The Power of One: A GreenBridges™ Story

by Debbie Boutelier

(Editors’ note: This article originally appeared in a recent HSA newsletter. It has been edited for clarity for this post.)

Pipevine swallowtail butterflyIn a recent GreenBridges™ presentation, I mentioned the power of one several times. I’d like to share a short story about how the power of one worked in my GreenBridges™ garden. My garden was certified a number of years ago, and I have been slowly incorporating more native plants into my landscape. (We all NEED a reason to buy more plants, right???) 

When COVID hit, and we all had to stay home more, I decided it was time to kick my garden projects into full speed and actually complete those projects that had been in the planning stage for a while. (I’m not going to admit how long they were in the planning stage, so don’t ask!) I made a pledge to myself at that time that at least 90% of the plant material to finish these projects would be natives. I knew a lot of our local natives, but it was so much fun researching the lesser known species and then actually finding them. 

Monarch caterpillarFast forward to this past spring. When the weather started warming up, I noticed more pollinators busy in the garden collecting nectar from the early blooming plants. THEN, I noticed the number of butterflies that were enjoying my garden. Oh my gosh, for several weeks, I would go out into the garden and literally feel like I was in a butterfly house at a botanical garden! The butterflies swarmed around me as I worked in the beds. It made my heart so happy! I wish I had made a video, but I was living in the moment. There were different swallowtails, gulf fritillaries, skippers, hairstreaks, Eastern tailed-blues, sulfurs, American painted ladies, viceroys, buckeyes, and some I did not recognize. I enjoyed their presence immensely. Even though that period was totally glorious, I still have good numbers of the winged beauties visiting daily. 

Gulf fritillary on buttonbush flowerMy granddaughter and I enjoyed raising swallowtail and gulf fritillary caterpillars this summer. We  released 47 swallowtails and nine fritillaries. The swallowtails slowed down after having eaten every morsel of parsley, dill, and fennel in my garden. I saw more fritillaries at that time of the season as they voraciously attacked the passionvine. By the end of the summer, those vines were leafless, but that’s fine with me. I know they will be back next year to provide for the new generations.

I also need to mention the bees. They have also immensely enjoyed the bounty in the garden. Earlier in the season, my granddaughter and I stood under the Vitex trees while they were blooming and listened to the buzzing. The trees were alive with movement and sound! Even though the Vitex agnus-castus is not native to our country, it is still welcome in my garden for the amount of nectar it provides for the winged visitors.

Bee on Echinacea flowerThough just about over, this has been a spectacular gardening season. I truly believe that each of us can make a difference right where we are. The effort is so worth it!

It is easy to get your garden to be a certified GreenBridges™ garden. The application is on The Herb Society of America website: https://www.herbsociety.org/get-involved/greenbridges-initiative.html  Just answer a few questions and take a few pictures to send with the application. We are actively building green bridges across communities, towns, cities, regions, and the entire country. Let your power of one join with the rest to make a huge difference for our native plants and pollinators.

Photo Credits: 1) Pipevine swallowtail (Alabama Butterfly Atlas); 2) Monarch butterfly caterpillar (Christopher Upton, US National Arboretum); 3) Gulf fritillary (TexasEagle, CC BY-NC 2.0); 4) Bee on Echinacea flower (Christopher Upton, US National Arboretum).


Debbie Boutelier is The Herb Society of America’s GreenBridges™ Chair and HSA Past President. She is an Alabama Advanced Master Gardener and has studied the medicinal uses of herbs for many years, completing a three-year intensive study of the medicinal aspect of herbs at the Appalachian Center of Natural Health. Debbie now teaches nationally and presents seminars and workshops on the many aspects of herbs, organic gardening, nutrition, and other garden related topics. Debbie’s herb passion has led to the creation of her small cottage herb business, Rooted in Thyme Apothecary.

The Least I Can Say about Texas’ Native Bees

by Vicki Blachman, South Central District Member at Large

Honey bee on a yellow flowerThere are over 20,000 bee species in the world.  Of those, close to 4,500 are considered native to the U.S., and up to 1000 are native to Texas (I typically say “over 800”). They’re currently classified into seven families, of which six are represented in Texas. Our native bees range in size from nearly an inch long down to smaller than a peppercorn. I’ve tried to limit the scope of this article to the least I can say given that “the native bees of Texas” is a broad topic well suited to the size of our state.

As for that iconic golden yellow and black striped honey maker, the honey bee (Apis mellifera) is non-native but well established. As described by Michael Engle in 2009, it also appears to have at least one extinct ancestor (A. nearctica) that lived in North America 14 million years ago. Our challenge is that those hairy-eyed honey bees get all the love, and only recently have natives been recognized for their intrinsic value to local biomes and as the workhorses they are. Their PR needs our help.  

Bumblebee on a pink flowerHow many people even know native bees exist? They’ve pollinated every single flowering plant in North America until the 1600s when the honey bee was imported. They’re considered at least three times as effective as honey bees for pollination. Some pollinate plants that honey bees can’t, or pollinate certain crops up to 20 times more effectively. Some, like the bumble bee, are capable of buzz pollination, a technique that honey bees lack. The takeaway? Our native bees have co-evolved over time with native plants to be mutually beneficial and mutually dependent – lose one and the other will be lost as well.   

The terms “native” and “solitary” are often used interchangeably, but not all native bees are solitary, nor are all solitary bees native.  A solitary bee will mate, deposit and provision her eggs, then continue laying eggs until her death four to eight weeks after her own emergence.  Those eggs are left alone to grow and pupate, before emerging the following spring or early summer to repeat the cycle all over again.  It’s often said each solitary bee is her own queen.

By contrast, our native bumble bees are said to be social or semi-social, having the presence of two generations in a single nest at the same time.  Honeybees are called eusocial, or “true” social, due to multiple generations of individuals present, each individual having a specific role to play in the collective hive.

There are solitary bees that are non-native, bees and bee products having been imported freely until a 1922 Honey Bee Importation Law was passed. But that legislation applies to honey bees; solitary bees, which do not produce honey, continue to be imported for research and subsequent commercial use. For example, hornfaced bees (Osmia cornifrons) were first imported from Japan to Utah in 1965, but did not survive. In 1976, they were imported again into Maryland where they still thrive in a climate more like that of their home in central Japan.  The delightfully named shaggy fuzzyfoot bee (Anthophora pilipes villosula) even more recently has been imported from Japan as a managed species for commercial blueberry and other fruit pollination.

Green hollow stem of Oenanthe crocataSome solitary bees will form aggregations where nesting conditions are favorable. While a large number of individuals may be found using the site, only a very few species are actually communal, meaning they actively help each other. Dependent on their environment, the family Halictidae even has the unusual ability to switch between being social or solitary!  

The vast majority of native bees are ground nesting.  Some make cells of mud, bits of leaves or petals, resin, hairy plant fibers, wood dust, cellophane-like secretions applied with their tongues, or silk-like secretions from thoracic glands. These are placed in tunnels in the ground, abandoned rodent burrows, hollow reeds, bamboo, logs, pithy stems, softwood structures, and even holes in bricks or other man-made items such as hand tools and equipment.

Greenish halictid bee on a purple flowerWhile man-made bee houses may have benefits, in order to avoid predation and reduce susceptibility to disease they should be scattered about the site rather than clustered together.  Bee houses should have a guard of chicken wire, or other material with bee sized holes, across the opening to prevent predation by birds. The openings should face the sun in the morning and have protection from rain and insulation from extreme cold if they’re not placed inside to overwinter.  Under the Texas Death Star, it can also be beneficial to have plants growing nearby that provide afternoon shade. Habitats should also include a source of moisture and shelter from wind.  In the fall, “leave the leaves”, as well as stems and grasses, for shelter.

In closing, I repeat the takeaway I’m certain many of you already knew.  Our native bees have co-evolved over time with native plants to be mutually beneficial and mutually dependent – lose one and the other will be lost as well.   

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/animals/bees.shtml

http://w3.biosci.utexas.edu/jha/landowner-naturalist/texas-pollinator-guides

https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/wildlife_diversity/nongame/native-pollinators/bumblebee-id.phtml

https://bugguide.net/node/view/475348

Photo Credits: 1) Apis mellifera (Ivar Leidus via Wikimedia); 2) Bumblebee (Niek Sprakel, public domain); 3) Osmia cornifrons (Beatriz Moisset via Wikimedia); 4) Cellophane bee emerging from its ground nest (NY State IPM Program at Cornell University); 5) Hollow stems provide nesting sites to solitary bees (Alex Lockton via Wikimedia); 6) Buzz pollination by a halictid bee (Bob Peterson via Wikimedia)

Fennel: A Multitasking Herb

by Peggy Riccio

Fennel in bloomI grow fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, in my Virginia garden for many reasons. As an accent in the garden, fennel grows easily from seed to a few feet tall. Sometimes, they are erect and sometimes they bend from the weight to weave among the perennials and shrubs. Their tubular stems mingle with the pumpkin vines on the ground or rest on top of the chrysanthemum shrubs, while their green, fern-like foliage peaks through the zinnias.

Throughout the summer, I can harvest the foliage for use in the kitchen. The leaves have an anise flavor and are good for flavoring fish and chicken dishes and root vegetables. Snips of the foliage can be sprinkled on salads, soup, eggs, and tuna salad sandwiches. 

In the summer, the fennel blooms with large, starburst-like structures, comprising many small yellow flowers. These attract beneficial insects and pollinators, which are good for the rest of my garden. Sometimes, I clip the flower heads for floral arrangements, but I always let some flowers go to seed. 

Fennel as filler in the gardenIn the fall, I clip the seed heads and put them in a paper bag. I save some seeds for sowing next year and some for the kitchen. The seeds have medicinal qualities (the foliage does not) and are often served at the end of the meal in restaurants to help with digestion and to freshen the breath. Eating the seeds or making a tea from the seeds can relieve flatulence, bloating, gas, indigestion, cramps, and muscle spasms. Fennel seeds are also called “meeting seeds,” because when the Puritans had long church sermons, they chewed on the seeds to suppress hunger and fatigue.

Fennel seedsIn the kitchen, seed can be used whole or ground or toasted in a dry frying pan. They can be used as a spice for baking sweets, bread, and crackers, or in sausage or herbal vinegars and in pickling. The seeds have the same anise flavor but are so sweet, they taste like they are sugar-coated. For me, it is like eating small candies, especially tasty after drinking coffee. 

I grow fennel for the caterpillar form of the black swallowtail butterflies. The caterpillars love to eat the foliage, and it makes me happy to grow food for them and to support the butterfly population.

Sometimes the fennel comes back the next year, but it really depends on the winter. I have heard that, in warmer climates, it gets out of control, but in my zone 7 garden, it has not been an issue. After a hard freeze, when I am cleaning up the garden, I cut back the old fennel stalks revealing new foliage at the base. In December, the new foliage is just as lush and green, providing me with more fennel for my recipes, as well as a nice garnish for holiday meals. 

Fennel in DecemberFennel is easy to grow from seed and should be sowed directly in the garden. The plants have a tap root and do not like to be transplanted. The plants prefer full sun but can tolerate some shade, and they need well-drained soil. Treat them like summer annuals and sow seeds every year. 

I should point out that there are two types of fennel: Foeniculum vulgare, which is the leafy one I grow, and Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce, which is the bulbing type. I have grown the bulbing type before but not for the accents it provides in the garden bed. The bulbing type is a shorter plant with a bulbous base, so it is harvested for the bulb before it flowers and sets seed. The bulb is often sliced fresh for salads or cooked with fish and vegetables. One could consider the bronze fennel a third type; it grows like the leafy fennel, only it is a dark bronze color, not bright green. Bronze fennel also can be used in the kitchen.

 

In the kitchen, use the foliage for:

  • green salads
  • fruit salad (nectarine/apricot)
  • egg dishes
  • soups and chowders
  • chicken salad or tuna salad
  • dips and cream sauces
  • yeast breads
  • fish (put a fish filet on bed of leaves and broil, or mix leaves with butter and drizzle over the fish)
  • vegetables such as root vegetables, peas, and potatoes
  • combine with parsley, chervil, and thyme, or make a fennel, parsley, thyme, and lemon juice rub for white fish

Seeds can be used for:

  • fish soup/stock
  • cucumber salads
  • soft cheeses
  • bread/biscuits/crackers
  • sausage mixtures and pork dishes
  • pickling vegetables
  • marinades for meat
  • bean, couscous, lentil, or bulgur wheat dishes
  • potato salad
  • dry rubs or spice blends/powders

Photo Credits: 1) Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) flowers; 2) Fennel as filler in the garden; 3) Dried fennel seeds on plant; 4) New fennel fronds in the December garden. (All photos courtesy of the author.)

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


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

Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece

Philadelphia Flower Show 2021

By Janice Cox

1625145541867blobHello and happy summer to all of you! This year, I was super lucky and got to attend The Philadelphia Flower Show, one of the premier horticultural events in the country. It is the nation’s largest and the world’s longest running horticultural event, and features stunning displays by some very talented and amazing floral and landscape designers. It is also the major fundraiser for The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which was founded in 1827. Their efforts include building community gardens, creating public gardens, and offering educational opportunities. This year, the show made history by going outdoors for the first time. Rendering of The Philadelphia Flower Show 2021This made it possible for more displays and also offered major improvements to FDR park in South Philadelphia where the show was located. Being outdoors had some challenges as the weather was less than cooperative. It was also a new time of year for the show, being in June rather than the traditional February, which is a slower time for gardeners, landscapers, and growers. There was a heat wave and major thunderstorm activity that blew the roof off a few displays and wiped out a few gardens. Yet despite the challenges of a new location, it was one of the best years ever, and coming out of the challenges of 2020, attendees were thrilled to be outdoors enjoying nature, plants, and each other.  I heard several times how happy everyone was to just be there, and one designer even commented, “It was plants that got us through last year and the COVID pandemic and the reason we are here today.”

The 2021 show theme was “Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece,” and the displays were amazing, creating habitats for people, plants, and wildlife. The ideas were creative and inspiring, and many of them could be incorporated into your own home gardens. Creating areas for pollinators, dining and living outdoors, and building up community experiences with herbs and plants in your neighborhoods were showcased.   

I hope you will join me on Tuesday, July 20 at 1pm Eastern when I will share some projects you can create yourself with herbs at home inspired by the show. I will also share some of the award-winning gardens and designers. This year’s “Best of Show” went to Wambui Ippolito whose design won because of the wonderful way she combined color, horticulture, and unique design elements. It was influenced by her upbringing in the Great Rift Valley in Africa, as well as her lifelong travels. Ippolito’s garden was named “Etherea” and was very contemporary in style. It evoked a feeling of peace in nature. 

Here are a few more themes and ideas from The Philadelphia Flower Show:  

Recycling symbolRecycle:  Reusing, recycling and upcycling is not a new idea, but it is one that is here to stay. Many of the displays used materials that often end up in landfills.  One team even built a bench and filled it with discarded plastic, pots, hoses, tools, and old garden ornaments. Another display had a flock of birds all fashioned out of used aluminum soda cans. 

Community:  Using your plants and love of plants to share with others was also a theme. Creating a free seed library, where people could share seeds or “check them out” and return more in the fall, was one idea I loved. There was also a competition between landscapers to transform “Hell Strips” into “Heaven Strips–hell strips being the area in most major cities between the curb and the sidewalk that is often bare or not maintained.  

Sunflower with beesPollinators:  Planting for pollinators is something we herb lovers just know how to do. There were so many displays focused not just on bees, but on other pollinators as well, such as birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and even cicadas. I got to attend the butterfly experience, which was magical, and also learned that you really have to do some research to attract butterflies to your yard. Each species has different things they need from their potential host plants.   

Grow Bags:  Everyone loves growing herbs and flowers in containers, but grow bags seem to be gaining popularity. They are affordable, easy to store, and promote healthier root systems than standard plastic nursery pots. I attended a “Potting Party,” where we planted grow bags with “thrillers, fillers, and spillers:”  zinnias, basil, and thyme, respectively 

Thymus x citriodorus 'Aureus' CU 5-26-07 bHerbs:  The use of herbs was everywhere and in almost every display. The focus was on local plants and also ones that were useful. I noticed a lot of yarrow, lavender, rosemary, and thyme. I think this is due to the fact that they are so popular and easily recognized, loved by pollinators, and also can withstand drought conditions and bad weather (which this outdoor show certainly had!).  

Our webinars are free to The Herb Society of America members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today, and enjoy all of our webinars for free along with access to the webinar library with over fifty program titles. To register, visit  www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/

Happy Growing!

Photo Credits: 1) The Philadelphia Flower Show 2021 rendering (Pennsylvania Horticultural Society); 2) Recycling symbol (public domain); 3) Bees on sunflower (Chrissy Moore); 4) Rosemary and Thymus ‘Aureus’ (Chrissy Moore).


Janice CoxJanice Cox is an expert on the topic of natural beauty and making your own cosmetic products with simple kitchen and garden ingredients. She is the author of three best-selling books on the topic: Natural Beauty at Home, Natural Beauty for All Seasons, and Natural Beauty from the Garden. She is currently the beauty editor for Herb Quarterly Magazine, is a member of the editorial advisory board for Mother Earth Living Magazine, and is a member of The Herb Society of America, International Herb Association, United States Lavender Growers Association, Oregon Lavender Association, and Garden Communicators International. 

What Can One Person Do?

By Bonnie Porterfield

Darrow Road Park projected meadow signAs you drive along State Rt. 91 in Hudson, Ohio, you pass a community park, Darrow Road Park. As long as I’ve lived in Hudson (38 years), it’s just been there, nothing really to look at. An occasional pick up football game on the lawn near the parking lot and a few people using a trail, but nothing more notable, until this past year, when I noticed a sign posted near the parking lot with a picture of a beautiful meadow.

Around the same time, our local garden club put together member garden visits with limited numbers of attendees due to Covid. The featured garden that piqued my interest was a pollinator-friendly garden. What an inspiration! The owner had transformed her whole yard into a haven for all kinds of pollinators using native plants, trees, and shrubs. During the tour, she mentioned the Friends of Hudson Parks (FOHP) and described what they were doing with the Darrow Road Park to restore it as a pollinator meadow. This led me to the FOHP’s website for further information.

As it turns out, there was one woman with a strong interest in pollinators that got the ball rolling. She had attended programs by the Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association in 2019, as well as visited some previously restored native habitats. These were the inspiration for her idea of transforming Darrow Road Park into a more pollinator-friendly meadow that she brought before the Hudson Park Board. Her perseverance with the Park Board proved successful! This, in turn, led to a collaboration with the US Fish and Wildlife Private Land Division, the Hudson Park Board, and Friends of Hudson Parks.

Darrow Road Park meadow before June 2020After much work behind the scenes, the restoration of this 6-acre park began in June 2020, with the first phase consisting of removing native spring flowering plants. These plants found a temporary home in local gardens to be returned to the newly restored meadow in the spring of 2021.

During the following month, large woody invasive trees and shrubs, along with invasive grasses, were removed. FOHP members and community volunteers gathered in August and dug out hundreds of native plants amongst the invasive weeds and moved them to the Hudson Springs Park Monarch Waystation Garden. FOHP members also found monarch eggs in the field, which they hatched off site, and returned them to the milkweed plants at the Monarch Waystation Garden. Many of these eggs became caterpillars, formed chrysalises, and emerged to join the migration south.

Monarch Waystation signUS Fish and Wildlife biologists removed the remaining weeds and cold season grasses in August and September. Then in October, they tilled the meadow for late fall/early winter seeding. After the first frost, the meadow was “frost seeded” by the USFW biologist. (For a description of frost seeding, click here.) In early spring 2021, the field was mowed to cut back invasive grasses and to encourage native plant root growth. First growth from the 2020 frost seeding should be well under way. Since this is a 3-year project, the meadow will be managed under the direction of the USFW biologist.

Restoring this area to a more pollinator-friendly site will increase wildlife biodiversity and provide a beautiful meadow for wildlife and the surrounding community. In the future, as I drive past this park, I will enjoy the beauty of this new pollinator meadow and realize that one woman, with a group of like-minded individuals, can make a difference in our communities by bringing man and nature together to create amazing Green Bridges.

To learn more about The Herb Society of America’s GreenBridges™ Initiative, go to https://www.herbsociety.org/explore/hsa-conservation/greenbridges-initiative/greenbridges-initiative.html.

Photo Credits: 1) Darrow Road Park Projected Meadow sign; 2) Darrow Road Park “meadow” prior to June 2020; 3) Monarch Way Station sign. All photos courtesy of the author.


Bonnie Porterfield is a forty year Life Member of The Herb Society of America and a member of the Western Reserve Unit.  She has served in many roles during that time including two terms as Great Lakes District Delegate, Unit Chair, Co-Chair of the Western Reserve Unit’s first symposium and member of the GreenBridges™ and Library Advisory Committees.  She is an avid herb gardener, reader, learner and supporter of local efforts in reestablishing natural areas that promote native plantings.

Backyard Butterfly Weed

By Kaila Blevins

Butterfly weed flowersI, like many other people preparing for the COVID-19 lockdown, frequented my local garden center to purchase vegetable seeds and buy plants for the different backyard projects intended to keep myself occupied as the weather warmed. One of the projects that I tasked myself with involved creating a pollinator garden in a wonky, pain-in-the-butt-to-mow patch of grass in my backyard. While walking through the garden center’s aisles, looking for plants to complement the coneflowers (Echinacea) and bee balm (Monarda) I had already placed in my cart, I came across butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).

Originally, I was drawn to the numerous orange flowers that would bloom from mid-summer through the fall that would potentially allow me to see a variety of butterflies, moths, and maybe even a hummingbird, when I peer out of the kitchen window while washing dishes. But, once I got home, I researched butterfly weed’s uses outside of being pollinator friendly. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that several Native American tribes in the eastern and southwestern portions of the United States used butterfly weed medicinally.

Butterfly weedBased on the historical texts I read, the seeds and roots of butterfly weed were used in numerous treatments. The seeds harvested from the ripened pods were used to treat diarrhea and dysentery. However, most of the different tribes primarily used the roots, which were applied externally to tighten the skin or smashed to create a paste to treat bruises, cuts, sores, and bites. In addition to topical use, the roots were ingested or steeped to create beverages. Raw roots were consumed to treat pulmonary and respiratory issues; dried roots were administered to treat chest pains as well. Drinks were given to women after childbirth to ease the pain and bring comfort to the new mothers. Lastly, individuals believed that rubbing their legs and running shoes with butterfly weed would enhance their running capabilities.

Butterfly weedSince planting the garden back in May, it has been a delight watching the different insects interact with the butterfly weed, but it was also fun learning how people used it in ways other than just adding pops of orange to their garden. For more information on other native herbs and native herb gardening, check out The Herb Society of America’s Notable NativeTM and GreenBridgesTM web pages.

 

Photo Credits: 1) Butterfly weed flowers; 2) Butterfly weed developing seedpod; 3) Butterfly weed in author’s garden. All photos courtesy of the author.

Sources

Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary: Timber Press, 2009.

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.


57348119_2256114837761256_4232634512942563328_nKaila 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.

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.

Safe Passage for Plants & Pollinators: Building GreenBridges™

By Debbie Boutelier, HSA Past President & GreenBridgesTM Chair

It’s summer and the living is easy for our pollinators. There is an abundance of blooming plants from which to choose. A little here, a little there, moving pollen around from plant to plant and increasing the abundance. It’s glorious now, but come later in the year, it will not be as easy. Our little miracle workers will be struggling to get enough to eat.  I’m also reminded as I watch these miracle workers in action that all of this is threatened, and without our help a lot of the abundance may disappear forever. 

What can we do to ensure that these summer miracles continue? We can construct GreenBridgesTM that will provide places of respite and offer safe passage for our native plants and our pollinators. The Herb Society of America offers a program to do just that. Get involved in the GreenBridgesTM program to learn best practices for creating a sustainable habitat for our native plants and pollinators, learn to identify and grow native herbs that are unique to your region and will best support your region’s pollinators, and best of all, join a community of environmentally aware herb gardeners. 

Learn more about GreenBridgesTM on the HSA website by clicking on this link: https://www.herbsociety.org/explore/hsa-conservation/greenbridges-initiative/  Then, take the next step and get your garden certified as a GreenBridgesTM garden. The process is easy: complete the application found on the web site, attach a check to cover the cost of a plaque for your garden, and mail to HSA headquarters. Be sure to include some pictures of your garden to share with other members. Your plaque and a certificate will be mailed to you shortly after receipt of your application. 

Display the plaque in your garden to open conversations with your neighbors about the importance of providing healthy ecosystems for our plants and pollinators. Introduce your neighbors to the GreenBridgesTM program and invite them to become a certified garden also. Working together by connecting our gardens to our neighbor’s garden and then to community green spaces, we can effectively create GreenBridgesTM across the nation! Our plants, the pollinators, and we will be the beneficiaries of the healthy ecosystems we create.

In closing, I’d like to share a story about continuing to impress upon my granddaughter the importance of pollinators. A couple of weeks ago, my granddaughter and I were enjoying a beautiful early summer day in the garden. She loves to help me in the garden and today we were harvesting her favorite garden treat: blueberries! She remembers me telling her that without the bees pollinating the blueberries, she would not have this luscious treat. Now, when she sees bees hard at work, she no longer runs from them, but watches intently as they complete their work.  Her comment continues to be —”Go bees!” She loves her blueberries. Now she realizes that all of the other garden treats she enjoys are also the result of bees and other garden insects hard at work. So much fun to see nature through a child’s eyes and introduce the next generation to gardening with the purpose of protecting our native plants and pollinators!


A life-long lover of all aspects of gardening and nature, Debbie Boutelier’s interest in herbs and other edibles began in the early ’80s when she planted her first edible garden with vegetables and culinary herbs. Her interest rapidly grew into a vocation spanning the many different aspects of using herbs in everyday life, and incorporating organic techniques in everything she grows. After moving to Alabama, Debbie served as a County Extension Agent for a number of years. She is an Alabama Advanced Master Gardener and has studied the medicinal uses of herbs for many years, completing a three year intensive study of the medicinal aspect of herbs at the Appalachian Center of Natural Health. Debbie now teaches nationally and presents seminars and workshops on the many aspects of herbs, organic gardening, nutrition, and other garden related topics. Debbie’s herb passion has led to the creation of her small cottage herb business, Rooted in Thyme Apothecary. Debbie is a long-time member and past president of The Herb Society of America.

The Legend Behind Vanilla

By Maryann Readalvanilla

Vanilla is The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for December. We can easily conjure up the sweet, calming, and sensual smell of vanilla that we use to flavor some of our favorite desserts. But did you know that there is a legend that explains the origins of the vanilla vine?

Around the year 1000AD, the Totonac people living in the southeastern part of Mexico near Veracruz considered vanilla to be a sacred herb and used it for ritual offerings and as a perfume and medicine. In fact, their city, Paplanta, became known as the city that perfumed the world because of the abundance of vanilla plants growing there.

The Totonacs believed that a beautiful princess named Morning Star once lived in their ancient kingdom in a time before the world knew of the vanilla plant. She was so beautiful that her parents dedicated her to the temple in order to protect her. Every day Morning Star went out to gather flowers for the temple. One day a young prince, Young Deer, spotted her and immediately fell passionately in love with her. As days went by, Young Deer could no longer be content with just watching Morning Star gather flowers. He decided to capture her and run away with her.  Morning Star was startled at first but in the end she fell under Young Deer’s spell and agreed to run away with him.  Not long into the star-crossed lovers’ escape, the temple priests caught up with them and beheaded both of them.

Soon a strong vine with beautiful, delicate green-white orchid flowers grew up on the spot where the young couple was beheaded. The strong vine with sensual leaves and delicate flowers reminded the people of the two lovers. The flowers turned into fragrant brown pods which had a finer scent than any incense being offered to their gods.

It was then that the priests and the Totonac people came to believe that the blood of the lovers was transformed into the vine and flowers of the vanilla plant and declared it to be a sacred gift to their gods. Some believed that the young prince was transformed into the melipona bee, which is the only bee that is able to pollinate the vanilla flowers.

The Aztecs later conquered the Totonacs and they also fell in love with the vanilla plant and forced the Totonacs to give them the pods as taxes. The Aztecs added the pods to their chocolate drink and considered them to be an aphrodisiac. A suitable addition to the legend of vanilla, I believe.

For more information about vanilla and to find out to make your own vanilla extract, go to The Herb Society of America Herb of the Month webpage.


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

Lemon Balm – A Very Lemony Herb

By William “Bill” Varney

Here are several reasons to grow lemon balm (Melissa officinalis),  the lemony herb in your garden:

  • It is an easy-to-grow, hardy perennial growing to 1 ½ – 3 feet highLemon balm flower
  • It has crafting, culinary, medicinal, and ornamental uses
  • It likes full sun but will tolerate partial shade

From the earliest of times, lemon balm has been celebrated by poets and herbalists for its “uplifting” qualities. At one time, the whole dried plant – roots, leaves, and seed – was sewn into a piece of linen and worn under ladies’ dresses to promote “an agreeable disposition.”

Lemon balm is native to the Mediterranean. The genus name, Melissa, is derived from the Greek word meaning “honeybee.” This herb’s lemony fragrance attracts bees. Hives were rubbed with its leaves to bring in swarms. Housekeepers once used handfuls of fresh balm leaves to polish and scent their furniture.

Lemon balm thrives in cooler climates. It develops into a bushy plant with substantial roots and a stalk reaching 1 ½ to 3 feet high. Leaves are toothed, textured, and smell strongly of lemon. Yellow buds open into tiny white flowers by mid to end of summer.

lemon balmPlanting and Care – Easy to grow although seeds are slow to germinate. Start from cuttings, root division, or plants bought from a nursery. Plant as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. It accepts partial shade to full sun exposure and prefers moist fertile soil with good drainage.

Once established, plants endure in the garden unless a determined effort is made to eliminate them. They reseed easily and spread wide, so provide plenty of space. In small gardens, try growing in containers to control the plants. The stalks die with the first frost and can be cut down to the ground. In cold winter regions, place a thick layer of mulch over the crown to protect the plant; each spring it will regrow from its roots.

Harvesting and Use – One of the sweetest scented of all herbs, which makes it a delightful ingredient for sachets and potpourris. Fresh-cut stems retain their fragrance well and lend a casual flair to floral arrangements. In the kitchen, lemon balm adds a light lemony flavor to soups and stews, fish, lamb, and chicken. Freshly chopped, use it sparingly with fruits or salads. It’s a favorite replacement for salt and an inexpensive lemon zest substitute.

Always add near the end of cooking because its volatile oils are dissipated by heat. Its flavor keeps well in baked goods because it is captured by the surrounding medium. Use as a fresh garnish in hot tea and lemonade or brew as a tea. A leaf or two improves a glass of white wine. Along with hyssop, it is an important ingredient in the liqueur Chartreuse.

Lemon balm is recognized as an aid to digestion and circulation. It is reported to help relieve feverish colds, headaches, and tension. Its oil is believed to be beneficial in dressing wounds, especially insect bites.

One of my favorite recipes for using it is Lemon Balm Bars.

Lemon Balm Bars

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar 1 cup of flour
  • 1/3 cup blanched almonds 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons lemon balm leaves, minced Grated zest of one lemon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup blanched almonds

Combine butter, ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup flour, and 1/3 cup almonds in food processor. Process until mixture forms a ball. Pat into a greased and floured 9 by 9 – inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Combine sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, minced lemon balm, and lemon zest in work bowl of food processor. Process until finely blended. Add eggs and lemon juice; blend thoroughly. Pour over crust. Grind remaining 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar and 1/3 cup almonds in the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle over filling. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees or until set.

Yields 9 large lemon balm bars

Varney, Bill. Herbs: Growing & Using the Plants of Romance. Tucson, Arizona, Ironwood Press, 1998.


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any medical or health treatment.