Holly Jeffries remembers when she first became interested in herbs. Her grandmother would send her out to mow the lawn. When she accidentally hit a patch of her grandmother’s mint with the mower, the air was perfumed with the plant’s fragrance. It wasn’t long before she began running into it on purpose to breathe in that aroma.
Jeffries, president of the Charlotte Herb Guild, figures her involvement with herbs is helping carry on a tradition, since her grandmother used herbs extensively for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Women in the guild – and a few men – come from diverse professional backgrounds, says Jeffries, a teacher, but are drawn together by the common ground of wanting to learn about herbs.
The guild has an herb-of-the-month program, and at meetings members study the origins of an herb’s name, find out its history, and become educated on its uses.
Members take turns providing homemade herbal refreshments. Some past foods have included dishes such as tea sandwiches and lavender cookies. An Asian-themed gathering featured spring rolls.
There are volunteer and outreach opportunities, including tending the period herb garden at the Hezekiah Alexander homesite at the Charlotte Museum of History.
Jeffries, a member of the guild since 2001, is known to send recipes with her annual Christmas cards. The recipes usually relate to what she grew during the year, and friends look forward to them.
Jeffries says mint, basil, thyme, and oregano are easy culinary herbs to grow, though mint, she cautions, will spread.
Basil needs to be planted in warm soil, and be careful not to overwater it. “Basil in the summer means freshness to me,” she says.
She recommends planting things together with similar water needs, and paying attention to sunlight requirements.
Lemon verbena is one of her favorites, which she uses in cooking fish and Greek dishes.
An upcoming guild trip will be to a summer solstice party in June at Mills Garden Herb Farm in Statesville, run by Madge Eggena.
Jane Abe, of Swannanoa, leads classes at the herb farm with Eggena, who is her sister. Classes on cooking with herbs are among the course offerings.
Abe does enjoy growing herbs and using them in her cooking. Parsley, rosemary, and thyme are easy ones, she says. “You can always add them to just about anything.”
Mint, oregano, basil, chives, and cilantro are some other herbs she mentions. She loves her five-bladed herb scissors, which make tiny slices and come in handy when preparing salads.
It isn’t hard to make herb butter, or to combine dried or fresh herbs, Greek yogurt, and sour cream to make a dip, she says.
Abe is a board member of the North Carolina Herb Association, which works with advisors from North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to promote herbs.
Membership in the association consists of business owners, scientists, educators, and hobbyist herb enthusiasts. “We cover the whole gamut,” Abe says.
The main event for members is Wild Herb Weekend, an annual conference at the Valle Crucis Conference Center. The 2014 conference is July 25-27.
The Charlotte Herb Guild
The Charlotte Herb Guild Cooks Again is available for $20. To purchase, email email@example.com.
Cooking With Nature, the cookbook of the North Carolina Herb Association, is available for $15. To purchase, visit ncherbassociation.org.
Hope Yancey is a freelance writer in Charlotte. She is a regular contributor to the community news editions of The Charlotte Observer. Read her other stories here.