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Storrowton offers herb garden tours


July 2, 2014
WEST SPRINGFIELD – Storrowton Village Museum will host a free educational tour of its legendary Aunt Helen’s Herb Garden on July 10 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The garden, named for Storrowton Village’s founder, Helen Storrow, is located in the backyard of the Gilbert Farmstead on the grounds of Eastern States Exposition.

The Village’s master gardeners maintain the area, which grows herbs of the time period depicted by Storrowton Village. They tend the herbs and weed the garden throughout the season, though it’s important not to weed it too well, as that would take away from the historical accuracy of the garden, master gardener Thelma Greene explained.

The typical farming family of the era did not focus on the garden; the father and sons were out in the fields, and the mother and daughters were inside cooking and doing household chores. The garden was there for convenience, its “weedy” situation not the primary concern for the household.

Visitors will be shown the four sections of the garden: medicinal, culinary, textile and household. Plants that can be found in the garden include: Orris, used as a fixative in potpourri; milkweed and lavender are used as a dye for thread as well as insect repellant; and the Joe Pye weed was believed to cure typhus. And there is much more lore and history to be shred. The herbs all have a purpose, many of them serving double-duty with more than one use.

Demonstrations will include examples of how different herbs were used in this time period, such as in flavoring vinegars or teas, which visitors will be able to sample.

The real value of the garden comes from talking to the Master Gardeners and volunteers who tend it. They possess an incredible amount of knowledge of all the herbs they care for, and are able to look at a plant, tell you what it is and explain its uses.

“It really is amazing what people learned about plants and herbs, and how we have progressed from there,” Greene said. “It’s a labor of love. You have to not only know your herbs, but you also have to have a love of history.”

She credits most of the knowledge that 18th and 19th century farmers had of herbs and natural medicines to the Native Americans, who had knowledge of the land and the uses of regular plants the farmers could find right in their backyards.

The use of herbs is “something that has evolved forever,” Greene said.

As an example, she explained how the silk of milkweed was actually spun into thread not only in the time period represented by Storrowton Village, but also during World War II, when the government commissioned farmers to collect milkweed silk so it could be used in the production of life jackets.

Storrowton Village Museum hosts Open House Tours of its historic buildings Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Aug. 22. For more information, call 205-5051 or email storrow@thebige.com.

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