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What Is Happening in the BBG Herb Gardens and Kitchen This Week (July 3)?

What Is Happening in the BBG Herb Gardens and Kitchen This Week (July 3)?

By Barbara F. Smith

The BBG Herb Display Garden is a riot of color and pollinator activity this week. The featured herb is Betony (Stachys officinalis), the purple flowers of which look a bit like stocky lavender with sturdy stems and aromatic foliage. Hardy to Zone 4, this perennial grows to a height of two feet, and it prefers sunny conditions in average soils. Betony flowers in July and August, and its beautiful flowers would make a fine addition to your flower beds.

Historically, betony was popular as a medicinal herb, useful in treating headaches, nervous ailments, asthma, and bronchitis. Ancient Romans listed it as a cure for 47 different ailments(!). On a folklore note, in ancient times in Europe, betony was thrown into midsummer fires during the summer solstice. Those who jumped over the flames were said to be purified of maladies and evil spirits for the rest of the year. In a similar vein, during the Middle Ages, betony was planted in churchyards and worn as amulets to ward off evil spirits.

The herbalist Mrs. Grieve, who wrote "A Modern Herbal"* in the 1930s, recommended drying betony leaves to make a delicious tea, whether alone or blended with other dried herbs. Mrs. Grieve was the “pen name of Sophia Emma Magdalene Grieve, one of the mostly widely quoted and cited of the modern herb authors” (referenced in The New American Herbal by Stephen Orr).

In the Berkshire Botanical Garden Herb Production Garden (located behind Center House), several Herb Associates this week were busy harvesting the lavender — to be used by the kitchen crew and also to be dried for preparing Herbes de Provence or potpourris. Shirley Miller, a long-time Herb Associate, noted that the plants they were harvesting likely were about 50 years old, having produced blooms for the Garden all those years.

The Kitchen Crew was busy preparing a Berry Shrub, a new flavor to join the popular herby/vinegar category of products useful as additions to lemonade or favorite summer cocktails. Dried Applemint (one of the many flavored mint varieties) was bottled for tea, along with lavender simple syrup. A new product was underway — Pickled Perilla (also known as shi-so), a herb used in Asian cuisines. This relative of mint and basil has striking deep purple leaves, and the plant readily self-sows. The recipe joins perilla with some purple chilis and a special brining liquid. Can’t wait to try it! In the meantime, “count none but the sunny hours,” as our sundial recommends.

Thank you for your ongoing interest in all things herbal at the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Look for the Herb Associates’ products on your next trip; you’ll find them in the Visitor’s Center at the Gift Shop.

* NOTE: The full name of her book is “A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with Their Modern Scientific Uses,” a diverse collection of pamphlets she wrote during World War I when there was a shortage of imported medicinal plants (as noted in The New American Herbal by Stephen Orr). 


The Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Herb Associates began in 1957 and have been making and selling products for the benefit of BBG ever since. At BBG, the Herb Associates oversee a display garden and production garden, both located near the Center House. 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.

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