Huckleberry, Nutritious Fruits That Deserve the Spotlight Once Again

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Huckleberry (Vaccinium and Gaylussacia) are a group of fruiting trees and shrubs that belong to the heather family Ericaceae. The family contains a wide variety of huckleberry species native to each corner of the US. Some members of this family contain other well known berries. Including cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), all of which are common in parts of New England. You may often pass a Huckleberry shrub or tree on your weekend walk in the forest or even have a species nestled at the bottom of your garden.

Habitat

Typically you will find all huckleberry varieties growing on or near alpine or subalpine slopes, forests and lake sides. Their root system is unusually shallow, with the branches extending from an underground stem. Their fruits vary in size, shape and color, from bright red to deep black.

Varieties

Black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata)
Black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata) (Photo by Steven G. Johnson on Wikimedia Commons)

The name huckleberry is often used to refer to a broad range of wild fruiting trees across America. The Vaccinium varieties are typically found in the west of the United States, however some varieties can be found throughout the Northern hemisphere. These include red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) and bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus). Whereas the Gaylussacia huckleberry varieties are found in North East America and also within mountainous areas of South America.

The Black Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata) is one of four particularly common species in the north east. It bears plump, round berries about half an inch in diameter. Box huckleberry (Gaylussacia brachycera) is another common variety that you may encounter in the Appalachian mountains. This variety differs from other huckleberry species as it lacks the resinous glands found on the under side of its leaves.

A name made exceedingly familiar by ‘Huckleberry Finn’ in the famous books of Mark Twain. Huckleberries seem to have drifted into the past as an old fashioned fruit that many believe has been replaced by more exotic and commercially farmed options. The tart tasting berry has such a variety of uses, an interesting history and is a great source of nutrition, which are all explored below.

Developing Box Huckleberry (Gaylussacia brachycera) in dry thickets
Developing Box Huckleberry (Gaylussacia brachycera) in dry thickets (Photo by Mason Brock on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and Harvesting

Many have tried to farm and cultivate huckleberries, but due to their specific growing conditions, many attempts failed to succeed. Typically, huckleberry seeds need a covering of snow or a period of cold weather to undergo stratification. This is the preparation a seed moves through to get ready for germination. Many also believe that the soil composition found in the wild is hard to replicate commercially. Because of this huckleberries are often commercially harvested from the wild, to be turned into jams and other products.

Native Americans have successfully cultivated wild areas of huckleberries for many generations. Crop burnings were carried out to stimulate the growth of the plant. Huckleberries are very common in areas of recently burnt or clear cut land. They exceed very well when competition from other plants is limited.

Damp soil with a slight acidity is usually the optimum condition for growing huckleberry varieties. Depending on your chosen variety you may struggle to grow huckleberries unless your land or garden is similar to the conditions the plant experiences in the wild. Many varieties are specifically cultivated and grown as an ornamental addition to a garden.

Foraging

The fruits tend to ripen in late summer, with fall being the perfect time to harvest and forage. Most foragers will collect huckleberries by hand from local plants, however you may need to journey into a forest or mountainous slope to find your source. It is often suggested to pick huckleberry fruits facing uphill, as this gives you the best angle for seeing any fruits hidden by leaves.

Foraging is usually a safe activity, but take care of steep slopes, daylight hours and also bears if you are in areas that they inhabit. As with all types of foraging, make sure not to pick the area clean. Remember to leave some for other foragers, including wildlife! They are an important food source for many bird species, small mammals and even bears. When you have collected your fill, keep the berries cool and refrigerate or freeze as soon as you get home.

Identification

As with any type of foraging or harvesting of wild foods, please be sure that you are collecting the correct fruit. Some berry species can be poisonous, so correct identification is very important. Toxic look-a-likes exist such as garden huckleberries (Solanum nigrum), and American black nightshade (Solanum americanum). Consider purchasing an identification book or even take a local guide with you who knows the plant life. Huckleberry looks very similar to native Blueberries which are perfectly edible too.

Huckleberry plants will typically measure no more than 4 and a half feet, anything taller is not likely to be huckleberry. You will usually find them at the edge of forests or areas of land as they need more light. Their leaves are ovate and will be lightly serrated at the edges.

History

Huckleberries have a long history within Native Americans cultures. They have been collected and even cultivated by many generations for use within cuisine and also herbal remedies. Women and girls would usually be the collectors of huckleberries. During the harvesting season from mid summer to late fall high quantities of berries were collected and dried for use throughout the winter. Berry collecting ceremonies were often carried out, with the all members of the community involved in processing, drying and storing the berries. Songs, blessings and rituals all played a part in this important harvest. The berries still hold significance for many Native American peoples today.

Native American women with basket of huckleberries
Native American women with basket of huckleberries (Photo by OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons on Wikimedia Commons)

Current situation

Many varieties of huckleberry have worrying populations levels. For example the box huckleberry is listed as a vulnerable species and black huckleberry is considered threatened. Over foraging and lack of habitat is largely to blame, so sustainable foraging must be undertaken.

Box Huckleberry (Gaylussacia brachycera) in bloom
Box Huckleberry (Gaylussacia brachycera) in bloom (Photo by Hlpgtf2 on Wikimedia Commons)

Is Huckleberry Toxic?

Wild huckleberry varieties are safe to consume (within reasonable, food quantities). However care must be taken when identifying plants. Garden huckleberries, which bare no relation to the wild varieties, can be toxic when eaten raw. So be sure to correctly identify the plant you wish to harvest.

Uses

Culinary uses of Huckleberry

Jams, pies, puddings, pancakes, syrups, you name it, huckleberry can be incorporated into a variety of recipes. The leaves, whether dried or fresh, can also be infused with boiling water to create a tea. You are not likely to find north eastern huckleberry varieties in supermarkets or within many commercial products. So local harvesting is the best way to collect your own supply. Many Native American recipes used huckleberries within cakes, and even as an accompaniment to salmon roe.

Huckleberry picking
Huckleberry picking (Photo by U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of Huckleberry

The stem, leaves and roots of huckleberry plants were used by Native Americans to create healing remedies for arthritis and heart troubles. Europeans once used Vaccinium huckleberry extracts to treat inflammations and sores within the throat and mouth.

Like their nutritious, native neighbors Juneberry (Amelanchier) and Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), Huckleberries have a good amount of vitamin C and high levels of antioxidants. Their high level of vitamin C has led many people to believe huckleberries are good for maintaining a healthy immune system and for keeping diseases at bay.

Did you know…

In 2000 huckleberry was officially declared the state fruit of Idaho. The state is the native home to a number of varieties including Black Huckleberry.

Conclusion

Hopefully now as you pass by a tree or shrub you will look at huckleberry in a new light. Perhaps even harvesting some delectable berries for a pie or homemade jam. But be sure to take only as many as you need, it is our responsibility to keep populations of huckleberries thriving and healthy.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Lavender, A Widely Popular and Fragrant Beauty

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Lavender (Lavandula) is a widely popular and commonly cultivated member of the mint family. It consists of over 40 species of perennial, flowering plants, including the popular Lavandula angustifolia, or ‘English Lavender’. Lavender is native to large areas of the Mediterranean, North Africa, central Europe and many Atlantic islands, including Cape Verde.

You will usually find lavender growing within small dense shrubs that can reach almost 90cm in height. Depending on the particular species, leaves may be lightly serrated or long and thin with a layer of fine hairs. The aromatic, essential oils are usually obtained from the leaves. The recognisable purple flowers circle the stem in layers reaching almost 10cm in length. You will usually see lavender growing in shades of violet and lilac, however some white and pink varieties do exist.

It has a long history of being cultivated for its medicinal and culinary values. From fragrant essential oils in the cosmetics industry, to a cure for insomnia or restlessness.

Lavender Flowers
Lavender Flowers (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels)

Cultivation and History of Lavender

Lavender has been cultivated since the 14th century. First as a medical herb, then by the 17th century, it was harvested for use in perfume distilleries. English Lavender is the most commonly cultivated species. Lavender can be grown within great fields, notable areas being Provence in France. Here the fields are world famous for their immense sizes and beauty. Due to its delicate structure, lavender farms usually harvest the lavender by hand.

Generally the appearance of wild lavender is quite welcome however some cultivated varieties have ‘escaped’ and spread within the wild. Many people consider lavender an invasive weed within some parts of Australia.

To grow your own lavender, choose a location that receives full sun throughout the day. You must also ensure the soil is well draining and not too moist. You can grow lavender from seed, or buy an established plant from a local garden center. If you are growing lavender seeds, be prepared to wait up to 2 months for seedlings to appear. It is best to start the seeds indoors in winter, then transplant to the garden during spring.

Harvest lavender stems when roughly half of the buds have opened. Collecting during the morning is best as the oils will likely be more concentrated. Tie small bundles together and leave to dry in a cool dark place.

Lavandula fields (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavandula fields (Lavandula angustifolia) (Photo by Neptuul on Wikimedia Commons)

Is Lavender toxic?

You can safely consume lavender within small amounts in food and herbal remedies. If you are using essential oils or topical products, avoid using them with small children. Lavender may cause adverse hormonal effects in young boys, and may be poisonous to young children. If you are pregnant or breast feeding, it is best to avoid consuming lavender. This is because its effects on the body have not been fully researched.

Uses

Culinary uses of Lavender

Add lavender buds and leaves to salads, pastas and desserts for a fragrant hint of sweet lemon. It can give your custards, sorbets or cakes a delicate flowery flavor. You can also use them to add a depth of aromatic flavor to stews and savoury sauces. The flowers can also be candied, or used to decorate sweet, desserts and drinks. A herbal lavender tea is also commonly drank.

Lavender honey is also a popular product. It is said that Queen Elizabeth coveted lavender honey, encouraging its popularity throughout England.

Lavender Cupcakes
Lavender Cupcakes (Photo by hozinja on Wikimedia Commons)

Products created with Lavender

Cosmetics, perfumes and soaps are frequently fragranced with lavender oil. Its distinguishable aroma has a relaxing and calming effect. You can also create lavender sachets or pouches with dried lavender. Keep these within a drawer of clothes or a wardrobe for your clothes to carry a hint of lavender scent.

Medicinal uses of Lavender

Lavender has an extensive history of use. Ancient Romans once used the fragrant herb to sooth insect bites and to repel insects. It was also recognised as a potential relief for nervousness, depression and anxiety. Lavender oil products are often used by sufferers of anxiety to soothe their symptoms.

Did you know…

The ancient Romans used lavender when bathing, washing clothes and to scent their beds and hair.

Conclusion

Your garden wouldn’t be complete without a variety of lavender perching within a border or proudly displayed in a container. It is extremely attractive to bees and pollinators which can greatly benefit your other plants, particularly vegetables. Whilst you may be familiar with lavender scented soaps, instead, try experimenting with lavender in your kitchen too. Using your own dried lavender to create lavender scones or your own fragrant ice-cream. It has a great number of possibilities!

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Johnny Jump up (Heartsease), Dainty and Fragrant Blooms

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Johnny Jump up (Viola tricolor) is a small perennial plant, native to large areas of Europe. It has now been largely naturalized within the US. You may know this plant by other names including, wild pansy, heartsease, heart’s delight and love-in-idleness. It is the ancestor of the commonly cultivated border plants, pansies. You can find these small plants growing in open grassland, scrubland and embankments, whether coastal or inland.

With incredibly distinctive flowers in purples, blues, yellows and white, Johnny Jump up is a very attractive plant. It is generally known as a creeping plant that will usually grow to a height of 15cm. From a horizontal stem that creeps along the ground, the stalks emerge, which bear its flowers and leaves. Each stalk will produce a single flower, roughly 1.5cm in diameter. It will usually flower all the way through from April till September (in the Northern hemisphere). This makes them a very popular garden plant.

Johnny Jump Up, Viola tricolor
Johnny Jump Up, Viola tricolor (Photo by Alejandro Bayer Tamayo on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Johnny Jump up

Johnny Jump up is generally grown as an annual, particularly if you live within far north areas. They are easy to grow whether in the garden or as an attractive windowsill plant. It has been cultivated and grown as an ornamental and medicinal plant since the middle ages.

The plant prefers areas of full or partial sunlight, and very well draining soil. During hot summers they may wilt, so a partially shaded area is usually best. They need little maintenance once established, however make sure to water them during any dry spells of weather. Remove dead flowers to encourage new blooms to grow.

To grow Johnny Jump up from seed, start them within containers inside roughly 8 weeks before the last frosts are due to hit. You should expect to see seedlings within 2-3 weeks. When the frosts have passed, begin to place the seedlings into your border or outdoor container at least 12cm apart.

Johnny Jump Up habitat
Johnny Jump Up habitat (Photo by Frank Vincentz on Wikimedia Commons)

Is Johnny Jump up toxic?

The flowers of Johnny Jump up are edible, but only in small quantities suitable for food. If you are pregnant, breast feeding or ill, consult a medical practitioner before attempting to consume the flowers. This is because research on the effects they may have on young infants is limited.

Uses

Culinary uses of Johnny Jump up

The flowers of Johnny Jump up can make a beautiful and attractive addition to salads, desserts and drinks. Freeze them into ice cubes and add to your favorite beverages or cocktails. Or, embellish light, and sweet desserts like ice creams, panna cotta or cheesecakes. You can also add them into salads, or other light tasting dishes as a decorative splash of color.

Products created with Johnny Jump up

From scented soaps and dyes, to essential oils and perfumes. The flowers of Johnny Jump up are widely used in some commercial products.

Viola Tricolor Illustration (Illustration by Walther Otto Müller on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of Johnny Jump up

Johnny Jump up can be used in a variety of medical applications. From a poultice to place on acne and inflamed skin, to an infused tea which can help to ease phlegm from bronchitis or colds. Johnny Jump up contains anti-microbial chemicals proving its usefulness in treating some conditions.

Recent research indicates that certain chemicals found within Johnny Jump up may prove useful in the development of some drugs. Further research is exploring its potential usefulness in treating certain cancers.

Did you know…

Johnny Jump up, within Roman mythology, was said to have been struck by the arrow of cupid. This in turn gave it prominence as a symbol of love and affection.

Conclusion

To conclude, with its romantic history and with great medicinal abilities, Johnny Jump up is a classic plant that deserves a place in any garden. Create your own aromatic teas, colorful salads or even your own fabric dyes with the beautiful flowers.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

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Hyssop, Attractive Flowers and a Great Herbal History

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Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) is a small perennial shrub that belongs to the mint family. It was once only native to parts of the Middle East and large areas of Southern Europe. However due to its revered medicinal value it has been traded and transported across the world. You can find it growing within the US and it is now widespread throughout Europe. It grows within open grassland, stony hillsides and meadows.

You will usually see hyssop growing as a bushy clump of woody stems and long, lance shaped, shiny leaves. It will usually reach a height of approximately 45cm, but some individuals may reach 1 meter. When flowering from July to September, delicate pink, purple or blue flowers emerge. Bees and butterflies are very attracted to fragrant hyssop flowers. 

Hyssopus officinalis (Hyssop)
Hyssopus officinalis (Photo by Joanna Boisse on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Hyssop

It has an extensive history spanning centuries for its use as a medicinal herb and also as an edible plant. From the ancient Greeks to the present day, hyssop can be used in a variety of ways.

Hyssop is a particularly hardy plant as it can withstand very dry conditions. Plant it within a sunny area within your garden to allow hyssop to thrive. If you live in a hot climate it may benefit from regular watering and partial shade. It can grow well within sandy and loamy soils, and well draining soil is best for planting.

You can grow hyssop indoors from seed in early spring. Place the seeds into the soil and scatter with a light dusting of top soil. You should begin to see seedlings after roughly 2-3 weeks. As soon as the first frosts have passed, indoor seeds can be transplanted to the garden. Space the seedlings roughly 12cm apart. If you live in a warmer climate, sow the seeds outdoors during late fall or early winter for seedlings to appear in the spring. You can also very easily propagate hyssop using root division or by growing cuttings.

Hyssopus officinalis (Hyssop)
Hyssopus officinalis (Hyssop) (Photo by Sten on Wikimedia Commons)

Is Hyssop toxic?

You can safely consume hyssop leaves, flowers and shoots within small quantities suitable for food. However children should not receive hyssop as a herbal remedy. The essential oil can cause seizures, even in some adults. If you are pregnant or breast feeding you should also avoid hyssop. This is because there is a risk it could cause contractions, or a young infant could be effected through breast milk.

Uses

Bright Pink Hyssop Flowers
Bright Pink Hyssop Flowers (Photo by H. Zell on Wikimedia Commons)

Culinary uses of Hyssop

You can use the flowers, young shoots and leaves of hyssop in a variety of ways within the kitchen. They have a strong aromatic flavor that resembles a cross between mint and sage. Add the flowers into salads or atop desserts as a decorative garnish. Use the leaves and young shoots to add an aromatic flavor to soups, salads, sauces and casseroles.

Medicinal uses of Hyssop

From sore throats to poor circulation, throughout the ages hyssop was thought to cure many illnesses. The oils, leaves and flowers of the plant have each been used in many herbal remedies. The leaves could be made into a poultice to soothe and protect wounds and burns.

You can create a tea from the leaves of hyssop to treat coughs, colds and flatulence. The essential oil can also be used in aromatherapy, but never consumed.

Did you know…

Due to its mild minty and almost ‘medicinal’ smell. Hyssop was once scattered on the floors of infirmaries and sick rooms to improve the smell and air quality.

Conclusion

An attractive plant with beautifully coloured flowers, hyssop would make a wonderful addition to a border or rock garden. With its culinary and medicinal uses it would also be a very useful addition to your herb garden too. The flavoring is particularly intense, so experiment with small amounts within your dishes first.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

our facebook page for additional articles and updates.

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See our privacy policy for more information about ads on this site

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Horseradish, Powerful Flavor with a Wealth of Uses

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Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is a perennial plant, related to wasabi, mustard and broccoli. Originally native only to parts of Western Asia and South Eastern Europe. You can now find horseradish grown worldwide for its culinary value. You will see it growing wild alongside hedgerows, embankments and ditch edges. Horseradish is particularly hardy, so where ever a root has managed to take hold in can usually grow.

The root of horseradish is thick and fleshy, and you can often find it growing to 50cm in length. The long crinkled, leaves will generally grow in a distinctive rosette shape from the base of the plant. When flowering in summer you will see small clusters of simple white flowers.

Generally you will only see the roots of horseradish being used as a vegetable or spice, however the leaves are also edible. The root has a pungent and spicy taste, with the leaves having a slightly more mild, bitter and peppery taste.

Horseradish Plant
Horseradish Plant (Photo by Hugo on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Horseradish

Horseradish is an extremely easy plant to grow and harvest. Due to its hardiness within the wild, you do not need very specific growing conditions to successfully grow horseradish. It has been cultivated for hundreds of years for its culinary and medicinal values.

Horseradish Flowers
Horseradish Flowers (Photo by H. Zell on Wikimedia Commons)

It tends to prefer a sunny spot with partial shade and well draining soil. You may also choose to plant horseradish within a container as it does have a habitat of spreading quickly. Plant the roots or seeds straight into the ground during fall or winter. Cuttings can be planted just after the last frosts have passed. Leaves will begin to develop and mature through the spring. These can be harvested for use within salads or sauces.

If flower buds develop consider removing them to allow the plant to focus all energy into the leaves and root system. The roots can easily be harvested once the plant has matured during the fall. Due to the long taproot within horseradish, it is likely to return again next year without need for replanting.

Is Horseradish toxic?

You can safely eat horseradish leaves and roots, however eating large amounts is likely to cause stomach upset. The chemicals that give horseradish its flavor are considered volatile. This means in high amounts they can begin to negatively effect your body. Even small amounts of horseradish can irritate the lining of your nose and mouth. If you are pregnant, breast feeding or suffer from stomach ulcers or conditions, horseradish consumption should be greatly limited or avoided.

Uses

Culinary uses of Horseradish

You can use raw horseradish leaves within salads or even pesto. Alternatively you could sauté or add them into soups, casseroles or a stir fry. Today horseradish is commonly used as a sauce throughout Europe, the US and other countries. It is particularly popular in the UK as a condiment used to accompany roast beef, eaten as a traditional Sunday roast. 

Horseradish also has a long culinary history. Since the middle ages its spicy and pungent taste has been favored. German people once used crushed horseradish with a little vinegar to create a spiced sauce for flavoring meat and fish.

Horseradish Root for sale at a market
Horseradish Root for sale at a market (Photo by Amanda Slater on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of Horseradish

The entire plant was once used as an ingredient in traditional remedies and medicines. Throughout the middle ages, it was used to treat coughs, colds and aid digestion. It was also applied topically to inflamed and arthritic joints to ease pain. Many also believed it could treat kidney and bladder conditions, scurvy and to remove intestinal worms. Today, many herbalists may use it for congestion relief as its powerful flavor can stimulate the lining of the sinus.

Did you know…

Wasabi and horseradish have very similar flavors. Due to the high popularity of wasabi and its limited availability as a plant, many wasabi sauces are now made using horseradish.

Conclusion

You can use horseradish in a variety of ways in the kitchen, from grating it over a dish of mascarpone and baked potatoes or roasting it alongside other vegetables. Horseradish can be much more than just a sauce. Horseradish has a high amount of vitamin C, making it a nutritious and delicious root vegetable to experiment with. Raw horseradish is not always easy to find within supermarkets or farmers markets. So, growing your own is a great way to have the root on hand for a homemade sauce.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

our facebook page for additional articles and updates.

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See our privacy policy for more information about ads on this site

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Horehound, A Weed to Some a Treat to Others

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Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), otherwise known as white horehound or common horehound, is a perennial herb. It is a member of the mint family, native to large areas of Europe, Northern Africa and parts of South and Central Asia. You will now find it growing across many countries, with a large population now found across the continents of America. 

Fairly similar in appearance to mint, you will however notice that horehound leaves have a green-grey appearance. The leaves are serrated, crinkled and coated in fine hairs. You will usually find it grows to roughly 35cm in height. When flowering in early summer to early fall, small white flowers will emerge in tight clusters.

It is considered a weed by many, however some individuals claim great therapeutic benefits from horehound. They can be found growing in a wide variety of areas, from roadsides and pastures to grassland and meadows.

Horehound Leaves
Horehound Leaves (Photo by Eugene Zelenko on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Horehound

Marrubium vulgare, Horehound Flowers
Marrubium vulgare, Horehound Flowers (Photo by Agnieszka Kwiecień, Nova on Wikimedia Commons)

Due to its close relation to mint, horehound can also be an invasive species. When growing within your garden you may prefer to keep it contained within a pot. It has the ability to successfully spread and survive in many wild locations. This means that horehound is incredibly easy to grow, and will usually survive a winter.

You can plant horehound using seeds, cuttings or division. Plant seeds approximately 3 weeks before the last expected frosts have finished. Sprinkle them over soil and cover with a thin layer of soil. After seedlings have appeared and begin to mature, you can plant them directly into the garden or container. Choose an area that receives full sun and has very well draining soil. To reduce any unwanted spread of horehound, cut and compost the flowers before they begin to seed.

Toxicity

You can safely consume horehound leaves in small quantities within food or herbal remedies. However research is limited on the long term effects of taking horehound. Consuming large quantities can also cause nausea and vomiting so care must be taken. If you are pregnant, breast feeding, diabetic or suffer from blood or heart conditions, it is best to avoid horehound.

Uses

Culinary uses of Horehound

Candied horehound was once a widely popular treat. You can boil dried horehound in water, then drain and combine with sugar and boil until caramelised. Pour the syrup into moulds and leave to cool before eating. Its flavor is a mixture of mild mint and root beer. Horehound beer and tea are other products that you can create with horehound.

You can also use the leaves within many culinary dishes. From salads to seafood, horehound can add another depth of mild and minty flavor.

White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare (Photo by H. Zell on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of Horehound

Horehound has a substantial medicinal history across cultures. The ancient Romans and Egyptians have been noted in many records of using horehound in their herbal concoctions. It was thought to be an antidote to poisoning and a cure for coughs and colds. Throughout Europe many herbalists used horehound tea in treating constipation, indigestion, wounds and liver problems.

Horehound may have the ability to reduce blood sugar levels. However much more research is needed to determine the full range of health benefits horehound may provide.

Did you know…

The name horehound is derived from old English words ‘hoar’ and ‘hune’, loosely translating as white, or downy, plant.

Conclusion

In conclusion, horehound will not be winning a beauty contest any time soon. Its deeply crinkled leaves and white flower clusters add texture and interest, but they are not particularly ornamental. The ancient usage of horehound, however, is very impressive. Try growing a small batch of seeds and try your hand at creating your own horehound candies or teas.

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Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Hibiscus, Showy Edible Flowers and Cultural Significance

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Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) are a group of flowering plants native to temperate and tropical regions. You will find them growing in many countries including, Mexico, Malaysia, Hawaii and the Caribbean. Other names that you may know hibiscus by, include rose mallow, rose of Sharon, Hawaiian hibiscus and China rose. You will find them growing within a diverse range of habitats, from wetlands to open grassland. 

The most distinguishable feature of hibiscus is the showy flowers that bloom in a range of colors, from deep pinks to purples and yellows. The large, trumpet shaped flowers are usually between 5 and 20cm in size, with 5 distinct petals. You will typically find hibiscus shrubs growing to around 3 to 5 meters. It also tends to extend to a width of around 2 meters. The leaves are deep green, glossy and lightly serrated in some species.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (Photo by Sweet Chily on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Hibiscus

All hibiscus species will grow best within full sunlight, and well drained soil with a slightly acidic pH. You will see them grown primarily as ornamental shrubs, however many countries grow hibiscus for its culinary and cultural uses.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis habitat
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis habitat (Photo by Forest & Kim Starr on Wikimedia Commons)

Grow hibiscus from cuttings, seed or by purchasing a young plant from your local garden center. Soak the seeds in water overnight then sow indoors during the winter, or 10 weeks before the last frost of spring. After sowing, you will start to see seedlings after roughly 2 weeks. Ensure the seedlings receive plenty of sunlight as they mature. Place young plants in the garden after strong roots have formed. If you grow seeds within a small container, consider moving them into a bigger pot before planting to allow more space for roots to establish.

For your hibiscus to thrive and produce many flowers, keep it watered during dry weather and mulch generously. It is possible to grow them within cooler and temperate climates. However you may need to bring the plant inside in winter as hibiscus does not fair well in frost. Regular pruning will also help to keep your hibiscus healthy. This will stop flower bearing stems and branches becoming too leggy.

Toxicity

You can safely eat hibiscus within reasonable amounts in food and herbal remedies. If you are pregnant or breast feeding, diabetic or suffer from low blood pressure, you should avoid taking hibiscus. Its full effects on the body are not throughly studied, and minor evidence suggests it could alter blood pressure.

Uses

Culinary uses of Hibiscus

Hibiscus tea is a very popular drink worldwide and can be served hot or cold. It has a high amount of Vitamin C and is drank as a refreshing and nutritious beverage. Try infusing the dried flowers with hot water and adding lime, honey and ice cubes for a refreshing drink. You may see this particular concoction on the menu of many Cambodian restaurants and bars. 

The dried flowers of hibiscus are edible and you can add them to a variety of dishes to add color or texture. You may choose to use them as a decorative garnish for desserts or to add a splash of color to a salad.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (Photo by Kreuzschnabel on Wikimedia Commons)

Products created with Hibiscus

Within areas of China and India hibiscus is often used as a shoe polish. The flowers can be rubbed directly onto the shoe or a black polish can be produced from crushed petals. Some short run production of paper types are created with hibiscus

Medicinal uses of Hibiscus

Indian Ayurveda and Chinese traditional medicines have frequently used hibiscus within remedies.  Records show that hibiscus tea could have been used by ancient Egyptians to reduce body temperature and treat certain diseases. Within some African cultures, hibiscus tea was thought to cure constipation, liver disease and the common cold. A poultice was also made with the leaves and applied directly to wounds and inflamed skin. Notably, many individuals from Iran still use hibiscus tea to lower blood pressure, which recent studies have began to find supporting evidence for.

Did you know…

Hibiscus flowers are a widely used symbol of cultural significance. Within India the hibiscus flower is used as an offering to worship the Hindu Goddess Kali. This ritual is called ‘Puja’, and flowers are a very popular offering. The plant is the national symbol of many tropical islands including Haiti, Niue and the Solomon Islands.

Hibiscus storckii
Hibiscus storckii (Photo by Chmee2 on Wikimedia Commons)

Conclusion

Hibiscus plants are an extremely beautiful addition to a tropical garden. If you live within a cooler climate your hibiscus may be suited to life indoors. However they can be placed outside within a container during the summer. This is because they cannot survive well in temperatures of 59ºF (12ºC) and lower. Use the ornate flowers to create your own herbal teas or create a beautiful garnish on a tropical, layered cake or lime cheesecake.

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Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Goldenrod, Cheerful Blooms and Herbal Remedies

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Goldenrod (Solidago) is a genus of plants from the daisy family (Asteraceae). Over 100 species can be found in the goldenrod genus. You will typically find them growing in the US, with some species residing in Mexico, South and Central America and also Europe. You will usually see them growing on open grasslands, embankments, meadows and prairies. Due to their perceived medical value, goldenrods are now distributed throughout the world. Within North America they are often viewed as weeds, however within Europe they are often popular garden plants.

When flowering you will typically see radial daisy like flowers collected together in loose clusters. Flower colors are usually yellow, or with white petals surrounding a yellow center. Their heights usually range from a mere 10cm to 1 meter. They tend to have woody rhizomes and stems that branch straight into the air or spread across the ground.

Goldenrod (Solidago juncea)
Goldenrod (Solidago juncea) (Photo by Fritzflohrreynolds on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Goldenrod

Goldenrods are relatively hardy perennials and can quickly overtake a space or garden if not maintained. Pollination occurs via insects, as the pollen carries too much weight to be blown in the wind.

Plant goldenrod in an area where it will receive full to partial sun and in well drained soil. Due to its quickly spreading nature and classification by some as a ‘weed’, seedlings can be hard to buy. Instead grow goldenrod using seeds, either bought from a garden center or collected from the wild. Sprinkle the seeds across a moist area of soil in which you would like your goldenrod to grow. Water only to keep the soil moist, not wet, until the seedlings begin to appear. The plants will need little maintenance as they mature. During the winter, deadhead the stalks and compost them, to allow space for growth the following year.

Solidago canadensis (Goldenrod)
Solidago canadensis (Goldenrod) (Photo by Georg Slickers on Wikimedia Commons)

Toxicity

You can safely consume goldenrod leaves and seeds, within small amounts suitable for foods or herbal tea. The pollen of goldenrod can often cause strong allergic reactions so care should be taken if handling or consuming for the first time. The limited research conducted on golden rod means its effects on vulnerable individuals or not known. If you are pregnant, breast feeding, or suffer from any form of debilitating disease it may be best to avoid taking goldenrod.

Uses

Culinary uses of Goldenrod

You can eat the leaves of goldenrod, and they were in fact once consumed by Native Americans. The seeds were used within certain foods and the leaves were commonly made into herbal teas. Add the leaves into a salad, soup or casserole as an alternative to spinach. Alternatively add the flowers into a salad for an edible and decorative pinch of color. Using a little honey, infuse the flowers and leaves with boiling water to create your own fragrant tea. Goldenrod honey, in its pure form, has a mild and spicy flavor. It is actually coveted by many honey connoisseurs.

Products created with Goldenrod

You may be surprised to learn that goldenrod leaves contain a source of rubber. None other than Thomas Edison once experimented with the plant in an attempt to increase its rubber yield. It has a history of being used to create the rubber tyres of a Ford model of car, the Model T, once gifted to Edison.

Medicinal uses of Goldenrod

Many herbal remedies have used goldenrod as a medicine to soothe inflammations and cure infections. It also has a history of being used to treat kidney stones and gout. Native Americans once chewed the leaves to soothe toothaches and sore throats. While its effectiveness seems promising, there is currently little evidence to support all of the health benefits.

Did you know…

You may notice some individuals using goldenrod as a sign of fortune and good luck. Different species also happen to be the state flower of Nebraska, South Carolina, Delaware and Kentucky!

Goldenrod habitat
Goldenrod habitat (Photo by MurielBendel on Wikimedia Commons)

Conclusion

A wildflower to some, a weed to others. Goldenrod may not be to everyones liking, but the bright flowers and medicinal properties may prove more valuable to some. Throughout late summer, into fall, you will have an attractive display of bright and cheerful blooms. Create herbal teas and experiment with goldenrod leaves in your dishes.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Ginseng, Herbal Roots That Could Boost Energy

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Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a herbaceous and perennial plant native to the deciduous forests and mountainous slopes of North East America. You may also find particularly hardy varieties growing within parts of South East Canada.

The Panax genus, or family, contains a variety of other ginseng species including Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng). You will find this species growing natively within Eastern Asia. It has very similar qualities to the American variety, however many consider the taste to be less sweet.

Panax Ginseng
Panax Ginseng (Photo by Katharina Lohrie on Wikimedia Commons)

Its roots are the most commonly used part of the plant, however the leaves will occasionally be used in some herbal remedies. The root is not too dissimilar from a parsnip, however ginseng root will usually fork as it grows. You will find the above ground parts of the plant growing to a height of roughly 45cm. Deep green, veined leaves protrude from narrow stems that will also bare small, bright red berries.

Cultivation and History of Ginseng

Ginseng plants are considered vulnerable and wild varieties are now extinct in China. Due to their huge popularity in traditional medicines the demand for ginseng is outweighing its availability.

It is possible to grow ginseng indoors yourself from seed. However due to the length of germination many growers may choose to purchase seedlings. ‘Green seeds’ or more expensive ‘stratified’ seeds can be purchased. Stratified seeds have undergone the process of stratification. This means they have lost the flesh of the berry, and have gained enough energy to sprout. This process will usually take 1 year. Ginseng grows best in shade, so be sure to place the container away from direct sunlight.

If growing outdoors, plant the seeds during fall upon sloped ground. The soil must be neutral (not acidic) and very well draining for ginseng to thrive. The plant cannot tolerate heat, so if you live within a warm, dry region you should grow ginseng indoors. It can take up to 10 years for your plant to reach a level of maturity where its possible to harvest. So patience is a key element in growing ginseng!

You will typically find that Panax ginseng is the most commercially cultivated species. It is often grown commercially upon the wild slopes where it is considered native, then harvested when plants are mature. However many American cultivators exist and transport their produce throughout the world, particularly to Asia.

American ginseng cultivation, Wisconsin, USA (Photo by Drginseng on Wikimedia Commons)

Toxicity

Whether taken as an ointment on the skin or consumed, ginseng is usually considered safe. However researchers warn of unknown side effects if you take ginseng for long periods of time. Side effects that may occur in the short term include insomnia, menstrual issues, increased heart rate, headaches and dizziness, to name but a few.

If you are pregnant, breast feeding, or suffer from kidney or heart issues, auto immune diseases or diabetes. It is recommended that you avoid taking ginseng as it could interact with your body or current illness in a debilitating way.

Uses

Culinary uses of Ginseng

Ginseng is used often in Korean cuisine, particularly in soups and side dishes. Popular drinks called ‘insamcha’ and ‘insamju’ are commonly drank. These being a type of ginseng tea and insamju being a type of liquor. You may also notice ginseng as an ingredient within various energy drinks, cosmetics, herbal teas and hair ointments.

Sansamju in South Korea (Photo by Junho Jung on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of Ginseng

The roots of ginseng plants have been coveted for centuries by Chinese herbalists. It was believed to improve cognitive abilities, and was also used as an aphrodisiac. Native Americans also used American ginseng within their herbal remedies. 

Today you may choose to use ginseng in reducing inflammation from eczema, improve your memory and energy or boost your immune system. It must be noted however that these benefits have not been fully researched.

Many dietary supplements of ginseng have been created. However their effectiveness as a tonic for vitality is not widely accepted.

Did you know…

The English name ‘ginseng’ has been derived from a Chinese name that translates as ‘person’ and ‘plant root’. This refers to the shape of the roots which bear a resemblance to a pair of legs.

Conclusion

Notoriously tricky to grow, mainly due to its specific requirements, ginseng can still make a worthwhile addition to your garden. Its delicate shape and bright red berries make it particularly ornamental. Plus, the potential health benefits it harbours may be greatly interesting to some. Both Korean and American ginseng are considered vulnerable. So instead of purchasing from sources which potentially over harvest, consider putting in the time to grow your own.

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Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Gingko Biloba, A Living Fossil Rich in Antioxidants

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Gingko Biloba (Gingko Biloba) is an ancient species of deciduous tree, once native to China. You can now find it growing in a number of locations across the world as the tree has been widely cultivated. Gingko or maiden hair tree are names that you may also recognise. You can find populations growing within small eastern Provences in China. Usually within valleys and forests of deciduous trees. Due to its low population, it is considered endangered.

You will usually find Gingko biloba trees growing to roughly 30 meters in height. Some older trees within China are much taller at almost 50 meters tall. During the fall, the leaves change to a bright yellow and then fall as winter approaches. The fan shaped leaves are very unique and resemble the leaves found on the much smaller maiden hair fern. You will notice that the branches are spaced randomly and quite sparsely in young trees. The top of the tree forms an angular and almost pyramid like shape.

Gingko biloba could once be found throughout the world, however over 2 million years ago its habitat shrank. Changes within the climate caused Gingko biloba to be found only within China. Due to its long history it is often referred to as a living fossil.

Gingko Biloba Leaves
Gingko Biloba Leaves (Photo by Joanna Boisse on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Gingko Biloba

Gingko biloba has an extremely long history of cultivation within China. Monks were believed to have cultivated the trees for use within traditional medicines and also used it as a food source. The tree was introduced into the West around 300 years ago and has been cultivated ever since.

It is generally advised to grow a male Gingko biloba tree. This is because the female species bare round fruits that emit a particularly nauseous smell when they have fallen and begin to rot. To grow from seed, place around 5 seeds within a container of peat moss and place a lid over the top. You should see shoots appearing within two to three weeks. Trees can take up to 30 years to mature from seed and the gender will not be known until maturity. You may prefer to propagate Gingko biloba from a cutting of a male tree. The trees grow best within well draining soil, with sandy soil being the optimum choice.

They are a particularly fungus and insect resistant tree and also cold resistant, not to mention extremely ornamental. This makes them a perfect choice for gardens. They are also rather tolerant to high pollution, which makes them a good choice for a city garden.

Gingko Biloba
Gingko Biloba (Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash)

Toxicity

Gingko biloba leaves are considered safe to consume within small amounts of medicine. However you may experience mild side effects in the form of heartaches, dizziness or even an allergic reaction. The raw seeds of the Gingko biloba are considered unsafe. Roasting and processing them before consuming is a must. The flesh of the fruit may have severe poisoning effects if eaten over a long period of time. If you are pregnant, breast feeding or suffer from diabetes or a blessing disorder, it is best to avoid Gingko biloba.

Uses

Culinary uses of Gingko biloba

The seeds found with Gingko biloba fruits are widely popular in parts of Asia. You will often see them being used within congee, a special Chinese porridge and also a vegetarian dish called Buddha’s delight. Japanese cooks will often use Gingko biloba seeds in speciality dishes like ‘Takikomi Gohan’ and ‘Chawanmushi’, a steamed and savoury egg custard.

Gingko Seeds
Gingko Seeds (Photo by Harlaching on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of Gingko biloba

You will often see Gingko biloba seeds and leaves being used in traditional Chinese medicine. Some believe the seeds to have aphrodisiac abilities. It also has a long history of being used as a memory enhancing medicine. Research is being conducted on its possible effects on treating Alzheimers. It has also been thought to reduce inflammation and improve circulation. It is also a great source of anti-oxidants which could explain its numerous health benefits.

Did you know…

Gingko Biloba are often used as bonsai trees. They are very easy to propagate and control, so it is easy to maintain a small size.

Conclusion

Whether you are experimenting with Japanese dishes, or wish to test the healing benefits of Gingko Biloba using traditional Chinese medicines, this tree will be a beautiful addition to your garden. The leaves are incredibly unique and attractive, and will add a bright dose of green into your garden. During the fall your garden will be lit up with a cheerful yellow as the leaves begin to turn. If space is limited within your garden, consider growing Gingko Biloba into a Bonsai tree instead.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Ginger, Sweetly Spiced with Ornamental Value

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Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a widely used and extremely popular plant utilised primarily for its flavorful roots. It is a herbaceous perennial, and was domesticated through the centuries. You will not typically find ginger growing in its original wild state due to years of selective breeding. It was originally native to the Islands of South East Asia, including the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei. However due to its immense popularity and transport around the world, ginger is grown and cultivated in many countries.

The plant grows a number of reed like stems that are made up of tightly rolled leaves. The leaves are long and linear and are alternately arranged along the stems. You will typically see ginger growing to roughly 1 meter in height. The rhizomes, or ginger roots, have a textured outer layer and a pale yellow, succulent center. When flowering you will see clusters of pink and white buds that bloom into pale yellow flower heads.

Ginger root can be powdered, dried or used directly in many dishes and desserts and medicines. You will commonly see it being used in many Asian cuisines.

Ginger Rhizomes (Ginger Root)
Ginger Rhizomes (Ginger Root) (Photo by Don Shin on Pexels)

Cultivation and History of Ginger

India and Nigeria are the biggest cultivators of ginger, with China and Indonesia closely following. From a number of spices native to Asia, ginger is thought to be one of the first spices that was traded and exported.

When growing ginger, it is best to plant within a warm and humid climate or environment. The soil needs to be well drained and roughly 30cm deep to allow the roots and rhizomes to form.

If you live within a cooler climate, you can grow ginger indoors. Begin with a living ginger root with buds, you can usually find these in garden centers or nurseries. Or alternatively a friend may be able to cut and share part of their ginger plant root with you. Next you will need to soak the root in warm water for 12 hours. Then fill a plant pot with nutrient rich potting soil, and place the root with the buds facing upwards. A layer of roughly 8cm of soil should be sprinkled on top with a light sprinkling of water. Place the pot somewhere warm, but with little bright light. Keep the soil moist but not wet, then after two to three weeks shoots should begin to appear. You can harvest the ginger root after a few months of growth. Gently dig away some of the soil and cut away part of the root, then replace the soil.

Ginger Plants in Korea
Ginger Plants in Korea (Photo by Dalgial on Wikimedia Commons)

Toxicity

Ginger root is considered safe to eat within quantities suitable for food and herbal drinks. However ginger may interact with some medications like warfarin, if eaten in high amounts. It is best to check with your doctor if you are on any medication and you plan to take ginger as a herbal remedy.

Uses

Culinary uses of Ginger

You can use ginger to flavor and add spice to an incredible variety of dishes. Desserts, curries, stir frys, stews, soups and salads to name but a few. It is particularly popular within many Asian cuisines, like a beef and ginger stir fry or crispy sesame chicken with ginger. Ginger roots can be chopped or grated to be added into dishes. Or alternatively the roots can be sliced and boiled with water to create a ginger tea. Sweeten it with honey and add mint and lemon for a delicious herbal tea.

Alcoholic drinks, ginger candies, pickles and cakes are often flavored with ginger. Popular products that include ginger are ginger beer, pickled ginger and crystallized ginger.

Medicinal uses of Ginger

You can take ginger in a variety of forms to ease nausea and an unsettled stomach. Ginger tea or ginger tablets can be purchased from some chemists, particularly for relieving sea sickness. Many people also claim it helps to soothe muscle pain and provides an anti-inflammatory effect. However there is not much evidence to support this. Some substances within ginger may also provide aid in fighting infections.

Ginger Tea with Lemon (Photo by Dominik Martin on Pexels)

Did you know…

Ginger is a member of the Zingiberaceae family, which includes the spices cardamom and turmeric.

Conclusion

Ginger is a wonderfully fragrant spice to cook with in the kitchen. It can be harvested all year round if kept indoors. It can be experimented with as a flavoring in many different dishes, from salads to desserts. Try your hand at making your own ginger beer, or incorporate it with orange to create a sweet and sticky glaze for ham. The plant itself is also very attractive, with broad ornamental leaves and beautiful flower clusters. Whether used dried or fresh, ginger will add a wonderful flavor to your recipes.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Germander, Hardy Ground Cover with a Herbal History

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Germander (Teucrium canadense) is a herbaceous plant and a member of the mint family. You may also know it by the name Canada germander, American germander or wood sage. It is native to North America and parts of Southern Canada. You will find it growing wild within many grasslands, forest edges, riversides, roadsides and also wasteland.

It tends to form wide clumps that possess a very extensive rhizome and root system. You will usually see it going to roughly 90cm in height and covering areas of up to 2 meters. The branched stems have arrow shaped, serrated leaves that are deeply veined.

The flowers are pale purple, lilac or cream with an ornately lipped shape. Flowers usually appear from mid summer to mid fall. The flowered stems can reach a height of 30cm and they are perfectly adapted for pollination from hummingbirds and bees. Their scent also greatly attracts a great number of insects and butterflies and hummingbird hawkmoths. 

Teucrium canadense
Teucrium canadense (Germander) (Photo by alicyna on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Germander

The plant can thrive within poorly drained and moist soil making it very prolific in marshlands. It is a hardy and woody plant that many consider to be an invasive weed. You can plant germander within full sun, shade or both. Plants usually benefit well from watering during a hot or dry summer, as they prefer moist soil.

Teucrium canadense in flower
Teucrium canadense in flower (Photo by Fritzflohrreynolds on Wikimedia Commons)

You can grow germander with seeds or by propagation and division. Seeds will usually take about a month to germinate. Cuttings can be collected in the spring to be grown into new plants. Place within a container of water to allow roots to form. When roots are roughly 10cm, plant straight into the garden. Ensure the plant has suitable airflow by placing the cuttings or seeds at least 25cm apart. Mature plants can be cut back in early spring and late winter to encourage bushy growth and more blooms throughout spring and summer.

Germander works perfectly as ground cover, because of its low maintenance and hardy beauty. They take well to pruning, so you could also form them into a low hedge or shaped border. As it spreads quite aggressively, it must be kept in check with regular maintenance or a container.

Toxicity

It is unsafe to consume germander, and its sale has actually been banned in France. Research has concluded that germander may cause liver disease and even death in some cases. Although it has a history of being used medicinally, it is not recommended for use as a herbal remedy today.

Uses

Culinary uses of Germander

It is not recommended to ingest the bitter and toxic leaves or plant parts of germander. Therefore it does not posses any culinary value.

Medicinal uses of Germander

Native Americans once used dried and ground germander leaves to create a herbal tea. The purpose of the tea was as a diuretic, to increase urination and even sweating. It was also often used to create a poultice that could be applied to wounds. It was believed to have antiseptic properties, as it was also used to treat mouth ailments by gargling.

Did you know…

Germander flowers are structured in a way that makes pollination possible only by long tongued insects and pollinators.

Conclusion

Germander makes a beautiful layer of ground cover and it also works equally well in a rockery or knot garden. It is a wonderful plant to add layers or ornamental value to a herb garden or container. Although the leaves possess minor medical value, they should not be used without consulting an expert. Deer and other grazing animals avoid germander because of its bitter taste. This makes it perfect for use in gardens with deer problems.

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Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Geraniums, Cheerful Color and Fragrant Oils

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Geraniums (Pelargonium) are a group of perennial, flowering plants. You may also know them by the names pelargoniums or storkbills. The wild varieties are native to temperate and some tropical regions, including South Africa. However you will now find them growing in suitable, temperate climates around the World. Particularly in cultivated gardens and as house plants.

Over 200 species of geraniums can be discovered throughout the World. Typically you will see long, lobed leaves creating a bushy base. Long stems will emerge from the plant during its flowering season with brightly colored flower heads. Pink, purple, white, orange and red hues can be found, with flowers forming small branched clusters. Their flowers remain for a long period of time, which is the reason for their popularity as bedding plants.

Pelargonium graveolens (Photo by Eric Hunt on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Geraniums

Any soil type is generally suitable for geraniums, as long as it drains well. Plant them within an area that receives partial sun and shade throughout the day. They are usually quite heat resistant and can survive for long periods without water, however a frost is likely to kill the plant.

Many geraniums are cultivated for their ornamental value and beauty. So it is easy to browse the wide variety of species on offer at a local garden center.

You can also propagate geraniums from cuttings. Simply make a cutting above a node where leaves are present and remove any flowers or buds. Next, use newspaper to wrap the stem and place it in a shaded area to allow the cut end to seal. Then gently push the stem into a moist pot of rooting medium and store it within a warm, shaded place for 48 hours. Finally, place the cutting into indirect sun and allow it to grow and mature.

Toxicity

Geraniums are not considered toxic to humans. Limited research has been conducted on the long term effects of taking geranium and dosage amounts. So you must take care when using it as a herbal remedy. If you are pregnant or breast feeding you should avoid taking geranium. It has a history of being used to treat heavy menstruation. Its unknown astringent properties could cause harm to an infant. The essential oil must never be consumed and it must also not be applied directly to the skin without being diluted first.

Winter Pelargonium (Photo by Kyknoord on Wikimedia Commons)

Uses

Culinary uses of Geraniums

The leaves of geraniums have a light, floral, citrus aroma that you can be use to create herbal teas. Different geraniums have different flavors and aromas, so it can be fun to experiment with different varities. Some have strong hints of lemon, others minty and some rose flavored. The flowers of Sweet Geranium are edible, so you can use them as a decorative garnish on dishes. You can add the essential oil extracted from geraniums to cakes, pastries and other baked goods. However the quantity must be small, this is because high dosage amounts may have a toxic effect on the body.

Products created with Geraniums

Essential oils created using geraniums are very popular in apothecary and specialist herbal shops. You can use the oil to scent many products, from candles to bath salts. You can distill the oil from geraniums yourself at home. Fill a jar with cut and bruised flower heads and leaves and an unscented oil, like jojoba. Stir the mixture and allow it to sit for up to two weeks. Strain the leaves from the mixture and use the oil as you wish. You can also use the dried flowers to create your own beautifully scented potpourri.

Geraniums
Geraniums (Photo by elodie_godde on Unsplash)

Medicinal uses of Geraniums

Geraniums have a long history of being used as a herbal remedy. It was used to treat minor wounds, cuts, coughs and colds. Recent research has concluded that geranium oil possess antiseptic and antibacterial properties. You may see it included in products that topically treat acne and skin infections.

Geranium oil is extremely popular within aromatherapy, as it is can reduce stress, fatigue and anxiety. It can also improve cognitive function and balance hormones and emotions.

Did you know…

Geraniums (or Pelargonium) can be confused with another common plant. The commonly called cranesbill has a botanical name of Geranium. To help with telling the plants apart you can look at the petal structure. True cranesbill geraniums will have only 5 petals. Pelargonium geraniums will have 7 petals, with 2 upper petals sitting above the lower 5.

Conclusion

Geraniums can make an extremely attractive border and summer bedding plant within your garden. Their eye catching colors and variety of species will leave you wondering exactly which plants to choose. If you have the space, try experimenting with different colors and varieties to create your own fragrant herbal teas or perfumes.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Garlic, Irreplaceable Intense Flavoring

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Garlic (Allium sativum) is perhaps one of the most widely used herbs on the planet. It is part of the onion family, with close relatives being shallots, leeks and chives. Garlic is native to parts of central Asia and has spread throughout the centuries to almost every part of the globe. You will find it growing in many herb gardens, and cultivated in many countries. However in the wild you are likely to find varieties growing in woodlands and fields throughout Europe and and North America.

The plant itself consists of a bulbous base and a stem of thick leaves that typically reaches 1 meter. When flowering you well see a delicate array of light purple flower heads at the end of long stems.

Garlic Plant
Garlic Plant (Photo by fir0002 on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Garlic

It has a long culinary and also medicinal history in many cultures. From the ancient Egyptians to the ancient Romans. Its distinctive flavor and effectiveness as a herbal remedy have made it extremely popular. Today, the largest commercial cultivators of garlic are China and India. Although China dominates the market with an incredible 80% of production.

Growing garlic is easy and fulfilling. Its an excellent herb to have on hand within the garden. There are two types of garlic called hard neck and soft neck. The hard neck variety will cope better with colder weather, so this may be optimal if you live in a colder climate. 

Plant garlic cloves in a sunny location with very well draining soil. Fall is the best time for planting as the cold of winter is needed to begin bulb production. Dig a low trench, and place the cloves pointy end up and 15cm apart. Cover with a light dusting of soil. Water the seedlings during dry spells and remove weeds as they appear.

Garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves begin to yellow and die off. The newly formed bulbs can be eased from the ground using a trowel or fork. Allow the plant to dry, then cut and remove the leaves, and store the bulbs in a cool dry space.

Organically grown Garlic or Allium sativum hanging
Organically grown Garlic or Allium sativum hanging (Photo by Jennifer Dickert on Wikimedia Commons)

Toxicity

Garlic is not toxic to humans, however it can prove toxic and potential fatal to some pets. Garlic can cause halitosis, or bad breath, depending on how much is consumed. The chemicals found within garlic are very pungent, as they can also cause a strong smell within sweat.

Uses

Culinary uses of garlic

You can use garlic to flavor a huge array of dishes. From sauces, soups and dressings, to marinades, curries and meats. It is a particularly popular ingredient in Chinese dishes, including stir fry, soups and curries. Tomato based dishes pair exceptionally well with garlic, particularly in Mediterranean and Italian cooking. Within middle eastern cooking, a mixture of garlic, salt and oil is often created to form a sauce.

Toasts and breads are often coated with a garlic butter or herb mixture. For example naan breads from India and brushchetta from Italy.

Garlic Bulbs and Cloves
Garlic Bulbs and Cloves (Photo by Kjokkenutstyr on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of garlic

Garlic has proven its effectiveness in a number of medicinal studies. It can help to soften arteries which can harden in older individuals. It can also reduce blood sugar levels and cholesterol. Eating at least one clove of garlic a day has also been suggested to lower the risk of men developing prostate cancer. Chemicals found within garlic are also used within anti fungal medications that treat conditions like athletes foot. Many individuals also claim that garlic helps in relieving the symptoms of the common cold.

Did you know…

Many folkloric stories and tales contain the use of garlic to ward of evil spirits and demons. Central European folklore, particularly from Romani communities, believed garlic could ward off werewolves and vampires. It is hung within homes and placed on the graves of loved ones, to keep them safe from evil spirits.

Conclusion

Incredibly easy to grow, garlic is a must have plant for your garden. Its impactful flavoring is hard to replace, and its versatility in the kitchen makes it a very valuable herb. The delicate purple flowers and long stems also add ornamental value to your garden.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

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Foxglove, Elegant Flowers with a Toxic Twist

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Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is a plant native to Southwest Europe. It can now be found growing throughout most of Europe and parts of North America. Usually shrub like in appearance, this biennial plant can be found growing throughout a wide range of habitats. These include, coastal areas, rocky slopes, mountainsides, woodlands and moorland. Areas that have recently been burnt or where the ground has been disturbed will often see foxgloves appearing.

Other common names that you may recognise include common foxglove, purple foxglove and also lady’s glove. Foxgloves have a very distinctive appearance due to their unique height and flower structures. You will typically find them growing to a height of roughly 1.5 meters, with long flower covered stems. The compact leaves, arranged in a spiral at the base of the plant, are long, wide and covered in tiny white hairs. When flowering in early summer, large ornamental flower clusters form in pinks and purples. The flowers are tubular and can reach a length of 10cm.

Digitalis purpurea
Digitalis purpurea (Photo by Matthijs van den Berg on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Foxglove

Well drained soil and full sunlight are the best conditions for growing foxglove. They also tend to prefer oxygenated soil rich in nutrients and moisture. You can grow foxglove from seed, or generally pick it up from a local garden center or market. As a biennial, the plant will typically last for two years, with flowers appearing during the second year.

Start the seeds outdoors in Fall, or early Spring. Sprinkle the seeds lightly over the soil and press firmly. They need light to germinate so do not press them too deep. When they begin to mature and flower, you may need to use a stake to support the plant.

Some garden centers will sell a range of cultivated colors including white, rose pink and yellow. Some varieties have also been bred to flower for longer, so may be considered perennials. These varieties generally lack the height of more wild species.

Foxglove is cultivated for its uses within the pharmaceutical industry. The leaves are harvested and will undergo a distillation process to extract the medicinal substances.

Foxgloves in Wales, UK
Foxgloves in Wales, UK (Photo by OLU on Wikimedia Commons)

Toxicity

Foxglove is an extremely toxic plant. Leaves, flowers, roots and stem should not be consumed. Children and pets should be supervised if you choose to plant this within your garden. Symptoms of foxglove poisoning include dizziness, nausea, irregular pulse, convulsions and muscle weakness. Particularly vulnerable individuals may be at risk of death, if foxglove is consumed.

Uses

Culinary uses of Foxglove

Foxglove cannot be used within food recipes or dishes due to its toxicity. The leaves have a very bitter taste which hints at the toxic chemicals found within. Throughout history foxglove has been regarded as a plant which should be avoided. That is until William Withering discovered its potential for treating heart conditions.

Digitalis purpurea Botanical Illustration by Otto Wilhelm Thomé
Digitalis purpurea Botanical Illustration by Otto Wilhelm Thomé (Photo by Kilom691 on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of Foxglove

Certain substances found within foxglove have been noted for their ability to effectively treat some heart conditions. These toxins are called digitoxin and digoxin. However, these heart conditions must not be self treated. The substances needed can only be safely extracted by a complex distilling procedure.

Did you know…

Foxgloves have the ability to produce up to 2 million seeds within their relatively short lifetimes. As they are self seeding, this gives them the ability to spread very quickly!

Conclusion

Foxgloves are sure to give your garden a ‘cottage garden’ feel. They have an incredibly ornamental and beautiful structure. However care must be taken if your garden is frequented by pets or young children. The plant is extremely poisonous when consumed so care must be taken. Bees and other pollinators are particularly attracted to foxglove, so planting them near other plants may encourage pollination and better growth.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Feverfew, A Cheerful Plant with Headache Curing Abilities

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Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a member of the daisy family, Asteraceae. The plant is a bushy, herbaceous perennial, and you will typically find it growing to about 70cm in height. It has button like yellow and white flowers that you may mistake for a daisy. The leaves have a yellow-green hue, which are soft and feathered and very highly scented.

Originally native to Europe and parts of Asia, you will now find it growing throughout the world. North America and Chile have particularly large populations. You will usually find it growing on grassy hillsides and mountains, forest edges and scrubland.

For centuries it has been used within herbal medicines and remedies for treating a number of conditions and illnesses. You may recognise feverfew by other names including, bachelor buttons, featherfew and midsummer daisy.

Flowers of Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
Flowers of Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) (Photo by Zeynel Cebeci on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Feverfew

Feverfew grows rapidly and can self seed, causing many people to think of it as a weed. It grows extremely well in well drained soil and full sun. During Fall, cut the stems back until about 10cm remains above the ground. This will allow space for regrowth during the following year.

Start the seeds indoors during winter, or sow directly into your garden during late spring. You will begin to see seedlings after roughly 2 weeks.

Toxicity

You can safely consume feverfew and use it as a topical remedy. However you must process the leaves and flowers before using. Otherwise you may encounter some side effects. These include swelling of the mouth or headaches if you do not prepare the leaves correctly.

If you are pregnant or breast feeding, it is best to avoid using feverfew as a herbal remedy. This is because its effects on young infants have not been fully studied. If you are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums or other plants from this family, use caution when consuming feverfew. If you take blood thinners, you must avoid taking feverfew as it could react with the chemicals within and cause complications.

Uses

Culinary uses of Feverfew

Feverfew has a number of culinary uses, however its medicinal value is generally more popular. The leaves have a strong taste with hints of citrus. You can use it within particularly salty dishes, and also some savoury pastries. Due to its strong links with chamomile, you can also use the dried flowers of feverfew to create a herbal tea. It has a similar soothing and relaxing effect on the body.

Tanacetum parthenium Leaf
Tanacetum parthenium Leaf (Photo by Stefan.lefnaer on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of Feverfew

Recent research into feverfew has concluded that it may help in soothing pains from migraines and headaches. Your sensitivity to light and nausea may also be reduced, which are typical migraine symptoms. Compounds and oils found within feverfew are also used within some skincare products. These compounds can soothe itching and inflamed skin. Rheumatoid arthritis and pruritus are two of the ailments feverfew may help to treat.

The ancient Greeks are considered one of the first cultures to have used feverfew for its healing properties. They used feverfew as an anti-inflammatory.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) (Photo by Zeynel Cebeci on Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know…

The name of feverfew has been influenced by its medicinal value. As it was used to treat a number of illnesses, including colds and fevers. The Latin word febrifugia, which translates as, ‘fever reducer’ is said to have inspired the name.

Conclusion

Feverfew is a beautifully ornamental plant which adds a hint of color and cheerfulness to a low border. The strongly scented flowers actual repel bees, so be sure not to plant feverfew next to plants that depend on pollination. Experiment with creating herbal teas with dried leaves and flowers or cutting flowers for a small arrangement of posies.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

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Fennel, Delicate Foilage and Highly Aromatic

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Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a perennial herb, originally native to coastal areas of the Mediterranean. You will now find it growing throughout the world, in herb gardens and within the wild. It typically grows in dry soil, within coastal areas or alongside riverbanks and streams. It is actually considered an invasive species within Australia and the US.

The leaves are extremely thin and threadlike and are feathered across the hollowed stems. Towards the base of the plant a bulbous formation of leaves form a structure that resembles a bulb. When flowering you will see tiny, yellow clusters of roughly 40 flower heads. 

The entire fennel plant is edible, from the bulb to the fruits. It is a popular herb worldwide, and is used in many cuisines for its aniseed like flavor.

Fennel Leaves
Fennel Leaves (Photo by Joanna Boisse on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Fennel

Cultivation of fennel happens worldwide, with the largest cultivators being India, China and Bulgaria. Although it is generally widely available within shops and supermarkets, you may decide to grow your own.

You can propagate fennel or plant by seed. However it is generally considered to be easier and more successful to grow by seed. It is best to choose a sunny area with very well drained soil. The plant can reach heights of 1.5 meters, so it may be best to position it towards the back of a herb garden.

Fennel is considered a short lived perennial, that will thrive and bloom best within its second growing year. After dying back during winter, deadhead the stems to encourage the growth of new leaves the following year. This is also the perfect time to harvest and collect fennel seeds.

Fennel Flowers
Fennel Flowers (Photo by Joanna Boisse on Wikimedia Commons)

Toxicity

Fennel is not considered toxic, as the whole plant can be safely consumed. Research is however lacking on the impact fennel may have on infants and unborn babies. So if you are pregnant or breast feeding it is best to avoid using fennel within herbal remedies. If you have an allergy to carrots or celery, you may also be allergic to fennel. This is because they are from the same family and contain similar compounds. Fennel can also have the ability to behave like estrogen within the body. So if you suffer from a condition that could be made worse with increased estrogen, fennel should be avoided.

Uses

Culinary uses of Fennel

Fennel is highly aromatic and is has been used throughout the centuries as a culinary herb. You can use the seeds to add a sweet and lightly spiced flavor to cakes and pastries. Chop and add the leaves into salads, soups and fish or meat dishes. Or dress up some roasted vegetables with a sprinkling of fennel leaves. The bulb itself also makes a fantastic addition to meals. Chop the bulb and grill, boil or sauté it with a mixture of vegetables and spices. A delicious herbal tea can also be made with the dried leaves.

Cuisines of the middle east, including Iran and Afghanistan, often use fennel within dishes. Fennel fruits are a popular part of their spice palette. The popular Chinese five spice powders also consist of ground fennel fruits. The fruits are also used to create a delicious, spiced flavoring within Italian sausages. The notorious drink absinthe, which was once drank for medicinal purposes, contains fennel.

Fennel Bulbs at a French Market
Fennel Bulbs at a French Market (Photo by Dinkum on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of Fennel

Within India and Pakistan, fennel seeds are coated in sugar and chewed after a meal. It is believed to aid digestion and relieve bad breath.

It can be used as a digestive aid to relieve cramps and bloating. The aromatic oils also have antispasmodic and anti-nauseant effects. Therefore it was often used in treating irritable bowel syndrome, stomach flu and digestive infections.

Add fennel to your dishes for an extra boost of vitamin C, B6 and B9. It is also high in calcium and iron which are essential for healthy functioning of the body.

Did you know…

Fennel is considered one of the notable 9 herbs that were revered by pagan Anglo-Saxons between the 5th and 8th centuries. They used the herbs to create a remedy that would treat infections, poisoning and wounds.

Conclusion

To conclude, fennel is an extremely attractive plant that will look delightful in any garden. Whether being used for its culinary or herbal purposes, or just as an ornamental plant to admire. The entire plant has a great number of uses that will give you lots to experiment with. From herbal teas, to delicious sautéed fennel bulbs. It not only attracts butterflies and pollinators, but has a long and interesting history to consider too.

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Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Epazote, Extremely Pungent with an Ancient History

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Epazote (Dysphania ambrosioides) is an annual, herbaceous and aromatic herb native to Central America, South America and also large parts of Mexico. You may also know this plant as wormseed, Mexican tea or Jesuit’s tea. As these names suggest, epazote has been commonly used as a herbal tea. However it can also be used as a herb within cooking and also as a medicinal herb. The flavor is quite pungent, and many find it hard to describe. You may expect to notice hints of citrus, mint and earthy tones.

The plant can typically grow to roughly 100cm. It has long, jagged leaves, usually 12cm in length, that are randomly dispersed along the stems. When flowering, you will see hundreds of small green flowers appearing. Epazote can now be found across the world, from Europe to parts of Asia. You will usually find it growing along roadsides and any grassy areas, as epazote spreads quickly. Many even consider it to be a weed. 

Dysphania ambrosioides
Dysphania ambrosioides (Photo by Dinesh Valke on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Epazote

Dysphania ambrosioides
Dysphania ambrosioides (Photo by H. Zell on Wikimedia Commons)

Throughout the generations in Mexico and South America, epazote has been cultivated and harvested. It is used daily within a number of cuisines, however it can often be hard to find within a supermarket. It is generally best to grow your own supply.

You can easily grow epazote from seed. Begin by sowing the seeds indoors within a small container during spring. Or begin sowing directly outdoors in early summer. You should begin to see seedlings after approximately 1-2 weeks. Wait until warmer weather before planting indoor seedlings outside.

Plant the seeds or seedlings in an area that receives full sunlight. The plant will grow well in many soil types, but warm, moist and well drained soil is best.

Toxicity

It is safe to consume epazote within small quantities in foods. However, large amounts of substances within the herb have been known to cause serious side effects. There have been reported cases of severe nausea, paralysis, jaundice and even death. So care must be taken when determining the quantity.

Uses

Culinary uses of Epazote

The leaves and stems of epazote can be used within cooking. They pair exceptionally well with bean dishes, stews and rustic dishes. They must be added within the last 15 minutes of cooking, as this greatly helps to retain their flavor. It is possible to dry the leaves, however the flavor will not be as strong or aromatic. Popular recipes that use epazote leaves include ‘frijoles de la olla’ or ‘pot beans’ and quesadillas.

Dysphania ambrosioides (Mexican tea)
Dysphania ambrosioides (Mexican tea) (Photo by Forest & Kim Starr on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of Epazote

The medicinal properties of epazote have been valued for years by the people of Mexico and Central and South America. It was used to treat intestinal worms and parasites in animals as well as humans. The leaves are also said to ease gas caused by eating many bean dishes. This is why the two are often paired together during cooking.

By drinking a tea of the leaves and flowers, stomach complaints and liver issues were said to be cured. It is important to note that Western medicine and research now understands the risks associated with using epazote as a remedy. So it is no longer commonly used in herbal treatments.

Did you know…

Records show that even the Aztecs once used epazote within their cooking practice. Showing that epazote has an extensive history as a culinary herb.

Conclusion

The toxicity of this plant may be slightly off-putting for some. However its ability to create true Mexican flavoring is something that many people may wish to experiment with. When cooking it is best to use only the leaves and not the stalks or flowers. The aroma and flavor stays intact when frozen, so chopping the leaves and freezing in an ice cube tray will give you a long lasting supply.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Dittany of Crete, An Endangered Symbol of Love

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Dittany of Crete (Origanum dictamnus) is a perennial plant native to the Greek island of Crete, hence its eponymous name. You may also know it by the names Wintersweet, Cretan Dittany, Diktamo or Hop Marjoram.

You will find it growing wild along rocky slopes, mountainsides and grassy gorges. It is particularly aromatic and has a long history of being used as a culinary and healing herb. Due to its small native population, dittany of Crete is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red list of threatened species.

Usually it will grow to about 30cm high, making it a perfect plant to keep at the front of a herb garden or within a container. The rounded leaves are very attractive and ornamental. With a silvery layer of fine hairs, it gives the leaves a soft, shimmering look. When flowering in late summer, pale pink and purple flowers will appear. They form beautiful layered, clusters of color which greatly attract bees and other pollinators.

Origanum dictamnus
Origanum dictamnus (Photo by Ghislain118 on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Dittany of Crete

Dittany of Crete has been used and cultivated by the Greeks for centuries. There are many references to dittany of Crete in Greek mythology and old literature. It was once collected by young men to give as a token of love to the women they adored.

Origanum dictamnus Flowers
Origanum dictamnus Flowers (Photo by HelenaH on Wikimedia Commons)

Today it is cultivated on Crete by a select number of cultivators. They use the essential oils to create exclusive beauty products and cosmetics and the leaves to make herbal teas.

Plant dittany of Crete in a sunny location to ensure it thrives. It can grow in a variety of soils but, slightly dry, alkaline and well drained soil is best. You can grow dittany either by seed or division in spring. If planting by seed, you should begin to see seedlings appear after about two weeks. The seedlings can then be transplanted into place, whether a small herb garden or rockery. Once in place, they will typically not require much watering.

Toxicity

Dittany of Crete is safe to consume within small amounts, whether as a herbal tea or flavoring. It should be avoided if you are pregnant or breast feeding. This is because official scientific research is lacking on its potential effects on young infants. Like many plants, there is a possibility it could cause an allergic reaction. If any inflammation or itching occurs when applying or taking it, a doctor must be consulted immediately.

Uses

Culinary uses of Dittany of Crete

The leaves of dittany of Crete can be used to flavor a wide variety of dishes, including salads, soups and sauces. The alcoholic drink ‘Vermouth’ is often flavored with the leaves, as well as a number of other liquors and wines. You can also collect and dry the flowers to make your own soothing herbal tea.

Botanical Illustration of Origanum dictamnus
Botanical Illustration of Origanum dictamnus (Illustration by William Curtis on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of Dittany of Crete

The ancient Greeks once used dittany of Crete to heal and cure a number of illnesses and wounds. It was given to those suffering with stomach aches, general digestive problems and coughs and colds. Many believed that is could also be used as an aphrodisiac. 

It was also used as a poultice and placed upon small wounds and cuts to help with healing. Studies have now shown that dittany of Crete does indeed contain a number of substances that show anti bacterial properties.

Did you know…

Dittany is mentioned twice within the famous Harry Potter books, where it is also used within healing ‘potions’ and spells.

Conclusion

A beautiful addition to any garden, dittany of Crete not only provides ornamental value but culinary and medicinal properties too. Try extracting the oil to create your own essential oils. Perfect for scenting a bubble bath or creating your own beauty elixir. The delicately layered flowers can add a splash of color to your herb garden or rockery. As a close relative to marjoram, try using dittany of Crete in tomato based sauces, sausages and dishes that contain pulses.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Dill, Delicate Feathered Foliage and Fresh Flavoring

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Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a popular herb used worldwide for its delicate hints of lemon, anise and celery like flavoring. It is cultivated throughout Europe and parts of Asia to be used within a wide range of dishes and condiments. It is an annual herb that is actually part of the celery family. You will find it growing wild in amongst cornfields in Spain and Portugal and occasionally along the coast of Italy.

When growing dill it will typically reach a height of roughly 50cm. It has thin, delicate leaves (approximately 1.5mm) that line the slender, hollow stems. When flowering, you will see white or yellow flower heads that form loose and delicate clusters.

The leaves and seeds (fruits) of dill are used widely for their flavoring in culinary dishes and also for their medicinal value.

Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Dill (Anethum graveolens) (Photo by AnRo0002  on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Dill

Growing dill is best in warmer climates. It prefers an area that receives full sun, as even partial shade can greatly reduce its growth. The soil must be well drained and high in nutrients.

After producing seeds, the plant will usually die back. This can happen more quickly in particularly hot weather, where the plant will ‘bolt’.

To harvest the seeds, cut the flower heads from the stems just as the seeds begin to ripen. Place the flower heads upside down within a paper bag. As the plant dries the seeds will begin to loosen and fall into the bag.

Anethum graveolens Flowers
Anethum graveolens Flowers (Photo by Przykuta on Wikimedia Commons)

Toxicity

Dill is safe to consume within food. If using dill as a herbal remedy however there are some precautions to consider. The juice from dill may increase your risk of sunburn if applied to the skin as it contains photosensitive chemicals. If you are pregnant or breast feeding, it is best to avoid using dill as a herbal remedy. This is because it may help in starting menstruation, which could inadvertently cause a miscarriage.

Dill may lower your blood sugar, so care must be taken if you have diabetes. If taking dill within a herbal remedy you must monitor your blood sugar levels as a precaution.

As a member of the carrot family, some people may find themselves allergic to dill if they also have carrot, celery or coriander allergies.

Uses

Culinary uses of Dill

Soups, sauces and fish dishes often use dill within recipes. One of the most popular uses for dill is with pickling cucumbers. A practice very popular within Germany. Within French cuisine it is often used to flavor cakes, pastries and seafood. It also makes a unique and attractive garnish. Dill is quite a delicate herb, so it is best to add it at the last moment to your recipes and dishes. As the flavor can quickly disappear. The seeds are used as a spice to add a mild spiced and earthy flavor to dishes. The leaves, commonly called dill weed, are used as a herb.

Monkfish with fennel, celery, lemon and dill (Photo by cyclonebill on Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal uses of Dill

Dill was used for a number of remedies and medicines throughout Europe and parts of Asia. The seeds were once used as a digestive aid and also as a remedy for stomach complaints. Even today many herbalists call upon dill to help with minor illnesses like coughs and colds. Research has shown that substances within dill may have anti bacterial properties. The leaves can be boiled and infused within water and then drank, to help with easing pains and inflammations.

Anethum graveolens seeds
Anethum graveolens seeds (Photo by Reaperman on Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know…

Oil is extracted from dill to be used in the production of cosmetics and soap products. It is believed to contain substances which can reduce the appearance of wrinkles, although research is limited.

Conclusion

Dill can attract a number of pollinators into a garden, which makes it a perfect companion plant. Plant it next to cucumber and broccoli to help with increasing their yield. Butterflies are also highly attracted to the flowers of dill, so you may often see them within butterfly gardens. The soft feathered leaves make the plant very attractive and a great addition to any herb garden. 

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

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