Chamomile Scores and Woes

July 2nd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

chamomile-harvest

Each year my garden sprouts more and more chamomile. It comes earlier each year, too. This year it was all done by the end of June.

This leaves a shorter harvest time, and unfortunately I can’t tend my garden in Gresham as much I have been able to in the past. This means a few long harvesting days rather than a constant, steady harvest in better bite-sized chunks (which I prefer).  This also means that a lot of my chamomile went to seed before I could get to it. » Read the rest of this entry «

My Favorite Neighborhood Empty Lot

August 13th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

plantain-huge

Abandoned houses can be found everywhere. Bad for the economy, yes; but very good for herbalists! » Read the rest of this entry «

Calendula – 0 Caterpillars – 1

November 4th, 2011 § 5 comments § permalink

 

All I have left from my calendula harvest this year is caterpillar poop. And some golden calendula flower oil, probably with a caterpillar or two in it. For all the flowers I picked, all the times I tried to meticulously remove caterpillars, and all the ways I tried to harvest and dry them, not a one remains. » Read the rest of this entry «

Chamomile – my favorite garden herb of the moment

August 20th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

This year, I am growing chamomile in my garden for the first time. The growing season on the West coast is longer, with more rain and milder springs and falls, so I have tried growing things I never grew in Minnesota. Actually, I tried growing chamomile in MN from a transplant, but it never took off. This is an into to this lovely herb; next week I’ll post some medicinal uses and properties.

Botanical info: Matricaria recutita is German chamomiles botanical name, an annual in the Asteraceae or aster/composite family. ‘Chamomile’ means something like “earth/ground melon/fruit/apple”, which I am guessing refers to its aromatic, apply-fruity smell and its height (about a foot or so). Anthemis nobilis or Roman chamomile is grown and used as well, sometimes interchangeably. Chamomile is an native to Europe and Eastern Asia, but it was introduced to North America and grows in temperate areas as long as it is a mostly sunny locale with decently draining soils. The flowers are small, with yellow centers surrounded by white petals. It seems that not all flowers on chamomile have petals or they fall off at some point, some are just disc flowers.

I thought that Matricaria alluded to the mat forming tendency of chamomile, but an University website says that Matricaria is from the Latin word matrix, meaning “womb”, indicating its use for women’s health, recutita meaning cut around (although I have no idea to what that is referring to).

Growth: The first thing I noticed about the chamomile was its vigorous growth. It was the first seed to sprout by almost a week; it quickly grew to about 24″, budded, flowered in a matter of weeks. It bloomed and bloomed some more after a number of harvesting. Another noticeable thing is the light but sweet aroma radiating from the patch when a breeze came through.

Harvesting: Collecting your chamomile is laborious, no doubt. There has to be another a better method than snipping every individual flower. How do big herb farms do it?! I tried giving the crop a hair cut and catching the trimmings, but that requires cleaning the herb later. The stems are thin and soft enough that I could pinch the flower heads off, but placing each individual flower in the basket got old. I ended up leaning the herb over the basket, which collected the flowers after snipping them with a scissors.

As the chamomile dries, the sunny yellow color darkens and the smell sweetens and intensifies. It is important to note that the yellow color concentrates, but the white of the petals is still present. This contrast of colors is NOT seen in chamomile that I buy by the pound, which is mostly yellowish-brown. Weeks after the first harvests, the smell of chamomile is actually getting stronger in my study/herb room. It is almost intoxicating – interfering my studying by making me sleepy, perhaps?

Chamomile has long been a favorite herb of mine for both medicine and beverage, for body and mind. It was probably the first herbal medicine I ever experienced, as my mom would make me herbal tea when I was sick with a cold. In truth, I didn’t like chamomile tea (or any tea for that matter) back then, and now I know why: it was stale. We lived in a basement apartment, and had a mold infestation. Anything that could absorb excess humidity did, herbal tea bags were a prime target. Still, there is something nice about getting tea made for you when you are in bed with a cold or sore throat, especially when that tea contains a liberal dose of honey.

Gardening Roots

April 17th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve been wondering lately how I’ve got to where I am now. At times it seems like life throws random people, events or places at you with no regard to your plans or wishes. But upon closer inspection, I found that those “random” events that “happened to me” more closely resemble an orchestra finding its harmony than a lottery.

This is most apparent when I think about how got into gardening in the first place. At first thought, I began gardening in college my then boyfriend (now husband) and I started a garden in the back yard our the house we rented. We borrowed a tiller, dug up the lawn, and planted squash, beans, kohlrabi, mustard greens, beets, carrots, tomatoes and hot peppers. Occasionally we watered and weeded, but mostly it kind of grew on its own. It was actually one of our better gardens.


Each summer after that, our gardens evolved and grew. I wish I could say they got progressively better, too, but we had bad years and good years in no particular order. One year in was dedicated almost entirely to making sacrifices to the gardening gods and weeds.

In 2007, someone asked me how I got interested in plants and was not satisfied with the “I dunno, it just happened one day in college” answer. Here are the major contributions to my love of plants and gardening.

Grandparents – My maternal grandparents were role models and teachers about gardening. As a child, I would stay with my grandparents in the county during the summers. They had a huge garden, veggies, fruits and flowers. My grandpa would thread cucumber flowers into small-mouthed jars, and after they grew into full-sized cucs in the jar he would show me to my amazement. I was also amazed at the way potatoes grew under ground.

Grandma told me all the names of her annuals, like morning glory, bachelor’s buttons and petunias, and showed me how to collect and save marigold seeds for the next year. My favorite part of the garden was the lying under the aromatic dill and watching monarch caterpillars make their chrysalis. And eating the monster strawberries that they grew. In fact, I ate so many in one summer that I became allergic to them, and couldn’t eat them without breaking out into hives until I was 18 (thank god I grew out oh that one!).

Underneath the two story house (that had four porches, a front, side, back and sun porch) was a dug out cellar. The steps to the house could be lifted up and propped to revel the earth “steps” into the cellar. Down there it was always cool. Jars of pickles and other canned goods lined the small space on handmade shelves. Apples and potatoes were wrapped individually in newspaper and stored in cardboard boxes. I loved going down into the cellar. It was like stepping into the underworld – with lots of food.

Grandma and Grandpa were not farmers themselves, but they were surrounded by crops, as they rented out the adjacent land to farmers. We would go to Threshing Parties (Thrashing, they pronounced it) and look at old farm equipment and displays. There was the various antique farm equipment they had scattered around their property, including horse and human-drawn tillers and potato harvesters. One summer there we visited Grandpa’s friend who was a parsnip farmer. His massive field held lacy, emerald green tops up to your knee of  parsnips so sweet and aromatic you could smell them wafting in the air. We pulled some up and Grandma made incredibly delicious parsnip gratin for lunch.

Genes? – I owe a lot of my interests and skills to my father’s side of the family. I didn’t have a lot of contact with my father after my parents split when I was three. When I would see my dad in the summer, he would show me his incredible gardens of vegetable I had never heard of, like endive, arugula, Brussels sprouts, and a structure resembling a dog house that was teaming with shiitake mushrooms.

In the woods, he showed me a species of cactus he discovered (growing in Wisconsin!) and American ginseng he grew and sold. One of my aunts invited me over for lunch and I’ll never forget it. She served me some organic, crunchy granola, healthy type food (looking back it must’ve been something like quinoa, kale and tofu) that I despised at the time but now I love and appreciate (and grow) that sort of food now.

Growing up where I did – The beautiful river town where I grew up, St. Croix Falls, WI was a grand place to have a childhood. It was there that I gained an appreciated for the beauty and bounty of nature. My friends and I would spend summer afternoons roaming the streets and woods hitting up the blackberries, June berries and columbine and finish off with a dip in the river. We played doctor (innocent, I swear) in the woods with lance-like lily leaves to wrap our broken limbs and the collected dew inside to wash our wounds.

While I can’t say that I come from a long line of farmers, I bet my lineage contains people who lived close to the land. Most people (dare I say all?) of the past had to rely on the foods around them (whether gathered or harvested) for survival. Now is an exciting time because people are again electing to grow food of their own. I am excited to continue gardening, hopefully for my whole life!

Lady’s Mantle – Alchemilla vulgaris

March 28th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

One of the first plants in my garden to awaken in the spring (and one of my favorites in general) is Lady’s mantle. Its round, accordion folded leaves start to perk up and green in the warming sun, though they are still tightly curled up on themselves. Each summer Lady’s mantle grows bigger and bigger, usually until it sprawls out into the yard or path. It’s minuscule lacy greenish-yellow flowers may seem like nothing special at first, especially compared to showier garden flowers, but upon closer examination they are quite delicate and stunning, like little shimmering five-petaled peridots.

Lady’s mantle is in the rose family, and contains no less allure or folk lore then the other well-known Rosaceaes like rose, hawthorn, or blackberry. The rose family seems to embody a wildness along with their beauty. They charm our senses with their fruits, flowers and scent so we invite them into our gardens. But anyone who grows roses or keeps raspberries know that they are anything but tame; they require strict boundaries or they will take over! Speaking of, here is a little something about the brambles in an ecosystem I wrote a while back.

Lady’s mantle is ‘Lady’s’ rather than ‘ladies’ to denote that it is the virgin Mary’s mantle (another word for rain jacket or cloak). Of course, before Christianity took over the Western world, Lady’s mantle was associated with local goddesses, like Freya in Germanic tribes (Wood) as well as Tatiana, the queen of the faeries. “It collects the morning dew and wears it like fine jewels. Its flowers are small, greenish, and lacy like the green hair of the fairy queen, Tatiana” (Gladstar, 245). These associations are logical, as this herb has many uses for women.

The botanical name, Alchemilla, or “little alchemist” speaks of the uses of Lady’s mantle which have the ability to transform. Matthew Woods writes an account of this in The Book of Herbal Wisdom. The alchemists found interest in the fact that the morning dew gathers like a translucent pearl in the center of the fan-like leaves, well into almost mid-day, when other plants are all dried off.

The first recorded instances of Lady’s mantle classified it as a supreme wound wort. Wood relays that it was called Greater Sanicle, trumping another wound wort called Sanicle, and since Lady’s mantle was an even better for first aid then the original it was bumped up to greater status. Though not nescessarily used for wounds in this day in age, Lady’s mantle is still used to “…restore the integrity of torn, ruptured, or separated tissues, as seen in hernias or perforated membranes” (Wood, 119). In that case it is not too surprising to hear that it was said to restore virginity in folk herbalism. Women of the Alps used packed Lady’s mantle leaves around the abdomen and breasts to tone the body after birth and nursing. William Salmon wrote about this in 1710.”Inwardly also taken, and outwardly applied to Woman’s Breasts, which are great and over-much flag, it causes them to grow less and hard.”

Lady’s mantle theraputic actions include:

  • astringent
  • diuretic
  • anti-inflammatory
  • emmenagogue
  • vulnerary (David Hoffmann, 525)

Like other members of the Rosaceae family, it contains a fair amount of tannins, along with trace amounts of salicylic acid. It has been used for all sorts of woman’s health issues; excess menstruation and pre- and post-menstrual spotting, prolapse or feelings of heaviness, hemorrhage, irregular cycles and vaginal irritations.

In general it is “…astringent, toning, and strengthening the abdominal tissues and structures” (W00d, 115). Lady’s mantle and shepherd’s purse blend well together for prolapse and hernia. This is a handy combination for hernias during pregnancy, or to arrest hemorrhage after birth. Its astringency also lends it to be used as a mouthwash for mouth sores or gargle for laryngitis (Hoffmann, 525).

Referances:

Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women.

Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism.

Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.

Longer days and already dreaming of gardening…

March 15th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Seedlings on Parade - May Day Parade 2009

I hope you are all enjoying the increasing daylight and the mild weather! This time of the year my mailbox overflows with gardening catalogs and I start to dream about all the plants I want to add to my garden. Late winter is the perfect time to plan a new plot, window box, landscaping or accents.

While you’re at it, why not make some of those new additions medicinal plants? Here are some places I like to get medicinal herbs:

  • Horizon Herbs – a huge variety of medicinal, organic, at-risk seeds, root stock and plants. horizonherbs.com
  • Jung Seed co. – a Wisconsin seed and plant company with a large variety of annuals, including at-risk         woodland plants like black cohosh, wild ginger and bloodroot. jungseed.com
  • United Plant Savers – check out this fabulous organization dedicated to preserving at-risk plants. Members receive bi-yearly deals on live rootstock or plants that are endangered, like American gingseng, lady slipper,   blue cohosh, butterfly weed and more. United Plant Savers’ mission is to protect native medicinal plants of the United States and Canada and their native habitat while ensuring an abundant renewable supply of medicinal plants for generations to come. unitedplantsavers.org

There are many greenhouses that carry medicinal herbs (not labeled as such!), ones to look for are Lady’s mantle, monarda or bee balm, mallow, echinacea, solomon seal, wormwood, violet, black cohosh, ballon flower, lung wort and of course the culinary herbs. Creeping thyme, catnip and lemon balm are my favorites for the garden.

Rich Soil is Out Real Wealth - May Day Parade 2009

All this talk about gardening makes me consider how gardening is important to herbalists and herbalism as a discipline. Many herbalists are gardeners or wildcrafters, who deeply understand the ways of wild and/or cultivated plants. Since herbalists cover a vast scope of practice, from Chinese medicine, naturopathy, folk herbalism, plant researchers, midwives, bioregionalists, permaculturists and so on, it is natural that herbalists engage with gardening and plants in different ways.

Some of the early Western religious figures, physicians, philosophers were quite often botanists and herbalists (as were multitudes of lay men and women). Often their connection to the earth and plants flavored their lives work. Hildegard von Bingen, the multidisciplinary German nun of the 1100’s, was an herbalist and healer who added a bit of ‘greenness’ to her spiritual, musical, and scholarly work. Wikipedia say of this; ”…‘greenness’ is an earthly expression of the heavenly in an integrity that overcomes dualisms. This ‘greenness’ or power of life appears frequently in Hildegard’s works.” Goethe called the upright gesture of plants the “spiritual staff”, which “might be seen as a vessel for holding and organizing cosmic energy and transmuting it into more earthy energy” (Jill Stansbury).

As modern herbalists, we can make our own individual connection to plants as simply as observing the wildlife in our yard, enjoying a bouquet of flowers, or as complexly as spending years cultivating expansive garden beds or studying botany. Many insight can be had from observing plants as they grow, and a bit of appreciation can go a long way.

Growing Power!

May 18th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

I am so excited I can hardly sit still.

This past weekend, through the generosity of the Duluth Community Garden Program, I attended the amazing workshop “Growing Your Community Food System from the Ground Up” at Growing Power in Milwaukee, WI. If you haven’t heard of the radicle things that Growing Power is doing then check out their site. In particular, scroll down the webpage and click on the “Good Food Manifesto For America” link to read about their philosophy and mission.

Their greenhouses are spacious and packed to the brim, with five levels of production (starting five feet below the ground with perch and tilapia aquaponics to pots hanging from the rafters) and compost and worms everywhere. Outside are have goats, ducks, chickens, turkeys and of course, bees.

Growing Power is successful at producing food for their community members as well as retailers. Half of money brought in is from what they make from production (year round microgreens, salad greens, compost, worms and worm castings). Less reliance on grants/endowments = sustainable economics. Just about every non-profit is struggling for cash as funding gets cut, threatening the existence of important community programing. The message is clear: stop consuming, start producing and keep it local.

Why make the switch to “urban farming” from “community gardening”? Urban agriculture implies that you can produce a lot and produce often to meet the needs of your surrounding community, rather then a tomato plant here or there. However, there is certainly nothing wrong with having a potted tomato or a window box as the extent of your production! Urban farming reminds me that it is time to stop messing around and grow as much as I can in the short Minnesota season, and that what we are growing is viable and essential to our successful human experience.

The most impressive part of Growing Power to me is the utter and complete emphasis on the soil. Their potted greens were the essence of health. Their secret? They start their seeds in half worm castings and half coir, and the soil in the pots are compost (rich with fungi-laden wood chips) topped with castings. The potting mixture never needs to be changed. We have to grow rich soil through vermiculture and compost. Many problems can be averted through rich, healthy soil.

So I must be off  to attend to my worms, turn the compost, start seeds, push the shovel and create an edible estate. I hope you can join me!

Create a Garden

October 16th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

Fall is a perfect time to prepare a garden bed for next year’s season. Over the winter, the prepared bed will decompose, leaving you with fertile soil ready for planting in the spring. Using this “lasagna” method will eliminate the need to dig up turf, fertilize, or pull weeds like mad next year. Cardboard is much more beneficial than the typically chosen black plastic, as it decomposes while eliminating weeds and turf. Comfrey is chosen because of its superb nutrient content and decomposability. The soil will be fertile with minerals like calcium, potassium, phosphorus and iron, and more.

makegarden6.jpg The first step is to place carefully cleaned (no packing tape pr staples) and cut cardboard directly onthe surface you wish to transform into a bed. Cover this with over an inch or compost (unfinished works just fine).
makegarden5.jpg Add some leaves over the prepared dirt.
makegarden2.jpg Gather more than a few handfuls of comfrey from your local source (Duluth has three that I know of) and layer over the leaves. If you cannot find comfrey, use another source of nitrogen, like grass clippings. Note: Comfrey spreads. Take care to only use comfrey leaves, not any part of the root–unless you want a stand of comfrey in your new garden bed next spring!
makegarden3.jpg Repeat cover yet again with leaves, then top off with a layer of unfinished compost. Let time, weather and the synergy of compost, nitrogen and carbon do it’s thing. In the spring, enjoy planting in your new bed!

Weeds? What weeds?

February 8th, 2008 § 2 comments § permalink

Burdock and tansy in town.

One of my favorite things to do as a child was to scrounge for Blackberries. Even though I lived in smack dab in the middle of town, it was easy enough to find the thimble-sized deep purple berries in the patches of woods scattered around the river town. Once I wrote in my diary in the summer after 4th grade, “Today I had Blackberries for lunch and Honeysuckle [Columbine] for desert”. Ah, the sweet life of a 10 year old…

Blackberries are still my favorite berry, though I am also partial to Blueberries. While I was reading over my notes from my internship in Vermont this fall, I came across a tidbit about Blackberry. It was from a wonderfully informative Saturday class taught by Micki called “Using Plants to Heal the Earth.”

“Blackberries keep people back! Brambles are seen in area of development; warrior plants that protect the impeded ecosystem from more mindless invasion. They are pioneers, creating fungal soil as woody plants do, making the soil hospitable to forests if they ever grow back.”

A good friends noted that Portland, OR is full of extremely thorny Blackberries, making it impossible to navigate through the woody areas. Now I know why they are there. I love it that more and more I am seeing plants as keepers of the earth. Each has a purpose or few. They can tell us about the ecosystem and the soil. We can stop fighting them in our gardens and lawns and start thanking them for their hard work.

There are few plants that I don’t welcome into my backyard garden now, especially since my beds are very new. One exception: I am not too crazy about brassicas in my garden, they grow too well and crowd out other plants. The plants that naturally grow in my beds that were sod for decades prior help me in two ways. First they tell me about the quality of my soil. Second, the “weeds” work to make the soil more hospitable. I wonder what the mustard says about my soil…any ideas?

The Dandelions, Burdocks and Mulleins break up the compacted soil, calling in nutrients from deep down with their taproots. I have heard that Daikon radishes also can do the same trick as Burdock, both send roots down around 15 feet. If I feel the Dandelions are getting out of hand, I cut off their flower heads before they can spread. I am so excited to have a second-year Mullein to watch over my garden this summer and provide food (their seeds) for the birds in the fall. Quack Grass metabolizes Calcium that may be in my soil by tied up (chemically unavailable). Upon Micki’s suggestion, to aid in getting rid of the rhizomeous grass, I have mulched with Comfrey (a great source of Calcium) gathered from the neighborhood patch.

In my back yard, Ground Ivy (or as Minnesotans say, “Creeping Charlie”) has proliferated into a stunning carpet of purple when it flowers. Ground Ivy is wonderful at absorbing lead and other heavy metals in our body and in our yards; funny how the more my neighbor sprays chemical pesticides in his lawn the more Ground Ivy grows in my lawn! At the end of the season, I pull it out and put it in the trash; I suspect it is full of toxic chemicals and can’t muster up the nerve to compost it.

Some of the volunteers in my garden beds are great edibles: crunchy Purslane and Lambs Quarters, one of my favorite steamed greens. Chickweed grows under the shade of the red maple in the front yard, and Forget-me-nots line the cracks in the pavement. Even Plantains growing in the cracks are trying to their job of breaking up soil. I don’t use a lot of the plants in my yard for eating and medicine because of they grow too close to the driveway (or in the driveway), I value them because I feel that part of their life is creating a healthier environment. I have realized my role as a gardener is to facilitate.

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