Mary Buckles grew up on a farm near Manito and credits her
grandfather for instilling in her a love of gardening. While the
adults took care of the crops, the children in her family were given
the care of the garden, an essential part of rural life at the time.
While her mother did not approve of her children playing in the
dirt, her grandfather encouraged it, as long as it involved tending
the soil, planting seeds and caring for the growing bounty of the
Buckles laughed when she said, "Granddad chose me to be his main
garden helper because I was closer to the ground than him, so he did
not have to bend over during planting. It was like heaven to me,
being able to play in the dirt and grow things."
She also credits her father with instilling in her a love of the
land. "Dad gave me a wonderful gift," she said, "when he taught me
about plants, water and the environment, and how to take care of the
This love of gardening led to a lifelong fascination with herbs
and how they can affect our lives.
In one way or another, Buckles has always been associated with
growing things. As a kid, she helped on the farm and was a 4-H
member. In college, she grew herbs in pots in her room and shared
them with her fellow students. She has also helped plant the
majority of the trees in the state forest in Mason County.
When she met and married her husband, Kenneth, her life’s journey
was set. Kenneth wanted to be a farmer himself, and they finally
settled near Mount Pulaski to become a farm family, eventually
raising three daughters. The couple's busy lives revolved around
farming, parenting and Mary’s job as a teacher.
One day her husband asked if she would consider quitting her job
and become the hired hand on the farm. After all, he pointed out,
his current hired hand made more than she did as a teacher. Mary
Buckles jumped at the chance. Now she could indulge in her passion
for gardening and especially learn more about her ultimate passion
Buckles points out that people sometimes mistakenly equate herbs
with spices. That could not be further from the truth.
"Herbs are soft, leafy plants that have always existed in our
country," she said. "The American Indians knew about them and
evolved a sophisticated knowledge about their uses. They shared this
knowledge with the growing population that was immigrating to
Their policy of sharing was a wonderful gift to the settlers.
Spices, at least originally, were brought from overseas and are
generally a hard plant. Some herbs were brought from overseas, but
many were native to America. They like a temperate climate.
"Herbs do not have as long a shelf life as spices," Buckles said.
Herbs contain an element called an essential oil that is the
foundation of their beneficial uses. Herbs can be used for medicinal
purposes, culinary flavorings for food, natural dyes and as
decorative effects for the home, as well as for their wonderful
Historically, herbs were grown by every farm family, and it was a
simple matter to snip a leaf or two from the backyard plants for use
the same day, when they were at the peak of freshness. Today, herbs
can be grown in pots in apartments, as well as in sunny backyards.
They still provide wonderful additions to our lives, much as they
did hundreds of years ago.
While extolling the multitude of benefits that herbs provide,
Buckles was very serious when she said that knowledge of herbs and
the effects they can have on us is vital. To use herbs effectively
and safely, a person has to know what individual herbs look like and
their specific fragrances.
While a violet is a beautiful herb and is edible, it contains an
enormous source of vitamin C. A person with an allergy who
unknowingly eats too much can get a reaction.
"Herbs can be very potent," she said. This is true for all herbs.