Underground Layer

Permaculture Plants: Ginseng

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

Ginseng is prized for its slow-growing root.

Ginseng is prized for its slow-growing root.

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

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

Wild Ginseng is highly prized.

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

Ginseng

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

History & Trivia:

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

A high-value, human-shaped root.

Lower quality Ginseng roots.

Lower quality Ginseng roots.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Medicinal Herb (see below).

Medicinal Uses:

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

Washing freshly harvested Ginseng roots.

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

Commercial Ginseng operation.

Commercial Ginseng operation.

Wild-simulated Ginseng operation in Pennsylvania.

Wild-simulated Ginseng operation in Pennsylvania.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone:

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

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

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

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

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

Ginseng

Ginseng Plant Diagram (McGraw n.d.)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

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

pl

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

Determining the age of a Ginseng root.

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

Size:

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

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

Ginseng Shoot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

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

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

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

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

Concerns:

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

A good harvest dried Ginseng.

 

Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

 

Photo References:

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

 

Permaculture Plants: 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!

 

Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

 

Photo References:

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

 

Permaculture Plants: 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.

 

Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

 

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: Oca

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

Oca08

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

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

Oca13

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

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

Oca05

Oca can be eaten raw or cooked.

Yellow and Purple varieties.

Yellow and Purple varieties.

Trivia:

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

 

Oca01

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

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

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – attractive bushy leaves

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

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

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

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

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

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

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

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

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

Life Span:

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

Small Oca plant.

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

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

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

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

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

Harvest time!

Harvest time!

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

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

Propagation:

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

Maintenance: 

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

Concerns:

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

 

 

Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

 

Photo References:

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

Permaculture Plants: Hog Peanut

Common Name: Hog Peanut, American Wild Peanut

Scientific Name: Amphicarpaea bracteata
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume or Bean or Pea family)

Hog_Peanut04

The Hog Peanut has had very little development.

Description:
This North American native plant is one of the rare shade-tolerant nitrogen-fixers. It can be used as a groundcover, has two types of edible seeds, and has edible roots. The Hog Peanut fills a niche in the Forest Garden and is likely going to be a very popular plant in the future.

History:
Native to central and eastern North America, the Hog Peanut has had almost no development. It was a minor food source for Native Americans, and it is now being used more as people begin to understand its usefulness.

Hog_Peanut05

Hog Peanut is unique in that it produces two different types of seeds.

Trivia:

  • Hog Peanut is unique in that it has two types of flowers. One is an open flower that allows for cross-pollination; these are born on the top of the plant and produce 1-4 seeds each. The other is a closed flower that will only self-pollinate; it grows very low on the plant and produces a pod that buries itself underground and makes a single seed which wild pigs like to eat… hence the common name.
  • The genus Amphicarpeae is Greek for “two-seeded”, referring to the two seed types discussed above.
  • Hog Peanut has delicate white to pink/purple flowers.
  • While many Native American tribes utilized the Hog Peanut as a minor food source, it was the Pawnee who had the most unique harvesting method. They let the rats do it! Then
Hog_Peanut02

Sunchokes and Hog Peanuts are a great polyculture as described by author Eric Toensmeier.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Groundcover
  • Nitrogen Fixer – 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; Cowpea inoculation group.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plan
  • Shelter plant for beneficial insects, especially parasatic wasps.
  • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant.
  • Edible Seeds – About one-quater to 0.15-0.25 inch diameter (4-6 mm). Pods containing seed develop from the flowers on the upper parts of the plant. Need to be cooked.
  • Edible Peanuts– These “peanuts” are actually seeds that develop from flower pods growing just above the soil surface (see Trivia above). They are larger than the above ground seeds, about 0.60 inch diameter (15 mm). If young and tender enough, these seeds may be eaten raw. If older, then they need to be cooked like any other bean.
  • Edible Roots – From extensive literature reviews, it appears that some Hog Peanuts can produce medium-sized taproots which are edible. This appears to be the exception than the rule.

Yield: No reliable information could be found for a single plant, but typically yields are not high.
Harvesting: Autumn for above-ground seeds. Autumn-Winter for below-ground seeds or “peanuts” – these “peanuts” are not large and can look like a small clod of dirt. This is the pod, that when opened, reveals a pretty, speckled seed. If there is a dense planting, a handful can be collected within a few minutes. Roots, if large enough to be worthwhile, would likely be harvested in Autumn-Winter.
Storage: Use fresh or dry well and store like any dried bean.

Hog_Peanut01

There are so few shade-tolerate nitrogen-fixing plants.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 3-9
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information could be found.
Chill Requirement: None – this is an annual

Plant Type: Annual running vine
Leaf Type: Deciduous (annual)
Forest Garden Use: Climbing Layer, Groundcover Layer, Underground Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Minimal development has been done on this species

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Summer – Autumn

Life Span:
This is an annual plant – lives just one year. However, it reseeds so easily, it can almost be treated like an herbaceous perennial.

Hog_Peanut03

Hog Peanut has small, beautiful flowers.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 1-5 feet (30-150 cm) tall and wide
Roots: Fibrous, but some may form a taproot
Growth Rate: Medium-Fast

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers light shade to full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade
Moisture: Medium-moisture soils.
pH: 5.1-7.0

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Grow this under plants that are at least 3 feet tall so the Hog Peanut doesn’t climb and overgrow it.
  • Hog Peanut gets going a bit later in the Spring to early Summer, so early season Spring ephemerals (e.g. Ramps) will grow well with it.

Propagation:
From seed. Scarification recommended – pre-soak for 12 hrs in warm water is typically sufficient. Sow in place in the Spring.

Maintenance: Minimal.

Concerns: None

 

Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

 

Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9a/Amphicarpa_bracteata_-_hog_peanut_-_desc-foliage.jpg
  • http://paradiselotblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/sunchoke-hog-peanut.jpg
  • http://newfs.s3.amazonaws.com/taxon-images-1000s1000/Fabaceae/amphicarpaea-bracteata-fl-ahaines-c.jpg
  • http://apiosinstitute.org/sites/default/files/resize/hog%20peanut-500×375.jpg
  • http://www.pfaf.org/Admin/PlantImages/AmphicarpaeaBracteata.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-LeU1KQ5KFIg/UFPXsbWRL7I/AAAAAAAABGE/KcQtmsYWBLc/s1600/hog+peanut+leaves+in+hand.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Amphicarpaea_bracteata_subsp._edgeworthii_4.JPG

Permaculture Plants: Parsley

Common Name: Parsley

Scientific Name: Petroselinum crispum
Family: Apiaceae (the Carrot or Parsley family)

Parsley02

The classic curly-leaf Parsley.

Description:
I was fortunate to live and travel for a few years in the Mediterranean and Middle East. It would be shocking  for the cultures in this part of the world to consider Parsley as nothing more than a green decoration on a plate, but sadly in the “modern” Western world, this is what has occured. I cannot think of a meal during all my travels and dining, whether at a restaraunt or in a home, where Parsley was not used as an herb, spice, or vegetable. Most of the species I outline in these profiles deal with perennial plants, but the reseeding nature of this biennial makes it act like a perennial. Combining its amazing variety in the kitchen with its use as a beneficial insect attractor and dynamic accumulator makes Parsley an ideal addition to the Forest Garden and Permaculture Design in general.

Parsley08

Petroselinum crispum

History:
Native to the central Mediterranean region of Algeria, Italy, and Tunisia, Parsley it quickly spread and traveled with exploration, and it is now used extensively around the world.

Trivia:

  • The Parsley genus, Petroselinum, contains only two species: Common Garden Parsely (P. crispum) and Corn Parsley (P. segetum).
  • Garden Parsley can be subdivided into Leaf types and Root (Hamburg) types.
  • The two main groups of Leaf Parsely are curly-leaf and flat-leaf (Italian) Parsley.
  • Another lesser known type of Leaf Parsely has been cultivated for thick stems resembling celery.
Parsley07

Tabbouleh is one of my favorite dishes of all time!
http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2011/06/tabbouleh-recipe-anissa-helou/

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Leaves – Leaf Parsley can be curly or flat. While they can be used interchangably, the flat-leaf type is most often used as a vegetable. Curly-leaf is the classic garnish Parsley. Both can be used as an herb or spice equally well, but some say the flat-leaf type is more flavorful (it may just be how they were grown or the particular varieties I have sampled… and that is a lot… but I think I would agree that flat-leaf Parsely has more flavor). Parsley leaves with some of the stem can be eaten as is, maybe with a little lemon juice on it, as they do in Turkey. It can be chopped as the main ingredient in the classic Middle Eastern salad, tabbouleh. It can be bundled with other herbs and used to make stock, soups, and sauces in the classic French bouquet garni. It can be chopped and sprinkled on potatoes, rice, fish, poultry, meats, and vegetables as a minor or significant flavoring ingredient. And lastly, it can be used as a pathetic garnish.
  • Edible Stems – All Parsley stems are edible, but more tough/fibrous than the leaves. When chopped finely enough, they can be used in any Parsely application. While there is a variety which has been developed with thick, celery-like stems, I have never tried it. I am hoping to find some seeds for this in the future.
  • Edible Roots – Again, this is another variety I have not sampled. It is reported to have a unique “parsley-celery” flavor, and it is used most commonly in eastern and central European cuisine. May be used raw or cooked.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Wildlife food (seeds… mainly birds) in late Summer
  • Dynamic Accumulator – the large taproot can mine minerals from deeper in the soil

Yield: Variable. Depends on how aggressively it is harvested and the climate it is growing.
Harvesting: Anytime.
Storage: Ideally used fresh… I pick mine and use it within a few minutes of harvest. Can be dried, but requires very dry conditions as the leaves are so thin and easily rehydrate and stick together. Can be frozen and used later in soups, stews, sauces, etc. (consider freezing chopped leaves and a little bit of water in ice cube trays. Once frozen, they can be placed in a bag in the freezer and used as needed through the Winter.)

Parsley01

One of my Parsley plants. Notice the long taproot which enables it to mine deep for minerals.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9
AHS Heat Zone: 9-1
Chill Requirement: No reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Herbaceous Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous (not frost tender) – Biennial. Can keep growing in fairly cold weather, so if you live in a location with mild Winters, you may get to have year round production
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer, Underground Layer for Root varieties
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available.

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

Life Span:
Two years as it is a biennial plant – it creates a deep root the first year, overwinters, and then puts out flowers the following year. However, once a patch is established, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant. The patch will keep on growing indefinitely if not overharvested and allowed to flower and set seed.

Parsley04

The attractive and tiny flowers attracts a wide variety of beneficial insects.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 1-2 feet (30-60 cm) tall and 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) wide
Roots: Leaf types have a long taproot (see photo above) and Root types resemble parsnip
Growth Rate: Fast

Parsley06

The root variety of Parsley… resembles parsnip in appearance only.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Moist to wet soils.
pH: tolerates a wide range of soil conditions

Special Considerations for Growing:
I have found that high winds and dry conditions stunt the growth a bit, but other than that, it doesn’t appear to be too picky. Can be susceptable to fungal diseases if it stays too wet in the Winter; I have experienced this myself in the Azores’ wet, windy Winters.

Propagation:
Typically from seed. Germination takes 1-6 weeks depending on ambient temperatures.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:

  • There are some reports that very high consumption of Parsley can be toxic. There is not a lot of reliable information on this. I love Parsley… I mean, I think I may have an addiction issue with Parsley. I have yet to meet someone who eats as much Parsley as I, even when I lived in the Middle East. Back when I was working nights in the hospital I would make a very, very  large batch of tabbouleh. This would be my main food for a week at a time. I have had no ill effects. Either I am immune or more likely the amount for toxicity is so significant that it is very unlikely to occur. However, it does appear that if pregnant, large consumption may cause some isues.
Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Photo References:

  • http://cdn.kaleuniversity.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Parsley.jpg
  • http://www.stephenmorrisauthor.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Parsley_bush.jpg
  • http://anitamathias.com/blog/2011/11/20/garden-pictures-on-nov-20th-and-personal-facebook-updates/
  • http://lardertales.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/dscn4486.jpg
  • http://puttingitallonthetable.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/parsley-root.jpg
  • http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3241/5792395877_d7773b2df4.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6c/Illustration_Petroselinum_crispum0.jpg