Forest Gardening

The Facts Behind Dynamic Accumulators

A significant goal for my site has been to amass reliable information for myself, and therefore, my readers. The information I place on this site has been extensively researched before it is posted. As a physician (M.D.), I strive for scientific accuracy. I am well-versed in the scientific method and critical reading of scientific research articles. I understand the world of academia. I know, beyond doubt, the benefit this arena has provided for the world. However, I also know, beyond doubt, that there is a lot of truth that has not been proven in a lab. This may be due to many factors. To name but a few: the topic has not yet been studied, there are flaws in the design of the study, the topic is too complex for reductionist evaluation.

It is with this mindset that I readdress the concept of Dynamic Accumulators.

Within the world of Permaculture we often find reference to plants known as Dynamic Accumulators. I wrote about these plants in a previous article, but in brief, it is the idea that certain plants (often deep-rooted ones) will draw up nutrients from the lower layers of the soil, and these nutrients will be deposited in the plants’ leaves.  When the leaves fall in autumn and winter and are broken down, those stored nutrients are then incorporated into the upper layers of the soil where other plants will benefit from their deposition.

Comfrey is one of the most popular Dynamic Accumulators.

Comfrey is one of the most popular Dynamic Accumulators.

So, with our scientific minds turned on, does the concept of Dynamic Accumulators hold merit?

In short, my answer is a non-comital “maybe”.

Let’s start with the scientific evidence… well, there is not much. In fact, I can find almost no research into Dynamic Accumulators. Strike that – I can find NO research into this concept at all. None. Many sources site references, but these references just don’t pan out. There are circular references, there are references to non-existing sources, and there are references to (just being honest) less than reputable books or authors. I have to be very fair and state that I am not the utmost scientific-research-article-searcher in the world, but I am pretty darn good, and my lack of results was a bit disappointing.

As it turns out, it appears that the concept of Dynamic Accumulators has been passed down and around for so long that it has been accepted as fact. This concept did not originate with Permaculture, but it has been adopted and advocated by it for a long time. So much so, that many people associate Dynamic Accumulators with Permaculture.

Chickweed is another popular Dynamic Accumulator with many additional benefits.

Chickweed is another popular Dynamic Accumulator with many additional benefits.

Well then, how did this concept get started? Where did it originate? Is there any proof at all?

This is where I back away from the cliff a bit. We do have evidence that some plants accumulate minerals in high concentrations in their tissues. This concept has been significantly researched. In the botanical community, this concept is known as Phytoaccumulation or Hyperaccumulation. There are a number of hyperaccumulator plants that can grow in soils with high concentrations of certain minerals, often metals. These plants can be grown in areas that have been contaminated with heavy metals or high-value metals. The plants pull out these minerals (phytoextract) from the soil. The plants are then harvested and processed to extract the minerals from plants to be recycled or dealt with in a more ecological manner. This “phyomining” has been used, with success, on significantly contaminated sites.

In addition, there has been an extensive database put together by botanist James “Jim” A. Duke Ph.D which provides information on thousands of plants. Specifically, and for our purposes, the database provides information on concentration of minerals found in the tissues of plants. His Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database is hosted on the USDA ARS site (that is the United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service). This is a wealth of information that would take a long, long time to fully peruse and appreciate. Using the information from Dr. Duke’s database, a free, downloadable Nutrient Content Spreadsheet was created. I am not sure who created it, but I found it on Build-A-Soil.com. This is well organized spreadsheet with multiple worksheets (pages).

Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album)

Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album)

With this information we can connect the dots for Dynamic Accumulators. For instance, we can see phosphorus (P) concentration in Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) is over 36,000 ppm (parts per million). This is a high concentration. Therefore, it would make sense to grow Lambsquarter on our site, let the Lambsquarter die back in the Autumn to be composted in place, and then have higher concentrations of phosphorus (P) in the Spring.

Unfortunately, while this scenario sounds good, we have no proof that it will work. Our logical pathway sounds plausible, but the reality is that Nature is never quite so simple as we would like. Minerals don’t appear out of nowhere (alchemy is still not a science!); if the soil has no phosphorus, then the Lambsquarter cannot accumulate it. If the soil has no biology, i.e. Dr. Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web, then there is a good chance the phosphorus may not be bioavailable to the roots. And while our scenario sounds good, we have no scientific proof (research data) that if the Lamsquarter did accumulate phosphorus it would indeed be returned to the soil in a usable form to future plants. Maybe it will, but would it take 1 year, 5 years, 25 years to become available again? This is information that we just do not have.

People will often swear by their Dynamic Accumulators. They will site their own garden as “proof”. Unfortunately, this is anecdotal information and not scientific evidence. I am not saying that their soils did not improve with the planting of Dynamic Accumulators, but was it the dynamic accumulation or another factor that caused the improvements such as mulching, composting in place, biomass accumulation, biodiversity, microclimate creation/enhancement, etc. As a good friend of mine likes to say, “The plural of anecdote is not data.”

What then should we do with the concept of Dynamic Accumulators? Take the information for what it is, soft data. That is, we can make some logical assumptions, i.e. “guesses”, and hope for the best. But we should not treat or teach the concept, the theory, of Dynamic Accumulators as scientifically proven information. We should not treat it as fact. We should definitely not rely solely on dynamic accumulation as our single solution for degraded soils. Of course, if we are appropriately applying and practicing Permaculture, we wouldn’t do this anyway.

Personally, I will continue to use Dynamic Accumulators in a holistic approach to soil improvement. It may help our soils for our intended purposes. It may help for entirely another reason. And having more diversity on our sites will almost always be of benefit… scientifically proven or not.

Note: If anyone has come across published research (not books and not anecdotes) on Dynamic Accumulators, please send me a link!

*SECOND NOTE: Due to some great input and conversation on this topic both here and on my Facebook page, I updated this article. It was published on the Permaculture Research Institute’s page here.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://lh6.ggpht.com/_ofF5B1eh_dM/SxPeCIYqJNI/AAAAAAAAITE/_azGECDUfi0/Symphytum%20officinallis.jpg
  • http://luirig.altervista.org/cpm/albums/bot-045/stellaria-media268.jpg
  • http://ca.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blet_blanc#mediaviewer/File:ChenopodiumAlbum001.JPG

 

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.

pl

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

 

December 2014 Farm Update (and photos from an iPhone!)

We have a few months before we move to our new farm, but we were able to take a trip there this past weekend. We are still trying to settle on names for all the structures and landforms on the property, so there will be some changes in what we call things as time moves on. The big house/main house is really ready to move in although we do want to paint some walls and do a little bit of repair work before we actually settle in there.

Just off from the big house is a large, three door garage that has never housed a vehicle. The main floor is very clean, and this will be a great storage location and possibly a spot for a classroom (we will see). There is a full bathroom on the ground floor of this building, and there is a very large, unfinished room upstairs with a kitchen. This upstairs room is not in great shape – very rough and pretty dirty. We will be fixing up this place for my parents to temporarily live. Well, as much as I would love to be working on it, the reality is that my dad will be the one doing most of the work. He is an (almost) retired carpenter, and very highly skilled. Our plan is to fix up this apartment and then put our focus on really renovating the 2 bedroom farm house/small house/cottage that was built many years ago – I want to say 1920, but I am not sure that is correct. No matter, it is in very poor condition. It will require quite a bit of work. It will be fun to see how this project develops, but I have some initial ideas involving straw bales!

I have written about it before, so it should come as no surprise that I am a huge proponent of multi-generational households. I am so excited to have my parents move with us permanently to the farm. In truth, they have been with us off and on (mostly on) for the past year. It has been a wonderful experience not just for me, but for my wife and children as well. This is due in large part to the personality of my parents and my amazing wife. But I know I am not the only one. My friend Cliff Davis, over at Spiral Ridge Permaculture, just posted a comment on Facebook about grandma coming to live at their homestead, “Intergenerational households are a major part of the agrarian lifestyle.” I couldn’t agree more!

I finally had the opportunity to go take a walk on the property. I didn’t have a landowner or real estate agent walking with me. It was just me. Me and the rain that is. Of course, our first unencumbered trip to the farm also coincided with a cold snap and three days of steady rain. But I didn’t care. I put on my rain boots and jacket and went for a stroll. I headed out to the highest ridge that meets our tree line.

Facing east

View from the tree line on the highest minor ridge. Roughly facing east. The blue roofed structure is the garage/apartment. Just right is the white, triangular gable of the big house.

Facing southeast

Same spot, turned 90 degrees, facing south. The building on the left is the hunting lodge/shack/cabin. It was used by the hunters who used to hunt coyotes on the property. Just to the right, and partially hidden by trees is the the little 2 bedroom farm house/cottage.  In the center is the large pond.

Facing southwest

Same spot, turned another 40 degrees or so, facing southwest.

If you are an astute Permaculturist/Keyliner, then you would have noticed the run off. Honestly, it was hard to miss when you were walking around out there. It sounded like there were tiny streams everywhere. In reality, that’s just about the truth. The main pastures have been pretty poorly managed, and the former owner let cattle graze wherever they chose over 45+ acres. This resulted in a lot of cattle trails that filled with water and caused erosion. Also, every valley soon filled with all the run off and became small, temporary streams.

Waterlogged02

Walking on the low spot in the small valley between ridges was like walking on a super saturated sponge – it was squishing with each step! Fortunately, the water was crystal clear.

Watterlogging

Another view of the temporary streams in the valleys. The water was moving fast – sounded like a bubbling brook. I can’t imagine how much water was lost from the farm in these few days… well, actually, I could probably calculate it, but I don’t feel like it right now!

Ponds

This shot is taken just uphill from the upper/small pond. The large pond is in the distance, in the center, just above (downhill from) the small pond. There are two major problems with this pond. On the left corner, you can see all the yellow silt streaming into the pond. On the right corner, the pond wall has been eroded from cattle. The pond is overflowing into the valley, and is bypassing (the water level is lower than) the overflow pipe. This will need to be addressed quickly!

Lower Pond

The large/lower pond. Cattails line most edges. I saw fish swimming. It is in pretty good condition.

Upper_Pond_02

The upper pond has two main feeds. One is full of silt. The other is full of clear water and black walnuts!

Upper_Pond_01

Overflow out of the pond. The overflow (drain) pipe is just off to the left, mid photo. The cattle have created this erosive spillway that was flowing pretty fast.

Middle Pond

The third pond/middle pond/east pond is in fair condition. The cattle have almost eroded one corner of the wall, but not quite. The overflow/drain pipe is working well. There is some silt being deposited, but not a lot. With a little maintenance, this pond should do very well.

After perusing the fields and ponds, I took a few walks in the woods. Walking through the woods alone in the cold drizzle was quite relaxing. I am always amazed at the life you can see when you take the time to be still and quiet in the forest. I was very encouraged at the proliferation of fungal life in these woods. There were many species besides the numerous “little brown mushrooms” that I couldn’t identify. But I did see some familiar faces (er… fungi). And while I didn’t see any edibles (yet!), there were dozens of logs covered in Turkey Tail, a highly valued medicinal.

Turkey Tail

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Turkey Tail

A beautiful colony of Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Unknown fungus

Unknown fungus. These were covering many downed branches.

Unknown shelf mushroom

A few shots of a shelf mushroom. I saw a large number of this species. I’m pretty sure it is the Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma applanatum).

Unknown Jelly Fungus

A pretty jelly fungus, likely Amber Jelly Roll/Willow Brain (Exidia recisa)

In addition to the fungal life, there was plenty of evidence that the nut-producing trees were doing well. There were many Oak Trees (both in the Red Oak Group and White Oak Group), Black Walnut, and Shagbark Hickory trees. There were some Maple. There were a number of other trees that I just couldn’t identify without leaves.

Oak

Oak – not sure of the species. Possibly Northern Red Oak?

Shagbark Hickory

Shagbark Hickory (possibly a Shellbark Hickory… I need to investigate a bit more first)

Through most of the walks was our Dalmation.

Accompanying most of the walks was our Dalmation… he was like a puppy running rough the woods and fields!

 

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Photo References: All photos are mine (taken from an iPhone!). If you would like to use any of them, please let me know!

 

Permaculture Plants: Wineberry

Common Name: Wineberry, Japanese Wineberry, Wine Raspberry
Scientific Name: Rubus phoenicolasius
Family: Rosacaceae (the Rose family)

Wineberry_07

The Wineberry (great photos from World Turn’d Upside Down Blog)

Description:
Many people living in the eastern U.S. have seen this plant without knowing it, because it is often mistaken for the wild blackberry or raspberry plant. To be honest, people who know of Wineberry either love it or hate it. It is used as an ornamental and is grown for its delicious berries, but, this plant is viewed as a weed and invasive in many parts of the eastern U.S. and Europe. If you are not a fan of Wineberry, it doesn’t much matter as it is not going anywhere soon. Instead of trying to eradicate it with toxic chemicals, we can use it as a supplemental feed for browsing animals, and we can use its sweet fruits for ourselves.

Wineberry

Wineberry Rubus phoenicolasius

History:
Native and widespread in Asia (China, Korea, and Japan). It was introduced into the U.S. in 1890 (at least) to be used for breeding programs with raspberries/blackberries and as an ornamental. It “escaped” and has spread through eastern North America becoming so well established that it is often considered invasive. Wineberry is still used today in berry breeding programs.

Trivia:

  • Wineberry berries are not technically a berry, they are considered an aggregate fruit, just like raspberries and blackberries.
  • Wineberry’s stems are covered in reddish hairs (rather thorny) that make the stems appear red from a distance. This was a main contributor to its ornamental appeal. The Latin name phoenicolasius is derived from phoenicus which is Latin for red.
  • It was once thought that the Wineberry was a partially carnivorous plant. The developing berries are covered in a bristly calyx that produce a sticky fluid. Insects are often caught in this fluid, but research has shown that the plant does not digest the insects.
Wineberry

Wineberry Tartlets (click on the image for the recipe in German)

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Fresh eating – many claim to like Wineberries better than raspberries, but others believe there are too many seeds for the size of fruit. When fully ripe, it has a flavor of mostly raspberry with a bit of strawberry.
  • Cooked – used as raspberries or blackberries. Pies, tarts, cobblers, jams, preserves, etc.
  • Alcohol – should be a great primary or adjuct juice for wines, beers, and liquors.


Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – the red stems are rather pretty in the Autumn and Winter
  • Pioneer Plant –
  • Wildlife Shelter – birds and small mammals take shelter in the brambles.
  • Hedge Plant – large animals (4 and 2 legged) have a hard time traversing a hedge of Wineberry. Could be used/encouraged as a planted barrier/fencing.
  • Wildlife Food – birds, mammals, and some reptiles enjoy the fruits (and therefore spread the seeds!)
  • Browse Plant – while I would not plant this specifically for browse (i.e. food for goats, sheep, etc.), if you have it on your property, it can be used for this purpose. There is research from Wisconsin that shows cattle will graze, and may prefer, foraging on brambles.
  • Can be used for dye (purple/blue).

 

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Berries are produced in early Summer to early Autumn.
Storage: Use fresh. Can be frozen (individually on a cookie sheet is best, then stored in a freeze bag). Can be dehydrated. Use within a few days at most.

Harvesting Wineberries

Harvesting Wineberries (great photos from World Turn’d Upside Down Blog)

Wineberry

Wineberry canes in production.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 4-8, although some sources state hardiness only to Zone 5
AHS Heat Zone: 8-1
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Small Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Shub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: While interbred with blackberries and raspberries, the Japanese Wineberry has not been improved much in the U.S. as it is often considered an invasive, although it was cultivated in Asia. There are some named varieties.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by insects.
Flowering: Late Spring to early Summer (May-June)

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 2 years
  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available, but as this plant produces on second year growth and spreads so easily via root buds and new canes, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.
Wineberry

Wineberry fruit ready to harvest!

Wineberry stems have numerous, small thorns.

Wineberry stems have numerous, small thorns and red, bristly hairs covering the stems.

Wineberry fruits developing.

Wineberry fruits developing within the calyces covered in bristly hairs that secrete a sticky liquid.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 9 feet (3 meters) tall and 3 feet (1 meter) wide
Roots: Fibrous
Growth Rate: Fast

Wineberry seedlings

Wineberry seedlings

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers light shade to full sun
Shade: Tolerates light to moderate shade, but likely produces more fruit with more sun
Moisture: Prefers moist to wet soils, but can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions
pH: Tolerates a wide range of soil conditions

Special Considerations for Growing:
Wineberry produces fruit on second year growth. Here is how it works: New growth originates from the root as a single, non-woody, non-branching stem called a primocane. That primocane will grow to full height, but it does not put out any side shoots, and it doesn’t produce any flowers. Come the second year, the stem becomes woody and is now called a floricane. The floricane does not grow taller, but it will now produce side stems or shoots. These side shoots will produce clusters of flowers on a structure called a racime. These flowers will then yield the Wineberry’s berries.

Propagation:
Seed – easily. Requires cold stratification for 4-16 weeks. Layering with tips is commonly used – new plants grow from the tips of canes that touch the ground. Can be divided in Spring.

Maintenance:
It is important to cut out and remove the old, fruiting stems (floricanes) after fruiting. This is typically done when the plant goes dormant in late Autmn or Winter. This allows the plant to move nutrients from the leaves and stems into the roots. However, it can be done right ater harvest if the plants are showing a lot of disease.

Concerns:

  • Listed as a “noxious weed” in many locations. Connecticut and Massachusettes have banned Wineberry.
  • Spreads easily through seed (birds are a major factor) and vegetative growth.

 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f2/Rubus_phoenicolasius_D.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/Japanse_wijnbes_rijpe_vruchten.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/85/Rubus_phoenicolasius_stem_001.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Botanischer_Garten_Uni_Bonn_-_Rubus_phoenicolasius.jpg
  • http://www.permacultuurnederland.org/planten.php?zoek=braam&laag=&functieSER=YjowOw==&page=0&pid=27&sort=naz
  • http://chocolat-bleu.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html
  • http://worldturndupsidedown.blogspot.com/2011/07/wild-berry-picking.html
  • http://donwiss.com/pictures/F-2011-07-04/0017.jpg
  • http://www.plantillustrations.org/illustration.php?id_illustration=3995&height=3621
  • http://thefruitnut.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/imgp9587.jpg

 

Permaculture Plants: Raisin Tree

Common Name: Raisin Tree, Japanese Raisin Tree, Oriental Raisin Tree
Scientific Name: Hovenia dulcis
Family: Rhamnaceae (the Buckthorn family)

The Japanese Rasin Tree has edible fruit stalks, not fruit!

The Raisin Tree has edible fruit stalks, not fruit!

Description:
The Raisin Tree is a unique plant. The edible portion of the tree is not actually the fruit. The fruit itself is small, hard, pea-sized, and not edible. But the stem or stalk of the fruit, once the fruit is mature, will swell up and become gnarled. It is this fruit stalk, technically called a rachis, that is edible. I rarely write about fruits I have not eaten, but this one is so cool that I couldn’t pass it up.

The Raisin Tree is a medium to large tree that is cold tolerant, likes long, hot Summers, can grow in the sun or shade, has edible parts, has a high-quality wood that is used in construction, furniture, tools, and crafts, and has no common pests or diseases. There has been almost no development with this plant, and I think there is a lot of room for improvement… from larger fruit stalks to more cold tolerance to experiments with animal feeding. There is a lot of room to grow with this tree!

The Raisin Tree (Holvenia dulcis)

The Raisin Tree (Holvenia dulcis), Flora Japonica, Sectio Prima (Tafelband), 1870.

History:
Native to the moist, shady mountains of China. Likely brought to Korea and Japan thousands of years ago. Once source states that it was brought to the West in 1820, but it remains a very rare tree here. Another report states that this plant was never cultivated much in Asia for food, but the fruit stalks were collected by children from the wild and used by the family. It has been commercially raised for its high-quality wood.

Trivia:

  • The Japanese name for the edible fruit stalk is kenpo-nashi. My Japanese is not very good, but as best as I can tell, kenpo has a meaning related to the hand or fist. Nashi means pear.
  • The Chinese name for the edible fruit stalk is chi-chao li or chih-chu li which means chicken-claw pear.
  • There is some research being done on the compounds found in the Japanese Raisin Tree. It is hypothesized that these extracts may help prevent liver damage after alcohol intoxication. Some are looking to use it as an “anti-hangover” medicine.

 

The Raisin Tree is a pretty, but subtle tree.

The Raisin Tree is a pretty, but subtle tree.

Although it becomes much more pretty when flowering.

Although it becomes much more pretty when flowering.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Fruit Stalk – Can be eaten raw or cooked. Reported to have a flavor similar to Asian Pears or candied Walnuts. The fruit stalks can be dried and then have a flavor and texture more like a raisin. (here is a fun article about cooking with the Raisin Tree)
  • Extract – An extract from the fruit stalks and other parts (young leaves and small branches?) is made in China. It is called “tree honey” and is used as a honey substitute. It is used for making sweets and even a type of wine!

Secondary Uses:

  • Wood is used for construction, flooring, furniture, tools, utensils, artwork, etc.
  • Although I can find no reports of this, the Raisin Tree can likely be coppiced. There is a report that a specimen tree in the Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania had a height of 30 feet (9 meters). In the Winter of 1933-34, the record cold froze the tree to the ground. However, “vigorous shoots” grew from the main trunk. Within 8 years, it was back to its 30+ foot height again, and within 45 years (this was a 1978 report), the tree was 78 feet (23 meters)!
  • Wildlife food for both birds and small mammals.
  • Although I can find no reports of this, I would think that the profuse, fragrant flowers would benefit insects, including bees.
  • Drought Tolerant Plant – I have found a few reports that this tree is drought tolerant once established.
  • The Raisin Tree is being evaluated as a reforestation tree. It grows fast enough, attracts wildlife, and is not considered invasive.
  • Medicinal – There is some research to support that the antioxidants in this plant (hodulcine, ampelopsin, quercetin) has liver protecting and anti-inflammatory effects.

Yield: Variable, but one report states that mature trees can yield 5-10 pounds of edible fruit stalks.
Harvesting: The most common complaint I have seen about the Raisin Tree pertains to the harvesting. As this tree can get quite large, trying to harvest the edible fruit stalks from at the very tips of the branches can be difficult. Author Lee Reich suggests cutting off branches and harvesting the fruit stalks from the ground.
Storage: Up to 2 months in a dry, well aerated position. The flavors seem to improve with age… up to a point!

The flowers are small, but numerous and fragrant.

The flowers are small, but numerous and fragrant.

The fruit that develop are only about the size of a pea.

The fruit which develop are only about the size of a pea.

As the fruit matures, the fruit stalk starts to swell and twist.

As the fruit matures, the fruit stalk starts to swell and twist.

Eventually the fruit (at the tips) are mature and dried. They often rattle with the few seeds contained within. But the stalks are swollen and sweet.

Eventually the fruit (at the tips) are mature and dried. They often rattle with the few seeds contained within. But the stalks are swollen and sweet.

These fruit stalks can be eaten fresh - used like you would dried fruit.

These fruit stalks can be eaten fresh – used like you would dried fruit.

...or they can be dried and used like raisins.

…or they can be dried and used like raisins.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 5-10. This may vary depending on the origination of the mother plant that the seeds were collected from (i.e. if the mother plant grows in a colder climate, then the seeds may yield trees that are able to tolerate similarly cold climates). It may be worth tracking down seeds/seedlings originating in a climate similar to where you will be planting your trees. Also, there is a good chance that colder specimens can be developed/found with the planting of enough seeds.
AHS Heat Zone: 8-4
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Medium to Large Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer, Sub-Canopy Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Only the single species exists. There are no “improved” varieties.

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Early Summer. Flowers are small but very numerous

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 7-10 years, although 3 years has been reported in “ideal” growing conditions (fertile, moist soils and long, warm/hot Summers).
  • Years of Useful Life: 50-150 years, although I found only one source for this information. I honestly do not think there is good information for this.
Leaves of the Raisin Tree.

Leaves of the Raisin Tree.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 30-70 feet (9-21 meters) tall and 20 -40 feet (3-7 meters) wide; however, Raisin Trees typically stay toward the smaller end of their potential.
Roots: No information can be found describing the root system, although I came across many reports that state the roots are not a problem at the surface. This indicates to me that the roots are deeper in nature. This is also supported by the reports that this tree may be drought-tolerant once established.
Growth Rate: Medium

Bark of the Raisin Tree

Bark of the Raisin Tree

The Raisin Tree has high-quality wood.

The Raisin Tree has high-quality wood.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Full sun to partial shade
Shade: Tolerates light to medium shade, but fruits earlier and in larger quantity in full sun.
Moisture: Prefers moist, but not wet, soils.
pH: One source states 6.1-8.5 and another states “highly acid to slightly alkaline” soils. The reality is that this plant likely tolerates a wide range of soil conditions.

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Avoid wet soils.
  • Raisin Trees need Summers that hot enough and start early enough (and are therefore long enough) to allow the fruit to ripen. The fruit must ripen enough before the fruit stalk will swell and become sweet.

Propagation:
Typically from seed since no improved varieties exist. Seeds need to be scarified or stratified. Scarification with acid (sulfuric acid for 2 hours) seems to yield the best germination rates. This mimics the degrading process of the hard seed coat which would occur in nature over a very long period of time. Germination can take place within a few weeks but can take up to a few months. Softwood and root cuttings are also proven means of propagation.

Maintenance:
None. It is said that this tree will “self prune”, dropping the lower branches as it grows.

Concerns:
None!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://plantes-du-japon.fr/IMG/jpg/A5B1A5F3A5DDA5CAA5B7A1A1C3E6C9F4.jpg
  • http://images.mobot.org/tropicosdetailimages/Tropicos/275/16902A92-7893-4DC2-BA5F-69BA3ACCAAFF.jpg
  • http://www.tropicos.org/Image/83303
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Hovenia_dulcis_in_Ceret_Park_São_Paulo_001.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/48/Hovenia_dulcis.jpg
  • http://coletivocurare.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/hovenia-dulcis22827.jpg
  • http://www.fruitipedia.com/Images%202/Japanese%20raisin%20fruit.jpg
  • http://dbiodbs1.univ.trieste.it/quint/carso/foto/TSB56916.jpg
  • http://dbiodbs1.univ.trieste.it/quint/carso/foto/TSB77800.jpg
  • http://dbiodbs1.univ.trieste.it/quint/carso/foto/TSB77805.jpg
  • http://www.fruitipedia.com/Images%202/Japanese%20raisin%20leaves.jpg
  • http://dbiodbs1.univ.trieste.it/quint/carso/foto/TSB80809.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-3SVrGhf7IOU/T7diYPk3z-I/AAAAAAAAAKA/WQ6sCqHtEv4/s1600/DSCF5562.JPG
  • http://i01.i.aliimg.com/img/pb/867/678/475/475678867_694.jpg
  • http://dbiodbs1.univ.trieste.it/quint/carso/foto/TSB79640.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bb/Hovenia_dulcis_SZ73.png

 

Tapping the Pine Tree… Plant Resins and their Uses

I avoid saying that I love trees. That sems too trite, and it sounds blasé… because everyone “loves” trees; it says so on their t-shirts. So I choose other words like fascinated, inspired, excited. To me, there really is something magical and spiritual about walking through a forest filled with trees that are hundreds of years old. There is a sense of life that permeates the air in even the stillest of forests. There is a fair amount of quality research being released in recent years about how trees communicate. Yes, trees actually do communicate with each other in the forest although I have not seen any credible evidence for sentience in trees, and maybe this is really a topic for another article. Ultimately, I believe that there is a point of balance between using trees for our benefit and treating them with respect. I have no problem with utilizing the products that trees provide us. Trees can truly provide a sustainable supply of many things useful for humans. Trees can even be part of a regenerative agriculture, where the air, water, soil, and ecology as a whole are improved while we still collect a harvest. But if we do not respect the trees, and the ecology surrounding them, our endeavors will be destructive and degrading. Trees cannot be treated like so many things in our modern throw-away society.

With that said, there are so many products that trees provide, in their living and, yes, even in their dying. Most people are well familiar with the fruits and nuts that living trees provide. Dead trees provide firewood, building wood, and even food for certain medicinal and edible mushrooms. There are a number of trees that can be tapped to provide sweet sap that can be reduced to a tasty syrup. The most notable are the maple species, although there are actually a number of other species that can provide a good, but lower quality syrup than the maples.

I want to address another product that can be obtained from tapping trees, but it is not for their sap. It is for their resin. Resin is obtained from many trees other than the pines, but that is the most common resin-producing tree in my local Temperate Climate.

We see a pine tree and we think Christmas trees, pine cones, wood, and maybe paper. A few of us think about pine nuts… delicious! There are probably a few of us who think about a tea made from pine needles that is high in vitamin C and was used to prevent scurvy in long Winters without fresh fruits and vegetables. Those with some land may consider them as good trees for windbreaks. But how many of us see a pine tree and think of turpentine, rosins (for bowed string instruments, gymnists, ballet dancers, baseball pitchers, etc.), varnish, oil-paint thinner, furniture wax, lamp oil, soap, tar, and pitch?

In modern times, many of these products are now made with synthetic chemical processes that can be highly polluting and is typically unsustainable. As a Permaculturist, I am very interested in learning more about traditional products, their collection, processing, and uses. The remainder of this article provides an overview of the science, history, collection, and uses of resin.

 

Resins_05

Pine Resin is naturally produced from wounds on the tree.

Resins

Resin is a fluid (specifically, a hydrocarbon) that is secreted from certain plants (a.k.a. resinous plants), most commonly trees, and most commonly coniferous trees such as pine trees. Resins perform a number of functions in the plants that produce them. Resins seal over wounds, and this protects the plant from pests and infections. Resins contain antimicrobial properties that help prevent decay and fungal infections, and resins also seem to decrease water loss during droughts or plant injury.

Humans have gathered and used resins from plants for thousands of years. Resins have been used for waterproofing, varnishes, adhesives, art, incense, medicines, and many other purposes. It is only recently in human history that we have started using synthetic, as opposed to  natural/plant-derived, resins.

Resins_04

Historic photo from Florida’s pine-tapping turpentine industry.

Another historic photo from Florida's pine-tapping turpentine industry.

Another historic photo from Florida’s pine-tapping turpentine industry.

Another pine resin collection device.

Another pine resin collection device.

Resins can be collected by tapping trees. This has traditionally been achieved by notching the bark in a parallel V-shaped pattern. At the lowest notching, a bucket collects the pooled resin. Trees can be tapped for well over 20 years, and are then used for other purposes including timber, since the wood is not damaged during the tapping process. Depending on the species of tree and the product desired, various processing techniques are used to refine the resin.

While all resinous plants produce resin, some species and hybrids produce higher quality resin than others. Trees also produce other fluids (e.g. sap, latex, gums, etc.), but these are chemically quite distinct from resin. Resins can be categorized a few ways, and while I think the following is a pretty good system, there is a fair amount of overlap between categories:

Mastic

Mastic

Hard Resins: These are, not surprisingly, hard. Here are some examples of hard resins:

    • Dammar – obtained from the Dipterocarpaceae family of lowland, tropical rainforest trees from around the globe and the Agathis trees of  southeast Asia and northern Australia. Dammar is used as a glaze for foods, crafts, incense, varnish, and more.
    • Mastic – obtained from the Mediterranean Mastic Tree (Pistacia lentiscus). Mastic was commonly used as a natural chewing gum, but it is also used in ice creams, puddings, pastries, nougat, sauces, soups, fruit and vegetable preserves, soft drinks, coffee, liqueurs, and many other foods. It has a long history as a medicinal and incense, and is also used in perfumes and cosmetics and even in varnishes.
    • Sandarac – obtained from the Sandarac Tree (Tetraclinis articulata) of North Africa in a dry, Mediterranean climate. Sandarac is used for varnish and lacquer.
Elemi resin ready to be harvested.

Elemi resin ready to be harvested.

Oleoresins: These are resins that contain an oil component naturally made by the tree. They typically stay soft or gum-like. Here are some examples of oleoresins:

    • Balsams – obtained from a variety of trees and shrubs. Balsams contain certain esters (e.g. benzoic or cinnamic acid) that are aromatic, and therefore, balsam is commonly used for as a fragrance and a traditional medicine.
    • Copaiba – obtained from the Copaifera genus of leguminous trees of South America. Used in varnishes and lacquers.
    • Elemi – obtained from the Elemi Tree (Canarium luzonicum) tree of the Philippines. Used in varnishes, lacquers, and traditional medicine.
    • Labdanum – obtained from the Rockrose (Cistus species) from the Mediterranean. Used in traditional medicine and perfumes.
    • High-Terpene Resins – obtained most commonly from Pine Trees (Pinus species). See Turpentine below for more detailed information.
Frankincense

Frankincense

Gum Resins: resins that are produced with a natural gum (sugars/polysaccharides) instead of oil. Here are some examples of gum resins:

    • Frankincense – obtained from the Boswellia genus of trees from tropical Africa and Asia. Used as an incense, perfume, medicinal, and had many religious ties.
    • Guggal – obtained from the Guggal Tree (Commiphora wightii) of North Africa and central Asia. Used as a traditional medicine.
    • Myrrh – obtained from the Commiphora genus of tree of tropical Africa, Asia, and South America. Used as a fragrance and medicinal.
Amber with a trapped insect.

Amber with a trapped insect.

Fossilized Resins:

    • Amber – the color “amber” is named after this amber-colored plant resin that has fossilized, although there is a blue amber that is stunning. Amber sometime contains animals or insects and is used in paleontology. Amber is used in jewelry, traditional medicine, perfumes, incense, varnishes, and lacquers.
    • Copal – this is a resin that has not quite been fossilized yet, so it can be considered a resin that is on its way to become an amber. It has been used as incense and medicine and varnish.

 

 

The Loblolly Pine is commonly used for timber, phone poles, and paper, but is a high-terpene producing resin plant.

The Loblolly Pine is commonly used for timber, phone poles, and paper, but is a high-terpene producing resin plant.

Turpentine

Many of the oleoresins from pine trees (and other trees listed below) have high levels of terpenes. Terpenes are a class of organic compounds (hydrocarbons) that a tree produces to repel pests; however, terpenes are produced and/or used in almost all living creature in the world. Some examples of natural products containing terpenes are steroids and beta-carotene. Once a terpene is altered, it is known as a terpenoid.

Turpentine is a fluid obtained by distilling high-terpene oleoresins. Collected oleoresins are placed into a steam distiller, and the turpentine is evaporated off and collected in a condenser. Turpentine can also be extracted via a process known as destructive distillation which occurs during pyrolysis (this is the process that occurs with the proper use of rocket stove technology). I can’t find a lot of information on obtaining turpentine through pyrolysis, but when I do, I will share it.

Turpentine can be used as a solvent (a substance that dissolves other substances) and to produce varnish. It can also be mixed with beeswax to make a high quaility furniture wax. Turpentine can be burned in oil lamps and can be mixed with ethanol to make “burning fluid”, an illuminant. Turpentine is mainly used today, once it has been processed, as synthetic pine oil. Pine oil is used for fragrance, flavoring, and in cleaning agents to give the “pine” odor.

Trees that have traditionally been primary sources of terpentine:

  • Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis)
  • Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)
  • Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris)
  • Maritime Pine (Pinus pinaster)
  • Ponderosa Pin (Pinus ponderosa)
  • Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
  • Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii)
  • Sumatra Pine (Pinus merkusii)
  • Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) – produces Canada Balsam. Used as a glue for eyeglasses, a traditional medicine, and in soaps and perfumes.
  • Terebinth or Turpentine Tree (Pistacia terebinthus) – a very-long lived tree from the Mediterranean and Middle East.
  • Larch (Larix species) – produces Venetian Turpentine. Used in varnish, traditional medicine, and traditional chewing gum.
  • Red Spruce (Picea rubens) – produces Spruce Gum. Used as a traditional chewing gum.

 

Pine Rosin

Pine Rosin

Other Resin Products

Rosin (aka Colophony) – ROsin (not REsin) is the substance left over after turpentine is distilled from resin. Rosin is a solid and ranges in color from yellow to black. It is used by violinists and other string instrument musicians, in sealing wax, varnishes, medications, foods, and in electronic soldering.

Pine Tar – produced when heating Pine wood at high temperatures without catching fire (pyrolysis). Water and tar drip from the wood leaving charcoal behind. Used as a wood preservative and water sealant (boats, roofs, ropes, etc.) and in soaps and traditional human and veterinary medicines.

Pitch – Pine Tar is heated so that the water is evaporated. When the tar thickens, it is called pitch. Pitch was traditionally used for waterproofing seams and wooden containers (buckets, barrels, boats, etc.) and roofs. Some people consider Pine Tar and Pitch the same thing, others separate them based on consistency… Pine Tar being more liquid than Pitch.

 

Varnishing a hand-crafted wooden canoe.

Varnishing a hand-crafted wooden canoe.

Additional Definitions

Varnish – This is a protective “finish” or application for wood and other materials. Varnish is usually transparent or mostly transparent. It goes on wet and dries hard. It can have various levels of sheen (high gloss, glossy, semi-gloss, satin, etc.). Traditional varnishes contain an oil, a resin, and a solvent. The oils, also known as drying oils, harden after long exposure to oxygen. Examples of drying oils are linseed oil, poppy seed oil, tung oil, and walnut oil. Resins have been discussed at length above, and varnish resins include amber, copal, balsam, copaiba, elemi, mastic, rosin, and sandarac. The most common solvent, by far, is turpentine.

Lacquer – This is a type or method of varnishing, but is typically treated separately. Most varnishes undergo a chemical reaction that causes the varnish to harden. However, lacquers only undergo evaporation. If the solvent is reapplied to the finish (i.e. the lacquer), it will soften again. The resin that is traditionally used to make lacquer is lac (you can see where the name comes from!). Lac is the secretion from the lac insects of Asia. The dried secretion is refined and cleaned with a few different methods and then dries into shellac flakes. These flakes are dissolved in a solvent (lacquer thinners or alcohols) to make liquid shellac. Modern lacquer uses synthetics like polyurethanes, acrylics, or alkyds. Because these lacquers do not contain lac, they are not called shellacs, just lacquers. Another difference between modern varnishes and lacquers is that modern lacquers/shellacs are sprayed on while varnishes are brushed on.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://floridamemory.com/fpc/prints/pr12607.jpg – State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/11013
  • http://archives.clayclerk.com/Photos/Exhibit-Turpentine-7.jpg
  • http://irwinvillega.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/trap-used-on-pine-tree-for-catching-sap-for-turpentine-distillation-irwin-county-georgia-arthur-rothstein-august-1935-library-of-congress-turpentine-picture-image-photo-copyright-brian-b.jpg
  • http://www.diamondgforestproducts.com/turpentine_catface.png
  • http://community.poppyswap.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/pineSap.jpg
  • http://cookingfromthefarm.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/img_1787.jpg
  • http://www.biolandes.com/production-plantes-aromatiques.php?id=11&lg=en
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/Frankincense_2005-12-31.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Amber2.jpg
  • http://diamondgforestproducts.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/rosin_spreadout1.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6e/Loblolly_Pines_South_Mississippi.JPG
  • http://canoeguybc.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/apply-shellac.jpg

 

Additional References:

 

Infographic – Pioneer Species for a Temperate Climate

I compiled information on Pioneer Species and Succession a few years ago, and I posted it in a series of articles:

A friend (Jake) suggested I make an infographic. That thought was in my mind for the last few years, and I finally took the time to do it.

Click here to download the high-resolution PDF.

For a quick review:
Pioneer species are plants, often considered weeds, which nature uses to transition from bare soil to a climax forest. They cover the soil quickly and reduce erosion. They often have deep taproots that pull nutrients from the depths. They can thrive in drought, full-sun, and bare soil conditions, and they pave the way for slower growing plants that need more moisture. The first pioneer plants are annuals and herbaceous perennials. Eventually shrubs and then trees appear. Pioneer species can be all of these types of plants, but the larger shrubs and trees often take many years to appear.

By using pioneer species with modern forest garden, agroforestry, and permaculture techniques, we can speed up the natural succession process to develop (or redevelop) sustainable and regenerative ecosystems for wildlife, agricultural, or personal use.

This infographic provides key information on growing conditions, attributes, and edible parts of many important pioneer species.

 

 

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Wild Mushroom Identification (and a project for kids!)

I want to take a few minutes to explain why identifying your local mushrooms is important. Even if you have no desire to ever eat a wild mushroom, which I think is a travesty, there is still a few good reasons to go beyond simple avoidance.

And for all you sticklers out there, I know a “mushroom” is really called a “fruiting body”, but for sake of simplicity for the average reader, I will stick with the layman’s vernacular. 

These mushrooms popped up all over my neighborhood... but what were they?

These mushrooms popped up all over my neighborhood… but what were they?

Before I get into the reasons, let me give you some background:
We’ve been in our new neighborhood for a few weeks now, and last week it rained quite a bit. Within a few days, there were mushrooms popping up in many of our neighbors lawns. Now I never really dismiss mushrooms. I am kind of addicted to them. I like to try and identify mushrooms, and I absolutely love to find edible mushrooms. However, I am not a highly skilled mycologist. Yes, when comparing myself to the average man-on-the-street, I am smarter than your average bear pertaining to the topic of mycology. But I am not a Paul Stamets or David Arora (these are two famous and noted mycologists… two of my favorite mycologists, in fact… and I know it makes me a geek when I actually have “favorite” mycologists!).

Well, the ones I saw were large, mostly white, and gilled. While a number of mushrooms can make a person sick, very few mushrooms in North America are actually deadly; however, there are a few mushrooms fitting this description that are, indeed, deadly. This includes the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) and the Destroying Angels (species including Amanita ocreata, A. verna, A. virosa, A. bisporigera). If a person is a beginning mushroom hunter, you should avoid eating any mushrooms that comes close to this description. If you are a mid-level, amateur mycologist (like me), then it is fun to identify them, but I would probably never eat this type of mushroom, just in case I am wrong. A seasoned mushroom hunter or a professional mycologist may feel comfortable eating a mushroom of this type, but even some of these people avoid eating them. There is not room for error with these mushrooms. This nice thing is that these mushrooms are easily avoided. And there are so many other edible mushrooms that are easily identified, that we are not missing out on much by avoiding mushrooms that may look like deadly species.

Well, I saw a few of these mushrooms, and I quickly realized they were not going to be easily identified without a little bit of work. I had a few guesses for species, but I wasn’t sure. But we had just moved here, and we had a lot of other things going on, and frankly, I just didn’t have the time to try and identify these mushrooms. But then I saw more of them, and then some more, and then even my wife was telling me about them popping up in the neighbors’ lawns. I started to reevaluate  the need to identify these mushrooms, and I came up with a few reasons why it could actually be more than just a personally interesting project.

First – I really just like to know the biology that is surrounding me. It was kind of bothering me to have this many mushrooms popping up around me when I didn’t know what they were.

Second – In a worst-case scenario, one of my children, one of my neighbors’ children, or even my dog, could end up taking a bite of one of these mushrooms. It would be very helpful to know how concerned I needed to be about these mushrooms surrounding me, my family, and my community.

Third – I will be working in a local ER in a few weeks. It is not uncommon for parents or babysitters to show up with a child who ate some mushrooms from the front yard. They often come in with the remnants of the mushroom cap. Since this is my local area, it would be good to have this information on hand to make a faster clinical decision.

Fourth – I had a great kids science project right in front of me. Every time we walked past these mushrooms, my two boys (age 5 and 6 years old) would ask if these were poisonous mushrooms or not. I kept telling them that since we didn’t know what they were, we have to assume they are poisonous for now.

A partial Fairy Ring.

A partial Fairy Ring.

Once I decided to try and identify these mushrooms, I had to gather some information. I grabbed my boys, and we went for some collections of data and specimens. We found this partial ring of mushrooms growing a few houses away. This ringed pattern is sometimes a full circle, and it is called a Fairy or Elf Ring/Circle. After reading The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit with my kids at bedtime, by boys loved that name!

I took photos of mushrooms at various ages of development, from just popping through the soil to very mature. (see the photos that follow)

Young unidentified mushrooms.

Young unidentified mushrooms.

False Parasol Chlorophyllum molybdites

Prime Unidentified Mushroom

False Parasol Chlorophyllum molybdites

Another photo of the same specimen from above, showing the gills and the firmly attached ring (annulus).

False Parasol Chlorophyllum molybdites

A mature specimen of our unidentified mushroom. 

We returned to the house with a number of photos and a few specimens. After really examining these mushrooms, I had already narrowed down the list in my head, but I was still not certain. I took about 10 minutes, and gave my boys a little science lesson on the parts and life cycle of mushrooms. They really got into it, and they can still name all the parts to a mushroom (fruiting body) – they were looking over my shoulder as I wrote this and pointed them out to me!

All my books are still being shipped from the Azores, including all my mushroom and mycology books, so I used the MycoKeys Online Morphing Mushroom Identifier. This is a really useful tool, and is pretty simple to use.

With the information I had gathered so far, I had narrowed down the choices to two likely species. The first was the highly edible Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) or the False Parasol (Chlorophyllum molybdites) which is not deadly, but definitely poisonous causing severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. The False Parasol is responsible for the most mushroom poisonings in the United States each year. But how do we tell them apart?

The answer is a Spore Print. This is a very simple project, and my kids were fascinated by it. The spores produced by a mushroom will drop from the gills under the cap. Each individual spore is way too small to be seen by the naked eye, but if there are enough of them in one spot, we can determine the color of the spores. The fallen spores will leave a pattern that is unique to that species and individual specimen, just like a fingerprint. A mature cap (I used the one pictured above), with the stalk (stem) removed, is placed on a piece of paper. Putting the cap on a half sheet of black and a half sheet of white paper will ensure the spores can be seen if the spores are all white or black. The cap is left for at least a few hours, but it is best to leave it overnight. I had a very mature mushroom, and my kids were impatient, so after about three hours we checked on our print.

A beautiful spore sprint!

A beautiful spore sprint!
I put half of the cap back on top to show both the cap and spore print in one photograph.

The spore print was a nice, pale green, and this clinched our identification. Our mushroom was the False Parasol (Chlorophyllum molybdites). My kids now know that these mushrooms are poisonous. I am relieved they are not deadly. I have a bit more confidence in my mushroom identification skills. My kids had a fun time without even realizing they were learning… which is how education should be! And I got to know some of my mycological neighbors.

But, if I am honest, I was a bit bummed they weren’t edible!

 

Other popular related articles:

 

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Photo References: All photos are mine. If you would like to use them, please let me know!

 
 

 

Permaculture Plants: Red Clover

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

Fields of Red Clover in bloom are rather beautiful!

Fields of Red Clover in bloom are rather beautiful! 

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

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

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

Trivia:

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

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

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

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

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

Secondary Uses:

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

Drying Red Clover is fast and easy.

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

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

Medicinal Uses:

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

 

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

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

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

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

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

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

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

Life Span:

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

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

Red Clover has one or more deep taproots.

Red Clover has one or more deep taproots.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

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

Red Clover is pretty easy to identify.

Red Clover is pretty easy to identify.

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

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

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

Special Considerations for Growing:

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

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

Maintenance: Minimal.

Concerns:

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

 

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Photo References:

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

 

 

 

 

Permaculture Plants: Sage

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

Sage

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

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

Sage

Garden Sage
Salvia officinalis

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

Trivia:

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

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

Sage

Sage pairs perfectly with fatty or oily dishes and sauces.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

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

Sage Groundcover

Secondary Uses:

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

Medicinal Uses:

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

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

Sage

One variety of Varigated Sage

Sage

Purple Sage
Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

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

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

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

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

Sage

The wonderfully fragrant Sage leaves…

Sage

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

Sage

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

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

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

Sage

Sage patch in flower.

Sage

Sage flowers.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

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

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

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

Concerns:
None. 

 

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Photo References:

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