Tag Archives: Organic gardening

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.

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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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