You are here

Herb Associates Yesterday and Today

Herb Associates Yesterday and Today

The Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Herb Associates began in 1957 when three women who loved and grew herbs — Gertrude Burdsall, Emily Rose, and Amy Bess-Miller — decided to make and sell herbal products to benefit the Garden. In the earliest days, the members brought herbs from their private garden to make the products. Soon, the Lenox Garden Club developed an herb nursery on the site of the Garden for the use of the Herb Associates and continued its sponsorship during the first years. The Herb Associates — a.k.a., the "Herbies" — were the first defined group of volunteers at the Garden.

The inspiration to grow herbs and sell products has evolved through the decades to the current day, where the Herb Associates oversee a display garden and production garden, both located near the Center House at the Garden. Members/volunteers meet every Tuesday morning during the late spring through mid-autumn each year, coinciding when the gardens themselves are open to the public. Members plant, weed and tend the gardens, as well as harvest and process the variety of herbs.

About 100 varieties of herbs are grown for display, with about 20 culinary herbs grown in the production garden used to make products for sale, including chives, parsley, sage, basil, dill, lovage and lavender. 

The Garden’s year typically kicks off on Roy Boutard Day, the first Sunday in May, so named for the Garden’s executive director from 1955-1985. The Herb Associates host a reception on that Day, featuring a “Mai Bowle,” a wine punch based on a beverage first documented by 9th Century German monks (see the recipe, below). Cookies containing such herbs as mint, lemon verbena, rosemary, and ginger are baked by the Herb Associates and offered as a snack at the reception.

Currently about two dozen Herb Associates carry out the various tasks required — loosely, an outdoor crew and an indoor crew. As various herbs are harvested, the kitchen crew prepares herb vinegars, salad dressings, sachets, seasoned salts, mustards, and jellies. While some Herbies do the stripping and chopping of herbs, others do the cooking, jarring and labeling of the products. The outdoor crew provides valuable growing and use information to interns and visitors and tends the herb gardens. During the off season, some Herb Associates knit catnip mice, another popular product. Herbal products made throughout the growing season are available in the Garden’s gift shop, at festivals during the season, and online. The products are popular with visitors as souvenirs.

Annual sales from Herbal Associates’ products most recently amounted to about $5,400, which benefits the programs at the Garden.

Recipe for a “Mai Bowle” 

• In a punch bowl, combine two liters each of Riesling wine, soda water and ginger ale, along with a handful of sweet woodruff blossoms. (Strain the blossoms before drinking).

• Float an herbal ice ring for decoration. 

Help Our Garden Grow!

Your donation helps us to educate and inspire visitors of all ages on the art and science of gardening and the preservation of our environment.

All Donations are 100% tax deductible.