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Illinois gardener plants medical herbs

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Photo - In this July 19, 2014 photo, Bethany Nagel, owner of Stone House Herb Company, inspects one of the sage beds at her place in rural Shannon, Ill. Bethany and her husband, Dave, began planting in the area seven years ago. The gardening is done without the use of chemicals. Nagel is determined to grow medicinal, culinary and ceremonial herbs in an organic and ethical way. (AP Photo/The Journal-Standard, Tony Carton)
In this July 19, 2014 photo, Bethany Nagel, owner of Stone House Herb Company, inspects one of the sage beds at her place in rural Shannon, Ill. Bethany and her husband, Dave, began planting in the area seven years ago. The gardening is done without the use of chemicals. Nagel is determined to grow medicinal, culinary and ceremonial herbs in an organic and ethical way. (AP Photo/The Journal-Standard, Tony Carton)
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FREEPORT, Ill. (AP) — When Bethany Nagel moved with her husband, Dave, from the Chicago suburbs to rural Shannon seven years ago, she knew they would have a better life. She wanted to find fresher, healthier foods and knew a little about the benefits of buying local produce. Having an herb garden was her dream.

The couple isolated and cleared about an acre of good ground between their house and old barn. They built raised beds and filled them with good topsoil. Bethany Nagel learned which plants would thrive in northwest Illinois and began to plant. That was the beginning of the Stone House Herb Company, 4865 S. Bolton Road.

The gardening is done without the use of chemicals. Nagel is determined to grow medicinal, culinary and ceremonial herbs in an organic and ethical way.

"Ethically means I don't over-harvest. When I wildcraft I don't take everything," she said.

Wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting plants from their natural habitat for food or medicinal purposes.

"I don't take all the flowers. I don't take all the plants. I leave stuff behind for the pollinators, birds, butterflies and bees," Nagel said. "I try to work in a holistic manner for the good of the planet."

A couple years ago, she enrolled in a series of online classes and became a certified master natural herbalist. Now she shares her harvest knowledge.

"I'm raising quite an assortment of herbs including mugwort, St. John's wort, lemon balm, comfrey plantain, Chinese motherwort as well as tarragon and sage, which can both be either culinary or medicinal," she said. "Our big push this year is the expansion of our medicinal herb beds. It seems to be going well."

She said the Chinese have used dried mugwort leaves for centuries as a method of heating specific acupuncture points to treat physical conditions. The most common modern-day use of St. John's Wort is for depression. Tarragon has valuable phyto-nutrients known to have anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. Milk thistle has been used for 2,000 years as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly liver, kidney and gall bladder problems.

Nagel is a certified master natural herbalist but is unable to recommend medicinal herbs as remedies. She can provide educational information about her medicinal herbs. It is important to note that as with any herbal remedy, there can be benefits and side effects. Bethany said she is available for educational sessions to explain the potential benefits of her herbal and garden products and to discuss possible drawbacks.

As the growing season progresses, Stone House begins to yield culinary herbs. Nagel says fresh is best.

"The difference between what you get from us at Stone House is that I'm harvesting the best of the best of whichever herbs are ready, whereas when you purchase from one of the big spice or tea companies you get everything that was in the field — stems, flowers, leaves and whatever. They mix the good and the bad together, and that affects potency and flavor."

Right now, Stone House has fresh sage, thyme, French tarragon, oregano and rosemary. More varieties will be available later in the season. Quantities are somewhat limited because this is their first year of growing surplus for market.

"Next year I'm thinking to stage a lecture series where people can come out to the farm, tour the herb gardens and discuss their needs," Nagel said. "It might be nice to take it to a sort of herb fest level and bring in artisans and craftsmen."

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Source: The (Freeport) Journal-Standard, http://bit.ly/1A7jN2u

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