When you find yourself in short supply of ginger jelly, cowslip, calendula anti-aging cream, and fresh sprigs of chocolate mint…not to mention Fairy Meadow Tea, make your way to Hazelwood Herb Farm just outside of Ladysmith on Vancouver Island.
Recently purchased in February of this year by Barbara Stevens and her husband, Hazelwood Herb Farm is a swath of acreage that former proprietor of 23 years, Jacynthe Dugas and her husband, Richard White, cultivated into a thriving business of fresh herbs.
When you walk the carefully cultivated and manicured grounds, through the outdoor nurseries, and into the nascent/ sprouting nurseries, it is startling to remind yourself that the whole business is based on the cultivation of seeds. Each year, each season, seeds are planted, nurtured, sown, and with these raw stuffs the business owners furnish themselves with the necessary raw materials to produce their other products, the jams, the jellies and chutneys, the face creams, arthritis salves, body balms, teas and tinctures sold in the compact and packed-full Herbal Heaven Gift Shop located on the premises.
Fresh Herbal Gifts
“Come Christmas time we are always very busy,” admits Jacynthe, present one afternoon during a tour of the grounds by new owner Barbara and her enthusiastic remedy devotee and herbal novice niece, Sandra.
An uninitiated glance around the gardens as you enter and the grounds appear to be beautifully tidy and trim with planted areas of distinctively varied plants. A more careful and focused gaze and one quickly realizes that what you are seeing is a living encyclopedia of rare, and everyday, herbs, plants and latent remedies.
“What you see here is the best kind of functional beauty there is,” says Sandra, who, according to Barbara, helped talk her and her husband into purchasing the property and business. Barbara admits that she has been preserving her own food and cultivating her own herbal garden at home all her life but had “never thought of it as a business.” She, with the support of her husband, son and extended family acknowledge that it’s a demonstration of faith and courage to step out of their “bureaucratic jobs” and “city lives” and into the shoes that Jacynthe and Richard have fashioned out of soil and seeds for over two decades on this little patch of farmland just south of Nanaimo.
“There are 400-500 varieties of herbs here on Hazelwood Farm,” Jacynthe proudly tells you, “20-30% are culinary. The rest have medicinal or other properties.” Originally from Quebec, Jacynthe now does a variety of things, including teaching soap making to local students who come to the property from Vancouver Island University to learn the art of making soap using the plants picked from the garden.
“I like playing,” says Jacynthe, glancing around her on-site test kitchen as she pours a cup of Fairy Meadow tea, one of her proprietary blends she makes from Hazelwood plants, and pushes a plate of chocolate and mint scones towards you that is made from a mix sold in the Herbal Heaven gift shop in the room next door. She certainly has occupied her time productively “playing,” – the shop is filled to the brim with unique items that range from delicious ingredients for the gourmand, to sweet-smelling and purely natural body balms and body care products to remedies that have medicinal properties that keep people coming back…and ordering online from the farthest reaches of the globe.
In 2006 Hazelwood was nominated for a national business award, the Laureat de la Moyenne Entreprise. Jacynthe herself is all about the notion of “economuseum,” the phrase for learning artisanal ways of doing things, especially when traveling through a distinct region. Her husband, Richard, even shot a 13-part TV series, “At Home With Herbs,” some years ago.
Hopefully all of this inspires you to grow and make your own. As you walk the 5-acre property, Barbara joyfully tells you what every living thing is in her gardens: Greek Oregano (good for nerves or depression), St. John’s Wort (flowers are used for anti-inflammatory property), arnica (for bruising, popular with hockey moms), peppermint, English mint, orange mint and chocolate mint; four types of lavendar in the lavendar gardens including “twickle purple lavendar,” sea-holly everlasting, echinacea, Lily of the Valley, yarrow root (the original “band-aid”), Alpine ladies mantle (very rare)…and that’s just scratching the surface.
In the outdoor nurseries, each plant is carefully labeled by name and most also have their Latin name tagged as well, especially for the traditional medicinal varietals. Hazelwood is a popular shopping spot for naturopaths, many who come over to the Island just to stock up at Hazelwood on their living raw materials. The little plants are sold for a few dollars each. Even the final products sold at Herbal Heaven are extremely reasonable, with few products topping $10 CDN. Hazelwood soaps make especially good gifts and the packaging is so sweetly simple, just a piece of dyed paper, tied with a cord, accented with a dried flower, that you feel like you’ve tucked something even finer and rarer than the finest French-milled soap from Provence, into your own personal “gift and souvenir bag for friends and family” as you linger before leaving Hazelwood Herb Farm.
Plant availability changes with the season. Open year-round but double check during the months of January and February. Www.hazelwoodherbfarm.com 13576 Adshead Road, Ladysmith, B.C.