Volume 13, Issue 22 ~ June 2 - 8, 2005

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photo by Carrie Steele
Maria Price-Nowakowski has been growing herbal plants at her 42-acre Willow Oak Flower and Herb Farm for 26 years. She describes herbs as a gift of nature that can be used in different ways, from aiding sleep to flavoring tea to fighting off pesky bugs.
More Than a Good Cup of TeaBay Country herbs brim with usefulness
by Robert L. Cramer with Carrie Steele

There’s no way to prove it, but it’s entirely possible that when the 16th century Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano ventured into what is now known as Chesapeake Bay, he may have refreshed himself with an invigorating mug of tea made from aromatic leaves plucked from the Bay’s marshy shores.

Tea-friendly herbs such as chamomile, fennel and bee balm were likely abundant in this part of Maryland for centuries before curious European explorers arrived here. And for centuries, herbs here and elsewhere have been utilized for much more than brewing a good cup of tea.

The list of herbs found in Bay Country today is lengthy. Some of the names — rosemary, lavender and thyme — are familiar. But other herbs — such as partridgeberry, yarrow and the endangered golden seal — are better known to herbalists, including some in Bay Country who specialize in cultivating the plants for a wide variety of purposes.

Surrounded by Beauty
One such herbalist is Maria Price-Nowakowski of Willow Oak Flower and Herb Farm in Severn. She describes herbs as a gift of nature that can be used in many different ways, from aiding sleep to flavoring tea to fighting off pesky bugs.

Price-Nowakowski has been growing herbal plants at her 42-acre farm for 26 years. She’s third in four generations of women who have worked the farm. Youngest is daughter Heather, who does floral arrangements for weddings.

The family’s tenure at Willow Oak Herb Farm dates to 1939, when Price-Nowakowski’s grandparents bought the land. The family has secured the farm’s future, as well, putting the land under conservation easements with the Severn River Trust and the Maryland Environmental Trust, meaning that the deed now forbids further development. Beaver Creek, which flows through the property, is part of the Severn River headwaters.

Education blends with experience in qualifying this third-generation herbalist. Price-Nowakowski holds degrees in biology and pharmacognosy, the study of isolating compounds in plants. She not only grows and sells herbs, she also teaches about herbs for Anne Arundel Community College at her farm. “It’s ideal for teaching, having this living classroom,” she says.

In addition to her leafy herbs, Price-Nowakowski also grows perennials, annuals and native plants. Aromatic cooking herbs, flowering plants and cut flowers decorate tables, and shelves hold pots with plants lined up neatly over white stones.

Stroll through one of the 14 gardens — which include a white moonlight flower garden, a scent garden and a rose garden — or rest under shady trees. Or walk down to the pond, where rowboats take visitors for rides during special events. Hanging baskets brimming with reds, purples and yellows greet you as you enter the shop, where you can find home-blended teas.

Bay Weekly caught up with Price-Nowakowski just after her annual Flower Fairy Festival. A ribbon-decked May-pole, boughs of tulle and fairy relics still marked the growing season.

“We have a lot of variety here, plants you wouldn’t find at most nurseries,” says Price-Nowakowski, who says her collection of varieties must be in the hundreds.

Among the many uses of her herbs, Price-Nowakowski says she values them as “a complement — not an alternative — to modern medicine.”

Is There an Herb Doctor in this House?
Such complements are brewed by professional herbalists who study for years to prescribe the right combination of herbs to heal and support health.

Newly certified clinical herbalist Sharon Brewer practices her craft at the North Beach Healing Arts Center. There, she advises clients on which herbs to take for their specific health needs. She reaches her diagnoses by interviewing her clients and studying their medical records.

The term herbalist, Brewer says, has a range of meanings. An herbalist can be a clinician with a degree in botanical healing or a grandmother who dries her own herbs. She studied to be a clinical herbalist at Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel.

“The body wants to heal itself,” Brewer says. “Its whole purpose is to keep healthy.”

Herbs can help the body heal itself, Brewer says, more gently than the often heavy-handed drugs of modern medicine. She uses herbs not only as complements to medicine but also as alternatives.

Herbs can alleviate chronic physical, mental or emotional symptoms or illnesses, Brewer says. From an acute cold to stress to heart conditions. “It’s all connected: the body and mind.”

This holistic approach fascinates Brewer.

“I’ve been interested in herbs for most of my adult life,” says Brewer, who’s worked at a nursery and also has a background in science.

Herbs for All Seasons
Herbs favor a holistic approach. Promoting health, flavoring food and drink, creating good smells and generating beauty: They do it all.

photo by Sandra Martin
Newly certified clinical herbalist Sharon Brewer practices her craft at the North Beach Healing Arts Center. She studied to be a clinical herbalist at Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel.
erbs are sought for the rich aromas they produce, scents that may bring back pleasant memories or promote a mood. For restful sleep, for example, rose petals and the aromatic herbs chamomile and lavender are a common prescription. Here’s how to combine them: Blend 1 cup of rose petals, 1 cup of chamomile, 1 cup of lavender, 1 cup of hops, 10 drops of lavender oil. Sew two 10-inch squares of fabric together and stuff with this blend.

Herbs also offer colors to accent a floral arrangement or a seasonal wreath. Silver shades, for example, appear in such herbs such as artemisia, curry plant and French thyme; red and bronze hues are found in red rubin basil and bronze fennel; yellows come from golden oregano or creeping jenny.

You can repel bugs from yourself and your clothes with this herbal formula: Into one cup of 190 proof grain alcohol stir one-half teaspoon of the following oils: citronella, juniper, rose geranium, myrrh, pine, basil, rosemary, cedarwood and lemon. Pour into small bottles with tight lids. Apply externally — not for drinking!

You can season your food salt-lessly with this herbal recipe: Mix together 1 tablespoon of dry mustard, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 2 teaspoons of dried parsley, 2 teaspoons of dried dill weed, 2 teaspoons of onion powder, 2 teaspoons of dried savory, 2 teaspoons of dried thyme, 2 teaspoons of paprika, 2 teaspoons of ground white pepper, 1 teaspoon of finely chopped dried lemon peel.

“Plants that are useful are incredibly amazing,” Price-Nowakowski said. “There’s so much … you can never learn it all.”

But hear this word of caution: Unless you are well acquainted with herbs, it may not be a good idea to scout your backyard or neighboring fields and woods. You may find a plant that closely resembles the herb you’re seeking but that may be poisonous or irritating.

Now, if you’re looking for a satisfying and flavorful cup of tea, not unlike the cup of tea that Giovanni da Verrazano may have enjoyed while visiting our neighborhood more than 400 years ago, try this herbal delight:

1 cup of peppermint, 1 cup of chamomile, 1&Mac218;2 cup of fennel (or anise seed). Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight container. Use 1 teaspoon per 1 cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes and sweeten with sugar or honey.

Meet Sharon Brewer and Maria Price-Nowakowski 10am-noon, Sat., June 4, at Willow Oak Farm (Rt. 32 to Telegraph Rd. North in Severn: 410-551-2237.) Buy herbs and learn from Brewer to blend healing herbs and your own personal tea ($12; rsvp: 443-254-287).

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