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Planting a garden; Our 2013 layout

2 Jun

This spring has come very fast! We are writing this about two weeks after we started to plant all the seeds and work with the soil. When May arrived, the weather shifted to spring, almost instantly! We are currently getting over a frost scare with snow and had to water the entire garden the other night and cover all the young seedlings with bed sheets and towels. The weather has been a little volatile here in Ontario this past two weeks but things are looking up and spending time in the garden has commenced.

As April rolled around, we started to get into planning mode and adapted the garden layout that I made last year to acquire some of the improvements we noted at the end of the season which you can read here. To get organized and prepared for the planting season and have a successful garden again this year, here is our list of steps that helps to get us started:

1. We set up a large seed list of all the seeds we currently had stored (How to properly store your herbs/seeds) and categorized them into medicinal herbs, culinary herbs, vegetables, and ornamental flowers.

This is our list of seeds we had saved for the 2013 growing season!

This is our list of seeds we had saved for the 2013 growing season!

It really helped put into perspective the diversity of our garden when we went to plant. This list is only our saved-seed list and does not include all the perennials and starters we already had in the garden. As you can see, we plan on growing more edible leafy greens this year and a few less medicinals. Also, planting more flowers for the insects and pollinators to eat – We have been working towards a blooming schedule that allows spring, summer, and fall flowers so there is a continual food source for bees and other insects.

2. Design a layout of your garden/yard space with rough dimensions to allow you to plan where you can plant your vegetables or flowers. The help of a ‘companion planting’ books helps out a lot!

This year was a much easier year to design the garden because last was a huge experimentation and educational growing period. We already designed our 2012 garden using the measurements of our backyard and then figured out an aesthetic and practical design that we both agreed on. You can see our garden layout here: Garden Layout 2012, 2013
– After the shape and size of the garden was determined, we started to look up the plants that needed full sun vs. partial shade. I recommend watching the sun’s path during full summer to see the clearance (or lack of) of any buildings or trees around the area. If in spring or fall, the path will be much lower to the south so account for a higher crest during mid-summer.
– We also use a companion planting book for all of our culinary herbs and vegetables to have as diverse a garden as possible! For example, planting garlic or onions around some greens or vegetables helps to deter aphids or other insects that could become a detrimental problem to your garden.

Garden layout 2013

Garden layout 2013

3. Till and supplement your garden soil with hearty, dark compost to nourish your plants!

The first real account of spring, at least for me, is when you can actually put your fingers into sun-warmed soil. This really signifies spring in my mind and is my sense of connection between the planning phase and the planting phase. We first started tilling at the end of April or first week of May, here in Ontario, Canada, and just worked in some high carbon leaf compost mixed with home-made vegetable compost (high in Nitrogen). We tilled and stirred the soil in our beds, mostly around the perennials, while adding a deeper trench of carbon rich leaf compost beneath the vegetable seeds.

tilling the garden bed with a hoe

tilling the garden bed with a hoe

The next step in the garden is the most fun – PLANTING! Once all the planning and organizing is done, we are so happy to be able to plant the seeds and transplant our starters in the earth and watch them grow.

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Deep in the Forest Beneath the White Cedars

14 May

“Plant identification may sound mundane, but when you observe the hundreds of  variables and interconnections that single plant has with the surrounding ecosystem, it becomes quite magical.”

A patch of White Trillium we found at the forests edge, just next to a meadow

A patch of White Trillium we found at the forest’s edge, near a meadow

 

This week was a great chance to spend a few days and evenings in the woods, meadows, and swamps near my home. I have been so busy with the garden and work that I have barely had a chance to get into the forest and see all the new living plants emerging from the soil. It is still pretty early in the year, and the nights have been pretty cold this week, but a few new species of plants that I did not have the enjoyment of identifying last year were  some of the ones I stumbled across during my hikes. I have to say that in the past, hiking out into a mucky swamp or down a dark cedar trail, even walking through horse-fly guarded grassland, was not really my thing to say the least! I enjoyed the outdoors and being in the forest but for much different reasons. I enjoyed walking and looking at the trees blowing in the wind, smelling the damp leaves and decaying branches, and spotting any wildlife I came across. These things are still very close to me when I go into the forest, but a new element of observation really ‘clicks’ with me; wildcrafting and plant identification. Plant identification may sound mundane, but when you observe the hundreds of  variables and interconnections that single plant has with the surrounding ecosystem, it becomes quite magical. You learn to notice things like the type and number of pedals an opening flower has, its fragrant pollen, the colors and textures of the leaves and stems, the ecosystem in which it is growing, its population and overall health,  insects which are eating it, its mode of fertilization and seed mobility, and lastly but most predominantly- its full life-force. This idea is what has called me closer to herbalism and understanding (mostly the basics so far) the powers of local plant medicines. I like to routinely grab my bike, my harvest packs/bags, camera, and I.D. books, and enter the woods to see what I can catch coming to life! It is a great way to connect with nature and learn a few things while doing it.

Today I was visiting a store, an old used book store to be exact, and when my partner showed me a National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, I was ecstatic! I spent over half an hour looking at the great detail of the pictures of wildflower petals, the majestic backdrops of the plants found all over the East Coast which featured numerous types of ecosystems, and I wished I was in each one of them. An urgency to visit all these wild places and smell each forest’s scent. The feeling that I get when I am looking through one of these plant field guides or gardening  design books  is a mixture between curiosity and amazement; I want to know where and when each plant will bloom, and most of all, the evolutionary processes and adaptations that occurred to make that plant what it is today. In other words, I am blown away when I try to understand the complicated relationships between predators and protectors of a particular plant; whether the plant adapted  to attract the pollinator or the other way around – that kind of question. It really is quite hard to understand, but the beauty is how well everything works out in the end.

A natural ecosystem, whether one that includes humans or not, is so much more complicated than one would assume. I have shared in the common view of nature as being trees and plants with a few bugs and birds and some natural weather fused in. The reality is unless you get down on your knee and peer deep into the ecology of even the soil beneath your foot, you will miss the very breath that is life on this planet. I have realized how much more there is to a simple forested path than just trees and pine needles covering the trail. There is a myriad of connections you can make that intertwines all the creatures and acts of physics within a wild-space.  For example, on my hike through the forest a few nights ago, my sister and I noticed what looked like a beaver damn in the river. We walked over to the water’s edge to see in fact it was just a burly shaped fallen branch. We happened to be standing in a tightly knit White Cedar forest with only a little light reaching us through the canopy. My sister pointed out that one of the cedar roots beneath our feet was erupting with little baby cedars! We followed a trail that was winding under the soil to the water’s edge. I noticed these were not Cedar trees at all, they were poplar – Balsam Poplars to be exact. We followed the emerging line back the other way, right up and over the root crown of the cedar beside us and abut 6 more feet to the base of a mature Poplar. It was erupting with basal shoots that were infants on a successful root that had made it to a source of sustenance, the river beyond us. I then became aware of the forces at work in this situation;

a) the immense number of emerging roots that became more noticeable as I took along the ground beneath me. A literal spider web, possibly a meter or more deep of roots, supporting a spongy, hollow forest floor.
b) a fierce competition of roots, like arms swarming and reaching over each other to fight for retreating ‘ground’ space.
c) the small clearing we stand has spots of light trickling in from above; the perfect location for these opportunistic Poplar shoots and they were growing steadily toward it.
d) The area was littered with fallen cedar limbs. The energy of the decomposing organic matter made by the cedars now fuels the explosive energy of the pervading Poplar; inviting it into its territory.

There were many, many other examples of associations that were happening while we assessed the forest floor, but this is only my interpretation. As an observer, the story was my own. Another could see the layout I explained and have a totally different understanding. That is the beauty of having your own experience in nature, learning from all the plants and insects around you. Just like us, each living organism has its own complex interactions and associations with its ecosystem.

Next time you are walking on a forest trail or even in your own back yard, stop to notice aspects beyond the flower itself. Look at the shape and color of the petals. Maybe a few quick questions like: How many petals does the flower have? What do the leaves feel like? Are they waxy or fuzzy? Are there any insects living or feeding on the plant?  There are many things we can learn from nature if we look a little deeper and I invite you to open up to this as well.

“The reality is unless you get down on your knee and peer deep into the ecology of even the soil beneath your foot, you will miss the very breath that is life on this planet.”

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This week’s plant-finds:

(Lunar Harvest can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.)
Trout Lily in the forest

Trout Lily in the forest

1. Trout Lily

(Erythronium americanum) – This amazing little lily was blanketing the forest floor with waxy, dark leaves that are spotted (like a trout) and curled. It is native to Ontario and is edible! I came across these earlier in the spring so they have not fully opened, but this is what a Trout Lily looks like when it is fully blooming.

Trout Lily corm

Trout Lily corm

Edibility: at the base of the plant, there is a small ‘corm’ that is edible. I did not pick the ones I found as they are still very young and I wanted to leave them for birds and other wild creatures, but this is a picture of what a corm of the Trout lily looks like. It is said to taste similar to cucumber.
Medicinal Uses: None noted

2. Yellow Downy Violet 

(Viola pubescens) – This awesome little

Yellow Downy Violet

Yellow Downy Violet

yellow violet was all over an east facing hill that was opening is small areas. This one is not fully open, but you can see the fuzzy, round toothed leaves and the typical vertical black marking on the lower petal. These violets are in the Viola family and found in dry, mixed deciduous forests. They bloom in the spring months, April through May.

Edibility: Wild Violets are noted as edible! You can eat the flowers and leaves – great for salads and tea,  syrups and vinegar!
Medicinal Uses: None noted

3. Field Pussytoes

(Antennaria neglecta) – These little white shoots have been something on my to-find-list and I

Field pussytoes ready to bloom!

Field pussytoes ready to bloom!

stumbled across them last night in a grassy field. The name alone is quite interesting as are the flowers themselves. I have always come across this plant in my plant identification book, but have never really noticed it in the past here in Ontario.

Edibility: None noted
Medicinal Uses: Not used very often anymore, but once used for coughs and for the gall bladder. The plant is very rich in mucilage which makes it very valuable in the treatment of chest complaints. It is also used in the treatment of liver and gall bladder complaints.

4. Periwinkle

(Vinca minor) – I have seen these little guys in my

Periwinkle Flower

Periwinkle Flower

neighbors garden before, a waxy ground-cover looking plant that has a little blue/violet flower in the early spring. Periwinkle is VERY invasive and should not be spread or introduced outside the home garden. It grows in many areas of North America, predominantly on the Eastern coast. We found this growing in a dark Locust grove as a ground cover mixed with Wild Grape and deciduous trees. It likes to line moist forest floors.

Edibility: None Noted
Medicinal uses: Periwinkle is an Antispasmodic, Astringent, Bitter and Sedative  tonic, among other important things. It contains a potent alkaloid called ‘vincamine’, which is extracted and used pharmaceutically as a cerebral stimulant and vasodilator. Its real use, since its discovery, is treating heart problems and dementia, which is due to low levels of blood reaching the brain.

5. Marsh Marigold

(Caltha palustris) – This swamp and stream-bed loving flower is known to light up wet areas in April-May with its bright and beautiful yellow blooms. I had seen this in the spring many times and wanted to document it. The Marsh Marigold definitely needs wet, saturated soil to thrive and can also grow in a soil based water garden. I stumbled across this only because it is almost impossible to miss if you are hiking around an area that has and wetlands or streams…

Marsh Marigold in damp creekbed

Marsh Marigold in damp creekbed

Edibility: This plant can be very TOXIC if eaten raw. It contains the toxin glycoside protoanemonin, which can be harmful if sap gets on your skin. It is best to stay away from the older parts of the plant, like lower stem and basil leaves. Cooking is the best method to deactivate the glycosides; Boil in water, then change water repeat, 3 times! I don’t think I would risk eating this plant as most of the nutrients would be gone after a triple boil, but it is good to know for survival.
Medicinal uses: Since the whole plant is an irritant, caution is advised! Externally used to treat warts, or boiled and mashed to create a poultice for sores. A tea made from the leaves can act as a diuretic and laxative.

6. Coltsfoot

(Tussilago farfara) – Coltsfoot is the first plant I tend to see rising; a very eager flower which

Coltsfoot flowers in full bloom

Coltsfoot flowers in full bloom

gladly provides sustenance for early and competitive bee populations. When this stalk emerges, it really reminds me of Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys) due to the texture on the stem, especially before it blooms.

Edibility: Contains alkaloids that can be toxic to the liver in large doses. Smaller doses are safer. There are many uses for Coltsfoot, most of the plant is edible! The flowers and buds are good raw/cooked and have a light anise flavor. The leaves can be boiled (also rinsed after boiled to help lower the bitterness). A tea can be made from the leaves and flowers and again has an anise flavor. I found out that you can dry and burn the leaves to create a salt alternative!
Medicinal uses: Coltsfoot is a noted for its great Antitussive and Demulcent abilities, helping to relieve coughs and expelling mucus. There are possibilities of toxicity when using in higher amounts, especially dried flowers. Coltsfoot is also used as a whole body tonic.

We came across some other common flowers in the area like Wild Strawberry, White Trillium which is our provincial flower, and an interesting fungus growing on some white and red cedar trees; Cedar-Apple Rust, as shown below. Thanks for reading my post, hopefully I can blog more weekly finds like these in the future!

Cedar-Apple Rust on a Cedar tree

Cedar-Apple Rust on a Cedar tree

A patch of White Trillium we found at the forests edge, just next to a meadow

A patch of White Trillium we found at the forests edge, just next to a meadow

Wild Strawberry Flowering

Wild Strawberry Flowering

Adam D.

Plant Information Sources:
Plants for a Future Organization, http://www.pfaf.org
Ontario Wildflowers Database, http://www.ontariowildflowers.com
Newcomb, L. 1977, Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.
Knopf, A. 2001, The National Audubon Wildflowers; Eastern Region, Revised Edition.

The Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica); A love-hurt relationship

11 May
Stinging nettles in the back garden

Stinging nettles in the back garden

This year is an exciting year for our established garden perennials. We have been nurturing some for the past 4-5 years. Echinacea purpurea, and nitrogen-fixing legumes like Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and a strong medicinal I have loved to use for years, Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) are but some. It wasn’t until last year that I really started to understand and appreciate the wondrous nutritive abilities Stinging Nettles have. I have seen them in damp forests many times, especially behind a house I spent a summer at in British Columbia, Canada. They were thick, 3-5 feet tall, and they sure let you know if a bare arm or leg grazed them while walking past! After reading about nettles in herbalism books and literature, I was excited to grow these in our back garden in case we couldn’t find many wild bunches. We planted some nettle seeds in a few designated areas of the garden last year that would suit their growing needs (nutritious, damp soil, partial to full sun, away from central paths). They awoke early this year and are doing great in the garden, ready to be harvested and made into some delicious tea and soups. The ideal time to harvest Stinging Nettles is between May and June, picking only the new tender top growths, before the plant flowers. You can save and dry any extra leaves for future use.

“The leaves of the plants have stinging hairs, causing irritation to the skin. This action is neutralized by heat or by thorough drying, so the cooked leaves are perfectly safe and nutritious. However, only young leaves should be used because older leaves develop gritty particles called cystoliths which act as an irritant to the kidneys.”

Benefits and Medicinal uses for Stinging Nettles:

– Alterative, cleansing tonic and blood purifierNettle scientific
– Treats hayfever and allergies
– High in iron; great for treating anaemia
– Acts as an astringent, diuretic, and a stimulating tonic
– Helps blood clotting, dandruff, asthma, and hypoglycemia
– Very nutritious as a food that is easily digested and is high in minerals (especially iron, calcium, and silicon) and vitamins (especially A and C)
– Known to aid osteoarthritis; reducing pain in joints by applying topically over sore area; has been shown to reduce their non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • For Rheumatism, the fresh young leaf tops were traditionally picked and rubbed or ‘beaten’ onto the skin. This is called urtification, actually induced a potent  irritation to the skin that is far worse than just brushing the hairs across the skin. Urtification of Nettles works in two ways; first it acts as a counter-irritant, bringing more blood to the area to help remove the toxins that cause rheumatism. Secondly, the joints that are inflamed and sore from the Rheumatism are eased by the plants natural occurring formic acid.

“The juice of the nettle can be used as an antidote to stings from the leaves and an infusion of the fresh leaves is healing and soothing as a lotion for burns”

Preperations:

how to pick nettles using the "taco" technique

how to pick nettles using the “taco” technique

Tisane/Herbal Tea Infusion: For a basic tea mixture, each cup of boiled, filtered water, add 1 tsp of dried herb (you can use 2 Tbsp or more if you are using fresh herb). Cover the pot and let set for 30 minutes. This is the ‘infusion’ method to make nettle tea.

For our home-harvested and brewed tea, we hand-picked the nettles in our back yard, picking the young tops as shown. A technique shown by superfood expert David Wolfe, is to grab under the leaf and curl it up like a taco, thus not touching the hairs on the top of the leaf or the barbs on the stem of the nettle plant. Then pluck the leaf off and set into the basket, or even set into the mouth (not to touch the lips or front of the tongue).

We then snipped into smaller pieces (some people prefer to rinse the nettles before adding to tea) and put the water on to boil. Once the water was rolling, we took it off the heat and added the nettles. Cover and let steep for 30 minutes or longer. You can let sit over night and reheat in the morning for an even more potent tea –  This technique let the water cool with the herb in it, therefor extracting different nutrients at each decreasing temperature stage. The end result will be a much darker and potent tea.

After the tea has cooled enough to drink, enjoy! You can add other green or fragrant herbs with the nettles like mint or chamomile if you wish for a more calming or sweet tea.

Baths: This is good for sciatica. Soak a large amount of Stinging Nettle plant material, including the root, in cold water for 8 hours or overnight. Then boil the herb for 10-15 minutes and add to the bathtub. Soak in the herbs for as long as you feel comfortable. This may also be used as a foot soak.

Shampoo wash: Place one half cup of the dried herbs in a huge 5 liter pot. Bring the herbs to boil slowly. Remove from the stove and keep covered for an additional 10 minutes. Add in some shaved olive oil soap and bring to boil. Cool to a warm mixture and wash your hair with this.

Soups: The flavor of green, young nettle tops is a delicious taste to add to soup recipes. A simple recipe could be

Stinging Nettle Soup

1 lb of young stinging nettle tops
4 cups of Vegetable Broth
1/4 cup of Brown/Basmati Rice
1 medium white onion, diced
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp sea salt
pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 2 teaspoons of salt. Drop in the stinging nettles, and cook 1 to 2 minutes until they soften. This will remove most of the sting. Drain in a colander, and rinse with cold water. Trim off any tough stems, then chop coarsely.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat, and stir in the onion. Cook until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice, chicken broth, and chopped nettles. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Puree the soup with an immersion blender, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

.

Sources:
http://www.pfaf.org, Urtica dioica
http://www.naturalnews.com, 
Stinging Nettles: So Many Cures that You Will Lose Count. 2012

http://www.umm.edu, Stinging Nettle:Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, 2011.
Nettle Soup recipe modified from: allrecipes.com/recipe/stinging-nettle-soup

Spring-time garden greening

20 Apr
catching not only a honey bee, but another wasp too

Our first Honey Bee and a friend

Everbearing raspberry buds ready leaf

Ever-bearing raspberry buds ready to leaf

It has been a long time coming but the ground is thawing and our soil is breaking with small green sprouts, reaching for the sun. I have been itching to touch the soil the past few months so a daily walk through the mucky garden paths subdues my anxiety. The major difference we have this year over last is that many of our herbs were perennials so we actually have many garden surprises popping up each day. I have taken a look through the leaves and covered spaces to see what is coming to life. Here is what I have found:

This month my sister, Alissa, and her partner Kevin, arrived from a winter in Mexixo and will be staying with us. They will be helping us out in the garden as well as enjoying the bounty of home-grown, organic veggies. We plan on really expanding the greens and vegetables and hopefully berry canes. We were a little late on planting our starters in the basement but thanks to the warm weather forecasted in May, we will be able to start planting outside (we live in Ontario, Canada so our growing season starts a little later). One of the many things we have starting to grow is Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica). It is one of my favorite herbs as it so nourishing for the blood, liver, and body. It is also a powerful pain reliever  when you apply or rub the stinging hairs to a sore or inflamed area of your body.

The soil is warming up and we are getting ready to plant! We have been busy organizing and planning our garden, building our 2013 layout plan which we are excited to share with you in a few weeks! With the accompaniment and advice of our companion planting guides, along-side our growing experience from last summer, we have made some major improvements that we hope help our yields and  growth. We will be posting our next blog soon about the accounts of our May planting as well as some of our planting methods we used. Thanks for reading,

Adam D.

Virginia Skullcap (Scutellaria latiflora)

9 Feb

First and foremost I would like to give a big thanks and lots of love to Adam and Katie for their interest in having me contribute to their online wellness-gardening-homesteading collective. It is a pleasure to write for such a forward thinking, wholesome collaboration of souls and ideas that bring us back to the basic skills and knowledge that connect us with our cultural and biological heritage. I am a firm believer in the resurgence of these types of concepts and ideas; which are not only factual and informative but encourage the mind and body to exist beyond the parameters with which the vast majority find themselves. These articles are life lessons that are invaluable for us on an individual and community basis: there is another way to exist that treats our bodies, the body of the earth and all the various lives that it has nurtured with the inherent respect and reverence that has allowed us to survive thus far. Thanks again you two, we are all in this together.

Most of us, myself included, at this point in the winter begin to feel tired, tense, worn out and perhaps even a little bit more irritable than usual. These emotional changes are normal and tend to effect people differently and are likely dependent on factors including ethnicity, diet, exercise and other more obscure variables. However you choose to look at it, there are things that one can do that can assist them with taking the edge off of the ‘winter blues’. This includes turning to some natural remedies that many have not heard of but I have found to be extremely effective.

Scutellaria lateriflora by Tom Murray

Scutellaria latiflora, more commonly known as Virginia skullcap  blue skullcap  mad-dog skull cap, plain old skullcap or skullcap, is a perennial herb in the mint family (Lamiaceae) which grows in moist, organic soils adjacent to gently flowing streams through sunny woods and along the edges of marshes throughout southern Canada and the United States. The name ‘mad-dog’ was given to this plant when, many centuries ago, it was believed that this herb was a cure or preventive measure against rabies. Although modern science has failed to confirm this particular medicinal attribute, it has revealed many other uses that perhaps reach a wider audience. Plants for a Future (one of my preferred sources for online herbal remedies) has this to say regarding S. lateriflora: “[Virginian Skullcap is a] very effective nervine that has traditionally been used in the treatment of a wide range of nervous conditions. Its tonic and restorative properties help to support and nourish the nervous system, calming and relieving stress and anxiety”

This has a tremendous flexibility for helping the faint of spirit during the cold, short days and even colder nights of winter. The herb possesses anti-spasmodic properties which sooth and relax muscles, relieving tension and promoting fluid movement and elasticity. This herb, when used in combination with others (such as Angelica sinensis, Alchemilla vulgaris or Valeriana officinalis) could help to gradually lessen the pain and discomfort associated with menstrual cramps and limit blood and nutrient loss. I have had enormous success with Scutellaria and take pride in using an indigenous plant that could be ecologically and morally grown in one’s edible/medicinal garden without worry of introducing an invasive species (because we most definitely have enough of those..). The plant in it’s second year produces fine erect stems which bear opposite facing lovely light purple flowers that are composed of petals that have fused to form a tube. This provides pollinating insects with a courteous landing pad and allows them to rest while they feed on nectar and inadvertently transfer pollen from plant to plant.

Scutellaria is also a tonic herb; which means that the active compounds present in the plant tissues are slowly but gradually and completely utilized by almost every organ system in the body and, if consumed regularly, helps to bring about a state of health that mainstream science does not, as of yet, have the means to understand. Consistent use of this herb also promotes cardiovascular health by strengthening the heart muscles and the lining of the veins. By depressing the central nervous system, Scutellaria helps to combat pain, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, mental fatigue, and when taken in the late afternoon and throughout the evening prepares the body for sleep; something that on it’s own can help combat the many afflictions in which Scutellaria is most effective.

As a beverage, tea made from this lovely and embarrassingly underutilized herb tastes wonderfully earthy and wholesome. When consumed warm like many herbal teas, Scutellaria promotes sweating and the purging of accumulated bacteria and toxins from the bloodstream and skin. It also contains an aray of important, health promoting micro-nutrients and minerals including magnesium,  manganese, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc and potassium; as discussed in Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. I find Scutellaria to be one of my new favorite herbs to take once I arrive home from work and relax in the evenings with music, food and books. A winner combination for me is Scutellaria mixed with Centella asiatica, which is known as Gotu-Kola. This thin, delicate Asiatic trailing perennial has similar attributes to Scutellaria including it’s ability to reduce anxiety, muscle tension and strengthen cardiovascular function. is also proven through centuries of medicinal use in China and India to improve memory, improve the healing of wounds, strengthen immunity to disease and regulate the nervous system. It was also used spiritually to prepare the soul and body for a state of deep meditation and mental stillness.

In combination with an increased intake of dense, high-energy fresh foods and increasing the amount of time in which you set aside to relax and contemplate, the mind will gradually clear and your overall emotions will level off and become more stable. The long nights, cold temperatures and less physical exercise that accompany winter are difficult to deal for what is in reality a tropical species. It’s all about doing what you can and not worrying about what you don’t have to or can’t change. With the help of various herbs, including but certainly not limited to the particular species that I have discussed, the path to healing is likely to be faster, easier and hopefully mentally fulfilling as well.

Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity.
– Hippocrates

Tom Nagy
Tom NagyTom is an herbal medicine missionary, nature enthusiast and skilled field botanist. He has spent many years researching the identification, taxonomy, medicinal and ethnobotanical properties of Ontario’s flora. He has successfully conducted informative public seminars on both edible and medicinal plants and continues to heal both himself and others through his studies in herbalism. He resides (at least part of the time) in Stoney Creek, Ontario.

References:
[1] USDA Plant database – profile for Scutellaria lateriflora – http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=SCLA2
[2] Plants for a Future – http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Scutellaria+lateriflora
[3]Perscription for Nutritional Healing – Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. 2000.
[4] The Herb Handbook – Sue Bristow. 2004.
[5] Herbs for Health & Healing – Kathi Keville. 2006.

Our 2012 Medicinal and Vegetable Gardens Summary Part 2

14 Jan

DSC03200Scurrying vines of oregano, great bounties of tomatoes, rows of nodding chamomile, fresh bunches of cilantro, and bright orange butternut squash safeguarded under their enveloping leaves like sleeping giants; a victorious summer harvest to end our venture in raising awareness of the concept “Dig up your lawn!”.

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Sage, Wild Oregano, Thyme, Mugwort, St.John’s Wort, Chamomile and Feverfew

Many different colors and shapes were present in the garden, starting with baby mustard and spinach greens in the spring, followed by zucchini, green onions, mint, and raspberries in the summer, and finally potatoes, butternut squash, carrots and other root vegetables in the early fall. They were all growing and breathing in our backyard and we created a great relationship with each plant; many of them are still resting and their offspring dormant in the soil until the first break of spring. I have to admit that there is absolutely nothing I have ever experienced that is more gratifying than obtaining the simple indigenous knowledge of working with nature. I watched her grow a luscious bed of food which only minimal influence of resting all but tiny seeds within her body of soil.

Ripening 'ever-bearing' raspberries

Ripening ‘ever-bearing’ raspberries

After the first few weeks of warm weather in which we hurried to create the beds and prepare the soil, it was now time to fully plant the copious amounts of seeds we ordered from two main seed suppliers. The first was Horizon Herbs, where we purchased most of our medicinal varieties, and from a much more local seed supplier, The Cottage Gardener, we ordered our vegetable seeds. We had a garden party in May and with the help of good friends, we planted the whole list of over 50 species, more were already started indoors and were set into the newly made beds. Things like raspberries, marshmallow and sun-daze flowers were purchased from a local greenhouse as the season went by. We made second, third, and even fourth plantings of greens which after harvesting the early crops like radish, we rotated certain greens since we eat such large salads. As the season progressed we took note of any changes we would like to make to next years garden. We noted some below.

Potato and beet harvest in late August

Bright purple and red dragon carrots

Bright purple and red dragon carrots

Some Major Lessons Learned:

Don’t plant the mixed-lettuce greens beside the potatoes, many potato flies and white flies were taking advantage of the soft greens

If you use mulch – do not excessively water as rot can occur, especially with plants like tomatoes.

Monitor the insect populations more carefully to see when they peak and which ones become an overburden.

-Make sure that when planting a root crop, you companion-plant surface crops like lettuce or herbs so they don’t compete for the same nutrients

Take note of the path the sun travels in early spring, and do a prediction for mid-summer through monitoring its heights and clearances of all the trees near the garden. We planted some high-sun needing plants just out of reach of full sun (like our raspberries and some tomatoes)

Make the paths a little wider for clearance and do not plant bushy plants too close to the edges, even if you are feeling a little zealous with the small sprouts

Leave LOTS and lots of room for the butternut squash… this herbaceous crawler can engulf everything like a sea monster in a Japanese film.

 Avoid planting anymore Thistles near the path edges, as they can become a fierce weapon and cause bloodshed.

– Make some bird houses, a mason bee straw home, and other homes for beneficial friends

– Plant more nectar containing flowers like Yarrow, Poppy, Borage, Wood Betony and others around the perimeter of our garden, this brings pollinators and more beneficial friends

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch – we need to add more chopped wood from tree pruning companies. We watched and learned a great method and technique from a documentary called ‘Back to Eden’ which explains a sustainable, low input method that stops weed growth, that is a natural soil-builder, reduces need for irrigation, and is tilling free – just use a light raking when planting!

– Do not add any green garden waste to your compost that has gone to seed. When the compost is finished those seeds will germinate and the new soil will be exploding with opportunistic plants that were not intended to be in your garden.

– Make sure any plants with infection like blight-ridden tomatoes, or leaves with leaf miners, are separated from all other compost matter. Again, when these plants decompose, they will be prevalent in next spring’s crops.

There are many more small changes that we are going to make to our garden this year – many species of vegetables just didn’t fare well in sections that did not have sufficient sunlight and some species, like Romanesco  Broccoli and Winter-Density Spinach, bolted and had little production from what we read was excessive temperatures for their liking since they are a cool crop. To see the layout of last year’s garden, click here.

Straw mulching our field cucumbers really saved a lot of water for irrigation!

Straw mulching our field cucumbers really saved a lot of water for irrigation!

Looking back on the course of the entire Season, from spring to summer, I was like an excited child on Christmas. I would anxiously get dressed in the morning when the spring sun was just stretching over the garage and illuminating the fence of wild grapes, and search through the soil to watch for any new sprouts that had begun to grow. I saw the intricate leaves of new herbs and vegetables that I had never seen before. While I watered the garden, I watched certain crops die from over-hydration while their neighbor flourished and exploded. I learned many lessons with my eyes and through touch and through these lessons I have become very thankful. It has been through the passion of food growing that I get to experience how my food is grown and where it comes from. I feel more connected to nature, more respectful of the intricacies in nature, more observant of the complicated matrix of synergies that we become so unaware of while we hustle and bustle away in our busy lives. Doing a backyard garden does this to you. It opens your eyes to the drastic framework that exists in nature and we are part of it! I know it seems weird to think that clumsy, destructive, hungry humans fit into all of this, but maybe it is just we are not opening our eyes and experiencing this matrix enough.

A view from the back of the garden; the herb circle

A view from the back of the garden; the herb circle

– Adam

Our 2012 Medicinal and Vegetable Gardens summary Part 1

6 Jan

NewspaperThis past summer of 2012 was one of the most awakening and deeply enjoyable garden experiences of our lives. Between the two of us, we both spent extensive time digging, sweating, planning, planting, watering, weeding, and exploring our new backyard organic garden.

The entire project began with a rich yearning to till the soil in the backyard’s green grass monoculture. We are both expanding in our knowledge and experience with gardening and being self-sufficient so growing our own food and medicinals was a clear next-step for personal growth. Actually, in my opinion, the best thing to do if you are not confident or not sure when/where to plant a garden, would be to just start with a small garden plot, pick out the plants you want to use, do basic research (even just on the back of the seed packs about which month to plant or how much sun/water), plant them in the spring, and watch them grow until they are ready to harvest! It is as simple as that. I cannot guarantee you will be successful with what you try to grow, but at least you observed, learned, and can take that knowledge to improve and  build upon the mistakes you just made.DSC02846

In our case, we both had some farming and gardening experience so we were not really starting at the bottom but after planting 60+ species of plants and not knowing exactly what grew best where, or which needed extra care or sunlight, as well as the quality of our soil… it all became a little wrenching to see if ANYTHING would grow. This was our best lesson; almost everything that germinated did amazing and we had tons of success with things like Butternut squash, which grew 17′ vines that crawled the length of our garden beds and produced seven 5+ pound squashes! The only major problem we had was with cucumber beetles and tomato blight- it was a very bad summer for that indeed.

Our indoor garden we made last winter and blogged about, started off the 2012 season. Many of our herbs were started inside and that allowed the roots to flourish and get a head start. We then hardened them off in the early spring as we began the immense and tiring task of plotting out our future garden and tilling the soil all by hand! We mapped out a space a little under 1300 sq. ft and removed the sod, and tilled about 12″ deep to loosen up the topsoil once the ground had dried from the receding frost. You can also see the full layout of the 2012 Garden here. We had only started our compost the fall before which forced us to purchase a half pick-up truck load of leaf and mushroom compost to use for adding nutrients to the dry topsoil. Instantly, the soil went from a light grey to a dark black earth, with much greater moisture holding abilities.

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 Once May rolled around, and all the partially-raised beds were constructed, we converted two more 5 gal barrels into rain barrels and started collecting rain water and cheaply made a 50′ clothes line to help lower our electricity consumption for the summer (we also love the smell of clothes that had been drying outside on a

 warm, sunny summer day). We dug a large trench around the perimeter of our compost and shaded garden because in the past the rain load emitted by the garage roof swamped out the garlic and spinach planted near our path. After digging the trench and filling it with large crushed gravel, heavy spring rains washed into the deep trench and by-passed the beds and flowed into the corner of our property. One other project we completed before the season began was the digging of a small toad pond near the interior of the middle garden. We found 3 very small toads while doing maintenance gardening for a customer, and brought them home to live for the summer in case they got hit by her lawnmower. We only saw them from time-to-time but it was the hornets that we observed making frequent visits to the pond to collect water to drink, or to take to their hives. Another friend of the garden was the giant fuzzy bumble bees, burrowing their nest in the soil next to our potato mounds. In the early morning as we toured the gardens before work, we would pass the potatoes and witness a scurry of 5-10 big bear-like bees buzzing past; off to collect nectar.

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It was amazing the number of insects a large garden can bring – from thirsty hornets, to hover flies, honey bees to hawk moths, even lace wings and horned worms. This diversity was our goal in producing this years garden as the aid of specific flowers and native plants, like yarrow, that brought in beneficial insects was part of why our garden thrived and created balance. Overall, we had a great time, learned more than we could have hoped for and had so much fun being able to enter the garden at will and eat ripe and local food we watched grow from seeds! Growing your own food is a very liberating act 🙂

Check out part two of this blog (hopefully in the next day or two) to hear about our planting, harvesting, and finally putting the garden to sleep last fall!

Thanks for reading,
– A

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