Pitch Pine- Tar and Pitch for Shipbuilding

By Cipperly Good

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Poppy Seed – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

1586204466164blobPoppies are a colorful springtime addition to the garden bed. Their striking crepe paper-like flowers tower over other perennials that are just beginning to put on new growth for the season. The deeply lobed, light green leaves readily fill in the empty spaces that can later be filled in with summer annuals when the poppy finishes its dramatic display.

These show-stopping blooms are the source of poppy seeds, the Herb of the Month for The Herb Society of America. Each bulbous poppy seed pod contains hundreds, perhaps thousands of gray-black seeds. The seeds are edible and are often sprinkled on top of bagels and used in cakes. They are also added to salad dressings and are the star ingredient in one of my favorite Polish pastries—poppy seed strudel. The seed pod itself creates its own drama in the garden and when dried, makes a striking addition to flower arrangements.

However, the sap, also referred to as opium gum, from the unripe poppy seed capsule, leaves, and to a lesser extent  the stems, contains the compounds morphine, thebaine, and codeine. Morphine and thebaine are then used to synthesize heroine and oxycodone, respectively. Because of its pain-relieving properties, the poppy is an important medicinal plant in the pharmaceutical industry. Most of the medicinal opium comes from Turkey, India, and Australia. According to a United Nation report, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Mexico are the major illegal growers of opium poppies from which heroin is made. 

1586204635445blobPoppies have been used as a medicinal plant for nearly 6000 years, when it was first cultivated in Southwest Asia. The list of its uses in folk medicine is quite extensive. Ancient Sumerians referred to it as hul gil or “joy plant.” Its use and cultivation followed the Silk Road to China where it became the reason for the Opium Wars in the middle 1800s. 

Today, it is illegal to grow the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, for large-scale production in the United States. But growing P. somniferum is typically ok for ornamental uses in the home garden. An interesting read is an essay published in Harpers written by the food writer and journalist, Michael Pollan, who detailed his soul searching deliberations about growing ornamental poppies in his own garden. 

1586204527808blobPoppies are very easy to grow in sun and good soil. There are many different varieties and colors. In the north, they can be a perennial. However, in southern gardens they are only an annual. Seeds, which can be broadcast over the bare earth, are sown in the early spring in the north, and in the south they are sown in late fall.  Mixing the seed with sand helps to evenly distribute the seed. The plants have a deep taproot and do not like to be transplanted. If the seed pods are left on the plants, they will reseed themselves, and you will have plenty of stunning volunteers to color your garden the following year and for many years thereafter. They tend to hybridize easily, so if you want to maintain a certain variety of poppy, you need to keep different types separated. Growing P. somniferum for ornamental purposes can be illegal in some states. Consult with local law authorities.

Flanders poppy_public domain

Flanders poppy

Remembrance Day and Memorial Day are the times when we wear the red poppy to remember those who sacrificed their lives during wars. The Flanders poppy, Papaver rhoeas, grew profusely over the graves of fallen soldiers in WWI when the seeds were exposed to the light they needed to germinate. John McCrae, a brigade surgeon during the war, wrote of these poppies in his poem In Flanders Fields.

For more information, recipes, and a colorful poppy screensaver, visit The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage. 

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 gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

HSA Webinar: Growing and Using Herbs of the Southwestern Missions

Author Jacqueline Soule will be presenting this month’s webinar on Wed, March 25 at 1pm – click here to register. This article is excerpted from her book, Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today.

Epazote – An Efficacious ‘Erbcover kino

By Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule

Did you know that you can speak at least one word of Nahuatl, the language spoken in Mexico pre-conquest? Epazote is the Nahuatl name for Dysphania ambrosioides (formerly Chenopodium ambrosioides). English common names include wormseed, Jesuit tea, American wormseed, Mexican tea, and Jerusalem oak.

By the time of contact between the New and Old Worlds, epazote had been cultivated for well over a thousand years in southern and southeast coastal Mexico.  It was, and still is, a principal flavoring for a large number of Yucatan and Veracruz dishes and is indispensable for cooking black beans.

Epazote in Cooking

Like the Old World herbs cumin and ginger, epazote has the unique ability to help break down hard-to-digest vegetable proteins. These difficult proteins are found most often in beans, peas, and members of the cabbage family. A few leaves of epazote cooked in the pot with the potential offender can go a long way towards rendering the bean proteins, well, shall we say, “ungaseous.”

epazote 4631088290 wiki cc 2.0Epazote was popular on the coast and in warmer climates of the Aztec and Mayan areas but had also made its way into Central Mexico and the Aztec National Botanical Gardens. It was traded in the marketplace of Tenochtitlan in the 1530s.  The most popular culinary uses were to cook it with beans, nopales (prickly pear cactus pads), and fish dishes.

Epazote in Medicine

Ethnomedicinally, epazote has been used in a decoction as a vermifuge (against intestinal worms) and in an infusion to help induce labor, reduce menstrual cramps, and as a general post-partum tonic. It is also used in the treatment of amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, malaria, chorea, hysteria, catarrh, and asthma. Oil of chenopodium is derived from epazote and is a proven anthelmintic, that is, it kills intestinal worms, and was once listed for this use in the U.S. Pharmacopeia. It is also cited as an antispasmodic.

Medicinals on Migration

Epazote was brought northward into the Southwest United States primarily by natives resettled into the region by Spanish decree. It is recorded as planted in the herb gardens at San Xavier del Bac Mission (outside Tucson, Arizona) in 1752.  Epazote found its way into eastern North America and Canada. It was a popular vermifuge as its effects were more predictable and less violent than European wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). There are no reports of Yankees using it for culinary purposes.

Planting and Careepazote NRCS wiki cc 0.0 PD

Plant epazote from seed in spring once night temperatures rise above the low 50s. You can also start indoors and transplant once danger of frost is past. Seeds can take as long as four weeks to germinate. Plants will thrive through the warm season and freeze to the ground at 35℉, but often regrow from the roots. At 20℉, the roots will be killed as well.

Epazote plants do well in full sun, but some afternoon shade is appreciated in the Southwest by this tropical herb. Soil can be poor, even clay, but plants grow best in average, well-drained soils. Epazote can be grown in containers that are at least twelve inches deep.

Epazote can reach five feet tall, but at that height, it will be scraggly and unattractive. Pinch epazote plants often, especially the central branches, to keep it around two to three feet tall, compact, leafy, and with an appealing form in the garden. Usually a single plant epazote AMP 1902139 web cropprovides enough herbage for a household.

Epazote reseeds readily, so pinch off the seed stalks, or be ready to ruthlessly weed out excess plants the following spring. On the other hand, seed heads turn an attractive bronze in autumn, and the lesser goldfinches enjoy the seeds. Ideally, find a less-used corner of the garden for epazote where, if seeds spread, they will not be a major problem. A strongly scented herb, epazote is reported as a deer repellent, and I can report that javalina, jackrabbits, and cottontails avoid eating the plants.

Harvesting and Use

Epazote is best used fresh for culinary purposes. Chop or mince leaves and add early to dishes that require long cooking, like beans, roasts, soups, or stews. Use one tablespoon minced leaves per cup of beans or to a two pound roast. Do not use it as a garnish since the taste is bitter. If not fresh, frozen epazote may be used as a culinary herb. In my tests, epazote does not have the same “digestive” effect after drying.

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.


Jacqueline Soule business portrait. Tucson, AZ. © 2012 Mark Turner

Jacqueline Soule Tucson, AZ. © 2012 Mark Turner

Jacqueline writes about gardening for a living. It’s a job she does in two very different USDA zones – 10 and 4. Nine months of the year she lives on an acre in the Tucson Mountains, and 3 months on an acre in Vermont. In both places she happily grows numerous herbs because they are about the only plant the local critters will not munch to the ground.

© copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. This article is excerpted from Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today written by the author. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. You can use a short excerpt, but you must give proper credit, plus you must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos. To purchase this and other books by Jacqueline Soule, visit her website.

Chocolate – Food of the Gods

By Maryann Readal

In 1753, it was Carl Linnaeus who gave cacao, The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month, its botanical name: Theobroma cacao, from theos meaning god and broma meaning food – food of the gods. The Mayans gave it the name xocoatl, (pronounced sho-KWA-til). According to The True History of Chocolate authors Sophie and Michael Coe, the most likely history of the word “chocolate” is that the Spaniards combined the Maya word chocol, meaning “hot,” and the Aztec atl, meaning “water,” to produce chocolatl.

It is believed that Olmec Indians began using cacao beans for beverages as early as 250 BCE. But it was the Mayans who really domesticated the tree and discovered its many uses. They were the first to grow cacao trees on plantations. The drink they made from cacao beans was reserved for the Mayan wealthy and important and was used in religious ceremonies. The beans were also used as money in trade with the Aztecs.

theobroma

Flowers on cacao tree

The Aztecs, however, began to flavor the ground beans with other spices such as chile, cinnamon, pepper, and vanilla and then frothed the beverage with a molinillo, the Mexican chocolate whisk. The drink they created was also reserved for high government officials, priests, and the warrior classes. The Aztecs believed that their god, Quetzalcoatl, taught them about the many uses of cacao.

Along comes Christopher Columbus in 1492 on his fourth try to find a water route to India, but discovers the Americas instead. He brings back the cacao beans to King Ferdinand and Isabella, who were not as enamored with the beans as they were with the other treasures he brought from the New World.  A few years later, Hernando Cortez came to the Vera Cruz, Mexico area in the early 1500’s and learned first hand from the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, the exhilarating uses of cacao. He brought his discovery of the effects of the cacao beverage and its preparation to King Charles V of Spain, and this time it was greeted with much interest and led to Cortez conquering the Aztec Empire and developing  large cacao plantations for Spain. This was the beginning of the Spanish monopoly of cacao beans that lasted 200 years.

Europe accepted the use of chocolate as a medicine because the Mesoamericans used it as a remedy for many ailments for centuries. And Europeans found that it was a medicine that had pleasant, euphoric effects. These effects were what caused the church at the height of the Middle Ages to circumscribe its use, claiming that it caused immoral behaviors. Monks were forbidden to use chocolate and it was not allowed to be drunk while fasting. The chocolate beverage could only be drunk for medicinal reasons.

The debate about the medicinal qualities of chocolate continued well into the 1900’s in Europe, with many noted physicians chiming in on the subject. In the 18th century, it was Carl Linnaeus who wrote about the nourishment and therapeutic qualities of chocolate saying that “it could be used to lose weight, help lung and muscles diseases, hypochondria, and hemorrhoids.” In fact, cacao butter, which is the fat extracted from ground cacao beans, is still used today in suppositories for hemorrhoids. Now that will make you pause before eating a white chocolate rabbit at Easter.

The Nestle company introduced milk into chocolate to create milk chocolate in 1867, which completely changed the taste of chocolate. This new chocolate reignited the health debate concerning chocolate, with physicians claiming that the milk chocolate caused obesity, dental problems, and an unhealthy lifestyle.

In the early 20th century, chocolate became more important as food rather than as medicine. In fact, chocolate was included in World War II’s K and D rations as a healthy and quick source of energy for soldiers on the battlefield. In her book Plants Go To War, Judith Sumner discusses the use of chocolate in British Intelligence efforts in which chocolate bars were “impregnated with garlic to mimic the smell of the French whom they were impersonating.” She also reports that there was a German plan to assassinate Winston Churchill with a booby-trapped chocolate bar. The plot was never implemented.

In 1930, Nestle introduced white chocolate, which is cacao butter mixed with sugar. And in 2018 the Swiss company Barry-Callebaut introduced a ruby–or “pink”–chocolate into the market.

chocolate, pink

pink chocolate

Named the fourth chocolate, it is pink and fruity tasting.  This chocolate reportedly comes from special ruby cacao beans.

Debate and research continues on chocolate as a medicine.  Researchers do ascribe chocolate with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  Some data also shows that apart from its pleasant effects, chocolate consumption improves brain function. Studies also link the flavonoids in dark chocolate with a reduced risk of diabetes. Consumption of dark chocolate is also believed to protect the heart.

However, chocolate may be returning to its Aztec roots with chocolate artisans introducing herbs, spices, flowers, and all kinds of ingredients into chocolate, making it not only a food of the gods but a food of the people, too – especially around Valentine’s Day.

A nice history of chocolate can be found at The Nibble https://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/chocolate/the-history-of-chocolate.asp.

And for more information and chocolate recipes, please see The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month web page for February.


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 pine trees in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Plants Go To War – A Book Review

By Maryann Readal

To quote author Judith Sumner in the preface to her new book, Plants Go to War: A Botanical Plants go to war coverHistory of World War II, “The war could not have been won without rubber, but the same might be said about wheat, cotton, lumber, quinine, and penicillin, all with botanical origins.” In her book, Sumner documents many of the plants that were critical to World War II efforts on all sides of the battlefield. Indeed, her research is exhaustive in that she covers not only the military uses of plants but also civilian uses as well by the major countries involved in the war.

As the war disrupted supplies of plants needed for medicine, food, and manufacturing, governments had to look for alternatives. Some were successful in growing tropical plants and food crops on their own soil; some began to look for chemical alternatives. A chemical synthesis of quinine to fight malaria was one of those discovered alternatives.

Sumner reveals that adequate nutrition was a monumental consideration for governments. Not only troop nutrition, but also civilian nutrition, as it was important that good physical and mental health of all people was critical to support the war effort. Victory gardens were born then, with many people growing their own fruits and vegetables so that soldiers would have enough to eat. In Great Britain, people were encouraged to grow vegetables even in bombed-out craters. Schoolchildren would go on farming vacations in order to grow and harvest crops due to victory-gardens-for-family-and-country-these-victory-gardeners-are-transferring-1024the shortage of men to do the farming. In Germany, the Lebensraum idea was the impetus behind Hitler’s attempt to secure more land for German farmers to grow German native plants for food and other purposes.

In reading Judith’s book, I got a glimpse into the incredible foresight and organization governments need to conduct a war on the battlefield, while simultaneously sustaining the home front. Reading the book also enabled me to better understand some of my parents’ attitudes about food and thrift that carried over into everyday life, even when the war was over.

To those of us who are involved with the collection and spreading of plant, and particularly herb, knowledge, this book demonstrates how important that work is. For as Ms. Sumner says in her book, “practical information about how plants could be used for survival came from botanical gardens, herbaria, and notes archived in botanical libraries.”

Sumner says that her “goal was to write an encyclopedic synthesis of civilian and military plant uses and botanical connections as they relate to World War II.” I believe she has accomplished this goal with her authoritative and informative book. I am sure that it is destined to be a classic source on this topic. Her book is a reminder of how important plants and plant knowledge, collected during peace time, can be in a world crisis.


JUDITH SUMNER is a botanist and author with particular interest in the historical uses of plants. She is a frequent lecturer for audiences of all kinds and has taught for many years at colleges and botanical gardens. She lives in Worcester, MA. Judith received The Herb Society of America’s Gertrude Foster writing award in 2007.

Plants Go To War: A Botanical History of World War II by Judith Sumner. Publisher: McFarland. McFarlandBooks.com


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.