Plant Rant: Frost Flowers!!!!

29 December 2011
This morning’s email report from Jim regarding the garden and the greenhouse:
“At 7:00 I was surprised that there are white conical and ribbonlike frost flowers, not a full inch tall but impressive. No frost on my win shield and possibly not at the top of the hill. I was racing to the frost flower Two burners and 45 degrees at 7:00”

Frost flower, Cunila origanoides, frozen forms taken 12/29/2011

Over five years ago, Jim and I transplanted  five frost flowers, Cunila origanoides, (L.) Britt. Family -Lamiaceae, from the nearby reservoir to the Toothache and Headache plot of the garden. Frost flower is found growing on dry rocky slopes and bluffs around the reservoir and uphill from several riparian areas in our region. Our five plants have dwindled to two remaining, and only one of them is lush throughout the growing season. Come winter, there remains just a skeleton of this mint with dried oregano scented leaves clinging to fragile and lanky stems. On frosty mornings, such as the one today that occur after a clear night sky and below freezing temperatures, the frost flower pushes up exquisite frozen forms out of the earth. These forms are ephemeral nature’s artistry. By noon, if the temperatures climb, they vanish. I was lucky to get to the garden today to capture their forms. I am attaching some of the photos and Jim’s earlier emails with his notes and information about the frost flower. I encourage you to locate a frost flower in your locale so that you, too, can witness this lovely curiosity on a frosty late autumn or winter morning:

Frost Flower frozen forms taken 12/29/2011

Here are Jim’s notes on Cunila origanoides:

NOTES (FROST MINT): I predict on Dec. 12, 2011 that we will have many ornate frost flowers lasting until noon at least on Dec. 13, 2011. Frost flowers apparently represent a freezing of  waters extruded or exuded from the roots; they can be spiral shaped, ribbon-shaped, volcano-shaped, shall we say pleiomorphic, and often irridescent. They can be quite pretty My guess is that they are most extensive after a hard freeze night, following a day when it got well above freezing. My guess!!. It would make a nice study for some volunteer whole is more cold tolerant, maybe even some slow motion photography. I predict that tomorrow And that they will last until noon before melting in the oblique sunlite.

Frost flower frozen forms

***Helen’s note: A search on the internet led me to an informative piece, Ice Formations Growing From Plant Stems by Dr. James R. Carter, Professor Emeritus Geography-Geology Department Illinois State University, Normal IL 61790-4400, which describes the process by which the frozen forms are created:
I am copying from:

 “As described on my master page, water in the stem becomes super cooled, meaning the temperature is below freezing but that ice has not yet started to form.  If and when an ice crystal, perhaps from the formation of frost, forms on the stem the super cooled water penetrates the stem and forms as ice on the ice crystal.  So the ice crystals on the stem continue to grow as super cooled water moves through the stem.

The openings in these stems are too small for an ice crystal to pass through but are large enough for water to pass through.  As long as the water inside the stem remains liquid the ribbons of ice can continue to grow.  But, if for some reason the super cooled water in the stem turns to ice the plant stem will be ruptured.  A number of authors mention ruptured stems.” 

Frozen ribbons exploding out of Frost flower, Cunila origanoides, stem

Back to Jim:

Here is what I wrote  last year “ Here it is fall of 2010. Both of my TAI classes agree. My frost mint smells better culinarily than my oregano in the garden or in my spice rack. But most Americans do not even know my culinary cunila. I went to PubMed this AM and found only 8 abstracts on Cunila , none on my species, all apparently on alien species, most of the studies on Brazilian species. We Americans tend to ignore what is growing in our back yard.  Let us speculate, if before Columbus, Cunila origanoides had been srestricted to the Mediterranean and the Origanums were restricted to North  America,  I suspect my McCormick  spice rack would have the frost mint  there instead of oregano. And there would be  more than a hundred abstracts on Cunila origanioides and only 8 on Origanum vulgare. And there would be a hundred indications for Cunila and only a dozen indications for Origanum.  But although we have not had our first frost, it is nippy out, so I am harvesting some of those leaves now, and sipping it in my sagaciTea as I update my sage and frost mint writeups for my spice database.   Strange breakfast today. Sort of a  poor man pizaa, open faced melted cheese spinkled with garlic flakes and flaked frostflower leaves on one side, oregano on the other, both good.. I prefer the cunila. My after-breakfast beverage; hot sagaciTea, with the autumn leaves of the frost mint.

thin lanky stem with dried leaves and remaining cymes of frost flower, Cunila origanoides

Some folklore I believe; some I don’t. BUR recounts that this  plant is reported to kill rattlesnakes when held to their noses. (BUR) Organic Gardening quoted famed pharmacognocist Norman Farnsworth (January 1990, p. 54), “Thymol has been found to loosen phlegm in the respiratory tract… It also has been shown to act as an antitussive which will relieve coughing.” I think it will be just as promising for backache. If I had a backache and a lot of frost mint, I’d drink frost mint tea and  add some to my bath water. The oil is said to be a stimulant aromatic. Because of its thymol, it is probably a good antiseptic . But don’t overdo the thymol, it can irritate mucous membranes. Even GRAS herbs should be used in moderation. It seems that thymol and carvacrol often run in tandem. I suspect that within a species, if one is high, the other is compensatorily low. (HOS)    This herb is a good American answer to oregano. Today as I write this, Dec. 28, 2007, there were two tentlike veils of ice surrounding the lower inch or so of the stems to which the thyme-scented leaves are still attached. And the leaves still smell strongly of oregano and some were crushed up with a boring squash dish that needed a culinary cunila uplift.

frost flower frozen forms


(Cunila origanoides)

Botanist, herbalist, and apparently shamans often resort to their sense of smell. I had Antonio sniff this thing growing in the deep forest and he said it has the spirits of oregano. How right he was. The aromatic chemicals in frost flower share the essences of European oreganos (Not marjoram), savory and thyme, like our American dittany and hosebalm (Monarda), all good spasmolytic herbs, loaded with carvacrol and thymol. They could be substituted, one for the other, as pizza herbs, at least in my kitchen. I didn’t even try to explain to Antonio, who has never seen frost, the significance of its names frost flower or wild dittany.

But in early autumn (also a great jazz tune) this old botanist’s fancy turns to frost flowers. The first weekend in October I head for what I call frostflower fen, where there are an abundance of the plants, and I dig a new stash for myself. Not for my pizza pies, but so I’ll have flowers every month of the year. For almost a decade now, I have had flowers twelve months of the year, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Years Day, etc., at least when the temperatures got well below freezing the night before.

FROST MINT (Cunila origanoides (L.) Britt.) +++
SYN.: Cunila mariana L.; Satureja origanoides L

COMMON NAMES (FROST MINT): American Dittany (Eng.; HOS); Common Dittany (Eng.; HOC; WIK); Dittany (Eng.; HOS); Feverwort (Eng.; HOS); Frost Flower (Eng.; HOS); Frost Mint (Eng.; CR2; HOS; TAD); Maryland Cunila (Eng.; BUR); Maryland Dittany (Eng.; HOC; HOS; TAD); Mountain Dittany (Eng.; HOS); Stone Mint (Eng.; HOC; HOS; “WIK); Sweet Horsemint (Eng.; BUR; GMH); Thyme (Eng.; BUR); Virginia Dittany (Eng.; HOC); Wild Basil (Eng.; BUR);  Nscn = No Standardized Common Name

ACTIVITIES (FROST MINT): Analgesic (f1; DEM; HOS); Anesthetic (f1; DEM; FNF); Antiallergic (1; HOS); Antibronchitis (1; HOS); Antiflu (1; `HOS); Antiinflammatory (1; HOS); Antioxidant (1;  HOS); Antipharyngitic (1; HOS); Antiseptic (1; BOW; HOS); Antispasmodic (1; FNF); Antitussive (1; HOS); Antiviral (1; HOS); Bactericide (1; FNF; HOS); Candidicide (1; FNF); Carminative (f; BUR); Counterirritamt (1; HOS); Cyclooxygenase-Inhibitor (1; HOS);  Diaphoretic (f; BOW; FAD; HHB; HOC); Emmenagogue (f; BOW; BUR; FAD; HHB; HOC); Expectorant (1; FNF; HOS); Febrifuge (f; DEM; HOC); Fungcide (1; FNF); `Insectiphile (f; HOS);  Myorelaxant (1; HOS); Rubefacient (f; BUR); Sedative (1; FNF; HOS); Stimulant (f; DEM); Tonic (f; DEM); Tranquilizer (1; HOS); Trichomonicide (1; FNF); \Uterotonic (f; BOW); Viricide (1; FNF)

INDICATIONS (FROST MINT): Acne (1; FNF; HOS); `Allergy (1; HOS); Alzheimer’s (1; FNF; HOS); Arthrosis (1; FNF; HOS); Atherosclerosis (1; FNF; HOS); Backache (f1; FNF; HOS); Bacteria (1; FNF; HOS); Bronchosis (1; FNF; HOS); Candida (1; FNF; HOS); Caries (1; FNF; HOS); Childbirth (f; BOW; DEM); Cold (f1; FAD; FNF; HOC; HOS); `Colic (f; BUR); Congestion (1; FNF; HOS); Cough (1; FNF; HOS); Cramp (1; FNF; HOS); Depression (1; FNF; HOS); Dermatosis (1; FNF; HOS); Fever (f; BOW; DEM; FAD; HHB; HOC); Flu (f1; FNF; HOS); Fungus (1; FNF; HOS); Headache (1; BOW; DEM; FAD; FNF; HOS); Halitosis (1; FNF; HOS); Headache (f; BUR); Herpes (1; FNF; HOS); Infection (1; FNF; HOS); Inflammation (1; FNF; HOS); Melancholy (1; FNF; HOS); Mycosis (1; FNF; HOS); Neurosis (f1; BUR; FNF; HOS); Pain (1; FNF; HOS); Periodontosis (1; FNF; HOS); Pharyngitis (1; HOS); Plaque (1; FNF; HOS); Rheumatism (1; FNF; HOS); Snakebite (f; FAD; HHB; HOC); `Sore Throat (1;`HOS); Staphylococcus (1; FNF; HOS); Streptococcus (1; FNF; HOS); Trichinosis (1; FNF; HOS); Trichomonas (1; FNF; HOS); UTI (1; FNF; HOS); Virus (1; FNF; HOS); Worm (1; FNF; HOS); Yeast (1; FNF; HOS).

DOSAGES (FROST MINT): FNFF = !. Dittany could be substituted for any of the other high carvacrol/thymol plants (Monarda, Origanum, Satureja, Thymus), one for the other, as pizza herbs, at least in my kitchen. If I had pizza with cheese and tomato, and no spices, I’d add a little dittany in lieu of oregano. Grieve’s Herbal speaks of “oil of dittany, which is stated to contain about 40 per cent. of phenols, probably thymol.”  (GMH; HOS).  Probably on par with thyme, culinarily and medicinally. i,e.1 tsp. herb/cup water/1-3x/day 1-4 g dry herb, or in tea, 3 x day; 1-2 g/cup several times a day

o American Indians and settlers used for cold (HOC)

DOWNSIDES (FROST MINT):Not covered (AHP, KOM, PH2). I feel it as safe as thyme and oregano, based on the limited list of phytochemicals available to me.








EO  28,000 SH BML





1-OCTEN-3-OL  924 SH BML







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Plant Rant: Diggin’ Groundnuts

Peggy’s favorite saucer magnolia sits between the Duke’s house and the driveway that takes visitors down to the Green Farmacy Garden. Peggy likes to sit in her sunroom during the early spring and admire the tree’s dramatic profusion of pale pink and magenta blooms. Growing under the magnolia is one of Jim’s favorite wild food plants, the groundnut (Apios americana). Peggy despises the groundnut since it climbs and rambles through her beloved magnolia. Jim is very kind to Peggy and tries to weed out the groundnut even though he immensely admires this native edible vine. Every fall, as we take classes to help Jim dig for and weed out the groundnuts, we typically unearth a necklace of small oval shaped tubers. You see, the groundnut is not a nut – but a tuber and belongs to the legume family (Fabaceae). The tubers are about an inch long and joined by a thin string like root.

Apios americana, Groundnut

Apios americana, Groundnuts

This particular year, when a class came to dug up the groundnut necklace, we took notice that the vines with their pinnate and compound leaves had grown at least five feet high into the tree and were laden with inflorescences of mauve pea keeled flowers.  Several of the students made wreaths of the vines for Peggy and Jim.  We called Peggy to come out of her sunroom to see, and after all these years, Jim and Peggy finally found common ground with the groundnut:

Flower children, Jim and Peggy, modeling groundnut vines.

The next day while I was busy, but not at the garden, two volunteers, Eric and Sara, came by to help out. Due to my absence, Jim was in charge and asked these two wild edible enthusiasts  to continue digging the groundnuts that so burdened Peggy. Upon digging, Eric and Sara not only unearthed necklaces of groundnuts, but they also hit pay dirt with a jackpot groundnut that weighed in at 14 and 5/8 oz!!!!:Upon seeing the enormous groundnut, it became apparent why the early colonists and pilgrims in places like Jamestown, VA, Plymouth, MA and Roanoke Island, NC used the tubers to help stave off famine during the long cold and hard winters. According to Jim Duke’s and Steven Foster’s Peterson Field Guide to Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, groundnut has three times the protein of potatoes and contains phytoestrogens such as genistein. Groundnut is found from Nova Scotia to Florida and as far west as Colorado. Jim transplanted the groundnut to his property from its typical habitat – a nearby bottomland riparian region of the Rocky Gorge Reservoir. It is noted that groundnut was found near old Indian campsites.  Jim writes in his  Handbook of Energy Crops (1983),  “during the potato famine of 1845, Apios was introduced to Europe. Its cultivation there as a food crop was abandoned when potato growing again became feasible.” Jim also suggests that the sticky latex juice of the tuber “might be used for production of rubber.”

In the book, Edible Wild Plants – A North American Field Guide (Elias and Dykeman),  it is recommended to, “boil tubers in heavily salted water until tender. Season. Slice and fry leftovers, or grease and roast to regain tenderness, flavor. Also thinly slice raw tubers and fry like potatoes in butter or pork; season. Or bake at 175 C (350 F) 45-60 min until tender. Flavor turnip-like.”

Duke soup with groundnut in spoon. Latex is oozing out of the right end of the groundnut tuber.

During our happy hour vesper music night the next week, we roasted up the groundnut,  and served it to our volunteers, who offered their comments in an youtube video below while Jim sang this ditty:















groundnut taste comments:

Your groundnut opinion?

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Creme de’mentia and more on mints

1 October 2011,

After working outside on this raw, bone chilling day, I find myself  sipping on peppermint tea to help ease into this soggy autumn and attempt to ward off what feels like an impending cold.  Being that it is a Saturday night, I realize I could be imbibing on more interesting mint beverages such as Cuban mojitos, mint chocolate Irish creme coffee, or  Jim Duke’s Creme de’mentia* (see recipe below), but on this wet, cold night, peppermint tea suits me fine.

Creme de'Mentia nestled in rosemary

The Green Farmacy Garden is teeming with many species in the mint family, Lamiaceae, and I have often felt if we could make a mint on the mints, all of our garden expense woes would be gone. The garden has a litany of mints for various indications, and they come in a panoply of styles, aromas and tastes.

(disclaimer – the below is not intended to treat – but rather to to educate about the traditional uses and/or research of medicinal herbs)

Peppermint - Mentha piperita

In our garden plots we have:
mints for memory – rosemary (Shakespeare’s herb of remembrance), sage, oregano, basil, sage, biblical mint and monarda;

mints to relax the GI digestive tract – peppermint, spearmint, catnip, anise hyssop and horehound;

mints to appease and sedate the nerves – skullcap, holy basil, lavender and lemon balm;

mints to deter insects and ticks – American and European pennyroyal, mountain mint, spearmint, peppermint and basil;

mints to deter microbes – peppermint, spearmint, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and garden sage;

Garden Sage - Salvia officinalis

Wild Dagga or Leon's tail - Leonotis leonurus

mints to cool hot flashes – garden sage and motherwort;

a mint to improve venous stagnation, hemorrhoids, stones and congestive sore throats – stoneroot;

mints to stimulate bronchial mucous membranes  expectorants – peppermint, spearmint, gill-over-the ground and horehound;

mints to heighten the spirits – diviner’s sage and wild dagga;

mints for omega 3’s – chia and perilla;

chia heads - Salvia hispanica

a mint to ease the flu and fevers as well as keep my feline friend content – catnip;

Niphead kitty nipping on Catnip - Nepeta cataria

a mint studied and used for eczema, psoriasis, glaucoma, high blood pressure, weight loss, thyroid and allergies – coleus forskohlii;

a mint researched for anticancer, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and allergies – baical skullcap;

Baical skullcap - Scutellaria baicalensis

a mint for gout  – perilla;
mints for headaches – wood betony and dittany (frost flower);
mints to “heal-all” and for hyperthyroid – prunella and lemon balm;
and mints used for culinary enhancements such as oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, basil, or perilla (chiso).

Bee balm - Monarda didyma

*Creme D’Mentia from Jim Duke :

“Here’s the rough formula for Creme D’Mentia. It is a mix of the aerial shoots of 13 aromatic members of the mint family, all of which species contain several acetyl‑choline preserving compound (remember that the most widely advertised alzheimer’s/dementia drug, Aricept, contains one acetyl‑choline paring compounds.

Gather 13 pleasingly aromatic mint species, 7 to 39 leaves each, more of the ones most pleasing to you, fewer of those less pleasing. Gather them at dawn following a night with a new moon. Force them manually (bruising them in the process) thru the neck of a half gallon glass jug of cheap tax‑paid vodka, from which one fourth of the vodka has been decanted. Add lemon juice and stevia leaves or juice to taste.  Chill in refrigerator all day. At Happy Hour, bring out the jug and pour 1/4 oz of the concentrated tincture into a one oz cup. Depending on the taste of the consumer, fill with lemonade or tonic water, or if you really want the creme effect, milk or cram and chocolate syrup. This was served to a group of herbalist at my place on Sept. 17, and will be served to my garden volunteers Oct. 6. And [was served] to Tai students on 7/19/11”

Jim was highlighted in an AARP article Grow Herbs, Feel Better grow-herbs-feel-better.html which includes the following recipe for his Creme de’Mentia:

Recipe: Jim Duke’s Creme de’Mentia

  • Mix 1/2 pint of 80-proof vodka with 1/2 pint water.
  • Add 1/4 fresh lemon, 4 T. rosemary leaves, 6 T. lemon balm leaves, 4 T. peppermint leaves, and 2 T. sage leaves.
  • Add sugar to taste.
  • Steep for 3 days. Enjoy

Virginia Mountain Mint - Pycnanthemum virginianum - with common buckeye butterfly - Junonia coenia

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Plant Rant: Dog Days and Mad-dog Skullcaps

annual cicada, Tibicen canicularis - the Dog-day cicada

9/6/2011 Below is a plant rant I wrote a couple of weeks ago that became lost in the pile of uncompleted summer projects.  Reading through this rant once again, it already feels outdated, but yet retains a notion of a timelessness true to me.  From the time of this earlier writing, there has been a significant change of weather from the extreme high temperatures and drought to late summer’s susceptibility for hurricanes. This evening as I write, the incessant rains of tropical storm Lee are rapping hard upon the sliding glass door and causing flash flooding throughout the region – further aggravating already swollen rivers and creeks from Hurricane Irene of last week. The garden endured Irene but was littered throughout with leaves, branches and countless splayed out plants. Any plant that was just a bit top-heavy took a beating, and I was granted several days work righting them back up. The rains of this week can be blessing for the water table, fabulous for mycological hunts, but also dampen my best efforts to tame the garden.

Cortinarius violaceus

8/20/2011 These final dog days of summer are marked by cicadas’ whining drone by day, katydids’ echoing chants by night, ripening milkweed pods, Joe-Pye blooming at six feet high, tiger swallowtails at the anise hyssop, ruby-throated hummingbirds at the cardinal flower, and the tangled growth of mints. As a gardener, an aspect of my role is to tame nature, to control the mints and to select which plants are to live or let die. Taming nature involves elimination and therefore creates negative space. This negative space allows Jim Duke and me to readily see the medicinal plants for teaching purposes.

tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, butterfly on cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis

Although I set out to control the growth and make negative space, I find within the tangle of itinerant mints, my love of the lighthearted and the wild traveler. Ah, to be able to roam haphazardly and wander freely like a peppermint with no clear direction  satisfies a youthful yearning in me. Typically, summer should be the time to embrace this carefree personality with the music flowing, zephyrs, vacations, tepid waters to swim, juicy fresh peaches, ripe tomatoes, melons and sweet corn.

100 plus degrees

During this particular summer, my interns, volunteers and I have endured extreme temperatures up and over 100 degrees, torrential downpours, mosquitoes, milkweed tussock moth caterpillars devouring all of the  Asclepias tuberosa‘s (butterfly weed or pleurisy root) leaves in about one day, hundreds of marmorated stink bug nymphs clustered in Angelica nodes or consuming the tomatoes, broken irrigation timers and faulty pond pumps. I have also had to withstand my own aging body with its ever-increasing cricks and creaks as well as accept that Jim and Peggy are transitioning with ambulatory and health matters. At times, I am burdened and stressed by global and national political turmoil, high unemployment, health concerns, the fluctuating stock and housing market, deadlines and my own mental mumblings and tangle of much to do.

In the family of mints, I can find support for these anxieties and the accompanying worries. Once such mint, well-known in the herbal community, is mad-dog skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora, known for its “neurotrophorestorative” qualities.

Scutellaria lateriflora leaves and racemes in flower

Mad-dog skullcap is not the typical “minty” smelling mint; in fact, it is of a slight bitter flavor and produces virtually no aroma. Skullcap also does not have the tangled appearance as do the peppermints and spearmints and is found in the INSOMNIA, ADD, and ADDICTIONS plots in the garden. (Note: as of 9/5/2011 skullcap is past flowering and looks a bit disheveled and messy, but not tangled).  If we had a STRESS or ANXIETY plot, skullcap would also be found there.

Mad-dog Skullcap shooting up in Addictions plot

Skullcap is a native plant and grows in moist environments throughout. Even though it blooms during these “dog days” of summer, the common name of mad-dog skullcap is due to its alleged 18th and early 19th century use as a prophylactic and treatment for rabies from mad-dogs.  The Latin name Scutellaria is from scutella meaning “little dish” to describe the shape of the calyx and lateriflora is because all of the flowers on the raceme or flower stalk are turned to one side.

Scutellaria lateriflora skullcap seed heads

Brief History of Skullcap: Native Americans used this native herb for menses, diarrhea, breast pains and expelling of the afterbirth. In the mid 1800’s skullcap gained a reputation for nervous diseases such as convulsions, tetanus, St.Vitus’ dance, and tremors. By the mid to late 1880’s and into the early 1900’s skullcap continued to be recommended for  its use as a nervous system tonic and recommended for insomnia, neuralgia, irritability, chorea, twitchings and women’s menstrual pains.  Although skullcap was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia from 1863 to 1916 and the National Formulary from 1916 to 1947,  the US Dispensatory in its 22 edition claimed that skullcap was “as destitute of medicinal properties as a plant may be, not even being aromatic…with no obvious effects and probably is of no remedial value …” (U.S. Dispensatory, 1937, p. 968). However, Jethro Kloss in Back to Eden, writes that skullcap “is one of the best nerve tonics…very quieting and soothing to the nerves of people who are easily excited…” (Kloss, 1939, p.313) In the late 1980’s, skullcap’s safety reputation suffered and was under scrutiny for many years from a nutraceutical product, which incorrectly claimed it contained skullcap but actually was found to be adulterated with germander. The germander, not the skullcap, caused four cases of hepatotoxicity and eventually manufacturers became more diligent regarding the source and identification of their products. Recent research has revealed that skullcap contains the flavonoids baicalin, baicalein, wogonin and scutellarin as well as the amino acids glutamine, glutamate and GABA, which possibly attribute to its anxiolytic properties.

To this day, skullcap continues to be used as a nervine and neurotophorestorative for anxiety, PMS and insomnia. Skullcap can be used as a hot infusion by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1 -2 teaspoons of dried herb for 15 minutes or taking as a tincture extract.

Before public speaking, which typically makes me a “Nervous Nellie (Jim Duke’s term),” prior to test taking, or just when I feel frazzled and tangled up in life, I may reach for a calming tincture of skullcap, oats and chamomile. I am not ruling out that it is the placebo effect from this ritual that sedates my nerves, but I prefer to think it is the power of the herbs and their constituents working in concert to tame the mad-dog in me.

Echinacea in bloom

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Plant Rant: Scaping into Summer with Garlic

Allium sativum - garlic scapes from 6/1/2011

How did it get to be the end of June already? The moist cool days of spring abruptly changed into the hazy, hot, humid, daze of summer, and the garden has been without any significant rain for weeks now. Looking back to the beginning of the month, all of the terraces were graced by a profusion of garlic scapes, and they were added to Soup du Duke on a daily basis. When I mention the garlic “scapes,” I am more often than not asked to define its meaning.

Scape.  A leafless peduncle arising from ground level (usually from a basal rosette) in acaulescent plants. Plant Identification Terminology. An Illustrated Glaossary. Harris, James G. and Melinda Woolf.

or more simply put: a leafless flowering stem growing straight from the root or a bulb. As in the case of garlic of early June, the scapes are pencil thin curlicues spiraling up and out of the middle of the leaves with a swollen ivory bud that gradually tapers to a green point.

The scapes should be picked to sauté as a delicacy and thus coercing the energy that would normally form the bud and flower to go into the underground ripening bulb instead. The cut scapes are used like scallions or green onions, flavoring food with similarities of garlic but with more delicate flavor. In addition to Duke’s daily soup, I add scapes to my stir fry recipes, salads, avocados, dressings and just about anywhere I normally throw in garlic.

straightened garlic scapes with maturing flowers - 6/30/2011

As June slips into July, any residual uncut scapes have straightened and are bursting with an inflorescence of flowers containing small little tasty garlic bulblets. Note: if you don’t care how your breath smells, these bulblets are delicious to pop in your mouth for a quick garlic fix and to also add to your sautés. By not cutting off the scapes, the underground bulbs and cloves of the garlic will be small  and insufficiently plump. We purposely leave some of the scapes on the garlic at the Green Farmacy Garden since we like to show off bulblet botany, and we can add them readily to our vinaigrette that is served along with Duke’s soup.

Garlic flower bublets above

Garlic is ubiquitous in the Green Farmacy Garden as it contains a multitude of activities. Some of the plots where garlic is found include Alzheimer’s, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Bacteria, Colds, Earache, Fever, Herpes, Virus, Aphrodisiac, Liver, Ulcers, Vaginitis and Vertigo. The active constituent, allicin, an organosulphate molecule, is released from the crushed garlic and has been widely researched for its antimicrobial and immune stimulating properties, as well as its efficacy for digestive ailments, inhibition of cancer cell growth, hypertension, and arteriosclerosis.  Some folks can’t stomach garlic and get indigestion from eating it raw or in too high a quantity. Others dislike garlic – claiming halitosis, or bad breath, which is caused because active constituents quickly travel from the bloodstream to the lungs and out through the mouth. Nursing mothers may want to avoid garlic as it could cause the baby gas or to dislike the taste of the milk. I advocate raw or fresh garlic for colds and flu particularly when made into soup with lots of onions, and ginger.  During these years that I have been fortunate to share Duke’s soup, which is laden with garlic, I have rarely gotten a cold or flu.

Calendula officinalis

Besides garlic, the garden is lush and bursting with the blooms of monarda, echinacea, anise hyssop, feverfew, poppies, Joe-pye, daturas, primroses, Deptford pinks, passionflower, watercress, water hemlock, oregano, St. Johnswort, calendula, chichory, lemon balm, red clover, Yerba mansa, yucca, houttuynia, yarrow, hollyhocks, marshmallow, lavender, catnip, plume poppy, mullein, elecampane and black cohosh.  Most exciting is the anticipation of one of the night blooming cactus, which is getting ready to open any night now – perhaps for the Fourth of July??? The goldenseal berries are ripe and the milk thistles seeds are drifting. The indigo buntings are singing at the treetops and the ovenbird calls from the forest floor.

Hydrastis canadensis - Goldenseal leaf and berry

The immature red-shouldered hawks are learning to independently hunt and the northern water snake watches me as I watch him or her. This is the season of abundance, the days are long, and life in the distant shadow of the nation’s capital spirals and straightens with plumping garlic.

Northern Water Snake keeping an eye on me in the Addictions Plot

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Campaign to restore the reputation of Dent de Lion…Dandelion

Taraxacum officinale, Dandelion seed head

I’m afraid there’s no denyin’
I’m just a dandylion
A fate I don’t deserve. ~ the  Cowardly Lion in “If I only had the Nerve”

children have it right about the humble dandelion – it’s just us acculturated adults who loathe this misunderstood plant – a plant fit for survival almost anywhere; fit for urban, suburban and rural landscapes; fit to grow tenaciously through concrete sidewalks, lawns and fields; children love its bright cadmium yellow clock flowers; white globes of pappus and achenes tempt the young to blow and watch tiny parachutes drift off to who knows where; ahhh, to drift off to who knows where; did you notice its hollow stems with a white latex sap; some folks collect its petals for wine; a few eat of the lion’s toothed dent de lion greens, a bit bitter, but nutritious as they contain vitamins A, B, C, D, and potassium K; its leaves makes one pissenlit – piss in bed – a diuretic; roasted roots substitute for coffee; roots of inulin and polysaccharides to make one regular, movements that is; good for the liver – a cholagogue, good for a cleanse, good for spring cleaning; good for free; don’t spray round-up but do round-up your inner child, a dandelion and blow;

eat of the roots and greens too:

respect, not spray, the dandelions

two online recipes for roasted dandelion roots:

two online recipes for dandelion greens (use young leaves before flowering for less bitter flavor)

The “good enough” yard should have an ample supply of dandelions; if it doesn’t, children  take caution.

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On Bitter Herbs and Crucifers

The Bitter Herb -Horseradish, Armoracia rusticana, early emergent leaves

This past week, I journeyed out of the quiet piedmont to the hustle bustle of New York City to participate in the Passover Seder and the retelling of the Exodus story out of Egypt. The story is illuminated by lively banter and argumentative discussions contemplating slavery, liberation, and freedom. Besides the four glasses of wine, unleavened bread (matzos), celery or parsley in salt water (tears), egg (rebirth), shank bone (offerings), and charoset (mortar), we are instructed to eat of the bitter herb or Maror. The bitter herb represents the bitterness from the centuries of slavery under the Egyptian Pharaohs’ rule. It is unknown exactly what plant the bitter herb was at the time of the original Seder over 2500 years ago – as some speculate that it could have been wild lettuce, chicory or dandelion -but we always use horseradish root. Horseradish, Armoracia rusticana, is in the cabbage or Brassicaceae family, which was once called Cruciferae (cross bearing) because the family’s flowers are in parts of four and situated like a crucifix. Since today is Easter Sunday and the fifth day of Passover, since the last supper is possibly the Passover Seder (at least that is what I was taught and understand this information is debated), since the fields and garden beds are resplendent in many cabbage family plants, I should mention that horseradish, with its place at the Seder table and flowers looking like a cross, is Herb of the Year 2011.

Making homemade horseradish sauce for the Seder is certainly no pleasant task. When I make the sauce, my eyes burn and tear, my nose runs, and boy, oh boy, do my sinuses clear. I’ve had to vacate the premises just to get relief from the volatile oil potency. For this reason, horseradish resides in the Asthma, Allergy and Sinusitis plots at the Green Farmacy Garden.  The root contains glucosinolates, such as sinigrin, and isothiocyanates with their antioxidant and anticancer properties.  Many species in the cabbage or mustard family share the similar qualities of horseradish and Jim Duke suggests making a “Cruci-Fix” for cancer prevention with any of the following: “arugula (rocket), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, cress, daikon, garlic-mustard, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, pak choy, radishes, rutabaga, turnip greens, wasabi, and watercress.” Jim’s soups often give me my cruci-fix for the day…but he is yet to serve me soup along with a Bloody Mary with fresh horseradish. Now that’s food for thought.

Arisaema triphyllum (L.) Jack in the Pulpit spathe and spadix

Besides the horseradish leaves  poking out of the ground, the garden highlights are:
Ginseng, black cohosh, smilax, wild yam, goldenseal, christmas fern, cinnamon fern, royal fern, lady fern, and jack in the pulpit have emerged. Schisandra, hardy orange, dogwood, wild ginger, redbud,Virginia bluebell and sweet woodruff are in flower. The American toad, an explosive breeder, is rarely trilling now, just as Molly and I heard the first gray treefrog this past week. Today, I believe I heard my first Baltimore oriole for the season and the distant call of an ovenbird, “teacher, teacher, teacher.” The throes of a sleepy winter into a frenetic and perky pastel spring is happening now.

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Plant Rant – Bloodroot, Bloom Times and Peep Shows

Sanguinaria canadensis L. Bloodroot Flower

April 11, 2011
The Washington Post article, Plants’ Earlier Bloom Times Hurting Some Creatures, (April 9, 2011 – front page- A section) reports how climate change may be causing wildflowers to bloom early and adversely affecting the interrelationships of species.  Interviews with ‘bloom watchers’ indicate that many species of wildflowers are blooming days, if not weeks, ahead of when they did forty years ago. There is a fear that with earlier bloom times, certain migrating birds, which are dependent upon insects that feed on or pollinate plants, may be unable to obtain adequate nutrition to sustain their populations. Basically, the insects will not be in sync with the migrating birds when plants bloom early. The study of phenology, plant and animal yearly life cycles, has been of interest here in the garden.  Jim Duke and I have made several attempts to document bloom times of our plant species. Jim, the scientist, was successful and wrote PEEP SHOW.*(below) Typical of my not-so-scientific personality, it seems every year I get off to a rather meticulous start, grow sporadic in my note taking by June, and almost peter out completely by August.  Regardless of when flowers bloom, there still is a curiosity as to how plants know when to rise and shine and to prompt the apical meristems (growing tips) to stimulate and differentiate into roots and shoots.  Fascination is found in the innate calendars of natural systems, whether they revolve like clockwork or are early bloomers.

sound of the spring peeper –

PEEP SHOW by James A. Duke
Peepers come and peepers go With their mostly audial show. How do we humans come to know? When spring peepers start the show? Methinks the peepers get their cues From the signals that the flowers use And if my theorem is for keeps Flowers can predict the peeps. Because the flowers also use The same environmental cues The cold, the sun, the rain and snows All of these the critter knows Seems he’s learned to integrate

The clues that tell the time to mate In the midst of peeper’s shining hour Some trout lilies start to flower (Erythronium) And then the bloodroot flowers shed (Sanguinaria) Dutchman’s breeches there instead (Dicentra)

Dicentra - Dutchman's breeches

Fiddleheads first unfurl their fiddle (Matteucia) When the peeper show’s at the middle Like green mushrooms, mayapples sprout (Podophyllum) When the peepers start their shout Each one tries outshout the other Hoping to win a winsome mother And if these courtships consummate The song and dance will soon abate But hindsight’s better’n science fiction Tougher it is to make a prediction I predict that when my last crocus croaks (Crocus) Its almost time for the boistrous blokes. I may miss by a day, maybe a week And then the peepers peeping peeks With the fading Christmas rose (Helleborus) The peeper chorus grows and grows Just after my first opening daffodil (Narcissus) He’ll proudly peep his piercing trill Hoping that he will have mated Before the spring has sublimated. One week past the last snowdrop (Galanthus) One proud peeper will pop his top Seeking to assert his powers With the first of my snowflowers (Leucojum) I’m afraid the peeping will have hushed When flowers close on my spicebush (Lindera) With the leafing out of sassafras (Sassafras) When the dogwood blooms at last (Cornus) Before the bolt of the stinging nettles (Urtica) Just after the bloodroot drops its petals (Sanguinaria) Eggs abound at the edge of the pool Soon tadpoles will head off to school Metamorphosis, polywogs, Tadpoles have turned to frogs; They sang their thing, preaching spring The song is gone! But life goes on. February, March or will it be April Who among us will be most able To predict the timing for next year When peepers start to chanting cheer Those who know the march of spring Can predict this peeper thing The song commences, if I don’t err 9 weeks after the butterburr (Petasites) This year that was on groundhog day (2001) Sun ran my groundhog clean away 6 weeks after the skunk cabbage flowers (Symplocarpus) Spreading its smell on palustrine bowers 5 weeks after my snowdrops appear (Galanthus) That’s when peepers start peepin’ next year I could be off a day or two That don’t matter to me or you With the peepers let us sing We celebrate another spring     – “junkmail” sent by James A. ‘Jim’ Duke to Helen Lowe Metzman on Thursday, April 07, 2005 5:49 PM

bloodroots showing their "blood"

Bloodroot info – if you still feel like reading Spring is heralded by the lovely white blooms of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis L.), which are peaking now in the nearby woodlands and found in the garden in the Cancer plot and down in the yin/yang valley. This native wildflower is aptly named due to its exquisite blood red root that was used by Native Americans to paint their faces and as a dye. It is reported that they also used bloodroot for lung ailments, as an emetic and for warts.  BEWARE!!!! Bloodroot can be toxic and is considered caustic and an eschariotic (corrosive and scarring). Bloodroot has several powerful alkaloids, but the one it is most known for, sanguinarine, was used in Viadent mouthwash.  Sanguinarine is also researched extensively for its anticarcinogenic properties due to its cell cycle arrest and apoptosis (cell death) processes.  My pubmed search shows a recent study PMID: 21318089 of sanguinarine inhibiting prostate tumor growth but also a paper PMID: 20932193 of individuals using the “black salve” made from bloodroot with very detrimental effects. Keep in mind that just because bloodroot is “natural” doesn’t mean that it is safe and one must be very careful to research any type of drug whether it is natural or synthetically produced.

seedpods developing from the ripening bloodroot ovary

After flowering,the bloodroot ovary elongates and produces a thin seed pod. The seeds of bloodroot are dispersed by ants in a process called myrmecochory. The seeds have an elaiosome, a lipid rich appendage that attract ants to the seeds.  The ants carry the seeds to their nests, eat the elaisome and then the seeds may germinate in or around their nests. By next week, I suspect the petals will have dropped and the ovaries will be ripening. Come by garden and check out what remains of this native plant that is carried by ants and carries its own American history and much medical potential.

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Jim Duke’s Radioprotective Recipes

Today, April 4, 2011, Jim Duke turns 82. Jim continues to write, teach, research, make us soup, make music and inspire on a daily basis.  The last two weeks Jim has been working at compiling herbs with radioprotective activities. Below is a list of radioprotective recipes that were created in the aftermath of the tsunami and for the 32nd anniversary of Three Mile Island. If you scroll down to the prior blog entry, you will find an unedited youtube video of Les Alstat’s song Three Mile Island.

RADIOPROTECIVE RECIPES ©Jim Duke, Herbal Vineyard, Inc.,  2011

1. MISO PLUS: Spice up your regular miso with sparing dashes of  citron, evodia, grapefruit peel, lemon peel, orange peel, prickly ash, and  tangerine peel. Note these seven rutaceae are the basis of my Radioprotective RutADE with which I have replaced my coffee for March, a Memorial Month  for RadiationIncidents.

2. ADOPTING ADAPTOGENS: Cordyceps, ginger, ginseng, holy basil, licorice, rhodiola, schisandra in decoction, steep, tincture, tisane.

3. GLUT OF GLUTHIONE: A soup, with glutathione‑rich veggies, like asparagus, avocado, corn, okra, potato, purslane, spinach  (why not spice with SEVEN SPICES).

4. CRUCIFIX: A sophisticated cabbage soup, with any of the  many of the edible cruciferae (alias Brassicaceae, or cabbage family) the hotter the better (heat due to sulfur compounds called isothiocyanates), broccoli, red cabbage, rocket, rutabaga, turnip, wasabi, watercress.

5. COX‑2‑INHIBITEA: Cayenne, cinnamon; ginger, holy basil, oregano, rosemary, turmeric.

6. SEVEN SPICE: A mix of  seven anticancer spices to spice up any herb tea, salad or soups, black pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, garlic, ginger,  turmeric, wasabi,

7. GINSANITY: Ginseng or Eleuthero Tincture (in red wine or resveratrol) with Seven Spicesoup.

Eat each day, as nibbles, a Brazil Nut, a Radish or Turnip, or some Broccoli Sprouts, some sushi with seaweed and seasalt, and have a Chamomile Tea and/or a Pomegranate Juice.

Chase with RadioprotectiviTEA, alehoof, bugle, celery, lemonbalm, peppermint, oregano,  rosemary.

All herbs and spices listed contain at least one, usually many more, radioprotective chemicals. For phytochemical and rationales, see: Phytochemical Database,

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This Week’s Plant Rant – The Anniversary of Three Mile Island

march 27, 2011
Early spring happenings in the garden: Vinca minor blooms in Alzheimer’s; ramps leafy greens are up in the valley – harvested with bulbs and served in Duke’s soup; ostrich fiddleheads begin to unfurl and are bit by the frost – are also served in the soup; bloodroot buds expose themselves; parasol mayapple leaves wrapped tight poke out; goldenseal reveals its whereabouts; yellowroot comes into bud; currant (Ribes nigrum) leaves emerge; maple buds blush red against the leafless woods; marcescent leaves of the Fagaceae – oak and beech – continue to hold on; shepherd’s purse reseeded from last year blooms in Endometriosis; daffodils continue to cheer; leucojum blooms earlier in the valley than the specimen in Alzheimer’s plot; Peggy turns 80!; Rosemary is still alive!; Forsythia brightens Leukemia, Bacteria and Earache; Petasites continues blooming in Headache; the specimens from Brookside Gardens that we thought were P. hybridus bloomed white, not purple, so they may be a taller version of P. japonicus after all; coltsfoot flowers make their debut in Allergy; spicebush transitions from bud to bloom; the red-shoulders continue to make a ruckus; titmice scream for Peter; nuthatches laugh and cry for Hank; Carolina wrens remind me to make tea; an eagle flies overhead; Molly’s beet seeds emerge;  skunk cabbage leaves elongate; the fenugreek cotyledons have sprouted; Corydalis commands attention; spring peepers peep; Bufo toad orgies trilled one warm night; the tiny and stuffed greenhouse is still standing; the stubble is finally cut down (phew); Ziziphus jujube, Aesculus, Aralia spinosa, Xanthoxyllum americana, Morella cerifera, Betula lenta, Ulmus rubra, corkscrew Salix , Rhamnus sp. gave me quite a workout as they were delicately pruned and broken limbs severely amputated; Note to self: correctly ID Aesculus and Rhamnus this year; the garden got its (as Jim Duke calls it) – blow job from Darrell’s leaf blowing crew; and speaking of Jim Duke – he has been immersed and working feverishly to compile 200 pubmed studies on Evodia, Tetradium rutecarpum, and very excited about his findings; the snow forecast that dominated the weather news petered out; the sun is shining bright as I attempt to seek solace from the local and world news by escaping to the woods, and yet I continue to dwell on the human nature of revolutions, chaos theories, butterfly and domino effects, the butterfly shaped thyroid, thyroid cancer and other cancers, 1000’s dead or missing in Asia and Africa, worker’s rights, the ingenuity of humans to split atoms for power and the horrific manifestations when nuclear fission is used for war and confronted by the powerful force of nature and human error. I worry about spinach and milk and talk to Jim about plants with radioactive protection, he talks about Tetradium, and we discuss Three Mile Island and its anniversary on March 28th, 1979.

Jim and his Howard County Dump bandmate, Les Alstat, along with Jim’s son, John, and our reliable volunteer, Mike, play Les’s song, Three Mile Island at the vesper gathering last Thursday. It is unrehearsed and down home, and I download an unedited copy of the video along with the words* in remembrance of the worse nuclear power accident in the United States.

Next week, I take a break from the garden to take a course on Microscopic Plant Identification and Characterization of Plant Botanicals from the University of Maryland and the FDA and to work at the Howard County GreenFest. I hope to provide a list of plants for radioprotection in the near future. In the meantime, continue to discover comfort, joy and surprise in the cycles of nature – spiraling year after year after year.

*Three Mile Island
Music and words by Les Alstat

Three Mile Island
Three Mile Island—
How could it not go wrong–
Three Mile Island—
The hand of man cannot for long

Maintain a system error free
Converting earth to energy
And never pay a penalty
Like three mile island.

On the Rolling Suquehanna
Near Midtown Pennsylania
Stands a tiny little Island
On Just three miles of ground.
Underneath those 4 great chimneys
A nuclear reactor has
The force to light and heat and kill
The country all around.

The Air turned radioactive
Near Midtown Pennsylvania
When the core had overheated
For the coolant had rundown.
A bubble, neglected,
Brought trouble unexpected
And scientists and engineers and
Politics to town.

The very near disaster
Near Midtown Pennsylvania
Was used by every faction
To advance its point of view.

While now is not the season
For a voice of quiet reason.
But in defense of common sense
I Put this thought to you.

Three Mile Island, How could it not go wrong,

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