A Day of Remembrance

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Roses and rosemary, botanicals for remembrance

“Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

imageHow does one say “Happy Memorial Day”? There is nothing happy about war, about having a day to remember all the lives and dreams cut short by the politics and hatred that give birth to war. Watching the National Memorial Day concert on PBS last night, I appreciate and am grateful for the emphasis on helping the wounded soldiers who come home, not just wounded in body, but in heart, soul and psych. We as a society have come a long way in understanding the human cost of war is not just in fatalities.

Memorial Day is a day to reach out to the warriors who survive the battle fronts, as well as the family and friends of those who do not come home, they too are the casualties of war and live every day with broken hearts.

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Clematis is said to represent mental beauty. May those who suffer the travails of war find again mental beauty and peace

Dwight D. Eisenhower was a warrior and a thoughtful man who saw war for what it was. Here are two of his many quotes on the subject.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

“When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war”.

Honoring and wishing all whose lives are touched by war a day of peace and love.

Friendly pansies and violas

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this little face seems to be waving ‘hello’ and was used on one of the photo cards I sold for 7 years.

Pansies, which can be found in a variety of colors, traditionally come in shades of purples and blues, including dark maroons, to shades of yellows, even orange. There are also bronze colored and white ones.  Traditionally pansies are bi or tri-colored, though solid color ones are more popular in recent years. The wide variety of traditional tri-colors can be harder to find.

Pansies, whose scientific name is Viola tricolor var. hortensis, (though some newer hybrids have been given their own scientific namesare not fond of hot weather, which is why nurseries are already letting their supplies twiddle. They will grow in partial shade to stay cool and are generally easy to grow.

DSC01261Pansies are considered an early spring annual, but I’ve had spring plants, after being cut back when they get ‘leggy’, bloom on a second-growth the same growing season. Pansies planted in the fall will bloom into early winter and come back in the spring if protected from very harsh cold weather.

DSC01260So what is the difference between a viola and pansy?

A Colorado State University Cooperative Extension article has this to say about the difference: “….. sweet violets, bedding violas, and pansies are all classified as “violas.” Sweet violets are descended from the European wild sweet violet, v. odorata; bedding violas (the flower that we usually call “violas”) were hybridized from pansies and v. cornuta. Pansies developed from the wild violas v. lutea and v. tricolor (“johnny-jump-up”). Sixty species are native to the U.S. and about 100 varieties are offered for sale.

I find all that confusing, as do most nursery people, because in most nurseries if you ask for violas folks know you want the smaller pedaled blossoms, and if you ask for pansies, you want the larger blooms.  I’ve read one distinction is pansies have four petals pointing upwards, and only one pointing down, while violas have three petals pointing up and two pointing down.

imageI’m not sure I agree, this diminutive scrunchie- faced sweetheart is clearly a viola in my book but seems to have 4 up and 1 down!

Pansies and violas are edible, they can be “candied” and make a colorful garnish for spring  salads and other dishes, but if you plan to eat them grow them yourself or be sure you buy your plants from a nursery that grows only organic plants to avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides, an important caution for all edible plants. Violas readily re-seed and appear in our garden year after year, those plants being the preferred ones to eat.

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A sweet gift from Mike!

As a child I was given an area in our yard to plant and I always planted pansies. I loved the color variations and their little faces. I still like to plant a few in pots on the porch, safe from deer and slugs (the later still seem to find them from time to time). Yesterday, after looking in two big nurseries for plants, all we found was a large planter full of very traditional pansies! It was like my childhood in a yellow barrel! I thought it was pricey but Mike insisted on buying it for me. A very cheery indulgence!

This gift came after a breast and lymph node ultrasound, 18 months post-mastectomy. I had assertively advocated to get the test, rather than wait the recommended 6 months for an MRI or mammogram. It had been an ultrasound in 2014, 20 months after a lumpectomy for cancer,  that showed a lymph node metastasis, which resulted in findings of more cancer in my breast. Yesterday I was lectured at the ultrasound test on how ultrasounds aren’t valid screening tests, in spite of my own experience. (Used in Europe for screening, there is no radiation exposure and they are cheaper). My oncologist had agreed to order the test, for my peace of mind, but the tech and radiologist did not agree, even telling me MRIs were not good screening tests, only mammograms were valid, contradicting information I’ve previously been told. I had never said I would not get a mammogram or MRI, I wanted this test now rather than wait a full year between the other tests. A wait of a year two years ago would have had a very different outcome.

DSC01878Although the results of the ultra sound were good, the lecturing left me in a grumpy mood, angry at being treated like a person incapable of making my own health care decisions. Looking at all the little pansy faces in the yellow barrel made me feel in good company….they always seem cheery, yet also a bit disgruntled! Maybe that is part of their life-long appeal to me, they reflect my own slightly skeptical cautiousness toward life, even while looking for the positive!

Hope you can find some pansies and violas for your garden, they do have great personalities and are good company in the garden or in a pot on your porch!

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Although pansies are not a big draw for pollinators, this Swallowtail Butterfly seems at least curious.

 

 

 

 

A Weekend to celebrate ~ Moms & Herbs!

Today, the first Saturday of May, is National Herb Day, to bring awareness to the importance of herbs and herbalism.

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An old laundry tub makes a good herb area filled with nasturtiums, basil, marjoram, and oregano with pots of sage, chives and thyme where faucets use to be!

The scientific definition of herbs goes something like this: small plants that bear seeds and have non-woody parts. In the everyday world of human-plant relationships, an herb is any plant that has leaves, seeds, roots, or flowers used as food, to flavor food, or for medicinal purposes, including aromatherapy. This includes not only small herbaceous plants, but many trees and bushes; perennials as well as annuals; plants that are wild crafted (collected in the wild) as well as grown in gardens or on commercial farms.

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a “wild” spot in our garden has volunteer catnip, feverfew, and lemon balm – all plants good for medicinal teas, and violas, used to brighten up salads and other summer dishes.

I think of herbs as those plants that we have developed friendly and beneficial relationships with, a rather broad definition since many plants that aren’t herbs by other definitions fit that criteria, but herbs are probably the most beneficial of all plants. And they have always been a part of my life…..and yours.

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I keep a large pot of peppermint on the porch all year, and added a second pot of spearmint this year, easy access for tea making!

Growing up during the depression, my mother’s parents divorced when she was a young teenager. Mom was often unable to join with girl friends to go to a movie or other such activity due to lack of money. But as a Girl Scout she had experiences that were affordable and contributed to who she became as a grown-up. Well into her elder years she remembered the badges she earned, especially the one about wild plants. A walk in the woods with her meant her pointing to plants and telling me their names. She didn’t do this much when we lived on the east coast, and I didn’t know the extend of plant information she had stored away from her youth until walking with her in the woods of Washington. There she had come home to the plants of her youth. From her I learned about eating the citrus-flavored flowers of the Oregon grape plant, about wild ginger and miner’s lettuce, and in summer she made a pie-to-die-for from red and blue huckleberries.

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The dominate herb in our life, growing literally everywhere, including on two sides of our house, is lemon balm – a tasty spring tea for calming the nerves, and a delight to bees!

As a child we picked wild blackberries and mint always grew in the garden. Though Mom wasn’t “into” herbs and edible wild plants, she didn’t study it, have lots of books about plants (she had a few identification books), her knowledge was not vast, it was simple, about the plants she was familiar with. She used parsley, knew about mint, occasionally used spices in food. The knowledge she had was part of her general food and plant knowledge learned in her youth.

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a favorite herb recipe, mentioned on my recipe page, is cilantro chutney, with ginger, lemon, and coconut. Here it is served with a poached duck egg on parsnip, and peas with greens.

Humans have been using the plants around them for food, flavor, and medicinal purposes for as long has they have coexisted. Without this relationship humans would not likely have thrived. It is, in many ways, odd there needs to be a National Herb Day to bring awareness and education to people about herbs, the very plants that make their lives possible in so many ways. But sadly, too many people have lost that relationship. They eat garlic flavored corn chips without knowledge of the powerful medicinal properties of garlic (but not as flavoring in fried, processed chips!). They enjoy a chocolate mint cookie unaware of the variety of mints, the number of other herbs and spices in the mint family, or how fresh mint tea might relief that indigestion caused eating that cookie after a big meal! Nor are many people aware of how many medicinal plants are studied by pharmaceutical companies, that they may extract, patent, and make artificially the components that can heal. Why not use the whole plant!?

Fortunately, down through the ages there have always been wise folks who have written books about the healing, preserving, and culinary properties of herbs and other plants. Modern herbalists keep that tradition alive with books, courses, and research into the modern, scientific explanations of the ‘old ways.’ (Two excellent sources for more information is the American Botanical Council and The Herb Society of America.)

It’s odd to say I am now “studying” herbs. A glance at my book shelf, loaded with identification books, herb and edible plant books, and garden books that include herb gardening, one would think its all I’ve ever studied! This life-long, casual relationship I’ve had with plants, no doubt inherited from my mother’s interest, nurtured in her Girl Scout days, has gone ‘formal’ through a delightful, exciting, two-year course entitled The Herbal Immersion Program from the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. This is serious (yet fun) stuff. I might even learn a few scientific names of the plants I live with, but best of all, I have an “excuse” to spend more time with those plants, analyzing their parts, learning more deeply of their personalities, getting serious about new ways of “using” those plants.

I’m grateful, this Mother’s Day week-end, to my Mom who planted the seed that became my love and appreciation for plants. It’s a seed that has grown and gone through many cycles, and now might fully ripen….at least it will take me in new directions.  It’s my second Mother’s Day without my mother, but I’ll celebrate by hanging out with some plants I know she would have loved.

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Quick lunch on a gardening day, mixed steamed veggies, cooled and served with goat cheese with chopped parsley and chives, avocado dip, and crackers.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful women who mother and nurture children, both human and plant….and animal!  Take time this Herb Day to become better acquainted with a plant in your yard or a nearby forest, or give yourself a herbal gift for Mother’s Day! (The Mountain Rose Herb Company has a free Herb Day gift, a little downloadable booklet on herb preparations: Herbal Gift.)

Below are a few good resources for plant identification and information about herbs, their uses, and growing them. (This is a short list, there are many wonderful books, I’d list all my favorites, but I want to go out and play with my herbs!) I’ve also included a list of some the herbs we grow here in our partially shaded, woodsy yard. These are easy to grow, friendly plants with many wonderful uses.

Herbs, by Jessica Houdret (very inclusive, small book, about a wide variety of plants, including history, how to use them, growing conditions, etc. The author has written several books about growing and using herbs, any of them would be a good resource to have.)

Botany in a Day, Thomas J. Elpel (wonderful book to learn about plants, their parts, families, etc.)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, Gregory L. Tilford (specific to western USA)

Plants of the Pacifc Northwest Coast, Pojar & Mackinnon (specific to NW Washington and Britich Columbia)

The Cabaret of Plants, Richard Mabey (a new book, published in March 2016, about the history of human plant relationships)

A list of herbs,