Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Just wanted to let people know that we won't be open this weekend due to the excessive heat and the fact that we don't have electricity or water.  It's not been a fun week since the storm last Friday.  'They' say that we'll have electricity some time this weekend, but until then, we're camping out, more or less.  Hope to see you all next weekend.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Blooming Early Spring 2012

This clump of Pushkinia scillioides var. libnotica is almost always the first thing to bloom in the garden in the spring. When it first comes up it is quite white, but gets a bit of the blue color after it is out for awhile. Doesn't seem to be bothered by rabbits which can't be a bad thing.

Shortly after the Pushkinia is in bloom, the Iris histrioides 'Katharine Hodgkin' will come out. The color is just so unusual. Only about 5 inches tall and will multiply if it's happy.

About the same time, the Iris danfordiae will come up. This is not even quite as tall as the last one, and much more delicate. Things that come up so early shouldn't really be so frost sensitive, I think. We enjoyed it for quite awhile this year since the weather has been unseasonable warm.

Actually, the snow drops (Galanthus) are the first things out, but since they can be a month or more ahead of everything else, sometimes even in early January, I mostly consider them winter flowers, not spring ones. These are the double flowered variety which is most of what we have. They do increase and spread with great abandon.

Not a Crocus, but very Crocus-like, these Bulbocodium vernum are funny little things; with no real stem, the flowers seem to open right on the ground. Another one that increases freely if happy.

And then there are the Crocuses. These striped ones are some of my favorites and we have them all along the walk up to the house along with some white ones.

And this is always the first Daffodil to bloom. Rijnveld's Early Sensation. Sometimes one of the tee tiny ones will come close to beating it, but rarely does. It was so nice the other day to be able to pick some fresh flowers for the table after a winter of dried ones.

And despite the name, the Daffodil 'February Gold' really never blooms in February, though this year it came close. Some years it doesn't bloom until April.

I can't believe how nice the weather is for the middle of March, and it's supposed to be in the 70s for the rest of this week. There will surely be many more things blooming by then - and I'll surely be taking some pictrures of them. Tomorrow, though, I'll post pictures of the shrubs that have started blooming already. Sure hope we don't get a frost soon. Things are just getting soooo pretty. I'd hate to have them ruined.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Podophyllum peltatum

I remember when I was little, my mother dug up a clump of Mayapples one spring and planted them in the back yard. It was the beginning of a little woodland garden in our small backyard garden on our city lot. She added some ferns, violets, a Jack-in-the-Pulpit and probably a couple of other things. I loved that little spot. It wasn't as showy as my grandfathers chrysanthemums or his roses, but there was something so quiet and refreshing about all of those shades of green.

Mayapples are native to woodland areas in Eastern North America. Each plant has 2 or 3 leaves and a single white flower, nodding beneath the leaves. Bumblebees pollinate the flowers. Mayapples prefer dappled shade and moist to slightly dry conditions. The best soil for Mayapples is a rich loamy one with plenty of organic matter. It is easy to start new plants from rhizomes. The foliage dies down by the end of summer. The fruit forms by mid summer and is edible in moderate amounts once they are fully ripe. The very ripe fruits are eaten by turtles and possums and possibly raccoons and skunks. Because Mayapple leaves are poisonous and have a very bitter taste, they are usually left alone.

In the fall, after the leaves die down, the rhizomes are dried and pulverized into fine particles to use the plant medicinally. It has been used to treat liver problems and to get rid of warts, but the most common use is as a laxative and it was the active ingredient in 'Carter's Little Liver Pills'. The plant extract has been used topically to get rid of warts and moles and has also been used to treat some forms of skin cancer. Two drugs derived from the Mayapple are used to treat cancer and research is continuing on other chemotherapy drugs,


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pinus strobus - Eastern White Pine

In our neighborhood, there are a ton of white pines. The state has, for years, given them out for planting and apparently, lots of people around here took advantage of the offer. With all of the deer, they can be hard to get started since the deer find them so tasty, but once they get tall enough for the deer not to eat them, they are pretty trouble free. Their one drawback, as far as I can tell, is that the branches are quite brittle and so will snap off sometimes in a bad ice storm.
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

Phytolacca americana - Pokeweed

Phytolacca americana, known around here as Pokeweed is a large weed/wildflower. It easily grows 6 feet tall in our fields. Other than its size, it is not especially noticeable in spring or early summer, but once the tiny white flowers are fertilized and change into purple berries, it's hard to miss.

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

Petroselinum crispum - Parsley

Add one more thing to like about this mostly mild winter - my parsley is still green, and though probably wouldn't be as good fresh since it doesn't really look as crisp as I'd like it, it's still fine for cooking. And forget all of those television chefs who tell you that you have to buy flat-leaved parsley to get any flavor. They obviously don't grow their own. I can't imagine anything with more flavor than the curly parsley that I grow.

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.

Parsley is one of the easiest things to put up to use over the winter. I just pick it, rinse it, dry it and put in in zip loc freezer bags. I squish the air out of the bags to keep freezer burn away, and usually have plenty of parsley to last the winter for cooking. It doesn't take up much room in the freezer and is much tastier and greener than when I've tried drying it in the food dehydrator. Frozen parsley is not as crisp as the fresh (actually not crisp at all) but the flavor is every bit as good.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Oenothera biennis - Evening Primrose

I have always loved this plant. An elderly woman from my church gave me a start of a more cultivated form many years ago. Always so sunny and bright, just as she was. The version that grows in my fields and meadows is taller and more likely to seed about, but the yellow flowers are still cheery. As the name implies, this is a biennial. In its first year, it makes a rosette close to the ground, rather nondescript and pretty easily ignored. The second year it shoot up a tall bloomscape with lance shaped leaves and those pretty primrose yellow flowers which bloom from late spring through fall. This is an American native and prefers open fields or roadsides. It can tolerate some drought. Since the flowers open in the evening (and last until the next day) it is pollinated by moths, especially the Sphinx Moth. The blossoms are also attractive to bees, bumblebees and hummingbirds. In the fall you'll find Goldfinches eating the seeds.

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

Malva rotundifolia

Pretty flowers, nice leaves . . . horrible weed or useful medicinal plant? Actually, all of these apply. If it weren't such an invasive weed, I might even grow it in a perennial bed. Way back when, I learned this one by its common name, Cheeses. I always thought that was a funny name for a plant. And though I'm told that the name Cheeses refers to the seed pods, that doesn't make any more sense than the whole plant being called Cheeses. They are related to the Marsh Mallows and Hollyhocks. All seven types that grow in the U.S. have been brought in from Europe as none are native here.

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


When I used to take walks in the woods as a child, I always loved this plant. Lycopodium was more commonly known to me as ground pine or ground cedar, though it is neither. It is in the clubmoss family and more closely related to ferns. One or more species can be found growing in most places in the world, usually in moist woods or boggy places. Lycopodium is low growing, not much more than 6-8 inches tall and is evergreen. It is the fruiting heads (you can see them in the picture) that bear the spores that are the lycopodium powder of medicine.

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

We grow several different Iris versicolor cultivars here, the one above being 'Mint Fresh'. It is a rather small plant, as irises go, probably no more than 15 inches tall with a smallish bloom. The plain species is often taller than this cultivar. Size, though doesn't matter all that much, as this is such a lovely blossom.

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.

One of my favorite versicolors is the photo above - 'John Wood'. We have a couple of clumps of this one growing under various conditions and all are doing well. The foliage (below) is also quite pretty in the spring when it first emerges.

As far a medicinal uses for the plant, it is the root or rhizome that is collected in the autumn and dried. Much care should be used if you consider using this plant for medicinal purposes since all parts of it are poisonous when fresh if taken internally. Still, it was considered useful as it was listed as an official drug for over a hundred years. It was used by the Native Americans who passed the knowledge of its usefulness on the the Colonists.

In addition to its uses as a diuretic, emetic, purgative and cathartic, the flowers yield an infusion that may be used to test for acids and alkalies in place of litmus paper. Some people have used the powdered roots in tooth powders.

So, a useful plant, though probably not one I'm going to use personally. Just being pretty in the garden is all that I require of my irises.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Impatiens capensis

Impatiens capensis - aka Jewelweed, Balsam, touch-me-not, snap weed. It grows wild here along creeks and in woods, usually in a quite shady spot. Along the creeks it can be 3 feet tall, in the woods, a little smaller. This is an annual that self seeds generously (I weed a good bit of it out, just leaving a nice clump here and there) and whose seeds are spread as the fruits explode, shooting the seeds for quite a distance. We loved making them explode when we were kids.

Jewelweed is listed as a medicinal plant because of its ability to releive the itch of poison ivy. Strange as it may seem, it often grows right alongside the plant for which it is an antidote. You pretty much just boil the plants in water to make a concentrated 'tea' that you then apply to the rash. I can vouch for the fact that this works. I haven't boiled down any myself, but our family doctor used to give it to patients as his 'secret poison ivy cure' back when my kids were very little. It is also reported to work as just the juice of the plant without boiling it down - you inadvertantly get into some poison ivy and you just crush some Jewelweed and rub it on the spot. Potter's Cyclopaedia says that it can also be boiled with lard to make a salve to relieve hemorrhoids, and that the raw juice of the plant will remove warts and corns and cure ringworm. In New England Rarities Discovered, and American herbal written in 1672, it was written that the colonists considered it a remedy for bruises.

It's a pretty plant that I've loved since I was a child, and despite its propensity to spread a bit too enthusiastically, I'll always allow it to grow here, especially as long as we still haven't managed to get rid of all of our poison ivy.

Impatiens pallida, the yellow flowered form, is also effective. At least around here, though, it seems less common. It is a larger plant and seems to have no problem growing in the sun, as we have several patches along the road that seem to do just fine.

This has to be one of the easiest medicinal plants there is since it grows often right next to the plant for which it is an antidote and requires no preparation for use, unless you want to have a supply on hand for winter, which is when I often get in trouble with poison ivy when I come in contact with the roots while clearing a new space for a garden. And yes, I'm ready for spring; enough winter already. And I've been planning several new garden beds and renovation for as soon as I can get out there and start working. The days are getting longer so it can't be too long yet, can it?


Monday, January 16, 2012

Hypericum perforatum (and some others)

Not the showy St. John's Wort, or the shrub ones, but a rather unassuming wildflower that grows here. It's a European native, but was brought to this country early and now can be found in many places, along roadsides and in fields. It even seems to grow in light shade. It's only a foot or so tall in my gardens and for years I didn't know what it was. I finally took the time to find out and was pleasantly surprised. It was too pretty to be classified as a weed and so it got to stay. It didn't spread around or get in the way. I'm glad I left it since it has turned out to be a pretty little thing growing in a daylily bed where it is a little out of place, buy lovely just the same.

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.

This one is 'Hidcoat Variegated', about which I know nothing, I hate to admit. Hank bought it (I think he'd buy anything as long as it was variegated) and it seems happy here so far.

And last, this is 'Tricolor', though in sun, there are surely more that 3 colors, the pink, white and several shades of green. This, I think, is a zone 7 plant, but because we like it so much, we go to great pains to keep several of them alive. Without a wrap or cover of burlap over the winter, they wouldn't make it until spring. It has been very slow growing and took many years to finally flower. Still, it seems worth the extra fussing we need to do for it in the fall to prepare it for winter. We've had it in the gardens for at least 15 years, so we must be doing something right.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hydrangea arborescens

Such a lovely flower, Hydrangea 'Annabelle'. I just love these. The blooms last almost forever on the plant, and then if you cut them, they do last indoors all winter, and if you don't mind the increasingly brown, then very dark brown color, they will last in the house until they are just too dusty to deal with any more. Luckily, there is an abundant new crop of blossoms every year. I think the new pink flowered one will be just as lovely - if the deer will please stop eating the buds so I can enjoy its flowers.
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.

Even if you have no need or desire to use this shrub medicinally, it is still well worth growing for its beauth and ease of cultivation. It doesn't seem to have pest problems, doesn't mind a little drought, though in very dry spells it would like a drink every couple of days. Expect it to get about 4 feet tall and maybe 6 feet wide in time.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What do you mean it's blooming in January???

Though I often tell people that there's something of interest in the gardens 12 months out of the years, that something isn't always a plant with flowers. We're still a bit away from even the snowdrops (Galanthus) and though the Hellebores have buds, none are what you could call open flowers yet at this point. This year, howeve, is different in many ways. We haven't had the horrible cold, and until today when we got about an inch, we hadn't had snow either. We've had more than enough rain, 2011 being one of the wettest years I can remember. And, we have blooms on Hamamelis (Witchhazel) and Lonicera (Honeysuckle). The one above is Hamamelis 'Rochester'. It is always one of the first to bloom, mostly owing to its position on a sunny, protected bank above a pond. It has become quite a large bush, allowing me to cut a generous quantity to bring into the house so that I can enjoy the wonderful fragrance without freezing my buns off sitting on a bench outside.

This Hamamelis is 'Girard's Purple'. It is also a large bush, but for some reason the scent isn't nearly as stong as that of 'Rochester', but I cut some anyway for the contrast in colors. There are years when the Witchhazels don't bloom until March, and then their bloom season is quite short because the flowers fade with the first warm/hot sunny day. With blooms starting in January, we should be able to enjoy them for a couple of months this year. Only a few are out so far, but all are quite well budded and so we should have lots of bloom soon.

The other shrubs that are blooming are a couple of the bush honeysuckles. The one above is Lonicera fragrantissima. It's probably about 6 feet tall and as wide. The blooms, though different in appearance, have that wonderful honeysuckle smell that reminds me of warm nights in early summer, when the fragrance wafts in the open windows on a light breeze. This can start blooming here any time between January and March. It will sucker a bit and can also tip root, so unless I need some extra plants, I try to prune it a bit after bloom, and dig any babies so that it doesn't crowd out its neighbors.

The other bush honeysuckle that is blooming right now is Lonicera purpusii. I originally bought this one because the catalog copy said that it bloomed in January, and anything that will bloom here in Ohio in January can have a place in my garden. This is the first year that it has ever done so. It is always nicely budded and looking like it will open those buds in January, but until this year, the buds never opened before the middle of March. Maybe it has finally adapted to our climate, or maybe it's just this weird weather year. Either way, I'm very happy that it's blooming right now.

Tomorrow I'll get back to the medicinal herb series, but I just had to share these wonderful plants today.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Helianthus annuus - Sunflowers

Common sunflowers, nothing fancy; the ones that come up in odd places in the garden where the chipmunks have buried seeds or the birds have dropped one. I have much more luck with critter planted sunflowers than with ones I plant myself. I think that the critters like to plant them, but also like to dig up ones that other people plant. Just my theory, but it would explain why theirs come up and mine don't often do so.
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


Nice vacation; time to get back to writing. I'm going to pick up in my herbal medicine book where I left off last time. The photo is of the variegated version of our ever-present pest, ground ivy, known also as gill-over-the-ground and creeping charlie.
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)