Thursday, April 23, 2009

Herb Verb – Tracy Gauss & Beverly Gibson

First in Your Old House Workshop Spring Series

On April 6’09 the Landmark Society began its new season of the spring, Your Old House Workshop Series. The speakers for the first session were Tracy Gauss — owner of Herbly Wonderful, a gardening business dealing with culinary herbs, cut flowers and heirloom vegetables for past 10 years in Batavia and Beverly Gibson — The Landmark Society’s horticulturist for past 18 years and owner of garden and maintenance business Yankee Gardener in Rochester.

The evening started with Beverly’s primer on soil preparation for growing herbs. We all know that a house cannot stand without a solid foundation; similarly plants cannot grow without soil preparation. She talked about the various aspects of the soil that play a role when planting herbs, like texture, structure and PH value. She indicated that Rochester primarily has Clay and alkaline soils, which are perfect for growing herbs. She also talked about ways to amend soils that best suit the needs of your garden. This can mainly be done by three means: organic (adding compost/manure), mineral (sand, vermiculite, chicken grit) and synthetic (hydro gels). She identified organic as her preferred method because it tinkers least with nature.

Following Beverly’s primer was Tracy’s educative and informative session on culinary herbs that also have a medicinal value. It was a hands-on talk where everyone could touch and feel the herbs she brought with her. She mentioned that besides the typical uses of cooking, crafting, decorating and medicines, herbs can be used to make soaps, potpourris, chocolates and balms— the possibilities are endless.

She started with general soil and weather conditions for growing herbs followed by the description of each herb, its uses and particular growing conditions in alphabetical order. She mentioned over fifty herbs that can be grown in our weather conditions .She stated that herbs like well drained soils and sunny locations. Ninety percent of the herbs don’t like shade. They can be grown in little 6” pots and best way to water them is through down tray.

Besides the widely known herbs like basil, bay leaves, caraway, cilantro, dill, chives, fennel, lavender, marjoram, mint, parsley, rosemary and thyme, Tracy talked about the uncommon herbs like peppery arugula used for salads, healing herb anise hyssop, light fragrant chamomile used for pathways, winter savory similar to thyme used for jellies and meat dishes and the all pervasive sage.

She concluded her talk by the much debated herb Stevia, a sugar substitute which is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is the solution to diabetes in United States; it cleanses the pancreas, and does not spike the blood sugar level. The best way to use it is by soaking in water for ten minutes and then using the liquid as a sweetener. This mixture can be stored in refrigerator for two weeks.

Being an Indian it was very interesting for me to see how the age old theories like ayurveda (the science of life) – a system of traditional medicine native to India for hundreds of centuries, has seeped into the Western World, just the same way that Yoga has become such an integral part of American healthy living. It is somewhat surprising that in the present day ironically a large number of Indians have forgotten much of this wonderful information.

The talk was extremely successful and had as many as sixteen attendees. The audiences were highly appreciative of the speakers and were happy that they gathered such useful information. We look forward to similar enthusiastic attendance for many of the upcoming series as well as constructive comments and feedback.

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate

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