Right on Thyme
Leelanua's Herbal Renewal group herb history
By Kristi Kates | May 12, 2018
Delighted about dill? Thrilled with thyme? Crazy for coriander? So is Julie Krist, the cofounder of Herbal Renewal, a Leelanau County organization of women who are interested in growing and using herbs.
Krist moved up north in ’98, and has lived her since; but she first became interested in herbal gardening back in the late ’70s.
“A good friend of mine, Mary Thompson Gerathy, and I were gardening together downstate, in the suburbs of Detroit, and she invited me to go to a presentation on herbs at one of the colleges,” Krist said. “This was back in 1979 or so. Mary wanted to start an herb group at Greenfield Village (now The Henry Ford) — so we did.”
The friends later co-founded The Michigan Herbal Association (MHA), which held its first meeting on the campus of Michigan State University in January of 1987; Krist continues working with the MHA to this day.
“I’m still on the board, and I’ve held various positions over the years; I was president, secretary, regional representative,” she said.
Meanwhile, Krist was also working to become a master gardener; she completed her master gardening training in Wayne County in 1989, and just a few years ago became an advanced master gardener.
But when Krist moved north, she quickly found that there was no local herbal group to speak of.
“So I started one with another woman, Lonnie Morley, in 2000,” Krist said. “And that one became Herbal Renewal. Our goal was to gather people together who are interested in herb gardening. We meet once a month, at members’ homes or on field trips to places like the botanical garden in Traverse City.”
Herbal Renewal also holds herbal talks for its members, and has a garden in Omena that the group maintains on a volunteer basis.
“It’s across from the beach, and includes both herbs and wildflowers,” Krist said. “In addition, we make donations to herbal causes, including the aforementioned botanical garden, and we help each other learn more about herbs in general.”
While gardening can be a complex endeavor subject to the whims of soil, weather, plant choices, and other conditions, Krist assures that herbal gardening is more “entry level.”
“Most herbs originate in the Mediterranean area, and are actually very easy to grow,” she said. “They’re typically not fussy about soil, they’re hardy, they don’t need a ton of water; you can incorporate herbs into your existing garden, or make a separate garden just for them.”
One idea for that separate herb garden is ingenious on Krist’s part:
“If you just want a small garden of, say, a half-dozen herbs, go to an estate sale and pick up an old wooden wheel. Embed it into the ground, and plant a different herb in each spoke area.”
She also suggests placing your herb garden close to your door.
“So, for instance, if you’re cooking and you need fresh chives, you just step out and pick them.”
She offered a shortlist of “starter herbs” that anyone can easily grow, but she also encourages those interested to branch out into some more unusual herbal endeavors once you feel you’re getting the hang of it.
“Lemongrass, for instance, is a really good one for any dish you’d like to have a strong lemon flavor,” she said. “Garlic is easy to grow here in northern Michigan, but you want to plan in the fall, then harvest the following June or July, and dry it out. You can also store garlic cloves by putting them in olive oil and storing them in the refrigerator.”
Lavender — she stresses to make sure you get the culinary, not ornamental kind — is another of Krist’s favorites.
“I used to run a bed and breakfast out of my home, and I used to serve lavender scones,” she said. “Lavender sugar is very nice in baking.”
While she’s stepping back from some of her work with herbs (Krist used to be known for her herbal presentations), she’s still very active with the group, and suggested that people email her at firstname.lastname@example.org if they’re interested in joining Herbal Renewal.
Her own enthusiasm for herbs certainly hasn’t waned.
“When I grew up, we had salt and pepper and parsley — and that was pretty much it,” Krist said. “We’ve come such a long way. Herbs add so much depth and flavor to food. Plus I’ve always enjoyed cooking and gardening my whole life, so working with herbs blends two of my favorite hobbies.”
Six to Start With!
Krist suggests six herbs that are easy “beginner” herbs to grow, so you can get a head start on your own herb garden with a better chance of success!
Oregano – a flowering herb from the mint family
“It’s great in pretty much all Italian dishes; green oregano has the best flavor.”
Chives – closely related to garlic, leeks, and scallions
“They’re very easy to grow, but make sure you remove the flower heads right away, or you’ll be overrun with more chives than you can handle.”
Sage – a native herb of southern Europe and the Mediterranean
“Great for stuffings!”
Tarragon – a perennial herb from the sunflower family
“I like it in egg dishes, egg or potato salad, and quiche.”
Rosemary – a woody herb with fragrant, needle-like leaves
“Very good on roasted vegetables.”
Thyme - a perennial evergreen herb
“I make a wonderful salad dressing with this; basalmic vinegar, olive oil, a little garlic, and thyme.”