Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Santolina - Herb of the Week

I chose a bug repelling herb for this week's herb of the Week: 
         Santolina  or Lavender Cotton 
        (Santolina chamaecyparissus)

A popular colonial herb for repelling insects it is still popular among the Pennsylvania Dutch.  Native to the Mediterranean, like so many of today’s herbs, it was especially common in North Africa.

It was a traditional herb for eye health. Grey santolina – also known as lavender cotton – is sometimes used in herbal medicine; and it has been used as a natural dye, in potpourris, as a moth repellent, and as the source of an essential oil. 

Since Elizabethan times it has been fashionable to keep Santolina clipped into tiny hedges for knot gardens.  The feathery foliage and the shrub-like growth make it a perfect plant for a clipped edging.

To Grow

A half-hardy evergreen shrub with a three-foot spread and yellow button flowers and feathery deep-cut foliage.  Coming in two colors, bright green S, vand silvery gray from a distance it looks like cotton, giving it the common name ‘ Lavender Cotton.’ The silver gray variety is often used in moon gardens as it picks up and reflects moon light very well.

Sow seed in spring in a greenhouse. Does not require pre-treatment. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant seed indoors 8 weeks before your last Spring frost date.  Wait until all danger of frost has passed to transplant the seedlings outdoors.  It can also be grown from cuttings of half-ripe side shoots, 2 to 4 inches long with a heel, place in a cold frame in July/August. Roots within 2 weeks. The heeled cuttings can also be placed directly into the open garden in early July and should be well-rooted by the winter. Root division can be done in spring or autumn. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found it best to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame, planting them out once they are well established in the summer. Layering can also be used to graft new plants or to fill holes in a hedge.

To raise Santolina, you need six hours of full sun a day and a sandy soil.  If your soil conditions are not already sandy, you can make a soil mixture of 2 parts garden soil, 2 parts peat moss, 2 parts sand and 1 part compost.  Dig a whole for each plant that is twice the size of the root ball.  Set the plant in the hole and fill in the surrounding area with the soil mixture.  Tamp it down and soak with warm water, then let nature do the rest of the watering.

Space the plants 18 to 24 inches apart in a garden bed, or 12 to 15 inches if you are creating an edging or fence.  The plant will need regular clipping in Spring and summer.  Avoid cutting it back in fall as that will limit its ability to survive winter weather.  You can grow it in a container outside, but it generally does not live through the winter indoors.

To Use

The grey santolina, S. chamaecyparissus, is the one usually mentioned in the herb literature. It has a variety of little known uses. For example, the leaves are used for flavoring broths, sauces and dishes, but no doubt the taste is an acquired one. Probably it is best used sparingly at first until you get a feel for what it can contribute to a dish. Lavender cotton is sometimes used in herbal medicine; and it has been used as a natural dye, in potpourris, as a moth repellent, and as the source of an essential oil. 

The leaves and flowering tops are antispasmodic, disinfectant, and stimulant. Lavender cotton is rarely used medicinally, though it is sometimes used internally to treat poor digestion and menstrual problems. When finely ground and applied to insect stings or bites, the plant will immediately ease the pain. Applied to surface wounds, it will hasten the healing process by encouraging the formation of scar tissue. The leaves and flowering stems are harvested in the summer and dried for later use.

You can pot up the silver/gray Santolina and bring it inside into the shape of a Christmas tree.  In a sachet it will repel moths. A foot bath with Santolina will relax and soothe feet after a hike or day of shopping. You can lay the branches in drawers under carpets and in closets to deter moths and other insects.

Santolina makes a great base for herbal wreaths and the yellow flowers add great color to potpourri. Santolina is generally not a culinary herb and internal use should be avoided. One warning if you plan to experiment with santolina as a culinary herb: bruised santolina leaves are known to cause severe skin rashes in sensitive people. 


Foot Bath
4 - 10 inch branches of fresh santolina
2 quarts hot water
1 Tbls. olive oil or caster oil

Place herbs in a basin and crush with the back of a spoon.  Pour in hot water and oil.  Place feet in basin and cover with a towel.  Relax for about 10 minutes, then dry your feet.

Moth Bag Recipe
1 part wormwood
1 part spearmint
1 part santolina
1 part rosemary
1/4 part crushed coriander

Dry and crumble the ingredients, mix together and place in a muslin or cotton bag.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...