Dandelion – June Herb of the Month

Dandelion – June Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal, HSA Secretary

dandelion-1.jpgDandelion, Taraxacum officinale, a common weed, is in fact a treasure trove of vitamins and minerals. We need to be harvesting dandelions instead of weeding them from our yards and gardens. I remember as a child being paid by the bushel for pulling dandelions from my parent’s lawn. I never thought about eating them, though. How things have changed!

Early in the growing season is the perfect time to harvest dandelion leaves for soup or salad. Leaves tossed with a tangy vinaigrette dressing with blue cheese and dates makes a delicious and nutritious salad. The leaves are full of vitamins A, C, D, and B complex as well as a long list of minerals including iron, zinc, manganese, potassium, and magnesium. Dandelion leaves are the richest source of beta carotene of any of the green vegetables.

The roots are chock full of the same vitamins and minerals. However, roots harvested in the fall are a bit sweeter. The dried and roasted roots can be used as a coffee or tea substitute.

Native Americans, Chinese, and Arabian peoples have used dandelion in their medicines for a long time. Western medicine is beginning to study it for medicinal applications, including testing its effectiveness against several drug-resistant cancers.

dandelion wishEveryone remembers blowing on the round, fluffy dandelion seed heads as a child. But do you know the legend behind this popular childhood activity? To discover the legend, you will have to go to The Herb Society of the Month’s Herb of the Month web page and read about dandelion. You will find some very interesting recipes using dandelion here as well. Now is the time to try them out.

For more delightful and informative articles about dandelion, read the dandelion posts on this HSA blog.

Ready for Dandelions

Save those Dandelions for Wine

The Adventures of Indiana Banana in the Perilous Paw Paw Patch

The Adventures of Indiana Banana in the Perilous Paw Paw Patch

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Herb Society

pawpaw on treeYes. The paw paw bears the common name, “Indiana banana.” I don’t make up things like that. This is lore!

The Paw Paw’s official name is Asimina triloba. It is a small deciduous tree native to eastern North America, that does, indeed, produce a patch of like-minded paw paws where it finds the right venue of well-drained fertile soil. It is fond of flood plains, and spreads through suckers.
Paw paws may also be propagated by seeds, but it’s a complicated process. The seeds must not be allowed to dry out, and must be scarified (the seed surface roughened with small cuts) and stratified (chilled at a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit for a period between nine weeks and three years). Also, it’s hard to transplant a paw paw without fatally damaging the delicate hairs of the roots. So, it seems best to purchase pot-grown specimens if you want to grow them…and you do, don’t you?

The flower of the paw paw is pretty, but its fragrance is redolent of rotting meat. Some insects are drawn to the smell, but many animals, including deer, appear repelled both by the smell and taste of the flowers and leaves. Indeed, both contain a toxin, acetogenin. One notable exception in the wildlife genre, however, is the zebra swallowtail, Protographium marcellus. That butterfly relies on the paw paw and is seldom found far away from a patch. The green and black caterpillars chew on the leaves, the adults drink the nectar, and the lurking acetogenins not only do them no harm, the toxins may confer protection from predators to this butterfly. Since the caterpillars of the zebra swallowtail enjoy munching on each other, each egg is laid individually some distance from each other on the leaves or trunk of a paw paw tree. A perilous patch, indeed.

pawpaw openThe paw paw produces a large greenish, yellowish fruit that can be eaten raw. The consistency of the fruit is compared to custard, and the taste is described as similar to a banana, a mango, and a pineapple. The name, “paw paw” may be derived from the Spanish word for papaya. The fruit, which ripens in September or October, can weigh up to a pound, but is considered a berry. The large black seeds are easily removed, and for some reason in was a custom to carry a paw paw seed or two in your pocket, probably as a lucky charm.

The paw paw grows wild in 26 states. Why have you never seen vast orchards of this remarkable fruit? Paw paws were grown and enjoyed by both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington (who liked his chilled). But you won’t find them in the grocery store. The truth is that they are difficult to market. They don’t travel well, and begin to ferment soon after picking. The best way to save any amount of paw paw fruit that you might be lucky enough to acquire is to freeze the pulp.

I say, join the adventure and grow your own! We’ll start a quest!

Violets are Delicious

Violets are Delicious

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

violet bouquetOne of the loveliest flowers of spring is the Viola odorata or as it is commonly referred to, the “Sweet violet.” Violets have been used in herbal healing remedies for centuries, in fact St. Hildegard of Bingen, the famous 12th century German mystic and healer, was said to have made a healing salve of violet juice, olive oil, and goat tallow for its use as a possible anti-bacterial.

I use violets whenever I can for their healing virtues, and they are also an absolutely delicious ingredient in salads, drinks, and desserts. Back in the day, violet flowers, and leaves mixed into salads were one of my favorite spring remedies for pre-menstrual melancholy. When chopped liberally into extra virgin olive oil with some fresh comfrey leaves, they make a poultice that can soothe rashes , irritations, sore muscles, and tender breasts.

When infused into a simple syrup they enliven fresh lemonade or an elegant champagne cocktail. You can also use a delightful crème de violette in place of the syrup. If you are going to make a lavender lemonade, freeze some violet flowers into ice cubes to use in your glass. There’s really nothing prettier.

When I was 23, I met Jim and, shortly after we married, we bought a small farm in Burton, Ohio, complete with a century home, small barn, and several acres of unspoiled land. It was nestled on a little bit of hillside with an artesian spring that bubbled up by a little oak grove, providing me with fresh watercress whenever I desired.

We named the farm “Windesphere,” the place on earth where the winds and waters meet. We moved in that December and I’ll never forget that first spring. As the snow thawed, I began to see treasures in the gardens. First were the snowdrops that dotted the hillside like a blanket of down and the soft catkins of the pussy willows. Next flowering buds started to appear everywhere. I found a quince bush and several heirloom apple trees and a blackberry grove. field of violets

Then there were the violets. I’ll never forget when I found them. It was on one of those warm, early spring days when you’ve just shed your coat and begun to think that maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to put away your long underwear for a bit. I decided that it was a good day to go for a walk in the back just to see what was budding. We had a beautiful back porch made of fieldstone and the steps that went towards the back yard were hand hewn and lovely. As I walked, I began to notice the fragrance…something just a bit sweet and very green.

When the fragrance was so strong that I couldn’t ignore it, I looked down. In the grass all around me were the most beautiful little violets in shades of deep purple, lilac, and white. The smell was intoxicating. Over the years I picked them for little bouquets, crystallized them for desserts and made them into massage oils, tinctures, vinegars, and syrups. They appeared every spring, growing more abundant every year. I will always remember my son Alex lying face down in a huge patch of them and whispering for me to join him and the violet fairies.

IMG_7820In honor of all these memories I’ve made a violet ice cream with a lovely Fortnum and Mason tea from England that features roses and violets. I’ve also added some of my thick and sticky homemade blackberry jam just to gild the lily. This ice cream is rich, creamy and just perfect for spring. See the recipe below.

If you’ve never had them, crystallized violets are absolutely beautiful, sparkling little jewels and much better than candy. I became addicted the first time my sister brought these treasures home from Paris. Fortunately for me, they are so easy to make. All you need are fresh violets, beaten egg white (not quite frothy), superfine sugar and a soft, sable paintbrush.

Be certain to harvest your blooms from areas that haven’t been touched with pesticides or animals because you will not be rinsing them. Paths through the woods are usually the perfect place to find them.

After harvest, separate flowers from the stems. Then, dip your paintbrush into the egg white and gently apply it — very lightly — to the violet. Cover the entire flower or petal. Then turn the violet upside down, and while holding it over a plate, sprinkle with the superfine sugar to coat it evenly. Place each violet on a tray lined with parchment and allow to completely dry. You can hasten the process a bit by putting the tray into a 150-degree oven with the door left ajar or you can simply leave them in the oven with the light left on overnight. Whatever you do they won’t be around for long because they are absolutely delicious. Once completely dry store for up to six months in an airtight jar.


1 pint whipping cream
2 cups sweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons crème de violette
1/4 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
3/4 cup Fortnum and Mason Rose and Violet Tea
4 ounces Ghirardelli white chocolate baking bar
4 tablespoons candied violets, (handmade or purchased)
3 tablespoons blackberry Jam
2 organic egg yolks

Combine the cream and coconut milk in a saucepan and bring to a shallow boil. Whisk in the honey, crème de violette and vanilla, then turn off the heat. Add the loose tea and let it infuse for at least 15 minutes stirring occasionally. When the flavor is as bright as you want it to be, strain the milk mixture through a fine mesh strainer and press the tea through the strainer to extract the maximum essence. It will still be quite warm. Put the milk /cream mixture into a high-speed blender and add the chocolate, candied violets and jam. Turn the blender on and adjust to one of the highest settings. Add the egg yolks and blend for a minute or two.

Pour the custard blend into a dish suitable for freezing or if you¹re lucky enough to have an ice cream maker use that. Freeze until solid, scoop into pretty bowls or glasses, garnish with candied violets, a light shortbread cookie and enjoy.

This recipe will easily serve about 6 reasonable people or two very greedy ones…you decide!
Note: Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs may increase the risk of foodborne illness.

Plantain, Good For Everything, and Usually Under Foot

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Herb Society

plaintain1Plantain. Let’s be clear. Not the banana. We’re talking about Lantago major, also called broadleaf plantain, white man’s foot, ribble grass, way bread, great rat’s tail or greater plantain. It is, in fact, related to the banana, as a species of perennial flowering plant in the plantain family. It is also related to hosta, also known as plantain lily, which it somewhat resembles.

Still not a banana. This herb is a leaf vegetable rich in calcium and vitamins A,C and K. The leaves are produced in a flat, broad oval rosette. The flowers are many, tiny, greenish in color, and held aloft above the leaves by a tall, single spire of a stem. Those flowers produce tens of thousands of seeds per plant, which are dispersed by the wind.

Once its job is done, that tall stem has historically been dried, twisted, and braided into useful objects, such as twine, baskets, and mats.

Plantain’s name, white man’s foot, came from the observation by indigenous people that it followed European expansion, having been introduced from Europe. Plantain thrives in disturbed soil, appearing trodden into the wasteland by intrusive feet.

The leaves have been ingested as a tea or tincture as the mucilage from its crushed leaves soothes inflamed membranes. Young leaves are tender and something like spinach. More mature leaves might be better stewed.

plantain floweringUsed for healing where ever it is found, it has been applied externally as a poultice and is valued for its anti-microbial, astringent, and regenerative qualities. There are strong traditions that a poultice of plantain is particularly valuable in drawing out venom from the bites of snakes and spiders and the stings of bees and wasps. Perhaps.

One of the customary ways to prepare that poultice is to chew the leaves into a paste, and apply that to the wound. Here, I recall the time my darling daughter offered a baby finger to the parrot, Merlin. Merlin bit. Amazon parrots have beaks like bolt cutters, so we were lucky that her finger was wounded, but intact. Our pediatrician ordered a round of antibiotics, not because parrot bites are particularly likely to become infected, but because any toddler is going to stick the injured finger in her own mouth, making the injury, in effect, a human bite. And a human bite ALWAYS gets infected. That said I would advise against the traditional method of preparing a plantain poultice. Others who have long and deep herbal knowledge may disagree with me. Perhaps its best to follow the always-reliable, historic herbalist Hildegard of Bingen and simply apply the juice of the leaf.

Hildegard also suggests ingesting the leaves, with or without water, as a remedy when one has been given a love potion. Which is, I suppose, something like having been bitten by a venomous creature…. but worse. Of course, she recommends following up with a great quantity of strong drink. That should help.

Plantain is probably growing at the edges of your yard, or between the cracks in the sidewalk. People may spray pesticide to banish plantain from their lawn or garden, but wind-dispersed seeds by the thousands per plant are a solid survival strategy for the plant. If you harvest your own plantain, be aware whether the area has been treated with chemicals or in a pet area. You can buy the dried leaves from Amazon and herbal suppliers.

Let Us Stroll the Primrose Path of Dalliance

Let Us Stroll the Primrose Path of Dalliance

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Herb Society

20190505_163700The botanical family name of the common or English primrose, Primula, comes from the diminutive of the Latin word for “first.” And the common name “primrose,” derived from prima rosa (“first rose”), is also a reference to the primrose being one of the first flowers of spring. This is not the evening primrose (Oenethera), or any of the other, more ornate, forms of Primula. This is the quintessentially English cottage garden flower.

Of course, it is then described as “vulgaris.” Sounds harsh. But this is not a matter of judgment of the primrose’s character. It’s just that, where the primrose is happy, it is very happy. It grows and spreads in abundance in cool, moist places.

This does not describe the micro-climate in most of our homes when primroses beckon so invitingly from the grocery store aisles shortly after the winter holiday season. Unless you are a very attentive indoor gardener, the best you can do is keep the little dears going long enough to be able to tuck them into the garden sooner rather than later in late winter. In its original home in western Europe, the common primrose grows wild along the sides of the roads. This has led to people digging up clumps to take away. This kind of raiding is now illegal in the United Kingdom.

primrose original colorThese wild primroses generally display flowers of pale yellow, the color sometimes actually called “primrose,” although pink flowers are also not uncommon. There was a craze among the Victorians for breeding new and different kinds of flowers.

All parts of the common primrose are considered edible by people, and the leaves and flowers have been brewed in tea and made into wine. In these forms, the plant is believed to have a mild diuretic, anti-spasmodic, analgesic affect. Of course, a lot of this could be explained by the flowers just being so pretty. It’s worth noting, however, that the Pet Poison Hotline website warns that, due to a mild “unknown toxin,” primroses may cause gastric upset to pets.

20190505_163636In the Language of Flowers, the common primrose is compared to the freshness of youth, of a pretty child growing up, not yet fully blossoming with the summer. However, the aura of sweet, inviting innocence, combined with the primrose’s habit of easy, exuberant growth, has led to another significance for the primrose: the perilous Primrose Path. First coined by Shakespeare in Hamlet (1602), the phrase describes a pleasant and easy path that leads to destruction. Cheerful dalliance. I’m all for that. Will you join me?

Plan Your Final Roundup

Plan Your Final Roundup

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Herb Society

SkullandcrossbonesYipee-Ki-Yay, Mother Earthers! I am here to hold your hand and talk to you about your deepest, darkest secret. You know that big plastic jug of death that you have hidden in the back of your garage or garden shed? Yeah. That one. Roundup.

I know that you would never dream of using it again. You bought it a long time ago. Maybe you didn’t buy it at all. Maybe it came with the house when you bought it. No judgment here. But it’s time to move on.

The active ingredient of Roundup products is glysophate. It enters the targeted plant through the leaves when the plant is sprayed. From there it moves through the plant, stopping the metabolism of a crucial enzyme. It kills the target plant, then breaks down into harmless components, without harm to neighboring plants, humans or pets. That’s the theory.

And, to be fair, as recently as April 30, 2019, the EPA continues to find that there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label recommendations and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.

However, that announcement comes after two high-profile court cases in which cancer patients claimed Roundup caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Tens of millions of dollars were awarded in damages. And there are, not surprisingly, thousands more cases presently being brought against Roundup’s manufacturer, Monsanto. Those cases started to be brought after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

glyphosateWe’re not going to discuss the impact of glysophate on industrial farming, and so-called “Roundup-ready products.” Not here, anyway. Few of us are dealing with acres and acres of newly monocultured farm land. Most of us just like to putter around our gardens. And, if you would like to do so without stressing about what glysophate is doing to you or anything else, I propose a two-point recovery plan. Dispose of the Roundup you have gathering dust on a top shelf, before your gardening friends find it and shame you. Instead, explore other means of weed management.

But how to get rid of the body, as it were? You really shouldn’t shove it to the bottom of the trash bin, and have it taken away to the landfill. You really, really shouldn’t pour Roundup down the drain. Even Roundup’s creator, Monsanto, warns that — although they suggest that the concerned gardener might dispose of an empty container in the trash stream (or even attempt to recycle it) — any remaining product is trickier. They warn: “Call your local solid waste agency for disposal instructions. Never place unused product down any indoor or outdoor drain.”

Some municipalities provide a hazardous household chemical disposal service. To find out where to take your unwanted herbicides and pesticides, you can contact your local hazardous waste disposal agency, call 1-800-CLEANUP (1-800-253-2687), or talk to your state’s environmental agencies.

So, what are you going to use instead when the wrong sorts of things start growing through the gravel path? The “Universal Homemade Weed Destroyer” is one gallon of white vinegar, one cup of Epsom salts and a squirt or two of Dawn dishwashing detergent. I’ve heard it has to be the original blue Dawn. My research has not extended to testing other detergents. But you might as well keep Dawn on hand, in case your dog gets skunked. Because, you know, the “Universal De-Skunking Potion” is a combination of bicarbonate of soda, hydrogen peroxide and…yes…Dawn. It also makes a lovely science experiment with the kids. Take it to the beach, add some red food coloring, and assemble the ingredients on the spot to pour into a sand volcano. It makes awesome lava.

You’re welcome.

Thai Basil – Herb of the Month for May

Thai Basil – Herb of the Month for May

thai-basil-1.jpgDid you know that Thai basil, Ocimum basilicum, has purple stems? Or that it has a spicier taste than sweet basil? Like all basils, Thai basil thrives best when soil temperature reach about 70 degrees. Its thicker leaves tend to hold up well when used in cooking. As its name indicates, Thai basil is perfect for Southeast Asian stir fries and curries. It is a kitchen staple in Thailand.

The color and arrangement of the flowers on the stems makes it an attractive plant in the garden as well.

For more information and recipes using this beautiful, anise-licorice scented basil, go to The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage.