Having an Herbarium (an Emily Dickinson Inspiration)

Emily Dickinson is my people. I first came across her poetry when I was about 12 or 13, reading the height of ‘80s teen romantic literature, a series called “Sweet Dreams”. Anybody else remember those books? Did you read them with New Kids on the Block muzak coming from your cassette player? Anyhow, I’ve lost my copies of those along with many other books from my youth, which really makes me sad and explains why I don’t lend books anymore.

The Sweet Dreams stories I distinctly remember as the ones that sparked my fascination in Emily Dickinson are called “The Right Combination” and “Love Lines”. I remember the titles and the story lines like I read them yesterday. I would give anything to own traditional copies of these books again… okay, maybe just a hundred pesos each, so if you have them, please consider selling them to me.

This post isn’t about Sweet Dreams, but about Emily Dickinson and how, decades after she grabbed me with lines like “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” (fodder for my reclusive, angst-ridden, popularity-loathing teen self), she’s still finding ways to remind me that she’s a kindred soul.

Consistent with my fangirl leanings, I already know a lot about Emily Dickinson. I did my high school senior year research paper on her (my teacher actually groaned at the breadth of the folder I’d turned in), as I did my Comm 2 research paper in my first year of college, with focus on Emily’s love life (the professor was amused and delighted with my enthusiasm, saying that I’d actually already created a mini-thesis and I could just develop and expound on what I had for my actual thesis – yeah, that was three years away and I couldn’t connect the topic with my actual major, which was Spanish).

So, the recent pleasurable fellow feeling I’ve had in relation to Emily stemmed from an article about her herbaria. I knew she studied botany and was an avid gardener, but I failed to home in on that information as something of significance when I was young. I’m very much interested in botany, but have never actively pursued the study, except casually in gardening and reading for the purpose of gardening and homeopathy. I figured it was time to put some system and structure into the interest.

With the feature on her herbaria, I found another way to not-so-subtly re-introduce her to my homeschooler (of course, my daughter is already familiar with some of Emily’s poems, thanks to her obsessed mother). With the poet as inspiration, we started working on our own herbarium.

We basically took a scrapbook, onion paper, and white label stickers (all of which were already in our supplies and miscellaneous drawers), and then we started clipping from our own garden. Let me tell you, our herbarium smells lovely. It’s not limited to our own garden plants, of course. When we see something pretty or interesting in our nature walks, we clip a sample and put it in a baggie to be researched and added to the herbarium later. Don’t worry; in our foraging and wildcrafting jaunts, we’re always careful not to overharvest.

What information do we usually jot down in our herbarium to accompany the cuttings?

  • Common name, location where it was found
  • Scientific name
  • Description
  • Practical function

Doing this reminds me of the 100 Species Challenge I participated in on my other blog, which was kind of like working on an online herbarium, using pictures instead of actual clippings. Virtual or actual, I find creating an herbarium fascinating and really fun. Now, I understand how this interest can leave others cold, but if you like botany and find pursuits like this incredibly satisfying, make your presence known in the comments section. Do the same if you love Emily Dickinson. 🙂

Practical Ways to Make Use of the Lavender in Your Garden

lavender

We don’t have a lot of outdoor space so we make do with container and vertical gardens. We don’t really have any ornamental plants at the moment, just ones that offer medicinal, gastronomic, and culinary value. I’d say that they are still pleasing to the eye even if they’re not strictly decorative.

Generally, we can eat or cook our plants. This is probably the reason why my husband, as he rearranged the pots hanging from our wall grid, asked me what the lavender was for.

I’m not sure what his intent was in asking that, if it was out of idle curiosity or if it was more pointed, but it got my back up and made me defensive.

I knew lavender was useful in so many ways, but at that moment, my brain shut down and I couldn’t come up with one practical purpose the plant has. As I fitfully stammered my way into a passable reply, my husband cut in, “Besides smelling nice.”

Rats! Aromatherapy was going to be my first point too. My mind hummed. It cried, “Food! He cares about that!” I knew lavender was added to cakes and other sweets, but I regret to say that I wasn’t able to make my case for lavender that day. I don’t remember why. Our children are master disruptors. No conversation between my husband and myself doesn’t get interrupted sooner or later.

The next time he asks though, I’ll be prepared. With bullet points too.

Having lavender in our tiny garden is smart because we can use it for:

  • Lavender tea – It calms you down, soothing anxiety and relieving stress.
  • Lavender-infused desserts – This may sound like eating something that tastes of soap or perfume, but did you know that lavender is actually one of the ingredients in herbes de provence? I also got to try a vanilla-lavender-honey ice cream in France and it was absolutely divine.
  • Lavender sachets – These are for scenting drawers and closets, especially where I place the kids’ pajamas. Lavender is known for inducing sleep and relaxation, so it helps to have their sleepwear smelling of it. I personally don’t need it as I pretty much pass out from exhaustion every night. What I need are stimulatory scents that help keep you awake such as mint and cinnamon.
  • Lavender nosegays – They not only serve as home décor placed in vases or hanging from a hook somewhere, they also make the house smell lovely. Lavender keeps on looking fresh even after it dries.
  • Lavender beauty and health aids – If you need to calm down, try rubbing lavender between your fingers and then massaging your temples. You could also use lavender and water as a facial mist. Honestly, there are so many benefits offered by lavender that there is an abundance of possibilities when it comes to its use.

Now that I’ve got my answer prepared, I can pretty much guarantee that the question of lavender’s relevance shall never arise again.

What about you? Do you have a lavender plant? Where and how do you use it?

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