Herbs for Healthy Skin

I like receiving information from all sources. The article I’m linking to here was sent to me from a web page called BioClarity. The article contains information on 17 herbs you can grow at home that will aid in having healthy skin. Since there are so many herbs, there’s surely one- or more- that everyone can grow and use.

https://www.bioclarity.com/pages/17-plants-you-can-grow-at-home-for-radiant-skin/

Below are some samples of the article.

 

Calendula

These vibrant flowers are easy to grow and work as a fantastic component of natural skin care recipes. Not only will your garden look bright—your face will, too! Calendula oil is derived from marigold flowers, and can be used in a host of ways. It offers anti-inflammatory properties, and can soothe itchy skin conditions. It’s also a fantastic antiseptic, and can help speed up wound healing for those dealing with cuts, wounds, acne sores, and other skin ailments.

Topical Benefits: Infuse calendula into your favorite oils to make homemade lotion, salve, and even hair products. Apply calendula oil to dry skin or chapped lips for some added moisture.

Growing Tips: This bright flower thrives in areas of the yard that are partially shaded or receive full sun. Prepare a garden bed in the back yard with organic potting soil before planting. Be sure to water your calendula well and pinch off decaying blooms and petals regularly to extend the blooming period. Hint: calendula are actually great at repelling insects, so plant them near your vegetable garden to serve as natural pesticide.

 

Cilantro

Next time you’re chopping up cilantro for your favorite guacamole or salsa recipe, consider the benefits this herb offers for your skin. Eating cilantro provides plenty of health benefits, including decreased cholesterol and digestive issue relief, but it can also pack a powerful punch when it comes to skin care. Cilantro is jam-packed with antioxidants that fight free radicals, and provides a potent dose of Vitamin C. Cilantro has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and can help soothe inflammation for those with acne-prone skin.

Ingestible Benefits: Throw cilantro into your favorite salad or dish to soothe your digestive system and decrease high cholesterol levels.

Topical Benefits: Grind coriander seeds and mix the powder into your favorite DIY mask to take advantage of its soothing, anti-inflammatory benefits.

Growing Tips: This aromatic herb does best in sunny or lightly shaded areas in southern zones. Make sure your soil is moist and well-draining. As you begin to plant, be sure to leave around seven inches between each seed; if you want to maintain your fresh cilantro, sow them every two to three weeks.

Here’s the link if you’d like to read more.

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July- The Herb Bed in Summer

July in Texas is hot! 

This year is no exception. Gardeners go out in the early morning to do chores like watering and maybe a little weeding. Then, we ignore our gardens until the evening when the temps will hopefully drop below 90 degrees.

For the last month or so, I’ve been cleaning up overgrown beds, pruning ugly plants and planting a few new plants from my stock. I added some lavender and some milkweed for the Monarch butterflies. In this heat, I’m watering daily and the little plants are doing well.

Cosmos, Bright Lights
Cosmos, Bright Lights

 

I also planted some seeds of colorful, Summer annuals. I like the old fashioned types, non-hybrids, so they’ll reseed for me next late Winter or Spring. I use the expired packets from Botanical Interests- you can find fresh seed here on the website. I love cosmos and zinnias of    all types. They’re so cheery.

 

 

 

 

What I have found interesting, however, while working with the herbs in the beds and in large containers, is which herbs seem to like a heavy pruning this time of year and which herbs don’t seem to need it.

Some herbs that may need pruning include mint.

Mints tend to become leggy by this time in the summer after their rampant Spring growth. Unless you’ve really been using them a lot to keep their growth compact, they will benefit from pruning this time of year.

I find this is the perfect time of year to prune the mints back. The intense heat of summer here in Texas is not kind to mints. So, I like to prune off the long growth and dry it for use in iced and hot teas and allow the plant to put on new growth. This practice gives the plants some rest from having to pump so much water out to the ends of the stems during the hottest time of the year.

This mint need pruning. You can see leggy growth and some bug eaten leaves.

Mint Flowers- don’t be afraid to let your mints flower. The flowers bring beneficial insects to your garden. Use the flowers in teas and drinks, too!
Close up of a peppermint flower. Bees love these!

This is also a good time to divide your mints. Whether they’re growing in containers or in the ground, you can dig sections out or dig the whole plant up and see where new little sections have started themselves. Clip those off the main plant and replant or repot them. If you see brown or shriveled roots on the main part of the plant, prune those off, too. Then, repot or replant the main plant- or discard it if it looks tired or if the center of the plant has died out.

Just remember to keep all the parts watered well after transplanting or dividing and you’ll be rewarded with new growth in just a few weeks. Meanwhile, you have the dried mint for your tea.

Oregano/Marjoram

This oregano was pruned about 3 weeks ago.

By this time of year, my oregano and marjoram have flowered or are flowering. Since these are perennial plants, you can enjoy the flowers and leave them on until they are played out. Flowers from the oregano family bring beneficial insects to your garden and they are pretty. If you like, you can clip them for cut display or use them to flavor your cooking.

There are several types of oregano designated a ‘flowering oregano’ or ‘ornamental oregano’. These are cultivars that have been bred for their more dramatic flowers. Alas, some of the flavor has been lost from these types and they are best used as hardy ornamental landscape plants.

This is a picture of the lovely ornamental oregano, Kent Beauty. The picture is from Mostly Natives Nursery.

Whichever type of oregano you are growing, after the flowers fade, the plant doesn’t look its best. The stems can become leggy and the spent flowers are rather unattractive. So, now’s the time to prune the flower heads off. You can also prune the whole plant back if it’s gotten too big or needs shaping. Remember the rule: for best results, don’t prune more than about 1/3 of the growth of the plant.

Basil

 

Nicely pruned Lemon Basil

Since basil is an annual, it has different characteristics from the previous plants I’ve mentioned. It flowers much more readily, as those of you who grow basil know. We attempt to keep it from flowering by frequent harvesting. Once the plant gets older and the stem starts to become woody, the tops will begin to flower signaling that the plant is near the end of its annual cycle. We can clip off flowers to maintain the leafy, succulent growth for a while, but eventually, the plant wants to flower, set seed and die out.

 

Pinching flowers from a Genovese Basil Plant

If you haven’t been harvesting your basil frequently and the plant still has leafy growth all along the stem, go ahead and prune the stems back, but not so far as to get into the woody growth, if you have that. It’s unlikely the plant will leaf out again if you prune back to the woody growth. By pruning into just the newer, soft wood, your basil will send out new branches and leaves for your next harvest.

It is best to harvest/prune your basil fairly frequently during its active growth. That way, you avoid getting those long stems that lose leaves along the stem and end up with just the fresh, new growth at the top. If your basil looks like that, it’s probably best to take it out and put in a new plant.

I am often asked if basil can be grown from cuttings. And, the answer is a resounding YES! The best time to take basil cuttings is in the early growth stages of the plant. I don’t mean when it’s very young and soft, but before it looks like it’s going to begin to flower. Any cutting you stick and root is the same age as the plant you took it from. So, if the stem you’re rooting was about to flower when it was attached to the plant, it’s going to flower right away as a rooted cutting, too.

 

A packet or two (or three…) of basil seed is very inexpensive. Starting basil from seed is easy, and it’s easier as the weather warms up. So, if you’re really into basil or pesto, think about investing in some seed early in the season and every 3 or 4 weeks during the growing season, sow a few seeds for new plants. That way, when your older plants no longer look lush and lovely, you have new plants coming along to replace them with.

Lemon Balm

Another herb that usually need pruning this time of year is lemon balm.

Lemon balm looks a lot like mint. It’s a close cousin, that’s why.

After flowering, growth can get leggy and the heat can cause the leaves to look splotchy and brown. Just prune it to the ground and you’ll have lush, new growth in a few weeks. By Fall, your plant will be its old self again, ready for harvesting more of those lemony, soothing leaves for tea, cakes and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find seed for all your herb needs here at The Herb Cottage.

In many places in the country people look forward to summer to be outdoors tending their gardens, pruning, harvesting and keeping everything looking great. Here in Texas, by this time of year, much of our vegetable garden is finished- except for okra, eggplant, field peas (black eyes, crowder, lady creams, etc.) and hot peppers. Our herbs need pruning and most of the ornamental flowers we enjoyed in Spring are faded or gone.

It’s a time for the gardener to sneak out in the early morning and evenings to do a few things, then get in some shade with a cold drink and a good book, or back into the house where the AC is.

Taking some time now to prune and rejuvenate your herbs will give you a healthier and more productive plant in the fall as the days shorten and cool down. Don’t stress yourself in the heat. Take breaks to enjoy your herbal teas in the shade when you are outdoors. Remember… even in Texas… summer doesn’t last forever!

QUOTE FOR THE MONTH

If ever the time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.

-Samuel Adams, revolutionary (1722-1803)

 

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What to do with your herbs?

The infographic below is from the fix.com blog, an informative site with lots of easy to read information about herbs and gardening. 

Here’s what Chris McLaughlin has to say:

“When beginner gardeners ask me which plants are hardy and forgiving, my answer is always herbs. If a busy gardener asks me which plants will thrive in near-neglect, my answer is herbs. When a foodie gardener asks about fast-growing plants that will feed both people and bees, my answer is herbs

Herbs are the answer to many gardening questions for good reason: they’re an incredibly versatile and prolific group – almost to a fault. In fact, many herbs can be compared to cucumber plants. By the end of the summer, they’re being given away by the bushel because no one is sure what to do with them past some basic dishes. This doesn’t have to be the case for your abundant herb garden this year. We’ve got better ideas.”


Source: Fix.com Blog

A Visit to Peckerwood Garden

 

 

Blue Palm Tree
Mexican Blue Palm. One of the many palm trees at Peckerwood Garden that are native to Mexico

Those of you who know me or have been reading The Herb Cottage Newsletters for a while, know I love to visit gardens. My most recent visit to a garden took place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law and I visited Peckerwood Garden, not too far from here, outside of a small town called Hempstead, a little more than an hour northwest of Houston.

The Garden is only open to visitors occasionally. One open day is the 4th Saturday of the month. So, we were in luck and made our way there.

From the website:

“There are many ways to describe Peckerwood Garden: it is a collection of more than 3,000 plants including many rarities; it is a conservation garden containing examples of numerous threatened species, many of which are no longer found in the wild; it is a laboratory garden testing a wide range of ‘new’ plants and our Mexican discoveries. 

It is a garden with a mission to encourage other gardeners to see a beauty in landscape that is consistent with our plants and climate; it is a pioneering garden exploring new plants and cultivation methods and aesthetic concepts for other gardeners. It is a garden that looks to the future, not to the past.

Yet, most essential, it is my studio, a place where artistic and horticultural research are fused to create an environment that stimulates all of the senses, including the most elusive of all, our sense of time.”

—John G. Fairey

We were greeted by such friendly staff! Our visit was lead by 2 docents who are very knowledgeable about the many species of trees and other plants planted on the property. The plants are mostly introductions from Mexico and Asia, that thrive in the local climate. There are native Texas trees and plants, too.

I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the plants. I felt I was completely stuffed with plant information by the time our tour ended.

Mexican Oak
This Mexican Oak is one of many varieties of oaks I’d never seen before

There were so many trees I’m unfamiliar with. We were told that Mexico has more types of oak trees than any other country in the world, including China and the US.

Below is a beautiful specimen of a Mexican Magnolia. There are many here, all grown from seed collected in Mexico.

Mexican Magnolia
Magnolia tamaulipana. This Mexican Magnolia is so beautiful. I fell in love!

I’ll leave the rest of the pictures for you to enjoy on the tour, below.

I hope you can make a visit Peckerwood Garden one day.

Peckerwood Garden Tour

Give the slide show a bit of time to load.

What’s Eating My Plants

Have you ever gone out to water your garden in the morning only to find holes in your plants’ leaves that weren’t there the day before?

As many of you know, I garden organically, using only safe products to combat pests and disease on my plants. I like to make my own products, but sometimes there are remedies that I cannot make that work so well. Safer brand makes some of the products I use. The following infographic and information was sent to me. I think it’s very useful and concise.

(I am not being compensated for posting this info.)


Most pest problems can be solved with four naturally-derived pest controls: neem oil, diatomaceous earth for bugs with an exoskeleton, B.T. for caterpillars, and insecticidal soap used on soft-bodied insects.

While the culprit in your garden may be pesky bugs, don’t rule out four-legged pests that can do large scale damage. If big chunks of leaves have been eaten, the vandal is most likely a deer. Keeping deer from eating your garden before you get a chance to is easily solved with a tall fence, six feet or higher, that puts some distance between them and your crops.  Damage on a smaller scale, and closer to the ground, can be caused by rabbits.

Rabbits can operate covertly, digging a crawlspace under any fencing or squeezing through gaps. Keeping them at bay may be done by knowing what their nose knows.  A rabbit’s sense of smell is what attracts them to your garden in the first place, so use it against them by planting onions on the edge of your garden, or sprinkle powdered red pepper. You can also consider making a hot cocktail to spray on your plants out of hot peppers, onions, and garlic.

Being proactive against a deer or rabbit invasion in your garden, however, may be the best method for keeping them out.  Plant deer-resistant plants along the inside and outside edges of your garden fences, or choose flowering perennials and annuals that will make your garden look beautiful and smell wonderful while still keeping rabbits away.

Some leaf-eating insects can cause so much damage in just a few days that your plants might be dead within the week!

Use this quick guide to identify the pest eating your plant and what solution would be best to keep that bug away from destroying your garden.

There are also a few additional insects, below the infographic, to keep an eye out for that could hurt your plant’s leaves.

what-eating-my-plants

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License. If you like our infographic, feel free to share it on your site as long as you include a link back to this post to credit Safer® Brand as the original creator of the graphic.

12 Bugs That Eat Leaves

Since you rarely see the pest that is eating your plants, you often have to decide upon a treatment by observing the damage done. Here are the most common culprits who are eating your leaves and what you can do about it.

1. Leafminers are larvae of flies, sawflies, and beetles that feed on leaves and causes discolored blotches or wiggly lines. Leafminers particular like columbine, mums, citrus trees and tomatoes. The damage is usually relatively harmless to the plant but if it does get out of control spray neem oil on the top and bottom of leaves to protect them.

2. Box suckers are wingless nymphs of the box psyllids often found inside ball shaped shoot tips in spring. To control the damage, cut off the shoot tips you find suckers and discard. The damage caused by box suckers looks like tiny holes poked into leaves. Aphids, squash bugs and spider mites are all sucking insects that cause this type of damage. Red spider mite damage will show yellow mottling on leaves. Gall mites will often cause raised pimples or clumps of matted hairs on leaves. Sucking insects are mostly harmless but you can keep them away by using insecticidal soap.

3. Scale insects cause tiny blister or shell-like bumps on leaf backs, sticky excretions, and sooty mold on plant leaves. The damage caused by scale insects could stunt growth so be sure to wash leaves off and spray with horticultural oil or neem oil.

4. Thrips are tiny black flies that suck sap from leaves, which causes white patches to appear on leaves and petals of mostly indoor plants. Get rid of thrips with diatomaceous earth (DE) or insecticidal soap.

5. Vine weevil larvae are cream-colored grubs with brown heads that feed on plant roots which causes plants to suddenly collapse. Adult vine weevils are flightless nocturnal black beetles that can make notches in leaves. To kill the larvae, use nematodes and, to kill adult vine weevils, use diatomaceous earth.

6. Caterpillars are probably what comes to mind for most people when you first see holes in your plant’s leaves. For the majority of caterpillars, you can take the time to rub off the eggs you find on the plant and pick off caterpillars. It’s best to go inspect your plants early in the morning, which is when you will most likely find them chewing away. You can also apply sticky traps to capture adult moths before they can lay their eggs on your trees and plants. There are several different kinds of caterpillars that might be causing the damage. Cabbage white caterpillars love to eat brassicas and nasturtiums. Tomato hornworms are the caterpillars who often damage fruits. To get rid of caterpillars, dust your plants with B.T. Caterpillars will leave black excrement dots called “frass” on leaves. Since earwigs can cause similar looking bite patterns in leaves as caterpillars, finding frass is a good way to tell if it is caterpillars that are damaging your plants.

7. Earwigs are usually more beneficial than harmful since they eat insect eggs and adult aphids. However, they do like their fair share of soft fruits and new plant growth. Sometimes, older leaves tend to be chewed around the edges and look ragged when earwigs are involved. Use a pot filled with hay to attract earwigs and then release elsewhere. If you’re determined to kill the earwigs invading your home, sprinkle diatomaceous earth around and on plants with bite marks.

8. Sawfly larvae are caterpillar-like white larvae that eat leaves on plants like roses, gooseberries and Solomon’s seal. Leaf rolling is a sign of sawflies. They lay their eggs on plants and their larvae eat the leaves, they make holes that still have some plant tissue intact so the damage looks transparent. It may eventually break down and leave holes. Use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil to protect your plants from sawfly larvae. You can also pick caterpillars off plants or spray with pyrethrum.

9.Viburnum beetles, both the adult and larvae, eat leaves, which can slow your plant’s growth and looks ugly. To get rid of viburnum beetles and larvae, throw out twigs in late summer that have viburnum beetles’ eggs on them or release lady bugs in the spring to capture the larvae.

10. Japanese beetles feed on flowers and the tissue between leaf veins. Their larvae often causes brown patches in grass. To get rid of Japanese beetles, spray your plants and grass area with neem oil and set up these Japanese beetle traps to capture the adults.

11. Slugs and snails like areas that are moist and shady and eat irregular-shaped holes in the leaf (but not along the edges). To see of snails and slugs are your plant-eating culprits, come out at night with a flashlight and look under leaves. Pour beer in a used, open tuna tin or plate to attract slugs and snails away from plants and into the beer. Slugs and snails often leave shiny trail on leaves and the holes are larger than a pencil eraser but smaller than a quarter. Slugs will also eat ripening fruit touching the ground. If you have a bad infestation, use Dr. T’s Slug and Snail Killer for quick results that won’t harm other beneficial insects.

12. Cucumber beetles can destroy an ornamental overnight. Cucumber beetles will leave tiny transparent circles on plant leaves. Take immediate action to control these plant bugs with diatomaceous earth or use row covers to protect plants before cucumber beetles become a problem.

Don’t think your plants are being eaten by any of these bugs? Animals can often eat your plants too so watch out for possums, rats, deer and rabbits around your garden.

The information in this post is from the Safer blog: 

For over 25 years, Safer® Brand has been a resource for organic gardeners and growers. We proudly offer the broadest and most successful line of OMRI Listed® organic gardening, organic fungicide and organic pest control products.

It’s Organic*, It’s Effective, It’s Safer® Brand.

*For use in organic gardening.

Trip to Big Bend National Park

"The Window" view from inside Chisos Mountain Basin in Big Bend National Park.
“The Window” view from inside Chisos Mountain Basin in Big Bend National Park.

My husband and I recently visited Big Bend National Park for the first time for both of us. It was an unforgettable experience.

If you’re not familiar with Big Bend National Park, it is 800,000 acres of Texas wilderness comprised of mountains and desert. It abuts the Rio Grande River at the “big bend” in the river, hence the name. It is very remote. It took us about 10 hours to drive there with stops for food, gas, etc. It is the most remote National Park in the lower 48 states- 300 miles from El Paso and about 400 miles from San Antonio. It is also one of the darkest spots in the lower 48 states- terrific for star gazing.

Moonrise
Moonrise

Here’s a link to the park website.

The experience of visiting Big Bend National Park and the surrounding areas is difficult for me to describe. The words used to describe an open, wild or mountainous landscape pale in contrast to the place itself. Nor do pictures give the scope of the grandeur and monument of the landscape.

That said, I will let the pictures I took speak for themselves and, instead, talk about the plants we saw that so enchanted me.
False Agave
False Agave, Hechtia texensis

AT FIRST GLANCE the number of species of plant life seem not so numerous. Certain species stand out in the rocky desert, seen over and over again: Sotol, Yucca, Agave, Creosote Bush. These are easily seen when driving along the roads in the Park. But, when walking, many more, smaller plants can be seen and examined closely.

The area is so different from where our farm is located, I wanted to stop and look at each plant that I was unfamiliar with. And, mostly, I did!
What’s interesting to me, of course, is how the native desert dwellers used the plants we saw. From clothing and shelter to food and medicine, it seems each plant has many uses. Below, I’ve briefly detailed the main uses of some of the plants in the Big Bend area. There is a bibliography at the end of the article with books for further study.
Soaptree Yucca, Yucca elata. Roots used to make soap.
Soaptree Yucca, Yucca elata. Roots used to make soap.

The Uses of Chihuahuan Desert Plants

From the website of University of Texas, El Paso:

“Human societies in desert terrain found numerous ways to sustain themselves through the use of plants that grow there.  They harvested seeds, fruits and nuts, and used many other parts of the plants for making household objects, clothing, building shelter, and treating illnesses or injuries.   As “modern” society engulfs traditional ones, it is important to preserve the knowledge that our predecessors on this land had – and have – about these native plants.

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish and other colonial settlers, desert survival depended on knowledge of local plants.  The new arrivals introduced new plants and new ways of building houses or making clothes, but the use of local plants has continued, especially in rural areas, up to the present day.  Native plants are still used by curanderos in treating various ailments – but it is strongly recommended that no one experiment with plants as medicine.  The effects are unpredictable and can result in serious problems, even fatalities.   Care should also be taken in trying out plants for food – an incorrect identification could give you a stomach-ache, or much worse.”

prosopis-glandulosa-seed-pods
Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) Tree with Pods                                                       By Don A.W. Carlson – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2193199

We saw lots of Honey Mesquite Trees in areas where a little water would collect. The Honey  Mesquite Tree was perhaps the most important food plant in the Chihuahuan Desert.

The seed, or bean, pods were eaten raw, or collected, ground, mixed with water, and eaten as is or dried into cakes.

No heat was needed to produce this food.

Mesquite flowers and leaves could be boiled up for tea.  Various brews of leaves and twigs served as disinfectant for cuts and eyewash for conjunctivitis.  Mesquite branches made the best bows. Mesquite firewood was prized – as it is today- for grilling.

View of the Rio Grande from the Park. Mesquite Trees fill the low lying bank of the river.
View of the Rio Grande from the Park. Mesquite Trees fill the low lying bank of the river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvard Yucca: This one puts on a tall flower stalk. We saw a few with spent flower stalks. None in bloom.
Harvard Yucca: This one puts on a tall flower stalk. We saw a few with spent flower stalks. None in bloom.

 

There were several species of Agave in the desert, easy to identify.

All parts of the plant were used for food. Even the pineapple-like stem on some types were roasted and eaten- after the leaves were removed. The cooked stem was mashed and eaten. The liquid that was extracted was fermented and made into a beer-like drink called pulque. True Mescal and Tequila are distilled from pulque.

Fibers produced from the leaves by soaking and pounding were used to make bowstrings, clothing, rope, nets, baskets and sandals.

Sotol: This plant was everywhere!
Sotol: This plant was everywhere!

Another Chihuahuan Desert stalwart, the sotol, was also roasted for food, as well as providing fibers, as did the yucca, one of the most useful of desert plants.

Soaptree Yucca: Roots used to make soap.
Soaptree Yucca: Roots used to make soap.

 

 

Native Americans made soap using the detergent-like compound from the sap of the yucca roots. Yucca stalks, blossoms and seeds were also eaten.

 

 

Foliage of a Creosote bushCreosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) was as common as the yuccas and agaves. It has a strong odor that gives it the name. The morning we left the park, it was fairly early, 8 a.m. or so and we were driving with the windows down. The odor of the creosote bush was very strong due to the dew drying off the plants as the sun rose above the desert.

It is known to repel pests. Stems crushed in water helped reduce the pain of rheumatism.   Creosote tea, a foul-tasting liquid, was used to treat tuberculosis, and its vapor inhaled for other respiratory ailments.  And the lac insect that lives on the plant provides a shellac-like material for mending pottery and making baskets waterproof.

Spiny Fruited Prickly Pear
Spiny Fruited Prickly Pear. I love the red spines on this one!

Various cactus species also provided food.  The fruits were eaten raw or cooked, and the seeds were ground into meal. The flat pads of the prickly pear

could be eaten after the tiny spines called glocids were rubbed or singed from the jointed stems, which were then boiled.  These are known today as nopalitos, and used in many traditional Mexican recipes.

Ephedra or Mormon Tea
Ephedra (Ephedra spp.) or Mormon Tea

 

Native Americans were well aware of the medicinal properties of the ephedra plant. An infusion prepared from either green or dried stems treated numerous ailments – canker sores, colds, kidney troubles, and stomach troubles.  Dried roots and stems, ground to a powder, were used on wounds and burns.

 

There are many more plants, of course, in the Chihuahuan Desert in and around Big Bend National Park. I think my favorite plant is the Ocotillo. It looks like a cactus, but it isn’t. It’s a shrub called Fouquieria splendens. It has spiny stems and tiny leaves which come out after rains. The tips sprout red flowers.

Ocotillo at the Terlingua Trading Company outside the Park.
Ocotillo at the Terlingua Trading Company outside the Park.

We saw very few blooming Ocotillo and I was glad to get the picture on the left.

I purchased this little wire and bead sculpture of an Ocotillo at an "illegal" store along a trail overlooking the Rio Grande.
I purchased this little wire and bead sculpture of an Ocotillo at an “illegal” store along a trail overlooking the Rio Grande.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ocotillo and Creosote Bush along a road in the Park.
Ocotillo and Creosote Bush along a road in the Park.

 

 

Bathing in water that contains crushed flowers or roots of Ocotillo has been used to relieve fatigue.

Native Americans are known to place the flowers and roots of ocotillo over fresh wounds to slow bleeding.

Ocotillo is also used to alleviate coughing, achy limbs, varicose veins, urinary tract infections, cervical varicosities, and benign prostate growths.

The wood is used for firewood and the plant is still used for living fences.

Many of the other dozens of plants I saw in the desert have various uses.

The Desert Willow, (Chilopsis linearis) was widely used for construction, as its pliable wood can be bent into shapes without breaking, and it is very resistant to decay. I have a Desert Willow growing here at my place, that I started from seed many years ago. I was thrilled to see them in their native habitat!

Desert Willow Flower
Desert Willow Flower                                                                                                                                                   By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=174367

Bark from trees such as junipers and needles from pines could be turned into fibers for baskets and ropes, and their cones were harvested for edible seeds (piñones).

The plant life is so rich in the desert environment of South Texas. The land, at first glance, looks forbidding, parched and rather uninviting. It takes a certain type of person to live there and appreciate the environs for it’s stark beauty and to accept what is available there.

I hope this is not my last visit to the Big Bend. There is so much more to explore. I would like to visit in the Spring when many more of the cacti and other plants are in bloom.

Please visit the Photo Gallery for many more pictures of the area.

For more detailed information:
How Indians Used Desert Plants by James W. Cornett
Gathering the Desert by Gary Paul Nabhan

Thanks also to Dr. Armando González Stuart of the UTEP/UT-Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program for his informative guide on medicinal uses of Chihuahuan plants.

QUOTE FOR THE MONTH

There is no such thing as a ‘self-made’ man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts.

-George Matthew Adams, newspaper columnist (23 Aug 1878-1962) 

The Attraction of Growing a Garden

aztec-reef-hydroponic-gardening-chinampa
Aztec Reef Hydroponic Gardening

Gardening is an age old occupation. There is evidence that in the Fertile Crescent of the Near and Middle East, people were farming grains and legumes as far back as 8000 BC. In 5000 BC, North American people were inhabiting river bottoms and cultivating crops there. In about 4800 BC, the people of Mexico, Central America, China and West Asia were growing a diverse selection of crops. By 3500 BC the Egyptians were using extensive irrigation techniques and even had garden art.

Of course, people grew gardens for sustenance, to have foods other than those that could be hunted and gathered. Food security could be found in growing food rather than expecting to find it in the wild. As tribes grew bigger and more numerous in various locations, people had to go farther and farther away to find food. Growing food close to home alleviated long, often dangerous treks to find food.

The history goes on and on in culture after culture all over the globe. Peruvians grew potatoes in the Andes in 3000 BC and Egyptians were painting tomb walls with pictures of gardens, fish ponds and fruit trees.

Painting from the tomb of Nebamum in Thebes, Egypt. Circa 1350 BCE
Painting from the tomb of Nebamum in Thebes, Egypt. Circa 1350 BCE

In 1750 BC in Babylon, the Hammurabic Code, the world’s first known written set of laws, included property laws regarding gardens.

Today’s gardener is connected to people far back in history both through gardening and the uses of herbs. Many of the food plants and culinary herbs we use today have been grown and cultivated around the world for centuries.

As early as about 3000 BC. in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and China there were manuals were written on the uses of herbs as medicine.

At one time, people thought of herbs more as part of the food group than as “seasoning”, as we do today. In very complete herb encyclopedias, such as Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses by Deni Bown many plants that we consider vegetables today are listed as herbs.

ency_of_herbs

Continue reading “The Attraction of Growing a Garden”

August Tour of The Herb Cottage

Since there is not a lot going on at The Herb Cottage in August, I thought a tour of the grounds would be fun. We had a very wet Spring then a couple of extremely dry and hot months. Then, come mid August, the rains came bringing moisture and cooler temperatures which are always welcome in late summer.

My heart goes out to those who have been affected by floods. Thankfully, our rain has been beneficial and not too much at one time. 

Here is a slide show I made from pictures taken on August 21. The grass has not been mowed so the place looks a little ragged, but I just love the overgrown, blowsy look of the vines and the plants. So much green, growing foliage is a treat to me in August. 

I hope you enjoy this slice of life on the farm in Lavaca County, Texas!


QUOTE FOR THE MONTH

There is no such thing as a ‘self-made’ man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts.
-George Matthew Adams, newspaper columnist                                     (23 Aug 1878-1962)

 

Summer Pruning for Herbs

 

 

Mexican Oregano loves the summer heat! Picture taken at The Herb Cottage
Mexican Oregano loves the summer heat!
Picture taken at The Herb Cottage

Here in my area of Texas, from mid summer until at least the end of September, it is very hot, humid and stressful for our plants, even the hardy herbs. (It’s stressful for the gardener, too… but that’s a topic for another discussion!)

One way to help our herbs survive the summer weather is to prune them back so they don’t have so much plant matter to keep hydrated. It is easier for the roots to deliver water to shorter stems and the plant stays looking healthier and prettier, too. 

Herbs That May Need Pruning

Mints

peppermint_lg
Healthy Peppermint Plant

Mints tend to become leggy by this time in the summer, unless you’ve really been using them a lot to keep their growth compact.

I find this is the perfect time of year to prune the mints back. The intense heat of late summer here in Texas is not kind to mints. So, I like to prune off the long growth and dry it for use in iced teas and allow the plant to put on new growth from the roots. This practice gives the plants some rest from having to pump so much water out to the ends of the stems during the hottest time of the year.

You can prune all the way to the ground, if you like. They’ll come back beautifully, provided you keep the plants watered.

Mint Flower- don't be afraid to let your mints flower. The flowers bring beneficial insects to your garden. Use the flowers in teas and drinks, too!
Mint Flower- don’t be afraid to let your mints flower. The flowers bring beneficial insects to your garden. Use the flowers in teas and drinks, too!

 

This is also a good time to divide your mints. Whether they’re growing in containers or in the ground, you can dig sections out or dig (or de-pot) the whole plant and see where new little sections have started themselves. Clip those off the main plant and replant or repot them. If you see brown or shriveled roots on the main part of the plant, prune those off, too. Then, repot or replant the main plant- or discard it if it looks tired or if the center of the plant has died out.

 

This mint need pruning! I'll take it all the way to the soil line.
This mint need pruning! I’ll take it all the way to the soil line.

 

Just remember to keep all the plants watered well after pruning,  transplanting or dividing and you’ll be rewarded with new growth in just a few weeks. Meanwhile, you have the dried mint for your tea.

Oregano/Marjoram

Blooming Greek Oregano. Picture taken at The Herb Cottage
Blooming Greek Oregano. Picture taken at The Herb Cottage

By this time of year, my oregano and marjoram have flowered or are flowering. Since these are perennial plants, you can enjoy the flowers and leave them on until they are played out. Flowers from the oregano family bring beneficial insects to your garden and they are pretty. If you like, you can clip them for cut display or use them to flavor your cooking.

There are several types of oregano designated a ‘flowering oregano’ or ‘ornamental oregano’. These are cultivars that have been bred for their more dramatic flowers. Alas, some of the flavor has been lost from these types and they are best used as hardy ornamental landscape plants.

Blue Oregano. Not great flavor, but a striking plant when in bloom!
Blue Oregano. Not great flavor, but a striking plant when in bloom!

Whichever type of oregano you are growing, after the flowers fade, the plant doesn’t look its best. The stems can become leggy and the spent flowers are rather unattractive. So, now’s the time to prune the flower heads off. You can also prune the whole plant back if it’s gotten too big or needs shaping.

Terribly overgrown Greek Oregano. Lots of bare stems. I'll prune to the soil level here and dry the leaves for use in the kitchen.
Terribly overgrown Greek Oregano. Lots of bare stems. I’ll prune to the soil level here and dry the leaves for use in the kitchen.

There is rule of pruning which says for best results, don’t prune more than about 1/3 of the growth of the plant. This is true for some plants, like a large Rosemary, roses and other shrubs. But, many herbs can be pruned all the way to the ground when they’ve gotten out of control. Which ones, you might ask? Here’s a list of some common herbs that can be pruned all the way to the ground, whether you’re growing in pots or in the ground:

  • oregano
  • marjoram
  • mints
  • lemon balm
  • catnip
  • chives/garlic chives

Continue reading “Summer Pruning for Herbs”