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It's herbalicious: Chaskan writes book on unusual herbs to use

Theresa and Jim Mieseler may have closed their Shady Acres Farm business three years ago, but they are far from being full-fledged retirees.

In fact, the two still wake up at 5 a.m. every morning to mow the grass, plant and, for Theresa, write.

For decades, Theresa, who lives six miles out of Chaska, kept busy growing herbs for both consumption and for use in fragrances, as part of the Shady Acres Farm business. She would help customers find everything they needed in the Mieselers’ eight greenhouses for nearly 40 years.

After the business closed in 2016, Theresa continued growing plants in her personal gardens, but noticed there was a gap of knowledge in herbology books. Few covered exotic and unusual herbs.

“I thought I always wanted to write a book, but I never had the time,” Theresa said. “I knew it had to be about the unusual things we grew.”

With her newfound time, she decided to sit down and write everything she knew from years of experience in the field.

In March, she finished the book, “Beyond Rosemary, Basil, and Thyme: Unusual, Interesting and Uncommon Herbs to Enjoy.”

The encyclopedia-like book contains just about everything a gardener needs to know about each plant, from propagation and uses to the herb’s history in cuisine. The book, printed in full color, spans over 200 pages filled with photos Theresa took herself.

It took a year for Theresa to write, and the process included planting every herb and documenting its bloom and conditions where it grows best. She also utilized the Carver County Library’s interlibrary loan service and was able to have herbology books located in other libraries across the country shipped to the Cologne Express Library.

“This was fun. I learned a lot about the history of the plants,” she said, adding her herbology cohorts of the Minnesota Herb Society shared with her their knowledge and recipes. “I wrote, grew and recorded.”

Her experience in the garden, however, was the biggest help in writing the book.

“At this stage of life, having grown them throughout the years, I just knew a lot of that,” she said.

Jim was supportive of Theresa throughout the entire process.

“I told her to go for it,” Jim said, adding it was a fun winter project to help Theresa edit the book.

HERBS

Sit on Theresa’s deck and you’ll find it filled with all sorts of herbs.

It’s best to keep the ones you want to eat close to the kitchen, she said.

Each plant has a story.

The Vietnamese gardenia is a plant with white, pinwheeled shaped flowers with a perfume-like aroma.

“As it grows up, it smells like a heavy perfume, heavy and sweet,” she said, adding Thomas Jefferson had introduced the plant to America from England. “It’s aromatherapy.”

Then there’s the oh-so-resilient Mrihani basil, which Theresa discovered is resistant to downy mildew — a disease that took out most of her basil plants in one of her greenhouses a number of years ago.

The lemon verbena has leaves that tastes like lemons and is an underappreciated plant, Theresa said. That’s best for mixing in with a salad, grilling chicken and even pound cake.

ARBORETUM

Theresa’s herbology career began close to home at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

The 1970 Chaska High School graduate was told of a job opportunity at the Arboretum by Don West, her typing class teacher.

“I had no idea what the Arboretum was at that point,” she said.

The eager student arrived to the Arboretum and was instructed to transfer crab apple tree bloom data onto a computer.

By the time Theresa graduated from Chaska High School, she was offered a full-time job at the Arboretum as a secretary, but that wasn’t enough.

Theresa wanted to be outside.

“I saw people working outside and I thought they get to go outside and I’m stuck here,” she said.

Theresa was able to start working outside after a year. A few years later, Arboretum officials said they wanted her to work in their new greenhouse operation. The only problem was that she didn’t have any greenhouse experience, so they sent her to the University of Minnesota to learn.

“I said I didn’t know what an herb was, I only knew how to grow annuals,” she said. “I thought ‘what did I get myself into now?’”

Looking back, that was the best decision.

“I was just so happy to get out of that desk,” she said.

The training proved helpful for Theresa’s career. In 1977, Jim and Theresa opened Shady Acres Farm, complete with greenhouses they had purchased to grow herbs.

“Herbs opened my eyes to a fascinating world,” Theresa wrote in her book. “We grew and sold herbs and educated people about them. Eventually we built eight greenhouses and expanded our business until 2016.”

Thinking back to the past, Theresa and Jim had some of their best memories operating Shady Acres Farm.

There were dinner parties with beer and wine. Seasons all of their plants would sell out.

“We still get emails and phone calls asking if we are open,” Theresa said. “I just couldn’t train any more people in the greenhouse.”

While Theresa and Jim are living happily in “retirement” there will always be a part of them that longs for Shady Acres Farm.

“We miss the staff and the customers,” Theresa said.