Plant Labels

By Sam Webb

Webb plant label

Normally I don’t use plant labels, unless it’s the label that came with the plant when I bought it.  That is, until a visitor to my garden criticized, “What’s with all those ugly labels?”  I thought to myself, “Just great, now when I look at my garden all I’ll see is ‘Ugly Labels’. That is, unless I do something about it.”  That something is to make the effort to properly label the herbs using their botanical and common names. I’m retired now and have the time.  Do you think the great gardeners of a hundred years ago worried about plant labels?  Probably not, but the plant collectors would have; it’s part of collecting to know the names of the objects of your collection, document their acquisition, and most of all, to fill in what’s missing and acquire more. 

I started the label project by going to my local botanic garden to see what their plant labels were all about.  Their labels (see photo above) have all kinds of information on them.  In this example, the family name (Rubiaceae) is in one of the corners and in another corner, the country or region where the plant originates (Europe, N Africa). In another corner is an inventory number (2010026.7) that corresponds to information on file as to the date of acquisition, who acquired it, its location in the garden, and other facts about the plant. In the middle is the botanical name (Galium odoratum) and the common name (sweet woodruff).  Sometimes there is a short description of the use of the plant, an anecdote or folklore at the bottom.

Webb plant label 2So far so good. However, my penmanship is poor so I use a label maker with metal tags for my herbs.  My labels only need two things: a botanical name and a common name.  I am also lucky that I kept the names of all the herbs in my garden.  If you didn’t do that or don’t know at least the common name of any herb, labeling it may take more research. Use your HSA membership and ask. Most members love to help out other members.

Additionally, the botanical name is always expressed in Latin and is accepted worldwide, but there is so much more one can do with the common name, like add the foreign translation to the label.  I like to grow the Herbes de Provence,  so I can use sarriette d’hiver for winter savory, and so forth.  My pickling herbs could be in German, such as Deutscher thymian for German thyme. I could keep going but you get the idea of all the possibilities.


Sam Webb has a BS in Ornamental Horticulture from Delaware Valley University.  Retired from 25 years with Federated Investors Legal Department, Sam has spent most of his free time volunteering at three local institutions, the Carnegie Public Library’s Community Gardens, Carnegie Museum of Natural History- Botany Department and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.  He is a member of the Herb Society of America.

Roselle Hibiscus– An Herb with Many Names

By Maryann Readal

With its bright red calyces, green leaves, and okra-like flowers, Hibiscus sabdariffa, alsoroselle known as red zinger, red sorrel, sour tea, Florida cranberry, and roselle, makes an unusual and striking accent plant in the garden. On a recent trip to Montreal, I was surprised to see red zinger hibiscus growing at the back of formal garden borders. I thought it was a plant that grew only in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Apparently, it does well in cooler climates as well. We don’t normally think of red zinger hibiscus as a landscape plant, but indeed it can be.

And of course, an interesting side note to this hibiscus is that the whole plant has many uses. The red calyces surrounding the seed can be removed and dried and used to make a refreshing hot or cold tea.  The fresh calyces can be chopped and used in fruit salads. They can also be cooked, and the resulting sauce is similar to cranberry sauce. If making jelly from the sauce, pectin does not need to be added as roselle calyces contain 3% pectin. Go The Herb Society’s Herb of the Month web page for recipes using roselle.  The leaves and tender shoots can be tossed in salads. In many countries the leaves are eaten as a vegetable and roselle seedsas a meat accompaniment.  The seeds can be pressed for oil, and the mash left over from processing can be fed to livestock. Chickens enjoy the seeds. The seeds can also be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The fiber in the stems can be processed into rope or into rough cloth such as burlap. It is truly a plant with many uses.

roselle teaHibiscus tea has several health benefits including lowering blood pressure, which has been documented in clinical trials. It can be made into a drink that helps to cool the body, making it a very common beverage in hot, tropical climates. In Africa, India, and Mexico, the flowers, leaves, calyces and stems of the plant are used in native medicine. In some countries, the root is also used for medicine.

This plant is native to North Africa and Southeast Asia. It is thought that Africans brought the seeds to the New World. It has naturalized in the West Indies and Central America. It is interesting that USAID is now supporting rural farmers, mostly women, to grow this hibiscus in West Africa.

If you plan to grow Hibiscus sabdariffa in your garden, be prepared to give it plenty of sun, water, and a lot of room to grow. It can easily reach seven feet tall and six feet wide. Pruning it early in the spring will encourage branching. Roselle will not tolerate frost, making it an annual in all but tropical climates. It does not bloom until the days are short, usually in October. Some say that the calyces should not be harvested until 10 days after the okra-like blossoms drop off. Leaving the calyx on longer will result in a brown, woody seed pod.

Whatever you call it or whatever you use it for, roselle is an interesting herb to know about. I like this plant!


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America 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 medical or health treatment.

Herbs Essential to Magic

By Paris Wolfe

Herbs have power. They change health and beauty. In the past such abilities were headoverheels_smallconsidered magic. And, those in the know were often considered witches, witch doctors, wizards and the like. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Today we know the science behind herbal powers, and that may mean ancient herbalists were among the earliest scientists.

Regardless, on Halloween it’s entertaining to don an archetypal witch costume and pretend to cast spells on unsuspecting mortals. Year ‘round, nonetheless, real practitioners of Wiccan “religion” use herbs for good.

Practicing witch Ellen Dugan may be considered one of the top Wiccan authors. She has written a number of books combining herbalism and spirituality or “green magick.”

In Garden Witch’s Herbal (Llewellyn, 2015), she defines green magick as “a practical, nature-based system of the Craft that focuses on reverence for the natural world, the individual’s environment and the plants and herbs that are indigenous to the practitioner’s own area.”

Who can argue with that?

She notes that, throughout the year, “certain botanicals … align with the energies of the season.” During Samhain or Halloween (or the night before All Soul’s Day in the Catholic religion), for example, rosemary symbolizes remembrance of loved ones who have passed. Sounds like a good herb for the season in Christian or pagan practices.

Garden Witch’s Herbal is full of such associations. “A green practitioner is well known for their connection with their living and working environment, by their ethics and by their affinity to the powers of the natural world,” writes Dugan.

Her book knits together quotable quotes into a collection of essays exploring green witchcraft in a way that makes the craft seem like it should be mainstream.

Again …“Creative [garden] design is what turns a collection of trees, herbs, perennials and flowers into a garden. The clarity and color schedules found in your magickal garden give focus to your goals and intentions. The complexity in your plant forms, such as texture and pattern will make for a sensual garden that begs to be touched, sniffed and enjoyed.”

Dugan has me convinced that a little herbal magic may be what people and the environment need. Check her out online.

Among other things, the author of Herbal Magick (New Page Books, 2002), Gerina Dunwich, collects myths and superstitions. Particularly playful (helpful?) on All Hallow’s Eve might be “Herbal Spells to Ward Off Evil Spirits.” The list is as follows:

  • Burn a dried ginseng root
  • Carry fennel seeds in a mojo bag
  • Hang fennel over your doors and windows
  • Wear the root of a devil’s shoestring around your neck
  • Shake a hollowed-out gourd filled with dried beans
  • Plant holly around your home (I’m safe)
  • Wear or carry an orrisroot or peony root as a protective amulet
  • Hang some plantain or periwinkle above your front door and windows
  • Burn a sage smudge wand
  • Sprinkle an infusion of vervain around the perimeter of your property

Have a magickal Halloween!


Paris Wolfe is an award winning writer of business, food, and travel articles.

Herbs from the Witch’s Garden

By Jen Munson, HSA Education Chair

webinar Jackson witch

2019Grab the latest issue of HSA’s The Herbarist and gather around the cauldron to learn about herbs from the witch’s garden with author and guest speaker, Andrea Jackson. Much of what we know about herbs and plants belongs to early witches who were called upon to know their plants and potions. Although witches were often associated with doing the devil’s work, there were many others who were “wise women” going about the business of bringing healing through plants, roots, and herbs, along with chanting, healing, and love potions.

Plan to join us on October 22nd at 1pm eastern as Andrea Jackson shares with us, “Herbs from the Witch’s Garden.” With the cool weather and shortened days leaving long shadows, it’s the perfect opportunity to learn what plants made witches fly and perhaps leave you inspired to create a spell of your own.

Webinars are free to members. Non members are charged a nominal fee of $5.00. Can’t make the date? Register anyway as recorded webinars are sent to all registrants.


webinar jacksonAndrea Jackson Bio: Andrea is a member of The Herb Society of America’s Western Pennsylvania Unit. Andrea started her herbal adventure over 30 years ago after attending an herb walk led by the Piccadilly Herb Club, of which she ultimately became a member. When she lived in Baltimore, she was a founding member of Partners in Thyme. She also belongs to the American Herbalists Guild and the American Botanical Council.

Herbs aside, Andrea is a registered nurse and a Master Gardener and lectures extensively to groups ranging from professional organizations to garden clubs.  She was featured on the local affiliate of ABC news in a segment on medicinal herbs.

Her particular interests are with the medicinal uses of herbs, herbal lore, and weeds, which she considers to be the first herbs.  When she is not spreading the herbal gospel, she is tucked away in her herb room formulating various concoctions.

Safflower: A 4,000 Year-old Herb for Man…..and for Birds

October2019 HOM SafflowerBy Maryann Readal

This month’s Herb Society of America Herb of the Month, safflower, (Carthamus tinctorius), has had many uses throughout its long history. Use of safflower dates back to the ancient Egyptians who used the flowers for dyeing cloth a brilliant red color. Garlands of safflower flowers were found in the tomb of King Tut, and cloth found in the tomb is believed to have been dyed with safflower flowers. It is interesting that in the dyeing process, both yellow and red dyes can be achieved by using the same batch of safflower petals. The flowers are also used to color cosmetics and a variety of food products.

Safflower has been called “poor man’s saffron” and “bastard saffron” because the dried petals resemble the real saffron (Crocus sativus). While it may give your paella a nice yellow color and be a cheaper alternative to using the real thing, you may be sacrificing taste by not using the real saffron. Safflower is used in Middle Eastern cuisines and was used as a saffron substitute by Spanish colonists in the new world. The tender shoots of safflower can be eaten as a salad,  and the seeds can be eaten raw or toasted.  According to the American Heart Association, safflower oil is a healthy choice for cooking. It has a high smoke point.

Safflower seed is pressed to produce cooking oil, margarine, and salad dressings. The seed oil is also used in paints and varnishes because it does not yellow with age. The leftover product from pressing the seed for oil is used in livestock feed.

safflower seedsIf you are a bird lover, you will probably recognize safflower seed as an ingredient in some birdseed. If you grow safflower in your garden, your garden will attract a variety of song birds, including chickadees, finches, nuthatches, woodpeckers, mourning doves and cardinals, who love the safflower seeds. Safflower seeds are oblong shaped and a bit bitter, making them not attractive to bird-feeder bullies like grackles, starlings, and squirrels.

In the past, safflower tea was used to reduce fevers. It was also used externally to soothe bruises, wounds, and painful joints. It has been used as a laxative, though the effectiveness of this use has been questioned by researchers. When rubbed into the scalp and into the nail bed, the oil stimulates hair and nail growth.

The plant requires a long, hot, dry growing season, and full sun. It is grown from seed and can reach three feet in the garden. However, Christine Moore, Horticulturist at the National Herb Garden reports that safflower only grows to six inches and is short-lived at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC.

Safflower’s  red, yellow, or orange flowers bloom mid-summer to fall. It is a thistle-like annual plant with leaves that are toothed with small spines and pointed at the tip. The fresh or dried flowers are very pretty in arrangements. If allowed to go to seed, safflower will reseed itself, giving you plants the following year and also a food source for the birds.

For more information, a beautiful computer wallpaper, and recipes using safflower, visit the Herb Society’s Herb of the Month webpage.


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America 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 medical or health treatment.

Get Your Pumpkin On

By Jen Munson, Education Chair, The Herb Society of America

stingy-jackU.S. growers produce approximately 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins each year with the majority of them being used for carving. My hometown of Portsmouth, NH, does its best to adopt its fair share of this valuable member of the Cucurbitaceae family. You know for certainty that Halloween is just around the corner when jack-o’-lanterns appear on doorsteps and creatures topped with carved pumpkin heads adorn lamp posts.

Today’s pumpkin carving craze may have had its start in Irish folklore. Legend described a trickster name Stingy Jack who tormented everyone including the Devil. When it was Stingy Jack’s time to cross the pearly gates of heaven God wouldn’t accept him because of his antics. The Devil wouldn’t welcome him and instead gave him an ember with an eternal flame from hell. Stingy Jack placed the ember in a carved turnip to light his way through eternal darkness. The Irish referred to this ghostly figure as “jack-of-the-lantern” and later just “jack-o’-lantern.”

The Irish and Scottish carved their own versions of Jack’s Lantern using turnips and gourds filling them with burning coal. They were placed in windows and by doors to scare away Jack and other unsavory spirits. These early renditions were a fright. Likely they were more frightful simply because of the nature of carving turnips. If you’ve ever taken a bladturnip-lanterne to a turnip you can appreciate that they require a lot of muscle.  My own sad attempt at a turnip lantern is more comical than anything.

Early colonists arriving in America discovered pumpkins from the Indians who relied  on them as a winter food source and as a treatment of intestinal worms and urinary ailments. The legend of Stingy Jack and carved lanterns traveled to America with the Irish who were fleeing the potato famine. Pumpkins were quickly adopted for their large size but more likely their ease of carving.

Current day jack- o’-lanterns are a standard Halloween decoration. Celebrated traditions have evolved to include family outings to select the perfect pumpkin for carving and contests for artistic design. One of the many delights of the season is driving through town and seeing my neighbors’ creativity.


How will you celebrate pumpkin season?


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America 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 medical or health treatment.

Get Your Pumpkin On

By Jen Munson, Education Chair, Herb Society of America

stingy-jackU.S. growers produce approximately 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins each year with the majority of them being used for carving. My hometown of Portsmouth, NH, does its best to adopt its fair share of this valuable member of the Cucurbitaceae family. You know for certainty that Halloween is just around the corner when Jack O’Lanterns appear on doorsteps and creatures topped with carved pumpkin heads adorn lamp posts.

Today’s pumpkin carving craze may have had its start in Irish folklore. Legend described a trickster name Stingy Jack who tormented everyone including the Devil. When it was Stingy Jack’s time to cross the pearly gates of heaven God wouldn’t accept him because of his antics. The Devil wouldn’t welcome him and instead gave him an ember with an eternal flame from hell. Stingy Jack placed the ember in a carved turnip to light his way thru eternal darkness. The Irish referred to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern” and later just “Jack O’Lantern.”

The Irish and Scottish carved their own versions of Jack’s Lantern using turnips and gourds filling them with burning coal. They were placed in windows and by doors to scare away Jack and other unsavory spirits. These early renditions were a fright. Likely they were more frightful simply because of the nature of carving turnips. If you’ve ever taken a bladturnip-lanterne to a turnip you can appreciate that they require a lot of muscle.  My own sad attempt at a turnip lantern is more comical than anything.

Early colonists arriving to America discovered pumpkins from the Indians relying on them as a winter food source and as a treatment of intestinal worms and urinary ailments. The legend of Stingy Jack and carved lanterns traveled to America with the Irish who were fleeing the potato famine. Pumpkins were quickly adopted for their large size but more likely their ease of carving.

Current day Jack O’ Lanterns are a standard Halloween decoration. Celebrated traditions have evolved to include family outings to select the perfect pumpkin for carving and contests for artistic design. One of the many delights of the season is driving through town and seeing my neighbors’ creativity.


How will you celebrate pumpkin season?