The Herbal Bear - Newsletters

The Herbal Bear's
March 2009 Newsletter

In this issue

  • Starting Herbs from Seeds
  • Easy to Grow Herbs
  • The Herbal Bear Classes
  • The Botanical Medicine Program
  • Do you know someone who is interested in herbal medicine? Please feel free to forward this newsletter or click here to add a name to our mailing list.

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Starting Herbs from Seeds. 

By Ursula Basch                                                               
Herbal Bear School of Botanical Medicine

Starting herbs from seeds is easy, fun and can allow you to grow medicinal plants you might not ordinarily find in your local plant nursery. To grow plants from seed, all you need are a few simple items: a sterile growing material, a few containers,  plastic wrap or plastic covers to maintain moisture, light, seeds and a warm place to grow your seedlings.

Plastic pots or containers which retain moisture are preferable to clay pots when starting seeds. Choose a container wide enough to  prevent  overcrowding of seedlings.  Plants that dislike transplanting are best sown into small, individual containers like cell packs or plug trays. There is no need to buy fancy containers. Recycled plastic containers,  like empty food containers,  are just fine.  Remember to poke holes in the bottom for drainage. No matter what type of container you use, it must be clean and free of disease and molds. To sanitize a container, soak in 10%bleach solution for 10 minutes, rinse and let it air dry.

sowingseedsSowing Seeds
Commercial seed-starting mixes are usually composed of vermiculite and peat. They offer a weed-free sterile medium in which to start your seeds. Fill your containers three quarters full with the seed-starting mix.  Water well and allow for proper drainage.  Next, spread your seeds thinly over the top of the growing mix.  Follow seed package directions for the correct spacing and planting depth.  Very small seeds  and seeds that require light to germinate should lie directly on the surface. Each seed must be in firm contact with the moist surface to begin germinating. Use the back of a spoon or  the bottom of a glass to gently tamp down the seed into the growing mix..  Cover the seeds with a thin layer of fine vermiculite.  Vermiculite can be found in garden supply stores.  It is a soilless material which allows light to penetrate yet keeps the growing medium moist enough to encourage seed germination. If your seeds require darkness for germination, place the growing tray  in dark plastic bags until seeds sprout. Water your seeds with a spray mister, to prevent them from being flooded or washed out of place. Cover with a clear plastic to retain moisture,  making sure the cover is at least 1-2 inches above the plants.

Most seeds germinate more quickly in warmer soil than cool soil. A sunny window may be warm during the day, but grow cold at night. If you set your seed flats on "grow mats" you can  maintain an even bottom heat of 70ºF.  Setting your seed trays on top of a refrigerator will also provide enough warmth to speed germination. Once seeds sprout, move the trays to a bright growing area.


grow lightLight
 If you're starting only a few plants and have roomy window sills, a south-facing window may be all the growing space you need. But it's often easier to grow seedlings under  lights where you can insure the proper amount of light needed. Grow lights are designed to provide light in the specific ranges required by plants, but you may also use standard fluorescent shop lights.  Keep lights no more than 4" above the tops of your seedlings as they grow; lack of light is the major cause of elongated, skinny stems. Most plants need 12-16 hours of light daily. Using a timer may help you regulate the amount of light used. Don't leave lights on continuously.  Plants need some dark period each night to develop properly.

Seedlings draw energy for germination from food stored in the seed. They don't need fertilizer until they have several sets of true leaves. Seedlings grown in a soil-less mix need a weak fertilizer such as fish emulsion fertilizer mixed 1/4 strength. Fertilize only once a week. Water as needed the rest of the week with plain water. Drain excess water that accumulates in the tray, to prevent root rot.

Transplant seedlings that outgrow the cell packs into larger containers. Larger peat pots or clean plastic pots with holes in their bottoms are excellent. Lift seedlings by a leaf and support the rootball from below with a spoon when transplanting. Don't pull or hold the seedling by its stem, as you damage the new plant.


Moving Outdoors
A week or two before planting outdoors, start hardening off seedlings.  An easy way to harden plants off is to place them in a coldframe and adjust the lid of the coldframe every few days. If you don't have a coldframe, find a sheltered spot where you can put the trays of plants. Once hardened off, seedlings can be set out in the garden. Transplant you seeds in late afternoon or early evening, when the sun has passed its peak. Starting seeds isn't difficult. You will be rewarded with young starter plants that will flower or produce earlier in the garden.

Easy to Grow Herbs


Echinacea  (Echinacea angustifolia or Purpurea)

Perennial. Sow seeds in very early spring or fall. Prefers full sun, with well drained, limey soil and regular watering. Used for its immune enhancing properties.


Elecampane (Inula helenium)

Perennial. Sow seed in early spring or sow directly in garden in mid-spring. Light-dependent germinator. Grows in full sun or partial shade.  Cough and lung remedy, bitter and antiseptic. Elecampane is used for bronchial infections.


Hyssop1Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

Perennial. Seed is easy to germinate. Prefers full sun. This mildly anti-viral and expectorant herb used to treat the common cold. May be propagated by seeds, sown in early spring, or by dividing the plants in spring and autumn. Thrives in normal garden soil and minimal water. Established plants can easily be divided and replanted. Plant 1.5 feet apart.


Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Perennial. Start in flats indoors, transplant out in spring or late summer. Harvest in early flower, at least twice a season. Used as a emmenagogue and a cardiac tonic.


peppermint1Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Perennial. Seed is easy to germinate, and will grow prolifically. Prefers full sun to part shade. Thrives best in a fairly warm, preferably moist climate, and in deep soils rich in humus. Mature plants can be easily divided and transplanted to 1 1/2 ft. apart. Used as a carminative to aid in digestion.


echinaeca3Here are our Spring Classes

Click on any of the above courses to see a full description.

For our full schedule - click here

The Herbal Bear 2009 Botanical Medicine Program

We are  currently accepting applications for the 2009 Botanical Medicine Program.

The 2009 Botanical Medicine Program offers a 6-weekend program, June through October, for those who desire an in-depth herbal program. The program is held one weekend a month (twice in October). This course is very special. It offers students the opportunity to learn about herbs by placing the classroom right in the garden! The program is at the Herbal Bear, Grand Gorge, NY location - a beautiful private 30 acre property in the Northern Catskills - just 2 hourcabin1sms and 45 minutes from NYC.

Each weekend we learn about the plants that grow around us, studying their healing properties upon different body systems, gathering and harvesting the local medicinal plants which grow on the property, and developing a systematic approach to herbal formulations. By the end of the program you will be able to identify and know how to use well over 100 different herbs. Our classes are informal and relaxed - however we take pride in the fact that our instructors are among the top in their fields and include experienced herbalists, research scientists, and authors who have published in their field of botanical expertise.

Our small class size allows accessibility to our instructors both during lessons and after class. Our instructor's enthusiasm for their topics shows in their willingness to share both their time and knowledge with students - in class and one-on-one.

No one enjoys a boring classroom lecture - this is why we have designed this program to be an interactive and hands-on experience. Learning about herbal remedies takes on a whole new dimension when you have a chance to see, smell, touch and use the plants that grow right in the Northern Catskills.

The 2009 Botanical Medicine will be the 17th year our program has been running. Each year I have the pleasure to meet wonderful people who come to learn about plants and botanical medicine. The program is a unique experience, bringing together professional instruction in an informal setting which provides a relaxing environment in which to learn.

The Botanical Medicine program offers course material that is often offered in college level classes. An applicant should have a minimum of a high school diploma and be comfortable with scientific topics. Please see our web page for the full course description.

Ursula Basch
Director and Principal Instructor
The Herbal Bear School of Botanical Medicine

Over the course of the program, you will learn:floweressences2

Spring Herb Identification 
Spring Herb Identification
Herbal Terms and Resources
Wild Food Gathering
Herbs for the Digestive System
Making Herbal Teas
Plant Meditation
Herbal Harvesting, Drying and Storage
Herbal Vinegars
Making Herbal Tinctures
Medicinal Herbal Oils
Herbs for the Nervous System
Making a Herbal First Aid Kit
Herbs for Women's Health
Herbs for The Circulatory System
Making Herbal Salves
Understanding Traditional Chinese Medicine
Herbal Energetics and Diagnostic Techniques
Developing Herbal Formulations
Making Herbal Cosmetics, Body Creams and Herbal Bath Salts
Herbal Case Studies
Herbs for the Immune System
Sacred Herbs and Ceremonial Uses
Medicinal and Edible Mushrooms
Field Identification of Mushrooms Mushroom Propagation Harvesting Autumn
Roots and Barks Herbs for Colds and Flu
Making Herbal Brandies and Elixirs and Syrups
Exploring Healing Modalities (i.e. Reiki, Reflexology)
Planting a Herb Garden
As a participant you will learn the gentle cycles and rhythms of the plants as they develop and change through the seasons. Together with the plants, we will discover our own rhythms and connection to the Mother Earth. The Botanical Medicine Program meets at Herbal Bear Cabin in the Northern Catskills. Located on 30+ acres of woods and field, Herbal Bear Catskill location is a beautiful place to learn. The land is home to deer, bear, turkeys and an incredible assortment of wild edible and medicinal plants. We have a pond suitable for swimming, planted herb gardens, a water lily gardens and many paths to explore through the woods.

Program Dates
The 2009 Botanical Medicine Program meets for all of the following dates:

Saturday, June 13th - Sunday June 14th, 2009
Saturday July 11th - Sunday July 12th, 2009
Saturday August 8th - Sunday August 9th, 2009
Saturday September 12th - Sunday Sept 13th, 2009
Saturday Oct 3th - Sunday October 4th, 2009
Saturday October 24th - Sunday October 25th, 2009
We strongly encourage you to arrange your schedule to be able to attend all the scheduled weekends.

Grand Gorge, NY 

Click HERE for Public Transportation from NYC

Our Instructors
Ursula Basch
Susan Pell, Ph.D.
Bob Beyfuss
Kelly Martin

Meals are Included
Delicious vegetarian meals are included in the Program. We use organic produce and local products as much as possible.

We serve 5 meals per weekend - starting with breakfast on Saturday morning. Our meals are vegetarian and may include dairy and eggs. If you are strictly vegan or have religious limitation for your diet - you may have to bring some food to supplement what is served. We do not serve soy or rice milk. All meals are served buffet style. We ask that you assist in clean-up after each meal.

Daily Schedule
8:00am - 9:00am - Breakfast
9:30am - 12:30pm - Class
12:30pm - 1:45pm - Lunch
1:45pm - 4:30pm - Class
4:30pm - 4:45pm - Break
4:45pm - 6:30pm - Class
6:30pm - 7:30pm - Dinner

8:00am - 8:45am - Breakfast
9:00am - 12:15pm - Class
12:15pm - 1:00pm - Lunch
1:15pm - 2:45pm - Class

Our Early Registration has been extended to April 30th
Program Cost:
Early registration cost: $2650 
Registration after April 30, 2009, cost: $2850.00 (required at once)

Upon registration you will make an initial payment of $1325.00 (half the early registration total of $2650.00) which includes a non-refundable deposit of $500.00. The remaining balance of $1325.00 must be made by April 30th, 2009. Students who enroll after April 30th, 2009 must make the full payment of $2850.00.
Register online

Refund Policies:
We will make no refunds after April 30th, 2009. We will not make refunds or offer make-up sessions for any classes missed by the student.

The program costs do not include lodging. Each student is responsible for their own lodging arrangements. Please click click here for infomation about local motels and inns in the area - as well as lodging offered at the Herbal Bear. We are offering lodging information to assist you in finding accommodations. If you need further assistance, please feel free to contact us.

Recommended Reading:
There are a few books that I recommend that each student purchase.
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers : Eastern Region
Complete Guide to Medicinal Herbs by Penelope Ody
The Herbal Handbook : A User's Guide to Medical Herbalism  by David Hoffman

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