Kino herb

Castor for Sonoran Summers

Riccinus in NC 8088

Developing seedpods on a castor plant are striking.

Jacqueline Soule here today to talk about a great plant for the summer herb garden, castor bean (Ricinus communis).  It is called ricio or higuerilla in Spanish, and called “blech” by small children dosed with it’s oil.  It is a member of the Euphorbiaceae, the spurge or poinsettia family, which is widely considered a plant family to avoid consuming, so who first figured the oil was a good laxative and spring tonic?!  Not only for internal use, but the oil was popular 3000 years ago for body lotion, hair dressing, and for lamp oil.

Riccinus in NC 8090

Yes, some highly effective medicines, insecticides, and uses of the oil come from the castor seeds (they are not botanically beans), but it is not a plant for home remedies.  All parts of the plant contain both useful and highly toxic compounds.  I mention the plant today because it was used in the Southwest starting in Father Kino’s time, indeed was planted in his mission gardens, plus it is a lovely ornamental plant.  I like to grow castor in my modern day garden as a link to such ancestral gardens.

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The seed pods dry to brown and easily release the seed.

Castor beans are toxic due to ricin, a chemical present in the flesh of the seeds, but not present in the oil.  Although the lethal dose in adults is considered to be four to eight seeds, reports of human poisoning are rare as the seed coat is quite durable and can pass intact through the human digestive system.  Poisoning occurs when animals ingest broken seeds or break the seed by chewing.

Planting and Care.

Castor plants are striking ornamentals.  They can vary greatly in growth habit and appearance. The variability has been increased by breeders who have selected a range of cultivars for leaf and flower colors, including scarlet, bronze, or maroon leaves, topped by large, decorative seed pods in shades of red, orange, or maroon.  Plants make an excellent temporary screen or exotic backdrop for the back of the border.

Riccinus in NC 8086

In this North Carolina garden, the castor plants provide a backdrop to the annual beds.

Intolerant of frost, castor plants can be started indoors and planted out once the soils warm, or planted directly in the soil in spring.  For best results, soak seeds in water for 24 hours before planting. The large seeds should be buried about one inch deep. Castor plants prefer full sun and should be kept evenly moist to get growing.

Ricinus communis seeds

Harvesting and Use.

It is not recommended to attempt processing of castor oil at home.  But do save some seed of your plants, as there is some effort to outlaw their sale.

kino festival 2016

The 19th Annual Festival of Kino will be held throughout the town of Magdalena, in Sonora Mexico,  18 to 22 of May.  This year the celebration commemorates 50 years since finding Padre Kino’s bones.

JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tumacacori Mission (founded by Father Kino), Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).

© This article and photos are copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

Categories: Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Glorious Garlic Chives

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The mountains of Michoacan in 1990. That road sign is only a slight exaggeration.

Jacqueline Soule this week with a charming and easy-to-grow herb – garlic chives.  This herb offers a dish the hint of garlic and the fresh crispness of scallions. 

The first time I ate garlic chives that I know of was chopped and sprinkled on my soft tacos at a little roadside food stop in a forgotten town in Michoacan. The woman serving us was so taken with my questions about the plant that she sent her son scurrying home to dig up some bulbs to give me. Since I was on a plant collecting trip I had all the permits I needed to legally bring the bulbs back to the USA with me.  These tough perennials have been surviving in my gardens in various USDA zones and even indoors in pots for the next 30 plus years.

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Garlic chives are tough plants that survive with little extra water and taste great.

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) make a graceful green statement in the landscape, are low water users, and bloom in September and October with a fireworks-like burst of white bloom on a tall stalk held above the grassy green leaves.

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Blooms are white, followed by easy to harvest seed heads.

Originally from the Mongolian steppes, plants tolerate our alkaline soils and thrive in zones 10 to 4. Despite the tuberous name, the part you eat are the leaves. Harvest anytime to add raw or cooked to any dish where you desire a mild garlic flavor.

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Garlic chives are equally edible when vegetative, in bloom or in seed – quite unlike many other herbs.

Use garlic chive leaves how you would use scallions. We like them in stir-fry and omelets, or just a few to give zing to salad. They are also great in soup, even in simple soup made to hydrate and warm on a cool winter day.

Plant grow readily from seed, and can spread through the garden, appearing in watered areas. It is easily removed if it comes up where you don’t want it. If you are trying to eat only plants that are in season, these are always in season! Garlic chives great addition to the garden, even if you never plan to eat any.

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No matter what your garden style, garlic chives can fit right in.

JAS avatarIf you wish tips on gardening in the Southwest, please visit my facebook page Gardening With Soule.  If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Tumacacori (Fruits & Herbs of the Old Missions, 12:30, Thursday February 4th, 2016), Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).

© This article and these photos are copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Southwest Food | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Pine – as an Herb and More

By Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.

As December approaches, let’s look at an herb that many bring into their homes for the holiday season – the pine. Why not opt for a living Christmas tree (or Chanukah bush, as some of my friends call them)?  They are evergreen …. plus green.

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Humans around the world have used pine as herbs for eons. They used whichever species of pine lived near them to treat just about every sort of affliction. Pine has especially used for the ailments that have truly plagued humankind, like internal and external parasites and the aches and pains of being human and getting older.

In almost every case pine needles or bark are used as a tea (infusion) to either drink or bathe tissues. For intestinal parasites, the tea was drunk, for external ones such as ringworm (a fungal infection) or lice, the tissues were bathed with pine tea. Pine oils and resins have also been extracted, purified, and used medicinally.

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At this time, Commission E, a German-based group which scientifically studies herbal medicines, recommends using pine oils externally for rheumatic and neuralgic complaints, as well as for upper and lower respiratory tract inflammation.

Ideally, harvest and dry pine needles before use. This allows some of the more acrid compounds to evaporate. The active ingredients are predominately in the oils and are not lost by drying.

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Modern housekeepers around the world use pine based cleaners to keep the house smelling clean and fresh, little realizing that this harkens back to a yesteryear tradition of using pine products, including turpentine, to kill off pests, treat colds, and dress wounds.

Pines can be grown here in Tucson. Once established, they will need extra water in the hot dry months, especially May and June. Indeed, pines are a very green landscape plant. They provide housing for wildlife, especially hawks and owls, plus shade your home helping reduce energy consumption for cooling. The needles can be used as a wonderful mulch for plants around your yard or garden.

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For a living holiday tree that you can plant in your yard, chose from the eldarica (Pinus eldarica) from Afghanistan or Aleppo (Pinus halepensis) from the Middle East.

What about a Southwestern pinyon pine? If you can find some – go for it! I do have to warn you, they grow in higher altitudes than Tucson and will be stressed by our comparatively hotter summers. Extra water should help them survive.

pine 544503_1280What about the pine beetle now attacking Tucson trees? The beetle is the six-spined engraver beetle, one of 11 species of insects living in the inner bark of pine trees. It typically infests the thicker-barked and deeply fissured main tree trunks of older trees. An obnoxious pest to be sure. It appears to only be an issue with larger mature trees. A young tree should be able to grow in your yard for many years. Be sure to keep it healthy with extra water in the dry months.

Dr. Soule is trained as a botanist. She teaches workshops on plants and writes science and garden articles. Jacqueline has been using, growing, researching and writing about herbs for over three decades.

JAS avatarIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).

© This article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

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Categories: Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native | Leave a comment

A Useful Desert Broom

baccharis AMP_5239

People complain that they want more green in their landscape. Desert broom is one option for bright green foliage.

Desert broom is called escoba amarga in Spanish, and also called a weed by many.  But I advocate you take a moment to consider this shrub more fully.

Desert broom (Baccharis sarothroides) is a vigorous plant – often the first plant to grow on a cleared stretch of desert (or over the septic tank).  It can be useful to have such a tough plant in your landscape palatte.  Along with landscaping it is useful in a number of other ways.

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Sad to say – some people think the only good desert broom is a dead one.

Uses.

Desert broom has a history of use as a medicinal plant.  A decoction made by cooking the twigs of desert broom is used to treat colds, sinus headache, and in general “sore aching” ailments. The Seri use this when other medicinal plants are not available. The same tea is also used as a rub for sore muscles.  (Perchance Father Kino used some after one of his epic rides.)

Studies done on plant extracts show that desert broom is rich in leutolin, a flavonoid that has demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cholesterol-lowering capabilities. Desert broom also has quercetin, a proven antioxidant, and apigenin, a chemical which binds to the same brain receptor sites that Valium does. However, many members of the Sunflower family also contain compounds that cause negative side effects, thus caution is advised.

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Desert broom seedlings are often among the first plants to appear in a cleared area. The rabbits do not eat them.

As it’s name indicates, branches of desert broom do make a passable broom for sweeping the dirt floors of an adobe home.

Desert broom is so plentiful, and many of it’s seep willow cousins are used as dye, so I had to do the experiment. The result – yes! It does dye wool. Various mordants result in differing shades as seen below.  Other members of the Baccharis genus have excellent colorfastness.

baccharis dye on wool crop

Baccharis on wool with different mordants. I use the chemical symbols to mark my mordants. Al = alum, Cu = copper, FE = iron.

Desert broom can be used as filler in fresh and dried floral arrangements, with long lasting color and minimum mess since it has few leaves to lose.

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This plant gets chopped often for filler in my flower arrangements. Regular clipping helps keep it a dense and bushy.

Desert broom comes in separate male and female plants. The females release their tiny fluffy seeds at the same time a number of other plants release their pollen, thus the seeds of desert broom often get erroneously called an allergen. The pollen of the male plants is released in fall and can be allergenic.

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No, desert broom does not have yellow flowers. In this case a desert broom grew up through a Cassia.

Planting and Care.
Plants may be purchased at nurseries or can be grown from seed. Avoid over-watering in heavy soils as desert broom will drown.

Desert broom will accept shearing and can be trained into a decent, short-lived privacy hedge. Such a short lived hedge is helpful while the longer-lived, taller, non-allergenic, but slower growing Arizona rosewood (Vauquelinia californica) reaches hedge size. Desert broom can also be useful in the landscape since it grows in heavy clay or saline soils where few other plants thrive.

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These plants get sheared once a month by landscapers with power tools. Note that the native desert broom is growing more vigorously than the non-native cassia from Australia.

JAS avatar If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and more. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).

All photos and all text are copyright © 2015, Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

Categories: Dye, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

All That Bountiful Basil

by Jacqueline A. Soule.

Last month I wrote about basil  in these pages.  In my Gardening With Soule Blog I wrote about how to grow basil in the desert.  Now let’s look at more basil uses, and some plant care in our heat not discussed previously.

 

Hot Plants. 

If you bought your basil plants at a big box store, chances are it is not an ideal variety of basil to grow here.  In the image below, the plant shows signs of both excessive light and heat stress with yellowing leaves and some sunburned and browned leaves.  Basil harvested from such a stressed plant will taste bitter, not really worth the water it takes to keep the plant alive.  If you did end up with a large leaved basil, consider growing it on a covered patio or under shade cloth.

basil habit 009

Some varieties of basil, like this large leaf cultivar, do not appreciate hot sun and high temps.

Basil Blooms.

If you want basil seeds, let your basil bloom.  Otherwise, you should remove and spikes of blooms – ideally before they get too big and use up the energy the plant could use making more luscious leaves instead of flowers.

basil pinch 001

These spikes of basil blooms were pinched off the plant.

Remove the spikes of blooms by pinching them off.  Yes, you can use pruners or scissors or a knife, but scientific evidence shows that good old fashioned fingers are the best tool for the job.  Why?  Because when we cut, we cut through plant cells, but when we pinch, the plant ruptures between cell walls.  The plant heals more quickly when the damage is between the cells instead of right through the middle of them.

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The best tool for removing basil blooms is your own hand.

 

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The plant heals more rapidly when hand pinched, even though a tidy-minded person might not like the ragged look to the pinch site.

Harvesting Basil.

You can harvest basil leaves any time you need some.  If you are careful about it, your plant will just keep making more leaves, especially if you harvest just above a node of young leaves.

 

basil harvest_2678

Yes you should pinch your harvest – just like you pinch blossoms. The scissors are in the picture to indicate where to cut – just above a node of young leaves.

 

Using Your Basil.

Tons of ways to use basil, but I am fond of one I just learned – basil spreadable pseudo-cheese.  (I have to come up with a better name!)

You will need: a clean bandanna, a quart of plain Greek yogurt, a bowl, a colander, time, and some basil.

Put the colander into the bowl and line the colander with the clean bandanna.  Dump the yogurt into the bandanna and let this sit in the ‘fridge overnight.  The whey will drip out of the yogurt.  (You can leave it for 24 hours if you want.) From a quart of yogurt, I got almost a cup of whey.

This un-wheyed yogurt becomes thick and spreadable, almost like cream-cheese, and it does not stick to the bandanna!  It is not as creamy as cream cheese, but if you add flavorful herbs like basil, it is entirely tasty!

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Chop your basil finely for this dish.

 

Dump your yogurt-cheese out of the bandanna.  Harvest some basil, chop it up, mix it into your yogurt, and let it sit for at least four hours to help the basil flavor to merge into the cheese.

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Let your basil flavor infuse into the cheese for at least 4 hours. Longer is just fine.

Using the Whey.  

Since I got a cup of whey, I did not want to throw it away.  I tried a sip – not my cup of tea!  Since it is an animal product it shouldn’t go into the compost heap either.  I put it into a smoothy with sweet fruit and with a dollop of honey it was fine.

 

About Jacqueline Soule

JAS avatarJacqueline’s latest book “Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest” (Cool Springs Press, 2014) is available at Tohono Chul Park and the Tucson Botanical Gardens. It is divided into warm season and cool season growing so you can easily select other plants to grow this summer.

All text and all photos (except where noted) are copyright © 2015 by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bountiful Basil

basil-trio_renees garden_1

Basil comes in over 150 varieties. Here is a trio grown in Renee’s Garden. Photo courtesy of Renee’s Garden Seeds.

 

by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.

Summertime is basil-time in the Old Pueblo. As the nights turn to their sultry summer phase, the sun provides light for hours on end, and the soil temperatures become toasty warm – in other words, we enter our tropical phase of the year – and basil is truly delighted. Originally native to India, basil is genetically a tropical plant, even though it is now grown around the globe wherever (and whenever) it is warm enough.

basil lemon mrs burns famous nss

Mrs. Burn’s Famous Lemon Basil is a lemony flavored basil that grows well indeed in our climate. Photo courtesy of Native Seeds/SEARCH.

Basil is a real taste treat. It can be used in Italian cooking (like the pesto recipe below), fresh, in green salads, and it even has a reputation as a medicinal herb.

basil-saladleaf_renees garden

Salad leaf basil features large leaves. Not as strongly flavored as other basils, it does taste great in salads. Photo courtesy of Renee’s Garden Seeds.

Basil does grow well in the Tucson area, but it isn’t the easiest herb to grow. It has some very specific preferences if it is to thrive. I will put growing tips up on my Gardening With Soule blog on June 4th. Why wait? Because the 4th of each month is national “You Can Grow That” Day.

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I was in Philadelphia and spotted a bunch of basil growing in a raised bed. Ideally, you want to pinch the blooms off to encourage more leafy growth.

The National Institute of Health reports that Americans consume too much salt. Cooking with flavorful herbs like basil could help you reduce your salt use and stay heart healthy.  Here’s an easy to make pesto to get you started.

Basil Pesto

4 oz. fresh basil leaves (a generous double handful)
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, peeled (double amount of onion may be substituted if garlic is an issue)
8 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Rinse basil and pat dry.
2. Toast pine nuts in an ungreased skillet over medium heat until golden. Cool.
3. Place cooled pine nuts, basil, garlic and olive oil in a food processor or blender and puree until creamy.
4. Stir in the cheeses and serve over pasta or rice. Also excellent with quinnoa or toasted tofu. Vegans can omit the cheese or use shredded soy cheese.

 

JAS avatarAbout Jacqueline Soule

Jacqueline’s latest book “Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest” (Cool Springs Press, 2014) is available at Tohono Chul Park and the Tucson Botanical Gardens. It is divided into warm season and cool season growing so you can easily select other plants to grow this summer.

All text and all photos (except where noted) are copyright © 2015 by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

Categories: Cooking, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Lizard Tail Plants

yerba mansaIMG_6196 (4)

Yerba mansa is a member of a tiny plant family. Our Sonoran Desert has many such unique plants in it.

Jacqueline Soule here to tell you of a very unusual plant blooming in my garden right now – a member of the very unique Lizard Tail Family, the Saururaceae. This distinct plant family has only seven species in it, grouped into four genera. I am writing today about Anemopsis californica, also called yerba mansa.

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What looks like a single flower is technically a cluster of tiny flowers.

Medicinal.

Yerba mansa is used as a medicinal herb, but it also makes a pretty pond plant. All parts of the plant have a distinct spicy fragrance, a blend of ginger, eucalyptus, a touch of juniper and a dash of pepper. The roots are especially fragrant, reminiscent of a cross between camphor and eucalyptus with a hint of pepper. One of the active compounds in yerba mansa is methyleugenol, an anti-spasmodic, similar in chemical structure to compounds found in other medicinal herbs.

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Even when they are newly emerged, the leaves bear a tracery of the red pigments they feature in fall.

Yerba mansa is versatile; it can be taken orally as a tea, tincture, infusion or dried in capsule form. It can be used externally for soaking inflamed or infected areas. It can be ground and used as a dusting powder. In New Mexico the leaves are used to make a poultice to relieve muscle swelling and inflammation. Spanish settlers in California used the plant as a liniment for skin troubles and as a tea for disorders of the blood.

Planting and Care.

While it is a pretty garden plant, yerba mansa would not appear in xeriscape books. It requires consistently moist soil and will not tolerate drying out between waterings. But by definition a xeriscape should include some oasis, and this is often a water garden.

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Yerba mansa features large leathery leaves when it gets ample water.

Yerba mansa is valuable in the water garden. Koi and other fish do not browse it like they do many other plants, thus it can readily spread and help clean the water. It also appears to help keep fish from getting bacterial infections such as Pseudomonas fluorescens (causing fin rot and fish dropsy) and fungal infections such as Saprolegnia.

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Great for the water garden, yerba mansa’s antibacterial properties can help keep your fish healthy.

Cooler autumn weather can bring blotches of maroon to the leaves and stems. If the temperatures are cool but not freezing, the entire plant may turn color. If the temperature falls below 20 F, the leaves die. Not to worry, the plant readily comes back from the roots. The plant is considered hardy to USDA Zone 5.

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Yerba mansa will send out runners seeking to colonize new territory. It will not take root where there is not ample water – like in the desert outside the water garden!

In our area the plant is gaining popularity and can now be found in a number of nurseries that carry water garden plants.

Harvesting and Use.

Roots for medicinal purposes should be collected in the fall preferably after the first freeze. After the first freeze the plant will begin to store the useful chemicals in its root system. Harvest the thick fleshy roots under the main part of the plant, not the thin roots on the runners.

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The smaller white roots are the ones harvested and dried for their medicinal properties.

Wash roots to remove clay and silt, then set them to wilt for several hours before cutting them into small pieces (roughly 1/4 inch square). Continue to dry the chopped roots until firm and dry.

About Jacqueline Soule

If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio and more. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).

All text and all photos (except where noted) are copyright © 2015 by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Time for Some Thyme

Thymus_vulgaris_branch crop

Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris)  is best grown with a dappled noon-time shade in the summer in the southwest.

Special for Savor the Southwest  February 2015
by Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule

Spring is springing out in my garden – and the little thyme cutting I got from Savor Sister Muffin Burgess back in at our anniversary party in November is finally starting to take off.  November was a terrible time to take cuttings of this warm climate herb – but the great thing about herbs is that humans have been mistreating them for 7000 years or so, and the weak ones have mostly died out.

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There are many species of thyme, like this species in the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, used for the herb blend za’atar.

Thyme is a large and very popular genus, with over 350 species and countless cultivars grown around the world. Aside from looking lovely in the landscape, thyme is a strong herb used in cooking, and has some proven medicinal properties as well. It can also be grown indoors in bright, indirect light.

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Many herbs that do in the Southwest are originally from a similar climate – like this Thymus vulgaris growing wild on the rocky hillsides of the Galilee.

This lovely, fragrant, tasty, and healthful herb in native to the rocky slopes of the mountains of the eastern Mediterranean region, in the area that is now mostly Greece. Since they are pre-adapted to low water conditions, most species of thyme can be grown here. I grow my thyme plants where they get roof run-off, thus I rarely need to water them; and yet they offer a lush look to my entryway with their glossy green leaves.

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Not just tasty, thyme is also another pretty face in the garden! For peak flavor, it is best to harvest this (and most culinary herbs) just before they bloom.

Make sure you grow your thyme in well-drained soil. You may have to add some sand to your soil. I killed several thyme plants until I had finally added enough sand to their bed.

There are many thymes to choose from, but here are the species most commonly found in the nursery.

Common or culinary thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a low woody plant barely reaching a foot tall. It quickly becomes leggy with bare wood showing so harvest and use or dry your thyme often. (You can give friends jars of your dried herbs as truly personal and unique gifts.)

Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox) makes an attractive and useful groundcover. It is culinary too! Harvest as needed.

Thymus_praecox crop

Creeping thyme, with tiny leaves and charming purple flowers, is perfect for a fairy garden.

Lemon thyme (Thymus X citriodorus) is a delicious and fragrant low-growing variety with glossy green leaves, and goes wonderfully with fish dishes.

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Lemon thyme is great for flavoring fish dishes – two flavors for the price of one!

Equally fragrant and delicious is the golden lemon thyme (Thymus X citriodorus ‘Aureus’). With wonderfully variegated leaves, it looks good in the landscape.

Not generally used as culinary herbs, two popular species of creeping thyme are useful in the landscape. Mother-of-thyme (Thymus serpyllum) and woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanginosis) both grow well between shady flagstones, and smell great when stepped on.

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Add some fragrance to your landscape – plant this heat tolerant woolly thyme between the flagstones of your path.

Sprinkle thyme (either fresh or dried) in soups, salads, on meat dishes or use in herb breads. Use an ample number of sprigs in herbal vinegars and oils for an intense and refreshing flavor.

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We use ample thyme in our cooking. This 8 ounce jar gets refilled several times a year.

For a quick meal at the end of a long day make Sopa de Farigola, or Thyme Soup, a dish popular in the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain, and thus part of our Sonoran heritage as well.  Fresh eggs and day-old bread are topped with a boiling broth made from water, sprigs of thyme and some olive oil. Great for replacing electrolytes after a day working in the garden!

More about thyme in my books which I will be selling and signing at the Tucson Festival of Books March 14 & 15 this year – Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press 2014, $23), and Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing & Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Press 2011, $15) also available at Tucson area bookstores, nurseries, botanical gardens, and state parks.

JAS avatar  © 2015, Jacqueline Soule. All rights reserved. I have received many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you are free to use a very short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact me if you have any questions.

thyme IMG_2657 crop

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Onion Planting Time!

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The Southwest is ideal for gardening all year long.

Jacqueline Soule with you here to share some timely planting tips.  Speaking as a gardener – one of the best things about living here in the Southwest is that every month is the month to plant something! Right now, in these cool months with short days and long nights, it is time to plant onions.

If you have never before had a vegetable garden, onions are a great way to start. Of all the garden vegetables, they are tolerant of abuse and forgiving of mistakes. In the ground, in large or small pots, under the shrubs in the front yard of your HOA home (the weed-police are mollified by “bulbs”), wherever you have a little space you can plant some onions. As long as we get rain every ten days, you may not even need to water them. Onions fresh out of the ground have so much more flavor you owe it to yourself to try them.

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Onions can be tucked into almost any space in the yard. These I’itoi onions stay small.

Which ones? There are more varieties of onions than you can shake a stick at, a number of different types with conflicting names (bunching, bulbing, multiplier) and technically a few different species, but rather than start a discourse on all of that, lets just key into the fact that the days are short, thus you need to plant “short day” varieties.

allium AMP set 001

Onion sets can be planted in pots with potting soil.

Now? In the coldest time of year? Yes! But you will plant “sets” not seeds. Sets are already started from seed onions, or, in the case of multiplier onions and garlics, they are divisions off a larger bulb.

How to plant sets? Just set them into the soil. (Sometimes gardening terminology makes sense.)  Plant with the green side up, the bulb entirely below the soil.

allium AMP set 002

Look in the background in this shot. Some varieties will grow faster than others.

Most of our local nurseries know that now is the time for onions and have a selection of sets to choose from. Big box stores don’t – just another reason to shop local. In past years some of the Farmer’s Market vendors also offered onion sets.

A general planting guide follows.

Light.  Remember the whole “short day” thing?  The short days of winter will mean that the onions will need as much as you can give them.

Soil is not as critical as with most vegetables. But for best overall health, plus full flavor and good final size of your crop, an improved garden soil is recommended. Or plain potting soil if you grow them in containers.

Water is needed on a regular basis for nice fat bulbs and succulent leaves. In general this means two or three times per week, but maybe more if the onions are in pots.

Fertilizer is not much needed by onions. If you want to, use one for root crops, high in nitrogen and potassium. Avoid fertilizer for flowers, like a rose or tomato food. Flowering takes energy away from creating succulent bulbs.

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These onions got too much flowering fertilizer. Rather than develop good bulbs, they spent their energy producing flowers and seeds.

Harvest – once the tops die down and start to turn brown (usually in late May into June).  For long term storage the garden books from “back east” tell you to dry your onions in the sun – but don’t do that here!! – they will get sun scald and taste yucky. Dry onions in a cool dark place that does have good air flow. I put mine on screens in the laundry room and leave the ceiling fan on low for about three days. Once they have dried onions will store without rotting.

Storage & Use. Some varieties of onions store better than others. Plan on about four months maximum for best flavor and texture. (Ours are eaten so fast this is not an issue.) Don’t forget to save your onion skins to make a great natural dye for Easter eggs and textiles.

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I keep a bag to add my onion skins to every time I cook.

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Onion skins produce a warm brown dye.

 

For more about onions and other vegetables and fruits that will thrive in your Southwestern garden, please consider my book Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press 2014), available at Antigone, Arizona Experience Store, local botanical gardens, state parks, and nurseries.

© 2015, Jacqueline Soule.  All rights reserved. I have received many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you are free to use a very short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact me if you have any questions. JAS avatar

 

Categories: Cooking, Dye, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild Rhubarb

Dr. Jacqueline Soule, the Fourth Friday Savor Sister here to talk today about an edible “weed” you might find in your yard this winter.

Rumex_hymenosepalus_5 by SS

Rumex hymenosepalus – a “weed” with a number of uses.

One of the wonderful aspects of living in Southern Arizona is our milder winter weather – and it has been milder than most this year.  In my corner of Tucson it has not even hit freezing yet (a fact that is good and bad news for gardeners with fruit trees, but more about “chill hours” some other day).  This mild winter weather has lead to the early appearance of a number of cool season/winter weeds.  Note that it is a good idea to get rid of most weeds before they go to seed, unless they are edible weeds, in which case you may want to harvest some and leave the rest to seed freely for future harvests.

One local winter plant often considered a weed was once grown here commercially.  I am talking about Rumex hymenosepalus, commonly called wild rhubarb, canaigre, hierba colorada, Arizona dock, Arizona rhubarb, tanners dock, or ganagra. Back when my age was in the single digits, I learned to call it “miners lettuce.”

Rumex_hymenosepalus_1 by SS

Common names for the plant include wild rhubarb. Unlike rhubarb, the young leaves are edible.

 

Growing up at the edge of Tucson, cowboys were part of our circle of friends. “Mr. Alex” was very patient with my countless plant questions, and told me the name for the plant was miners lettuce. With one of his slow smiles he explained that no self respecting cowboy would eat the plant, but because most miners were poorer than dirt, they commonly ate the plant. Five decades later I realize he was also explaining to my brother that most prospectors never found their gold mine, and were commonly strapped for cash, but a steadily working cowboy never lacked for food to eat.

Prospector&Burro

Most prospectors never found the gold they searched for and were perennially short of cash.  They harvested any number of wild plants to help fill the stew pot.

 

Rumex hymenosepalus was once cultivated in the southwestern United States for the roots, a good source of tannin, used for tanning leather. The roots also yield a warm, medium brown dye for natural fibers like wool and cotton. But when it comes to savoring – the leaves and leaf stalks are considered edible when young. Use leaves and tender young stems in salads or cook like spinach. Older stalks can be cooked and eaten like rhubarb. Rumex pie – yum!

rumex sp by Leigh Anne Albright

A plant found on the edge of Tucson. Photo by the finder, Leigh Anne Albright.

 

rumex 02 by Leigh Anne Albright

Within a population, the color and length of the stems can vary. Photo by the finder, Leigh Anne Albright.

 

Rumex hymenosepalus is generally found in grasslands, like the Tucson valley used to be. Now you can find it on the eastern and southern edges of Tucson around Vail and Sahuarita, as well as other southern Arizona grassland areas. It is also found in other western states, including California, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma.

 

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Arizona rhubarb is primarily a plant of the grasslands, and Tucson was once a valley filled with a sea of grass.

 

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You can visit the Empire Ranch to step back in time. Due to overgrazing, mesquite trees and cacti are taking over the former grasslands.

 

Although the leaves appear after the winter rains, the plant is a perennial in the buckwheat family, the Polygonaceae. You may have guessed by the common name, but this plant family also includes rhubarb, another perennial whose leaf stalks are (IMHO) yummy!

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Freshly harvested rhubarb stalks. Avoid eating the leaves of rhubarb as they are high in oxalic acid which can harm human kidneys.

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You can use the stalks of our local “wild rhubarb” to make rhubarb pie.

 

Various other species of Rumex are commonly cultivated as garden vegetables.  Rumex acetosa, often simply called sorrel, common sorrel, garden sorrel, spinach dock and narrow-leaved dock.  Rumex scutatus, called French sorrel or yerba mulata, has been cultivated in this area since the days of Father Kino (in this area 1687 to 1711).  I just purchased some nursery seedlings of French sorrel at a local independent nursery and planted them in my garden.

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As a dye, the roots of Rumex hymenosepalus yield a similar color to rhubarb roots. This is sheep wool with an alum mordant. Photo by J.A. Soule.

 

A quick note about the common name sorrel. In the Caribbean “sorrel” refers to Hibiscus sabdariffa, used to make a tea. In other areas sorrel refers to a members of the genus Oxalis, whose leaves have a tart flavor and are used in a number of ways.  This just serves to highlight the reason I rely on scientific names when discussing plants that may be harvested in the wild.  You want to be certain of your identification.

If you like to harvest your own, or prefer to cultivate your food, I hope you will consider adding this member of the buckwheat family to your list of plants to savor.  Go Rumex!

Rumex_hymenosepalus_4 by SS

The flowers are very not very showy, but are surrounded by large, colorful sepals that last even after the flowers are gone.

 

Photos copyright free and courtesy of Wikimedia except where noted.  Article © 2014, Jacqueline Soule.  All rights reserved. I have received many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you are free to use a very short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. My photos may not be used.  Please use the contact me if you have any questions. JAS avatar

Categories: Dye, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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