Gone herbal

Turkey Tail Farms’ new CSA features products made from herbs grown at the bucolic Yankee Hill property

Turkey Tail Farms’ Susan Tchudi harvests echinacea and bee balm to use in the making of products for her herbal CSA, Everything Herbal.

Turkey Tail Farms’ Susan Tchudi harvests echinacea and bee balm to use in the making of products for her herbal CSA, Everything Herbal.

About the herbs:
Go to www.turkeytailfarm.net to find out more about Turkey Tail Farm and its herbal CSA, Everything Herbal. The farm’s CSA boxes are offered seasonally—in the spring, summer, fall and winter—and cost $70 per box, which includes a framed watercolor print of an herb by Stephen Tchudi and an informative newsletter; a yearly subscription of four boxes will net a 15 percent discount. Everything Herbal will deliver boxes to Chico, Paradise and Oroville.

Goats, sheep, pigs, chickens and ducks (and several friendly border collies) are some of the animal residents of Stephen and Susan Tchudi’s 40-acre Turkey Tail Farms in nearby Yankee Hill. The livestock are the vestiges of the meat CSA (community-supported agriculture) that the Tchudis’ adult son, Cheetah, headed up back in 2008, when the Tchudi family first moved to the idyllic property from Reno, Nev.

That former CSA morphed last year into an herbal CSA, called Everything Herbal, which once each season offers a CSA box filled with homemade herbal goodies such as mint-infused honey, an oatmeal-lavender bath soak, citronella candles, herbal vinegars and various dried tea and seasoning mixtures.

The candles—as well as the herb-and-dried-flower Christmas wreathes that were packed into last winter’s Everything Herbal boxes—are made by Cheetah’s wife, Samantha Zangrilli (founder and coordinator of the Chico Bicycle Music Festival). The Tchudis’ other son, Mojo Richerson von Tchudi,

“I didn’t know what I was doing when I first started,” laughed Susan Tchudi, who heads up Everything Herbal, as she sat near bunches of dried sunflowers, echinacea and strawflowers hanging upside-down in her dining room doorway. A jar of fragrant lavender honey—made from Tchudi’s lavender and honey produced by Cherokee beekeeper Lee Edwards—sat on the kitchen table next to her.

The retired University of Nevada, Reno, English professor admitted that she “had only grown some flowers—a few little perennials—in my back yard [in Reno]” before diving head first into planting numerous rows of vegetables and herbs at Turkey Tail Farms. “I hadn’t grown herbs or vegetables before!

“So I was asking Cheetah, ‘Is this a weed or a plant?’ all the time. I couldn’t tell one plant from another. I couldn’t tell the difference between lettuce and a calendula leaf!

“And now I know.”

Cheetah’s gardening expertise—he used to be in charge of Chico State’s Organic Vegetable Project, and currently oversees the organic garden at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.—has been invaluable to his mother, who also does regular research on the Internet to increasingly fine-tune her now-considerable knowledge of herbs and gardening. “It’s really constant learning,” she said. “I look up online every day [things like], ‘What else can I do with this herb? What am I missing?’”

At one point, Tchudi pulled out from a kitchen cupboard a bottle of herbed vinegar she had made. “Taste this,” she offered, pouring some vinegar into a spoon. “It’s made with winter savory, a really powerful herb” that is similar to oregano, “but stronger.” Indeed, the robust taste of the savory-infused vinegar—to which Tchudi had also added rosemary and thyme—was delicious.

Tchudi reached for a basket filled with fresh basil cuttings. “I’m really expanding my basils this year,” she said. Tchudi has added two new types of basil this year to the lemon, lime, Thai and tulsi (aka “holy basil”) in her basil patch—Purple Ruffles and aromata basil. She will dry the basil and add it to one of the herb seasoning mixes in her CSA boxes. Holy basil also happens to be the herb featured in the framed watercolor print, done by Stephen Tchudi, that goes along with Everything Herbal’s summer CSA box (each season’s box contains a print of an herb painting by Stephen).

Each CSA box always contains a few food items, such as herbed vinegar or honey (“We’re doing both this time,” she said), as well as two or three dried-herb mixes for cooking, and two or three dried tea mixes. Sometimes some of the tea mixes contain medicinal herbs, “like motherwort or nettles,” Tchudi said. “But really all herbs are medicinal. They all have some healing qualities to them.

“And we always have something that’s artistic or ‘crafty.’ Sammey [Samantha Zangrilli] made calendula leis last year—you can hang it in your kitchen and just pull off the leaves when you need them.”

A tour of Tchudi’s garden

“We are not certified organic, but I don’t use anything toxic in my garden,” Tchudi offered. “I’m not ever going to use anything that Monsanto has anything to do with in my garden—ever!”

Tchudi said she would like to expand the size of her garden, which currently occupies a half-acre plot behind her house, but “it all depends on water—and help.

“We need to deepen our well; a lot of what we’re going to do depends on water,” she said. “As soon as we get more water, we’re going to expand. … And I would like to have an intern [interested parties should contact Tchudi].

“The possibilities of what you can do with herbs—doing art, making all kinds of things—are limitless.”