Herbalism gives one the opportunity to observe and experience the vast interconnectedness of all life. A basic principle of herbalism is the concept of wholism - the perspective that each organism or person operates as a complex system of interacting components, all of which are necessary for the organism to function toward well-being and not one of which will act in the same way if separated from the whole. In other words: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This theory is a guide that the clinical herbalist employs while finding the unique remedy best suited for a particular person, when considering the many variables that influence the specific ways their symptoms may be manifesting.
Certainly anyone who is in a practice of living naturally or pursuing alternative health in some way is likely to find themselves in a garden at one point or another. My own path toward community herbalism began in the garden 20 years ago. A direct connection to the plants themselves has deepened my understanding of medicinal plants and has informed my work while teaching, creating products, helping customers or giving herbal health consultations. Similarly to the way an herbal remedy is identified by looking at a person’s specific environmental influences, we must consider the quality of medicinal plants when creating a remedy and in doing so we recognize that a plant’s health in the garden is directly reflected in its medicinal potency and its healing capacity.
Currently, Meristem Herb Co. gardens in Blue Hill are home to dozens of varieties of medicinal plants. Over the past 3 years my partner Jason and I have been reclaiming old, overgrown pasture, improving the soils and cultivating herbs, flowers, fruits, trees and vegetables. We are committed to stewarding the land and soil by making choices to grow chemical-free gardens using less petroleum and with as small of a carbon footprint as possible. We are also very interested in preserving old skills and re-learning the ways of doing things by hand, slower and with less mechanization resulting in a more direct interaction with the land and soil.
Each year we grow herbs to dry and process into teas, to tincture fresh or infuse in oil. Last season we were able to produce about 25% of the herb material that went into teas, skin care products, infused honeys, fire cider and elderberry syrup. We have a goal of steadily increasing that percentage by slowly but surely growing more of what we can grow here in Maine. We have consistently found that the quality of what we can produce ourselves is far better than even the best large organic wholesale supplier. We believe small-scale, artisanal hand-crafting produces authentic products and that is what we are going for.
Our 2 acre land base contains several microclimates which allow us to grow all the classic mediterranean sun-loving herbs such as lavender, sage, rosemary and thyme; along with native woodland, shade-dwellers like black cohosh and goldenseal, and the understory climber schisandra. One of our favorites, schisandra is a medicinal perennial vine which produces beautiful clusters of adaptogenic red berries. It is one of the tangy flavors found in the ‘Super-C Herbal Tea’ and we are expecting to see our first harvest this season. ‘Cold Care Tea’ features our own elecampane root and thyme. ‘Womens Tea’ and ‘New Mom & Baby’ contain our own motherwort, milky oats and lemon balm. At this point, all of the herbal tea blends we are making contain at least one ingredient that we produced. The moist wooded areas of the garden’s edge are home to an ever-expanding patch of elderberries. We are growing both the indigenous Sambucus canadensis and the European Sambucus nigra. The antiviral berries form both of these species are combined with our own anise hyssop in the cold and flu tonic ‘Sweet Elderberry Syrup’.
It is with great excitement in our hearts that we move toward spring, and with it, the beginning of another season in the herb gardens. Green Blessings!
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