veganic gardening

Plant Profile: Echinacea Purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

coneflower

I am not sure why specifically, but ECHINACEA PURPUREA or PURPLE CONEFLOWER is one of my favorite flowering plants. Native to the eastern and central regions of North America, the coneflowers are perennial plants in the Asteraceae (daisy) family and range in flower colors, including purple (which we will focus on here), pink, red, and white.

Echinacea purpurea has gained a lot of attention as a medicinal plant with immune-boosting properties. Although there is not solid evidence that it can prevent colds, Echinacea purpurea can be used effectively to reduce cold symptoms. Its roots are primarily used for medicinal purposes, either being steeped in hot water to make a tea or in alcohol to make a tincture. It is also used to fight many other infections, including flu, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections, to name a few. The leaves and flowers can be used medicinally as well. (See http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-981-echinacea.aspx?activeingredientid=981&activeingredientname=echinacea for additional uses and medical information.)

As a garden plant, Echinacea purpurea shares many of the beneficial qualities of other Asteraceae. Pollinators just adore coneflowers; it is a rare sight not to see someone or other crawling around the spiny center of the beautiful flower. The leaves are reminiscent of Black-Eyed Susans, with a deep dark green color, though the two are in different families. Echinacea purpurea can be grown from the seeds of dead flower heads (sow in the spring; if you clip the flower heads once they die you can also stimulate more flower production), or you can divide a large clump every three to four years.

Perhaps you may see some purple coneflower out on a hike or in a neighbor’s yard. It is a plant well worth including in your own flower bed or garden patch.

Plant Profile: Crimson Clover

crimsonclover

Like all clover varieties, CRIMSON CLOVER makes a very useful addition to any gardening (or farming) plan for its multiple benefits. Probably the first thing we humans will notice is its striking beauty, with its dark reddish-purple flowers in a large, slightly conical head.

In warmer climates, crimson clover is typically grown as a winter annual cover crop, while in slightly cooler climates it can thrive during the summer (click here for sowing dates and other cultivation tips). Clover is a leguminous plant, which means that it harbors bacteria (called rhizobia) in its roots that can fix atmospheric nitrogen and convert it to a form that is usable by plants. This is why crimson clover is one of various nitrogen-fixing cover crops that are used to help replenish the nitrogen that gets depleted in soils used for agriculture (the nitrogen is typically released when the plants are tilled back into the soil; for those of us doing no-till, using it as a green mulch and letting it die back is a useful alternative option, though you might not get quite as much nitrogen that way).

Like all clover varieties (including yellow, the familiar white, and purple), crimson clover is a magnet for pollinators with its ample nectar production while flowering, so having a patch of it in your yard or a garden area is always a good idea for supporting pollinator species. When used for this purpose during the summer (not as a field- or plot-wide cover crop), crimson clover can be mixed in with other flowers to create stunning meadows or flower beds, or even between larger fruiting bushes and trees.

One way we like to use crimson clover is as an alternative to fescue and other grasses grown on most lawns, creating more of a meadowscape than a golf course green. However, note that crimson clover grows to about 18 inches tall, so be aware of any lawn-height ordinances in your area if you live in a city or town (in these cases, white clover is a better alternative, since it usually stays below 6 inches). For all you country folk, this makes a much more sustainable and wildlife-friendly landscaping choice than fescue.

(P.S.: The clover pictured here is shown with dandelion, another common and multiply useful edible that can be foraged in the wild, and gooseberries, which are a fun but not-too-common berry. We can talk about those in the future…)

 

Plant Profile: Chicory

chicory1

You have to wonder sometimes how certain plants become villains of the landscape and are dumped into that horrifying category of vegetation, “weeds.” While not every so-called weed is beneficial to humans in some way, a large number are. There are books and books available on foraging wild edibles, and you would be surprised to see how many of those are commonly found in the nooks, crannies, and cracks of our “civilized” spaces.

Today’s featured plant, CHICORY, is a ubiquitous perennial plant on rural roadsides and even in many suburban spaces. Tall and lanky, with attractive, aster-like blue flowers, chicory can make a healthful and beautiful addition to your landscaping if you can see past the name-calling you are probably used to. Besides wild chicory, cultivated members of the chicory family include radicchio and Belgian endive. (Our profile will focus on the wild variety.)

The reason that you see chicory in so many fairly desolate places is that it is hardy and grows in a wide variety of soil types, making it one of many pioneer plant species that will move in to disturbed soil before other plants are able to thrive. This makes it a good soil builder in your garden, pulling nutrients up from deeper in the soil with its long taproot; it then returns those nutrients to the surface by dropping leaves and when it dies back. Along with soil building, chicory attracts beneficial pollinators (much as other members of the aster family do).

Chicory’s leaves and root are both edible and have traditionally been used to detoxify the liver, as well as for stomach issues. Chicory is also rich in antioxidants, inulin, and prebiotics. The leaves can be eaten fresh as an addition to salads, while the chopped root can be brewed into a strong tea or steeped in alcohol to make a tincture. One other fantastic use of chicory root is as a coffee substitute.

Chicory “Coffee” Recipe

  • First, dig up, dry, and then roast the root.
  • Grind it as you would coffee beans.
  • To make the “coffee,” steep about 1 tablespoon of ground chicory root in 8 oz. boiling water for 8-10 minutes and then stir before drinking.

So, rethink your approach to “weed” species and consider how beneficial they sometimes can be to the environment, as well as to you.

 

Plant Profile: Pavement Rose

Pavement Rose

Today’s plant profile features a unique variety of rose, the PAVEMENT ROSE. We discovered pavement roses at our beloved place for all things edible plants, Edible Landscaping in Afton, Virginia.

Pavement Roses are one of the hardiest varieties of roses and have natural immunity to black spots and other diseases. We have also found them to be less susceptible to insects like Japanese Beetles than other, more common varieties of roses.

While there are several types of Pavement Roses available, we have Snow here at the Microsanctuary. They produce a remarkably steady supply of fragrant, pink flowers that (unless nibbled off by deer first) turn into large (up to 1″ in diameter) hips that start off orange but get slightly red in the fall.

Along with being beautiful, the petals of Pavement Roses (and other varieties) are useful fresh or dried. They can be added to teas, used as a garnish in salads or desserts, and infused in water, oil, or vinegar.

Rose hips are very nutritious, being particularly high in vitamin C (though be sure to eat them soon after picking to get the most of the vitamin C). The hips can be made into jam, puree, and tea, among other uses, and they have traditionally been used to treat stomach disorders when taken medicinally.

Check out these fun recipes for using roses!

* Rose water: http://www.organicauthority.com/organic-gardening/make-your-own-rose-water-elixir-of-the-goddess.html

* Rose hip tea: http://www.motherearthliving.com/cooking-methods/rose-hip-recipes-tea.aspx#axzz38UburcRV

* Rose hip jam: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/rose-hip-freezer-jam/

Plant Profile: Mulberry

Fruit trees are such spectacular beings. We often think of them as part of orchards or as the occasional member of a mostly non-edible landscape in suburbia. But fruit trees can be so much more. For example, one approach to garden design is called the Edible Forest Garden. It mimics a self-sustaining forest ecosystem and features fruit and nut trees as the largest members of a densely layered forest of food. Fruit trees are key to this because they are perennial, provide years of food for harvesting, provide homes for various other creatures, can help to stabilize soil, and retain moisture. And, of course, we all know how helpful trees are as carbon sinks and generators of oxygen. (I could go on all day, so if you have more questions about Edible Forest Gardens and permaculture–from a vegan perspective–get in touch with us.)

Today’s plant profile is of an amazingly *fruitful* tree, the MULBERRY. You may know the tree primarily for the purple stains its berries leave on sidewalks or cars–and all the purple bird poop that speckles, well, everything when they are in season. It has been cultivated over the centuries throughout the world, including China (where, sadly, the native white mulberry’s leaves were used as food for silkworms in the silk industry), Europe, and the Mediterranean before spreading farther. Varieties include White, Black, Red, and American. The trees are relatively hardy and spread easily due to the popularity of the fruit (and thus the widespread pooping of the seeds). They can grow as tall as 75-80 ft., and some varieties have been known to produce fruit for hundreds of years (though it can take as long as 10 years for a tree to start fruiting). They can be grown easily from cuttings or seeds from a fruit left under some soil.

Much like raspberries, blackberries, and similar berries, the mulberry fruit is actually a collection of very small globular fruits, each containing a seed. Beloved by most wildlife, birds especially go cuckoo for mulberry fruits (not Cocoa Puffs), and they are a favorite snack for chickens. We have planted a young tree in our chicken yard for just this purpose–as well as shade and cover–and look forward to those first deep purple, juicy, sweet but not too sweet fruits. If we can get any from the chickens and other birds, that is.

Since the fruits are not as sweet as more common, more heavily domesticated fruits, and because they are so delicate, you are most likely going to need to find a tree somewhere–or plant one!–to enjoy mulberry’s deliciousness. You can often find mulberry in pies, tarts, wines, or jams, though our favorite use is eating them out of hand right off the tree. In recent years, the health benefits of mulberry (particularly white mulberry) have become more popularly known. Its leaves have been used in powdered form to treat diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even the common cold. The fruits are high in antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin K, and they even have a surprising amount of protein for a fruit.

Currently our only recipe for enjoying mulberries involves a tree, the fruit, your hand, and your mouth. But try mulberries next time you make a vegan pie or other recipe calling for berries. (You might need to add a bit more sugar if you like things sweet.)

Plant Profile: Dill

dill

Although not a staple of American cuisine, DILL is a fantastic herb to grow in your garden … and to bring into your kitchen.

Dill is a native of the Mediterranean region and southern Russia (which makes it no surprise that dill is so ubiquitous in Russian cooking). A hardy annual herb, dill grows to about 2 1/2 feet tall, has feathery green leaves, and produces various heads with yellow flowers. Like fennel, dill’s flowers attract many pollinators while providing a wispy flash of color.

We most likely know dill from its use (particularly the seeds) in making pickles, or using its leaves as flavoring for soups and sauces. Dill seeds are also used for flavoring cakes and pastries.

Dill has medicinal uses, too. The “fruit” and oil of dill has been used for calming the stomach and eliminating gas, and has stimulant and aromatic properties. Learn more about dill’s history and uses here: http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/d/dill–13.html.

Here is a fun recipe featuring dill (as well as mint, which we featured recently): http://www.theppk.com/2011/07/cucumber-avocado-tea-sandwiches-with-fresh-herbs/. We made these for a TCA board meeting a few months ago and were blown away by the deliciousness of the sandwiches.

Do you have any special uses for dill?

Plant Profile: Hop

HOP

Most of us know the HOP plant for its female variety’s flowers, hops. Some people love the bitterness added to beer by hops flowers during brewing, while some do not. Either way, the hop plant is a fun vine to have in your garden.

The hop plant is a native of the British Isles and is a perennial, each year sending out a new, fast-growing main vine that can grow up to 25 before it (and its many tendrils) die back. The famous (and splendidly useful) flowers have a conical shape and are light green in color when fresh but turn light brown when dried. The flowers have been used for almost six centuries during the beer-brewing process. But long before that, hop shoots were apparently eat much as asparagus is today! The flowers can also be used in a tincture or infusion to promote appetite and help with sleeping. (See more about its history, cultivation, and medicinal uses here: http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/h/hops–32.html.)

Our hop plants, pictured above, are creating a wall of green on our chicken enclosure. The chickens seem to enjoy the leaves very much, and the vigorous vines offer helpful shade from the hot summer sun. They can thus be cultivated like other viney flowering plants, such as morning glories, to provide a unique flower color to the garden. Just make sure they have something to climb (if left to roam on the ground, they seem to fare more poorly) and plenty of space to stretch their green legs.

So far we have not tried utilizing the flowers for any functional purpose, but perhaps one day we might try our hand at a Microsanctuary Microbrew with some of our very own hops. What about you?

Plant Profile: Mint

Today’s plant profile is of MINT. Glorious, glorious mint. Mint is an ancient staple of the herb garden, and over time a great number of varieties have been developed. Along with the familiar peppermint and spearmint, you can find apple mint (pictured here–did you guess correctly?), orange mint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, licorice mint, curly mint, and many many more.

Mint is a vigorously growing herb with mighty roots that have been known to bust pipes in the ground. The flowers are favorites of pollinators, which will benefit other flowering plants in your garden, and mint is also pest resistant (like many strong-smelling herbs) and thus a good companion plant. When growing your own, be sure to plan carefully to avoid mint taking over areas where you do not want it; once established, it sends out tendril-like runners and puts down deep roots, which can make it a challenge to control.

Mint is a common ingredient in everything from toothpaste to soap. It has been used throughout time to soothe the gastrointestinal system and other internal ailments, as well as being used externally for pain and inflammation. Learn more about mint’s medicinal usefulness here: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-705-PEPPERMINT.aspx?activeIngredientId=705&activeIngredientName=PEPPERMINT.

A more detailed article on the history of mint cultivation is available here: http://www.motherearthliving.com/health-and-wellness/herbs-for-health-medicinal-mint.aspx?PageId=1#axzz36nNzhbhg.

How do you use mint?

Plant Profile: Comfrey

10397044_520492771390287_3072107230767474593_o

Today’s plant profile is of COMFREY. Comfrey has big, vibrant green leaves that grow on plentiful stalks from one main taproot, as well as small flowers that go from light to dark purple.

You have likely seen many of our chicken residents hiding in, walking through, walking on, nibbling on, and generally cavorting in the comfrey plants we have in the chicken yard. Obviously pleasing chickens is one of the many benefits of growing comfrey.

But comfrey is also a pretty spectacular plant to have around your garden. Its deep taproot goes far down into the soil and pulls up many nutrients that shallower root-system plants may not get to. As the leaves and stalks mature, they fall over or off and start to decay on the ground, which provides an extremely nutrient-rich mulch–as you can see in this picture, gravity and age have gotten a helping hand from Orion and Amandine, and newer stalks are growing up from the same single plant’s root. This mulching ability makes comfrey a perfect companion for fruit and other trees.

Another way for gardeners to use comfrey is to make comfrey tea as a liquid fertilizer. Just take some of the leaves, chop them up into semi-large pieces, and simmer them in water for a few minutes until it is dark greenish-brown. Let it cool and then pour around plants. You can also chop up a few leaves and soak them in water for a few weeks, which will preserve more of the nutrients in the leaves.

Comfrey can be used by humans as well as chickens and plants! Although it has been used orally for centuries, the FDA has recommended that it not be ingested. However, it can be safely used as externally a compress or salve to treat wounds, joint inflammation, and other problems (read more at http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-295-COMFREY.aspx?activeIngredientId=295&activeIngredientName=COMFREY).

Plant Profile: Nasturtium

Our love for NASTURTIUMS runs deep here at Triangle Chance for All. A prolific vining plant, nasturtiums come in a range of warm flower colors, from red to orange to yellow.

Besides their beauty, nasturtiums are great plants to have around your garden. They are aphid magnets, attracting them away from your other plants that are susceptible to aphids (which is a useful way to approach insect control, rather than spraying toxic petro-chemicals around your yard).

The seeds, buds, flowers, and even leaves are edible. The flowers and buds are particularly tasty, adding an unusually (for flowers) powerful peppery punch to salads and other dishes.

Here is an easy salad & vinaigrette recipe you can make using the petals and flowers–along with other edible flowers like marigolds or geraniums: http://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipe/mixed-green-salad-with-nasturtium-vinaigrette/.