Radio Personalities Rita Heikenfeld and Ron Wilson Talked about Bible Herbs and Container Gardening at Inniswood

During my drive to work most mornings, I listen to the Son Rise Morning Show on St. Gabriel Catholic Radio (AM 820 in Central Ohio). Around 7:20 a.m. on Thursdays, Rita Heikenfeld speaks with host Brian Patrick about Bible foods. In just a few minutes, Rita shares many fascinating Bible-related culinary facts. She usually ends her conversation with a recipe related to her topic of the day. 

I’ve learned a lot listening to Rita. For example, on December 1, 2011, Rita discussed how Victorians displayed herbs in manger scenes to convey the Christmas story. According to legend, Mary put chamomile in the manger to keep the Christ child calm and laid His swaddling clothes on a lavender bush to dry. After Mary hung her cloak on a rosemary bush, its white flowers turned blue in her honor. To conclude, Rita shared a recipe for “Bible Soup in a Jar” as a clever holiday gift idea.

On February 2, 2012, Rita talked about how some Bible scholars think that the forbidden fruit was an apricot. In anticipation of the Super Bowl, she shared her favorite Super Bowl snack – her daughter-in-law’s recipe for Baked Swiss, Apricot & Cranberry Dip and Pretzel Sticks.

Most recently, for Passover, Rita talked about how bitter greens like horseradish and hyssop signify the bitterness and anguish that Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsamane and during His crucifixion on the cross. Since lettuce has medicinal value, she shared a recipe for a cobb salad made from bitter greens.  During her Holy Thursday conversation, Rita shared that mistletoe wood was used to make the crucifix and that vervain, an ancient herb whose name means “sacred bough,” was used to stop the bleeding from Christ’s wounds. She concluded with a recipe for coffee cake that calls for many Bible foods and spices.

Rita is a Certified Culinary Professional who is an award-winning syndicated columnist for Community Press Newspapers. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and is Macy’s Regional Culinary Professional. As a Certified Modern Herbalist, Rita is an accredited family herbalist who has studied herbal practices for overall wellness and medicinal uses for herbs. She lives outside Batavia, Ohio, where she raises chickens for eggs and grows her own produce and herbs.

When I learned that Rita was going to be one of the guest speakers for the Central Ohio Unit of the Herb Society of America’s meeting at Inniswood Metro Park yesterday, my friend Carissa and I made plans to attend “From the Garden to the Kitchen.”

Rita suggested ways to use herbs in spa products, talked about the nutritional values of herbs, and discussed herbs from the Bible. After she filled the room with the scent of mint by spritzing spa water that she made, Rita talked about and passed around examples of the bay leaf, a symbol of wickedness and wealth in the Bible; dill and mint, both referred to in the Bible as tithing herbs because of their abundance; and cilantro and coriander, the plant and its seed which were found in Egyptian tombs and were still viable.

Rita shared that her interest in herbs comes from her mother, who gave each of her nine children a sprig of mint and a cast iron skillet when they started out on their own. Rita also said that she decides which herbs to feature on the radio by thinking about the Bible stories about herbs that her mother shared with her as a child.

Gardening expert Ron Wilson also shared tips on growing edibles and herbs through container gardening. 

Ron advocates container gardening because it’s a great way to get children involved in gardening and is an easy way to grow food that can be donated to community food banks. Using containers to grow herbs on a porch or patio is perfect because they’re attractive and smell great. Growing plants in containers also cuts down on weeding, provides better soil drainage, and offers just about everyone the opportunity to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of gardening. By using the right potting soils and soil amendments, anyone can be a successful container gardener.

Ron shared several good plant choices for container gardening, including strawberries, potatoes, horseradish, and the “Top Hat” variety of dwarf blueberry bush. Ron also introduced us to a new ornamental corn called “Field of Dreams” and Brunnera macrophylla “Jack Frost,” the 2012 perennial of the year. As an alternative to growing plants in pots, Ron suggested using bales of straw or hay for gardening containers. They hold moisture and protect plants from soil-borne diseases. Ron also introduced us to a few different types of bee houses, which can attract bees to a garden and help create areas where they can increase their pollination.

The program also afforded us the opportunity to enjoy being at Inniswood Metro Gardens, a scenic nature preserve in Westerville. Inniswood was once the 37-acre estate of sisters Grace and Mary Innis, who donated their home and property to Franklin County Metro Parks in 1972. Today, it includes woodlands, walking trails, more than 2,000 species of plants, and several theme gardens, including those featuring roses, herbs and rocks. The Sisters’ Garden, especially designed for children, honors the memory of the Innis sisters. Many of Inniswood’s programs take place in the Innis sisters’ former home. In the library, you’ll find a fine collection of books related to gardening, a magnificent fireplace, and “’Toadshade’ Trillium Sessile,” a unique work of acrylics on sculpted leather that was made by Keith and Teresa Tovey in 1997. A model of the sculpture Joan Wobst made of the Innis sisters for the Sisters’ Garden is across the hall. 

Rita has a website called “About Eating.”  She also maintains “Cooking with Rita,” a blog for her work as the Community Press and Recorder’s food columnist.

You can listen to Ron during his radio show, “In the Garden with Ron Wilson,” which airs in Columbus on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on 610 WTVN. Ron’s gardening tips can be found on his blog.

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