Groundcover Layer

Permaculture Plants: Red Clover

Common Name: Red Clover, Beebread, Clover Rose, Cow Clover, Meadow Clover, and many more…
Scientific Name: Trifolium pratense
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume, Bean, or Pea family)

Fields of Red Clover in bloom are rather beautiful!

Fields of Red Clover in bloom are rather beautiful! 

Description:
Red Clover is one of the most popular green manure, fodder, and cover crops grown in the world. As a legume, it puts atmospheric nitrogen into the soil. It is a well-known attractor of wildlife (deer, rabbits, bees, butterflies, etc.), and it has been used as a medicinal herb for centuries. Red Clover is almost entirely edible, although the flowers are most prized, and they are popular in herbal teas. It is used to control erosion and its taproots bring phosphorus to the surface soil as well. Red Clover is a superbly useful plant and needs to be considered in many Permaculture designs.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

History:
Native and widespread in Europe, Western Asia, and Northwest Africa. It highly regarded as a fodder crop and green manure, so it has been spread around the world and naturalized across the globe. Even though it is not native to North America, Red Clover is the State Flower of Vermont.

Trivia:

  • Four leaf clovers were considered good luck in the Middle Ages; they were worn to ward off evil spirits and witches. Five leaf clovers were said to be worn by witches to give them evil powers. For some reason, the folklore of four leaf clovers has basically remained common knowledge, but the folklore of five leaf clovers has been mostly forgotten.
  • Red Clover has been used for centuries in herbal medicine. One of its main applications was for menopausal symptoms. Not surprisingly, modern research has shown that Red Clover contains chemicals that the body converts to plant-based estrogen.
  • A few studies have shown that male animals that eat a lot of clover can develop low sperm counts. This is likely due to the phytoestrogen content.
  • Red Clover is not native to the United States, but is still the Vermont State Flower.
  • Red Clover is the National Flower of Denmark.
Red Clover is one of the most popular nitrogen fixers in modern agriculture.

Red Clover is one of the most popular nitrogen fixers in modern agriculture.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Animal Feed – Grazing animals love clover! It is considered to have a forage quality comparable to alfalfa, but the quality doesn’t decline with age nearly as fast as alfalfa.
  • 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. This is a leguminous plant; Clover inoculation group (Rhizobium trifolii).
  • Groundcover/Green Manure – Few people use this as an intentional groundcover, but it will work as one. Due to its nitrogen-fixing ability, it is more often used as a green manure; this is a species planted for a season and allowed to die back in Winter or tilled under in the Spring before planting. Since Red Clover is a perennial, it will grow back unless it is tilled under. And while I am adamantly against deep tilling in almost all circumstances, a very shallow tilling of cover crops/green manures makes sense, especially in the early stages of land development. It deposits the most nitrogen into the soil when killed at mid-bloom of its second season. In general, Red clover is pretty quick to establish. Grows strong for about 2 years, but starts to decline and won’t live more than 5 years. About 8 lbs (3.6 kg) per acre if used with a grass in pastures, but the amount can be tripled or quadrupled if a single-species crop is desired. If a smaller space is being used, sowing rate is about 2-3 grams per square meter (roughly square yard).
Bumblebees love Red Clover, even more than Honeybees. I took this pic when walking across a field, and I was dodging bees left and right!

Bumblebees love Red Clover, even more than Honeybees. I took this pic when walking across a field, and I was dodging bees left and right!

Secondary Uses:

  • Edible Flowers, Leaves, Sprouts, and Roots – While the flowers and young shoots are edible, I think they are not very exciting. Some people say the flowers have a sweet taste, but I find them more nutty. The leaves can also be eaten raw and are best before flowering, or they can be cooked like spinach. Seeds can be sprouted and used like most other sprouts. The taproots are not large, but can be eaten after cooked.
  • Tea Plant – The leaves and flowers make a good tea which is mainly used as a medicine.
  • Medicinal Plant (see below) – Red Clover has a long history as a medicinal.
  • General insect (especially bees!) nectar and pollen plant – Clover Honey is fantastic, although White Clover is the typical source.
  • Shelter plant for beneficial insects
    • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
    • Parasitic Wasps prefer to rest and hide on this plant
  • Dynamic Accumulator – when the herbacous above-ground portions of this plant dies back each year, it releases the nutrients it has mined with its taproots. Red Clover is known to pull up and deposit phosphorus. This is great, because natural sources of phosphorus are declining.
  • Erosion Control Species – the deep root system of Red Clover, often coupled with one or more grass species, helps stabilize soils prone to erosion.
Drying Red Clover is fast and easy.

Drying Red Clover is fast and easy.

Red Clover flowers can be dried for later use in teas and other medicinal purposes.

Red Clover flowers can be dried for later use in teas and other medicinal purposes.

Medicinal Uses:

  • Red Clover is generally high in vitamins and minerals.
  • Red Clover has a long history as a medicinal herb.
  • The flowers seem to be highest in healthful compounds, but the leaves can also be used.
  • Bright red or pink flowers are best. Avoid old or brown flowers.
  • Red Clover has historically been used most often for menopausal symptoms and skin conditions, but it has been used for a number of other conditions as well.
  • We know that Red Clover contains isoflavones (mainly biochannin and formononetin) which the body will turn in to phytoestrogens.
  • There is some modern, scientific, medical evidence that suggests Red Clover may be effective for menopausal symptoms, but most large studies do not show Red Clover is helpful.
  • There is some evidence that Red Clover may help menopausal women maintain bone density or at least slow bone density loss (i.e. it fights osteoporosis).
  • There is some evidence that Red Clover may prevent or slow down endometrial cancer, prostate cancer, and benign prostatic hypertrophy. There is also concern Red Clover may make estrogen-dependant cancers worse.
  • There is some evidence that Red Clover may prevent heart disease (it may make arteries more flexible, may “thin” the blood, and may improve circulation).
  • There has not been any good studies on Red Clover treating skin conditions, treat cough in children, or treat psychological problems, although these are all traditional uses.
  • Problems with using Red Clover (this list is not meant to discourage the use of Red Clover, but to make sure you are aware):
    • Using Red Clover in the amounts normally found in teas and most medicinal applications should not be a problem.
    • There is concern that the phytoestrogens from Red Clover may cause problems in people dealing with infertility. There have been animals that become infertile after consuming too much Red Clover. The phytoestrogen effects are also the source of the recommendation for avoiding Red Clover in breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and fibroids. However, Red Clover may actually be beneficial in endometrial and prostate cancers for this same reason. The bottom line is that we just don’t really know.
    • While there is not a lot of modern studies investigating this, most sources recommend avoiding Red Clover at medicinal levels during pregnancy and lactation, again due to the phytoestrogen effects. But it is probably fine in small amounts.
    • Red Clover should be avoided if a person is taking a blood thinner, has a clotting disorder, or is going to be having surgery, but again, this is theoretical.
  • My take on Red Clover as a medicine is that there is likely some benefit for some people for some medical problems. I think we just don’t know all the details, yet. Unfortunately, almost every study on Red Clover has been done on laboratory extracts and commercial products. I do not think this is anywhere near the same thing as a tea made in your home a few minutes after you harvested fresh Red Clover flowers or using whole, dried flowers and leaves that you preserved yourself. Unless you have some significant medical problems, Red Clover seems to be a very safe plant, and I would encourage people to trial it for its traditional uses… there is a reason it has been used for centuries.
  • Red Clover Tea is a popular herbal tea that is easy to make at home. Add 1 tablespoon of fresh (half-tablespoon dried) Red Clover blossoms to a cup and add 1-1.5 cups of boiling water. Steep for 5-10 minutes. For more tea, you can add 2 cups fresh (1 cup dried) Red Clover blossoms to 4 cups boiling water. A more powerful tea can be made with the same proportions, but you cover the container and allow to steep overnight (anywhere from 12-24 hours). Then strain and reheat if desired.

 

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Harvesting Red Clover really depends on its intended application. Livestock usually harvest their own food. It can be harvested, usually with companion grasses, as hay. Harvesting flower heads can be time-intensive if collecting large amounts, but it not bad if collecting for household use. Harvesting for tea or medicinal purposes is done when the flowers are bright red or pink, and before they have any brown or signs of decline.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh. Can be stored for many months if dried. This is most commonly done in an oven or dehydrator at very low temperatures, but can even be done in a sunny window. The flowers dry quickly.

I cut across a vacant lot/field the other day when I was getting new tires on my van. The lot was covered in naturalized Red Clover.

I cut across a vacant lot/field the other day when I was getting new tires on my van. The lot was covered in naturalized Red Clover.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 3-9
AHS Heat Zone: Zone 8-1 (this is a best guess based upon closely related species that have a defined AHS Heat Zone. I can find no reliable information on the AHS Heat Zone for Red Clover).
Chill Requirement: No reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Small Herbaceous Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available, but they can be grouped into two divisions: early-flowering and late-flowering. Typically, late-flowering (also known as mammoth) Red Clovers are used in more northern climates.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by bees, moths, and butterflies.
Flowering: Spring to Late Summer/Early Autumn (Apr-Sept)

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: 2-5 years. Considering that the plant propagates pretty easily from self-seeding, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant. Occasional re-seeding will be needed to keep a patch or field growing strong for more than 4-5 years.
Red Clover is a small, herbaceous plant in the bean and pea family.

Red Clover is a small, herbaceous plant in the bean and pea family.

Red Clover has one or more deep taproots.

Red Clover has one or more deep taproots.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 6-24 inches (15-60 cm) tall and wide
Roots: One or more taproots with a fibrous nature.
Growth Rate: Medium

Red Clover is pretty easy to identify.

Red Clover is pretty easy to identify.

Here is a FIVE-leaf clover... yes, the fifth leaf is torn, but it is pretty cool. I don't know if this is more lucky than a four-leaf clover.

Here is a FIVE leaf clover… yes, the fifth leaf is torn, but it is pretty cool. It was said that five leaf clovers were worn by witches to give them evil powers.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Prefers moist soils.
pH: 5.5-7.5 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Inoculate with Rhizobium trifolii if you desire a good patch of Red Clover!
  • Plant to a depth of 0.5-1 inch (1.25-2.5 cm).

Propagation:
Typically from seed. Seed in place in Spring. Pre-soaking for 12 hours in warm water will increase germination rates. After soaking, add the inoculant, then sow. Red Clover can be divided in Spring if desired.

Maintenance: Minimal.

Concerns:

  • Dispersive – Red Clover can spread fairly easily through self-seeding. I personally see this more as an asset than a drawback since it is such a useful plant!
  • Red Clover can become infected with a fungus (Rhizoctonia leguminicola) with produces a toxic alkaloid (slaframine). Plants often show no signs of infection, although it can cause black patches on the leaves. If an animal eats a lot of infected Red Clover in the pasture or in hay, it can develop a condition known as “slobbers”. Not surprisingly, slobbers syndrome causes the animal to salivate excessively, and some animals will also get diarrhea, bloat, and frequent urination. Cattle and horses seem to handle the toxin better than pigs and sheep, but typically the toxin causes problems for about 6-10 hours unless the animal has continued exposure. This toxin rarely causes death, and an animal fully recovers within 24-48 hrs. In general, this is not very common, but it is something to be aware of. I can find no reports of toxicity in humans, and this is likely due to humans just not eating enough Red Clover at one time. Also, many toxins are broken down with heat, so the common method of using Red Clover in tea may reduce the exposure even more.
  • Avoid growing Red Clover near gooseberries or camellias. Red Clover can host a mite that causes fruit drop in gooseberries and premature camellia budding.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://shebicycles.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/cloverfield.jpg
  • http://i0.wp.com/brambleberriesintherain.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/redclover2.jpg
  • http://identifythatplant.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Red-clover-991×1024.jpg
  • http://donwiss.com/pictures/F-2011-05-22/0073.jpg
  • http://forageporage.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/red-clover-head.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_RZFiFrJMzdg/SpwhuzJN1QI/AAAAAAAABRw/mApq9uuHTQo/s1600-h/red_clover_5leaf.jpg
  • http://embaron.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/red-clover-drying.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-F6xA6ugZ3Cw/Ui5t6cVg92I/AAAAAAAAA60/fnVjdSlKukM/s1600/IMG_9016.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/Trifolium_pratense_002.JPG
  • http://caliban.mpiz-koeln.mpg.de/thome/band3/tafel_113.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_zFHEQI0tjNY/S9mRtyoS-5I/AAAAAAAAChA/WRhK_C6X4Ps/s1600/trifolium+pratense9.JPG
  • http://aob.oxfordjournals.org/content/100/3/537/F1.large.jpg

 

 

 

 

Permaculture Plants: Sage

Common Name: Sage, Common Sage, Garden Sage, Broadleaf Sage, True Sage, Cullinary Sage, Kitchen Sage, Dalmation Sage, and many more…
Scientific Name: Salvia officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae (the Mint family)

Sage

Sage is a small plant with big contributions to the garden.

Description:
Almost every herb garden has its obligatory Sage plant off in the corner, but few people know how to use Sage in the kitchen, and even less as an herbal medicine. While it is one of my favorite cullinary herbs, Sage has numerous other attributes. Sage attracts beneficial insects and confuses problematic insects. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, is drought tolerant, and can be used as a groundcover. it is just a beautiful plant, and is being planted more and more just for its ornamental value.

Sage

Garden Sage
Salvia officinalis

History:
Native to the Mediterranean area, Sage has been transported and transplanted all over the world. It was a very common medicinal and cullinary herb, and it had a reputation for healing and extending life. It remains one of the more popular cullinary herbs, although I think fewer people know how to use it nowadays. It has also become a rather popular ornamental plant, which is well deserved.

Trivia:

  • The scientific name, Salvia officinalis, comes from the Latin salvere (to feel well and healthy, to save) and officina (traditional storeroom in a monestary where herbs and medicines were stored).
  • “Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto” is Latin for “Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?”
  • Sage has a reputation for aiding in the digestion of fats and oils. Not surprisingly, these are the foods that pair best with this herb.
  • Sage leaves are covered in trichomes. These trichomes come in two types. One type is like a fine hair, and these are used to protect the leaves a bit. The other type is a spherical, glandular structure that secretes oils.
  • Sage, along with a variety of other herbs and spices, was always a component of the Four Thieves Vinegar. This concoction was used to ward off the Black Death in the Middle Ages. 
Sage

Sage is a popular cullinary herb and can be used fresh or dried.

Sage

Sage pairs perfectly with fatty or oily dishes and sauces.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Leaves – world-famous cullinary herb, and one of my favorites. Used fresh or dried. Typically cooked, but very young leaves can be eaten raw. It is great with fatty meats and savory dishes. Purple and Varigated varieties are typically more mild. Fresh Sage is more mild than dried; the drying process concentrates the flavor. A little Sage can go a long way, so start with a little and add to taste.
  • Edible Flowers – can be used raw as a salad garnish.
  • Tea Plant – made from the leaves, fresh or dried.
Sage Groundcover

Sage Groundcover

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – this has been one of its primary uses around the world due to its fragrant, attractive leaves and small, beautiful flowers.
  • Medicinal Plant – see below
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
  • Butterfly nectar plant.
  • Hummingbird Plant – this plant has nectar that strongly attracts Hummingbirds
  • Aromatic Pest Confuser – potentially inhibits or repels garden pests. Sage is a common companion plant for cabbage and carrots.
  • Groundcover Plant – Sage is not a fast growing plant, and it may take a few years to get well established. This means you can either weed the patch for a few years or plant a mixed groundcover. Martin Crawford recommends planting with French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus) as a good partner. Place Sage plants 24 inches (60 cm) apart.
  • Drought Plant – this species can tolerate prolonged dry conditions once established

Medicinal Uses:

  • Sage has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb and a cullinary herb.
  • Sage has traditionally been used to treat indigestion, oral infections (mouth and throat), hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), feeling down/depression, and a number of memory or attention/concentration issues.
  • There has not been a lot of good modern scientific studies with Sage. As I always say, that doesn’t mean this herbal medicine does not work, it just means we have no modern scientific evidence that it does.
  • There have been some interesting research that seems to support using Sage to improve memory and treat Alzheimer’s disease.
  • There have also been some pretty good research that supports using Sage to improve mood.
  • Preliminary studies show some evidence that Sage may help in the treatment of herpes lesions and menopause symptoms.
  • There is some pretty good evidence that Sage has antimicrobial properties (i.e. it doesn’t allow microscopic things like bacteria, viruses, or fungus to grow or live) and anti-inflammatory properties (i.e. reduces swelling), but exactly how this occurs and how to use Sage for these problems is not well defined.
  • There is little scientific proof that Sage works on sore throats, but it remains a very popular treatment. Hard to say where the truth lies. If it works for you, great!
  • There has been almost no research on using Sage for diarrhea or excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), but Sage is still a traditional treatment.
  • Problems with using Sage (this list is not meant to discourage the use of Sage, but to make sure you are aware):
    • Using Sage in the amounts normally found in food and tea should not be a problem.
    • Using Sage topically (it is often in creams and ointments) should be safe, although some people may develop a rash.
    • Traditionally, Sage was used as both a fertility drug and a birth control. It was also used to help slow down breast milk production (lactation) and to help with menopausal symptoms (mainly hot flashes). While there is not a lot of modern studies investigating this, most sources recommend avoiding medicinal levels of Sage during pregnancy and lactation.
    • Using Sage for more than a few weeks, at a high dose (and I can find little information that defines a “high” dose), has been shown to cause many medical problems including seizures, restlessness, tremors, dizziness, vomiting, abnormal heart rates or rhythyms, elevated blood pressure, and damage to the kidneys. Remember, if you are using a plant as a medicine, there are potential consequences…
    • My advice is to be very cautious with using Sage essential oil as concentrations/dosing can be much higher.

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvest year round (remember, it’s an evergreen!), but the flowers can only be harvested when blooming (duh!). Flowering occurs in mid-late Summer.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh. Can be stored for many months if dried.

Sage

One variety of Varigated Sage

Sage

Purple Sage
Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 5-8 (some sources say Zone 4)
AHS Heat Zone: 8-5
Chill Requirement: Likely not very relevant for most uses, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Small Shrub (sometimes considered a “subshrub”, because it is so small, but still woody)
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available.

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Mid-late Summer to early Autumn, but this is extrememly variable depending on your local climate and conditions. I’ve had Sage bloom in April and May when living in the Azores.

Life Span: Sage will last about 3-4 years before it starts to fail. It may still be alive, but it will not thrive. Purposely sowing seeds in place may propagate the stand.

Sage

The wonderfully fragrant Sage leaves…

Sage

…covered with tiny “hairs” and “spheres” called trichomes.

Sage

Sage leaf micrograph (i.e. photo from a scanning electron microscope) showing the two types of trichomes, thin hairs and glandular hairs (which excrete oils). The stomata (mouth-like openings) are also shown which allow for gas exchange.
(click on the photo for a link!)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 18-30 inches (45-76 cm) tall and 30-36 inches (76-91 cm) wide
Roots: Heart-shaped and rather fibrous
Growth Rate: Medium

Sage

Sage patch in flower.

Sage

Sage flowers.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Dry to moist soils. Can tolerate pretty dry conditions once established. Does not like wet soils.
pH: 5.5-7.5

Special Considerations for Growing:
Sage can be slow to start. Planting in Spring or Summer, in a sunny spot, will give the best chance for a good established patch.

Propagation:
Can be propagated from seed. No stratification is required. Sage can sometimes have low germination rates, but I always just plant more seed to make up for this. Can be propagated via cuttings or layering pretty easily as well.

Maintenance: 
Minimal. Sage can get a bit leggy or bare/sparse as they age. Pruning them back will keep the plants compact and more lush.

Concerns:
None. 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.psmicrographs.co.uk/sage-leaf-oil-glands–salvia-officinalis-/science-image/80015446b
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0e/Salvia_officinalis.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/Starr_070906-8850_Salvia_officinalis.jpg
  • http://37.media.tumblr.com/a09bf8a7553c9e43765cb69e920b6cec/tumblr_moz37aRpFg1r68th6o1_1280.jpg
  • https://sammisherbs.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/sage-04.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-v4FP9vqQcnE/T8iu3jjwf1I/AAAAAAAAAVs/LBLLoLtGoBU/s1600/Salvia+officinalis.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/Salvia_officinalis_close_up_bottom.jpg
  • http://www.thienemans.com/photos/var/albums/Herbs/IMG_0389.jpg?m=1316135804
  • http://tended.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/dsc01466.jpg
  • http://onevanillabean.com/2011/06/15/charcutepalooza-june-challenge-cheddar-sage-sherry-sausages/

 

Permaculture Plants: Calendula

Common Name: Calendula, Pot Marigold
Scientific Name: Calendula officinalis
Family: Asteraceae or Compositae (the Aster, Daisy, or Sunflower family)

Calendula or Pot Marigold... a lovely little plant.

Calendula or Pot Marigold… a lovely little plant.

Description:
Calendula, or Pot Marigold, is a beautiful flower known throughout the world as an ornamental, but has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries. This annual reseeds very easily and can withstand fairly cold weather, the flowers are edible, and they also attract beneficial insects and butterflies. Calendulas are an easy to grow plant, and they are a great way to add some functional beauty to your Permaculture projects.

Calendula officinales

Calendula officinales

History:
Calendula is native to the Mediterranean, Southwestern Asia, Western Europe, and the islands of Macaronesia (which includes the Azores, where I currently live!). However, they have been grow for so long as a medicinal and ornamental plant, that they can now be found around the world.

Trivia:

  • The name “Calendula” comes from the Latin, calendae, which means “little clock” or “little calendar”
  • Calendula flowers close at night.
  • Calendula flowers also close before the rain, and it can be used as a simple weather guide, which is why another possible meaning of the name “Calendula” is “little weather-glass”
  • Calendula are considered good companion plants for tomatoes.
  • Calendula flower petals have been used for centuries in soups and stews, and is likely the source of its other common name “Pot Marigold”
  • True Marigolds are in the Tagetes genus, native to North and South America, and they are in the same family (Asteraceae) as Calendula

    Primarily an ornamental nowadays, there is quite a bit more this plant offers.

    Primarily an ornamental nowadays, there is quite a bit more this plant offers.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – This is its primary use in modern times, and it is indeed a beautiful flowering plant
  • Medicinal Plant – Historically, this was one of its primary uses (see Medicinal Uses below)
  • Edible Flower Petals – has a bitter flavor, some flowers can be more tangy or spicy, but the flavor can vary. Used fresh in salads or dried in soups and baked goods. Can also be used as a yellow food dye, and has been used as a saffron substitute and to color cheeses, custards, butters, sauces, etc.
  • Edible Leaves – used raw in salads.
  • Tea Plant – made from the petals or whole flowers.
Calendula attracts beneficial insects and butterflies.

Calendula attracts beneficial insects and butterflies.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect nectar and pollen plant – attracts beneficial insects, especially bees and hoverflies
  • Butterfly Plant – the flowers attract butterflies
  • Nematode Deterrent Plant – there are many reports of this plant repelling nematodes, similar to true French Marigolds
  • Groundcover Plant – Calendula can form rather dense clumps, although I still have had many other “weeds” pop up between plants. Calendula would likely be a good candidate for a mixed groundcover planting. I have had some success with Parsley and Calendula growing well together, but this was not exactly planned. Also, it does make harvesting the Parsely a bit tedious. I will experiement with other combinations, on purpose, in the future and will share my findings.
  • Cosmetics – with its history as a medicinal, especially for skin issues, it is no surprise Calendula is a popular cosmetic ingredient
  • Dye Plant – yellow dye from the flower petals

    A Calendula (and other herb) poultice.

    A Calendula (and other herb) poultice.

Medicinial Uses:

  • Calendula has been used from at least the 12th Centurey as a medicinal.
  • When something has been used for close to 1,000 years as a traditional medicine, there is a pretty good chance that traditional medicine works, at least for some things.
  • Calendula as a traditional herbal medicine is one of the most studied herbs by modern medical researchers.
  • Calendula has been used to treat insect stings/bites, chapped/chafed skin, minor cuts, burns, bruises, and minor infections, and there is good, modern evidence that topical Calendula preparations help wounds heal faster.
  • There is pretty good evidence that topical Calendula will help treat/prevent dermatitis, diaper rashes, and hemorrhoids.
  • There is some evidence that gargling with Calendula-infused water will help sore throat and mouth/throat infections.
  • There are a number of other medicinal uses, both topical and internal (typically in the form of teas), but there is not a lot or absolutely no modern research that has studied these uses. That does not mean these applications do not work, it just means they have not been studied in modern times.
  • There are no known modern or traditional medication interactions with Calendula, although some researchers suspect there could (theoretically) be interactions with Calendula and hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and sedation medications.
  • Most sources state that pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid Calendula, but I can find no good reasons for this, nor can I find any information if this is just for internal use or both internal and external use.

    Making Calendula Oil... quite easy to do.

    Making Calendula Oil… quite easy to do.

Calendula Oil – used for many topical skin conditions. The oil is easy to make. It can be used on its own, or it can be used to make other products.

  • Take dried Calendula flowers or fresh Calendula flowers (at least 12 hours old, this allows them to wilt and lose much of their water content).
  • Place the flowers in a glass jar.
  • Fill the jar with olive oil covering the flowers by at least an inch (2.5 cm).
  • Stir the flowers to evenly distribute the oil.
  • Cover the car with an airtight lid and shake well.
  • Place the jar in a sunny window.
  • Turn and shake the jar at least once a day for 3-6 weeks.
  • Strain the oil (a cheesecloth works well) into another jar.
  • The Calendula Oil is now ready to be used.
  • A double-strength Calendula Oil can be made by adding new Calendula flowers to the strained oil for another 3-6 weeks.
  • Other oils can be used like grapeseed oil or sunflower oil.
  • Store the Calendula Oil in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Calendula Salve -used in much the same way as the Calendula Oil, but it is more of a cream, so it can be easier to apply. This one is great for chapped hands and lips.

  • Chop up 1/2 -2 ounces (1/16 – 1/4 cup or 15-60 ml) beeswax.
  • Take 4-8 ounces (1/2 – 1 cup or 118-236 ml) of Calendula Oil from recipe above.
  • Place the oil and beeswax in a double boiler and slowly melt.
  • Remove from heat.
  • If desired, a few drops of lavender oil can be stirred in for additional scent.
  • If desired, a pinch of tumeric powder can be added for additional color.
  • Pour the salve into small jars or tins, allow it to cool, then put the lid on the container.
  • The Calendula Salve is now ready to be used.
  • Note that the ratio of beeswax to oil ranges from 1:4 to 1:8. The more beeswax will result in a thicker, firmer salve.
  • Store the Calendula Salve in a cool, dark place for up to a year

Calendula Compress – this is a more gentle, and less oily/greasy, way to apply Calendula to the skin.

  • Place dried or fresh Calendula flowers to a heat-resistant jar or bowl.
  • Just barely cover with boiling water.
  • Let the water sit until it was completely cooled.
  • Strain the Calendula-infused water into another jar or bowl.
  • Soak a clean cloth in the water, wring it out just a bit, and apply it to the skin.
  • Let the cloth rest on the skin for 30-60 minutes, one to three times per day.
  • I can find no good information on how long the Calendula-infused water will store, but it likely does not store for more than a few days.

Calendula Poultice – a poultice is a much more aggressive treatment than a cool compress. Calendula is often used to make a poultice either by itself or mixed with other herbs.

  • Grind dried or fresh Calendula flowers – some experts recommend a course grind, and others recommend a fine grind with a mortar and pestle.
  • Place the ground flowers into a heat-resistant bowl.
  • Add just enough boiling water to make a paste (most herbalists recommend using another herb or something like slippery elm powder to make the paste more mucilaginous/thick)
  • If the wound is not open (e.g. like a bug bite or sting), then the poultice can be put right on the skin.
  • If the wound is open a little (e.g. abrasions or very shallow scratches), the place some gauze on the wound first, and apply the poultice to the gauze right over the wound.
  • If the wound is open and large, then talk to your medical provider first – we don’t want to cause an infection while we are trying to treat/prevent one with a poultice!
  • Once the poultice is applied, cover the poultice with some sort of dressing (e.g. additional gauze, plastic wrap, etc.)
  • Leave the poultice in place for 30-60 minutes.
  • The poultice should remain moist for most benefit.
  • Heat will increase its penetration/effect, but is usually avoided when treating sunburn, heat burns, or when treating children.
  • Heat can be added with a hot, wet cloth or a hot water bottle applied over the poultice dressing.
  • Heat is a great adjunct when dealing with an infection like a boil (furuncle).
Click on the photo to see some of the best photos of Calendula I have ever seen.
Click on the photo to see some of the best photos of Calendula I have ever seen.

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: The flowers can be harvested when in bloom (Summer-Autumn). The leaves can be harvested in Spring and Summer.
Storage: Use fresh. Dried flowers can last for years, but it seems that 2 years is really the maximum they should be stored if they are to retain their medicinal properties.

Calendula makes a pretty good groundcover.

Calendula makes a pretty good groundcover, but works best when in a mixed planting.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 6, but since it is an annual, Zone doesn’t matter that much
AHS Heat Zone: 6-1
Chill Requirement: None.

Plant Type: Small Herbaceous Annual, but can grow year round in some locations
Leaf Type: Annual
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available for this species.

Pollination: Each plant has both male and female flowers (pollinated by bees).
Flowering: Summer to Autumn, but this really depends on the growing location. Calendula is not sensitive to frost, and will often keep flowering after the first snowfall.

Life Span
This is an annual plant (lives for one growing season), but considering that the plants self-seed so easily, this is not much of an issue.

There are many varities of Calendula.

There are many varities of Calendula.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 12-30 inches (30-75 cm) tall and 8-18 inches (20-45 cm) wide
Roots: Shallow and fibrous
Growth Rate: Fast

Calendula adds a splash of beauty anywhere it is planted.

Calendula adds a splash of beauty anywhere it is planted.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates mederate shade
Moisture: Prefers moist soils, but can thrive in a wide variety of soil conditions.
pH: 4.5-8.3 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Give Calendula good conditions, and you will need to do little for it.

Propagation:
Calendula is propagated via seed. It self-seeds very easily, so once you have a patch growing, it will often continue to pop up every year.

Maintenance:
Removing the old flowers (aka “deadheading”) will stimulate more flower growth.

Concerns:
None.

Now this is real flower power!

Now this is real flower power!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.biabeauty.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Calendula_officinalis31.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-LbZrFvH3rIo/UBHW67QfxQI/AAAAAAAAGBg/ZU0uIeV4trA/s1600/calendula.JPG
  • https://davisla2.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/calendula-officinalis.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-gQ0iYdiIfJM/UdmeZGf3T8I/AAAAAAAAFyI/XGyQGViuwf8/s1600/77cleaned+calendula.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/Illustration_Calendula_officinalis0.jpg
  • http://www.tandmworldwide.com/medias/sys_tmwld/8798115201054.jpg
  • http://www.onlyfoods.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Calendula-officinalis-Pot-Marigold-Pictures.jpg
  • http://rachelcorby.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/100_2458.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-GtvwEjfK59Y/UToxBkE8T5I/AAAAAAAAA-8/OCH4Y8FKfzo/s1600/Poultice6.jpg
  • http://macdragon.biz/gardeningwithcharlie/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/calendula.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-J5UhZtX8Wjc/UhJfmz3ir3I/AAAAAAAAEZw/PgmjX0DYVDg/s1600/P1030422+-+Version+2.JPG

 

Permaculture Plants: Sweet Potatoes

Common Name: Sweet Potato, Creeping Yam, Kūmara
Scientific Name: Ipomoea batatas
Family: Convolvulaceae (the Bindweed or Morning Glory family)

To me, harvesting Sweet Potatoes is like digging for treasure!

To me, harvesting Sweet Potatoes is like digging for treasure!

Description:
Sweet Potatoes are perennial in climates warmer than USDA Zone 8 or 9, and are grown as annuals if the climate is cooler; however, I personally think that with some experimentation and large trials, we could push perennial growth into colder zones. However they are grown, Sweet Potatoes are a wonderfully nutritious plant. The majority of people are familiar with the sweet, orange flesh of the tuber, which may also be white, yellow, purple, violet, pink, and red! But most Westerners do not know that Sweet Potato shoots and young leaves are edible and are considered a tasty vegetable in many parts of the world. In addition, Sweet Potato makes a great animal fodder – all parts are edible, and the fast-growing, beautiful vines make an effective groundcover, especially in perennial locations. Sweet Potatoes should be incorporated into most Permaculture designs!

There is such a variety of Sweet Potatoes to choose from!

There is such a variety of Sweet Potatoes to choose from!
This is just a tiny sample.

History:
Sweet Potatoes were likely domesticated in Peru by 8,000 BC, and they either had a second domestication or were transported to Central America and grown domestically by 5,000 BC. Although there appears to be growing evidence that the origin of our modern Sweet potato was on the Caribbean coast somewhere between the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and the Orinoco Delta in Venezuela. There is also strong evidence that supports the Polynesian explorers visiting South America and bringing back Sweet Potatoes around 700 AD. In modern times, Sweet Potatoes are grown around the world in tropical and subtropical climates for human food (tuber and leaves) and as animal feed.

This purple variety of Sweet Potato is stunning.

This purple variety of Sweet Potato is stunning.

Trivia:

  • Sweet Potatoes are NOT yams, although in the U.S., Sweet Potatoes are often called “yams”.
  • Yams are tuber plants in the Dioscorea genus originating from Africa, and are typically drier and starchy.
  • Sweet Potatoes are tuber plants in the Ipomoea genus originating from South America.
  • Sweet Potatoes are considered “root tubers” which means they have modified roots called “storage roots”.
  • Regular potatoes are considered “stem tubers” which means they have modified stolons (stems) that enlarge just below ground.
  • Sweet Potatoes can have beige, brown, yellow, orange, red, or purple skins.
  • Sweet Potatoes most commonly have light or deep orange flesh, but white, yellow, purple-blue, violet, pink, and red-fleshed varieties exist.
  • Not all Sweet Potatoes produce tubers that are edible… they aren’t poisonous, but they do not taste good.
  • Sweet Potato leaves and shoots are a common vegetable in many parts of the world, and some varieties are grown only for the leaves.
  • Not all Sweet Potatoes produce leaves or shoots that are edible… they aren’t poisonous, but they do not taste good.
  • While Sweet Potatoes do best in hot and humid climates (Zone 8 and warmer), they can still be grown for tubers if the Summers are hot enough for long enough. If the climate is too cold for good tuber production, they can easily be grown for leaves/shoots as an annual vegetable in almost any location.
  • Tubers can take 2-9 months to mature, depending on the variety.
  • The Sweet Potato is considered the 7th most important food crop in the world.
  • The Sweet Potato is the state vegetable of North Carolina (United States), and this state is the lead producer of Sweet Potato in the US.
  • China is the world’s largest producer of Sweet Potato at 105 million tons (95,250,000,000 kg)! Half of it is used for animal feed.
  • People from Papua New Guinea consume about 1,100 lbs (500 kg) per person per year!
  • Americans consume about 4.5 lbs (2 kg) per person per year.
  • Random Bit… every time I read about Sweet Potatoes and see the genus (Ipomoea), I hear the tune for “The Girl from Ipanema” in my head!

 

The classic Sweet Potato seen in the U.S.
The classic Sweet Potato seen in the U.S.
Sweet Potato shoots and young leaves are a popular vegetable in non-Western parts of the world.

Sweet Potato shoots and young leaves are a popular vegetable in non-Western parts of the world.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Tubers – the root (tuber) of Sweet Potatoes almost need to description. The large tuber is sweet, moist, and fleshy, but there are some varieties that are considerably less sweet and/or less moist. The tubers are usually cooked – baked, fried, steamed, roasted, etc. The cooked potatoes can also be thinly sliced and dried. The dried potatoes can be used in soups or stews or can even be ground into a flour.
  • Edible Shoots/Leaves – the top 3-4 inches (7.5-10 cm) of growing (shoot) tips are used as a vegetable, as are the small, young leaves. Cooked – treated like most other “greens”.

 

Sweet Potato animal feed from tubers (left) and leaves/vines (right).

Sweet Potato animal feed from tubers (left) and leaves/vines (right).

Ornamental varieties of Sweet Potato abound.

Ornamental varieties of Sweet Potato abound.

Another ornamental Sweet Potato.

Another ornamental Sweet Potato.

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – Sweet Potatoes are commonly used as an ornamental plant. The vigorous vine has attractive foliage and can come in a range of colors and shapes.
  • Groundcover Plant – very effective due to its fast growth.
  • Drought-Tolerant Plant – Sweet Potatoes can be fairly drought tolerant once established (after about 80-90 days… after the tuber initiation stage) as perennials.
  • Animal Fodder Plant – the tubers, stems, and leaves can all be used for animal feed.
  • Sweet Potatoes can be used to make alcoholic beverages (wine and liquors).
  • Industrial uses for starch and alcohol (ethanol) – research is being conducted for biofuel.

Yield: Variable. It all depends on how it is grown, where it is grown, and the variety.
Harvesting: The shoots can be harvested at anytime. The tubers can be harvested at anytime as well, if the plant is a perennial. If the plant is treated as an annual, than they are harvested at the end of the growing season (before the first frost).
Storage: The tubers can be used fresh or stored, but they need to be cured first. The simplest way is to let the tuber (unwashed!) sit in the sun for about a week or so when the temperatures are over 77 F (25 C) and the humidity is high. The cured tubers will last for many months (often up to a year) if kept in a cool, but not cold, location and handled as little as possible. Ideal storage is around 60 F (15 C), and there is conflicting information on whether dry or moist storage is best.
Using Stored Potatoes: Sweet Potatoes that are cracked or have large wounds (sustained from harvesting) that have not sealed during the curing process should be eaten first. Any Sweet Potato that is showing bruising should be eaten next. Sweet Potatoes with wounds that did seal during the curing process should be eaten next. Finally, the non-cracked, non-wounded, non-bruised tubers, which are the ones that typically store the longest, should be eaten last. Stored tubers can also be planted the following year.

Blurring the line between ornamental and functional groundcover.

Blurring the line between ornamental and functional groundcover.

A beautiful red-skinned, yellow-fleshed variety.

A beautiful red-skinned, yellow-fleshed variety.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 9-12 as a perennial. There aresome reports of Sweet Potatoes over-wintering as perennials in Zone 8, and even 7, in a very protected space or microclimate. If you live in colder temperate climates, then treat Sweet Potatoes as annuals.
AHS Heat Zone: 12-1
Chill Requirement: Unlikely, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Herbaceous Vining Plant (non-climbing)
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Underground Layer, Vining Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available.

Pollination: Self-sterile (the vast majority of Sweet Potatoes are grown from slips, cuttings, tubers, or tissue culture). Sweet Potatoes need cross-pollination from another variety in order to set seed.
Flowering: Summer. Flowering events are rare for Sweet Potatoes grown in Temperate Climates. Flowering typically occurs in the Tropics or Sub-Tropoics, and is triggered by changing day length.

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available as we typically harvest the tubers and eat them. Considering that the plants can be propagated so easily, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant. But I would like to know this for those living in warmer locations and using Sweet Potatoes for groundcovers.
Flowering is not common for Sweet Potatoes unless they are grown in very warm climates.

Flowering is not common for Sweet Potatoes unless they are grown in very warm climates.

Sweet Potatoes' beautiful leaves... no wonder they are an ornamental.

Sweet Potatoes’ beautiful leaves… no wonder they are an ornamental.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 7-10 feet (2.1-3 meters) long
Roots: Large to very large tuber with small fibrous roots
Growth Rate: Fast

Sweet Potatoes are consider "root tubers".

Sweet Potatoes are consider “root tubers”.

A typical harvest showing the variety of large and spindly tubers.

A typical harvest showing the variety of large and spindly tubers.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade (Sweet Potatoes tolerate more shade in hotter climates)
Moisture: Prefers moist soils.
pH: 5.5-6.5 (prefers slightly acidic to neutral soils, but can still produce in less than ideal conditions; however, there are reports that state diseases occur more as the pH becomes more neutral.)

Special Considerations for Growing:tutorial android

  • Sweet Potatoes love the heat, and they really like humidity. But they really don’t like wild changes in temperatures, so it is important for them to planted once the temperatures stabilize. After that, the more heat, the better… within reason!
  • Sweet Potatoes do not like to be transplanted, so either plant in place or transplant as few times as possible.
  • Be sure to plant potatoes that are disease resistant and virus free if possible.
  • Planting in raised mounds or raised rows/beds makes for easier harvesting.
  • “Hilling” can be done (mounding up the soil or adding compost or mulch around the base of the plants) helps tuber development and prevents dehydration of the tubers.
  • If growing as an annual, rotate the Sweet Potatoes’ location to minimize nematode problems.

 

A slip ready to be planted.

A slip ready to be planted.

Many bare-rooted Sweet Potato plants - a common way these are sold.

Many bare-rooted Sweet Potato plants – a common way these are sold.

Propagation:

  • Sweet Potato can be propagated from seed. Like most species in the Morning Glory family, scarifying the seed or soaking the seed for 12-24 hrs before planting will increase germination. Sweet Potato seed may not yield plants with the same quality as the parent (i.e. they are not “true to type”).
  • Sweet Potatoes are often propagated via stem cuttings; these cuttings come from the terminal tips of a growing shoot, should be 7.5-18 inches (20-45 cm) long, and should contain at least three nodes. The lower leaves can be removed, and the cuttings are direct planted into the soil at about half to two-thirds their length/depth.
  • Another common way to grow Sweet Potatoes is by using whole tubers. The entire tuber is planted whole in the ground. This is an easy way to use your stored Sweet Potatoes.
  • Finally, Sweet Potatoes are commonly propagated by using slips. “Slips” are sprouts with small roots that are removed from a tuber (i.e. “slipped off”) and planted as individual plants. These are easy to produce yourself….
    • Just take a whole, half, or large chunk of Sweet Potato, poke some toothpicks in the side, and let the tuber sit about half in a cup/jar of water and half out. The shoots will grow out of the top. Once they are strong and healthy (about 8-10 inches/20-25 cm), the shoots can be slipped off (this takes a little practice) and placed in a cup of water, like a cut flower. Keep the water fresh, and roots will start to grow from the slip. Once the roots are about an inch long, they can be planted in place. Some sources state that these slips do not form as vigorous a root system as possible.
    • Alternatively, the tuber can be covered in moist garden soil or sand. Keep the soil moist. Sprouts will appear just as above, and the slips may be placed in water above or in moist soil.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
There are some relatives of Sweet Potato that are deadly poisonous. Just make sure you know what you are eating before you consume “wild” Sweet Potatoes.

The deep colors mean the tubers are packed with nutrition.

The deep colors mean the tubers are packed with nutrition.

A lovely red-skinned, violet-fleshed Sweet Potato variety.

A lovely pinkish/purplish-skinned and fleshed Sweet Potato variety.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/Ipomoea_batatas_6.jpg
  • http://flowergardengirl.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/100_9931.jpg
  • http://www.onlineplantguide.com/Image%20Library/I/4341.jpg
  • http://www.thompson-morgan.com/medias/sys_tandm/8796166684702.jpg
  • http://albertvickdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/beauregard-group-shot-1.jpg
  • http://albertvickdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/beauregard-slip.jpg
  • http://www.public.asu.edu/~camartin/plants/Plant%20html%20files/green%20potato%20container.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ce/Ipomoea_batatas_(Purple_Sweet_Potato_Variety)_Flower.JPG
  • http://godshealingplants.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/dsc_0117-2.jpg
  • http://lettucebehealthy.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/purple-potato.jpg
  • http://www.farm-fresh-produce.com/spvarieties.html
  • http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com/files/2013/10/Sweet-Potatoes.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-lFDweqURoFA/TmMIGPugitI/AAAAAAAADB0/6hjvzNFImb8/s1600/DSC_0143.JPG
  • http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7108/7489529132_4c4078156f.jpg
  • http://mindsoulfood.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/heirloom-sweet-potato.jpg
  • http://static.parade.condenast.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/purple-yam-ftr.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-fJfuTMojpY8/UgfE-70WRsI/AAAAAAAAAT0/5PTBXi0ap24/s1600/Sweet+Potatoes.jpg
  • http://prettypiesbylindsey.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/dsc_0456.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-KRT9UJuinl0/UOtNQCusXYI/AAAAAAAABXY/jQBx9FxHU8U/s1600/Orange_Sweet_Potato_Harvest.JPG

Permaculture Plants: Sea Kale

Common Name: Sea Kale, Crambe, Scurvy Grass, Halmyrides
Scientific Name: Crambe maritima
Family: Brassicaceae (the Brassica, Crucifer, or Broccoli family)

Sea Kale in a clump forming, edible perennial.

Sea Kale in a clump forming, edible perennial.

Description:
Despite its name and its origins on the European Atlantic coasts, Sea Kale does not need a nearby ocean to thrive. This Brassica has edible roots, shoots (like asparagus), leaves (like kale, cabbage, or spinach), and flower heads (like broccoli), and it is perennial! It is drough tolerant and attracts beneficial insects with it numerous, fragrant flowers. It is time more people rediscover this amazing plant that belongs in our forest gardens and on our plates.

 Carmbe maritima Johann Georg Sturm, 1796, from Deutschlands Flora in Abbildungen

Crambe maritima Johann Georg Sturm, 1796, from Deutschlands Flora in Abbildungen

History:
Native and widespread on the Atlantic coasts of Europe, it was wild harvested likely for thousands of years before it was first cultivated in the 1600’s. It became a rather popular garden vegetable in the 1800’s in Europe and North America. But due to it does not store or ship well, there was not place for Sea Kale in “modern” agriculture. It has been gaining ground as an ornamental, and more people are rediscovering this perennial vegetable. It has also been naturalized (gone “wild”) on the West Coast of North America.

Trivia:

  • Thomas Jefferson raised Sea Kale and was listed in his Garden Book of 1809.
  • Sea Kale shoots can easily be blanched, and local Europeans routinely covered the emerging shoots with loose rock to do this.
  • Sea Kale was preserved and used by the Romans on long ocean journeys to prevent scurvy. It is naturally high in vitamin C.
    Sea Kale has edible leaves...

    Sea Kale has edible leaves…

    ...edible shoots (that can be blanched)...

    …and edible shoots (that can be blanched).

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Leaves – Raw or cooked. Can be used like Kale or Collard Greens. Young leaves are best for eating raw (kind of like spinach); they get very tough and bitter when older. They have a cabbage or kale-like flavor (hence the name!).
  • Edible Stems – Raw or cooked. Mainly the very young and thin stems. Can be cooked along with the leaves or trimmed and cooked on their own.
  • Edible Shoots – Naturally purple, but commonly blanched. Raw or cooked, but usually cooked like asparagus. Crisp with a fresh, nutty flavor and a hint of bitterness.
  • Edible Flowers and Flowering Stems (Heads) – Raw or cooked. Used like broccoli but with smaller florets… closer to a broccolini or broccoli raab (rapini), but with a good, broccoli-like flavor.
  • Edible Roots – eaten cooked (boiled, roasted) and are starchy and a little sweet.

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – this plant has become more popular in recent times as an ornamental, with its big leaves and abundant, fragrant flowers. It has gained the British Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
  • Maritime Plant – like most species in the Brassica family, Turkish Rocket can withstand maritime conditions; however, this plant is one of the few plants that are considered true halophytes… meaning they can grow in water with high salt content.
  • General insect nectar plant – especially bees and parasatoid wasps
  • Butterfly nectar plant
  • Drought Tolerant Plant – once established (due to the taproot)
  • Dynamic Accumulator – although I can find no good information to support this, it is likely considering its taproot. If it is like other Brassicas, then it would accumulate Phosphorus and Sulfur.
  • Groundcover Plant – this plant can be used as a groundcover, but probably would do best in a mixed species groundcover planting. Martin Crawford recommends planting Sea Kale with Chinese Bramble (Rubus tricolor), a groundcover raspberry. Plant Sea Kale every 2 feet (60 cm) for good coverage.
  • Animal Fodder Plant – like all Brassica’s one of its original uses. Cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry all can/have used this plant for food.

Yield: Variable, older plants have larger bulbs. Improved varieties also have larger bulbs.
Harvesting: Leaves are harvested in Spring when small and tender. Older leaves are tough (and get tougher when flowering), and can be eaten if cooked long enough, but they are often left on the plant to allow it to remain strong enough/build reserve to live through the dormancy of the cold months. Shoots are also harvested in Spring when small and tender (about 6-9 inches/15-22 cm); blanching makes them more mild in flavor, but decreases the nutrients. Flowering stems (heads) are harvested like broccoli in Summer. Roots are dug up when the plant is dormant. Typically only the smaller, outer roots are harvested, and the central, main taproot is left to continue growing.
Storage: Use within a day – Sea Kale does not store very well. Roots can be stored in damp sand for a few months before eating or replanting.

The flower heads are also edible... just like broccoli.

The flower heads are also edible… just like broccoli!

...and the roots, which can be quite large, are also edible.

…and the roots, which can be quite large, are also edible.
(that’s a key sitting on the root)

Another view of the taproot from a plant that had its soil eroded from under it.

Another view of the taproot from a plant that had its sandy soil eroded from under it.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 4-9
AHS Heat Zone: Zone 9-6
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Herbaceous, mound-forming, spreading plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a few varieties available.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by bees, flies, wind.
Flowering: Summer (June-August)

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Harvesting: leaves and flowering stems (heads) can be harvesting in the first year, but shoots should not be harvested until at least year 3 (similar to asparagus).
  • Years of Useful Life: About 10-12 years. Considering that the plants can be propagated easily from division, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.
This is what Sea Kale will die back to each Winter.

This is what Sea Kale will die back to each Winter.
(you can see the purple shoots just starting to grow)

The classic Brassica pattern of growth.

The classic Brassica pattern of growth.

The fragrant and numerous flowers attract beneficial insects.

The fragrant and numerous flowers attract beneficial insects.

 

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) tall and wide
Roots: Taproot. As this plant grows, new taproots form with new growing points – these are what can be divided to form new plants.
Growth Rate: Slow

Sea Kale is a clump forming perennial.

Sea Kale is a clump forming perennial.

While it is naturally found on the coast, it can thrive in a garden as well.

While it is naturally found on the coast, it can thrive in a garden as well.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Prefers moist soils, but is drought tolerant once established.
pH: 6.5-7.5 (can tolerate anything but very acidic soils)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Sea Kale prefers moist soils. Other than that, it doesn’t appear to be too picky.

Propagation:
Easily from division (Spring or Autumn) or root cuttings (when dormant). Root cuttings are typically 1-4 inches/3-10 cm long and can be planted in place or in pots until they are growing well.  Also propagated via seed, but the seed does not store long.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
None.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/Blanched_Crambe_Maritima.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/Crambe_maritima_flowers_062811.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ab/Crambe_Maritima_Estonia.jpg
  • http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/sea-kale-cloud.jpg
  • http://www.fosbeach.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Sea-kale.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/Sea-kale_(3676714910).jpg
  • http://mylittlecityfoodgarden.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/sea-kale-plant.jpg
  • http://sjhigbee.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/sea-kale-leaf-on-lton-beach1.jpg
  • http://mylittlecityfoodgarden.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/sea-kale-flower-bud.jpg
  • http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/sea-kale-buds-e1341440257144-1024×575.jpg
  • http://seamagic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Sea-kale-roots-washed-up-on-Sizewell-beach-Dec-2013-Kate-Osborne.jpg
  • http://rxwildlife.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2007/01/sea-kale-1.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/Crambe_maritima_Sturm39.jpg

 

Permaculture Plants: Turkish Rocket

Common Name: Turkish Rocket, Hill Mustard, Turkish Warty Cabbage, Warty Cabbage
Scientific Name: Bunias orientalis
Family: Brassicaceae (the Crucifers or Mustard family)

Turkish Rocket is a perennial member of the Brassica family.

Turkish Rocket is a perennial member of the Brassica family.

Description:
Turkish Rocket is a perennial broccoli-like plant with a stronger, cabbage flavor and a tenacious grip to life. It is very easy to grow, and once established, it usually will not quit. Because of this, it is dubbed in invasive weed in some parts of the world. It has tasty edible leaves and edible flowering stems (like broccoli, which it is related). It is drought-tolerant with a deep taproot that mines moisture and minerals, attracts beneficial insects, and can be used as an animal fodder. This is a great, herbaceous addition to our Permaculture projects.

Turkish Rocket

Turkish Rocket Bunias orientalis

History:
I can find very little on the history of this plant. This plant originated in Southern Russia and the Caucasus region which stretches south into northeastern Turkey. It is reported to have spread through Europe by Russian troops chasing after Napolean’s retreating army (it was used to feed the Russian horses). It has also beed reported to have been spread when the Russian empress sent grain seed to Sweden during a famine, but the grain contained many Turkish Rocket seeds. It is now naturalized across Europe and in some parts of North America.

The "hairs" on the leaf and stems can just barely be seen in this photo.

The “hairs” on the leaf and stems can just barely be seen in this photo.

Trivia:

  • Turkish Rocket is in the Brassica family which includes Mustards, Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Turnip, Radishes, etc.
  • Turkish Rocket (Bunias orientalis) is not the same as Salad Rocket (Eruca sativa). I have found a few websites that are selling “Turkish Rocket” but show Salad Rocket. Eric Toensmeier, author of Perennial Vegetables, also reports that they are often mistaken for each other, but the seeds are quite different.
  • Turkish Rocket seeds are large and bumpy and about the size of a peppercorn. Salad Rocket seeds are small and smooth.
The flowering buds and stems can be eaten like broccoli.

The flowering buds and stems can be eaten like broccoli.

The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked.

The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked.

They are delicious when finely chopped and sprinkled on lamacun (aka Turkish Pizza).

They are delicious when finely chopped and sprinkled on lahmacun (LAH-ma-june), a.k.a. Turkish Pizza. My wife and kids loved this when we lived in Turkey. Shown here with parsley as well.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Leaves – Raw or cooked. Can be used like Kale or Collard Greens. Young leaves are best for eating raw. Leaves can be “hairy”, and some people say they are “indigestable”, but I have not experienced that. When raw, they have a pungent, mustardy-broccoli flavor. They can be finely chopped and added to salads to add a bit of “bite” to the salad. Many people prefer them cooked – they are quite good and a bit more mild. Larger leaves are almost always cooked. I don’t mind them either way, but I also like strongly flavored vegetables.
  • Edible Stems – Raw or cooked. Mainly the very young and thin stems. Can be cooked along with the leaves or trimmed and cooked on their own.
  • Edible Shoots – Used when young. Raw or cooked, but usually cooked.
  • Edible Flowers and Flowering Stems – Used like broccoli (I’ve seen it dubbed “Rockoli”), but with smaller florets… closer to a broccolini or broccoli raab (rapini). Although with more
Turkish Rocket has a deep taproot (just a small one shown here) that enables it to mine deep minerals and withstand dry times.

Turkish Rocket has a deep taproot (just a small one shown here) that enables it to mine deep minerals and withstand dry times.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect nectar plant – especially bees and parasatoid wasps
  • Butterfly nectar plant
  • Ornamental Plant – not a common ornamental, but it is still sold as one in some places
  • Drought Tolerant Plant – once established
  • Dynamic Accumulator – although I can find no good information to support this, it is likely considering its taproot. If it is like other Brassicas, then it would accumulate Phosphorus and Sulfur.
  • Pioneer Plant – helps reestablish overused or damaged land (this is why it is considered an invasive plant!)
  • Groundcover Plant – this plant can be used as a groundcover, but probably would do best in a mixed species groundcover planting. Eric Toensmeier pairs it with astragalus.
  • Animal Fodder Plant – one of its original uses. Cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry all can/have used this plant for food.
  • Maritime Plant – like most species in the Brassica family, Turkish Rocket can withstand maritime conditions.

Yield: Variable
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvested at anytime and are often promoted as being the first and last greens in the garden. Young and tender leaves are available in the Spring. This is a true cut-and-come-again plant. If you keep removing the larger, older leaves, then the plant will continue to produce young, tender leaves through most of the year in most growing environments. Flowering stems and flowers are available in late Spring to early Summer.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh, similar to broccoli, kale, or collard greens.

The classic rosette of Turkish Rocket.

The classic rosette of Turkish Rocket.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 7 is most commonly listed, but this is probably not entirely accurate. It is established as an “invasive” plant in southern Wisconsin and in New England which is Zone 4 in many places. The southern extent of its native habitat is Zone 7, but it grows well in the Pacific Northwest (Zone 8 at least). Dave’s Garden has it listed to Zone 11. I feel confident to place it in Zones 4-8, but it probably has a wider range.
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information available.
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Small Herbaceous Plant (usually perennial, but can be biennial)
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: As far as I can tell, there are no named varieties.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by bees, flies, or self.
Flowering: Late Spring to early Summer.

Life Span: Turkish Rocket can live to at least 12 years; however, it reseeds easily, so an individual’s life span is not that relevant.

Abundant flowers are a hallmark of Turkish Rocket.

Abundant flowers are a hallmark of Turkish Rocket.

These flowers are classic for the Brassica family.

These flowers are classic for the Brassica family.

...and these flowers are magnents to bees, parasitic wasps, and other beneficial insects!

…and these flowers are magnents to bees, parasitic wasps, and other beneficial insects!

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 1-5 feet (30-150 cm) tall (usually not taller than 40 inches/1 meter) and 1-3 feet (30-90 cm) wide
Roots: Fibrous with one or more taproots at least 1 inch/2.5 cm thick that can dive to at least 6.5 feet/2 meters deep
Growth Rate: Fast

Identification aid for Turkish Rocket.

Identification aid for Turkish Rocket.

Turkish Rocket seed pods.

Turkish Rocket seed pods.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: prefers moist soils, but tolerates a wide range of soil conditions once established
pH: prefers neutral soils, but tolerates a wide range of soil conditions

Special Considerations for Growing:
Reseeds easily.

Propagation:
Typically from seed. High germination rates. Can be propagated via division; Spring division is recommended. Eric Toensmeier reports that if the roots are broken, new plants pop up. This supports the documentation that this plant can be easily propagated via root cuttings (one report states it can regrow from a 0.4 inch/1 cm segment!).

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
Turkish Rocket is considered an invasive plant in some locations.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9d/Bunias_orientalis_—_Flora_Batava_—_Volume_v18.jpg
  • http://flora.nhm-wien.ac.at/Bilder-A-F/Bunias-orientalis-2.jpg
  • http://newfs.s3.amazonaws.com/taxon-images-1000s1000/Brassicaceae/bunias-orientalis-le-mrenz.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/Bunias_orientalis_champs-devaugerme-chateau-thierry_02_13052007_3.jpg
  • http://www.commanster.eu/commanster/Plants/Flowers/SpFlowers/Bunias.orientalis.jpg
  • http://www.luontoportti.com/suomi/images/13046.jpg
  • http://www.luontoportti.com/suomi/images/3654.jpg
  • http://www.luontoportti.com/suomi/images/9158.jpg
  • http://www.luontoportti.com/suomi/images/3660.jpg
  • http://85.214.60.79/korina.info/sites/default/files/Bunias%20orientalis%20Schötchen%20Katrin%20Schneider%2012.06.2012%20IMG_3397a%20x.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/58/Bunias_orientalis_removal.jpg/1280px-Bunias_orientalis_removal.jpg
  • http://www.botanische-spaziergaenge.at/Bilder/Lumix_9/P1800139.JPG
  • http://newfs.s3.amazonaws.com/taxon-images-1000s1000/Brassicaceae/bunias-orientalis-le-mrenz-b.jpg
  • http://www.wittistanbul.com/magazine/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/turkish-cuisine-lahmacun.jpg
  • http://www.nofamass.org/sites/default/files/scaudio/2012-08-11-078%20-%20Broccolitas%20the%2010%20Year%20Wonder.pdf

 

Permaculture Plants: Water Spinach, Kangkong, Ong Choy

Common Name: Water Spinach, Kangkong, River Spinach, Water Morning Glory, Ong Choy, Water Convolvulus, Swamp Cabbage
Scientific Name: Ipomoea aquatica
Family: Convolvulaceae (the Morning Glory or Bindweed family)

Ipomoea aquatica goes by many names around the world!

Ipomoea aquatica goes by many names around the world!

Water Spinach is a common vegetable in Asian cuisine.

Water Spinach is a common vegetable in Asian cuisine.

Common Names (I did the best I could considering I speak none of these languages!):

  • Bengali = kalmi shaak or kalami
  • Burmese = gazun ywet or kan-swun
  • Cantonese (Jyutping) = weng cai or tung coi or ong tsoi or ung coi  (sometimes transliterated as ong choy)
  • Chinese (Mandarin) = kōng xīn cài or toongsin tsai
  • Chinese (Hokkien) = eng ca
  • Dutch = waterspinazie
  • Filipino and Tagalog = kangkóng or cancong
  • Hindi = kalmua or kalmi or kalmisaag
  • Japanese = asagaona or ensai or kankon or kuushin sai or stuu sai
  • Khmer (in Cambodia) = trâkuön
  • Korean = kong sim chae or da yeon chae
  • Laotian = pak bong or bongz
  • Malay and Indonesian = kangkung or ballel
  • Thai = phak bung or pak hung or phak thotyot
  • Vietnamese = rau mung
Water Spinach has spinach-like leaves and hollow stems.

Water Spinach has spinach-like leaves and hollow stems.

Description:
My first experience with this plant was in the Asian supermarkets while I was living in Minnesota. I was very curious about it, but it took many trips before I got up the nerve to sample the bright green leaves. I had no idea what the vegetable was called, but it was quite good. It came as no surprise when I heard it called Water Spinach, as it really does taste like “regular” spinach; althought Water Spinach has a bit nuttier taste.

While the plants I normally highlight on this site are perennial and well suited to cool or cold climates, I do make exceptions for exceptional plants, and Water Spinach (or Kangkong) is one of them. It is common in Southeast Asia and grows with almost no care in many waterways. Unfortunately, because it grows so easily, it has been named an “invasive” in many parts of the United States. In warmer locations, it can be grown as a perennial. In cool to cold locations, it can be grown as an annual or as a greenhouse plant. It grows so fast and easily, and tastes so good, that I think everyone in a Temperate Climate should be growing this plant indoors in the Winters and outside in the Summers.

Ipomoea aquatica Forssk. 1775 - Wasserspinat - Water Spinach

Ipomoea aquatica Forssk. 1775 – Wasserspinat – Water Spinach

History:
Botanists are unsure where Water Spinach originated, but it likely came from somewhere in eastern India to Southeast Asia. It was first documented in 304 AD with the Chin Dynasty in China. Currently it is found throughout tropical and subtropical regions around the world, but is a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine.

Red-Stemmed Water Spinach has pink to purple flowers.

Red-Stemmed Water Spinach has pink to purple flowers.

Trivia:

  • Water Spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) is closely related to Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) and Common Morning Glories (Ipomoea purpurea)
  • Water Spinach has two major forms: Red-Stemmed (with pink to purple flowers) and White-Stemmed (with white flowers).
  • White-Stemmed Water Spinach as a number of cultivars that can roughly be categorized as long-leaf (or narrow-leaf), broad-leaf, white-stemmed (pak quat), green-stemmed (ching quat), etc. There is no formal classification that I can find.
  • Some consider the white-stemmed variety (pak quat) of the white-stemmed form as better tasting than others.
  • There is growing research showing that the red-stemmed form has more health benefits.
  • Each variety and cultivar has different culture characteristics as well… some can grow in moist soil, while others need to grow in water, and some can grow in both conditions.
  • Water Spinach grows fast… up to 4 inches (10 cm) in a day!
  • Water Spinach stems are hollow and can float.
  • Water Spinach will root at the nodes on the stem, and these roots can establish new plants if the stems break.
  • Water Spinach usually likes full sun, but can be a great herbaceous groundcover in very hot locations.
  • Water Spinach is considered an invasive weed in the United States. But almost no one is eating it!
    This dish looks amazing!

    Sambal Kangkong: This dish looks amazing!
    see recipes below…

    As does this one!

    As does this one!
    see recipes below…

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Shoots – typically only the young and tender shoots are eaten, usually cooked.
  • Edible Stems – typically only the young and tender stems are eaten, usually cooked. These stems are hollow and are crunchy when cooked. The stems require only a little bit longer cooking time than the leaves.
  • Edible Leaves – can be eated raw or cooked (stir-fried, sauteed, boiled, parboiled, etc.). The older leaves are more fibrous and are generally avoided. The leaves are used much like “regular” spinach in Western cuisines, but there are many Asian recipes that look delicious…
  • Recipes (I don’t normally list recipes, but since many Westerners are unfamiliar with this plant, I thought it would be a fun idea):
Water Spinach also makes great fodder!

Water Spinach also makes great fodder!

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Ornamental Plant – beautiful flowers
  • Animal Fodder – older leaves and fibrous stems are used as animal feed in tropical climates. But in any area where this plant is growing too fast, it would make a great ancillary feed source.
  • Biomass Plant – the fast growing nature of this plant could allow it to be harvested and used as mulch or in compost

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Best harvested before flowering. Often harvested 30-60 days after sowing, depending on climate and culture – earlier if fully aquatic and later if semi-aquatic. Water Spinach can be harvested completely or in a cut-and-come-back-again manner – secondary shoots will form and grow. Harvest in the coolest part of the day to prevent moisture loss and wilting.
Storage: Water Spinach is very perishable… it does not store well. It only stores well in the refrigerator for about a day, but occasionally can make it 2-3 days. This is why we should grow our own!

Water Spinach does very well in hydroponic systems.

Water Spinach does very well in hydroponic systems.

Water Spinach can grow in dense mats.

Water Spinach can grow in dense mats.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 8-15 (as a perennial). Water Spinach does not do well where average temperatures drop below 50 F (10 C), and do much better when the temperature is between 68-86 F (20-30 C). For most of us living in a Temperate Climate, this means we will use Water Spinach as an annual or grow it in a greenhouse.
AHS Heat Zone: 12-6
Chill Requirement: Unlikely, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Aquatic or Wetland Plant
Leaf Type: Perennial in warm climates. Annual or greenhouse plant in colder climates.
Forest Garden Use: Aquatic/Wetland Layer, Herbaceous Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available for this plant.

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Warmer months (usually Summer)

Life Span: No good information available. Considering that the plants grow so fast and can be propagated from cuttings so easily, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

Top (white-stemmed, broad-leaf), Middle (green-stemmed, narrow/long leaf), Bottom (green-stemmed, broad leaf)

Top (white-stemmed, broad-leaf), Middle (green-stemmed, narrow/long leaf), Bottom (green-stemmed, broad leaf)

Some varieties of Water Spinach can be grown in moist soil conditions.

Some varieties of Water Spinach can be grown in moist soil conditions.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: Up to 12 inches (30 cm) tall with trailing stems that are 7-10 feet (2-3 meters) long, but can get to almost 70 feet (21 meters)!
Roots: Fibrous. Stems can root at the nodes.
Growth Rate: Very fast

Water Spinach roots very well from cuttings.

Water Spinach roots very well from cuttings.

Geoff Lawton showing his floating island of Water Spinach.

Geoff Lawton showing his floating island of Water Spinach.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Moist to wet soils or fully aquatic conditions (still or flowing waters)
pH: 5.5-7.0 (but it can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • If you live in a warmer climate, consider the fast-growing nature of this plant.
  • Since this is an aquatic or semi-aquatic plant, there is always the question of how to grow it in water. Briefly, the seedling or rooted cutting is placed in very wet soil. This can be “puddled soil” like a rice paddy or at the pond’s edge or in a floating island (like Geoff Lawton) and allowed to grow into the water from there. See Propagation section below.

Propagation:
Can be grown from seed, often soaked for 24 hours before sowing. Can be easily propagated from cuttings just below a node; Water Spinach freely roots at the node. One source explains that commercial operations will take cuttings approximately 12 inches (30 cm) in length (which will have 7-8 nodes) and plant them 6-7.5 inches (15-20 cm) deep.

Maintenance:
Minimal. You may need to keep it from spreading too much if you live in warmer locations. Harvesting for human and/or animal consumption is the best method, by far!

Concerns:

  • When eaten raw in Southeast Asia, there is a chance it can carry the parasite Fasciolopsis buski, the largest intestinal fluke in humans… it is best to cook it if in this area of the world!
  • Listed as an Invasive in many places, especially in the United States. It is illegal in some parts of the United States to even be in possession of it! Please check with your local state laws!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.payer.de/amarakosa/amara02760.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/49/Ipomoea_aquatica.jpg
  • http://ppcdn.500px.org/7390354/1063ffb474cc139f6d212a214bc6a2ab8acf47a0/5.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c3/Ipomoea_aquatica_Nksw_1.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f1/Starr_080530-4636_Ipomoea_aquatica.jpg
  • http://farm1.staticflickr.com/171/418033533_e2804ad31a_o.jpg
  • http://www.lushplants.com.au/~lushplan/images/stories/virtuemart/product/kang-kong-ipomoea-aquatica.jpg
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/manggy/2620247365/sizes/l/in/photostream/
  • http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8026/7385708312_df5c9346af_o.jpg
  • http://www.clovegarden.com/ingred/img/mg_ongwat01g.jpg
  • http://www.ecofilms.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Permaculture-Fish-Pond-2.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-dUbFZXFOcGk/T6PA59E9kYI/AAAAAAAAAOg/DI3YPQJvYZ4/s1600/IMG_0720.JPG
  • http://www.worldngayon.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/DSC_0331.jpg
  • http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/files/2012/05/t0531louie-cruz_feat2_2.jpg
  • http://blog.seasonwithspice.com/2012/05/malaysian-sambal-belacan-kangkung.html

 

Permaculture Plants: Wintergreen

Common Names: American Wintergreen, Eastern Teaberry, Checkerberry, Boxberry, Mountain Tea
Scientific Name: Gaultheria procumbens
Family: Ericaceae (the Heath or Heather family)

Wintergreen with frost.

Wintergreen with frost.

Description:
While most famous for its classic, minty smell, this low-growing, slow-growing eastern North American native shrub is a great, evergreen groundcover for shady spots. It prefers acidic soils, and could be a great partner to blueberries, pines, or other acid-loving plants. It attracts beneficial insects, is drought-tolerant, thrives in the shade, has edible berries and leaves, and has a long history of medicinal uses. Wintergreen is a fantastic, niche-plant for the Forest Garden.

American Wintergreen

American Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens

History:
Native to Northeastern North America, but found in most places west of the Mississippi River and south to Georgia in the United States, Wintergreen was used by natives for food and medicine. The “wintergreen” aroma and flavor from the Wintergreen leaves and fruit (and also found in Birch trees) was used for gum, candy, perfumes, hygiene products, teas and other drinks, as well as cleaning products, until scientists figured out how to synthesize it in the laboratory. Since then, Wintergreen has become a significantly less important commercial plant. However, there has been a bit of a resurgence in its popularity due to modern herbalists use and the development of ornamental varieties.

Wintergreen

Wintergreen “fruits” are actually parts of the flower!

Trivia:

  • Plants that stay green through Winter were initially known as Wintergreen, but now the term Evergreen is commonly used.
  • While dark and glossy green most of the year, the leaves will turn red or bronze in Autumn.
  • The “fruit” (0.25-0.5 inches/6.3-12 mm) is actually a dry capsule surrounding a fleshy calyx – this is part of the flower!
  • Oil of Wintergreen is made through steam distillation of the macerated leaves.
  • Most of the Oil of Wintergreen available today is synthetic.
  • Oil of Wintergreen is about 98% methyl salicylate.
  • It is believed that methyl salicylate is released from the plant when attacked by harmful insects and that it attracts beneficial insects to deal with the pests. Note: I have yet to find good research to support this, but if this is true, it is very interesting. Maybe sprinkling Oil of Wintergreen through the garden will bring on an army of beneficial insects??
  • The entire genus that Wintergreen belongs, Gaultheria, was named after Dr. Jean-Francois Gaultier, a mid-18th century French physician stationed at the colony of Quebec from 1742-1756. I love learning about naturalist doctors!
  • The species name, procumbens, means lying flat. This is an appropriate name for this low-growing shrub.

 

Fermenting the leaves and berries to make Wintergreen Tea.

Fermenting the leaves and berries to make Wintergreen Tea.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Fruit – These have a classic “wintergreen” flavor… kind of minty, but sweeter. Often rather bland. Can often have a “medicinal” taste to it. Can be eaten raw or cooked. Used in sauces, jams, pies, etc. The seeds need to be strained out.
  • Edible Leaves – only the very young leaves are worth eating raw. Really, they are just chewed. There is an initial Wintergreen flavor, and after a few minutes the leaf becomes bitter; then just spit it out.
  • Tea Plant – wintergreen-flavored fruits and leaves are used to make tea. It was common enough that the plant is also called Teaberry. But just soaking the dried leaves in hot water (like brewing ordinary black tea) does not produce a tea with the Wintergreen flavor. The key is to slightly ferment the leaves first. Here’s how to do it: Fill a sterilized jar with fresh Wintergreen leaves. If the leaves are mostly red, then the tea will be pink. Then cover it with cool, previously boiled, filtered, or distilled water. Let it sit in a warm place, not in direct sunlight, for a few days. The water will become bubbly as the fermentation takes place. Filter the tea and save the leaves. The tea can be slowly warmed until hot, but not boiling. This tea will have a great Wintergreen flavor! The tea may need to be diluted with additional water if it is too strong. Dry the saved leaves; they can be used for at least one other batch of tea, but it won’t be as strong.
  • Essential Oil – This oil can be extracted through steam distillation. It is used in perfumes and fragrances and also as a flavoring agent in candies, gum, toothpaste, alcoholic drinks, etc. This is very strong stuff! See note about toxicity in Concerns below.

Secondary Uses:

  • General nectar source (especially bees).
  • Ornamental Plant – some varieties have been developed and used mainly for ornamental value.
  • Ground Cover – tolerates only a little foot traffic. It is best when combined with another groundcover plant, as Wintergreen grows so low to the ground that many weeds are not suppressed in the early years of growth, before a mat forms. Alternatively, weeding for the first few years could be used if an unmixed groundcover is desired. Plant 10-20 inches (25-50 cm) apart.
  • Dynamic Accumulator – when the above-ground portions of this plant dies back, it releases the nutrients it has mined. Wintergreen is known to accumulate magnesium.
  • Drought-Tolerant Plant – withstands drought once established.
  • Wildlife – Autumn and Winter fruits and browse for deer, bear, ground birds (turkey, grouse, pheasant, etc.), and small mammals (fox, chipmunks, squirrels, mice, etc.)
  • Medicinal Plant – The leaves and berries contain methyl salicylate which is very similar to salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. Many native peoples used the tea (see above) as a pain and fever reliever. The same cautions for using aspirin apply to Wintergreen as a medicinal plant. See note about toxicity in Concerns below.

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Fruit is harvested in Autumn-Early Winter. Frost seems to sweeten the fruit a bit. The leaves can be harvested at any time.
Storage: Berries are best used fresh. Leaves and berries can be dried.

Wintergreen makes a great, shade-tolerant groundcover.

Wintergreen makes a great, shade-tolerant groundcover.

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: Prostrate (low-growing) Shrub
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Underground Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of cultivars available.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by bees.
Flowering: Summer.

Life Span: No good information available, but as the plant spreads through rhizomes and stolons, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

Wintergreen flowers are quite pretty.

Wintergreen flowers are quite pretty.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 2-6 inches (5-15 cm) tall and indefinitely wide
Roots: Fibrous and shallow with stolons (stems that creep along the ground which can place new roots down) and rhizomes (underground stems that shoot up new plants).
Growth Rate: Slow to Medium

Wintergreen leaves turn red to brown in Autumn.

Wintergreen leaves turn red to brown in Autumn.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full to patial shade, but will produces more fruit in sunny openings with some shade.
Shade: Tolerates deep shade
Moisture: Dry to moist soils.
pH: 4.2-6.5 (prefers more acidic soils)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Consider pairing with other plants if using Wintergreen as a groundcover – see note in Secondary Uses above.

Propagation:
Division is easy and can be done anytime, although early Spring is probably the best. Can be propagated with seed, but requires 4-13 weeks cold-stratification. Seeds germinate in 1-2 months. Also propagated from semi-ripe cuttings.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
Toxicity: Methyl salicylate is an organic ester found in a number of plants such as Wintergreen, Birch, and Meadowsweet. It is similar in structure to salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin.  Oil of Wintergreen is a highly concentrated form of methyl salicylate. It is reported that 10 milliliters is a fatal dose in a child, and 30 mL will kill an adult; however, there ahve been fatalities with as little as 4 mL (that is just over a teaspoon!). As the methyl salicylate can be absorbed through the skin, even topical use can be dangerous. With all that said, we need to be very careful about when, why, and how we use this essential oil.

Wintergreen "berries" are actually part of the flower.

Wintergreen is a great addition to the Forest Garden!

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Photo References:

  • http://wesselsgardenway.com/wp-content/uploads/Gaultheria-procumbens-frost009-11.jpg
  • http://public.dm2304.livefilestore.com/y2pXVxpiGN5saHvMH02RAJccjP7QDzruhWuFgzoe9s3DpZBUhC74JXlFxOZd2BuqmZJUaN6nIICwwMSuxh13yPGabfw3ogj6YBIzEAvam3eds4/IMGP4117%20Gaultheria%20procumbens%20-%20Golteria%20pełzająca%2c%20g.%20rozesłana.JPG?rdrts=65047548
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/FountainSpringsWintergreen.png
  • http://www.zelen.cz/images/galerie/galerie778/images/galerie/gaultheria_procumbens_08.jpg
  • http://floreduquebec.ca/medias/gaultheria_procumbens/gaultheria_procumbens_6.jpg
  • http://newfs.s3.amazonaws.com/taxon-images-1000s1000/Ericaceae/gaultheria-procumbens-le-ksearcy.jpg
  • http://lucasland.org/wildflowers/w/images/wintergreen5.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/Gaultheria_procumbens_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-064.jpg
  • http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/Edible_Plants_Ramer_Silver_Weizmann/Images_Edited/uses_teas_edited_300.jpg

 

Permaculture Plants: Rosemary

Common Name: Rosemary
Scientific Name: Rosmarinus officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae (the Mint family)

Rosemary almost needs no description, because it is so well known.

Rosemary almost needs no description, because it is so well known.

Description:
This plant probably needs no introduction. Rosemary is a small shrub with evergreen leaves that are most commonly used as a culinary herb. As an evergreen shrub, it is a year round ornamental plant, but it also attracts beneficial insects and hummingbirds, is drought tolerant, and is an aromatic pest confuser. Almost every herb garden and vegetable garden has at least one Rosemary bush, and it is easy to grow. Considering how useful, and tasty, it is, we should consider placing them throughout our property and Forest Gardens as well.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Illustration from Köhler's Medicinal Plants - 1887

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Illustration from Köhler’s Medicinal Plants – 1887

History:
Native to the Mediterranean, Rosemary has spread around the world with the spread of European civilization.

Trivia:

  • It is said that that the Virgin Mary (Jesus Christ’s mother) spread her cloak over a white-flowered bush when she was resting. The flowers changed from white to blue to match her cloak, and the plant was called “Rose of Mary” ever since.
  • Rosemary flowers can be white, pink, purple, or blue deep purple or blue-violet.
  • The genus Rosmarinus is Latin for “dew of the sea” – in reference to its refreshing smell and its natural habitat along the Mediterranean coast
  • Rosemary garlands were used by Greek students to increase their memory; this is where “Rosemary for remembrance” originated
  • A sprig of Rosemary was placed under a pillow to repel nightmares.
  • A sprig of Rosemary was placed outside the home to repel witches.
  • Rosemary was the favorite scent of Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Rosemary contains salicylic acid… this is the chemical aspirin is derived from, and it has the ability to ease aches and pains and reduce fevers.
Rosemary is one of the most well known culinary herbs.

Rosemary is one of the most well known culinary herbs.

Recipe: Rosemary Roasted Chicken with Roasted Grapes

Rosemary Oil is a flavorful addition to many meals.

Rosemary Oil (infused… not the essential oil) is a flavorful addition to many meals.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Cullinary Herb – Raw or cooked. Fresh or dried. Young shoots/stems (before turning woody) and leaves. One of the best known cullinary herbs. Infused oil can be made as well.
  • Tea Plant – the leaves and/or flowers can be steeped in hot water to make a tea
  • Edible Flowers – the small flowers have a soft “rosemary” taste, more gentle than the leaves; they are a pleasant addition to salads or an edible garnish.
  • Essential Oil – used as a fragrant component in skin and hair products, cleaning products, incense, perfumes, and many other products

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar and pollen plant
  • Ornamental Plant – as an evergreen, it is commonly used in gardens as a functional, but attractive, plant
  • Groundcover – while not a classic groundcover plant, Rosemary can
  • Drought Tolerant Plant – once established. I have killed many a Rosemary plant by letting one get too dried out before its root system was deeply established
  • Maritime Tolerant Plant – this plant can tolerate salt air of a marine environment
  • Aromatic Pest Confuser – potentially inhibit or repel garden pests
  • Hummingbird Plant – this plant has nectar that attracts Hummingbirds
  • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
  • Medicinal – Rosemary has a long history of medicinal uses (see note in Trivia above)

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvested year-round as this is an evergreen and one of the reasons it is so popular. Flowers can be harvested whenever they are in bloom.
Storage: Ideally, Rosemary is used immediately after harvest; this is how I like to do it. But it is still good if used within a few days fresh. It can be kept in a small glass of water, like cut flowers, for over a week. Can be stored for many months if dried.

The upright, or classic, form of Rosemary.

The upright, or classic, form of Rosemary.

Rosemary also has a low-growing, creeping form.

Rosemary also has a low-growing, creeping form.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 6-11
AHS Heat Zone: Zone 12-6
Chill Requirement: Possible, but not likely; no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Small Shrub
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of cultivars available.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by bees.
Flowering: Spring to early Autumn (April-October), but can flower all year long in mild climates.

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available, but there are many reports of Rosemary bushes living 15-20 years.
Rosemary flowers are beautiful and edible.

Rosemary flowers are beautiful and edible.

Purple to blue is most common, but Rosemary also has pink and white flowers.

Purple to blue is most common, but Rosemary also has pink and white flowers.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 3-4 feet (90-120 cm) tall and wide (prostrate/creeping forms are significantly shorter)
Roots: Fibrous, not very deep
Growth Rate: Slow to medium

Rosemary is fantastic fresh...

Rosemary is fantastic fresh…

...but is easily dried as well.

…but is easily dried as well.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Dry to moist soils. Can tolerate drought once established.
pH: 5.5-7.5

Special Considerations for Growing:
None.

Propagation:
Typically from seed – not dormant. May take a while to germinate. May be propagated via cuttings or layering in Summer. May also be propagated via division.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
None

 

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Photo References:

  • http://jonnsaromatherapy.com/images/plant_images/Rosemary_il.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Rosmarinus_officinalis_’Tuscan_Blue’1.jpg
  • http://contentzza.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/rosmarinus-officinalis_lg.jpg
  • http://foragersyear.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/rosemary2.jpg
  • http://www.freedomisgreen.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Rosemary_white_bg.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-fzuaKSz-txU/T-taWCpE5AI/AAAAAAAAAbY/snTfokOFcxI/s1600/Starr_080117-2176_Rosmarinus_officinalis.jpg
  • http://www.onlineplantguide.com/Image%20Library/R/7205.jpg
  • http://www.secretsofculinaryherbs.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Rosmarinus_officinalis133095382.jpg
  • http://www.teacher-chef.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/7-19-drying-rosemary.jpg
  • http://www.loverslanenursery.com/images/Tree%20and%20Plant%20Images/rosemary2.jpg
  • http://thinkgum.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/rosemary.jpg
  • http://gourmandistan.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/rosemary.jpg
  • http://blog.balancedskintherapy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/rosemary.jpg

 

 

 

Permaculture Plants: Vetch

Common Name: Vetch

Scientific Name: Vicia species
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume or Pea or Bean family)

Vetch09

One tiny plant… so many functions!
Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa)

Common Species:

  • American/Purple Vetch (Vicia americana) – perennial; fair flavor (top photo)
  • Carolina Wood Vetch or Pale Vetch (Vicia caroliniana) – perennial
  • Tufted/Bird/Cow Vetch (Vicia cracca) – perennial; poor flavor; good forage crop used with cattle
  • Bitter Vetch or Burçak (Vicia ervilia) – annual; poor flavor; good forage crop used with sheep/cattle
  • Fava/Broad/Field Bean (Vicia faba) – annual; excellent flavor; very good short-lived groundcover
  • Common/Garden Vetch or Winter Tares (Vicia sativa) – annual; seeds have fair flavor; leaves/shoots/pods edible; good forage crop used with cattle/horses; very good groundcover
  • Wood Vetch (Vicia sylvatica) – perennial
  • Hairy/Fodder/Large Russian Vetch (Vicia villosa) – annual or perennial in warmer climates – Winter hardy; poor flavor; forage crop; popular Winter cover crop
Vetch03

My kids and I sitting and shelling Fava Beans on a Saturday morning!
This photo is mine. Please ask if you would like to use it for more than your own personal use!

Description:
Vicia is a genus of about 140 species of legumes commonly known as Vetch. These rambling, nitrogen-fixing vines are found around the world and used for food, animal forage, and green manures. They are pioneer plants helping to rehabilitate damaged lands, and their deep roots mine minerals which enrich and stabilize soils. They attract all sorts of beneficial insects and can be used as a groundcover. One annual species also happens to be one of my favorite beans: the Fava Bean! This is a wonderful plant to use on pastures, new swales, and in the initial phases of Forest Garden creation… truly a multi-purpose plant!

Vetch01

Cow Vetch and Hairy Vetch

History:
Native and widespread around the world, Vetches are naturally found on all continents but Australia (and Antarctica of course). Because they were introduced in Australia, the Vetches are now found across the globe. It is likely that Bitter Vetch (Vicia ervilia) was one of the first domesticated crops being grown in the Middle East (Near East) almost 10,000 years ago!  Over time, different species of Vetch have been used around the world by indigenous people groups as well as pioneers as primary or supplementary food sources. Most Vetch species today are used as fodder and forage for livestock, but a few have been selected for human consumption, especially the Broad Bean (Fava Bean).

Vetch04

We ran out of beans well before my daughter’s interest ran out…
she could have done this for hours.
This photo is mine. Please ask if you would like to use it for more than your own personal use!

Trivia:

  • American Vetch (Vicia americana), Cow Vetch (Vicia cracca), and Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa) have a taproot that may dive up to 40 inches (1 meter) deep. Other species may have taproots, but no reliable information can be found.
  • American (Vicia americana) has both a taproot and rhizomes and is drought-tolerant.
  • The Fava/Broad Bean (Vicia faba) can be used to make the popular Middle Eastern food, Falafel. Ground fava beans, chickpeas, or both are used to make the ball or patty which is then deep fried.
  • The Fava/Broad Bean (Vicia faba) can be inoculated with the rhodospirillacean bacterium Azospirillum brasilense and the glomeracean fungus Glomus clarum, and then the Fava Bean can also be grown in salty soils.
Vetch05

Our harvest of shelled, blanched, and peeled Fava Beans.
This photo is mine. Please ask if you would like to use it for more than your own personal use!

Vetch06

Grilled chicken, wilted broccoli greens, blanched fava beans, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper…
simple and delicious!
This photo is mine. Please ask if you would like to use it for more than your own personal use!

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Shoots – young shoots are edible before they become fibrous; typically cooked*
  • Edible Leaves – young leaves are edible before they become fibrous; have a mild bean/spinach flavor; typically cooked; Leaves have been used as a tea substitute
  • Edible Pods – Only the very young pods are truly edible; use like green beans, typically cooked.*
  • Edible Seeds – Can produce medium to very large seeds or “beans”. These can be eaten fresh (raw or cooked);  the good-flavored ones taste like a mix between lima beans and peas. They can be dried and used like any dried bean; these have a dense, thick texture and are quite good with a flavor reminiscent of chickpeas/garbanzo beans.*
  • Flour – Seeds can be dried and ground into a flour; best when mixed with cereal flours.
    • *(flavor and palatability varies with the species with the Broad or Fava Bean (Vicia faba) having the best flavor)

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Shelter plant for beneficial insects
    • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
    • Parasitic Wasps prefer to rest and hide on this plant
    • Carnivorous Beetles prefer to live near this plant
    • Spiders prefer to live near this plant
  • Pioneer Species– helps reestablish overused or damaged land
  • 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. This is a leguminous plant;  Pea inoculation groups.
  • Dynamic Accumulator Species – Potassium, Phosphorus, Nitrogen
  • Groundcover Plant – vining/running or scrambling plant, can rise up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) without support, but typically only about half that height
  • Green Manure Crop – plants are chopped and dropped (or often tilled under – NOT recommended by me!) to provide the beneficial nutrients accumulated by these plants to other surrounding plants
  • Fodder Crop/Animal Feed Plant – typically only with ruminants, and in moderation. Too much has the potential to  cause toxicity. As always, variety is best!
  • Fiber Plant – Vicia faba from the stems
  • String Plant – Vicia villosa from the roots

Yield: Variable and depends on what is being harvested, the species, and the location
Harvesting: Seeds are typically harvested late Summer and early Autumn… but this is very dependant on the species, where it is grown, and when it was planted. Obviously, young pods which contain the immature seeds/beans are harvested sooner. Young leaves can be harvested at anytime they are available, but before they get too large and fibrous. Pods/Seeds can be harvested in Spring if the plants were allowed to over-Winter.
Storage: Use fresh leaves, pods, and seeds within a few days. Dried seeds (beans) can be stored for years (decades?) if kept cool, dark, and dry.

Vetch08

Vetch makes a perfect cover crop and/or groundcover.
Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca)

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • American/Purple Vetch (Vicia americana): Zone 3-7
  • Carolina Wood Vetch (Vicia caroliniana): Zone 3-11
  • Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca): Zone 4-11
  • Bitter Vetch (Vicia ervilia): annual
  • Fava Bean (Vicia faba): annual
  • Common Vetch (Vicia sativa): Zone 5
  • Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa): Zone 4 (Zone 3 with snow cover)

AHS Heat Zone:

  • Carolina Wood Vetch (Vicia caroliniana): Zone 12-1
  • Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca): Zone 12-1
  • Fava Bean (Vicia faba): Zone 10-6
  • Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa): Zone 8-1

Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Herbaceous Vine (most are perennial)
Leaf Type: Evergreen or Deciduous depending on the species and location. Most of the deciduous Vetches are frost tolerant, and will often Winter-over without losing their leaves if the Winter is not too harsh.
Forest Garden Use: Climbing Layer, Groundcover Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties and species available

Pollination: Self-fertile; pollinated by bees
Flowering: Spring through Autumn – again depending on the species, location, and planting time

Life Span: No good information available as we typically harvest or till before they expire.

Vetch10

Fava or Broad Beans can develop huge pods…

Vetch12

…which develop huge seeds!

Vetch11

Not all Vetch seeds are gigantic
Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

  • American/Purple Vetch (Vicia americana): 3 feet (90 cm) tall and wide
  • Carolina Wood Vetch (Vicia caroliniana): 1-5 feet (30-150 cm) tall and wide
  • Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca): 6 feet (180 cm) tall and wide
  • Bitter Vetch (Vicia ervilia): 2 feet (60 cm) tall and wide
  • Fava Bean (Vicia faba): 3.3 feet (100 cm) tall and wide
  • Common Vetch (Vicia sativa): 4 feet (120 cm) tall and wide
  • Wood Vetch (Vicia sylvatica): 2-6 feet (60-180 cm) tall and wide
  • Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa): 4-6 feet (120-180 cm) tall and up to 12 feet (360 cm) wide

Roots: Deep Fibrous or Deep Taproots or Rhizomatous depending on the species
Growth Rate: Medium-Fast

Vetch13

All Vetch leaves have very similar characteristics… although not all are so hairy!
Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa)

Vetch02

But they all have pretty flowers
Common Vetch (Vicia sativa)

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Full to partial sun
Shade: Tolerates light to full shade depending on the species
Moisture: Prefers medium moisture soils.
pH: 6.1-7.0 (prefers mildly acidic soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:
None.

Propagation:
Typically from seed. Pre-soaking or scarifying the seeds may increase germination rates; however, at least with the Fava Beans I have grown, this was not needed.

Maintenance:
None.

Concerns:

  • Favism – Fava Beans should be avoided in people with G6PD-deficiency as they have the possibility of developing hemolytic anemia, a condition where the red blood cells breakdown. The fava bean-induced hemolytic anemia is named “Favism”. While all people with favism have G6PD-deficiency, not all people with G6PD-deficiency will develop favism when they eat fava beans.
  • Poisonous – while not containing any specific toxins, Vetch contains certain chemicals which have the ability to block the absorption of essential nutrients. If too much of this plant is eaten for too long, then people and animals can develop deficiencies which can cause minor to significant health problems. Moderation is the key!
  • Invasive – because many species of Vetch are fast growing and can fix their own nitrogen, they can spread easily in damaged landscapes. Some species can “strangle” smaller, neighboring plants with their tendrils. I would not introduce these species to a functional ecosystem.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f1/318_Vicia_cracca,_Vicia_villosa.jpg
  • http://www.agroatlas.ru/content/cultural/Vicia_sativa_K/Vicia_sativa_K.jpg
  • http://img2.etsystatic.com/000/0/5844782/il_fullxfull.236701470.jpg
  • http://www.naturescape.co.uk/acatalog/TuftedVetchLarge.jpg
  • http://fourstringfarm.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/vetch-seeds-sprouting-after-7-days.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Q9THXqPVvWo/Ta5xkYgQYdI/AAAAAAAADhU/YNypUTuL6xU/s1600/Opening+Fava+Bean+Pod.jpg
  • http://www.vegetablegardener.com/assets/uploads/posts/5352/kg28-summer-squash-08_lg.jpg
  • http://pinkmoondaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/fava-seeds-640×426.jpg