Thursday, July 17, 2014

Farm Day: Little Red Bird Botanicals - Late Spring

 Visiting the garden for the first time with Holly had been so magical and inspiring that I was sure I would be zipping around the beltway once a week to sit and chat and pull a few weeds. 
Weeks passed and time spent at Centro Ashe and Arcadia along with day to day life found me pulling into a spot in the gravel lot at Clagett almost a month after my first visit. 

What had changed? What progress had I missed?

Remember the chamomile seedlings from the last visit?

Well into May spring was quickly slipping into summer and the plants had shot up in my absence, as they do. We rummaged around in the greenhouse together, Holly fretting over plants that had languished a bit, making a mental list of the "must plant today" and the "sorry maybe later"specimens. 

Bitter melon fell to the "must plant today" list so we found some seats on the ground near the bed and started digging shallow holes for the seedlings. Bitter melon, like all bitter foods, can be used to stimulate bile production and treat things like constipation and sluggish digestion. It also has uses for lowering blood sugar for diabetics as well as treating skin diseases and even cancer and HIV/AIDS. 

As we planted I asked questions about the plants like "What will the next phase of this plant look like?" Holly answered me in her slow, measured way, never really breaking focus from her planting but occasionally demonstrating shapes with her hands and throwing quick glances my way to gauge me comprehension. 

The passionflower (above) had wound its way out of the ground since my last visit and was preparing to flower while the baptista (below) was only days away from sending out her little purple flags.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis) is one of those plants that warms the herbalist's heart when it's seen growing in a garden. Long over harvested and over wildcrafted, the yellow thready rhizome of this palmate beauty is used to treat a myriad of illnesses and infections but it's popularity has put it on the list of rare and at risk plants. Even our own neighboring wildernesses like Monogahela National Forest in West Virgina no longer sells permits for collection because the herb has become even scarcer than American Ginseng. In the summer goldernseal sends up a fruit very similar to a raspberry with a cluster of thirty some seeds. 

"What else is particularly lovely this time of year?" I asked. Holly thought for a minute. 
"Horseradish!" she shouted over to me. "Soon it will be all chewed up and bug ridden and since I only harvest the root there is no sense in trying to combat them so it starts to look much less photogenic the further in the to season you get." 

Horseradish with its easily identifiable long, rippling leaves. 

The peonies that had been little alien stumps rising from the earth on my first visit had produced bulbous head and sweet nectar dripped from the lining of the bulb that the ants greedily collected.  

For our last little task for the day we harvested Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) which grows all along a fence line down the gravel path from Holly's plot. We grabbed paper bags and leather palmed gloves and some shears and walked down to the patch, scaring a mole back into his hole as we approached.

"I never mind the sting much. If you do get stung you may notice a tingling later, like your hand fell asleep, and I always have to remind myself it's because I got stung earlier. It fades pretty fast after the initial sting. I used to cook them to get the sting out but I've found even just tossing them in a blender does the trick," Holly explained as she snipped away and I tentatively took my first go at it. 

We hewed our way down the line.
 "I always feel a little bad, I basically come in and decapitate all the male plants here. So I like to come back later in the season and just kinda say hey and give them some attention to let them know I don't just come to cut them down."

"How do you know they are males?"

"Well that's kinda complicated really and I didn't know it at first but suffice it to say that now I know that those over there," she pointed to the stand growing along the fence running perpendicular to the fence we stood bent over, "are the females and these are the males. So I usually take from the males and leave the females to reproduce." 

All these things I never had considered….

As we walked back towards the cars she pointed out the Wild Choke Cherry 
(Prunus virginiana).
 "Those blossoms won't be around for much longer but then we'll get the berries. Most people don't like them because they're so sour but I eat them."

"You can eat any fruit it it's made into a jam,"I thought to myself, making special note of the other characteristics of the tree for future identification.

I wonder what summer will bring? 

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