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ELLSWORTH — Every summer you hang stalks of lavender you’ve harvested and snip calendula and echinacea blooms, some of which make it into a garnish for a post-gardening cocktail. But otherwise, you’re really not sure what else to do with the herbs you’ve grown.
Water is scooped for a healing bath of calendula, holy basil, cosmos and comfrey.
Herbalist and Avena Botanicals founder Deb Soule has written a book just for you: “The Healing Garden: Herbs for Health and Wellness” (2021, $25.95, Princeton Architectural Press).
“I really wrote this book especially for gardeners,” Soule said. “People grow flowers and herbs and don’t know what to do with them. For people who are considered herbalists, they already know how to do that, but gardeners don’t know. I really want to encourage gardeners to use this book as a resource.
“This book is my life’s work. I really want to encourage as many people to grow herbs as possible.”
“I love gardening,” she continued. “I love making medicine from plants. I love teaching and sharing what I love about plants.”
In her third, aptly named book, Soule spells out how to make a range of herbal medicines, how to create a drying room and how to harvest herbs. “The Healing Garden” is due out in April.
At age 25, Soule founded Avena Botanicals Apothecary and Biodynamic Garden in Rockport. At the time, she’d recently graduated from College of the Atlantic with a degree in human ecology.
“I knew nothing about business, I just knew I had a deep faith in the benefit of medicinal herbs,” she recalled.
That was 1985. Since then, Avena has grown into a destination for gardeners, nature lovers and those who appreciate herbal medicine. There are workshops and herb walks. Those too far away to visit can order online.
Bring herbs inside to dry before noon on hot summer days. Excess heat can destroy essential oils and valuable elements. A floor fan and dehumidifier help remove moisture from the fresh herbs.
Soule’s passion for plants began as a young girl in the Oxford County town of South Paris. Her grandmother, who lived with the family, would walk Soule through meadows and fields, pointing out, among other things, trailing arbutus (mayflower), wild strawberries and apple trees.
“She had a heightened sensitivity to the beauty of the natural world, especially with birds,” Soule said. “She was my first teacher.
“Especially in the spring, she would have places she would take me to meet some of the spring flow
ers. She never taught me the name of the bird, but she instilled into me a curiosity and a respect. I already had in me, from that young time, a curiosity and a respect for plants.”
“I was 15 when I was given that book,” Soule said. “It totally inspired me to start my own garden.”
To make a fresh plant tincture, Soule places whole flowers such as coneflower, leaving a few inches of head room (Echinacea). Fill the jar to the top with 100 proof (50 percent) organic alcohol.
The book “Common Herbs for Natural Health” by Juliette de Bairacli Levy sparked her interest too.
“When I read that book, I wanted to learn everything I could about healing plants,” Soule said. “I was still a teenager.”
She also read Adele Dawson’s “Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Herbs.”
“That book really inspired me,” Soule said.
Then there were people Soule met who influenced her.
“An old man gave me room in his garden to start growing vegetables,” she related.
A year later, she met the herbalist Steven Foster, who reinstituted the herb gardens in the Shaker Village at Poland Springs.
Soule was one of the early students at COA. She spent the first half of her senior year in Nepal, where she was exposed to herbal medicine and ayurvedic medicine.
“I was very fortunate as a young person to be exposed to two very ancient systems of healing with plants,” Soule said.
“The Healing Garden” includes an extensive section on herbs to grow for healing. These are all plants that she says are easy to cultivate in Zone 5 and ones that she herself has grown for years.
In high summer, calendula, lemon bergamot, goldenrod, berries, lemon verbena and nettle are ready to harvest.
If you’ve never had your hands in soil before, but really want to start gardening — like the rest of pandemic America — Soule suggests finding a gardener to work alongside before starting your own.
“I usually encourage people to spend time in gardens,” said Soule. “Visit some different gardens, ideally, which is what happened for me, spend time with another gardener.”
For gardeners who would like to grow beyond vegetables and culinary herbs, Soule suggests planting anise, hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and calendula (Calendula officinalis). She also recommends coneflower (Echinacea) and bee balm (Monarda didyma).
“Calendula is a beautiful flowing annual,” she said. “You can just keep collecting the flowers.”
Soule said the bees love anise hyssop, which will reseed in the garden.
“I really want to encourage growing both the red-colored bee balm and the purple,” said Soule. “They are perfect as a tea, especially in wintertime, for preventing colds and flus.” And the bees love them.
For someone who has grown basil, try growing holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorumor) or Tulsi, which is the Sanskrit name.
“Nip it every week and dry for tea,” Soule said.
Soule learned about holy basil when she bought seeds from Fedco 30 years ago.
The company was selling holy basil as sacred basil. “I thought any plant worthy of being called sacred is worth paying attention to.”
Princeton Architectural Press sought out Soule to write the book. Acquisitions Editor Jan Hartman was given Soule’s name by another medicinal herb farmer.
“They were looking for a book that had a strong focus on drying herbs,” she said.
“The editor that I worked with was fantastic,” Soule said. “It was such an easy and supportive experience.”
The book has color photos on nearly every page. Molly Haley, a freelance photographer based in Maine, shot all the images, working closely with Soule. The pair worked on the book through 2019.
Soule and Haley even helped with the book’s layout.
“We were asked to match each photograph with the content of the book,” said Soule. “It was an amazing process to me being able to see how the book was being laid out.”
The book was largely written pre-COVID-19.
“The really heavy writing was done last winter, and it was pretty much done by March,” said Soule.
To learn more about Deb Soule and Avena Botanicals, visit avanabotanicals.com.
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
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