When I first heard about the Kaw Valley Herbs Study Group, my interest was piqued. I grow a few herbs — basil, oregano and a few others — but have been afraid to venture beyond those herbs with which I am very familiar. A study group sounded like the perfect place to learn new herbs and new tips on how to use them.
The Kaw Valley Herbs Study Group is open to anyone and meets on the second Tuesday of each month, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Fellowship, 1263 North 1100 Road, Lawrence. It charges $2 per person to cover costs for the group, but refreshments are provided and the organization is not-for-profit. Students are allowed in free.
Tamara Fairbanks-Ishmael, the group’s founder, modeled the organization after an herb study group her mother started three years ago in Lincoln, Neb.
“We felt like there has been a real movement towards sustainability and growing things yourself, and that has led to a groundswell of interest in herbs,” Fairbanks-Ishmael says. “We want to help people learn what to do with their herbs and to empower them. That’s what it really comes down to.”
The study group selects one herb to highlight each month and one wild native plant or spice. Topics are often timely with the season, so February’s herb is cacao (chocolate) and the spice is cinnamon. They also discuss the Herb of the Year, named by the National Herb Society, at every other meeting. The 2012 Herb of the Year is the rose.
Fairbanks-Ishmael says meetings have anywhere from 25 to 48 attendees.
“We have some regulars, but there are always new people at the meetings,” she notes.
The study group considers an herb to be any plant that is useful. They separate herbs from spices by the part of the plant that is used; leaves or stems of the plant are typically used from an herb, while spices are more likely to be from the bark or seed of a plant.
“We try to cover culinary, medicinal and aromatherapy uses; history and folklore; household and cosmetic properties; and the growing, harvesting, and propagation of the plant,” explains Fairbanks-Ishmael. “We also have demonstrations and samples when possible.”
Teaching a group everything there is to know about an herb in such a short time is impossible, but Fairbanks-Ishmael hopes people leave with a foundation that helps them find more information if they desire.
Study sessions are led by volunteers from the group.
To keep all of that studying extra-interesting, the group also has a time in the meeting set aside for “share, show and tell.” Attendees are encouraged to bring anything herb-related, including books, plants, gifts, etc. There is also time at the end to visit with other herb studiers and peruse Fairbanks-Ishmael’s extensive library of herb books.
When asked about her favorite herb, Fairbanks-Ishmael told me it was rosemary.
“I just love the way it smells, and I love how many foods I can use it in,” she explains. “I even overwinter rosemary. I just have a great, well-protected spot on the south side of my house. I pick and use rosemary all winter long.”
She notes that the phrase “rosemary for remembrance” comes from historical lore about the herb helping to sharpen the brain and memory. I am going to try to remember to plant some this spring.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or like the group’s Facebook page.