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Q&A with Abby Artemisia, author of “The Herbal Handbook for Homesteaders”

Abby Artemisia

Abby Artemisia is a botanist, herbalist, and professional forager living in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. Raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, and with a degree in Botany from Miami University, Abby has since traveled the country learning about plants and herbal remedies. She teaches dozens of workshops every year on a wide range of botanical and herbal topics. She has previously run an herbal tea business, worked on organic farms, and spent years playing in the woods. Her mission is to offer nature and herbal education, creating healing through connection with the natural world and each other. In her latest book, “The Herbal Handbook for Homesteaders“, she offers readers a helpful compendium of herbal information and recipes for building health and tending to minor ailments out on the homestead. Read on to learn more and enter below to win one of two copies from Quarto Publishing Group!

The world of herbs can be overwhelming for those just getting started.  What approach do you recommend a newbie takes as they begin to immerse themselves?

It definitely can be overwhelming! What I always tell my students is to start slow. Get to know one plant really well first. Pick one that grows right outside your back door, in your garden, or in the woods down the street. Observe it through all the seasons, research it from multiple different sources, taste it, make tea and drink it multiple days in a row. Take time out to sit and notice how you feel. You can create a Materia medica (there’s a form for one in the book) that is like your own personal herbal reference compiled from other resources, and include how it effects you, and other information like it’s habitat, actions, contraindications, dosage, etc. Once you feel super comfortable with that plant, move onto the next one, taking your time to really get to know each one. It’s much more helpful to know ten herbs well than 100 herbs barely at all.

How does your book assist the reader on their herbal journey?

My book provides an easy introduction into the world of herbs for the beginner, or a good supplement for the more advanced student. It introduces them to cultivated and
wild herbs they may not know and leads them further along the path of herbs they may already know. One of my favorite things about the book is that it includes botany education. This is the area of knowledge I feel is most lacking in the herbal world today.
If you’re a gardener, knowing botany can be extremely helpful. If you’re a forager, knowing botany can be lifesaving. Along with the plant identification information this provides, the book also gives easy to use recipes for formulas every herbalist should
know, like teas, tinctures (alcohol extracts), and salves, including tips and tricks for making the formulas their most delicious, nutritious, functional, and long lasting.

Why is it important for us to learn about herbs?

Herbal education is a way of empowering ourselves with our own healthcare and that of our family, friends, and community. In a world where pharmaceuticals and healthcare become more and more expensive and inaccessible, and ailments become resistant to drugs like antibiotics, it’s comforting to know that there are remedies surrounding us for free or for the price of a seed packet. This takes us back to traditions that everyone used to know and practice and adds modern knowledge to it, making it a truly holistic form of healthcare.

Weeds seem to be the bane of a gardener’s existence.  But this doesn’t have to be the case according to your book.  What are some “weeds” that actually have intrinsic value?

There are so many! One of my favorites is dandelion. They are often cursed here in the USA, but they are actually cultivated in Asia because of their intrinsic value. Not
only do they break up compacted soil and provide one of the first foods for bees of the year, but also edible and medicinal. I love to fritter the flowers. The leaves and roots are wonderful in tea or tincture, as a bitters blend for digestion. They have been
shown to be a great liver tonic!

Another one that not many people know about is called ground ivy. It has a lot of names, like alehoof or creeping Charlie. It’s in the mint family, but doesn’t have a minty taste. It’s another great stimulating bitter. It’s also my favorite herbal decongestant in tea or an herbal steam and I have several students who’ve had good luck with taking the tincture for tinnitus.

How did you become interested in herbs?

The simplest answer is that I was allowed to play outside as a kid. That created wonder in me about the natural world. Then, I worked on organic farms, teaching me about growing the plants, and in health food stores, teaching me about their medicinal benefits, lived with a Native American family, where I learned more about the medicine of the herbs and their spiritual effects, and got a degree in Botany, giving me a good foundation of knowledge about plant identification and how they are related to each other.

What is one of your favorite herbal remedies and why?

My Basic Herbal Salve is one of my very favorite remedies, partly because it is so basic. It’s one of the most important and constant remedies in my first aid kit. It’s so versatile in its application, from scrapes, to bruises, bee stings and bug bites, to sprains and burns. It’s a remedy that I think everyone should know how to make and is easy enough for anyone to make. And as the name says, it is basic, so you can add other herbs to it for different effects, like pain relief, tendon and ligament repair, or even turn it into a lip balm (also in the book).

As your book illustrates, herbs can be utilized in a variety of ways.  What are some applications that people would be surprised to know?

Some people never think about giving herbs to their pets and farm animals. However, many animals respond very well to herbs. Things like herbal flea washes (there’s a recipe
in the book) can be very effective while at the same time, very gentle.

Also, I was excited to include the chapter Eating Herbal through the Seasons. I eat herbs just about every day, especially during the warmer seasons. The easiest way to
take our herbs is to eat them, and they can be delicious!

Enter to win one of two copies of The Herbal Handbook!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight (EST) on Sunday, May 5, 2019 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

Why do you want to embark on an herbal journey?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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Q&A with Shelley Levis, author of “Countertop Gardens”

Shelley Levis

Shelley Levis is a passionate horticulturist, speaker, writer, and garden designer. She is an editor and content creator for Urbanique magazine, a regular contributor to a variety of newspapers and magazines, and the voice behind the popular gardening blog Sow & Dipity. Her creative DIY garden projects have been featured in the Huffington Post, Fine Gardening and GreenCraft magazines, and other publications. In her latest book “Countertop Gardens“, Levis walks you through the challenges, benefits, and how-tos of growing inside and presents the wide array of methods available. Read on to learn more and enter below to win one of two copies from Quarto Publishing Group!

How did you develop an interest in countertop gardens?

Desperation breeds inspiration. Many years ago, my husband and I lived in a small 2 bedroom apartment with a tiny balcony. I wanted to grow vegetables and since I could not garden outdoors, I needed
to learn how I could produce food using the small indoor space I had. At that time, there was very few options for the home gardener to grow successfully indoors.

What is one of your favorite ways to grow edibles indoors and why?

I really enjoy using the Aerogarden device for edible flowers and herbs. It’s easy to use and the device lets me know when it needs water or fertilizer. In addition to the helpful reminders, the
device looks great on my countertop and I enjoy having fresh ingredients on hand when I’m preparing meals.

Is there something for everyone in this book, no matter the size of their kitchen, their ambition or their budget?

With so many growing device options available today, the most difficult decision is finding the right one for you. In the book I discuss what considerations
should be made when trying to decide which method would work best for anyone’s unique situation.

For those without a budget to buy a system – what are some clever and creative ways that you can grow edibles indoors?

There is a good chance that people may already have items in their home or kitchen that could be converted into a device that could grow edibles. Upcycling a shower caddy into a window planter for
herbs or using a soda bottle as a simple hydroponic planter are just a couple of examples of some easy DIY’s shared in the book.

It is stated that you personally tested all the devices featured in this book, which is a lot of devices.  Which brings up this question: Did this journey to help others with “no space gardening” leave you with “no space” in your home?!!!

This question makes me laugh because it is true that every countertop and shelf in my home became a garden! Lights and hydroponic pumps were clicking on and off at all hours and some household items
had to be packed up for about a year while I trialed so many devices at one time. While some of the spaces in my home have returned back to normal, others are still dedicated indoor growing areas.

What are you currently growing in your countertop gardens?

I’m always growing herbs, microgreens and sprouts on the kitchen counter. For me, edible flowers are a must throughout winter since I love having spring blooming by my coffee pot on cold dreary days.
The office bookshelf is a permanent home to kale and Mesclun greens which take longer to grow, but since I succession plant these vegetables, they are ready for eating every other week. All of these edibles and the devices I use are featured in my book, Countertop
Gardens.

Enter to win one of two copies of Countertop Gardens!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight (EST) on Sunday, April 28, 2019 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

What would you like to grow in a Countertop Garden?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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Q&A with Lee Reich, author of The Ever Curious Gardener

Lee Reich PhD, dove into gardening decades ago, initially with one foot in academia as an agricultural scientist with the USDA and then Cornell University, and one foot in the field, the organic field. He eventually expanded his field to a “farmden” (more than a garden, less than a farm) and left academia to lecture, consult, and write. He is author of many books including Weedless GardeningThe Pruning Book, and Landscaping with Fruitas well as a syndicated column for Associated Press. In his latest book “The Ever Curious Gardener” Reich helps gardeners who seek to understand the science behind all things gardening. Read on to learn more and enter below to win one of two copies from New Society Publishing!

Tell us about your experience in the gardening world and how those experiences contributed to this book.

I came from suburbia without any gardening or agricultural background. But in my early 20s I dove into gardening, entering graduate school in soil science and horticulture and gardening like a mad man. I went on with one foot in academia, working as an agricultural scientist with the USDA and Cornell University, and one foot in the field, the organic field. Eventually, my garden was expanded to a farmden (more than a garden, less than a farm) and I left academia to lecture (garden clubs, master gardener conferences, flower and garden shows, botanical garden symposia, and USDA conferences), consult, and write. My academic underpinnings, and an appreciation for natural systems, continues to underpin what I do with the soil and my plants.

How does this book make for a better gardener and a more resilient gardener?

Knowing what’s going on “behind the scenes” in the soil and your plants lets you know just what to do under changing conditions, whether the change is the environment of your garden or you re-locate to a new garden. Even how to adjust for, say, a wetter summer or a colder winter.

Given that you are an ever curious gardener, what new surprising things have you learned since the writing of this book?

I began thinking about this book and jotting down words many years ago. I learned many things as I researched and wrote but it was over the course of such a long time period, it’s hard to remember what I didn’t know before writing.

What inspired you to write this book?

The inspiration for this book came to me one day as I was piling scythed meadow hay and horse manure, along with old vegetable plants and sprinklings of soil and dolomitic limestone, into one of my compost bins. I realized that what I was adding to the pile and how much of each ingredient, even how I fluffed them up or patted them down with my pitchfork, and then watered, all reflected what I had learned over the past 40-plus years of gardening. My classrooms have included actual classrooms; gleanings from magazines, books, and scientific journals; conversations with other gardeners and agricultural scientists; and (most importantly) the garden itself.

When you receive feedback about your book, what do your readers say are some of the biggest mind blowing factoids they uncovered as they read your book?

The way cold can stimulate seeds to grow. The way merely bending the branch of a fruit tree can influence the growth and fruitfulness of that branch.

Sometimes, books based on the science of anything can run the risk of being boring. How do you keep things light and fun and keep your readers engaged?

With some humor and, I hope, my particular writing style. Sub-headings in each chapter lend the sections a humorous twist, something I borrowed from Henry Fielding’s “Tom Jones.” Not a source of borrowing for most gardening books!

I’m sure there is more science to be revealed in the world of gardening. Are any book sequels in the works?

I’m still in recovery.

Enter to win one of two copies of The Ever Curious Gardener!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight (EST) on Sunday, April 21, 2019 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

When it comes to gardening, what are you most curious about?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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Q&A with Nina Pick, author of “The Gardener Says”

Nina Pick is a poet, editor, and teacher who is passionate about exploring questions at the intersection of spiritual ecology and depth psychology. She is the author of two chapbooks, À Luz and Leaving the Lecture on Dance, and has been an editor at the Inverness Almanac, the New Farmers Almanac, and Princeton Architectural Press. She also conducts oral histories on Yiddish and Jewish identity. She lives outside New York City with  a growing family of potted ferns, her partner, and a cat.  In her latest book, The Gardener Says: Quotes, Quips and Words of Wisdom“, Pick offers quotes that highlight both the joys and challenges of gardening. Read on to learn more and enter below to win one of two copies from Princeton Architectural Press!

What was the inspiration behind this book?

Jan Cigliano Hartman, an acquisitions editor at Princeton Architectural Press, came up with the idea for this book to be the next title in the Words of Wisdom series. I was really enthusiastic about the idea, and she passed the project on to me. As a writer and editor, I love working on books on spirituality and ecology, projects that nurture our intimacy with the natural world, so this book felt very meaningful to me. I deeply believe that gardening is a radical action with profound social, spiritual, and ecological implications, and I wanted to bring forth this aspect in the book. 

Do you have a gardening quote from the book that’s a particular favorite? Why?

I love Wendy Johnson’s “Learn gardening from the wilderness outside the garden gate.” Wendy Johnson is a meditator and gardener at the Green Gulch Zen Center and author of Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate. She highlights gardening as a contemplative practice and a path to connection with the more-than-human world. I also really liked all the quotes that illuminate the creative, erotic, and ecstatic energy of the garden, for example Rumi’s “Don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It’s quiet, but the roots are down there riotous” and Thoreau’s “Methinks my own soul must be a bright invisible green.”  

You mention your mother’s garden as being a favorite of yours. Is this where you developed a love of gardening?

Yes, absolutely! I’m fairly new to gardening and was inspired to start by my mother’s beautiful garden and her relationship with it. I love being in her garden and talking with her about her work in it. I also really love seed catalogues. Pure poetry! 

What plants do you typically grow in your garden and is there a quote that would best describe it?

I really like growing herbs, as well as beautiful plants that are also good to eat, such as nasturtium (I love red, orange, and yellow in a garden!). I love being able to run outside for fresh herbs in the middle of cooking or to make a cup of tea! 

What advice would you give to others in creating a garden of their own?

Start where you’re at. Even if you’re tending closely to a houseplant or a tiny patch of soil, you can forge a deep relationship with it. You don’t have to have a lot of land to experience the transformative energy of the plant-human relationship. I have a family friend who is in a wheelchair in a nursing home. He was very depressed, but then he started asking for plants. Now his room is full of them, and he has a personal relationship with each one. Taking care of the plants has nurtured his own healing and helped bring him back into the stream of life. I’m sure the plants have experienced the blessings of this relationship as well! 

Do you have your own garden quote or words of wisdom for anyone with an interest in gardening?

My wisdom would be that we can engage in gardening as a mindfulness practice to nurture our soul connection with plant and animals, to learn a careful tending to the world, and to increase our capacity to be in loving relationship with all life. Gardening has ramifications for personal, social, and ecological transformation and healing that extend far beyond the garden fence! 

Enter to win one of two copies of The Gardener Says!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, March 31, 2019 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

What is one of your favorite gardening quotes?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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