Sep 08, 2012 2:23 PM CDT

Herald-Whig Staff Writer


Deborah Lee spends plenty of the time in the garden gathering herbs for her cooking — and her health.

She’ll add mullein and comfrey to healing salves, use calendula to soften skin, rely on garlic and oregano and turn dandelion into a tonic or tea.

“I love to share how people can easily, simply and inexpensively take better charge of their health,” said Lee, a medicinal herb educator and herb consultant.

It’s a lesson Lee shares as part of classes offered at her Four Winds Farm on Quincy’s north edge.

“I want people to have fun and learn in a hands-on way,” she said.

Classes — with another medicinal herb series beginning next week — give participants a chance to get outside in the garden, identify and collect herbs and make things to use or eat.

Sharing her knowledge as a herbal educator has been a long-term goal for Lee, the sixth generation of her family to live on the farm.

“I always had a dream to have a conference center, an education center where people can learn about how to live in a more sustainable method on the land,” Lee said.

When a funding cut in 2010 threatened her job with University of Illinois Extension, “I thought if not now, when,” she said. “I just decided to do it.”

She converted an unfinished building on the farm into an education center last year, striving to recycle, reuse and reduce with the building materials and fixtures.

Exterior cedar siding was milled from old telephone poles which also provided material for window trim, floor and ceiling molding. Lee boosted energy efficiency with a wind turbine, passive solar gain from south-facing windows and soybean-based insulation. The bathroom features an odorless and waterless composting toilet approved by city officials.

“I hired somebody to do a lot of the work here, but I did the painting, a lot of staining, anything that didn’t need a saw, heavy lifting or a lot of knowledge,” she said.

The upstairs teaching area offers an ample kitchen with space for up to 20 people and “weird things in drawers” from herbs to salve jars ready to fill.

Outside, she converted a vegetable garden with some herbs into a space solely for herbs. The garden features teaching tools including raised beds, containers and a lasagna garden.

“This is a certified herb of the year garden, certified by the Illinois Herb Association,” Lee said. “It’s an official teaching garden.”

Certified gardens must have at least 20 international herbs of the year; Lee’s garden has 22 along with about 20 others herbs with a wide variety of uses.

“I’ve taught medicinal herb classes since the late 1980s. I love doing that,” she said. “We learn how a disease starts to build in the body and how we can start to reverse that.”

What’s in the garden can complement the nation’s medical system from flower essences that work with deep emotional issues to taking echinacea at the first signs of a cold to possibly avoid a trip to the doctor and a round of antibiotics.

“So many things are simple at the onset, so really we look a lot at how to prevent, how to monitor problems, how can we be proactive in our health,” she said. “I’m not trying to say don’t go to the doctor. If I break a leg and need it set, I can put a herb on afterward. There’s amazing modern medicine, to go in and get a cataract removed and go back to work that afternoon. It’s a great time to be alive with so many possibilities to take care of ourselves.”

Along with the classes, Lee also works as a consultant, a conference presenter and a speaker for groups and organizations. The farm also offers a patio area suitable for events including rehearsal dinners and reunions.

“When I lived in Louisiana, this is what I did full-time. I saw clients for nutrition, taught medicinal herb classes all over the south. I was very busy, very well-known as the Herb Lady,” she said. “It is my love.”


Deborah Lee has been intrigued with herbs since she was a young Girl Scout, gradually becoming an expert on wild edible plants.

She later became fascinated with medicinal herbs and studied with many of the leading American herbalists for three decades.

Another nine-week session of medicinal herb classes, offered 6-9 p.m. Tuesdays or 9 a.m.-noon Thursdays, begins next week at Four Winds Farm.

Topics include safe use of common healthful herbs; drying and preserving methods; infusions, decoctions and herbal “teas” and tips for disease prevention.

The $150 cost covers nine sessions, textbook, class materials and supplies and take-home preparations.

More information is available by contacting Lee at 257-1480 or and online at