Medicine and Health

Don’t Wash Your Hands!

Almost 1 year ago, Tasha Sturm, a microbiology lab technician at Cabrillo College, posted the photo above. It is a bacterial culture of her 8-year-old son’s handprint. She had her son place his hand on a large petri-dish after he was playing outside, and this is what grew! Amazing!

This image has made the rounds on the internet over the last year. The reason I am writing about it today is that it has unfortunately (and almost unanimously) prompted the opposite of the correct response from the people who see it. This is entirely due to lack of information and understanding.

The average person’s reaction is some combination of the following: “Ewww! Gross! I need to wash my hands! I need to wash my kids’ hands! I need some more anti-bacterial soap! I’ll never let my kid outside!”

Now, let’s deal with reality. There are bacteria everywhere. EVERYWHERE! In the dirt. In the air. On our food. In our water. On our skin. In our body! In fact, we need bacteria to survive. Our intestines are filled with bacteria, and hopefully most of it is good bacteria. But you know what? Some of those bacteria on or in us, are bad bacteria… bacteria that could kill us. But do you know why it doesn’t? Because of the good bacteria. The good bacteria entirely outnumber our bad bacteria; they overwhelm them and out-compete them. They give our immune system a fighting chance to beat the bad bacteria. If we didn’t have the good bacteria, we would be dead.

Close-up of some of the bacteria colonies.

Close-up of some of the bacteria colonies.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the photo above. Do you know what kind of bacteria are present in this handprint? These likely include Bacillus species, Serratia species, Micrococcus species, Staphylococcus species, and yeast species. All of these microorganisms are normally found in the soil and/or in the water and/or on the skin.

Tasha Sturm stated in an interview, “We have a large number of bacteria that live ‘with us’ that are beneficial. Some aide in digestion, make vitamin K, etc. People who are healthy come in contact with millions of bacteria every day without adverse effect. Coming in contact with bacteria actually strengthens our immune system.”

She added, “Unless your kids have a health condition that requires you to be more vigilant let them have fun and get dirty; it’s what they need to develop a healthy immune system.”

So, how do we strike a balance between good hygiene and developing a healthy immune system? If you touch or may touch something that is known to contain unhealthy bacteria, then wash your hands. If you touch or may touch something that could spread disease or cause infections, then wash your hands. This includes washing your hands after using the bathroom, after touching a dead animal, and before eating. And teach your children to do the same. But seriously, let’s be wise in this and don’t go overboard. Touching an animal that has been dead for a week is different than touching a dead animal you butchered yourself (yes, this is a Permaculture/Homesteading website!).

Also, please use antibacterial soap very sparingly. We don’t want to kill all bacteria in our environment or on our bodies. As a physician, I need to use antibacterial soap on a regular basis in the Emergency Room, but at home, I just use regular soap. Again, I recommend balance.

Tasha Sturm concluded by saying, “As microbiologists, our job, especially in education, is to make the invisible world visible so it’s easier to understand. I think the image of the handprint was a graphic way to show others what’s out there and the beauty of microbiology. I think this image did just that.”

I agree!

 

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

 

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

 

Tapping the Pine Tree… Plant Resins and their Uses

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

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

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

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

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

 

Resins_05

Pine Resin is naturally produced from wounds on the tree.

Resins

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

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

Resins_04

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

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

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

Another pine resin collection device.

Another pine resin collection device.

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

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

Mastic

Mastic

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

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

Elemi resin ready to be harvested.

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

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

Frankincense

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

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

Amber with a trapped insect.

Fossilized Resins:

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

 

 

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

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

Turpentine

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

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

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

Trees that have traditionally been primary sources of terpentine:

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

 

Pine Rosin

Pine Rosin

Other Resin Products

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

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

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

 

Varnishing a hand-crafted wooden canoe.

Varnishing a hand-crafted wooden canoe.

Additional Definitions

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

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

 

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

 

Photo References:

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

 

Additional References:

 

Permaculture Plants: Red Clover

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

Fields of Red Clover in bloom are rather beautiful!

Fields of Red Clover in bloom are rather beautiful! 

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

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

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

Trivia:

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

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

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

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

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

Secondary Uses:

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

Drying Red Clover is fast and easy.

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

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

Medicinal Uses:

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

 

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

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

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

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

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

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

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

Life Span:

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

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

Red Clover has one or more deep taproots.

Red Clover has one or more deep taproots.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

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

Red Clover is pretty easy to identify.

Red Clover is pretty easy to identify.

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

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

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

Special Considerations for Growing:

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

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

Maintenance: Minimal.

Concerns:

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

 

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

 

Photo References:

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

 

 

 

 

Permaculture Plants: Sage

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

Sage

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

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

Sage

Garden Sage
Salvia officinalis

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

Trivia:

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

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

Sage

Sage pairs perfectly with fatty or oily dishes and sauces.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

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

Sage Groundcover

Secondary Uses:

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

Medicinal Uses:

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

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

Sage

One variety of Varigated Sage

Sage

Purple Sage
Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

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

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

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

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

Sage

The wonderfully fragrant Sage leaves…

Sage

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

Sage

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

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

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

Sage

Sage patch in flower.

Sage

Sage flowers.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

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

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

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

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

Concerns:
None. 

 

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

 

Photo References:

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

 

Permaculture Plants: 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: 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!

 

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

 

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

 

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.

 

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

 

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

 

Dr. Permaculture’s Guide to Healthy Eating (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of a multipart series.
Be sure to read Part 1 & Part 2 here.

Well, I read this article about nutrition and it said… blah, blah, blah
Mark Twain was fond of saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Meaning, a skilled statistician can make the data say almost anything. Few people, even the “medical experts”, are very good at reading a research article with discernment and understanding. It is unfortunately very easy for a researcher with an agenda or with a poor peer review to present information that is misleading at best and just plain wrong at worst. Most of these researchers are not trying to be manipulative, although some are. There is a common phrase in acadamia: “Publish or perish!” And it is repeated for a reason. Researchers need to have good projects to receive continued funding to keep their job. A good project has good results, or at least the appearance of good results. A study that finds nothing is often not a very good project in the minds of the researcher, the university, the corporation, or whoever it is that is funding the research.

I don’t claim to be an expert statistician or researcher, but I do know that I have seen a large number of “research articles” people send me that are garbage. I may agree or disagree with the basic premise or motivation of the research, but because the study was designed poorly or had errors or had low power or had unknown or acknowledged biases, or had many other types of problems, the results of the “research” is worthless. My advice is to be very careful about placing all your faith, actions, or beliefs in one study or one researcher, especially when it concerns your health.

Is organic food better?
There have recently been some studies published reporting that organic food is no more nutritious than conventionally raised food. Taking my point above into consideration, these were pretty good studies. However, what exactly were they looking for? The researchers were mainly looking at major nutrients. The results showed that fruits and vegetables produce the same amount of major nutrients whether they were grown via traditional or organic farming techniques. I actually agree with this. Plants are going to be pretty consistent when it comes to major elements that are produced within their fruits and vegetative parts. Mainstream Big-Agricultural companies loved this report. The media jumped all over it. The average person probably said, “Wow? Then why do I pay so much more for organic food?” This is the problem with research. The question you ask is vital. The researchers asked about major nutrients, and they got an answer that worked for them. While the researchers never said it, they allowed the media to run with the headlines saying, “Organic farm food is no healthier than conventional farm food.” This is a subtle, but very powerful message. And I believe it is wrong!

These studies did not investigate the effects that modern herbicides and pesticides and fungicides have on the human body. They did not address the fact that our conventionally raised food is sprayed and coated with toxins that are taken into the plant tissue itself – the same plant tissue we eat! And meat is even worse since they accumulate toxins. Animals are exposed to all the chemicals used to grow the plant foods they eat; plus the animals are given hormones and antibiotics as well. From this aspect alone, it is obvious to anyone with any degree of common sense that organic food, food not plastered and impregnated with chemicals, is going to be healthier for the human body.

Are there any downsides to organic food?
I think there is. There are some large organic farms that look almost identical to the commercial farms next door. They are using “organic” pesticides and fungicides and herbicides. While I believe this is a better option, they are still destroying the soil. They are degrading the environment. They are still using massive tractors and burning through petroleum just as fast as a conventional farm. They may not be destroying the landscape as fast. They may not be poisoning the groundwater (and that is important). But they are not rebuilding the soils. They are not rebuilding the environment. They are not restoring ecologies.

Some smaller organic-certified farms are doing great things for the soil, land, and environment, and I need to be clear about that. But just because food is labeled organic does not mean that farm is restoring the land. It doesn’t mean they are raising nutrient dense foods.

Wait a minute… what are nutrient dense foods?
As we discussed above, the major nutrients in plants and animals are identical in most organic and conventionally-raised foods. But what about all the minor nutrients? What about all the other elements that go into a plant or animal when they are raised in an ideal environment? We know about some of these nutrients and elements. Plants contain phytonutrients (FI-toe-NEW-tree-ents) that have a wealth of health benefits, most of which we barely understand, and each plant often produces their own unique phytonutrients (some examples are monophenols, flavonoids, lignans, curcuminoids, aromatic acids, esters, carotenoids, xanthophylls, other terpenes, betalains, organosulfides, indoles, and many other antioxidants).

Look, we still have farmers who think that NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) are all that is needed to raise healthy plants. I honestly think that our great-great-grandchildren are going to look back at this era of conventional farming, shake their heads, and laugh. We currently know so little about soil health and ecology. We know so little about plants let alone their interactions with the soil and the atmosphere and other plants around them and animals in their environment. We do know a lot of facts, but in comparison to what is unknown, we are just scratching the surface. We are like a child who is barely passing kindergarten pretending to be effectively working on an advanced theoretical physics project.

Food that is raised in soil that is alive, soil that is similar to that found in a natural ecosystem, is going to produce plants and animals that are healthy. I mean really healthy… vibrant, full of life. The food collected from this environment is going to be packed full of nutrients, not just the major nutrients we fully understand today, but the nutrients we are just beginning to understand, the components we know exist but do not understand at all, and the components that we do not even know exist yet.

Where do I find food like this?
This is where Permaculture comes into this discussion. There are ways to design agricultural systems modeled on nature itself that integrate human communities and produce nutrient dense foods. I call this Permaculture (and this is what the bulk of this site is all about!), but there are people who have done this without using the title. Masanobu Fukuoka in Japan, Allan Savory in Zimbabwe, Sepp Holzer in Austria, and Joel Salatin in the United States are just a few people who have all healed the land while producing nutrient dense foods, but they did not (at least initially) use the term Permaculture. They bring the soil back to life, restore ecologies, and produce food that significantly more healthy than that produced by conventional agriculture. And these farmers and ranchers are all over the world raising this kind of food. If we seek out these producers and support them, we will ensure that this food continues to be available to us. We will help shift the market so that this food becomes even more widely available.

It does take some searching to find these producers, but you can find them. Although occasionally this can be difficult. This is a big reason I am creating AgriTrue (along with a few other key people!). AgriTrue is a website that will help connect the average person with people who produce food in a way that is important to that person. We are finally making really good progress with this project, and we hope to have the site up and running by the first of the year. Stay tuned!

With that said, in my opinion, the best way to get high quality food is to raise it yourself! You will know exactly how it was raised. You will know what that plant or animal was fed and what it was exposed to. Food that was growing in a garden only minutes before it is on your plate has a flavor that is hard to explain, and it has health benefits we are just starting to really comprehend. Again, understanding and learning how to do this is what this site is all about.

I gained weight when I started to eat this food!
I wish I had thousands of patients who have followed the advice I give to eat fruits and veggies that were raised in a high quality environment and to eat pasture-raised meat and fats. Then I could give amazing reports on how a wide variety of people respond. Unfortunately, I do not… yet! I have my own patients’ experiences to draw from. I have read as much as possible of the limited data that has been reported in medical journals. I also take other physicians’ and health providers’ experiences to get a general picture of what is common. This is not the same as a high quality, well-designed medical study, and I know that, but that is all I have right now.

With that said, I know that it is possible, although not common, for people to actually gain some weight initially when they change their diet to this type of truly healthy food. How can this be? Well, I think it is because of the nutrient density I spoke about earlier. When a person has been eating such poor quality “food” for so long, they become deficient and depleted. They may be obese, but they are starving for nutrition. When they finally get to eat food that is packed full of nutrients, their body instinctively guides them to eat more and more of it. That person takes in more calories in this process, and they gain some weight. But when the body becomes healthy again, becomes full of nutrients again, the weight starts to drop fast. The body easily sheds the extra stored fat.

Will eating this way allow me live longer?
I will be very honest and say that we have very little “proven” data to show that people will live longer if they switch to this type of diet. But, there are currently very few people studying this right now. We have scattered groups of people eating this way and not large groups which are easy to study. I will say that there is a lot of evidence to support that eating in the manner I promote will be very beneficial to your day to day health and will increase your life expectancy. I have many of my patients who have improved their health and the quality of their lives by eating this way. This is enough evidence for me to continue to recommend this. I am confident that future research will validate this.

For the individual, I cannot say eating this way will prolong your life. There are too many other factors in play… genetics, other lifestyle choices (tobacco, alcohol overconsumption, etc.), accidents, environment, and more. These all play a role and may easily cause you to die tomorrow. However, I will plan on living for a long time and make decisions based upon that premise.

I will add that we know of one other factor that has been proven to extend live (in large population studies), and that is eating less. Those who consume fewer calories live, on average, longer than those who eat a lot. What is encouraging to me is this: a person who eats food that is nutrient dense, including regular consumption of pasture-raised fats and proteins, will end up eating less food. The body doesn’t crave more food, because all its needs are met with less quantity of high-quality food. This is yet more support of this dietary lifestyle.

What about seafood?
Wild-caught seafood is fantastic for our health. If the seafood is farmed in a manner that creates nutrient dense food, that that is also fantastic. I place this kind of seafood on the same level as pasture-raised meats and fats. Not everyone has access to this food though. There is a lot of large-scale farmed seafood that is as unhealthy as conventionally raised pork, beef, or chicken.

I do think that the mercury issue has been blown a bit out of proportion as our bodies are amazingly adept at filtering out and dealing with toxins. But we do need to consider this when making food choices.

I also think that the over-harvesting/unsustainable harvesting of seafood is a very big issue. We do need to consider this when making seafood a part of our diets.

What about raw milk?
In short, I am all for it… as long as a person is not lactose-intolerant. Most of the world is actually lactose-intolerant in full or part. I don’t think raw milk is going to save the Earth, but I think it is a great food for those that can tolerate it. I plan to write an article about raw milk soon.

Are there any other types of food we should consume?
Yes! Naturally fermented foods should be a regular part of our diet. Our bodies are literally loaded with beneficial microbes. Our modern diet contains animals routinely fed antibiotics. As a physician, I understand that there is a time and place for humans to take antibiotics, but I know that modern medicine regularly overprescribes antibiotics. It is no surprise we have such unhealthy bodies when we are consuming things that destroy the beneficial microorganisms within us.

Fermentation provides us with at least two significant health benefits. First, they are loaded with good microorganisms that help re-populate and sustain the beneficial microbes in our bodies. Second, the fermentation process can increase the nutrients and nutrient availability in that food. Even grains, which I do not recommend regularly eating, can be fermented and transformed into a highly nutritious food. My favorite fermented grain comes in the form of home-brewed beer!

There is a lot more on this topic that I intend to write, but I do have a brief article on Lactic Acid Fermentation here. I would also highly recommend The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz if you have an interest in making your own fermented foods. I have a relatively new batch of homemade sauerkraut sitting in my fridge right now… delicious!

Is this really how you eat?
Mostly. I would say that I follow my own recommendations about 80-90% of the time. But honestly, I do allow myself to eat against by advise on occasion. I typically choose foods that fall within the hunter-gatherer style of eating when I am at home and during most lunches at work. I also try to make good food choices when I am eating out at a restaurant if possible. But sometimes I am not able to do this easily, like when eating at a friends house. I don’t impose my lifestyle on them, so I eat what is served. I also allow myself to “cheat” when it comes to certain meals. It just so happens that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a national holiday in the United States. Many of the foods traditionally served on this holiday do not fall in line with this dietary plan, other than roast turkey. I will focus my eating on the protein and vegetables, but I will certainly have some pie!

I also know that I physically feel it when I stray too far from my own recommendations. I get lethargic. I feel bloated. I get irritable. And I gain weight… easily. Then I realize I have been being too lax, and I get more strict. I feel better. I sleep better. I have more energy. And my weight starts to drop again… easily. Over the years, we have had many people live with us for extended periods of time. Almost all of them have dropped weight when they live with us. They are usually a bit surprised. It almost feels impossible to eat food that tastes so good, not worry about “dieting”, and still lose weight… while feeling good at the same time!

The truth is that I love food. I love to eat. I love to cook. I love to read about cooking and food. I even took the day off of work today to prepare food for Thanksgiving tomorrow – yes, I skipped work to spend the day in the kitchen. My kids came and went and helped or watched. They sampled some food. My father and I talked while I worked. It was fabulous.

We were designed to eat. We were designed to enjoy food. We were designed to be healthy. We have just gotten off track. I hope that these series of articles helps you realize that it is possible to enjoy eating and have good health at the same time. I have seen in work in my patients’ lives. I have seen in work in my own life – I am about 50 lbs (23 kg) lighter than I used to be. I know that this will work for you as well. I will be writing more about how Permaculture fits into our diet and health on a larger scale, but that is an article for another day.

John Kitsteiner, MD

a.k.a. “Dr. Permaculture”

 

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

Photo References:

  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-kEUFePgTfpc/T-RvYAI80EI/AAAAAAAAAJo/7zKwq2a_K9I/s1600/berry+cartoon+mouse+diet+080110.jpg

 

Dr. Permaculture’s Guide to Healthy Eating (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a multipart series.
Be sure to read Part 1 here.

 

You said we should eat the “right kind” of meat and fat…what is the “right kind” of meat and fat?
Meat is meat, and fat is fat, right? Wrong! There is a vast difference between the meats and animal fats humans ate 10,000 years ago and the meat and animal fats most humans eat today.

Before I dive into this topic, let me first clear up a misconception. Wild animals may or may not be “lean” even if they have lean meat. Anyone who hunts and butchers their own animals, which I think is a great experience, knows that the the meat from deer, elk, rabbit, etc. is lean… meaning the meat has no marbling of fat in it like a steak from a modern grocery store. Depending on the time of year, that animal may have a lot or a little fat. If you have hunted in the Autumn, you will know that a deer will have thick layers of fat stored under the skin and around the kidneys, but the meat will still be lean. If you’ve hunted an animal in the Winter or early Spring, you will know that an animal will have very little fat left in them, but the meat will also still be lean. It is only our modern animals, which have been bred to have fat evenly distributed within the muscle tissue, that we find the fatty cuts of meat. Waterfowl, swine, and many types of seafood are some exceptions to this.

Modern meat animals are typically raised, or at least finished (spend the last season or so of their life) in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO). These have, rightly so, been compared to concentration camps for animals. Animals are given very little space and almost no access to the natural world. They are fed grains and beans and other “food” products that are nothing like that animal would eat in the wild. The animals eat and gain weight and get sick a lot, which is why they are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. The animals get fat, which is what modern people have developed a taste for, but this fat is very unhealthy. This fat likely increases our risks of heart attacks and strokes. Also, while it is tough to prove, the hormones and antibiotics are likely very unhealthy for us as well. We may never fully understand all the consequences of eating these stressed animals. My advice is to avoid this meat if you can. If you cannot (i.e. if you choose not to), then trim the fat away or eat only lean cuts.

Let us now compare these CAFO animals to an animal which lives its entire life on pasture… like it was designed to do. These animals develop fat that is actually healthy. This fat is high in Omega 3 fatty acids and in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid)… these are good for our heart and decrease our risk of heart attacks and stroke. When we think of our great-grandmother eating spoonfuls of lard, we are often disgusted. And if we render lard from a modern-raised pig, that fat would be very unhealthy for us. However, our great-grandmother was eating lard from pigs raised in a savannah-like environment with little to no supplementary feed, and that fat was good for her! In addition, pasture-raised meat just tastes better. It has a richer and deeper flavor. My advice is to make this your primary type of meat. Do not trim the fat, but enjoy it! If you are fortunate to get fatty cuts of meat or able to get pure fat from these animals, then keep it. Render it down and save it. Use it when cooking. Lard (from swine), tallow (from cattle and sheep), and duck or goose fats are all delicious and add a tremendous amount of flavor to vegetables and lean meats.

Fortunately, the grass-fed/pasture-finished meat industry is booming right now. If there is not a local producer nearby, there are a large number of suppliers who will ship to you. I live on a tiny island in the North Atlantic, and even I can drive down to a butcher and purchase pasture-raised beef. This is not a fad. This is the future.

I will add a quick comment about wild game. If you have access to hunt animals in a truly wild setting, then that meat will be very good for you. That fat will be fantastic. However, most people who hunt are hunting deer that fatten up for the Winter on corn and soybeans from a modern farmer’s field. While the meat is going to be healthier than the antibiotic and hormone pumped beef alternative, it is not going to be the same as meat or fat from a truly wild animal eating a truly wild diet.

So we should eat a lot of meat?
Hold on there! I am not saying we should only eat meat. I am not saying we should make meat the bulk of our diet. These are the extremes that people go to when they embrace a hunter-gather diet – they focus on the hunt and not the gather side of things. In reality, there was a lot more gather than hunt. This means the bulk of our diet should not be meat. I recommend making pasture-raised animal protein and fat a regular part of your diet. The bulk of our diet, like those people’s diet from 10,000+ years ago, should mainly be composed of vegetables and fruits. Meats and fats and nuts and fungi comprise the remainder.

I thought we are supposed to avoid fat?
I am really hoping that this myth will die soon, but it is putting up a good fight. I know a number of people (family members included!) who still think margarine is healthier than butter! The low-fat/no-fat mantra given to us by doctors and researchers has done so much harm to the modern world’s health, it may be impossible to quantify. Fats are a vital part of the human body and need to be a key component of our diet. We have been warned about the dreaded animal fats for decades. As I explained above, it is not the animal’s fat, but the animal’s diet, that makes all the difference. We should avoid fat from animals that are not raised and finished on pasture. We should avoid vegetable fats. In contrast, we should consume fat from animals raised and finished on pasture. We should consume fats from fruits and tree nuts – avacado, coconuts, olive oil, walnut oil, etc. Fish oils, by and large, are also very good for us.

Aren’t there other diets that work?
What do you mean by “do they work”? Can you lose weight by following almost any “diet” book out there? Probably. Is it the healthiest way to eat? Probably not. I routinely read diet books. I like to know what my patients are doing. I want to see if what they are eating is healthy or harmful. Often I am disappointed. Many diet books are aimed at quick fixes… “lose 20 lbs in 2 weeks!” That is not healthy. Again, many of these books do help a person lose weight, but after the event (a wedding, class reunion, etc.), or after a person gets tired of trying to follow the strict rules outlined in the latest book, the weight comes right back. The vast majority of these diets are not sustainable.

The other common theme I see in diet books and programs is the promotion of illogical diets. For example, I read one book that recommended juices in the morning, vegetables in the afternoon, and proteins in the evening. They had all these reasons for this special way of eating – it was the hidden key to proper health! Really? What people group from 10,000+ years ago ate this way? It makes no sense. Yet I see diet after diet that recommends odd rules about food combinations or specific times to eat certain types of foods. It is silly, and these diets should be dismissed.

Well, what about vegetarianism or being a vegan?
It is impossible to have a conversation about healthy eating without this question arising. There are three groups of vegetarians that I can define. First, there are the vegetarians who avoid eating animal or animal products for religios, pseudo-religious, or deep-seated ethical reasons (not wanting to eat something “with a soul” or “a creature with a face”).  I will never change their mind. I have no desire to do so. Second, there are vegetarians who choose to eat this way for perceived health reasons. I have taken care of many vegetarians who are sickly and wasting away. I have taken care of many vegetarians who are extremely overweight. I have taken care of a few vegetarians who are very healthy. Eating vegan or vegetarian is not the whole key to health. Third, there are those who are eating vegetarian because they cannot stand the way animals are treated on modern farms. I can really understand and relate to this. From an ethical and a health stance, pasture-raised animals are vastly different than most modern-raised animals.

The argument for, or against, veganism or vegetarianism is much too big for this current conversation. I may elaborate on this topic in the future. I understand their arguments, but I simply disagree. I disagree with their historical perspective, their anthropological information and analysis, and much (but not all) of their health conclusions. I’ll leave it at that for now.

So then, how do I lose weight?
Frankly, I think our goal should be to eat healthy, not lose weight. If we focus on losing weight, then we will often eat unhealthy foods or eat in an unhealthy manner. If we focus on eating healthy, then we will often lose weight as a side effect. I have had numerous patients who have committed to eating the way I have outlined above. They have all had more energy, and they have all lost weight, some have lost substantial weight. I have had a number of patients with chronic issues (migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.) who have had a significant improvment in their symptoms. I have had a few patients with high blood pressure and newly diagnosed diabetes improve their health so much that they no longer require any medications. All of these people would have liked to lose weight (and they all did), but their goal was to be healthy first.

Now, if your goal really is just to lose weight, the healthiest way to do this is by eating more foods that have low energy density. Energy density is a simple idea. Foods with more calories for a smaller volume are energy dense – like meats, cheeses, nuts, dried fruits, olive oil, etc.. These foods are all healthy foods, but they pack more calories in a smaller volume. They all have high energy density. I like to give the following example: The meat from a double Whopper from Burger King contains 430 calories… just the 2 meat patties. I can easily eat just the meat patties alone and still be hungry which is why people eat the whole Double Whoper with cheese (almost 1,000 calories for the whole sandwich). Lets now consider plain iceberg lettuce. It would take close to 9 heads of iceberg lettuce to equal the calories in two Whopper patties alone and almost 19 heads of lettuce to equal the whole Double Whopper with cheese sandwich! There is no way on Earth I could eat 19 or 9 or even 2 heads of lettuce. Maybe, if I really tried, I could eat a whole head of lettuce… at just 53 calories. Lettuce has very low energy density.

If we want to lose weight fast and still be healthy, then we need to choose foods that are good for us but are low in energy density. In practical terms, this means loading up on vegetables and fruits and minimizing (not eliminating) meats and fats. This will allow us to feel full yet still be taking in fewer calories – which is what we need if we want to drop weight. I hate to feel hungry, and this is the key!

It is important to note that when we fill up on low energy density foods, we often get hungrier faster. These foods are often digested quicker which leads to feeling hungry again sooner. This is why I still recommend eating meats and fats. Proteins and fats give us longer periods of satiety (not feeling hungry). So sprinkle the vegetables with some olive oil. Cook the veggies in some rendered pasture-finished animal fats. Eat the fruit with a few thin slices of cheese.  This is how you will feel satisfied through the day while still taking in less calories. When we are not satisfied, we tend to snack on whatever is available, and this leads to unhealthy food choices.

There are a few other things to keep in mind, but I will get into that next time.

 

Dr. Permaculture’s Guide to Healthy Eating (Part 3) coming soon

 

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

Photo References:

  • http://livesimply.me/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/CAFO.jpg
  • http://naturalpasturesbeef.ca/images/photos/cows.jpg