Our nursery is located in Gray Court, South Carolina just off of I-385. We’re about 10 minutes from Fountain Inn, 20 minutes from Simpsonville, and 35 minutes from both downtown Greenville and downtown Spartanburg.

What kinds of plants do you sell?

We sell mostly perennial medicinal (and culinary) herbs. We also occasionally have annual herbs, dye plants, and flowers for sale as well, depending on what tickles our fancy. For the most up-to-date listing of what we have on hand, check out our plant inventory page.

How can I purchase plants from you?

Since we’re a small operation, plant sales are currently by appointment only. The good news is that this gives us a lot of flexibility and the ability to accommodate your schedule rather than just sticking to posted hours. The bad news is that it means we need to plan your visit at least 24 hours in advance so we can make sure you feel like a welcomed guest and not someone who drove up a random driveway in the middle of nowhere!

If you’d prefer to call rather than email, our phone number is (864) 979-9149. (Reception in the garden is a bit spotty, so you’ll likely need to leave a voicemail.) We do our best to respond to all emails and phone calls within 24-48 hours.

Do you give tours to garden clubs/homeschool groups/etc.?

We do offer guided tours for groups at a rate of $5 per person over the age of 3. Tours last from 1-2 hours depending on the group, and can be tailored to your particular interests and needs. If you’re interested in scheduling a tour for your group, we’d love to hear from you!

Hmm, $5 per person? Do you give any free tours?

As a matter of fact, we do! We offer free herb walks during the spring, summer, and fall. These tours last about 2 hours and feature the wild and cultivated herbs that are typical of each season. No RSVP is required; check out our herb walks page for more information and 2018 dates.

gardening Archives – Red Fern Farm

    1. Adventures in Growing Glass Gem Corn

      Please pardon me while I indulge in a blog post all about my recent obsession with Glass Gem corn. I was enchanted by photos of…

    2. Pest Control in the Fall Garden

      As I wrote in my earlier post about the trials and triumphs of fall gardening, one of the primary challenges we’ll face in the fall…

    3. Dealing with Gardening Failures

      If, this morning around 8:30 a.m. EDT you heard the distant echo of a frustrated scream…well, that was me. You see, I had just discovered…

    4. Cool-Weather Herbs for the Fall Garden

      I’ve talked a lot lately about fall vegetables, and written an extraordinarily long post about the king of summer, basil. But today I wanted to…

    5. Beat the Basilisk: 3 Tips for Success with Basil

      What is it about basil that has people so obsessed with this summer-loving herb? Maybe it’s basil’s complex aroma, a fresh green scent layered with…

    6. Ordering Seed Garlic for your Fall Garden

      Are you sensing a theme yet? It’s July, it’s hot and humid outside, and I’m up to my ears in tomatoes and beans. I’ve only…

    7. The Trials & Triumphs of Fall Gardening

      Now that I’ve got you at least thinking about putting in a fall garden this year, it’s time to talk about the pros and cons.…

    8. Start Planning Your Best Fall Garden Ever

      It might seem a little crazy to talk of the fall garden already, while temperatures are still soaring high into the 90s on a regular…

    9. Dancing with Uncertainty

      A familiar scenario played out this week: a chef acquaintance got in touch, interested in purchasing a number of plants worth a little over $100–a…

    10. Making Chive Blossom Vinegar

      I had a different post in mind for today, but seeing as I’m absolutely wiped out from our plant sale this weekend I decided to…

  • Making Spiced Elderberry Syrup – Red Fern Farm

    • It starts with a scratchy throat and runny nose, or maybe just some slightly swollen tonsils and a creeping feeling of malaise. When I feel like I’m coming down with something, I turn to two herbal preparations: elderberry syrup and garlic oxymel. I’ll write a future post about oxymels, but today I want to share my spiced elderberry syrup recipe–it’s easy to make and tastes pretty good too!

      The Elder Tree

      First, a bit of botany: Sambucus nigra, called black elder or European elder, is the Old World species native to most of Europe. Sambucus canadensis, or American elder, is a closely-related species native to North America–so closely related, in fact, that it’s sometimes considered a subspecies of European elder and listed as Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis. All that is to say that European elder and American elder are virtually interchangeable for medicinal purposes.Much of the elder found in commerce (bulk dried as well as preparations like syrups and concentrates) in the United States is labeled S. nigra. I grow and use several varieties of S. canadensis, and you can often find it growing wild throughout the eastern United States. Sambucus cerulea, or blue elderberry, can be found growing wild on the West Coast, and has the same uses as S. nigra and S. canadensis.

      Elder has a long and storied past. It’s surrounded by a great deal of folklore in Europe, and was considered the peasants’ medicine chest–it was always close at hand and nearly all parts of the plant were used medicinally. These days, only the flowers and berries are used as food and medicine, although elder leaf is making a bit of a comeback as a topical herb. (I use it in salves for bruises and as an insect repellent.)
      The flowers and berries are especially good for addressing winter illnesses, particularly colds, fevers, and the flu. The berries have antiviral, diaphoretic, diuretic, laxative, and antirheumatic properties. They help strengthen cell membranes, which can prevent viral penetration, and have demonstrated antiviral activity against the flu and herpes simplex viruses. Although most of the focus over the past decade or so has been on the berries, the flowers have very similar properties and uses.

      Elderberry Syrup

      While elderberries can be used in a variety of different herbal preparations, elderberry syrup is probably the most popular one. You can find commercial elderberry syrups at your local health food store–they’re convenient, but they can be expensive. So if you have an hour of free time and can get your hands on a few basic ingredients, you can make a cost-effective elderberry syrup at home.

      Simply put, elderberry syrup consists of elderberries, water, and your sweetener of choice. You can make a shelf-stable syrup if you use a sufficient amount of white sugar. But many American herbalists, wary of white sugar’s effect on immune function, make their syrups with honey (raw and local, if possible). If you choose to make your syrup with honey, do not give it to children under 1 year of age because of the potential for infant botulism.

      Elderberry syrups made with honey must be refrigerated, and have a shelf-life of 3-5 months. If you see any signs of mold, discard the syrup. If you’ve never had elderberry syrup before, I recommend halving the recipe below for your first batch. If you find that you go through it quickly, it’s easy to make another batch with the full recipe. But if you find that it’s not your thing, then you won’t have wasted much.
      I’m really more of a formulator than a simpler, so I like to add other herbs to my syrup. For several years now, anise hyssop, cinnamon, and lemon peel have been my go-to supporting herbs. Anise hyssop for its expectorant properties, cinnamon for its warming and stimulating qualities, and lemon peel for its vitamin C content. (And let’s not underestimate the importance of flavor–all three herbs are pretty tasty in their own right.) But anise hyssop can be hard to find commercially–it’s best to grow your own–so I’ve been playing around with using marshmallow root instead. It’s much more accessible, it’s soothing to the throat, and makes the syrup a little more viscous, which I like.

      Some people favor the classic combination of ginger and clove. I’ve also seen recipes that include elderflower, rosehips, astragalus, echinacea, thyme, cardamom, and more. Most of these herbs are included for their immune-stimulating, warming, or vitamin-rich properties. Do some research on the ones that stand out to you and create your own unique formula!

      The Recipe

      I take 1 tablespoon of this syrup three to five times a day when I’m feeling under the weather. You can use Clark’s Rule or Young’s Rule to calculate dosage for children based on their age or weight. Elderberries are generally considered safe, but if you’re pregnant consult your doctor before using them therapeutically.

      If you just want a simple elderberry syrup, omit the supporting herbs and only use water, elderberries, and honey.

      Spiced Elderberry Syrup 2 cups water 1/2 cup dried elderberries (or 1 cup fresh berries) 1 tablespoon dried marshmallow root 1 tablespoon dried lemon peel 1/2 tablespoon sweet cinnamon chips

      1 cup honey (raw and local if possible)

    In a non-reactive 1-quart pot, bring 2 cups of water to a hard boil. Add the elderberries, marshmallow root, lemon peel, and cinnamon chips. (Do not cover, as you will be reducing the volume of liquid.)

    Reduce heat to low and gently simmer the mixture for 30-40 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by half, to 1 cup. Remove from heat and strain into a measuring cup. (It’s better to reduce too much than too little; if you take it too far you can just add a little water to bring your volume back up to 1 cup.)

    Let the liquid cool until it’s lukewarm, then add the honey and stir until it is completely dissolved.

    Transfer to sterile bottles or jars, label, and store in the refrigerator up to 3-5 months. The syrup can also be frozen up to a year. Yields 2 cups of syrup.


    For dried herbs, I use Mountain Rose Herbs when I need 4 oz. or more of an herb, and Jean’s Greens for smaller quantities because they sell by the ounce. If you’re interested in growing your own elder trees and are in Upstate South Carolina or Western North Carolina, Useful Plants Nursery in Black Mountain is a good source for stock.


    1. “Medical Herbalism,” David Hoffman.

    2. “The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety,” Simon Mills & Kerry Bone.

    3. “Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.” Zakay-Rones Z1, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J.

    4. “Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro.” Roschek B Jr1, Fink RC, McMichael MD, Li D, Alberte RS.

    5. “A Modern Herbal,” Maude Grieve.

    fall Archives – Red Fern Farm

    1. Pest Control in the Fall Garden

      As I wrote in my earlier post about the trials and triumphs of fall gardening, one of the primary challenges we’ll face in the fall…

    2. Dealing with Gardening Failures

      If, this morning around 8:30 a.m. EDT you heard the distant echo of a frustrated scream…well, that was me. You see, I had just discovered…

    3. Cool-Weather Herbs for the Fall Garden

      I’ve talked a lot lately about fall vegetables, and written an extraordinarily long post about the king of summer, basil. But today I wanted to…

    4. Ordering Seed Garlic for your Fall Garden

      Are you sensing a theme yet? It’s July, it’s hot and humid outside, and I’m up to my ears in tomatoes and beans. I’ve only…

    5. The Trials & Triumphs of Fall Gardening

      Now that I’ve got you at least thinking about putting in a fall garden this year, it’s time to talk about the pros and cons.…

    6. Start Planning Your Best Fall Garden Ever

      It might seem a little crazy to talk of the fall garden already, while temperatures are still soaring high into the 90s on a regular…

  • Adventures in Growing Glass Gem Corn – Red Fern Farm

  • Please pardon me while I indulge in a blog post all about my recent obsession with Glass Gem corn. I was enchanted by photos of its shining, colorful kernels when they first made the rounds in 2012, but never seriously considered growing it until this year. And even that was a very last-minute decision–when I saw yet another online article referencing this unusual heirloom back in early May, I immediately went online and ordered a single seed packet from Native Seeds/SEARCH to sow as soon as possible. I’ve grown a lot of different heirlooms over the past six seasons, but this one has really swept me off my feet with its unique beauty.

    What is Glass Gem Corn?

    Glass Gem corn is an heirloom flint corn variety recently introduced to the public by Native Seeds/SEARCH, a non-profit conservation organization based in Tuscon, Arizona. For over 30 years, the organization has been collecting, preserving, and distributing heirloom vegetable varieties that have played an important role in agriculture in the Southwestern United States.

    The full history of Glass Gem corn can be found on the Native Seeds/SEARCH blog, but the Cliff Notes version is that Glass Gem was carefully grown and stewarded for many years by Carl Barnes, a part-Cherokee farmer from Oklahoma. In 2010, Barnes was nearing the end of his gardening career and decided to pass on his seed collection to his protégé, Greg Schoen. Schoen in turn passed some of the seeds along to Bill McDorman, who would later become the executive director of Native Seeds/SEARCH. McDorman was intrigued by the name Glass Gem and decided to grow some of it in his own garden. Naturally, he was just as taken by the results as the rest of us have been, and decided to introduce it to a wider audience.

    What is Flint Corn?

    There are three basic types of grain corn: flint, flour, and dent. Unlike sweet corn, grain corns are dried before processing rather than eaten fresh. Dent corn is a recent invention, dating back to the mid-1800s, and most of the corn now grown in the United States is of this type. It’s used for everything from tortilla chips to high fructose corn syrup to plastics. Flint and flour corn, on the other hand, were the types historically used as staple crops by Native Americans and adopted by early Americans.
    Glass Gem is a flint corn variety. A corn kernel is composed of four primary parts: the pericarp, the aleurone, the endosperm, and the germ. The pericarp and aleurone are two thin outer layers which surround the endosperm and germ, and are where any colorful pigments reside. The endosperm is a large part of the kernel interior. In flint corns, the endosperm is primarily hard, or flinty, and is either white or yellow. So when flint corns are ground down or popped, they are primarily white or yellow, though some flecks of color from the pericarp and aleurone can remain in the meal. (Kind of like how red okra turns green when you cook it.)

    Because the endosperm is so hard in flint corn, the kernels are tough and there will always be some grittiness in the resulting meal, no matter how finely ground. Flint corns are suitable for making into grits and cornmeal, and some can also be used as popcorn. (For a fine flour suitable for bread and cakes, flour corn is the way to go.)

    So being a flint corn, Glass Gem corn can’t be eaten fresh like sweet corn. But it can be dried and ground into grits or meal, popped as popcorn, or simply used as decoration.

    My Experience with Glass Gem Corn

    As I mentioned above, I purchased my seeds a little later that I would like, but was able to get them in the ground on May 20th. I didn’t write down the exact number, but I recall that there were either 52 or 54 seeds total. Because I was working with a raised bed that was 32″ wide, I planted the rows really a little too close at only 8-9″ apart. The plants themselves were too close as well, at 6-7″. With relatively few seeds, I was worried about adequate pollination. I had originally planned on thinning the plants once they germinated, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it when the time came. This turned out to be a bit of a problem later on, as air circulation between plants was poor.
    The seeds had germinated and were putting on their first true leaves by May 25th. Corn is a heavy feeder, so I fertilized it several times over the summer with organic hydrolyzed fish fertilizer. Because I had such a small block of plants, I mulched between the plants with shredded cardboard and never had to weed them afterwards due to the mulch and the shade from the stalks. The plants grew rapidly at first, and then stalled out for a little while in late June.

    When they started growing again, they did so rapidly. By mid-July I was getting worried because I was starting to see tassel development but no ears emerging. By the time the tassels were in full flower on July 22nd, however, there were plenty of little nascent ears with silks ready for pollination.
    It was interesting to watch the veritable swarm of pollinators on the corn in late July. Bumblebees were most prominent, but there were a number of other native bees as well, and even a few honeybees. I could see the grains of pollen trickling down to the ears below as the industrious bees jostled the tassels. Between the breeze and the bees dislodging pollen, I got pretty good pollination on most of the ears.

    This was my first time growing flint corn, so I was a little uncertain about harvesting. I checked in on the ears as they were developing and they seemed so thin that I was worried they hadn’t been properly pollinated. Upon harvesting I discovered that a lot of the ears are just naturally slim, and not nearly as thick as sweet corn, which is what I’m used to growing.

    In the first half of August I noticed ants hanging around the tips of some of the ears. Though I couldn’t see it at the time because they were concealed by some of the husks, the ants were farming aphids on the corn. I’d read ahead of time that corn earworms were mostly a problem with sweet corn, not flint corn. But when I harvested the corn, many of the ears were damaged at the tips, as with earworms. I never once found an earworm, on any of the ears, but next year I think I’ll take precautions anyway.

    Quite a few ears had molded around the site of the damage and I had to discard them. I imagine this was due to a combination of the aforementioned poor air circulation, the high humidity, and the pest damage. I think I learned my lesson on plant spacing!
    I started harvesting the corn on August 28th, and harvested small batches over the next few days until I had gathered all the formed ears. There were a few ears that developed too late to be pollinated, but overall the harvested ears were well-developed. Peeling the husks back to reveal the colors within was an exciting process, a little like opening presents on Christmas morning. Some of the ears were just breathtaking, and I got a good variety of colors from the single packet.

    After harvesting, I trimmed the damaged ears, which resulted in a few really short and stubby ears. I don’t have a good place to hang the ears indoors so right now they’re spread out in a single layer on wire shelves for air circulation.
    Since this year’s harvest was small, my two primary purposes are to save seed for next year and to use a few of the nicest ears as decoration. Beyond that, I hope to have enough to try grinding some and popping some. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve caught the flint corn bug. This winter I plan to revisit the section on flint and flour corns in Carol Deppe’s excellent book, The Resilient Gardener, and plan for an actual corn patch next year.

    Have you ever grown flint corn? What was your experience?

  • Making Herb-Infused Vinegars – Red Fern Farm

  • Making herb-infused vinegars is one of my favorite springtime activities. So many spring herbs lend themselves well to this kind of preparation: nettle, dandelion, violet flowers, chive blossoms, red clover, and more. After a long winter reading and dreaming and using up last year’s herbs, it’s exciting to be using fresh herbs once again. (Of course, if you don’t have access to some of these herbs to use fresh, you can also use them dried, like I did in the photos below when I made a batch over the winter for a friend!)

    Herb-infused vinegars are one of the easiest herbal preparations to make: all you need is vinegar, fresh or dried herbs, a container in which to store the mixture while it macerates, and a few basic kitchen utensils. Making an herb-infused vinegar is exactly like making a tincture–in fact, acetic tinctures (aka herb-infused vinegars) were once just as common as alcohol tinctures. These days, alcohol tinctures are more popular as they have a longer shelf life and can extract a greater range of plant constituents (more on that in a moment), but herb-infused vinegars still have their place in the home medicine cabinet–and in the ranks of culinary condiments.

    The Vinegar

    In general, it’s best to use a high-quality apple cider vinegar (ACV for short) for your herb-infused vinegars. Apple cider vinegar has its own health benefits: it’s used to improve digestion, lower blood sugar and blood pressure, and promote heart health. It’s also an effective antimicrobial. For herb-infused vinegars that are primarily intended for culinary use, white wine or red wine vinegars may be used. White wine vinegar is a particularly good vehicle for infusing colorful herbs like chive blossoms or violets since it takes on the color of the extracted pigments. Avoid distilled white vinegar as it is sometimes derived from petroleum.

    If you choose to use apple cider vinegar, you’ll find yourself faced with two more choices: filtered vs. unfiltered and raw vs. pasteurized. Raw, unfiltered ACV (like Bragg’s, pictured here) can contain bits of the vinegar mother. Ordinarily this isn’t a problem, but sometimes those bits will start growing again and will ferment your vinegar into something watery and insipid. And it can be a little off-putting to see a tiny little mother floating around in your bottle of vinegar. Pasteurized, filtered vinegar won’t have this problem–but it also won’t have the same kind of living enzymes that raw vinegar will. There is no right or wrong answer as to which type of apple cider vinegar to use, so go with what makes you comfortable.

    Herb-infused vinegars have a shelf life of six months to several years. Some herbalists say that they can have a shelf-life of up to seven years! Since I use raw, unfiltered vinegar, I try to use my vinegars up within a year so I don’t run the risk of the mother regrowing. Herb-infused vinegars can be stored at room temperature, but refrigeration helps preserve their flavor and color (and slows down the mother in raw, unfiltered vinegars).

    The Herbs

    The great thing about herb-infused vinegars is that they’re easily adapted to the ingredients on hand. They can be made with either fresh or dried herbs, or even a combination of both. Fresh herbs tend to give the vinegar a lighter, more delicate flavor while dried herbs impart a stronger, deeper flavor. You can make an herb-infused vinegar with just one herb, or mix and match and infuse multiple herbs in the same batch.

    Herbs are full of phytochemicals that can provide us with health benefits, but the challenge lies in extracting them from plant material and into a medium that can be assimilated by the human body. Some of these constituents are water-soluble (great for teas), some are fat-soluble (great for salves and oils), and some are alcohol- and vinegar-soluble (great for tinctures). Some vinegar-soluble constituents include tannins, acids, saponins, sugars, bitters (partially), vitamins, and minerals. All of these constituents are also soluble in water, which is, of course, present in vinegar.

    Nutrient-rich herbs like nettle, dandelion, red clover, red raspberry leaf, yellow dock, and chickweed are high in vitamins and minerals. All are great choices for infused vinegars and can be a way to get easily-assimilable vitamins and minerals into your daily diet. I particularly enjoy nettle and dandelion vinegars. Dandelion vinegar can also be used as a bitter, taken before mealtimes or used as a dressing on a salad before the main dish. Many of the above herbs are considered spring tonics–common springtime herbs that help support liver function and stimulate digestion. Since apple cider vinegar also promotes gut health, herb-infused vinegars are a perfect pairing if you struggle with sluggish digestion after a long winter of rich food and few leafy greens. (Crushed fennel seed can also be a nice addition to an infused vinegar meant for digestive support.)

    From a culinary perspective, nearly any herb can be used to make an herb-infused vinegar. Some popular options are garlic, rosemary, oregano, thyme, hot peppers, tarragon, dill, and basil. Herbs with strong antimicrobial activity, like oregano and thyme, can be infused in vinegars and taken at the onset of winter illnesses like colds and respiratory infections. They’re even better mixed with honey, which yields a preparation called an oxymel. But more on that in another post!

    The Supplies

    The number one, most important thing to remember when making herb-infused vinegars is this: do not use any reactive metal bowls, utensils, or containers when prepping and storing your vinegar. Aluminum and copper are the most common reactive metals. Vinegar corrodes reactive metals, so only use non-reactive containers and utensils (stainless steel, enamel, glass, wood, plastic). If you store your vinegar in a Mason jar with a metal lid while it’s macerating, be sure to place a piece of wax paper over the mouth of the jar before capping it. Many people choose to use plastic lids on their Mason jars, but I find that they don’t usually get as good of a seal and tend to leak when I shake the jars during maceration.

    Aside from that one important caution, your supply list couldn’t be simpler: vinegar, fresh or dried herbs, a cutting board and knife for chopping fresh herbs, measuring cups, a sterilized container with a lid, a wooden chopstick or bamboo skewer, wax paper (if needed), masking tape, and a sharpie. For straining and bottling, you will need a fresh sterilized container with a lid, a stainless steel or nylon mesh strainer, a glass bowl, a piece of muslin or cheesecloth, and a fresh label.

    The Process

    Start with a clean jar–you can sterilize it in boiling water as you would for canning, but I often just swish a few tablespoons of vinegar around the inside of the jar and pour it out before proceeding.
    The amount of herb used to make an infused vinegar can vary. If you just want a slightly flavored vinegar, you can use less; if you want a strong and/or medicinal vinegar, you can use more. The ratio provided in the recipe below–1 cup of dried herb to 2 cups of vinegar–is fairly comfortable and easy to pack into a pint jar. You can adjust your ratio to taste or to suit your container. If you prefer to measure visually, simply pack your jar full of fresh or dried herb and then add enough vinegar to cover the herb.
    Add your herb to the jar, and then add your vinegar. Some people prefer to very gently heat their vinegar before pouring it into the jar to facilitate extraction, while others avoid heating it for fear of reducing its health benefits. I’ve tried both ways and I like to warm the vinegar when I’m using dried herb, but find it unnecessary when using fresh herb. Dried herbs tend to float, so use a wooden chopstick or bamboo skewer to submerge the herb until it’s all wet and any trapped air bubbles have been released.
    Cap the jar (including wax paper if using a metal lid) and label it immediately. Masking tape and a sharpie works perfectly well for this, but you can also print one on label paper for a more aesthetically pleasing look. Write the name of the preparation (“______ Vinegar”), the ingredients, the date made, and the date it will be ready. You can also add any other information you like, including moon phases, source of the herb used, what the vinegar will be used for, etc.

    Store the jar out of the light, but in a place where you will remember to check on it and give it a shake on a regular basis.

    If your jar is packed very full, be sure to check on it the day after you make it–if any of the herb is no longer submerged (both dried and fresh herbs can expand after they’re introduced to the liquid), top the jar off with more vinegar and recap. I find that shaking the jar every 2-3 days helps keep everything well-incorporated.
    Allow the vinegar and herb mixture to macerate for 2-4 weeks before straining and storing. For straining, I like to use a clean piece of muslin fabric inside of a stainless steel mesh strainer. When you strain your vinegar, be sure to squeeze or press out as much liquid as possible from the spent herb (or “marc”)–that’s where the good stuff is hiding! Compost the marc after pressing.
    Some folks like to strain and bottle their vinegar, and then add a piece of fresh or dried herb–like a thyme or rosemary sprig–to the bottle for decorative purposes. Don’t forget to make a new label–with all the same information–for your storage container.

    If you’ve never tasted an herb-infused vinegar before, much less made one, I highly recommend starting out with a small batch–you can halve the recipe below to fit a half-pint jar. Once you know you like it and will use it up, you can always make a full-sized or even double batch.

    Herb-infused vinegars can be taken on their own as a tonic, but they shine as salad dressings, as a condiment for cooked greens, in place of regular vinegar in a recipe, in marinades and barbeque sauces, in the brine for home-canned pickles, as a refreshing summertime drink with club soda and a little sweetener, used to make an oxymel, as an astringent for external wounds and inflammations, and much more!

    I’ll be writing another post about making chive blossom vinegar later this spring, because it’s one of my favorites and it looks amazing. And then in the late summer I’ll revisit infused vinegars as the first step of the oxymel process, which is one of my indispensable herbal preparations for winter wellness.

    The Recipe

    Nettle Vinegar

    sterilized pint jar and lid wax paper 1 cup dried nettle leaf (substitute 1 cup fresh chopped nettle leaves if desired)

    2 cups apple cider vinegar

  • Knitbone for a Broken Toe – Red Fern Farm

  • Or, “Broken Toes are a Bummer but Present an Excellent Opportunity for Turning Yourself into a Case Study.”

    So I’ve been quiet lately, due in large part to two events: the beginning of our farmers’ market season on May 3rd, and breaking my toe eight days ago (less than 72 hours before said market season was to start).

    Ten days before the start of the 2013 market season, I herniated my L5 disk and was bedridden for five days. So as far as serious injuries go, a broken toe doesn’t rank too highly on the list. However, it sure is inconvenient. It happened in a moment of carelessness; I stub my toes all the time since I insist on walking around the house barefoot no matter the season. But this time when my left pinkie toe caught on one of my (unoccupied) rubber rain boots, I could tell it was different. My body’s reaction to the pain was quite similar to the reaction I had when I herniated my disk: intense nausea, a cold sweat, and a horrible feeling of wrongness.

    My mother has a long history of broken toes–she’s broken nine out of ten, and some of them more than once. I’d hoped to dodge that genetic bullet but it looks like I’m taking after her. She broke her first toe at 31 and I’m not too far off that mark.

    It hurt like hell, but it obviously wasn’t a compound fracture so I decided to forego an expensive doctor visit, especially considering the conventional advice would simply be to buddy tape it and wait for it to heal.

    Of course, I have more tools at my disposal than just medical tape, and I fully intended to use them!

    Perhaps the thing that helped my healing process the most was not icing my toe. I know we’ve all had it drilled into our heads by this point that icing is a good practice for almost any injury, but that’s not always the case. Applying cold to an injury slows local circulation (thereby reducing swelling) and numbs the pain–which can be very helpful in a number of situations. But swelling is the body’s natural response to injury for a reason: in the case of a broken toe, that reaction increases blood flow to the surrounding tissues and helps immobilize the appendage and the broken bone within. Circulation in the extremities is relatively slow as a matter of course and good circulation promotes healing, so the last thing I wanted to do was shut down blood flow to my toe. I started instead with a hot Epsom salt soak, which helped reduce the swelling considerably without reducing circulation.

    That night, I applied a liberal coating of my bruise salve (which contains infused oils of elder leaf, yarrow flower and leaf, and comfrey leaf) and buddy taped my broken toe to its hale and hearty neighbor. At no point in the entire process did I have to take any kind of over-the-counter painkiller; as long as I didn’t put weight or pressure on the toe, there was no pain.
    The next day, I got started on a more intensive remedy and dug a comfrey (Symphytum officinale) root from the garden. This isn’t the best time of year for digging roots, which are typically harvested in the early spring or fall. But acute injuries aren’t exactly convenient in their timing. I deliberately allowed the comfrey root to break off in the ground so that the plant will be able to regenerate itself; comfrey will usually come back if even a 1-2″ section of root remains. Some of those sections are still buried deep so it’ll take a while, but comfrey is nothing if not determined.
    Comfrey’s healing powers are legendary, and one of its traditional names is “knitbone” because it’s so good at mending broken bones. I use comfrey leaf in my bruise salve for a gentler effect, but many of its medicinal compounds are concentrated in the root and in the root’s black skin in particular. Fresh comfrey root should be thoroughly washed before using, but it should not be scraped or peeled.
    After I washed the root, I chopped it finely (it gets gooey–comfrey root also contains large quantities of mucilage) and added it to four cups of water in a stainless steel, non-reactive pot. I covered the pot with a lid and set it to simmer for two hours in order to make a very strong decoction as well as to cook the root until it was soft and suitable for poultice-making.
    At that point, I strained the root from the liquid and ground it into a paste with a mortar and pestle. You could use a blender to puree it, but I try to avoid electrical appliances for most of my herbal preparations (which is a post for another time). To the paste I added perhaps a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to loosen it up and to help extend its shelf life in the refrigerator. One two-year-old root yielded about five tablespoons of poultice, and I applied a tablespoon at a time to my toe, on top of a fresh layer of bruise salve so that the poultice wouldn’t stick to my toe.
    Typically, poultices are most effective when they are applied hot and then reheated and reapplied as soon as they cool. For my comfrey poultice, I applied it hot, dressed it with sterile gauze and medical tape, put a sock over it all, and went immediately to bed. In the mornings, I removed the poultice and gauze, gently wiped the skin clean, and applied more bruise salve before taping my toes together again. If I had to do it again with a major broken bone, like an arm or a leg, I would definitely reheat and reapply the poultice multiple times for maximum effect.

    When I first made the poultice, I saved the comfrey root decoction and added it to another hot Epsom salt soak. I only soaked in the decoction that once, as I had a good supply of poultice and no reason to harvest more roots for further decoction. But soaking in the decoction on a regular basis would have also contributed to the healing process.

    I literally couldn’t take any time off to heal, so I just kept on moving. I did avoid putting weight on the broken toe for several days and compensated with an awkward hobble. (My chiropractor just loved what that did to my lower back…) But by day four, I was able to walk normally again without pain. I’m certainly hyperaware of that toe and I don’t think I’ll be walking around barefoot again for quite some time to come. But overall it was a minor speed bump, a footnote, if you will.

    Yes, that was a terrible pun.
    Yesterday marked a week since I broke my toe and I think it’s healing up quite nicely. It’s still too tender to cram into a closed-toe shoe, so I’ve been working in the garden in one sock and sandal and one work boot–très fashionable! It’s impossible to know how the bone itself is healing up in the absence of an x-ray. But since the typical break takes 4-6 weeks to heal you can bet I’ll be extra careful of that toe for a while and continue the salve, poultice, and taping protocol for the next week or so.

  • 10 Tips for Growing Your Green Thumb – Red Fern Farm

  • Gardening is a life-long pursuit: there’s so much to learn, and only so much you can absorb in a single growing season. I’m in love with the entire process, so I figured I would share some tips for growing your green thumb. I came up with sixty tips(!) in one sitting, but I think ten is a manageable number to start with and I’ll leave some of the others for future posts. Hopefully there will be something here for both new and experienced gardeners!

    1. Read a gardening memoir. All gardeners should have several good organic gardening references on hand, but they should also have and read a few gardening memoirs. You can learn a tremendous amount from the narrative of someone else’s garden–I know I have! I especially love reading memoirs during the winter months, when my soul is hungering for something green. Some of my favorite memoirs include My Vegetable Love by Carl H. Klaus, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate by Wendy Johnson, and The Seasons on Henry’s Farm by Terra Brockman (but there are lots more out there).

    2. Learn about plant families. For those of us without an academic background in horticulture, learning Latin names and botanical terms can feel foreign at first. But learning a little bit about plant families can yield dividends in your day-to-day gardening. There are several hundred plant families (and that number changes as botanists classify and re-classify individual species), but most vegetables (and many culinary and medicinal herbs) fit into one of nine families: Alliaceae, Amaranthaceae, Apiaceae, Asteraceae, Brassicaceae, Cucurbitaceae, Fabaceae, Lamiaceae, and Solanaceae. If you get to know these nine and then find out where individual vegetables fit (for example, kale and cabbage are both brassicas from family Brassicaceae) you’ll be able to effectively plan rotations, know what pests different vegetables might have in common, and understand more about what kind of environments and conditions individual vegetables and herbs prefer.3. Incorporate insectary plants into your garden space. Insectary plants are those that attract beneficial insects to the garden, usually due to their flowering parts. If you don’t know a clematis from a clafoutis, don’t worry–there are lots of vegetables and herbs that do double-duty in this arena. Umbelliferous plants (typically members of family Apiaceae–good thing we learned our plant families, right?) are particularly attractive to beneficial predatory insects like ladybugs, lacewings, hover flies, and parasitic wasps, while members of family Asteraceae attract butterflies and many members of family Lamiaceae (also known as the mint family) attract a plethora of bees and other pollinators.

    4. Practice season extension. If you live in the southeast, like I do, you are blessed with a very long growing season–really about nine months out of the year (February-November), especially if you utilize some simple season extension techniques. Season extension can range from the traditional and small-scale, like glass cloches and cold frames made from old windows, to modern and high-tech, like floating row cover and “caterpillar” tunnels made out of steel hoops and plastic. Regardless of your garden (and budget) size, there are season extension techniques appropriate for every gardener that will have you enjoying vegetables and herbs early in the spring and deep into winter with a little advance planning.5. Learn how to start seeds at home. Another good practice for getting a jump on the growing season is starting your own seeds. As with season extension, home seed-starting setups range from the dead simple to the exceedingly complex. Starting seeds with your kids is a great way to teach them about gardening and about natural cycles, and it can bear fruit–literally. Starting seeds for your garden also opens the door to greater varietal selection and increased control over the quality of your plants.

    6. Keep records. Gardening records can take many forms, from a narrative journal to an Excel spreadsheet. Choose a method that suits your gardening style and then decide on basic data to track. If you’re a beginning gardener this could be as simple as making note of seasonal firsts or tracking rainfall by using a rain gauge. More advanced gardeners can keep notes on harvest yields, germination rates, and crop rotations. Whatever you choose to record and however you choose to do it, that information can come in very handy in future seasons. For instance, I track germination rates (among other things) for all of our herb and vegetable starts. So if I have a flat that seems to be taking a long time to germinate, I can compare germination rates from past years and see if I’m just being impatient and the flat is well within normal rates or if something really is wrong.7. Learn to love mulch. There are definitely regions of the country where mulch carries more cons than pros–the cool and moist Pacific Northwest, for one. But here in the south, mulch is a vital gardening practice. Mulching around your plants helps conserve soil moisture, reduces soil temperatures during hot weather, suppresses weeds, prevents the loss of organic matter and soil erosion, and provides an ideal environment for beneficial insects and soil microorganisms. One of the best garden mulches is chopped leaves, but they are not available year round and gathering and storing them in the fall requires advance planning. Straw–not hay, and not pine straw–is an excellent all-purpose garden mulch even though it is a little lower on the aesthetic scale than other types. Shredded cardboard (but not shredded paper) also makes a good mulch and has the best weed suppressing abilities by far.

    8. Stretch before you work. Regular gardening imparts many physical health benefits, but they’re all for naught if you injure yourself in the process. When I still worked full-time in an office and worked nights and weekends on the farm, I suffered through constant sore and strained muscles because my body didn’t transition well between complete inactivity and heavy physical labor. Before you head out into the garden–whether it’s for light maintenance or heavy lifting–take five minutes to do some gentle stretching and warm your muscles up. It also pays to work smarter, not harder–take advantage of the miracle of the wheelbarrow instead of toting around heavy bags of potting soil or bales of straw mulch by hand.

    9. Avoid overhead watering. The single best thing you can do for your vegetables and herbs is to water their root zones, not their top growth. This is especially true for seedlings and young plants trying to get themselves established in the ground; overhead watering can spread diseases and lead to damping off. Instead of spraying entire plants with a nozzle on the shower setting, use a soaker setting or a watering can with a thin spout to water only the soil around the plant. Water plug trays by setting them in a large shallow bin of water and letting capillary action bring the water up through the holes in the bottom of each cell. Avoiding overhead watering will result in happier, healthier plants.10. Practice situational awareness. It’s one thing to grow plants, but to really know your plants…well, that’s what separates average gardeners from great gardeners. Situational awareness is often discussed in the context of complex or high-stress environments like military actions or air traffic control, but it’s a basic human skill that our ancestors relied on every day for survival. Situational awareness, simply put, is the ability to observe and analyze one’s immediate environment, understand how it functions as a whole, and determine how one’s actions might affect it. In the garden, maintaining a high level of situational awareness will alert you to potential problems before they become full-blown crises. Noticing that the soil in your containers is pale brown instead of dark brown lets you know your potted herbs need water. Spotting a few black specks on the stem of a plant reveals, on closer inspection, the beginning of an aphid infestation. Paying attention to the way seasons play out around you can also put you in tune with natural cycles–flocks of robins signal spring even before the first daffodil raises its head, and knowing which direction is west helps you figure out if those clouds might be bringing you some rain on a stormy day. And an intimate knowledge of your garden space can lead to some exciting discoveries as you begin to notice details you might have otherwise missed…

    What are some of your favorite ways to grow your green thumb?

  • Cool-Weather Herbs for the Fall Garden – Red Fern Farm

    • I’ve talked a lot lately about fall vegetables, and written an extraordinarily long post about the king of summer, basil. But today I wanted to write a short and sweet post on three annual or biennial cool-weather herbs for the fall garden. (Well, as short and sweet of a post as I’m capable of writing…)

      Now before we get started I do want to note that fall is a fantastic time of year for planting perennial herbs like thyme, sage, lemon balm, mint, and more. But that’s a post for another day. Today we’re going to talk about cool-weather lovers parsley, cilantro, and dill. All three (plus the bonus herb at the end) are members of Family Apiaceae, also known as the carrot or parsley family.

      Also: please remember that I’m writing this from the perspective of a Southern gardener in USDA Zone 7b/8a. So what survives the winters here may not do so further north!

      #1: Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

      Of the three herbs we’re talking about today, parsley is by far the most tolerant of hot weather–it can stay fresh and green all summer with a good, heavy mulch and moderate water. But it’s in its prime in the cooler weather of spring and fall. I find that its taste is also better in the cooler months; in the summer it can get a little strong and even acrid.

      Parsley is a biennial, which means that it produces only leaves in its first growing season and then flowers and sets seed in its second season. (Well, except for this year, when some of my parsley started bolting in its first season…go figure.) So a parsley plant put in the ground this fall will produce only leaves until next spring, when it will start to flower.

      Many people grow parsley as an annual and simply take it out before it flowers. But parsley flowers are very attractive to beneficial insect predators like ladybugs as well as flying pollinators–so if you have the space to leave it in the ground while it flowers, I highly recommend it.

      Parsley is a hardy herb so it will continue to produce well through light frosts. I can usually expect a good harvest through late December, when I use a huge bunch of it to make my favorite herb & veggie dip for Christmas dinner!

      Parsley can sustain cold damage in heavy frosts, however, so if you want a continuing harvest through the depths of winter you’ll need to protect it with heavy-duty row cover or cloches or grow it in a cold frame. Even without any protection, most parsley plants will survive the winter to flower in the spring due to their biennial nature.

      Recommended Varieties: “Giant of Italy” (Italian), “Moss Curled” (Curly)

    #2: Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

    In other parts of the world, the name coriander refers to both the leaves and seeds of this plant, but in the U.S. we call the leaves cilantro and the seeds coriander. Contrary to popular belief, cilantro is not a hot-weather herb. It prefers the cooler temperatures of spring and fall and is actually quite tolerant of the cold once established.

    Cilantro is an annual, so it will produce leaves early on and then flowers and sets seed later in the same season. This bolting mechanism is triggered when soil temperatures rise above 75-80 °F–which happens early in our South Carolina summers.

    If your heart is set on cilantro throughout the summer, sow frequent successions, mulch heavily around the plants, and situate them in a place where they receive only two or three hours of direct sunlight per day. Or you can let your cilantro bolt, collect the seeds, and use them to sow more plants or use them as a culinary spice or medicinal herb.

    Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that bolting mechanism when we grow cilantro as a fall crop. It thrives in the cooler temperatures of fall and, like parsley, weathers light frosts well. Also like parsley, it can sustain damage in heavy frosts so offer it some protection for continued harvests.

    Overwintered cilantro plants not protected from frosts are occasionally tough enough to survive and flower in the spring, but more often than not I find that exposed plants will succumb to the cold.

    Recommended Varieties: “Calypso”

    #3: Dill (Anethum graveolens)

    This is a weird one, I know–who grows dill in the fall when the cucumbers are long gone? But it is indeed possible as dill falls into the “cool-weather herb” category. (And it’s also possible to sow a late summer succession of cukes for fall harvest!)

    Like cilantro, dill is an annual that produces leaves early on and then flowers and sets seed later in the same season. Also like cilantro, hot weather will prompt dill to form flowering heads earlier rather than later.

    I actually don’t mind when my dill bolts because I get more mileage out of the flowering tops for pickles than I do out of the ferny leaves for cooking. But for those of you who prefer the leaves for culinary use, bolting plants can be frustrating. So if you plant some dill in the fall, you’ll have a longer window of opportunity for harvesting the leaves than you do in early summer.

    You may read in books or online that dill doesn’t transplant well, but this is a bit of a half-truth. Dill doesn’t like to have its roots disturbed, so bare-root transplants don’t work well. But normal potted dill plants (1 plant per pot, please, to avoid having to divide them and disturb said roots) with good root systems in potting soil do just fine when transplanted into the garden.

    Dill is more sensitive to cold than low-growing parsley and cilantro. If you offer your plants good protection they may survive the first few frosts but they are not hardy enough to survive long once winter really sets in. So enjoy dill leaf fresh in the fall and preserve some of your harvest dried, frozen, or in a preparation like herbed butters for winter use.

    Recommended Varieties: “Dukat”, “Fernleaf”

    Honorable Mention: Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)

    Chervil is pretty obscure in America, though it’s a quintessential French herb with a lovely, delicate anise flavor. It pairs well with fish, chicken, and eggs. Like parsley, cilantro, and dill, it’s a cool-weather herb and a good candidate for fall gardening. I simply can’t find a spot in my spring and summer gardens where chervil will actually grow–no matter how sheltered, it just keels over in the heat. So I’m hoping to give it a try in the fall garden this year. I’ll let you know how it goes!

    herbs Archives – Red Fern Farm

    1. Making Spiced Elderberry Syrup

      It starts with a scratchy throat and runny nose, or maybe just some slightly swollen tonsils and a creeping feeling of malaise. When I feel…

    2. Stay Well this Winter with Simple Self-Care

      Fall is creeping in and winter’s not far behind, so I’m going to be writing a series of posts over the next few months about…

    3. How to Blanch Basil for Perfect Pesto

      Although it’s time to start thinking about cool-weather herbs for the fall garden, it is still August and that means I have a whole lot…

    4. Cool-Weather Herbs for the Fall Garden

      I’ve talked a lot lately about fall vegetables, and written an extraordinarily long post about the king of summer, basil. But today I wanted to…

    5. Beat the Basilisk: 3 Tips for Success with Basil

      What is it about basil that has people so obsessed with this summer-loving herb? Maybe it’s basil’s complex aroma, a fresh green scent layered with…

    6. Knitbone for a Broken Toe

      Or, “Broken Toes are a Bummer but Present an Excellent Opportunity for Turning Yourself into a Case Study.” So I’ve been quiet lately, due in…

    7. Making Chive Blossom Vinegar

      I had a different post in mind for today, but seeing as I’m absolutely wiped out from our plant sale this weekend I decided to…

    8. Breathless: A Call to Self-Care

      This is the time of year when I get swept up in the whirlwind of spring and the burgeoning market season: the days are long,…

    9. Wordless Wednesday #7
    10. Making Herb-Infused Vinegars

      Making herb-infused vinegars is one of my favorite springtime activities. So many spring herbs lend themselves well to this kind of preparation: nettle, dandelion, violet…