Jim Duke’s Cuban Food Farmacy Trip Report

Jim Duke

At the luncheon we enjoyed at the Cuban Botanical Gardens, there was a healthy and delightful array of fruits and veggies, many not emphasized in the handout I sent you before our Cuba trip. Here I enumerate some of the more important items I enjoyed during that marvelous and healthy luncheon.

But first there was the eternal, infernal mojito with its diced spearmint. Ironically spearmint contains several volatile compounds which do what Aricept® does, preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, the cerebral messenger at the synapses. As of my last tally, my computer listed carvone, carvacrol, 1,8-cineole, p-cymene, elemol, isomenthone, limonene, menthol, menthone, piperitenone, pulegone, gamma-terpinene, terpinen-4-ol, thymol, viridiflorol, count them, 15 natural antiacetylcholinesterase phytochemicals, absorbed via inhalation, perorally, or transdermally (from Duke’s Phytochemical Database). Aricept® contains one unnatural anticholinesterase chemical with lots of side effects.

Mojitos waiting to be made at the Buena Vista Social Club

Your mojito probably contained most of these, all of which have been described from spearmint, and indeed many other mints, e.g., rosemary, sage, and lemonbalm, proven to slow the breakdown of the cerebral messengers (acetylcholine, butylcholine, perhaps choline itself) , and all in my cream d’mentia. Please remember though, easy on the alcohol! It is contraindicated in Alzheimer’s, cerebral plaque, and dementia!!!

And a word about the Spanish paella, which some of us experienced while in Cuba. With many of us approaching the age of dementia, we should recognize that paella with mojitos (remember, very weak or non-alcoholic) might be a double whammy as a dementia preventative.

Paella at La Terraza, the fisherman's bar and restaurant Hemingway frequented in Cojimar, Cuba

Most paella is colored yellow with saffron which has some chemical or chemicals that have been proven to help with both dementia and depression. Iran, a major producer of the labor-intensive saffron, has performed clinical studies showing that very small amounts of saffron have impressive effects. I recommend it. A lot of people come back at me and say they would not believe an Iranian study. I disagree heartily feeling that in most countries the agencies try to help the citizenry. I trust the Iranian study more than the FDA-approved study(ies) that approved the Aricept®. Lamentably, I do not believe that BigcPharma and the FDA are trying to improve the health of the American citizenry.

Ironically, saffron is mentioned only once in the Bible. But scholars do not agree. Some claim it is the Iranian/Spanish saffron, Crocus sativus. Others claim the Biblical saffron is the Oriental turmeric, Curcuma longa, of Asian Indian and Chinese origin, one of the most important anticancer herbs. But, most important for dementia, this unrelated spice also prevents dementia and depression. It seems to curb the so-called Beta-Plaque of the brain, which seems to be more important in dementia than the anticholinesterase activity in our mojitos. What to do? Be generous with both the Crocus sativus and Curcuma longain your paella and other dishes.

Turmeric, Curcuma longa, drying in an organic cooperative farm, Alamar Organoponico, in Havana

Back to lunch at the botanical garden. I have never seen so many cases of the color code in action. To your health, eat as many colorful veggies as possible for better health, the wider the variety the better. They were especially generous with many examples of good sources of lycopene, with four foods or beverages made from guava, Psidium guajava, almost a weed tree in tropical America. And there was the African watermelon, Citrullus lanatus, and, the American tomato, and the pink grapefruit, which, unlike the yellow grapefruit is rich in lycopene. Any and all of these might reduce your odds of hormone-related cancers. But the red hibiscus petals, some of us ingested with our luncheon, were healthy due to anthocyanins and beta-hydroxy acids, also good for the complexion.

Guava, Psidium guajava, for sale at the farmer's market in Havana, Cuba

Many, if not all members of the cabbage family contain cancer-preventing isothiocyanates and indoles and a few contain sulforaphane, the more piquant the better. So do the petals of the nasturtium flowers some of us ate. And the horseradish tree, Moringa oleifera, we talked about in those lovely mountains above Trinidad. The purple cabbages also contain anthocyanins.

The fruita bomba (papaya elsewhere), Carica papaya, and pineapple, Ananas comosus, contain proteolytic enzymes with a lot of proven biological activities. Of course, papaya juice and citrus juice was available at all our breakfasts.

What could be more important to those who are vegetarian (by religion, choice, or for wise fear of red meat) than beans? We have been overpromoted with soy and underpromoted with our native American beans, like butter beans, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, string beans and most important of all, the Cuban black beans, the blacker, the better, as far as anthocyanins are concerned. The white navy and pinto beans have little or no anthocyanins. Surprisingly all these American beans have the same estrogenic isoflavones (biochanin, daidzein, formononetin, and most ballyhooed, genistein). Some of the American beans have more isoflavones than the soybean. In moderation, the isoflavones seem to favor anticancer activity. For years soy claimed that it alone contain genistein. Bunk.

Fabaceae, Apiaceae and Brassicaceae displayed at the farmer's market in Havana

Fewer members of the bean or legume family are well endowed with l-dopa which tends to help Parkinson’s disease which has several biological activities [[l-DOPA: Analgesic M29; Anorexic 50 mg/kg scu rat BBE; Antidote (Manganese) M29; Antiencephalopathic M29; Antifeedant SCI181:81; Antimorphinic 100 scu mus BBE; Antineuroleptic M29; Antiparkinsonian 100-8,000 mg/man/day M28 M29 WAF; Antireserpine ED50=400 orl mus BBE; Aphrodisiac M29; Arrhythmigenic M29; Antitremor JBH; Cardiovascular 12 ivn rat BBE; CNS-active 50 ivn rat BBE; Depressant M29; Diuretic 1-2 g/man/day MAR; Dopaminergic 225 orl mus, 50 ipr rat BBE;Emetic MAR; Hallucinogen M29;Hypertensive M29; Hypotensive M29; Insectifuge JAD; Miotic M29; Natriuretic MAR; Prolactin-Inhibitor RAI.

Major Sources:
Fababean Flowers L-DOPA 110,000 ppm PAN
Fababean Pods 500-25,000 ppm L-DOPA PAN WOI
Fababean Seeds 1,500-2,500 ppm L-DOPA JBH PAN
Fababean Sprouts 5,000-60,000ppm l-DOPA SP BAM18:167
Fenugreek 1,590-1,700 ppm l-Dopa SP X17704018; X15331344
Velvetbean Seed 7,810-100,000 ppm L-DOPA MPI RAI JAF44:2638

(from USDA Phytochemical Database). ]] The Biblical fababean (can be allergenic) and fenugreek have been grown in Cuba and the velvetbean (prurient) is apparently native there in Cuba and elsewhere in Tropical America and Tropical Asia. One possible side effect of the l-dopa treatment of Parkinson’s is priapism in a very small fraction of the men taking it. In a sense, that small fraction of men may experience the four-hour erections we hear too much about on TV commercials re some pharmaceutical drugs for erectile dysfunction. We have all three growing here in my Green Farmacy Garden.

As in beans, color is important in native American corns, the white corn, delicious, but lacking the beneficial carotenoids found in yellow corns, and the anthocyanins so prevalent in the so-called blue, black, or purple corns. And the corn silks has many biological activities,

The flesh of the native American squashes and pumpkins are rich in health-giving carotenoids, while roasted pumpkin seeds are a tasty snack for senior dudes like Duke (me), with zinc and three amino acids good for the prostate problems that beset all males if they live long enough. In concert with Amazonian Brazil nuts, richest source of selenium, dare I say, nuts for the prostate. One cousin, two years older than me, was chemically castrated for his prostate cancer, and was suffering, of all things, male menopause. Recent studies show that the sage grown and sold in Cuba can ease menopausal symptoms.

Jim on the streets of Havana

On the streets of Havana, I showed most of you the ubiquitous weed purslane, Portulaca oleracea, which ranges in America from Amazonia to Alaska. It is one of the world’s richest sources of beta carotene, vitamins C and E, all wrapped up with the highest omega-3 composition of any leafy vegetable. One more Latin American herbs with high omega-3s is the chia of chia pet fame. Purslane is to me, one of the most delicious of weeds, raw or cooked or pickled, and if you get caught without your adrenaline kit, ball some up under your tongue and you will get a sublingual equivalent of adrenaline.

A lot of you got more cilantro than you wanted here and there. To me, it is a love/hate herb, and about ten percent of the people in my classes hate it. Fortunately for me, my garden crew likes it. In temperate America, the cilantro flavor and health benefits are due to the temperate herb, coriander, Coriandrum sativum. In tropical America, this is due to a weedy herb that looks like a thistle, called culantro, Eryngium foetidum, and the coriander haters will agree, it smells fetid, like its epithet. Me, I like it. Today (April 20, 2012) I am being visited by a companion-plant master gardener wanting to protect his tomatoes from stick bugs (which incidentally have been aromatically linked to the aroma of cilantro. He speculates that coriander or cilantro might help. I voted instead for pulegone-containing mints, many of which grow in Cuba.

Cobblestone streets in Trinidad, Cuba

I’ll have afterthoughts about our Cuban food farmacy for years to come, and I may be compulsive enough to send more info on to you. I’d like to go again, but only when I can fly straight from Baltimore to Havana, and when I can have more time in the country and less on the quaint cobblestone city tours. Cobblestones and cities are not my element; my element is the greenery.

Jim with guide Andres at Escambray mountains Sierra de Sancti Spiritus - Sendero la alfombra magica


Beans, beans, good for the heart
The more you eat, the less you infarct.

1. Ananas comosus L. Bromeliaceae. “Piña”, “Piña negra”, “Pineapple”. bromelain
2. Annona muricata L. Annonaceae. “Guanábana”, “Graviola”,”Soursop”. acetogenins
3. Arachis hypogaea L. Fabaceae. “Maní”, “Peanuts”. daidzein; genistein; resveratrol
4. Bixa orellana L. Bixaceae. “Achote”, “Achiote amarillo”, “Annatto”. carotenoids
5. Capsicum spp. L. Solanaceae. “Aji”, “Hot Pepper”. capsaicin; carotenoids
6. Carica papaya L. Caricaceae. “Fruta Bomba”, “Papaya (elsewhere)”. chymopapain, papain
7. Cucurbita maxima Duch. Cucurbitaceae. “Zapallo”, “Pumpkin”. selenium, sterols, zinc
8. Elaeis spp. Aracaceae. “Palma aceite”, “Oil Palm”. carotenoids, tocotrienols
9. Lycopersicon esculentum Mill. Solanaceae. “Tomate”, “Tomato”. lycopene
10. Persea americana Mill. Lauraceae. “Palta”, “Avocado”. lutein, MUFA, vit. D (?)
11. Phaseolus vulgaris L. Fabaceae. “Frijole”, “Bean”. daidzein, genistein
12. Theobroma cacao L. Sterculiaceae. “Cacao”, “Chocolate”. caffeine, theobromine, theophylline
13. Zea mays L. Poaceae. “Maiz morado”, “Maiz”, “Blue Corn”. anthocyanins, corn silk

Pineapple, Ananas comosus

(lower bad LDL and up the good HDL cholesterol)

Black beans (XX8489997), black pepper; black rice (X21289511), butterbeans (XX8489997), chickpea (XX1800305), chocolate (X20968113), cinnamon (X22186322 in rabbits), coconut, coriander (X18831331in rats), cumin (HMG-CoA-Reductase Inhibitor `X16822210), fenugreek (X21106928), flax (X21152727), garlic (X16320801), ginger (X20730603), grapefruit (seed extract (X19391322), green tea (X17184499), lemon (see Teuscher), lentils (XX8489997), onion (X 20090891), orange (X11063434, X20729016), peas (XX8489997), peanut (X20456815), peppermint (X21647314), pistachio (X21228801), pomegranate (flowers X18950673), pumpkin seed (X21545273), roselle (X19965962), sage (X21506190), tamarind (`X21989999), tulsi (X20608759), turmeric (XX3215683), walnut (X16193197), watercress (X17980985).

[[Note the numbers are PubMed serial numbers of articles showing that the food raised the good HDL-cholesterol, e.g., after 42 days on dietary baked beans, peas, lentils, and butter beans, HDL-cholesterol levels were raised significantly (XX8489997).]]

Compare the Amazon Food Farmacy, for my Amazonian Travelers:
1. aguaje, Mauritia flexuosa (super source of beta-carotene)
2. annatto, Bixa orellana(unique source of bixin)

Jim holding Annatto, Bixa orellana

3. avocado, Persea americana (best source of oleic acid and good for lutein, maybe even Vitamin D)
4. black beans, Phaseolus vulgaris (great source of estrogenic isoflavones; good source anthocyanins, choline and folate)
5. blue corn, Zea mays (great source of anthocyanins, reasonable source of melatonin and zeaxanthin)
6. brazilnut, Bertholettia excelsa (best source of selenium and lecithin)
7. camu-camu, Myrciaria dubia (best source of Vitamin C)
8. capsicum, Capsicum spp. (unique source of capsaicin, and good source of carotenoids)
9. chocolate, Theobroma cacao (super source of proanthocyanidins, anandamide, xanthines, namesake of theobromine; but better sweetened with non-caloric Stevia)
10. genipap, Genipa americana (source of geniposide)
11. oilpalm, Elaeis guineense and oleifera (oil one of best sources of tocotrienol and good source of carotenoids)
12. peanuts, Arachis hypogaea (daidzein, daidzin, genistin, puerarin, resveratrol)
13. pineapple, Ananas comosus (unique source of proteolytic enzyme bromelain)
14. papaya, Carica papaya (unique source of proteolytic enzymes carpain, chymopapain and papain; good source of BITC)
15. pumpkin, Cucurbita pepo (seed great source of 3 amino acids for prostate [alanine (200 mg/day), glutamic-acid (200 mg/day), glycine (200 mg/day)], linoleic-acid, selenium, beta-sitosterol ([60 mg/day)])
16. purslane, Portulaca oleracea ( the all-around salad herb, super for A, C, E, magnesium, noradrenalin, protein, and alpha-linoleic-acid)
17. stevia, Stevia rebaudiana (unique source of non-nutrient sweetener stevioside)
18. sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas (good source of ascorbic acid, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, ellagic acid, quercetin and rutin)
19. tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum (tastiest source of lycopene, good source of zinc, GABA)
20. velvetbean, Mucuna pruriens (major source of l-dopa, seeds up to ten percent, even more than fababean, and second best source of lecithin).

Proper consumption of adequate quantities of these Amazon wonders (and echoing the TV commercials, in concert with a prudent and varied diet and exercise regime), harvested renewably, could improve your health while improving the health of the Amazon Rain Forest and our planetary environment. While I am impressed with all of these and think that increased consumption of these (in lieu of reduced animal fats, etc.) by North Americans could do them as much good as going on the Childers, Cretan, or Mediterranean diets, I can also see how using this Amazonian diet renewably and wisely might even help the health of the planet, helping us preserve the vital lungs of our hemisphere (the Amazon rain forest), thereby improving the health of our individual lungs, hearts and other vital organs.

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Plant Rant: Skunk Cabbage – Passing the stink test.

10 March 2012

Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, with newly opened basal rosette of leaves with spathe still present.

Time to get back to the garden begins in early March. One of our two new head gardeners, Anna Wallis, started with me this week, and together we have been cutting down the winter botany stubble, weeding out some of the winter annuals, and getting ready for a class next weekend. Sara Saurus, our other new head gardener, is still on her migration route north and aiming to join us next week. In addition to his daily stroll around the garden and woods, Jim Duke has been holed up in the grotto working on an update to the Peterson field Guide of Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, compiling information about Cuban plants, and nourishing Anna and me with soup.

Leucojum vernum

For the most part, this has been an extremely mild and spring-like winter. Here it is the first week of March with not a drop of snow to speak of except for the patches of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in the valley. Rosemary certainly did not need her burlap bunting this winter and rejoiced with blossoms all season. The winter annual hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) along with crocus (Crocus chyrsanthus), dead nettle (Lamium purpureum), periwinkle (Vinca minor), and lenten rose (Helleborus niger) have dotted the terraces and woods with floral interest for weeks. Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) and butterbur (Petasites spp.) are currently in flower before their leaves appear. Spring snowflakes (Leucojum vernum), golden ragwort

Wood frog Rana sylvatica and gelatinous egg mass.

(Senecio aureus), spring beauties (Claytonia virginiana), and the invasive pilewort (Ranunculus ficaria) are blooming in the yin/yang valley. The red shouldered hawks are feisty, the wood frogs called early with their clicky quacks last week, the spring peepers have been out for over a week, phoebe is back screaming “phoebe” by the barn, the hunkered down nettles are beginning to rise, and the skunk cabbages that Jim transplanted down in the valley are already unfurling their leaves.

Eastern skunk cabbage with torn off spathe to expose spadix in bloom

Skunk Cabbage has been flowering in the bottomlands with stagnant water around the garden for the the last several weeks. One needs to go out to the woods where this native lives, squat down low to the ground, crush the leaves or the flowering parts, and get a mephitic whiff to understand first-hand why its name is so apropos. One needs to sink a bit into the soft, moist muddy earth to feel its habitat. One needs to be chilled by the cooler air in the ravines or the wet low-lying areas to know its haunt. One needs to rub the thick waxy surface of its hooded spathe and the bumpy globular spadix inside to examine its reproductive parts. Hmmm…that last sentence reads a bit kinky, but I am leaving it here for now. One can’t experience skunk cabbage sitting inside with a computer or hand-held device, one must get outside with hands-on and noses-on to experience skunk cabbage.

Skunk cabbage grows in moist bottomlands.

Eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus – Family Araceae)  Etymology: symploke meaning connected; carpus meaning fruit; foetidus meaning fetid.  The Araceae family, otherwise know as Arums or Aroids, with 109 genera includes the Jack-in-the Pulpits and Green Dragons (Arisaema spp.), Anthuriums, Monsteras, and Philodendrons. Arums are distinct due to their spadix inflorescences and spathe leaf shaped bracts, as well as calcium oxalate crystals in their roots and other parts. Taste is acrid and bitter, and in large quantities toxic.

Skunk Cabbage is often the first native plant to bloom for the year and pokes it hooded spathe and tightly coiled leaves up and out of the ground sometime during mid-winter here in Maryland. Occasionally, I have been startled to notice them already up in late fall.  In the dead of winter, skunk cabbage comes alive. On most winters, I regularly find snow melted circularly around the emerging flowering parts and unfurled leaves.

skunk cabbage emerged in the snow - not taken 2011-12 winter

This winter, being so spring-like, lacked snow, and at first glance, the emerging plants were camouflaged and not immediately obvious where the skunk cabbage patches were. However, I know where to look since I have been traipsing the woods for decades, and these perennials live hundreds of years old in the same communities. I rarely see just one skunk cabbage and often encounter tens to thousands of plants. Skunk cabbage is thermogenic (heat generating), and according to Roger M. Knutson’s November 1974 paper in Science Magazine, Heat Production and Temperature Regulation in Eastern Skunk Cabbage, “[t]he spadix of Symplocarpus foetidus L. maintains an internal temperature 15° to 35°C (59 to 95° F) above ambient air temperatures of -15° to +15°C. For at least 14 days it consumes oxygen at a rate comparable to that of homeothermic animals of equivalent size.” I consider it a “warm blooded” plant in the winter – with the ability to regulate and adjust temperature to the outside temperature.  According to Knutson, to maintain skunk cabbage’s elevated heat generated during the winter is derived from the “actively respiring tissue of the spadix” as well as from the enormous root’s “inexhaustible supply of respiratory substrate.”

Peering inside the spathe is the spadix in bloom. This is cluster of individual petal-less flowers made of four cuboid sepals. Note the pollen grains from the four stamens surrounding the pistil of the ovary.

The temperature is maintained in the spadix and  Jim Duke writes in the Peterson Field Guide of Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs that the heat is “because of the thermogenesis of salicylic acid and salicylates in the flower.” A more recent paper by R. S. Seymour challenges the salicylic hypothesis as it pertains to skunk cabbage. After discussing this discrepancy with Jim, it appears as if there is still research to be done on the exact mechanism of skunk cabbage thermogenesis and also on the constituents responsible for the odor.

Skunk cabbage hooded spathe family conceal their spadices inside.

Peering inside the mottled mauve and light green speckled and variegated spathe hood, one will see a dark mauve spadix – an inflorescence globe or ellipse of fused petal-less flowers. (see above photos) Each individual flower is cuboid shaped with four sepals. I have noted a variety of color schemes of varying shades of purple to mauve to green on the spathe.  While the spadix inflorescence is bloom, one can note in the center of each fused flower, a tuft of four stamens with bright yellow pollen. The warmth generated by the spadix coupled with the putrid smell of rotting meat attract insects such as honey bees, flesh flies, carrion flies, water lily leaf beetles and predator spiders (Eastman, J. The Book of Bog and Swamp, 1995). After the flowers complete their bloom period, the spathe withers and the leaves uncoil into rosette of large blades.  The brilliant green leaves of a skunk cabbage patch glow conspicuously in the woods by mid-spring and are indicators to me of where the ground is seeping wet and not so easy to walk. By mid summer, when the vernal rain ground water has evaporated and dried, the leaves disintegrate and dissolve leaving only the ripening ovary fruit as a trace. The leaves do not contain many fibers and are mostly water and air. I have read that the plant only propagates via the seeds from the fruit and not from root shoots and takes several years to mature to the point of producing flowering parts.

About this time last year, I took a  microscopy class and brought in skunk cabbage spadix, spathe, and early leaves to examine under the polarizing microscope. The projected image from my slide glowed with needles of calcium oxalate found in all parts of the plant. Calcium oxalate renders the plant difficult to swallow making it not the edible plant that one might assume from the vegetable in its name. Euell Gibbons in Stalking the Healthful Herbs (1966), tells of his horrific experience in following highly recommended recipes for skunk cabbage that claimed to leave “no trace” of the putrid odor. His tale explains that he used the “tightly rolled cones of young leaves” as suggested, and found not only was there a much more than trace of odor, but was aghast that his kitchen reeked with the smell of an “angry skunk.” He also was disheartened to learn that upon consuming just one bite of his dish, his mouth and throat burned with discomfort. He offered his dish to others, all of whom refused to take a second bite. Gibbons was tenacious to find a recipe, and even after the first inedible malodorous cooking episode, he tried to figure out how to use skunk cabbage as the “Indians” did.  He dehydrated the leaves and roots for months, and eventually, after many failed culinary attempts, discovered that with the dried plant material, he could cook skunk cabbage pancakes and Herb Meat Cabbage Pudding. Due to the toxic and burning calcium oxalates in fresh Skunk cabbage is not considered an emergency food and can only be successfully used when dried for an extended period. Bears, however, have been reported to eat the leaves after their hibernation and there are sightings of turkeys eating the flowers.

I personally do not find the smell as offensive as others have described. Upon sniffing several spathes and spadixes, I noted that not all of them reek, some are very mild, and others are fetid. I have not made foodstuff of skunk cabbage but have tried chewing on portions of the plant. After masticating even just a minute amount, the tip of my tongue burned for at over an hour.

Me digging skunk cabbage

Instead of cooking, I once turned to making a tincture of the roots. Years back, I was with in a class that dug the roots down by the Middle Patuxent River. The root was enormous and took several of us to finally get it out the ground. Apparently, skunk cabbage has wrinkled “contractile roots” that pull deep into the soil making the process of digging a root virtually impossible.

Ethnobotanist Daniel E. Moerman, reports that Native Americans used skunk cabbage for purposes such as coughs, pains, epilepsy, swellings, whooping cough, wounds, cramps, pains, headaches, and failing of the wound.  Skunk cabbage was listed in the US Pharmacopeia as Dracontium in the 19th century for use as as an antispasmodic, and for coughs, dropsy and epilepsy. The Eclectics used it as an emetic, for respiratory ailments, diaphoretic, spasmodic asthma, nervous irritability and in fever powders.  My yellowed and oxidized Back to Eden written by Jethro Kloss in 1939, tells of skunk cabbage’s use as a “sudorific (causing one to sweat), expectorant, pectoral, antispasmodic, stimulant [and an] expectorant.” Skunk cabbage is listed in his antispasmodic tincture for cramps in the bowels, snake bites and mad dog bites or even with lockjaw. Personally, I would not try it for rabies or lockjaw, but may follow his recipe for a respiratory expectorant or for cramps.  The late well-known herbalist Michael Moore used it in his formulas for cough, sudorific and catarrh powders and snuff. One must heed caution when using skunk cabbage and use it only in very low doses or with other herbs. It is also important not to confuse it with the similar looking and poisonous hellebore Veratrum viride, which grows in similar habitat.

Odd to think that a woman of rituals is one of the someones I have become. I find myself attracted to rituals that define the year and comfort my yearning to visit markers of time passing. Like others, I embrace rituals with family and friends by celebrating life cycle events and rites of passages. However, I must say that when left to my own, what I truly seek are the rituals of nature and seasonal phenological occurrences.  Skunk cabbage is a ritual for me. I feel empty without going to trusty skunk cabbage stands and seeking the spathe and the spadix when the days are short and nights are long. These days are growing longer now, the leaves elongating, soon the spathe will wither, and by autumn, the spadix will grow into a top heavy fruit flopped over hugging the earth. Sweet.

The time is now to get to the woods before the skunk cabbage flowers are passed.
Time to get back to the garden. Please come by and visit.

Skunk cabbage mature fruit.

Posted in environmental education, medicinal and edible plants, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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: http://my.ilstu.edu/~jrcarter/ice/diurnal/stems/

 “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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