Archive for ‘Plant People’

May 20, 2010

Salad Burnet is Blooming

This spring I’ve been fascinated by the blossoms on the Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor). Hard not to be:

Looks Like an Extra-Terrestrial Christmas Tree

I was looking at the flowers–and the differences between them–and wondering if the plant bears male flowers on separate stalks from female flowers?

Each Flower Looks Different

After a little poking around, I discovered that the plant is way more interesting than that. Apparently, the lower flowers have only male parts, the middle flowers have both, and the top flowers have only female parts. How awesomely bizarre is that?

No Wonder They're So Prolific

No Wonder They're So Prolific

The leaves are very pretty, also, and have a mild cucumber flavor that’s nice in salads, or floated in cold water in the summer.

Fancy

We’ve only used Salad Burnet for culinary purposes, but in my reading I discovered that they used to be highly regarded by herbalists as a wound healer and as preventative against many kinds of disease, among other uses. I’ve not tried any of them, but I do know it has a very pleasant taste. The young leaves are best for salads, because the older and larger they get, the more bitter they  become.

Salad Burnet is easy to grow. Here in Oregon, the foliage is green all year. If allowed to set seed, it will reproduce freely, and the seedlings are easily dug up and transplanted.

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May 14, 2010

Chives: Pretty, with a Great Personality

The chives are blooming.

Can You See the Blossoms Pressing Against the Bract?

I love adding the flowers to salads, along with the tasty straws. Yummmmm . . .

Over Half Way Open

But the flowers are also truly striking–sometimes hard to notice just how gorgeous they are, because they’re small. I think that’s true with a lot of herbs; we fail to appreciate the gorgeousness of their flowers because we don’t get CLOSE enough.

Mostly Open

I love getting close enough to get a good look. Right before I eat them!

Wow.

We all know chives are good in salads, on eggs, or on baked potatoes–and, well, anywhere else you think  throw them at the end of cooking time, or just before serving. But I was interested to read in Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s Common Herbs for Natural Health that chives are a general tonic and blood cleanser, and that “Chives possess all the pungent, antiseptic qualities of onions in a mild form, and are one of the best means of giving onion elements to infants.”

I am a huge fan of food as preventative medicine, and that’s my favorite way to work with the herbs.  Chives are an excellent plant to include in your every day life–good for you, mild enough for almost anyone, and delicious. I’m thinking we might have baked potatoes for dinner .  . .

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May 13, 2010

Afternoon Harvest, May 13, 2010

As every year, Lemon Balm is growing in profusion in the shade, right up under the walnut tree.

I love Lemon Balm! It’s so bright and cheerful, and it smells so good. Today I harvested a basketful to make Lemon Balm Honey.

That’s a big basket, but there’ll be plenty left to take to market. A member of the mint family, Lemon Balm is joyfully vigorous.

Lemon Balm honey tastes like lemon lollipops wish they could taste. It’s amazing on scones or biscuits, and also in tea–especially Rose hip tea, maybe with some Calendula flowers or Rose petals added. I also had this urge today, while I was cutting up the leaves for the honey, to mix lemon balm honey with cream cheese and spread it on gingerbread or ginger cake. I may try that, when my honey is ready!

My good friend (and Reiki teacher) makes sun tea with fresh Lemon Balm leaves, and sometimes a few sprigs of mint. This beverage uplifts the mood, and is also very cooling and anti-inflammatory, great for those summer days when you feel all hot and bothered (and not in a good way). I plan to try it with lemon balm honey added this summer, just to see what it tastes like.

Want to know how to make herbal honeys? Here’s a great how to article on the making herbal honey, syrups, and cough drops.

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May 12, 2010

Morning Harvest, May 12, 2010

It’s almost absurdly beautiful here today. I took pictures on my morning walk around the farm.

This Wormwood has Never Been So Huge Before

It seems like every year I forget just how fast things grow in late Spring. Every day things are noticeably bigger.

Look At The Size of the Dandelion Blossom!

Today I started cleaning out old herbs from the herb house, and working on organizing baskets for ease of harvesting and drying things. And I harvested Comfrey for infused oil. I’ve had trouble with cold infused oils of Comfrey in the past; I’m going to try letting it wilt for a bit before I chop it up and infuse it, as suggested by someone on Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Forum. Wish me luck!

A Seat Full of Comfrey

Even though that’s a big armload of Comfrey, I made sure I left lots of blossoms for the bees. And there are new buds getting ready to open, too. This patch just keeps blooming all summer, and the more I cut from it, the bigger and happier it gets.

This Picture was Taken AFTER I Cut An Armful of Comfrey

Minor note: If you’d like to visit the farm on Facebook, you can find us here.

May 8, 2010

Morning Harvest, May 8, 2010

The Hawthorne is SO amazing this year; look at these beautiful blossoms.

They Smell as Good as They Look

I harvested a basket full of the flowers to dry for tea; Hawthorn tea has the most amazing flavor. Sort of musky, almost like vanilla but not quite. In a conversation on line this morning I also had the idea that a dream pillow stuffed with dried flowers and leaves of Hawthorn, combined with Sweet Woodruff leaves and flowers, might be a wonderful thing. Soothing, sensual, and full of magic. I’m going to try it! The Dandelion root is for a coffee substitute, instructions found here.

Treasure

It’s a gorgeous day today; I’m going to have some lunch and get back outside to enjoy the sunshine.

May 6, 2010

What’s in a Name?

A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, and a Dandelion by any other name is still a weed, right?

Well, I suppose a lot of people still think so. But I don’t agree. Dandelion is my friend and ally, and one of my favorite herbs. I chose to name my little herb farm after the exuberantly tenacious Dandelion for a number of reasons. Here are a few, in no particular order.

  • There’s the  obvious reason: Dandelions grow abundantly all over my acre, with no intervention from me.
  • I’ve loved Dandelions since I was a child. I never outgrew my affection for them, although learning about all of their healing benefits definitely increased my appreciation for them.
  • I feel that emotional well being is an essential component of health: happy people are usually healthy people. And a bunch of blooming Dandelions is about the happiest sight I can think of.
  • I also think that wholeness is best nourished by the common things that grow around us. Dandelions are about as common as you can get; they grow almost everywhere that humans call home, at least in the United States.
  • I think every living thing is entitled to good health; Dandelion is  source of free, simple vitality that anyone can take advantage of.
  • Every part of the plant is beneficial, to humans and other animals, and to the soil and the other plants in the garden.
  • Dandelion is a plant that has been undervalued and even maligned in our time and place; if we desire to change the path of destruction we seem to be carving, a major change in values is going to be needed. Learning to love our Dandelions instead of pouring poison on them is an excellent step in a more positive, sustainable direction.
  • Dandelions are APPROACHABLE. There’s not a big mystery about them. I would like for herbalism to be that way for everyone; Dandelions are a great ambassador for healing of the people, by the people, and for the people.
  • Dandelion Herb Farm is, first and foremost, about connecting with people and with the earth, about building and nourishing community. Dandelion is the perfect symbol for this kind of unity: the flower head of a Dandelion is made up of numerous little flowers, each one complete in itself with all reproductive parts, growing and changing in perfect harmony. Each part realizes it’s full potential (becoming a seed), even as the whole flourishes.

There are more reasons, some that I can’t even explain to you properly, but I have to start somewhere. More posts on Dandelion–with specifics about it’s value in my life–to come in the future. I promise I’ll talk about other plants too.

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April 29, 2010

No Golden Goose for Me

So, we have this area in the northwest corner of our property that we pretty much leave alone. Over the past few years I’ve watched it change–there are lots of invasives like blackberry and cleavers back there, but there are also filbert, oak, douglas fir, and apple trees, osoberry bushes, and some other little bushes I haven’t identified yet. And in the past two years, native varieties of waterleaf and fringecup have really started to thrive in the hilly, shady, damp corner. Also I’ve noticed the sword ferns slowly becoming larger and more prolific, and some mosses.

At the edge of the little thicket of trees and bushes, there’s a somewhat open (but still shady) hillside where I’ve found an astounding number of plants: red clover, white clover, self-heal, ox-eye daisy, St. John’s Wort (which never blooms because there’s no SUN), teasel, plantain, dandelions, and more blackberries, waterleaf, and fringecup. There are more things, too, which I have yet to identify, including this big fella:

She's Got Huuuuuuge . . . Weeds . . .

Though it looks for all the world like the beginning of Jack’s Beanstalk, it’s never produced a bean, and it always dies back when the cold weather hits, long before it gets a chance to reach to the clouds. Alas, no Golden Goose for me . . . but I always thought Jack was kind of a jerk, so I guess I’m okay with not following in his footsteps.

A Closer View

So last night I pulled out Weeds of the West and Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, and started looking. I also entertained the hubster by reading the common names of weeds out loud as though they were curses or Shakespearean insults. “Skunky Jacob’s Ladder!!!! I can’t find my car keys!!!!” or “Be Gone, Thou Wooly Lousewort, and a pox on your house!” Hey, you take your entertainment where you can find it.

The Leaves are Extraordinarily Lovely

After a lot of turning pages, and arguing with The Mad Scientist that it is NOT, in fact, bamboo, I finally found it. I think. I’m pretty sure what we have is Giant Knotweed– Polygonum sachalinense. I’m not 100% certain, but I’m 98% certain. Ours doesn’t seem to get as huge as some of the pictures I found. And I’ve never seen it bloom, but that could be simply a failure of observation on my part. Also, I’ve read that it’s very invasive, but ours tends to stick to one area, and it doesn’t spread much. I wonder if the conditions are just not quite what it needs, or if the competition from so many other plants keeps it in check? I know nothing about the plant except that it looks exotic and enormous. Our neighbor calls it “dinosaur food”.

Can anybody out there confirm it for me? If it helps, the stems are hollow and sort of fragile, and at this point in the year it’s already close to five feet tall.

April 11, 2010

Don’t Forget to Eat Your Weeds

Google “Chickweed” and you’ll get about 50% articles extolling its virtue as food and medicine, and about 50% articles telling you how to kill it. It’s sort of like Dandelions that way. And y’all know how I feel about Dandelions.

While Dandelions have a special place in my heart because of their charming personalities, and my appreciation of them as food and medicine is secondary. But chickweed is delicious–it has an earthy taste, like fresh spinach. So, first of all let me show you the best way to identify Chickweed (Stellaria media):

Little Tiny Hairs are the Key to Identifying Chickweed

See that line of tiny hairs on the right side of the Chickweed stem? It’s the only plant I know of that has that kind of hair pattern. It’s the surest way to tell that you’ve really got chickweed, since the flowers are fairly indistinct.

Here’s another shot that shows the hairs–they look like a fine white line down the center of the stem.

See the Fine Line of Hairs?

Chickweed is in the Pink family–the same as Carnations and Baby’s Breath. The leaves are small and completely smooth, and grow in opposed pairs.

Teeny Tiny Leaf

They are also very wee, as you can see from the photo above. The flowers are very simple, and very tiny:

Sweet Little Flower

Leaves, stems and flowers are all edible. It’s best to trim the top several inches–the leafiest, lushest part–of the above-ground portion of the plant. This will not only give you the best eating, but also helps the plant to continue branching out and growing lovely, healthy foliage and flowers.

Chickweed isn’t exactly a creeping plant . . . she’s more of a sprawler. But she does tend to grow close to the ground, part of her stems lying prostrate.

The remarkable thing about chickweed is that it loves cool weather. Chickweed is happy and prolific in my garden even in December and January, though it really becomes spectacular in February and March.

Chickweed in late January

I have read that even in really cold climates like upstate New York, Chickweed can be found green and thriving under trees where the snow hasn’t piled up. She loves moist, cool places–which is why she often moves in to well-watered gardens and snuggles up close to taller plants that can provide her with shade. So she’s an EXCELLENT source of free nourishment in the lean winter months–I’m always thrilled to have fresh edibles at those times.

She’s very nourishing, high in vitamins and minerals. And she also has remarkable abilities to dissolve cysts, mucous, benign tumors, and other unwanted things in our bodies. The saponins in chickweed also help with cell permeability, allowing us to absorb and assimilate nutrients better. And Chickweed is an excellent help for all sorts of hot, inlamed conditions. For more detailed information, see this excellent article by Susun Weed. Or read Susun’s book, Healing Wise, or Gail Faith Edwards’ delightful Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs.

So there you go, a way to save weeding, and save money on groceries. You can thank me later.

February 22, 2010

End of the First Edit, and Dandelions

Phew. I am clear of the 70 to 90 zone, and now I am editing the crucial last few chapters of the book! I THINK I’ll be done with them in the next week, barring any natural disasters. Finishing the first run of edits gives me an enormous sense of accomplishment, even though I have a long way to go on the process of finishing the  novel. But after I finish the first edit, I’ll be working on the plot outline of book two. My plan is to do an informal version of NaNoWriMo with some friends in April to crank out my rough draft of book two. Then it will be intensive editing of book one while book two cools. I am still surprised by how much I am enjoying this process, even though it is often crazy-making.

We’ve been enjoying sunshine and warm temperatures, and I’ve been spending a LOT of time outside. Between that and editing I haven’t had a lot of time for reading or blogging. So you’ll have to bear with me. The rain will be back soon, and I’m sure I’ll blog more regularly then.

In the meantime, check out my dandelion root harvest:

My Precioussssss

All these roots came from a section of garden bed about two feet square. I’ve cleaned them, sliced them up, and put them in a basket to dry. They are part of a scheme to make some herbal syrups as vitamin and mineral supplements.

Look at the size of this one!:

She's Got Huuuuuge--Dandelion Roots . . .

That root was too amazingly huge and gnarly and funky to chop up. I’m drying it as is, and I’ll probably  make one of my nature spirit figures out of it. Because–wow. (And don’t you just love the mud all over my hand and arm? Yay for spring! I do a lot more laundry in the spring.)

Today is a big editing day, and tomorrow I’ll show y’all pictures of my trip to the coast!

February 19, 2010

Have I Mentioned How Much I Love Weeds?

Except thistles. Those prickly little meanies still drive me crazy. I know that they provide food for birds, and I’ve read that some of them are edible, but seriously? They hide among the other weeds, and then they BITE. If someone can help me have a greater appreciation for thistles, I would . . . um . . . appreciate it.

BUT! I am not here to talk about thistles! I’m here to show you pretty pictures of pretty weeds and wildflowers!

First, the weeds! Meet Purple Deadnettle, or Lamium purpureum:

Purple Deadnettle, Viewed from Above

We’ve always had this around, but this year it is particularly abundant in the garden beds. I like it! I feed it to the chickens. I also think it’s really pretty.

Purple Deadnettle Side View

I mean, look at those sweet little flowers, and the fuzzy leaves that sort of shimmer! Super sweet. Apparently it is edible, and nutritious, but not especially flavorful–I haven’t actually tried it yet. But what I love is that it started blooming in JANUARY, and apparently it is an excellent source of nectar for bees in early spring, before most other things start to bloom. I have read some gardeners lamenting it’s fast spread and how difficult it is to get rid of–but here, it seems to behave itself pretty well. It spreads, but only over open ground, it doesn’t seem to choke other things out, and it’s easy to pull. I imagine, though, if you were interested in a manicured lawn and garden, you would dislike it, the same way people dislike dandelions. Just goes to show, one woman’s herbal ally is another woman’s invasive enemy.

So! Also, there are violets. Lots and lots of violets! I had a bunch of them in my salad last night, along with miner’s lettuce, chickweed, wild cress, and chives. Delicious. And so pretty:

Half Open

While I was working in the garden yesterday, every time I passed the clump of violets that volunteered in one of the garden beds, I got a whiff of the delicious, sweet, clean perfume. Oh man . . . mmmmmm.

Shady

They’re just so sweet, but also sort of sexy, don’t you think?

Come Hither

Violets are good medicine, too. And the leaves are edible too. Hmmm, I might need to do some posts on violets . . . they are particularly alluring this spring.

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