Today I got to experiment first-hand with a remedy for Stinging Nettle stings. Some nettle was growing in my  mint patch and though I am aware of it and am careful when harvesting mint, my guests may not. I was tidying up that patch and thought I’d relocate the three nettle plants to the nettle patch (out of the way in the back of the property, behind the fence).

Tip: just wearing gloves and a short sleeved shirt is not ample protection.

I got stung badly on the bare arm and then, through the glove, on a finger. The blisters and the itch formed immediately. I ran out back to our “lawn” (more like a clover patch) and picked some plantain leaves, crushed them in a mortar and applied them as a poultice.

Instant relief!

If memory serves, the blisters and itch can last many hours. The itch was abolished instantly, and the blisters were gone after 5 minutes of applying the leaf.


Just over the weekend a friend and I were talking about herbal medicine. He didn’t quite “believe in it”. Turns out that what he doesn’t believe in is that plants can have a beneficial effect. That some are detrimental and poisonous, or that their malevolent effect can indeed be instant – e.g., Stinging Nettle – he had no problem accepting.

When I pointed this out it was a revelation. All our trust in the benefits of plants has been taken away by the pharmaceuticals. All that remains is the other side of the coin. A weird coin it is now, hanging there in people’s minds, in our culture…

I have been thinking for a while now to grow Ginger (Zingiber officinalis).  I finally had two pieces of root that seemed like good candidates. They were quite old and had already sprouted in several places.

I cut them up, making sure each part had two or three buds or eyes, and into the dark, rich soil they went, inside an old wine case (I figured the rhizomes grow horizontally, so a container that is wide and not too deep seems ideal). I drilled holes in the bottom.

Ginger, being a tropical plant, likes shelter, filtered sunlight and warm, moist, rich soil. It can’t stand frost, so I’ll have to bring it inside to overwinter.

I reserved another such wine box for a turmeric root, which I’ll pick up from the Indian store today.

Last week I sent out my first poem in the 350 poems project. It’s a project I’ve had on my mind for a while now, a way to force myself to be more attentive in daily life to the beauty of the world, the people and the language(s) around me. I used to stumble upon some gem and store it in my mind until such time I could jot it down in my journal and maybe even work on it a little to get it down right. I’ve lost that habit. This project puts the pressure on. 175 poems, that’s not nothing! But I’ll get 175 in return.

The first batch of poems will be sent out on cards with original work in pen, brush and ink by Pinaki Das, a Calcutta artist. “Mesho” generously gave me these little art works a couple of years ago with the injunction to give them out to my friends. I thank him with all my heart that I can send out my poem words accompanied by such beautiful visual work.

This first postcard was sent on its way on 10 June 2011.

I’ve always been fascinated by evolution in all its aspects (or at least those I can comprehend) but, I realize now, for different reasons than some if not most people. Usually people’s  interest in evolution is in a theory of advancement, even perfection. These people reach for the light, like the  plants that developed vascular systems to grow upright, up toward the sun, and left the primitive, non-vascular mosses behind, eventually shading them out.

The Asters, the dandelion among them, will appeal to them. They are some of the most advanced plants in on earth, well-adapted to new circumstances, and newer.

I’m not charmed. The Asters are to me but the first and the least interesting step on a long ladder leading back, down into time. Primitive, that’s what I want to  see. The older, the more fascinating. So, among the flowering plants, I like the buttercups (Ranunculus).  The buttercups are (give or take) at least 34 million years old (*). I am honored to have one of these awesome survivors in my garden.

Now, my buttercup is not nearly as ancient as these guys:

I don’t mean the squash – though the Cucurbitaceae as a family are  even older than the buttercups, originating in the Late Cretaceous, some 60 million years ago (**). I mean the mushroom, as yet unidentified. A mushroom is the fruiting body of a fungus, and fungi like these made landfall in the Cambrian, around 500 million years ago, long before plants did.

These mushrooms are growing, by the looks of it symbiotically, in the bed I fertilized with horse manure last Fall. It is, by the smell and feel of it, my richest bed, but we have mushrooms above ground and mycelium in it (or, I should write, through) it all over our property. It’s nothing to be alarmed about. Almost all plants partner with fungi, and 80% of plants couldn’t survive without them. It was probably this association that made it possible for plants to come ashore in the first place, between 440-510 million years ago.

I’ve found the same combination on some of the seedlings’ peat pots (the pairing here is some other, unidentified fungus, with a pepper seedling).

How awesome is it, to have evolution – time itself – growing right there in your vegetable garden, and to know it, and to be able to tell some of that story.

(*) see here for a marvelous ladder.

(**) more ladders here.

My copy of Botany in a Day by Thomas Elpel arrived yesterday and I am hooked. Clearly written, humorous but without fluff and to the point, tightly structured, and beginning in the beginning and ending with the end. Just the way I like my books on the structure and evolution of plants. I plan to learn a lot!

That’s it for today. Just a plug for this wonderful book.

Amie and the comfrey

Today Amie helped me harvest the comfrey and feverfew. She helped me string up those big, fat comfrey leaves. “It’s like stringing fish!” she said. I asked her where she got that idea? She couldn’t remember, but she was right. She loved the smell of the feverfew flowers – they look and smell like chamomile, but the plants are not related. I was amazed at her patience, taking them from me, standing around in the hot sun.

As we were harvesting, she suddenly said how she loves it that I am a beekeeper, and that she asked her friends at school and it turned out that no one else’s mom was a beekeeper. (I did a little beekeeper talk for her class recently).  We also talked about how not many people make medicine out of plants, and about the difference between pharmaceuticals and plant medicine (and that each has its place). And about the generosity of the plants, how important it is to take from them only what we need, only what is ready, and leave most of the plant to to thrive.  “Like when we rob from the bees,” she says.

Yes, dear child. How I love doing this with you.

Amie garbling dried mint

I made a page inventorizing the herbal medicines in my apothecary, and I thought I should  also have a page with all the herbs growing in the garden and being grown from seed. Ordered alphabetically according to their Latin name, annuals indicated:

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) (above)

Chinese Aconite (Aconitum carmichaeli) SEEDLINGS

Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis) SEEDLINGS

Golden Chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria) (above)

Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberosa)

Astragalus (* annual)

Echinacea purpurea FULL GROWN (harvestable) and SEEDLINGS

Fleabane (Erigeron) (above)

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

Cleavers (Galium aparine) – SEEDLINGS

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) FULL GROWN (harvestable) and SEEDLINGS

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) SEEDLINGS

Elecampane (Inula helenium)

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) SEEDLINGS


Cheese Mallow (Malva rotundifolia) (above) – les potent than Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis)

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) SEEDLING

Plantain (Plantago lanceaolata) – WILD

Giant Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) 

Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris) SEEDLING

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium or Chrysanthemum parthenium) (above)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – WILD

Valerian (Valeriana officinalisSEEDLING

Mullein (Verbascum spp.) – WILD

Last week I splurged on Wildcraft, a cooperative board game for kids (and adults) developed by HerbMentor, one of my favorite places for herbal instruction. The idea of the game is to make it up the mountain to the huckleberry patch, gather huckleberries, and make it back down again to grandma’s house before nightfall. And not to perish.

In the official game there’s not much chance of perishing. When you land on a cross you get a trouble card – a hornet sting, sore muscles, hunger, or stomach ache. But you start out with four remedy cards and gather lots along the way. It’s usually an easy walk. Usually.

Amie loved the game from the very first. She has played it several times, with us or by herself. She’ll skip around the house telling her doll they should find some Plantain for that bee sting, Echinacea for the sniffles. It’s sweet.

Then yesterday she came up with a variation. She set up the board and invited me to play, but wisely kept the rules to herself until I had committed (you spin that wheel, you’re committed). The variation was this: only trouble cards, no remedy cards.

Painful, to say the least! Our conversation ran thus:

– You’re killing me!

– Don’t blame it on me.

– Well, you’re the one who invented this game.

– Blaming isn’t nice. Oops, now you’ve got diarrhea. Too bad!

She weighed  ailments (diarrhea would be the worst one) and inflicted pain (gleefully handing out the cards) all in the playful and safe setting of a game. She also explored endurance and the extent to which the human body can handle pain and discomfort. At the end of the game, when we finally made it back to grandma’s house, Amie gathered she must be near death. Like so:

Notice the tongue sticking out, a sure sign of near death.

The cards near her head, by the way, were her trouble cards. The long line near her feet, those were mine! She invited me to come lie next to her and be really dead.

I declined, stating someone had to take the picture.

I didn’t see any mites during my last inspection, not even on the grubs that were accidentally exposed.  Still, the Apiguard treatment will arrive in a few days and before I apply it I’d like to do a mite count. Mite counts with sticky boards are not easy to interpret. Thresholds vary according to the amount of bees in the hive  (and I’m not good yet at estimating), the time of year, and the hygienic (grooming) behavior of the bees. But I’m thinking I could count, then treat, and then count again. That should give me some idea.

This time I made a “sticky board” myself, on the cheap. I found an old poster  made of strong, shiny paper. I fitted it to the board, then marked and numbered areas on it, which makes the  counting easier.

Then I swallowed twice  and entered a CVS (I can no longer enter places like CVS without shivering – and not just because in Summer their themostat is set at 55F) to buy some petroleum jelly (I know, that’s not quite post-carbon beekeeping). Slathering that stuff on is kind of fun.

I slid the board under the hive , which has a permanently open (screened) bottom, on Saturday at 2:15pm. I’ll have to pull it around the same time on Tuesday.