Sunday, April 29, 2012

Weed Walk

 Our last gathering for this spring was a weed walk.  Rain was threatening and it was chilly, but our intrepid band of wanderers donned boots and jackets and headed out into the woods.  Because the timing of everything in this very strange spring is so different, we got to get a good look at things we might not usually be able to see due to overgrown brambles or underbrush like honeysuckle and poison ivy.  Bob went out a few days ago and mowed a marvelous path next to the creek for easy access, too.
Some of the things we've introduced have done an amazing job of spreading.  The Solomon's Seal that we planted a few years ago is all over the place, and although we planted a variegated single plant, an area of about 6 square feet is now covered with both variegated and non-variegated plants.  The ramps are now lush, and 3 of the 5 species of introduced trillium have flourished, along with both wild gingers.
 The mayflowers are in bloom.
The jewelweed now has true leaves and succulent stems.  Most of it is about 6" tall.

 The phlox is something that we have rarely gotten close to, since it usually blooms in the end of May when everything is wild and difficult to walk through.

So far we have white and pink open, with magenta soon to follow.

This trillium has more of a pink cast than shows up in this shot.  She has increased three-fold in 2 years.

It is difficult to see this one without crossing the creek and getting close.  It would seem that this vibrant color would call from a distance, but the flower nods, and can blend in with the browns of the rich woodland floor.

Cheerful buttercups peek out from a party of jewelweed, cleavers, speedwell, chickweed, and jack in the pulpits.

All of the false solomon's seal is preparing to bloom.  In another week, the woods will be filled with the plumes.

The shy little fern grew off the side of the path.

Sweet Cicely is just starting to bloom.
Back inside, Lorie thought this shelf mushroom smelled like a fresh loaf of homemade bread.  We used it and some turkey tail shelf mushrooms to make a tincture.

It was an amazing walk.  We continued up to my house, digging out errant motherwort, mugwort, and some Herb Robert for those who were interested, before heading back to the workshop to put together a tincture and enjoy some conversation and silliness.  We've enjoyed this series of classes and are pondering our schedule for fall.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gardening Superstitions

From the May/June '10 issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine
Barbara Will
Sugar Grove Herbs

As I sit here looking out the window at the freshly fallen snow, drinking a nice warm cup of tea, I can’t help but wonder how much longer I have to wait before I can get out and start digging in the garden. What new plants should I get, what color scheme will I choose, and don’t forget I need to add something novel. The thoughts and visions of my favorite flowers bring back memories of my grandmother and the superstitions she had when planting her garden.

First thing on the list was to plant cabbage on the seventeenth of March. This would help insure that large heads of cabbage would soon be growing. Everyone has probably heard that parsley should be planted on “Good Friday” because it goes to the devil nine times and back before it grows and you never transplant parsley or you’re sure to have bad luck. Don’t forget you need a good Farmer’s Almanac to insure your plants go into the ground on the best possible day. I started thinking, what other superstitions are there, and so began a search of my books and the internet because I want to make sure that I have the best looking garden in town.

Did you know that cucumbers must be planted in the morning, before sunrise, otherwise they will be destroyed by bugs, and while preparing your garden never hang your hoe from a tree branch or you’re sure to have bad luck? However planting angelica, snapdragons and chamomile will protect you from spells or any curses.

According to Dennis Boyer in his book “Once upon a Hex” it’s important to stick to a schedule when it comes to scarecrows. Never put it out before Easter or up on May Day. The head must always point towards heaven and be covered with a hat. Put it in the shade on the longest day, give it a glass of water if it’s dry, and place it in the smokehouse if it’s too wet. The most important thing to remember is to remove it and burn everything before midnight on Halloween. Not one piece of clothing should ever be worn by another person again or it will result in terrible consequences.

If you watch certain flowers in your garden and around the yard you will always know the time. Dandelions open between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m., California poppies open between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m., Four o’clocks open at guess what 4:00 p.m., Evening primroses and moonflowers will open at 6:00 p.m. and Daylilies and Dandelions close at 9:00 p.m. this would be the perfect time to sit and relax around the camp fire, enjoying the fruits of your labor?

 You’ve worked hard and the garden is in great shape, what better time to plan a party to show off the garden and all of its beauty. However do NOT mention the date of the visit aloud. If you do, the roses and daylilies will hear your plans and stubbornly bloom the day before and the day after but will not bloom the day of the party.

Remember while working in the garden, you don’t want to pick any foxglove flowers because it will offend the garden fairies and that is something you want to avoid. They will play tricks on you like leading rabbits to your garden to eat your precious plants or moving plants around in the garden and then watch as you look at where you thought you planted them and laugh when you find them planted somewhere else.

Gnomes and gazing balls on the other hand are still very popular in today’s garden but did you know they have great powers? Simply keep the gazing balls well polished so they can reflect the sun’s rays into the face of evil spirits keeping them away. The gnomes need a little more care to keep them happy. Feed them some gruel or pudding and put out a saucer of milk daily and they will repay you with good plant growth, added household security and may even do a few household chores. That alone is worth a little milk for me! But beware if you fail they will become very mischievous and things around the garden and house will turn up missing.

Then there are the weather predictors such as weather sticks. Weather sticks are made of Balsam Fir and tell us what the weather is doing. With good weather about they point to the sky and when things aren't so pleasant they point to the ground.

When you see a rainbow in the east – tomorrow will be fine, but if you see a rainbow in the west - tomorrow will bring rain. If you are experiencing a dry spell and the gardens need some rain just find some ants and stomp on them, of course if you find them and they seem very agitated don’t bother because bad weather is on the way.

Frost is the one thing we all know that is harmful to our garden and can destroy all our hard work in one night. You knew frost was coming in about 6 weeks if the katydids start to sing or if the fawns lose their spots and the first time you see a Walking Stick, so get busy and start harvesting all of your crops and prepare for the winter that will soon come.

One last tip, while working in the garden if you catch a falling leaf on the first day of autumn you will not catch a cold in the coming winter. Are all these things true? I don’t know but I’m not taking any chances so I’ll stay on the good side of the fairies, feed the gnomes some milk and be sure to catch a leaf. Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Wild Thyme Herb Tea!

About a year ago, my friend Susanna Reppert from The Rosemary House in Mechanicsburg, PA asked me if I'd do a talk on wild plant foods for her garden club, so I agreed and put it on my calendar, never knowing that I would be part of an amazing event held this past Monday.
The Penn-Cumberland Garden Club holds an annual Bertha P. Reppert Herb Tea Party, and this year (the 48th!) was themed on wild edibles.
My sister was kind enough to drive me there. I get nervous enough about talking, and the last thing I need is to get jangled up trying to find a place. This led to the added benefit/amusement of getting to watch Maryanne eat some wild edibles too :-D.
We arrived to find the women looking spring-y and dressed for tea. The tables were set with a vast variety of bouquets, featuring a mixture of spring flowers, herbs, and weeds! Tea was served prior to the talk, and Susanna had encouraged us to get there early to enjoy the treats. I'm so glad we did!
I'm hoping she'll put out a small e-book with the recipes from the menu, which included:
Dandelion Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing
Watercress Dip with crisp, fresh vegetables
Nettle Soup
Toasted Weed Sticks
Tansy Egg Sandwich
Chickweed Pie
Red Clover Bread with Blackberry Spread
Sassafras Sorbet
Double Thumbprint Cookie with Elderberry Jam
Cupcakes with Teaberry Frosting
Spring Cordial
Very Berry Tea
We were stuffed! I loved every bit of it. The nettle soup and the sassafras sorbet stood out for me, but it was all delicious.
Generally when I speak about wild edibles, there is some undercurrent running through the crowd - perhaps that they would never actually eat what I'm talking about unless it were an emergency, but find it mildly amusing. This time, the entire group had just thoroughly enjoyed an elegant, delightful experience where the food was not a survival thing, but something they might actually WANT.
That was a new experience for me!

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Essential Herbal - May/June 2012

The May/June issue of The Essential Herbal is in the mail, and headed out to subscribers right now. It's another jam-packed, fun, and informative gathering of all different aspects of herbs and their uses. As always, we were just amazed while putting it together, to see how much love and enthusiasm comes through from our contributors. I know our readers will love this one as much as we do.Table of Contents:

Field Notes
What the heck is going on out there? How are our gardens growing?

Shaker Sachets, Karen Hegre
A quick, easy, and useful herbal craft

Herbs for Bees and Beekeepers, Suzan T Scholl
How to help bees thrive by giving them what they need, and a primer on what products bees make.

Herbal Connections, Herbs for Lowering Cholesterol,Marita A Orr
The word on cholesterol medications isn't looking so good lately, so Marita discusses several herbal options that can be just as effective without the side effects.

Edible Flowers: More than Decoration, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Many, many ideas and recipes for using edible flowers in the kitchen!

Vinegar of the Four Thieves, Rita Richardson
An interesting vinegar to make and use - whether a plague abounds or not.

The Scented Imagination: Random Thoughts on Ambergris, Marcia Elston
"The Gold of the Ocean" or whale vomit? However you look at ambergis, Marcia's article makes me dream of wandering the shore-line looking for gray lumps :-)

Faith in Tomatoes, Belle DiMonté
A love letter to the simple act of loving plants.

LA Lagniappe, River Town Shrimp & Eggplant Jambalaya, Sarah Liberta
Authentic Jambalaya recipe from deep in the heart of Louisiana, this recipe will have your mouth watering!

How to Make a Plant Press, Erin McIntosh
Directions to help you make a plant press to keep some of the spring and summer available for crafting or sweet memories.

Toxins in the Home, Heddy Johannesen
There are many ways we can lessen the chemical load in our housekeeping. Lots of simple, useful ideas for keeping a healthier home.

Natural Facials, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Cleanser for each type of skin, using herbs and kitchen items.

What I Do with Herbs, Susan Broyles
Susan shares the many ways she incorporates herbs into all the days of her life.

The Soap Pot, Herbal Color Swirling, Alicia Grosso
Three soaps, colored with herbs, and swirled into a spectacular bar of herbie goodness.

Getting to Know Spicebush, Tina Sams
The Notable Native of 2012 is Spicebush, and we take a look at this very prolific woodland shrub.

Summertime Herbal Friends, Tina Sams
A few quick wild herbal helpers to get through the bumps and bugs of summer.

Women Herbalists, Hildegard of Bingen, Susanna Reppert Brill
Visions or migraines? We'll never know for certain, but Susanna takes us along on a trek into the 12th century and Medieval time of herbalism.

Not So Humble Chickweed, Sandy Michelsen
Chickweed salve recipe with some information about this amazing, common weed.

Strawberry Scones, Janet Roberson
What could be better at this time of year, than to start the day (or during mid-afternoon tea) with a burst of strawberry?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

ahhh... vacation!

It's taken me a while to get around to posting. A week ago, I was packing my bag to come home from a rest by the sea.
It may seem that I run around the countryside a lot, but it is a rare time that doesn't include some kind of work - a presentation, setting up a booth, or some kind of research or business.
Most of the people I know in herbs are shaking their heads, knowing that no matter how much we adore what we do, there are times when we need to recharge. Oh, I walked beside the dunes looking at the plants thriving there, and considered well all the herbs and spices included in the delicious meals that were served to me. There might even have been a conversation here or there about the medicinal merits of various herbs, but for the most part it was a true vacation.
It was interesting. With social media and being out among people at herb events, it isn't really anything I usually think about, but being away reminded me of the privacy that we all willingly give away to conduct our lives and businesses these days. Do we really think about how exhausting that can be?
The "B side" of any time away is usually the catching up, but Maryanne pulled all of the orders that came in during my absence, and the printer took care of the mailing of the May/June issue of The Essential Herbal that had been sent in just prior to my leaving, so I could really take advantage of the great energy I brought home.
I couldn't wait to get outside and see what the plant world had been up to. It would be impossible to express how exciting/frightening this spring has been so far. It seems that this growing season *might* have been extended by three full months. I say "might" because there is still a month before we reach our last frost date, and we have a scare once or twice a week. There's just too much outside to rush out and cover, so I'm letting Nature take her course. Who knows what such a long growing season will produce? We've never had one before.
Here is what was waiting for me last week...
The row of dogwoods along the driveway waved to me as I arrived.
The trilliums were waiting for me to get home so they could bloom!
Blueberry bushes are all laden with buds.
The early "Golden" elderberry is preparing to send out the dinner plate sized umbels of blow.
Horseradish that went in the ground last year is back and happy.
Molly and I spent a couple of hours picking violets and the next day Maryanne and I spent another hour crawling around in the woods picking some more.
Everything is way ahead. There are figs on the tree, the ramps are lush and green, and the anise hyssop is nearly knee-high!
It's good to be home and back at it, but it sure was good to get away!