Herbalist Library: Historical References

Our ancestors cultivated a deep, rooted relationship with plants; they harvested plants in a ceremony, made herbal medicines with intention, and passed along traditional plant knowledge to help future generations maintain wellness. In many cultures, this information was shared orally, through stories or an apprenticeship with a local healer. The books we do have on traditional herbal medicines are a treasure to modern day herbalists; they’re a window into our survival as a species and often hold surprising tidbits on how we once used common plants. Below, please find some of our favorite inspirational books from western herbalists that focus on traditional plant remedies, as well as the rich history of herbalism.

A Modern Herbal, Volumes I & II by Sophia Emma Magdalene Grieve are some of the most well respected herbal books of the 20th century. Grieve is thought of as one of the first modern herbalists. During World War I, in order to help remedy the shortage of medical supplies, she educated people in the power of medicinal plants. In 1931, her informational pamphlets went on to be published as A Modern Herbal, one of the best-loved herbal manuals of all time.
Women Healers of the World: The Traditions, History, and Geography of Herbal Medicine by herbalist Holly Bellebuono shares the stories of 30 women, from past and present, who’ve passionately practiced herbal medicine. Holly traveled the globe for seven years to compile these unique and important stories of women herbalists. Each story features their unique practice of herbal medicine and the plants they most commonly use.
Green Pharmacy: The History and Evolution of Western Herbal Medicine by Barbara Griggs recounts herbal history from prehistoric times to modern day. Griggs explains that herbalism wasn’t always an “alternative” form of medicine—before the 20th century, it was one of our primary ways to maintaining wellness. Read why she calls it “the medicine of mankind.”
The Natural History of Medicinal Plants by Harvard botanist Judith Sumner shares both plant medicines and folklore dating back to the Middle Ages in Europe. Through her stories, Sumner teaches about plant chemistry and botanical toxins and offers great how-tos on preserving medicinal plants for future generations.
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal by astrologist and physician Nicholas Culpeper is a classic herbal text from the 17th century, featuring almost 400 medicinal plants, their uses, information on where they grow, and their astrological significance. In addition to writing this iconic book, he also translated many medical texts from Latin to English, so that his English speaking community could interpret the information.
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Herb Lore: (Herbalism)

Hippocrates – ” Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”

For the purpose of this article, herbs are loosely referred to as the category of edible plants which can also be used for Medicinal, Spiritual or Magical purposes.

It seems that on every part of the globe where humans have lived, there has developed a body of herbal knowledge, something which has led to a special relationship developing between herbs and people. The foundation for this relationship is the fact that apart from herbs being acknowledged for their nutritional value, there has been a longstanding recognition that they also possess a variety of curative properties, being amongst the most important tools used by Shamen, Medicine men, Witch doctors, and healers, in general, the world over. Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80 percent of the population of some Asian and African countries presently use herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care.

In addition to their culinary and Medicinal uses, certain herbs have also adopted a reputation for having spiritual and magical qualities. This tradition can be traced back in various forms through the traditions and practices of Shamanism, Witchcraft, and the Ayurvedic system of the east. Their importance in the ‘journey within’ is not just a symbolic one as apart from having recognised cleansing qualities on the human body, several herbs are known to be mind-altering, producing a range of altered states, including hallucinations. It has been proposed by several authors that experiencing such altered states, may have played a substantial role in the development of the primitive human imagination. The role of herbs in the religious/spiritual journey is still widely visible today in the act of incensing (smudging), an almost insignificant tradition which prevails in all the major religions, yet one with roots to the dawn of human consciousness.

Sadly, the arguments in favour of natural herbal medicines are becoming blurred today. As we gradually lose touch with the intimate knowledge and philosophy underpinning the use of herbs by our ancestors, the benefits of herbalism have become replaced by the price, availability, controlled dosage and regulation of ingredients in manufactured drugs. In addition, the use of herbs in an internal (spiritual) capacity is generally frowned upon, even illegal in many cases, effectively ’emasculating’ the ancient art of herbalism.

   The History of Herbalism:

It is perhaps first worth noting that there are numerous examples in the literature regarding other animals known to use a variety of plants and minerals ‘medicinally’ in nature, and it is a reasonable inference that humans always shared a similar basic relationship with the minerals and plants around them.  Observations of the comparative health of animals in captivity and in the wild suggest that wild animals are able to do things to keep themselves healthy that captive animals cannot. In 1632, a European doctor visiting Peru observed a Puma with a fever chewing the bark of the Chinchona tree. Two hundred years later, Louis Pasteur discovered that the bark contained Quinine, a natural compound with antipyretic (fever-reducing) properties. There are several reports in the literature of mammals that are commonly known to eating indigestible plants and grasses in order to relieve them from internal parasites.

Article: The Economist. 2002.

‘Chimpanzees suffering from intestinal worms in Tanzania dose themselves with the pith of a plant called Vernonia. This plant produces poisonous chemicals called terpenes. Its pith contains a strong enough concentration to kill gut parasites, but not so strong as to kill chimps (nor people, for that matter; locals use the pith for the same purpose)’. 

In recognition to the first pioneering experimental herbalists, and to all those who passed on the great lore of herbs across time it must be said that many herbs are toxic, and will kill a person as soon as heal them. For example, Foxglove contains the compound Digitalis, which is commonly used in heart conditions, but the prescribed dosage is close to the lethal dosage. The accumulation of such information into a workable art would have required much testing and tasting, leading to much upset along the way, and the continuous transfer of knowledge from one generation to another over such a long distances of time is a similarly remarkable feat. Regardless of any modern arguments against herbal medicine, the 85% of traditional medicine involving the use of plant extracts (18) is a direct result of our ancestor’s relationship with herbs.

The deliberate use of herbs by humans can be traced back at least 50, 000 years. Researchers from different countries did a morphological analysis of plant microfossils to identify material trapped in dental calculus from five Neanderthals from the north Spanish site of El Sidrón. Discovered in 1994, El Sidrón contained around 2,000 skeletal remains of at least 13 individuals dating back c. 50,000 BP. It seems that the new data substantiate earlier assumptions about the use of medicinal plants by Neanderthals. “The varied use of plants we identified suggests that the Neanderthal occupants of El Sidrón had a sophisticated knowledge of their natural surroundings which included the ability to select and use certain plants for their nutritional value and for self-medication“. The presence of chamazulene in the sample is notable since the compound occurs in yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and in chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla). These herbs, widely used in self-medication in preindustrial Europe have moderate antioxidant and antimicrobial activities, and a significant antiplatelet activity in vitro.

Although there isn’t enough archaeological evidence to prove that all Palaeolithic people were commonly aware of the medicinal properties of herbs, our presence today suggests they were, and there is little doubt that our Palaeolithic ancestors were at least extremely familiar with the edible plants which grew around them. It is now said that the ‘Hallmark’ of the Palaeolithic diet is the ‘Huge number of diversity of plants in their diet’,  (8) with estimates of 20 to 25 different vegetables a day being commonplace. Something which at least leaves little doubt as to their culinary knowledge. The specific details of the origins of the  application of herbs as medicinal plants are, of course, lost to us, but there is no doubt that it has been occurring for a great length of time and in every corner of the world as the following examples demonstrate:

Discoveries on the Isle of Coll in Scotland have led to suggestions of Mesolithic deliberate use of herbs (either for culinary or medicinal use), through the discovery of ‘charred tubers and ‘bulbils’ (small swellings at the intersection of the stem and leaves) of lesser celandine, a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculus filaria). The frequency of the lesser celandine suggests that this plant had been deliberately gathered rather than entering the deposit accidentally’. Starr Carr in Scotland was used through the Mesolithic era for over a thousand years. Studies of the flora there have shown us that the inhabitants had a sophisticated knowledge of the uses of the plant-life surrounding them. (10) Amongst the discoveries were several plants which are recognised today as classic examples of herbs, being both edible and medicinal including the following:

Hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) medicinal uses but poisonous, Yellow water lily (Nuphar later) food (after boiling) some medicinal uses, Redleg (Polygonum persicaria) medicine (stomach) yellow dye, Dock (Rumex sp.) food and medicine but bitter.
One of the most cited (but now ironically contested) prehistoric cases is the Neanderthal Grave in Shanidar cave, Iraq, which ‘Contained pollen traces of eight different types of flower, presumably part of a wreath (Soleki, 1971; Leroi-Gourham, 1968). The flowers were mainly small, brightly-coloured varieties, possibly woven into the branches of a shrub. Solecki has pointed out that most of the flowers are known to have herbal properties and are used by the people today’. However, not everyone has agreed with the hypothesis that the placement of the flowering plant offerings at the burial site was a conscious choice of the Neanderthals. The original report described the existence of animal holes around the burial along with the fossil remains of the “Persian jird” (Meriones precious). This rodent species live in large colonies and is known to store a large number of seeds and flowers in its burrows. Indeed, excavators identified numerous jird, burrows near the burial, and 70% of all the rodent bone recovered from Shanidar Cave was from this jird species. Analysis of jird burrows has also revealed the remains of many of the same flowers that were found in Shanidar IV. Thus, it is argued, the presence of flower pollen around the skeleton may not have been the result of ritualistic activity, but simply the establishment of jird burrows following the burial (Sommer 1998).

At the 6,500-year-old site of Bökeberg in Sweden, a piece of Birch bark gum has been found with the tooth impressions of a 30-40-year-old with a cavity in one tooth. By chewing the gum, it is suggested that he or she was treating their ailment. Birch bark tar contains compounds which could serve as disinfectants, and these can be slowly released during chewing. There are historical records referring to the use of birch bark tar to relieve sore throats. It could also be that chewing birch bark tar was an early form of dental hygiene. It is common knowledge today that chewing gum between meals helps to reduce the build-up of plaque.

A pottery cauldron containing boiled medicinal herbs unearthed in 2001 at Kuahuqiao in Xiaoshan County, Zhejiang Province indicates that Neolithic people had realized some natural herbal medicine use as early as 8,000 BP.

Herbs have long been used as the basis of traditional Chinese herbal medicine. The oldest known list of medicinal herbs is Shénnóng (神农, lit. “Divine Farmer”), a mythical god-like Emperor figure, who is believed to have lived c. 3,000 BC (2) He allegedly tasted hundreds of herbs and imparted his knowledge of medicinal and poisonous plants to farmers. His Shénnóng Běn Cao Jīng (神农本草经, Shennong’s Materia Medica) is considered as the oldest book on Chinese herbal medicine, is a compilation of over 300 Chinese herbs that probably originates from an even older oral tradition. (1)   There are roughly 13,000 medicinals used in China and over 100,000 medicinal recipes recorded in the ancient literature. Plant elements and extracts are by far the most common elements used. In the classic Handbook of Traditional Drugs from 1941, 517 drugs were listed – out of these, only 45 were animal parts, and 30 were minerals. For many plants used as medicinals, detailed instructions have been handed down not only regarding the locations and areas where they grow best but also regarding the best timing of planting and harvesting them.

In the written record, the study of herbs dates back over 5,000 years to the Sumerians, who created clay tablets with lists of hundreds of medicinal plants. The largest surviving such medical treatise from ancient Mesopotamia is known as “Treatise of Medical Diagnosis and Prognoses.” The text of this treatise consists of 40 tablets collected and studied by the French scholar R. Labat. Although the oldest surviving copy of this treatise dates to around 1,600 BC, the information contained in the text is an amalgamation of several centuries of Mesopotamian medical knowledge. It has been shown that the plants used in treatment were generally used to treat the symptoms of the disease, and were not the sorts of things generally given for magical purposes. The same plants were used then as is today.  At the same time in Egypt, (c. 1,500 BC), the Ancient Egyptians wrote the Ebers Papyrus (right) which contains information on over 850 plant medicines, including garlic, juniper, cannabis, aloe, and Mandrake.

In America’s, herb lore is known to have played an important part in the lives of the North American Indians who incorporated into their mythology. Among Woodland peoples, the spirits of animals were often considered the source of illness, with specific plants being created with the power to cure such animal illnesses, a belief that was confirmed with the arrival of Europeans who brought with them a variety of diseases including the introduction of the ailments of contemporary life, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease since the medicine of their ancestors did not have to cope with these ailments. The ancient Aztec Emperors encouraged their people to learn about all varieties of the region’s plants. When Cortez and the conquistadors invaded Mexico in the 1500’s, they found the Aztecs quite learned in herbal knowledge and lore. Fortunately, some of this knowledge survived the destruction of the Aztec civilisation. King Phillip II of Spain sent some of his personal physicians to catalogue and describe the Aztec plants. Francisco Hernandez wrote down this information, which was to serve as the basic text on the plants of Mexico for years to come.

Working with ‘maticeuac’, a small herb ‘required as a cure by one who has the nose-bleed, who cannot stop it.’ Florentine Codex, Book XI.

In India, Ayurveda medicine has used many herbs such as turmeric possibly as early as 1,900 BC. (16)Sanskrit writings from around 1,500 B.C., such as the Rig Veda, are some of the earliest available documents detailing the medical knowledge that formed the basis of the Ayurveda system. Many other herbs and minerals used in Ayurveda were later described by ancient Indian herbalists such as Charaka and Sushruta during the 1st millennium BC. The Sushruta Samhita attributed to Sushruta in the 6th century BC describes 700 medicinal plants, 64 preparations from mineral sources, and 57 preparations based on animal sources.

The ancient Greeks and Romans were also renowned herbalists. Surgeons travelling with the Roman army spread their herbal expertise throughout the Roman empire, in Spain, Germany, France, and England. Dioscorides (c. 40- c. 90) and Galen (131-200 AD.), both Greek surgeons in the Roman army, compiled herbals that remained the definitive materia medica texts for 1500 years.

As a result of the Islamic conquest of North Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries, Arabic scholars acquired many Greek and Roman medical texts. Iranian physician Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna (980-1037 AD.), combined the herbal traditions of Dioscorides and Galen with the ancient practices of his own people in The Canon of Medicine (al-Qanun fi at-tibb). One of the most influential medical texts were ever written, Avicenna’s Canon spread through Europe during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

   Medicinal Herbs:

Having seen the illustrious history of herbs, and knowing their potential for healing to humans and generally improving the quality of life, it is a wonder that they are not promoted more into modern life. This is of course, in part due to the rise of international pharmaceutical companies. The gradual proliferation of readily available medication over the counter has led to a decline in the knowledge of the plants that surround us.

There are many herbs in traditional medicine that may be recognized and recommended by herbalists and advocates of alternative treatment modalities to cleanse the body. These herbs act to stimulate the elimination of waste products and toxins from the gastrointestinal tract and other systems of the body. Body cleansing is the process of removing toxins from the body. Toxins accumulate in metabolism, the environment, the use of drugs or exposure to hazardous substances. Body organs and systems working together in cleansing and detoxifying the body are the liver and gallbladder, the lungs, lymphatic system and the kidneys along with the colon and skin. Herbs may be used alone or in combination to help the body in removing waste and toxins from these organs (14)

The ability of herbs to be utilised for Infusions, Tinctures, Ointments, and Compounds meant that they were the natural primary source of medicinal remedy for many ancient cultures. The fact that so many plants have healing properties beneficial to humans led to a form of reverence in Native American Indians who incorporated them into their mythology. The Native American Indians adopted two different philosophies towards their healing practices: The first is seen primarily amongst the Plains groups, where healing power was a characteristic that individuals obtained through personal ‘shamanic’ experiences, such as in encounters with animal spirit helpers. The well-known “vision quest” is a manifestation of this principle. The success of a healer in this context is based in large part, on personal power obtained through direct encounters with sacred powers. In contrast, Woodlands groups associate power, including the ability to heal, with possession of esoteric knowledge that exists outside the experience of the individual.

These differences are illustrated by the fact that animals are the source of healing power on the Plains, where healers were often identified on the basis of their animal helpers, for instance, as an “eagle doctor.” By contrast, among Woodland peoples, the spirits of animals were often considered the source of illness, with specific plants being created with the power to cure such animal illnesses, a belief that was confirmed with the arrival of Europeans who brought with them a variety of diseases including the introduction of the ailments of contemporary life, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease since the medicine of their ancestors did not have to cope with these ailments.

In their training, Woodland healers were taught how to diagnose illness and which plants to use to counter them. These healers also learnt procedures, rituals, and songs that activated the curing power of plants. Woodland medicine and the knowledge to use it was not discovered anew by spiritually powerful practitioners but was considered to have been provided to tribal ancestors by the Creator in the ancient past and subsequently handed down across the generations.

Herbs as Cleansers:

The disinfectant qualities of certain plants would have been of great importance to humans and may have been one of the triggers for a recognition of the other medicinal uses of plants. A large number of ancient cultures used herbs and plants in the cleansing rituals and preparation of the dead. Throughout history, the burning of natural substances has been used for cleansing, healing and in spiritual ceremonies and rituals.

Smudging: Shamanic smudging or just ‘smudging’ is an age-old tribal tradition which has been used for centuries for cleansing and to creates harmony and peace. There are many different shamanic smudging ceremonies, and different tribes use a variety of herbs for smudging.  Smudging was used for centuries by the native people of both North and South America, Europe, the Middle-east, Africa, Asia and the Siberian shamans to open the doors of the soul to the spirit world. In all cultures, the burning of certain herbs and incense was seen as a way of gaining access to the soul and power of the plants for cleansing, purification, protection spiritual, ceremonial and magical use, the banishment of negative energies and creation of sacred space. In modern use, incensing is still used as a symbol of purification and sanctification.

One of the earliest recorded uses of smudging can be traced to ancient Egypt where herbs were burned in religious ceremonies, being mentioned on an inscribed tablet from Giza, Egypt, c. 1,500 BC. The Babylonians also regularly used smudge/incense extensively while offering prayers or divining oracles. It was imported to Israel in the 5th century BC to be used in religious offerings. It spread from there to Greece, Rome and India, where both Hindus and Buddhists still burn it in their rituals and at festivals. The smudging tradition dates back millennia and connects all traditional cultures, from the Native Americans to the Druids, from the Zulus to the Maoris, from Aboriginals to the Mayans, from the Chinese to the Balinese, which has age-old forms of cleansing and blessing rituals. Smudge (Incense) is widely used in Oriental religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Taoism) and in the ceremonies of the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches. Smudging can, therefore, be seen as a universal spiritual component that runs through and connects all the world’s great cultures and religions throughout time.

Modern Medicine Vs Traditional Medicine.

‘Approximately 119 pure chemical substances extracted from higher plants are used in medicine throughout the world’ (Farnsworth et al., 1985).

There are several reasons why pharmacology abandoned whole plant extracts in favour of isolated active ingredients. The amount of active ingredient in a plant can vary with factors like the variety, the geographic location, the weather, the season, the time of harvest, soil conditions, storage conditions, and the method of preparation. All skills which the traditional herbal healer would have known and from which it could be therefore argued, that because the production of synthetic compounds bypasses much of this process, potentially lessens the other, unquantifiable ‘spiritual’ qualities of the herbs.

Modern experiments have shown that the healing process is a complex one, with factors involved which have nothing to do with medicine. The classic example of the placebo effect is one which raises a variety of questions which go beyond the use of medication. While it is true that the unsolicited use of herbs can be potentially harmful, the fact remains that they are the backbone of modern medicine, and represent an unlimited source of discovery still to come (if we begin to nurture ecosystems again, instead of ‘harvesting’ them to death). When combined with the medicinal qualities of herbs, the research into faith healing opens the debate further, as experiments into the apparent ‘communication’ between people’s unconscious nervous systems show that people are able to experience a connectivity that one could argue, may well play a part in the healer-patient relationship.

   Sacred Herbs:

The idea that a plant could be ‘sacred’ is not a concept promoted in the modern western mind, but it doesn’t take long or far before the lack of such an attitude becomes a matter of ignorance. The mind-altering effects of many plants have long been known and used in the ‘journey within’ by cultures around the ancient world, and still are to this day. They are a part of the human experience, so much so that they have been proposed by McKenna and others to have played a substantial role in the evolution our imaginations. Such a journey cannot be possible without a reverence for the plants that provide entry through the doors of perception, so it is reasonable to understand on that level, how such plants could adopt a ‘spiritual’ quality. The echoes of our spiritual relationship with herbs are still seen in religious ceremonies around the world but the ‘worship’ of plants, or the effects they offer, are considered ‘pagan’ and frowned upon by both church and establishment in general, such that today, for example, we find that the use of ‘sacred’ plants such as the poppy, once revered by the Minoans and Greeks for thousands of years for its prophetic qualities, is now completely illegal.

Shamanism: The Shamanic tradition has prevailed in humans for tens of thousands of years in cultures from all over the ancient world. As well as having a knowledge of the medicinal qualities of plants, other roles of the Shaman required them on occasion to communicate with the otherworld. Inducing the trance-state is one of the recognised traits of shamanic practices, and the use of mind-altering plants are one of the many ways in which such states are induced.

The idea of spiritual healers can be seen as recently as Middle-age Europe with monks also commonly operating as healers. Today the idea has been integrated into the Christian church, who also operates a system of ‘spiritual healing’, something which has been shown in an experiment to be successful whether or not the recipient is aware of the sender’s wishes. Herbs are still used in many religions. For example, myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) and frankincense (Boswelliaspp) in Christianity, the Nine Herbs Charm in Anglo-Saxon paganism, the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) by the Tamils, holy basil or tulsi (Ocimum tentiform) which is worshipped as a goddess by Hindus while many Rastafarians consider cannabis (Cannabis sp) to be a holy plant. Siberian Shamans also used herbs to induce spiritual experiences. An example of this is the shamans in Siberia who used herbs and fungi such as the fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria).Herbs were also considered sacred in European pagan beliefs.

 

In the early Christian era, folk legend stated that Common Vervain (V. Officinalis) was used to staunch Jesus’ wounds after his removal from the cross. It was consequently called “Holy Herb” or (e.g. in Wales) “Devil’s bane”. Verbena or Vervain has long been associated with divine and other supernatural forces. It was called “tears of Isis” in Ancient Egypt, and later on “Juno’s tears”. In Ancient Greece, it was dedicated to Eos Ergine. Other European examples of sacred herbs include Yarrow and Mugwort.

The European mistletoe, Viscum album, figured prominently in Greek mythology and is believed to be The Golden Bough of Aeneas, ancestor of the Romans. The Norse god Baldr was killed by mistletoe. Mistletoe bears fruit at the time of the Winter Solstice, the birth of the new year, and may have been used in solstice rites in Druidic Britain as a symbol of immortality. In Celtic mythology and in druid rituals, it was considered a remedy for barrenness in animals and an antidote to poison, although the fruits of many mistletoes are actually poisonous if ingested as they contain viscotoxins.

 

Native American Medicine: The North American Indians are known to have believed that there was an intimate connection with plants and the medicine wheel. They believe that plants were given by the creator in order to heal people. Plants were used to induce spiritual experiences for rites of passage, such as vision quests in some Native American cultures. The four sacred herbs (of the four directions) are Cedar, Sage, Tobacco, and Sweetgrass. These herbs are used for smudging, cleansing, and for prayers. They each have their own medicine. Some of their uses are listed below:

Tobacco is the sacred herb of the East, the direction of Grandfather Sun, Eagle, and the Creator. We send our prayers up in its smoke, and Eagle takes them to the Creator. Thus, Tobacco also honors Eagle. Cedar is the sacred herb of the South; it purifies as well as pulls positive energy into your sacred space with its smoke. Sage is the sacred herb of the West, used in smudging to purify and to send prayers to the Creator. Sweetgrass is the sacred herb of the North, a purifying herb used to cleanse the mind, body, and spirit. These herbs are also used in Ceremonies, for various purification purposes‘.

The best known sacred herb used in Asia in ancient times was the inebriant ‘Soma’, mentioned often in the Vedas. The active ingredient of Soma is presumed by some to be ephedrine, an alkaloid with stimulant and entheogenic properties derived from the soma plant, tentatively identified as Ephedra pachycaul. In both Vedic and Zoroastrian tradition, the name of the drink and the plant are the same. The Rig-Veda calls the plant “God for Gods” seemingly giving him precedence above Indra and the other Gods (RV 9.42). The ritual of Somayajna is still held with unbroken continuity in South India. The Somalatha (Sanskrit: Soma creeper) which is procured in small quantities from the Himalayan region is used to prepare Soma rasam or Soma juice. It is also used in these areas in Ayurveda and Siddha medicine streams since time immemorial. Ayurveda is an ancient Hindu medicine system at least 2000 years old. It stresses the use of plant-based medicines and treatments including the “treatment of mental diseases supposed to be produced by demoniacal influence”.

   Magical Herbs:

In ancient times, herbalism was a mixture of medicine and magic. Magic being anything that could not be explained within the margins of known science. Herbs have been used in ‘magical’ rituals for millennia and are one of the main tools of magicians.

It was the belief of the ancients that all things were connected with nature and the universe and comprised of the four elements (fire, earth, air and water) and the dual energies (masculine and feminine/yin and yang). It was also believed that all things were influenced by a particular planet and influenced by its respective qualities. The human body was seen as a miniature replica of our solar system with each body part and system symbolically representing a sign and planet. Hence, the planetary correspondences and elemental natures were established by observing what condition a plant was effective for and this was detailed within the pages of “The Doctrine of Signatures”  or “Signatura Rerum” as one aspect of herbal medicine.

The Doctrine of Signatures is a philosophy shared by herbalists from the time of Dioscorides (c. 40 – 90 AD), that contends that every plant has a pattern which resembles a body organ or physiological function and that these patterns act as a signal or sign as to the benefit the plant provides. Paracelsus (1491–1541) developed the concept and published it in his writings. The writings of Jakob Böhme (1575–1624) spread the doctrine of signatures – Böhme suggested that God marked objects with a sign, or “signature”, for their purpose.  A plant bearing parts that resembled human body parts, animals, or other objects were thought to have useful relevance to those parts, animals or objects. The “signature” may also be identified in the environments or specific sites in which plants grew. Well known examples include the following:

  • Kidney Beans actually heal and help maintain kidney function—and they look exactly like human kidneys:
  • Walnuts look like little brains, a left and right hemisphere, upper cerebrums and lower cerebellums. Even the wrinkles or folds on the nut are just like the neo-cortex. We now know walnuts help develop brain function:
  • The cross-section of a Carrot looks like the human eye. The pupil, iris and radiating lines look just like the human eye. Science now shows carrots greatly enhance blood flow to the eyes and aid in the general function of the eyes:
  • Celery looks just like bones. Celery specifically targets bone strength. Bones are 23 percent sodium and these foods are 23 percent sodium. If you don’t have enough sodium in your diet, the body pulls it from the bones, thus making them weak. Foods like celery replenish the skeletal needs of the body:
  • Avocadoes target the health and function of the womb and cervix of the female—they look just like these organs. Avocados help women balance hormones, shed unwanted birth weight, and deter cervical cancers. It takes exactly nine months to grow an avocado from blossom to ripened fruit:
  • Figs are full of seeds and hang in twos when they grow. Figs increase the mobility of male sperm and increase the numbers of Sperm as well to overcome male sterility:
  • Slice a Mushroom in half and it resembles a human ear. Mushrooms have been found to improve hearing, as mushrooms are one of the few foods that contain vitamin D. This particular vitamin is important for healthy bones, even the tiny ones in the ear that transmit sound to the brain:
  • Ginger, commonly sold in supermarkets, often looks just like the stomach. So it is interesting that one of its biggest benefits is aiding digestion. The Chinese have been using it for over 2,000 years to calm the stomach and cure nausea while it is also a popular remedy for motion sickness:
  • Sweet Potatoes look like the pancreas and actually balance the glycemic index of diabetics:

 

Herbs and Astrology.

The connection between the celestial skies above and the growth cycles of plants and vegetation below has long been understood and honoured through planting and harvesting rituals. An association with astrology and herbs can be traced back through the writings of the Greeks, such as the herbalists Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna, who regarded those as ‘homicides’ who were ignorant of Astrology. Paracelsus, indeed, went further, he declared, a Physician should be predestinated to the cure of his patient and the horoscope should be inspected, the plants gathered at the critical moment. Nicholas Culpeper, author of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (1653) remains the most well known of these Herbalist/Astrologers today.

Herbs and Their Ruling Planets (1653)

The following herbs and their ruling planets were extracted from: ‘Culpeper’s Complete Herbal’, (1653).

  • Venus: Peppermint, Rose, Thyme, Burdock, Catnip, Colt’s Foot, Lady’s Mantle, Motherwort, Mugwort, Penny Royal, Raspberry, Yarrow, Elder, Feverfew, Mallow, Tansy, Plantain.
  • Mars: Aloe, Basil, Black Pepper, Pine, Blessed Thistle, Hops, Nettle, Cayenne Pepper, Garlic, Self-Heal, Hawthorn, Broom, Wormwood, Barberry, Tarragon, All-Heal, Nettle.
  • Sun: Chamomile, Celery, Juniper, Rosemary, Angelica, Lovage, Rue, St. Johns Wort, Bay Laurel, Eyebright, Butterbur, Mistletoe
  • Moon: Clary Sage, White Willow, Chickweed, Cleavers
  • Jupiter: Jasmine, Lemon Balm, Sage, Borage, Chervil, Dandelion, Hyssop, Meadowsweet, Bilberry, Agrimony, Costmary, Melissa.
  • Saturn: Comfrey, Shepherd’s Purse, Mullein, Hemp/Cannabis.
  • Mercury: Caraway, Dill, Fennel, Lavender, Marjoram, Myrtle, Oregano, Liquorice, Parsley, Valerian, Horehound, Flax, Carrot, Sweet Marjoram.

Hawthorn 101

During the month of February, when all marketing seems to center on triumphs of the heart, it’s important to remember that not every heart is celebrating Valentine’s Day; many hearts need physical and emotional nurturing. That’s when we herbalists love to sing the praises of hawthorn, one of the nature’s resilient trees and Western herbalism’s most widely used plants for promoting heart health.* Beloved around the world since the time of the ancient Chinese, Greeks and Native Americans, hawthorn remains a staple in herbal apothecaries as a tonic and natural support for all things related to the heart.

The hardy Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) consists of over 280 species whose dense, thorny, deciduous trees thrive in temperate climates.  A member of the rose family, the plant blooms clusters of pink or white flowers in the late spring, which then give way to red berries, called “haws,” in late summer.

An important species in Traditional European Herbal Medicine. Native to Europe, Asia, and North America, Hawthorn often gathers into thick hedgerows, used throughout history for their strength to enclose pastures and meadows. In fact, historians claim that the ancient hedgerows in France’s Normandy region were so robust that they made the D-Day Battles of World War II even more challenging. Some hawthorn plants can live for up to 200 years.

tm_embed_hawthorn101_ssHawthorn lends its innate resilience to the circulatory system in countless ways. As hearty as it is hardy, herbalist Rosemary Gladstar writes that hawthorn’s haws, leaves, and flowers contain beneficial flavonoids and procyanidins “to feed and tone the heart.” Flavonoids help promote everyday wellness and support heart health, while procyanidins, as condensed tannins, add a protective benefit much like red wine grapes. What’s more, herbalists believe that the energetic properties of hawthorn can help lift the spirits from heartbreak and grief.

First praised by the ancient Greek physician Dioscorides in the first century A.D. and in the ancient Chinese herbal, Tang-Ben-Cao, in 659 A.D., hawthorn has since held an affectionate place in herbalists’ hearts. Beyond herbal medicine, hawthorn has also played a role in herbal folklore to ward off evil spirits. To shield newborn babies from harm, the Romans would hang hawthorn sprigs over cradles. Other pagans strung hawthorn flowers into garlands for use in May Day celebrations. Early Christians associated the plant with Jesus’ crown of thorns and hung it over doorways for protection during the Middle Ages.

Whether physical, emotional or spiritual, hawthorn’s herbal powers seek to protect and support matters of the heart.

hawthorn-flowersHawthorn

Crataegus oxyacantha
or
Crataegus monogyna

Also, Known As:

  • English Hawthorn
  • Haw
  • Hawthorn
  • May
  • May Blossom
  • Maybush
  • May Tree
  • Quick-set
  • Shan-cha
  • Whitethorn

The herb called the hawthorn is one of the best herbal remedies to boost the performance of the heart and the human circulatory system in general. A potent vasodilatory action can be induced in the human body by the flowers, leaves and the berries of the hawthorn. When these parts of the herb are consumed, they open up the arteries to promote circulation and improve the blood supply to all the general tissues in the body. Regular supplementation with this herb can thus help bring some balance blood pressure and it is considered to be an excellent remedy for the treatment of high blood pressure – especially when the condition is connected to hardening in the arteries of the person. Problems such as those connected to poor circulation caused by aging arteries, problems of poor circulation towards the lower body and legs as well as problems like poor memory and confusion induced by a poor blood circulation to the brain can all be remedied by supplementation with the hawthorn herb. The herb also has an effective and remedial effect in angina cases, the hawthorn based remedies can help open the coronary arteries in the heart and by so doing aid in the improvement of blood flow to the heart, and this herb also softens deposits in the arterial system. The vagus nerve which influences the cardiac muscles is also beneficially affected by the hawthorn herbal remedies, the consumption of this herb can thus slow down irregularities in the heart and reduce a rapid or fast heart rate in a patient. It can be said that herbal remedies made from the hawthorn are ideal for most heart conditions affecting people.

hawthorn-fruitHawthorn berries possess a potent and effective astringent effect – this is very effective in the treatment of problems such as diarrhea and dysentery in patients. The digestive system also benefits due to the relaxant action possessed by the hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries – the herbal remedy also boosts the appetite. At the same time, it acts in relieving abdominal distension and in the removal of stagnation of food in the intestinal tract. Hawthorn herbal remedies also have an effective relaxing effect on the functioning of the nervous system, the herb aids in relieving excessive stress and anxiety, it helps in calming mental agitation, it lessens restlessness and reduces nervous palpitations. The herb also induces sleepiness in people affected by insomnia. The herbal remedies made from the hawthorn also have a diuretic action on the body, it aids in relieving fluid retention in the body and helps dissolve deposits of kidney stones and gravel. The herb is helpful to women in menopause, as it aids in removing debility or night sweats in those affected by them. The hawthorn berries can be made into a herbal decoction, which can be used as an astringent gargle for sore throats as well as a herbal douche for women affected by excessive vaginal discharges.

hawthorn_tree

The hawthorn family of herbs is represented by a family of one hundred to two hundred related species of small trees and shrubs, found in the North American continent, with huge populations in the eastern part of the United States of America. This family of related plants has a very confusing and difficult taxonomy. Though no longer used for most, the hawthorn herb was initially divided into many species. At least 1,100 specific names were published, most of which are no longer accepted. At the same time, many different varieties of the plant are recognized, and hybrids of the herb do exist in the wild. The hawthorn family serves as an important source of food for wildlife; these plants also serve as foliage and cover for animals. The many species which bear fruits that can persist over the winter are particularly of great value to different animal communities in the forest. The many varieties of the hawthorn are utilized in environmental plantings in many forestation projects. Hawthorn plants are very hardy and can tolerate conditions in many different sites with a variety of climatic and soil conditions, due to this, the plants have been planted for stabilizing river banks, and have also been used to shelter reverie belts, as well as being used for erosion control of the soil.

 

Most members of the Hawthorn family of plants are characterized by the presence of thorny twigs and branches, while a few species bear no spines whatsoever. Hawthorn plants bear leaves singly on the branches; these are simple leaves that are borne in alternate rows along the axis of the plant – all of them in different degrees of lobing and varying shapes and serration. The hawthorn family is characterized by bearing very conspicuous flowers, these flowers have five creamy coloreds to pinkish blossoms. The hawthorn flowers are an important part of the history and lore of the United States – for example, the Pilgrims’ ship, the Mayflower, is named after hawthorn flower. The hawthorn flowers normally grow in fragrant clusters during the midsummer, thriving in flattish and terminal groups on the branches. Hawthorn also gives out fruit each season, these are small and resemble apples, and they are characteristically tipped with the remnants of the outermost floral leaves. The fruits are really pomes, which is a fleshy reproductive entity of the plant. Hawthorn pomes have five seeds enclosed in the capsules. These pomes also have a thick outer fleshy layer that is markedly different in taste from one shrub or tree to the other – particularly when the pomes are raw. The size of each pomes or fruiting body is usually less than half an inch in diameter. The color is reddish, though sometimes yellow and rarely bluish, black or purplish. The hawthorn fruits have a high sugar and low protein, as well as low-fat content pulps.

Bulgarian medical doctors were reportedly treating patients with coronary heart problems using a fluid extract of the hawthorn according to British newspaper reports from 1969. These doctors treated patients over a period of six weeks, the dosage for each patient was fifteen drops of the extract dropped beneath the tongue two times every day, at least three-quarters of the group of sixty-two patients were said to fully recover from the treatment given to them. The use of the hawthorn berries in the treatment of problems such as heart palpitations, conditions like angina, as well as a problem like a stroke was also given in the report by the Sunday Times. The presence of organic compounds such as bioflavonoids, like the compound rutin and hesperidin as well as vitamin C, is believed to be responsible for the beneficial effects.

 

There are two major ways in which the Hawthorn acts on the human body. The dilation it induces in the blood vessels, particularly the coronary vessels, which leads to a reduction in the peripheral resistance and a consequent lowering of the blood pressure is the considered to be the primary action. This action of the hawthorn is believed to be responsible for beginning with a reduction in the tendency to experience sudden attacks of angina. The secondary action that the hawthorn induces is apparently a direct and favorable effect on the functioning of the heart; this action is very evident particularly in cases of heart damage sustained by a patient. The effect of the hawthorn extract is not immediate and the beneficial actions tend to develop very slowly over a period of time. The Hawthorn is also known to be toxic only at abnormally high dosages and is safe in low doses as a heart tonic. Hawthorn can be considered as a relatively harmless heart tonic, which yields beneficial results in many cardiac conditions that can be treated with herbal remedies.

 

The beneficial effects of the hawthorn principally accrue from a mixture of plant organic pigments called flavonoids, these chemicals are present in high quantities in many different parts of the herb body. The greatest chemical and physiological actions seem to be displayed by the compounds known as oligomeric procyanidins – or the dihydro catechins. A strong sedative action is also displayed by these chemicals which suggest a beneficial action on the central nervous system in general. The various hawthorn’s based herbal preparations said to possess significant therapeutic value has been recently defined by the German Commission E. In the year 1994, the German commission published a revised monograph that recognizes a herbal preparation containing fixed combinations of hawthorn flowers, leaves, and fruits, the monogram also recognized herbal preparations made from the leaves and flowers for use in various treatments. These two herbal extracts are both formed from water and alcohol mixtures with the herb to extract ratio at approximately 5-7:1 per volume. These two herbal hawthorn preparations have been calculated to deliver from 4 mg to 20 mg of flavonoids – that is based on the hyperoside content – and from 30 to 160 mg of the oligomeric procyanidins – based on the epicatechin content – in a single daily hawthorn extract dosage amount of 160 to 900 mg. The dosages are pre-determined by the physician after examination of the patient. A usual dosage period of these oral forms are extended for at least six weeks and can be longer on a case by case basis. Though unsupported by any major clinical study, the usage of other hawthorn preparations, including a well-known alcoholic extract made using only the leaves or the flowers may also prove effective and useful in many cases. As the effectiveness or safety of some preparations made from hawthorn leaf, berry, or flowers alone in the form of mono-preparations have not been documented – such therapeutic claims must be ignored till further study.

 

These findings may be defeated or substantiated by further scientific studies. As the hawthorn remedies are potentially very valuable in the treatment of many disorders and conditions in the body, the need for immediate scientific studies is apparent and urgently needed. All the side effects and potential dangers of using hawthorn medications must be considered by patients till additional research is carried out, this particularly concerns all prospective users of the hawthorn for serious heart and circulation conditions. Most people who self-prescribe their medications tend to do so following self-diagnosis of the symptoms. There is a great deal of danger involved with this practice particularly when the vital systems of the human body such as the heart and the blood vessels are concerned. Therefore, due to such reasons, the use of hawthorn remedies without the diagnosis of a professional clinician is not suggested – there may be a side effect and other dangers.

Plant Parts Used:

Flowering tops, berries.

Remedy Uses:

Remedies made from the hawthorn plant were traditionally used for all sorts of kidney and bladder stones in Europe. The herbal hawthorn also saw use as a diuretic in the herbal medicine system of medieval Europe. The writings of herbalists such as Culpeper, Gerard, and K’Eogh have all listed the various uses of the herb in herbal literature spanning the 16th to 18th century. An Irish physician successfully used the hawthorn for treating his patients for all kinds of circulatory and cardiac problems near the end of the 19th century – this is the reason that the hawthorn is still used for these particular problems.

Problems such as angina and coronary artery diseases are still treated using the hawthorn remedies today. Hawthorn remedies are also useful for cases of mild congestive heart failure and problems of irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrhythmia. Results usually take some months to show themselves, though the medication is known to work well in a large number of cases. A lot of time is required for the beneficial results to show, similar to the action of many other therapeutic herbs, the hawthorn also works primarily through the body’s own’ physiological processes, changes thus take time and months may go by before results begin to show.

The ability of the hawthorn remedy to reduce high blood pressure is of great therapeutic value, the herbal remedy also raises low blood pressure at the same time. The ability of the Hawthorn to restore blood pressure to normal ranges is also highly praised by many herbalists.

Hawthorn is also often used combined with the ginkgo to enhance memory and boost retentive power. The actions of the herb primarily lie in its ability to improve the circulation of blood inside the head, this results in an increase in the amount of oxygen flowing to the brain and this also results in improved memory.

Other medical uses
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Intermittent claudication
  • Swollen Ankles
  • Thrombophlebitis

The Habitat of Hawthorn:

In the northern hemisphere, the temperate areas covering pastures and hedges form ideal habitats for hawthorn trees. Cultivation of the hawthorn trees is usually undertaken using cuttings, while the Hawthorn seeds take upwards of eighteen months to germinate in plantations. In plantations, harvesting of the flowering tops is carried out during the late spring, while the hawthorn berries are usually gathered in the late summer to the early autumn each year.

Research:

There has been a fair amount of scientific research conducted on the hawthorn herb. The bioflavonoid content of the herb is considered to be the main source of the beneficial effects. Organic compounds like the flavonoids are responsible for bringing out the relaxation and dilation of the arteries – the coronary arteries in particular. The activity of these bioflavonoids is what increases the actual flow of blood to the muscles of the heart, leading to the reduction of the physical symptoms of angina in a person. A potent and efficient antioxidant action is also displayed by the bioflavonoids, the presence of these substances results in the prevention or reduction and the degeneration of the blood vessels in the body.

The effectiveness of hawthorn in the treatment of chronic heart failure has been confirmed in a number of clinical trials, the most notable one was a 1994 trail in Germany, where the ability of hawthorn to improve heartbeat rate and lower the blood pressure was clearly documented in patients.

Constituents:

Hawthorn contains flavonoid glycosides, procyanidins, saponins, tannins, minerals.

Recommended Dosage:

Most nutritionally oriented doctors prescribe the extracts of the leaves and flowers to their patients. The usual dose used is hawthorn extract that has been standardized to have total bioflavonoid content of about 2.2 % or with an oligomeric procyanidins content of about 18.75% per dose. The dosage used by the majority of patients is about 80 to 300 mg of the herbal hawthorn extract in the form of capsules or in tablet form, with dosage 2 – 3 times daily. The herbal extract in the tincture form at four to five ml doses is also taken three times a day by some patients. The suggested dosage for the traditional berry preparations is to take at least four to five grams daily during the treatment period. The results take some time to become manifest and the remedy could take one to two months to show maximum effect, and the herbal extracts are only meant for long-term treatment strategies.

Possible Side Effects and Precautions:

There is very little danger from the long-term use of the hawthorn and it is considered to be extremely safe for patients using it for any long-term treatments. Side effects from hawthorn use are also mostly absent and no negative interactions with any other prescription cardiac medications have been identified as yet – though the possibility always exists. Hawthorn herbal remedies are considered safe for use with pregnant women and in women who are lactating, as far as it is known the use of Hawthorn by such patients has no known contraindications. The safety of hawthorn remedies is thus guaranteed till further studies are conducted.

How Hawthorn Works in the Body

The main action of the hawthorn is on the functioning of the cardiovascular system, the organic compounds in the herb affect the regulation of the heartbeat, they affect the relaxation of the arteries, and they also aid in bringing about normalization in the blood pressure – these compounds are capable of lowering and raising blood pressure in the body. The herbal hawthorn remedies can be used to correct the symptoms of angina and in cases of coronary artery disease; they can help boost the flow of blood to the muscles in the heart of the person. The beneficial and medicinal effects of the hawthorn remedies are believed to originate from the presence of a combination of amines and the flavonoids in the herb. At any rate, the beneficial effects of the hawthorn remedies do not occur suddenly but take place over a period of time, and when taken over a period of months, the remedy can reduce symptoms, while also acting as a tonic to the heart at the same time. In the Chinese system of medication, the herb is often suggested for the treatment of problems associated with the digestive system. It is believed to help ease digestion of meat and greasy foods, and the hawthorn is also given in cases of stomach pain, abdominal distension, and also in cases of diarrhea.

Applications

Flowering tops:
INFUSION – The hawthorn herb is often prepared into a herbal infusion, this is used to bring about an improvement in the poor or impaired circulation. It is also used as a herbal tonic for various problems of the heart. The herbal infusion made from the hawthorn can be used combined with other herbs such as the yarrow or the Ju Hua for the treatment of hypertension in different patients.

TINCTURE – The herbal tincture made from the hawthorn is often prescribed as a combination herbal remedy with other cardiac herbs and used in the treatment of problems such as angina, problems such as hypertension, and for all related circulatory disorders in the body.

Berries:
DECOCTION – The Hawthorn is also prepared into a herbal decoction using 30 g of the berries to 0.5l water. This is decocted for fifteen minutes and used in various treatments. This decoction can be taken for the treatment of diarrhea, or when mixed with the Ju Hua and the Gou qi zi for treating hypertension in patients.

JUICE – Hawthorn herbal juice is also used, this juice of the fresh berries is drunk as a cardiac tonic by many patients. The juice of the hawthorn berries is also used for treating diarrhea as well as poor digestion, and as a general digestive tonic for all patients.

Heart-friendly tincture

  • 1 cup (60 g) hawthorn flowers
  • 2 cups (500 ml) gin, brandy or, ideally, kirsch

Crush the flowers in a mortar. Pour in the alcohol and macerate for 1 month away from light. Strain.

Take 1 tsp. (5 m) in a little water every morning and evening before meals for 20 consecutive days to treat arrhythmia, hypertension and palpitations. To maintain the blood vessels in general, follow this same treatment at the start of each season.

Why Heirlooms Matter…

For hundreds of generations, humans all over the planet have been growing crops and saving seeds from their best plants to sow the following season. No one had a degree in horticulture, and it’s safe to say the vast majority of them couldn’t even read or write since most of the work was done before the invention of the written word!

What’s important is that these gardeners knew what they liked and needed and, over millennia, domesticated crop plants emerged. With each new season, these crops became a little earlier, a little more productive, a little more suited to the local conditions.

Heirloom seed types are thus products of their environment and of their growers’ selection. They are often superbly adapted to the conditions under which they were developed — as, for example, the drought-tolerant varieties native to Southwestern agriculture.

Such is the immense work that had already gone into creating these precious crop plants when scientific breeding work began, slightly over a century ago, and this irreplaceable heritage furnished the building blocks of modern breeding.

Modern science, giddy with its initial achievements, was quick to tout the alleged superiority of modern lines, which were often only a few generations removed from the original types received from various native peoples around the globe. A credulous public bought into these claims and within the space of a couple of generations, the old varieties were cast aside in favor of “progress.”

Today, something like 90 percent of the varieties that existed at the beginning of the 20th century is extinct — just gone, never more to return. So it falls to the generations living today to try to salvage the tiny fraction that remains, and then pass along, renewed, to our posterity. Hence the designation “heirlooms.” What another legacy could possibly be more precious?

The fact that heirloom plants are open-pollinated means that all individuals within a variety share a fairly uniform genetic makeup. This, in turn, means the entire population “breeds true,” so long as no outside genetics are introduced into the population. That’s a fancy way of saying: “You can save seed from heirloom types, generation after generation, just as growers have done for centuries.” You can’t do that with hybrids!

There are lots of great reasons to save seed. If you save seed, you have the comfort of knowing that you have a secure supply of treasured varieties, no matter whether they remain commercially available or disappear. If pure food is important to you, you know just how the seed was grown, because you grew it. If you make careful selections of the best-performing individuals to parent the next generation of plants, over the years you’ll actually be creating a distinct strain, uniquely adapted to your own climate and growing conditions.

Saving seed adds a new dimension to gardening because it allows the closing and repetition of a natural cycle right in your own garden. It puts you in the driver’s seat — you get to select for whatever traits and qualities that are important to you. You might also save some money over time, yes, but what’s more important is you’ll be stepping up to the plate and taking your turn in the endless chain of generations of growers and generations of crop varieties.

Lots of excellent books and articles have been written about the ins and outs of saving your own home-grown seed, including many in this publication. No very comprehensive instructions can be given in this article. There are plenty of details to be considered, and a little advance study can save years of trial and error. Fortunately, with just a bit of attention and planning, saving seed from most veggies is ultimately very easy. After all, your plants are all set up to make their seeds — you just need to know how to step out of the way and let it happen.

Seeds are produced within flowers. It’s surprising how often experienced gardeners have missed this one crucial point. Some flowers, like roses or squashes, are very obvious, even showy. Others may be inconspicuous, barely noticeable at all. But in higher plants, the basic process is the same: Flowers are the plant’s reproductive organs, and seed is produced only after an exchange of genetic material. The medium for this natural transfer is pollen. Pollen is produced within the flower and gets distributed by wind, insects or many other means.

Pollination has to occur for seeds to develop. Exactly how pollen is transferred makes all the difference in planning seed saving. The reason is simple: For true seed, the pollen needs to come from a parent of the same variety. If a flower receives pollen from a flower of some other variety, the seed will be “crossed,” that is, it will not come out a uniform to either parent. So you need to make sure that chance pollination is reduced or eliminated. This is most readily accomplished by isolating the parent plants by a sufficient distance that chance crosses with other types are unlikely.

The usual way is to isolate by distance; you simply plant your parent plants far enough away from other types so that chance pollination is unlikely. The distance varies from crop to crop — some crops, like common beans or lettuce, are almost always self-pollinating and chance crossing almost never occurs even when many varieties are growing in close proximity. Other types need more distance. Wind-pollinated crops like corn, amaranth, and beets need the greatest isolation distance, as wind-borne pollen can travel a mile or more!

Once you’ve protected your plants from accidental crossing, wait for the seeds to mature. Everyone knows what mature bean or pea seeds look like, but with some other types, you have to let the fruit mature longer than you would for eating. Cucumbers and eggplants, for example, are usually harvested in an immature stage for eating. To get seeds, you must let cukes mature until they are very big, plump, and usually soft. Eggplants need to undergo a final color change — purple-fruited types will turn brown, white types will turn yellow and so on. It cannot be overstated: To get good viable seed, you need to allow full maturity before harvesting.

Harvesting consists of collecting mature fruits and extracting and drying the seeds. Some crops will yield dry pods or seed heads containing dry seeds. Beans, corn, okra, peas, and lettuce are examples. You simply pick the dried pods and shell out the seeds, or with lettuce, gently pluck the loose dry seeds from the dandelion-like seed head.

Other types are mature while contained in moist structures like tomatoes, peppers, squashes, and so on. With these, seed can be individually removed from the fruits by hand. Or, to get larger quantities, whole fruits may be crushed or scooped and fermented briefly to allow the seeds to easily rinse free of the pulp.

In either case, be sure to allow your seeds to dry fully before storage. Beans and peas should be too hard to be dented with your fingernail. Squash and melon seed should snap when bent sharply — if they only bend without breaking, they are probably too moist. Allow drying to continue. A small fan can keep air moving around the seeds, securing the quick dry-down that is preferred for good viability.

Obviously, most seeds will be stored at least until the right planting time the following season. Successful seed storage is crucial because often you can save far more than enough seed to plant in one or two years’ gardening. Storing the seeds frees you from having to save seed of a particular variety every season. Instead, you can save seeds from other varieties, which over time allow you to build up a very valuable home seed bank.

The best storage conditions for most common types is cool and dry. A common guideline is to add the temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit) plus the relative humidity. The lower the number you derive, the better. But so long as the total is under 100, you have adequate storage conditions. The figures given at right reflect average times that various crop seed may be stored, retaining good viability, in ordinary conditions figured according to the above equation. Often, seeds will store much longer than this, and with correct freezer storage, most seeds will be viable for decades.

Because so many crops need to be isolated for long distances, not all crops are suitable for seed saving in all locations. But what you cannot accomplish in your garden, someone else can manage in hers, and the converse is also often true. The solution is simple: trade!

The original and, to some, quintessential organization to distribute seeds is Seed Savers Exchange. A modest annual membership fee covers publication of the annual Yearbook, where hundreds of members list varieties whose seed they have grown and saved. Other members pore over the Yearbook and order fascinating seeds. You don’t need to list anything to join and order from the Yearbook, and it contains thousands of incredible varieties, many of which are available nowhere else.

Seed swaps are becoming very common. They are often hosted by local garden clubs, university ag programs, FFA groups, homesteading groups — the list is almost endless. Home seed savers gather their carefully saved seeds and head to the swap, in keen anticipation of the horticultural treasures they hope to encounter. The excitement is palpable as gardeners talk shop. How bad was this year’s weather? How much isolation do you need to protect peas? Why did my squash seeds mold? Other local and regional gardeners are your best resource, and you come away from a swap with so much more than new varieties of seed!

Online gardening forums have recently begun to enjoy huge popularity. There are dozens of them — some general, others specific to a single crop, like tomatoes, a particular region, and so on. But one thing they virtually all have in common is they all have a board for seed trading. Trading is usually done on the honor system, but gardeners tend to be good people and the vast majority of online trades go off without a hitch. Here are a few to get you started (but there are plenty of others): www.IDigMyGarden.com, www.Forums.SeedSavers.org, www.TomatoDepot.ProBoards.com, and www.Tomatoville.com.

More recently, seed libraries have emerged. A centralized seed bank is developed, and patrons borrow seeds instead of books. When the season ends, they are expected to return a new generation of the seeds they borrowed, preferably in larger quantities than they received. This offsets the occasional failure to make a return, allowing the seed bank to increase. Here are a few: www.SeedLibrary.org, www.WestcliffeGrows.Weebly.com, and www.RichmondGrowsSeeds.org.

Every region of the country has a history of growing and saving seed of unique, locally-adapted varieties. In fact, until the advent of the mail-order seed industry in the late 19th century, almost everyone grew and saved their own seed, trading it locally. Though much has been lost, there are lots of types still out there, waiting to be re-discovered and shared with gardeners the world over.

Such local heirlooms are most likely to be still grown and nurtured in rural areas, especially those where per capita incomes are low, often being cultivated and renewed by folks who’ve never heard of “heirloom seeds.” Growers like these maintain their treasured lines because they are often better than one-size-fits-all, store-bought varieties. You are apt to find them at farmer’s markets and roadside stands. Or perhaps an elder in your own family has been carefully maintaining a family-held type for time out of mind.

Savvy home seed-savers keep a watchful eye because there’s no telling where or when something unusual will turn up. Don’t be afraid to ask questions — original variety names may be lost in the mists of time, but often these seed-keepers will know that a family member brought the seeds with them when they emigrated from somewhere else or at least will have some idea how long the variety has been in the family or the area.

Be sure to document as much information as you can, because people move or pass on, and a single chance encounter may be the only opportunity to learn the history of your “new” heirloom. Take notes, because memory sometimes plays tricks.

And if you are lucky enough to chance upon a local heirloom type, cherish it, nurture it and share it.

Here are some helpful definitions and tables that could help you increase your seed knowledge.


Heirloom, Hybrid, GMO

Heirlooms are open-pollinated varieties that have been around 50 years or more—sometimes, a lot more.

Hybrids are usually first- or second-generation crosses of inbred parent lines. For example, an F1 hybrid is not open-pollinated. That means that if you save seed from F1 hybrid parents, the plants grown from the saved seed will not breed true. Often they’ll be nothing at all like the parents, and usually will be markedly inferior.

Genetically engineered varieties (GE or GMOs) could be open-pollinated or hybrid but all have had their genes tinkered with, with genes added artificially, often from some highly unrelated life form, including animals or even people! In nature, such genes virtually never mix, so GMO varieties are entirely artificial, new forms of life.


Crop Isolation for Beginners

Amaranth — Wind-pollinated, isolate by 1 mile (but few gardeners grow it); may cross with wild amaranth (pigweed).

Beans — Self-pollinated, isolate common beans by 50 feet; limas, favas, and runner beans need ½ mile.

Cucumbers — Insect-pollinated, isolate by one-half mile, fruits should be fully ripe; they will be large, yellow or russeted, and usually very soft. Will not cross with melons or watermelons.

Eggplant — Self-pollinated, isolate by 50 feet, red varieties need 500 feet; allow final color change (full ripeness).

Lettuce — Self-pollinated, isolate by 12 feet, don’t save seed from early bolters; may cross freely with wild lettuce, pluck dandelion-like seed before it scatters.

Melons — Insect-pollinated, isolate by a one-half mile; seeds are ready when fruit is at the prime eating stage, will not cross with cukes or watermelons.

Peppers — Self-pollinated, isolate by 500 feet; allow final color change (full ripeness).

Squash — Insect-pollinated, isolate by a one-half mile; squash comes in four species, and the species rarely crosses with other species so you can do one each of up to four species in one isolated garden.

Tomato — Self-pollinated, isolate by 50 feet; potato-leaf varieties like Brandywine need 500 feet.

Watermelons — Insect-pollinated, isolate by a one-half mile; seeds are ready when fruit is at the prime eating stage, will not cross with cukes or true melons.


Seed Storage Times

Here are some common seed varieties separated into appropriate average storage times.

1 Year: Lettuce, onion, parsley, and parsnips.

2 Years: leek, okra, pepper, and sweet corn.

3 Years: Asparagus, beans, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, carrot, celeriac, celery, and pea.

4 Years: Beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, chicory, eggplant, kale, and pumpkin.

5 Years: Cucumber, endive, and muskmelon.


Read of Seed

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Depp

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth

Organic Seed Production and Saving by Bryan Connolly

The Heirloom Life Gardener by Jere and Emilee Gettle

Get Ahead of Your Garden: Start Seedlings and Creating A Garden Journal.

With a plan, some simple supplies, and the right care, you can get a head start on your spring garden by growing seedlings indoors.

Heirloom enthusiasts interested in rare varieties will love the benefits of starting seeds early.

Every gardener has particular moments that are his or her absolute favorites of a growing season — moments like receiving a much-anticipated seed order in the mail, harvesting the first of the spinach in spring, cutting into a ripe melon, or talking with fellow gardeners about successes and failures.

Me? I love the moment when my tomato seeds turn into strong seedlings, and I can brush my hand across the tops of the plants growing indoors and smell that glorious fresh tomato smell. It feels like a wonderful form of cheating getting to breathe in that lovely smell long before the heat of summer.

Seed-starting is an enjoyable process that affords many benefits to the home gardener. Here are 10 reasons to start your own garden seeds and 10 tips to help you achieve seed-starting success.

Why start your own seeds?

Endless Varieties. OK, maybe not endless. But your variety options will exponentially increase when you decide to start seeds at home. When shopping for starts at a garden center (or, more limiting yet, the garden section of a big-box store), you’ll typically find the same boring varieties over and over again: Big Boy tomatoes, Early Girl tomatoes, California Wonder peppers, maybe some hybrid broccoli. But in home seed-starting, the sky’s the limit. You can try all kinds of unique varieties, and match your seed starting to your gardening goals, such as wanting compact plants, out-of-this-world flavor, high yields, or disease resistance.

More Heirlooms. This goes hand-in-hand with No. 1, but it’s worth noting: Heirloom enthusiasts interested in trying all kinds of cool, rare varieties will love the advantages of having an efficient seed-starting setup at home.

Save Money. Purchased transplants aren’t cheap. One packet of seeds generally costs less than a single start at a garden center. To take that a step further, if you save your own seeds from open-pollinated varieties you start yourself, the next generation of seeds will be free to you. It’s true that to start seeds you’ll need to spend a bit of money upfront on supplies such as seed-starting mix and grow lights. But in the long run, you’ll save big bucks by not having to purchase your transplants.

Achieve Greater Success with Regionally Adapted Seed. Not every variety of every crop will thrive in every region. When you start your own seeds, you can choose varieties that are regionally adapted to your area, leading to healthier plants and better yields.

Give Crops a Head Start. You can start certain crops such as lettuces indoors, set out the seedlings as winter comes to a close, and then harvest heads weeks before you would have been able to if you’d direct-sown seeds in spring. (Bring a row cover into the mix, and you’ll be even further ahead of the game.) In many regions, the only way to grow certain slow-maturing crops is to give them a head start via indoor seed starting.

More Control Over Sustainability. The more self-sufficient you are in the realm of growing food, the more control you have over the sustainability of all activities involved. When it comes to seed starting, you can make a difference in several small but meaningful ways.

Consume fewer resources by reusing and recycling materials for seed pots. Use seed-starting mixes that don’t contain peat, which — even though it’s ubiquitous in the gardening world — is being harvested from bogs at an alarmingly unsustainable rate. Coconut coir made from coconut husks is a better option that retains moisture just as well. Finally, support seed companies using sustainable practices.

Nudges You to Plan Ahead. We all know that moment when life’s busyness gets away from us and we think, “Yikes — I need to start spring planting soon!” We’re thinking of compost, bed prep, seed ordering we should have done weeks ago, and on and on. If you get in the habit of starting seeds at home, you’re forced (in a good way) to think ahead, decide what you want to plant and what you’re going to start indoors, and order the seeds you need.

Goes Hand-in-Hand with Seed-Saving. If you save your own seeds — a worthy, wonderful pursuit for the self-reliant gardener — it makes sense that you would want to grow your own transplants. And, vice versa, if you’ve made the initial investment in a nice seed-starting setup, it’s that much easier and more inviting to dive into the science of seed saving.

Save Space in Your Garden. If you’re really tight on growing space, starting some crops indoors can help you take strategic advantage of every square foot of soil. For instance, let’s say you have a nice big patch of spinach you’re still harvesting from at the same time that you’re thinking of planting a couple of hills of cucumbers. Instead of choosing one or the other, start your cucumber seeds indoors. Keep harvesting from your spinach during the weeks when your cukes are growing into strong little plants indoors, and then, about the time your spinach will be thinking about going to seed anyway, you can hoe under that crop and pop in your cuke seedlings on the same day. (Choose a vining variety of cucumber and give it something to climb up to save even more space.)

Have Way More Fun at Seed Swaps. If you’ve ever been to a seed swap — or even just flipped through a lovely seed catalog — you’ve probably seen all kinds of intriguing, beautiful seeds for crops that don’t direct-sow well. Get the hang of seed starting, and you’ll never be held back again! I’m being a bit silly here, but it is truly nice to be able to swap or try seeds of all types.

10 Seed-Starting Tips

Create a Plan. One of my favorite aspects of growing my own seedlings is the wintertime planning. Just when I’m longing for days outside in the dirt, I can sketch out what I want to plant during the next growing season, read about new varieties I want to try, and create a calendar of when to start my seeds. Tomatoes, peppers (hot, bell and sweet), eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, basil, parsley, and onions are all perfect candidates for seed starting. These crops tend to do much better if planted as transplants and don’t direct-sow as easily.

If you have plenty of space in your seed-starting setup and/or if you have limited space in your garden, you can start lettuce, cucumbers, melons and squash, too. You’ll need to decide ahead of time what crops you’re going to start indoors and how many of each plant you want to grow (and have room for). Make a list, order seeds early, and map out a simple planting calendar.

Make Your Own Mix. Seed-starting mix needs to be a light-medium that holds moisture well. There are a lot of seed-starting mixes available at garden centers, but you can save even more money by creating your own at home (plus, mixing your own allows you to ditch peat and use coir instead). If you’d like to make your own mix, try this well-balanced, coir-based recipe:

• 18 quarts vermiculite
• 12 quarts coir
• 12 quarts mature,
• disease-free compost
• 3/4 cup blood meal
• 1/2 cup limestone
• 1-2/3 cups greensand

(Note: Coir comes in dehydrated bricks from garden centers and pet stores; the measurement here refers to the moistened, expanded material.)

Use Top-Quality, Regional Seed. To ensure the strongest, healthiest plants that will grow best in your micro-climate, choose high-quality, local seed. Purchase from local seed companies whose growing methods and business practices you trust. Look for those that do their own variety trials. Also, attend and get seed at local seed swaps, talking to growers about their varieties and seed selection practices.

Don’t Be Picky About Pots. While the grid-like seed-starting trays you’ve probably seen in stores work well, you can use all kinds of small containers to start your seeds: empty yogurt containers with a few holes punched in the bottom, seed-starting cups made out of old newspaper (plant the whole thing and the paper decomposes), and small pots you’ve saved from purchased flowers and plants. Also try making pots from eggshells, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, or even a seed blocker, a neat contraption that allows you to stamp out a block of soil that acts as a “pot.”

Do start in individual containers (or individual seed blocks) rather than planting multiple seeds in, say, a large, shallow tub; this will ensure that you don’t disturb plants’ root systems when it’s time to transplant them. In addition to individual containers, you’ll need a shallow tray in which to place your containers and hold water. You can use darn near anything for a tray — I’ve borrowed baking dishes from the kitchen for this purpose.

Get Your Timing Right. This tip, of course, harkens back to No. 1: If you sketch out what you want to grow ahead of time, you can create a quick calendar of when you actually need to start each type of seed. In general, start tomato seeds six to eight weeks before your average last frost date, start peppers eight to 10 weeks before this date, and start most brassicas such as broccoli four to six weeks before your last frost. Start a second round of brassicas for your fall garden about 12 to 14 weeks before your first fall frost. Check seed packets for specific varieties and for other crops to see recommended times for planting seeds indoors.

Plant Two, & Use a Pencil. I always plant two seeds per container and then thin the seedlings later. If I’ve made a careful plan and I’m giving the real estate in my seed-starting setup to grow, say, 10 broccoli plants, I want to be sure I actually end up with that many. So planting two seeds is insurance. When you thin seedlings, never pull the seedling completely out of soil mix. Instead, just use scissors and cut the weaker of the two seedlings at the soil surface so you don’t disturb the delicate root system of the seedling you are keeping.

When you plant your seeds, use a pencil to do so. Dump out some seeds onto a flat, dry surface, and then dip the tip of a pencil in water and touch the pencil tip to a seed. The seed will stick to the pencil, and then you can easily poke the seed into your pot of mix. Trust me — it’s like magic, and is so much easier than using your fingers for planting, especially if you’re dealing with tiny seeds.

Water Well. Be sure to keep your seed-starting mix moist as your seeds germinate and as your seedlings grow. Don’t water tiny seedlings with a watering can, as the force of the water coming out of the spout can damage the delicate plants. Instead, water by spraying seedlings well with a spray bottle or, better yet, by adding water to the bottom trays holding individual containers.

Lots of Light. You have three options when it comes to lighting up the lives of your growing plants: natural sunlight, fluorescent light bulbs and specialized “grow lights.” There are pros and cons to each. Sunlight is, of course, cheapest and least energy-intensive — but you need really strong light in a south-facing window to make it feasible. If your seedlings don’t get enough light, they’ll quickly become “leggy” (spindly and weak) as they put all their energy into reaching more light.

If you use fluorescent lights or grow lights, keep the tops of the growing plants no more than an inch away from the lights. I start my trays out propped up on several books, and then slowly take the books away to lower the trays as the plants get taller. Keep your lights on the seedlings for 14 to 18 hours daily; an inexpensive timer hooked up to your lights can help you ensure this range.

Cozy and Warm. To ensure good germination and strong plants, keeping your seeds and seedlings at a consistent, warm temperature. They shouldn’t get too cold, but they also shouldn’t get too warm — about 70 to 80 degrees is a good range. Some gardeners use an electric heat mat underneath each seed-starting tray, but I don’t think mats are worth the extra expense if there’s another easy way to keep the seedlings warm. Try placing your seed-starting setup next to a heat source, like a heater vent or radiator — and if you do start seeds in a sunny window, always place a curtain or blanket between the seedlings and the window during nighttime.

Always Harden Off. At least a week before you transplant your starts, start getting them used to their new home: the great outdoors. It’s essential to put young plants through this hardening-off period. Set plants out for a couple of hours the first day, in a protected location where they won’t experience rain or strong winds. Build up from there, letting your plants stay outside for a longer period of time each day. At first, limit the amount of time the seedlings spend in the direct sun because they can get sunburned. After they adjust to their new environment, they’ll be ready to live in the garden and provide you with delicious, healthy food.

garden-journal

Why Keep A Gardening Journal?

A garden journal can add to your gardening success and enhance your enjoyment of your gardening activities. Depending on how much effort you want to spend on the journal, it can record as little as what you planted and when. At the other extreme, it can record every minute activity you perform in your gardens, such as trimming, fertilizing, watering, and recording rainfall, temperature, and hours of sunlight. It’s up to you, how much information, or how little, you keep. It also depends on what you expect to do with the information later. I had some correspondence with one gardener who pooh-poohed the need for any kind of journal. This gardener wrote notes on activities and kept them in a big plastic bag for retrieval, should the need arise. Fortunately, there’s lots of room in gardening from every point of view. It depends on what you want.

Journal Types

There are several general types of garden journals, and you should consider which one will likely meet your needs the best.

Shoebox

This broad category includes everything from nuts to bolts, kept in a shoebox, bag, storage box, or any other format where retrieval is on a ‘dive-in’ basis. This type of journal works best for people who want to save ‘stuff’, just in case, but have no idea what they’ll do with it.

Garden Planner

This type of garden journal includes current gardening information and planning tools such as garden layouts, visual references such as pictures, and detailed information about bloom time, requirements, color, and design issues as well as gardening activities and observations.

Garden Organizer

The garden organizer journal is grouped by plant type or location, by color or season, or in another way that makes sense to you. Contents are organized in the chosen order, rather than recorded sequentially in date order.

Personal Journal

The best example of this a personal diary. For each day that you choose to make an entry, you start a new line right after your last entry. You make entries daily, weekly, or as you get to them. Usually, pictures and additional information are not included.

Photo Album

For avid photographers or gardeners who want to look at their garden even in the winter, this form of garden journal lets you store garden pictures, plant details, and activities. A popular use of this style of the journal is to take digital photos of your plants through each stage of their growth, inserting new pages as required. This can provide you with a visual image of what your perennials look like when they emerge from the spring soil, vs. what weeds look like so that you remove the weeds only.

Record Keeper

The record keeper format permits the most detail to be kept on each and every plant in your garden. It will likely include complete plant details, all activities, and permit as much detail as you want to enter. This style need not be in a binder but could be index cards in a shoebox, in alphabetical order, for example. It could also utilize an address card filing system.

 seed saving

Journal Styles

Diary Style Garden Journal

The diary style follows the format of a regular bound diary. The pages are usually unformatted so that you can write as much, or as little as you wish for each day, or skip days without skipping pages. Your notes are written in chronological order. While you can tape seed packets and pictures into this style journal, they will eventually over-fill the book and make it unattractive. This style is best if you want to simply record your activities and observations.

Formatted, Bound Style Garden Journal

This style garden journal may be formatted with a space allowed for each day, with specific contents related to gardening, or in other ways. It is bound so that you cannot insert pages afterwards. Notes are in chronological order. Again, an addition of enough seed packets and pictures will make the book very bulky.

Loose-leaf Style Garden Journal

This format of garden journal utilizes lined or unlined loose-leaf paper as its base. Its main advantage is that you can insert pages at a later time. Why would this matter? Well, if you want to keep all entries regarding a specific plant together, as some gardeners do, you will need to either insert pages as required or leave a lot of room after the initial entry, which looks really silly until it fills up. This is also a nice cheap method to create a do-it-yourself garden journal. See our instructions for a sample homemade garden journal. You can also use your word processing software to create and maintain your garden journal. Use of backgrounds like gardenjournal.gif will let you customize the appearance of your journal.

Web-based Style Garden Journal

There are numerous services for creating and maintaining a garden journal on the internet. With these services, your journal is readily available online to you at any time, and many services are free. A selection of templates is usually provided by the service, for you to customize your entries to suit your taste and needs, and you can choose to share your journal with others or keep it private. The advantages of this type of journal include your participation in an online community, and the ease of use, once you get used to them. The disadvantages include the need to be on the internet to make your garden entries or refer to past entries. Most services do allow printing of your journal.

Computer Program Garden Journal

This style of a journal is useful for the gardener who wants to look at gardening activities in a variety of different ways. For example, to see all activities for a specific plant, or all activities of a specific nature (eg fertilizing), as well as activities by date. Most computer garden journals also include a section for detailed plant records, as well. You will usually be able to print all plant records and journal entries in a variety of different sort orders, depending on how you will use your journal. You can also add entries out of date order. The Garden Management System gardening software includes a garden journal. With this program, you can view journal entries for with each plant, in date order, and in a variety of other sort orders. You can also print a page for each plant that includes plant characteristics and details, as well as all journal entries for that plant, as shown in the sample plant report.

What to Record

You can record as much, or as little as you want, in your garden journal. Just make sure it’s a fun activity, rather than a chore. Some suggestions for the kinds of information you may want to include are:

  • planting dates for seeds and plants
  • transplanting dates
  • source and cost of plants and seeds
  • any guarantees and location of bills (if needed)
  • weather particulars such as rainfall, frost dates, and results
  • plant characteristics, date of germination, a date they emerge in spring, the appearance of blooms
  • date of harvest (for vegetables) or cut flowers taken
  • date and type of fertilizer or other chemicals applied, and to which plants
  • observations

Garden Journal Sections

You may find it helpful to divide your garden journal into sections. As with all the other choices you’ll make regarding your journal, your choice of sections depends on how much information you plan to keep. Think about the gardening information you currently keep, and why you might consider a change. Then consider how to achieve this. Here are some possibilities to choose from.

  • seed packets – included with plant detail record or in a separate section
  • pictures – throughout the season or at peak bloom, included with plant detail or in a separate section
  • reference materials – articles, magazines, book list, and comments, any course materials
  • garden plan – to scale on graph paper, or drawn free-hand, laying out beds and plantings
  • daily activities
  • wish list – plants to consider for the future, possible architectural considerations like a pergola, hut, water feature or dry river bed
  • dried blooms
  • inspiration thoughts
  • websites you like and why
  • recipes for your garden harvest
  • supplier notes – who you like and who you don’t
  • costs – keeping all your gardening costs together can be an eye-opener at the end of the year, which can be a good thing or a very, very bad thing, depending on your viewpoint
  • Instructions for a Homemade Garden Journal

  • What You’ll Need

    You can include or exclude, any of the materials listed. We’ve included the purpose of each material so you can decide if you need it or not.

  • material for front and back covers. We suggest construction paper or something heavier. If you’ve got it, a water-resistant material would be nice.
  • graph paper for your overall garden plan and individual garden bed plans
  • full-page vinyl pocket pages, 3-hole punched, for articles
  • vinyl pocket pages with up to 4 pockets, for multiple pictures, 3-hole punched
  • photo album pages – 3-hole punched
  • 3-hole punched lined paper for notes
  • tabbed dividers – monthly if you plan to keep your journal in date order, or blank for you to design your own dividers
  • something to keep your pen and pencil in, while you’re in the garden
  • a means for holding your garden journal pages together, which might be a binder, ribbon, raffia or anything else that appeals to you.
  • different colors of paper for different seasons, or for different purposes, as you wish, making it easier to find things if your journal will be a fatty
    • journal paper – this can be plain white, lined, or designer stationery, formatted or unformatted – this is what you will use for your notes.

      How to Get Started

      If you have a large existing garden, it may seem overwhelming to begin keeping records, now. Where to start!

      • Begin with a rough hand-drawn garden plan, laying out your garden beds. We suggest one plan for the front yard and a second for the backyard. Do a third plan if you have substantial side yards.
      • Transfer the individual beds on your main plan to separate pieces of paper, and tackle each bed individually. It breaks up the task and lets you actually accomplish something.
      • Map groupings of plants, rather than individual plants, and make it really rough. You can do more detailed, scaled versions later.
      • If you plan to keep records of each plant or type of plant, you’ll want to create a separate page for each plant species in your garden, and record where they’re located as well as their descriptions, proper names, and as much information as you now know about them. Begin with a separate page for each, and fill them in later.
      • Take pictures of plants. If you have a digital camera, it’s a lot less costly over time, and you can take pictures willy-nilly, then pull them out later. Otherwise, at least, take pictures when they’re in full bloom.
      • Record your activities, including the creation of the journal.

      As a general rule, it’s a lot easier to get started and keep motivated as you begin your journal if you split big tasks into a lot of manageable little tasks.

      Garden Journal Templates

      We’ve included a few samples of garden templates you may find useful. Most are very basic and can be created using MS Word or any other word processor. You can be as fancy or as simple as you want. Just click on the link and either views the template in Word or download the template for free.

      2-box plain template
      named 2-box plain template
      plant detail garden journal template
      plant detail with clipart garden journal template

Imbolc in Dark, Cold Winter…

As the cycle of the year turns we are now at the half-way between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox at the point known as Imbolc, traditionally celebrated in the early days of February.

You’ve heard of groundhogs day? The legend about the groundhog looking for her shadow on February 2, is a vestige of an ancient divination technique to determine how long the winter would last. If she sees her shadow, she will retreat to her den as winter will continue for six more weeks, until spring equinox.

Imbolc in dark, cold winter can signify endurance in the face of adversity and scarcity: we may encounter fragility, tenuousness, uncertainty, darkness and despair beyond what we think we can endure. Women know these experiences. We have held both new life and death in our hands. We have wondered: will this child make it, will the addict live or die, will my lover come home, will I survive this loss? Will I be ok? Will there be enough resources to see us into spring?”

“I imagine our ancestors sitting in a circle at this time of year, with whatever sources of light they had, listening to one another. Just so, we are invited to sit circle together and share how we “are,” what we need, what is frozen, what is thawing, what is fragile. In the deep winter, we begin again. We say Yes again each year: Yes to returning light, to the coming outward time. We are saying Yes to the living of life again and whatever it may bring. I speak of Imbolc as a time of Faith.

Ginger: The Herb To Become Acquainted With For 2018.

Ginger’s Quality:

The quality of the original rhizome must be the primary concern for the person using supplements of ginger in their diet. At the same time, the ginger herb is a valuable supplement in a variety of supplemental forms. At the same time, the value of the rhizome and the supplemental quality will be less if the original material is old, is shriveled, was moldy or chemically treated in anyway, in such cases, the quality of the ginger will obviously not yield the herbal values comparable to a herbal ginger product created using fresh and organically grown rhizomes.
BenefitsofGingerAn extensive and exhaustive grading system has been developed over the years, so as to insure that the international supply of ginger products remains top quality – the standards adopted in this grading system are fairly rigorous ensuring only good quality products pass the test. Chemical exposure of ginger products is still an unfortunate issue, and one of the issues that require much greater attention as chemical contamination of herbal products is a severe problem. The exposure of ginger to chemicals can easily occur at many stages through the product development process, the ginger can become contaminated by chemicals during the stage of cultivation, chemicals can contaminate the ginger in storage and processing stages, and the ginger is often exposed to a barrage of chemicals, which can include lethal mercury compounds, all forms of chlorinated hydrocarbons, and all kinds of fungicides and fumigants, aside from insecticides and pesticides used during cultivation.
ginger_benefitsIdeally, the ultimate goal is to have an opportunity for examining the freshly retrieved ginger rhizome and to check these for possible chemical exposure before the processing stages and before they are made into powdered herbal ginger or other types of finished and processed products. This ideal check is not possible in most cases, and indeed it would be a very difficult or even impossible process for large-scale operations, for this reason, individuals who wish to use only likely uncontaminated products must try to place as their first choice only those products which are organically grown or those products that are certified and have passed many of the state and international organizations standards of food safety. This is an ideal step to take for all individuals planning a long-term therapeutic use of the ginger based herbal medications and particularly so when they are going to be using ginger in large amounts.
The ginger herbs are processed into a variety of products for the culinary market and this process begins with fresh or dry rhizomes; the finished products can include all kinds of ginger syrups, ginger based candies, ginger based jams, herbal capsules, herbal extracts, ginger fortified liqueurs, ginger pickles, cookies and ale etc. Different products made from the ginger have different and varied effects, for example, if the researchers noticed a ginger based marmalade might have had a dramatic impact on the platelet aggregation rate in the body, then the it will be inferred that the therapeutic principles inherent in the herb are obviously very stable or that they are resistant to the rigors of processing. For this reason, it is fair to suggest that each of the finished ginger products possesses its own distinct advantages in terms of herbal healing properties. As an example, the candied forms of ginger, may meet with objections due to its content of the sugar sucrose, this does not discount the fact that, if it came down to a choice between an artificially flavored and colored confection and the ginger candy possessing an actual health benefit, the ginger based candy will always be chosen. The appeal of ginger is therefore increased by the candied form of the remedy as it gives the ginger a wider, and much more mainstream market, thus the new adherents of this form of herbal remedy can now include people who may never have considered using the ginger as a health supplement in any form whatsoever.
ginger-health-benefits-uses-ginger-teaConsuming at least a combination of ginger-based supplements is ideal for patients, so as to receive good amounts of the beneficial compounds repeatedly confirmed by research, these include the gingerols – found in the fresh rhizome based products and the shogaols – which are found in the dry products, it is reasonable to assume, that a combination of ginger products in the supplement to include sufficient quantities of these two beneficial compounds. Different ginger based products will have varying levels of these two critical and beneficial compounds and this will depend a great deal on the processing methods involved. Distinct health benefits are endowed by the gingerols and the shogaols respectively. The gingerols as a compound class are much more potent and effective in the role of anti-hepatotoxics and anti-helmintics within the body, at the same time, shogaols compounds seem to be more effective in the role of anti-inflammatory agents in the body, and they also function as antipyretics and analgesics in the body at the same time-thus the two classes of compounds have distinct effects though they are found in the same herb.
The many uses of the ginger can be suitably studied from its use in the medical systems of China and eastern Asia. In Chinese and traditional Oriental medicine, the individual value of each different product made from ginger is confirmed in that the four different forms of ginger used in treatment – fresh, dried, steamed and roasted – are actually considered and classed as distinct herbal medications. So each form of ginger is prescribed only for treatment of a specific group of illnesses and for specific applications in herbal remedies. At the same time, one modern Chinese study has suggested that the four forms of the ginger have much more in common than traditionally believed, and the one may not need to consume every conceivable ginger product to gain some specific benefit – such a step will be complex and time-consuming, besides being expensive. During the study, among twenty-five of the vital compounds checked, it was discovered that there was only a maximum variation in three novel or missing constituents per herbal remedy – thus the similarity of different ginger remedies is very great.
ginger aleSome suggest that the fresh ginger rhizome has some intangible advantage over other types of ginger remedies and whatever the final form of an herbal product – the suggestion is that it is more effective as long as it was made using the fresh ginger rhizome. One may consider the delicate flavor of fresh cut ginger as being a distinct study in the culinary arts. The importance of the fresh ginger in cuisine and its remedial power and potency is underlined by the results of a recent fragrance test, during which it was found that fresh ginger scent can be detected by humans even at a dilution as low as 1 part in 35,000, this is in contrast to the powdered ginger which can only be detected by humans at 1 part in 1,500-2,000, if diluted beyond this the scent is lost – the fresh form is thus more potent in all respects. Fresh ginger rhizomes can be used in many types of herbal remedial measures and in many different medical applications such as to make hot compresses and as a culinary spice to flavor medicinal herbal tea. As far as possible, always use fresh ginger for any herbal remedy.
Many people who have used compresses made from the ginger have understandable names this herb as one of their most precious health routines and remedies during treatment. As far as topical treatments go and among all the myriad applications of the herb, the ginger compress can be extremely effective for the treatment of virtually all external signs due to underlying inflammatory processes in the body of patients, these can include the treatment of muscular stiffness and headaches of all kinds – the ginger compress is one of the best topical herbal applications. The compress is also an extremely valuable healing remedy for the topical treatment of swollen glands, for treating external problems in the chest region and for the treatment of head colds and disorders such as persistent stomach cramps.
The herbal ginger tea is believed to be a near perfect after-dinner drink and is an excellent fasting staple, it is also believed to aid in weight-loss and helps relieve pain and can also be used as a remedy against the cold. Prepare the herbal ginger tea, by using half a teaspoon of the freshly grated ginger rhizome into eight ounces of boiling water, mix these in a covered pot and let the herb steep in the water for 10 to 15 minutes at a stretch, this will allow the water to fully extract the juices from the fresh ginger rhizome. Once it has been cooled down, slowly strain the water and add some honey to taste to sweeten the tea. As an iced tea, the ginger tea can also induce a great tonic effect on the body.
ginger-tea
A variety of ways can be chosen, when adding some fresh ginger to the daily diet of any person on a course of this wonderful herbal remedy. Thus ginger can be added to different fruit and vegetable juices and as a part of the daily juicing routine with carrot and apple juices. Because of its high potency, the fresh ginger juice must be carefully and gradually added to the daily routine so as not to shock the system.
Undoubtedly one of the world’s most popular confectionaries, candied ginger is ranked high on the list of best confections. Candied ginger is usually processed using fresh ginger and plenty of sucrose, this form of ginger is very convenient when the need to take ginger exist during a period of travel and it can also be used as a delightful and effective digestive aid following dinner at night.
Ginger is also used in the form of honey-based herbal syrup; this form of the remedy offers a more desirable way of delivering ginger with maximum health benefits for the user. As a herbal vehicle, pure and unadulterated honey has a long and traditional history of utilized in this role of delivery agent for various therapeutic herbs and ginger is no exception to the rule, the honey endows extra value to the herbal remedy being used. The recipe for a ginger herbal remedy in a base of honey syrup is described in detail, and dates back to the early sixth-century A.D. this was the traditional use of the honey in herbal medicine back at that time. Ginger is moreover fortified by the honey, the substance gives the ginger its own range of excellent synergistic and healing values, particularly when the ginger is allowed to be infused into the honey using a low heat process. The ginger product is benefited by mixing with honey in many ways, the honey enhances the flavor of the herb, it aids in the preservation of the herb, and it can also be used for a variety of different ginger remedies and herbal applications. Furthermore, the honey itself possesses an intrinsic range of anti-bacterial, anticancer and antifungal actions, besides promoting wound-healing actions and having good anti-ulcer properties on the body.
The role of honey is to effectively enlarge the herbal ginger’s bactericidal and fungicidal properties. The addition of the honey also enhances the ginger’s anti-ulcer properties on the whole. At the same time, the honey has a good protective effect over the gastric mucosa and induces significant action against a bacterial species known as Helicobacter pylori, which is the bacterial species associated with the development of peptic ulcers in humans. Individuals concerned with the potential conflict between the use of honey and the effect on blood sugar levels during trials and in the candida albicans treatment programs, the gathered evidence suggested that the body tolerates honey significantly better than commonly consumed simple sugars such as sucrose. Candida albicans is also defeated by a distinct remedial factor in the honey.
At the same time that the herbal ginger and honey combination is being used, a health tonic or a cough or cold syrup, also made from ginger and honey can be taken by the individual in the form of a hot beverage or as a sweetener in tea, this can also be used as a culinary seasoning or even as a dinner table sauce, it can be used as a dessert topping or it can be mixed with some carbonated water for a nutritious and delicious homemade ginger ale – which can be taken at any time.
Prepare your own unique ginger syrup, by adding a part of fresh grated or juiced ginger, into three parts honey and then refrigerate the two together. You must ensure that you peel the ginger rhizome; this will result in the extension of the vital properties of the herb and will prevent the chances of fermentation from occurring at the same time. Usually, about one to two teaspoons of this syrup can be added for every eight ounces of carbonated or hot water to make the drink.
The exceptional herbal benefits of ginger can be experienced in one of the most versatile and powerful ways of using it in the form of a dehydrated herbal powder. Used in this form, ginger can benefit a person by providing two of the essential and principal values of the herb:
  • Used in this form, the herb is up to ten times the concentration that is normally seen in certain fresh ginger elements.
  • This is one of the most novel and therapeutic herbal compounds. As a general rule, the powdered down ginger contains far more nutrients than other forms of the herb, as a consequence of the removed moisture, far more important is that this powder is likely to possess far more and higher levels of the compounds known as shogaols, these compounds are supposed to possess more of the ginger’s very significant aspirin-like painkilling qualities.
The high-quality beneficial effects of the powdered ginger form have been verified during studies, and the powdered herb can be effectively taken for the treatment of both internal and external injuries. The powdered form of the ginger can also be used in a lot of the remedial applications where the fresh form is normally used, these include herbal compresses, it can be used to make ginger herbal tea and in cooking dishes. The herbal powdered ginger can be used in the form of capsules, or it can be consumed by the teaspoonful in any food or in liquids such as juices, this form of the herbal remedy provides the best anti-inflammatory effects during treatment and it is also a very excellent all spectrum treatment for various problems with the digestive system, and it can also be used as a cardiovascular tonic – and has very beneficial protestant properties over the body. The herbal ginger powder can also be used for external treatments as a topical compress or it can be used to infuse bath water, the ginger powder induces a very powerful and stimulating effect on the body, it also possesses transdermal and aroma-therapeutic effects on the body. At the same time, the herbal ginger powder is also excellent for use as a moistened chest compress, it can also be added by the tablespoon to infuse hot bath water for the topical treatment of various muscle strains and to treat the symptoms of a cold. The herbal ginger powder can also be used to make an excellent chest compress, prepare the powdered ginger by simply moistening about 2-3 teaspoons using a little hot water and then spread this slowly over a hot and wet cotton towel – this can then be applied directly to the affected parts of the body. The amount of ginger to use in cases of sensitive skin must be low, in such cases, the herbal build up must be slow and application sustained over a long period of time.
Herbalist and traditional medical practitioners, as well as modern researchers, recognize alcohol to be an excellent extraction agent for the beneficial properties of all herbs and herbal extracts. Dried ginger derived double-macerated or highly potent alcohol ginger extract can give all the benefits of this form of the herbal remedy, and also includes very significant levels of the beneficial compounds known as shogaols. The juice of fresh ginger can be added to the mixture so as to maximize or balance the full benefits of the alcoholic ginger extract. A dual purpose is served by the addition of the ginger juice, the juice will complement the dryness in the remedy as it has unique fresh elements such as the compounds called the gingerols, at the same time, the juice will also enable a lowering of the final alcoholic concentration to a safe level, which the majority of individuals will find tolerable.
Convenience and concentration of the herb are the principal benefits inherent in the extracted form of the herbal remedy. The full range of benefits will become apparent in the person, within a few seconds of taking a dropper full of the extract, especially when it is taken straight or mixed in a glass of water. There are some limitations to the utility of the extract, however, while it may not be practical to use the extract for purposes of cooking and to make compresses, it comes into its own as an exceptional therapeutic form of the herbal remedy and by and large, it offers the most comprehensive and immediate therapeutic response, which is very effective for the treatment of various digestive disorders or in the treatment of the symptoms of the cold.

Ginger {Zingiber officinale}

Also, Known As:

  • African Ginger
  • Ardraka
  • Black Ginger
  • Chiang
  • Gan-jiang
  • Ginger
  • Nagara
  • Race Ginger
  • Shen-jiang
  • Sunthi
Zingiber officinale, the official name of the common ginger was coined by the famous eighteenth-century Swedish botanist and general naturalist, Carl Linnaeus. While Latinizing the name, Carl Linnaeus also derived the name Zingiber for the generic term, using the Indian Sanskrit name for ginger – singabera, or shaped like a horn.
About 1,400 species of plants are placed in the family Zingiberaceae and the ginger is just another of these plants. It shares equal honors with other famous family members, the spices turmeric – which is a principal component used in curry; it is also a herbal medicine – and the spice cardamom – used extensively in South Asian cuisine. The ginger has a slender stem; ginger is a perennial plant, about 24 to 39 inches in height. Compared to the second and following stems, the first stems are lengthier and also bear beautiful and fragrant flowers. The ginger flowers are greenish yellow and streaked with purple down the sides. Dark green ginger leaves are characterized by a famous midrib that is sheathed at the growing base. The seeds of the ginger appear in the rare fruiting body.
The underground stem of the ginger is the most familiar part of the plant and it is extensively used for commercial as well as domestic purposes. Often mistakenly called the root of the ginger, the irregular shape and size of the underground section of the stem is the most important part of this herb – the plant stores food reserves in this underground stem. The botanically correct term to apply to the underground stem is rhizome, even if the ginger will probably always be associated with the term root by common people. Whole new ginger plants can self-generate from budded sections, and property of the rhizome is very different to a root, which will die if split into sections. Cultivation of the ginger has been made possible by these buds in the rhizome and the plant has been cultivated in this way for thousands of years. The habitat most suited to the cultivation of ginger is one with a hot and moist climate with some shade; ginger also prefers soil that is well tilled and rich in loam. The rhizome is white to yellow in color and bears thick lobes – it is also very aromatic, a property used in culinary and herbal processes. An unusual exception to this mild color range is one ginger variety, which has a characteristic blue ring, lying in circles inside the fleshy interior – this is one of the most prized varieties of ginger.
Today, the ginger is the most widely cultivated spice around the world. A lot of countries and regions cultivate this spice and different opinions exist as to who grows the best ginger. Any favoritism of a particular variety of ginger is purely a matter of personal taste, as the ginger appears in countless varieties, shapes and sizes, India alone is said to have an estimated fifty varieties of this versatile herb. Depending on the conditions of the soil and the manner of its cultivation’s, each and every variety of the ginger possesses its own distinctive flavor and aroma. Africa is reputedly the home of the most pungent ginger, while the milder varieties are grown mainly in China. The general agreements is that culinary applications will likely use milder ginger varieties, while the stronger and more pungent varieties are best to prepare ginger beverages and for use in therapeutic herbal remedies.
Oral anti-coagulants are normally prescribed to individuals who suffer from frequent blood clots to help keep their blood free from clots. The compound known as warfarin sodium commonly called coumadin, is one of the most frequently used medications in this regard. This compound is also a potent rat poison and taking it in high doses can cause serious internal hemorrhages in the body, especially if it is used over an extended period of time by the person. The ideal substitute for these synthetic blood thinners is ginger root, which can replace the role of this compound in the body. At least some individuals suffering from such problems who took an average of two herbal ginger capsules two times a day in between meals appears to have benefited.
Ginger-1024x682

Plant Parts Used:

Rhizome, root, essential oil.

Ginger Tea for Women:

This ginger tea is extraordinarily healing for all female organs and the intestines, as well as for stressed nerves and a sluggish metabolism.
  • a thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 1 cups (1/4 l) water
  • 2 cups (1/2 l) milk
Peel the ginger and grate or slice very fine. Simmer very slowly for about 20 minutes in the water. Now add up to 2 cups (1/2 l) milk and let it boil up. Remove from the heat and sweeten with honey or cane sugar. Ginger tea is best consumed in small sips over the course of the day, as required. In the morning and before meals it stimulates digestion; on cold winter afternoons it warms and protects from the flu. Many women take the tea after miscarriages or abdominal surgery, to promote the healing of the uterus.
Ginger tea is so effective against ailments of the reproductive and digestive systems because it stimulates circulation and supports a good blood supply to these organs. Bloating can be treated with this tea, by adding a pinch of cinnamon. In the presence of stomach ulcers, however, modest amounts of this tea are recommended and the quantity of ginger can be cut down. Similarly, in the early weeks of pregnancy, the further stimulation of blood flow into the abdomen is not recommended, so go easy on ginger at this time. Modest amounts, however, are a great remedy for morning sickness.

Candied Ginger:

  • 1 lb. fresh ginger root
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 3 cups cold water
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
Pare the root and cut into long narrow slices, across the grain. Cover with about 1 1/2 cups cold water in a saucepan and heat to boiling. Simmer 5 minutes, drain and cover with cold water again. Heat to boiling, simmer 5 minutes more. Drain. Dry well.
Combine granulated sugar and 1 cup of water in a small kettle. Boil 10 minutes. Add the ginger slices and cook over very low heat. Do not boil. Stir, and cook until all the syrup is absorbed, about 40 minutes. Remove the ginger, and dry on a rack.
Roll the cooled ginger in superfine sugar, and let it stand in the sugar until it has crystallized.
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