Herbaceous Layer

Permaculture Plants: Ginseng

Common Name: Ginseng, American Ginseng, Asian Ginseng
Scientific Name: Panax species
Family: Araliaceae (the Ivy family)

Ginseng is prized for its slow-growing root.

Ginseng is prized for its slow-growing root.

Species:
There are 11 species of ginseng found in eastern Asia and eastern North America. While all the species contain medicinal compounds (specifically ginsenosides), only Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) are grown in significant quantity. The majority of this article will cover these two species. For completeness sake, here are all the species of Ginseng:

  • Notoginseng or “Three-Seven Root” (Panax notoginseng) – grows naturally in China and Japan
  • Feather-Leaf Bamboo Ginseng or Pearl Ginseng (Panax bipinnatifidus) – China, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Myanmar
  • Ginseng or Asian Ginseng or Chinese Ginseng or Korean Ginseng (Panax ginseng) – China, Korea, Russia; Primary medicinal Ginseng
  • Japanese Ginseng (Panax japonicus) – Japan
  • American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) – eastern North America; Primary medicinal Ginseng
  • Vietnamese Ginseng (Panax vietnamensis) – Vietnam
  • Wang’s Sanqi (Panax wangianus) – China
  • No English common name (Panax zingiberensis) – China
  • Pseudoginseng or Nepal Ginseng or Himalayan Ginseng (Panax pseudoginseng) – eastern Asia, China, Burma
  • No English common name (Panax stipuleanatus) – North Vietnam
  • Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius) – Northeastern and Appalachian North America
Wild Ginseng is highly prized.

Wild Ginseng is highly prized.

Description:
This low-growing, woodland plant is one of the most expensive herbs in the world with prices of more than $50 USD per ounce… sometimes quite a bit more! Ginseng is a great medicinal crop for moist, shady areas, but it is not as simple as planting a few seeds and planning an early retirement. It can be a little picky and takes a number of years before it reaches harvest size. Ginseng has an almost mystical reputation around the world, and much about it has been overblown, but there is pretty good evidence that this root is an effective medicinal plant. I’ll try to present the history and facts, as best I can, about this small plant with a big reputation.

Ginseng

Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng) (Left) and American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) (Right)

History & Trivia:

  • Asian Ginseng was likely discovered in the Manchurian Mountains (Northern China) over 5,000 years ago.
  • Most researchers believe that Ginseng was first used as a food.
  • Many ancient health systems developed the belief that the shape of the plant identifies which bodily ailment it can heal. The Ginseng root resembles a miniature human body, so Ginseng was revered as a whole-body cure-all.
  • Ginseng has traditionally been used for general well-being, improving understanding, as an aphrodisiac, and as a medicine to prolong life.
  • The scientific name of the genus, Panax, comes from the Greek meaning “all-heal” (the word panacea has the same origination).
  • The name “ginseng” is derived from the Chinese word “rénshēn” (rén = person; shēn = plant root) due to the root resembling human legs, the torso, and sometimes even a full body.
  • The first mention of Asian Ginseng as a medicine was in a book from the Chien Han Era (33-48 B.C.) in China, although the oral tradition probably originated thousands of years earlier.
  • The most commonly cited first reference is to the Shennong Ben Cao Jinge (The Herbal Classic of Shennong). This compilation of Chinese medicinals dates between 100-200 AD.
  • After the publication of Shennong Ben Cao Jinge, the popularity of (and desire for) Ginseng soared. It is reported that locals, regional leaders, and the government all fought for control of the native Ginseng territory.
  • Sometime between 500-600 AD, the wild population of Ginseng became increasingly scarce due to overharvesting. Since that time, wild Asian Ginseng has remained very rare and very expensive.
  • Similarly, and maybe due to common ancenstry, Native American Indians called Ginseng “little man” and used it for similar reasons as the Chinese, and it was considered a “sacred” herb, although it was not nearly as revered as Asian Ginseng in China.
  • A Jesuit priest, Father Jartoux, was living in China in the early 1700’s. He sent a sample of dried Asian Ginseng root to his colleague, Father Lafitau, in Canada. Father Jaroux explained the medicinal qualities and uses to Father Lafitau, and he asked the Canadian priest if this plant was growing in North America. After three months of searching, Father Lafitau found wild American Ginseng growing outside of Montreal. In 1716, a few pounds of American Ginseng was sent to China, and it sold for $5 a pound. This started an American Ginseng exportation boom. (here is a letter from Father Jartoux discussing Ginseng).
  • There are reports of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett digging and selling large amounts of American Ginseng.
  • Wild Ginseng roots can sell from $300-$600 (USD) per pound (o.45 kg), sometimes over $1000 (USD) per pound (o.45 kg).
  • The older the root, the slower growing the root, the more gnarled the root, the more twisted the root, the darker the root… all these make the root more desirable, and therefore, more valued.
  • When Ginseng is cultivated on a commercial scale, modern growers usually want to maximize yields. This Ginseng is grown in fields under shade cloth with irrigation systems. The growers use fungicides and fertilizers, and this speeds the root growth which results in larger and smoother roots (they look more like a carrot). These roots sell for as little as $10 (USD) a pound (0.45 kg).
  • “Forest Cultivated” Ginseng is grown in prepared beds under a forest canopy. This results in faster growth, and less valuable roots, but these roots are more desireable than commercial Ginseng.
  • “Wild Simulated” Ginseng is grown in the forest soil itself. Basically, seeds are planted in the ground and are left to grow at their own pace. These roots can be identical and indistinguishable from “Wild Ginseng”. There is less yield and more risk of crop failure with this method, but it requires the least cost and work.
  • Wild Ginseng can be legally harvested in 19 U.S. States, typically from 1 Septemer to 1 December. The season overlaps the time the Ginseng berries are ripe, and the law requires the harvesters only harvest mature plants with ripe berries, and the harvesters need to replant the seeds in the “approximate location where the harvester obtained the root”.
  • Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is related, but not closely, to true ginseng. There are many other plants called Ginseng, but only the above listed plants are true Ginseng.
  • Ginseng Poachers, aka thieves, will harvest roots before the legal season or will trespass onto land to steal wild or cultivated roots. Poachers are fined hundreds of dollars and are charged with misdemeanors. Repeat poachers can spend many months in prison. Many of these poachers trade the roots for drugs. Deales can face federal felony charges.
  • Ginseng Catch-22: Ginseng can reproduce both from seed or from the rhizome (underground stem). If a Ginseng plant is propagated from the rhizome, all the subsequent daughter plants are technically clones. By propagating Ginseng with this method, we are assured of a plant that already proved it can grow well in our forest’s unique conditions. Of course, being smart Permaculturists, we don’t want all of our plants to be clones of just a single mother plant due to our desire for genetic diversity; however, there is a huge benefit in propagating successful genetics adapted to our local conditions. Unfortunately, mainly due to overharvesting, there is a requirement that all Ginseng roots are at least 5 years of age. The only way to verify age is to count the scars on the rhizome… the exact rhizome that we would use to propagate clones. Older harvesters would replant the rhizome at the time of harvest, but if we want to sell our roots, this is not possible anymore. If we want to be be very forward thinking, we would grow our Ginseng for at least 5 years, and then replant the rhizome from the most healthy plants.
  • Cultivators will plant from 0ne-half pound to 25 pounds of seed per acre of land. Yes, this is a huge range!
  • Drying will reduce the weight of the harvest by about two-thirds.
  • It will take roughly 250-350 mature Ginseng plants to produce one pound of dried roots for sale.
A high-value, human-shaped root.

A high-value, human-shaped root.

Lower quality Ginseng roots.

Lower quality Ginseng roots.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Medicinal Herb (see below).

Medicinal Uses:

  • The root of ginseng is the primary medicinal portion of the plant.
  • The leaf of ginseng can be used as well, but is not considered a primary medicinal.
  • Dried ginseng root is the most commonly available form used as a medicinal.
  • Ginseng is considered an adaptogen. This is a term used to describe a substance that “adapts” to the specific needs of the body. They are used to promote homeostasis – stabelizing or settling the holistic functions of the body. This is a common concept in herbal medicine, and it is often over-used to make over-blown health claims.
  • Asian Ginseng is considered more potent. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is considered “yang” or “warming”.
  • American Ginseng is considered “yin” in TCM or more “cooling”.
  • The active ingredient, at least the one modern science understands to be the primary active ingredient, are a variety of compounds known as ginsenosides or panaxosides.
  • Most of the modern, scientific research has focused on these ginsenosides. This has positives and negatives as to the information we have on the medicinal value of Ginseng.
  • There have been a large number of in vitro (in glass – i.e. in a petri dish) studies on Ginseng that shows all kinds of things. This is NOT the same as in vivo (in life – i.e. with real people) studies.
  • In vivo studies have shown the following (note that most of these studies were done using ginsenosides, the compound found in both Asian and American Ginseng):
    • Ginseng increased reaction time, abstract thinking, attention, memory, social function, mental health
    • Ginseng enhanced the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.
    • Ginseng appears to boost the immune system (enhanced chemotaxis, phagocytosis, increased total lymphocyte count, increased numbers of T helper cells).
    • American Ginseng with antibiotics works faster than antibiotics alone to clear bacterial bronchitis.
    • American Ginseng improves fasting blood glucose levels in patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes.
    • Asian Ginseng improves erectile dysfunction, sexual desire, and sexual satisfaction in patients with erectile dysfunction.
    • Ginseng appears to lower cancer risk in people 40 years old or older.
    • Ginseng has been shown to be both effective and ineffective for many different medical issues depending on the study that was performed. There are a lot of reasons for this lack of clarity, but researchers are continuing to perform research on Ginseng.
  • Ginseng Considerations:
    • Ginseng is considered to be well-tolerated with very little risk for side effect.
    • Ginseng may interact with warfarin (Coumadin).
    • Ginseng should be avoided in people with high blood pressure, asthma, or bleeding problems.
    • Ginseng should be used with caution in people with diabetes taking hypoglycemic medicine or in people prone to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), because it can cause the blood sugar to drop too low.
    • Ginseng may cause insomnia in some people.
    • Most sources recommend avoiding Ginseng in children, pregnant women, and lactating women, although there are few good studies looking at Ginseng in these groups.
    • Most sources recommend avoiding Ginseng in people with hormone-sensitive cancers because the ginsenosides may act like estrogen and make the cancer more active.
    • Most sources recommend avoiding Ginseng in people with auto-immune disease (like Lupus, Multiple Sclerosos, Rheumatoid Arthritis, etc.)
  • Dosing Ginseng:
    • Ginseng is often taken in bursts… it is taken daily for a few weeks to a few months and then not taken for a few weeks or months. This “holiday” seems to allow Ginseng to work more effectively. It’s almost as if the body stops responding to Ginseng if it is taken for too long.
    • The most common recommendation is to take Ginseng daily for 2-3 weeks, then take a break of 1-2 weeks, then repeat.
    • The oral dose of prepared Ginseng pills is 200 mg daily to 900 mg three times a day. There is no standardized dosing established.
    • The “typical” dose of dried, raw Ginseng ranges from 1-8 grams daily for prevention and 15-20 grams daily for acute medical problems.
    • If using for premature ejaculation, the Ginseng cream is applied to the glans penis one hour before intercouse and then washed off before intercourse.
  • Using Ginseng:
    • Dried, whole Ginseng root is very hard (but it is also brittle, so handle with care), so it is usually simmered in water to extract the beneficial compounds.
    • There are many recipes online for using dried Ginseng, but here is a common method: Take 2-3 grams of chopped, dried Ginseng root or 1 teaspoon of Ginseng powder. Put the Ginseng into a heat-tolerant cup. Add any additional ingredients as desired (i.e. any other tea or tea-like ingredients). Pour almost (but not quite) boiling water to the cup and let it steep for at least 5 minutes. The longer you let it steep, the stronger the flavor (and possibly more ginsenosides are extracted). Add sweeteners if desired. Enjoy!
    • Ginseng root that has been steeped is edible, and some people will eat it after the tea.
Washing freshly harvested Ginseng roots.

Washing freshly harvested Ginseng roots.

Yield: Variable. This is really based on the growing conditions.
Harvesting: In the U.S., wild roots are harvested from plants that are 5 years old or older (Illinois requires the plants to be at least 10 years of age!). They are harvested when the berries are ripe; this is so the berries can be picked and planted “in the general area” where the root was harvested. Try to time harvest after a rain when the soil is loose. Dig carefully – don’t damage the root! Use a pitchfork, narrow spade, or even a long screwdrive to dig under the plant. Gently loosen the plant from the soil. The roots can be briefly soaked or swished around in a bucket of water or briefly rinsed with low-pressure water, but do not wash well or scrub the roots. The dirt on roots is used to age the plant; clean it all off, and you lose your proof of age (well, it makes it a lot harder).
Storage: Ginseng is typically dried before use or sale. This is accomplised by placing the roots in the shade to drain after washing. Then the roots are placed on a screen or drying tray in a location out of direct sun with a temperature of at least 70 degrees F (21 C) and less than 100 degrees F (37 C). Do not let the roots touch during the drying time which can take up to 6 weeks if the roots are large. Drying will reduce the weight of the harvest by about two-thirds. Store dried roots in a paper bag.

Commercial Ginseng operation.

Commercial Ginseng operation.

Wild-simulated Ginseng operation in Pennsylvania.

Wild-simulated Ginseng operation in Pennsylvania.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng): Zone 5-9
  • American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius): Zone 3-7 (in some conditions to Zone 8)

AHS Heat Zone: American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius): Zone 7-3 (also, in some conditions to Zone 8)
Chill Requirement: Cold exposure is required to stilumate the root to stimulate dormancy. There is no definitive

Plant Type: Small Herbaceous Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Underground Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: As noted above, there are 11 species of true Ginseng. There does not appear to be any improved varieties; however, the Ginseng that has been cultivated for many generations seem to be less hardy than the plants propagated from truly wild Ginseng. It appears that seed from Ginseng grown in northern climates produce larger roots, but I can find no specific, reliable evidence for this claim.

Pollination: Self-fertile, but also reproduces through outcrossing (with pollen from another plant) via syrphid flies and halictid bees (both are general pollinators).
Flowering: Midsummer (June-July)

Life Span: There are few references on the life span of Ginseng. Plants are not considered mature until they are at least 5 years old (some places 10+ years). There are reports of roots being over 90 years old, although most plants are harvested at a fraction of this age.

Ginseng

Ginseng Plant Diagram (McGraw n.d.)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Structure: Ginseng is a small plant. The fleshy root produces an underground stem called a rhizome. From this stem, a single stalk emerges; think of this stalk like a trunk. First year seedlings will have a single “prong”. This prong, technically a leaf, will have  3-5 leaflets. Second year plants will produce two prongs from the single stalk, and in the third year, and every year after, the Ginseng plant will have between three to five prongs. Each Winter, the stalk and leaves die back to the ground as the plant goes into senescence (think of this like hibernation). The rhizome (stem) forms a scar when this happens, so there is one less scar on the rhizome for each year of the plant’s life.

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Growth stages in American ginseng (Burkhart and Jacobson 2007) Note: Illustrated here are two pathways of ginseng development. In the first, top, ginseng develops from a seedling to the one-prong stage. In the second, bottom, ginseng “skips” the one-prong stage and moves directly to the two-prong stage. Both pathways may be observed, although the later is more common where better growing conditions exist. Plants may also develop more than four prongs, but this is uncommon.

Determining the age of a Ginseng root.

Estimating ginseng root age based on bud scars (Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources n.d.)

Size:

  • Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng): 6-30 inches (15-76 cm) tall and 8-28 inches (20-71 cm) wide
  • American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius): 4-24 inches (10-60 cm) tall and 8-20 inches (20-50 cm) wide

Roots: Small Fleshy Root, although very old plants have been reported to have roots longer than a person’s arm
Growth Rate: Slow

Ginseng Shoot

Ginseng Shoot  (Click on the photo for Angelyn Whitmeyer’s site with great photos and information on plant identification)

Very young plant - leaves unfurling.(Click on the photo for Angelyn Whitmeyer's site with great photos and information on plant identification)

Very young plant – leaves unfurling.   (Click on the photo for Angelyn Whitmeyer’s site with great photos and information on plant identification)

Flowers and unripe fruit(Click on the photo for Angelyn Whitmeyer's site with great photos and information on plant identification)

Flowers and unripe fruit   (Click on the photo for Angelyn Whitmeyer’s site with great photos and information on plant identification)

Another photo of Ginseng in summer. This is a mature plant.(Click on the photo for Angelyn Whitmeyer's site with great photos and information on plant identification)

Another photo of Ginseng in summer. This is a mature plant.   (Click on the photo for Angelyn Whitmeyer’s site with great photos and information on plant identification)

Mature fruit on mature Ginseng in late summer.(Click on the photo for Angelyn Whitmeyer's site with great photos and information on plant identification)

Mature fruit on mature Ginseng in late summer.   (Click on the photo for Angelyn Whitmeyer’s site with great photos and information on plant identification)

Ginseng in Autumn(Click on the photo for Angelyn Whitmeyer's site with great photos and information on plant identification)

Ginseng in Autumn   (Click on the photo for Angelyn Whitmeyer’s site with great photos and information on plant identification)

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers moderate to deep shade (75-80)
Shade: Avoid shade of more than 90% as the Ginseng will grow much, much slower.
Moisture: Moist soils. Cannot tolerate very wet soils (rot will set in) or soils that dry out.
pH: Spots where wild American Ginseng grows can range from 4.5-5.5

Special Considerations for Growing:
Good locations for wild simulated Ginseng has the following characteristics:
– Dappled shade or shady edge of forested area.
– High organic matter and calcium levels
– North or east facing slope
– Choose an area with low deer presence as deer like to browse 1-year-old plants
– Overstory trees  of Sugar Maple, Tulip Poplar, Black Walnut, Beech, Birch, and Sassafras are good indicators that the conditions are good for Ginseng.
– Already has existing plants that share similar requirements, such as:

  • Trillium (Trillium spp.)
  • Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
  • Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)
  • Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum )
  • Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa)
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
  • Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
  • Ferns
  • Pea Vines
  • Wild Ginger (Asarum spp.)
  • Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)
  • Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedioideae spp.)
  • Mayapple (Podophyllum spp.)
  • Baneberry (Actaea spp.)
  • Spicebush (Lindera spp.)
  • Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
  • Wandplant (Galax urceolata)

Propagation:
Propagation by seed is the most common method by far. The seed requires cold stratification to germinate. Germination rates in the wild can be very low. Germination rates when planted intentionally can still be low. The plant can also be divided in the Spring, but this is rarely done as it destroys “proof of age”.

Maintenance: Minimal, especially if growing wild-simulated Ginseng. Please see downloads section below for specific details. Planting and harvesting are the two main time-consuming activities.

Concerns:

  • There are only a few diseases and wild pests that affect Ginseng. Diseases can largely be avoided (not entirely) with good site selection and avoiding too high planting densities. Rodents can steal planted seeds in the Winter if not buried. Deer can browse young plants and kill them.
  • Poaching (aka Theft) can be a legitimate problem with Ginseng growers, but it is often overblown. There are a number of methods to deal with this. One school of thought is to be very open about the fact you are growing Ginseng. Have lots of signs and fences and dogs and cameras – thieves won’t risk being caught in a place that is so public. The other school of thought is to be very secretive – thieves can’t steal what they don’t know exists.
  • This is a slow-growing, “non-invasive” plant, so there are really no concerns about this plant. The bigger problem is overharvesting wild populations and the impact of monocropping Ginseng in commercial agricultural endeavors.
A good harvest dried Ginseng.

A good harvest dried Ginseng.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://plantillustrations.org/ILLUSTRATIONS_HD/127774.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/06/Panax_quinquefolium%2C_ginseng_%283543549600%29.jpg
  • http://profitsfromnature.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/ginseng-seed-FWS.gov_.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-A4WL2BAT25A/UcQU94hHfvI/AAAAAAAAAqE/Rm0jYemF3pI/s400/Maint-+berry+picking.jpg
  • https://www.thespicehut.com/assets/store/Products/1905w-herbal-ginseng-root.jpg
  • http://www.cnseed.org/wp-content/uploads/Chinese%20changbai%20mountain%20White%20ginseng%20Root%20slice%20(2).jpeg
  • http://www.cnseed.org/wp-content/uploads/Chinese%20changbai%20mountain%20White%20ginseng%20Root%20slice%20(1).jpeg
  • http://www.simplyginseng.com.au/images/ginseng-harvesting.jpg
  • http://a57.foxnews.com/global.fncstatic.com/static/managed/img/Health/876/493/Ginseng%20root.jpg?ve=1&tl=1
  • http://www.theepochtimes.com/news_images/highres/2005-9-25-ginseng.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-A4WL2BAT25A/UcQU94hHfvI/AAAAAAAAAqE/Rm0jYemF3pI/s400/Maint-+berry+picking.jpg
  • http://science.kqed.org/quest/wp-content/blogs.dir/31/files/2013/02/0000017419-Ginseng_Marquee_Image_FullRez.jpg
  • http://science.kqed.org/quest/wp-content/blogs.dir/31/files/2013/02/0000017419-Ginseng_Additional_Image_2.jpg
  • http://www.colwellsginseng.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Ginseng-Garden_Dennis-Colwell_Armstrong-County_June2013i.jpg
  • http://profitsfromnature.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/washing.jpg

 

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: Licorice (Liquorice)

Common Name: Licorice (American spelling), Liquorice (British spelling), 甘草 (gāncǎo)
Scientific Name: Glycyrrhiza species
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume, Pea, or Bean family)
Common Species:

  • Russian/Roman/Eastern European/Hungarian Licorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata)
  • Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • American Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)
  • Chinese Licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis)
Licorice

Licorice is a medium-sized herbaceous perennial.

Description:
Licorice is found on all continents but Antarctica, and has been used by humans for thousands of years as a medicine and flavoring. For Permaculturists, Licorice has many other benefits: it is a nitrogen fixer, it is a dynamic accumulator, it provides food and shelter for beneficial insects and wildlife, helps control erosion, and more. It is a multi-use plant and perfect for Forest Gardens and Permaculture projects.

Licorice

Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

History/Trivia:

  • Licorice has a long history with humans. There was even some dried licorice roots found in King Tut’s tomb dating 3,000 years ago!
  • The genus name, Glycyrrhiza, comes from the Greek glykys (“sweet”) and rhiza (“root”).
  • Licorice root contains glycyrrhizin (aka glycyrrhizic acid), a chemical which is 30-50 times the sweetness of plain white table sugar (sucrose).
  • Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is the species commercially grown today, and it is mostly grown in Greece, Turkey, other parts of the Middle East, and Asia.
  • Over 60% of licorice produced in the world goes into tobacco products. Licorice provides sweetness and mellows the other harsh flavors, but does not give a licorice flavor.
  • Many “licorice” candies and sweets contain very little real licorice, but are flavored with anise oil instead.
  • The first licorice candy was probably made in the town of Pontefract, West Yorkshire, England in 1750 by George Dunhill, in a local apothecary. Sugar was mixed with licorice to make Pontefract Cakes over 400 years ago! Licorice was originally brought to the area by returning Crusaders in 1090 and was eventually grown by Spanish monks at the Pontefract Priory. The root was nicknamed “Spanish” because of this.
  • Red Licorice does not come from the Licorice plant at all and do not have anything like a true licorice flavor. They are usually cherry, strawberry, or other fruit flavors.

 

Licorice

Licorice in its most recognizable form… a sweet candy!

Licorice root can be used fresh, but it is usually dried.

Licorice root can be used fresh, but it is usually dried.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Roots – Can be used raw, but is typically dried. Licorice root is used for flavoring of candies, sweets, and even savory meat dishes, sausages, and alcoholic beverages (most notably beer). The dried roots can also be ground and the powder used. The dried roots can be chewed on, and used to be popular as a tooth cleaner/brush.
  • Edible Shoots – Native American tribes would eat the tender Spring shoots raw.
  • Tea Plant – The dried roots are a common tea ingredient. It is said to be thirst quenching. The leaves have also been used for tea, mainly for medicine. Typically, only a very small amount is used in an herbal tea, but up to 5 grams are used in one cup of medicinal tea.
  • Medicinal Plant – Licorice has been used for centuries as a medicinal (see below).
Licorice growing at Pontefract.

Licorice growing at Pontefract in the UK

Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Secondary Uses:

  • 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 and has several types of inoculants that partner with it.
  • Dynamic Accumulator – Phosphorus, Nitrogen. When the herbaceous above-ground portion of this plant dies back each year, it is bound to release the nutrients it has mined with its roots.
  • 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
  • Wildlife Food – foliage (large mammals) and seeds (small mammals and birds)
  • There are a number of reports that Licorice can be eaten by livestock. A 1981 study determined that American Licorice is comparable to alfalfa in nutrition.
  • Erosion Control Plant – the extensive root system helps stabilize soils prone to erosion
  • Pioneer Plant – helps reestablish overused or damaged land
Licorice Root is a common ingredient in herbal teas.

Licorice Root is a common ingredient in herbal teas.

Medicinal Uses:

  • Licorice has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It has been used in both Eastern and Western traditional medicine.
  • Traditionally, it has been used for stomach ulcers, bronchitis, cough, sore throats, and viral or bacterial infections, inflammatory conditions, as well as many, many other ailments and conditions. Herbal medicines are often used for a wide variety of conditions. To me this means that the herbal medicine works for at least some of these problems, or why would it have been used to treat these conditions in the first place? Of course, this is not always true, but it is one of my general rules.
  • Licorice root is avaible fresh (if you grow it or harvest it yourself), although most medicinal applications use the dried root.
  • Licorice root products, with the glycyrrhizin (aka glycyrrhizic acid) removed is common in modern herbal medicine. These products are called Deglycyrrhizinated Licorce (DGL).
  • There have been a number of modern medical studies performed on Licorice, and very little of the traditional medicinal uses for Licorice have been validated. This does not mean Licorice does not work. It means that in these studies they did not work any better than whatever it was they were compared to. What does this mean for us? It means that as long as we are mindful of the potential risks (side effects, medication interactions, and overdoses), Licorice may help with some of our medical problems.
  • Heartburn: Medical research shows that Iberogast (aka STW5) can significantly reduce heartburn (aka dyspepsia). Iberogast is a commercial herbal product developed in Germany containing Licorice, peppermint leaf, German chamomile, caraway, lemon balm, clown’s mustard plant, celandine, angelica, and milk thistle. (three times a day for 4 weeks)
  • Ulcers: There is some fairly good evidence to show that Licorice may be helpful in treating stomach ulcers.
  • Constipation: There is some fairly good evidence to show that Licorice can be used as a laxative. It is considered a stimulant laxative, and it works. Because stimulant laxatives can lower potassium levels, they should not be used for long term or by people with potassium issues or on potassium-altering medications.
  • Hepatitis: There is some evidence to show that Licorice may be useful in treating Hepatitis B and C when used intravenously (IV), but these were small studies and most people are not going to self-treat with IV Licorice!
  • Other Conditions: There is not enough modern medical research to support other uses, but research has been done on Licorice used to treat eczema (atopic dermatitis), osteoarthritis, cough, viral infections (like the common cold), infertility (specifially polycystic ovary syndrome), lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, and prostate cancer, as well as to treat the side effects of taking long-term oral steroids. There are a lot of other conditions where traditional medicine practitioners use or prescribe Licorice, and there is a lot of anectdotal evidence to support these uses, so it is hard to verify what really works and what does not. For instance, the tobacco industry uses licorice, in part, because it acts as a bronchodilator which opens the airways making it easier to inhale the smoke (it causes a smoother, easier inhalation… great for smokers, right?!). So, it  makes sense that Licorice is used to treat bronchitis, cough, and asthma, but there are no modern studies that “prove” this.
  • Problems with using Licorice (this list is not meant to discourage the use of Licorice, but to make sure you are aware):
    • Using Licorice in the amounts normally found in food and tea should not be a problem.
    • Using Licorice as a medicinal should also not be a problem if not used for more than a few weeks.
    • Using Licorice for more than a few weeks, at greater than 30 grams per day, has been shown to cause many medical problems. Remember, if you are using a plant as a medicine, there are potential consequences… both good and bad.
    • 5 grams per day may be too much for people with heart disease, high blood pressure, or kidney disease.
    • Licorice can raise blood pressure… bad for people with high blood pressure and kidney disease.
    • Licorice can cause water retention… bad for people with heart disease or heart failure.
    • Licorice can decrease the levels of potassium in the blood. This may cause abnormal/irregular heart rhythms.
    • Licorice contains phytoestrogens. These are not the same as hormonal estrogen, but there is some concern that the body may treat them the same. I don’t know if there is great evidence to support this, but there are recommendations to avoid any thing with phytoestrogens in the case of male sexual dysfunction/disinterest, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or hormone-sensitive cancers (breast, uterine, ovarian).
    • For all the reasons listed above, Licorice should be avoided in pregnancy.
    • Licorice may interact with some medications, including Warfarin (Coumadin), Digoxin, Furosemide (Lasix), Estrogen supplements (e.g. Premarin), steroids, and many more. If you have a chronic medical condition, especially if you are taking regular medications, then talk to your health care professional first.
    • The majority of these problems and interactions resolve themselves after stopping the Licorice.

 

Yield: Variable. I can only find yield data for large, multi-hectare, monoculture plantings… not that applicable to the vast majority of people.
Harvesting: Roots can be dug from 3-4 year old plants in Autumn or Winter after the leaves have died back. This is a rather labor intensive project. If only the top roots and top parts of the roots are harvested, many of the the deeper roots and root fragments will regrow.
Storage: Licorice can be used fresh or they can be dried. Dried roots will store for well over a year.

Chinese Licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis)

Chinese Licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis)

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • Russian Licorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata): Zone 6-10 (some reports say Zone 5)
  • Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Zone 8-9 (some reports say Zone 6)
  • American Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota): Zone 3-8
  • Chinese Licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis): Zone 5-9

AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information can be found.
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available. As the plant propagates so well via rhizomes, the potential benefit of a chill to increase see production is really not that important.

Plant Type: Medium Herbaceous Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer, Underground Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of species available, and there are varieties available. It is interesting to note that there are differences in the “wild” Licorice root flavors between different plants. Make sure you have a good-tasting root before you do much propagation with it.

Pollination: Not self-fertile. Pollinated by insects.
Flowering: Summer (June-July)

Life Span: No good information available as we typically harvest the roots, and new plants grow from the remnants or from the rhizomes left over, so an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

Russian Licorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata)

Russian Licorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata)

Seed pods of Russian Licorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata)

Seed pods of Russian Licorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

  • Russian Licorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata): 2-3.3 feet (60-100 cm) tall and indefinitely wide
  • Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): 2-6 feet (60-180 cm) tall and indefinitely wide
  • American Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota): 1-3 feet (30-90 cm) tall and indefinitely wide
  • Chinese Licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis): 1-2 feet (30-60 cm) tall and indefinitely wide

Roots: One or a few deep taproots with rhizomes (horizontal stolons) – these are underground stems that put out new roots and shoots to develop new plants. One report states that Licorice roots can grow to 4 feet (120 cm) in length.
Growth Rate: Fast

Licorice08

American Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)

Seed pods of American Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)

Seed pods of American Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)

Seeds of Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Seeds of Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates partial shade. Russian Licorice tolerates more shade.
Moisture: Perfers moist soils. American Licorice can tolerate more dry conditions once established.
pH: 6.1-7.8 (prefers fairly neutral to slightly alkaline soils)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • I have found many sources that state Licorice does not like clay and prefers sandy soils. This makes sense considering its origins. Take this into consideration when choosing a location.
  • If the location is too cold, the plant may not flower. It can still grow well without flowering.
  • The roots do not grow much for their first 2 years. It is really in the 3rd year that the roots get thick enough to harvest. After the 4th year, the roots get tough and fibrous.

Propagation:
Can be propagated by seed. Scarification is recommended, and this is commonly accomplished by soaking in warm water for 24 hours, but can also be nicked with a file. Can also be propagated via Spring or Autumn division. Licorice will propagate well from root fragments as long as there is at least one bud.

Maintenance:
Minimal. May need to cut it back if it is growing in an undesired direction… but this should be considered before planting.

Concerns:
Considering that Licorice can grow back from root fragments, has deep roots, and has rhizomes, it can be considered difficult to control and difficult to eradicate once established. This is why thoughtful design is needed before implementation. Personally, I like nitrogen-fixing plants that have many uses and are hard to kill… especially ones that don’t have thorns!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dd/Illustration_Glycyrrhiza_glabra0.jpg
  • http://explorepharma.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/glycyrrhizaglabra1.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/39/01732_-_Glycyrrhiza_glabra_(Deutsches_Süßholz).JPG
  • http://phytoimages.siu.edu/users/paraman1/10_2_07_7/OctSlideScans5/14_10.jpg
  • https://static.squarespace.com/static/5006630dc4aa3dba7737ef40/500f2696e4b08b809edd36fc/500f269ee4b08b809edd38fa/?format=original
  • http://www.plantarium.ru/dat/plants/8/819/150819_c299ef5e.jpg
  • http://www.plantarium.ru/dat/plants/1/184/124184_9f4da811.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ae/Glycyrrhiza_lepidota_(4007533989).jpg
  • http://www.malag.aes.oregonstate.edu/wildflowers/images/05_WildLicoriceCarltonCanyon23August_06.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/85/Liquorice_wheels.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f9/Glycyrrhiza_glabra_MHNT.BOT.2011.3.43.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c8/Gardenology.org-IMG_2804_rbgs11jan.jpg
  • http://cdn.supadupa.me/shop/984/images/758194/Licorice_Spice_Herbal_tea_wide_shot_large.jpg?1359147476
  • http://www.pontefractheritagegroup.org.uk/wpimages/wpb9a16e9d_0f.jpg

 

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: 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: Buckwheat

Common Name: Common Buckwheat, Tartary Buckwheat, Perennial Buckwheat
Scientific Name: Fagopyrum species
Family: Polygonaceae (the Knotweed or Smartweed or Buckwheat family)

Common Species (there are 15 or 16 species):

  • Common Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)
  • Perennial Buckwheat (Fagopyrum dibotrys)
  • Tartary Buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum)
Common Buckwheat is a rather tall, fast-growing annual.

Common Buckwheat is a rather tall, fast-growing annual.

Description:
Buckwheat, while not a grain or even related to wheat, does produced edible seeds that make a gluten-free, and quite tasty, flour. It is well known as a cover crop that builds organic matter, but it also suppresses weeds, mines phosphorus and calcium from deep in the soil, prevents erosion, and attracts many beneficial insects especially bees; Buckwheat flowers yield a highly sought-after honey!

There is a Perennial Buckwheat, but it does not seem to be highly productive outside its natural range in the high altitudes of the Himalayas and Southeast Asia, although there seems to be some people working with this plant… it will be interesting to see how things develop. Most Buckwheat species are annual and can be a useful addition to Permaculture designs and forest gardens, especially in the developmental stages.

Common Buckwheat Fagopyrum eir

Common Buckwheat Fagopyrum esculentum

History:
Buckwheat likely originates from East or Southeast Asia. Common Buckwheat is the domesticated plant that originates from the wild Buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum spp. ancestrale. The wild form of Tartary Buckwheat is Fagopyrum taraticum spp. potanini. Sometime around 6,000 BC, Common Buckwheat was first cultivated, and it spread west. Common Buckwheat is the most common species grown in the world, but Tartary Buckwheat is commonly cultivated in the Himalayas.

Trivia:

  • Buckwheat is not actually related to wheat at all, but to sorrel, knotweed, and rhubarb!
  • Buckwheat is not even a grain, because it is not in the grass family.
  • Buckwheat has no gluten.
  • People use Buckwheat as a grain, so it is known as a pseudocereal (like amaranth, chia, quinoa, etc.)
  • The common name “Buckwheat” comes from an older name “Beech Wheat”. This is due to the triangular seeds which resemble the seeds from the Beech Tree. The Middle Dutch word for “Beech” is boec, and the modern Dutch word is beuk.
  • The scientific name Fagopyrum comes from the Greek… fagus = Beech, and pyrum (pyros) = wheat.
  • Buckwheat is the highest cultivated plant growing at an average of 14,800 feet (4,500 meters) in the Tibetan plateau (mostly Tartary Buckwheat)
  • Tartary Buckwheat is more bitter than Common Buckwheat, but may contain more phytonutrients.
  • Common Buckwheat was a significant crop before nitrogen fertilizers (Buckwheat does not go to seed well with high levels of nitrogen). In 1918, over a million acres (4,000 square km) were harvested in the United States!
  • Buckwheat Noodles are called soba in Japan, naengmyeon in Korea, and pizzoccheri in Italy.
  • Buckwheat is considered allelopathic – this means it suppresses growth of other plants, which makes it a great “weed” control/suppressing plant.

    The seeds of Buckwheat, while not a cereal grain, can still be used like a cereal grain.

    The seeds of Buckwheat, while not a cereal grain, can still be used like a cereal grain.

...and Buckwheat Pancakes are delicious!

…and Buckwheat Pancakes are delicious!

here’s a recipe for Spiced Buckwheat Pancakes!

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Seeds – sprouted seeds can be eaten raw. The seed can be cooked and used as a cereal grain (i.e. dried and ground into a powder). Used in breads, pancakes, noodles, etc. Can be mixed with true cereal grains for making yeast breads. Can be used as a thickening agent in soups and sauces. Note that Perennial Buckwheat may not produce nearly as many seeds as the annual species.
  • Edible Leaves – used like spinach – can be eaten raw or cooked, but is usually significantly more bitter when raw
  • Cover Crop / Green Manure – used as a fast-growing cover crop that breaks down (rots) quickly providing lots of organic matter to the soil as well as soil coverage/protection and fertilization/composting in place. Sow at 60-135 lbs/acre (65-150 kg/ha) when using across large areas.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant – Buckwheat Honey is distinctively dark and is a highly sought after honey. These flowers are known for attracting predatory wasps, hoverflies (Syrphid flies), and more.
  • Dynamic Accumulator – phosphorus and calcium
  • Weed Suppressing Plant – the vigorous, fast-growing Buckwheat smothers unwanted “weeds”.
  • Erosion Control Plant – the deep, fibrous roots hold the soil and prevent erosion
  • Wildlife Shelter – especially small birds and mammals
  • Alcohol – gluten-free beers and whisky have been made using Buckwheat
  • Buckwheat Hulls – used in pillows and as upholstery filler

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Annual Buckwheats produce edible leaves by 6-8 weeks and ripened seed at 10-14 weeks. The seeds do not all ripen at the same time, so harvesting is a bit time consuming. It is easiest to harvest when about three-quarters of the seeds become dark brown (ripe). If you wait longer, then many of the seeds with shatter (fall off). Cut the stems gently and move them to a tarp or sheet. Then hit the stems with a broom or carpet beater. Most of the unripe seeds will stay on the branches, and the ripe ones fall on the tarp. Winnow the seeds (blow the chaf away… leaves, bugs, older hulls, etc.) by pouring the seeds back and forth between buckets in a breeze or in front of a fan.
Storage: Use leaves fresh within a few days. Seeds can be dried and stored for years if kept in an airtight, minimal oxygen container – like with oxygen absorbers. Otherwise, the seeds, which have fats, can go rancid. Buckwheat flour should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or other cool/cold place, and it can store for a few months.

The fragrant flowers are honeybee magnets!

The fragrant flowers are honeybee magnets!

...and Buckwheat Honey is considered a super-healthy delicacy!

…and Buckwheat Honey is considered a super-healthy delicacy!

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Not relevant for annual species. For Perennial Buckwheat, it appears to be hardy to Zone 7 (maybe 6).
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information is available
Chill Requirement: Likely for Perennial Buckwheat, considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Annual/Perennial
Leaf Type: Annual/Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer (Cover Crop)
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available. If you want a seed for eating, make sure you find one that is specifically for seed, and not just for a cover crop. These will taste much better!

Pollination: Not self-fertile. Pollinated by bees and flies.
Flowering: It all depends on when it is planted. Perennial Buckwheat blooms in late Summer to early Autumn (or Winter in warmer climates). Annual Buckwheat will form flowers in 2-10 weeks (yes, as early as just , but hot weather will cause the flowers to fall off without forming seeds (this is called “blasting”).

The leaves of Buckwheat are edible as well.

The leaves of Buckwheat are edible as well.

...but Buckwheat Flour is the most common edible from this plant (picture are soba noodles from Japananese cuisine).

…but Buckwheat Flour is the most common edible from this plant (picture are soba noodles from Japananese cuisine).

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

  • Common Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum): 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and 1 foot (0.9 meters) wide
  • Perennial Buckwheat (Fagopyrum dibotrys): 2.5-3.5 feet (0.75-1 meter) tall and 6 feet (2 meters) wide
  • Tartary Buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum): 2.5 feet (0.75 meters) tall

Roots: Dense, fibrous root system close to the surface with a deep taproot (3-4 feet/1 meter deep).
Growth Rate: Fast – Very Fast

Perennial Buckwheat seems to better in cooler and higher altitude climates.

Perennial Buckwheat seems to better in cooler and higher altitude climates.

Buckwheat is mostly grown commercially, but it is easy to grow at a smaller scale.

Buckwheat is mostly grown commercially, but it is easy to grow at a smaller scale.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun or partial shade (especially for Perennial Buckwheat)
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Dry to wet soils, but it needs good drainage.
pH: 4.0-6.0 (but tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Buckwheat grows very well in low-fertility soils. In fact, if the soil has too much nitrogen, seed yield will be reduced… so it depends on what you are growing the Buckwheat for: manure or seed (flowers).
  • Buckwheat seeds best in cooler weather, so if you live in a hot climate, then a late season sowing is recommended.
  • If you want a seed harvest, then plant 2-3 months before the first killing frost.
  • If planted in Summer, then there will be little seed production, but it will work great as a cover crop/green manure/weed suppressor.
  • Buckwheat does not seed well in wind – the seeds shatter (drop), and it has a tendancy to lodge (tip over).

Propagation:
Typically from seed. Can be divided at any time during the growing season.

Maintenance:
Minimal. Can be mowed or sythed down before flowering, and many of the plants will have a second growth.

Concerns:
None.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/38/Fagopyrum_esculentum_seed_001.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/10/Illustration_Fagopyrum_esculentum0.jpg
  • http://www.homeopathyandmore.com/med_images/FAGOPYRUM_ESCULENTUM.jpg
  • http://www.plantsystematics.org/users/kcn2/7_30_04/Fagopyrum_upload/Fagopyrum6.jpg
  • http://www.nature.com/srep/2011/111028/srep00132/images/srep00132-f2.jpg
  • http://www.an.ias.ethz.ch/research/res_areas/Fagopyrum_chamau_EN.JPG?hires
  • http://www.odingi-coons.nl/images/Plant_boekweit.jpg
  • http://dbiodbs1.univ.trieste.it/quint/carso/foto/TSB58791.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4b/Fagopyrum_esculentum_oesling_luxembourg_20070719.jpg
  • http://gambarubee.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/buckwheat-honey.jpg
  • http://www.justhungry.com/files/images/soba1.jpg

http://www.flowersofindia.net/catalog/slides/Perennial%20Buckwheat.html

https://www.usaemergencysupply.com/information_center/all_about_grains/all_about_grains_buckwheat.htm

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: Udo

Common Name: Udo, Japanese Spikenard, Mountain Asparagus
Scientific Name: Aralia cordata
Family: Ariliaceae (the Aralia or Ivy family)

Udo shoots are an eastern Asian asparagus-like vegetable.

Udo shoots are an eastern Asian asparagus-like vegetable.

Description: Udo is a large, tropical looking herbaceous plant that is very cold hardy, attracts beneficial insects, and has edible shoots (used like asparagus) and leaves (used for salad and cooked greens). On top of all this, it can also grow in deep shade, a niche we often struggle to fill in the Forest Garden. I never tried eating this plant, because I missed my opportunity. I am almost certain there were some shoots available at the Asian market I frequented when I lived in Minnesota, but I was not sure what it was. My timidity cost me my chance; it won’t happen again!

Aralia cordata

Aralia cordata

History: Native to Japan, Korea, and eastern China, it is currently cultivated in Japan in underground tunnels. Udo was popular in the U.S. a few generations ago. Many popular seed catalogs offered Udo, but for some reason, the popularity kept waning over the last few decades. However, a few new varieties with lighter leaves are now gaining popularity as an ornamental plant, and these are more widely available. I cannot speak to the flavor of these ornamentals; they may be just as good, but they may not be.

Yamaudo (Udo that has been

Yamaudo (Udo that has been harvested from the wild)

Trivia:

  • The plant is called Japanese Spikenard for a reason… it has spikes – well, they are actually more like bristles on the stems.
  • The original spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) is a very different plant, almost unrelated. It is from the Himalayas and produces a highly aromatic and prized essential oil. Udo does not.
  • There is a Japanese proverb: “Udo no taiboku”, which means “great wood of Udo”… this is a rather sarcastic statement as Udo is herbaceous and has a soft, not woody, stem. It is used to say something is useless.
  • Udo that is gathered from the wild is called yamaudo. Udo that is cultivated is called shiroudo.
  • Udowormy Tea is a highly prized medicinal tea made from leaves that have been infested with the pupae of the Japanese Beetle… interesting! The tea is said to treat stress and anxiety.
  • Udo is related to ginseng, and its roots are often used as a substitute.
  • There are some varieties that are bright green and seem to glow in the dark shade at dusk. This has given rise to Udo being called a “glow in the dark” plant.
Udo shoots ready for prep.

Udo shoots ready for prep.

Udo shoots being cooked kinpira style.

Udo shoots being cooked kinpira style. Then seasoned with soy sauce, mirin, and sake!

Young Udo leaves... in this case they were going to be used for tempura

Young Udo leaves… in this case they were going to be used for tempura

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Shoots – Cooked (like asparagus). They are tender, but crisp with a lemony flavor, and some say with a hint of fennel. Blanching is common. It can sometimes have an unpleasant taste, but this is easily removed by boiling in salted water or slicing and soaking in salted water. Some reports state that the shoots can be peeled and eaten raw. In Japan, it is used in miso soup, other soups, vegetable salads, and vinegared.
  • Edible Leaves – only very young leaves are used, cooked. A great addition to salads.
  • Edible Root – Cooked (very little information available about this).

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant.
  • Wildlife Food Source – birds eat the fruit (which are reported to be toxic to humans)
  • Ornamental Plant – a great plant for shade
  • Biomass Plant – this large, fast growing plant is herbaceous – meaning it has no woody stems. The entire plant can be used as mulch come Winter. This is a lot of mulch from one herbaceous plant growing in deep shade!
  • Medicinal – used in Japanese and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Yield: No good information available.
Harvesting: Shoots are harvested in Spring. Young leaves in Spring and Summer.
Storage: No good information available, but I would recommend treating like Asparagus shoots. Store for as short a time as possible. Same with the leaves.

Udo's small flowers are perfect nectar sources for beneficial insects

Udo’s small flowers are perfect nectar sources for beneficial insects

Udo shoots come up each Spring!

Udo shoots come up each Spring!

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 4-9. However, there are a number of reports that this plant is only hardy to Zone 7 or 8. It is possible that there are some varieties that are more cold hardy. It is also possible that there is a lot of bad information being propagated on the internet and in books. There is not a whole lot of authoritative information available for this plant.
AHS Heat Zone: Zone 9-1
Chill Requirement: Not likely, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Very Large Herbaceous Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available.

Pollination: Self-fertile (likely, but no reliable information available). Pollinated by bees.
Flowering: Summer (July-August)

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available. Considering that the plant can be propagated via suckers, and also that it completely dies back in the Winter and reemerges each Spring, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.
Udo flowers will produce dark berries that are toxic to humans, but the birds love them!

Udo flowers are beautiful…

...and produce dark berries that are toxic to humans, but the birds love them! (note the ladybug/ladybird beetle on the stem)

…and produce dark berries that are toxic to humans, but the birds love them!
(note the ladybug/ladybird beetle on the stem)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 6-9 feet (1.8-2.7 meters) tall and wide
Roots: Suckering roots – new shoots from spreading roots can grow into new plants
Growth Rate: Fast

A light green variety... these are said to glow at dusk!

A light green variety… these are said to glow at dusk!

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers light shade, but can grow in full sun if moisture is maintained and if the sun is not too hot
Shade: Can grow in partial to full shade
Moisture: Prefers moist soils.
pH: 5.0-7.5

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • This is a great plant for the deep shade areas of your gardens or behind structures.
  • Many growers recommend wind protection for this plant as the large leaves are susceptible to wind damage.

Propagation:
Propagated by seed. Needs 3-5 months of cold stratification and can take 1-4 months to germinate. Can propagate via root cuttings. Division of suckers when dormant.

Maintenance:
Minimal. May need to keep new plants in check if you live in an area where the seeds readily germinate.

Concerns:

  • Poisonous – raw berries are reportedly toxic
  • Dispersive – there are reports that this plant reproduces easily from seed in certain locations, and birds like to eat the seeds and spread it around
Lidako (baby octopus) and wasabi cucumber salad with seaweed, udo, and sansho leaf... sounds amazing!

Lidako (baby octopus) and wasabi cucumber salad with seaweed, udo, and sansho leaf… sounds amazing!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d3/Aralia_cordata_SZ25.png
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/Aralia_cordata_BotGardBln07122011C.jpg
  • http://farm1.staticflickr.com/22/33601041_70a80cbdd7_o.jpg
  • http://allthingsplants.com/pics/2013-02-24/clintbrown/4141b5.jpg
  • http://allthingsplants.com/pics/2011-11-25/NJBob/1dbf56.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_mX97kungFxQ/S-AGH0gJz2I/AAAAAAAADB8/IO44URSOMqM/s1600/DSCF5810.JPG
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_mX97kungFxQ/S-AFj4AnrvI/AAAAAAAADA8/ku1s9wpfA_Y/s1600/DSCF5843.JPG
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_mX97kungFxQ/S-AF_5p9ImI/AAAAAAAADB0/kCIHWq7VEXs/s1600/DSCF5811.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Aralia_cordata.jpg
  • http://shizuokagourmet.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/yamaudo.jpg?w=450&h=300
  • http://shizuokagourmet.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/udo-aralia-cordata.jpg?w=450&h=450
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-yKjj80Yyy1g/UWrG_nqIy4I/AAAAAAAAjR4/5IV1dXcjVps/s1600/IMG_5048.JPG
  • https://brokenarrownursery.com/magento/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/500x/1ae33c7daefdfe1667752917bfb5296b/a/r/aralia-cordata-fruit.jpg

 

Permaculture Plants: Oca

Common Name: Oca, Uqa, New Zealand Yam
Scientific Name: Oxalis tuberosa
Family: Oxalidaceae (the Wood Sorrel family)

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Oca has an extremely wide range of colors and color combinations!

Description:
This beautiful tuber from the Andes mountains is starting to become a trendy specialty crop. Personally, I’ve only ever seen Oca for sale in German grocery stores, but from what I have read, it is becoming more popular all over the world. It is productive, has almost no diseases or pests outside its native range, and they are actually very easy to grow if you live in a temperate climate and grow certain varieties. In cold climates, they may need to be replanted annually, like garlic or potatoes. Oca makes a great addition to any vegetable or Forest Garden.

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Oxalis tuberosa
Gartenflora [E. von Regel], vol. 32: p. 227 (1883)

History:
Native and widespread in the central and southern Andes mountains for centuries. It is second to potato as the most important root crop in the central Andes. It has been cultivated for so long, that no wild plant exists anymore. It spread to Europe in 1830 and to New Zealand by 1860. While it became, and remained, popular in New Zealand (hence the name “New Zealand Yam”), it never really caught on in Europe. However, recently it has been gaining in popularity quite a bit, and people in temperate climates all over the world are starting trials with Oca.

Oca05

Oca can be eaten raw or cooked.

Yellow and Purple varieties.

Yellow and Purple varieties.

Trivia:

  • Oca tubers can be white, cream, yellow, orange, pink, red, or purple depending on the variety.
  • A pink, waxy-skinned variety is becoming quite popular around the world, and is known as New Zealand Yam.
  • Some plants can form aerial tubers which can be picked and planted. They are typically too small and produced to randomly to be harvested as a crop. A mission for variety development, maybe?

 

Oca01

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Tubers – Can be eaten raw or cooked. Tart and tangy (lemony?) when raw, it doesn’t need to be peeled when eaten raw. It will sweeten if allowed to dry out in the sun. Some varieties are very tart, and some are so sweet after drying that they are said to taste like dried figs. Can be cooked (baked, boiled, roasted, fried, mashed, etc.) like potatoes, and Oca will become more starchy and “nutty” the longer it is cooked..
  • Edible Shoots – Use when young. No other information available.
  • Edible Leaves – Use when young, raw or cooked. Tart when raw. Mild when cooked.
  • Edible Flowers – No specific information can be found.
  • Flour – the dried tubers can be ground into a powder and is used to make porridges and desserts. There is very little information on how it is used or if it can be mixed well with other flours.

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – attractive bushy leaves

Yield: Variable. Small scale: about 50 tubers per plant. Large scale:  Typical production is 7-10 tons/hectare (roughly 2-8-4 tons/acre). But with very intensive methods, 35-55 tons/hectare (14-22 tons/acre) has been achieved.
Harvesting: Similar to potatoes. Harvested after tuber production has stopped – this all depends on location. If you have harsh Winters, harvesting is likely to occur in late Autumn. If you have mild Winters, harvesting is likely in Winter or even Spring.
Storage: Use shoots and leaves right away (may store for a day or two in the refrigerator, but no reliable information can be found). Tubers are stored similar to potatoes. Don’t wash them, just brush the dirt off (wash before eating/cooking!)  They can store for quite a long time in cool, dry locations (don’t worry about light). If the tuber has been dried in the sun, the storage life is increased.

Flower is uncommon, but may open the door to new, more cold-tolerant varieties.

Flower is uncommon, but may open the door to new, more cold-tolerant varieties.

The stems and leaves are beautiful as well making Oca an ornamental addition to the garden.

The stems and leaves are beautiful as well making Oca an ornamental addition to the garden.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 5-9 (many varieties are only hardy to 23 F (-5 C) and may need to be treated like annuals – this is an area fairly wide open for variety development)
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information available, but considering where this plant originates, it may have trouble with extreme heat
Chill Requirement: Possible considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Small Herbaceous Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Underground Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available

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

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available as we typically harvest tubers and eat them. Considering that the plants can be propagated from tuber division, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.
Small Oca plant.

Small Oca plant.

A chart showing just some of the variety of Oca tubers. The bottom row are possible wild-type ancestors to this developed plant.

A chart showing just some of the variety of Oca tubers. The bottom row are possible wild-type ancestors to this developed plant.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 1.5 feet (45 cm) tall and 1 foot (30 cm) wide
Roots: Small to Medium-sized tuber, 1-6 inches long (25-150 mm), and about 1 inch (25 mm) diameter
Growth Rate: Medium to Fast

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

Harvest time!

Harvest time!

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade.
Moisture: Prefers moist soils, but grows in a wide range of poor soil conditions
pH: 5.3-7.8 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Tuber development is light-dependant. When daylight hours drop (in Winter), the tuber formation begins. But since the plant can only withstand so much frost, the size of the tuber will greatly depend on shorter days but less freezing. Proper location is important. There are some varieties that are day-length neutral, and these will be the ones to use if you live in a colder location, but they are hard to find right now. Again, a great area for more research and development. Or you can keep them outside in Spring and Summer, and bring them into a glasshouse when frosts are imminent.

Propagation:

  • Typically from tuber divisions. Harvest in late Autumn after the top growth has died back. Large tubers are used for food, and small tubers are saved for next season. Store the tubers in a cool, dry location for the Winter. Some tubers will start to sprout as temperatures warm. Plant the tubers, in place, in Spring.
  • Oca can be propagated by seed, but this is very uncommon, and it is not easy to do.
  • Can also be propagated via basal cuttings in Spring. When the shoot is 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) tall, the shoot can be cut below the soil line. The cutting is placed in good soil or growing medium and kept moist until well rooted. They are planted out, in place, in Summer.

Maintenance: 

  • Minimal as Oca has few pests and diseases outside its natural range.
  • Mounding up the soil (“earthing up”) over the growing tubers can increase tuber size.

Concerns:

  • It is no surprise, considering its scientific name, that Oca contains oxalic acid. This is what gives the plants their sharp flavor. In small amounts, this is no problem. If they are consumed in large amounts or eaten by people with known oxalic acid issues (gout, kidney stones, etc.), then reversible, but serious, medical problems could result. Eat in moderation. Cooking will greatly reduce the oxalic acid content as well. Some varieties are known as “sour oca”, and these likely have more oxalic acid than the ones known as “sweet oca”.

 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://lindamziedrich.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/oca.jpg
  • http://boltonurbangrowersblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/multicolored-oca.jpg
  • http://homegrown-revolution.co.uk/hgrow/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/New-Zealand-Yams-3-681×1024.jpg
  • http://www.amjbot.org/content/96/10/1839/F2.large.jpg
  • http://homegrown-revolution.co.uk/hgrow/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/New-Zealand-Yams-4-681×1024.jpg
  • http://homegrown-revolution.co.uk/hgrow/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/New-Zealand-Yam-Leaves-681×1024.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/90/OxalisTuberosa.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/67/Oxalis_tuberosa_diversity.jpg
  • http://www.botanicalgarden.ubc.ca/potd/oxalis_tuberosa.jpg
  • http://www.risc.org.uk/images/uploaded/a_feast_of_plants/oxalis_tuberosa_.jpg
  • http://www.florum.fr/img/O/2/4/6932-Oxalis-tuberosa.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_7mQy1znKlZQ/TJT9Sr1PQtI/AAAAAAAAAa0/TlRHRLsI0b8/s1600/DSCF1040_2.JPG
  • http://a248.e.akamai.net/origin-cdn.volusion.com/ruwye.yjgah/v/vspfiles/photos/P1792-2.jpg?1322237017