A Unique View of an Esteemed Native Plant: Hydrastis canadensis (Goldenseal)

By Katherine Schlosser

“I may here observe, that the disease of cancer is not confined to civilized nations. It is known among our Indians. I am informed that the Cheerake cure it with a plant which is thought to be the Hydrastis Canadensis, one of our fine native dies [dyes].”

                                                                   – Benjamin Smith Barton, 1766-1815

Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, has been known for centuries for its medicinal uses ranging from a gastrointestinal aid, stimulant, tonic, emetic, and febrifuge, to helping with ear and eye complaints, heart problems, liver issues, pulmonary complaints, and more.  

Europeans learned of goldenseal’s value as a medicinal plant not long after arriving in North America. The initial knowledge of its use is often credited to the Cherokee people, but as their territory is far from where the first colonists landed, it seems likely that the Europeans first learned of goldenseal from more northern tribes. Word of mouth and trading between Mid-Atlantic tribes, such as the Cherokee and Eastern North Carolina tribes, and those in New England likely resulted in widespread knowledge of goldenseal’s uses.

USDA map of Hydrastis canadensis native rangeAs the Abenake, Algonquin, Menominee, Mohegan, Narragansett, Wampanoag, and others had local access to goldenseal, it could be that they, too, had learned about the usefulness of the plant. In whatever manner the knowledge was spread, colonists soon learned to treat it as a valuable product and began harvesting the plant for personal use and for trading. Consequently, centuries of wild collecting and habitat loss have put it at risk. Goldenseal is considered endangered, threatened, or of special concern in all 27 states in the United States that have native populations.

A rather curious fact about goldenseal is that, for as long as it has been known to have a great many medicinal uses, little scientific research has validated those uses. In fact, depending on dosage and how long it’s used, it can be harmful. Still, it is collected, bottled, and sold as effective for many of the same complaints mentioned above. It is strongly recommended that one consult a medical doctor prior to using products produced from this plant.

King Solomon's seal Star of DavidThere is another interesting story connected to goldenseal, and that is the use of the term “seal” in the common name. From about 932 – 970 BCE, King Solomon, son of King David, ruled the United Kingdom of Israel. He was a wealthy and wise man for whom many amulets and medallion seals were created. Held in great esteem over the centuries, King Solomon is remembered today in the common names of several plants including Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum), evergreen Solomon’s seal (Disporopsis pernyi, native to high altitude forests in China), and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis).

Seals were designed, in part, to verify that a document was, in fact, from King Solomon, much as we are required to verify signatures on legal documents today. A design attributed to one of Solomon’s seals was fitted to a gold ring and bore what, many years later, became the Star of David.

Drawing of cut end of Hydrastis canadensis showing "seal"What Solomon’s seal has to do with Hydrastis canadensis, the plant recently identified as The Herb Society of America’s Notable Native Herb of the Year 2022, requires research and a healthy dose of imagination. The secret is in the woody rhizomes of these plants. The plants die back in winter, and as spring arrives, one or more new shoots emerge from the rhizome. If you carefully dig up the rhizome, brush away the dirt, and slice off a section, you will see what could be called an image of King Solomon’s Seal at the site of the cut.

You can, then, replant a section of the rhizome, though it will take from 3 – 5 years for it to grow to maturity. Plant rhizome roots about 1” deep, horizontally, spreading out tiny roots and with a bud pointing upward. If there is no bud, the rhizome will grow one, which may add a little time to maturity. The bud should be just below the surface of the soil. Add some mulch (hardwood) and see that the plant gets at least a few hours of sun a day, but mostly shade. 

Hydrastis canadensis botanical printOther common names for Hydrastis canadensis include yellow or orange root, yellow puccoon, Indian paint, jaundice root, Ohio curcuma, Indian dye, eye balm, and yellow eye. If you pull up a plant, you will immediately see the reason for the common name—the slim roots growing from the rhizome are bright yellow, as is the inside of the rhizome. 

Polygonatum and Maianthemum species (Solomon’s seal), are better known for the appearance of a seal on their rhizomes. However, the “seal” appears at the site of bud scars from the previous year’s growth.

Anytime we begin to explore our native herbs, we learn a lot of history, science, botany, and legend, making the study of herbs an almost endlessly entertaining pursuit.

To learn more about goldenseal, you can download a copy of the Fact Sheet for Hydrastis canadensis at

https://www.herbsociety.org/explore/notable-native-herbsprofiles.html 

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

Photo Credits: 1) Goldenseal, showing the coloring of roots and rhizome (Charles F. Millspaugh, M.D.); 2) Distribution of Hydrastis canadensis across the United States with populations shaded in green (USDA Plants Database); 3) Hydrastis canadensis spring bloom and maturing fruit (K. Schlosser); 4) Seal of King Solomon from a Talismanic scroll at The Metropolitan of Art in New York City (Public Domain); 5) Hydrastis canadensis rhizome cut across the point of previous year’s growth (David M.R. Culbreth); 6) Solomon’s seal rhizome showing past year’s growth scar (Creative Commons, Sid Vogelpohl, Arkansas Native Plant Society).

References

Culbreth, David M.R. (1917).  Manual of materia medica and pharmacology, Lea Brothers & Co. 6th Edition.  Fig. 115.  Available online https://chestofbooks.com/health/materia-medica-drugs/Manual-Pharmacology/Hydrastis.html  Accessed September 12, 2021.

Millspaugh, Charles F. M.D. (1887).  American medicinal plants: an illustrated and descriptive guideBoericke & Tafel, New York and Philadelphia.  Pages 9 to 9-3.  Available online: Biodiversity Heritage Library:  https://ia600203.us.archive.org/15/items/americanmedicina01mill/americanmedicina01mill.pdf  Accessed April 4, 2021.

Vogelpohl, Sid.  Arkansas Native Plant Society.  https://anps.org/2014/04/03/know-your-natives-false-solomons-seal/


Katherine Schlosser (Kathy) has been a member of the North Carolina Unit of The Herb Society of America since 1991, serving in many capacities at the local and national level, including as a member of the Native Herb Conservation Committee, The Herb Society of America. She was awarded the Gertrude B. Foster Award for Excellence in Herbal Literature and the Helen de Conway Little Medal of Honor. She is an author, lecturer, and native herb conservation enthusiast eager to engage others in the study and protection of our native herbs.

Herbs for Holiday Baking

By Peggy Riccio

Pumpkin pie with sage leaves and marigold flowersWhen I think of herbs for Christmas, I always think of the Simon and Garfunkel “Scarborough Fair” song:  “Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.” Sure, there is peppermint and plenty of spices, but these herbs seem to be the most popular during the holidays. I think that is because these plants are still green in the garden. In my USDA Hardiness Zone 7 Virginia garden, I can still pick these plants in December to use in the kitchen. My mint plants, always in containers, overwinter well, and I can harvest spearmint and peppermint.

When using these herbs, don’t just think of flavor and cooking. Think of the plant itself, the structure, size, weight, and texture of the branches and leaves. Think of how the stem or leaf can be used to decorate the dish and your table. 

Parsley

Parsley is a biennial plant, hardy to Zone 4. It grows to about a foot tall the first year, and then flowers and sets seed the second year. There is the curly type and the flat leaf type. For flavor, use the flat leaf type. The curly type is great for garnishing. In my garden, I sow seed every year to have fresh parsley. We have mild winters, so the plant remains evergreen all winter long. Parsley is best used fresh. It has a very delicate leaf structure and stem that will wilt easily. Compared with these other herbs, parsley has a relatively benign fragrance. This makes it an ideal garnish; however, it wilts too fast to use as a holiday flat-leaf parsley in the gardendecoration. But picture the color of green parsley in a red cranberry dish or the pretty scalloped leaves—or tightly curled leaves—in a bowl of mashed potatoes for interest.

Parsley mixes well with garlic and butter, either melted butter or a parsley/butter mix for the table. To make parsley butter, simply add a few tablespoons of chopped, fresh leaves to a stick of butter that has softened. Mix and put in the fridge to harden again or put in molds. Parsley with garlic can be added to stuffing or a breadcrumb topping for a casserole dish. Parsley, and other herbs, can be added to roasted vegetables, including roasted potatoes. Melted parsley butter is great with seafood, especially lobster and shrimp.

Sage

Sage is a perennial plant that becomes a small woody shrub. It is hardy to Zone 4 and remains evergreen during the winter months. Culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) has green leaves, but there are many other types of sage with variegated leaves, blue-green leaves, or even broader leaves. All sages are edible. (Edible, in this case, means it won’t harm you. However, they may not be as tasty as Salvia officinalis.) Use the culinary sage for cooking, but if you have other sages, look at their leaves for decorative uses. The leaves are thick and large enough that they can be used for decoration if cut a few days in advance. Sage leaf and butter on baked potatoFor example, tie a sprig of sage and rosemary with red ribbon and put on the place settings. Add variegated sage to floral arrangements. Use varieties with large leaves such as ‘Berggarten’, or use large, mature leaves from other types to serve as a garnish for vegetable dishes, pumpkin pie, or sweet potato pie. With the large-textured leaves, make butter pats and place on baked potatoes (pipe soft butter on sage leaf and place on tray, and then place in fridge to harden). 

Traditionally, sage is used in stuffing or dressing and as a poultry rub. Sage works well with cooked corn, cornbread, and corn chowder. Sage can be added to cheese spreads, potatoes, roasted vegetables, squash, sweet potato, and Brussel sprouts. Sage also pairs well with citrus fruits.

Rosemary

Rosemary is a perennial that grows to be a large woody shrub, several feet tall. It is marginally hardy in the Washington, D.C. metro area, so it is best to pick a cultivar that is known for being hardy, such as ‘Arp’, ‘Hill Hardy’, ‘Nancy Howard’, ‘Dutch Mill’, and ‘Salem’. Rosemary is a great plant to have in Rosemary leaves and flowersthe garden, because it has many uses. Because the long stems are flexible, and the leaves do not dry out quickly, you can use rosemary for decorating as well as cooking. Cut a 6- to 8-inch branch, roll in a circle, and tie with florist wire. Attach decorations and color with a hot glue gun such as small cones, plaid bows, and red berries to make a small wreath. Or, don’t add anything and use it to wrap around candles and napkins. Rosemary stems can be inserted in glass vases with red and white candy canes, added to any floral arrangement, or placed under a turkey or ham on a platter. 

In the kitchen, rosemary is great on roasted vegetables, biscuits, pork, as a poultry rub, or with butter. It does well with yeast breads, rolls, and biscuits, and stuffing or dressing. It also pairs well with apple and pear desserts. If you are making mulled wine or mulled apple cider, consider adding a sprig of rosemary as a stirrer.

The small rosemary plants that are for sale during the holidays can serve as table-top Christmas trees by adding mini-lights, balls, and bows.

Various thyme cultivarsThyme 

Thyme is a perennial groundcover that is hardy to Zone 5. Thyme has very thin, wiry stems and small leaves. Because the leaves are small and lightweight, they are ideal for “confetti” on small appetizers or on a thick chowder. The stems themselves are too brittle to use for decoration, but if you have an indoor floral or green arrangement, you can insert a chunk of your thyme (pulled from your plant in the garden) to spill over the edges of the container as a “spiller.” 

Thyme is great in yeast rolls and biscuits, cooked vegetables such as carrots, squash, and mushrooms, cheese spreads, potato, pork and seafood, stuffing and dressing. Thyme also pairs well with butter and garlic. As with sage, there are many types of thyme that are all edible, but the flavor may vary. There are plants with silver leaves, plants with gold-edged leaves, and plants with gold leaves. These can be used as decoration. Then, there are “flavored” thymes such as orange, lemon, or coconut, which work well in baked goods. Consider lemon thyme pound cake and orange thyme cookies.

Mint

Mint in a containerMint is an herbaceous perennial hardy to Zone 5 and very invasive. If you are growing mint, grow only in a container. It is so hardy that it will survive winters here in containers, which should be about a foot high and wide. Mint roots very easily. If you are going to use a lot of mint in your holiday baking, you can take cuttings in the fall to increase your plants. You can even take cuttings so you can give mint plants away as gifts, tied with a red bow, and a recipe card.

There are many types of mint available for use, but during the holidays, spearmint and peppermint are the most popular. These leaves do not wilt quickly; they are firm with great texture. This makes them ideal for garnishing and decorating baked goods. Place mint leaves on cupcakes, cakes, fruit salads, and use as a garnish for drinks. 

Fresh peppermint leaves can be chopped and added to chocolate chip cookie dough or a brownie mix. A sprig of peppermint can be added to hot cocoa, like a stirrer. Fill glasses with peppermint sprigs and real peppermint candy canes. Add crushed spearmint leaves to whipped cream and add to fresh fruit. Use spearmint to make a jelly for pork or lamb, or add to vegetables, such as carrots and peas. 

Spearmint leavesMake a simple syrup with mint and pour over fruit salad, add to a drink, or use when baking. Make a syrup by boiling one cup water with one cup sugar in a small saucepan. Add one cup of fresh herbs and smash the leaves up against the pot with a wooden spoon. Simmer for 15 minutes, cool and strain, and pour the syrup in a glass jar. Keep in the fridge for a few weeks. 

These are just ideas to get you started, but once you start working with an herb, seeing the leaves, smelling the aroma, you will get inspired to use these other herbs for your home during the holidays.

 


Peggy Riccio is the owner of pegplant.com, an online resource for gardening in the Washington, DC, metro area; president of the Potomac Unit, Herb Society of America; regional director of GardenComm, a professional association of garden communicators; and is the blog administrator for the National Garden Clubs, Inc.

Four Thieves Inspire Flu-Fighting Soup

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society

Originally published on January 30, 2019

flu-soupLast winter the urgent care center diagnosed me with the flu, and I’ve never been quite as sick as I was for that month. I spent several days in bed and used all sorts of herbal remedies to support healing. Daquil/Nyquil just made me feel worse and went straight into the garbage.

I started with homemade bone broth. Herb and spice-spiked chicken broths are well known to promote the movement of nasal congestion and are thought to have anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. I felt better with every bowl I ate, proving the old adage: Let your food be your medicine.

For a powerful immune-boosting soup I took cues from the Legend of the Four Thieves. In this story, aromatherapy, herbal, and alchemical worlds collide and take on mythical proportions. The legend takes place when the bubonic plague hit Europe and killed a large percentage of the population.

flu-woodcutSupposedly, four thieves from Marseilles were robbing plague-ridden corpses without getting sick. They are thought to have been perfumers with access to and knowledge of essential oils, herbs, and spices.

At their trial, the King offered the thieves leniency in return for the formula that protected them from the plague. Their list included lavender, sage, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, eucalyptus, rosemary, thyme, onion, mustard seed, cloves, oregano, and lemon.

While the legend has never been confirmed and their recipe is interesting, all of the herbs and spices (except eucalyptus) read like a delicious and immune-boosting chicken soup recipe to me, so into the stock pot they go. If I’m lucky enough to have fresh stinging nettles, I’ll add them in as a mineral rich bonus.

To serve, I top each bowl with whole basil leaves, hard boiled eggs, a dash of Himalayan salt, and a squeeze of fresh lime. I can’t help but feel better with every bowl I eat. Legions of Jewish and Asian grandmothers absolutely knew what they were doing.

Another application of the legend is a Four Thieves spray. I make it with white wine vinegar and essential oils — lemon, lavender, cinnamon, clove, rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, and eucalyptus. My formula is three cups of vinegar and 20 drops of each oil.  To use it, I shake well and spray countertops, cellphones, and other surfaces.

These same oils can also be diffused in an essential oil diffuser. Likewise, mixed into a body cream or lotion, eucalyptus oil, lemon, sage, and lavender oils (no more than three drops of each oil!) make a soothing, aroma-therapeutic chest rub.

Edited to add: In this era of Covid-19 and flu season, if you find yourself in need of immune support, treat yourself to soothing herbal self-care and pampering.

Nicole TelkesTo learn about other herbs that can help keep you healthy during cold and flu season, join Nicole Telkes for her webinar, Supporting Immunity with Herbs, on November 16th at 1pm EDT. Our webinars are free to The Herb Society of America members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today, and enjoy all of our webinars for free along with access to the webinar library with over fifty program titles. To register, visit  www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/.

Photo Credits: 1) Healing herbal soup; 2) Apotheycary’s Shop by Hieronymus Brunschwig (1450-c.1512); 3) Nicole Telkes (courtesy of Nicole Telkes)

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

The Other Quince

by Matt Millage

PXL_20210402_173312198After a brief email exchange with a colleague last fall around this same time, I set off to collect some fallen treasures from the forest floor from a tree I had never collected from before. The fruit was large and aromatic, but I was unfamiliar with its culinary use. Suddenly the sweet scent of ripening flesh let me know that the bounty was close, and true to smell, the six-inch long, bright yellow fruits of the Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis) were scattered beneath a tree. Much larger than its cousin, the common quince (Cydonia oblonga), which is used often in fruit production and tree grafting, the Chinese quince has a reputation for being rather astringent, and I had never thought of cooking with it. 

After informing my colleague that the harvest was complete, I inquired as to how he planned on using the crop. He explained that quince made a lavish addition to an apple pie, among other seasonal dishes. From there, I dug in further to the culinary and ethnobotanical history of the Chinese quince and was pleasantly surprised to discover the versatility and medicinal properties of this interesting plant.

A monotypic species in the Rosaceae family, this tree alone could be an ornamental addition to most temperate gardens. They grow easily in USDA hardiness zones 6a-8b and in a variety of soil types.  Standing 10’ – 20’ at maturity with exquisite exfoliating bark and wonderfully scented pink-white flowers in the spring, it adds multiple layers of interest year-round. Autumn, though, is when it gives up its true prize—the large fruits which have been used historically for medicines, as an edible for jams, jellies, pie fillings, liqueurs, candies, and eaten as a sweet meat (Facciola, 1990).

Korea, Japan, and China have used the fruits medicinally for centuries as an antitussive, and for  asthma, the common cold, sore throats, mastitis, and tuberculosis. Descriptions of these efficacies have been found dating back to the 18th century in Japan. It contains several medicinally active constituents including organic acids, plus the flavonoids rutin and quercetin (World Health Organization, 1998).  Recent research has shown that extracts of Chinese quince fruit have various biological functions, such as antibacterial, antihemolytic (Osawa et al., 1997), anti-inflammatory (Osawa et al., 1999), antitumor (Chun et al., 2012), anti-influenza (Hamauzu et al., 2005, Sawai et al., 2008, Sawai-Kuroda et al., 2013), antioxidant (Hamauzu et al., 2006, Hamauzu et al., 2010), and gastroprotective (anti-ulcerogenic) (Hamauzu et al., 2008) activities. 

Medicinal plants are often boiled to extract functional ingredients, suggesting a decoction of Chinese quince fruit may be rich in various phytochemicals. Decoctions have been used for medicinal purposes but can also be used for manufacturing processed foods, such as fruit jelly. These traditional methods offer both positive and negative effects on the medicinal properties, as some research shows that the thermal effects can have a reductive effect on the polyphenols (Hamauzu et al., 2018).  

PXL_20211020_123304152_2So, in addition to being a delicious addition to the fall harvest, it also has an increasing number of positive side effects attributed to its consumption. Which, I believe, begs the question, when are you going to add some quince to your apple pie? There are lots of fantastic recipes on the Internet, but here is one that I tried last year after my colleague piqued my interest enough to see how they taste during fall pie season. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did as it truly does add a lavishness and texture that I had never experienced before with a typical apple pie. I used the Chinese quince but am sure that the common quince could be used as an easy replacement. Even if you just keep a bowl of them on the counter for a sweet fragrance, I hope that you can find a way to enjoy the Chinese quince in your home this fall, too! 

Apple Quince Pie

Ingredients

  • 3 cups thinly sliced peeled quinces (about 2 medium)
  • 1 can (5-1/2 ounces) unsweetened apple juice
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • Pastry for single-crust pie (9 inches)
  • 5 cups thinly sliced peeled tart apples (about 5 medium)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Topping:

  • 1/3 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter
  1. In a large saucepan, combine the quince and apple juice. Place cloves on a double thickness of cheesecloth; bring up corners of cloth and tie with string to form a bag. Add to the saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until quince are crisp-tender.
  2. Uncover; simmer 8-12 minutes longer or until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons. Discard spice bag. Cool for 5 minutes.
  3. Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry. Trim to a 1/2 inch beyond edge of plate; flute edges. In a large bowl, combine the apples, sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Gently stir in quince mixture. Spoon into the crust.
  4. For topping, in a small bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon; cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over filling.
  5. Bake at 375° for 50 – 60 minutes or until the apples are tender and crust is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Photo Credits: 1) Chinese quince flower; 2) Exfoliating bark; 3) Chinese quince hanging from branches; 3) A large, fully ripe fruit. All photos courtesy of the author.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

References

Chun, J.M., K.J. Nho, A.Y. Lee, et al. (2012). A methanol fraction from Chaenomeles sinensis inhibits hepatocellular carcinoma growth in vitro and in vivo. Journal of the Korean Society for Applied Biological Chemistry, 55, 345-351.

Facciola, S. (1990). Cornucopia: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Vista, California: Kampong Publications.

Hamauzu, Y., T. Inno, C. Kume, M. Irie, and K. Hiramatsu. (2006). Antioxidant and antiulcerative properties of phenolics from Chinese quince, quince, and apple fruits. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 54, 765-772.

Hamauzu, Y., M. Irie, M. Kondo, and T. Fujita (2008). Antiulcerative properties of crude polyphenols and juice of apple, and Chinese quince extracts. Food Chemistry (108), 488-495.

Hamauzu, Y., H. Kishida, and N. Yamazaki. (2018). Gastroprotective property of Pseudocydonia sinensis fruit jelly on the ethanol-induced gastric lesions in rats. Journal of Functional Foods (Volume 48), 275-282.

Hamauzu, Y., H. Yasui, T. Inno, C. Kume and M. Omanyuda. (2005). Phenolic profile, antioxidant property, and anti-influenza viral activity of Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis Schneid.), quince (Cydonia oblonga Mill.), and apple (Malus domestica Mill.) fruits. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 53, 928-934.

NC State Extension. Pseudocydonia sinensis Fact Sheet. Accessed on Oct 5, 2021 from NC State Extension https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/pseudocydonia-sinensis/

Osawa, K., K. Miyazaki, H. Imai, and K. Takeya. (1999). Inhibitory effects of Chinese quince (Chaenomeles sinensis) on hyaluronidase and histamine release from rat mast cells (in Japanese with English summary). Natural Medicines (53), 188-193.

Osawa, K., H. Yasuda, H. Morita, K. Takeya, and H. Itokawa.  (1997). Antibacterial and antihemolytic activity of triterpenes and β-sitosterol isolated from Chinese quince (Chaenomeles sinensis) (in Japanese with English summary). Natural Medicines (51), 365-367.

World Health Organization, R. O. (1998). Medicinal plants in the Republic of Korea : information on 150 commonly used medicinal plants. Manila: WHO Regional Publications: Regional Office for the Western Pacific.


Matt has worked in public gardening for a little over six years and is currently the horticulturist in the Asian Collections at the U.S. National Arboretum. He previously worked at Smithsonian Gardens in a variety of capacities. Matt is an ISA-certified arborist and an IPM manager certified with both Virginia and DC.

Carob – Herb of the Month

by Maryann Readal

Minolta DSCHave you heard of St. John’s bread or locust bean? These are all names for the carob tree, Ceratonia siliqua. This herbal tree is a native of the Mediterranean region and is also grown in East Africa, India, Australia, and California. It can grow in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 9-11 – places with dry, Mediterranean-type climates. Carob is disease and pest resistant, tolerates dry, poor, rocky soils, and is drought tolerant due to a very deep taproot (125 feet) that enables the tree to survive in arid climates. It is in the pea family (Fabaceae), and like other members of this family it fixes nitrogen, improving the fertility of the soil in which it is planted.

Carob is a multi-stemmed, evergreen tree that can reach 50 feet high and 50 feet wide, and its broad, dark green leaves make it a good shade tree. It is mostly a dioecious tree, meaning that there are separate male and female trees. The flowers grow from the old, woody bark along the branches. Only the female trees produce fruit, starting when the tree reaches 8 years of age; however, fruit for commercial production begins when the tree is 20 years old. A mature tree can produce up to a ton of fruit in one season. The fruit is a sword-shaped pod that can grow to 12 inches long. When the pod turns from green to brown, it is ground into a powder and roasted. The result is used as a substitute for cocoa powder and flour. The seeds are a bit larger than watermelon seeds and are used to make locust bean gum, a food additive that thickens and stabilizes foods like ice cream and salad dressings.

History

The carob tree has a 4,000-year history of use. Some say that the tree is a survivor from a now-extinct group of the Fabaceae family (Loullis, 2018). Because carob seeds are fairly uniform in weight, ancient jewelers used the seeds for weighing gems and gold. One carob seed was the smallest weight for a diamond, giving the name “carat” to the measurement. Egyptians used carob to bind the wrappings of mummies and used it to make beer. They also treated wounds and eye conditions with it.

There are several biblical references to the use of carob. Its name, “St. John’s bread,” refers to St. John the Baptist being sustained in the desert by eating “locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6 and Matthew 3:4). Locusts were mistakenly (some say) thought to be carob pods (Gardner, 2012). It was nutritious and easy to digest, and so porridge was made from it and fed to the elderly.  Because there was so much available and could be easily stored, it was a significant part of the diet of poor people during biblical times. 

carob, Nevit DilmenCarob pods discovered in the storehouses of Pompeii show that the Romans were harvesting the tree as early as 79AD. The Romans ate the carob seeds for their sweetness. The Greeks used carob pods as fodder for their pigs and food for their people.

In 1854, the U.S. Patent Office imported 8,000 carob trees from Spain and sent most of them to California. A profitable crop was not able to be produced from the trees so they were used for landscaping instead. In a prescient statement in 1914, Santa Barbara Agricultural Commissioner, C.W. Beers, commented that “The day may come when the deserts will be extensive forests of carob trees” (Kauffman, 2018).

The carob tree has been a source of nutrition during times of war and famine when supply chains of basic ingredients were interrupted. It was a lifesaver for many during the Spanish Civil War. It was the “chocolate of occupation” during WWII and was used as a substitute for flour and coffee. It has been considered to be the food of the poor, and was food for domestic animals. At one time, singers chewed the pods believing that it cleared the throat and voice.

Current Uses

Even today, carob has an amazing number of uses—from medicines, food for humans and animals, photographic film emulsions, adhesives, paints, inks, and polishes, and even cosmetics. Its wood is prized by wood craftsmen and also makes good charcoal. Italians use the seeds for rosary beads. The nutrients in carob have made it a health food staple, as it is high in fiber and natural sugars and is also a low-fat, no caffeine substitute for chocolate. Medicinally it’s used as both an anti-diarrheal and a mild laxative.

Recent research shows that carob powder is a rich source of the antidiabetic compound D-pinitol, a type of sugar. D-pinitol can decrease blood sugar levels and prevent obesity by suppressing the increase in human adipose tissue. In addition, the polyphenols in carob fiber have been shown to inhibit cell proliferation in some cancers (Loullis, 2018).

My favorite story about carob comes from the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Ta’anit 23a):

One day, Honi the Wise Man was walking along the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, ‘How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?’ The man answered, ‘Seventy years.’ Honi replied, ‘And do you think you will live another seventy years and eat the fruit of this tree?’ The man answered, ‘Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees (Vamosh, n.d.).

Carob is The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for November. More information about the tree along with recipes and a beautiful screensaver can be found at https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html

Photo Credits: 1) Carob tree (Pedro Servera); 2) Male carob flowers (Erin Holden); 3) Female carob flowers (Rick J Pelleg); 4) Carob seed pods (Nevitt Dilman); 5) Carob candy (Relivate)

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments. 

References

Carob. (2010). In Leung’s Encyclopedia of common natural ingredients: Used in food, drugs, and cosmetics by Ikhlas A. Khan and Ehab A. Abourashed. 3rd ed. Hoboken: Wiley. (Online through Ebsco)

Carob-the black gold of history. (n.d). Accessed 9/28/21. https://cretacarob.com/en/blog/news/to-charoypi-o-mayros-chrysos-tis-istorias/

Gardner, Jo Ann. (2012). The everlasting carob. The Herbarist. Issue 78, 2012. 

Kauffman, Jonathan. (January 31, 2018). How carob traumatized a generation. The New Yorker. Accessed 9/28/22. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-gastronomy/how-carob-traumatized-a-generation

Loullis, Andreas, Eftychia Pinakoulaki. (2018). Carob as cacao substitute: a review on composition, health benefits and food applications. European Food Research and Technology. Springer. Accessed 9/27/21. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00217-017-3018-8

Vamosh, Miriam Feinberg. (n.d.) Food at the time of the Bible. Israel, Palphot Ltd. 

Vamosh, Mirium Feinberg, (n.d.) Carob trees, the Bible, and righteous gentiles. Accessed 9/28/22. https://miriamfeinbergvamosh.com/carob-trees-the-bible-and-righteous-gentiles/

What is carob? (n.d.) Carobana Confectionary. Accessed 9/20/21. https://carobana.com.au/carob.html


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America and a Master Gardener. She is a member of The Society’sTexas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She lectures on herbs and does the herb training for several Master Gardener programs. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Garage Herbs

By Scott Aker

Herbs in containersThroughout much of the country, now is the time to face the coming cold. Any plants you want to keep must be moved to warmer quarters. For many gardeners, that might be a sunny windowsill indoors. But is this the best place to overwinter your herbs?

Unless you have a room that you can keep below 60°F in your home, they may suffer. Many herbs hail from Mediterranean and subtropical climates and are programmed to thrive with distinct seasons of heat and chill. Bring them indoors, and they experience temperatures much higher than they ever would in winter in their native lands. The result is stress and conditions that favor pests, such as mites, powdery mildew, and scale insects, that can quickly overwhelm your plants.

I live in USDA Hardiness Zone 7B, and winters generally have long periods of mild weather with temperatures hovering around freezing punctuated with short periods of cold that may reach the single digits. I grow all my herbs in pots on the deck, because they are just steps away from the kitchen. Some stay there through the winter. Marjoram, parsley, oregano, chives, and mint have no issue with the cold, even in pots. Bay, sage, gardenia, and citrus go in the garage for winter. My garage is not heated, but it seldom freezes since the walls and door shared with the house are not terribly well insulated. Night temperatures dip into just above freezing and may rise to about 55°F during the day, on average.

containers on deck

Herbs growing in containers on the author’s deck. The sage, bay, and gardenia are overwintered in the garage.

While herbs would like more light than can be supplied even by a sunny windowsill indoors, they don’t really need light when held at temperatures in the 40°F to 50°F range. At these low temperatures, they are nearly dormant. They do need to be watered from time to time, but at low temperatures, they don’t need or appreciate frequent watering.

My garage herbs fall into two tiers. The hardy ones, such as the bay, gardenia, and sage go outside on the front steps whenever temperatures are forecast to remain above 25°F for a week or more. The citrus stay in the garage unless weather is above 30°F. Since watering is a chore that I dislike, I tend to move the plants outdoors anytime precipitation is forecast. My bay and gardenia have taken a heavy snow load with no damage, and they do appreciate sunny warm winter days.

If you are going to use your garage to overwinter herbs, pay close attention to weight. I grow all my large garage herbs in large plastic pots to keep the weight to a minimum and make them easier to move the short distance to the front steps. Terracotta and ceramic pots are more attractive, but I suggest using them in smaller sizes for smaller plants. Some pruning to keep things in bounds is helpful, too, since winter wind can easily topple top heavy plants.

Mandarin orange container in garage

Mandarin orange, Citrus reticulata, in its winter quarters in the author’s garage.

On pleasant winter days, the sight of my mandarin orange, with its full complement of ripening fruit, is a cheerful one, and one that has attracted much attention from passersby. When cooking, it is only slightly less convenient to step in the garage to get what I need. When spring arrives, I find that the plants grow more vigorously because of the chill winter they experienced, and mites and other pests have been unable to prosper on my plants. Give some thought to your garage when it’s time to bring your herbs in for the winter.

Photo credits: 1) Herbs in containers (Creative Commons, freeformkatia); 2) Herb containers on deck (S. Aker); 3) Mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata) in garage (S. Aker).

 


Scott Aker is Head of Horticulture and Education at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. He authored Digging In in The Washington Post and Garden Solutions in The American Gardener.

Nasty Plants and the Reasons to Love Them

by Erin Holden

Scrunched up faces. Tongues sticking out. Sounds of choking and disgust. Unfortunately this is the usual reaction when I’m finally able to coax someone into trying medicinal herbs. When we move past the more pleasant plants like lavender, chamomile, and peppermint and delve into the deeper waters of herbal medicine, not everything is so user-friendly. Many plants taste bitter, smell like old socks, or even feel slimy. But often, it’s these same nasty characteristics that provide the therapeutic benefits we’re looking for. Let’s take a look at a few plants and see what makes them so “nasty” as well as useful.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Many people may be familiar with the distinctive aroma of valerian root; old socks, wet dog, and horse manure are just a few things to which the odor has been affectionately compared. In fact, the constituent responsible for the smell, valeric acid, is also one of the components that causes swine manure to smell so badly (Chi, Lin, & Leu, 2005). Despite its odiferous qualities, valerian has been used for its sedative effects for over 2000 years. Valerian root is taken to relieve anxiety, promote sleep, and relax gastrointestinal spasms (Braun & Cohen, 2006). Some research shows that another compound, valerenic acid, may mediate anxiety by binding to GABA receptors in the brain, although the exact medicinally active compounds haven’t yet been pinpointed (Benke et al., 2009).  It’s possible that valeric acid also has a role to play, as multiple constituents acting together may account for these effects (Spinella, 2002).

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
marsh-mallow-jcs-althaea-officinalis-54735 from biopix dot comGlycosaminoglycans, the medicinally active polysaccharides found in marshmallow root, have an appropriate abbreviation: GAGs. Mixing the powdered root with water or preparing an infused tea results in a slimy, mucilaginous mess that can be difficult to choke down. But it’s this very sliminess that causes marshmallow to work so well at soothing irritated tissue. Marshmallow is used for coughs, as a urinary demulcent, and for irritated skin. The mucilage forms a bioadhesive layer that acts as a barrier, protecting the tissue and allowing it to heal (Deters et al., 2010). Extracts of the root have also demonstrated antibacterial properties (Lauk, Lo Bue, Milazzo, Rapisarda, & Blandino, 2003; Watt, Christofi, & Young, 2007).

Gentian (Gentiana lutea)
Gentiana_lutea_090705 by Bernd Haynold via wikimedia commonsNo pub or bar would be complete without a bottle of bitters, with Angostura® being among the more popular brands. Although the recipe for Angostura® Bitters is a well-guarded secret, gentian is listed on the label as an ingredient and is likely a major contributor to the bitter flavor. By itself, gentian is considered extremely bitter and has been used as a yardstick when rating the bitterness of other herbs (Olivier & van Wyk, 2013). Bitter compounds in general have been shown to stimulate the secretion of saliva and digestive juices by activating the vagus nerve (Bone, 2003). The active constituents in gentian, gentiopicroside and amarogentin, are no exception.  These molecules account for gentian’s use in improving digestion, increasing appetite, and relieving flatulence (Braun & Cohen, 2006).

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)
Lobelia_inflata_8820er_1586426759 by Paul Rothrock from SERNEC websiteWhat list of nasty herbs would be complete without pukeweed? This alternate common name for lobelia says it all. The emetic qualities of this plant were made (in)famous by Dr. Samuel Thomson in the 19th century. As a boy, Thomson would cause his friends to vomit by tricking them into eating lobelia leaves. Later in life, he founded the Thomsonian medical movement and employed lobelia and its purging properties as his main treatment (Loyd & Loyd, 1930). This unpleasant effect is attributed to lobeline, an alkaloid found in the above ground parts of the plant (Miller & Ruggiero, 1994). Lobeline is also responsible for lobelia’s therapeutic use as a bronchodilator and muscle relaxant (Hanson, 2005). This herb has been taken to relieve asthma, ease tense skeletal muscles, and calm nervous anxiety (Snow, 2009).

As you can see, even though some plants might make you want to “lose your lunch” or plug your nose and run for the hills, we should embrace them as they might be the very thing needed to help us feel better. Perhaps this perspective will help make ingesting nasty herbs a bit easier to swallow.

Photo Credits: 1) Valerian (Morton Arboretum, via Sernecportal.org); 2) Marshmallow (Biopix.com); 3) Gentian (Bernd Haynold, via Wikimedia Commons); Lobelia (Paul Rothrock, via Sernecportal.org)

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments. 

 References

Benke, D., Barberis, A., Kopp, S., Altmann, K.H., Schubiger, M., Vogt, K.E., Rudolph, U., & Möler, H. (2009). GABA A receptors as in vivo substrate for the anxiolytic action of valerenic acid, a major constituent of valerian root extracts. Neuropharmacology, 56(1), 174-181. 

Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs. St. Louis: Churchill Livingston.

Braun, L. & Cohen, M. (2006). Herbs and natural supplements (2nd ed.). Sydney, Australia: Churchill Livingstone.

Chi, F.H., Lin, P.H., & Leu, M.H. (2005). Quick determination of malodor-causing fatty acids in manure by capillary electrophoresis. Chemosphere, 60(9), 1262-1269.

Deters, A., Zippel, J., Hellenbrand, N., Pappai, D., Possemeyer, C., & Hensel, A. (2010). Aqueous extracts and polysaccharides from Marshmallow roots (Althea officinalis L.): Cellular internalisation and stimulation of cell physiology of human epithelial cells in vitro. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 127(1), 62-69.

Hanson, Bryan A. (2005). Understanding medicinal plants, their chemistry and therapeutic action. New York: The Haworth Herbal Press.

Lauk, L., Lo Bue, A.M., Milazzo, I., Rapisarda, A., & Blandino, G. (2003). Antibacterial activity of medicinal plant extracts against periodontopathic bacteria. Phytotherapy research, 17(6), 599-604.

Loyd, J.U. & Loyd, C.G. (1930). Drugs and medicines of North America, 1884-1887. Cincinnati, Ohio.

Miller, A.D. & Ruggiero, D.A. (1994). Emetic reflex arc revealed by expression of the immediate-early gene c-fos in the cat. The Journal of Neuroscience, 14(2), 871-888.

Olivier, D.K. & van Wyk, B.-E. (2013) Bitterness values for traditional tonic plants of southern Africa. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 147(3), 676-679.

Snow, J. (2009). Materia medica: Lobelia inflata. Personal Collection of J. Snow, Maryland University of Integrative Health, Laurel, MD.

Spinella, M. (2002). The importance of pharmacological synergy in psychoactive herbal medicines. Alternative Medicine Review, 7(2), 130-137

 Watt, K., Christofi, N., & Young, R. (2007). The detection of antibacterial actions of whole herb tinctures using luminescent Escherichia coli. Phytotherapy Research, 21(12), 1193-1199.

 

 

Unearthly fragrance, cat-scratching thorns

By Rachel Cywinski

(This article is an abridged version originally appearing on the Native Plant Society of Texas website, November 30, 2020. Thanks to the author for allowing us to reprint her article here.)

Huisache flowersThe portals of heaven open to announce [that] spring will soon return—that’s the only way that I can describe the aroma of huisache (Vachellia farnesiana) in bloom. Texas A&M University’s Aggie Horticulture website describes this tree as “intensely fragrant.” 

For years, I was drawn to this delightful scent but stayed away because of an extreme sensitivity to bee stings. Never are bees more evident than when huisache blooms. Many people also stay away because they fear the thorns.

Huisache tree in Alamo Defenders Cemetery in San Antonio, TexasBut one day, looking for emerging native plants as I often do in the neglected historic cemeteries of San Antonio, I ducked under the branches and stood near the trunk. My senses were transported by the unearthly fragrance and the amazing sound of thousands of bees, who were all so entranced by the blooms, that they had no interest in what a human was doing. As I deeply inhaled the fragrance, breezes moved the fine leaves like caresses across my face. I was hooked. Ever since, when I see huisache blooming in the hot and high parts of San Antonio, I look for it each week in places a little farther north or more shaded, until all the trees have bloomed, and spring has arrived.

picture of Guerlain's Apres L'Ondee perfumeIn the 1800s, some enterprising Europeans imported what we in southern and central Texas take for granted; the macerated blooms of huisache grown commercially in southern France and Portugal are used in some of the world’s most expensive perfumes made in Cannes. Huisache is an “overlooked indigenous plant” that is “very valuable” to urban gardens by fixing nitrogen in the soil and attracting pollinators, said San Antonio City Arborist Mark Bird. “The bees and other pollinators can’t resist.” The Native Plant Project states that the bees particularly need the pollen more than the nectar of this tree and cites it as attracting insects and birds (1).

ISA-Certified Arborist® David Vaughan, one of the charter members of the ISA-Texas chapter, recommends huisache for dry sites. Vaughan listed benefits of huisache as being a pioneer species, fast-growing, maturing to a medium size, fragrant and “gorgeous” with early spring flowers that last a month, with the perk that “compound leaves are small and do not need to be raked.”

Huisache thorns adult and juvenile forms

Young huisache trees have large thorns on new foliage (right). More mature trees have sharp pairs of barb-like thorns at junctures.

Mature trees do have two small barb-like thorns at the base of each leaf, but only the youngest trees have the long spiky thorns to protect themselves. This adds to their attractiveness in urban landscapes, where so many birds fall prey to domesticated cats let outdoors. Birds nest in huisache, according to the Natives of Texas website. Native Plant Project lists it of particular value for white-winged doves (1).

Huisache, a Nahuatl term meaning “many thorns,” is the most common name for Vachellia farnesiana, though it has been called an “acacia” for so long that many will likely continue to remember it as such. The gum derived from the tree is considered higher quality than gum arabic. Other historic and current uses of huisache include medicine, wood, dye, tannin, ink, pottery, glue, toothbrushes, and firewood (2). David Vaughan cautions that, although huisache and mesquite wood have a similar appearance, grilling meat over huisache wood will ruin it.

Other medicinal uses recorded for huisache include: an astringent and demulcent; in treatment of wounds, skin inflammations, and swellings; sore throat, diarrhea, typhoid, stomachic, dyspepsia, dysentery, leucorrhoea, conjunctivitis, uterorrhagia, neuroses, and headaches (3).

Vachellia farinesiana seed podsThe ebony-colored seed pods appear to bulge with numerous small seeds that contain a toxic alkaloid. But that does not prevent them from being invaded by insects as soon as they drop to the ground. If you plan to start huisache from seed, be on the lookout to get the seeds before they are eaten.

Mark Bird has found huisache valuable for controlling erosion and restoring degraded soils. He said, “In some ways the tree can be considered a pioneer species, because it can establish in poor quality soils and lead to future, ‘more desirable’ trees, such as oaks and elms.”

Another ISA-Certified Arborist®, Mark Peterson, concurs with Bird. Peterson, who is a project manager in the Conservation Department of San Antonio Water System, said huisache “is definitely a pioneer species. In certain regions of south and southeast Texas, it is the primary woody species during the first five to thirty years of succession after land clearing.” Peterson has observed that establishment of huisache and mesquite improves soil quality for later growth of hackberry, pecan, mulberry, or oak, particular to site conditions.

Huisache tree blooming and Diana Kersey Art on bridge over San Antonio RiverVachellia farnesiana’s native range is considered to cross from southern Florida to southern California, south to northern South America. Vaughan said, “a few grow more north, but seldom survive the occasional very cold winter of the [Texas] hill country.” Huisache is not freeze-hardy, but it is fast-growing and exceptionally drought-tolerant. Peterson says, “The only thing that can seriously affect its growth is over-watering.” In the San Antonio area, one could almost draw a map of the waterways by the presence of huisache, as it is pervasive on the upper banks of streams, creeks, and the river. I think of it as one of those unique plants that so often grows near, but never in, waterways as they are uniquely able to tolerate periods of moisture and yet withstand dry conditions.

This past spring, I happened to be in northwest San Antonio near the place of the most extraordinary annual sight of huisache in bloom. The trees near where I live, between Salado Creek and the San Antonio River, had bloomed a few weeks earlier. And so, I realized this might be the time that trees along creeks in more elevated areas were blooming. Indulging in huisache viewing would really brighten my day, I rationalized—and there were so many trees [from which] I could get whiffs of the fragrance just driving past.

Huisache trees along byway

Huisache trees between the roadway and hike-and-bike trail provide visual calm to drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians along the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River in southern Bexar County.

With great anticipation, I found my way to a large roadway that serves traffic exiting and entering a main entrance of a major local employer. I remembered how stunningly the display of golden blooms gleamed all along the upper bank of a stream tributary to Zarzamora Creek and took deep breaths to maintain calm as I rounded the bend, where the setting sun would create such a breath-taking display.

I did not remain calm. I rounded the bend and saw the sunset. There was nothing between us. I pulled over. There were no trees: there was nothing. Where was the “rain of gold” that blooming huisache made in the wind? 

As I stared, stunned, another motorist pulled her car in front of mine, and came running back, asking if I was okay. “The huisache [trees] are GONE,” I said to her. She looked at me with confusion.

She asked several times whether I was all right, and I continued to explain the huisache were gone. Her confusion concerned me. Perhaps she might think I was some dangerous person. Then we both changed the conversation. I asked her if she didn’t remember the huisache. Clearly, she didn’t. Then I realized that she just did not know the NAME of the trees. She probably missed them but did not know what they were called. So, I explained it was the trees that always had such beautiful blooms every year, the ones that looked like shining yellow all along this area. I motioned to where the trees had been and said, “It makes me want to cry.”

Huisache blooming at Ecumenical Center of San Antonio, TexasThe woman stared open-mouthed then looked to where the trees had been, then at me, then to the stream bank, as if trying to remember. But she couldn’t.

The woman explained it was very dangerous to stop a car along the roadway, even with flashers on. I asked if it wasn’t between shifts when there would not be so many employees driving. She agreed, and said it was still very dangerous. Even though there were many lanes, there were constant motor vehicle collisions. It was not safe even to be on this roadway. 

I told her that I was going to leave. But, I insisted, didn’t she miss the trees that had been there? Again, she seemed confused and unable to place any trees where they had been. She said if I was okay, she was leaving, but that I really needed to get my car off the road altogether; there were too many drivers who ran into people here.

Huisache tree bloomingI thanked her. As I waited for her car to move, I began crying in earnest. How many times had the concerned woman driven past the beautiful delicate-looking green of huisache branches dancing over the breeze? Had she passed golden huisache blooms thousands of times and never noticed them?

To me, this was the saddest thing of all.

*For more information about supporting native herbs in the landscape, visit The Herb Society of America’s GreenBridges™ Initiative website.

Photo Credits: 1) Huisache (Vachellia farinesiana) flowers (R. Cywinski); 2) Huisache tree in Alamo Defenders Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas (R. Cywinski); 3) Perfume by Guerlain containing huisache essential oil (public domain); 4) Mature and immature thorns (R. Cywinski); 5) Mature and immature seed pods (Creative Commons, Starr Environmental); 6) Huisache tree blooming and Diana Kersey Art on bridge over San Antonio River (R. Cywinski); 7) Huisache along roadway (R. Cywinski); 8) Huisache bordering the Ecumenical Center of San Antonio, Texas (R. Cywinski); 9) Huisache flowering boughs (R. Cywinski).

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments. 

References

(1) Native Plant Project. https://www.nativeplantproject.com/. Accessed 8 October 2021.

(2) Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plant Products. https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy/Acacia_farnesiana.html. Accessed 8 October 2021.

(3) Plants for a Future Database. https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Acacia+farnesiana. Accessed 8 October 2021.


Rachel Cywinski’s professional background is in journalism and mathematics education, including degrees in international business and business economics. She is a native plant enthusiast (with a special affinity for plant identification) and serves as a volunteer for the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in the San Antonio region and is a member of the Native Plant Society of Texas.

Gathering and Preserving the Herbal Bounty: A New Video Series

By Susan Belsinger

Greetings and Happy Autumn!

Herbal Salts are wonderful condimnts to have on handI am writing this on the evening of the full harvest moon—it is shining bright in the night sky just over the treetops. We are also celebrating the Autumnal Equinox. I know that fall is here by the feeling in the air—cooler nights—and needing to grab that extra blanket; the smells are different—moist, earthy, and leafy; the departure of the hummingbirds since the jewelweed blooms are fading; the slowing down of plant growth in the garden and the ripening of others—herbs are maturing, flowers are showing off their last hurrahs, and many plants are producing seeds. It is time for gathering the bounty and celebrating the harvest!

I am simply delighted to share some news with you. Last harvest season, I made three educational videos featuring “Gathering and Preserving the Herbal Bounty” for members of The Herb Society of America.

These videos give instructions for harvesting and preserving herbs fresh from the garden. Simple tried-and-true techniques are shown and discussed in 15-minute segments. These video shorts cover some of the best ways to preserve herbs, with each technique discussed in detail, and relevant recipes included. 

The three videos include:  “Aromatic Herbal Pastes & Butters,” “Herb Salts, Sugars & Honeys,” and “Herbal Mustards.” Below are brief descriptions of each video.

Making herbal pastes is a great way to capture the essence of herbsAromatic Herbal Pastes and Herb Butters

Using fresh herbs to make herbal pastes is a quick and easy way to put up the herbal harvest and captures the essence for long-term storage in the freezer.

Butters are a great way to feature herbs, and the combinations are infinite as well as tasty; they can be eaten right away or stored in the fridge or freezer, whether they are made into logs for slicing or packed into crocks. 

Herb Salts, Sugars, and Honey

Adding herbs to sugar or salt is a good way to have herbs stored and readily available to use. Herb sugars can be added to desserts, baked goods, beverages, or used to rim a cocktail glass, while salts can be added to any savory dish while cooking or as a garnish for breads, crackers, salads, and vegetables. I had to add herbal honeys in at the end of this video, since I prepare and use them often and they are so easy to make.

Herbal Mustards

Making mustard is fairly easy and can be quite delicious when embellished with herbs. Knowing the process and ingredients and how they work will result in an array of tasty condiments. Do make these—they will expand your herbal horizons—you will love them!

You can use many different herbs to make savory mustardsEach one of these short videos is shot in my home kitchen and are chockablock full of information. I also include handouts with lots of information and recipes. The videos are located in the member section of The Herb Society of America website. Members have free access to these and the webinar library with over 60 titles to inspire and educate on a wide variety of herbal topics. Join today to enjoy these and other member benefits: https://www.herbsociety.org/join.html

I hope that these videos inspire y’all to get out there right away and gather your herbs to preserve your herbal bounty! These methods are great ways to capture the essence of herbs. You will be so glad that you did come winter. As a bonus, all of these homemade products make wonderfully tasty and heartfelt gifts.

Here’s to a bountiful harvest season and happy herbing!


thumbnail_IMG_0244Susan is a culinary herbalist, food writer, educator, and photographer whose work has been published in numerous publications. She has authored a number of award-winning books. Her latest book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs was co-authored with the late Dr. Arthur Tucker.

Susan is passionate about herbs and her work, sharing the joy of gardening and cooking through teaching & writing, and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell & taste.

Medlar – Herb of the Month

By Chrissy Moore

meldar line drawing croppedMedlar (Mespilus germanica) isn’t the first tree you think of to include in your herb garden, but it certainly gets high marks for obscure and unusual. At least by today’s terms. While we may not hear its name invoked in modern conversation with anything close to regularity, medlar has, in fact, had a long association with humans for thousands of years.

Its center of origin is somewhat in question, with various taxonomists and botanists shifting the borders this way and that, but in general, medlar can be considered a southwest Asia native, including the Balkan Peninsula. Though comfortable in that location, the Romans and Greeks spread the tree far and wide in their travels through Europe. Beyond that, botanists freely point to the tree’s adaptability, noting all of the countries from southern to central Europe in which medlar has naturalized. Mespilus can even be found growing as far north as The Netherlands, where specimen trees were planted in parks and gardens. In its native range, it can be found growing in elevations up to ~5500 feet in forest clearings. 

Medlar Range mapMedlar is a member of the rose family (Rosaceae), apparent when you look at its ripe fruit, which showcases a persistent calyx typical of other rose family members, such as rose hips and apples. Hardy in Zones 5 to 8, it is generally considered a small tree, growing up to 20 feet by 20 feet, with pleasantly Medlar's twisting canopy, Netherlandstwisting canopy branches as the tree matures. The five-inch-long leaves are lance-shaped and somewhat coarse in texture owing to the hairs on the upper and lower surfaces. Their dark green hue makes an attractive backdrop for its blossoms. Medlar’s fall color is a mix of green, yellow, and burnished orange, giving it that coveted “three season” appeal. All else being equal, its fall color can make it a superb horticultural addition even in smaller gardens.

Medlar’s approximately two-inch wide, dainty, white flowers—the petals of which are reminiscent of mildly wrinkled fabric—appear in mid- to late-spring, depending upon the region in which it is grown. The flower’s center is a flurry of anthers much like a single-petaled rose blossom, though it lacks any noticeable scent. Because the flowers are showy, it may be worth siting this unfamiliar tree a bit closer in to allow for more in-depth inspection. Speaking of siting, medlar prefers full sun to partial shade with some protection from strong winds. It does not like full-on drought conditions, but fairs well throughout much of the temperate region.

Mespilus germanica flower (1)All formalities aside regarding its growing habits, medlar is most famous for its fruit, which, in all honesty, can be a quandary to the uninitiated. The brown pome ripens in the fall, but if one were to try eating it right away, they would be faced with a hard, bitter thing about the size of a large gumball (but not nearly so fun to eat). Medlar fruit is similar to native persimmons in that they must go through a prep-stage before consumption. Persimmons need a frost before becoming edible, while medlars need a go-sit-by-yourself-in-the-corner-for-a-few-weeks regimen before the fruit becomes palatable. This process is called “bletting,” and it isn’t until after the fruits have been fully bletted that the interiors become soft and edible with no trace of their bitter tannins remaining.

Unripe and bletted (or ripe) medlar fruit

The medlar was well known in Europe during the Middle Ages, where it was said to have held a high place among cultivated fruits. Today in Europe it is passing into obscurity. Though very generally cultivated in England in the 1600s and 1700s and “common in [English] gardens in the south” even in the 1800s (the fruits regularly brought to market), it was recently characterized as “neglected and forgotten” and “difficult to locate” there. In continental Europe, too, its increasing rarity has been noted, the fruit being “of no more interest” (Baird and Thieret, 1989).

medlar_jelly_el_ltdPrior to the widespread use of sugarcane, medlar was a preferred sweet ingredient, but owing to the difficulty in processing, it likely fell out of favor, even in Europe, in deference to more easily obtainable fruit from the tropics, such as bananas and oranges. Even so, a few determined individuals, in both the United Kingdom and the United States, are trying to revive interest in the tree, and some have made great strides in bringing back the requisite foodstuffs, like medlar cheeses and jams, that can sometimes be found in boutique stores or online markets. 

Speaking of the United States, medlar never became popular in this country for unknown reasons. Baird and Thieret, in their review of the literature, state:

In the United States the medlar has never been well known. Indeed, it is hardly even known here. Among those individuals who ought to have heard of it—botanists and horticulturists—many have not. Among those who have heard of it, only a few have actually seen the plant—“probably not one…among one hundred”; fewer yet have seen the fruit—“not one in five hundred”; and almost none has eaten the fruit (Baird and Thieret, 1989).

It is unfortunate to think that a once-prized fruit tree is near impossible to locate, even horticulturally, but so it is. Despite its relative obscurity, if you are up for a jaunt around Europe, there are certainly specimens of medlar that can be found growing on estates or in parks, where one might get up close and personal to examine this apparent horticultural anomaly. The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) has mapped out the locations of medlar trees within its boundaries, and the Online Atlas of the British and Irish Flora gives a brief description of the tree with a link to BSBI’s map. Going even farther afield, the Mespilus germanica 9-9-2021 (1)organization, Monumental trees, has compiled a web site (www.monumentaltrees.com) replete with documented locations of various “monumental” tree species, including Mespilus germanica, throughout Europe. You’d be hard-pressed to find a similar compilation of medlar sites in the United States, but it is more than likely that specimens and cultivars (of which there are a few) of medlar may be located in various botanical gardens and arboreta around the country, depending on climate. There is a 40+ year old specimen in the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., but its structure is not nearly as expressive (or impressive) as those in Europe, a result of its original siting in the garden, which has become cramped over time.

16th century painting of medlar, poppy anemone, and pear by Hoefnagel and BocskayTurning the page, figuratively speaking, all one needs is a quick search of the literature to discover that references abound discussing medlar’s less than proper common names. Owing to the fruit’s somewhat bawdy appearance, numerous authors in centuries past, including Chaucer, Shakespeare, de Cervantes, and various other 19th century writers, as well as everyday people in Europe, thought to nickname the fruit “cul de chien” (French for dog’s arse) or some iteration thereof in one’s native tongue. Shakespeare took it one step further, calling medlar an “open-arse.” Thank goodness no one ever pointed that out in my high school literature class. We’d never have heard the end of it! (No pun intended.) In contrast to my more prudish sensibilities, Shakespeare scholar and avowed medlar lover Gerit Quealy explained to me during her recent visit to see the National Herb Garden’s medlar specimen, that the medlar is one of her “favorite botanical references in all of Shakespeare’s works,” because, as she states appreciatively in her book, Botanical Shakespeare, it is “a fruit fraught with metaphor (Quealy, 2017).” No kidding! Readers, you can take it from there….

In researching medlar, I asked former National Herb Garden intern, Zainab Pashaei, who is of Persian heritage, if she was familiar with the tree, it being native to her father’s home country, Iran. Though not personally familiar with it, according to Zainab, medlar is mostly consumed by northern Iranians, and those that travel north near the Alborz Mountain Range will be very familiar with it. (Zainab’s relatives live farther south.) She explained further that muşmula is the Turkish word for the medlar fruit, while the Persians may call it marmala or azgil (Farsi), although I have since learned that azgil is often confused with loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), which is also eaten in Iran.

This distinction is certainly with a difference, as they are two separate plants, and reiterates the importance of using correct nomenclature. On the other hand, it vividly demonstrates that correctly identifying species across languages, cultures, and hundreds of years of usage is not for the faint-hearted. Despite its literary and culinary assignments in other parts of Europe, the medlar has also been employed medicinally in some cultures. For example, the Zeytinburnu Medicinal Plant Garden located in Istanbul, Turkey, reports that the fruit is used as an antidiarrheal, and the seed’s diuretic properties are incorporated into a medicinal tea.

Given medlar’s curious, though extremely interesting, history of use in culinary traditions, in medicine, and certainly in the creative arts, it is definitely a tree worthy of investigation, and perhaps even more so, of growing. Just be prepared to explain its many virtues to your garden guests, as it is highly likely that few, if any, of them will have encountered this unique herbal tree before.

Photo Credits: 1 & 2) Mespilus germanica line drawing and map (Baird and Thieret); 3) Medlar twisting branches (www.monumentaltrees.com); 4) Medlar flower (C. Moore); 5) Bletted medlar fruit (Creative Commons); 6) Medlar jelly (www.partridges.co.uk); 7) Medlar fruit (C. Moore); 8) Medlar, Poppy, and Pear painting (Joris Hoefnagel and Georg Bocskay, J. Paul Getty Museum); 9) Medlar fruit/fall color (Creative Commons, ngawangchodron) and Loquat fruit (Creative Commons, Andres Bertens).

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

References

Baird, J. R. and J. W. Thieret. The Medlar (Mespilus germanica, Rosaceae) from antiquity to obscurity. Economic Botany. Vol. 43, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1989), pp. 328-372. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4255177?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents. Accessed 8/13/2021.

The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Interactive map. https://bsbi.org/maps?taxonid=2cd4p9h.vnw. Accessed 8/16/2021.

Harvey, P. D. A. Garden History, vol. 10, no. 2, 1982, pp. 172–175. JSTOR. www.jstor.org/stable/1586748. Accessed 13 Aug. 2021.

Monumental Trees. Mespilus germanica. https://www.monumentaltrees.com/en/europe-mespilusgermanica/. Accessed 13 Aug. 2021.

Online Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Mespilus germanica. https://www.brc.ac.uk/plantatlas/plant/mespilus-germanica. Accessed 13 Aug. 2021.

Pashaei, Zainab (personal communication). 8/3/2021.

Quealy, Gerit. (personal communication). 5/2021.

Quealy, Gerit. 2017. Botanical Shakespeare: An illustrated compendium of all the flowers, fruits, herbs, trees, seeds, and grasses cited by the world’s greatest playwright. New York: Harper Design.

Zeytinburnu Medicinal Plant Garden. Book No. 35. 2015. Page 237. https://ztbb.org/. Accessed 13 Aug. 2021.


Chrissy Moore is the curator of the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. She is a member of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America and is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.