Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Monday, March 12, 2012
Friday, February 24, 2012
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
In colonial times, White Pines were very common in the Northeast U.S. The British severely depleted their numbers because they were in great demand as ship's masts because they were so straight. They were also used for painted furniture.
Medicinally, White Pine tar was used in cough syrups. Other 'fun facts' - Pine needles have 5 times the vitamin C as lemons. The inner bark can be dried and powdered and added to the flour when making bread. The seeds from the cones can be eaten just like the western nut pine seeds, though some say they aren't as good. (with the squirrels around here, it's not likely that I'll ever have the chance to find out since they find cones of all sorts quite attractive). Pine sap has been used to waterproof baskets, buckets and boats and can be make into turpentine. The sap is also antimicrobial and can be mixed with beeswax to make a salve to help prevent infections in wounds. Pine tar mixed with sulfur has been used to treat dandruff. Such a useful tree, though I think I'll just enjoy looking at ours.
As with most plants, people weren't content to enjoy the lovely green pine, but worked on finding the odd branch here and there to use for grafting to create new plants. Pinus strobus has a number of these.
This one is Pinus strobus 'Aurea'. No fancy names, just an acknowledgment of the yellow colored needles. The color is most intense in the winter, fading quite a bit towards green by summer.
And then there is Pinus strobus 'Tortuosa', the curly needled version. Everyone seems to like this one. We were told when we got it that it wouldn't get very tall. Wrong! Once it got to about 25 feet we took the top out. It is now a lovely, round (and rather large) pine bush. I wouldn't have minded it taller, but it was throwing way too much shade on a number of things.
So, not an unusual or, at least in its plain green form, an odd or fancy tree, but one of the basics that is easy to grow and thrives on a variety of soils and in a variety of zones from quite cold to pretty warm.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
The first green shoots of the plant in the spring have been eaten as a spring greens (cooked only and boiled in several changes of water) and are said to be as good, or better, than asparagus. I've not tried it, but know people who love it. It is a source of vitamins A and C and some of the B vitamins, and calcium, phosphorus and iron. After spring, it is not safe to eat the leaves and the roots are poisonous at all times. The roots have been used to make a remedy for treating rheumatism, though I've not been able to find information on just how they are processed for that purpose. I do know that some people in this area will eat a couple of the berries every day and swear that it helps their arthritis. I've also heard of the berries being made into a tea. I have read that cooked berries are safer than raw, and that the seeds are the poisonous part, so berries without seeds are safe. I think I'm going to just avoid all of it to be safe. I find the herbal uses of plants to be more of a historical interest than something that I'm comfortable trying for myself of my family. In an herbal published almost 200 years ago, it was recommended that the berries be infused in brandy and that "the leaves are used in ointment for sore eyes and in the form of a poultice for reducing swellings from the bites of poisonous insects." It is also true that in the 19th century there were numerous cases of Pokeweed poisoning, though the reports I read didn't specify from which parts of the plant the poisonings occurred.
Pokeweed is an American native and is found in most of the country except for the Mountain States, Alaska and Hawaii. It is often found in old fields and waste places. Here it grows with Ironweed, Goldenrod and Thistles making fields of gold and purple in the fall.
A number of wildflowers have a place in my gardens and coexist happily here. Pokeweed isn't one of those. It is too big, too weedy, and seeds much too freely to be a welcome part of an even remotely civilized garden. Once it gets started pulling it out isn't an option because it has a large taproot. Digging is the only way to remove it from the garden. There is, however, a variegated form that is welcome, or at least tolerated, in the garden. It is also too big, and also tends to seed around a bit thanks to the birds (Cardinals and Catbirds seem to like them especially) who eat the berries and spread the seeds, but the variegation is lovely and I tend to overlook a plant's bad habits if it is useful in the design of the garden and the bad habits aren't tooooo bad.
The Pokeweed that is allowed to grow in my garden is Phytolacca american 'Steve Silberstein'. Not really a catchy name, except probably to the person for whom it was named. Most people seem to just call it 'that variegated poke weed'. It will grow in sun or shade, but seems to prefer sun. It need adequate moisture but isn't really too fussy other than that. Most of the seedlings will be variegated, though some will show a better variegation than others. Since the seed doesn't need any stratification for germinate, I usually just bury some berries near the base of the plant and then pot up the seedlings in the spring once they germinate. No point making lots of extra work or taking up extra space in my too small greenhouse starting plants that will start all by themselves.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Parsley is native to the central Mediterranean region, though it has naturalized in other places and is grown widely as an herb and a vegetable. It is a biennial, growing only leaves the first year. You'll get some new leaves the next spring, but as soon as the flower stalk starts, the leaves will have a more bitter taste. If you want to save seed, let the blooms form, but if not, you just need to compost last year's plants and get some new ones started. The plants will die after making seed, so no point taking up garden space with them if you aren't trying to make your own seed. I start mine ahead of time in the greenhouse and set them out in spring. The seed can be slow to germinate, so give yourself plenty of time. Parsley is one of those things with a taproot that sometimes don't transplant well, so you might try growing it in peat pots, or some of the other types of pots now on the market that can be planted directly in the ground without disturbing the roots of the plants.
Parsley grows best in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. One or two plants will be plenty for most people since you won't be harvesting the whole plant, but rather just picking a stem as needed. I grow mine in what you might call a raised herb bed. In reality it is a large black nursery pot, not sure of the size, but a really big one. I did this to keep the rabbits away from it and it has worked well. I usually put a plant of sage in there too, along with the resident clump of chives that has been there since I started the pot over 10 years ago. The only other pest you might have trouble with are caterpillars from Swallowtail Butterflies. The caterpillars are green and yellow striped with black dots. They will feed on your parsley for about 2 weeks before heading off to turn into butterflies.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
As far as medicinal uses, the whole plant is gathered and dried and then a tea is made from a teaspoonful of the dried plant to a cup of hot water. It can be drunk hot or cold. It was said to be astringent and sedative, a good remedy for coughs or skin problems.
A pretty flower, maybe not one you'd want in your perennial border, except maybe at the back, though it's cultivated cousins are more than welcome in my garden.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
The demulcent property is what makes this plant useful medicinally and which has since ancient times. Theophrastus mentioned it and Hippocrates gave specific instruction for its use. Pliny said "Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that shall come to him." Depending on the species, either the large roots or the leaves are used to make an infusion. The resulting liquid, mixed with honey, is useful for loosening coughs and relieving sore throats. Grieve's Herbal suggests that a poultice made of any of the mallows will "remove obstinate inflammation ... The fresh leaves, steeped in hot water and applied to the affected parts as poultices, reduce inflammation, and bruised and rubbed upon any place stung by wasps or bees take away the pain, inflammation and swelling." That last use I'll have to try this summer since even though I'd like to have all of the Malva weeded out of the garden, there is always a bit left and the summer when I don't get stung by something is an unusual summer.
As I've been working my way through my book on medicinal plants, one thing has been pretty obvious. Although a number of them have been 'pretty flowers', a lot have been things that might better be classified as weeds. Pretty flowers, yes, but not the kind you want in your perennial border. It does make you think, though, about whether you should leave a few grow as medicinal plants instead of trying to obliterate every last one of the 'weeds'.
Saturday, January 28, 2012
The powder has actually had many uses over the years, from a dusting powder for abraded surfaces, in microscopy as a standard for measuring the comparative sizes of substances (it would take 750 of then laid side by side to cover an inch), and even due to the extremely explosive nature of the spores, to produce lightning effects in the theater and in early flash photography. The spores are extremely water repellent, and if you were to dip your hand into the spore powder and then into water, you hand would not become wet.
The powder has been used both to kill lice and to improve bad wine and as a stabilizer in ice cream. One writer in an old herbal recommended it for 'female disorders', and another valued it as an aphrodisiac.
Of all of the uses, it was probably used most often as a dusting powder for eczema, and to prevent chafing in infants.
Not many of the plants I've written about have had such varied uses, both medicinal and practical - and this one you can buy on eBay for less than $12 for 25 grams, should you feel the need to experiment.
Next time - Malva rotundifolia, which here is more of a weed than a wildflower, but pretty just the same.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Iris versicolor is commonly called Blue Flag, at least that's what I knew it as growing up. This one has variegated leaves, but the blossom is the same as the straight species. It is native to wet swampy places from Canada to Florida and west to Arkansas. We grow ours at the edges of ponds, or in low spots that tend to collect water, or even in mini-bogs that are just kiddie wading pools sunk in the ground and filled with a soil/peat moss mix to create a small swampy place to keep swamp loving plants happy. I know the people at K-Mart wondered what we might be going to do with 10 kiddie pools when we bought them.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Monday, January 16, 2012
It was used as an infusion for coughs and colds, or made into an ointment to be put on bruises, scratches or insect bites.
The plant has been historically associated with John the Baptist, hence it's common name. John the Baptist's birthday was at the summer solstice, an important day even in pre-Christian times, and some think that the bright yellow flowers were associated with that day. In addition to the medicinal uses, plants of this herb were hung over doorways and used in exorcisms.
Since I've started on Hypericums, I might as well show you some of the others that we grow.
Hypericum 'Blue Velvet is a small shrub with blue green leaves and the bright yellow flowers that are typical of the Hypericums. Ours grows in light shade where it gets a half day of sun and seems quite happy.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
I guess I was a bit surprised to find this hydrangea in a book on medicinal herbs. The species, as opposed to 'Annabelle', has smaller blooms but still is lovely. In its native range, from New York south to Florida and west to Missouri, it can be found growing in moist, rich woodlands, and I find that here in our zone 6ish garden it grows best in light shade where it gets sufficient moisture. I also have one growing at the base of a large mulberry tree where it gets much less moisture unless I remember to throw a 5 gallon bucket of water on it, and though it grows well, it is not nearly as large, nor are the flowers as large, as the one in better, moister soil.
The part of the plant that is used medicinally is the root, which has variously colored layers of root bark that can be peeled back, one layer at a time, and which gives it the sometimes used name of seven-bark. When a fresh root is dug, it is cut or crushed to be used in an unfusion, 1 teaspoon of root to a cup of boiling water, taken a mouthful at a time throughout the day. Although the book says that it was known that it wouldn't get rid of gall stones, it was taken to get rid of 'gravelly deposits'. It was also know to the Cherokee tribe for that purpose. It was thought that it would assist in removing brick dust deposits from the bladder and so was a popular remedy in areas with brick factories.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
The common sunflower is a native plant almost everywhere in the United States.
In Jacobs' Index of Plants he writes "the leaves are astringent; the seeds are diuretic and yield a fixed oil ... The roots were used for snakebite and as a dye. The sunflower is used for coughs, pulmonary affections, dysentery, inflammation of the bladder and kidneys, and as an antimalarial."
An old recipe using sunflower seeds as a cough remedy: Boil 2 ounces of the seed in a quart of water (doesn't say if they are hulled or not). Boil down to a little less than a pint and strain. Add 6 ounces of gin and 6 ounces of sugar. To be taken three or four times daily in a dose of one to two teaspoonfuls for pulmonary affections and coughs. In the same way, seeds browned in the oven and then used to make the unfusion were said to provide relief for whooping cough.
The Journal of Lewis and Clark had an entry in July 1805 noting the use of sunflower seed to make bread and thicken soup.
After writing about a lot of medicinal plants where I felt the need to warn about these being old and questionable recipes, this is one that seems quite simple and probably safe. I have no idea, however, if it actually works, though I might be willing to give it a try.
As far as gardening here in the hollow - it's been a strange garden time. After one of the wettest years on record, we seem to be having a winter without horrible cold and, at least so far, no snow. Some is predicted in the next day or so, 2-6 inches, so it may actually start to look more like January here. We have witchhazels and winter honeysuckles blooming; daffodil foliage is up a couple of inches in many places. Luckily things bloom in the greenhouse this time of year so we don't get too crazy. Right now there is a lovely tiny gardenia covered with blooms that is making the whole place smell wonderful. In any event, in 2 months or so spring will be here with crocus and other early spring blooms starting. I'm not sure if I'm quite ready for the daily grind of weeding, but I'm sure ready for warmer weather and the outside being green instead of brown.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
I don't remember this growing at our house when I was growing up, but heck, there were parents and grandparents and kids, all gardening on a city lot, I don't remember weeds much at all. They wouldn't have had a chance. Where I do remember it is at my Aunt Nancy's farm, out in the country the other side of West Chester PA. She had a wonderful spring house, always so dark and cool, where they would chill the milk. Ground ivy grew around and in it (I'm sure she thought it was a nuisance) and for some reason I loved the smell of it when you walked on it and crushed the leaves. I still love the smell, even as I pull mountains of it out of my flower beds.
Although this seems to be everywhere, it is not native to North America, but was introduced by the early settlers. If it weren't such a weed, you might almost expect to find it sold in garden centers as a ground cover. This variegated version is sold by a number of nurseries and though sometimes a bit tricky to get started, I think it can be just as much of a nuisance as it's plainer cousin once established.
One of the original uses for the plant was to impart the desired bitter flavor to beer, to prevent it from turning sour, and to clear it. This use for the plant ended about 400 years ago when they discovered that hops would do the same thing, and I assume would do it better since that has been used ever since.
Other uses for the plant are for coughs accompanied by phlegm. It is used either fresh or dried, a teaspoonful of leaves to a cup of boiling water, a cupful of more a day. It has also been suggested that sniffing the crushed leaves will cure a headache.
Grieve's Herbal suggests that because of its astringent properties, it is useful for bruises and black eyes.
So next time you're weeding the garden and get the urge to pull out all of the ground ivy, maybe you might think twice about leaving a little patch . . . just in case . . . for medicinal purposes.
Tomorrow - hamamelis (witchhazel)