" A New Year With Herbs"
was the caption on the big poster I taped to our refrigerator door one New Years Day. Was it 1985? I don't exactly recall. It was illustrated with many colorful drawings of various plants that may not have been all that botanically correct. What I remember most was that I posted it with gusto and serious conviction as if a huge chapter was being turned in our lives. This defining moment of resolution was broken by my younger sister who quipped "if we are starting the new year with herbs, why are we making popcorn balls?"
My family lived on a 6 acre hobby farm most of my growing up years and the meadows surrounding us were bountiful with a variety of medicinal plants. Humbly flourishing right in the middle of our driveway was the sweet smelling chamomile with its bright yellow flowers that stained our hands when we crushed them to further enjoy the sweet scent. Mom was sick a lot when we lived on the farm. She battled kidney,bladder, and sinus infections, bronchitis, gingivitis, and then horrific migraines that often lasted for weeks. There was no health insurance and we rarely saw a doctor during those years. When Mom did get prescriptions now and then, her liver couldn't handle the drugs.
Necessity is the mother of invention, isn't that how it goes? Our rule of thumb as kids was to pick something pretty, make Mom a tea out of it, then go find the big green book to see what it was good for. Oh, the thrill of learning that the fuzzy leaves of mullein were soothing to the bronchial or those Seuss-like little purple heads of red clover cleansed the kidneys and bladder! My sisters and I would go herb harvesting and arrange our fresh stash on a cookie sheet to dry. Then wide mouth Kerr canning jars were filled and labeled neatly in my mother's handwriting with her black Scripto pen. All the jars were placed in alphabetical order on shelves we crafted out of barn bricks and scrap boards to make space for our herbal remedies in the tiny room we called the pantry.
I spent many blissful hours hovering over our apothecary, opening jars, sniffing deeply, then opening another. There was something so comforting about those jars, so dependable, like being surrounded by caring friends. Occasionally on a winter night I would grab blankets and a pillow to sleep on the pantry floor in front of the big freezer. A bit of heat escaped from the metal grate at the bottom of the freezer. The kitchen clock ticked on the other side of the wall while earthy aromas lulled me to happier times running barefoot in the green meadows. I was so cold.