IMG_3558 By Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation  staff writer

Ask Alexandra Zawadzki why she’s so passionate about her garden, she will tell you, “It’s in my genes.”

Indeed, she recalls so fondly watching her parents back in Poland, lovingly work the garden surrounding the home she grew up in.

“I remember, people used to stop to look at our garden, and they would stay so long, they’d be late for their train,” she said.

Zawadzki’s front yard.

Zawadzki would later go on to develop her own gardens, creating ornamental flowers and produce everywhere she’s lived — from Poland to Belgium to the United States.

Now, she’s a regular at the Charlestown Farmers Market in Lake Charles,  where she sells a variety of goods. But she’s known affectionately by her customers as the Herb Lady.

“Oh, I have so, so many herbs,” she said (about 30 in all — and all grown organically). “I just love growing them and educating my customers about them. It’s my destiny. I know it helps people. They’re good for you, they’re healing, they’re beautiful!”

Zawadzki’s favorite garden bed, boasting 15 different types of herb.

She offers herbs for seasoning, herb meat tenderizers, herbal vinegars, aroma therapy herbs, herb bath salts, herb potpourri, herb moth repellant… To name a few. In the Herb Lady’s world, there’s almost nothing a good herb can’t make better!

“Most people, they don’t know how to use my herbs,” she said. “So I try to educate them a little bit more, to encourage them to be open to new experiences.”

But it isn’t just a passion. It’s a business, as she’s quick to point out.

Zawadzki’s herb house, where she dries and grinds all the plants, preparing them for sale.

“I have two jobs,” this elementary school French teacher notes. “Teaching and gardening.”

So when she read about the recent Growing for Profits Workshop (made possible by our Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant sponsored Dare to be Healthy wellness initiative), she was quick to sign up. The recent course taught participants how to garden for business — including what to plant, how to market yourself and how to write a business plan. The purpose behind the workshop was to help local growers expand their fledgling businesses, in the hopes of meeting an ever increasing demand for fresh, local produce.

But for Zawadzki, her interest in the workshop was more about networking.

“I just wanted to be with people with similar interests in gardening,” she said. “And I was able to do that!”

And Zawadzki has become an even greater believer in buying from folks like herself and her new friends. Why? Because there’s nothing like knowing your grower, she said.

“If you go to the store,” she said, “and have a question about an herb or something you are buying, who answers that question for you? No one! But I know every leaf in my garden. So when a customer says, ‘How fresh is the basil in your pesto?’ I can say, ‘I picked it last night!’ You will never get that from a grocery store.”

To read more about the Herb Lady, check out her feature story in the American Press newspaper. And to catch the Herb Lady in action, visit the Charleston Farmers Market, held every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Bilbo Street in Lake Charles, behind the Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center.