Gardening with a Spoon

By: Nilsa Garcia-Rey

I first started gardening with my grandmother in the Bronx where she lived with my grandfather in Kingsbridge Terrace. They lived in a fine old apartment house made of fieldstone that faced the Hudson River. The building may have once been a grand stone mansion, because it also had a nice sized backyard shaded by tall trees where my grandmother had several small garden beds mostly with herbs. She also kept box turtles there that she would bring back from visiting us in “the country.”

Our family had moved from Queens to Croton-on-Hudson where we lived in a newly built house on an acre of land, 4 miles from the village in a woodsy setting on Mt. Airy. Croton was famous for its Dam, the second largest “handmade” structure in the world after the Pyramids of Egypt according to local lore, built by Italian masons in the early 20th century, that held the water supply for New York City in a large reservoir behind it. Croton was also a railroad hub, a major stop on the Penn Central Line, and my father joined the legion of mostly men that commuted to the city every day. On weekends my grandparents would visit us and sometimes we would visit them. I loved visiting them in the big city, a concrete neighorhood with a large public playground and lots of kids. Their neighborhood was in a hilly section of the Bronx and we had to climb long cement stairs to go anywhere. It was such a different world from our quiet life upstate.

My grandmother’s garden seemed haphazard to me and semi-wild, unlike the landscaped yard my parents were carving out of their hillside in Croton, butressed by retaining stone walls my father helped build on the weekends, and lots of evergreen shrubs as was the style in the 50’s. My parents weren’t interested in growing vegetables, that was the domain of first generation immigrants, but they allowed my grandparents to have a small kitchen garden in our backyard, where they grew tomatoes and peppers. Abuela didn’t have many tools, a shovel, maybe a hoe. Her hand tools were all old kitchen utensils, a large spoon and a dull carving knife. I loved helping her dig in the dirt with a spoon that I could easily hold in my small hand. I learned to plant seeds, mostly cilantro and basil and all kinds of beans. I now find it ironic that I first learned about gardening in New York City, even though I lived in a rural setting an hour away. It wasn’t until I left home that I had my first garden, during the “back to the land” years, and I never stopped gardening, whether in a backyard in Cambridge, or a rooftop in the South End of Boston or a plot in a community garden.

I now find myself on this unique and wonderful farm in South Dartmouth where I am growing herbs and flowers, mostly for medicine but also for the many pollinators that are so important to our local eco-system. I came to Round the Bend Farm as a volunteer helping Ashley grow produce, and I fell in love with the land and what they were all doing there. All of our activites are interrelated, all organic waste is composted or fed to the animals.There is great attention paid to what grows wild and naturally and we try to follow the principles of permaculture using no-till methods when possible. As the season finally begins I am excited to be planting new beds of plants I have just learned about. I will experiment and find out what grows and what doesn’t. I will discover which perennials will thrive and come back next year. I wil dig up burdock and dandelion roots to make aromatic decocotions. I will forage for St. Johns Wort in the woods behind the tiny houses. I look forward to sore muscles, a good tan and dirty fingernails. And I still have my grandmother’s spoon.


An Artist in the Herb Garden

Check out the article by Laura Killingbeck about Nilsa Garcia-Rey and her amazing herb garden at Round the Bend Farm. This article was originally published in the North America Permaculture Magazine 


Medicinal Majesty of Stinging Nettles

By: Benoit Azagoh-Kouadio

The springtime turn brings out one of our favorite vernal vegetables at Round the Bend Farm (RTB): Nettles!

Infamous itches, riling rashes, and bristly burns, who does not know the common “Stinging Nettle” from the many motherly admonitions and filial fears it inspires? Here at RTB, we value the lowly nettle for the princely powerhouse of nutrition and medicinal majesty it hides beneath its fearsome bite. Emerging from perennial roots, both cultivated and wild, nettle is one of the first spring herbs to pop from the field, forest and garden. High in iron, protein, potassium, silica, vitamins A, K and C, these spritely spring greens make good eating for just about everything alive — soil, plants, animals …and especially humans! Medicinally, nettles have profound effects on the human body. They work towards reducing inflammation, potentiating the immune system, improving kidney and adrenal function, and aiding the body’s ability to detox. At RTB, we like to see the kitchen as the meeting place of gastronomy and pharmacy, and in that respect nettles are one of our favorite guests.

How does one cook these little green medicine boxes in hiding? Traditionally, nettles are often prepared in the same way as spinach — washing, cooking or drying all being sufficient ways to remove the “sting” and by so render them MUCH more palatable. These two simple recipes below (which we use at the farm) add a new, adaptable and easy-to-do take on this most misunderstood herb.

Nettle Pesto

5 thick, hand-held bunches (approx.) Stinging Nettles, washed and separated from any thick or woody stalks (*) (**)

2-4 Tbs pine nuts, sunflower seeds, almonds or walnuts

1/2 cup olive oil

2 large garlic cloves

Salt, pepper or spices to taste


  • Place all ingredients in food processor.
  • Blend until desired paste-like consistency achieved.
  • Store short term in fridge, or freeze in plastic containers for consumption throughout the year.
  • Use it on everything!

  * Younger plants and new growth are more tender and tasty.

** Feel free to use your inspired creativity to add other early herbs to this mix. At RTB, we have an abundance of the equally virtuous chickweed, and other cool weather leafy greens such as arugula and radish tops could add a piquant blast of pungent flavor to this healthy spread. In the late summer when nettles return, we like to add the last bits of our basil plantings for a more traditional taste.

Nettle Infused Cider Vinegar

A quantity of Stinging Nettle… as much as you can fit*

Organic Unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar


  • Fill a glass vessel — at the farm we use 1 qt and 1/2 gallon wide mouth Ball canning jars — as full as you can with fresh stinging nettles [cutting or tearing them may be helpful but no need to worry about removing the stems]
  • Pour the apple cider vinegar into the jar until it reaches the top and the nettles are completely covered.
  • Fasten the lid and leave the jar on a shelf or sill to infuse for at least 1 month.
  • Decant the infused vinegar and use a gourmet touch on all your cooked dishes or as mineral-rich, fortifyingly scrumptious base for salad vinaigrettes.

* Again, feel free to experiment and add other early herbs into the mix. Is that garden tuft of chickweed calling you? Young dandelion greens in the meadow? Onion grass? The first sprigs of oregano and thyme? Why not!

Laura’s Dragonfire tincture

By: Laura Killingbeck
Dragonfire tincture is a blend of three special medicinal herbs–turmeric, tulsi, and black pepper– that work in harmony with each other to reduce inflammation and support the immune system.  Turmeric is used widely in western medicine as well as traditional practices, to treat chronic and acute conditions.  Black pepper increases turmeric’s bioavailability exponentially.  Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, has also been used medicinally for thousands of years, and is recognized for its ability to reduce inflammation and help the body adapt to physical and emotional stress.
I began growing turmeric and tulsi eight years as part of an organic agroforestry system at Rancho Mastatal Sustainability Education Center in Costa Rica.  I started growing turmeric because I loved its vibrant color, and tulsi and later black pepper because I felt mesmerized by their fragrance and flavors.  I loved these plants and wanted to be around them.  As the years went by, I read more about their incredible medicinal properties, and started using them in teas, salves, and other medicinal preparations.  Dragonfire tincture became one of my favorite medicinal recipes with these lovely plants.
Dragonfire tincture is a made mostly from herbs that I grow organically in Costa Rica, supplemented with herbs from other organic growers.  I hope to be able to supply all my own hand grown herbs soon for these tinctures.  I dry the herbs in a solar dehydrator and make the tincture in small batches based on standard medicinal ratios.
People take this tincture when they want extra immune support, or to reduce inflammation.  One special benefit of this type of tincture is that its very easy to use and has a longer shelf life than many other types of herbal preparations.  You can keep a bottle in your medicine cabinet and have it there when you need it.

Friendly Dragon Pepper Mixes recipe

By: Laura Killingbeck

Friendly Dragon Pepper Mixes

Most people stock spicy chile powder in the kitchen.  But what about a mild chile pepper powder?  Peppers come in an array of flavors and colors that make delicious, fragrant, powdered spice.

Red Friendly Dragon Pepper Mix

Use any sweet red peppers, like lunch box peppers or bell peppers.  You can use just one variety, or mix and match.

Wash the peppers and remove the stems and seeds.  Chop into pieces one inch or less.  Spread flat on a tray in a food dehydrator and dehydrate at about 125 F for 12 hours or until brittle.  Remove from the dehydrator and put the pieces in a spice grinder, nutrabullet, or other grinding tool.  Grind until powdered.  To get the finest texture, sift in a flour sifter.  Store the pepper powder in a glass jar.  It should retain its color, flavor, and a beguiling fragrance.

Shaun’s Liver Pâté

This dish is a wonderful way to get nutrient-dense beef liver into your diet. Shaun used grass-fed beef liver from Paradox Acres in this recipe. We recommend using a trusted grass-fed source to get beef liver.  Liver is loaded with a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fat. It is particularly rich in the key nutrients that help keep our brains healthy too.

Ingredients –

1 small head of garlic chopped,
1 medium onion diced,
1 beef liver cut into pieces,
3 tablespoons of fresh rosemary,
1 tsp of fresh thyme (process rosemary and thyme in a food processor or ninja),
1/4 c. Dijon mustard
4 tbs beef tallow ( or butter)

Instructions – 

Heat rendered beef tallow and cook the beef liver. Add in the onion and garlic and cook until soft and herbs (add herbs when the garlic and onion are almost done). When all cooked and cooled slightly place all ingredients in a food processor and add in dijon mustard and salt & black pepper to taste. Process until smooth then put in a glass dish & place in fridge to cool & solidify up.


Danielle’s Ratatouille

Check out this yummy dish for all those summer veggies! Our teammate Danielle took a recipe from Gourmet and made a couple alterations to make it more seasonal. We had the pleasure of eating it for lunch last week and were so excited about it we thought we would share it with you all! Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Danielle’s Ratatouille

From Gourmet, june 1991
Serves 4
1 onion, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 tablespoons olive oil
a 3/4-pound eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
1 small zucchini, scrubbed, quartered lengthwise, and cut into thin slices
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3/4 pound small ripe tomatoes, chopped coarse (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
In a large skillet cook the onion and the garlic in 2 tablespoons of the oil over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and heat it over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Add the eggplant and cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes, or until the eggplant is softened. Stir in the zucchini and the bell pepper and cook the mixture over the moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the oregano, the thyme, the coriander, the fennel seeds, the salt, and pepper to taste and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the basil and combine the mixture well. The ratatouille may be made 1 day in advance, kept covered and chilled, and reheated before serving.

Shaun’s reflections on “Food As Medicine” Class

By: Shaun Van Laarhoven

This past winter I had the opportunity to take Jade Alicandro Mace’s, Community Herbalist “Food As Medicine” three-series class held at Blue Dragon Apothecary in Greenfield, MA. In my “chef role” at Round The Bend Farm I try to prepare nutritious meals for folks who live, work and volunteer on the farm. By preparing healthy meals using farm fresh ingredients I am contributing to their overall health and well-being. My intention in taking the class was to learn how to incorporate more health beneficial herbs/ spices into our diets. Some of the methods taught by the instructor were making various teas, bitters, oxymels, herbal vinegars, tonics, and broths. One of the first things we made in class was a bitter that consisted of rum or vodka (can also use apple cider vinegar instead of alcohol), 2 tablespoons of dried burdock, 1 spoon of orange peel and ½ spoon of fennel. It would be ready for use after a month as a digestive aid that one might spray 20-30 in their mouth minutes before a meal or even use it to redirect someone by having them use a couple of sprays.

“Food as Medicine” encouraged participants to intimately get to know various herbs and spices using several of our senses – sight, taste, smell and touch. Fresh herbs such as basil, rosemary, parsley, sage, and thyme were passed around and we formulated our own thoughts about how to describe them and the beneficial effects that they may have on one’s body. Words such as spicy, invigorating, warm, clearing, bitter, sour, cooling, and salivating were used to describe some of the herbs’ qualities. When we tried Shizandra Berries I think our instructor found various our reactions to be pretty priceless as most of us found them to start out somewhat sweet but quickly change to sour and pungent.

Once we spent time with the various herbs/ spices we discussed our findings and what we thought might be their health benefits of them and ways in which we could use them. For example, one might make an oxymel consisting of local honey, apple cider vinegar and chopped fresh rosemary and add it to a salad dressing. Jade shared a recipe of 1 oz. of water, 10 drops of essential oil, mixed with some witch hazel mixed each time and used as a spray as a helpful remedy for migraines and increasing mental focus. We tried several delicious teas one of which was very soothing and considered a heart opening tea. The tea consisted of coriander, tulsi and rose.

Jade shared a number of different recipes that we got to try in class that we found very tasty. The recipes presented were simple and had some flexibility in regards to the exact measurements and even sometimes ingredients used. Jade prepared an herbal spiced ghee made of local honey and powdered turmeric and suggested they be made into small balls which one could just grab one and eat daily. I have made an herbal spiced ghee since I have been back on the farm and adjusted the recipe to not only include local honey and turmeric but also added ginger, cardamom and cinnamon and we have been using it as a spread on bread.

The instructor shared the benefits for our nervous, digestive, cardiovascular, respiratory, reproductive, immune systems. She provided an informative manual for folks as well as several links and hand outs that I plan to use better serving myself and my teammates’ overall well being. I made a list of various fresh items I have access to on the farm and came up with a list of over 36 items that are beneficial to us. I plan to add making tinctures, oxymels, bitters, teas into my repertoire this coming season if not a few more beneficial skills that I can share with folks.

I could continue on writing about all the things learned in class but will end with a few interesting facts: Did you know that anise is 13x’s sweeter than sucrose? Ancient Romans used Cumin as currency; coriander seeds were found as far back as 7000 BC in King Tut’s tomb; that India has some of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s likely due to their use of turmeric; and that dried herbs are more potent than fresh herbs.

Food Is Medicine – “Beet and Carrot Salad” Recipe- Eating Raw

The days are long and everyone seems to be trying to pack as much as they can into each one. Summer is a very busy time of year and taking advantage of all the flourishing fruits and vegetables can sometimes seem overwhelming. Eating raw can be quick and simple! You don’t even need to turn the stove on so the kitchen stays nice and cool on these hot days. A food is considered raw if it is uncooked or “prepared” below 116°F, anything higher in temperature, food begins to lose its essential nutrients and enzymes.

Raw foods are also extremely high in nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, and fiber. When you increase raw foods in your diet you are lowering your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the body, which can help reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure.

One of our favorite raw food recipes is Dr. Rau’s Shredded Beet and Carrot Salad from “The Swiss Secret to Optimal Health”. We discovered this recipe years ago when we began our annual detox and liver cleanse. This recipe focuses on beets and carrots which have natural sugars that tightly bound in their fibers, which get released slowly into your bloodstream. This in turn helps keep your sugar at an even level for hours, giving you extra energy long after a meal! It also staves off hunger pangs with the slow effective release of sugars into your system. So when you are hungry in the late afternoon, instead of going for that cookie or cup of coffee—whip this recipe up and you’ll feel great! Also remember if your poo is a bit pink or reddish from this meal, don’t be frightened – it’s just the beets!

Shredded Beet and Carrot Salad
4-6 servings

2 small-medium beets

2 large carrots

1 cup of raisins *

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons sunflower (or sesame or olive oil)*

1) Peel the raw beets and carrots. Using large holes of a hand grater or a food processor to shred vegetables.
2) Mix all ingredients together and serve right away or store in refrigerator for up to 4 days.

* these are our additions and not to be substituted if you are doing the liver cleanse or detox in Dr. Rau’s book

** Remember in our opinion it is best to have organic or vegetables grown chemical free, like we do at Round the Bend Farm, to optimize your health.

Food is Medicine – Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles – (Urtica dioca)

One of the greatest revelations I had when I started working at RTB was realizing that stinging nettles weren’t only edible, but were delicious and highly nutritious!  What I once considered a pesky and painful weed is actually a plant that I have come to honor and cultivate in my own home garden.

Herbal medicine often uses the term depurative to describe herbs that improve detoxification, aid elimination and reduce the metabolic wastes that tend to accumulate in our bodies.  Nettles are one of natures best examples of a depurative herb.  For centuries they have been used to purify and cleanse the blood because they are full of iron, which makes them an ideal herb for blood tonics and treating mild anemia.  They are also used extensively for treating allergies (hay fever and hives) and asthma associated with allergies, as they can reduce the amount of histamine produced by the body in response to an allergen.  Nettles are high in vitamins A, B and C and proteins.  This wonder plant provides additional health benefits in the form of critical trace minerals.  As noted by herbalist Susan Weed, nettles contain “anti-cancer selenium, immune-enhancing sulphur, memory-enhancing zinc, diabetes-chasing chromium, and bone-building boron.”

This single-stemmed, perennial plant is one of the first spring greens to sprout up from our frosted fields.  Nettles spread by seeds and creeping roots.  As a member of the Urticaceae family, nettles have the unlovable trait of little hairs on the underside of the leaves and stems that function like a thousand tiny needles that inject a stinging, formic acid and histamine into your skin.  But don’t let that scare you away from this medicinal treasure.  You just have to treat it with respect, wear gloves, and carry a big knife (or scissors) when harvesting them.  As Rosemary Gladstar warns, “Be careful while handling ‘mother nettle,’ who will sting right up to the time she’s cooked.”  We have to admire a plant that has created such a reliable defense mechanism for itself!  Nettles can be cooked by blanching, steaming, sautéing or adding them into soups or stir-fry.  Basically, they can be substituted in any recipe that you would normally use spinach or kale.  At RTB, we love them sautéed with garlic and farm fresh eggs!

Nettles are considered one of the most nutrient dense plants you can eat.  Check this out – “1 cup (89g) of blanched nettles will give you 428mg of calcium, which is just over 40% of the RDI (at 1,000mg/day) for adults. It will also give you 1.46mg of iron, 8% of the RDI for adult women, and 51mg of magnesium, about 16% of the RDI for adult women [1, 2].”  Nettles are an outstanding nourisher for our liver, kidneys and adrenals.  Nettles reduce inflammation and are great for cleansing the skin and body of waste by improving the excretion of urine via the kidneys.  Equally impressive, nettles are high in minerals that assist the adrenals by providing the necessary hormones that support an overworked nervous system.  All too often we are hearing about adrenal fatigue in our society; the unfortunate result of living our lives in a constant state of stress.  Stress causes our adrenals to continually pump-out a variety of hormones to maintain a higher state of awareness as a response to stress and the chronic busyness of our lives.  This is akin to the flight-or-fight response our primitive ancestors experienced when hunting or being hunted.  This important response is meant for short, timely durations not as the norm of daily living.   Adrenal fatigue is often characterized by depression, irritability, anxiety, a weakened immune system, and fatigue.  Incorporating nettle tea or nettle herbal infusions may be an easy, healthy way we can slow down and take care of our bodies.

Remember to only harvest nettles from pesticide-free locations.  Cutting them back throughout the season will encourage new growth.  We encourage you to eat them as much as you can while they are in season and don’t forget to harvest and dry some so you can enjoy nettle tea all winter long!

To get the most out of your nettles, try making a nettle herbal infusion.  Use approximately 1 ounce of dried nettles, pour a quart of boiling water over and mix, cover and steep for a minimum of four hours or overnight.

by Liz Wiley


  1. USDA NATIONAL NUTRIENT DATABASE. (2016). Full report (all nutrients): 35205, Stinging Nettles, blanched (Northern Plains Indians). RETRIEVED FROM HTTP://NDB.NAL.USDA.GOV/NDB/FOODS/SHOW/8432?FGCD=&MAN=&LFACET=&COUNT=&MAX=&SORT=&QLOOKUP=&OFFSET=&FORMAT=FULL&NEW=&MEASUREBY=