Archive for the ‘Herbs’ Category

Tomato – Solanum lycopersicum

Roma Tomatoes
Roma Tomatoes

Tomato so juicy
so firm and so round
I can hardly believe
you came from the ground

Filled with vitamins
light and Love
my palate delights again
in my mouth you I shove…..

By Betty O’Neil

Xitomatl (pronounced shi-to-ma-tlh, meaning “plump thing with a navel”) is the  name given it by the Aztec people. They were the ones to introduce it to the Spaniards so long ago. That original tomato was a small, yellow fruit believed to be first domesticated by the Aztec, but having its origins in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Today the tomato is a common garden addition, even though it was first feared in Europe as poisonous. This long ago belief was due to it being a close family member of some poisonous plants. It is a member of the Solanaceae – Nightshade or Potato family. It has some very famous relatives…potatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tobacco. As a garden plant it plays a role in companion planting being good neighbors with beans, nasturtium, garlic, cabbage, lettuce, leeks, corn, carrots, parsley, radishes, beets, celery, spinach, and chicory. It doesn’t do nearly as well with peas, fennel, rue, or potatoes (being in the same family they attract many of the same pests and diseases). Planting it with basil helps in growth and flavor, while planting it with borage helps repel tomato worms!

The ever popular tomato is used in Italian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican cuisines extensively, but also in many others only on a smaller scale. The can be eat fresh, out of hand, sliced on sandwiches, chopped into salads, and to garnish almost anything. They are made into sauces, added to soups, stew and casseroles…in fact your imagination is your only limit! They are included in such diverse things as pesto, pico de gallo, taco sauce, gazpacho, juice, salsas, quesadillas, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, tostadas, pizza, spaghetti, lasagna, guacamole, chutney, and relishes.

In medicine the tomato is proving of great benefit. It is high in Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, which has been found to be very useful in the treatment of prostate cancer. It has also been proven beneficial in the treatment of high blood pressure and helps protect the skin from harmful UV rays which will cause skin cancers. Because they are also high in Vitamin C, Potassium and citric acid they make a good addition to a healthy diet for maintaining overall health, aiding digestion, eliminating environmental toxins, and rehydration after exercise.

Knowing all these benefits from food to medicine it is strange to think that it took 150 years after European discovery for them to begin using the tomato on a regular basis. Even then the tomato was not considered fit for anything but sauce!

Taro – Colocasia esculenta


The potato of the tropics or coco yam are alternate names for this root that is a staple of many people of the tropics. It was one of the earliest cultivated plants in Malaysia where it is believed to have originated in the wetlands. It can be found growing along wetland fringes of ditches, streams, canal, and lakes. It is an herbaceous perennial that produces large ‘elephant’ like leaves above ground and edible roots below ground.


In Deni Brown’s book, Aroids Plants of the Arum Family, he writes,

“The oldest cultivated crop in the world is an aroid: taro (Colocasia esculenta).  It has been grown in parts of tropical and subtropical Asia for more than 10,000 years (Cable 1984). The ancient irrigation systems of  terrace paddies seen today may well have been constructed originally for taro long before rice came on the scene, and rice may have first come to notice as a weed in the flooded taro patches (Plucknett 1976).” 


Even though this plant is poisonous in all its parts, the leaves and roots are eaten daily in some parts of the world. Edoe (yet another name) contains calcium oxalate in all its parts, which contains needle-like crystals (called raphids) that produce the toxic response. The sap on the skin is a major irritant, and taken internally it will produce sensations of burning in the mouth and throat, swelling, and choking. Even with this response in mammals it can be rendered edible with proper cooking procedures!


To make Taro edible it must be cooked, in any fashion you would like. From roasting, boiling, or frying; you can slice, grate or mash them…as long as they are cooked you are safe! When cooked it has a mealy texture and a slightly sweet flavor. Many people compare them to the potato. Poi, a standard food in Hawaii, is made of Taro, and is a starchy paste like food that is fermented!


In Hawaii it has a history of use in local medicine. Only the uncooked corms are used in medicine. The scraped corm was used mixed into a formula to act as a purgative (causing vomiting). The leaves and sap can be applied to a cut to stop bleeding (styptic), and start the healing process.


In Hawaii the plant is considered sacred. It is considered to have the greatest life force of any food stuff. Taro grew from the body of the stillborn son of Wakea (sky father) and Papa (earth mother). This plant came with the earliest Hawaiian settlers in their canoes, and was considered a staple and the staff of life for centuries. The Hawaiians still refer to the plant as the “elder brother”.

Agave – Agave americana


Consider agave, not a usual suspect,
with its tooth-edged leaves, sharper than a serpent,
hardy as a cactus, source of hemp and mescal,
rope and fever dreams.

By Pat Tompkins

This native of the American southwest and the American tropics was introduced to Europe in about the 16th century. It became widely cultivated for its striking appearance. They have escaped cultivation in Europe and have become well established in the Mediterranean areas of Europe and Africa. It grows at low and medium altitudes on sandy or gravelly soil. Being a desert plant, once established it will survive most droughts.

This interesting plant that so looks like an aloe, is not related in any way to Cacti. But rather is more closely related to the Lily and Amaryllis families. It and its cousin the Yucca are often planted ornamentally outside its natural region. Should you do this and you are not in a Zone that avoids frost in winter you can still grow it, but place it in a pot to bring indoors with the first frost till spring.

Today the agave is used for food mostly for its sap which makes what we know as agave syrup. It is a very effective sweetener often used to replace honey in recipes. It dissolves easily in cold liquids, quite the opposite of sugar! The flower stalk and the heart was roasted and eaten, being sweet it was at one time popular with children. The seeds can be ground into a flour to act as a thickening agent in soups and stews, and also to make bread.

Several Native American tribes would take the core and ferment it making Pulque, which is a drink used in religious ceremony. The developing flower bud is fermented in the same fashion to make Mescal. Tequila is also made in a similar manner, but must be made from a specific type of Agave grown within Tequila, Mexico.

Agave is used in herbal medicine for inflammation (soreness, redness, and swelling), infection, cancer, and high blood pressure. Side effects of using Agave are rash that may itch, burn, blister, especially when using Agave on the skin, breathing problems or tightness in your throat or chest, and chest pain.  

Wapato or Duck Potato – Sagittaria latifolia


Wapato is blooming this month, Sagittaria latifolia,

“a round root the size of Hens eggs,”

favored as food by native inhabitants of Oregon,

once abundant around here.

Driving north I pass a pond full of wapato

now blooming, the small white flowers

elevated on long stems

like spots of sunlight on shiny leaves….


By Barbara Drake



This aquatic plant of ponds and lakes of most of North America has several names. The Duck Potato is a misnomer, as the tuber is too deep for ducks to unearth, but they do eat the seeds. Beavers, porcupines, and muskrats find the tuber tasty and will in fact eat the whole plant.


Humans for centuries have utilized this plant for food. Across North America Native peoples utilized this plant for food; the bulbs were roasted or boiled as food. The Thompson, Winnebago, Omaha, Potawatomi, Pomo, Meskwaki, Lakota, Klamath, Cocopa, Chippewa, and Cherokee used them for food. Many also dried them for winter use (after cooking, and slicing, they were strung and dried). In the journals of Lewis and Clark there is mention of this plant being used as food!


The roots were also used in medicine. The Algonquin used this plant to treat Tuberculosis (TB), The Cherokee would make a decoction of the root to bath a feverish baby. The Chippewa used it for dyspepsia; the Mohawk would give it to children who cry a lot at night. It was also used to treat rheumatism, boils, wounds and sores, and as a laxative.


The plant had assorted other uses as well. It was used to make a decoction for ‘corn medicine’, it would be poured on the planting site like a fertilizer. The tuber were dried and used in gambeling games.


The corms were also used in magic! Plant used as a love charm and for “witchcraft” among various Tribes. The Cherokee may have used this plant in formulae that “created’ witches. They believed that fasting combined with drinking a decoction of the root would cause the ability to transform into animals or other people!

Queen Anne’s Lace – Daucus carota

Monarche on Queen Anne's Lace 'bird's nest' seedhead
Monarche on Queen Anne’s Lace ‘bird’s nest’ seedhead

“Her lawn looks like a meadow,
And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
And the Queen Anne’s lace!”

Edna St Vincent Millay

Take a look at the picture…Bird’s Nest, Bee’s Nest…are alternate names for the wild carrot known as Queen Anne’s lace. As the plants flowers finish their bloom and begin to die back the

flower head curls in on itself, with the result of looking much like a bird’s nest! Its other common name, Queen Anne’s lace is because they were named for Queen Anne of England (1665-17140), who is reported to have been an excellent lace maker. There are many myths surrounding Queen Anne and this plant…one of them being how the plant got the darkened spot in the middle of the umbel of flowers. It was said that Queen Anne had pricked her finger with a needle and the drop of blood stained the lace (and the flower) with her blood.


This biennial plant of fields, meadows, waste places and roadsides is native to Europe and southwest Asia. It has now become naturalized in northeast North America and Australia. In many areas it has been declared a noxious weed. In some areas it is prohibited and even under quarantine! Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington states all find it, at least noxious.


It seems that traditionally almost every part of this plant was used in folk medicine.

Root: works as a diuretic, eliminates kidney stones and worms. As poultice for wounds and ulcers

            Seeds: used as a contraceptive, and an abortifacient, also used for hangovers

            Seeds & Leaves: settle the stomach when used together

            Leaves: with honey, will clean weeping sores

            Sap: used for cough and congestion

Whole Plant: made into a decoction – used for dropsy, kidney diseases, gout, gravel & stones

The root is edible, but harvest it the first year, the second it gets woody and tough. An essential oil of the seeds is used in perfumery.

Irish White Potato – Solanum tuberosum

Red skin Potatoes
Red skin Potatoes

Here’s cucumbers spinnage and French beans

Come buy my nice sallery

Here’s parsnips and fine leeks

Come buy my potatoes too.


— c. 1700, an old English ballad


Baked, mashed, fried in strips, shreds, or slices, boiled, made into soup, au gratin, tater tots, and more. Potatoes are ohhhhh so delicious just about any way you want to make them. They have saved people’s lives during time of famine; they have delighted a small child as they make their own mushy piles; and they have been as simple as everyday fast food fare or as elegant as a 5-star restaurant can imagine! That is the spud, or tater, not always potato.


Many folks can recall that there was a devastating famine in Ireland; it was called the Potato Famine. Many folks I know thought for a long time that the famine was staved off by eating the potato, but in this instance in 1845-1852 it was due to the failure of the potato crop due to blight. The famine caused 1 million people in Ireland to die, and another 1 million to leave the country altogether! The people of Ireland had been forced off their grazing lands by the English onto smaller plots of stony land, not suitable to growing their cattle or grain crops any longer. They then resorted to growing the potato that had been imported from South America for survival. This worked well enough until the blight hit!


The potato, or rather the lack of the potato caused great starvation issues in Ireland and Scotland, but in poor third world countries the potato offers a cheap, tasty food source for the masses of people who would otherwise starve. In Africa when potatoes were introduced it took a long time for the farmers to agree to grow them, as they believed them poisonous! Indeed the potatoes that are green in the flesh or skin, and the green leaves and stems do contain an alkaloid named solanine, like most members of the Solanaceae family. If toxicity occurs the symptoms are nausea, vomiting, salivation, and drowsiness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, weakness, and respiratory depression.


Potatoes contain large amounts of starch so although they are wonderful to eat, they may be the wrong choice if you have Type II diabetes as the starch gives them a high glycemic index! But if you are not diabetic then they are a good choice as they are high in Vitamin A, B1, B2, C and K, they also have a good amount of minerals, such as potassium and are relatively low in calories!


As a folk remedy potatoes have their uses:

            Juice: used in the treatment of peptic ulcers

            Poultice: used to treat rheumatic joints, swellings, skin rashes, and hemorrhoids

            Plaster: (cold raw flesh) soothing to burns and scalds

            Skins: to treat swollen gums and heal burns (in India)


Asiatic Dayflower – Commelina communis

Asiatic Dayflower
Asiatic Dayflower

This introduced wetland native of east Asia (southern China, Japan, and India) loves moisture, although it does not need to be wet at all times, like standing water and is often invasive in this country.  In northeastern China the Asiatic Dayflower has caused considerable financial lose due to damage that has occurred in orchards. This plant was introduced from Asia as an ornamental, but has now escaped cultivation, and is slowly becoming a problem.


The Daylily has a long history of use in China in herbal medicine. The leaves are depurative (purifying), diuretic, and febrifuge. An infusion of the leaves has been used for sore throat and tonsillitis, use it like a gargle. A decoction treats bleeding, diarrhea and fever.


The leaves, flowers and shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. Chopped it can be added to salads, or steamed like spinach. The whole plant can be rinsed and used in stir fries, sautéed into egg dishes. In China the entire plant is harvested, dried, and used later for tea. 3 teaspoons added to a cup of water makes a nice cup of tea. The flowers are bland in taste, but slightly sweet.


In Japan a dye industry revolves around the 2 blue petals. It makes a nice blue dye that was used for coloring woodblock pics in the 18th and 19th centuries. The only drawback is that if exposed to light the dye color fades to a greenish yellow within a short period (maybe 2 months).