Tag Archive | gardening

Meet Your Friendly Neighborhood Weeds

Wednesday evening I was invited to speak at a local community garden. I was so excited to share with the community some of my herbal knowledge, and thought the people might like to learn more about about the plants they are growing… unintentionally. The weeds! To a botanophile, there are no bad plants, just misunderstood plants.  In this post my goal is to help you all understand those poor unloved weeds. I’ll briefly profile just a few of the most common and disliked.

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bindweed (Convovulus arvensis): Also known as wild morning glory. Ahh, the despised nemesis of gardeners everywhere. The young shoots and leaves are actually a popular green often eaten in Vietnam, India and Turkey. Medicinally the flowers have laxative properties, the roots and leaves are a topical haemostatic and have even been used to treat spider bites and poisoning. The latest research on this plant looks promising for cancer treatment by limiting blood flow to tumors. Opening in the morning and closing at night, they can be awfully pretty too. Got a bindweed problem? Why not plant Vinca vine or a decorative species of morning glory with it, and you’ll have a beautiful viney flower garden.

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense): Also known as creeping thistle, lettuce from hell, and even cursed thistle you know this one is unloved! All Cirsium species are edible cooked or raw. You can eat the center stalks, the young leaves (tastes a bit like celery), older leaves stripped of spines, the root, the seeds and the flower. Medicinally it has been used to treat mouth conditions, poison ivy and intestinal parasites. Its pollen is a favorite of honeybees. Save the bees! And the weeds!

It was hard to choose just a few, there are so many wonderful and hated weeds out there. But this next one, I have always particularry disliked… until I discovered it’s virtues.

Siberian Elm (Umlus pumila): Also known as Asiatic elm, dwarf elm and Chinese elm. Medicinally Siberian elm is a promising substitute for the over harvested, and endangered slippery elm (Umlus rubra). It is also resistant to Dutch elm disease which has decimated most native elm populations. The leaves are edible, and quite good as a tea. The bark and leaves are used medicinally like the slippery elm for sore throats, weak digestion, skin lesions, UTI’s, coughs and malnutrition. It starts out as an ugly shrub, but I have seen them grow into rather beautiful shade trees.

Maybe now you see the weeds from my point of view? In the words of  that lovable donkey, Eeyore….

Want to know more about useful weeds? Here are a few books I’d recommend:

Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives by Timothy Lee Scott

Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat by Ellen Zachos

Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging, with Easy Identification of 60 Edible Plants and 67 Recipes by Sergei Boutenko

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Best Books for Budding Plant Lovers…3 in one review!

Now that school is almost out, we want our kids to get outside, but we don’t want them to get lazy and quit reading either. That’s the best thing about plant fiction for kids. They make you want to do both! Now, I think we all want to instill a love of the things we love into our own children. So if you love plants or books or both, and your kids don’t yet, help them learn through stories! Read aloud, read together or start a book club to talk about the books you read and make up some stories of your own. Doing activities that match the new ideas from books is always fun too. Here’s what I think you ought to be reading and doing with your children this summer!

I considered doing a full review for each of these books individually, because they’re all so great, but then I thought you might like to have them all in one easy to read place. They’re also bit shorter than the books I usually review (but just as good), so the reviews get to be shorter too. So read all three of them!  It was so hard to choose, but I narrowed it down; here are a few of me and my kids’ favorites.

  Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver: Mary takes on the heavy task of supporting her family after her father dies. By living off the land and selling local wild-crafted herbs, she thinks she has a pretty good chance of getting by. But as winter comes on, the responsibilities wear on her young shoulders, and she must find another way if they are all to survive. A serious but easy book that would be a great conversation starter for some difficult issues.- Best for 4th grade and up.

Activitiy Idea- Go wild-crafting together. Spring is the perfect time of year to gather dandelions, elder flowers or wild mustard! Then make something tasty out of them to share.

 The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell: This one is a wonderful retelling of the classic fairy-tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, with a smattering of Greek mythology thrown in for good measure. It’s told from the perspective of a young herbalist’s apprentice Reveka. One of the things I really appreciated about this book was the historical accuracy with which the herbs and herbalist are portrayed. It has so many of the elements I enjoy in my books, a great respect for plants, adventure, and a new spin on old stories. – Best for 4th grade and up.

Activity Idea- One of Reveka’s duties is to make up the bath herbs for the princesses, unlike her nasty smelling cabbage bath, create a nice smelling bath tea with soothing herbs like chamomile or calendula, and take a bath.

 This list wouldn’t be complete without The Secret Garden by Mary Hodgson Burnett. If you haven’t read this classic yet, you are in for a treat! It is a beautiful story about a hidden garden, an orphaned girl, her sickly cousin, and how the three of them save each other in equal measure. -The language can be a bit difficult in this one for younger children, but is great as a read-a-loud for 1st through 4th graders. If reading independently I would recommend it for 5th grade and up.

Activity Idea- Start your own secret garden. Hidden spaces beside the house, in a back alley way or a neglected corner of the back yard work well. Be sure to use plants that like the environment you’ve chosen. Violets are great for shady hidden areas.

What passions do you love to share with your kids, and how do you do it?

Need more tips on getting your child to love reading? Check out this post I wrote for the public library.