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Kathy Sanders: Lincoln’s ‘Herb Lady’

Gardening season is in full swing, and with the focus these days on what consumers call “clean eating,” there’s a resurging interest in herb cultivation. Local green thumb Kathy Sanders has made a name for herself by growing these edible plants.

I caught up recently with Lincoln County’s “Herb Lady” at Buds and Blooms, where she works part-time. I was there for one of her seminars.   

“Trust me, after today, you’re going to know how to grow herbs,” Sanders assured the crowd that had gathered under a central pavilion. “Anybody can grow herbs.”

Sanders, 58, tells of developing a nose for herbs as a little girl. She was visiting her great-grandmother when she smelled what she thought was gum. “She took me outside to the end of her house and there growing on the ground was peppermint — everywhere,” she laughs. “And that was my first introduction to herbs.”

Sanders has spent decades learning about herbs — how to grow them, how to preserve them, and how to use them. Early on she found out that a sprig of parsley is loaded with vitamins A, B, and C and will cleanse your breath – even after eating garlic. She read that chewing on dill seeds will lessen the pain of a stomach ache, and it did. More recently, she discovered a natural way to fight pests when her greenhouse produced a bumper crop of basil. Her son, Matt, decided to experiment with companion planting. “He did some research and found that when our ancestors planted basil beside their tomato plants, it acted as a bug repellant,” Sanders says, adding that her son tried it and it worked — on both bugs and worms.

In addition to offering food value and producing beautiful flowers, Sanders says herbs have a therapeutic component: “I have found that when I get outside and work in my herbs, it is a release of stress. It’s a release of those problems that I’m going through at that time. It’s an out.”

Sanders is sought after on the speaking circuit — from homeschool gatherings to hospital staff meetings. According to Leah Case, manager at Buds and Blooms, rising interest in herbs is the reason: “People have been buying herbs a whole lot more, and that goes for fruit trees too. Like me, they’re trying to eat cleaner and wanting to find anything with less pesticides. They’re wanting to grow their own.”

But growing your own isn’t always easy. The would-be herbalists trailing Sanders through potted lavender and thyme during the seminar are full of questions.

“I have some lemon balm. What are some uses for that?”

“Do you harvest lavender like you would mint? Just pull it back and whack the whole thing?”

During the hour-long session, Sanders emphasizes the basics of herb gardening, things like pinching back growth, and watering only when the top layer of soil is dry and gritty. The new gardeners ask about gear. “These are the best tools that God gave us – our hands and our fingers,” Sanders answers, waving her own.

The Caseyville resident believes strongly in passing her knowledge of herbs to the next generation. She describes how she taught her granddaughter: “We’d get on our coffee table, and I’d put newspaper down and bring in a bucket of dirt. We’d sit there and plant seeds. It made a mess, but today I can give Aimee a pack of seeds and say, ‘Aimee, go plant this for me,’ and she can go plant it.”

Sanders is quick to point out that there’s really nothing new under the sun — or in the herb bed. Basil, cilantro, dill, sage — they’ve all been around since Adam and Eve.  “And they had to eat just like we have to eat today. God knew herbs were going to taste good, and whatever they prepared, it was going to just enhance that,” she says.

Sanders stresses that herbs are more than a throwback to the hippie generation or the tool of master chefs. They’re a display of God’s creativity.

“I see that this generation now is wanting to come back. They want to know how to grow things, how to take better care of their family. They’re willing to put in that extra 30 minutes required. I’m so happy for that. We’ve got to start passing on our knowledge or we’re going to be society that has no knowledge.”

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.