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    The Permaculture Diet (Part 2): The Permaculture Diet in Action

The Permaculture Diet (Part 2): The Permaculture Diet in Action

Please read The Permaculture Diet (Part 1) for more background information. The photo above is local produce from our organic farm market, meat from our local beef producer, and eggs from one of my patients!

After developing the Permaculture Diet, I decided to try it for a week. As of today, I am 6 days into it. I wanted to share a few of my thoughts and experiences so far.

I gave myself one day preparation. “Let’s just jump in”, I thought. As it turns out, this was not so easy to do. I currently live on a very small island in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean. My garden is small, young, and I don’t really have a lot of choices when it comes to food.

Remember, Step One: Produce all your own food in a way that cares for the Earth and for People. I have been here for just about a year. I got some seeds into the ground by Autumn last year, but this was my first Spring garden at this location. Fortunately the garden is growing well. Unfortunately, it is small and not producing much food yet. I figured I was too late for an Autumn/Winter garden last year, but I chanced it anyway. Well, many of the seeds ended up waiting to germinate until this Spring. I have been eating beets, broccoli, kohlrabi, Swiss chard, and fava beans from the planting last Autumn. The garlic from my sprouted cloves are also providing some additional harvest now (see my article on what to do with sprouted garlic bulbs). I am also eating snow peas and the occasional yellow summer squash now from my Spring planting. The tomatoes are setting fruit, but no harvest yet. I have a number of other plants growing, but we will see how they do. Overall, it is a small garden and is producing only a small amount of food, so this makes Step One difficult to complete.

Market01a

My kids browsing the small organic market.

Market02a

Our local dairy and beef producer is committed to ethical care of their animals and the land and is a leader in the “organic” movement in Portugal.

Step Two: If you cannot complete Step 1, then get to know the people who produce all your food, and make sure they are caring for the Earth and People. I am very glad to have an organic market here on the island. It is quite small and does not stock a lot of food, but it is something. I know one of the farmers, and he is a Permaculturist, which is fantastic. Also, there is a local dairy and beef producer who, while not a Permaculturist, raise their animals in a very ethical manner. The animals are almost entirely grassfed as well as hormone and chemical free. They also sell some of the local organic fruits and veggies in their store.

Still, between these two locations, choice is limited. I am envious of those living in larger cities on the mainland who can go to a farmer’s market or organic grocery store.

I have also been very fortunate to have an elderly German couple, patients of mine, bring me eggs once a week. They have a small homestead and raise their animals in an “organic” manner, just without the certification. They are in their 80’s, and they have been following something very close to my Permaculture Diet for years. This is likely one of the reasons they are both still so healthy!

Considerations for the Permaculture Diet
You need to cook. If you don’t cook at all, trying to eat within these ethical guidelines is going to be very tough. I am sure if you live in a large city with a good organic and/or Permaculture scene, you could probably make do, but even that would be tough or expensive or both. I think a person should know how to cook for a large number of reasons, but I think it is vital if you want to be successful with this plan.

You need to source all your food. This is also tough. Until I actually started to apply these ethics to everything I ate, I never thought too much of where my salt comes from and how my black pepper is harvested and does that organic milk my kids are drinking come from a farm that produces sustainably. It can be a bit overwhelming.

You need to prepare. While I cook a lot and prepare a lot of my own staples (e.g. chicken or beef stock, sauces, spice mixes), the time I decided to start this experiment was about the same time I had just run out of most of my prepared foods. We had also just finished our supply of local fruit, meat, and eggs, and we just finished our veggies from my garden. If I was going to do this for one week, especially to feed others, I would have had more of my own staples ready and restocked. As it is, I am skipping a few meals this week because I only gave myself one day to prepare! Which leads me to my next point…

You need to ease into it. While it is gimmicky to follow the Permaculture Diet for a week like I did,  the goal of the Permaculture Diet is to change our minds and our communities toward sustainability. If you have the ability to make this change, 100%, overnight, then that is amazing. Please let me know where you live! Most others will need to learn to garden, learn to garden better, or learn to manage their gardens more appropriately so that they have a steady harvest all year round. It will take time to source all your food, get to know your local food producers, and build relationships with them. It will take time to learn to eat in season. It will take time to learn to cook certain food, cook them better, or cook them with more variety so you don’t get burned out on one food.

Compromises I Made
I have not followed my own rules as strictly as I would have wished. The main reasons are due to the considerations I listed above. Also, I am cooking for my family; and three children, five years old and under, are not going to be real happy if they need to miss a few meals this week bacause their dad is performing an experiment. I still used salt and pepper and a number of other spices, and I have no idea where they originated or how they were produced. I did chose to use a few staples like olive oil and butter and chicken stock as well, even though I did not verify their sustainability.

The Way Forward
I would highly recommend every one try to follow the Permaculture Diet for one week. I am not selling anything. I am not writing a diet book. It is just an experiment. At the minimum, it will make you more mindful of where your food comes from and how it is produced. At best, it will catch on and spread through your local community. If everyone demanded that their food was produced in accordance to the Ethics of Permaculture, we would be living in a truly sustainable world in no time at all!

 

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My Grand Experiment… The Permaculture Diet (Part 1)

The Permaculture Diet (Part 1): How it started. An Ethical Diet. Health Benefits. Community.

This started as a bit of a tongue-in-cheek response to being called “Dr. Permaculture” for the hundredth time. Every celebrity doctor has a diet plan, I thought, so why not embrace my new moniker and create a diet program to go along with it! I posted it on Facebook about a month ago (see image above). Well, what started as a joke has been marinating in my mind over the last few weeks. I realized that when you apply the Ethics of Permaculture to anything, even in jest, the result is going to be something true and maybe even profound.

As an experiment, I decided I would try following my own diet plan for one week. I am on day number 4, and I have had numerous thoughts and revelations about the Permaculture Diet so far. But first, let me start with some general observations…

Ethical Diet
The Permaculture Diet is an Ethical Diet. It does not specify what foods to eat, but rather guides our decisions on selecting the source of our food. By applying the Ethics of Permaculture (Earth Care, People Care, and Return of the Surplus) to our decisions on food, we can lay the groundwork for an ethical diet plan.

For more information on the Ethics of Permaculture, please read my articles here:
Permaculture EthicsThe Third Ethic… it’s time to identify the mutationIdentify the Permaculture Mutation (Part 2)

There are a number of ethical diets in the world today, but from what I can ascertain, they all deal with religion. There are a number of semi-ethical diets that people embrace. Eating “organic” or vegetarian or vegan and even fruitarian are a few examples. I call these semi-ethical, because they are often attempting to counter what is wrong with our modern diet or with modern agriculture. In my opinion, a true ethical diet is one that starts off with neutrality to eating, develops ethical guidelines, then identifies how our eating is influenced by these ethics. With that strict definition, I think only religious diet regulations would fall into this category.

Eating “certified organic” food also may do little to promote sustainability. There are USDA Certified Organic farms that are thousands of acres. While these megafarms are not using chemicals that harm the environment, they are far from sustainable. It is healthier for the land and produces better food, but we should be clear that organic farming is not necessarily ethical just by sheer virtue of being “organic”.

Eating vegetarian also may do little to promote sustainability. One can eat completely vegetarian or vegan and only consume food produced in a very environmentally poor, chemically sprayed, non-sustainable manner. This may be ethical to the animals, if that is your moral world-view, but it is not ethical to the Earth.

So in reality, a style of eating is not alway ethical. There must be something deeper that guides it. What we have with the Permaculture Diet is a set of ethics that are neutral to eating. These ethics were not created by me, but I firmly endorse them. The ethics are a way toward true sustainability.

Health Benefits
By its nature, an ethical diet does not guarantee health. It is not a prescription for eating or not eating any one particular food. This is important to keep this in mind, and this is true with almost any diet program. Vegetarians can eat sugar and white potatoes all day long and be very unhealthy while never breaking the vegetarian rules. While I have never seen it this extreme, I have seen a number of very unhealthy vegetarians (and to be honest, a lot more unhealthy non-vegetarians). They are very devout in their beliefs, but their health is failing. It takes more than just ethics to be healthy.

Well then, can an ethical diet have health benefits? Let’s examine this. Step One of the Permaculture Diet is: Produce all your own food in a way that cares for the Earth and for People. The first part, “Produce your own food” has many health benefits. When we produce our own food, we have a vested interest in the quality of that food. We care more about it. We are more mindful, more careful, and more intentional. We are more likely to harvest food at its peak and consume it before it loses nutritional quality sitting in a boat, plane, or truck, or on a grocers shelf. We are going to pay more attention to soil quality, which will provide more nutrient dense food. We require less food when it is nutrient dense (as opposed to still feeling hungry when we consume many calories of nutrient-poor food) which means less total calorie consumption. When we are producing our own food, we are outside, we are exercising, we are in nature. All of these things are also correlated with good health.

The second part, “in a way that cares for the Earth and for People” also has health benefits. Again, if we are being mindful of people, we are going to be significantly less inclined to douse the food in chemicals before we eat it. If we are being mindful of the Earth, we are not going to be destroying ecosystems to build fields of monocropped species. We will build the soil. We will build ecosystems. We will build systems that moderate water instead of promote flood and drought cycles. When we care for the Earth in a truly sustainable manner, we will be caring for People at the same time. These two concepts are synergistic, not oppositional, to each other. When we are producing food in this manner, it is healthier for us.  When we live in a healthy environment, we are healthier as well.

Step Two of the Permaculture Diet is: If you cannot complete Step One, then get to know the people who produce all your food, and make sure they are caring for the Earth and for People. By supporting these producers, we are promoting all the benefits as outlined above for ourselves as well as the producer and others who purchase from them. We are helping to build healthier communities. Healthier communities will promote and maintain healthier individuals.

Step Three of the Permaculture Diet is: If you cannot complete Steps One and Two, then don’t eat. This step serves two functions. The first is fasting. Fasting has traditionally been a religious exercise, and while not all that enjoyable at first, fasting has numerous health benefits. We do know that fasting is not a healthy way to lose weight, but there are a number of studies that suggest fasting can increase lifespan, aid in detoxifying the body (protects/repair the liver and assists with filtration), improve chronic diseases, and may reduce inappropriate inflammatory and immune responses in our body. There are also a number of other claims made about fasting which have not yet been validated by modern science. Obviously, if a person is pregnant, malnourished, or very sick, they should not fast. The second function of this step is motivation. If we are dedicated to following this plan, then skipping a few meals is a pretty good motivation to keep gardening and/or to find a person producing ethical food.

Community
Again, Step Two of the Permaculture Diet is: If you cannot complete Step One, then get to know the people who produce all your food, and make sure they are caring for the Earth and for People. By supporting ethical producers, we are enabling that producer to keep producing. This is an important thing to understand. While many of us would like to be completely self-sufficient, it is almost impossible to do so. We need others in many ways, but especially for our food. Every time we eat, we are make a choice of who to support. I see so much inconsistency in people who are against genetically modified foods or monoculture agriculture systems or “big ag”, but they continue to eat breads and cereals which support these systems. If we chose to support only those people who are producing food in an ethical manner, then we are returning our surplus back into the sustainable systems (the Third Ethic of Permaculture), and this will keep the cycle going. It will make it easier for other motivated food producers to make a living producing food in this ethical manner. When we choose to give our money to those who are not-sustainable, we are delaying that change, we are promoting the status-quo.

Permaculture’s originally meaning was for Permanent Agriculture, but it quickly grew to include Permanent Culture. By supporting those who are producing ethical food, we are building community, we are building permanent culture. We are building sustainability.

 

(check back soon for The Permaculture Diet, Part 2: The diet in practice)

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My Thoughts on Herbal Medicines

Article originally published on 26 August 2011.
Edited/Updated on 25 June 2013.

Herbal medicines have likely been used for about as long as mankind has been on the Earth. They continued to be used along side more “modern” medicines for a while, but as time progressed, herbal medicines have slowly been pushed more to the fringe of modern medicine. There are a number of reasons for this, some of which I understand and some of them I don’t, but it would be foolhardy of us to dismiss herbal medicines as a whole. As a physician, it would be foolhardy of me to ignore these medicines as well.

With that said, I thought I would lend my thoughts to the subject. This can be a very heated subject, but it has been my experience that when there are two strongly opposed sides, the truth lies somewhere in between.

First:
Yes, I think there is a place for herbal medicine in modern healthcare.
Yes, I am an M.D.
Yes, I think some herbal treatments work.
Yes, I instruct some of my patients to use certain herbal medicines.
No, I do not think all herbal medicines work.
No, I am not corrupted or blinded or brainwashed by the evil pharmaceutical companies.

Second
I am not going to get into specific herbs right now. I’ll save those for later articles.  Now let me get started…

Statement: Modern physicians don’t like herbal medicine.
My Answer: That is, by and large, true.

But why is that? To be honest, there is some indoctrination to it. As we go through our medical education, there are the random comments by some pious educators talking negatively or flat out mocking herbal medicine or those who use it. It is unfortunate, but true. Also, we occasionally see people get really sick or who die because they were relying solely on herbal medicines for treatment of their medical conditions. The vast majority of the time, these people are either very anti-establishment types (and wear a tinfoil hat to keep the government from reading their minds) or, sorry to say, are not the sharpest tool in the shed. Finally, there is limited research about herbal medicines (see my next section). These reasons generally cause a lot of physicians to remain, at the minimum, very skeptical about herbal medicine.

Statement: Doctors say there is not any research to support herbal medicine use. This is because the evil pharmaceutical companies are suppressing the truth.
My Answer: The truth is there is very little good research on herbal medicine.

Here’s why: Drug companies want to make money. I know that the researchers who work for these companies truly want to help humanity. I know many of them personally. They are good people using their scientific brains to try and beat diseases the best they can. The corporate side of things is different. The management of drug companies want to turn a very healthy profit. In part, this is a good thing. The company makes drug A which treats disease 1 really well. They make a profit. They do research in disease 2. They develop drug B which really works. They make a profit. They do research…. and on and on. Overall, this model has saved millions of lives across the globe. In the U.S., whole herbs are considered food products. They cannot be patented. Which means a drug company cannot charge $150 a month for using them. Which means they have little interest in using the whole herb. Since the vast majority of research into medicine is done, or at least funded, by drug companies, and they have no interest in a specific herb since there is no return of investment, then little research is done on it.

That is not to say that no research is being done. There are grants given out every year to investigate herbal treatments. The National Institute of Health now has a Complimentary/Alternative Medicine branch to do research in herbal medicine. It has been very interesting to see their results. I must add, that the amount of high quality research into herbal medicines is growing quickly each year.

Finally, I would remiss if I did not say that the “modern” medicines are not always safe. In fact, they often are not. All medications have a potential for side effects and complications. Sometimes severe complications develop, including death. Depending on the severity of the ailment, sometimes the risk of the medicine is worth the risk of the side effects or complications.

Statement: There is a lot of research out there. You don’t like it, because it shows herbal medicine works, and you are against herbal medicine.
My Answer: There is a lot of research out there. A lot of it is poorly done.

What makes research good or bad? First, good research has a lot of people in the study. What sounds more reliable: a study with 10 people or a study with 1000 people?

Second, good research uses randomization. This means you separate the people in your study into different groups at random. There are a lot of reasons why this is, and if you really want to know, I can give you a more detailed answer.

Third, good research uses a placebo and/or a third medicine. What sounds more reliable: a study that give 30 people herb X or a study that compares 10 people with herb X, 10 people with modern medicine Y, and 10 people with placebo Z. (For those that do not know, a placebo is basically a fake medicine, like a “sugar pill”)

Fourth, good research uses blinding. This means the people in the study (and in really good studies the people giving the medicine are included in the blinding) do not know if they are in the herbal medicine group, the modern medicine group, or the placebo group. Single blinding is where the subjects do not know. Double blinding is where the subject and researchers do not know (until after the study is done).

There is a lot more to it than that, but this is a good basis from which to start. In reality, most herbal medicine studies rarely fit to any of the above standards.

But you say, “I have this book that says the research shows…” In almost all cases, herbal medicine books offer very little proof that an herb works. The book may say, “It has been used for hundreds of years for…”, or “according to this herbal medicine specialist…” or “patient X used it for this disease…”  Where is the proof? Who cares if it has been used for hundreds of years by the most well respected Chinese herbalists? At one time people thought tomatoes were poisonous. We believed the earth was flat! Oftentimes, tradition has little in common with truth. That is not to say these herbs do not work, it is just that tradition alone is not proof.

But you say, “This herb has been shown to kill cancer.” Lots of chemicals (including herbals) have been shown to kill cancer cells – in a petri dish! There is a huge jump to say it will work in a human body the same way it worked in a petri dish. If that is all the “research” you have, I would be very careful about using it, and I would never recommend it to others.

Statement: “My mother had cancer and took this herb, and now she is cancer free!”
My Answer: I say that is wonderful! But how do you know it was the herb that did it?

In medicine, we are still learning how the immune system works and how the body repairs itself. Would your mother have beat the cancer on her own anyway? Was it that she stopped eating fast food and started exercising more? Was it the chemo? Was it people praying for her?

Whenever we have a story about herb X doing something for one person. We call it anecdotal. Practicing anecdotal medicine is very dangerous. People die when we treat a disease a way that has not been studied well. When we hear a bunch of stories about herb X healing people, that gets our attention. If it is believable, and preliminary studies (good research) shows there may be something to it, drug companies often jump into the game and try to isolate the chemical in the herb that is working. That is how we got salicylic acid from willow bark (we now know it as aspirin). I would love for the research to be done by people other than the drug companies so that the information would be more readily shared.

Statement: Herbs are safe because they are natural.
My Answer: This is one of the most dangerous myths about herbal medicine.

Water is natural.
Water in the right place, in the right amount, without contaminants, is safe.
Water in the wrong place (lungs) kills people every year – drowning.
Consuming too much water kills people every year – water toxicity.
Consuming water with contaminants kills people every year – poisoning.
And this is just water, not a plant with so many more complicated chemicals

Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a plant. It is natural. It is deadly in small amounts.
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a plant. The leaf stalks are a common and delicious food. The leaves contain poisonous substances that can, in an extreme event, kill a person.
Mango (Mangifera species) are one of my favorite fruits. My brother could possibly die if he consumes mangoes, because he is allergic to them.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a wonderful Spring green… when cooked. Handle it the wrong way before it is heated, and you will understand why it it called Stinging Nettle.

If a person is taking an herb, they expect it to do something to their body… or else they wouldn’t take it. If it does something to their body, then it is what we call bioactive. Anything that is bioactive has a potential to interfere with a body’s normal function. That is the whole point! We want the herb (or other medicine) to do something to our bodies. We hope it is a good thing, something that will help us. Bioactive compounds can have side effects. They can interact with other medicines. People can have allergic reactions to them. People can die from the wrong dose, the wrong application, from a contaminant, from mistaking one herb for another… the list goes on.

Just because a herbal medicine is from a plant does NOT mean it is safe.

Statement: This herb will always work for this condition.
My Answer: If someone tells you this, they are usually lying (either on purpose to sell you something, or because they are misinformed).

Plants are very dynamic life forms. There is so much involved into why a plant produces certain chemicals or not. The French have a term for it: terroir. They used it to describe all the geographical components of the land their grapevines grow to produce great, good, or bad wine. You can grow grapes in rich soil with certain percentages of minerals, with a certain sun/shade ratio, with a certain humidity level, with a certain amount of rain fall, with a certain temperature range, with a certain insect pest, with a certain sun angle, etc. and you will end up with fantastic grapes for wine. Or, you can grow the same grape variety in a completely different terroir, and the grapes would make terrible wine.

Herbal medicine plants often act in the same manner. One plant when grown in certain conditions may help treat a certain medical ailment, and the same species when grown in different conditions may do nothing for that ailment. This is why I believe certain well-designed research studies show an herbal medicine is effective when another equally well-designed study, but using a different source for the herb, shows the same herbal medicine is ineffective. The conditions where the plant grows may make a huge difference.  This is also why the drug companies try to isolate the bioactive compounds that give certain results (and then they can patent that chemical and make money of course.)

Certain bioactive compounds in plants are very reliable, and some are very unreliable. It takes good research, great record keeping, and usually quite a bit of time and experience to know which plants will produce which bioactive compounds under which conditions. Unfortunately, this is an area in botany/medicine that is almost entirely unstudied.

Statement: I’ll go to the store and pick up a bottle of herb X.
My Answer: Don’t count of Herb X being in a bottle marked Herb X.

What?! That is right. Since there is no government organization (not that we need another one!) to monitor herbal medicine content (remember, they are sold as food, not medicine), there is no guarantee that what is on the label is actually in the bottle. A very large, very well done study examined this issue. The researchers went out and bought a bunch of bottles of herbal medicines from different companies and from different stores across the U.S. The results showed that about 70% of the bottles did contain at least some form of the plant. It may have been the root or leaves or flowers; however, most samples did not specify which part. This is rather important. What if we are looking for a root or a flower, and that bottle only contains leaves? Well, then that supplement is likely worthless to us. The study also showed that 30% of the samples did not even contain the herb that was printed on the bottle! The bottom line is that there is poor quality control in the herbal medicine business. This is very unfortunate, but true.

Statement: You sound very negative about herbal medicines, but you say you tell you patients to use them.
My answer: Be skeptical, and be cautious.

In an ideal world, we would know exactly how and where to grow our herbal medicine. We would know what dose to use and how to take it. We would be able to go to the store and buy the herbs we cannot grow ourselves and trust what was on the label. Right now we can do none of those things with 100% certainty.

So are are my recommendations?

  • Investigate the evidence for using an herb you are considering. Try to find the research and read it yourself. A lot may be technical, but you can get the general idea if it is good research or not.
  • Get a good book on herbal medicine side effects and interactions. The Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines is one example of an exhaustive reference, but one of the best out there.
  • Grow your own herbs if you can so you know what you are actually getting. My advice is to grow your herbs in different micro-climates on your land and see which ones are better at treating the condition they are traditionally known for and you are trying to treat.
  • If you have to buy your herbal medicines, do your research into the company that makes it. What are their quality controls?
  • Let your physician know what herbs you are using, so they can help you best. If your physician says not to take it, ask them for the reasons. If they have no good reasons, which likely means that physician an anti-alternative medicine type of person, then consider finding a new physician. If they can give you a reason with evidence to support it, then strongly consider taking their advice.

 

So, there you have it. My thoughts on herbal medicines. In the next few weeks, I will be writing about plants that are effective as herbal medicines, how to grow them and how to safely use them.

“Dr. Permaculture”
John Kitsteiner, MD

 

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  • http://www.gayatripharma.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Ayurveda-2.png

 

Permaculture Plants: Echinacea

Common Name: Coneflower, Echinacea

Scientific Name: Echinacea species
Family: Asteraceae (the Aster, Daisy, or Sunflower family)
Common Species (well actually all of them, since there are only nine):

  • Narrow-leaf Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) – native to central and eastern North America, commonly used in gardens and medicinals
  • Topeka Purple Coneflower (Echinacea atrorubens) – native to Kansas, parts of Oklahoma and Texas
  • Smooth Coneflower, Smooth Purple Coneflower (Echinacea laevigata) – endangered, living in Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia
  • Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) – native to south-central North America, commonly used in gardens and medicinals
  • Yellow Coneflower, Bush’s Purple Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa) – native to Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas
  • Purple Coneflower, Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – native to central and eastern North America, the most common Echinacea used in gardens and medicinals
  • Sanguine purple Coneflower (Echinacea sanguinea) – native to Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana
  • Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower (Echinacea simulata) – native to Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Tennessee
  • Tennessee Coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis)  – endangered and only found in central Tennessee
Echinacea01

Purple or Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Description:
Echinacea is probably the most popular herbal medicine plant in the Western world. While not all researchers agree, there are a large number of journal articles that show Echinacea is beneficial when appropriately used. In addition, it attracts butterflies and beneficial insects (including parasitic wasps and bees) and can be used as a drought-tolerant pioneer species. All this wrapped-up in a beautiful, ornamental plant. A fantastic addition to the yard or Forest Garden.

Echinacea03

Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallidia) and the Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

History:
Native and widespread in North America, the Echinacea species has long been used as a medicinal plant by Native Americans, most notably by the Plains Indians. Its use as a medicinal continued into the 19th and 20th centuries. By the 1930’s, Echinacea was a popular herbal medicine in North America and Europe. More recently, in addition to its medicinal use, Echinacea has become a popular garden flower, and it is used to attract butterflies.

Trivia:

  • It is said that the Native Americans learned about using Echinacea by observing that sick or wounded elk would eat this plant. It was known as “elk root”.
  • The word Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos, meaning hedgehog, in reference to the center cone.
Echinacea07

The fibrous taproots are a common medicinal herb
Echinacea purpurea

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – this is one of its primary uses around the world
  • Medicinal Plant – Echinacea has a long history of being used as a medicine. I will be writing soon about using this topic.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Butterfly nectar plant
  • Shelter plant for beneficial insects
    • Parasitic Wasps prefer to rest and hide on this plant
  • Wildlife Food – seed-eating birds will feed on the seeds in the dried cones (a favorite of the American Goldfinch)
  • Pioneer Plant – helps reestablish overused or damaged land
  • Drought Plant – this species can tolerate prolonged dry conditions once established
  • Dynamic Accumulator Species – No documentation on this, but most species have taproots. When the herbacous above-ground portions of this plant dies back each year, it is bound to release the nutrients it has mined with its taproots.

Yield: No reliable information available.
Harvesting: Roots are pulled in Autumn and Winter and are dried for storage. Above ground parts can be harvested at any time.
Storage: Roots are typically dried. Herbacous parts are typically used fresh.

Echinacea04

Narrow-leaf Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia)

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Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)

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Improved ornamental Echinacea “Maui Sunshine”

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 3-8
AHS Heat Zone: 9-1
Chill Requirement: no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Large Herbaceous Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a few species and a number of varieties available (most cultivars do not grow true to seed)

Pollination: Self-fertile, pollinated by insects
Flowering: Summer to Early Autumn (June-September) depending on your location

Life Span:
No good information available, although many sources state Echinacea will “live for many years” or will “live long for an herbaceous plant.” Echinacea will re-seed, but not in an agressive manner. Scattering and lightly covering the seeds which have dried in the cones (before the birds eat it) is easy to do and will help ensure a good Echinacea patch.

Echinacea09

E. pallidia (left) and E. purpurea (right)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 3-4 feet (90-120 cm) tall and 1-2 feet (30-60 cm) wide
Roots: Fibrous taproot
Growth Rate: Medium-Fast

Echinacea06

Echinacea attracts beneficial insects like few other plants!

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates minimal to no shade
Moisture: Medium moisture soils preferred. Can tolerate dry conditions.
pH: 6.1-7.0 (prefers fairly neutral soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Echinacea does not like shade.
  • Monitor for slug damage when plants are young.

Propagation:
Typically from seed – seed does not require stratification.  Can be propagated by root cuttings (in Winter) and division (in Spring or Autumn).

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
Use caution when using any plant medicinally. “Natural” does not always mean “safe”.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.rowanremedies.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Echinacea_purpurea_001.jpg
  • http://www.cmlake.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/CH_Echinacea_purpurea.jpg
  • http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/FloraData/001/Illus/21/FNA21%20P13%20Echinacea%20pallida.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3e/Echinacea_angustifolia.jpg
  • http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3081/2685965746_0146e2c34f_o.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-fjwJpHwl6pA/TzwsBcoCduI/AAAAAAAAAJY/D2lRItwTTE8/s1600/Echinacea+root.JPG
  • http://www.vanmeuwen.com/medias/sys_master/8798253580318.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-DmBnUwkYUzw/UBygB1rm3pI/AAAAAAAAAi4/BJvVpWj7UM4/s1600/echinacea+011.JPG

Upcoming Conference at the Seed Savers Exchange!

I wanted to do some free advertising for an organization I support. The Seed Savers Exchange is a wonderful non-profit whose goal is to preserve and share heirloom seeds. They have been offering a conference with workshops for the last 32 years! Their next annual conference is in about a month. I have been to the farm four times I believe. It is a beautiful place with woderful staff. If any of you are in the Decorah, Iowa area (or are willing to travel), I highly recommend attending. Once we are living in the U.S. again, I plan on driving up for this event… unfortunately, this will not be for at least another year.

 

 

My Biggested Gardening Regret… so far

I see most mistakes or failures as learning opportunities. This can be with gardening, Permaculture, jobs, relationships, or just about any activity of which I can think. However, there are only a few things I truly regret in life. Most are small in the grand scheme of life. Most I will never share with any but my closest confidantes.

But I will share one of my regrets today, and it has to do with gardening.

I wrote about my Kale plants becoming infested with caterpillars just over a year ago when I lived in Turkey. You can read that article with this link. In summary, I was pretty sure I found a strain of Kale that was resistant to the caterpillars which decimated all the other Kale I was growing. I am not sure exactly which caterpillar this was, but it was likely the Cross-Striped Cabbageworm (Evergestis rimosalis) or another closely related species. I had two plants which were untouched by the onslaught of caterpillars. All the others were stripped of all green; only the stems remained like bare skeletons of trees in Winter. The one plant on the end of the row may have escaped damage due to being a bit out of the way. However, the other unharmed plant stood strong right in the center of the bed with caterpillars eating away all its neighbors.

Now, to be scientific about this, I must consider all the possibilities:

  1. Random Chance – maybe out of sheer randomness, the caterpillars never ate a leaf on this one Kale plant (highly unlikely)
  2. Random Mutation – maybe there was something about this Kale plant which the caterpillars found unappetizing (this is what I was really hoping!)
  3. Chance Symbiosis – maybe there was a bacteria or fungi that somehow paired with this Kale and repelled the caterpillars (I have not heard of this in annuals, but I have heard of trees upregulating production of tannins when neighboring trees were being attacked by pests. This was communicated via the fungal network in the soil!)
  4. Special Exposure – maybe there was some chemical or substance on or in this plant that allowed it to repel the caterpillars. I didn’t use any chemicals in the garden, so it would have had to come from an outside source. Maybe it was where a bird dropped a certain type of manure. Maybe it was where my boys had just urinated – yes, they did this a lot in the garden, and they were good at not urinating on the leaf crops. (this is pretty unlikely as well)

I can’t really think of any other special circumstances which would give this Kale such an advantage, so this is why I was really hopeful I had come across a new mutation.

This is where my regret lies. I had planned to save seed from this plant. I had marked it with a twist tie at the base of the plant. It was a good thing I did, because after the wave of caterpillars passed, the rest of the Kale came back strong, and my special Kale was lost in the mix. This was fortunate for me and those plants, but I know many times the plant may not recover, and a whole harvest is lost.

Well, I got wrapped up in my move. The Kale was not going to flower and set seed until after I had moved, but I had “save Kale seed” on my “to do” list. I had planned to speak with one of three friends who I could have trusted with this task to keep an eye on the plants and save some seed from it when it was ready. There was a chance the new tenants would remove the plants or cut off the seed stalks, but I was hopeful one or all of my friends would be able to talk with them and convince them to help.

Unfortunately, I never got to that item on my list. I kept meaning to and just never did it.

There is a chance that the plant wouldn’t have set good seed. Although I did have about 30 Kale plants in this patch, so I think there would be a decent chance I would have been able to have a pretty good shot at getting good seed from my one special plant. Of course, I would have had to run multiple trials and raise multiple generations to prove this new strain, but I was very willing to do this.

But I never got the chance. I will really regret this for the rest of my life. I am not trying to be dramatic for it is a small regret, but it is a real regret. For those of you who are not gardeners, you will likely see this as silly. But of course, if you are not a gardener, I would be shocked you read this far into the article!

So what did I learn from this? I must answer this question to make this regret somewhat bearable.

  1. Never, never, never miss an opportunity like this again! Make it a priority.
  2. Observe and Interact! This is Permaculture Principle One (Observe and Interact). I did the first part, but failed on the second part. Make sure to complete this important step.
  3. Realize that anyone can discover something amazing. I was just a guy growing a small garden in my backyard in Turkey. I may have discovered a big nothing, but I may have discovered a caterpillar-resistant trait that could be bred into all Brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, turnips, collards)… okay, maybe that is going a bit too far, but then again, maybe not.
  4. Realize that mutations are happening all the time. It is up to us to be observant (as I just said) and find out what is happening in our gardens. This is how almost every garden vegetable has been developed in the past.

Now, every time I see a caterpillar on my broccoli or cauliflower or kale, I am instantly reminded, and momentarily saddened, by what could have been. I will not miss the next opportunity!

 

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Photo References: The photos in this article are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them!

Permaculture Plants: Watercress

Common Name: Watercress, Water Radish, Water Rocket, Hedge Mustard

Scientific Name: Nasturtium officinale
Family: Brassicaceae (the Crucifers or Cabbage/Broccoli/Turnip/Radish family)

Watercress02

Watercress growing wild in Wisconsin.

Description:
Watercress is a prime example of why there should be extra layers in the Edible Forest Garden (see my article on the Nine Layers of the Food Forest). This amazing plant does best when grown in an aquatic or wetland location. Grow it in clear, flowing water, and you have an amazing raw or cooked green with a pungent flavor. Grow it in poorer conditions, and it will purify the water and accumulate nutrients… a great addition to the compost pile. This is a highly recommended plant.

Watercress01

Nasturtium officinale

History:
Native to Asia and Europe, Watercress has been consumed for thousands of years. In fact, it is likely the oldest known green veg used by humans. It can be traced back to the Persians, Romans, and Greeks. Hippocrates himself grew watercress at the first hospital on the island of Kos around 400 BC. Watercress remained a commonly collected wild food throughout Europe. It was also common through Asia, but the history of Watercress in Asia is less known. It spread around the world with the European explorers who used it to prevent scurvy (a deadly vitamin C deficiency prevented due to Watercress’ high vitamin content). Watercress was raised commercially in the early 1800’s, and it’s popularity grew. Over the last few decades, watercress has waxed and waned in popularity.

Trivia:

  • The stems of Watercress are hollow which allows the plant to float.
  • The seeds of Watercress can be used to make a mustard. The seeds are dried and then ground to a powder. If exposed to cold water and allowed to sit for 10-15 minutes, the mustard will become “hot” or “spicy”. The cold water activates an enzyme, myrosinase, which breaks down another compound, sinigrin, to produce a mustard oil, allyl isothiocyanate. This mustard oil is what give the pungent, mustardy flavor. This is the same mustard oil responsible for the pungent flavor in horseradish. Once activated and pungent, it needs to be used right away or mixed with vinegar, or it will lose its pungency and become bitter. Interestingly, if the dried Watercress seed powder is mixed with hot water or vinegar first, the enzyme is not activated, and the mixture will not become pungent and will be bitter.
  • Despite its Latin name, watercress is not related to the popular trailing flower, nasturtium (which has edible leaves and flowers).
Watercress09

Watercress Salad

Watercress Salad with Miso-Lime Dressing (Recipe)

Watercress10

The classic French Watercress and Potato soup (Potage Cressionniere)

Jamie Oliver’s recipe
Caroline’s Kitchen Diary recipe
Delia Online recipe

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Leaves – Leaves can be used raw or cooked throughout the growing season. Typically used in small amounts (like a garnish) in salads, but can be. Commonly used to make a soup.
  • Edible Seeds – dried and ground into a powder – used like mustard. See Trivia above..
  • Edible Sprouts – has a spicy flavor.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) pollen plant
  • Dynamic Accumulator Species – Potassium, Phosphorus, Calcium, Sulfur, Iron, Magnesium, Sodium
  • Water Purifying Plant

Yield: High as far as greens are concerned. Harvesting can start at 30-45 days and may continue every 40-80 days.
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvest at anytime during the growing season. The flavor is better before flowering – leaves can become bitter. Seeds can be harvested when from mid-Summer through Autumn.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh. There are some reports of dehydrating Watercress, but I have never tried it or tasted it.

Watercress04

Watercress can easily be added to any pond or stream.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: 2-10
AHS Heat Zone: 8-1
Chill Requirement: None

Plant Type: Small Aquatic/Semi-Aquatic Herbaceous Perennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous (will overwinter in mild areas)
Forest Garden Use: Wetland/Aquatic Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are few cultivars available

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Late Spring to Autumn (May-October). Pollinated by bees and flies.

Life Span: No good information available as we typically harvest the plant and eat it. Considering that the plants can spread so easily, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

Watercress03

Watercress can spread easily, but we can harvest often!

Watercress08

Watercress flowers are tiny.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) tall and indefinitely wide
Roots: Fibrous with runners
Growth Rate: Medium-Fast (fast if in aquatic conditions)

Watercress06

Watercress is known for attracting wildlife.

Watercress07

A great addition to the Aquatic/Wetland Layer!

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Prefers shallow aquatic or semi-aquatic conditions; will also grow in wet/muddy soils; will tolerate moist soils if the soil does not dry out.
pH: 6.5-8.0 (prefers fairly neutral to alkaline conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Slow moving, very clean water is the best condition for growing this plant.

Propagation:
Typically from seed – no stratification required. Grows easily from cuttings – any part of the plant (leaves, stems, etc.) will sprout roots. Divisions of the runners from the mother plant.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:

  • Dispersive – in some locations, Watercress is considered an invasive weed. In other locations, it is considered a high-value aquatic crop and water purifying plant… perspective is everything! If you are in an area where Watercress is a “weed”, you have a great compostable material. It is relatively easy to harvest, and it accumulates a lot of minerals; this is a great addition to the compost bin!
  • Watercress contains compounds which slow the enzymes cytochrome P450 in humans. This enzyme family is responsible for metabolizing many modern medications. If you are going to be consuming Watercress in more than small amounts, and you are taking regular medication, then check with your doctor.
  • It has been reported that eating large amounts of raw food from the Brassica family can cause GI upset… I think it has to be quite a bit, though. No definitive numbers. My advice is to start low and go slow, increasing as tolerated.
  • If you are raising livestock on your land, be sure that the water used to grow your Watercress is not filtering through your pastures. The common liver fluke (Fasciola genus of parasitic flat worms) are commonly found in the liver and bile ducts of sheep, cattle, and other animals. The eggs are passed in the animals’ stool and mature in certain species of freshwater snails. These matured larvae reside on freshwater plants (they are fond of Watercress) and wait to be eaten, by wild animals, livestock, or humans, and mature into adult flukes. This awful sounding infection can easily be avoided by using only clean water to raise your Watercress.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://ericademane.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/watercress-painting.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-KFxHwwTV7qQ/TeHelggS0-I/AAAAAAAABWY/gWeF0W3Msj8/s1600/watercress-1.jpg
  • http://i801.photobucket.com/albums/yy294/StreamOfTime_photos/WaterCress_zpsa4617cf0.jpg
  • http://3brothersflies.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/watercress-and-release-3000×2250.jpg
  • http://www.herbs.org.nz/information/images/watercress.jpg
  • http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/watercress-closeup-may.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_1C72BiCMjz4/TU7PQhgv-6I/AAAAAAAABI0/dR_fFbU2Df8/s1600/wild+watercress+spring+water.jpg
  • http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6034/6243115793_c8fb273fd9_o.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_HOGY48tq_uY/TQaK1gS_oWI/AAAAAAAACuc/OQotp-HAXBo/s1600/Watercress+Salad+1.jpg

How long will seeds last (stay viable)?

I have recently read a few articles on “preparedness” dealing with long-term seed saving. You know, those “seed banks” you can purchase which will feed a family every day for the rest of their lives should the apocalypse occur, even if they have never gardened in their life! Okay, I’m being a bit sarcastic. But as you can tell, I am not a huge fan of those products. If a person wants to truly be prepared with food security, then they should learn to grow their own. That will entail seed saving as well. But all that is information for another article. What I did see was that some of the information was consistent with the research that has been done, but unfortunately there is a lot of very bad information out there.

What I wanted to do was put together was a seed viability chart of the most common seeds used in gardens and farms. I found a lot of very good references (see listing after the chart). While there are many stories of seeds being found and sprouted from Egyptian tombs, this is actually very uncommon. Not the stories, but actually finding seeds and attempting to sprout them. I think the best story I found was about seed from the Persian Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin). Seed from this tree was collected from China in 1793 and sent to the British Museum. In 1940, about 150 years later, the specimen was accidentally watered when workers were extinguishing a fire. Several of the seeds sprouted a short time later! Bottom line, there are some seeds (mostly grains, grain-like seeds, and legumes) that will last a long time, most of our annual garden vegetable seeds are not immortal.

Here is my chart that I hope will be a good reference for us all…

Seed Viability Chart

Plant Average Most Common
Amaranth Many years**
Arugula 4 years 4 years
Asparagus 3 years 3 years
Barley Many years***
Basil 5 years 5 years
Beans (bush and pole) 2-3 years 3 years*
Beets 3-5 years 4 years
Brassica (broccoli) 3-5 years 3 years 5
Brassica (Brussels sprouts) 3-5 years 4 years
Brassica (cabbage) 3-5years 4 years 5
Brassica (cauliflower) 3-5 years 4 years
Brassica (Chinese cabbage) 3-5 years 3 years
Brassica (collards) 3-5 years 5 years
Brassica (kale) 3-5 years 4 years
Brassica (kohlrabi) 3-5 years 3 years
Buckwheat Many years**
Carrot 2-3 years 3 years
Celery 2-5 years 3 years
Celeriac 3 years 3 years
Chard (Swiss) 3-5 years 4 years
Chicory 4 years 4 years
Cilantro/Coriander Many years**
Corn (sweet) 1-2 years 2 years
Cress (watercress) 5 years 5 years
Cucumber 5-10 years 5 years
Eggplant/Aubergine 3-5 years 4 years
Endive 5 years 5 years
Lamb’s Quarters Many years**
Leek 2-3 years 2 years
Lettuce 1-6 years 5 years
Melon (muskmelons) 5-10 years 5 years
Melon (watermelons) 4-10 years 4 years
Mustard 4 years 4 years
Oats Many years***
Okra 2 years 2 years
Onion 1 year 1 year
Parsley 1 year 1 year
Parsnip 1 year 1 year
Pea 2-3 years 3 years*
Pepper 2 years 2 years
Quinoa Many years**
Radish 5 years 5 years
Rice Many years***
Rutabaga 4 years 4 years
Rye Many years***
Salsify 1 year 1 year
Sorghum 4 years 4 years
Spinach 1-5 years 3 years
Spinach (New Zealand) 3 years 3 years
Squash/Courgette and Pumpkin 2-5 years 4 years
Sunflower 5-7 years 5 years
Teff Many years***
Tomatillo 3 years 3 years
Tomato 4-10 years 4 years
Triticale Many years***
Turnip 4 years 4 years
Wheat Many years***
“Flower Seed” (annual) 1-3 years 1-3 years
“Flower Seed” (perennial) 2-4 years 2-4 years

* Multiple references state that these seeds may remain viable for many years (possibly hundreds), and limited specifics were given or can be found

** Only one reference found for this plant seed, but considering the nature of the plant and seed, it is likely to remain viable for well over a decade if stored properly

*** Grains have been found to remain viable for hundreds of years, but it is rare to find seeds this old in the first place, so the research is very limited… and has been over-publicized

 

References:

  • Colorado Extension
  • Fedco Seeds
  • Iowa Extension
  • Johnny’s Seeds
  • Kew Royal Botanical Gardens
  • Oregon Extension
  • Real Seeds
  • Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook
  • Vermont Extension
  • Virginia Extension

 

 

Permaculture Plants: Columbine

Common Name: Columbine


Scientific Name:
 Aquilegia species
Family:
 Ranunculaceae (this family contains Anemone, Buttercup, Clematis, Delphinium, Goldenseal, Nigella, and more)

Columbine06

Eastern Red (Canadian or Wild) Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Common Species:

  • Eastern Red/Canadian/Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
  • Common Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)
Columbine02

Clumping perennials, Columbine helps fill in the herbaceous layer.
Common Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)

Description:
Many ornamental gardeners know the Columbine is great at attracting bees and hummingbirds, but most people don’t realize the flowers and leaves are edible. I also believe that research will show this plant to be a Dynamic Accumulator as well. This wildflower should be considered by anyone who wants to add a splash of functional beauty to their land or Forest Garden.

Columbine04

Common Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)

History:
Native and widespread in the northern hemisphere, there are about 70 species of Columbines found in meadows and woodlands, often at higher altitudes. These plants were used medicinally in the past but fell out of favor. Now they are most widely known as ornamentals and wildflowers.

Trivia:

  • The genus name Aquilegia is derived from the Latin word for eagle (aquila), because the shape of the flower petals, which are said to resemble an eagle’s claw.
  • The common name “columbine” comes from the Latin for “dove”, due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together.
  • Columbine seed, when dried and crushed, has been used to kill parasites on the outside of the body (e.g. lice)
Columbine05

The young leaves and flowers of the Columbine are edible!

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – this has been one of its primary uses around the world due to its beautiful flowers
  • Edible Leaves – Use when young, before they become fibrous. Raw or cooked; A. vulgaris is reported to have a mild flavor.
  • Edible Flowers – reportedly can be used as a salad garnish. A. vulgaris is reported to have a very good flavor with a touch of sweetness. Flowers can also be used to make a tea.

Secondary Uses:

  • Excellent general insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Wildlife Food – many animals will eat the seeds, especially birds.
  • Hummingbird Plant – this plant has nectar that attracts Hummingbirds (esp A. canadensis)
  • Dynamic Accumulator Species – I can find no evidence of this, but considering it has a taproot and is fairly short-lived, it likely mines deep minerals which are deposited onto the soil as the plants die back. A good area of research!

Yield: Variable, older plants have larger bulbs. Improved varieties also have larger bulbs.
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvest Spring through early Fall (depending on the location); just pick the non-fibrous young leaves. Avoid any leaves showing mildew. Flowers can be picked whenever present.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh.

Columbine03

Columbine with gently reseed, eventually creating a patch of flowering plants.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 3-8
AHS Heat Zone: 8-1
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Herbaceous Perennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of species and varieties available

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Spring through mid-Summer (April – July)

Life Span:
Short-lived. Many species/varieties only live 2-3 years. But considering that these plants have the ability to self-seed rather easily, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

Columbine07

Columbine are showy, but not large.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 1-3 feet (30-90 cm) tall and wide
Roots: Taproot
Growth Rate: Slow to Medium

Columbine09

A meadow of Columbine.
Common Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Full to partial sun – prefers partial shade
Shade: Tolerates moderate to deep shade depending on the species
Moisture: Medium moisture soils.
pH: 5.1-8.5 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Reportedly has an allelopathic effect (inhibits growth) on nearby plants, especially legumes.

Propagation:
Typically from seed. Self-seeds on a fairly regular basis, some species more than others. Some reports state that no stratification is needed, while other claim it is needed. Do to gardeners having success without stratification, I think it is likely that it is not needed. The reason the seeds don’t germinate until the following Spring may be due to another factor (ground temperature, day length, etc.?). Can divide in early Spring.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:

  • Aquilegia produce cardiogenic (heart) toxins in their seeds and roots; can also cause significant gastroenteritis (stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea). Heat and drying (dehydration) destroys these toxins.
  • May attract red spider mites which can then move to nearby crops; consider avoiding plantings in areas near plants susceptible to red spider mites

.

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a5/Aquilegia_vulgaris2.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/be/Aquilegia_vulgaris_100503b.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2f/Aquilegia_vulgaris_004.JPG/480px-Aquilegia_vulgaris_004.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2f/Aquilegia_vulgaris.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_U5oECNBru3g/S90h_JUy-cI/AAAAAAAADf0/i7m_R89YaVE/s1600/_Aquilegia+canadensis+(red+columbine)+ranunculaceae+HONEY+ROCK+WISCONSIN.JPG
  • http://www.easywildflowers.com/quality/aqu.ca4.jpg
  • http://www.whiteoaknursery.biz/seed_prop/Aquilegia_canadensis_seed.JPG
  • http://www.aphotoflora.com/images/ranunculaceae/aquilegia_vulgaris_columbine_00_field_20-05-05.jpg

 

Permaculture is an Ethical Design Science

Through the years it took to become a physician, I heard the maxim, “First, do no harm” repeated so often that it almost became a mantra in my head as I walked along the hospital halls at night. This phrase is so integrated into our medical education that it is impossible not to practice medicine through the lens of this ethic. In fact, it is so atypical for a physician to disregard this underlying principle. So much so, that when a physician intentionally inflicts harm, it becomes headline news. I am going to set aside the arguments that “modern” medicine inflicts harm through its goal of destroying disease instead of facilitating health… that is a deep discussion and not one for this site at this time. Regardless of your opinions on modern medicine, the hearts of most physicians, and mine without a doubt, is to do no harm. To be honest, there have been many nights I have been unable to sleep due to worry I may have been unable to prevent harm. I cannot fathom how I would handle being the one responsible for truly causing harm. It is a tough road at times, but well worth it in so many aspects. I pity the physicians who have become too jaded or cynical with humanity or the “system” with which we have to work. They have lost sight of the privilege and honor we have to serve as physicians.

It is with this same mindset that I approach Permaculture. We have sick lands and diseased waters. We have been given the privilege and honor to bring our environment back to health. And, as with medicine, we have an ethos to guide us… the three Ethics of Permaculture. I have stated in the past that Permaculture is a design science, but what truly sets it in a very limited class is that it is an ethical science. I believe medicine alone is the only other field of study that puts an ethical framework in place before one starts their education and training.

There are many techniques and skills one can be taught to function as a physician, but without the guiding ethic of, “First, do no harm”, that person is a very significant risk to others as well as themselves. The same follows with Permaculture. There are many amazing techniques and skills one may implement onto a landscape or into a community, but without the guiding ethics of “Earth Care”, “People Care”, and “Return of Surplus”, that person is dangerous to the Earth, to other people, and to themselves.

It is vital for us to understand the importance of what we are doing when we are practicing Permaculture. We are practicing medicine on the Earth and on our communities. We may be Primary Care Permaculturists, and at times we may be Earth Surgeons, but we are trying to heal the land and our culture, and it is indeed a privilege and honor to participate… and it must start with ethics.

To read more about the Ethics of Permaculture, read these articles:

 

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