Monthly Archives: August 2013

Questions from readers: Mushroom Patches… are they safe?

Question from Schagné in Australia:

I enjoy this site a lot as I am in the process of learning about edible forest gardening in order to plant my own.

I love mushrooms. My problem is that we have many local mushrooms that are quite toxic (e.g. the death cap), and I am not well versed in mushroomery.

If I make such a wonderful patch for my shaggy caps, won’t it be invaded by something else which a novice like me might pick and eat? I would love dearly to have my own safe patch of mushrooms. Do please tell me that the edible mushrooms repel invaders.


My Answer:

This is a great question, and there are a few ways to answer this…

Here is the quick answer:
Yes, it is possible that poisonous mushrooms could invade your mushroom patch. But I wouldn’t worry about it. Mushrooms are a wonderful addition to a Forest Garden and, in my opinion, an essential element in a Permaculture design.

Here is the more involved answer:
Let’s back up a bit. While it is possible for poisonous mushrooms to invade your patch, the real fear is of a person mistakenly eating a poisonous mushroom. There are a large number of reasons why this is very unlikely to happen… unless the person growing the mushrooms is reckless and, well, just plain stupid (to be blunt).

Let me elaborate.

First, we should all be able to list and identify the poisonous mushrooms that grow in our area. We should be able to do this even if we do not eat mushrooms. What if your kid or a neighbor’s kid or your dog started to eat a mushroom growing in your yard or garden or while on a walk? If you could quickly identify that it was not one of the deadly mushrooms (which are far fewer than most people think) in your area, would you be even a little relieved? If you saw that it was one of the deadly mushrooms, then early intervention at a hospital is critical to prevent injury or death. Also, this doesn’t apply just to mushrooms, but to all deadly species of plant and animal in the area you live. You live in Australia. I think most Australians are much better able to identify venomous snakes than Americans are, because there are so many deadly snakes in Australia. It is foolish not to know what can kill you in your own backyard!

Second, you should know what the mushroom species that you are growing looks like. Again, this is not hard to learn. In fact, most people who attempt to grow mushrooms know exactly what their species of mushroom looks like. If you plan of growing Shaggy Mane mushrooms, for instance, you likely already know what a Shaggy Mane mushroom looks like. If you do not, the internet is full of photos of all different species of mushroom, from immature button to mature specimen. If you are growing a mushroom species for the first time, and you have never wild harvested them or bought them from a farmers market or grocer before, then get a good guide book (or study photos on the internet) and learn what they look like. You can even do spore prints to verify identification. This is easy, and any good guide book will explain how to do it. If you really want to get into the scientific side of things, you could even identify the spore characteristics via microscope. But remember that this should be fun!

Third, the habitat that you create for your edible mushroom patch is different than many poisonous mushrooms natural habitat. Yes, some of the poisonous mushrooms (like the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) mentioned above… you can see photos of it in this article, just scroll down to mushroom #17) may pop up in a garden. But they are really easy to identify… and so different than almost any mushroom you would grow in a mushroom patch!

Fourth, if the mushroom bed is built the correct way (which is not difficult… please see my two articles on building mushroom patches of King Stropharia (pictured above) and Shaggy Manes), then for at least the first few seasons, the predominate fungal species will be the one you purposely “planted” there. And, while the “good” mushrooms don’t exactly repel the “bad” ones, if you keep providing the organic matter they need, your good mushrooms will keep outcompeting other fungal species.

Fifth, while most of the species we would grow in patches are pretty easy to identify, a person may still be nervous about proper identification. Immature mushrooms can sometimes look very different than the mature specimen. So what do we do? Well… we let it grow! A mushroom patch will not just produce a single mushroom. Let the first ones pop up and mature into the classic, easily identifiable specimen. Then you will see for yourself what that species looks like from start to finish. You will quickly build confidence. You will then easily be able to identify the immature specimens, which are often the most tasty ones!

Sixth, there is a proper way to eat mushrooms that you harvest yourself when you are still worried about its identification… even after you have positively identified it and eliminated the possibility of it being poisonous… Harvest one mushroom. Cook it. Try a very small piece of it. Then don’t eat any more for a day, a full 24 hours. If you have no negative reactions, then try a larger serving the next night. If you still have no negative reaction in the next 24 hours, then you are good to go. Just remember that even commercially sold and highly edible mushrooms can cause some gastrointestinal upset in some people or if you eat way too much of them.

I hope this alleviates some of the fears of growing your own mushrooms. If you still have a hang up about all this, you can always grow your mushrooms indoors. While I think this is way too much work if you have land available outside, and you are not raising mushrooms commercially, this is a viable alternative.

Best of luck, and please send me photos of your mushroom patches!




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Permaculture Plants: Cattail, Bulrush, or Reedmace

Common Name: Cattail, Bulrush, Reedmace, Catninetail, Cumbungi, Raupo
Scientific Name: Typha species
Family: Typhaceae (a large marsh herb family)


The classic wetland plant… a perfect permaculture plant!

Common Species (well, all of them, give or take one or two due to quibbling over nomenclature):

  • Narrow Leaf Cattail,  Lesser Bulrush, Small Reedmace, or Jambu (India) (Typha angustifolia)
  • Cape Bulrush (Typha capensis), only found in Southern Africa
  • Asian species with no common English name (Typha davidiana)
  • Bulrush, Southern Cattail, Narrow-Leaved Cumbungi (Australia) (Typha domingensis)
  • Common Cattail, Reedmace (Typha latifolia)
  • Laxman’s Bulrush (Typha laxmannii), likely the same species as Typha bungeana
  • Dwarf Bulrush (Typha minima)
  • Broadleaf Cumbungi (Australia), Raupo (New Zealand) (Typha orientalis) probably the same plant as Shuttleworth’s Bulrush (Typha shuttleworthii)
  • White Cattail (Typha x glauca) – this is a hybrid of T. angustifolia x T. latifolia

One of the best bioremediation (water filter and such) plants on Earth.
These systems can be very intricate…


…or less so (and less attractive!), but the Cattails don’t care, and the water is still cleaned.

Whether they are called Cattails, Bulrush, Reedmace, Cumbungi, or another local name, few people are unfamiliar with their local Typha species. This common wetland plant is one of the most versatile elements a Permaculturist can add to a land design. Most parts are edible and have been used as such for thousands of years. Animals utilize this plant for food and shelter. The leaves and stems can thatch a roof, make paper, or fuel a fire as charcoal… to name but of few of many uses. This fast growing plant is also one of the best wetland water filters on Earth. This plant should be strongly considered for any water feature you have!


Typha species

Native and widespread around the Northern Hemisphere, from just below the Arctic to the Tropics. It has been used as food, fuel, fiber, and medicine by indigenous people in these areas. It has been introduced to many new locations around the globe, and it continues to be used in many ways around the world but most commonly as either a decorative wetland plant or as a natural water filter species.


  • Typha × glauca – this is a hybrid cattail (T. angustifolia × T. latifolia) and is the White Cattail which is typically sterile… not a bad choice if you are concerned about spread by seed. This plant will still expand through rhizome (root) expansion.
  • Evidence of preserved starch grains on grinding stones suggests they were eaten in Europe 30,000 years ago (from Wikipedia)
  • Pulp of the Common Cattail can be used to make rayon, although wood pulp is the most common source of this semi-synthetic fiber
  • Rush Lights are a type of candle made by soaking the dried pith (inner core) of Cattail (aka “Rush”) stalks in household fat or grease; traditionally bacon fat was most common, but sheep fat was also used since it dried to a harder consistency. Beeswax was often added to make the candle burn longer
  • Pollen from Cattails is used in fireworks production

The immature male flowers are edible and many consider it a delicacy.


They can be cooked and eaten right off the core, or scraped off and used in many ways.

Here is one method of cooking flower spikes from Wendy Petty:


Primary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – used in water gardens and even florist’s displays
  • Edible Roots – raw or cooked. Can be treated like potatoes.
  • Edible Shoots – young shoots can be used raw or cooked, like a cucumber-tasting asparagus (known as “Cossack Asparagus” due to their popularity with Ukranians and Russians); peel the outer layers and use the heart, ideally used before they become fibrous
  • Edible Stems – just the base, peel back the outer stem. This is the only part of this plant I have eaten so far. It was quite palatable to a 10 year old boy swimming in a pond in south Florida!
  • Edible Flower Spike – only the immature male flower spike, used raw or cooked, reportedly tastes like sweet corn
  • Edible Seed – raw or cooked, but difficult to harvest and use, but some do. An oil can be obtained from the seeds
  • Edible Pollen – raw or cooked, high in protein, added to soups as a thickener or flours as an additive
  • Flour – roots and seeds can be dried and ground into a flour. This flour can be added to cereal flours for bread making. The flour can be used as a thickening agent in soups, stews, and sauces.
  • Syrup – roots are chopped up and boiled which yields a sweet syrup

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) pollen plant
  • Wildlife Shelter – small mammals, birds, insects, fish (especially juvenile fish), crustaceans, etc.; birds will use the “hairs” on the fruit to line their nests
  • Wildlife Food – many animals will eat the seeds, but especially birds
  • Bioremediation Plant – beds of Cattails can be used as part of a biological filtration system to clean and purify contaminated water, often as part of a constructed wetland. This can be part of a home gray water system as well.
  • Biomass Plant – very fast growing plant can produce large amounts of organic matter in a short time
  • Fuel Plant – the dried stems and leaves can be used directly as fire fuel or to make charcoal (see the first video on this page from an MIT professor)
  • Thatch Plant – used to make thatched roofs
  • Fiber Plant – from stems, leaves, and flowers, used to make paper, mats, hats, chairs, baskets, etc.
  • Tinder Plant – the female flowers have been used as tinder to start fires
  • Other uses – the hairs of the fruits are used to stuff pillows, diapers, and wound dressings; the flowering stems can be dried and used as insulation

Yield: Variable, in one study, 2.5 acres (1 hectare) produced 8 tons (16,000 lbs or 7,250 kg) of flour from the roots.
Harvesting: One report states the roots are best when harvested in Autumn through to Spring. Shoots are harvested in Spring until 20 inches (50 cm) tall. The leaves can be harvest year-round, but typically less in the Spring when rapid growth is underway.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh. The roots and seeds can be dried and stored whole or ground into flour. Flour does not store as long as whole seeds or roots.


The rhizomes (type of root) grow and allow the plant to spread… and they are edible!


USDA Hardiness Zone: 2-12

  • Narrow Leaf Cattail,  Lesser Bulrush (Typha angustifolia): Zone 3-11
  • Bulrush, Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis): Zone 5-11
  • Common Cattail, Reedmace (Typha latifolia): Zone 2-11
  • Laxman’s Bulrush (Typha laxmannii): Zone 4
  • Dwarf Bulrush (Typha minima): Zone 6
  • White Cattail (Typha x glauca): Zone 3-11 (probably Zone 2 as well)

AHS Heat Zone: 12-1
Chill Requirement: Unlikely.

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

Pollination: Self-fertile – these plants are considered monoecious... a single plant will have both male and female flowers. The male flowers (staminate) are at the top, and they wither away after they release their pollen. The female flowers, produced in large number and make up the classic sausage-shaped structure on the Cattail, are located just below the male flowers. Pollinated by the wind.
Flowering: Summer

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 2 years
  • Years to Maximum Fruiting: 3-4 years
  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available as we typically harvest bulbs and eat them. Considering that the plants can be propagated from bulb division, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

The male flowers are the source of pollen… which is also edible!


Cattail pollen pancakes… I can’t wait to try these… they are gluten-free, too!

Another couple links to recipes using cattail pollen:



  • Narrow Leaf Cattail,  Lesser Bulrush (Typha angustifolia): 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters) tall
  • Cape Bulrush (Typha capensis): 3.25 feet (1 meter) tall
  • Asian species (Typha davidiana): 3.25 feet (1 meter) tall
  • Bulrush, Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis): 6-9 feet (1.8-2.7 meters) tall
  • Common Cattail, Reedmace (Typha latifolia): 5-10 feet (1.5-3 meters) tall. Will grow in water depth of 2-3 feet (0.75-1 meters).
  • Laxman’s Bulrush (Typha laxmannii): 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall
  • Dwarf Bulrush (Typha minima): 1-3 feet (30-90 cm) tall
  • Broadleaf Cumbungi (Typha orientalis): 9-13 feet (2.7-4 meters) tall
  • White Cattail (Typha x glauca): 3-9 feet (0.9-2.7 meters) tall

Roots: Rhizomes, new shoots will develop from the spreading rhizome layer
Growth Rate: Fast


The fruit of the Cattail is composed of these soft hairs which have been used to stuff pillow, start fires, and line birds’ nests.


Rushlights are candles made by soaking the dried pith (inner core) of Cattail (aka “Rush”) stalks in household fats. They were so common at one time that special holders were made specifically for them… these are now considered antiques.


Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Does not like shade
Moisture: Wet, boggy soils to fully aquatic conditions.
pH: tolerates a very wide range of soil conditions

Special Considerations for Growing:
This is a fast growing plant. Some consider it invasive. However, at least one species is native to most parts of the world. Just be wise in where you plant this species.

Seed – sown just at the surface and flooded. Young plants can slowly have the water depth increased. It is much easier to propagate through division in Spring. Divide the shoots from the mother plant, and just plant any shoots that have roots attached.


  • This depends on what you are doing with it. If you have a native stand, then there is not much needed to be done.
  • However, considering how fast this grows, it makes an excellent nutrient recycler… plant a bed of Cattails at the lowest level where water exits the property. Once or twice a year, significantly cut back the stalks and leaves and use these as mulch or compost higher up in the property. The rhizomes can be harvested at this same time for food or division.


  • Cattails can accumulate large quantities of toxins, which make it a great water-cleaning/filter plant, but can make consumption of this plant potentially hazardous if grown in contaminated sites.

The edible young shoots are prized in Ukraine and Russia and are known as “Cossack Asparagus”

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Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Three: 21-30)

As I discussed in my recent article, Fighting Fungophobia (or Mycophobia) …the fear of mushrooms, here is a list of 70 Distinctive Mushrooms:

Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part One: 1-10)
Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Two: 11-20)
Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Three: 21-30)
Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Four: 31-40 )
Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Five: 41-50)
Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Six: 51-60)
Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Seven: 61-70)

This list of mushrooms comes from David Arora, mycologist extraordinaire and author of Mushrooms Demystified and All That the Rain Promises and More. I’ve added photos and a brief paragraph about reported edibility, characteristics, distribution, and habitat. Remember, this is not meant to be an identification guide but rather an introduction to some pretty amazing and representative mushrooms. The mushrooms on this list are all found in the United States (my home), but the majority are also found outside of North America.

A quick note on edibility: I am listing whether the mushroom is considered Edible or Poisonous or Deadly Poisonous. Understand that all mushrooms should be cooked before being eaten. Even edible mushrooms can cause gastrointestinal upset (nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, and/or diarrhea) if the mushrooms are not cooked. Yes, some people can handle raw mushrooms in small amounts (mainly just the common, grocery store “button mushrooms”), but most will succumb to symptoms if they eat enough raw mushrooms, especially wild mushrooms. Also, note that some edible mushrooms may cause gastrointestinal symptoms for some individuals and none for other individuals. One species may cause some symptoms for one person but not for another. It is variable. If it is your first time consuming a new type of mushrooms, go slow. Eat a little bit one day, and if you do well, then consume a bit more the next day. If you still have no problems, then you can likely eat that type of mushroom with no issues. Finally, note that most anyone has a good chance of getting gastrointestinal symptoms if they eat an excessively large amount of mushrooms of any type. Just like if a person eats a whole pot of bean-laden chili… watch out! Keep it in moderation, but have fun!

Seventy mushroom listings and photographs will take a lot of space, so I am going to break the list up into ten species segments. I recommend reading David Arora’s books as well as some local field guides. Then go outside and get to know the fungus among us… er, you, I mean.

Here are the next ten:

21. Coccora (Amanita calyptrata)
22. Grisette (Amanita vaginata)
23. Green-Spored Parasol (Chlorophyllum molybdites)
24. Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes, C. olivieri, and C. brunnem)
25. Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera)
26. Meadow Mushroom (Agaricus campestris)
27. Yellow-Staining Agaricus (Agaricus xanthodermus)
28. Horse Mushrooms (Agaricus arvensis)
29. The Prince (Agaricus augustus)
30. Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)

Here is the list again with photos and accompanying paragraph of additional information:


Coccora (Amanita calyptrata)


Coccora (Amanita calyptrata)

21. Coccora (Amanita calyptrata or Amanita lanei or Amanita calyptroderma): Edible (but not recommended due to it can easily be confused with other poisonous Amanita species). This large mushroom with an orange to brown or yellow-brown cap reportedly has a strong fishy flavor, and some mushroom hunters really like it… others, not so much. There is also a greenish form, which may be due to the temperature where the mushrooms grow, or may be a variety, or may be another very closely related species. Cap size: 2.7-9.8 inches (7-25 cm). Found only in western coastal states of North America, typically with Madrone (Arbutus menziesii), but also with oak, pine, and other conifers.



young Grisette (Amanita vaginata)


mature Grisette (Amanita vaginata)

22. Grisette (Amanita vaginata): Edible (caution recommended due to its resemblance to poisonous Amanita species, but still popular in France). A fairly classic Amanita mushroom that is gray to gray-brown. It is said cows like to eat this mushroom… hmmm. Cap size: 1.2-3.9 inches (3-10 cm). Common in North American, and also in Australia, the Azores (!), and Scotland.  Found growing in both coniferous and deciduous forests, but also forest edges, lawns, and recently disturbed soils.



Green-Spored/Gilled Parasol or False Parasol (Chlorophyllum molybdites)


Note that the Green-Spored (Chlorophyllum molybdites) can have WHITE gills when immature!

23. Green-Spored/Gilled Parasol or False Parasol (Chlorophyllum molybdites): PoisonousAs typically mysterious as mushrooms are, this mushroom is eaten by some with no issues, but others will eat it and develop severe gastrointestinal distress, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping and pain. It is considered the number one mushroom poisoner in North America. This is likely due to the very large size, classic “edible mushroom” shape (and resemblance to the Shaggy Parasol – our next mushroom), and growth on lawns. Identification is verified by green spores, NOT gills… only the very mature gills will be green; a spore print is all that is reliable! Cap size: inches 3.9-11.8 inches (10-30 cm), but can get to 15.75 inches (40 cm)… frisbee size! Common in North America, but has spread to Australia and Scotland, and warm tropical and temperate climates. Found in lawns and parks, often in fairy rings. Typically fruits after warm Summer rains, but will also fruit in Autumn.



Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes)


Note the red staining of the flesh, Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes)

24. Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes, C. olivieri, and C. brunnem… all formerly known as Lepiota rhacodes): Edible (caution advised due to its resemblance to the Green-Spored Parasol – above). Mature specimens have distinct, coarse “scales” on the cap, and they always have white spores; however, when younger, they look very similar to the Green-Spored Parasol, above. The flesh will also bruise an orange to red color, but may be faint. Cap size: 2-7.9 inches (5-20 cm). Common in North America and Europe, and also in Australia. Found growing under trees (usually conifers) and bushes, but also in any rich soils and disturbed soils (ant hills, roadsides, compost piles, greenhouses, and basements!), as well as open fields.



Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera)


Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera)

25. Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera, formerly known as Lepiota procera): Edible (very popular, with meaty/nutty flavor, and is now commercially grown in Europe). The name of this mushroom really describes it… macro=large, lepiota=scales, and procera=tall. When young, this mushroom resembles the Shaggy Parasol and Green-Spored Parasol (both above), but it has white spores and the flesh does not stain red or orange. The key identification is the “nipple”, or umbo, at the center of the cap. Cap size: 2.75-9.8 inches (7-25 cm). Found almost all around the world in temperate climates. Found in groups or faire rings in open woods, pastures, and on edges.



Meadow or Field Mushroom (Agaricus campestris)


Note the darker gills in mature specimens… Meadow or Field Mushroom (Agaricus campestris)

26. Meadow or Field Mushroom (Agaricus campestris): Edible (choice!) This mushroom is closely related to the common button mushroom sold in grocery stores, but most say it is far superior in flavor. The key identification is the pink gills when young and ideal, but can change to chocolate brown (spores) as it matures. Considered a great beginners’ mushroom. Preserves well with drying, freezing, and canning. Cap size: 1.5-4.3 inches (4-11 cm), but can reach 5.9 inches (15 cm). Found extensively throughout the world. Found alone, in small groups, or in fairy rings in fields and in grass and lawns, and very rarely in woodlands.



Yellow-Staining Agaricus (Agaricus xanthodermus)


don’t forget to smell your mushrooms! Yellow-Staining Agaricus (Agaricus xanthodermus)

27. Yellow-Staining Agaricus (Agaricus xanthodermus): Poisonous. Very similar in appearance to the Meadow Mushroom (above), but it has two distinct characteristics… it stains yellow when rubbed (especially at the base of the stalk) and it smells like phenol (strong, chemical odor). The smell is even worse when cooked. If a person could ignore the odor and eat it, most (but not all!) will develop headaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Cap: 2.3-5.9 inches (6-15 cm), but can reach 7.8 inches (20 cm). Found all over the globe in temperate climates, in almost any environment.



Horse Mushrooms (Agaricus arvensis)


Horse Mushrooms (Agaricus arvensis)

28. Horse Mushrooms (Agaricus arvensis): Edible (choice and highly prized!) Here is another mushroom that closely resembles another mushroom, this time very similar to the Yellow-Staining Agaricus (Agaricus xanthodermus); however, while it is yellow-staining, it smells like anise or black licorice! Cap: 2.75-7.8 inches (7-20 cm). Commonly found in North America, Europe, Britain, and western Asia. Typically found alone, scattered, in groups, and occasionally in rings, usually in grassy areas, and it likes rich soils that often grows nettles.



The Prince (Agaricus augustus)


The Prince (Agaricus augustus)

29. The Prince (Agaricus augustus): Edible (choice and highly prized!) This mushroom can get very large, and has a classic mushroom shape. Again, the key to identification is your nose… it smells like almonds or almond extract, but some say it has a hint of anise or black licorice. Cap size: inches 2.75-11.8 inches (7-30 cm), but can get to 15.75 inches (40 cm). Common and widespread in North America, Europe, North Africa, and Asia and found alone or in groups or clumps on edges near deciduous and coniferous woodlands and disturbed soils. It fruits easily, even in early season or warm weather.



Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)


Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)

30. Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus): Edible (highly prized). This is considered one of the unmistakable mushroom species, and is one of the most delicious wild mushrooms. It is said to have a soft, delicate flavor. These mushrooms are short-lived and will melt away into an inky mess which gives them their other common name the Shaggy Ink Cap. Please see my two articles on this species: Shaggy Mane Mushrooms and Making a Mushroom Patch: Shaggy Mane Mushrooms. Cap: 1.5-5.9 inches (4-15 cm) tall, but can get to 9.8 (25 cm) tall – cylindrical. Found all over in North America and Europe, and it has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand, and likely a few other places in the world. It prefers hard ground and grassy edges and rich or disturbed soils.

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Permaculture Project: Harvesting and Using Wild Chicory



About a month ago, I noticed multiple Chicory plants popping up in my yard (please see my prior article on Permaculture Plants: Chicory). For those that don’t know, my family and I are currently renting a home in the Azores. The “yard” is a rather large, traditional English-like garden, but with more sub-tropical and maritime plants. It is not my ideal from a Permaculture perspective, but we do with what we have. Well, as I saw the Chicory spring up across the grass, I immediately thought of a few things:

First – the soil must be compacted. Chicory is a “weed” that grows in poor soils. It has a deep tap-root that can break through the hard soil and mine for water and nutrients. Chicory pops up where soil conditions do not allow many other plants to grow. Knowing what I do of the soil under the layer of grass in my yard, I would have to agree with the Chicory’s selection of this soil!

Second – the Chicory is mining nutrients. It is known as a “dynamic accumulator”. (please see my prior article on the subject of Dynamic Accumulators for more information on this topic.) I decided I would let it grow a bit and build up lots of nutrients before I cut them back.

Third – the root of the Chicory can be made into a coffee additive or substitute. The roasted and ground root was used by American colonists to stretch their meager coffee supplies. It was used as an additive or on its own during many points in history where politics deprived people from drinking their coffee. This was a common occurrence in France, and some continued the use of Chicory due to perceived health benefits and acquired taste. With such a strong French influence, New Orleans has continued to drink Chicory coffee for the last 200 years. I have never tried this drink. It appears the land was giving me this opportunity!

So this is what I did…


I pulled up the plant, root and all. If you grab the entire plant and pull straight up, steadily and slowly, you can get the entire root out of the ground… I had about an 80% success rate. Any plants where the root broke off at ground level, I just left in place. If it rots in place, that will help the soil. If it grows back, then I’ll just harvest it later!


Here is my collection of Chicory plants from my yard.


The tops were cut off and thrown into the compost pile.


I then scrubbed the roots to get all the soil off. This was the most time consuming part of the process. I ended up using a plastic bristle brush and that worked very well. I placed the quarter in there for size comparison. These are pretty deep roots for a small “weed” that has not been growing very long. What a great plant!


I chopped up the roots with a heavy, sharp knife so that the roasting would be more even.


The root pieces were roasted for about 90 minutes in a 350 F (180 C) oven.

A few comments first:

  • Raw Chicory root that has been cleaned has a very pleasant odor to it. Reminds me of a nutty fig wood or ficus sap. Fruity, woody, and nutty.
  • Raw Chicory root tastes awful! It is very, very bitter. I rarely spit food out, but I had to with this one. I kept chewing and chewing, hoping there would be some sweetness or other flavor come through. Nope! Just bitter! I don’t recommend doing this.
  • The smell of the Chicory roasting filled my house with an amazing nutty, coffee, chocolate smell. Hard to describe, but amazing.
  • Many sites recommend grinding the root before brewing, but a few said you need a strong grinder. Also, there were a number of sites that just used the roasted roots as they were. I have a good, but not strong coffee grinder I use for spices… a lot. I didn’t want to burn it out grinding up something that looked like pieces of wood. I went ahead I made the coffee with just the roasted chunks of Chicory root.

Chicory Coffee:

  • I poured about 12 ounces (350 ml) boiling water over 2 tablespoons of root.
  • The water turned brown almost immediately.
  • I left it to steep for about 12 minutes (10-15 minutes is most commonly recommended). The water was now very dark brown/black.
  • I divided this into four mugs.
    • First – plain/straight: great flavor, but a bit strong for me
    • Second – with about 1 teaspoon dark molasses (this is considered the traditional American colonist’s method): had a good flavor and had a good level of sweetness, but the molasses was too much for me.
    • Third – with about 1 teaspoon of local honey: very good
    • Fourth – with about 1 teaspoon of local honey and 2 tablespoons organic whole milk: my favorite! Tastes like a mix between a nutty coffee and a strong tea
  • My next batch will be mixed with regular coffee.

This was an easy project. It was fun, made the house smell great, and gave a great end product. Plus, I have quite a few servings left over stored in an airtight, glass jar in my pantry. I got rid of a “weed” which my landlord will like, and I added a bunch of nutrient-rich material to my compost pile. What a great, easy Permaculture Project! Cheers!


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Permaculture Plants: Persian Silk Tree

Common Names: Persian Silk Tree, Pink Silk Tree, Pink Siris, Mimosa, Lenkoran Acacia, Bastard Tamarind
Scientific Name: Albizia julibrissin
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume, Bean, or Pea family)


A well-known ornamental, the Persian Silk Tree has a lot more to offer than just beauty!

This small, legume tree is fast growing and short-lived. Known primarily as a tropical-looking, ornamental tree, it has many additional uses. It fixes-nitrogen into the soil which allows it to grow in poor soils and act as a pioneer plant in addition to fertilizing surrounding plants. While the leaves and flowers are edible, they are reportedly not great; however, many animals (wild and domesticated) use the leaves and pods/seeds for food, and they are increasingly used as a fodder crop. It attracts beneficial insects, bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and the wood can be used for many things, from furniture to firewood. The Persian Silk Tree (or Mimosa) is an ideal Permaculture tree to reclaim damaged soils and help establish a quality Forest Garden.


Herbarium entry at the University of North Carolina.

Native to southwester and eastern Asia (Iran, Korea, and Japan are known for cultivation), the Persian Silk Tree has spread around the world as an ornamental tree.


  • Genus name honors Filippo degi Albizzia who introduced the genus to Italy in 1749
  • Commonly called a “Mimosa”, the Persian Silk Tree is not closely related to the Mimosa genus
  • The Persian Silk Tree is used in traditional Chinese Medicine to “nourish the heart and calm the spirit”; recent research shows that the tree contains an anti-depressant effect

Classic legume pods… a sign that this is a nitrogen-fixing plant!


The Silk Tree attracts a lot of beneficial and beautiful insects. 


Primary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – this has been one of its primary uses around the world due to its showy, fragrant flowers and attractive leaves
  • Nitrogen Fixing Plant – this plant creates its own nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with microorganisms (bacteria) in its roots. It typically produces an excess of nitrogen that can be used by neighboring plants.
  • Edible Leaves – Considered a potherb (a plant used as a vegetable or as a seasoning). Use when young, before they become fibrous. Aromatic. Dried leaves can be used for teas.
  • Edible Flowers – cooked and eaten as a vegetable.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Butterfly Plant – this plant has nectar that attracts Butterflies
  • Hummingbird Plant – this plant has nectar that attracts Hummingbirds
  • Fodder Crop – leaves, pods, and seeds – used for cattle, sheep, and goats
  • Wildlife Food – many animals will eat the pods and seeds (deer, squirrels, birds, etc.)
  • Wildlife Shelter – mainly birds and small mammals
  • Drought Plant – this species can tolerate prolonged dry conditions once established
  • Windbreak Species – fast growing, but not very tall, also it does not tolerate very high winds
  • Wood – used for furniture, cabinets, and other building applications (a few reports say it is a strong wood, but other say it is a weak wood… with this conflicting information, I would avoid using it for structures)
  • Fuel Wood – firewood, charcoal
  • Coppice Plant – while not a traditional coppice plant, this plant will grow back from the stump (or stool) and from the roots.
  • Pioneer Plant – helps reestablish overused or damaged land

Yield: no reliable information is available.
Harvesting: Not a tree that is typically harvested in a traditional sense. Flowers can be harvested in the Summer. Leaves can be harvested early for human food when young, and throughout the growing season for forage. The seed pods are formed in mid-late Summer and will stay on the tree into Winter; harvest when desired.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh. While I can find no information on storing pods/seed, I imagine they can be stored like any other dried bean to be used later.


An ornamental pioneer species can make a renovation project more beautiful!


Pods are great animal feed!


USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 7-9 for most varieties, but at least A. julibrissin f. rosea is hardy to -13F (-25C), which is Zone 6
AHS Heat Zone: 9-6
Chill Requirement: It is possible considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Small Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer, Sub-Canopy Layer (only in a very open Canopy)
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties, cultivars, and forms availabe

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Summer (June-July)

Life Span:
Considered short-lived, 30-45 years is typical, but may die back at 10 years, and may live much longer in optimal conditions (likely only in its native region)


The classic leaves of a legume.


A dark-leaved variety named “Summer Chocolate”


Size: 16-40 feet (5-12 meters) tall and wide
Roots: Fibrous, sucker-forming
Growth Rate: Fast


When allowed to grow on its own, it will form a dome shape and have multiple suckers.


Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates minimal shade
Moisture: Prefers moist soils, but can grow in a dry conditions
pH: 4.0-8.0 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:
If you live in an area where wilt is common, consider growing a resistant variety (Charlotte and Tryon are two that know of)

Typically from seed. Scarification of the thick seed coat improves germination. Pre-soak for 24 hours in warm-hot water. Germinates in 2-3 months. Can be propagated by root cuttings (Winter), wood cuttings (Summer), and division of suckers (late Winter).

Moderate. Need to monitor for seedlings and suckers.


  • Dispersive – self-seeding can produce many seedlings.
  • In some areas, there is a high amount of pests and disease (wilt and web worms are most common). This is a mixed issue… if the tree shoots up and then dies back due to pests/disease, then we have to ability to speed succession, but we need to be monitoring closely and planning well.


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    Get your Kids in the Natural World! – Part 2: Touring an Azorean Farm!

Get your Kids in the Natural World! – Part 2: Touring an Azorean Farm!

I am a huge advocate of getting our kids into the natural world and into the agricultural world. Please read my first article on this subject here: Get your Kids in the Natural World! – Part 1: Get them in the garden! All children should understand, and not be frightened, of nature. All children should understand where their food comes from. At this stage in my life, we have no animals other than a dog. Hopefully, this will change in about a year’s time, but for now I have to make do with what we have. So when we had the opportunity to visit a heritage farm here in the Azores, where we currently live, I certainly wasn’t going to pass. My rather pregnant wife and I got to watch our three young kids tour an historic, renovated Azorean farmhouse (whose owners dress in traditional Azorean farm clothes); feed the chickens, ducks, and geese; ride a donkey; milk the cow; visit the piglets; and eat freshly made bread still warm from the traditional wood-fired stone oven and slathered with local butter and jams… yeah, of course we participated in that part as well!


My daughter loved to pet the donkey… riding it was another story!


My youngest and oldest posing with the traditional Azorean breed of cattle. I was told by the farmwife that it was called the “Azores Cattle”, and it dates back to the 1400’s and maybe even the 1300’s. I can find nothing online about them… if anyone knows more about this breed, I would love to read it!


Teaching my daughter (2 years old) how to milk a cow!


My second oldest (4 years old) really started to get into it.


My oldest (5 years old) got the milk out and was done… he was like, “I did it, why do I need to do it again?”, but he was the first of my kids to sample the milk! It was quite sweet.


Milking a cow may have not been his thing, but he could have fed the chickens all day long if we would have let him!


My second oldest just wanted to walk with the chickens. He was out there, just him and the poultry, for quite a while. We finally had to call him back. He ran up and said, “Dad, we have got to get a farm!” Ahhhh… music to my soul!


One last goodbye to the chickens, ducks, and geese before we had to leave.


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Questions from Readers: Growing a young grape vine

Question from Elizabeth in South Carolina (Zone 8).
Humid Cool Temperate Climate (hot Summers, cool to light cold Winters).

I rescued a Muscadine (not really my favorite, but it was an experiment) and I bought a black table grape suited for this area last winter. I put both in pots as I wasn’t sure where or what I was going to do with them. The black grape has taken off. It’s center is still woody with no vertical growth, but there are two lateral shoots: one about five feet the other maybe nine feet. I’ve finally figured out a spot to put them in, and now I’m stuck. A few issues:

  • pruning – I’ve read you shouldn’t prune the first year. So far so good. Do I wait until after next year to do this or after this winter?
  • height – As I planted in pots, once I place them in the ground the lateral shoots will be quite near the ground….not ideal from what I’ve read up on. Not sure what to do….
  • vertical growth – Does one of the lateral shoots become the vertical growth? What encourages it to grow vertically up the support to then allow lateral shoots to grow out? Does this make sense?


My Answer:
Pruning grapes: You are mostly right. The vast majority of growers do not prune the first year, but some growers with a lot of experience will prune their first year. I wouldn’t prune the first year. If you (or I) had that much experience, than you wouldn’t be reading this!

Height and vertical growth: Don’t worry. It’s all about training the vine as I explain in the next section.


Click on the image for a brief, illustration guide to yearly pruning of grape vines.

Training Grape Vines (a terribly brief intro in just a few sentences): You will not get any vertical growth from the stump. That woody core will stay short and lumpy forever. All the vertical growth will come from the cane you select to be your main trunk. Over time, this cane will become thick and woody itself. Side shoots (cordons) will eventually grow from it and give you the lateral growth. This training will take a few years to get into full growth and production. Here is a nice page that explains it a bit more with photos, but I will repost one image:



Grape vines growing over a pergola on a rooftop in Gaziantep, Turkey (about 100 miles from where I used to live!)

Permaculture Twist: You didn’t think I would skip this? You can plant the grape vine in a traditional Vertical Positioning System, or you can use the grape vine’s innate characteristics for you to perform additional functions than food production:

  • Grape vines are, in fact, vines. They are good climbers.
  • They grow fast and far each season.
  • They are deciduous. Leaf growth/drop can give you seasonal shade and privacy.
  • They attract good and bad insects.
  • They produce tasty fruit that people and birds enjoy. Netting may be needed.
  • They have edible leaves.
  • They have vines that should be pruned each year to maximize quality production the next year, and these vines get a bit woody.
  • Grape vines have a high need for nutrients to sustain production.
  • These are just a few characteristics off the top of my head. I am sure there are a ton more.

A rooftop in the Turkish town where I used to live. You can just see the main grape vine trunk growing up the side of the house at the closest corner to the roof.

So instead of the traditional row of vines, what about:

  • Growing grape vines along a fence to provide privacy for an outdoor living space. You will only be out there when the vine is growing anyway (seasonal… Spring through Autumn).
  • Growing grape vines over a pergola or trellis system to cover an outdoor living space. This provides seasonal shade and cooling for that space and easy harvesting of grapes. I saw this numerous times in living in Turkey. Many people had blocky, flat roofed homes. The entire roof had a trellis system. The grape vine ran from the ground, up two stories, and then spread over the entire roof for the growing season. This cooled the house, provided a comfortable and private living area on the roof, and provided food in the form of grapes and leaves, while also providing stick fuel for cooking at the end of the growing season. The trunk was two stories high and probably took a few years to develop, but so worth it! Other homes had the grape vines growing in large tubs on the roof itself.
  • My favorite technique for a few grapes vines is for people who have chickens and seasonal Japanese Beetles… pretty common in South Carolina from what I recall. Grow the grape vine over the chicken coop! The vine provides seasonal shade to cool the birds in the hot summers. This reduces heat stress which also increases health and disease/pest resistance in the birds. This reduces watering requirements for the birds. Chickens like to eat any grapes that may fall. They also enjoy the occasional grape leaf. Japanese Beetles seem to enjoy grape leaves as well. They have a “tuck and roll” technique of evading predators when they get frightened… very difficult to control in a classic row crop. But, when growing over a chicken run… just shake the vines once or twice a day, and the chickens will be singing, “It’s raining food!” This reduces (not a lot) the feed bill for the birds. It manages a grape pest with no chemicals and requires only a few seconds per day. It is also entertaining! Finally, the grape vine roots will be growing under the chicken run soil, high in nitrogen. This reduces, and possibly eliminates, the need for fertilizing the grape vines. This is an ideal Permaculture system!

Good luck! Send photos if you can!


Grape vines growing up a wall in the city of Göreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. I was fortunate to visit this area many times while I lived in Turkey.


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Permaculture Plants: Honey Locust

Common Name: Honey Locust, Thorny Locust

Scientific Name: Gleditsia triacanthos
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume, Bean, or Pea family)


Honey Locust is a common ornamental tree.

This central North American native is a common ornamental shade tree in the suburbs of America. But this member of the Legume family is gaining popularity in the Permaculture world due to its many uses. It fixes nitrogen in the soil, grows fast, has edible pods commonly used as livestock fodder, provides nectar to beneficial insects, creates high quality lumber which resists rot, and can be used in barren, maritime, drought, and/or polluted lands. This is a truly multi-purpose tree and one that should be considered by every Permaculturist.


Gleditsia triacanthos

Native and widespread in central North America. It was used by Native Americans as a supplementary food source. It has been used in more recent times as a fast-growing, ornamental, shade tree, and thornless varieties have been developed. It has been naturalized in most of eastern North America and it has been introduced to India, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. Some consider it a weed tree in these locations.


  • The name “Honey” likely comes from the sweet flavor of the young pods, because while honeybees to visit this tree, it is not a major source of nectar for them
  • The inermis variety of Honey Locust is sterile, non-fruiting, and thornless.
  • In the past, the thorns were used as nails!
  • The flowers are strongly scented.

The pods mature in late Autumn to Winter and are a great fodder source


Mature pods on the tree. Immature pods are edible to humans. 


Honey Locust produces a high quality wood.


Primary Uses:

  • Ornamental Tree – The “improved” varieties have been developed for fast-growing, ornamental, shade trees.
  • Nitrogen Fixing Plant – There is some debate (due to Honey Locust not forming root nodules), but it appears that this tree produces an excess of nitrogen which can be used by surrounding plants. It may come from the roots as recent research at Yale suggests, or it may come from leaf fall and not the roots, but scientists are still studying this.
  • Edible Pods – The young pods have a pulp that is sweet. The pods can be eaten raw or cooked. A sugar can be made from the pulp. The pulp can be fermented into a beer… I have got to try this!
  • Edible Seeds – They very young seeds can be eaten raw or cooked. Reportedly taste like peas. Can even be roasted, ground, and used as a coffee substitute.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Animal Fodder Tree – Produces high-protein pods which livestock enjoy (cattle, goats, sheep, rabbits, and even quail)
  • Wildlife Food Source – deer, squirrel, rabbits, birds
  • Coppice Tree – Honey Locust is known to coppice well, but no good information on the frequency of coppicing can be found
  • Lumber – Creates a high quality, hard, durable wood used in construction, furniture, interior finishing
  • Wood – Fence posts (the wood resists rot and takes a long time to break down), rails, wheel hubs, farm implements, pallets, crates, and bows for hunting
  • Firewood and Charcoal source
  • Pioneer Plant  – A great plant for reclaiming land
  • Biomass Plant – Produces a large amount of leaf fall every year, and it if fast growing… great for rebuilding the soil
  • Drought Tolerant – once established
  • Pollution Tolerant – used to reclaim land from mining areas and used in cities with poor air quality
  • Maritime Plant – tolerates salty conditions

Yield: Not a classic fruit plant, so no yield data can be found.
Harvesting: Pods start forming in late Summer and into early Autumn. The pods mature in late Autumn and early Winter.
Storage: If the pods or seeds are for human consumption, then they are best used fresh… although no good information is available.


Honey Locust is a popular shade tree.


Classic legume leaves


USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 3-9
AHS Heat Zone: 9-1
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Large Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available, but almost all have been developed for ornamental purposes.

Pollination: Honey Locusts are considered “Polygamo-Dioecious”. This means that there are both male and female trees. The male flowers are not required for pod formation, but are required for full seed development. Pollinated by insects.
Flowering: Late Spring to Early Summer.

Life Span: 

  • Years to Begin Bearing: 10 years
  • Years Between Major Crops: 2 years on average
  • Estimated Useful Life: Since this tree is often used as a nitrogen-fixing, “nurse” tree to other more desired fruit or nut trees, Honey Locusts are typically not kept around long by Permaculturists… unless the tree is to be used as a fodder source for livestock. Honey Locusts will live to be about 120 years, but can live to 150 years. It is considered a short-lived tree.

Flower buds just forming.


Honey Locust has highly fragrant flowers. 


Size: 50-100 feet (15-30 meters) tall and wide; some specimens can be larger
Roots: All will have a fibrous component to them, but they also have a deep tap-root… some may have a number of thick, deep roots instead of a single tap-root
Growth Rate: Fast


Some wild Honey Locust only have a few thorns.


…and some are covered in thorns… there is a reason the thornless varieties are so popular!


Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Does not like shade
Moisture: Dry to wet soils. Can tolerate a wide variety of soil moisture.
pH: prefers 6.1-7.5 (but tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Honey Locust tolerates juglone (natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives). Consider using this tree as a buffer between your walnuts and other plantings.
  • May need to be protected from rabbits and deer who like to eat the thin bark of young trees
  • Individual trees may occasionally be hit hard with pests and disease, but are considerably more susceptible when planted in large groups… basically, like with many things in nature, monocrops should be avoided.

From seed – should be soaked in warm water until swollen (usually about 24 hours), and it may need to be filed a bit before soaking. After swelling, the seed is planted and should germinate within a month.



  • The thorns on this tree can be quite large!
  • Some people consider this tree to be invasive, so be careful if you are introducing it outside of its natural range


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