By Jessie Hazard for The Island Connection
Ever heard of borage? Does costmary make frequent appearances in your kitchen? If so, then you belong in the same professional category as Danielle Spies and Ella Cowen, owners of Sea Island Savory Herbs. (If not, you belong with the rest of us.) Sea Island Savory Herbs is a small, family-run farm on Johns Island offering a wide variety of greenhouse-grown plants ranging from succulents and flowers to hard-to-find herbs. Like the Johns Island Farmers Market, Sea Island operates yearround, and the farm is open to customers Monday through Saturday from 10-4.
Besides offering familiar herbs like thyme and rosemary and vegetables like peppers and tomatoes, Spies and Cowen nurture a host of rare florae like old-fashioned camellias, medicinal plants, and the aforementioned unusual herbs—most of them cultivars produced especially for withstanding the local semi-tropical climate.
“A lot of the more out-there plants we do are trial and error,” says Spies. “People come to us asking for them, or we hear about them and, being plant lovers, we’re curious to try them out.” The arsenal of offerings is consistently growing. Spies and Cowen grow many of their herbs from stem cuttings—this produces higher quality plants than those raised from seed.
The best friends met years ago at a farmers’ market, where Spies was representing Sea Island and Cowen was interning at Joseph Fields Farm. They hit it off and soon decided to purchase Sea Island Savory from its previous owners and make it their own.
Though the plants range from $2-$8 depending on size and type, the information Spies and Cowen provide might just be priceless—especially considering the rarity of some of their growings. They willingly educate anyone who’s unsure about how to tend a new plant and tirelessly answer questions from novices and pros alike.
So what do borage and costmary taste like? Borage is fresh and cucumber-y, and costmary is a biblical herb akin to spearmint. Ask Spies and Cowen—they’ll tell you all about them, along with other eccentricities like hyssop and summer savory. Each visit to their stand brings with it new and exciting finds. The duo especially likes the laid-back, friendly environment at the Johns Island Farmers’ Market because it lends itself to open communication with customers.
“I love that the market is year-round like we are and that it’s close to our farm. So it works out for us,” Spies says, chuckling. “But what we really like is the size, which is just right for what we want to do. We are friends with the other vendors, and the locals that come there are usually such repeat customers that they become our friends, too.”
Besides piquing your herbal curiosity, Johns Island Farmers Market hosts other unique little happenings that change every week. The market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. It’s also the area’s only farmers’ market that’s open year-round. To keep up with it all, you can sign up for their newsletter at www.johnsislandfarmersmarket.com for a monthly update on what’s going on.