Friday, September 13, 2019

Botanical Nomenclature- It's Not as Bad as You Think!

by Kathy Musser, Cloverleaf Herb Farm
previously published in The Essential Herbal Magazine (Nov/Dec '18)

If you deal with plants long enough, either as a serious hobbyist, or a professional,  eventually you run up against botanical nomenclature.  I know people who have studied plants extensively, but stopped in their tracks when it came to learning scientific names. My introduction came during courses I took at Longwood Gardens. We had to learn the botanical name, and correct spelling, for each plant we studied! And although, after more than twenty years, I don't remember them all, I learned enough about the system to make it easy to categorize many plants and also to understand the basis for many scientific names. This article will be a primer for understanding the system of botanical nomenclature,  how to navigate it in researching plants and some tips for recognizing recurring words and descriptions.

Botanical nomenclature is a uniform system for naming and classifying plants. It begins with large groups of plants with certain similar characteristics and gradually refines the classification down to a specific plant. Why was this done? If you visit several greenhouses, you might see the same plant listed under different common names. I have this experience nearly every year. A customer comes in and asks for a plant by a certain common name. If we don't have it, I ask for a description. Often, we have the plant although we list it by an alternate common name. Sometimes, plants have different common names in various locations or have an 'old-fashioned' name that has been modernized. It can be confusing when the same plant has multiple names. 

Across the spectrum of groups of plants, the importance of using botanical names varies greatly. With many annuals, herbs and more familiar perennials, common names often suffice. Using botanical names might be more important in choosing trees or shrubs, particularly if you're looking for a specific variety, identical plants for a hedge or windbreak or a plant with definite characteristics. 

The system of botanical nomenclature was developed by a Swedish botanist  - Carl von Linne, although his name is often written in the Latin form as Carolus Linnaeus. Latin names for plants may denote geographical distribution,  cultivation, chemistry or even uses of a specific plant. The system is uniform throughout the world, and a botanical name will identify the same plant here, or in France, Brazil or Latvia. The system is ever evolving, so there are periodic name changes to correct past errors or based on new information.

Each plant is given a two part name. The first word refers to its genus - a group that has common characteristics. The genus name is capitalized. Following it is the species, or specific epithet, which begins with a lower case letter. This part of the name is more specific to distinguish plants within a genus from one another. Sometimes there is a variation within a species, like a different color, a better flower or variegation. This name would be written Genus species var.(for variation.) There are also cultivars or cultivated varieties. These plants do not occur in nature, but have been developed by man, and are maintained by gardeners. They can be designated by cv., or more commonly by putting the cultivar name in single quotes. Hybrids are a cross between two species and are designated by an X. For example, Lavandula x intermedia 'Grosso' is a hybrid variety of lavender, commonly called lavandins, with the cultivar name 'Grosso' describing a large plant with long-stemmed purple flowers.

Even a limited knowledge of botanical nomenclature can be helpful. Many gardeners are anxious to provide host plants on which butterflies lay their eggs. Milkweeds are hosts for monarch caterpillars. If you recognize that the genus Asclepias denotes varieties of milkweed, you'll know that Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed), Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) or Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) will all serve as host plants for monarchs.

When I was in high school, (a very long time ago) Latin had fallen out of favor as a language to be studied. If I had known I'd wind up in a horticultural career, I would have studied Latin. But even without that background, there are recurring words used to describe many plants in the system of botanical nomenclature. If you become familiar with them, it helps to identify many common herbs.

officinalis/officinale-meaning the plant had commercial value, generally as an apothecary plant
     Rosmarinus officinalis=rosemary
     Salvia officinalis=sage

vulgaris/vulgare-common or ordinary variety
     Thymus vulgare=thyme

annua/annuum-an annual plant
     Artemisia annua=sweet Annie

procumbens/prostratus-creeping type of plant
     Rosmarinus officianalis 'Prostratus'=creeping rosemary

tinctorius-refers to plants used in dyeing 
     Carthamus tinctorius=safflower

graveolens-heavily scented
     Anethum graveolens=dill

odorata-sweetly scented
     Galium odorata=sweet woodruff

phylla-means leaves and other words or prefixes are added to further describe foliage
     microphylla=small leaves

Several words are used to describe foliage or flower color and are repeated throughout the system
     ruber=red                          aureus=golden
     virens=green                      niger=black
     alba or albus=white     

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Thursday, August 15, 2019

September October 2019 Essential Herbal (with unboxing video)

Below, come on along as we unbox this issue and talk about the contents.

Table of Contents:

Field Notes from the Editor, Tina Sams
About those plastic sleeves, and what’s the deal with the folk method? 
There’s no segue, that’s just how her mind works.
About The Cover 
Debra Sturdevant sent is a beautiful autumn cover.  Eventually we’ll have all the seasons!           
Making Your Own Bitters, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Not only does this provide a couple very palatable kinds of bitters, there are also some
very interesting recipes to use them in, rather than taking them by the dropper.                                                             
Garden Tool Care, Liz Brensinger

Time to take a little care of those garden helpers to make sure they’re ready for next year.          
Santa Maria Novella, Miranda Hoodenpyl
Florence Italy has one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, and we are provided with a tour.             
It’s All in the Family, Solanaceae, Jackie Johnson
We are all familiar with this family of plants.  You’ve probably got some in the kitchen right now.
Herbs for Birth Pt 3, Mothering the Mother, Danielle Bergum
Time to make sure Mom is well and cared for with balms and belly binding.         
Something Seedy Going On, Rebekah Bailey
Seeds are full of promise, but many are also beautiful, edible, and versatile.         
Book Excerpt from “Abundantly Well”, Susun Weed
A glimpse at Susun Weed’s new book.                                                                    
Gotu Kola as a Cognitive Ally, Sarah Richards
Growing and using this regenerative little ally.  Also, one of several beautiful illustrations
from Sarah can be found here.
Essential Oil vs. Fragrance Oil. Maryanne Schwartz
The reason the big corporations can get away with calling “winter breeze” an essential oil
is because a lot of people don’t know the difference.                                                                                                    
Why Should I Be Using Clay? Janet Gutierrez
Types and properties of various cosmetic clays.                                                     
Tea Pot Tussie Mussies, Lalanya Bodenbender
A very cool and different way to put by tea herbs.                                                  
Octobertfest Stout Soap w/Calendula, Marci Tsohonis
A perfect skin soothing soap to prepare for the dryer air of fall and winter.            
Flowers for Drying, Kathy Musser
Lots of the herbs we grow can be used in arrangements and wreaths.
Autumn Fruit Crumble, Tina Sams
We always called it a “crisp” but it’s really a “crumble.”  Either way, it’s delicious.  
Small Victories, Marnie Plunkett
We all need reminders that we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.

Get yours!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

This is Our Blog, Not Our Website

I woke up this morning to a comment on the previous post that deserves a whole post of its own.  It is anonymous, so I cannot contact the individual. 
Often SEO people will contact me after reading posts here, and offer content from their clients.  If I'm in a good mood, I'll write back and explain that this is a blog that is connected to The Essential Herbal Magazine, and posts here are either excerpted from the magazine, or things we do around here - so no thanks.
Note:  Pictures can be clicked on to enlarge.

I will attempt to address this person's concerns whenever possible.  There may be some sarcasm, because it's Saturday morning and it was the first thing I read.  My answers will be in red.

"The Customer YOU JUST LOST has left a new comment on your post "WILDCRAFTING AND PROCESSING HERBS":
Here we go!  Most sentences begin with a silent "on our website, which this is not..."
Your website is EXTREMELY user-UNfriendly!
This isn't a website.
You do not post pix of your products

there's NO navigation,

no way to search, no customer service email, NO name of the company,

 And even here on the blog, you can find the name of the company and the website!  There are TWO links in the header.  Under the name. 

NO toll-free (or any) phone number and NO FAQs info on products.
FAQ, see above.  You got me on the phone number, though.  In the 18 years I've had a website, there has never been a phone number listed.  Very rarely someone will ask for it or ask me to call them, and we take care of whatever the problem happens to be.  Reading your rant, I'm once again sure this is the right decision.

I can only GUESS: your herbs are heavily pesticized, plasticized, irradiated or herbicidized with toxchems. Or else, it'd say "ORGANIC" or similar.
You're kind of the suspicious type, aren't you?
Well, magazines are generally paper and ink.  Sometimes staples are involved, and coating on the paper tends to be some kind of clay and a binder (probably a chemical, dang it, but then again, everything is a chemical, don'tcha know). 
We grow (chemical free) or wildcraft most of our herbs.  Those we purchase are organic and ethical.  Thanks for asking.

You are shooting yourself in the foot. In 2019, I doubt anyone's buying. Why make it so hard?!?!
You're right, I'm sure.  I'm sort of a newbie, just now starting into my second quarter century in the business (18 years with the magazine), so there's pretty much I'm not aware of.  Thank you so much for the constructive criticism.

VERY FRUSTRATING! Off to the next website. Pity cos you had good prices
This is puzzling.  How did you find prices on products you could not find? Are you sure you're in the right place?
but I don't buy without so much as knowing what's your LIST OF INGREDIENTS (no disclosure posted)

Or why you work overtime to make it crazy hard for your customers to buy. Your website looks very suspicious without phone, address, etc.

PS: the bottle AND label makes all the difference.
I'm taking notes.  All these things are so helpful!

If you can't be bothered to SHOW PHOTOS OF YOUR PRODUCTS, then I can't be bothered to pay for anything. AND WHY WOULD YOU MAKE ME SIGN UP BEFORE finding out the SHIPPING PRICE??????????????????????? UGH!

CONGRATS: ANOTHER SALE?? LOST to the next guy!"
I wish the next "guy" all the luck in the world, and bless your heart.
Here's hoping you're feeling a little better today.

Friday, August 09, 2019


by Sandy Michelsen
Previously published in The Essential Herbal Magazine

Living in Northwestern Montana, we have a very challenging growing season.  We have about a two-week window for collecting individual herbs when they are ready for harvesting.  As you begin wildcrafting, you need to know when things bloom or when berries are ripe in your area.  Write on your calendar when the herbs are ready so that next year you will know when to start looking.

You need to familiarize yourself with the identification and uses of herbs to be found in your area.   The very best way to learn about herbs is to go out with someone who can teach you  - eyes and hands on.   
 If no one is available, go to your local library and check out the herb identification books.  When you find one (or two or three) you really like, buy your own copy and take it with you everywhere you go.  Read every thing you can.  If you can go on line, you can learn the medicinal properties and pull up real images of individual herbs. I cannot emphasize enough how important proper identification is.  There are some very toxic and deadly plants that look similar to other plants.  Use caution until you know exactly what you are doing.

When you begin harvesting, make sure you are a significant distance from any roadways or sprayed crops and fields, polluted water, etc.  This will prevent contamination from exhaust, oil, herbicides, pesticides or other toxins.

To start, look for herbs that are easily identified and abundant in your area.  Some good examples of these could be dandelion, plantain, chickweed or mullein.  The whole dandelion can be used.  The roots are good for liver detoxing.  Plantain is good for mosquito bites.  Chickweed is a very mild ingredient used in salves, especially for children.  Mullein grows everywhere and has several medicinal uses including for earaches.   
These herbs are common, and you can probably find them in your own back yard or an empty field.  Familiarize yourself with these easy ones.  Learn what part of the plant is used  - flowers, leaves, berries, the whole plant, bark or roots.  Whatever herbs you gather, they need to be processed in some way as soon as possible to preserve medicinal quality.  Your can make tincture with the fresh herb or you can dry them to save for future use.  Make sure you label and date everything on bottles and even when they are on the drying rack. Drying herbs is fairly easy, but it can be time consuming to process all your herbs.  Once they are picked, they need to be quickly handled in different ways.  Flowers or other leafy herbs can be hung upside down or spread out on screens.  Roots on the other hand need to be washed and cut into small pieces before drying.  If you don't do this, you will end up with a bunch of unusable, rock hard roots.

Do not dry herbs in direct sunlight, it will destroy the medicinal properties.  Old window screens work great and you can stack them several layers high with space separating between them.  Excellent circulation is essential.  Drying is easier in areas with less humidity.  Just keep checking them and turning them.  You might even need to use a dehydrator.  Just make sure they are totally dry before putting them in sealed containers.  If they are not bone dry, they will mold and your hard work will be lost.  To keep your dried herbs, glass jars are the best.   However, plastic ziploc bags are also commonly used for storage.  Don't pick more than you can process in a day.  If you plan to make salves you can infuse the fresh herbs into olive oil or any oil of your choice – don't forget to label and date the jars.

There are several ways to make a medicinal tincture. 
This tincture uses 150 proof Everclear, so there is 75% alcohol and 25% water. 

A basic recipe is to fill a quart jar about 1/3 full of dry or 2/3rds full of fresh herbs.  To that, add 40% grain alcohol (Everclear) and 60% water.  Let it cure for at least three weeks. (Some people make tinctures on the New Moon and strain off and bottle them on the Full Moon.)  Put the lid on the jar – label and date it.  Store the jar in a cool/dry place, shaking daily, for at least three weeks and up to six months.  After you remove the herb from the alcohol/water you have a tincture which will last indefinitely.

If you are worried about alcohol, put your dose of tincture in hot water as if making making a tea.  The alcohol will evaporate. Editor's note:  This is not sufficient for those who must avoid all alcohol.

Other tincture can be made with glycerin or vinegar and recipes can be found by doing some research in books or on the Internet.

There is much to learn about wildcrafting.  It takes time and effort and research, but you will have given yourself a tremendous gift once you can confidently identify each herb.  With this knowledge you can teach others and pass it down to your children and grandchildren.

Much of what you need is in your “own backyard” and the closer to home it is harvested the better it is for you.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin