cats inside for several days until they were safely independent. Mastering flight is an amazing thing to witness!

We’ve spotted baby bunnies taking their first tentative forages beyond their nests (some of them straight into my vegetable garden), baby tree frogs clinging to herb pots on our front porch, and deer frolicking in the cornfield just to the west of us.

The chickens  continue to mature and fill out and we are looking forward to their first eggs sometime in late August early September. Dolly Madison, one of our Buff Orpingtons, keeps a close eye on all of the farm shenanigans near her coop.

I hope you are having a most whimsical day and enjoy this summer season!

 

 

 

Summer Daze!

 

It seems like we moved from a chilly, wintry April right into a hot, balmy Summer with only a shy nod at Spring. And with the humid, muggy heat of Summer comes the unexpected thunderstorms. In about the time it took me to feed and water the chickens and spread fresh straw in their coop, the sunny sky turned ominous and the wind began to whip out of the west. As I stood and watched the dark clouds move quickly across the cornfields, I noticed a slow circular momentum and decided it was time to high-tail it into the house.

I grabbed Kayla from her bedroom and moved her into our enclosed pantry and rousted Mindy from her nap. She noticed the locust trees practically touching the ground as they were bent over from the force of the wind. By the time we gathered the animals into the pantry the rain began pounding on the roof and hail was bouncing off the country road.

In the space of a few worried moments, the storm had moved through the area and the quiet of the gentle rain was a relief. We made our way outside to assess whatever damage may have occurred. The chickens were fine, although hunched tightly together in their ‘attic’ quietly bawking, and the two cats that were still outside had rode the storm resolutely. Their tails looked like bottle brushes, but they were unharmed.

We were fortunate as we only had a few trees down and piles of broken limbs and branches. Other homes in the area were not so lucky with damage to their roofs, fences, and large up-rooted trees.

The sunset that evening was breathtaking and glorious. We are often reminded of the beauty as well as the power of the Divine, momma nature, and our earth.

The next day we had plenty of help from the farm cats cleaning up the mess and even discovered a blooming wisteria vine that had been uncovered from the canopy of a fallen tree. Pookie-poo supervised from the comfort of her hay  bale and we now have a burn pile that rivals that of the Burning Man festival. Here’s hoping the wicker man doesn’t get any ideas.

Whimsical Moon Herb Farm is looking forward to the bounty of summer as the black raspberries ripen and the sweet corn and tomatoes continue to grow. The herbs enjoy this heat and I am thinking I may need to begin cutting some of them back and drying them for our herb crafts.

Check back with us again soon as we continue to grow our farm and our herb business. Have a most whimsical moon day!

 

Graduation Day!

 

Today is a BIG day! The ‘girls’ have graduated from our bathtub to their new chicken abode. They are both excited and nervous. I guess I am too! Mamie, Dolly, Jackie-O, Bess, Harriet, and Priscilla (yes, they are named after past president’s wives) are now full-fledged chickens, scratching in the grass and straw, roosting on their posts, and attempting to bwack and cluck like the dainty young ladies that they are. Okay, well maybe not so dainty, but they do attempt to strut around like sassy girl chickens showing off their new feathers.

The weather here in East Cornfield, Indiana has finally presented us with beautiful blue skies and warm, breezy days allowing us to get our gardens planted and some of my herbs potted. I was beginning to get concerned as the cold, wet forecasts were relentless, but the old-timers around here explained to me that it’s not unusual to plant your vegetables on Memorial Day. Sure enough, I will be planting the rest of my seed starts this week end and setting tomatoes out to harden off. Happy Memorial Day!

We have also been keeping an eye on a nest that a pair of robins built under the eaves of our side-porch roof. Both of the robins have been diligently taking turns sitting on the nest or feeding the babies scrounged worms and mealy bugs. Just this morning, the baby robins were big enough for us to take pictures of them poking their fuzzy little heads out with beaks wide open. We have been trying to be cautious while coming and going, as this is our main entry area, but it has been enjoyable listening to their peeps and watching the parents.

It sure feels good to get outside and work the farm after a long, tedious winter and wet, cold spring. Like my grandma True used to say, “blow the stink off” and that’s just what it feels like to me. The windows and doors are all thrown open, the porches cleaned off and lawn furniture brought out of storage, and work gloves and garden clogs are always at the ready as our growing season has finally blessed us.

Here’s hoping that everybody has a Whimsical Moon day!  BWACK!!

 

 

 

 

Still Clucking Along

 

It has been a few weeks since I have had an opportunity to sit down and write a new blog post, but Whimsical Moon Herb Farm is still clucking along.

The weather has been petulant and cranky in Central Indiana which has set our gardening endeavors behind schedule but I can still find signs that the season is moving forward.  The girls have grown considerably with their feathers coming in and their peeps becoming clucks. We picked up their new Coop-acabana from Tractor Supply last week and will be building their new home soon. They should be ready to move into their new digs about the time we have it ready for them.

The rangy kittens have become chaotic cats and keep a close eye on the weather as well. All four of them sit at the windows watching the wind and rain blow by, waiting for that moment they can prowl the farm and hang out in the barn.

The tulips and dandelions have mostly finished blooming and the California poppies and trillium are getting ready to flourish. My room-mate Mindy recently discovered wild trillium, also called wake robin, growing throughout the woods where she has been hunting for her prized morel mushrooms. We discovered trillium was a valuable healing herb for the native people in this area and I plan on creating an entire blog about this versatile and interesting medicinal in a future post.

In between stormy weather and tornado warnings, we have been able to at least get our garden area turned over and plan on planting as soon as the temperatures warm up once again. Tomato, pepper, and cantaloupe starts are ready to be hardened off in the cold frame and we plan on planting corn, beans, peas, squash, and salad greens just as soon as the sun shines warm on us again. All of the herb starts, including sage, thyme, chamomile, peppermint, and slow growing rosemary will have to wait for even warmer temperatures and will probably be hanging out in our tiny greenhouse for several more weeks.

Hope all of you are having a whimsical moon spring and green blessings to each and everyone of you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why an Herb Farm?

Last week I had an opportunity to catch up with a dear friend I’ve known since high school. We usually touch base on Christmas and birthdays, but my friend Pam (not her actual name) had called excited with the news of her forthcoming addition to her family. She was going to be a grandma and she was to the moon and back excited. I could hear the joyful exuberance in her voice and exclaimed how delighted I was for her.

She has been witness through many of my life incarnations including marriage, childbirth, having a developmentally delayed schizophrenic child, divorce, struggling single mom, and now farmer; and so we cheered her new life celebration and discussed my newest life stage.

Why an herb farmer?” she asked me, trying to understand what on earth I was doing.

I told her how I’ve always wanted to be a farmer, and she laughed agreeably reminding me how I always had my nose buried in Mother Earth News magazine or growing avocado trees from the pits in my windowsill, but she didn’t think I was actually serious.

She teased me about my “Lola Granola” status and then got back on the subject of her new grandbaby and when it was due to arrive. We ended our telephone conversation on a happy note, and promised we wouldn’t take so long to catch up again.

As I stood at the kitchen sink washing the dishes, I got to thinking about my friends question as I stared out the window overlooking our scrappy garden and wood lot. Why an herb farmer? Our farm’s four acres is tiny compared to the hundreds of acres of cultivated agri-corn and soybean that surround it. And that’s just how I like it. I prefer to focus on value rather than volume and find I enjoy the diversity of my small farm rather than a monoculture environment.

I’ve always known I wanted to become a farmer, and my vision has always included farmer as a lifestyle, not necessarily a job title. I formed an early relation with herbs, both growing them and using them for healing, cooking, and crafts. When I became an herbalist I recognized it as a calling, just like farming.

Combining my love of growing and using herbs along with growing vegetables, raising chickens and goats, and living sustainably just made sense to me. I didn’t see my farm and my herbs as being separate but more like a natural part of who I am.

As I consider the path my life has followed to where I am now, I realize that I have always been curious about alternative ways of doing things, whether learning herbal and homeopathic healing, birthing my last child at home with a midwife, or finding my spiritual relationship closely related to earth and nature, it makes perfect sense to me that I would grow an herb farm and call it Whimsical Moon. It’s foundation relies on alternative styles of farming (also known as traditional) including permaculture, sustainable soil practices, and raising animals naturally with plenty of space to thrive.

Herbs, as a market product have their own special niche and they appeal to a wide variety of needs and uses, including healing, crafting, and cooking. Working hard to make a living growing, gathering, and marketing herbs appeals to me on many levels. It fulfills my desire to live with the seasons and cycles of nature, to live as sustainably as possible, and to live with mindful intention focused towards healing and creativity.

So, why an herb farm? For me, it is a natural outgrowth of who I am and how I want to live my life. I enjoy the hard work of cultivating the herb gardens, learning the intricacies of marketing my herbal soaps, balms, and dream pillows, and writing about our experiences, both joyful and challenging.

Some of my favorite references include:

Carpenter, Jeff and Melanie. (2015) The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer

Schafer, Peg. (2011) The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm

Phillips, Nancy and Michael. (2001) The Herbalist’s Way

Soule, Deb. (2013) How to Move Like a Gardener

Back yard shenanigans.

Back yard shenanigans.

Our friendly neighborhood squirrel parked under the bird feeders enjoying the banquet of seeds and dried corn.

Mornings are a bit cooler these days and the leaves are beginning to turn. Pinecones drop at the slightest whisper of a breeze and birds are coming to the feeders in flocks now, preparing for the journey to their winter homes.

I spent some time cleaning out the raised garden beds today, getting them ready for late vegetable planting. I’m thinking maybe some garlic for next spring, carrots, spinach, kale, arugula, and a row or two of snap peas.

I think Autumn is my favorite season in the cycle. Looking forward to building a new scare crow to replace the weathered, raggedy one leaning forlorn against the fence. Crisp apple cider, warm vegetable soups, and fresh baked bread…fall is tasty.

It’s a Whimsical Moon day!

So much to do, where to begin? A sunny day with those hazy clouds rolling off the coast. The raised beds are beckoning me, “come weed us, please.”  Rosemary and peppermint bunches are hanging to dry in the kitchen, Echinacea tincture is ready to be  strained and bottled, and the cilantro seeds are ready to be harvested.  

But, here I sit, creating a new blog. I am excited to share my gardening, creativity, and simple living in tune with the seasons. I look over at my shelves lined with bottles, jars, and baskets full of dried herbs, tinctures, herbal soaps, and teas and feel a sense of calm and gratitude. I love working in my gardens, creating herbal goodies, and writing about the journey.

A downy woodpecker is pecking at the suet. A handful of house finches and chickadees are at the feeder. The morning is getting hotter and a warm breeze is stirring the wind chimes. The day is unfurling before me, must be time to get busy.

I look forward to returning often to this blog and sharing the whimsy.