Ever since I can remember I have loved the color green. Long before I knew that a magical woodland garden existed in my home town of South Paris, Maine, I sensed something special was happening behind a particular fence I passed on my way to school. Each morning as I gazed out the school bus window I would strain to see beyond that fence, eager for a glimpse of a flowering plant or a fairy or gnome. Years later, as a young woman, I returned to walk in this garden, which a man named Bernard McLaughlin1 had begun planting in 1936. On several occasions I had the honor of observing this old and wise gardener at work, quietly bent over a patch of bloodroot or primroses or hauling a wheelbarrow full of weeds.
I never spoke with Bernard directly. I came to his garden to breathe in the sweetness of the 50 varieties of lilacs he had planted and sip the nectar of their delicate flowers. It was here in Bernard’s garden that I first began touching plants and paying attention to color, texture, and fragrance. As a young gardener, touch became one of my most important gardening tools, one that with years of daily practice shaped my development as a gardener.
I didn’t come to gardening by way of reading books. Like many gardeners, I fell in love with the tasks and patience required — planting seeds, waiting, watching, watering, listening, praying. I learned, and keep learning, by working and being in the garden, day after day, season after season, and year after year. Thirty-eight years later, as I approach the age of fifty-three, my passion for gardening is deeply rooted in my love of nurturing seeds and soil, watching hummingbirds arrive in spring, feeling a gentle summer rain on my face, and waking to the sweet sound of singing birds.
The early morning songs of birds remind me of nuns and monks chanting. Always in my mind is the memory of when I lived in a small Nepalese village in 1980 and was awakened at dawn by the sound of Tibetan gongs calling the nuns and monks to meditation. Nepal is where I first encountered herbalists praying and chanting while making medicines, their fingers carefully mixing, rolling, and shaping green- and sepia-colored balls of herbs while they repeated healing prayers and mantras. It was during my second visit to Nepal that an 86-year-old Ayurvedic doctor gave me a prayer to say before collecting herbs. This prayer, which I repeat seven times before gathering herbs, binds me to the sacred and ancient task of collecting and preparing plants for medicine.
As a young woman my interest in gardening coincided with two deeply felt longings. First was a longing to understand what being a woman meant to me. The second was a longing to relearn the ancient tradition of using plants for healing. Noticing the womanly shapes of flowers, burls on trees, and soft mounds of moss awakened my senses. The flavors of fresh rosemary, lavender, and linden flowers intrigued my palate. A conversation with Steven Foster, the herb gardener at a Shaker village in Maine, encouraged me to plant herbs in my vegetable garden. And the gift of Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s book, Common Herbs for Natural Health, ushered me into the vast and magnificent world of medicinal plants.
My 1978 copy of Juliette’s book sits torn and tattered, well-loved, in a library overflowing with books on biodynamics, pollinators, meditation, and herbs. Juliette’s devotion to medicinal plants and my own experiences in Nepal inspired me to create Avena Botanicals’ healing gardens and herbal apothecary in 1985.
After all these years, it is still the call of a raven, the taste of a bitter root, the glimpse of a hummingbird’s shimmering body and the smell of a sweet rose that guide me to pay attention, breathe fully, look deeply, and give thanks for the beauty and mysteries life presents.
Footnote: In 1936 Bernard McLaughlin began planting what would become one of Maine’s most beloved gardens. A century-old Maine farmstead with massive stone walls and a huge barn provided a unique background for his sophisticated collection of trees, woody shrubs, and perennials. Bernard welcomed visitors to the garden whenever the gate was open, creating a true mecca for garden enthusiasts. With no formal horticultural training, tending the garden single-handedly for most of his life, he eventually became known as the “Dean of Maine Gardeners.” Bernard McLaughlin died at age 98 in 1995. Visit the McLaughlin Garden & Homestead in person or online. www.mclaughlingarden.org
The following piece on Rose is excerpted from Chapter 5-Growing, Harvesting, and Using Medicinal Herbs. This chapter describes how to grow, gather and use twenty of my favorite medicinal plants.
Latin names: Rosa rugosa, R. damascnea, R. centifolia, R. gallica
Common name: rose
Place of origin: R. rugosa is originally from China. It
has naturalized itself along the coast of Maine.
Part used: flowers (whole), petals, hips
Energy of flowers: cool and moist
Cultivating: This hardy perennial prefers full sun and well- drained soil. The easiest way to establish Rosa rugosa plants is to purchase them from a reputable organic rose grower or nursery. Once planted, be sure to mulch the roses with straw, seaweed, or organic buckwheat hulls. We use straw in our circular rose garden and seaweed and organic buckwheat hulls along our hedgerow of roses (organic buckwheat hulls are available through FEDCO). Buckwheat hulls work well as a mulch and are easy to apply early in the spring once the roses have been pruned. I learned to be bold when pruning Rosa rugosa from an experienced gardener and permaculturist, Lauren Cormier, who learned rose pruning from her mother. In early April we cut our shrubs back by half. This amount of pruning encourages the roses to produce an abundance of flowers.
Collecting: Avena’s roses begin blooming in mid-June. Collecting rose petals early in the morning when the air is still is one of my favorite garden tasks. The ruby-throated hummingbirds are often darting about the rose garden at dawn. Our roses bloom continuously for almost 4 weeks. Every day there are hundreds of new blooms to pick. If there have been a few foggy or rainy days when we cannot collect roses, then I nip the spent blossoms to encourage the plants’ further blooming. We prepare over 15 gallons of fresh rose petal elixir and dry as many petals as we can collect before the Japanese beetles emerge in July. (Instead of attacking the beetles with a fearful, disgusted, or warlike mentality, I am attempting a biodynamic approach of ashing the beetles. Visit the Josephine Porter Institute’s website for more information on ashing “pests.” There are very specific astronomical times for using the ashing method).
I gather the rose hips in October after the first frost, cut them in half, and lay them out to dry on screens or in a food dehydrator. I enjoy rose hip tea, especially in winter, combined with fresh ginger root and red lycii berries.
Actions: antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, aromatic, astringent, carminative, decongesting, detoxifying, nervine
Digestion: The antimicrobial activity in rose petals helps resolve infections in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Its astringent and cooling properties reduce hyperacidity, heartburn, enteritis, and diarrhea. Rose petal tea helps heal mouth and gut ulcers. Anne McIntyre recommends using rose petals to clear toxins from the gut.
Gynecology: The cooling and decongesting qualities of rose petals help relieve uterine pain and spasms, uterine congestion, and heavy menstrual bleeding, and clear vaginal infections and inflammation. Roses reduce hot flashes and premenstrual and menopausal stress, including feelings of low self-esteem. Roses ease irritability and anger and help lessen painful symptoms associated with menstruation, endometriosis, and fibroids. A pure rosewater spray cools hot flashes, PMS heat, emotional agitation, red and irritated skin eruptions, and inflamed vaginal tissue. Rose petal elixir is a special remedy for a woman seeking to understand and explore her sexuality.
Immunity: Dr. Vasant Lad, an Ayurvedic doctor and author, recommends macerating fresh rose petals in honey or raw sugar for sore throats and for healing mouth sores. Rose petal tea, tincture, and elixir help clear excess heat and toxins from the body and resolve cold and flu symptoms. Rose hip syrup has traditionally been used by herbalists to prevent infectious colds.
Nerves: Roses relax the nervous system and ease nervous depression, anxiety, agitation, and impatience. David Winston recommends rose petals for people experiencing emotional trauma (including trauma-induced depression) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Roses soothe, calm, and comfort an unsettled and grieving heart. They gently open the heart and mind and inspire a feeling of love and compassion for oneself and others.
Skin: Rose petals cleanse and astringe the face; clear acne, skin blemishes, boils, abscesses, eczema, and psoriasis; and reduce inflamed eyelids (Pole, 2006, p. 252). Rosewater is my favorite herbal water to use after I cleanse and wash my face.
PREPARATION AND DOSAGE
Aromatherapy: A pure rose petal essential oil is uplifting and restoring to the heart and nervous system. The fragrance of rose helps lift depression; eases grief, sadness, and heart palpitations; and dispels physical and mental fatigue.
Glycerite: (1:3 or 1:5) I prefer to use fresh petals but dried can be used. Take 1⁄4–1⁄2 teaspoon, 2–3 times per day.
Honey: Completely fill a sterilized glass pint or quart jar with fresh rose petals and cover with raw honey. Let infuse for a month in a sunny window. The petals can stay in the honey indefinitely.
Infusion: Place 1–2 tablespoons of fresh or dried rose petals in 8 ounces of cool water and slowly warm. Turn off the heat and let infuse for 10–15 minutes, covered. The longer the petals infuse, the more bitter they taste.
Tincture: (1:3 or 1:5) I prefer to use fresh petals but dried can be used; 1⁄4–1⁄2 tsp, 2–3 times per day.
Rose Petal and Cardamom Cordial
1 cup fresh whole rose petals 1 tablespoon freshly chopped sacred basil leaves and flowers 1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds (not pods) Place the herbs in a clean glass quart jar and cover the herbs completely with brandy, approximately 2 cups and a bit more. Place a non-BPA plastic lid on the jar, label, and place in a cool cupboard for 2-4 weeks. Strain off the herbs using a funnel and unbleached cheesecloth. I let the liquid drip through the cheesecloth. Though I am tempted to squeeze the cloth, I don’t as squeezing fresh herbs creates a cloudy cordial. Sweeten with 1⁄2 cup of maple syrup, honey, or organic sugar.
“If you would have a lovely garden you should lead a lovely life,” is a Shaker quote long hidden in some deep cerebral crevice that leaped from my right brain as I turned each beautiful page of Deb Soule’s How to Move Like a Gardener. I nibbled at a few words which engaged my full attention. I couldn’t stop. I had to keep reading; then I returned back to each page to look again, to nibble words again. This garden of words, photos, thoughts, and feelings feeds my eyes, my mind, my spirit. I love this book. It expresses the wisdom of experience; tangible weaves with intangible—earth smells, memories, joy—beauty as it is. Here plants and people are not separate kingdoms, classes, and species. Within these pages we know that we are one family from one Mother. We are nature. Here we find the practical instructions on how to lead a lovely life in a lovely garden.
—STEVEN FOSTER, author, photographer, and consultant specializing in medicinal and aromatic plants
Deb Soule is overflowing with the healing wisdom of the plant world distilled through many years of study, experience and observation. Her reverence and respect for nature and deep intuitive capacities are evident in every page of this book. What a gift!
—ROBERT KARP, Director of the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association
Herbalist Deb Soule offers the reader a beautifully written, heart-centered gardening book that reads as much like a prayer as it does a practical guide for all gardeners, new and experienced; sure to awaken and inspire one to explore creative ways of tending the rich life held in a well-loved garden.
Weaving stories with sound advise, the author shares wisdom gleaned through years of cultivating not only soil and plants, but also her research and work with the pollinators, bio-dynamic practices and favorite tools used in growing simple herbal remedies to nourish the gardener as they heal the Earth. Honoring traditions, ances- tors and the sacredness of carrying on the work of the wise herbalists that came before us, Deb reminds us of the blessing of being called to this work!
—KATE GILDAY, Herbalist, Woodland Essence
Like one of Deb’s hummingbirds, hovering before the inviting maw of a nasturtium, the reader will find this book endowed with glorious offerings of rich nectar. It makes me want to go out and turn the compost pile, one steaming forkful at a time, while slowly chewing a dandelion leaf that protrudes from the corner of my mouth. Once again we find that by working within nature’s phantasmagoria of diverse life forms, us humans, unleashed from the tethers of telephones, traffic, and time, find ourselves a part of great nature, and in so doing, find freedom.
–Richo Cech, Horizon Herbs
This book is astounding! It is everything you want in a book about gardening; good solid practical advice, a spiritual connection to the earth, and visually beautiful. Deb has taken her twenty-five-plus years as a professional medicinal plant gardener, her life-time love of the earth and the plant people, and come up with something very special. This is a must-have book for anyone interested in gardening or the plant people. Run, walk, drive to the nearest book store and get a copy. I promise you this book will be well read, well worn, and well loved. –Karyn Sanders, Blue Otter School of Herbal Medicine
Way beyond food, flowers, or medicine, gardening as the mindful rhythm in harmony with all living souls.
—C.R. LAWN, FEDCO Seeds