The herbalist demonstrates how to grow, dry and use medicinal plants
ELLSWORTH — Every summer, you hang stalks of lavender you’ve harvested and cut calendula and echinacea flowers, some of which make a garnish for a post-gardening cocktail. But otherwise, you really don’t know what else to do with the herbs you’ve grown.
Deb Soule, herbalist and founder of Avena Botanicals, has written a book just for you: “The Healing Garden: Herbs for Health and Wellness” (2021, $25.95, Princeton Architectural Press).
“I really wrote this book specifically for gardeners,” Soule said. “People grow flowers and herbs and don’t know what to do with them. For people who are considered herbalists, they already know how to do this, but gardeners don’t. I really want to encourage gardeners to use this book as a resource.
“This book is my life’s work. I really want to encourage as many people as possible to grow herbs.
“I love gardening,” she continued. “I love making medicine from plants. I love teaching and sharing what I love about plants.
In his aptly named third book, Soule explains how to make a range of herbal medicines, how to create a drying room and how to harvest the herbs. “The Healing Garden” is due out in April.
At 25, Soule founded Avena Botanicals Apothecary and Biodynamic Garden in Rockport. At the time, she had recently graduated from Atlantic College with a degree in human ecology.
“I didn’t know anything about business, I just knew that I had a deep faith in the benefits of herbal medicine,” she recalls.
That was in 1985. Since then, Avena has become a destination for gardeners, nature lovers and those who appreciate herbal medicine. There are workshops and herbal walks. Those who are too far to visit can order online.
Soule’s passion for plants began when she was a young girl in the county town of Oxford south of Paris. His grandmother, who lived with the family, walked the Soule through the meadows and fields, pointing out, among other things, the drooping arbutus (mayflower), wild strawberries and apple trees.
“She had a heightened sensitivity to the beauty of the natural world, especially with birds,” Soule said. “She was my first teacher.
“Especially in the spring, she would have places she would take me to meet some of the spring flow
ers. She never taught me the name of the bird, but she instilled in me a curiosity and a respect. I already had in me, from this young time, a curiosity and a respect for plants.
“I was 15 when I was given this book,” Soule said. “It totally inspired me to create my own garden.”
The book “Common Herbs for Natural Health” by Juliette de Bairacli Levy also aroused his interest.
“When I read this book, I wanted to learn everything I could about herbal medicine,” Soule said. “I was still a teenager.”
She has also read “Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Herbs” by Adele Dawson.
“This book really inspired me,” Soule said.
Then there were people Soule met who influenced her.
“An old man gave me space in his garden to start growing vegetables,” she says.
A year later, she met herbalist Steven Foster, who reestablished the herb gardens in the Shaker Village in Poland Springs.
Soule was one of the COA’s first students. She spent the first half of her senior year in Nepal, where she was exposed to herbal medicine and Ayurvedic medicine.
“I was very lucky as a youngster to be exposed to two very ancient healing systems with plants,” Soule said.
“The Healing Garden” includes an extensive section on herbs to grow for healing. These are all plants that she says are easy to grow in zone 5 and that she herself has been growing for years.
If you’ve never put your hands in the soil before, but really want to start gardening — like the rest of pandemic America — Soule suggests finding a gardener to work with before starting your own.
“I generally encourage people to spend time in the gardens,” Soule said. “Visit different gardens, ideally, which happened to me, hang out with another gardener.”
For gardeners who would like to grow beyond vegetables and culinary herbs, Soule suggests planting anise, hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and calendula (Calendula officinalis). She also recommends echinacea (Echinacea) and lemon balm (Monarda Didyma).
“Calendula is a beautiful, flowing annual,” she said. “You can just keep picking the flowers.”
Soule says bees love anise hyssop, which will reseed itself in the garden.
“I really want to encourage the cultivation of both red and purple colored bee balm,” Soule said. “They are perfect as an infusion, especially in winter, to prevent colds and flu.” And bees love them.
For someone who has grown basil, try growing holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorumor) or Tulsi, which is the Sanskrit name.
“Crush it weekly and dry it for tea,” Soule said.
Soule discovered holy basil when she bought seeds from Fedco 30 years ago.
The company sold holy basil as holy basil. “I thought any plant worthy of being called sacred deserved attention.”
Princeton Architectural Press asked Soule to write the book. Acquisitions editor Jan Hartman was given the name Soule by another herbal cultivator.
“They were looking for a book that had a strong focus on drying herbs,” she said.
“The editor I worked with was fantastic,” Soule said. “It was such an easy and encouraging experience.”
The book has color photos on almost every page. Molly Haley, a Maine-based freelance photographer, took all images working closely with Soule. The couple worked on the book until 2019.
Soule and Haley even helped with the layout of the book.
“We were asked to match each photograph with the contents of the book,” Soule said. “It was an amazing process for me to be able to see how the book was presented.”
The book was largely written before COVID-19.
“The really heavy writing was done last winter, and it was pretty much done by March,” Soule said.
To learn more about Deb Soule and Avena Botanicals, visit avenabotanicals.com.