"Is there any difference between using fresh herbs and dried ones?" I asked.
The uniform gasp made it clear I had blundered, and blundered badly. That was the wrong thing to say to members of the Holborn Herb Growers Guild. These ladies are educated in herbs -- cooking with them, using them decoratively, and even using them medicinally. The fruits of their love and labor grow alongside the historical structures of Western Reserve Village at the Canfield Fairgrounds.
Member Kathy Mecak of Boardman takes oil of oregano for heartburn. She swears by ginger for arthritis, believes chamomile creates calmness and sage improves clarity of thought.
Rosemary, other members will tell you, is wonderful in bread, and there is nothing like fresh oregano in cooking.
"That fernlike one," said Bunny Pavlov, "is yarrow. Roman soldiers used it to stop bleeding. That one is foxglove; it's digitalis -- used for heart disease." Pavlov (yes, she IS related by marriage to the Pavlov in your science book) is president of the guild and a longtime member.
The guild began as the brainchild of co-founder and member Carri Bookwalter, who first became interested in herbs at her New England home.
"In the '70s, interest in herbs exploded in Connecticut," Bookwalter said. "I visited Caprilands Herb Farm [in Coventry] and saw herbs growing all over. I had never seen the plants before. They were beautiful and smelled so good."
When Bookwalter moved to Ohio, she had trouble finding the herbs she wanted or books on the subject. She and friend Carolyn Martindale, a retired YSU professor, started reading everything they could. Soon they became local experts and were asked to speak at gardening groups.
In 1982, they formed the guild. Twelve initial members blossomed into 44 who tend three distinct herb gardens: a scented garden for the blind behind Ford Nature Center in Mill Creek Park, a garden at the Schiller Chuey Summer Kitchen in Boardman Park, and the guild's gardens that grace Western Reserve Village. The guild, which is privately funded, also holds yearly plant sales, teas, herb fairs and culinary and craft classes.
Western Reserve Village, which (like all their gardens) is open to visitors, has theme gardens. "Around the store are culinary herbs," explained Bookwalter as several members led me on a tour. "The border is thyme -- all different kinds." She pointed out chives with blossoming deep purple flowers, horseradish and sage. Loveage, she explained, has a celery flavor, and the "stems are hollow, making it a perfect straw for Bloody Mary's." Hops is also growing there.
By the historical law office of Elisha Whittlesey, a small brick building, is a decorative herb garden. The Settlers Garden surrounds a tiny log cabin, which barely seems able to hold the 10 to 14 people who would have lived there.
To the left of the restored library is the Native American Garden, from which I am given a few leaves of Comfry to test the wisdom of using it to remove warts. There, too, are Jerusalem artichokes (called sunroots by Indians), herbs used for dyes and herbs used during childbirth. On the library's opposite side is a Shakespeare Garden featuring rosemary, rue and thyme.
A few feet away, in the Children's Garden, I'm told to run my thumb and forefinger along the soft surface of a fuzzy leaf the size of a lamb's ear, which happens to be the plant's name. "It calms you and soothes you to caress it," member Terry Hamm said.
It represents a lot of work -- "hours and hours till night falls" work, this year hampered by late season rains. But not a one would stop. As Hamm said, "It's been 20 great years."