Archive for September, 2011

Pecan – Carya illinoinensis


…pecans in the South, the jumbled

flavor of them suddenly in my mouth,

wordless, confusing,

crowding out everything else.

By Gregory Djanikian

This native of rich bottom lands of the south especially likes streamside plantings. When the pecans are ripe (and sometimes before) they drop to the ground. They are some of the easiest to harvest with relatively this shells. After they have dropped to the ground they make an intense litter problem, the squirrels having cracked them wide open spilling the nutmeats and shells everywhere. The name pecan means ‘a nut needing to be cracked with a stone,’ in the Algonquian language.


When you think of the South and nuts, the only one that comes readily to mind is the Pecan. It has become the nut symbol for the South. It has been declared the state tree for Alabama and Texas. April has been made National Pecan Month.


Even with its popularity in the South, the pecan was not introduce to the European theater until the 16th century when Cabeza de Vaca first recorded finding it and reported its use to Spain. It was then that he brought bushels of the familiar nut back to Europe with him for the Spanish crown to sample.


The bark and leaves of the pecan tree are astringent and have been formulated into a decoction to treat TB. The powdered leaves are rubbed onto the skin for the treatment of ringworm.


The nuts of the pecan have been used by Native Americans as food for centuries, in both the raw and cultivated forms. The Native Americans were in fact the first to cultivate them. The nut is rich with a buttery flavor. Dishes made with them become known as ‘rich’ dishes. They can be eaten fresh, out of hand, or cooked into desserts or savory dishes. The traditional dessert of the South, the Pecan Pie, is well known for its richness of flavor and is often consumed in small portions!

Staghorn Sumac – Rhus typhina

Staghorn Sumac berries
Staghorn Sumac berries

…Now by the brook the maple leans

With all his glory spread,

And all the sumachs on the hills

Have turned their green to red…

by William Wilfred Campbell

This native to eastern North America grows where the soils are rich near streams, along roadways, railway embankments and at the edges of woods. From June through until September the fruit can be found ripe and ready for harvest. The seeds need to be fully ripe, deep red and sticky, or the flavor is not at its best.

When I was a young teen at Rock Creek Girl Scout camp in the mountains of western Maryland, we had a naturalist come to speak to us one summer. He told us about endangered species and also about those plants considered weeds that could become invasive, like the Staghorn Sumac. His logic was if we all harvested the berries every year, leaving enough for the birds in the winter, then they couldn’t become invasive. On top of that everyone would be drinking one of the most enjoyable natural, health drinks available.

He had us wash the berries, and then crush them in a pitcher. To that he added fresh spring water, a bit of sweetener (he used honey) and stirred well. About 4 hours later when we were hot and sweaty after tromping through he woods with him, he had us fill a glass with ice and he strained the water from the sumac berries over the cubes of ice giving us our first taste of wonder!

Although infrequently used in herbal medicine today Sumac was used by the Native American of this continent for centuries. Almost every part of the bush was useful in medicine.

            Leaves: are astringent

            Bark: are antiseptic, astringent, galactogogue, tonic

            Roots: are astringent, blood purifier, diuretic, emetic

            Berries: are astringent, blood purifier

            Sap: is astringent

The only caution in using this plant is that some sensitive people will develop a rash from contact with this plant. Even with the rash, it is NOT to be confused with its poisonous cousin Poison Sumac!

Staghorn has a large amount of tannin in its leaves and bark, which allows it to be used as a mordant in dyeing. The leaves also produce a brown dye. A yellow dye is obtained from the roots; and an orange dye is extracted from the inner bark when mixed with Bloodroot. A black ink can be had from the boiling of the leaves and the fruit together.

A practice that was popular many years ago, and is still is some small use today, is to take and dry the leaves and berries. These dried components are then added to other herbs and used as a smoking mixture by some Native American Tribes

Common Wheat – Tritcum aestivum

This grass is easily grown, but is only known under cultivation. Since 6750 BC In Iraq and other eastern Mediterranean countries there is archeological evidence of its use. By 6000 BC it had reached the Indian subcontinent, and by 5,000 years ago it had reached Ethiopia, Great Britain, Ireland and Spain. In companion planting it grows well with maize and chamomile; but doesn’t like to be grown near dogwood, cherry, tulips, pines or poppies.

The seed are used in herbal medicine for the treatment of cancers, corns, tumors, warts and whitlows (also called a felon is an infection on the tip of the finger, not the sides or base of the nail.) It is considered a demulcent and emollient and used as a poultice on wounds.

Most wheat is made into flour and consumed baked into breads, cakes, pie crusts, etc. Most wheat flour consumed in the US is white flour, which has the bran and germ removed prior to grinding. The whole wheat flour (leaving the bran and germ in) is far healthier, but also goes rancid more quickly, therefore needing refrigeration to extend its shelf life. The removed germ is often sold as wheat germ and is then added back into food to increase the nutritional value. It can easily be put in ground meat dishes of all sorts.

Raw wheat can be ground into flour, or germinated and dried making malt, or made into bulgur. Wheat is the major ingredient in many popular breakfast cereals; i.e. Wheatena, Cream of Wheat, Wheaties, and Shredded Wheat.

There have been increasing problems with people becoming gluten sensitive or intolerant. When that happens the only solution is to cut wheat and other gluten containing products (barley and rye) from the diet! The inflamed bowel that results with a reduction in the absorption of nutrients can also be painful causing bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

In magic wheat is sacred to Ceres, Demeter, and Ishtar. It is a symbol of fertility and is often carried for that purpose. It is also used to attract money!

Wheat – Triticum vulgare

Wheat from Koehlers medicinal plants 1887

Wheat from Koehlers medicinal plants 1887

Sacred to: Demeter and Persephone (goddesses of the grain)

Myth 1: Demeter Bestows Grain. After the return of Persephone from the underworld, Demeter bestowed the art of agriculture upon mankind. (Source: Homeric Hymns, et al)

Myth 2: Instruction of Triptolemos. The Eleusinian hero Triptolemos was given a chariot drawn by flying serpents by the goddess Demeter and sent to instruct the whole of mankind in the art of agriculture. (Source: Homeric Hymns, et al)

Other Notes: Wheat, a symbol of fruitfulness, is sometimes carried or eaten to induce fertility and conception. Sheaves of wheat are placed in the home to attract money, and grains are carried in sachets for the same reason.


Onion – Allium cepa



“What mean you, sir,

To give them this discomfort? Look, they weep;

And I, an ass, am onion-eyed: for shame,

Transform us not to women.”


William Shakespeare’s tragedy Antony and Cleopatra


This member of the Lily family is not found in a truly wild situation, but is related to wild species found in Central Asia. Under cultivation they make good companions with winter savory, dill, strawberries, cucumbers, chamomile, lettuce, carrots, beets, and chicory. They don’t do as well with beans, peas, and cabbage.


Onions have been under cultivation for a very long time. Traces of onion, dating back 5,000 years, were found in Bronze Age settlements in Canaan. Onions have even been found in ancient mummies from Egypt, and the Egyptians were known to pay workers with onions. A reference in the Ebers Papyrus mentions onions for medical use.


In modern herbal medicine onions can be made into syrup for treatment of cough; baked onions can be used as a poultice to draw infection from a wound; and fresh onion juice is useful in treating bee stings, insect bites, grazes and fungal infection of the skin.


The fresh juice has also been used in cosmetics to help remove freckles, and as an insect repellent. At one time it was believed that onion juice could restore hair to a bald head. The juice can also be used as a preventative against rust, and as a polish for copper and glass.


For edibility it can be consumed raw or cooked. Raw it can be sliced and added to salad, on top of sandwiches, etc. Cooked they can be chopped, sliced, or diced for use in stews, soups, chili’s, almost any recipe you would like. They are good as a pickle also. The flowers are often used as a garnish on salads, although the flavor of the bulb is much nicer.


The onion has even found its way into spiritual use, being considered sacred in ancient Egypt where it was worshipped in several cities. Onions are protective, used to encourage prophetic dreams and lust, and used in exorcism and to attract money. They are used to purify the blades of knives and athames.

Lady’s Mantle – Alchemilla vulgaris

Lady's Mantle - C.A.M.Lindeman's Flora
Lady’s Mantle – C.A.M.Lindeman’s Flora

“It collects the morning dew and wears it like fine jewels.

Its flowers are small, greenish, and lacy

like the green hair of the fairy queen, Tatiana”


Rosemary Gladstar,

excerpt from Herbal Healing for Women, page 245

This native of the mountains of America, Europe and Asia can be found growing wild in a variety of countries. From England, to Scotland, Greenland, and Northern Europe all the way to Asia it is held in great esteem as the woman’s helper. In Arabic countries it is believed to restore the youth and beauty to women. In magic use the ‘dew’ is gathered and used in potions to retain or restore youth. In Iceland it was considered sacred for its ability to help women retain their youth and for restoring their beauty!

In truth it is the woman’s friend in that it treats many female complaints. A tincture of the leaves is utilized in the treatment for menstrual pain, menopausal changes and stimulates menstrual flow. Being an astringent herb it is used also for the treatment of diarrhea and bleeding disorders. An infusion of the leaves and flower tops have been utilized as a douche, a mouthwash, and as a gargle.

The plant is considered a salad herb, the bitter leaves being chopped and added to a mixed green salad. There is also reference to the root being edible, but no further details!

Dewcup, as it is sometimes called, is oft used for cosmetic treatment of the skin…for soothing dry, sensitive skin, as an astringent for use on large pores, and as a facial steam for cleansing and treatment of acne. A cold compress made from an infusion is used to reduce inflammation of the eyes.

One last note…the leaves can be boiled to make a pale green dye for wool.

The above picture is from C.A.M.Lindeman’s Flora, By Carl Lindeman (from Sweden), 1901 to 1905

[Image in Public Domain]

Oleander – Nerium oleander

Oleander flower
Oleander flower

Love cautiously, the Oleander,
from a distance, behold its blooms.
For within its vibrant grandeur,
death’s brew does certainly loom…

Paula Swanson


This native shrub of Northern Africa may be one of the most poisonous plants on earth! Every part of the oleander is toxic causing severe digestive upset, heart trouble, contact dermatitis.  In horses there appears severe diarrhea and abnormal heartbeat. The faster that the stomach contents can be eliminated through vomiting the better, followed by charcoal administration to absorb as much of what remains as possible.


Through history oleander has been used as medicine, although it is not recommended due to its extreme toxicity. The Mesopotamians, the Babylonians, the Greeks and the Ancient Arab believed in the use for medical treatment. The Babylonians used oleander compounded with licorice to treat hangovers, and the Arab used as an early treatment for cancer. In more recent history the Chinese and Russian physicians have used oleander to treat heart failure for decades.


Heavily diluted oleander preparations have been used to treat muscle cramps, asthma, corns, menstrual pain, epilepsy, paralysis, skin diseases, heart problems, and cancer.