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Posted on Tue, Aug 4, 2009 : 8:05 a.m.

Project Grow talks herbs with Caryn Simon

By Joan Lambert Bailey

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A favorite edible flower for summer salads is without a doubt calendula. Those blazing petals sprinkled on the verdant green of lettuce, chard, and kale is one of the prettiest sights going this time of year. Yet, like basil, there can be a wee bit too much as the season kicks into high gear. Caryn Simon, local doula, will be teaching a class on how to make a handy salve out of that excess.

Caryn took the time to talk a bit with Project Grow about the class, the importance of learning about herbs, and the value of working with herbs.

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How long have you been making salves? Since 2001. I had just moved back from New Mexico, and was working as a postpartum doula for Dr. Beth Barclay. She supported my brainstorms to come up with an all-purpose salve and hand out samples at Liberty Pediatrics where I worked.

Why did you start? I wanted to make money doing something I loved. I think it is very important that we as consumers can identify all the ingredients in the products we use on our bodies and our babies bodies, too.

Did someone teach you how to work with herbs or did you also take a class? I've mostly apprenticed with various elder women, and read lots of books and experimented slowly on my own.

If someone is a first-timer at something like this, what would you recommend as a starting point? Making your own herbal tea is very simple, and a great way to connect with plants in our area and get to know them. My first was a tea made out of lemon balm. I was studying with an ayurvedic herbalist in Cazadero, Calif., and she taught me how to make tea in a mason jar. Lemon balm was the herb I connected with first because it was growing in abundance on her land. A few herbs that grow around Ann Arbor that would be great are raspberry leaf, nettle, red clover and such.

Clearly, your class is a good start, but if someone is looking at, say, an abundance of lavender, what might you suggest? Making herbal baths with lavender would a great use. Adding the lavender to some nice sea salt and taking a dip - this kind of bath would be great as a stress reliever before bedtime or for headaches or cranky babies.

Do you need a lot of special equipment or ingredients? Not at all. A double boiler is essential, some beeswax, a cutting board and knife, a Pyrex pitcher helps, little jars...a May Erlwine CD...

If I was interested in doing this sort of thing, what kinds of plants would you recommend growing? For salve, I'd recommend calendula, comfrey, nettle, plantain, yarrow, and lavender. Many of these grow on their own in ABUNDANCE.

Are there any books or other resources you might recommend for folks interested in learning more about making their own salves or lotions? Yes. There is an excellent book by Dina Falconi called "Earthly Bodies, Heavenly Hair: Natural and Healthy Personal Care for Every Body". I would also highly recommend any of Rosemary Gladstars books. She is a living goddess.

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What other products do you make out of natural ingredients? Where to begin? Shampoo, breath freshener, mosquito spray, herbal tea, tinctures, bit and sting paste, powder....the list goes on!

What's your favorite thing to make and why? I love developing new products and playing with recipe ideas. Right now, I'm working on a product that is going to have mica in it! Fun, fun for little fairy girls!!

What do you find the most satisfying about creating these products? The packaging. I almost studied graphic design at Madison. No really, it slows me down. It helps me feel grounded and womanly.

Why do you think it's important to teach others about how to make this kind of thing? There are so many reasons. To connect with the earth and slow down, consume less, protect and honor the plants, empower our abilities to heal ourselves gently, gather communally.

Do you think making these products is a good match with being a doula? Why? Oh yes, indeed. My line of products is expanding, but it was originally focused on mothers and babies. Because I am around new families so much, I get ideas about what they might need and come up with natural, simple, herbal ways to fill that need. I feel my two passions fit really well together. Both are very grounded paths - being around birth and playing with herbal medicine - and both are really calming to me. I feel my herbal knowledge benefits the families I work with, and my love for babies and children in turn inspires a lot of my herbal ideas. Maybe soon I will teach a class with little ones!

Is there anything I haven't asked you that you want to make sure people know or find out? My last salve-making class this year will meet August 8th and 22nd. If someone is interested in attending they should call me up (734-646-1341) or send me an email. As of today (Sunday, July 20th) I have three spaces left. I also host a bi-monthly tea gathering at Little House Farm, too! Come make tea with other women and their pregnant bellies!

(Still hankering for more about herbs? You can also read another interview with Caryn over at the Ann Arbor Chronicle.)