Monday, October 31, 2016

Herbs of a Poisoners Garden

Let us take a walk through the garden of an imaginary mystic.  A witch or other gardener of the dark and see what they have planted in their garden.

As we look in we first see Monkshood (aconite) so poisonous that it was used to poison arrows (in WWII, the Nazi’s put it on their bullets). Witches believed it could make them invisible if they tied the seeds to them wrapped in lizard skin. It also protected one from vampires and werewolves.

The Winter Rose (Black Hellebore) sits in the corner in full bloom. Thought to be a cure for insanity, it was believed it would also help one become invisible.

There in the back is a lush bunch of Witches Bells (Foxglove). They seem to be growing in each corner of the stone fence. Ahhh, for protection. I imagine if we looked in the cottage, we’d see black stone floors – dyed with the leaves of the Foxglove - to keep negativity out.

What self-respecting witch would be without Moonflower (Datura) with white flowers that bloom in the night and give off an intoxicating fragrance? Used as a hallucinogen, and to increase physic visions allowing communication with friendly spirits, the plant is poison to even handle.


Overgrowing anything in its way, the deadly nightshade knows it will always be the Devil’s favorite plant. Often nightshade was put in ‘flying’ ointments, but was also handy for helping one forget an old love. Some believe the more nightshade in a garden, the greater the protection from evil.

All alone in a corner are the Mandrakes smiling evilly at us – waiting for some poor fool to pull them out. They say the mandrake will scream when it is ripped from the ground, and any person or animal hearing the scream will immediately perish. Used for dark magic, this plant was sacred to Aphrodite and used as a powerful aphrodisiac. Too strong, some say. Its roots have the shape of a human and carrying even a tiny piece insures good health and much more.

It hides from man, you know, and it glows in the dark.

The following was taken from an old English Herbarium from 1000 AD:
Harvesting Mandrake:
  1. Before sunset -draw a circle around it with an iron tool lest it flee from you.
  2. While facing west, cut off the top of the plant.
  3. Being careful not to touch the plant, dig around it with an iron tool. 
  4. When you see its hands and feet, fasten them.  Take the other end of the rope and tie it around a hungry black dog’s neck.
  5. Throw meat in front of the black dog so he cannot reach it unless he pulls up the plant.
  6. Run fast lest you hear the screams and perish with the dog.

Difficult, yes, but Mandrake (a masculine plant of the fire element) was one of the best plants for hexing, and black dogs were come by easily.

Against the wall sits the Thunder and Lightening, believed to protect one from being struck by lightning. Thought to keep vermin and bugs out of the garden, it’s beautiful deeply lobed dark green with purple tinged leaves and odd looking red flowers call your attention to it.  But don’t get too close –all of its parts are poison. 

Who among us didn’t feel we were being poisoned when we were given the dreaded castor bean oil when we were kids?  But the old woman knows of far more uses for toxic protein contained in this tree… ricin. She will deny it all, of course, as others have, and claim it is for pest control only.

At the end of the poison garden sits a combination of similarly shaped flowers.  I believe I see fennel, and yes, that’s caraway beside it and one of my favorites, dill.  But what is that one among them.  It doesn’t look familiar but its flower is so similar in shape –somewhat like an umbrella, but this one has purple in its stem. 

Oh, of course, the poison hemlock sits ominously among its relatives.  The other seeds can be given for sleep or flavor, but one can only guess why one of the deadliest plants around is hidden in plain sight.  I don’t think I want to know.

We need to move away from this deadly brigade before we befall a more serious fate.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pineapple Sage and Marjoram Chicken Salad - Weekend Recipe

I just harvested the last of the pineapple sage.  The plant was stunted in the pot so I am not going to bring it in for winter as it will likely not survive and I do not have time to repot.  But I found the great recipe in a 1992 issue of Herb Companion so I tried it!  Perfect for using up those late season herbs.

Pineapple Sage and Marjoram Chicken Salad

• 1/2 cooked chicken breast (about 8 oz.)
• 1/2 cup onion
• 1 1/2 stalks celery
• 2 hard-boiled eggs
• 2 teaspoons parsley
• 1 teaspoon marjoram
• 1 teaspoon pineapple sage (or mint)
• 1/2 cup pecans
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup light mayonnaise

Pulse chicken breast in food processor or blender. Chop next seven ingredients fine, and combine with chicken, salt, and mayonnaise.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mike MacDonald and other Authors I like - Book Review

Coming up at the Morton Arboretum (October 22) is a talk by an author whose photographs and books I just love-- Mike MacDonald!

His recent publication I reviewed below, check him out along with several other authors I love.

Recently I have been meeting authors.  Not sure why they happened in a cluster, but they have.  First I met Denise Swanson, New York Times best-selling author of cozy mysteries in several series.  I personally like the Devereaux’s Dime Store Mysteries. She is originally from Coal City, IL and met her at the pharmacy in Coal City (yes, I said the pharmacy) where she was signing her books.  Hey that is the store that sells books in that town

If you like a cozy who-dun-it, you will like these.  Here is a link for more information:

Then the next month I went to Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, IL  for a book publishing event for the most recent title by Laurie King.  Laurie King writes gritty mysteries including a series featuring Mary Russell, apprentice of Sherlock Holmes.  The book was entitled the Murder of Mary Russell.  No spoilers here, I have not brought myself to read it yet. 

I think Laurie King counts as my favorite author for a number of reasons (not the least of which is I have been reading Sherlock Holmes novels since I was 13), but since I have more books signed by her than any other author I read, I think that says I am a bit of a groupie.  I arrived a bit late for the book signing and as fate would have it, met the author and friends just coming over from dinner at a local restaurant.   I got to walk her into the bookstore much to my delight.

This past March I participated in the Darien Garden Club Garden Inspiration and reacquainted myself with local author Mike McDonald.  He was the key note speaker at last year’s event and this year had newly minted copies of his self-published book (partly funded by GoFundMe)   which had not yet been released last year.  He is a self-professed plant nerd, but since I am an herb nerd it works.  He autographed a copy of his book for me and I just had to share it everyone.

My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: 
          A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders 

Two hundred forty glorious pages of exploding color and whimsical words capture the natural beauty of preserves and natural areas that surround and weave through Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
Written and photographed by Mike McDonald, the book is a beautiful overview of seasons and locations all around us.

The information he imparts about the details of the plants, especially those you might not notice on a quick nature walk, causes you to slow down, pause and enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds you.
Worth every penny, this book is a must have for any Chicagoland resident or transplant who wants to remember what prairie living is really like.  I am not often much for a coffee table book, but I plan to take this with me everywhere to brag about what I live among.

Beyond the photographs, the book is exceptionally readable.  With comments like “This young blue heron is molting, shedding old feathers as new ones are born.  As the pink bald patch near the shoulder shows, molting is rarely pretty – but it’s only temporary.  I wish regrowing hair was that easy.”  You feel the humor of his personality and the love of nature he displays that makes the book easy to look at even if you only have time for a page or two.

His translation of the images into words is musical making one want to read the pages out loud. Here is a perfect example: “wild flowers float above the summer prairie like musical notes in a symphony of color and texture,…” (pg. 104)

Also, although a bit heavy and large to carry around on a prairie, the rich details provided and the opulent photos make this a perfect book for identifying prairie plants in leaf, flower and bud.
I am planting a prairie garden and a wild flower garden at the house this year and to know what the flowers will soon look like makes me so excited.  Visually exquisite photos that show an eye for the detail of nature and its variety is a rare gift.  The images chosen for this book pull on you to go see the plants in person the way few books succeed.

Toward the end of the book Mike communicates that he wishes his photography to immerse you in the moment, to convey the magic and emotion as if you were there.  I can honestly say he has accomplished just that.  The unique qualities, intense colors and enchanting beauty that can be found in local “wilderness” jumps from the book with every turn of a page.

Here is a link to get yourself a copy of the book.  It makes a wonderful gift as the photos are exquisite making it perfect for Mom, Dad or the plant nerd in your life. And if you want to share in his enthusiasm, I recommend seeing is talk on October 22, 2016 at the Morton Arboretum.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Triple Layer Bulb Planting

I wanted to plant up everything at the new house right after I moved in, but it was the end of the growing season and I just couldn’t.  I thought I would put in bulbs this fall for wonderful Spring plants, but then I saw the rampant amount of wildlife, like the squirrels that dig in the containers  and the skunk that digs grubs in the yard and the opossum that does I do not know what and I thought bulbs would be gone before the ground freezes.  So I decided to try a technique I learned from the Dutch. It is a three layer bulb planting technique you can do in a container.
Sample image of three layer planting

Where I live the container cannot be left outside all winter, but on the floor of my unheated garage or the garden shed and it will be fine.

This technique can also be done if you live in an apartment or townhouse.  Place the container up against the building out of the wind or in a patio shed and you will have wonders in the spring.
Growing bulbs in containers is a great way to bring a little color to your doorstep or windowsill this spring and one of the most popular techniques for successfully growing a lot of bulbs in a single container is called “triple decker” planting.

Triple layer planting was invented by the Dutch as a way to create continuous spring flower displays. Individual planters were strategically placed in city centers and town squares throughout Holland to bring spring cheer to residents and welcome visitors to the village. This form of planting can allow gardeners to experiment with different color combinations and the look of each container can change from year to year. You can grow just about any type of bulb in a container using this technique and by picking the right combination of bulbs you can have them flower all at once or extend the blooming season out for months.

Impatient gardener made this perfect drawing
Choose bulbs that grow to different heights to create a more interesting spring display. For example, a classic combination is tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinth. Avoid planting bulbs too close to the sides of the pot. Bulbs perform better in groupings - read the planting depth instructions on the bulb packaging when designing your layered container garden to ensure that your plan will work with the container you’ve chosen.

The first step in the process is to choose the right container. If the container is going to be left outdoors during the winter you'll want it to be at least 24 inches in diameter to make sure the bulbs don't actually freeze. If you live in garden zones 6 or lower you might have to keep your containers in an unheated garage or provide them some additional insulation and protection. Not only is the size of the container important but choosing one that is interesting in terms of color, texture, etc. will draw attention to the container even while it isn't in bloom.

Once you've chosen your container you want to think about drainage. Bulbs don't like overly wet soil and if the drainage isn’t adequate it will cause the bulbs to rot. A layer of stone or some crushed up soda cans should do the trick. You'll want the drainage layer to be at least an inch or two thick. You can start to put some soil in the container; any soil that is made for containers will be acceptable. The soil can be added until it is about 8 inches from the top of the pot.

To layer, first place a layer of gravel across the bottom of the container, then apply a thick layer of potting soil mixed with bulb food. Place the first layer of bulbs in the pot and cover with a layer of soil. The bottom layer is where you will plant your larger bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. You can add some more soil to the pot where the level will be 6 inches from the top. The middle layer is where you can plant bulbs like hyacinth or smaller daffodil and tulip bulbs. The top layer of bulbs can be planted roughly 3 to 4 inches from the top. Crocus and grape hyacinths are perfect choices for this layer. Cover the top layer of bulbs with a final layer of soil, as if you were planting outdoors. Water thoroughly, then let the fall rains take over. In any zone lower than 6, place the pot in the garage or shed once the ground freezes. And anticipate a beautiful spring!

Here are bulb suggestions --

Top layer:
Muscari, Crocus, Scilla, Chionodoxa, Puschkinia, Tritelia, Ixia, Freesia

Middle layer:
Tulips, Hyacinth, Galanthus

Bottom layer:
Daffodils, Allium, Fritillaria, Camassia, Lilies, Ipheon

Here are some other tips to keep in mind --
• Don’t be stingy with your bulbs. You can plant them close together but just be sure they don’t actually touch one another. A 24” pot can hold about 50 tulip bulbs, 30 daffodils and up to 100 smaller bulbs for the top layer.
• When you plant in the fall keep spring in mind. Make sure your container is placed where its beauty and fragrance can be enjoyed.
• Keep an eye out for mice or squirrels who love to dig in containers and chew up your bulbs. You can secure a layer of chicken wire over the top of the container if this is a problem in your area.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ginger Mint Bath - Bath Blend of the Month

As the weather gets chilly and sometimes wet a warming bath is usually in order. Bathing in a bath of ginger will ease sore muscles, eliminate toxins from the body.  The natural anti bacterial properties in ginger will help sweat out colds, flues, and congestion.  Adding ginger to your bath on a cool day will raise the temperature of your skin and make you feel warm & toasty.

Ginger Mint  Bath Recipe
Chop one tablespoon of fresh, ginger root
Crumble 1 handful (1/2 cup dried / 1 cup fresh) mint leaves
Add both to your running bath. Soak & relax.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...