Forest Gardening

Permaculture Plants: Licorice (Liquorice)

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

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

Licorice is a medium-sized herbaceous perennial.

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

Licorice

Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

History/Trivia:

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

 

Licorice

Licorice in its most recognizable form… a sweet candy!

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

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

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

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

Licorice growing at Pontefract in the UK

Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Secondary Uses:

  • Nitrogen Fixing Plant – this plant creates its own nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with microorganisms (bacteria) in its roots. It typically produces an excess of nitrogen that can be used by neighboring plants. This is a leguminous plant and has several types of inoculants that partner with it.
  • Dynamic Accumulator – Phosphorus, Nitrogen. When the herbaceous above-ground portion of this plant dies back each year, it is bound to release the nutrients it has mined with its roots.
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Shelter plant for beneficial insects
    • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
    • Parasitic Wasps prefer to rest and hide on this plant
  • Wildlife Food – foliage (large mammals) and seeds (small mammals and birds)
  • There are a number of reports that Licorice can be eaten by livestock. A 1981 study determined that American Licorice is comparable to alfalfa in nutrition.
  • Erosion Control Plant – the extensive root system helps stabilize soils prone to erosion
  • Pioneer Plant – helps reestablish overused or damaged land
Licorice Root is a common ingredient in herbal teas.

Licorice Root is a common ingredient in herbal teas.

Medicinal Uses:

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

 

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

Chinese Licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis)

Chinese Licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis)

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone:

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

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

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

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

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

Russian Licorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata)

Russian Licorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata)

Seed pods of Russian Licorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata)

Seed pods of Russian Licorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

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

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

Licorice08

American Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)

Seed pods of American Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)

Seed pods of American Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)

Seeds of Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Seeds of Common Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

Special Considerations for Growing:

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

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

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

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

 

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Photo References:

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

 

Shaggy Mane Mushrooms: Wild Harvesting in the Azores!

Yesterday, I was driving in a vehicle and I spotted what I thought were some shelf mushrooms on a tree. I was not driving, so I could not slam on the brakes and screetch to a halt, as I normally would have done, to go investigate. I did note the location. So later that day, I had a chance to take a second look. The first problem was that now I was making a specific trip to go find mushrooms based entirely on a fraction of a second, drive-by spotting. The second problem was that once I decided to make a specific trip, I now had the interest and expectations of my wife and parents (who are currently on the island with us). There was no real pressure in being wrong, that is, other than self-induced pride. After strapping my two youngest children into their carseats, my parents climbed in the van, and the five of us went on a mushroom hunt. Twenty minutes later, I was standing in a small stand of trees looking at a pile of bright orange roof tiles stacked up against the base of a tree. To be honest, they really did resemble Sulfur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus) mushrooms, but I had been defeated by a case of mistaken identity and wishful thinking. This is a common ailment in mushroomers.

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How quickly can you spot the mushroom?

We decided to turn around at the local golf course. As we were driving out, since I was driving, I slammed on the brakes and (almost) screetched to a halt. I had spotted another mushroom. This time I was certain. There was one group of golfers who seemed a bit curious about the bald, six-foot-three (190 cm) man, jogging across the green with a camera, but they just kept on playing; it seems like golfers are golfers no matter the country! I approached my target, and I dropped to a knee and smiled. It was a Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)!

On a side note: I actually think all mushroomers experience uncontrollable smiling when they find a prized mushroom. But I also do the same thing when I identify a bird I have never seen in person before or when I see a plant I have only read about… the smile truly erupts from inside. It is a combination of happiness and adventure and wonder and contentment. I see it in children a lot. Sadly, I don’t see it in adults nearly as much.

My mother seemed a bit bewildered that I could spot a single, tiny mushroom in a wide open field. My wife says the same thing when I spot a bird or a lizard or a seedling. Part of me is proud of this skill, but I also know that it is a learned skill. I really think anyone can learn to do it if they have a desire. Talk to any experienced mushroomer or birder, and they will probably agree. It is just a matter of learning how to look. I will try to expand on this a bit more in another article soon, but rest assured, if you want to develop a “good eye”, you can.

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It’s really easy to see when you know what to look for.

I have recently mentioned in a previous article how the locals have told me there are no edible mushrooms in the Azores. But I had proven them wrong with finding a Puffball. However, I had yet to collect any mushroom and actually eat it. But that was about the change!

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Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus), a prime specimen… perfect for eating!

I was a little disappointed that there was only a single Shaggy Mane. Yes, there are a lot of highs and lows in mushrooming! But I now knew two things: First, I had found another edible mushroom on this island! Second, if there was one Shaggy Mane, there had to be more. I stood up and scanned the surrounding area… nothing. I slowly walked back to the van, scanning everywhere… still nothing. I started to drive away, straining to see any glimpse of white or ink black in the bright green grass. I was about to give up when in a small area near the entrance to the golf course I saw about a dozen more white cones protruding above the grass! I had found a Shaggy Mane patch!

Many of them were too mature to be edible still, but I did find five in good condition. I snapped a few more photos, carefully harvested my prize, and drove back home feeling rather satisfied with myself. Of course, I know most people think it is rather odd or entirely suicidal to collect wild mushrooms (see my article on Fighting Fungiphobia). I know others think it is a waste of time when one can so easily go to the grocery store. But there is an amazing diversity of flavors that await those who only eat what is on the shelves. And there is a joy in collecting wild food. It is something you need to experience to appreciate, and I hope to encourage you to give it a try.

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This one is just starting to “ink”. There is some edible parts remaining in the top of the cap, but the shelf-life is really a matter of hours now. The ink is not poisonous, but it does not have a good flavor.

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No longer edible, this Shaggy Mane cap has almost entirely deliquesced (liquified), dropping its spores in an inky mess… the origin of its other common name, the Shaggy Ink Cap.

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Here is my small harvest of Azorean Shaggy Mane mushrooms!

I brought back the mushrooms. I brushed off most of the dirt and grass then wiped them clean with a damp cloth. Shaggy Mane mushrooms do not have a long shelf life. This is why they will never be sold in a grocery store. Every once in a while, you may fine some at a Farmers Market, but they would have been collected within the previous 24 hours, probably less. In general, these mushrooms need to be eaten as soon as possible after harvesting. This means on the same day or the next day at most. But you risk them going bad. I have read one mycologist who stated that, “the butter should be melted in the pan before you pick them!” Now, they are not that sensitive, but Shaggy Manes are extremely hygroscopic… this means they love water… a lot! The caps pull water from the atmosphere and slowly dissolve into an inky mess. This will happen to all Shaggy Manes when stored for too long, so the fresher they are, the better they will be for eating.

I then split the mushrooms lengthwise and melted some butter with a splash of olive oil in a frying pan. The mushroom halves were cooked at a medium-high heat… enough to brown the mushrooms, but not enough to burn the butter. Shaggy Manes can give off a lot of water when they are cooked. This means they will shrink quite a bit when sauteed or fried. They can also be added to soups and other “wet” dishes, so that their water content fits with the meal. When I have a small batch of mushrooms, especially wild ones that are not common, I prefer to prepare them in a way that highlights their flavor, on their own.

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These are very good Shaggy Mane mushrooms. Note that they are all white with no gray or black on them… perfect for eating.

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Shaggy Manes are added to a pan of hot butter and olive oil.

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They are seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper and sauted until lightly browned.

The Shaggy Mane has a very good, delicate, “mushroomy” flavor. One writer states the mushroom reminds them of almonds… I don’t really agree, but there is a bit of a meaty, nutty flavor, but it is mild. If they are sauteed too long, I think the flavor starts to fade into the browned butter too much. The goal is for a light browing on the surface and too cook it long enough for the water to evaporate. Some people recommend pouring the water off, but I think you loose some of the flavor that way. The non-water components of the liquid will get pulled back into the mushrooms. Alternatively, you could pour off the water and use that in a stock for soup or a risotto.

There are a number of recipes available for Shaggy Mane mushrooms. I honestly want to try them all. My method is a simple, easy way that allows the mushrooms’ flavor to be highlighted. But if you have a bumper harvest, then experiment. Please let me know what works well for you!

For more information on Shaggy Mane mushrooms, see my other articles:

 

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Photo References: All photos in this article are mine. If you would like to use any of my photos, please let me know!

 

Permaculture Plants: Calendula

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

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

Calendula or Pot Marigold… a lovely little plant.

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

Calendula officinales

Calendula officinales

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

Trivia:

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

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

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

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

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

Calendula attracts beneficial insects and butterflies.

Secondary Uses:

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

    A Calendula (and other herb) poultice.

    A Calendula (and other herb) poultice.

Medicinial Uses:

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

    Making Calendula Oil... quite easy to do.

    Making Calendula Oil… quite easy to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calendula makes a pretty good groundcover.

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

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

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

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

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

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

There are many varities of Calendula.

There are many varities of Calendula.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

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

Calendula adds a splash of beauty anywhere it is planted.

Calendula adds a splash of beauty anywhere it is planted.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

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

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

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

Concerns:
None.

Now this is real flower power!

Now this is real flower power!

 

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Photo References:

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

 

Edible Wild Mushrooms in the Azores!

(sorry for the rather bad photo… it was taken on a friend’s smartphone!)

Ever since moving to the Azores almost two years ago, I have been searching for wild edible mushrooms. All the locals I asked told me that there were only poisonous mushrooms here on this island, that there are no edible mushrooms here. This puzzled me. The Azores, in general, have high amounts of rainfall and humidity through most of the year, so I figured this place should be a mushroom hunter’s paradise. But time and again, the locals shot me down.

I felt that this was a classic case of fungiphobia. It seems that mushrooms are adored by the Spanish and Portuguese on the mainland, that is the Iberian Penninsula on the European continent, but other than button mushrooms and the occasional portabella, the Azoreans do not seem to be big fans of mushrooms. I am sure there are Azoreans who do love mushrooms, but I have not met them yet. My thought was that the locals believed there were no edible mushrooms on this island, because that is what their parents told them, and their parents learned this from their parents, and on and on.

I thought this climate would be perfect for mushrooms. I even “planted” some mushroom patches of my own. Unfortunately, with me moving in about 6 weeks, it seems that I will never see the fruits (or fruiting bodies, rather) of my labor. I am okay with that. I have turned over many gardens and fruit trees to unknown people who came after me with all my moves in the last decade. But I really thought I would be able to find some edible wild mushrooms here if I could get out there and hunt. Between naturally occuring species and/or accidentally introduced species, I figured that there would need to be at least one wild edible mushroom on this island.

Now, to be honest, I have not been out hunting mushrooms like a professional would. I am rather busy, probably way too busy, with so many other things, that hunting for edible mushrooms when everyone says they don’t exist was not a huge priority for me. However, every time I am outside, my eyes are constantly scanning. I look for insects and birds. I try to identify every plant I step over or pass by, and I look for mushrooms. In truth, I have seen quite a few mushrooms… tiny, frail, ephemeral mushrooms that are probably non-poisonous but not really “edible”. And I have not come across any mushroom larger than a dime. I will also add that the one other Permaculturist on the island which I live has recently told me about a gentleman who is growing edible mushrooms, but I have yet to visit his place.

But today, I have been vindicated!

As I was walking in to work this morning, I spotted a little, round, white ball in the grass. I stepped right over it and kept walking. It took two to three steps before my brain made the recognition… “I think that was a mushroom!”

I went back and took a knee in the grass to study it. It was just a bit smaller and oblong than a golfball. I plucked it from its anchor and took a deep smell of it, and a big smile crossed my face. It was a very small Puffball. I am pretty sure it is a very young Calvatia gigantea. So, here it is. I had found a wild, edible mushroom in the Azores!

In hindsight, I wish I would have left it there in the hopes it would continue growing large enough for a meal, but really wanted to make the correct identification. Some immature gilled mushrooms with their intact universal veil, a number of which are quite poisonous, can resemble a young Puffball. Identification of a small Puffball is quite important. It gets significantly easier as they mature, since some Puffballs can grow larger than a basketball. But I know where I found this one. Other Puffballs will hopefully pop up in the area.

I may have just enough time for some Puffball steaks before I leave… keeping my fingers crossed!

Here is a great page on cooking the Giant Puffball mushroom.

 

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Permaculture Plants: Sweet Potatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This purple variety of Sweet Potato is stunning.

This purple variety of Sweet Potato is stunning.

Trivia:

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

 

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

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

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

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

 

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

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

Ornamental varieties of Sweet Potato abound.

Ornamental varieties of Sweet Potato abound.

Another ornamental Sweet Potato.

Another ornamental Sweet Potato.

Secondary Uses:

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

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

Blurring the line between ornamental and functional groundcover.

Blurring the line between ornamental and functional groundcover.

A beautiful red-skinned, yellow-fleshed variety.

A beautiful red-skinned, yellow-fleshed variety.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

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

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

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

Life Span:

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

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

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

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

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

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

Sweet Potatoes are consider "root tubers".

Sweet Potatoes are consider “root tubers”.

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

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

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

Special Considerations for Growing:tutorial android

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

 

A slip ready to be planted.

A slip ready to be planted.

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

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

Propagation:

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

Maintenance:
Minimal.

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

The deep colors mean the tubers are packed with nutrition.

The deep colors mean the tubers are packed with nutrition.

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

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

 

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Photo References:

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

Permaculture Plants: Sea Kale

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

Sea Kale in a clump forming, edible perennial.

Sea Kale in a clump forming, edible perennial.

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

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

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

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

Trivia:

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

    Sea Kale has edible leaves…

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

    …and edible shoots (that can be blanched).

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

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

Secondary Uses:

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

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

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

The flower heads are also edible… just like broccoli!

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

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

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

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

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

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

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

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

Life Span:

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

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

The classic Brassica pattern of growth.

The classic Brassica pattern of growth.

The fragrant and numerous flowers attract beneficial insects.

The fragrant and numerous flowers attract beneficial insects.

 

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

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

Sea Kale is a clump forming perennial.

Sea Kale is a clump forming perennial.

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

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

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

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

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

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
None.

 

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Photo References:

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

 

Reishi (Ling Chi) Mushroom

Common Name: Ling Chi, Reishi, Varnished Conk, Ling Zhi, Ling Chih, Mannentake
Scientific Name: Ganoderma lucidum
Family: Ganodermataceae

The beautiful, medicinal Reishi!

The beautiful, medicinal Reishi!

Description:
This shelf-fungus has a shiny (varnished) appearance, and it has been used as a medicinal mushroom in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2,000 years! Fruiting Body: 0.8-13.8 inches (2-35 cm) wide and 1.6-3.1 inches (4-8 cm) thick and it is usually fan or kidney-shaped. The growing edge is whitish, and it yellows and turns reddish-brown when it matures. It is a polypore mushroom, so it has pores on the underside of the cap instead of gills. It is found in tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate climates all around the world on a large variety of trees, but prefers warmer-climate, deciduous, hardwood trees (especially oak and maple). There has not been nearly as much outdoor, small-scale cultivation as there is commercial, large-scale cultivation, but it has growing requirements similar to Shiitake, so it should be considered in your Permaculture designs and Forest Gardens.

A classic polypore with pores instead of gills under the cap.

A classic polypore with pores instead of gills under the cap.       (Much thanks to David Spahr (www.mushroom-collecting.com) for the use of his images. Highly recommend his site for those in Maine, New England, or Eastern Canada!)

The closely related Ganoderma tsugae

The closely related Ganoderma tsugae

Closely Related Species (There are a number of closely related species that are found around the world. Defining species is difficult with fungi because they can have such similar characteristics, but is slowly becoming more clear with DNA analysis. The following fungi are the more common similar species found in North America. They likely have similar medicinal properties, but no reliable information/studies can be found):

  • Ganoderma curtisii: smaller, orchre to whitish or only a partly reddish cap, found in eastern and southeastern North America.
  • Ganoderma tsugae: very similar, all white flesh, only grows on conifers, especially Hemlock, found in northern North America.
  • Ganoderma oregonense: larger with larger pores as well, found in Oregon, Washington, and California (prefers cooler climates).
Reishi prefers to grow on hardwoods.

Reishi prefers to grow on hardwoods.

Mushroom Niche: Decomposer and/or Parasitic. The researchers are still trying to decide, although it appears that this mushroom may be what is called a “facultative parasite”. This means the Reishi mushroom may just be an opportunist… if it can survive on a living tree as a parasite, it will do it… if the tree dies, it will live on it as a decomposer… if the fungus is only given decaying wood to grow, it will be fine as living its entire life as a decomposer.
Natural Culture Medium: Stumps, logs, and occasionally from the ground on buried roots.

History:
Reishi has been used for at least 2,000 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and became so revered that it is the most commonly rendered mushroom in the art of ancient China, Japan, and Korea – no other mushroom comes close. This mushroom, or other very closely related species, are found all over the globe. Today, it is intentionally grown more often than harvested from the wild, but it is still used primarily as a medicine.

Red is the most common form and likely has the most medicinal benefit, but there are also black, purple, blue, yellow, and white forms/species.

Red is the most common form and likely has the most medicinal benefit, but there are also black, purple, blue, yellow, and white forms/species.

Trivia:

  • Ling Zhi means “tree of life mushroom (herb)” in Chinese.
  • Reishi means “divine” or “spiritual mushroom” in Japanese.
  • Mannentake means “10,000-year mushroom” or “mushroom of immortality” in Japanese as well.
  • If the mushrooms are dried in the sun, the natural ergocalciferols (considered vitamin D “provitamins”) are converted into Vitamin D2 which is readily absorbed by the human body.
  • The stalk of this mushroom can be quite long or almost entirely absent. It depends on the growing conditions, one major factor is the amount of carbon dioxide present during growth.
  • Long-stalked mushrooms are highly valued. They occur in nature more often when growing in cavities of a fallen tree.
  • The cap is most commonly reddish-brown, but can be almost black, purple, blue, yellow, or almost entirely white. These color variations may represent closely related species, but they could just be various forms of the same species. We are awaiting more DNA testing to know for sure. It does appear that the red form has the most health benefits, but there are limited studies to show this.
  • While almost all Reishi is prepared with hot water or alcohol extraction methods, the very thin white margin (not the bitter yellowed part) can be cooked and eaten when fresh. These “Reishi Tips” are reported to have a meaty taste/texture, but I have yet to try them.

General “Mushroom” Vocabulary

  • Mushroom – lay-person term for the spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus
  • Fruiting-body – what is commonly called a “mushroom”… the spore-bearing reproductive structure of a fungus. I will use the term mushroom from here on because that is how what the average person understands.
  • Spore – the reproductive unit. Typically only one microscopic cell. We can consider it like a mushroom “seed”.
  • Hyphae – microscopic, filamentous (thread-like) strand that is the vegetative part of the fungus. It grows from the spore.
  • Mycelium (mycelia is plural) – a mass of hyphae. These will develop a fruiting body to reproduce (release spores).
  • Spawn – material that contains actively growing hyphae of the fungus. Spawn can be used to inoculate the desired culture substrate (logs, branches, stumps, sawdust, etc.) for people to produce a crop of fruiting bodies/mushrooms
  • Stipe – the stem/stalk of the fruiting body/mushroom
  • Pileus – the cap or cap-like structure on top of the stem that supports the spore bearing surface
  • Lamella – the gills (aka ribs) on the undersurface of some fruiting bodies/mushrooms
  • Pores – spongy material with “holes” in it on the undersurface of some fruiting bodies/mushrooms… some mushrooms have these instead of gills
Reishi Tea is one of the most common ways to use this mushroom.

Reishi Tea is one of the most common ways to use this mushroom.

USING THIS MUSHROOM

Primary Uses:

  • Medicinal – There are a number of ways to prepare Reishi (see below). Of all the medicinal mushrooms, even though many of the claims are often overblown, Reishi seems to have the most history and evidence to support it being a medically active. There are dozens of scientific/medical journal articles detailing how this mushroom is effective in improving the human immune system. It settles down the overexpression of the immune system (provides relief from bronchitis, asthma, and seasonal allergies). It settles down inflammatory reactions (improves arthritis and prostate symptoms and atherosclerotic disease). But it also enhances the functions/elements of the immune system that fight off infections, tumors, and cancers. It is a very strong antioxidant, hence its anti-aging reputation. It has direct antimicrobial properties, and can lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, and can even slow down blood clotting. These last few properties need to be considered if a person has or is taking medication for high blood pressure, diabetes, or blood clots/bleeding disorders. If you have any medical problems or are taking any prescription medications, as a physician, I have to recommend that you talk with a trusted medical provider before consuming this mushroom as a medicinal, although it appears to be very safe.
  • Used as a “health” component in teas, candies (chocolates!), energy bars, energy drinks, coffees, beers, wine, etc.

Secondary Uses:

  • Art and craft pieces. Some of these pieces have been passed down in families for generations.
3-5 grams per day is the most common "dose" of this medicinal mushroom.

3-5 grams per day is the most common “dose” of this medicinal mushroom.

Preparation Methods:

  • Typical dose is 3-5 grams per day. Keep in mind the weight of the mushrooms you start with and the volume of liquid you end up with – this will give you the final concentration of your extract. You can then dose accordingly.
  • Decoction (aka “Hot Water Extraction”)  –  This is the most common method of consuming this mushroom. One can use fresh mushrooms, but dried mushrooms are used most frequently.
  • Fresh Mushroom Decoction: break the mushroom into pieces, boil in water for 60 minutes, let steep for 30 minutes, strain, and use. If the lid is kept off the boiling pot, the extract will become more concentrated.
  • Dried Mushroom Decoction: Dried pieces of mushroom are placed into almost boiling water and simmered for 2 hours. If the lid is kept off the boiling pot, the extract will become more concentrated. Some sourced recommend grinding the dried mushroom, and others recommend just breaking into very small pieces. After the liquid has cooled enough, the mushrooms can be squeezed to extract more liquid. Some people with take repeat the process again using the same mushrooms in a second decoction. This ensures all the “goodness” is extracted from the mushrooms.
  • Alcohol Extraction (Tincture): Take a jar of fresh Reishi or a half jar of dried Reishi (the dried mushrooms will expand) and add alcohol to fill the jar to the top. Use 100 proof alcohol – vodka is a good choice as it really has no flavor. Put the top on the jar and let it sit for 6-8 weeks. Then strain the mushrooms and save the alcohol – this is your alcohol extraction, a.k.a. “tincture”. The mushrooms can then be used again in a decoction, as outlined above. This is known as a double extraction. The alcohol and hot water extracts are combined and used (called a double extraction tincture).
  • Elixir – the mushroom is soaked in wine for several months to create an elixir. This elixir can be used straight or mixed into candies, especially chocolates. Note that there are many ways to make an elixir; this is just one method.
  • The extracts are bitter, so add them sparingly in teas or other drinks or liquids (soups, sauces, etc.)
  • Alcohol extracts can last for up to 2 years. Water extracts last significantly less time, but they can be frozen in ice cube trays for easy use in the future.
Young Reishi have a wide, white edge.

Young Reishi have a wide, white edge.     (Much thanks to David Spahr (www.mushroom-collecting.com) for the use of his images. Highly recommend his site for those in Maine, New England, or Eastern Canada!) 

Mature Reishi have none (or almost no) white edge.

Mature Reishi have none (or almost no) white edge.

Some Reishi can have

Mature and young Reishi.

Yield: Variable. Yields on stumps or logs are reported as averaging 1-2 lbs (0.45-0.9 kg) per year

Harvesting: The size of the cap is greatly dependent on the diameter of the log or stump on which it was grown. Mature mushrooms have a thinned cap, and the light-colored margin is not present (and has not been present for a few weeks). This is the perfect time for harvest.

Wild Harvest: NOTE: BE VERY SURE OF THE MUSHROOM YOU HARVEST FROM THE WILD! Fruiting runs from Summer through early Autumn. Make sure to harvest the recent year’s Reishi. Older Reishi don’t contain anywhere near the medicinal quality. Reishi with a white ridge means they are still growing. Remember their location and harvest them a few weeks to months later. Reishi from last year or older will be significantly darker and will be showing signs of rot.

Dried Reishi can be stored for years. Commercially, they are sold whole...

Dried Reishi can be stored for years. Commercially, they are sold whole…

...or sliced.

…or sliced.

Storage: Can be used fresh, but most people dry them. Some people have elaborate drying set ups. Some use an Excaliber dehydrator. Some use solar dehydrators. We can consider exposing the mushrooms to the sun for a bit first which will increase the Vitamin D2 content. Dried Reishi will store well for years.

Cultivation can take place in bags of woodchips...

Cultivation can take place in bags of woodchips…

...bags of sawdust...

…bags of sawdust…

...on small logs in commercial operations...

…on buried logs in commercial operations…

...or on small logs in a backyard!

…or on small logs in a backyard!

CULTIVATING THIS MUSHROOM

Cultivation Substrate: Logs, stumps, bundles of sticks, blocks of sawdust and/or woodchips. Primarily on hardwood, deciduous trees. Grows on maple, oaks, elms, beech, birch, alder, willow, sweetgum, magnolia, locust, and plum, but will likely grow on many other woods as well.

Cultivation Details:

  • Logs are ideally harvested from live, healthy trees in winter when there are a lot of stored carbohydrates. Diameter 3-6 inches (7.5-15 cm) and length 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters), although length is really based on what can be easily handled. Bark is left intact. Inoculation of the logs should take place 2-4 weeks after cutting to allow enough time for the natural anti-fungals to break down but not enough time for other fungi to start colonization.
  • Logs can be inoculated in a traditional manner… placing new logs next to logs/stumps that are currently growing Reishi so that the new logs become infected.
  • Logs can be inoculated with hardwood plugs which are themselves already inoculated with Reishi spawn.
  • Hardwood sticks can be tightly bundled together and treated as a log. I have not seen any specifics for inoculation of the bundles, but I imagine that the bundles could be covered with inoculated sawdust or the larger sticks may take an inoculated plug. Placing the bundles next to currently growing logs should also work.
  • Tightly packed bags of sterilized sawdust or sawdust/woodchip combination are also inoculated and commonly used.
  • Inoculated wood chips are even used in glass jars to grow Reishi.

Spawn Available:

  • Hardwood Plugs – dowels inoculated with mushroom spawn that are hammered in holes (typically 5/16 inch diameter, about an inch deep, and about 2 inches apart) drilled in logs, branches, or stumps.
  • Grain or Sawdust Spawn – these are sometimes available for purchase.
  • In Vitro Culture – pure mycelium in petri dishes… used by more advanced growers.

Incubation of Logs:

  • Inoculated logs can be treated as Shiitake logs. Stack logs close together for the first two months. This helps conserve moisture. If the logs become too dry, then constant watering or soaking for 48 hrs is needed. Allow for good air circulation between the logs. Providing shade (50-75% depending on local conditions) will help keep the moisture balance correct.
  • Short logs can also be put into a garden pot which is then filled with sand or gravel to keep the log upright. About 1/4 to 1/3 of the log itself is covered with the sand/gravel. The entire log, sand/gravel, and pot can be watered if needed. The sand/gravel helps stabilize temperatures and moisture.
  • Logs can also be laid down horizontally and entirely buried (shallow) in sawdust or sand or soil. The mushroom (fruiting body) will grow up through the covering material, and the covering material will stabilize temperature and moisture.
A log with Reishi inoculated hardwood plugs.

A log with Reishi inoculated hardwood plugs.

FRUITING CONDITIONS FOR THIS MUSHROOM

Fruiting Temperature: Typically needs warmer weather (60-95 F/15.5-35 C), and so fruiting often occurs in Summer to early Autumn.

Induction of Fruiting: Typically needs sustained moisture for a few days before fruiting begins. Bark can be dry but the wood underneath should be moist. This can occur with seasonal rains or with watering by us.

Life Span:

  • Time to Begin Fruiting: 6 months to 2 years. A 6-month old inoculated log can be induced to fruit with watering.
  • Years to Maximum Fruiting: 1-2 years
  • Years of Useful Life: Varies on the density of the wood (oak is very dense), the thickness of the log, and the conditions in which the mushroom substrate is kept, but 4-5 years of annual harvesting is common.
Stalks grow longer in high carbon dioxide environments.

Stalks grow longer in high carbon dioxide environments (like in a fallen tree’s cavity or a plastic bag)…

wild

… and then the cap fans out when the mushroom is exposed to “normal” air.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FOR THIS MUSHROOM

Concerns:

  • Some people may develop dry mouth, nose, or throat when consuming this mushroom. This is not common.
  • Some people may develop nosebleeds or blood in the stool after consuming this mushroom. This is not common.
  • People with low blood pressure may consider avoiding this mushroom, and people on high blood pressure medications need to be careful that their blood pressure doesn’t get too low.
  • People with low platelets (thrombocytopenia) or other blood clotting disorders or on “blood thinners” (typically because they had a blood clot or previous heart attack or stroke) should consult their healthcare provider before taking this medication as Reishi can interfere with normal clotting.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://mushroomsworld.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/linhzhi-ganoderma-lucidum_mushroomsworld.jpg
  • http://www.ganodermalucidumbenefits.org/img/BENEFITS%20OF%20GANODERMA%20LUCIDUM.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d7/Jreishi2.jpg
  • http://marnieclark.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Health-Benefits-of-Ganoderma-Lucidum-Medicinal-Mushrooms.jpg
  • http://www.micosalud.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Reishi-Hifas-005.jpg
  • http://pctrs.network.hu/clubpicture/1/2/2/7/_/ganoderma_lucidum_farm_1227895_2417.JPG
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-4zZ7rrpBX5M/UVqI1E-RF1I/AAAAAAAAAHQ/KKN4VxmSgAk/s1600/Que+es+Ganoderma+Lucidum.jpg
  • http://ganodermax.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Ganoderma.jpg
  • http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/2011/mestelle_zach/ganoderma%20tsugae.JPG
  • http://mushroom-collecting.com/Reishi%20nettles%20and%20other%20090%20copy.jpg
  • http://www.ecoyardfarming.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/reishilogs1.jpg
  • http://files.shroomery.org/files/042903-22/42499-reishi-cultivation.jpg
  • http://files.shroomery.org/files/06-34/652309394-Four_polypores_on_same_log.jpg
  • http://www.ecoyardfarming.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/logdowels.jpg
  • http://mushroom-collecting.com/Reishi%20nettles%20and%20other%20089%20copy.jpg
  • http://druidgarden.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/reishi.jpg
  • http://www.supernutrients.co.uk/wordpress2/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/REISHI.jpg
  • http://thewellnessdoer.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/l.jpg
  • http://www.buzzle.com/img/articleImages/556809-22107-43.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-w4ECMMSkYhU/T0rZreTlxcI/AAAAAAAAA8Y/stvy2KkMDU4/s1600/Reishi+and+tea.JPG

 

Permaculture Plants: Turkish Rocket

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

Turkish Rocket is a perennial member of the Brassica family.

Turkish Rocket is a perennial member of the Brassica family.

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

Turkish Rocket

Turkish Rocket Bunias orientalis

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

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

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

Trivia:

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

The flowering buds and stems can be eaten like broccoli.

The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked.

The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked.

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

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

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

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

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

Secondary Uses:

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

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

The classic rosette of Turkish Rocket.

The classic rosette of Turkish Rocket.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

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

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

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

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

Abundant flowers are a hallmark of Turkish Rocket.

Abundant flowers are a hallmark of Turkish Rocket.

These flowers are classic for the Brassica family.

These flowers are classic for the Brassica family.

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

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

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

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

Identification aid for Turkish Rocket.

Identification aid for Turkish Rocket.

Turkish Rocket seed pods.

Turkish Rocket seed pods.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

Special Considerations for Growing:
Reseeds easily.

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

Maintenance:
Minimal.

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

 

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Photo References:

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

 

Permaculture Plants: Buckwheat

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

Common Species (there are 15 or 16 species):

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

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

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

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

Common Buckwheat Fagopyrum eir

Common Buckwheat Fagopyrum esculentum

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

Trivia:

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

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

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

...and Buckwheat Pancakes are delicious!

…and Buckwheat Pancakes are delicious!

here’s a recipe for Spiced Buckwheat Pancakes!

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

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

Secondary Uses:

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

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

The fragrant flowers are honeybee magnets!

The fragrant flowers are honeybee magnets!

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

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

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

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

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

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

The leaves of Buckwheat are edible as well.

The leaves of Buckwheat are edible as well.

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

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

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

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

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

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

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

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

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

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

Special Considerations for Growing:

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

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

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

Concerns:
None.

 

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Photo References:

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

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

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

Permaculture Plants: Water Spinach, Kangkong, Ong Choy

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

Ipomoea aquatica goes by many names around the world!

Ipomoea aquatica goes by many names around the world!

Water Spinach is a common vegetable in Asian cuisine.

Water Spinach is a common vegetable in Asian cuisine.

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

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

Water Spinach has spinach-like leaves and hollow stems.

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

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

Ipomoea aquatica Forssk. 1775 - Wasserspinat - Water Spinach

Ipomoea aquatica Forssk. 1775 – Wasserspinat – Water Spinach

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

Red-Stemmed Water Spinach has pink to purple flowers.

Red-Stemmed Water Spinach has pink to purple flowers.

Trivia:

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

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

    As does this one!

    As does this one!
    see recipes below…

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

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

Water Spinach also makes great fodder!

Secondary Uses:

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

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

Water Spinach does very well in hydroponic systems.

Water Spinach does very well in hydroponic systems.

Water Spinach can grow in dense mats.

Water Spinach can grow in dense mats.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

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

Water Spinach roots very well from cuttings.

Water Spinach roots very well from cuttings.

Geoff Lawton showing his floating island of Water Spinach.

Geoff Lawton showing his floating island of Water Spinach.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

Special Considerations for Growing:

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

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

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

Concerns:

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

 

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Photo References:

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