I've been tending a variety of medicinal herbs for a few years now. Many of them I was gifted from my herbalism teacher, Jaci Guerena of Sunnyside Herbal School in Corvallis, during a couple courses I took over the past few years. She would pot up enough of each herb for all of her students each week, so we could take them home and start to build up our own herb gardens. Others I traded for playing music at the Thyme Garden Mother's Day Festival with my friend Clara Baker. A few I started from seed, either at home or at the Youth Farm. Those that came to me in 2015 have now, after today, experienced three big moves: from their original home to my backyard on 34th Avenue in Eugene, where they established themselves for about a year; then, when I moved homes in June 2016, from 34th Avenue to the Youth Farm, since there wasn't room in the already abundant gardens of the Duma Community I was moving to, and I wanted to share them with people at the farm. They sat sadly in pots for too many days during that unexpected move, until I found time before and after work to clear out quack grass and irises from a small plot next to the farm stand. They've survived, shaded by an almond and a hazelnut tree against the shed, for two seasons in that little garden. They've ignited customers' curiosity and been part of a few medicinal plant workshops I've led for youth farmers and interns. I've also harvested several of them, lovingly at the peak of their summertime vitality, to make tinctures or salves. Despite all this though, they've remained pretty sad. There's just not enough light in that little sliver of garden.
So today I decided to give some of my favorite herbs a new home in my sunny plot at the Whiteaker Community Garden in Eugene. After a quick check on those tomato grafts, I poked around long enough to find the herbs I know I'll love and use in my own garden: St. John's Wort, Valerian, Agrimony, Boneset, Blue Vervain, Elecampane, and Skullcap. The St. John's Wort, Agrimony, and Valerian were already leafy and vibrant, but the others were still dormant underground, and I smelled each root carefully after I split it from its mother. Each one felt like an old friend that I hadn't seen in months and almost forgotten how much I enjoyed. The bitterness of vervain, earthiness of elecampane, and sweetness of agrimony all infused the hunks of soil around their roots and brought a big grin to my face. Oh yeah, this is why I go to all this effort! I love these special plants!
Set gingerly in a few plastic bags, a couple last red worms wriggling out as I picked them up and into my bag, I biked them down to the river path and all the way across town to the Whiteaker neighborhood. I rent a half plot there, probably just 8 by 20 feet, but it's more than enough for herbs. Last year I grew a large swath of annual herbs, and ended up with an exhausting (though bountiful) harvest work load in the middle of the summer. This year, I'm looking forward to planting fewer herbs that need consistent harvest (like calendula, chamomile, and red clover) and filling up more of my plot with perennials like these.
I pulled away mats of chickweed and purple dead nettle that had settled comfortably over my beds, dug through the leaves I'd spread in the fall, and found spaces for each plant in turn. The elecampane, which can grow taller than me, is in the northeastern corner to avoid shading many other plants. The St. John's Wort is tucked between yarrow plants, overwintered from last year, to keep it from spreading and becoming invasive. I tried to arrange the plants to complement each other's shapes and sizes, and thought intuitively about which plants will get along best. Only time will tell how my evening last-minute garden planning pans out, and whether these troopers feel healthier and more settled here than their previous two plots. I just hope we can all enjoy this new arrangement for more than a couple seasons.
I'll likely write much more about these particular plants and their uses throughout the season. If you have any particular questions about them now, please post in the comments.