Neighboring with Nature: Native Herbs for Purpose and Pleasure

By Peggy Riccio, HSA Member and Guest Author

NeighboringwithNatureI first heard about Neighboring with Nature on Facebook. Members of the Garden Writers Association (GWA) had just attended their annual symposium and raved about a book on native plants on a GWA Facebook group. I was intrigued—I have an interest in both native plants and herbs. I then discovered that the author, Susan Betz, is both a GWA member and an Herb Society of America (HSA) member. For ten years she has served on the Native Herb Conservation Committee, the Notable Native Herb of the Year Committee, and the Green Bridges Initiative.  For more than 30 years she has educated and promoted the use of herbs and has served as a Master Gardener.

Neighboring with Nature: Native Herbs for Purpose and Pleasure is a culmination of Susan’s passions:  conservation, herbs, and native plants. Susan begins the book by defining native plants as species growing in the United States before the European settlement and herbs as useful plants found growing the world over, valued for their flavoring, fragrance, medicinal, industrial, culinary, cosmetic, and symbolic uses.  In her book she uses the HSA definition of native herbs: “chiefly seed-bearing plants—annuals, biennials, perennials, aromatic or useful shrubs, vines and trees that grew naturally in this country without the interference, accidental or intentional, of man before European settlement. The defining characteristics of these plants are their usefulness, past or present, for flavoring, medicine, ornament, economic, industrial, or cosmetic purposes.”

Susan BetzOften people mentally categorize plants, separating native plants from herbs. Susan has an interest in both groups for their respective qualities as well as the overlapping group of native herbs. “Native plants clean the air, filter water, moderate the climate, and feed the people, birds, insects, and more. Gardening with herbs personalizes people-plant connections and gardening experiences,” explains Susan. “In every backyard and beyond there is a spot just waiting for the right neighborly native herb. With all of the regional native plants available, that spot can be filled easily.”

She demonstrates this by describing 21 native herbs common to the northeastern region of the United States. Divided into three sections, groundcovers, perennials, and shrubs, small trees, and vines, these native herbs are easily recognizable to the average gardener. For each plant she provides the scientific name, common names, native range, hardiness zone, bloom time, height and spread, habitat and cultivation, uses in the garden and landscape, plant pals, special notes, and wild friends. “The defining characteristics of these plants are their past, present, and future usefulness. Native herbs provide a botanical bonanza such as flavoring culinary creations, decorative uses, fragrance and scent, home pharmacy, tasty beverages and teas, etc.”

For some plants, she provided authentic Native American recipes from E. Barrie Kavasch’s Native Harvests, Recipes and Botanicals of the American Indian. For example, one could harvest the fruits from a serviceberry tree to make Indian pudding or one could forage wild grapes to make wild grape butter. Wild bergamot leaves and goldenrod leaves and flowers can be used to make teas. She also provides the technique to make ink from elderberries and a disinfectant from juniper needles. At the end of the book she provides harvesting tips and techniques, a bibliography, a list of useful websites, and recommended books.

Short descriptions of 21 plants is merely an introduction — America has a very rich heritage of native herbs. According to Susan, Daniel E. Moerman’s book, Native American Ethnobotany, list more than 4,000 native herbs with more than 44,000 uses.

This easy-to-read, 140-page paperback is a great introduction to the concept of native herbs and their benefits to the landscape. I highly recommend it to all gardeners. I asked Susan what she would like readers to come away with after they read her book and she said: “The role of the suburban landscape and home garden has become vital to the future health and well-being of our planet. Gardening is no longer just about style or design, the methods we use to manage our landscape is just as important. I hope this book motivates people to learn more and to conserve these native herbs for future generations.”

 

The Witch’s Herb Garden II

By Jackie Johnson ND, Planhigion Herbal Learning Center

L0051251 Mandragora (Mandrake) plant from 'De historia...'Continued from October 30, 2017 … See Part I

All alone in a corner of the Old Woman’s garden are the mandrakes – waiting for some poor fool to pull them out.  They scream when ripped from the ground you know, and any person or animal hearing the scream will immediately perish.   Long used for dark magic, this plant was sacred to Aphrodite and used as a powerful aphrodisiac.  Too strong, some say.  Its roots are shaped like humans and carrying even a tiny piece insures good health and much more.  It hides from man, and it glows in the dark.

The following steps for harvesting mandrake was taken from an old English Herbarium from 1000 AD

  1. Before sunset – draw a circle around it with an iron tool lest it flee from you.
  2. While facing west, cut off the top of the plant.
  3. Being careful not to touch the plant, dig around it with an iron tool.
  4. When you see its hands and feet, fasten them.  Take the other end of the rope and tie it around a hungry black dog’s neck.
  5. Throw meat in front of the black dog so he cannot reach it unless he pulls up the plant.
  6. Run fast lest you hear the screams and perish with the dog.

Difficult, yes, but mandrake was one of the best plants for hexing, and black dogs were easy to find.

Aside from the poison garden, people would visit the Old Woman for a variety of reasons.

Many wanted love charms.  In front of the house, for easy pickings, sits the love potion garden.  The most important plant in the garden for love is the apple tree. Sometimes the spell was as easy as cutting an apple with the intention of forever love, and handing half to the object of affection. Both halves must be eaten simultaneously for the charm to work.

Caution was required when cutting the apple … an even number of seeds on both sides meant love and a happy marriage. If one seed is cut, rocky love will follow and the marriage will be filled with anger and yelling.  If two seeds are cut, the husband will perish within one year.

Apple blossoms are so sweet smelling, is it any wonder they were often dried and used in love potions?

Protective amulets were cut of apple wood, and when properly done, insured a long life.

RoseOther plants in the love garden include lemon balm, roses, basil, catnip, daisies, peppermint mallow and periwinkle.   Several of these in a sachet under your pillow might help the man of your dreams come into your life.   If your love has left you, you might be instructed to put a vase of mallow flowers in your window.  This should make him think of you and return to your arms.

The inability to become pregnant brought a number of women thru the Old Woman’s creaky gate. In the back, along the mossy stone fence, lies the fertility garden.  It is filled with cucumbers, carrots, mustard, and poppy and more.

Some women would come to visit the Old Woman to insure there was no pregnancy or question what was to be done about a current one.   That garden was outside her back gate and the plants were scattered through the forest, looking like they weren’t cared for to the uninformed.  This allowed her to claim ignorance if “they” came for her.  We won’t talk about what might be in that garden.

Infidelity was a common complaint and many women wandered in seeking help with rotten husbands.  The Old Woman might hand them some dried basil with instructions to sprinkle it on his cheating heart as he slept.  Or she might suggest slipping a caraway seed or two in his pocket.

And thievery – oh such a common complaint.  For that the Old Woman might suggest caraway seed sprinkled around the property to help bad guys choose another place. And if you were about to travel, a piece of comfrey with your belongings would help them travel unnoticed.

Yes, the Old Woman’s garden was full of plants.  Every corner of her yard offered up something to the trained healer/witch/midwife.

No wonder so many feared or coveted her knowledge.

 

The Witch’s Herb Garden

The Witch’s Herb Garden

halloween-witch-with-cauldron-clipart-0

By Jackie Johnson ND, Planhigion Herbal Learning Center

From Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling, we seem to have an undying curiosity of what plants witches used….and for what.  In the spirit of Halloween, it seems appropriate to explore these.

Shakespeare gave us the most recognizable and infamous of all incantations with the three Scottish witches in Macbeth:

“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,–
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

Although there are variations on the plants symbolized in the chant, following are some of the more accepted versions:

  • Eye of newt – mustard seed
  • Toe of frog – buttercup leaves
  • Wool of bat – holly or moss
  • Tongue of dog – hounds tooth
  • Adder’s fork – violet
  • Blind worm’s sting – knotweed
  • Lizard’s leg – ivy
  • Howlet’s wing – garlic or maybe ginger

We wonder, did the wise women (or witch) use odd names for effect, for safety, or something else?

Perhaps it was something else, something politically motivated. After al, women practiced the healing arts throughout Europe, mostly as midwives, until the church and state targeted them. And that happened because the church and state wanted the power and money associated with healing arts.

When Rome fell, monks gathered the healing herbs brought across Europe by the Romans.  Then, they became the healers. Power hungry and corrupt leaders always need a scapegoat to blame for the troubles in their worlds, and what better place to look than older defenseless women who owned valuable property just waiting to be confiscated?

I’ve always wondered about the bravery — or maybe the stupidity — of these foolish men. It raises a question: If these women were as powerful and wicked as charged, how could the prosecutors survive? Weren’t they afraid that a nose twitch could web their fingers, curse their family….or  far, far worse?

But these powerful women persisted, from the burning times until now. The journey of the “witch” (or wise woman) continues, though still under a cloud of suspicion.

Halloween 17Let’s look back to the Wise Old Woman who lived on the far edges of the village, alone, with her cats.  Her home is rundown, the plants and trees are overgrown, the path is covered in leaves and rusty gate squeaks as we push it open.  It’s autumn and the days are shorter and the air is brisk.

You’ll find monkshood (aconite) so lethal that it was used to poison arrows and, in World War II, the Nazi’s put it on their bullets.  Witches believed it could make them invisible if they tied the seeds to them wrapped in lizard’s skin.  It was reputed to protect one from vampires and werewolves.

In the garden the winter rose (black hellebore) sits in the corner in bloom. Thought to be a cure for insanity, it would also help one become invisible.

In the back is a lush bunch of witch’s bells (foxglove).  They seem to be growing in each corner of the stone fence.  Ahhh, for protection. I imagine if we looked in the cottage, we’d see black stone floors – dyed with the leaves of the foxglove- to keep negativity out.

What self-respecting witch would be without moonflower (datura) with white flowers that bloom in the night and give off an intoxicating fragrance?  Used as a hallucinogen, and to increase physic vision and communicate with friendly spirits, the plant is poison to even handle.   When a visitor would come begging for something to stop another from harming her/him, the Old Woman would often take the seeds, wrap them in brown cloth and tell the visitor to gather something belonging to the alleged ill-doer and place the bag of seeds on top of the item and hide it well.  So long as the bag remained over the object, the ill-doer could do them no harm.

Overgrowing anything in its way, the deadly nightshade knows it will always be the Devil’s favorite plant.  Often nightshade was put in ‘flying’ ointments, but was also handy for helping one forget an old love.  Some believe the more nightshade in a garden, the greater the protection from evil.

Continued on October 31, 2017 

Put ‘Cardinal’ Basil on Your Planting List

Put ‘Cardinal’ Basil on Your Planting List

By Maryann Readal, Secretary, Board of Directors, The Herb Society of America

Cardinal basil (3)It seems almost sacrilegious to be talking about spring already, but that is exactly what gardeners do—they plan for the season ahead.

As I survey my East Texas garden each morning, I make notes on what has done well and what has been a disappointment.  Cardinal basil, Ocimum basilicum ‘Cardinal’, is one of the plants that has definitely made next year’s list.   While the Genovese, African, lemon and holy basils have already gone to seed and are beginning to fade, the Cardinal basil is still going strong.  The attractive celosia-like magenta flowers and burgundy stems are beginning to put on a show in the garden.  The flowers just keep getting bigger as each day passes.  And this basil is generously endowed with scent. Just brushing by it releases a wonderful aroma that makes you hungry for pesto.

Cardinal basil (1)Cardinal basil is also a culinary basil, although I have to admit that I have not tried it yet. Others report that it has the same basil flavor with a slight anise, pungent flavor. The young flowers make a colorful addition to salads or vegetable dishes.

This is one basil that you may not be able to find in a nursery, however.  But you can grow your own plants from seed as the seeds germinate easily and transplant well into the garden.  Cardinal basil grows well in Zones 4 to 10.  Like all basils, it thrives in the sun and prefers warm soil, so wait until your soil is warm enough and the temperature is consistently above 50o F to transplant it into the garden.  This basil prefers a weakly acidic to neutral soil. It forms a shrubby, well-branched plant and will reach a height of 18 inches to 2 feet.

Cardinal basil (2)

And did I mention that Cardinal basil also makes a great landscape plant?  It’s lush, shiny green leaves make a great filler in the garden border. The glossy leaves are disease- and pest-free and look great in the garden.  The flowers and the stems look and smell great in bouquets as well.

Cardinal basil is an Herb Society of America Promising Plant for 2018. This HSA program features selected herbs that are either newly introduced or are plants that are currently under used in gardens today.

This basil will definitely be a keeper in my garden in the years to come.

Seeds are available from Park Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Parsley: More than Just Food

Parsley: More than Just Food

parsley in jarBy Jen Lenharth, NorthEast Seacoast Unit, Herb Society of America

Ancient Greeks thought it signaled death. Ancient Romans kept it from their women and babies out of fear of fits. And the Old English believed it could make you unlucky in love. Oh, how wrong they were!

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), we now know, is one of those ‘super-­‐foods’ and has many culinary, medicinal, cosmetic and decorative applications.

While parsley is a biennial, it is grown as an annual in our New Hampshire climate. Most people purchase young plants in the spring because it can be difficult to propagate from seed. Parsley does well in containers (which allows it to be brought inside when fall arrives), and makes a great companion plant or garden edge.

ParsleyThe two common types of parsley are curly and Italian flat leaf. While the curly leaf is decorative, the Italian flat leaf is generally preferred for culinary purposes because of its more pronounced flavor. Well known in the kitchen, parsley is terrific fresh for eating and brightens flavor in meats, vegetables, breads, soups and even beverages. It is best to add parsley towards the end of cooking so it retains full flavor.

Parsley is a source of vitamin K, which helps in bone and brain health; vitamin A which helps maintain eye health; and folate which helps the body maintain overall health. Research into the value of flavonoids, particularly the apigenin found in parsley, suggests they are useful in preventing cancer recurrence, including colon and prostate cancers.

Eating parsley can help build healthy skin from the inside, but it is also valuable in skin care products. Consider a homemade witch hazel skin toner or use parsley tea pouches to relieve under eye circles.

Parsley-Witch Hazel Skin Toner:

Add ½ cup of chopped parsley to ¾ cup of boiling water and let steep at least two hours. Filter out the parsley and reserve the water. Add ¼ cup of witch hazel to the water and transfer to a sealable bottle. Store in the fridge and apply with a cotton pad to clean skin as a toner.

Datil Pepper Presents Complex Heat

Datil Pepper Presents Complex Heat

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Datil peppersI’m a whiner when it comes to hot peppers. I try to wish away my pain and continue to torture my taste buds. This week, while visiting St. Augustine, Florida, I tried again. I sampled the Datil Pepper, an herb nearly exclusive to the northeastern Florida city. As hot as habaneros (Scoville 100,000 – 300,000), these little orange-yellow horns are unique because they’re a bit sweet and fruity.

I wanted to know what sweet and fruity meant, so I tried Datil B. Good 2nd degree burn sauce. It was fruity and sweet up front, but the burn certainly followed. With a low-level of datil in the recipe, I was safe.

20171002_092927Datil peppers only grow commercially, according to my sources, in St. Augustine, Florida, in the United States. They seem to love the combination of soil and climate in this 450-year-old historic city. And, those who’ve tried to propagate the plants elsewhere get short plants with few peppers, says Sherry Stoppelbein, owner of Hot Shot Bakery & Café and maker of Datil-B-Good condiments. Sherry, who is known affectionately as the Duchess of Datil says her pepper plants grow up to five feet tall and might produce as many as two bushels per plant.

All those peppers become various products in Sherry’s commercial kitchen. The most popular is the ketchup-like sauce in four levels of heat – 2nd degree burn, 3rd degree, 4th and 5th. She also uses datils in BBQ sauce, salsa, mustard, jam and pickles.

Around the corner from Hot Shot, The Spice & Tea Exchange sells straight datil powder as well as myriad seasoning blends that include a pinch of punch. The pepper powder is good in chili, chowder, hot wing sauce and more.20171002_084343

 

Tracking the datil backwards is a bit of a mystery. Some suggest that it came from China, hence it is considered a variety in the botanical species Capsicum chinense. Still others suggest it came from Spain or Africa. But, the most likely origin, says Chef Sherry is South America – Peru or Chile.

To get your own supply of datil or datil products find Sherry at Datil B. Good  or visit The Spice and Tea Exchange. Uncertain where to start, try Spice and Tea Exchange’s hot cocoa mix with datil.

As for me, I couldn’t bring myself to try one of Sherry’s chocolate-covered datil peppers. Maybe next time.20171002_092937

Herb Update: Chocolate is Now Pink

Herb Update: Chocolate is Now Pink

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

ruby_chocolate_official_image_01Chocolate is part of the herb world. Or so I’ve decided after doing a little reading and research. In fact,

Herb Society of America’s own education coordinator Karen Kennedy says,

“I’m sure it depends on who you talk to.  It seems to me that chocolate itself is not because it is a product made from several different ingredients. Cacao, from the tree Theobroma cacaofits our definition of an herb.  Cacao, derived from this tree has both flavoring and medicinal properties, including as a stimulant, diuretic, lowers blood pressure, etc. Cocoa butter is used for damaged and sore skin.  If you look up this tree and perhaps the ethnobotany of it, you will find both historical and modern day uses.  Chocolate is both a flavor and a food, so in a sense–it is an herb!”

Her answer is enough for me.

And just when I thought I knew a lot about this herb, along comes a brand new type of chocolate. Move over dark, milk and white. Make room for ruby chocolate, just introduced by international chocolate-maker Barry Callebaut. The company describes the chocolate as “an intense sensorial delight. A tension between berry-fruitiness and luscious smoothness.”

ruby_chocolate_with_cocoa-1-e1505903828685.jpgTurns out ruby chocolate is made from the ruby cocoa bean and gets its color and flavor from it. No berry flavor or color is added.  The beans come from different places in the world and the chocolate company has created an innovative process to capitalize on its unique properties.

Introduced to the world on September 5, 2017, ruby chocolate is purported to have different flavor profiles from its siblings, something I’m longing to test. I’m continuing to watch for more information as it becomes available.