Thursday, March 3, 2016

Doing What Comes Naturally

Goldenrod with a bee
Thinking of putting in a new garden bed?  Have that place in the yard where the sun beats down like crazy and its become unsightly?  Lost a bush or tree over winter and that patch is rough and bumpy? 

The answer is a brand new natural garden.  No, not a wildflower or native grass patch.  I’m suggesting a garden similar to what your great grandparents had outside their back door.  A healing garden planted with flowers and herbs that were life-saving back in the day.

First and always:  Kill ever single plant in the area where you want your new bed.  If you don’t do this in the beginning it will be a never-ending chore.  Do this by  (a)  Letting it lay under cardboard, opaque plastic, or old carpet for an entire year.  (b)  Or, take off the top layer and remove it to another place.  (c)  Or, herbicide it several times over three months. 

Second:  Till the soil and amend with some really nice aged horse manure.  Rake it flat and break up any clods.

Third:  Now is the time to put in any edging you may want – or not.  Grandma probably had some kind of chicken fence around her garden to prevent the critters from destroying.

Maybe:  This may be where you want to cover it again and let it lay fallow until next year to be extra careful those weeds are killed.  If you have this kind of patience you are a better person than me.   On the other hand, grandma used to say “A stitch in time saves nine”.

The fun part:  Study those seed catalogs and nursery promos.  Select Seeds is one of my favorite heirloom seed catalogs.

Cautionary:  Some old fashioned healing plants were invasive, poisonous or have other negative traits; check current information first; old books or on line information may be totally wrong – deadly wrong.

Suggestions:  I’d use plants that you can actually use in today’s world.  I’d leave out the ones that have proven scary side effects if not used 100% correctly.  There are enough great ones you don’t need to risk killing someone – it so tends to take the fun out of gardening.

Seeds or plants sets?  Either will do although seeds are easier to find because there are catalogs/companies that specialize in heirloom seeds.  Red Barn Nursery outside Sheffield often carry unusual herbs and flowers.

Some ideas:

Realize:  For this (or any) garden to thrive, you will need pollinators.   Planting Butterfly Weed (Ascelepias tuberosa) is a beautiful attraction for both butterflies and bees.  

1    .        Borage is an annual with sky blue starry nodding flowers.  The flowers have a subtle cucumber flavor in salads.  I love the old time “Vertues”:  “It comforts the heart, drives away sorrow and increases the joy of the mind.”  OK, I’m sold. 
2.    Nigella aka Love-in-a-Mist self sows if left to seed.  There are many varieties and all are light airy beautiful and the seedpods dry nicely.  Old timers would dry the seeds at the fire, powder and wrap in a piece of linen to make a smelling sachet.  Used warm for restoring the sense of smell.
3.    Lavender is not only beautiful and draws bumblebees but the fragrance, no matter how it’s used, is soothing.   Back in the day, it was used to help ladies who swooned.  In researching heirloom herbs, I’ve had to chuckle at all the ones that directed putting the herb in wine to get the desired results. 
4.    Loosestrife – yellow (Not purple which is a noxious weed) is said to repel flying insects if it’s burned.  I’m thinking the next time we have a cookout, we should throw some dried loosestrife on the fire and see if it works.
5.    Turnips boiled until liquid, add a little honey and drink for cough.  May be an old wives tale but on the flip side the turnip is an all around good food because of the high content of Vitamin C.  

There are so many other wonderful old kitchen and or healing herbs, it can be a fun project.  Most are pretty plus attractive to beneficial insects.  Again, do not drink, eat or apply a herb without the current health information.  Many people died trying to use herbal remedies and there’s no sense in recreating the wheel only to die under it. 
Solomons Seal in bloom
As with many of the plants used a century ago, they were a food, a medicine and give us a glimpse into that era’s behaviors.  One such plant is Solomons Seal.  I have this lovely shade perennial in my woods.  But in the 1800s the virtue of the plant was “Stamp the root while fresh and green and apply for one of two nights to any bruise or spots gotten by falls or women’s willfulness in stumbling upon their hasty husbands fists.”  WHAT!

I’ve been a Board member for Freedom House, the domestic abuse and sexual violence shelter and services for women and children for over fifteen years.  I sometimes forget it wasn’t all that long ago women were blamed for the abuse they received.  We still hear versions of that today.  How routine domestic abuse must have been to have the herbal remedy spelled out in a popular Herbalist of the day.

Freedom House serves the five county area of Henry, Bureau, Marshall, Stark and Putnam in Illinois.  If you know of someone suffering (female, male or children) from domestic or sexual abuse, encourage them to report it to the local police.  They are your first call in emergencies.  Tell the abused that Freedom House has a toll free number answered 24-7.  We are there for advice on what services are available and how to have them.   
No longer should abuse be so common and condoned it is talked about in a humorous way in a publication.

Plant some Solomons Seal in a shaded corner of your garden as a reminder physical and emotional domestic and sexual abuse is still a problem and it’s a growing problem.  And if you feel led, donate monetarily to help this shelter at a time when the State’s budget problems are drastically affecting our future.  Thank you.

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