Celery Seed – The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

smallage flowersCelery seed comes from a variety of celery that is different from the celery (Apium graveolens) we see in grocery stores. The seed comes from an ancestor of celery called smallage or wild celery. The smallage variety is native to the Mediterranean area and the Middle East and is grown in India, China, and France specifically for the harvesting of its seeds.  The seeds are very small: 760,000 seeds make one pound. They have an aromatic, earthy smell, and a flavor that has a touch of spiciness. The seeds are used whole in brines, pickles, and marinades and in salads like coleslaw and potato salad. They can be added to breads, soups, and dressings, thus giving a celery taste without the bulk of fresh celery stalks. The seeds are used in French, New Orleans Creole, and other cuisines around the world. They are also ground and mixed with other spices to create unique herbal blends like Old Bay Seasoning, celery salt, Products containing celery seedCajun seasonings, etc.

These tiny seeds pack a lot of punch when it comes to nutrition. A teaspoon of the seed has only 8 calories and 0.5 grams of fat. They supply 0.9 milligrams of iron per teaspoon which is 11% of the daily requirement for men and 5% for women. Celery seed supplies trace amounts of zinc, manganese, and phosphorus, too. According to the late Dr. James Duke, an American economic botanist, ethnobotanist, and author of The Green Pharmacy, the seeds contain at least 20 anti-inflammatory properties. He credited his robust life to the celery seed being among his “baker’s dozen” of essential herbs. The seeds also contain coumarins, which help in thinning the blood. This component of celery, as well as its anti-inflammatory properties, has been the subject of recent research, but its effectiveness in treating humans still needs to be investigated. Celery seed is sold as a dietary supplement in many natural-foods stores and other stores specializing in natural remedies. It is available as an extract, as fresh or dried seeds, and celery seed oil-filled capsules.

It is said that celery was first cultivated for medicinal purposes in 850 BC. Ayurvedic physicians throughout history have used the seed to treat colds, flu, water retention, arthritis, and liver and spleen conditions. Celery was considered a holy plant in the Greek classical period and a wreath of smallage leaves was worn by the winners of the Nemean Games, which began in 573 BC. The Greeks also used it to create the wine they called selinites, while the Romans used celery primarily for seasoning. The Italians domesticated celery and developed a plant with a solid stem and without the bitterness of smallage. Thus began the development and popularity of the Pascal celery that we find in grocery stores today.

Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray SodaDr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda is a celery flavored soda that is made from celery seed. This celery inspired soda has been around since 1868, when it was developed as a tonic that was touted to be “good for calming stomachs and bowels.” It paired well with salty, fatty foods, like pastrami, and became popular in New York’s Jewish delicatessens and with Eastern European immigrants whose cuisines already included fermented botanical beverages. Dr. Brown’s is being noticed again as healthy botanical drinks become more popular. Author Stephen King once said “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”

Oil is extracted from celery seeds to make “celery oil,” which can be added to colognes, perfumes, and soaps. A few drops of the essential oil can be added to water in a spray bottle or a diffuser for use as an effective mosquito repellent.

Some say that celery was an herb associated with death, and that a garland of smallage leaves was placed around King Tut. Some evidence of this association with death later occurred in a Robert Herrick (1591-1674) poem titled:

To Perenna, a Mistress

“DEAR Perenna, prithee come

and with smallage dress my tomb:

And a cypress sprig thereto,

With a tear, and so Adieu.”

Celery is a biennial plant, producing flowers and seeds in the second year of its growth. The flowers are white umbels similar to parsley blooms. It must have a relatively constant temperature of around 70 degrees and a lot of water and nutrients to grow. It needs a long growing season and does not tolerate high heat or frost. This would be a very difficult combination of requirements for me to grow celery in my southern Zone 8b garden! Seeds of the smallage variety of celery can be purchased online, if you are interested in trying your luck in growing celery for the seed and leaves. The stalks of smallage tend to be bitter.

As with using any herbal medicinal products, a health professional should be consulted. Allergic reactions and interactions with medications you may already be taking can be a danger to your health. Celery seed is not recommended for pregnant women.

For more information about celery seed, recipes, and a screen saver, please go to The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.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.

References

American Botanical Council.HerbClip: Interview with Botanist Jim Duke.” April 30, 1999. http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/155/review42307.html

Crowley, Chris. “Celery Forever: Where America’s Weirdest Soda Came From and How It’s Stuck Around.” Serious Eats.  August 2018. https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/10/dr-browns-cel-ray-celery-soda-history.html

Foodreference.com. “Celery History.” http://www.foodreference.com/html/celery-history.html

Kerr, Gord. “Celery Seed Extract Side Effects.”. https://www.livestrong.com/article/369362-celery-seed-extract-side-effects/   August 19, 2020.

Tweed, Vera. “4 Amazing Uses of Celery Seed.” Better Nutrition. September 2019.

Photo Credits: 1) Smallage flowers (Britannica Encyclopedia online); 2) Assortment of products containing celery seed (Maryann Readal); 3) Dr. Brown’s soda (Beverage Direct).


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a Master Gardener and a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Don’t Throw That Away!

By Angela Magnan

A former roommate once picked on me because I saved the crumbs from the bottom of cracker, chip, and pretzel bags. A few years later, he admitted he was rather impressed with all the different uses I found for them, from incorporating them into quiche crusts and coating fish, to topping casseroles and mixing them into meatballs. So it is not surprising that I am often astounded by the bags of trash that get brought to the curb after my neighbors host summer barbecues. I can’t help but wonder: how much of my neighbors’ food waste could be used for something else?

corn silkOne of the great pleasures of summer is fresh corn on the cob, and one of my least favorite things is the silk that often interferes with that pleasure. But these silky strands can be dried and used as a tea. Corn silk was used by Native Americans to treat urinary tract infections, malaria, and heart problems. It has been used in China, Turkey, and France as well to treat kidney stones, prostate disorders, bedwetting, and obesity. Studies on rats have shown some merit for its use as a diuretic agent, a blood sugar regulator, and an antidepressant. It also has high antioxidant activity. Traditionally, corn silk was collected prior to pollination, but research has shown that mature corn silk from fully developed ears actually has a higher level of antioxidant activity. 

onion skin teaOnion skins can also be used for tea. Simply add boiling water to onion skins and let it steep to a beautiful chestnut color. Onion skins contain quercetin, a compound found in many other fruits, vegetables, leaves, seeds, and grains, including apples, grapes, and black and green teas. Quercetin has shown anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties in studies on rats, but some research has shown that quercetin degrades without the presence of Vitamin C, meaning that both would need to be present to be beneficial. 

Although not as tasty and naturally sweet as the purchased corn silk tea I tried, I found the onion skin tea only slightly bitter with a smooth, pleasant earthy taste. It might taste even better, and be more effective, with a splash of OJ. 

wood trim stained with onion teaOr let it steep longer and use it as a fabric dye or wood stain. After steeping for 24 hours, I dipped one side of a spare piece of basswood trim in the onion skin tea and let it soak for more than an hour. It made a light honey-colored stain that is certainly less smelly and more eco-friendly than oil-based stains. Initially, I tried to wipe the stain onto the wood with a rag, and that didn’t work, so I would recommend this only on dippable small projects.

Do you have leftover lemon peels from making lemonade or lemon bars? Lemon peels are used for fragrance and deodorizing and have antimicrobial and insecticidal properties. Internet searches return results such as “50+ Ways to Use Lemon Peels.” Some of the recommendations include adding lemon peels to your bath; putting dried peels in mesh bags IMG_1934and placing the bags in a drawer or in your shoes to make them smell better; rubbing the peels on your skin when you run out of insect repellent or to eliminate garlic and onion odor; using them to polish your stainless steel sink or chrome faucets; starting a fire with the highly flammable dried peels; and rubbing the peel over your cutting board to sanitize it.

Although research validates that lemon peels do have antimicrobial properties, they seem to be more effective on some microbes than others. One research study found that lemon juice was very effective against Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that often causes food poisoning, but it was slightly less effective against Salmonella and even less so against E. coli. Another study using essential oils found lemon oil to have similar results. So, I am not sure I would trust a lemon peel to sanitize my cutting board, but I might be more inclined to add lemon to my water when attending my next barbecue. Just in case.

Sources:

Clax, J. “10 DIY wood stains that are homemade easily.” The Basic Woodworking: A Complete Guide. https://www.thebasicwoodworking.com/10-diy-wood-stains-that-are-homemade-easily/

Hasanudin K, Hashim P, Mustafa S. Corn silk (Stigma maydis) in healthcare: a phytochemical and pharmacological review. Molecules. 2012;17(8):9697-9715. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6268265/

Li Y, Yao J, Han C, et al. Quercetin, Inflammation and Immunity. Nutrients. 2016;8(3):167. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808895/

Oikeh EI, Omoregie ES, Oviasogie FE, Oriakhi K. Phytochemical, antimicrobial, and antioxidant activities of different citrus juice concentrates. Food Sci Nutr. 2015;4(1):103-109. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4708628/

Ozogul Y , Kuley E, Uçar Y, and Ozogul F. Antimicrobial impacts of essential oils on food borne-pathogens. Rec Pat on Food, Nutr & Agr. 2015;7(1):53-61. Retrieved from: https://www.eurekaselect.com/132210/article

Vrijsen R, Everaert L, Boeyé A. Antiviral activity of flavones and potentiation by ascorbate. J Gen Virol. 1988;69:1749–51. Retrieved from: https://www.microbiologyresearch.org/docserver/fulltext/jgv/69/7/JV0690071749.pdf?expires=1597169419&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=3E98B31038B249A2FA74F0BDF07D4707

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) Corn silk (FreeImages.com); 2) onion skin tea (author’s photo); 3) wood trim stained with onion tea (author’s photo); 4) lemon peel fire starter (author’s photo).


Angela Magnan grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and has degrees in biochemistry, horticulture, and science writing. She now lives in Maryland and has worked in the Gardens Unit at the US National Arboretum since 2012.

An Herbal Obscurity

By Chrissy Moore

If you asked me about my favorite herbs, you’d likely be surprised by my response. I tend to gravitate toward more obscure plants and topics in the herb world. My most recent herbal revelation is no exception.

Train journal and cotton wasteOne of my friends is a complete and total railroad aficionado. I love these kinds of people because they often have gems of obscure information at the ready for anyone willing to listen, and as a naturally inquisitive person myself, I am almost always a willing listener. Recently, this friend–I’ll call him James–was explaining to me the wheel systems on trains, pre-21st century. (I told you it was obscure, but I love it!). Midway through his explanation, he said, “And they packed the journal [part of the wheel system] with cotton waste, and…”

“Wait, what? What did you say? Cotton what?”

“Cotton waste. They’d soak it in oil, pack it under the journal, and the lubrication would help reduce friction between the journal and the wheel bearing.”

“What the heck is cotton waste?” (Clearly I was distracted from the main point of the conversation.)

“You know, scraps of cotton fabric or fiber or whatever.”

Recycled cotton waste“Where did they get it? Did they just tear up old shirts or something? That’s a lot of old shirts for all the trains in the country!”

James cocked his head in response with a quizzical look on his face. I don’t think anyone had ever prodded him about this particular topic before. Leave it to me. Hah!

If you’re not involved in the textile industry in some way, as I am not, you may not be familiar with the term “cotton waste.” James’s wife, who is very familiar with cotton waste, she being a seamstress, intervened in the conversation and explained it to me. Essentially, it is the leftover scraps of fiber or fabric from clothes manufacturing or the like. As you might imagine, there’s a lot of it hanging around.

Gossypium hirsutum 'Mississipi Brown'I was so excited to learn about this use of cotton–as obscure as it may be to most of us–because cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) is one of my favorite herbs! The fibers are used in so many applications, it’s hard to recount them all: from clothing (the obvious) to cotton swabs/balls to movie film cellulose (now a thing of the past); from cling film to its use in the food industry (cottonseed)… these are just a few examples. Talk about a jack-of-all-trades. And here was yet another use for this amazing plant: the inner workings of a train. Who knew?! James did, of course.

Because my interest was piqued–as any herbal nerd’s would be–I decided to dig a little deeper into cotton waste’s uses. The waste can be environmentally dodgy and potentially dangerous, since it’s basicallyRecycled cotton waste into housing insulation flammable material laying about (a whole other topic). But as it turns out, there are various companies and non-profit organizations that collect the waste–either the fabric or fiber–and recycle it into things like new garments, furniture, or housing insulation. (You gotta admire people’s ingenuity.) According to one insulation manufacturer, their insulation is fire-retardant, mold/mildew resistant, has no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and has excellent noise-dampening qualities. While I cannot speak to the veracity of those claims, the mere idea that cotton fiber can be used in a different format, yet again, is a perfect example of what it means for a plant to be “herbal.”

Whether used for culinary purposes, for fragrance or medicine, or in this case, industrially, plants that give and give and give again rank high on my personal list. My thanks go out to James (and the many enthusiasts like him) for inadvertently introducing me to a new use for this hard-working herb. Next time someone asks me about my favorite plants, I now have a great herbal obscurity at the ready to share with any willing listeners!

Photo credits: 1) Train journal with cotton waste packing (Steve Smith, Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum); 2) Cotton waste (Artistic Fabric & Garment Industries); 3) ‘Mississippi Brown’ cotton boll, Gossypium hirsutum ‘Mississippi Brown’ (author’s photo); 4) Recycled cotton waste housing insulation (Bonded Logic).


Chrissy Moore is the curator of the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. As steward of the NHG, Chrissy lectures, provides tours, and writes on various herbal topics, as well as shepherds the garden’s “Under the Arbor” educational outreach program. She is a member of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America and is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.

Growing Chia – A “Pet Project” in Wisconsin

By Erin Presley

IMG_0374A few years ago, I was researching plants native to Mexico and Central America for a Mexican-themed garden at my work, Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin.  As an important early center of plant diversity and domestication, some of our favorite garden plants originally hail from Mexico, including tomatoes, corn, and chiles, as well as zinnias, cosmos, dahlias, and petunias. One less familiar plant also turned up on my list:  chia.

Among edible plants, chia may have some of the most bizarre associations. Many people remember the 1980s chia pet craze. More recently, chia seed has become popular as a “superfood” and has made its way into chips and crackers, bakery items, and beverages. IMG_0360It’s high in protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. However, the gelatinous texture of the soaked seeds can be disconcerting for some. I remember having a visiting Californian friend who forgot a bottle of chia kombucha in his car one Wisconsin winter night. An explosion of grape kombucha slush full of sticky seeds is not a pleasant morning surprise in the backseat of your rental car.

IMG_0449When I learned that chia is actually a species of sage, Salvia hispanica, and saw photos of its pretty blue flowers, I was intent on growing it. My seed search led me to Dr. Tim Phillips, a plant scientist at the University of Kentucky working on breeding early flowering chia suitable for cool northern climates. Tim introduced me to the importance of chia in Mayan and Aztec cultures – for the Aztecs, chia was the third most important crop after corn and beans and could even be used as a form of tribute similar to a tax payment. I knew he would be an entertaining colleague when he also related the Aztec legend that chia had originally been sneezed from the nose of the maize god, Cinteotl.

Tim generously sent some of his early flowering chia up to Wisconsin, and we have had great success with it ever since. Direct sown after frost danger has passed, the seeds sprout readily, and the plants grow to about four feet with spiky periwinkle blue flowers. IMG_0354When the plants start to turn brown, we look for mature charcoal gray or white seeds within the calyces and then hang the plants to dry for a few days if the weather is rainy or humid. After that, the dried calyces and seeds are stripped from the stalks and sifted through a series of colanders and screens to separate the seeds, and the last bits of chaff are blown out using a gentle stream of air. The seeds are stored for incorporation into food and beverages and for growing in subsequent years. Check out our tasty recipe for rhubarb agua de chia below!

DSC01837The chia plants have been such an attractive and easy to grow garden highlight, with so much interesting history, that we grow them every year. Unfortunately, the early flowering chia seed strains are under patent until 2029, and not available to home gardeners (yet). Tim did suggest trying to track down two other salvias with edible seeds, Tarahumara chia (Salvia tilifolia) and golden chia (Salvia columbariae).

 

Rhubarb Agua de Chia

The cheery pink color, refreshing tartness, and slippery chia seeds make this a perfect thirst quencher on a hot day.  

Makes 6 cups finished beverage

A few hours or the day prior to serving, make the rhubarb water.  In a large pot, combine 1 pound coarsely chopped fresh rhubarb, 1 ½ cups sugar, and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then allow to cool for one hour and strain.

One hour prior to serving, stir in ½ cup fresh lime juice and 1 Tbsp chia seeds and allow to stand for one hour as the seeds swell. Serve over ice.

Photos courtesy of the author: 1) blue chia flowers with senescing plants from an earlier sowing; 2) hand-cleaned chia seed; 3) blue flower spikes; 4) author cleaning chia seed; 5) drying chia seed heads ready for harvest.


Erin is a horticulturist at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, a free public garden on the shores of Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, where she loves to experiment and share fun, innovative, and productive ways to grow and use edible plants! She can be reached at:

epresley@cityofmadison.com

Instagram:  @presleyspreferredplants

Spicebush to the Rescue

Spicebush to the Rescue

By Kaila Blevins

Author Volunteer TripWhile on a volunteer trip in Orlando, Florida, I was desperate for bug spray. In the middle of December, the mosquitoes nibbled on any exposed skin they could find, leaving me and the rest of the unprepared Maryland native participants with patches of red swollen bumps on our ankles and arms. Our guides, a retired couple who volunteers with the state parks, became our heroes on the second day of the trip. During our lunch break, the husband saunters over to us, carrying a branch from a nearby shrub and states, “This is spicebush. Crush its leaves and rub it onto your arms. Keeps the bugs away and helps the itch.” Immediately, we passed the branch around, ripped the leaves off the branch, crumpled them, and rubbed the lemon-peppery scented oil onto our skin.

A couple years later, I would learn that spicebush (Lindera benzoin) has a multitude of uses. The fragrant multi-stemmed shrub is native to the margins of wetlands and along woodland streams in the Eastern United States. It can grow close to 10 feet tall, and in spicebush flowersApril, yellow flowers begin to appear on the branches. By the end of the summer, the flowers are replaced by cherry red fruits. Spicebush is integral to the native ecosystems, as it serves as the host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly, and birds are known to snack on the seeds. However, Native Americans and early settlers relied on spicebush’s herbal properties.

Native Americans would brew tea with the bark, twigs, leaves, and berries. When ingested, the tea would induce sweating. The increased perspiration would help fight off fevers and ease body aches. In addition, ingestion would assist with removing intestinal parasites. The tea could be applied topically as well. Compresses soaked in spicebush tea would be applied to the skin to ease the pain from arthritis, rashes, bruises, and itching. Once settlers arrived in the new world, they sought help from the Native Americans.

The settlers did not know much about the peculiar plants growing in North America, so Native Americans taught them the herbal benefits of the native plants. Lindera benzoin fruitSettlers used spicebush for similar ailments as well as typhoid fever. They also used the plant in culinary dishes. The dried seeds and bark became milder substitutes for allspice and cinnamon, respectively. Beyond its herbal uses, settlers used the presence of spicebush as an indicator for rich soil that could be converted into agricultural land.

Spicebush’s herbal properties may get overlooked by its ecological importance or showy yellow leaves in fall, but it was a staple for Native Americans, early settlers, and my volunteer trip. For more information on spicebush, check out HSA’s Essential Fact Sheet.

 

Photo Credits (from top): Author on field trip; spicebush flowers (courtesy E. Holden); spicebush fruit (courtesy E. Holden)

References

Keiffer, Betsy. “Lindera Benzoin.” Cultivation Notess, Sept. 1998, riwps.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Lindera_benzoin.pdf.

“Lindera Benzoin.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – The University of Texas at Austin, http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=LIBE3.

“Lindera Benzoin.” North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox, plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/lindera-benzoin/.

Nesom, Guy. “Spicebush.” Plant Guide, USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center & the Biota of North America Program , 2003, plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_libe3.pdf.

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.


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Kaila Blevins is the 2020-2021 National Herb Garden intern. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a B.S. in Environmental Science and Technology and a minor in sustainability. This fall, she will pursue a Master’s in Landscape Architecture at Morgan State University while also interning in the National Herb Garden. She hopes to expand her knowledge of plants, and how they benefit human health and life. In her spare time, she likes to read, paint, brew kombucha and experiment with its flavors, as well as spend time with her family and pets. Kaila also likes to stay active in the community through volunteering.

Pitch Pine- Tar and Pitch for Shipbuilding

By Cipperly Good

2015.5.1

Roll of oakum. Image courtesy of Penobscot Marine Museum Collection, PMM2015.5.1

The riches that the British, French, and Dutch explorers found in Maine came not from gold, but in the form of fish and lumber.  Having depleted those resources in Europe by the 1700s, they sent work parties and eventually colonists to extract these materials vital for feeding and shipping goods back to the motherland.   One highly prized resource was Pinus rigida (pitch pine), which provided the tar that preserved the watercraft.  Tar prevented rot in the ship timbers and standing rigging (ropes holding up the masts, yards, and booms).  It sealed the cracks between deck and hull planks from rain coming down and seas washing over them.

When a donor gifted the Penobscot Marine Museum with a roll of tarred oakum, the evocative sweet smell transported me back to tall ship voyages and the attendant memories of fresh sea air, sun, and the mix of peace and adrenaline of sailing.  Oakum is the tarred strands of picked apart rope, wedged into gaps in the planking and sealed with a seam of pine tar to prevent deck and hull leaks. 

Bill of lading

Bill of Lading from the ship ISAAC CARVER. Image courtesy of Penobscot Marine Museum Collection, PMM32-575

To extract the pine tar, shipbuilders put pitch pine logs into a kiln, where the lack of oxygen and high heat inside resulted in tar and charcoal.  The oozing tar was collected.  If the tar was boiled, it became pitch, which when spread on hulls hardened into a watertight seal.  Pitch pine could also be tapped, with the resulting “sap”, when distilled, becoming turpentine.

Like the Europeans before them, Maine depleted its stores of pitch pine, despite conservation measures to prohibit the cutting of trees under 12 inches in diameter.  The industry moved to the southeastern US, especially to the Carolinas where longleaf pine  (Pinus palustris) was the tar tree of choice.  Mainers stayed in the market by transporting tar in Maine-built ships to markets throughout the world.


Cipperly is curator of the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine.

Some Things Get Better with Age

By Chrissy Moore

22423_Herb Garden_Credit--US-National-Arboretum

The early days of the National Herb Garden

As a young intern in the National Herb Garden in Washington, DC, I had no idea the impact that this garden–the largest designed herb garden in the United States–would have on my life. The garden captivated me then, and it still does today.

The Herb Society of America (HSA) member, Mrs. Betty Crisp Rea, championed the idea of bringing a garden dedicated specifically to herbs to a national audience. It was to be an outdoor classroom for all things herbal.

15532_Archives_ Dr. John Creech_ Betty Rea_ Secretary Bergland_ Eleanor Gambee_ and M. Rubert Cutler_US National Arboretum

Dr. John Creech (National Arboretum Director), Betty Rea (HSA), Hon. Robert Bergland (USDA Secretary), Eleanor Gambee (HSA), Rubert Cutler

She, along with many other HSA members, worked tirelessly to bring the idea to fruition. Partnering with the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. National Arboretum meant that that idea–that dream–would come true.

The National Herb Garden (NHG) first opened to the public on June 12, 1980. Though barely a garden then (all of the herbaceous and woody plants were newly installed, of course), the bones of what would someday be a marvelous display of useful plants could clearly be seen in the thoughtful design of landscape architect Tom Wirth of Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Massachusetts.

20909_Herb Garden Construction_Credit--US-National-Arboretum

Holly Shimizu, NHG’s first curator, and Tom Wirth, landscape architect

But, what are herbs, exactly, and why do we need a 2 1/2 – acre garden of them? In the National Herb Garden, an herb  is any plant that enhances people’s lives, including those used for medicine, dyes, flavoring of food, beverages, historical uses, etc. (1).  The HSA members’ goal in developing this garden was to interpret that intensely strong relationship between people and the plants they use and to be an educational resource for those longing to learn more about this amazing group of plants.

Quoting from the NHG’s opening-day program:

Migrating people, across time, have carefully carried along their herbal plants and seeds, which they valued for medicinal, savory, aromatic, or economic qualities.

Cherry Picker 024_2006-1208_Chrissy

The National Herb Garden in Fall

And we still value them today for these qualities: We may take horehound drops to soothe our coughs, polish our furniture with marjoram and lavender oils, sip mint juleps or rosehip tea, and season the simplest or most elegant dishes with basil or tarragon.

Thousands of herbs could be planted in the National Herb Garden. Those you see here have been selected to demonstrate the significance of plants in human life (2).

As stated above, the palette of plants available for display in the garden is astounding: plants from all over the world, from many different cultures, and from many different times. “Knowledge of herb uses is constantly increasing, and the plantings will be changed to reflect these uses. Gardens also change as plants flourish or perish, so the Herb Garden can never be static” (2).

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The Rose Garden in the National Herb Garden

It is this idea that keeps the garden interesting and relevant, no matter the era or the time of year. It is why I have dedicated my career to supporting, promoting, and maintaining the National Herb Garden (with a lot of help from many others) for all the world to experience. It is my hope that the garden remains the national–no, the international–treasure that it is for decades to come. Join me in celebrating your National Herb Garden’s 40th Anniversary!

 

 

 

1  The National Herb Garden—the largest designed herb garden in the United States—showcases plants that enhance people’s lives as flavorings, fragrances, medicines, coloring agents, and additives in industrial products. The garden exhibits these herbal plants from places and cultures around the world in theme gardens, single-genus collections, and seasonal displays for education, research, and aesthetic enjoyment.

2  Full text of “The National Herb Garden at the US National Arboretum”


Chrissy Moore is the curator of the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. As steward of the NHG, Chrissy lectures, provides tours, and writes on various herbal topics, as well as shepherds the garden’s “Under the Arbor” educational outreach program. She is a member of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America and is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.

Black Pepper – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Black pepper, Piper nigrum, is a ubiquitous spice that can be found on tables anywhere in the world where food is served. But what is the story behind this popular spice that is used in kitchens the world over? 

P. nigrum is native to the Malabar Coast of southern India. It is also grown in other parts of the tropical world, including Vietnam, which has taken the lead in production by exporting 287,000 tons of black pepper worth $722 million in 2019. This is about 35% of the world’s black pepper trade. 

pepppercorn drupe from Missouri Botantical Garden

Pepppercorn drupes. Photo credit: Missouri Botantical Garden

Black pepper is a perennial vine with heart shaped leaves and pendulous flowers. It is grown for its fruit, which is dried and then used as a seasoning. The black pepper vine grows in my Zone 8b garden; however, it has yet to produce any peppercorns, although it bloomed for the first time this year. Maybe one day I will have peppercorns.

“Pepper” comes from the Sanskrit word pippali, which means energy and spiritedness. When we say “peppy,” we are referring to the taste of black pepper that can “pep” us up.

Black, white, and green peppercorns come from the same plant. Black pepper is the dried, unripe fruit. White pepper is the seed of the dried, fully ripe fruit. Green pepper is the dried unripe fruit that is brined to preserve its flavor and color. Pink peppercorns are not a pepper at all, since they come from the Peruvian pepper tree, Schinus molle, which is in the cashew family.

Archaeological evidence shows that black pepper was used as a seasoning in India as early as 2000 BCE. Exportation brought it to Egypt, where it was used as a spice and as a medicine. Containers of peppercorns have been found in Egyptian tombs, and they were even found in the nostrils of Ramses II who was mummified in 1213 BCE. Egyptians were early users of toothpaste, which they made from rock salt, dried iris flowers, black pepper, and mint. Cleopatra is said to have had skin lotions made with black pepper.

peppercornsWith exploration came the spread of black pepper to the Roman Empire, where it was considered so valuable that large quantities were stored in the Roman treasury. The first century Roman cookbook, Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome by Apicius, featured recipes in which 80% of them called for black pepper. Pliny the Elder (25-79 CE) could not understand the reason for pepper’s popularity. He remarked, “Whereas pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation to either fruit or berry, its only desirable quality being a certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India!” Romans used black pepper as a treatment for digestive problems and gas relief. They also used it as currency. When Alaric the Visigoth laid siege to Rome around 400 CE, he demanded a ransom of three thousand pounds of black pepper, along with gold and silver. 

After the fall of Rome, the Persians and then the Arabs were in control of the spice trade. They created fantastic, frightening stories about where pepper grew in order to scare other traders away from the source of black pepper. Their trade created a new empire – the city states of Venice and Genoa. The black pepper trade was responsible, in part, for the wealth of these two cities that sold the commodity to the rest of Europe. 

Due to the high cost of trading between Europe and India, black pepper and other spices became a luxury and a symbol of wealth, as the taste for flavored foods and a belief in the medicinal qualities of spices grew.  Again, it was also used as currency: a pound of black pepper could free a serf, and many a young maiden was married with a black pepper dowry.

With the explorations of Vasco Da Gama and others in the 15th century, trade in black pepper fell to the Portuguese, then to the Dutch, and then to the British East India Company. At one time, pepper accounted for 70% of the world spice trade. As it became more available, prices dropped, and more people were able to use black pepper. As a result, many world cuisines developed special spice/herb blends that included black pepper.

nothingtodoinbermuda.com

Annual Peppercorn Ceremony in Bermuda. Photo credit: nothingtodoinbermuda.com

An amusing story about black pepper plays out in Bermuda, where each year, the 200 year old Annual Peppercorn Ceremony occurs. During this event, Freemasons present the Governor of Bermuda with one peppercorn on a cushioned silver platter in exchange for their rent of the Old State house. The idea of “peppercorn rent” is still practiced today in England and in other countries, where a nominal fee is charged to rent a property. This refers back to the time when peppercorns were used as currency. 

Piperine, a key constituent in black pepper, is being explored for its antioxidant properties and as a treatment for vitiligo, which is the loss of skin pigmentation (Mihăilă et al, 2019). In addition, piperine is found to fight inflammation, improve digestion, and increase absorption of some herbal and conventional drugs (Streit, 2019). A relatively recent study showed that smelling hot pepper oil helps to reduce the craving to smoke (Cordell & Buckle, 2013).

Black pepper is used extensively in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat digestive tract problems. Traditionally, it was used to treat worms, coughs and colds, sinusitis, dental problems, diarrhea, etc. The oil was used to treat scalp infections and skin diseases. 

Who would have thought that this common culinary spice played such an important role in world history? It was used to pay taxes, ransoms, rent, and dowry. As a medium of exchange, it was called black gold. It was, and still is, an important medicinal ingredient. And, it was the reason sailors set sail on perilous journeys to find a passage to India. Although no longer considered a luxury spice, the world’s demand for black pepper has not abated through the years, and continues to be an important spice in most cuisines. It has a peppery hold in many of our kitchens and still reigns as the “king of spices.”

For more information and recipes using black pepper, go to The Herbs Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage: https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html

Cordell, B. and Buckle, J. (2013). The effects of aromatherapy on nicotine cravings on a U.S. campus: A small comparison study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19 (8). Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2012.0537

Mihăilă,B., Dinică, R.M., Tatu, A.L., and Buzia, O. D. (2019). New insights in vitilago treatments using bioactive compounds from Piper nigrum. Exp Ther Med, 17 (2): 1039-1044. Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6327422/

Streit, L. (2019). Is black pepper good for you, or bad? Nutrition, uses, and more. Healthline. Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-black-pepper-good-for-you

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.


Maryann Readal is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX and is a Master Gardener. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Rudraksha Tree – A Medicinal Tree of India and Nepal

By Maryann Readal

Seeing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of strings of what looked to be brown seeds hanging in stores around holy places in India made me extremely curious about this seed.

rudraksh beads

Rudraksha beads for sale

On a recent visit to India and Nepal, it was a very common sight to see hundreds of people walking around Buddhist temples in a clockwise direction, while moving their fingers along a long strand of seeds. The seeds turned out to be from a tree called the rudraksha tree, Elaeocarpus ganitrus Roxb. I later found out that each string contains 108 seeds, and one fingers each seed while reciting a specific mantra, which is a word or phrase repeated over and over again. My curiosity was sharpened even further when an Indian astrologer gave me one of these seeds to use in order to ensure that my good fortune would continue.

Now I had to learn more about these seeds, and this is what my curiosity uncovered: The rudraksha tree grows at the base of the Himalayas, as well as in other tropical and subtropical areas like Hawaii, Guam, and the Maldives.

rudraksha seed

Rudraksha seed

The seeds from the trees growing in Nepal are the most prized, and  I was very excited to discover a tree growing where we were staying in Nepal whose seeds were still attached. The rudraksha tree is evergreen, reaching 200 feet in height, with racemes of fragrant white flowers that bloom in the rainy season. The fruits are about one centimeter in diameter and have a slightly smaller seed inside, which is the rudraksha seed. Because the fruit is blue, the tree is often referred to as the blueberry tree.

rudraksha tree

Rudraksha tree in fruit

E. ganitrus has been important in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. The leaves have antibacterial properties and are used to treat wounds. The leaves, bark, fruit, and seeds have been used to cure stress, anxiety, depression, palpitation, nerve pain, epilepsy, migraines, lack of concentration, asthma, hypertension, arthritis, and liver disease. Ongoing studies in India are exploring the pharmacological properties of E. ganitrus for its use in developing new drugs that treat a variety of diseases. For more information on this tree’s medicinal value, please see  Elaeocarpus Ganitrus (Rudraksha): A Reservoir Plant with their Pharmacological Effects in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research.

The seeds from the rudraksha fruit have also been used for thousands of years for ritualistic, spiritual, and astrological purposes.

By Subhmanish

Shiva wearing rudraksha beads

The seeds are important to Hindus, Buddhists, and Taoists for healing, meditation, controlling stress, and facilitating positive changes in the body, mind, and spirit. In ancient Indian folk tradition, they were thought to ward off evil spirits and omens.

There are several stories about the origins of the rudraksha tree. My favorite is one that tells of Shiva– the principal god of Hinduism–upon returning from a long period of meditation, opened his eyes and saw the suffering of humanity. His tears of compassion fell to earth and became rudraksha trees. The name rudraksha comes from the Sanskrit “rudra,” another name for Shiva and “aksha” meaning tears.

rudraksha offering

Beads as temple offering

So…it is not surprising to find people in India and Nepal circling their shrines fingering these strands of 108 beads, all the while warding off bad spirits due to the medicinal properties of the seeds and gaining peace through stress control by reciting the mantra and meditative walking.

A short, but interesting story about the seeds of a medicinal tree in India.

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.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Dr. Faith Mitchell on Hoodoo Medicine

By Paris Wolfe

Gullah_s_carolina_1790

Gullah slaves, circa 1790

When author and medical anthropologist, Faith Mitchell, Ph.D., was an undergraduate studying anthropology at the University of Michigan in the 1970s, she spent three summers in the Sea Islands. Numbering more than 100, the Sea Islands are a chain of tidal and barrier islands on the Southeastern Atlantic. While they’re home to luxury estates today, they were still very rural in the 1970s.

At that time, Sea Island residents were mostly African-American descendants of plantation slaves. Known as the Gullah people, they had been geographically isolated from the mainland for generations. Because of that, combined with the effects of racial discrimination, Mitchell says, “They had a lot of African traditions that were maintained through oral tradition, more so than in any other parts of the south.”Copy of Sea Islands 512

Among these traditions was folk medicine that had originated in Africa and merged with Native American and European practices. Interestingly, it bears some resemblance to Jamaican folk medicine, but that’s another story.

As a student, Mitchell was fascinated by the use of plants and natural materials in healing, so she started collecting information about what locals called “roots” medicine. It’s important, she says, to distinguish between what people term good and bad “roots” medicine. “Good roots” is the use of plants, mud, and other natural materials with healing powers, she explains. Meanwhile, “bad roots” is the use of natural materials – plants, blood, bones, candles, feathers and more – for magical purposes, akin to voodoo.

CoverTo capture this cultural treasure, Mitchell wrote Hoodoo Medicine: Gullah Herbal Remedies, which was first published in 1978 and then republished in 1999.

The book starts with a brief history of the area and then details medicinal roots, herbs, and plants used in Gullah culture. Artist Naomi Steinfeld produced more than 50 drawings of various medicinal plants to illustrate the book.

Practices described include using elderberry tea to treat colds, mud to cast bone breaks, and tree leaves to draw out headaches. Healing properties were also attributed to mint, Spanish moss, gum tree leaves, and much more. The healing practices remain relevant today for people interested in new pathways to health.

Unfortunately, says Mitchell, much of this tradition has been threatened over the years by the commercial development of the Sea Islands, the exodus of younger generations in search of work, and reduced isolation from the mainland and mainstream. Fortunately, there is renewed interest among Gullah descendants in preserving their unique history and culture.

Cotton Flower

Cotton flower used medicinally on the Sea Islands

Today, Mitchell is the recently-retired CEO of Grantmakers In Health and is a fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, working with the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy and the Health Policy Center. She is also developing the Urban Institute’s American Transformation project, which will look at the implications—and possibilities—of this country’s racial and ethnic evolution.

 

Faith MitchellDr. Mitchell has a doctorate in medical anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. She has written or edited numerous policy-related publications as well as Hoodoo Medicine. For more information and to purchase her book, visit Dr. Mitchell’s website.

 

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.


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