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Herbalist's Journal > MAY 2011

"But each Spring.....a gardening instinct, sure as the sap rising in the trees, stirs within us. We look about and decide to tame another little bit of ground."

         ~ Lewis Gantt




May is what we have been waiting for! There will be a few more snows and cold nights, but the sun stays longer, the days a little warmer, the Daffodils are in full bloom, the birds have all returned and every day offers a bit of time to garden....there is no going back now!"


May 1 ~ Today was perfect grdening weather and the day of reckoning we face every year---will the lawnmowers start?? They did and the gentle taming of our wild property began for the season.  I like to do the first mowing all by myself as I can scout out all the wild Mullein, my Hollyhocks, random patches of chickweed, gallium or ground ivy and baby burdock. If I mow around them, by the next mowing, my husband will know where NOT to go. However, today, we both mowed and I was very pleased to find, after 31 years, he knows what all these plants look like in their emergent state. Tomorrow, I will have to make a trip to the liquor store to buy my summer's supply of Vodka for tincture making---I will be making several this week alone.

May 2 ~ Lessons Learned----most years, on the first nice days of early April we all rush out and start gardening, but I have gradually learned (though am sometimes seduced into old habits) that an early start just means more work with very little return in terms of garden output. Who needs one or two more mowings or weedings? So, today, I weeded out my beds for the first time this year instead of the ususal second time---which has left me more time to plan, procrastinate, do other things....procrastinate.......A good garden comes from a happy gardener and I do believe that gardening should not be a stressful endeavor. Relax--whatever is important to you in YOUR garden---WILL get done.

May 3 ~ This week is National Herb Week ---if you are just beginning to explore herbs, really dig in this week, buy a plant, make a tasty herbal recipe. If you are an old herb afficianado, learn something outside your knowledge zone.  This is the week I usually start teaching classes. I like to begin when the garden looks fairly barren, so students can watch it mature and change over the course of the summer months. Looking at my gardens today, many beloved herbs still  look dead--like sage and lavender--and I wouldn't dare put my greenhouse, overwintered rosemary outside quite yet as the weather calls for a few nights this week in the low 30s. But.......in two short weeks, EVERYTHING will be greening and growing like mad. It really is quite miraculous.

May 6 ~ Bought plants yesterday and today got to work digging burdock. I put up a quart of tincture and then proceeded on to the same amount of Yellow Dock tincture. Every day will be a new medicine making opportunity for the next several weeks. Tomorrow, Nettles will be tinctured, dried and EATEN!

May 7 ~ Asparagus is coming in for 3 pickings per week.

May 8 ~ My husband and grandson made a delicious asparagus omelet for Mother's Day.

May 9 ~ Gardening must be like having a baby--you totally forget all the bad stuff and leap into the endeavor again.....and again. I am astounded how overwhelmed I am every March and early April when I take a cursory look around and see what needs to be done. Then, I panic because I know there won't be the time or energy to get it all done.  I make a few stabs at it when weather permits and am usually MORE downhearted. Then, time DOES get away  and I turn around and it is May........and lots of the work I THOUGHT I would have to do , sort of takes care of itself. For instance, I like to get the leaves out of th efront yard where all my early spring/shade bloomers are, but if I leave it, the plants actually stand up straighter, do better if we have late snow/frosts/heavy rain and the leaves just disappear into the soil--of course leaving it more rich. New plant growth is the great disguiser of old stalks and drab areas. There are always things that absolutely do need to be done every year--but the garden is fairly forgiving in terms  of timing--except for pruning back rose bushes! so, today, I went out to get things done, looked around and found I had a lot more time to just relax and enjoy my fleeting Fritillaria and Bloodroot than I thought. So, as opposed to what I wrote in the May 2 entry, some important things may not get done after all, but it turns out alright in the end anyway.

May 10 ~ The weather is perfect for harvesting--sunny (for more than one day at a time), coming on toward the full moon, not too hot/not too cold. I have been able to harvest chickweed, made pesto out of garlic mustard, Heal All, Gallium.........I would love to gather some blackberry roots, but my bridge was washed out in the floods of a few weeks ago and it won't be fixed in time for this year's harvest---but I hope it is fixed before elder flowers  bloom.

I was finally able to get my tiller started and the ground was dry enough to work--but since it is a bit late, Dandelions have taken up residence in the garden plot--so I had to decide whether to plow them under, or to delay tilling/planting another day or so while I gather dandelion flowers to make wine. In years past,  my kids gatherd them--it is more tedious than you could imagine, to get a 1 gallon jar full of them--with NO stems/leaves. I decided to forgo it his year--and have my grandson take over that job NEXT year.

May 11 ~ Got many fuschias and hung them on my porch--which is my summer living room. Within minutes, a hoard of Hummingbirds were buzzing about.  While I put out my Hummer feeder several days ago, to their delight.....they gave it no notice today at all--obviously prefering natures perfect hummingbird food from the strange/beautiful fuschia flowers --that have always looked to me like tiny ballerinas. You can always mimic nature, but never, improve upon it.

May 12 ~ Woke up with a stuffy nose--without having any other cold symptoms. As I sat down at the computer to write today's Journal entry, I looked out the window (which is at the level of the top of my maple tree), there was my maple--in full bloom. Time for the neti pot and a huge pot of nettle tea.

What I was going to mention today is that I am coming upon my first harvest of the Rhubarb I planted 3 years ago and have three recipes to try. The typical pie, as an ingredient in a fruity ice cream and as a sweet sauce to put on pound cake or ice cream--or as part of a parfait. Along with asparagus, fiddleheads  and the garlic mustard, these  early spring plants are all rather "rich"--only a little bit can be tolerated at a time--too much of any can cause  a lot of peeing/pooping--evacuation--which is their spring tonic function. But, moderation allows us to enjoy them while they help heal us instead of being overwhelmed and uncomfortable.

May 14 ~ I am getting kittens soon, but am not relishing 4 rampaging critters in the house (Yes, 4 is too many, but there are a lot of gophers, voles, mice, shrews and other assorted pests on this 45 acres)---so, I am thinking of raising them with extensive help from Valerian. As opposed to Catnip--which cats love, but end up sort of in a bad mood, Valerian just makes them calm and sleepy--they never fight with each other---or go running through the house breaking my teacups and climbing up curtains......... Herbs work in so many ways!!

May 16 ~ IF the weather ever gets better and I get a chance to plant seeds/seedlings and transplant, I vow to garen a bit differently this year. Your gardening style  reflects what is going on in your life and last year for me was CHAOS and my garden certainly reflected that. The harvest wasn't bad--but it looked awful. In my soul, I believe equally in form AND function, so to me, last year was a low level failure. In the past, my tendency is toward sentimentality and being a minimalist. So, my gardens were pleasant, functional, tidy, but never formal or pristine. Sometimes, this led to not getting full harvest possibilities and  a quicker decline in blooms. This year, I am feeling the backlash of last year's mess, plus I am menopausal.......so I feel more no-nonsense. Whereas I used to almost never cut back plants after blooming, this year, I am gong to be more on top of the ebbs/flows of the plant cycle and snip/cut back/divide and see if I can get an extended  garden season, maybe another harvest (or two) from some plants. In other words, I feel the need for more control. Part of me doesn't like that, but I will give myself a pass this year because I know that in exchange for more productivity and harsh pruning, I still will garden biodynamically as much as possible and organic, always and that I will always be grateful when I tend them and am harvesting......and, for many tamed plants, all the extra attention makes them stronger/healthier and longer lived.

May 18 ~ After a two week delay, my lilacs are in full bloom. To smell real flowers in bloom is the ultimate herbal remedy--for EVERY sort of illness. Breath deeply!!

May 20 ~ Enough rain has and is falling to avoid working outside today, so I am making more herbal tonics and refreshing my facial oils. If you are spending lots of money as you age on anti-wrinkle creams, you can stop. Simply buy several oils of your choosing (a combibation of 4 is nice). These are the ones I use: rose oil, Avocado, meadowsweet, aloe, Almond, olive, shea...... I don't use all of them at once. Rather, as one batch is done, I mix up 4 others--always changing them up a bit. There is no real recipe---just feel & smell the oils and decide which you like most and best and add them together to your liking. Keep in a squeeze bottle and put 3-4 drops on your fingetips, rub both hands together a few times before applying to a DAMP face. The initial rubbing prevents your face from looking oily. Massage oils into skin gently but firmly until signs of oilyness are gone which also helps build collagen  and facial muscles and brings a natural glow by increasing circulation.  I also have a new batch of herb magazines to read........with a nice cup of tea.

May 22 ~ Two days in a row of sun and being outside!!! Lots of gardening got done--and there is 4 times as much yet to do, but working amidst blooming, fragrant flowers is delightful---especially if I keep a pitcher of lavender lemonade on the porch for quick rest periods.

I had to buy  more Sage plants this year as I was lax in taking cuttings to start new plants. There are several plants that can be done with--rosemary, thyme, lavender........but keeping them on a windowsill for months at a time can be annoying. The greenhouse should help with that chore tremendously. In the meantime, I bought a few more plants--I have never had quite enough sage to use/dry/tincture for medicines and culinary purposes---but I will keep on top of my supply issues! Woody plants such as these will die out from the center after several years and need to have cuttings taken to renew it(cloning)---the rooted cuttings also are welcome gifts for most occasions.

May 23 ~ While always a bit frantic to get the gardens underway and make the property look nice this time of year, I am usually half crazed, very on edge and  nobody likes to be near me!!!! Since getting into the herb business and teaching classes in my gardens years ago, I always felt that students were not only paying for information, but also for the surroundings of herb gardens and a nicely kept homestead. This week in May is when I normally start classes and all my time since April is consumed with making it all look perfect. Over the last several years, that got harder as family committments got more cumbersome, but the place always looked nice by the morning of the first class. THEN, I could enjoy my property too. This year, I am not teaching, but my body memory is still a bit tense, since the last 21 years all my energy/time/thought went into preparing everything......so I have been stopping myself a lot this spring...reminding myself that this year, the gardens are for me and the occasional visitor and family. They (I) do not need to impress, they simply can be enjoyed at my own pace. Luckily,  some of my roses are just about ready to smell....... and gather. This year, what I do--or don't get done will be for me and for the benefit of the gardens.

May 24 ~ Gardening with children is the ONE most educational activity.....period! My grandson, at 5 1/2, has a small little plot he started last year, but we are giving him a corner of our garden to expand into this year--because he has "bigger plans" as he told us the other day. Yesterday, we started small with him improving his "hoe skills", put in some corn and sunflowers (as the first step in a Three Sisters garden of corn/pumpkins & squash and beans--planted at different times to allow the sunflowers/corn to grow enough to eventually act as supports for the beans, while the prickly squash vines provide critter and weed control), and replanted a potato from last year that was missed, but it now sprouting--and a perimeter of onion sets to keep gophers/rabbits out of the seedlings. He had to identify the path of the sun to figure out where to plant the tall plants in relation to the shorter plants, learned why the smell of certain plants discourages garden pests, understood why we did not have to water after planting because a storm was coming to do that job for us, learned why we had to put in markers  until the plants came up so we would not double plant and would know where to weed. He planned out the meal he could make once everything was ready to harvest, and remembered th e task of always putting away tools--for care and safety reasons. The whole episode took less than 1/2 hour, but was a complete physical, mental and emotional ( he was very proud of himself) act that taught the value of planning, hard work, self reliance, nutrition, animal behavior and basic science. I gave him a summer journal that has pages which are blank on top and lined below, so he can write and draw what he did that day. And of course, the whole time provides a quiet space for questions, thoughts and rememberances about lots of things.   Then I mentioned that lots of people-- me included, felt that good food was also good medicine--which made him laugh and say that his cough syrup wasn't food----and then I told him his cough syrup was made from plants and honey--bee food!. He looked at me---and got it. It is much easier to teach a child about nature as a sustainer and healer on an intuitive level--and have them trust it, than to reach an adult who  has learned to distrust nature. Participation in your own health is something you never forget.

May 25 ~ In choosing what flower seeds to start this summer, I remembered my grandmother's flower garden and hearing her say: "I have to plant "my" Zinnias today"..... and she loved Sweet Williams (dianthus). so I chose to concentrate on a large variety of zinnias--hoping to end up with some of the same ones she had. They are doing well in the greenhouse and I have the small cutting garden they will go in along with some cosmos, bachelor buttons and coleus. Yesterday, I happened upon an article that says this year has been designated as "The Year of the Zinnia" by the National Garden Bureau. What Providence! What I remember is that as a child, I hated Zinnias as they looked really bright and garish--they have too much going on--big petals, a  small circle of flowers in the center and then smaller ones inside that--all different colors--and they are tall and in your face! But as I get older, I have come to like those bold flowers. Anyway, Zinnias come from Mexico and the Spanish found them and called them "mal de ojo"---Evil eye----so I'm not the only one that thought they looked odd. If you are so inclined, try Zinnias this year--along a wall that may be unsightly or a neglected corner of the yard you want to reclaim. They are tall and take up a lot of room---like a loud, bossy relative who is staying for the summer, so give them wide berth---but do enjoy them for their complete whimsy and absurd, over the top appearance. They will make you laugh--and maybe you will say to yourself, "I remember these in my grandmother's garden"--which will make you happy and nostalgic. Laughter and fond memories are some of the best medicine.

May 27 ~ I  FINALLY harvested my Rhubard for the first time and made a really yummy Cobbler.

May 28 ~ I have a bumper crop of Heal All this year--and Plantain and they are both ready for harvest. 
I like to add both to many formulas because they are non-toxic and nutritious and aid the digestive tract in various ways, so making a medicine metabolize better and just improves one's digestive health in general. niether has a taste, so they are great in teas-----and also as compresses for any skin condition


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