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Sunday, October 23, 2022

Milkweed Pods, Parachutes, Silk & Fluff


Milkweed is another one of those plants many a country kid recognized and came up with ways to use both the fluffy seeds and the dried pods for imaginative playtime. The pods became little boats, the fluff acted as pretend snow, the seeds became aviator pilots jumping with their parachutes, etc.

The milkweed family is Asclepiadaceae, named in honor of Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine. There are 347 genera and 2850 species but pictured above is Asclepias syriaca or Common Milkweed, sometimes called Silkweed. Common milkweed is the most well-known milkweed species native to North America. It can be found along ditches, open meadows, roadsides, places with well-drained soil and plenty of sun. 

A perennial with a deep taproot, to propagate by digging it up may or may not be successful. If this method is used it is best done when the shoots are small. For cuttings, snip a piece that includes three leaf nodes. Nodes are the spots where the leaf attaches to the stem. They are then stuck into good quality soil and kept moist but not wet or they will rot. Don't disturb them to see if roots are forming or they may die off.

In its natural setting, common milkweed spreads by underground runners or roots called rhizomes. Those runners don't travel that far, as the plants tend to grow in clumps, however as a whole milkweed can be labeled an aggressive spreader but not invasive.

In nature the plants also propagate by seed. Once done flowering, the seed pods develop into the perfect system for getting those seeds spread far and wide. Each seed is attached to what is called milkweed floss and that floss acts like a little parachute to be carried in the wind. The floss is called a natural windicator. This is a little tip for hunters to learn. By observing the direction the floss travels, the air flows show how the person's scent is being carried. 

The soft as silk milkweed floss used to be used for candles. The floss was carded and spun into thread which made excellent wickyarn. Candles burned with a clearer light and less smoke than those made with cotton wicks. It is said that the mountaineers of Virginia even made cloth from the outer covering of the stalks back during the 1700's. 

Milkweed floss is known for its natural waterproofing, insulating and hypoallergenic properties.

When the Europeans first settled in America, they would collect this "wild cotton" to use to stuff pillows and mattresses. It took about eight pounds for a mattress so its use is a thing of the past but another interesting fun fact is that during WWII when materials were in short supply, there was a demand for it to be used to fill life jackets. Many a civilian and volunteer organization foraged to find milkweed plants and farms grew large fields to harvest and send the fluff to collection stations. Milkweed floss is five times more buoyant as cork and a few pounds of the floss could hold up a grown man in the sea. It is warmer than wool and much lighter. Flying suits lined with this floss are warm and lightweight so if an aviator or sailor falls into the ocean, he could stay afloat. 

To plant the seeds yourself, remember that they need to be exposed to winter cold before they can germinate. The best time to plant is late October or November when it is cold enough that the seeds won't sprout but not so cold that the ground is frozen.

Scatter them on the ground and lightly scratch about 1/4" of soil to cover so they don't just blow away. 

The monarch butterflies thank you

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Sing a Song of Goldenrod, The Truest Bit of Gold


Willow trees are turning,
Maple leaves are burning,
Goldenrod's afire!
Fairy torches glimmer,
Woods are in a shimmer
And the flames leap higher!
November rain is all in vain
Down, down, it dashes.
O goldenrod! Goldenrod!
You've burned the woods to ashes.

Angelina W. Wray

Throughout the world, there are 125 species of goldenrod and 90 of these are found throughout North America. The top-to-bottom flowering of the spike-shaped goldenrods may be connected with their competition for attracting the attention of insects. As the autumn season progresses and flowers become sparse, the goldenrod is one of the few flowers left. 

The fascinating praying mantis can often be found amidst this perennial plant. In fact, it is said that the best place to find mantis egg cases is on the dead stalks of goldenrod. This is due to the fact that goldenrod is such a magnet for many flying insects drawn by the color, scent and nectar in these small aster-like flowers. 

Interesting is the fact that white-tailed deer have no desire for the taste of goldenrod, which is great since so many native plants are at risk for decimation from the overpopulation of deer. 

The generic name, Solidage, means "to make whole". In the world of plant medicine goldenrod certainly has its place. The Chippewas called it gizisomukiki which means "sun medicine".
It has been used for stomach issues, kidney health, pass stones, help with nausea, heal wounds and help with bronchitis and diphtheria. The leaves were chewed to help soothe a sore throat. 
The roots were made into a poultice for toothaches.

 The leaves were used for teas and wine and the more aromatic species were sought after at a high price back in the 19th century. 

People used to use the flowers to make yellow dyes for cloth. 

For people who see this wildflower as just another weed should know that it is actually the state flower of Kentucky and Nebraska. Perhaps the fact that it is so common and grows along the roadside, in meadows and fields is why people don't appreciate it. Or it could be because it is often blamed for contributing to the misery of hay fever, when in reality it is ragweed that is the culprit. They both just happen to be in bloom at the same time.

In the 19th century, goldenrod was a symbol of the United States. It was said to symbolize a country where the people rule, for many tiny flowerets are needed to make a prefect head, just as in our country there are many races to form this wonderful nation.

"The Last Walk in Autumn"

Along the rivers summer walk,
The withered tufts of asters nod,
And trembles on its arid stalk
The hoar plume of the golden-rod

John Greenleaf Whittier 

And last, for those who enjoy plant stories:

All Summer long, while other plants are flowering, goldenrod is steadily raising its single stalk towards the sky. Finally, around the middle of August the golden-yellow spires appear. Both a staff and a spire are included in the picture. It is like the tarot card showing a man walking along a road with a heavy burden upon his back, a walking staff in his hand. His head is bent down, so that he does not see a church spire rising in the distance which shows that is destination is within reach. The massage of goldenrod is to endure in order to reach the goal.

by Matthew Wood 
"The Book of Herbal Wisdom"

Friday, October 7, 2022

White Snakeroot and Boneset, how to tell the difference and why it is so important

White Snakeroot is a prime example of why it is so important to properly identify plants in the wild before foraging or deciding to add them to your landscape.
Though Snakeroot is a very pretty native plant, it has a sad history behind it.

       White Snakeroot (Ageratina rugosum) was at one time known as Eupatorium urticaefolium and similar to Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). Below are two videos with very good information on how to tell the difference between these two plants. Key differences are in the leaf shape and form. Snakeroot has its petioles in a lateral, horizontal formation with flatter, broader, pointed leaves and slightly hairy stems. Boneset also has lateral leaf formation but the leaves are perforated, which means it looks like the stem goes right through the leaf. The leaves are longer, narrower and turn slightly up at the edges and the stems are hairier than on snakeroot.

Boneset is considered a medicinal plant, whereas snakeroot is a toxic plant. The word Eupatorium means "of a noble father", referring to Mithridates Eupator, a blood-thirst ruler 120 to 63 B.C. Also called Mithridates the Great, he was an overly ambitious ruler of the Asia Minor kingdom of Pontus. He discovered that a species of Eupatorium was an antidote to poison and some say he was the world's first immunologist. 

Snakeroot contains a toxic alcohol called tremetol, which causes ketosis and is transmitted through the milk of cows foraging on the plant. Milk sickness, morbeo lacteo, or the "trembles". was a dreaded disease that attacked 19th-century farm families and their livestock in the South and Midwest. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, intense thirst, coma and then death. 
Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's mother, died of milk sickness in 1818. 
The cause of milk sickness was identified by an Illinois doctor, Anna Pierce, in the 1830's. She learned the identity of the poisonous plant from a Shawnee woman who was a fugitive from the forced relocations of Native Americans. The snakeroot roots were used by the Indians for snake bites but very toxic if consumed. However, the cause of milk sickness wasn't confirmed until 1917.

Dairy cows may still eat white snakeroot on occasion, but since their milk gets mixed with other milk in such huge quantities, the poison has no effect. Though poisonous, being it is a native perennial in zones 3-8, some nurseries offer snakeroot as a plant that does well in partial shade. 

This plant has its benefits in that being it blooms in late September into October, it is a food source for insects when many other plants have already gone to seed. 

A pretty plant, white snakeweed can be left alone wherever it turns up, as long as it isn't consumed. Deer seem to know this plant is toxic so if deer resistant plants are sought after, white snakeroot is an option. Just be careful with pets if they are young and prone to chew on everything.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Homemade Granola

Making your own granola puts you in full charge of what goes into it. The nutritional powerhouse list in this recipe can be altered however you want. Some people may want to add things like chia seeds, hemp seeds, oat bran, millet, lecithin granules or cacao nibs. As long as the general ratio of dry to wet ingredients is about the same you can leave out or substitute ingredients. 

Granola is a great way to get your family to ingest not only more fiber in their diet but the abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids found in these grains, nuts and seeds.


6 - 8 cups rolled oats 

(alternative or addition to oats can be rolled rye, spelt, kamut, wheat or barley)

2 cups shredded coconut

(I use unsweetened coconut but that is a personal decision)

1 cup wheat germ

(I use raw wheat germ but you can use toasted wheat germ)

1 cup ground flax seeds

(Whole flax seeds tend to pass right through the body so better to grind them or purchase them already ground. Once they're ground they oxidize so you'll find them in the refrigerated section of the store)

1 cup slivered almonds

1 cup hulled sunflower seeds

(I use roasted unsalted sunflower seeds but you can get them raw or salted)

1 cup pumpkin seeds

(I use roasted unsalted pepita seeds but you can get them raw or salted) 

1 cup hulled or unhulled sesame seeds

1 cup roasted soybeans

1 cup dried apple pieces

1 - 2 cups raisins (don't add raisins until after granola is baked)

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup honey

2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine oil and honey in a saucepan and heat till blended but don't let boil

Add vanilla extract

Stir wet ingredients into the dry ingredients till everything is coated with the honey/oil blend

Grease two large greased baking sheets 

(the type with edges makes stirring easier without making a mess)

(stoneware pans work very nicely)

Bake in a 250 degree oven 20 minutes, stir (edges bake faster so blend into center)

Bake another 20 minutes till developing a light toasted look to it, don't overbake or the mix will be too crunchy and dry once it cools.

Cool on sheets and then add the raisins

Store in an airtight container

Granola can be eaten in a number of ways:

As a cereal with milk

Sprinkle on top of yogurt

Make homemade granola bars

Eat dry as a trail mix type snack

Substitute for rolled oats in a cookie recipe

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Allergy Season, Irritated Eyes....Chickweed Relief


Plants that many consider weeds make their appearance with the first spring like days for reasons other than to annoy those who view these plants as nothing more than to aggravate the need for control over that perfect lawn. Before grocery stores offered off season fresh foods any time of the year, people spent long winters surviving on canned, pickled, dried or fermented vegetables. Those first signs of green were very appreciated and supplied much needed nutrition and system detox. 

Dandelions, violets, plantain, nettles, chickweed, deadnettle...all eagerly foraged and used for not only food but for medicine. 

Chickweed is one of those creeper plants hardly noticed unless one is looking for it or as a gardener, cursing its prolific ability to self-sow. Forming a low growing mat over any bare soil available, it is difficult to eradicate. While it is easy to pull out, its weak stems easily break off and leave spilled seed and roots behind. 

Chickweed is Stellaria  media which in Latin means little star. The little white flowers appear to be made up of five petals but look closer and you'll see each petal has a cleft to become ten little slivers. It is a little fun to get poetic and compare the little star to the cool evening sky. Considered a cooling herb, conditions associated with heat such as fevers, infections and inflammation, can be eased with the use of chickweed.

Seasonal allergy sufferers can get some relief from this little plant. Itchy, irritated, red eyes can be soothed by using a chickweed infusion or as an eye poultice.

To avoid the mess of dirt getting mixed in with your greens, use a scissors and give the chickweed patch a haircut. Cut a handful and chop into small pieces to increase the surface area. Add about 1/2 cup to a sauce pan along with 1 cup water. Bring to almost the boiling point and then turn down the heat to a simmer for about ten minutes. This makes a strong herbal tea or infusion. Strain out the plant material and cool. Soak a cloth in the infusion and lay over your eyes for about 10 minutes. An alternative to straining is to leave the chickweed folded in the cloth and use over your eyes like a poultice.

Do this a few times a day if necessary for soothing relief from inflammation, redness, burning and itch. You can cut extra chickweed and store in the freezer for future use. Chickweed dies back once the heat of summer kicks in so take advantage of it while it is abundant in the spring.

Chickweed in April

Monday, April 12, 2021




(Taste of Home...Beverly Collins)















In a large mixing bowl, combine the apples and sugar.

In another bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

To the dry ingredients add the cranberries, carrots and walnuts.

Add the apple/sugar mixture and mix well to combine.

In a small bowl, mix the eggs and oil.

Stir eggs and oil into the batter.

Fill about 18 greased muffin tins 2/3 full.

Bake at 375 F for 20 – 25 minutes or until a toothpick tests done.

Cool about five minutes before removing muffins.




(Taste of Home...Paddy Webber)
















In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

Stir in the carrots, raisins, coconut and pecans.

In another bowl, combine eggs, oil, apples and vanilla.

Add to flour mixture.

Stir only until combined.

Fill about 18 greased muffin tins 2/3 full and bake at 350 F for 15 – 20 minutes




Sunday, February 9, 2020

Comfrey, A Living Medicine Chest

Comfrey or Symphytum officinale is a must have for the garden, whether you want it for medicinal healing purposes or for vegetable and flower growing, it is an invaluable plant. A European native and member of the borage family, comfrey acts as a soil conditioner, weed barrier, compost booster and fertilizer.

A hardy perennial to Zone 4, comfrey thrives in just about any type of soil (though moist and fertile is best), is drought tolerant and grows fine in full sun to partly shaded locations. Seldom bothered by disease or insect pests it really is a low maintenance herb. It does need its space, as it can grow to a height and width of about five feet.

The large dark green fuzzy leaves are full of potassium, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium and iron.  A reason for this is it has a long taproot which takes up nutrients from the soil. The deep roots make this plant great for preparing a new vegetable or flower bed. The taproot acts as a clay breaker to penetrate compacted soil. 

The leaves can be spread around garden plants to keep down the weeds or they can be shredded first to form a mulch. To make a liquid fertilizer, steep the leaves in a bucket of water to form a compost tea. Do this outside, since the resulting "tea" can be described as none other than "it stinks". Anyone who infuses comfrey in olive oil to make an herbal oil for salves learns quickly that if they want to use the fresh leaves the resulting salve will have an odor. Taking the time to dry out the leaves a bit before infusing greatly reduces the risk of not only the smell but against spoilage. The fuzzy leaves of comfrey can be irritating to some people and cause contact dermatitis, so it is advised to wear gloves when handling them. 

Add comfrey leaves to the compost bin or pile as an accelerator, and be sure to turn the pile to thoroughly mix and combine everything.

Also, comfrey makes a great trap crop to lure slugs and snails away from other garden plants or flowers. Just remember its size so it doesn't choke out other plants.

The fact that comfrey is also called Knit-bone and Bruisewort makes it easy to remember the medicinal purposes of this herb. Broken bones, pulled muscles, sprained ankles, wound care and bruises can all use this plant to aid and speed up healing. Difficult to heal pressure sores or slow to heal wounds often respond amazingly well to the use of comfrey salves. Just remember to be sure there is no risk of infection and to let the would heal a bit for a day or two before applying. The allantoin in comfrey may cause the skin to close over too quickly, causing the outer skin to heal before the inner wound is ready. Wounds need to heal from the inside out. Don't use it internally because there is controversy about its effects on the liver.

Lastly, bees and pollinating insects love it! A win win all around!