Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Rosemary House (Mechanicsburg PA)

To grow them is to know them, to know them is to use them, to use them is to love them, and then happily herbs become your way of life. -Bertha P. Reppert
(stripping elderberries at the Rosemary House in Mechanicsburg, PA)

No matter how you define Good People, there are few who rank as high as the wonderful folks at the Rosemary House in charming Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

Master herbalists Susanna Reppert-Brill and husband David Brill are the owners of the Rosemary House herb shop, and culinary artist and sister Nancy Reppert runs the Sweet Remembrances Tea Room next door. The Rosemary House was founded by their mother Bertha Reppert, and if you hang around herbies long enough you're bound to come across one of the many booklets and books that she wrote. If you were lucky enough to have taken one of her classes, there's a good chance you became one of her many pen pals. In addition to being the very definition of a family business, the Rosemary House is one the oldest herb shops in the country.

I called Susanna on Tuesday about coming to work for them for a few days, and within minutes I had an invitation to come stay with them on Friday and Saturday, work in the shop, play in the garden, ask them more questions than any normal person has the patience to answer, meet the kids and cats, and even join them for dinners. As if that wasn't generous enough, they were kind enough to put me up in their spare bedroom, welcomed me to their church on Sunday, and let me sprawl my silly self out all over the kitchen as we made batch after batch of delicious goodies.

So what did we do?

Well, we started out in the herb shop. Susanna put me to work mixing and packaging teas while she mixed up a giant tub of their famous Roastmary spice blend. All the blends and teas are mixed by hand; from the moment you step into the shop, you're enveloped in the delicious scents of whatever culinary concoctions Susanna's working on that day. I didn't have too much time to envy her lucky customers, though, because after we finished in the shop, we headed out back to the garden to harvest the hops and pull as much as we could down from the greenhouse roof and the neighboring cedar tree.
(the gorgeous hops flowers, in all their sticky, itchy glory)

(Susanna and the hops vine)

After we finished with the hops, Susanna's wonderful daughter Angelica helped me harvest some elderberries from the tree at the back of the garden. We didn't take any pictures of that process, but here are some other shots from the Halloween-themed garden:

The next day was a busy one, too. We stripped the berries and made 2 kinds of elderberry syrup (great for warding off colds and flues and boosting the immune system), dried and pressed comfrey and tobacco, brewed a Four Thieves-inspired vinegar, tinctured hops in spiced rum, then again with valarian in Scotch whiskey (yup, I'm calling that one Valarian Hops-Scotch, cause I'm just that bad...), and blended sage honey. That evening I stripped the bark from the black willow I harvested at the beginning of the week, though I haven't yet decided which menstrum I'll use to tincture it. Here's a picture of some of the goodies.
(from left: spiced elderberry syrups, hops tincture, valarian hops-Scotch, and more hops tincture)
(yours truly with some fresh sage honey and the sage bush it came from)

Tune in over at the Rosemary House blog for info on making elderberry syrup and the Four Thieves-esque Vinegar! Until next time, stay healthy, have fun, and enjoy your Day of Rest. Blessings,
Blackbird's Daughter

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