VALLEY VITALS: THE HERBALISERS

Field Apothecary & Herb Farm is on its way to becoming
the Hudson Valley’s natural medicine chest

RECIPES BY NISSA PIERSON

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JENNIFER MAY

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“We have, as Americans, lost touch with the healing powers of plants and our responsibility to them.”

vitalsHerbalisersDana and Michael Eudy of Field Apothecary and Herb Farm in Germantown provide a unique service for their community by offering a grassroots healthcare system laden with flavor, vibrancy and vitality. They promote health and attempt to prevent illness by using one of the world’s most ancient healthcare and diet systems: herbs. Their herbal wisdom and passion surpasses everything I have encountered in my herb-related travels throughout the world.

To know their story, and to understand how we find ourselves talking about cocktails and medicine, is really to know the potent and intoxicating healing energy created by this coupling. They describe themselves the way they do their tonics: perfectly balanced (yin and yang). Dana considers herself to be the energy half, providing grounding, intensity of expression, vigor and what is seemingly an endless source of power. She describes Michael (and he concurs) as the artistic half of the duo, providing creativity, imagination and the ability to execute inventiveness in the evolving vision of their farm. Together, they personify the phrase “a whole greater than the sum of its parts”; the couple’s relationship and the infectious chemistry between them is reflected in their modest three-acre farm and the experience one has when visiting here. The plants, they say, give them vitality, vibrancy and exuberance, not to mention optimal health.

“The plants talk to us,” muses Dana, “and as we handle, breathe in, taste and see the herbs daily, we in turn stay healthy ourselves.” It’s hard not to feel healthy around these two and at this place. And with all they have going on, the herbal CSA, the “Pharm” on wheels, which is a converted delivery truck stocked with herbs and tinctures, and their new connection to the cocktail scene, not to mention their commitment to an unconventional mode of farming, they still find time to teach and share with each and every person that arrives into their herbal sanctuary.

One of only a handful of herbal CSAs in the country, Field Apothecary and Herb Farm is patiently awaiting further direction from their plants. Originally from Texas, by way of Brooklyn, the Eudys are actively learning to farm their many herbs and placing infinite trust that the plants will guide them and care for them both in their health and their livelihoods.

Now into their second full season of farming, the Eudys (along with their two young children) moved up and out of Brooklyn back in the summer of 2011, and because of the heavy clay content of the soil, spent a lot of the first season amending the soil, learning how to optimize it and understanding what the herbs needed to thrive. They have since created a 30-plus member herbal CSA, featuring herbal medicine and also what they call “culinary medicine,” a term that is likely to catch on. The CSA typically includes everything from fresh and dried herbs to herb products for culinary uses. Choices include the familiar and atypical, with options such as burdock root, basil, sage, pesto and herb salts as well as fresh tea blends that promise to alleviate stress and promote strong bones.

Tinctures of dandelion and echinacea, cough syrups, mouthwash, chest rubs and special teas for flu and fever are CSA favorites as is the bug spray that customers rave about for summer’s pesky pests. There are compound formulas, which can be mixed with water and pleasantly downed, like the one they give me, called “Clear Thinking,” offered because I say I have a memory like an elephant, which then prompts Michael to tell the story of how in India the elephants eat a lot of gotu kola leaves, which is, of course, why elephants are known for their memory. Gotu kola increases brain function and, along with the addition of rosemary and sage, is the prime herb in the Clear Thinking compound.

And then there is the farm’s Field Wagon. A vehicle that is essentially an herbal apothecary on wheels, it stands ready to travel throughout the Hudson Valley. Dana and Michael envision themselves setting forth on the wagon as modern-day Gypsies, upping the ante with a new variation of the food truck craze. Originally the truck was set to make its rolling debut this summer, but with so much work for just two people, it is still an open question. They are somewhat relaxed about when it will all happen, and also as to what the Field Wagon’s capacity will be. “We stopped pushing decisions and are trying to let the plants guide us to sustainable success,” says Dana. Her dream for the apothecary wagon is that this herbal medicine truck journeys from township to township, offering the community an herbal culinary and medicinal healthcare system, that is both preventative and healing in all of their various concoctions, including food and drink, teas, tonics and elixirs that will not only cure what ails you but will taste good.

Medicine that tastes good is a goal of Field Apothecary. Their tinctures, tonics, elixirs and bitters all taste exceptional, vibrant and alive. Dana and Michael say that “when people are sick the last thing they want is to be force-fed medicine that tastes horrible.” As I sit in their kitchen tasting their various tinctures and tonics, their collective enthusiasm is evident. The warm, invigorating taste of the Fire Cider Tonic “is excellent in a vinaigrette,” says Michael. There is a sweet Holy Basil or tulsi concoction that would be well suited for baked goods. The conversation zooms in many directions and, of course, lands on one of the hottest topics in the food world today: cocktails, bitters and, yes, herbs.

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DRINKING TO THAT

Today’s excitement surrounding local farms and local food movements has exhibited an increasing influence over the cocktail/mixology scene. With countless new distilleries popping up all over the area, making local spirits such as apple vodkas and herbaceous gins, even sweet vermouth and various herbal botanicals, it was only a matter of time when these two distinct movements began to work together. The cocktail revolution is now in its second, or maybe third manifestation and, as the success of the new book The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart indicates, is evolving into a deeper concept where the plants are starting to take center stage.

Up until recently bitters, an herbal alcoholic with some medicinal use, have been really the only “herb”-centric part of the cocktail craze. The DIY bitters trend is a difficult one as many of the herbs and botanicals are hard to source even in the heart of the Hudson Valley, which is one of the reasons trendy places such as the McKintrick Hotel’s hip new rooftop garden bar, the Gallow Green, in Chelsea is moving into new unchartered territories using Field Apothecary tinctures and tonics in their cocktails. Michael sat down one day with head mixologist for the Gallow Green, Michael Bray, with intentions of selling them fresh and interesting herbs, specifically for their herb festival, a springtime celebration of all things herbal.

What happened next can only be described as old school, shrewd traveling salesmanship. Eudy set up a tasting of all the farm’s tonics, bitters and elixirs, provoking the palette of the Gallow Green’s master mixologist to envision the culinary herbal medicines in cocktails. The Gallow Green became the Field Apothecary’s first customer to use their medicinal-style herbs and tinctures in cocktails. At the Gallow Green’s first annual herb festival they served a beautiful spring cocktail using Field Apothecary’s nettles tincture, creating a well-balanced springy almost grass-like elixir. They also showcased a chamomile julep featuring Field Apothecary’s chamomile tincture.

Digestive bitters and herbaceous liquors like Chartreuse and Aperol tend to be the gateway “drugs” to the work of these new modern medical and culinary herbal libations. Dana laughs as she tells me, “I didn’t want to make cocktails—I wanted to make medicine!” Then Michael interjects with a reminder that the libations of ancient times were synonymous with medicines and most were alcohol based, which is true for Field Apothecary compounds and tinctures. Cocktails, they both admit, are a creative and unexpected way to introduce people to herbal medicine and herbal healing powers, even if they are fortified with alcohol. Michael eloquently breaks down the ancient healing wisdom as this:

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“Food is our medicine
and medicine is our food.”

“Plants and people have been living harmoniously for thousands of years, and plants have been offering a healthcare system to humans since the dawn of human existence. We have, as Americans, lost touch with the healing powers of plants and our responsibility to them.” “When we listen to and observe the plants, they give us the path toward health and food. Herbs are filled with essential oils; these essential oils are essentially the plants’ immune system. As the plants grow and thrive, they absorb, as we do, all the viruses and toxins in the air, in the water and in the soil, and their amazing immune systems go to work to combat anything threatening them and their well-being and overall health. When we then smell, touch, taste and ingest these essential oils, through fresh herbs, dried herbs, tinctures and tonics, we then are actually ingesting the plants immunity to the very virus, the toxins, that allow us to build immunity more rapidly and harmoniously with the plants.”

His philosophy gives the organic and local argument more credibility than I ever anticipated, both for food and medicine. Michael recalls how animals that move across the land in the fall eat all the flowers off the echinacea plants, so they are better prepared for many of winter’s ailments. The concept of herbal healing is an ancient tradition that a more modern world only just recently lost touch with, and it is still widely practiced in many parts of the globe. Using fresh herbs as well as tonics, tinctures and elixirs is a logical entry to practice herbal healing and will allow all to enjoy the very aesthetic and enlivening experience of herbs, even in a cocktail. Dana and Michael are a select few of herbal pioneers, trying to bring this old and wise practice back into our community one tincture drop at a time.

RECIPES

SMOKY BLACKBERRY SAGE
(“CLEAR THINKING”) TEQUILA ELIXIR

PICKLED PEACH MARTINI
WITH LAVENDER PESTO DRIZZLE

AMARO LEMON BALM DIGESTIF
WITH BURDOCK ROOT SWIZZLE STICKS

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