Adventures in Urban Herbalism: Gardening – The First Steps

Posted on February 3, 2012. Filed under: Herbal Gardening, Urban Herbalism | Tags: , |

I continue down the path toward growing medicine herbs in my space in the city.

Marsh Bridge - (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

The Beginning Readings:

The first book I read was The Medicinal Herb Grower Volume 1 by Richo Cech which gave me a nice overview and things to think about. (I reviewed it a bit ago so I won’t go much into it here.) Now the second book I read, Urban Farming: Sustainable City Living in Your Backyard, in Your Community, and in the World by Thomas Fox, ended up rounding that off nicely and gave me some food for thought. I’m tempted to give it a full review another time but for now – it is an excellent overview of gardening, planting, etc. concepts that seem to be left out of some of the other books (because perhaps they just assume you know although you might not) as well as good food for thought. And most importantly I learned lots of things I didn’t know before and found really interesting! Which is so often what I really want in a book. Definitely recommend it.

Deciding What to Get and Where to Get It:

I decided to begin with an insanely unrealistic fantasy list first – just to flex the mental muscles and have fun. So I flipped through a couple of big herbal encyclopedias and made a list of everything that struck my fancy regardless of how sensible it was. I let myself squee with joyously irrational fantasies of actually growing them all…for about a week.  Eventually after looking at list with a some what more realistic eye I pared it down to things I could actually have a chance of growing. (A handy first step is getting acquainted with hardiness zones as outlined on the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone map – this gives you a rough idea of what will do best/survive in your area. Most books and places you order from will reference it as starting point.)

One final check I made before ordering was to see if anything I wanted was against the law to buy, plant, etc. in Massachusetts. (Hey and lets admit it, we herby folks loves us some plants that aren’t always beloved by others!) Most seed places will probably not have for sale things on the national list of banned plants, but the states vary a lot. Certain plants will be fine for one state but not another. (Here the list for Massachusetts.) Luckily, nothing I wanted was going to be a problem.

There were a couple of things I kept in mind when deciding on places to buy seed that I wanted the companies to offer:

  1. Safe Seed Pledge – places pledging not to use GMO seed. The Council for Responsible Genetics originated that and keeps a listing of those companies that do.
  2. Organic – the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association has a partial list, and lists many of the reasons why you should care too.
  3. Bioregion Grown – seeds from plants grown in your bioregion will be better adapted to growing in it. Permaculture Activist has a list of seed companies by state as a starting point.

Now mind you, I like considering everything, but remember it’s never worth getting overly obsessive about matching every criteria!   I ended up ordering most of my seeds from a place in Massachusetts – Organica Seed. And went to a couple of places out west to get the couple of things that I didn’t get there – The Thyme Garden Herb Company and Horizon Herbs. All great places.

So what did I order in all? – Here’s the list:

  • Calendula
  • California Poppy
  • Chamomile
  • Feverfew
  • Lemon Balm
  • Motherwort
  • Mugwort
  • Passionflower
  • Red Clover
  • Self Heal
  • Skullcap
  • Violet
  • Wild Bergamot

Probably slightly more than I may actually be able, or want, to grow but I’m up for the adventure of trying. If there are some I don’t end up using I may give or trade them away or see if I can let them find homes in other places around Boston.  Just call me Mikey Herbalseed! 😉

I’ll be doing some experiments of container and vertical gardening where some of these may end up. I may seed part of the existing soil in the yard space I’ll have with Red Clover to build up the soil for next year rather than plant anything else there. I may try some things with grow lights in my room’s window seat.  Making those decisions and planning the details is still part of the next steps.

To be continued…

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5 Responses to “Adventures in Urban Herbalism: Gardening – The First Steps”

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Do you have interest in planting organic plants rather than seeds? Some of the things you have on your list I have in my gardens in Maine. I’d be happy to off-load some of the plants to you when the ground isn’t frozen. Just a thought!

I’m interested in the adventure of growing from seeds, but completely expect things to not work out as planned. So I may be looking at plants. Thanks for asking! Plus it may be a fine excuse to meet and talk sometime – I’ve been wanting to look into EHI for bit (probably not the round of classes this spring but perhaps after that.)


I’d like to meet you too. And nice to know you’re aware of EHI. We’ll figure out a time to connect. And let me know how things progress with the herbs.

A good list. your garden will look very ornamental as well as having useful herbal plants.

Thanks! I’m really looking forward to getting things started and see what develops!


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