Saturday, May 15, 2010

Herbal Gardening, Part 5

Herbal Gardening, Part 5

Our seedlings started indoors are sprouting, and it's time to start thinking about constructing our container garden.

Here's a list of items I think we'll need. I was hoping to get it all for under $50, but the numbers are adding up to way more than that:

Item Description Each QTYTotal
Boards 2X6X8 lumber $3.64 9 $32.76
Clothesline Plastic Clothesline $6.57 1 $6.57
Nails 1/2 Lb. Box, 16D $1.99 1 $1.99
Nails 1/2 Lb. Box, 8D $2.24 1 $2.24
Landscape fabric3 Ft. x 50 Ft. $14.971 $14.97
Tomato cage Blue Ribbon Ultomato$6.47 4 $25.88
Peat moss 3 Cu. Ft. $11.272 $22.54
Compost 1.5 Cu. Ft. $4.63 4 $18.52
Vermiculite 3 Cu. Ft. $6.00 2 $12.00
TOTAL $137.47

So, we'll see if we can find some bargains, or look at less expensive ways of accomplishing the same things.

Perhaps we can use plastic tubs or buckets for the herb garden alongside the driveway, reducing the lumber required to build our 3-foot by 4-foot containers alongside the garage.

The tomato cages could be made of dowels or scrap wood.

The landfill or local nursery might have less expensive compost.

Any other ideas?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Herbal Gardening, Part 4

Herbal Gardening, Part 4

We've planted our indoor garden spot. Here is a list of each crop started indoors and a description taken from the seed packet, followed by a list of crops that we plan to sow directly to the garden later.

Planted indoors from seed on April 11, 2010

To be planted directly in the garden later:

Amana Orange Pole Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)

Lake Valley Organics Seed

Amana Orange is one of the tastiest and earliest of the heirloom Beefsteaks in our trial garden. Deep orange color and big Beefsteak flavor make this one of our all-time favorites.

Planting: Start in a warm location indoors 6-8 weeks before transplanting. Harden off young plants in a protected outdoors location about 10 days before transplanting. Plant outdoors in late spring after the nights have warmed. There is little advantage to setting plants out early since unstable spring weather will delay growth.

Note: Tie the vines to a sturdy trellis as they begin to grow. Feed every 2-3 weeks with an organic fertilizer high in phosphorus for best growth. Deep watering once a week is best to promote healthy roots and large harvests.

  • Seed depth: 1/8 inch
  • Plant space: 3 feet
  • Sprouts in: 7-15 days
  • Matures in: 80 days
  • Row space: 3 feet
  • No chemical fertilizers
  • No seed treatments
  • 100% open-pollinated seed, no hybrids
  • 100% certified organically-grown seed

Brandywine Pole Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)

Lake Valley Organics Seed

Few tomatoes can claim the mystique of Brandywine. It is generally thought to be an old Amish variety passed down through generations of gardeners. Whatever its heritage, modern gardeners agree that its flavor and texture cannot be beat! 12 to 20-ounce fruits with flavor like your grandmother used to grow.

Planting: Start in a warm location indoors 6-8 weeks before transplanting. Harden off young plants in a protected outdoors location about 10 days before transplanting. Plant outdoors in late spring after the nights have warmed. There is little advantage to setting plants out early since unstable spring weather will delay growth.

Note: Tie the vines to a sturdy trellis as they begin to grow. Feed every 2-3 weeks with an organic fertilizer high in phosphorus for best growth. Deep watering once a week is best to promote healthy roots and large harvests.

  • Seed depth: 1/8 inch
  • Plant space: 3 feet
  • Sproutes in: 7-15 days
  • Matures in: 85 days
  • Row space: 3 feet
  • No chemical fertilizers
  • No seed treatments
  • 100% open-pollinated seed, no hybrids
  • 100% certified organically-grown seed

Caraway (Carum carvi)

Lake Valley Seed

A hardy biennial herb closely related to carrots. Attractive bright green lacy foliage the first season; seed head with aromatic seeds in second season. A tasty addtion to rye breads, soups, stews, pickles and liqueurs.

Planting: Plant in full sun in spring as soon as soil can be worked, or fall in mild climates. keep soil evenly moist and well-weeded while plants are young. No special care is required after plants mature.

Note: Seed stalks emerge in the second year. Harvest seed heads when seeds turn from green to dark brown. Cut stem and place in an open sack to dry. Gently rub off seeds when completely dry.

  • Seed depth: 1/4 inch
  • Seed space: 2 inches
  • Sprouts in 8-10 days
  • Thin height: 1 inch
  • Thin space: 18 inches
  • Plant height: 18-24 inches

Celebrity Hybrid Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)

Lake Valley Seed

This 1984 All-America Selections Award Winner remains one of the best all-purpose varieties available. It dependably produces high yields of flavorful, medium-sized, round, red fruit with exceptional disease resistance (VFFNTA). Determinate.

Planting: Start indoors about 4-5 weeks before the last spring frost date. Sow in moist, sterile, seed starting mix. Grow in a sunny spot or under plant lights. Transplant outdoors when seedlings have 506 leaves and after danger of frost has passed. Plant in full sun and rich, well-drained soil.

Note: Support with stakes or tomato cages to keep fruit off the ground and make harvesting easy.

  • Seed depth: 1/4 inch
  • Plant space: 2 feet
  • Row space: 2 feet
  • Sprouts in: 8-10 days
  • Matures in: 70 days

Chives (Allium tuberosum)

Lake Valley Seed

A hardy perennial, chives are an indispensable ingredient wherever a mild onion flavor is desired. They are easy to grow, very hardy and can be tucked away in any odd corner of the garden. Pale purple flowers appear in early spring and can be used to flavor and color herbal vinegars.

Planting: Select a location with full sun to part shade. Chives grow in clumps, and can be planted in rows in your vegetable garden or with your flowers. Sow in early spring, or winter in mild climates. Keep seeds evenly moist until they germinate.

Harvest: Harvest lightly the first season to give the plants a chance to develop. Cut leaves with scissors about one inch from the ground as needed.

  • Seed depth: 1/8 inch
  • Seed space: scatter thinly
  • Sprouts in: 7-10 days
  • Thin height: Do not thin
  • Thin Space: Do not thin
  • Plant height: 12-18 inches

Cinnamon Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Lake Valley Seed

A tasty variation on Sweet Basil with a tempting cinnamon scent and flavor! Easy to grow like regular Basil. Use as a flavor treat in place of Sweet Basil with fish, cold summer soup and fuit salad. Grow with Lemon and Anise Basil for a complete range of unique flavors.

Planting: Plant in a warm sunny location with rich, moist soil. Basil loves heat and does not begin vigorous growth until night and day temperatures have warmed in late spring. Start outdoors in late spring or indoors 4 weeks early for transplants.

Harvest: Cut individual stems as needed. May be dried or frozen for later use.

  • Seed depth: 1/4 inch
  • Seed space: 1 inch
  • Sprouts in 8-10 days
  • Thin height: 2 inches
  • Thin space: 12 inches
  • Plant height: 18-24 inches

Fino Verde Basil (Ocimum basilicum minimum)

Lake Valley Seed

Favored by chefs for its intense Sweet Basil flavor. Pretty, compact plants are perfect in patio pots, containers and in the flower of vegetable garden. Grow with Lemon, Anise, and Cinnamon Basil for a complete range of unique flavors. Fino Verde is the favored variety for making pesto.

Planting: May be started 4 weeks before last spring frost for transplants. However, it is easy to sow Fino Verde seeds outdoors. Plant in a warm sunny location with rich, moist soil. Basil loves heat and does not begin to grow vigorously until both night and day tempertures have warmed in late spring.

Harvest: Cut individual stems as needed. May be dried or frozen for later use.

  • Seed depth: 1/4 inch
  • Seed space: 1 inch
  • Sprouts in: 8-10 days
  • Thin height: 2 inches
  • Thin space: 12 inches
  • Plant height: 12-15 inches

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lake Valley Seed

A hardy perennial with delicate, light green foliage and a lemon scent. Bushy plants make an attractive accent or perennial border. Makes a tasty tea when combined with mint. Easy to grow; not fussy about soil or sun. Prospers even in dry soils or partial sun.

Planting: Plant in the spring after all danger of frost has passed. Plant in early fall in mild climates. To maintain a tidy appearance, cut back foliage by one-third in summer when flowers appear.

Harvest: Leaves may be used at any time. Cut back by two-thirds after flowering. Dry fully grown branches in the shade for later use.

  • Seed depth: 1/8 inch
  • Seed space: 2 inches
  • Sprouts in: 5-10 days
  • Thin height: 2 inches
  • Thin space: 10 inches
  • Plant height: 1-2 feet

Marconi Red Sweet Pepper (Capsicum annuum)

Lake Valley Organics Seeds

A delicious sweet, Italian-style pepper used for roasting and frying. Fruits are 6 to 8 inches long and go from green to red at maturity. Use wherever red bell peppers are called for, or sear over the high heat of a summer barbecue.

Planting: Start indoors 8-10 weeks before transplanting. Keep soil temperature warrm; about 80 F. for best germination. Harden off the young plants about 10 days before transplanting by setting outdoors on warm days during the day. Transplant outdoors in late spring after the nights have warmed. Plants will not begin to grow vigorously until the night temperatures have increased.

Harvest: Peppers may be harvested when they reach mature green size about 5-8 inches long, or wait for them to mature to a bright red color with a sweeter flavor.

  • Seed depth: 1/4 inch
  • Plant space: 12 inches
  • Sprouts in: 10-20 days
  • Matures in: 75 days
  • Row space: 24 inches
  • No chemical fertilizers
  • No seed treatments
  • 100% open-pollinated seed, no hybrids
  • 100% certified organically-grown seed

Marketmore 76 Cucumber (Cucumis sativus)

Plant Hart's Seeds

Matures in 67 days.

This cucumber is long, cylindrical, straight, firm and smooth, with excellent uniformity. Resistance to Cucumber Mosaic Virus, Powdery and Downey Mildew and Cucumber Scab, makes this variety a reliable performer. Highly recommended for main crop harvest in early fall.

Sowing: Plant seed outdoors in late spring when the ground is warm and all danger of frost is past. Make a group of 4 to 6 seeds placed in a ring about 2 inches across; cover with 1/2 inch of fine soil, well pressed down. Each ring of seeds is called a hill and hills should be spaced 4 to 6 feet apart each way.

Thinning: Thin when plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, leaving 3 or four strongest plants in each hill.

Germination: Germinates in 8 to 10 days depending on soil and weather conditions.

Remarks: For best results, or where space is limited, us a trellis or stakes. For best flavor, pick fruits when 6 to 8 inches long. Do not permit fruits to grow too large. Control insects with vegetable dust.

Red Cherry Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Lilly Miller Seeds

This classic salad tomato produces loads of golf-ball-size, bright red fruit with good flavor. Plants keep on bearing for many weeks. For easier harvesting, support plants with stakes or cages.

Planting: Start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before planting outdoors. Harden off seedlings by putting them outside during the day for 1 week before tranplanting. Transplant seedlings to the garden when nighttime temperatures remain above 55 F. Enrich the soil with compost before planting. Use plastic mulch to retain heat in the soil.

Growing: To avoid diseases, don't plant where tomatoes or peppers have grown in the last two years. Water regularly to keep soil evenly moist.

Harvesting: Tomatoes are juiciest and most flavorful if picked when bright red.

  • Planting depth: 1/4 inch
  • Seed spacing: 2 seeds per pot or cell
  • Days to sprout: 7-14
  • Spacing after transplanting: 20-30 inches
  • Spacing between rows: 3-4 feet
  • Days until harvest: 75

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Lake Valley Organics Seed

A lovely perennial for the flower or vegetable garden! Pebbled gray-green leaves with spikes of purple flowers in late spring, Use fresh or dried to flavor meats, poultry, stuffing, and soups.

Planting: Plant in full sun to partial shade with well-drained soil. Keep soil evenly moist until plants have germinated. Mature plants are quite drought hardy.

Harvest: Harvest fresh leaves as needed. Cut back entire plant before flowering to 4 inches. Hang to dry in shade or freeze for later use.

  • Seed depth: 1/4 inche
  • Plant space: 24 inches
  • Sprouts in: 8-10 days
  • Matures in: Perennial
  • Row space: 24 inches
  • No chemical fertilizers
  • No seed treatments
  • 100% open-pollinated seed, no hybrids
  • 100% certified organically-grown seed

Sweet Marjoram (Marjorana hortensis)

Lake Valley Seed

Marjoram is an attractive annual that is easy to grow. Tiny gray-green leaves and pale flowers make an attractive addtion to an herbal border or patio pot. Its distinctively flavored leaves are used to season fish, meats, soups, vinegars and jelly.

Planting: Marjoram is a tender perennial, grow as an annual. It cannot survive most winters. Sow seeds outdoors in late spring in sun to partial shade. Prepare soil and scatter seeds evenly over the surface. Water gently, and keep soil evenly moist until the tiny plants emerge.

Harvest: Cut individual leaves or stems anytime or cut the entire plant to 4 inches before flowering. Marjoram may be dried for later use.

  • Seed depth: barely cover
  • Seed space: scatter
  • Srpouts in: 8-10 days
  • Thin height: 2 inches
  • Thin Space: 6 inches
  • Plant height: 12-18 inches

Wild Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Lake Valley Seed

A hardy perennial. No cat should be without this feline aphrodisiac; even the most mild mannered kitty turns into a tiger with catnip. Easy to grow. A good plant for a window garden.

Planting: Plant in full sun to part shade. Does well even in poor, dry soils. Sow anytime in mild climates, or early spring in cold areas.

Harvest: Individual leaves may be harvested anytime or cut back entire plant to four inches before flowering.

  • Seed depth: 1/8 inch
  • Seed space: 1 inch
  • Sprouts in 8-10 days
  • Thin height: 2 inches
  • Thin space: 18 inches
  • Plant height: 2-4 feet

To be planted directly in the garden later:

Bibb Summer Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Lake Valley Organics Seed

Delicious flavor and cruncy texture! Dark green leaves with a creamy yellow heart. Each plant produces a miniature rosette of leaves perfectly sized for an individual salad.

Planting: Lettuce prefers cool weateher. Select a location with full sun or part shade in hot areas. Sow in early spring, fall or winter in mild climates. Keep soil evenly moist for best growth. Thin regularly - lettuce does not like to be crowded.

Note: Plant a few feet every 2-3 weeks for continuous harvest. Save space by inter-panting with other later crops like beans, squash or tomatoes.

  • Seed depth: 1/8 inch
  • Plant space: 8 inches
  • Sprouts in: 7-14 days
  • Matures in: 50 days
  • Row space: 12 inches
  • No chemical fertilizers
  • No seed treatments
  • 100% open-pollinated seed, no hybrids
  • 100% certified organically-grown seed

Bloomsdale Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)

Lake Valley Seed

Bloomsdale is an old-time favorite in the garden. It is quick to produce bunches of crinkle-leaved rosettes that are packed with vitamins and minerals. Best flavor and production are achieved when grown during cool weather.

Planting: Spinach grows best during cool weather in the spring and fall, or winter in mmild areas. Choose a location with rich, moist, non-acid soil. Cover seeds with fine soil and keep evenly moist until they germinate. For continuous harvest, plant every 10 days.

Harvest: Harvest by pulling entire plant when leaves are till young a tasty. In many cold winter areas. fall planted spinach will over-winter and produce very early spring crops.

  • Seed depth: 1/2 inches
  • Seed space: 5 inches
  • Row space: 12 inches
  • Sprouts in: 5-10 days
  • Matures in: 42 days

Little Finger Carrot (Daucus carota)

Lake Valley Seed

Little finger carrots can be pulled at three inches long. Deep orange, blunt roots have a very small core and smooth skin. These miniature carrots are often served in gourmet restauants. Their sweet flavor develops early. Great fresh and perfect for pickling and canning.

Planting: Plant outdoors as soon as soil can be worked, and replant every 3 weeks until mid-July. Carrot seeds are slow to germinate: soak seeds in warm water for a few hours. Keep soil bed moist. Plant a few radishes with the carrot seeds. Radishes sprout quickly and mark the row. When plants are 2-4 inhes tall, thin 1-2 inches apart.

Harvest: For best flavor, harvest these carrots when "little finger" size.

  • Seed depth: 1/8 inch
  • Seed space: 1/2 inch
  • Sprouts in: 7-21 days
  • Plant space: 2-3 inches
  • Matures in: 60 days

Reference Links

A determinate tomato plant’s habit is to grow into a bush. Once these reach a certain size (3-4 feet), they bloom and set fruit. After that, they’re pretty much done. One reason someone would chose a determinate plant is because they don’t want to mess with a lot of staking (although you still would be smart to toss a cage around them), plus you don’t have to prune them.

An indeterminate plant is a true vine and continues to grow forever and beyond (up to 12 feet) if you don’t do a little pruning once in awhile. These guys can take up a lot of space and that could be a nuisance to some people. They need to be trellised throughout the season and pruned regularly.

That said, the indeterminates have a lot going for them. For one, they have a much higher fruit yield and the tomatoes are bigger as well as better. You’ll get a lot more yield per square foot with these crazy vine types as they continue to produce fruit up until a hard frost kills them. The bottom line for taste is that the indeterminates win every time. Most heirloom tomato plants are indeterminate; and that should tell you something.

VFFNTA: When purchasing tomato plants, you may have seen these letters on the plant’s tag next to the variety name. Sometimes it’ll be “VFF” or VFN”. Have you ever wondered what those letters are telling you? Should you even care? Well, it all depend if your growing zone encourages certain diseases or not and if incredible flavor turns you into a risk-taker.

Each one of the letters stands for a different disease that tomato plants can be prone to developing. Tomato-freaky scientists have bred and produced tomato plant varieties which are prone to these diseases. If you buy a tomato plant that has the letter “V” next to its name such as “‘Oregon Spring’ V”, this tells you the disease the plant is bred to resist is verticillium wilt which commonly attacks tomato crops.

  • V = verticillum wilt
  • F and FF = fusarium wilt
  • N = nematodes
  • T = tobacco mosaic virus
  • A = alternaria leaf spot

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Herbal Gardening, Part 3

Herbal Gardening, Part 3

We planted seeds today.

It was a beautifully warm, mild day, I really wasn't planning on starting our indoor garden today...I was hoping to write and relax. But I had carelessly spilled water on a couple of our packets of seeds, completely sopping them, and I knew I needed to do something before they started to germinate or rot.

The first step was filling our 26 biodegradable starter pots with planting mix.

We used Jiffy-Pots, made of peat moss, distributed in the USA by Ferry-Morse Seed Company. They are about two-inches in diameter, about three-inches high. The manufacturer's instructions seemed straight forward:

  1. Place Jiffy-Pots into a Jiffy plant tray.
  2. Fill with Premium Seed Starting Jiffy-Mix.
  3. Water thoroughly - enough to saturate walls of the pot.
  4. Plant seeds according to directions on seed packet.
  5. To transplant, plant "pot and all" making sure peat pot is completely covered by garden soil.
  6. Water thoroughly.

We didn't use the official Premium Seed Starting Jiffy-Mix. We used what we had left over from last year.

Our planting mix was made by Rexius Forest By-Products, Inc. It seemed to have all the right ingredients:

  • Forest humus
  • Compost
  • Pummice
  • Perlite
  • Sand
  • Peat moss

It had no fertilizer components. We'll have to add some sort of fertilizer when the seeds sprout.

I found our planting mix to be very hard to moisten. I first filled each pot to the brim with the dry mix and then sprinkled with water. Only the top surface of the filled pot became inch below the surface, the mix remained dry, even after forcibly pressing the running water hose into the mix for several seconds.

Finally, I removed the mix out of each pot, dumping it all into a small pail. Then I added water as I stirred and mashed with my hand, much like mixing water into dry pancake mix. When it was all saturated, I filled each pot once again with the wet planting mix.

The Master Gardeners (MG) recommended only one seed per plant. Several of the seed packets described putting two or more seeds into each pot. We followed the written instructions on each packet of seeds, generally two to three seeds per pot.

We planted 15 different crops, using 15 starter pots. Adding the two tomato seedlings the MG gave us, we have now 17 pots on our small desk, placed near our south-facing double-glass door. We'll water daily and wait for the sprouts.

Grow, seedlings, grow!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Herbal Gardening, Part 2

Herbal Gardening, Part 2

A Master Gardeners (MG) demonstration inspired us to try container gardening, beginning with starting plants from seed indoors.

The MG endorsed starting from seed for two major reasons.

1. It offers an easy way to grow a wide variety of plants. The plant nursery or gardening shops can only stock a limited variety of plants, and it seems that all the stores offer the same choices. With seeds, there is practically no limit to the choices.

2. Gardens can get an early start, even in regions with shorter growing seasons. This seems important for our northeastern Oregon's still dropping down to freezing temperatures, so we dare not plant outdoors, except for a few cold-hardy plants. (The MG mentioned carrots as being especially cold-hardy.)

We came home from the demonstration with some basic supplies:

  • Instructions
  • Biodegradable starting pots
  • Tomato seedlings
  • Seeds

We have planting mix left over from last year's dismal attempt at container gardening. We'll have to add some kind of fertilizer.

We're also trying to decide what kind of containers to use. We could find discarded five-gallon plastic buckets. We have two small tubs, about 18-inches wide, 12" high...we're thinking they might be too small.

Another option is building a larger container, four-feet square. Not sure where to put a large container...we are renting our house, and have to consider what the owner allows.

One strong possibility is Square Foot Gardening. This method claims to have some major advantages:

  • User Friendly - Great for beginners
  • Locate Anywhere - Close to your house
  • Economical - Reduces everything 5 to 1
  • Efficient - 100% of the crop in 20% of the space
  • Easy to Protect - From pests and weather
  • Earth Friendly - Reduce Reuse Recycle
  • Very Productive - Just as much as you need

But all that will come later...right now we'll get ready to plant the seeds indoors and raise some seedlings.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Herbal Gardening, Part 1

Herbal Gardening, Part 1

We went to a Master Gardeners (MG) demonstration today. Two very nice, very knowledgeable ladies described the basics of home gardening. Of course, they did not mention the D-word...dandelions...and I didn't broach the subject. But they did inspire us to once again try gardening.

We came home with a handful of vegetable and herb seeds, two tomato seedlings, biodegradable starting pots, and a plastic tray to hold everything.

Our plan is to fill each pot with planting mix and set them together by our south-facing double-glass door. The MG recommended covering with plastic wrap, trapping moisture, until they start to sprout.

I feel that I should pause here and justify writing about a civilized, cultivated garden while posting to a wildcrafting, foraging, and just-eat-the-weeds-blogging site.

These are serious questions: Am I a forager or am I a gardener? Will this blending of philosophies dismay my readers?

Pondering my direction required several moments of consideration and soul-searching, and here is the conclusion:

I like to eat plants. Whether through serendipitous foraging or scheming gardening, I like picking plants and eating them.

So, I'll be writing a series of articles about my venture into herbal gardening.

Come along with me!

Monday, April 12, 2010

First Puffball!

First Puffball!

Common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

My lawn's first dandelion-gone-to-seed-of-the-year has brightened my day. I carefully plucked this dandy specimen and gently brushed the "soft, fluffy pappus on long beaked seeds" on the ground, spreading future yellow-flower-joy to other parts of my domain.

This white blowball has hundreds of seeds, each with it own little parachute, light as a thistle, designed to float with the wind to every corner of the world. How can anyone resist its sunny disposition and its selfless desire to gladden every heart?

"Official Remedy" is the translation of its scientific name, a tribute to its once proud position as a widely-used herbal medication. At one time, the seeds were purposely carried from place to place for cultivation (Harrington, 52).

Almost every book on my plant reference shelf includes a description of the dandelion. It is the King of DYC's (Darned Yellow Composites, referring to the uncountable numbers of yellow-flowered plants with which God has blessed us!)

Here's a brief rehash of the dandelion's myriad uses as food and healing:


  • peel, slice like carrots or use whole, and boil until soft
  • roast or fry, grind as for coffee


  • fresh in a salad
  • boiled as a potherb or tea (fresh or dry leaves)

Flower heads:

  • drop on top of pancake batter on the frying pan
  • dip into pancake batter and fry as appetizers
  • boil, add sugar, oranges, lemon, raisins, and yeast to ferment into wine


  • blow on the puffball
  • count the sees left to determine how many times you'll marry (Gibbons, 78)

Potential benefits:

  • vitamins A, B, and D
  • improves blood circulation (Brown, 103)
  • fiber
  • iron
  • calcium
  • protein
  • prevents or cures liver diseases
  • purifies your blood
  • dissolves kidney stones
  • improves gastro-intestinal health
  • assists in weight reduction
  • cleanses your skin and eliminates acne
  • improves your bowel function
  • relieves both constipation and diarrhea;
  • prevents or lowers high blood pressure;
  • prevents or cures anemia;
  • lower your serum cholesterol
  • eliminates or drastically reduces acid indigestion
  • prevents or cures various forms of cancer

Reference Links:

  • Harrington, H. D.; Western Edible Wild Plants, 1972, The University of Mexico Press
  • Brown, Tom; Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival, 1983, The Berkley Publishing Group
  • Densmore, Frances; How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts, 1974, Dover Publications
  • Gibbons, Euell; Stalking the Wild Asparagus, 1962, David McKay Company

Monday, April 5, 2010

Dandelion Salad

Dandelion Salad

I enjoyed a fresh dandelion salad today, and I want to share the experience with you.

My finely-honed gardening skills have allowed several nice patches of dandelions to grow. (Skill-set required: Avoid stepping on, peeing on, mowing over, and spraying on all dandelions.)

At this stage of growth, the flower blossoms are great for eating fresh or fried, dried or fermented. Today I'm picking them for a fresh salad.

Here I've picked a large handful of blossoms. I tried to leave at least one blossom unpicked at each plant location, hoping to allow the spread of my spring delicacy.

I've also added a small handful of creeping charlie for interest.

I rinse the herbs in cold water, garnish with tomatoes, and dress with a splash of balsamic vinegar and creamy ranch dressing.

What a nice presentation!

The vinegar adds a tart-sweetness that compliments the slight bitterness of the dandelion, and the ranch dressing adds a comforting richness, enhancing the warm feeling that comes from eating healthy foods.

Good foraging!

Monday, March 29, 2010



First sighting of the year for plantain in my yard. Small lance-leaved plantain making a brave showing.

The plantain has a warm-spot in my's so easy to identify, and so benevolent: heals owies and smoothes the soul.

Reference Links

Monday, March 22, 2010

Unknown Plants: Part 2

Unknown Plants: Part 2

It's been a week or unknown plant is growing nicely. I still don't know what it is, but my original guess looks likely. The edges of the leaves are increasingly serrated or runcinate.

Another plant has entered stage left, a demure white flower, about eight petals, very small.

The plant right now is about four inches high, alternately placed leaves, obovate in shape.

Busy week for me, I'll probably not be able to spend any time keying out the identification of these unknown plants, but the photos should help me later when I do have time.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Unknown Plants: Part 1

Unknown Plants

I'm often asked how I learn to identify wild plants. More specifically, How do I know that plant is edible? Disregarding the minor detail that the only person asking me this frequent question is myself, it's a good question. Here's a real-life narrative that answers that.

An unknown plant is growing in my yard. It's growing among the creeping Charlie ground ivy and henbit that I have already identified.

In this photo, the unknown plant is the larger one, in the upper, right-hand corner. A couple of henbits are standing tall, very close to the unknown. Creeping Charlie, a ground ivy, is covering the rest of the background, with some blades of grass in the lower, left-hand corner.

It looks tender and healthy. It reminds me of lettuce or plantain, but I just don't know what it is.

No doubt, there are many herbalists and wildcrafters who could tell me the name and characteristics of this plant. But for learning purposes, let's look at two principles involving safety and sureness, and then we'll start the process of identifying an unknown plant.

Principle #1: Safety

I will eat a plant only if I absolutely, with no doubt, know its identity. I suppose, in extreme circumstances, in danger of dying from hunger, I would cautiously nibble, and wait, and then eat a plant of which I am only somewhat sure of. But that is only when survival is at stake. Right now, I have no need to take chances.

Principle #2: Reference sources

Base your identification upon at least three trusted reference sources that agree. Be sure to compare the written descriptions with the actual plant. The most sure method of learning a plant's identity is with the guidance of another, more experienced guide who is absolutely confident and skilled in recognizing the plant.

Now, how shall I begin?

Step 1: Seasonal clues

This is a young plant. It's only been growing for perhaps the last month, and it's still very early in the year for plants. I do not feel confident that an attempt to identify this plant right now would be profitable. My knowledge of plant parts and plant identification is so basic, that I'm going to wait and watch.

It's early March right now. I'll keep an eye on this plant as it matures. Too many plants look too similar when they are young. When this plant begins to flower I should be able to find some obvious characteristics that will help me identify it.

In the meantime, I can browse for some pictures that might look similar to my unknown plant.

It might be a wild lettuce. The site doesn't give the scientific name, so that makes it harder to compare with with plants that share a common name, or when the same plant is known by different common names.

Here's a potential winner: Lactuca serriola.

This candidate actually seems the most likely: Sonchus oleraceus.

I think I'll have a much better idea in a month, so I'll withold judgement for right now, and I definitely will not nibble on it!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Herbal Sauté

Herbal Sauté

A beautiful spring-like day, although it's still just the first week of March. My lawn, however, is brown, dead-wintry grass...except for my dandelions, ground ivy, and henbit.

So, let's harvest some of my wild herbs and make a healthy, tasty, unique lunch!

First, I scout my available resources. Here's a small, but healthy patch of young dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).

A young dandelion plant will be less bitter than it would be when it begins to flower and go to seed. The flowers, though, are not at all bitter, and they offer just about as much nutrition. I did find one bright yellow flower to add to my lunch, and one unopened flower bud. The flower buds are actually my favorite...they have a texture that reminds me of a bit of meat.

Here's some ground ivy, creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea). It's very young, tender, with just a very slight minty taste.

Amongst the creeping Charlie, henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is starting to reach out for the sun. Henbit is also slightly minty, with a purplish, square-shaped stem. It grows quickly, and I harvest the little bit that I can find before it gets older and less tender.

Okay, grab a pan and pick some tender dandelion leaves, creeping Charlie, and henbit. Rinse it in cold water and get ready to cook it.

You can see my one, lonely dandelion bloom, and just to the left of it is the one unopened flower bud that I found. This is a view of my freshly rinsed bunch of dandelion, creeping Charlie, and henbit.

While my skillet heats up I will gather some of the seasonings and condiments I'd like to try.

Garlic powder, onion powder are almost obligatory, as is ordinary salt and pepper. I'll sauté the herbs in olive oil, and I think the balsamic vinegar will add a nice highlight.

The skillet's heated to a medium heat and I've added my herbal mix. I immediately cover the skillet, letting the wet herbs steam for about two minutes.

After about two minutes, I take off the lid and stir the herbs several times as it cooked down. I don't want to burn the leaves, but I do want them tender, without being mushy.

It's ready! I present my lunch on our new dinnerware, accompanied by carrots and seedless red grapes.

Before sprinkling with the vinegar, I taste the sautéed herbs with just the salt, pepper, onion, and garlic.

It's good, and I could eat the rest that way and be satisfied. But, adding the balsamic vinegar is a real treat. It's tangy, contrasting well with just a slight bit of dandelion bitterness.

A very good lunch!

Reference Links

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Herbal Teas: Creeping Charlie and Henbit

Herbal Teas: Creeping Charlie and Henbit

Just finished a couple of herbal teas, made from two different plants I harvested from my yard today.

First cup of tea: Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)

Result: I like it!

The taste was richly "green", much like a well-steeped cup of green tea, smelling deeply of freshly mown grass, with a gentle taste, absolutely no bitterness. I usually must sweeten my tea, whether herbal, green or black. But I was intent upon giving my Creeping Charlie tea a fair shake, so I prepared it with no sweetening. It had a comfortable, "healthy" taste.

Second cup of tea: Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Result: Acceptable.

This tea was a bit more stronger, with a decidely "dry" feeling. Again, I prepared it with no sweetening, but next time I probably will add sugar or honey. The taste was acceptable, but I really preferred the smoother taste of the ground ivy, Creeping Charlie.


I found both plants growing together in a sunny spot of our yard next to our driveway. They are very young, very succulent. I picked a handful of each and washed them together in a strainer held under running cold water.

I heated a potful of cold, filtered water on the stove while I separated the two types of herbs and chopped them finely.

Just as the water was beginning to boil, I put four teaspoonfuls of Creeping Charlie into an empty teapot (two teaspoons per cup of tea, plus "two for the pot") and poured in enough hot water for one cup of tea.

The covered teapot steeped for five minutes and then I poured the tea through a strainer (my teapot infuser) into a mug.

The same process was followed for the Henbit.

Potential Benefits of Creeping Charlie:

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Catarrh (mucous membrane inflammation, especially respiratory)
  • Diarrhea
  • Bile disorders
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Tonic (invigorating)
  • Tuberculosis
  • Lead Poisoning
  • Ulcers
  • Asthma
  • Cancer

Creeping Charlie contains a high iron content and may be useful for its antibiotic or anti-inflammatory effects.


Because the plant contains the essential oil pulegone, women who are pregnant or lactating should avoid it. And common sense requires that anything remotely approaching excessive use would be extremely unwise.

Potential Benefits of Henbit:

  • Rheumatism
  • Laxative
  • Stimulant
  • Diaphoretic (sweat-inducing)
  • Febrifuge (fever-reducing)

Reference Links:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)

Creeping Charlie

Glechoma hederacea

My heart ran forth on little feet of music
to keep the new commandment.
(O feast and frolic of awakening spring!)
It would beguile the world to be a garden
with seeds of one refrain: My little children,
love one another; so my heart would sing.

But wisdom halted it, out far afield,
asked: did you sow this seed
around your house, or in the neighbor's garden
or any nearby acreage of need?
No? Then it will not grow in outer places.
Love has its proper soil, its native land;
its first roots fasten on the near-at-hand.

Back toward the house from which I deftly fled,
down neighbors' lanes, across my father's barley
my heart brought home its charity. It said:
love is a simple plant like a Creeping Charlie;
once it takes root its talent is to spread.

My Heart Ran Forth, Jessica Powers

Common Names

Also known as cat ivy, cat's foot, crow victuals, field balm, variations of "gill", ground joy, hayhofe, haymaids, hedgemaids, hove, lizzy-run-up-the-hedge, robin-run-in-the-hedge, run-away-robin, tun hoof, tunhofe, turnhoof, and wild snakeroot. In the British Isles, it was called alehoff and was used to flavor beer before the use of hops. It is sometimes called creeping jenny, but is no relation to the domestic ground cover we know as creeping jenny/moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia).

Creeping Charlie is part of the mint family (Lamiaceae), purposely grown in England as ground cover. Small purple flowers and dark brown nutlets add color and interest to the plant.

It seems that success has doomed this plant to the status of "weed". Not too long ago it was called the best medical herb available for eye, throat, and skin problems. But now, because it can aggressively take over an entire lawn, it is ignored, poisoned, and tilled up.


There is a possiblility of livestock poisoning, especially in horses. Seldom fatal, but it can cause salivation, sweating, and difficulty breathing.

No adverse reactions are found for human use and consumption.


Family - Lamiaceae

Round to kidney-shaped leaves along a creeping stem. Long slender pink to red-purple flowers are in whorls. 1-3 inches high. Shady woods. March through June.

Stems - Repent (creeping or lying flat and rooting at the nodes), herbaceous (soft and succulent). Flowering portions erect, to +30cm tall, glabrous (smooth, not hairy) or often strigose (covered with sharp, coarse, bent hairs, usually with a bulbous base) on angles.

Leaves - Opposite, petiolate (with leafstalks). Petioles densely retrorse (bent or directed downward) pubescent (hairy), reduced upward. Blades reniform (kidney-shaped) to orbicular (circular, like an orb or ring), to +3cm long (and wide), typically glabrous (smooth, not hairy) but also sparsely pubescent (hairy). Margins crenate (shallowly rounded).

Square stems distinguish creeping Creeping Charlie from Common Mallow or speedwells. Creeping stems that root at the nodes distinguish it from Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), Purple Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) and Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica).

Ground ivy is characterized by its coin-shaped leaves with scalloped (crenate) edges and square petioles and stems. All plant parts have a strong mint odor when crushed or cut. Ground ivy's orchid-like purple flowers appear for a short time in mid-May. The flowers can easily be overlooked as they are often exhibited below the turf canopy.

Food and Medical Uses

The entire plant can be used fresh or dried.

Mix the young leaves into salads. Cook like spinach or add to soups.

Add fresh leaves to stir fry or vegetable dishes.

Dip sprigs of fresh leaves in batter and fry, serving with salt and olives.

Make an herb tea from fresh or dried leaves. The herb has been added to beer in much the same way as hops in order to clear it and also to improve its flavour and keeping qualities. This species was the most common flavouring in beer prior to the use of hops from the 16th century onwards.

Pour one cup of boiling water over 1/4 cup of fresh herb, let stand for seven minutes, strain and sweeten to taste. It combines well with lemon verbena or mint.

Wash a few handfuls of Creeping Charlie, Red Clover, and White Clover in a strainer, and dry them in a warm oven, 180 degrees F, for about 2 hours spread out on a cookie sheet or a fine screen or grid. Shred and crush the results and store in a glass jar. To brew, put about a teaspoon of finely shredded tea for every 5 ounces of water into a tea ball or infuser, and brew for 10 minutes in hot water and add honey to sweeten.

Some old English recipes flavored jam with ground ivy and added young spring leaves to oatmeal, soups, and vegetables.

In the early 20th Century, ground ivy tea was used in Britain as a cure-all, and was frequently used for tuberculosis and as an antidote for lead poisoning.

The stems of the plant were also made into wreaths for the dead.

Reference Links

Dave's Garden
Help Fellowship
Herbal Remedies
Michigan State University Turf Weeds
Natural Standard
Plants for a Future
Virginia Tech Plant Pathology, Physiology and Weed Science
Slash Food
Pacific States Wildflowers, Theodore F. Niehaus and Charles L. Ripper, 1976 by Houghton Mifflin Company