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Harding, Deborah

Author: M.L. Benton

Copyright © 2001-2003 by Echoed Voices. All rights reserved.

Deborah Harding  began gardening alongside her parents when she was just
able to walk. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two daughters. She writes
articles on herbal concerns for magazines and web-zines, and gives lectures and
workshops on growing herbs and using them in cosmetics and cooking. She
frequently appears on a talk radio show to discuss herbs and cooking.

>From Llewellyn Worldwide

By M. L. Benton

First off, I would like to start with a small bio. Can you tell our
readers about yourself?

I live in Northeastern Ohio in a little steel
town between Cleveland OH and Pittsburgh PA. I've lived here since I was 5 years
old. Life is kind of tough in town here since the steel mills closed. We have
very high unemployment and it is difficult to make a living. Hopefully, my
family and I will be able to leave in the near future.

Speaking of my
family, I have a husband to whom I have been married for 21 years. We met in
college and have been together every since. I have two daughters: Dana age 14
and Callie age 12 who we homeschool {mainly because the school system terrible}.
Both of them are writers too. They write wonderful poetry.

I work a full
time job as an administrative assistant in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation
clinic. I love my job. It's great to see addicted individuals come into the
clinic and watch them through their rehabilitation to become valuable citizens
in our community and know you had something to do with that. I am a head advisor
to one general 4-H group and another theater and arts 4-H group. I also do
workshops at our local Barnes and Noble called "Kids in Print". I have about 14
kids from second grade to seniors that are learning how to build stories.
Eventually they will publish a book of their poetry and stories and be taught
how to submit material to publishers.

My degree, believe it or not is in
Music Education. I am a professional singer and performer. My husband is also a
musician with his Vocal Performance Degree. My daughters also sing. We have a
family vocal group called DragonScales that perform at Renaissance Faires. We
sing, play period instruments, and do puppet shows with music - all concerning
Dragons. We also perform street theater.

You work in a rehab center;
although we know as a whole these addictions have no preference to race, gender
or monetary standings, do you feel there is a connection with the unemployment
rate in your area and the clients at the center?

I can say that many of
our clients are unemployed, but more do work. I have seen nearly homeless people
that are court ordered to come into our clinic. It is fortunate that there are
people out there that contribute to a fund to help these people get the help
that they need. I have also seen influential people in our community in our
clinic and that includes doctors and/or lawyers along with any other profession.
You are right, addictions have no preference. They can hit your family, your
neighbor, or the 12 year old kid down the street.

I think that maybe the
rate of unemployment does contribute to some of the alcohol and drug problem in
the area to some extent. Many are depressed because of lack of work and lack of
money. However, I think that every area on the earth is effected by addictions
and the unemployement rate doesn't matter at all. The person working across the
desk from you can be an addict and many times you would never know it. All the
stresses in the world today can make anyone turn to something that will take the
"pain" away.

How did you and your family get started performing?

My husband and I met and graduated from a Music Program at our local
university. I have my degree in Music Education and he has his in Music
Performance, both of us in voice. (Yep, I can sing opera but I don't like to) We
started performing together just to make a little extra money, especially around
Christmas. When both of us ended up in jobs outside of music, our little music
business kept us sane.

How long have you been performing?

have been married 21 years and started performing together about 2 years before
that. It was just natural for our girls to start performing with us. We took
them to concerts when they were just babies, in fact, I sang in a Holiday
concert in December after having a Cesarian Section on November 25th. I held my
baby as I sang and another Alto in the choir held the music. My husband directed
that choir and our 20 month old sat at his feet while he directed.

kind of music do you play?

As I said, both of us can sing opera, and
have at one time or another. We both also sing in area churches, for weddings,
funerals, etc. Dragon Scales, however is a combination of New Age Celtic,
Medieval, and Renaissance Music. All of us play recorder, a wooden renaissance
flute like instrument. I play guitar (like a lute), and I could play a lute if I
could get my hands on one. They are kind of expensive and hard to find. My
husband plays a troubador and lap harp. I play harp a little too. The kids play
autoharp and psaltry as well. My husband is learning to play the pipes, but that
will take him awhile to learn. We also play Irish whistles.

I love the
name Dragon Scales; how did you come up with it?

The name Dragon Scales
was given to us by my late best friend. We were trying to think of a name and
all of us are quite taken with dragons of any type. We have dragon decor in our
home. There are dragon figurines, dragon lamps, dragon statues and such all over
the house and the garden. Dragons are pretty popular at Renaissance Fairs and
because music is based on Scales of notes, she figured it would be a good name
for us and she was right. We are now developing a puppet program for children
using dragon stories and music called Dragon Tales by DragonScales.

you tell us about your experience learning to garden at such an early age, also
about how you feel it affected you growing up?

My parents, now 86, were
both avid gardeners. Mom was in the local Garden Club and had competitions with
her two neighbors on horticultural endeavors. Dad just liked to get out there
and "work in the dirt". We lived in a suburban area with about 3 acres of land
devoted to flowers, an apple orchard, and vegetable garden. I hated to garden
when I was young. I never knew which was a weed and which wasn't and got into
trouble for pulling the wrong thing. Pulling weeds, and watering the garden was
a chore back then. I would have rather just sniffed the flowers and eaten the
vegies and apples than to nurture them. My mom and dad knew that learning is
doing, however, and I learned to plant, prune, and harvest at a very early age.
I'm really glad they did that back then because it gave me the knowledge I
needed later to really get in there and "work in the dirt". We were poor when I
was young and having an extensive garden was a necessity. Now that I have my own
home, and being a poor writer, a garden is a necessity once more although things
aren't near as dire as they were when I was young. You can't believe how much
money you save by canning your own vegetables and using them through the winter.

My husband is also a gardener. One of my daughters is a Jr. Master
Gardener through 4-H and probably knows much more than I do. My other daughter
would rather smell the flowers than work in them, but through our 4-H group we
are planting and maintaining a garden to feed hungry children. She is a part of
that and I hope will be grateful later on in life just as I was.

inspired you to write an herb gardening book?

My husband's grandmother
was a Cherokee medicine woman who had always used herbs in cooking and in
remedies. My grandmother came from Ireland, and always used herbs in concocting
remedies for the family. I guess you could say, I felt a familiarity with herbs
because of my past with them.

I started gardening with herbs about 19
years ago when my husband took an interest in them. He became friends with a
woman who had an herb farm and we visited regularly. His friend began to show us
things we could do with herbs. She also showed us methods to grow and harvest
these herbs. Herbs are the most wondrous plants in the world. You can do so much
with them. They aren't only for cooking. You can ease a cough or upset stomach
with herbs. You can prepare a sumptuous feast using herbs. You can make a
soothing skin softener with herbs or prepare a comforting and relaxing bath with
them. You can clean the mildew off the shower with herbs. Certain herbs can lend
a beautiful scent to your home and there are many crafts that can be made with
them. Actually, there isn't much you can't do with herbs.

When I began
my own exploration into herbs, there weren't many books around concerning them.
The ones I could find had little bits of this and little bits of that. There
just wasn't anything that took these little green gems from seed to final
product. (all of the final products) I decided that I would write a book that
would take a person that knew absolutely nothing about the subject from
beginning to end of 10 herbs. I wanted them to only need one book to get
started. Herbalism can be extremely overwhelming with all the publications and
different ideas now. Many people start with a menagerie of herbs only to become
discouraged when they can't keep up with them, I almost becoming one of those
people. There was a need for someone to say, start small and build - and this is
some of the things you can do with everything you grow.

Why did you
choose these particular herbs for the book?

I wanted to choose herbs
that were easy to maintain. Most herbs are easy, after all, some people consider
many of them weeds. They grow like weeds. Some people might get discouraged
because they grow too well taking over all the flower beds. These herbs need to
be contained (mint). Other herbs are a little on the difficult side. I think
rosemary is the most difficult of all herbs to grow. I can never get it to
overwinter and that tends to discourage me, although not enough to stop trying
every year. The herbs I chose were ones that just about anyone can grow with
success. There is also a variety of uses for these particular herbs. I didn't
want to present all herbs that could be used in cooking, nor herbs that were
only good for remedies. The herbs in the book shouldn't overwhelm anyone and
shouldn't discourage anyone either. They are a good starting point for anyone,
beginner or master gardener.

What is your favorite herb, and why?

That is a hard question to answer. I have a tiny little city lot and on
it I grow about 64 varieties of herbs among my flowers and vegetables. If
someone told me that I could only grow one herb, I would really be hard pressed
between my lavender, lemon verbena, thyme, sage, (I could go on forever). If I
had to pick, however, I think I could never get along without my basil. This one
herb can enhance the flavor of a spaghetti sauce, ease your stomach when you eat
too much of that spaghetti sauce, clean and disinfect the dishes you used to
make the spaghetti sauce, and can be used in a dried arrangement on the table
upon which you ate the spaghetti sauce. After dinner, when you are quite tired
from digesting, you can take a bath in a basil infusion to aid circulation and
give you a quick pick up for the evening ahead. I don't think I could live with
out basil.... but then... I couldn't live without my clean fresh scent of
lavender.... or my sage that keeps illness away all winter... or .... you get
the idea!

I really like the way you have outlined this book, instead of
having recipes, remedies and magickal lore, all in tables, you have chosen to
list them with each herb. What was your inspiration with doing it this way?

It didn't make sense to do it any other way. The idea of the book is to
pick just 3 to 5 of the 10 herbs to start with. It is much easier to go to the
basil chapter to find a basil recipe than to flip through the 90 some recipes to
find a recipe with basil in it.

Mint is one of the herbs in the book and
one of the most familiar herbs on the face of the earth. I don't know too many
gardens that aren't graced with some type of mint. Without even starting an herb
garden, someone that has mint growing beside their house could go to that
chapter and do everything that had to do with that herb. I wanted it to be easy
for the reader to get involved with their herbs and thought this would be the
best way to go about that.

How does preparing herbs for medicinal,
cooking and magickal uses differ from each other? Can you give us a few

Medicinal preparations usually involve boiling water and
making tea. There are other methods in making remedies but I think this is the
most "usual" method. This is also the way to go when making cosmetic
preparations with herbs in most cases.

In cooking, the whole fresh or
dried herb is used. You can crush dried herbs in a soup or stew or you can chop
the fresh leaves and pop them into the pot. Frozen herbs can also be used in
culinary delights.

Preparations for magical uses vary. One can powder
the herb, make it into incense by burning it, or the whole herb can be used in

As I was going through TGGTHG to test out the recipes for
cooking, I first wanted to try the basil recipes. Basil is one of my favorites.
I never would have thought of basil and tea together, because of the very
pungent aroma, so, how did you come up with basil tea?

It's very good
with honey and lemon. Some of the best tastes are the pungent ones. Basil tea
with honey and lemon was a favorite of my grandmother's as a remedy for coughs.
The basil soothes an inflamed throat while the lemon clears any sinus drainage
and the honey coats the throat. Basil and honey are also a disinfectant. I used
to love when grandma fixed this for someone who was sick in the family because I
got to have it too. This was one remedy I didn't go running away from. The best
thing is, it doesn't have to be a remedy. You can also drink it for pleasure.
That is the way with most herbs. They start out as a remedy and someone figured
out it didn't taste bad, in fact, it tasted really good. So, many things became
delicacies instead of medicines.

I made the Calendula ointment from the
recipe in your book. This ointment is fabulous - how did you come up with it?

Calendula has always been known to soothe the skin. My sister has eczema
and I have rosacia. We are always looking for something to help with these nasty
skin disorders. A friend of mine made a similar ointment she found in an herb
book and I kind of expounded upon it trying to find something to make my skin
smooth. My sister added a few more things that worked for her and that is how we
came up with something that works well for both of us. It doesn't cure the skin
problems but it sure does help. Anyone who has regular skin should be thrilled
with the ointment.

Also the honey basil dressing, this one is my
favorite I think, what made you think to put both basil and honey together for
salad dressing?

I think that goes back to the old cough remedy again.
Basil is a strong, pungent flavor but lends itself well to a sweet quality.
Sugar would be to strong, although it isn't unthinkable, whereas honey has a
calming quality. You add calming to something strong to come up with a wonderful

In your book you made this statement: "As I conducted my
research in magickal herbs, I was amazed at how many things my family and
friends do which are considered magickal." Can you tell us a little more about
this statement? How did you feel upon this realization?

Actually it was
kind of a surprise to me. I am not a magic user although I have a healthy
respect for those that are. My publisher mainly is concerned with metaphysical
subjects and wanted me to include something in on magic relating to herbs. I had
to do a bit of research and found that the folklore accompanying the herbs and
relating to magic was something my family did as regular ritual. They aren't
magic users either, but folklore had come down through the ages and was
practiced more as superstition than anything else. Carrying a leaf of basil to
be sure that you would return from a trip was something my grandmother did. If
you were going somewhere she would always give you a leaf to put in your luggage
so you would return safely. A braid of garlic always graced the wall of our
kitchen for protection. When grandmother needed money she always put a leaf of
basil in her purse. She was convinced that that brought money to her. My
husband, being Cherokee, makes sage ties (small pieces of fabric with sage in
them tied into a bundle) to give to people for remembrance and for luck. Sage is
one of the Native American's sacred herbs and is said to give positive energy
and drive away any negativity. Little did I know that many magic users use it
for the same.

I loved the folklore for each herb, what was your
inspiration for adding it?

When you become interested in herbs you want
to know everything about them. They are so amazingly versatile. Folklore is just
part of the herb. Knowing how it was used in the past gets those creative juices
going and helps you to create other uses for them now and in the future. Herbs
are steeped in folklore. Each has its own story and knowing each story enables
one to get full use of the herb.

What is the most challenging part of
gardening as whole? Also for growing herbs?

I think the most challenging
part of gardening as a whole is to accept the failures and learn from them as
much as accept the successes. I have tried for 3 years to grow zucchini. For
most gardeners this is no problem. They usually have to find people to give
their excess zucchini to. Not me. I have a problem getting one vegetable to grow
from my massive vines. The first year I had 1 zucchini and a vine that covered
half of my yard. The next year I had 2. I decided to try one more time and this
time decided that it was a lack of bees that was my demise. I would go out every
morning and dust the pollen from one flower to another with a paint brush. I
guess that helped a little because as of now (September) I have harvested about
8 zucchini from my vines. Still not good, but enough to try again next year and
see what happens.

Growing herbs really isn't much of a challenge. They
grow just about anywhere except the shade of which I have little. I suppose if
anything, it is hard to keep some herbs from taking over your garden. You have
to snip and pull. I hate throwing away any living thing, so it is usually
transferred to another area of my garden or to my friend's gardens who now hide
everytime they see me approaching with a little basket and trowel in my hand.

A lot of people live in apartments and do not have the room for gardens.
Can these herbs be grown in a large pot together?

Most herbs can be
grown in a pot, but not all can be grown together. You have to be sure that the
herbs will get together well. Whatever one herb needs the other herb shouldn't
need. Basil grows upright, thyme has a tendency to creep and stay low, and sage
bushes out. You can be successful growing these herbs together in a large pot.
The sage could be in the middle allowing it to bush out a little while the basil
can be planted in a circle around it. Basil doesn't bush out as much and will
not intimidate the sage. The thyme can be planted in and amongst the others to
crawl about the bottom of the pot and spill over. Oregano and summer savory also
like to crawl so if you planted thyme, oregano and savory in the same pot, they
would all be competing against each other for room. This would not be healthy
for any of the plants.

Some herbs are not suitable for pots at all. Dill
grows very tall and needs an anchor in the ground for it's roots in order for it
to stand upright. It doesn't do well in a pot. Yarrow is the same. I guess the
best advice for growing in containers is to try it and see if it works. If it
doesn't, try again the next year with something else.

For our readers
who wish to grow herbs in containers, you explained the herbs and which are
harder to grow in containers, can you tell us which herbs do well, and which
ones can be grown together?

Tall herbs are the ones that are hard to
grow in containers. They need a depth for their roots that a container cannot
give them. These would be yarrow, dill, fennel, beebalm, betony, echinacea,
eucalyptus, feverfew, , tansy, any artemesia, comfrey, etc. Mint does well in a
container as does many of our culinary herbs. You can successfully plant the
following herbs in containers: Basil, Bay, borage. calendula, catnip, chives,
horehound, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, marjoram, oregano,
parsley, pennyroyal, rosemary, sage, savory, scented geraniums, thyme, and

To create some culinary containers combine 2 or 3 of column 1
with 2 or 3 of column 2:

Column 1 Column 2
basil marjoram
chives summer savory
winter savory parsley
rosemary tarragon

sage thyme

For a medicinal container garden you can combine
calendula, horehound, hyssop, parsley, sage and thyme or any combination

For a fragrant garden try lavender, scented geranium, thyme, and

The following should be planted by themselves in a container as
they spread and choke anything else you would put in there: borage, catnip,
lemon balm, pennyroyal and mint.

Can you share with our readers how to
make sage ties?

Sage ties are really easy to make. Take a small square
of cotton fabric about 3 inches by 3 inches. Usually this fabric is the color
red to symbolize the blood of the people (Native Americans). Place a bit of
dried sage in the center of the fabric and bring up the corners. Tie with a
piece of red thread or ribbon. You can make tobacco ties in the same manner, by
using tobbaco instead of sage. These can be given as gifts to people that have
participated in a ritual or ceremony as a thank you and for good luck.

You have a very active life. How do you find the time to garden? Is this
a family hobby?

I guess I could say I don't sleep much and that would be
the truth. My parents were always active and I have always been active. I'm not
one to just sit and do nothing, and never was. I go to work everyday, come home
and write or prepare lessons for my kids until bed time at night. On the
weekends I garden. My husband and children also garden so it isn't just me doing
the work. If it were I wouldn't be able to sleep at all. We have a very
contained garden. We've learned to garden in a very small space and this usually
elliminates weeds and such. This year has been a challenge to us because of the
lack of rain. My tomatoes are the size of golf balls this year, they are
beautiful and tasty, but very small because of the water situation. I had to let
most of my flowers die back because of the drought and am planning a drought
resistant garden next year. The best thing about herbs is that they are
generally drought resistant. When nothing else grows they do. I love to garden,
I love to write, and I love to teach and work with children. I don't think I
would want my life to be any other way.

What type of advice can you give
to someone just starting to take up gardening?

Be patient and be
creative. Make your garden match your lifestyle. If you like to cook, plant
things that you would use. If you like to arrange flowers, grow a lot of
flowers. Match your interests and your garden will always interest you. I like
to put alot of whimsy into my gardens which, by the way, can be seen from my
online herbal newsletter PrymeThyme Online at href="">
Just click on the link for my garden. There you will see our fairy garden, our
medicinal garden, and our culinary garden. You'll see lots of gnomes, fairies,
gargoyles, and angels gracing our garden. We try to make our gardens interesting
as well as beautiful.

You also write beautiful poetry, your poem "Greed"
was used as the September Inspiration in "Echoed Voices". Can you tell us a
little about this?

I've always written poetry. When I was a teenager I
wrote songs and still do. Our little Celtic Band performs a lot of my songs. I
also play classical and folk guitar and accompany the words to my poems to this
day. Greed was inspired after I was laid off the third time from my third job in
three years. (I guess three isn't my lucky number) I felt that it was greed for
more money on my employers' part that caused my problem. It was devastating for
my family because my husband is disabled and cannot work because of a seizure
disorder. I have to work for a living and write on the side. Many of my poems
are self therapy for me. I work out my anxiety this way instead of another more
harmful way. That was the way of "Greed". I love words especially those that
tend to fit together by rhyme or by punctuation on the consonant. Creative words
that flow from the pen exite me and sometimes I wonder who it is that really is
writing. Is it me or my muse?

What project are you working on next?

I am doing another Green Guide with 10 more herbs at the moment. This
has been a long time coming unfortunately. My husband became ill and almost
departed this earth which prevented me from finishing the project first, then I
became ill. Next, my 14 year old broke her knee and had to have surgery, and my
86 year old mother had surgery as well. It seems that everytime I get a chance
to finish the project something else comes up to stop me. I am only a few weeks
away from completion and wonder what else can crop up. Or, maybe this is the
right time.

I am also working on several cookbooks that include history
of the foods. I also am playing with fiction, but I think it is a long way off
from publication. I am satisfied with teaching my Kids in Print kids how to
write and get published. Kids have amazing creativity.

You have been
through so much, what advice can you give to someone who is going through
similar tragedies?

As with any tragedy, one must forage ahead without
fear. I am a firm believer in destiny. You have several roads you can travel
through life, but one is the one you have been chosen to travel. You have the
choice to travel that road or choose another and take on another destiny. With
this in mind, one must always try to find the positive in any situation no
matter how dire the circumstances may be. My husband is disabled with a seizure
disorder and cannot work. The positive in this is that my daughers were brought
up by a loving parent. I am, unfortunately not the nurturing parent. I would
rather work than take care of a house and the kids. He, however, loves to cook
and sew and he was able to help in homeschooling our children. That is the
positive there - instead of leaving our kids to be brought up by daycare and
schools, he was able to do it. If he would have been able to work, he would not
have these joys, nor would our girls be the way they are today.

How do
you feel you have grown through these?

Everyone grows through adversity.
It is one of the best teachers around.

If you could change one thing in
your life, what would it be?

Trust me when I tell you my life isn't
perfect. We live from week to week with little to spare. {No, the life of a
writer is not glamorous}. But, we do have a house to live in, and most of the
time enough food to eat. Sometimes we even have enough to go out to a movie. I
have a great husband and some wonderful daughters that are most of the time,
good and kind. We have our problems but there isn't much I would change. I'd
love to be rich, but would everything else stay the same? I don't think so.
About the only thing I would change is to be a full time writer, but then I
wouldn't have the opportunity to help the people I work with change their lives.
So I guess I'm happy right where I am.

Can you tell us about the goals
you still want to accomplish?

I would like to get a few more books under
my belt including some fiction. I would also like to continue performing and
singing as that does bring joy to so many people both young and old alike. But I
think my greatest goal in life is to inspire youth to become active in their own
lives and in their communities. There are so many young people out there with
absolutely no direction in their lives. If I can touch some of those kids and
direct them in some way to make them self sufficient and happy, then I guess
I've done what I want to do. I hope someday, one of the kids that I teach in my
writing workshops will dedicate a best seller to me. That would be my biggest

I have enjoyed our interview tremendously. Will you come back and
do another interview with us?

That woud be lovely.

Thank you,
Deborah, for taking your time out to do this interview with us. I wish you much
success in your future endeavors. May the Light always be upon you and may Love
always surround you.

I have enjoyed it.

Deborah Harding

Be sure to visit Ms. Hardings website Prymethyme to keep up-to-date on
all her wonderful writings, not just in herbs but of her wonderful poetry as
well. You may visit at:

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