Why? Because THIS:
Every spring, after a long, cold, dark winter has washed away any memories of the prior growing season’s trials, I awaken hopeful (and naïve?). Despite my husband’s warnings, and probably my better judgement, I persist in planting zucchini in my garden. Sure, I know that zucchini has the unfortunate reputation as being overgrown – there’s even a National Sneak Zucchini On Your Neighbor’s Porch Night (August 8 for those who like to plan) – but in my Maryland garden, attempting to grow zucchini can often bring heartache and pain.
Why? Because THIS:
Lays pinhead size eggs on the stems of my plants that hatch into the larva of which hatch and proceed to feed on the vines...
The 4th of July always brings back memories of our backyard vegetable garden when I was growing up. It was a goal to harvest our first zucchini by (or before!) this date in western Pennsylvania.
This July 4th, I am reminded of one of my very first blog posts on the Maryland Extension's now-retired Grow It Eat It blog, in which I shared 'Why I grow Vegetables'. I would like to share it here with you now:
There are many reasons people grow their own vegetables - they taste better than that store-bought stuff, they are healthier than that store-bought stuff (studies have been done!), you can get more varieties, it's a fun way to get outside and get moving, it's cost-effective. While I certainly gain all these benefits from growing my own, the truth of the matter is that I grow vegetables because of my Dad.
When I was a little girl, every summer I was always out working in our little backyard vegetable garden with Dad. He taught me how to grow tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, beans, and others, I'm sure. This was just the way of things back then. Everybody had a garden. In fact, to this day I cannot buy zucchini in the grocery store because 'you are supposed to grow your own'.
I was 13 years old when my Dad passed away suddenly. I vaguely remember trying to have a garden for a few years after that, but without him it was no longer a priority. Anyway, I was busy trying to grow up - go to college, get a job, get married, buy a house (not necessarily all in that order!). It was when the house came, and I had my own land, that I was drawn again to growing vegetables. This was just the way of things, remember. I started small: a tomato in my flower garden, a hill of zucchini over there...Slowly but surely, each year my garden expanded, slowly replacing all the (inedible) ornamental plants that were taking up precious usable space.
As time went on, I found myself thinking more and more about my days out in the garden with Dad. Today I realize that some of the best memories I have of him were while we were out there, growing vegetables. When I'm out in my own garden, somehow I feel closer to him. I am honoring his memory, and carrying on his traditions. I still grow zucchini on mounds, like he did. I tie up my tomato plants with strips of old cloth, like he did. And when somebody asks me why I do these things, I proudly reply, 'because my Dad did it that way.'
Do you have a special gardening story? I'd love to hear it! Post a comment here or email me.
Happy Independence Day!
Recently I was asked by a fellow Master Gardener for some suggestions on how to put together an ‘educational and fun’ lecture on the History of Herbal Medicine. “Wow”, I thought, “that’s a particularly broad topic”. I started asking her a lot of questions: whose history? Which culture(s)? How far back do you want to go? Unfortunately, I think I overwhelmed her pretty quickly because she really hadn’t thought much past ‘herbal medicine’ as a singular thing.
Coincidentally, it was about this time that a dear friend gave me a book she found from the local used book store: “Polish Herbs, Flowers, & Folk Medicine”, by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab because 1. I’m an herbalist, and, 2. look at my particularly Polish surname! “Wow”, I thought (again!), “that’s pretty specific!”
The timely appearance of this book discussing a single ethnicity’s traditions in using herbs for healing brought the point home to me that there is no single ‘history of herbal medicine’. This appears to be different from other complementary medicine modalities such as acupuncture, which was largely developed in the Chinese culture, or yoga, which sprouted from India. No matter where in the world, every culture used herbs as medicine. Individual herbal traditions evolved with the culture of the people and the plants available to them in their region of the world.
As a result, a strength of today’s “Western herbal medicine” is that we draw from many traditional herbal practices. We survey different cultures, note similarities in herb usages, and compare with what modern science has revealed about these ancient uses.
Whether we are using the Ayurvedic (Indian) herb ashwagandha (Withania somnivera) as a stress-modulator, Chinese white peony (Paeonia lactiflora) to assist with menstrual issues, or plain-old dandelion (which grows EVERYWHERE) for liver health, the result is that we have a large, varied arsenal from which to choose and are not limited to herbs of a single system.
For a historical discussion about therapeutic uses of one of my favorite garden herbs, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), be sure to visit my latest post on the Ask the Herbalists blog.
Every year around this time my lawn becomes awash in violets. To some, these lovely little plants are weeds - the bane of a homeowner's pristine-lawn-loving existence. To me, they're an opportunity to behold nature's beauty - and to make violet jelly!
As an herbalist, I need to share that the sweet violet (Viola odorata) has a host of medicinal properties, the most common of which might be to ease respiratory afflictions. For a summary of traditional and modern uses of violet teas and topical applications, visit Ask The Herbalists for my latest post. For a more in-depth look at Viola odorata, check out my monograph which was published in the Journal of the American Herbalists' Guild (scroll down to the SILVER JUBILEE ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL issue).
But for our purposes, I really want to get to the violet jelly, because I recently made a batch that's to die for! The first step is to harvest about 4 cups of violet flowers from a location that you are confident hasn't been sprayed with chemicals. I have different colors of violets in my yard, as you can see to the right. Infuse the 4C of violets with 4C of boiling water and steep overnight, up to 24 hours (mason jars are nice for this). Be sure you keep the jars covered, else you will lose the volatile oils that give the violet its distinctive scent and flavor.
After a good steep, strain the liquid off and compost the flowers. The tea will be an unusual shade of purple, almost 'electric'. Now you've got the liquid to make the jelly. Assemble your canning materials and the following ingredients for a low-sugar version:
4 C violet infusion
1/2 C lemon juice (preferably bottled because the acidity will be standardized)
2 C sugar
4 tsp of Pomona pectin (an amazing low-sugar pectin)
4 tsp of calcium water (calcium comes with the Pomona pectin)
Mix sugar and pectin powder in a bowl and set aside. In a large saucepan, bring the violet infusion, lemon juice, and calcium water to a boil. Slowly add sugar and bring back to a boil, stirring vigorously with a wire whisk for 1-2 minutes to dissolve sugar/pectin. Remove from heat. Process sterilized, filled jars for 20 minutes. Makes about 4-5 cups.
From here consult your favorite canning instructions for sterilizing jars and processing. Ball canning has some nice introductory information online, and Pomona pectin (which is all I use due to the low sugar ability) also has specific instructions and tips for using their product.
The finished product will be a bright, iridescent purple and will have a lightly sweet floral taste. It's a bit like grape jelly, but more delicate.
Welcome Spring! You've been dreaming all winter about starting a medicinal herb garden, but now that the ground has thawed you realize you have no idea where to begin. Fear not, and read on for a simple garden plan that incorporates a pharmacy of herbs for self-care that are easy to grow in your backyard.
Before you jump in bring home a trunk-full of herbs you got at the spring fair, take a moment to consider the land that you have. What are the characteristics you have to work with? Do you have full sun? Full or part shade? What hardiness zone do you live in? What type of soil do you have and how about the drainage? Is your land flat or hilly? Check out the AskTheHerbalists blog, including my most recent post, for several topics that discuss these considerations.
In general, keep in mind that most common, medicinal herbs are not fussy (at least the ones I'm going to suggest below!). Give them reasonable soil, sun, and water, go easy on the fertilizer, and you should do just fine. Now for the herbs!
Backyard First Aid:
1. Plantain (Plantago major) - a common lawn weed but great for treating bee stings, bug bites, and small cuts. Make a 'spit poultice' by chewing the leaves and apply to the affected area
2. Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) - use the crushed leaves and root as a poultice to treat bruises - UNBROKEN skin. CAUTION: Use internally only under care of a professional.
3. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) - often used in mouthwashes, make a strong tea out of it and gargle
4. Lavender (Lavendula officinalis) - use lavender tea as an antiseptic wash or compress
5. (German) chamomile (Matricaria recutita) - tea from the flowers calms and relieves nausea
6. Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) - tea from the leaves provides anti-spasmodic action to calm cramping, gas, and indigestion.
7. Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) - make a cold infusion of the root to soothe red and irritated mucus membranes
8. Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) - tea from the dried leaves provides anti-histamine relief to calm allergic reactions. CAUTION: only handle stinging nettle plants while wearing gloves!!!
9. Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) - harvest the root at the end of summer, clean and chop before drying. Tea consumed every day will strengthen the immune system
10. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) - tea from the flowers is a mild lymphatic, moving immune cells to where they need to be as well as removing cellular waste
11. Holy basil/tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) - a cousin of mint (and grows like one), holy basil nourishes the hormonal stress axis, modulating release of stress hormones for a more moderate response to stressors
12. Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) - also in the mint family, tea made from scullcap leaves calms the nerves
The wagon wheel, shown above, is one way to showcase your herbs in an elegant manner. Plan for the diameter of the circle to be at least 8-10 feet in diameter, with narrow mulch strips dividing the sections. For a more angular look, try rectangular beds with walking paths in between, such as the layout shown below. Each bed should be 2'x3' or 3'x4'. Raised beds would work well here.
If you prefer a more 'free-form', natural look, you can plant the herbs in the space you have and see what happens!
This is what happens in nature, after all. Happy Gardening!
Here is where I share whatever herbal and well-being related musings that inspire me at the time. I am often inspired by the turning of the seasons.