Herbal Infusion

Herbal Infusion

Most of us think of food when we think about herbs. Folly Delgado thinks of medicine. Delgado, a volunteer for Gather New Haven and coordinator for the Clinton Avenue School garden, recently spoke at the Fair Haven Branch library about herbal remedies for common ailments, often holding up or passing around herbs from an inviting display. But first, she emphasized that her knowledge was “by no means any substitution for advice you would get from a medical professional” and urged us to do our own research.

Delgado herself began researching “many, many years ago,” when she felt like her kitchen garden was “taking up lots of real estate and needed to be working better for me” rather than just “flavoring my pasta sauce or seasoning a Thanksgiving turkey.” To her surprise, she found that common herbs could be used to prevent or address many ordinary ailments. For example, she says, parsley not only helps freshen breath, but is a natural antihistamine, “effective if you suffer from allergies, hay fever, and headaches.”

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Delgado has some every morning in a cup of tea. First, she cuts open a Stash Lemon Meyer teabag, easily found in grocery stores, then sprinkles in parsley and marigold flowers, which she’s harvested and dehydrated, and finally either knots the bag or puts the tea in a strainer. Some herbs taste better than others, so for those who are new to all of this, she recommends buying commercial teas as an economical way to try herbal and flavor combinations before committing to growing them yourself.

During the interactive session at the library, Delgado discussed a wealth of herbs and ways to use them, addressing beauty, taste, aroma, convenience and cost while emphasizing medicinal properties. Rosemary, she says, relaxes the nervous system; sage fights respiratory infections and reduces sweating, so it may be good for hot flashes; oregano can “soothe sore throats, calm a cough and ease nausea”; and add in feverfew for headaches. You can cook with herbs, infuse or steep them in water or honey, create a decoction (simmering them in water for 25 to 45 minutes) and make tinctures (placing an herb in a liquid like alcohol or vinegar for four to six weeks) or salves (steeping herbs in oil for four to six weeks, then straining and adding beeswax). Recipes are abundant online, and Delgado also recommended exploring thrift stores and libraries for books on growing and using herbs.

While seeds and starter plants are available at local nurseries and even Walmart, Delgado also finds seeds online via Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Pinetree Garden Seeds. “Everyone who can garden, should garden,” she says, but she also acknowledges that “not all of us are gardeners” and gave tips for sourcing herbs. New Haven’s Edge of the Woods and Hamden’s Thyme and Season have bulk sections where you can stock up or buy tiny quantities, especially useful if trying something new. Online, she says, Frontier Co-Op, which is a mere 10 bucks to join, offers bulk herbs, frequent sales and a wide variety.

Encouraged by Delgado’s knowledge, tips and experimental approach, the audience in the library asked many questions—and answered Delgado’s about what kind of workshops they would like to attend in the future—before leaving not just with herbal dreams but also herbal direction.

Written and photographed by Heather Jessen. Image 1 features Folly Delgado.

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