Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer's #1 Plant Remedy for Cuts and Scrapes

Summer seems to be the season for cuts and scrapes as the weather causes us all to spend more time outdoors.  Between gardening, swimming, and all kinds of sports and camping - these small injuries are bound to occur.

That's where this herbal remedy comes in for these minor problems.  This plant is abundant, free and favorite combination for herbal cures.  You don't have to order it or do any special prep (in the summer) as it's most likely underfoot in most grassy locations.

What it is you ask?  It's the humble plant, "Plantain" or officially known as "Plantago Major" or "Plantago Lanceolata."  I'll be focusing on the first variety as it's very easily found in rural, suburban and even urban neighborhoods.  

The flower of Plantain. Its flowers and seeds feed butterflies and even birds.

My first introduction to this amazing plant was from my mom.  Years ago she told me how when she was just a girl, had gotten a huge gash in her big toe from a hatchet that had fallen on it.  Now, this was in the depression and years before antibiotics were discovered. My grandmother found some plantain leaves, made a poultice from them and applied them to the carefully washed gash.  It took a few applications of this plant but the fairly deep wound healed beautifully and with only a minor scar.  

My mom wasn't into plants or herbs at all but she remembered the story and the plant and showed me what it looked like.  I was so intrigued by her memory and tucked it away into my memory until I had a chance to use it myself.  

Plantain thrives in dry poor soils.

That chance came some time later when I was changing out a storm window for the screen and the window fell heavily against my finger and gave it a nasty cut.  It was summer and my mom's story came back into my head, so I quickly located some leaves of the plant and made a poultice (where you mash the clean leaves of the plant by crushing and bruising them) and placed it on the gash with a bandage to keep it in place.  I did this a few times over the next few days and my cut not only healed beautifully, but with no scar as well.  

I was impressed.  Since then I have used it several times for cuts, bruises and scrapes.  I clean the area and place a poultice of mashed leaves on the area and then bandage to keep the leaves in place.  I've even just wrapped leaves around the wound area and secured with masking tape if I couldn't find a band-aid...worked like a charm.

It loves the edges of roadsides and its leaves are resilient to foot traffic.

Europeans understood its value enough to bring it to the New World when they settled here. 
"Plantain was brought to the US and also to New Zealand by European settlers who valued it for it's culinary and medicinal properties. The settlers seemed to leave the plant wherever they went, thus earning it the name "White Man's Foot' or "Englishman's Foot" by the natives of both countries." 1

Some interesting facts about this plant are as follows...
"Plantain is very high in beta carotene (A) and calcium. It also provides ascorbic acid (C), and vitamin K. Among the more notable chemicals found in plantain are allantion, apigenin, aucubin, baicalein, linoleic acid, oleanolic acid, sorbitol, and tannin. Together these constituents are thought to give plantain mild anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antihemorrhagic, and expectorant actions. Acubin has been reported in the Journal Of Toxicology as a powerful anti-toxin. Allantoin has been proved to promote wound healing, speed up cell regeneration, and have skin-softening effects."1 
It also is very edible and reputed to be good for the lungs as this modern study indicates...
"Medicinally, plantain is astringent, demulcent, emollient, cooling, vulnerary, expectorant, antimicrobial, antiviral, antitoxin, and diuretic. Plantain is approved by the German Commission E (a sort of German "FDA" that studies and regulates herbs and herbal uses) for internal use to ease coughs and mucous membrane irritation associated with upper respiratory tract infections as well as topical use for skin inflammations. Two Bulgarian clinical trials have suggested that plantain may be effective in the treatment of chronic bronchitis."1

The leaves of this plant are highly medicinal. Try to locate leaves away from roadsides and areas where it could be sprayed. 

Plantain can be found along the edges of trails, paths, rocky areas and many times in sidewalks and urban locations.  It's often found in lawns as well and the large rosette of leaves are easily located.  

I believe people's first hand stories and experiences lead to our discovery of plants as valuable remedies.  Sure, you can use antibiotic cream on your cuts, but learning first hand what these plants can do give you valuable personal experience with the plant and what it does.  If you're on a hike, camping or out somewhere with no first aid available, having plant knowledge can go a long way. 

This is also so valuable to pass along to your kids and other generations so this highly medicinal plant's practical use doesn't get lost.  When I was looking up information on Plantain, I found it listed on many sites as a weed and a plant to kill.  And true, while it does grow in places I don't always want it too, I never weed this plant without realizing its beneficial qualities.

Hope this helps and you'll be able to discover how helpful plantain is...blessings!

What have you used plantain for?



More info can be found here as well: 


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Monday, July 15, 2013

A Community Garden Tour

We've had at least one plot in our community garden now for five years.  It's an ongoing learning process that we've really enjoyed.  We actually gardened for another five years in a few other friend's spaces so using a plot here was a natural move for us especially seeing as this garden is only five minutes from our house. (The other gardens were each about 30-40 minutes away.)

Since I've not shown any photos of this garden at all yet in my blog, I thought it would be a great time to give you a very quick tour of what a community garden looks likeI wrote about the pros and cons of a community garden here and I'm really happy with this shared garden space.  

Our garden is behind a large church and was initiated by a Master Gardener as a community project. She's done an excellent job in organizing and coordinating a very large garden space into one in which countless gardeners can enjoy a large enough plot to feed a family of four (at least!)  She now has raised up other volunteers to help organize this large area.  All the garden spaces were taken this's great to know that people are so interested in gardening in suburbia.

We have a lot of freedom in this garden space.  We can put up fences (there are deer who like to browse) if we want and can plant perennials such as strawberries and asparagus as well as annual plants.  This is because we own the plots year round.  We only need to confirm our garden space every year.  We had two plots one year but found out that it was way more than we could manage.   We are back to one and this fits our needs perfectly.

Our plot is right next to the road and water.

We like to plant vegetables which seem suited to this garden's location.  
We've figured out what grows well and what doesn't.  Since we garden naturally, this is a great way to garden without pesticides.

We plant primarily squash...specifically summer and winter varieties.  We love them and grow several different kinds.  Yes, I am afraid I am guilty of over-planting and crowding them again this year; but planting them late and in a rush didn't help me either.
We also planted a smattering of heirloom beans, kohlrabi, poblano peppers, a tomato plant and carrots this yearHowever, the beans have refused to germinate with all the rain we've had and we now have only a handful of them.  I have already replanted with a variety called "Masai" which take only 47 days to produce.  We'll see if these beans decide to come up with this spell of hot weather we're having right now.

Garden in June

The perks we have at this garden are pretty amazing.  We have access to lawn mowers, rototillers, free water, free mulch/manure and a compost bin.  All the mulch you see around our garden is courtesy of a donation from a garden member.  Wheelbarrows and other miscellaneous garden tools are also available to use.

We actually had fellow garden friends place manure on our plot as well as rototill for us - gardeners are really generous people.  It's no wonder when you consider how rewarding a garden can be.

Our Giant Compost Bin
This fenced compost area is for garden weeds and waste.  Anyone is welcome to use the soil as needed.  It's not a maintained compost area, so there can be weed seeds in the soil, but the idea of composting is being shared and I really like this.

We have a water tank right by our garden...perfect.
Other garden members donated food grade tanks and pumps in order to bring in water from a run-off stream nearby.  This is a huge perk!  Our first few years here we had to hand haul water from this little creek, bring it in ourselves or go to a small weedy pond in the back.  This has been a lifesaver.

Garden in early July
Well, there you have it.  Lots of plots, lots of ideas and lots of great gardeningIt is an extra effort to garden away from your own space...but well managed community gardens make it an excellent experience.  Plus, I love being around other gardeners too.

Do you garden in a community space or have you visited one? 


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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Top Five Garden Mistakes

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” - Albert Einstein

  Whenever we start out in learning something new, we tend to make mistakes...a lot of them.  But that's ok.  That's the "learn" part in learning.  I have definitely made a large share of them in gardening over the last 20+ years either by ignoring great advice or through simply not knowing enough about the plants. While it's impossible to know everything about gardening, we can avoid a few mistakes along the way.  I'm sharing my top five mistakes and hope this will help curb the gardening learning curve for you.

Probably way too much zucchini and summer squash planted again this year!
1. Over-planting

This sounds like such a simple mistake to avoid but I have found that I've made this mistake over and over again in the veggie and flower gardens.  For some plants, it has taken me years to cut back on the amount I feel we need to grow. Why is this?  Well, one of the first temptations is...

a) Free plants - those freebies from friends or in my case, from a local nursery.  I managed to plant over 20 sage plants in my very small yard.  I love sage, but really, did I need that many plants? Now I have to manage them with pruning, weeding and harvesting.  It's good to think ahead and plan for your needs now and in the future.

b) Extra seedlings - We've all been there when we only want 20 plants but have 35 instead.  I have to harden my heart and restrict my planting to the chosen few.  The others are given away or composted.

c) Not knowing if you're planting enough - It's always great to start with a few plants if you just want to add a few fresh vegetables.  You can always add more the next year if you find it's not enough.  I've found that 20-25 tomato plants take care of our fresh eating and canning for a year depending on the weather.  I've stuck with this number and it's really helped in me managing the vegetables...unlike the few years we planted 50+ tomatoes - it was way too much for us to manage and our yields were the same as 25 plants.

d) Just because we are able to do it - When we first started planting flower beds, I thought more is better.  Now some years later, I'm wondering why  I thought I needed so many?  We've downsized over the years now and doing so has worked great for us.  We would rather plant an amount of flowers and gardens that we can maintain and keep beautiful than to over-plant and lose control of the beds.

Remember...less is more!

 2. Crowded plants

When I first started out, I was undoubtedly an overenthusiastic gardener. I wanted every plant and lots of them. So I made this mistake with perennials especially. The plants looked so sparse and bare in their flower beds.  I read the tags saying how to space them but forgot how much growth they still had to go through.  I planted many of them very close together.  

There's a saying for perennials..."the first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap."  It's better to follow all the spacing requirements for perennials and fill in with annuals while they're still small.  You'll be shocked at how enormous some perennials can grow to...listen carefully to the planting information.  

Morning glories are beautiful but prolific seeders.

 3. Planting invasive species

Will I ever learn? I planted everything everyone gave me and I am still weeding some plants years and years later.  I am still trying to tame our south side flower bed from invasive plants including the herb oregano.  Reading up on the plants you want to put in your gardens is a must AND asking friends if a plant is a happy re-seeder or ground cover is essential.  As a matter of fact, the word "groundcover" means "invasive."  I would use it selectively in confined areas and give it it's own space.  

My mints are all in pots and this helps to keep this highly invasive plant contained.  If you do plant easy spreaders, try to limit your amount of plants and keep them pruned and make sure to get rid of their seed heads if they spread easily that way.  Chives, echinacea, perennial forget-me-nots, artemisias, morning glories, oregano (some varieties) are just a few that I am constantly weeding.  I still grow many of them but have learned to manage their growth.  Any others are sacrificed to the compost pile if I can't keep up with them.

 4. Lack of weed control

 It's so important to have a plan on how to keep down the weeds in all your gardens.  I am a fan of heavy mulching...I use coffee grounds, newspapers underneath straw and mulch, grass clippings and leaves.

I didn't get to our community garden in time to mulch and it was smothered in LARGE weeds.  After hand hoeing the whole garden, I have been very diligent in weeding once a week and continually applying mulch.  I don't mind hoeing a small area, but not a large one.  Determine your will power and garden accordingly...I know some people who enjoy weeding while I most definitely don't.

Photo Source

5. Not labeling new plant varieties 

Yes, I have been so lazy over the years with labeling and have grown some great plants only to not remember the varieties I planted.  I have been really good about saving the stores flower labels and turning them over to use the blank side and label them with a Sharpie.   So many times I thought I would remember a plant only to have completely forgotten what it was.  I also try to journal the plants I've grown and that's helped out a lot.  I now try to limit the different amounts of varieties so I don't feel overwhelmed by the labeling.  I am learning to know my gardening strengths and weaknesses.

Well...I feel better after all that confessing.  I have made plenty more mistakes and will continue to make more, but I feel like I've learned so much from other gardeners as well.  After all, making mistakes always accompanies risk...and trying new methods and plant varieties is well worth it.

What's your biggest gardening mistake??


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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Floral Flag

The Fourth of July brings an abundance of blooms and I couldn't resist featuring them here in my patriotic ode to Independence Day.  Not only are these flowers blooming right now, they also happen to be the colors of red, white and blue.

Bachelor's Buttons, an annual flower that is a true blue in the garden, represents the blue:  Feverfew, an herb known for helping to ease migraines, stands for the white and Monarda with it's spiky firecracker type petals proclaims the red of Old Glory.

Seems like even the flowers will be celebrating this day...

Happy Fourth and blessings!

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Importance of Pollinators in Your Garden

 There's nothing like seeing lots of beautiful flowers and an overflowing garden of produce.  But what's the secret behind this fruitfulness?  That would be where pollinators come in.  Most flowering plants depend on bees, butterflies, animals (hummingbirds and bats) and even flies and wasps for pollination.  

What is pollination?  It's basically the act of moving pollen from the male stamen to the female stigma and fertilizing the plant which then causes it to set seed.  Insects and animals help to do this in your garden.  Pollinators are called "Keystone Species" because they are species on which other species depend.  In other words...if you want zucchini and tomatoes, you want pollinators.

Calendula flowers in the Garden

We need pollinators and they need our help.  "Pollinators are vital to maintaining healthy ecosystems.  They are essential for plant reproduction and produce genetic diversity in the plants they pollinate.  The more diverse plants are the better they can adapt to the changes in the environment."1

An Uncommon Black Parsley Swallowtail CaterpillarButterflies are pollinators too.

 How can we attract more pollinators to our gardens?  
This is a great question and fairly simple to do.  Many gardeners are doing it already without knowing it.  I know I began to learn about pollinators after watching them in action in different flower beds.

1. Plant a rich diversity of flowering plants in your flower beds and garden. 
 Seems like a simple plan but it does help to get some ideas by seeing which plants attract what insects in your garden.  I was able to observe this firsthand and found that mints are a huge pollinator attractor.  I mean huge.  It's worth planting some in a contained area just for this alone. Plant pollinating attracting plants in the garden around the vegetables too.  It will give the bees and other insects lots of pollen variety.

Also, by planting diverse plants and flowers, we are offering different sources of nectar (which of course attracts pollinators) and different bloom times which will provide food sources and pollen all season long.  Don't forget simple species such as marigolds and classic zinnias.  They are always drawing bees as well as butterflies to the garden.

This pollen-rich Sweet Alyssum attracts a pollinating fly.

2. Plant lots of native perennial and annual species. 
 Ever notice that some plants seem to have LOTS of activity around them?  These are the species you'll want to plant.  In the northeast United States, Echinacea, Bee Balm (Monarda), Gaillardia, Rudebeckias and daisies seem to be big attractors.  Don't forget herbs as well.  Lavender, thyme and mints are totally loved by bees and other insects alike.  I've even seen hummingbirds amongst my sage flowers drinking the nectar...who knew?

Pollinators include all kinds of bees and wasps.

 3. Don't use pesticides in your garden.  
This seems like the easiest step to help out the spraying.  I try to garden and plant vegetables and plants that are very insect resistant.  If it's very fussy...I won't grow it.  If I do ever spray, I use a plant-based biodegradable spray that will break down eventually.  Also spraying on a non-windy day helps.  I prefer to rarely use any kind of spray though and will hand pick offending insects whenever possible. 

Flowers that have an open petal face are great landing spaces for pollinators including butterflies.

Habitat loss is one reason for the decline of bees and other insects. So no matter what size space you have, you can plant for the pollinators!  A container full of lush zinnias or herbs will create a great resource for them and give them some fast food on their journey.

Planting with pollinators in mind is a win-win situation.  You'll be creating a safe micro-environment for them and they will be happily pollinating all your vegetable plants and flowers - perfect.


What plant attracts pollinators the most in your garden?


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