Archive for August, 2011

University of Delaware Botanical Gardens

On a recent visit to the Botanical Garden at the University of Delaware in Newark, DE I ran into some plants I had never seen growing in this region.

The American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa), Possumhaw (Ilex deciduas), Green Dragon (Poncirus trifoliate), American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and Brandywine Smooth Witherod (Viburnum nudum) were all producing fruit.

I was lucky enough to see the flowers on the Snow on the Mountain (Euphorbia marginata), and Red Bistort Firetail (Persicaria amplexicaulis) for the first time. I also found a pretty pink lily and a black eyed Susan look alike I had not seen before.

I was very disappointed though with their labeling of plants. Some of them were placed in front of plants that were not what the label said at all. Some were missing labels totally. Other labels were broken in half (or worse), some of the labels were buried so deep that there was no reading them at all! How do the students at the University learn that way?

Unknown Lily

Unknown Lily

Fox Grapes – Vitis labrusca

Fox Grapes cultivar Concord
Fox Grapes cultivar Concord

 

I sit and often wonder about this little grape
How intriguing is it to ponder the structure and taste
I yearn to know more as I taste and revel with mouth agape.
Squeezed just right, and secured for ages to come with no
     great haste….

 

By R.A. Beeman

 

The fruit of the vine, the new wine of the New Testament, grapes and the wines they create have been in favor for centuries! This species is most likely the grape spotted by Leif Ericsson in the 11th century when he explored the north eastern coast of North America (Vinland). There is tons of evidence that this species of grape was growing here on this continent centuries before the European set foot here. This particular grape is the source of the cultivars Catawba, Concord, Niagara, Isabella, and Delaware!

 

The all important cultural crop, Concord grapes (from which the famous jelly is made), was first breed from wild seeds by Ephraim Bull in Concord, Massachusetts in the 19th century.

 

The grape or telvladi was used by the Cherokee Indians As a blood medicine, and antidiarrheal, a gynecological aid, and a liver aid, among other things. The Iroquois used a decoction of the roots to aid horses in fertility resulting in conception.

 

The Cherokee also used the fruit mashed with sour grape, pokeberry juice, sugar and cornmeal as a juice to drink. It was also used to make dumplings!

 

The flowers and fruit of the grape are very beneficial to wildlife, with many insects and birds drawing nourishment from it. Bumblebees, honeybees, digger bees and long-tongued bees pollinate the flowers and collect pollen from the flowers. Other insects eat leaves of suck juices from the plant.

 

Many birds like the ruffed grouse, bobwhite; northern flicker, crow, and cardinal to name a few eat the fruit, and help in the spread of the plant by dropping the seeds with their feces. Many of these same birds use the dense vines for hiding places and to nest in. Some birds will even use the bark to help in nest building.

 

White tailed deer also find the leaves and stems delectable.

 

Oil which is obtained from the grape seed is used in cosmetics, and aromatherapy massage oils. It is easily absorbed into the skin without excess greasiness. It is light and thin, leaving a glossy sheen to the skin. It helps in maintains skin moisture.

To check out other uses for grapes read my first post here

Avacado – Persea americana

Sacred to: Osiris

Myth 1: See below

Other Notes: The tree acquired spiritual significance to the peoples who used the plant in Mesoamerican and Northern South America. The fourteenth Classic Maya Month is represented by the glyph for the avocado, pronounced as “K’ank’in” (Galindo-Tovar et al. 2007). Maya ancestors are reborn as trees, and people would surround their houses with fruit trees, sometimes over the graves of relatives.

The avocado has also appeared in the iconography in the Mexica (Aztec) world, which lies to the North of the Maya area. The Nahuatl word for avocado is ahuacatl, or testicle in English.

Ancient Egyptian Metaphysics – There are two sacred trees in ancient Egypt. One is the acacia. The other is the Persea. There are only 2 varieties of Persea in the entire world. One is the Egyptian persea, which I have no idea if it bears fruit. The other variety of Persea (which by Egyptian thought would be just as sacred) bears fruit. The other varieties common name is Avocado!

 
That’s right, the avocado is a sacred tree of the ancient Egyptians. So the next time that you are preparing to eat guacamole, remember that you are eating a sacred dip! The green avocado would probably also be sacred to Osiris and any other god/dess of vegetation. The ancient Egyptians usually made their wands out of acacia or persea, so if you have any of these trees, you can make yourself an Egyptian wand. Also remember that if you trim your tree, use the branches in the fireplace for a sacred fire!

According to the Aztecs, avocado was considered one of the ultimate fertility fruits. Because of its high Vitamin E content, avocados are largely used to treat infertility in men. It helps increase sperm mobility and keeps sperm from grouping together as they make their journey to the egg. Rock star Mick Jagger apparently used avocados in his fertility food diet when he wanted to add to his significant brood.

Seriokai’s Revenge – a tale from Guiana, South America

In the forest, there lived a man Seriokai, who was very fond of avocados, and he spent much of his time gathering them to eat. One day, when he was off doing this, a tapir came into his camp where his wife was alone doing chores. the tapir, a slick and sly creature, lured his wife into falling madly in the love with him.

The next day, when Seriokai again went to collect avocados, his wife went along, pretending to gather firewood. As Seriokai came down from an avocado tree, intent on descending, she used a rock to knock him down, severing one of his legs. Then she ran off with the tapir to a faraway place, taking Seriokai’s basket of avocados with her.

A neighbor heard Seriokai calling for help and took him home, where he slowly healed. Using a wooden stump on his leg, he set out to find his wife and the wicked tapir. He found a trail of avocado trees growing in the forest, springing from the avocados which fell from the basket of fruits the wife took with her. He followed the trail, which led farther and farther from the center of the Earth, noticing that the trees became younger and younger. At last he came upon freshly dropped seeds, and knew that he was drawing near.

Finally he came to the edge of the world, where he saw the runaway couple. He shot an arrow at the tapir, which struck his eye. Howling with pain, the beast leaped over the edge. Following her love, the woman jumped as well. Seriokai followed, and chased them through the sky. He follows them to this day, for he became Orion, the wife is the Pleiades, and the wicked tapir is Hyades, with a bleeding eye.

Avocado – Persea americana

Avocados
Avocados

…We can draw inner peace from our God
Whomever he or she may be
But we have to believe in something
No matter what
Even if it is the avocado pit growing
On our window sill
Or the passion you put into cooking…

 

By Matthew F. Lynam

 

This native of Mexico and Central America is thought to have originated in Peru. The plant has a long history of cultivation in Latin America with an avocado shaped water jar found in the pre-Incan city of Chan Chan that dates to 900 AD. There is also evidence in Mexico of the cultivation of this fruit for up to 10,000 years.

 

The bark, leaves, pulp of the fruit, the rind of the fruit and the seeds are used in herbal medicines. The leaves and bark are used to treat coughs and digestive disorders. The pulp is used for hair growth stimulation, as an aphrodisiac, to sooth irritated skin, and in treating wounds that are draining pus. The rind is used in the elimination of intestinal worms. The seeds used for the treatment of diarrhea.

 

In some parts of the world the fruit is used as one of the first baby foods it is so nutritious. It is high in fat, therefore often substituted for meat in vegetarian dishes. In Mexico avocado is used in the making of guacamole, in soups, salads, as a side dish or mixed with white rice. The average avocado contains 300 calories, 1.5 g fiber, 11.8 mg calcium, 9.0 mg ascorbic acid, etc.

 

In magic use the avocado is sacred to Osiris. The pit is carried to promote beauty. It is believed eating the fruit will promote lust, and the wood makes a powerful, all purpose wand! Mayan ancestors are believed to be reborn as avocado trees, thereby still providing for their families!

 

In Guatemala the bark is used as a mordant in the dyeing process.

Spotted Cat’s Ear – Hypochaeris radicata

Spotted Cat's Ear flower
Spotted Cat’s Ear flower

This plant of lawns, vacant lots and grassy areas began in Europe and now is found widespread through North America, both Canada and the United States. It grows from a central rosette of leaves above a tap root, just like dandelion. All parts of the plant have a milky sap that exudes when it is broken, and the seeds are windborne, just like dandelion. The major difference in appearance between the two is the formation of the flowers….on a dandelion the plant produces flowers at the end of a single, unbranched stalk. But the Cat’s Ear produces forked stalks that produce flowers at the end of each branch. This perennial is considered a noxious weed in Washington State.

 

The leaves and roots of the Cats Ear are the most often consumed although all parts are edible. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads of cooked like dandelion greens. They can be included in stir fry, steamed or boiled. The roots can be used as dandelion and chicory, chopped, roasted then ground to make coffee.

 

This plant has been confused with dandelion by many, used in cooking like dandelion, and is used in herbal medicine like dandelion. The only difference in medicinal use is that the Cats Ear is milder in action than dandelion, but it can be used for digestive and liver issues just like dandelion!

 

The only negative about this plant (other than some thinking it a noxious weed) is the possibility that it may cause Australian Stringhalt in horses. To avoid this possibility do not allow you horse to graze where there is Cats Ear growing in abundance. Horses must consume large quantities for this issue to crop up. The symptom is a sudden flexion of one or both of the lateral extensor tendons of the back legs.

Papaya – Carica papaya

Papayas
Papayas

…I pick up several papayas, looking for the one,

becoming pensive.

Is it ripe? Should I buy two?…

 

By Kay Posselt

 

This large tree like plant is originally from southern Mexico, Central America and northern South America is now grown in most countries with a tropical environment available. They were introduced to Hawaii just over 100 years ago. Papayas have been used as a meat tenderizer, as a hair conditioner, for food and medicine. The stem and bark have been used for fiber to make rope.

 

Green papaya has been used for contraception and to induce abortion by the women of several countries, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. Also the women who have been enslaved in the West Indies have used them to prevent bearing children into slavery! The green fruit and the tree’s latex have papain (an enzyme) available. This enzyme is used in the treatment of cuts, rashes, stings and burns. The flesh of the fruit is fermented and the resulting gel like paste is used as an ointment.

 

The fruit can be eaten ripe or unripe, without skin or seeds. They have been eaten in curries, salads and stews. The seeds are spicy and are sometimes ground as a black pepper substitute. In Asia the young leaves have been steamed and eaten much like spinach.

 

In magic use the papaya is ruled by the Moon and is often used in love spells. In Guatemala it is believed to be an aphrodisiac that acts specifically on men. It also can be used to protect the home, keep evil at bay, and to manifest desires.

Yellow Knapweed – Centaurea macrosephala

Yellow Knapweed
Yellow Knapweed

This native thistle like plant from the Caucasus’ is now spreading in North America at a rapid pace. The state of Washington has declared it a noxious weed and banned it from importation into the state. If found there it must be reported, and cannot be grown for its beautiful flowers!

 

These pin-cushion looking flowers are perennial and will spread easily. It will readily set its seeds and reproduce where they are not wanted, so deadhead them if you want control of where they are growing.

 

These big yellow, flowers are very attractive to bees and butterflies. Yet they are deer and rabbit resistant. Remember though that resistant does not mean deer or rabbit proof! The stiff long stems lend them to being cut and dried for later use in dried flower arrangements.

Banana – Musa paradisiacal

Banana flower with fruit forming above
Banana flower with fruit forming above

One spring day, not long ago,
a good friend gave to me.
A wondrous and amazing plant,
a small banana tree.
With loving care a planting sight,
selected in our yard.
And soon the tree was ten feet tall,
and really growing hard….

By Daniel Parks

 

This lover of rainforests is a native of Malaysia, and is now planted in South America and Africa in their rainforests. It was first introduced to Africa by Indonesian settlers in Madagascarmore than 2,500 years ago. This tree like plant can grow up to 8 meters tall (approx. 24 ft+) are really more like a grass with the leaves unfurling from the center pseudo-stem.

 

The fruits are considered astringent, aphrodisiac, anthelmintic, anti-diabetic and anti dysenteric. It has been used in the treatment of depression, PMS, anemia, hypertension, constipation, heartburn, morning sickness, and ulcers. The skin of the banana can be used to remove warts and treat mosquito bites.

 

Bananas rank fourth, behind rice, wheat and corn, as the most consumed food worldwide. It is often eaten out of hand, but people often make (what my husband believes is the world’s best) peanut butter sandwiches and cut them onto bowls of cereal. They can also be used in baked goods with banana bread being very popular. Then there is the Banana alcohol and the Banana ketchup!

 

Banana fiber (taken from the pseudo-stem) is made into cloth, bags, belts, paper, shoes, slippers, picture frames, place mats, greeting cards, fashion accessories, home decor and countless other products. The fruit is sometimes used in skin care.

 

Moisturizing Facial:

1 ripe banana
1 tablespoon honey
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon wheat germ oil
1 tablespoon finely powdered oats
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 drop rose essential oil

1. Peel and mash banana. Add honey, egg yolk, wheat germ oil, oats, and mash further to form a smooth, creamy paste.

2. Add essential oils last, and stir to mix well.

3. To use: apply to clean face and neck, avoiding eye and mouth areas. Rest for 10 minutes, or longer if your skin is very dry. Rinse with warm water, and follow with toner and moisturizer, if desired. Use mask shortly after making.

Coffee – Coffea arabica

Coffee
Coffee

Caffeine is my shepherd;
I shall not doze.
It maketh me to wake in green pastures,
It leadeth me beyond the sleeping masses.
It restoreth my buzz,
It leadeth me in the paths of consciousness
for it’s name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of
the shadow of addiction,
I will fear no Equal
for thou art with me;
Thy cream and thy sugar
they comfort me.
Thou preparest a carafe before me
in the presence of Thy Starbucks,
Thou anointest my day with pep;
My cup runneth over.
Surely richness and taste
shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of Mocha forever.
Amen! Amen! Amen!

           – Author Unknown

 

This shrub has been grown for centuries in the shade of other trees, but modern farming has it grown in long rows under the full sun. This method causes the beans to grow faster, the bushes to produce more…that all seems good right….but there is a down side. The negative here is that more forest must be destroyed to get the clear cut land and more fertilizer and pesticides must be used to produce the coffee beans.

 

The Oromo people’s ancestors on the Ethiopian plateaus were believed to be the first to discover the coffee bean and the energizing effects of the coffee bean plant. It is told in mythology of a young shepherd who watched the behavior of his goats after they ate the beans. He then took the beans to the local Muslim monastery where the holy man threw the beans into the fire, because he disapproved of the effect the beans had had. As the beans roasted an aroma issued forth and the scent drew all the other holy men to it. They removed the beans from the fire and boiled them in water, they found the drink was heavenly!

In Herbal medicine coffee drinking appears to reduce the risk of alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, adult onset diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, reduces risk of colon cancer, reduces headaches, and gout. My only question with the heart link is if it is so great then why is the caffeine eliminated from the coffee for heart disease sufferers, the caffeine is one of the most important components, it acts as a stimulant!

 

Many adults consume coffee in the US as their morning wake up drink, some are so addicted they are grouchy and virtually non functional without it! But there are other uses for coffee other than the traditional cup of joe…it can be added to baked goods, ice cream, and alcoholic drinks for a flavoring agent.

 

An interesting tidbit of history…the Continental Congress of the yet to become United States declared that coffee was the national drink. It was a protest over the high taxation imposed by the British crown on tea that later resulted in the Boston Tea Party!

The above picture is from Koehler’s Medicinal-Plants 1887 [Image in Public Domain]

Corn – Zea mays

Sacred to: Sacred to harvest goddesses such as Greek Demeter and Roman Ceres.

Selu (of the Cherokee whose very name means corn!)

Myth: In Central America, the Maya believed that human beings were made from maize. After attempts with other materials failed, the gods succeeded in creating people by using ground maize mixed with water.

Other Notes: The Corn Mother, or Goddess, is a deity of plenty and of fertility, long worshipped throughout the East and North America. The Zunis utilize different colors of corn in their religious rituals. Blue corn meal is used to bless and is scattered as an offering.

The Ear of Corn – Grimms Fairy Tales

In former times, when God himself still walked the earth, the fruitfulness of the soil was much greater than it is now. Then the ears of corn did not bear fifty or sixty, but four or five hundred-fold. Then the corn grew from the bottom to the very top of the stalk, and according to the length of the stalk was the length of the ear. Men however are so made, that when they are too well off they no longer value the blessings which come from God, but grow indifferent and careless. One day a woman was passing by a corn-field when her little child, who was running beside her, fell into a puddle, and dirtied her frock. On this the mother tore up a handful of the beautiful ears of corn, and cleaned the frock with them. When the Lord, who just then came by, saw that, he was angry, and said, henceforth shall the stalks of corn bear no more ears, men are no longer worthy of heavenly gifts. The by-standers who heard this, were terrified, and fell on their knees and prayed that he would still leave something on the stalks, even if the people were undeserving of it, for the sake of the innocent chickens which would otherwise have to starve. The Lord, who foresaw their suffering, had pity on them, and granted the request. So the ears were left as they now grow.

The Strange Origin of Corn – An Abnaki Tale

A long time ago, when the Indians were first made, one man lived alone, far from any others. He did not know fire, and so he lived on roots, bark, and nuts. This man became very lonely for companionship. He grew tired of digging roots, lost his appetite, and for several days lay dreaming in the sunshine. When he awoke, he saw someone standing near and, at first, was very frightened.

But when he heard the stranger’s voice, his heart was glad, and he looked up. He saw a beautiful woman with long light hair! “Come to me,” he whispered. But she did not, and when he tried to approach her, she moved farther away. He sang to her about his loneliness, and begged her not to leave him.

At last she replied, “If you will do exactly what I tell you to do, I will also be with you.”

He promised that he would try his very best. So she led him to a place where there was some very dry grass. “Now get two dry sticks,” she told him, “and rub them together fast while you hold them in the grass.”

Soon a spark flew out. The grass caught fire, and as swiftly as an arrow takes flight, the ground was burned over. Then the beautiful woman spoke again: “When the sun sets, take me by the hair and drag me over the burned ground.”

“Oh, I don’t want to do that!” the man exclaimed.

“You must do what I tell you to do,” said she. “Wherever you drag me, something like grass will spring up, and you will see something like hair coming from between the leaves. Soon seeds will be ready for your use.”

The man followed the beautiful woman’s orders. And when the Indians see silk on the cornstalk, they know that the beautiful woman has not forgotten them.

The Goddess of Corn – A Huichol Tale

It is told that one time a young man went out in search of food. He met some ants along the way that invited him to search for corn, but that very night [while he slept], they walked off with his hair and eyelashes. This left him blind, and he couldn’t continue his search until he heard the song of a dove that led him to the house of the com goddess, Our Mother Kukuruku.

The goddess introduced him to the five different-colored daughters who symbolize the different colors of the com that Huichols have. He selected the black one to take home as his wife. He was warned by the goddess that she must be placed in the caiihuey for five days and not be allowed to work. But the mother-in-law became impatient and shamed the girl into grinding com. She immediately began to bleed.

As soon as that happened, the com was diminished and the young man went out again to ask for more corn. This time he was given five ears of corn that he planted with the utmost of ceremony, as prescribed by the com goddess.” [To this day, the Huichol farmer selects a part of his milpa, or cornfield, to plant the seeds from those first five ears of corn that have been passed down from generation to generation .

The Corn Maidens – A Zuni Myth

The Zuni people of the southwestern United States have a myth about eight corn maidens. The young women are invisible, but their beautiful dancing movements can be seen when they dance with the growing corn as it waves in the wind. One day the young god Paiyatemu fell in love with the maidens, and they fled from him. While they were gone, a terrible famine spread across the land. Paiyatemu begged the maidens to turn back, and they returned to the Zuni and resumed their dance. As a result, the corn started to grow again.

The Corn Husk Doll Legend       

Many years ago, the Creator made Three Sisters (Corn, Beans, and Squash) to feed the people. Corn wanted to give the people a gift, so she asked the Creator to make a person out of her husks to play with the children. The Creator made a corn husk doll with a beautiful face. At first the doll played nicely and helped to take care of the children.

Then, one day, the corn husk doll looked into a pond of water and saw her face. She saw that she was very beautiful. After that the corn husk doll changed. All she thought about was her pretty face. She stopped playing with the children and spent all of her time looking in mirrors.

The Creator was not happy and warned her to be good. The corn husk doll promised to be humble, but she was not. All she could think about was her beauty. Finally, the Creator decided to punish her and take away her face. Since then, corn husk dolls do not have faces.

“You see,” Grandma said, “The corn husk doll had to stop thinking about herself and learn to help others.”