Herbs for every season: The Berkshires’ first botanical CSA

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By Monday, Jul 17 Life In the Berkshires
Andrew Blechman
Herbalist Krysia Kurzyca of Medicine Buddha Botanicals on her farm in Sheffield.

While the most Berkshire-ites are well familiar with the concept of community-supported agriculture and may even belong to one, picking up seasonal vegetables each week from a local farm, there is one CSA that has put a new twist on the movement.

You won’t find weekly pickups at Medicine Buddha Botanicals, nor will you find baskets of farm-fresh veggies. Rather, this CSA has just four pickups a year and they’re filled with tinctures, salves, teas and other goodies.

Started by Krysia (“kree-sha”) Kurzyca four years ago, Medicine Buddha is more of a seasonal medicinal delivery. Her spring offering, for example, includes a liver tonic; an immune system tincture; herbal teas; a pesto made with wild spring greens such as ramps, nettles and chickweed; and a facial mask. Krysia’s summer basket includes an allergy tonic, mosquito and tick repellent, cooking herbs and wildflower bouquets.

Krysia Kurzyca prepares rose petals for use in one of her products. Photo: Andrew Blechman

Krysia Kurzyca prepares rose petals for use in one of her products. Photo: Andrew Blechman

All the herbal ingredients in these tonics, salves, creams and teas are wildcrafted by Krysia on her herb farm in Sheffield. “I can vouch for the purity of all of the ingredients I use,” Krysia says. “You can’t get any fresher.”

Krysia farms her herbs on about an acre of land trust property. Here she cultivates the sort of herbs one associates with healing and teas such as chamomile, evening primrose, arnica and lemon balm. Her favorite is the rose-scented bergamot, a member of the bee balm family. She picks some off a plant, rubs it and sticks it under my nose. “Isn’t that amazing?” she asks? “It’s my new herbal love. It makes a delicious tea.”

Krysha also cultivates–perhaps “encourages” is a better word–the sort of herbs that many would classify as weeds. Dandelions? Great for pesto. Plantain? The broadleaf weed considered the bane of many a homeowner’s lawn is actually a potent medicinal herb. “It’s one of the best weeds there is,” Krysia says. “It heals wounds, calms bug bites and poison ivy, and it’s good for digestion.” Krysia makes a poultice of minced plantain for her CSA members.

As we walk around the farm’s tightly winding footpaths, she points out dozens of herbs and weeds, a distinction that soon loses meaning on a farm where weeding is a relative term. And then there are the native plants that Krysia can’t really explain why they are there. “They’re just beautiful,” she says. “I love them, so I keep them.” We walk past meadowsweet, blood root, milky oats, stinging nettle, clover, calendula, mugwort, wormwood, schisandra, sage, oregano, several members of the mint family, elderberry, Solomon seal and many more. Krysia’s white Tibetan terrier, Kiki, follows nearby, occasionally sneaking off to frolic amongst the plantings.

Prepped ingredients at Medicine Buddha Botanicals. Photo: Andrew Blechman

Prepped ingredients at Medicine Buddha Botanicals. Photo: Andrew Blechman

Nearly every herb here is headed for Krysia’s Great Barrington apartment, where it will be dried and used for tinctures, teas or culinary seasonings. “At least 30 of the herbs here are for tinctures,” she explains as we pause in front of a menacing stand of stinging nettle. “It’s very nourishing,” she says of the nettle, “Very good for the liver and kidneys.”

Krysia is something of a known quantity in South County, where she stands out for her European flair and bohemian air. Born in Wroclaw in southwest Poland, she came to America in 1981 to practice Zen. When martial law was declared in her home country, she stayed, eventually becoming a naturalized citizen. She moved to the Berkshires in 1989 to escape the bustle of New York City. “The Berkshires is one of the best places to live in America,” she says. “The quality of life is tremendous.” She was a shiatsu practitioner for many years as well as a natural foods cook before finding her ultimate passion working with botanicals, a habit she cultivated growing up in Poland.

Stepping into Krysia’s modest one-bedroom apartment in downtown Great Barrington is like walking into a Bohemian salon. The furniture is an eclectic mix of basic modern and old-world charm. Much of the seating is near to the floor. Her kitchen table is filled with drying herbs, including rose petals, and one wall is covered with shelves lined with tinctures in dark glass bottles. “I make a rose honey which gladdens your heart, calms you and gives you a good feeling, just like roses,” she says, pointing to the rose petals.

Tonics and tinctures at Medicine Buddha Botanicals. Photo: Andrew Blechman

Tonics and tinctures at Medicine Buddha Botanicals. Photo: Andrew Blechman

Krysia’s Lyme disease tincture is particularly popular, as is her immunity tonic. The Lyme tincture includes Japanese knotweed, teasel, wild sarsaparilla, red root and sweet Annie, among other herbs. “I take it everyday,” Krysia says. “It’s antimicrobial, going straight to the tissue where it brings out the microbes into the blood where they can be killed.”

Although popular, her tinctures are mostly reserved for her dozen or so CSA members. “It’s not something I can produce quickly or in quantity,” she says. “I have to dig the herbs out of the soil and in season, and then create the tinctures, which takes many weeks. This is not an overnight process.”

Krysia’s CSA members appreciate the amount of work that goes into each seasonal basket. “She puts a lot of love and energy into everything she creates,” member Hillary Melville said. “I really like her immune support tincture, and she makes a really good face cream. Her rose elixir is pretty magical, too.

“For me, supporting Krysia’s CSA is not only about supporting a local herbalist, but it’s also a great way to stock the medicine cabinet with basic essentials to keep me healthy.”

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