A Celebration of Herbs

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Dried pepperberry wreaths are made from cutting cardboard into a heart shape. Pepper berries are painstakingly glued on one at a time to create a charming wall ornament.
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Since 1945, members of the Cleveland area
Western Reserve Herb Society (WRHS) have thrown a grand herbal
party every year. On the second Saturday in October, the WRHS Herb
Fair invites herb lovers and others to indulge in a day of herbal
delights. The event celebrates herbs and gardeners by showcasing
the society’s extensive garden at the Cleveland Botanical Garden
and by offering a wide array of herbal products that have been
handmade throughout the year by WRHS members.

A mind-boggling amount of everything herbal is available–from
jams, jellies, and vinegars to herbal soaps and herb-dyed bags.
Tables and walls display herbal decorations such as dried herbal
flower wreaths, topiaries, and my favorite–the sweetly scented,
old-fashioned tussie-mussies. On fair day, members are happy to
customize these Victorian treasures for customers using freshly
picked rosemary, scented geraniums, roses, lavender, and other
herbs and flowers all tied carefully in a lace doily with a silk
ribbon.

Scented pleasures

If there is a special place in heaven for all good herb
gardeners, it will smell like the WRHS Herb Fair. Entering the herb
fair is like walking into a soothing cloud of herbal fragrances.
The air is a complex and intoxicating fog of rosemary, thyme,
scented geraniums, lemon, pine, lavender, sage, honey, orange,
rose, cinnamon, and vanilla. The powerful herbal aromas are
invigorating and calming, like a dose of aromatherapy.

This is no casual garden party. Preparing and running the fair
is the work of 150 members of the society who work all year
growing, harvesting, and making the products. Except for tropical
spices and essential oils, the ingredients used in the products at
the fair have been grown by members in their home gardens. The fair
generates revenues to finance the upkeep of the organization’s
nationally renowned herb garden and to sponsor education programs,
scholarships, and garden internships for horticultural
students.

Herb fair frenzy

My sister Anne, who introduced me to the herb fair back in 1984,
is a devoted fair shopper. Armed with bags and boxes and a
strategic plan based on years of fair shopping, she is a woman on a
mission. Knowing that the jams and jellies quickly sell out, she is
one of the first to arrive. When the doors open at 9 a.m., she
heads for the jams and jellies and selects her favorite
cinnamon-basil, rose-geranium, rosemary-sherry, lemon-marjoram, and
cider-sage jelly. With these secured, she moves on to mustards to
scoop up a year’s supply of ginger curry and Cajun mustards, and
then collects a box of spiced cranberry-raspberry and
blueberry-basil vinegars. Finally, before she is able to relax and
leisurely enjoy the fair, she moves to the potpourri tables to buy
her WRHS Christmas Blend before it is sold out.

The potpourri is one example of why the fair has hundreds of
repeat customers each year. The potpourri connoisseur can choose
among jewel-colored mixtures of dried rose petals, orange peels,
cinnamon sticks, herbs, and flowers scented with essential oils
that are just right to fragrance a room. Liz Vinson, co-chair of
the 2000 fair, says that “the personal touch, expert craftsmanship,
cooking skill, and beautiful packaging distinguishes WRHS products
from other similar products.”

The appeal of this fair goes even deeper. It is evident here
that the herb society members not only appreciate the beauty and
usefulness of herbs, but also maintain a respect and love for the
plants. The WRHS Herb fair isn’t just another market full of random
goods. It’s filled with a joy that you can almost taste, smell, and
feel.

Maureen Heffernan is the director of public programs at
Cleveland Botanical Gardens. She is a freelance writer and herb
lover who lives and gardens in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Recipes and Instructions

Here are a few signature products from the WRHS Herb Fair to try
making yourself.

Red Pepperberry Heart

This simple craft creates a pretty dried ornament for hanging on
walls to add a bright bit of color and charm. The chairperson of
the fair’s wreath department, Louis Sturrock, submitted this
craft.

One 8-inch by 8-inch piece of corrugated cardboard
X-acto knife
Darning needle or small nail
Hot glue gun or white glue
About 11/2 cups fresh pepperberries
24-inch piece of 1/4-inch-thick ribbon
Floral wire or raffia

On a piece of cardboard, draw and then cut out a heart shape
that is about 6 to 8 inches wide and about 6 inches long from the
top of the heart’s center to the base. Using an X-acto knife,
carefully cut a small heart out of the center of the heart about 3
inches wide and 2 inches long from the top of the heart’s center to
the base. Take a needle or small nail and from the backside, make
two holes in the middle of each shoulder of the heart. This will be
used to place wire or raffia through for hanging the ornament.

Using a hot glue gun or white glue, apply glue (if you’re using
white glue, a cotton swab works well) onto the cardboard and place
pepperberries on it one at a time. While this is labor intensive, a
one-by-one application process will create a more even and much
nicer finished appearance. Make sure each berry is applied next to
the previous one so no cardboard shows.

Glue ribbon along the outside edge of the heart completely
covering the corrugated edge of the heart. Thread wire or raffia
through the holes for hanging.

Allow to dry fully before hanging. Do not hang where the sun
will hit it directly as prolonged exposure to sunlight will cause
the color to fade.

Moroccan Mint Meat Rub

Makes enough to marinate 4 servings

Here is WRHS member Linda Turner’s recipe for an herb rub that
is excellent for lamb, chicken, and flank steak. If you’re making
this to store or give as gifts, use dried leaves, not fresh. This
rub is an easy and unusual gift; just place the mixture in a
cellophane bag or glass jar with a label and directions for
use.

2 tablespoons dried peppermint or spearmint leaves, or 1/2 cup
fresh leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Add all of the ingredients to a bowl and stir to mix. Set
aside.

To use, combine the juice of 3 lemons with 1 tablespoon of brown
sugar; then add 4 servings of meat or poultry. Marinate in the
refrigerator for 2 to 6 hours, turning the meat occasionally. When
you’re ready, mix the mint, garlic, allspice, and cinnamon in a
medium-sized bowl.

Remove the meat or poultry from the lemon juice mixture and
place in the bowl with the herb rub, coating all sides. Grill or
broil meat or poultry as you normally would. After cooking, add
salt and pepper to taste.

Une Tisane Francaise (A French Tea)

Makes 11/8 cups dry blend

WRHS has been creating this delicious blend since 1981. The
flavor of this tea, submitted by members Gail Bartter and Lois
Mills, complements special occasions and is a pleasant
after-dinner, caffeine-free tea.

2/3 cup dried, crushed lemon balm leaves
1/3 cup dried, crushed mint leaves
1/8 cup dried lavender blossoms

Combine and mix ingredients. Store in an airtight container. To
use, place 3 tablespoons of the tea blend in a paper coffee filter,
and tie it with a string to form a bag. Place the tea bag in a
scalded teapot. Add 6 cups of boiling water. Cover the pot and let
steep for 20 minutes.

Bergamot-Mint Aftershave and Body Spritz

Makes 11/2 quarts

This natural aftershave is a beautiful amber color with an
invigorating, spicy smell that many men enjoy in the morning. In
the summertime, I like to pour this into a spritzer bottle and
refrigerate it. When I need a burst of icy mist to revive myself
after gardening, I spray this on the back of my neck, arms, and
legs.

1 drop bergamot oil
2 drops peppermint essential oil
1 ounce benzoin tincture
1 quart water
1/2 pint unscented alcohol (rubbing or vodka)

Gently combine all ingredients and pour into individual glass
bottles. Seal tightly.

Braided Sweet Grass Strips

Makes 1 braid

Ellie Donley, a longtime member of WRHS, grows sweet grass in
her garden to make lovely braided strips that can be used to scent
linen drawers or closets, or to throw on a fire to send a burst of
sweet aroma into a room.

3/4- to 1-inch clump of sweet grass
Rubber band, raffia, or decorative ribbon

When the grass leaves are at least 18 inches long, grab a clump
about 3/4- to 1-inch in diameter from the base of the plant. Cut
off the clump (but leave the roots in the ground), and secure a
rubber band around the base. Allow the clump to dry for a few days
(hanging works best). When dry, separate the “ponytail” of grass
into three equal sections and braid. Tie the bottom of the braid
with a rubber band, raffia, or a decorative ribbon if desired.
Braids can be hung from closets or placed in drawers. A rustic
basket full of sweet grass placed next to a fireplace looks
charming and is handy for throwing a clump into the fire in winter.
The braids will retain their sweet smell for six months to a
year.

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