"I Think of Herbs as Allies -- They're Friends for a Time." Meet Misha Johnson of Free Verse Farm.
Misha Johnson grew up in Norwich, and spent a lot of his childhood Saturdays going to the Norwich Farmer's Market. Life has a funny way of coming full circle. These days -- often with his wife and Free Verse Farm co-owner, Taylor Katz, and their son, Linden -- he spends a lot of his adult Saturdays vending at the Norwich Farmer's Market. "I see parents of my friends, old schoolteachers," he says. "I love it."
Misha and Taylor moved (back) to the Upper Valley in 2012, buying 38 acres in Chelsea and turning them into an herb farm. Two of those acres are intensively cultivated with 60 or 70 different herbs. The rest, a mix of field and forest, yield wildcrafted herbs like red clover blossom, raspberry leaf, and goldenrod.
Over the years, the two have developed a huge array of culinary herbs, herbal teas, tisanes, ointments, and remedies. They sell blends crafted to aid digestion, salves for arthritis and muscle injuries, tinctures for boosting the immune system or providing energy during stressful times.
Ask Misha if he has favorites, and he's a little like a parent asked to name a favorite child. "There might be a certain herb I’m into for a month, drinking it as a tea or using it for an ailment," he says. "I think of herbs as allies. They’re friends for a time."
He's quick to point out that people react differently to the same herb, and that the same herb can be used for different purposes. "It might be used for anxiety and for indigestion," he says. "Something like chamomile is very good for the nervous system, but also to help you digest after dinner."
For a lot of people, this is an unfamiliar world -- and one that he and Taylor want to make more accessible. "This is us sharing our passion, and we want to encourage people to explore it themselves. There are so many things you can do in the kitchen and at home with herbs. They're the people’s medicine, always accessible, and you can find ways to integrate them into a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t require going to the doctor or the pharmacy."
Anyone, he says, can go into a field behind or nearby his or her house and find something helpful growing. Plaintain, for instance, that weed in your lawn? You don't even need to make it into a salve -- just crush the leaf and rub its juice onto a bee sting or bug bite. It'll reduce inflammation and relieve the pain.
At the market, people stop by all morning to talk over herbs, the healing power of particular teas, possible remedies for ongoing ailments. Misha politely offers his free consultation, but business is brisk, and sometimes the issues he encounters beg for more. "There are times when I would love to spend an hour talking with someone about taking a holistic view of their lifestyle, and how herbs can be part of a healing journey," he says. "But I love these conversations, because they force me to think beyond what I usually focus on."