Discourage, Stun and Destroy Pests with Herbs

Looking for natural, organic ways to discourage, stun and destroy pests?  Here are some simple tips to use herbs to help in your quest.

Cindy and Tuwanda

Cindy and Tuwanda

Basil – Keeps flies away. Grow pots of plants around the patio, dry and powder leaves to use as a dust to discourage flies and horn worms on tomato plants. Spray tea on veggie plants to keep Colorado bean beetles away.

Sweet Basil

Sweet Basil

Bay – Drop a leaf in containers before storing dried veggies and fruit or flour, cornmeal to keep bugs out. Scatter bay leaves on cupboard and pantry shelves.Dry and powder leaves to use like an insecticide in the kitchen garden. Chases ladybugs away when leaves are placed at their point of entry into the house.

Bay Laurel

Bay Laurel

Catnip – Grow near entryways to discourage ants. Dry and powder catnip leaves then dust around door frames and windows for ants and sprinkle on veggies for flea beetles. Brew catnip leaves into a strong mosquito-cide, strain (unbleached coffee filters work great) and spray the tea on the yard and garden.

Cayenne peppers – Carefully grind peppers to a fine powder and sprinkle around windows and doors where you see ant trails and on garden plants early in the morning to keep rabbits away. Drop whole dried pepper in containers of beans and grains to keep weevils and other bugs out.

Garlic – Discourage deer from eating your garden for dinner; sprinkle dried, powdered garlic on plants and around perimeter of garden. Soak cloves in water overnight to make a tea to spray plants and garden to help with deer control and add other herbs to make home-made mixtures to stop bugs in their tracks.

Lemon balm – Rub a handful of lemon balm on your picnic table (and you) to send biting bugs packing. Dry and powder leaves to dust veggie plants to confuse would be pests.

Lemon Grass – Dry and burn this herb like incense to make mosquitoes turn tail and run!

Lemon Grass

Lemon Grass

Lavender – Moths, ticks and flies don’t like this herb. A spring in the bird bath may keep mosquito larvae out. Put dried flowers in the closet or drawers.

Mint – Scatter dried peppermint leaves in kitchen cupboards to make mice run back outside. Use the dried powdered leaves to dust veggies for flea beetles.

Pennyroyal – Make a strong tea to spray on yourself and your pets to keep fleas, ticks and other biting critters away. Roll leaves in a bandana and tie around your pet for a chemical free flea and tick collar.

Rosemary – A strong tea spritzed on your pets between bathes will help control fleas. Throw some spring on the grill to flavor food and smoke out mosquitoes.

Next time pests are ‘bugging’ you try herbs from the garden for a natural solution.

 

Okra – Super food and Medicine

okraflower

Okra: here in the South, is a favorite fried, and available at many southern restaurants was not a ‘love at first sight’ kind of experience for me. As a student at the University of Tennessee, I was given a bunch of okra at the UT farm where I worked my first summer; I took it home and boiled it. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why anyone would eat such a slimy mess.

Later, perhaps when my taste buds matured and I learned various ways of cooking to avoid the slime from my native friends I came to appreciate this southern vegetable and now it is one of my favorites in the kitchen garden. I can’t imagine my garden without it.

Okra, Abelmoschus esculentus, a member of the mallow family is a sun loving plant native to Africa that is beautiful in the kitchen garden, flowerbed or even in a container.

Varieties to Try:

‘Clemson spineless’ is an old favorite that always grows well. It usually grows 3-4 feet tall. I have found this can get 5 feet tall when happy.

‘Burgundy’ is a prolific heirloom producer with beautiful red pods and stems.

‘Little Lucy’ is a dwarf variety that is only two feet tall with red-veined leaves and yellow and purple flowers. Pods are about 4 inches long and dark red; perfect for small gardens, flowerbeds or in containers.

Easy to start from seed:

After all danger of last spring frost and when the soil is warm it is time to sow seeds. Soak the large seeds in water overnight or nick the seeds with a file before planting to make germination quicker. Sow seeds about ¾ inch deep in average pH (6.0-8.0) soil rich in organic matter and compost.

Spacing: Okra is a large branching plant growing 2-6 feet tall, I usually space plants about 12 – 15 inches apart in my raised beds but I would space them 18 – 23 inches by 3 feet in a row garden. After the plants are up and set leaves I usually thin or transplant to fill in any areas needed in the bed.

Mulch:  Mulch around plants as soon as they are 3 – 4 inches tall using newspaper, cardboard, straw, leaves or anything else that will keep moisture in and weeds out.

Water requirements: Okra needs regular watering to germinate seeds and to get established but after that it is drought tolerant during hot dry spells.

Fertilize: Once a month side-dress with compost or water with compost tea. Because I start with composted soil I don’t find the need to fertilize along the way.

Companion plants:

Basil or borage

Issues:

Healthy okra that has been rotated and planted in good soil seldom has pest or disease problems. Should leaves begin to yellow and wilt, your okra plants may be infected with Fusarium wilt which is a soil borne disease. If you see this happening just pull up affected plants and destroy.

Time to harvest:

In about 50-60 days pods you can start picking pods, they are best young and small (about 3 inches long) but they can be bigger as long as they are still tender.

Pick often as they grow pods quickly, I use clippers but you can use a sharp knife too. Wear sleeves and gloves when picking as contact with plants and pods can make your skin itch…even if you plant a spineless variety.

Continue harvesting regularly and you will have fresh okra until frost. Okra can be cut down to about 6” midsummer, fertilize and it will produce a second crop. I have done this when I’ve been out of town and couldn’t harvest all the pods.

Enjoying the harvest:

My favorite way of eating okra is fresh off the plant while I’m still in the garden. Dip the pods in your favorite ranch dressing or hummus or slice them into salads or on sandwiches.

Okra is great in gumbo and stew because it is a natural thickener. Freeze whole pods for use later or slice and place in a dehydrator for a healthy crunchy snack. Of course there is nothing better than fried okra. No matter how you fix (except for boiling) or eat it, okra is one vegetable no garden should ever be without it(except for boiling) or eat it, okra is one vegetable no garden should ever be without(except for boiling) or eat it, okra is one vegetable no garden should ever be without.

 

okradryingokrajars

Resources: ‘Little Lucy’ hybrid seeds available at www.damseeds.ca
‘Burgundy’ and other heirlooms – www.rareseeds.com and www.burpee.com

Now for the rest of the story:

Here are a few things you may not know about Okra:

Okra contains: protein, niacin, riboflavin, phosphorus, zinc, copper, potasiums, Vitamins A, B6, C and K, thiamine, manganese, folate, calcium and magnesium

  • Fruits or the pods can be dried and ground into powder and used to thicken soups, sauces, curries, gravies, etc.
  • Young leaves can be steamed like spinach for a summer time green
  • Flower buds and petals can be eaten or used to make tea
  • The seeds can be dried and used like beans, especially nice added to rice dishes or ground into flour for bread
  • Roasted seeds can be ground and used as a coffee substitute

Medicinally speaking:

  • Leaves, small fruit, and even roots can be used as a poultice to relieve pain, swelling and inflammation
  • A leaf tea has been used in Africa for heart pains and to help with childbirth delivery
  • Decoction of okra pods has been used to treat fever, headache, arthritis, and urinary problems.
  • Okra seeds may treat and prevent muscle spasm.
  • Turns out all that slime is good for you, eating okra may help normalize cholesterol and blood sugar levels as well as help with asthma. The mucilage in okra binds with cholesterol and bile acids and exits the body through stools. Also acts as a lubricant and a laxative for the intestinal tract.
  • Full of dietary fiber and Vitamin A, eating okra helps to clean out gastrointestinal system so your colon can work properly and help mucous membrane health in the process.
  • Some folks report success in stabilizing blood sugar levels with drinking a cold infusion daily of 2 pods pierced with a fork and left to soak in cold water for few hours or overnight. Seems
  • Okra helps to smooth skin, prevents pimples, repairs damage and encourages collagen formation – Boil a few pods until tender, cool and mash and apply to face for five minutes, rinse. A slimey but softening facial!
  • Okra is high in Vitamin C so it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and helps to lower homocysteine levels, which may prevent heart disease.
  • May inhibit bacteria growth that might cause stomach ulcers and cancer

Make your own Mullein Ear Oil

mullein, verbascum thapus

mullein, verbascum thapsus

I took great care to bring one mullein plant with me when we moved to our homestead.  Even thought Mullein,Verbascum thapsus, is a wild

herb that grows here and there along country roads and hillsides, I wanted to make sure I had one conveniently located in my herb garden.

Ironically, another plant came up after I claimed my new gardens and built beds in an old horse paddock. I was thrilled.  Mullein is a bi-annual

so the first year is a fuzzy rosette than the second year a towering gray-green leafed monster with fat flower spikes taller than me.  Such a drama Queen

in the garden, shouting ‘look at me’! [Read more…]

Roses R Herbs

Roses are herbs, who knew?  They are the world’s most beloved and sought after blooms and have captured the imagination of many artists and poets throughout time.   Yet not many people know that the flowers, leaves and hips (seed pods) of this incredible plant have been used for centuries to cure everything from depression to infertility and all manner of other maladies.  The scent of roses preserved in essential oils is used in skin products and aromatherapy to soothe our souls.

(A rose that once covered the well house A rose that once covered the well house at Hyssop Hill in Franklin that came with the Henderson family from England with the first settlers of this country.

at Hyssop Hill in Franklin that camwith the Henderson family from England with the first settlers of this country.)

It is said that Cleopatra wasn’t really a beautiful woman but she knew how to use the powerful scent of roses to swing Antony’s attention her way.  That is why she had tons of rose petals strewn on the floors of the palace and covered her body with rose oils and lotions so that the scent would waft into the air and do their job to make the strongest of men lovesick. 

To this day roses represent romance and love.  Unfortunately most of the scent has been hybridized out of typical florist’s roses in favor of big beautiful blooms on strong stems that will stand up in modern arrangements.  Thankfully there are many old roses available on the market today that are rich in scent just like the ones we remember as children growing in Grandmother’s garden.

Rose petals have long been used as food.  I’ve read that the Romans actually grew roses for food and steeped rose petals in wine as a cure for a hangover. 

 My grandchildren and I like to test roses in my garden to see which one tastes better.  They all have their own ideas. One likes ‘Maggie’ an old garden rose (OGR) that has a lovely aroma and another likes the ‘Dortmund’ (a red climber from the 1950s) and one thinks double blooming knockouts are the tastiest.  We gather rose petals to make sandwiches on crust less bread slathered in cream cheese for our tea parties on the back porch.  We also add them to salads, which makes eating vegetables way more fun.basket of roses collected from our collection

A few years ago Jim Lonwrote a book called ‘How to eat a Rose’ and in it he gives you ideas and recipes for using roses in the kitchen. Jim shows you how to use garden roses to make rose petal jelly, cakes, cookies and refreshing drinks.

Rose water is easy to make yourself from fresh or dried aromatic rose petals (organically grown) and can be added to yogurt, cake batter, drinks, and rice or frozen into ice cubes and served in ice teas.

Simple Rosewater

  • • Cut 18 to 24 fresh, fragrant roses in midmorning (dried rose petals also work well).
  • • Remove petals and rinse with cold water in a colander.
  • • Place petals in a large enamel or stainless-steel pot with a tightly fitting lid.
  • • Pour just enough boiling water over the petals to cover them.
  • • Put the lid on the pot and steep until water cools.
  • • Pour liquid into a glass container with a lid and refrigerate overnight.
  • • Strain out petals and store rosewater in a glass jar with lid in the refrigerator.

Suggested Uses:

  • • Pour rosewater into ice cube trays until frozen, and then pop them into a freezer bag. Use rosewater ice cubes to add flavor to culinary dishes or drinks.
  • • Fill a spray bottle with rosewater and keep it in the refrigerator to spritz yourself after a hot day in the garden.

Rose water can be used in lotions, baths or keep some in a spray bottle in the refrigerator to give yourself a cool, refreshing, skin softening spritz after working out in the garden.

Rose hips – the orange or red bulbous seedpod left after the rose bloom is long gone is full of vitamin C and may help keep your immune system strong during the flu and cold season.  Harvest in the fall and dry for winter use in tea, jam, fruitcake and even wine.   During World War II School children collected rose hips to make vitamin C syrup when citrus fruits were unobtainable.

rose hips

For crafters, roses fresh and dried hold all sorts of possibilities from potpourri to wreaths to the making of rose beads.  Fresh garden roses are of course beautiful in arrangements or floated in a bowl of water.

 Roses are easy to grow and come in so many sizes and forms that I have never understood why Gertrude Stein would say; “A rose is a rose is a rose”.  Part of the beauty of roses to me is the fact that they are all so different.  In fact I now understand why so many people who grow roses have so many.  It is hard not to start collecting. 

This rose was passed along to me from my friend, Norm…it has been in his family for as long as he can remember

This rose was passed along to me from my friend, Norm…it has been in his family for as long as he can remember

If you are just getting started in rose growing, decide what you want in a rose then do some research.  Think about space and amount of sun.  Do you need to grow up on a trellis or tree or want to cover an arbor or do you have an area where you can create a living fence of shrub roses?  

 Do you like the old scented varieties?  Maybe you would like a thorn-less rose or a rose that blooms all season long.  Color and shape of flower might be important to you.  Perhaps you want a rose to use medicinally or one that will produce abundant hips.  

 Are you willing to spray fungicides and other chemicals on schedule to get the perfect rose?   I don’t spray poisonous chemicals on my roses so they are safe to eat. A rose may not live in my garden if I have to fuss over it because I am not willing to spend that kind of time on black spot or any other disease issue.  There are so many wonderful carefree roses that are happy to follow my rules that I long ago pulled up fussy roses and burned them.  

 Most of my roses are old or antique or new varieties like ‘knock-out’.  I also have old roses that I have observed in other gardens and asked for cuttings because I liked the way they behaved or they have been passed along from friends and family.

Found at my husband's family homestead in Northern Michigan…thought to come with the family from England in the 1700s.

Found at my husband’s family homestead in Northern Michigan…thought to come with the family from England in the 1700s.

 Often times a rose can be part of our heritage and passed down through the generations.  I have three special old roses, two climbers and one shrub that date back several generations.

 If you want to grow the traditional roses used medicinally plant an Apothecary’s Rose, R. gallica ‘Officinalis’.  For roses with plentiful hips you can search the countryside in old fence lines for runaway dog roses, Rosa canina.  This rose is often used as a rootstock for grafting hybrids, especially in England and has naturalized here in this country.  Both of these are easy to get started by digging up a piece of sucker or you can order from companies that sell old roses.

Found this runaway Dog Rose, Rosa canina growing in a fence line.  This rose has been used medicinally since Roman times.  In the fall it will be covered in bright orangish hips… Herb of the Year worthy indeed.

Found this runaway Dog Rose, Rosa canina growing in a fence line. This rose has been used medicinally since Roman times. In the fall it will be covered in bright orangish hips… Herb of the Year worthy indeed.

 

Most old roses are easy to propagate with cuttings.  This is how I do it:  Use new growth (summer) that is cut about 6-10 inches in length just below a leaf node.  Strip off a set or two of leaves and bloom if it has one, scrape up the lower section of stem where the leaves were attached with a clean sharp pair of clippers and stick it in a container of pearl lite (or other soil less medium).  I don’t use any root tone product but you can. 

 sweet pea Sweet Pea has a lovely scent and blooms all summer.

Set the container of labeled cuttings in a shady spot if it is in summer and move to greenhouse, cold frame or garage in the winter so they don’t freeze.  Keep moist. Test for roots after several weeks by gently tugging up ever so gently until you one day you feel resistance and the leaves will start growing.  Not all of my cuttings take but the percentage is pretty fair.

 Just to let you know how easy this is, I took cuttings once from a friends rose and stuck the tips in a moist paper towel in a plastic storage bag and forgot all about them until two weeks later when my son comes in from the van carrying this bag of sticks and asks if I was planning to do something with them.

 They looked like they still had some life in them so I made a fresh cut at the bottom, pulled off some wilted leaves, scraped them up and stuck them in some soil less mix, watered and set them in the greenhouse.  To my surprise three out of the six rooted nicely.  It is one of my favorite roses and I have no idea (nor does my friend) what kind of rose it is.

Roses like well-drained soil (pH of 5.5 to 6.5) with lots of organic matter so their roots can easily spread out and grow.  Most prefer full sun but some can handle part shade.  You can plant roses in the spring but remember to keep them well watered in the heat of summer.  Planting in fall is a great time in the south so that roots can develop before the heat of the next summer.  Fertilize with good compost or 5-10-5 product about a month after planting.  Monthly feeding with fish emulsion or compost tea is nice.  I usually add compost around the base in early spring and forgetaboutit.

 DSC_0348

Rose pests include thrips, leaf hoppers, aphids, rose slugs and my personal favorite, Japanese beetles.  Dormant oil in early spring can smother insect eggs before they hatch.  Garlic, garlic chives and feverfew are good companions for roses to help discourage bugs. I like to pick off Japanese beetles and plop them into a container of vegetable oil or just hold the container below and tap them and they dive right in.  My Jack Russell gets all the ones at the bottom.  If you are considering a trap, put it as far away from your roses as possible because it will call the beetles in but they will usually have a little dinner before heading into the contraption.

 If your rose gets black spot or mildew and can’t bear to get rid of it…you can try to organically treat it by making a spray of baking soda and water, 3 Tablespoons per gallon of water and needs to be reapplied after rains.  It also helps to keep the area under rose free of old diseased leaves.  Always water roses at the base and early in the day is best.

 Michael Shoup of Antique Rose Emporium once said in a lecture I attended that we should all relax about our heirloom roses and allow them to ebb and flow with the seasons.  Try to plant roses with other perennials and shrubs so that if they go through a time of not looking so pretty it’s not so noticeable.

Nothing says welcome to my garden like a Lady Banks in early spring

Nothing says welcome to my garden like a Lady Banks in early spring

 

Pruning roses is easy and the best way to learn is to just do it.  I like to prune mine in late winter.  I first take out any dead canes or anything that is crossing or wildly going off in the wrong direction.  I then start cutting just below leaf nodes going in the directions I want and according to the overall shape of the rose.  I make cuts with a slight angle.  Cleanliness is important so in between roses I dip my pruning tools in a container of rubbing alcohol to disinfect.

 After the first flush of blooms (if it is a repeat bloomer) I go ahead and cut back again (not as hard, more of a trim). This cuts off old blooms and some of the damage that the Japanese beetles have done.

 When you think about how long roses have been around and all of the great uses this plant offers you can see why it’s the 2012 Herb of the Year!

Known as the sweetheart rose, this 'Cecile Brunner' is a lovely short climber for smaller gardens

Known as the sweetheart rose, this ‘Cecile Brunner’ is a lovely short climber for smaller gardens

 

 Check out your local nurseries for roses or shop online for old roses at

http://www.heirloomroses.com/

https://www.antiqueroseemporium.com/

 

Class Notes from Green Door Gourmet

Simple herbal gifts

Notes from Herb Class at Green Door Gourmet that are not in my book

It was great seeing you all today and had so much fun talking about herbs and demonstrating herbal gifts to make for yourself  and your loved ones.  Enjoy 😉

***Always keep a notebook handy to write down ingredients, dates and any changes you may have or want to make for your next batch.

 Healing Lip Balm

5 T olive oil

1 ½  – 2T beeswax

2 t honey

10 drops peppermint essential oil

Combine olive oil and beeswax and heat in saucepan (non aluminum) or small crock-pot until beeswax is melted.  Remove from heat.  As mixture starts to cool, add honey and whip with spoon.  Lastly add essential oil and stir well.  Pour into small containers and label.

 

Lavender/Peppermint cream

3 T Coconut oil

1 T beeswax

15 drops lavender essential oil

15 drops peppermint essential oil

Makes about ¼ cup

Combine coconut oil and beeswax in saucepan or small crock-pot.  When melted pour into container – stir in essential oils and label.

Wonderful anytime cream – I put this on before heading out to the garden or hiking to deter bugs.  This is especially nice for dry hands and feet – just apply at night and wear socks/ gloves to bed…by morning the skin is soft and the inconvenience is soon forgotten!

 

Gardener Soak (or Shopper this time of year)

½ cup Epson salt

½ baking soda

approx. 2 T dried comfrey and rosemary

2 bay leaves, crumbled

15 drops rosemary essential oil

15 drops lavender essential oil

Mix essential oils with baking soda.  Add salt and dried crumbled herbs to mix.  Store in airtight container with label.  May want to double or triple recipe.  ¼ cup sea salt can also be added if you like.

Use ¼  – 1/3 cup per cotton bath or sock tied to faucet and allow hot bath water to flow thru it. After bath is drawn allow bag of herbs to soak with you in tub.

This bath mixture will relieve sore muscles and stress while reviving the spirit

 

De-stressing Lavender Bath

2 cups oats

1 cup lavender flowers

15 drops lavender essential oil

Mix all together and put in airtight container

Use ¼ to ½ cup tied up in a washcloth or a muslin bag or even a white cotton sock.  Allow water to flow through it then use it to gently wash the body to melt away stress and soften skin.

 

Season all

Hardy Herb blend for the grinder

2 T each of dried onions, rosemary, basil, parsley, black pepper, mustard seeds,

sage, oregano

1 T garlic powder (granulated is better)

1 bay leaf – Optional

mix all together – fill grinder and use as a salt substitute and keep on table to spice up meals (salads, crackers and cheese, sandwiches, etc)

 

No Need for Salt  blend

 2 T each of summer savory, thyme, oregano, mustard seeds and black peppercorns mixed together.  Fill grinder and enjoy on buttered toast or biscuit, grind this on sandwiches and salads, in soups…everything tastes better with this blend.

Check out my book, ‘The Cracked Pot Gardener’ for more herbs for the holiday ideas.

 

Can you say Asteraceae?

This was my third of five weekend classes in Mountain City, GE learning about wild plant medicine making. The weather was near perfect, no rain which in a rain forest is unusual. We trekked over trails and at Patricia’s whim we would stop, drop and key out plants.
She and Lorna are trying to get it through our heads to think in families when we look at plants. By recognizing plant families we will have a basic familiarity right from the git-go and no matter where in the world we are we will at least know a little something to point us in the right direction.


It’s like going to the pool at the YMCA in the summertime and observing the families who come to swim…the kids all have similar characteristic traits special to their family which makes it easy to identify which family they belong to. Does that make sense or is it just me? Many of the plants we keyed out this weekend were in the Aster family….hence Asteraceae, the proper family name. I had no idea how many plants are in this family and how difficult they are to identify down to precise variety.

Difficult or not, persistence, a good magnifier with guidance from our fearless leaders and our trusty ‘Newcomb’s Wildflower’ and ‘Vascular Plants of the Blue Ridge’ books in hand (or backpack or apron) usually resulted in the correct identification of certain Asters, Goldenrods and Boneset varieties which were blooming happily in fields, on the roadsides and along the trails.

It took this long for things (anything) to start clicking in my brain but I’m actually starting to put it all together and think in plant families. Patricia and Lorna will be so proud.

Last class which I didn’t make time to post was great fun because we actually experienced harvesting. We dug pleurisy root and cut the soft areal parts of Passion flower, from a field covered in blooms of orange, white and purple. We also gathered Skullcap and horsemint along a trail. All this harvesting was of course done with permission and permits properly obtained. I learned many things but one thing is for sure, a small shovel is a wonderful tool and won’t wear a hole in your palm like a trowel will.

Back at Foxfire, we quickly went to work to make medicine from the freshly harvested herbs. We first scrubbed the roots and cut them up in small pieces for a tincture process. We discussed menstruum – the fluid that is poured over the herb parts and the ratios of alcohol and water, how to dilute and how to figure out weight to volume for each plant that we were to tincture.

Once the roots pieces were submerged properly in the correct menstruum I then snipped passion flower and skullcap into separate bowls to be weighed. Once the correct ratio was figured out I put the areal parts into a jar and measured the menstruum and poured it in the jar and put a tight lid on them.

The tincture sits for two weeks (shake daily) before I strain it and put it in it’s final resting place (jar), labeled of course. This process was finished at home. It is important to keep good records of all medicine making so I’ve started a notebook dedicated to just that.

Blackberries and Purslane – Breakfast of Champions

Annie, the garden dog and I like to head out early to beat the heat and enjoy the quiet of the morning in the garden. No time to fix a proper breakfast, we girls usually just forage. This morning Annie and I enjoyed ripe blackberries still covered in dew as we watered and pulled weeds. Annie likes to pick the low ones.

We or I should say (Annie won’t eat greens) I followed that up with purslane, a green that is often confused with a weed. Well, okay it is considered a weed in the real world but here at “The Wheel is Off the Bus” Garden (my pet name for my gardens for 2010), purslane is growing happily in the herb garden and even in pots handy to the kitchen so I don’t have to travel far to harvest some.
Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, an earth hugging succulent that has reddish thick, water filled stems and fat paddle shaped ½-2” leaves. According to “Wildman Steve Brill” Purslane was once a food crop in India. I have no idea how it got here but it grows freely in meadows, lawns and gardens. It loves hot dry weather and doesn’t skip a beat in our southern growing conditions.

You can find purslane growing from spring through fall. It blooms a yellow flower with 5 petals and one plant can have 50 thousand teeny, tiny seeds which are edible and viable for up to 30 years if undisturbed.

If identification is unclear, break open a stem, if it exudes a white milky sap it could be a poisonous spurge plant warns Brill which sometimes grows nearby. Purslane stems are filled with water. In fact, if you are weeding purslane, remove the plant from the garden as the water in the stems keeps the plant alive so it can quickly form seeds to disperse in an effort to pro-create. How cool is that?

The stems and leaves can be steamed, sautéed like spinach, eaten raw in salads, rolled in tortillas or chopped and added to soups for a thickening agent much like okra. In Russia folks dry and can this green.

Filled with Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron, purslane is a healthy foodstuff that may lower cholesterol and blood pressure and help with joint inflamation. The best news is it grows wild. Good to know if you are out early and need something good to eat for breakfast!

BotanoLogos Appalachian Herbs Program

I had my first herb class with Patricia Kyritsi Howell and Lorna (sorry Lorna I can’t remember your hyphenated last name) at the Foxfire Center in Mountain City, Georgia last weekend. We meet for 5 weekends from Now until October. I thought I was going there to learn about herbs and I did but I learned a couple of other things while I was at it. First of all did you know there is a rain forest in Mountain City, Georgia? Well I know Patricia said to bring rain gear for hiking but I thought because of an occasional rain shower…ah, no. It rains all the time, hence rain forest. Where have I been, under a rock? I swear no one mentioned that in my studies at Charlevoix public schools, in Michigan.

I was worried about getting chewed up with chiggers (my favorite pest of the south), but alas no chigger bites thanks to Patricia sharing what she had learned from an old-timer who told her to put a pinch of sulphur powder (get it at the drug store) in the bottom of her shoes and a little smeared around the end of the pant legs. I did what the doctor said and viola, no chiggers.
The goal of this class is to learn how to identify plants in the wild and learn their medicinal properties then harvest and make into medicine. Each weekend consists of two long days of hiking, classroom instruction and medicine making.

The first class was great – not only did I meet my classmates who are interesting folks from different backgrounds but we hiked and keyed-out various plants on the mountain trails. I learned black flex garbage bags are indispensable in a rain forest to sit on, protect back-pack and books and to wear. What a great invention.

I have home-work, go out in the field and practice identifying plants and learning (re-learning) botanical terms…lots of them. I look forward to the next class and I’m hoping to use this learning experience to teach others how to forage for food and medicine.

Herbal Solutions to De-bug your Home and Garden

People often ask me what they can do with all the herbs they are growing; when I tell them to use them as a way to control insects they usually admit that wasn’t the answer they expected! Herbs have properties that make them a joy to cook with, heal various maladies, tickle our senses, make a fine ‘cupa’ tea and yes an organic means to combat pesky pests in the garden and around the home. Read more in May State-by-State Garden Magazine. (TN Gardener)

Basil – Keeps flies away. Grow pots of plants around the patio, dry and powder leaves to use as a dust to discourage flies and try it on tomato plants to discourage horn worms. Make a strong tea and spray plants in kitchen garden to help keep Colorado bean beetles away. Bay – Drop a leaf in containers before storing dried veggies and fruit or flour, cornmeal to keep bugs out. Scatter bay leaves on cupboard and pantry shelves.
Dry and powder leaves to use like an insecticide in the kitchen garden. Chases ladybugs away when leaves are placed at their point of entry into the house.

Borage – Brew a strong tea with the leaves, strain and spray leaf eating bugs.

Catnip – Grow near entryways to discourage ants. Dry and powder catnip leaves then dust around door frames and windows for ants and sprinkle on veggies for flea beetles. Brew catnip leaves into a strong mosquito-cide, strain (unbleached coffee filters work great) and spray the tea on the yard and garden.

Cayenne peppers – Carefully grind peppers to a fine powder and sprinkle around windows and doors where you see ant trails and on garden plants early in the morning to keep rabbits away. Drop whole dried pepper in containers of beans and grains to keep weevils and other bugs out.

Garlic – Discourage deer from eating your garden for dinner; sprinkle dried, powdered garlic on plants and around perimeter of garden. Soak cloves in water overnight to make a tea to spray plants and garden to help with deer control and add other herbs to make home-made mixtures to stop bugs in their tracks.

Lemon balm – Rub a handful of lemon balm on your picnic table (and you) to send biting bugs packing. Dry and powder leaves to dust veggie plants to confuse would be pests.

Lavender – Moths, ticks and flies don’t like this herb. A spring in the bird bath may keep mosquito larvae out. Dried flowers in the closet or drawers keeps chases bugs away.

Lemon grass – Contains citronella…crush the corms (bulb like base of plant) and rub on skin or make a tea from the stems to spray mosquitoes.

Mint – Scatter dried peppermint leaves in kitchen cupboards to make mice run back outside. Use the dried powdered leaves to dust veggies for flea beetles.

Pennyroyal – Make a strong tea to spray on yourself and your pets to keep fleas, ticks and other biting critters away. Roll leaves in a bandana and tie around your pet for a chemical free flea and tick collar.

Rosemary – A strong tea spritzed on your pets between bathes will help control fleas. Throw some spring on the grill to flavor food and smoke out mosquitoes.

Wormwood – Spray a strong tea from the leaves to kill cabbage worms and flea beetles (top and bottom of plant leaves). Pour 2 cups boiling water over 2 cups leaves. Cover and let steep for an hour or two, strain and add 4-8 cups of tap water before spraying plants.

Next time some pest is ‘bugging’ you try herbs from the garden for a natural solution.

Here is a simple recipe for herbal concoctions to kill, stunt and discourage leaf sucking, chewing, egg laying, no-good pests!

Herb infusions for pest control:

This is basically a strong tea…pour 2 cups boiling water over ½ cup of minced (garlic or hot peppers) or herb leaves; i.e. basil, chives, wormwood, etc. Let stand overnight, strain through cheesecloth or an unbleached paper coffee filter before transferring to sprayer.

Use gloves and caution when working with hot peppers. I use a food processor to grind up hot peppers to keep from getting any on my hands. Dried peppers and herbs can be ground for use (1/3 less if dried) and a good idea to have on hand when needed early in the season.

A tablespoon or two of Tobasco sauce can be added to water as a spray or in combination with herbs if mincing your own hot peppers makes you cringe or you are in a hurry.

Add a teaspoon of dish-soap (Ivory liquid works well) and/or olive oil to homemade bug control mixes for an added kick and to help it stick to leaves.

Pomanders: A Christmas Tradition

Every Autumn I find myself drawn to the lemon and lime section in the produce department. I start imagining the smell of citrus, cloves and cinnamon, which takes my mind on a quick journey down Christmas Lane.

What is a pomander you ask? Good question! According to the dictionary, a pomander is: (noun) a mixture of aromatic substances enclosed in a perforated bag or box and used to scent clothes and linens or formerly carried as a guard against infection; also : a clove-studded orange or apple used for the same purposes.

Now you know, right? Well, in case it still isn’t that clear, let me try to shed even more light on the subject. The history of pomanders goes back to the Middle Ages. Sanitation was not what it is today and people did not bathe as often as we do now. So some clever folks came up with a way to make life more pleasant by combining various herbs and spices to help mask undesirable scents and also by using certain herbs and spices to protect themselves from unwanted infectious viral and bacterial situations. They would wear perforated containers filled with an herb/spice mix, usually in a ball shape on their person; usually close to their noses where it could sweeten the air they breathed.

The Victorians brought pomanders or pomander balls into high fashion, combining practicability with beauty. They expanded on the uses to include household decorations, closet and drawer perfume/insecticide, Christmas ornaments and even wedding bouquets.

The tradition of pomander balls as Christmas ornaments is still in fashion today and a lovely way to add fun and scent to your holiday season. I have made these for years and it is an especially wonderful activity for the whole family. They are easy to make from lemons, limes, tangerines, oranges or apples. My favorites are lemons and limes. You can buy them by the bag full and they are just the right size to hang on the Christmas tree, in a garland, in doorways, mix in the mantle decorations or pile them up (after they are dried) in a rustic bowl with or without potpourri. I have even made mini topiaries with them! You can store them away to use year after year. They take three or so weeks to dry so get busy and make pomanders, start a new tradition with your family and make your home smell oh so festive!

How to Make Pomanders


Ingredients:

* Small to mid sized unblemished fruit – apples, oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines
* Large headed cloves*
* Ground cinnamon, (nutmeg, ginger, ground cloves)*
* Knitting needle, skewer, or nail
* Thimble or masking tape for fingers – optional
* Orrisroot – note: orrisroot is used to act as a preservative and scent enhancer Orrisroot is dried, powdered material from the Iris bulb. Some people are allergic to this so if you are concerned you can skip it or add sandalwood oil as an alternative preserver.
* Ribbons or raffia, tissue paper or paper bags

1. Use knitting needle, skewer or nail to pierce the skin of the fruit. You may want to use a thimble or cover fingers with masking tape. Insert cloves close together but not touching in straight vertical lines or patterns, covering as much of the fruit as possible. Be sure to leave spaces for 1/8” ribbon to run down two sides, crisscross at bottom and come back up opposite side of fruit for hanging purposes if you choose to do so. Otherwise cover entire fruit with cloves.
2. In a glass bowl, combine powdered orrisroot (again you can omit or use sandalwood oil), ground cinnamon and other ground spices if you like – experiment to find which combination you like best. For 6 limes I use approx. ½ cup cinnamon and 8 drops of sandalwood oil. If you add the other ground spices try 1 tablespoon each (including the orrisroot) to the cinnamon mix. Pour spice mix in a zip lock bag. Place the clove-studded fruit in the bag, rolling around until entire fruit is covered with spice mixture.
3. Shake off excess spices, use ribbon or raffia and hang pomander ball on drying rack, doorways (I’ve used the kitchen cabinet knobs or the chains on the ceiling fans!), etc. If you are not going to hang them, then wrap each pomander in tissue or small paper bag (newspaper may work as well) and store in a cool, dry place for about 3 weeks. Be sure to check occasionally. Should one start to mold or rot, toss it out.
4. Display and enjoy your pomanders – Keep in mind this is not rocket science…be flexible and creative!

* You can find large containers of cloves and powdered cinnamon usually at Sams or Costco. Yarrow Acres in downtown Franklin, Tennessee has essential oils. You can order cloves, ground spices, etc. from the San Francisco Herb Co. Email address is http://www.sfherb.com/

For more information on “all things gardening” please check out my “Cracked Pot Gardener” book page at http://www.cindyshapton.com/book.html

Until next time….Make gardening fun or it will become work!!!