Thursday, May 31, 2012

North American Natural Antibiotics... Plant Some!

Until the advent of chemical antibiotics, Nature provided all the ingredients to insure survival and health for the inhabitants of the planet. Here in North America our own Native Americans survived severely harsh conditions with an intricate knowledge of healthful foods. The Plains Indians ate as they nomadically traveled and the Apache alone had over 200 items in their yearly diet. Much of what they "found" along their path was both nutritional and medicinal.

An example of one of their naturally occurring health boosters are the Rose Hips found on wild bushes from Texas to North Dakota. Rose hips have long been a valuable source of Vitamin C, which easily boosts the immune system. The hips are the berries formed on the rose following flowering and contain as much ascorbic acid as an orange. In fact the portion of the orange containing the most health benefits is the bitter white inside the rind that most people discard. During WWII the federal government recommended that citizens add rose hips to their stews as a vegetable and recommended brewing it as a tea for the health benefits.

Another valuable immune boosting plant is the Echinacea. Results of archaeological digs indicate that Native Americans have used this marvelous plant for over 400 years. It was used to treat everything including infections, wounds, scarlet fever, blood poisoning, and diphtheria. Considered a valuable cure-all for hundreds of years, its popularity declined with the advent of antibiotics. Today Echinacea is used to reduce the symptoms and duration of the common cold or flu, as well as the ensuing symptoms which accompany them... sore throat, cough and fever.

For several years now the medical community has issued alarms that antibiotics no longer work; our systems are saturated with them. It is not necessary to actually take an antibiotic to ingest substantial amounts of them either. They arrive in our bodies from consuming milk and meat from cattle that are overly medicated, eggs from chickens that receive a daily dose, and so forth.

I consider this medical warning a strong indication that we best seek natural cures that have been around for eons. Nature contains an arsenal of plants and herbs growing right outside our doors in fields and gardens everywhere. This medicine was put here for us to use and insured the health of our ancestors for hundreds of years... plan to grow some this summer.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wild About Wildflowers

Last year at this time we felt as though we lived in a desert but without the cool evenings. This year feels like New England… one has to love Oklahoma weather! With the recent rains the wildflowers have continued their spectacular show and any drive will offer the sight of our beautiful naturalized countryside. Fossil records indicate that flowers appeared quite suddenly about 90 million years ago and today they are the most abundant and diverse plants on the earth. Originally plants were generated from spore not seed so they were able to reproduce without the aid of pollination. However with the emergence of seeds plants needed either wind, birds, or bees to propagate. From this necessity arose the showy flower forms we see today as they sought to allure pollinators with their color, scent, and beauty. As gardens evolved, flowers were genetically modified and became altogether different from their wild ancestors who grew freely, unattended and yet thrived. However after several centuries of excitement over the ability to alter flowers, gardeners became concerned the original native plants might be completely lost. In the early 1900’s garden designer Gertrude Jeckyll (1843-1932) began a campaign to preserve the beautiful ‘flowering incidents’ occurring in woodland settings. In the 1970’s Lady Bird Johnson (1912-2007) recognized that urban expansion could possibly cause extinction of many wildflowers and placed their preservation on the national agenda. In 1982 Mrs. Johnson and actress Helen Hayes created the National Wildflower Research Center in Austin Texas to collect, identify, and preserve native plants of America. In her honor the center was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Texas Wildflower Center and will celebrate the 100th anniversary of her birth this year.
Following the former first lady’s lead, Wildflower Societies sprang up in every state and the status of wildflowers was finally changed from noxious weed to treasured gem. Stretches of hiway are now adopted by dedicated volunteers and across the nation their beautification efforts are evident. Oklahoma’s Native Plant Society, formed in 1986, states their purpose is ‘to encourage the study, protection, propagation, appreciation and use of Oklahoma's native plants‘. With the society’s encouragement the Indian Blanket Flower was chosen as our state wildflower that year. A darling red flower with bright yellow on the tips of the petals, it has an evolving center that changes from green to deep red as it matures. It may be seen on every hillside, in every bar ditch, beside every Oklahoma road... beautifully blooming to brighten our day.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Hydrangea

Sunday was the epitome of perfection for Mother‘s Day with gentle breezes and mild temperatures. Friday and Saturday’s downpours were an added bonus; the rains and cloud cover this spring are truly a blessing! Someone noted the peonies usually provide a bouquet on Mother’s Day, however this year they bloomed weeks ago and the Hydrangea show is early as well. A staple in your grandmother’s garden, the hydrangea planted then may still exist as they have a celebrated long life. Hydrangeas are a most unusual species in that the color of the flowers may be dramatically changed by altering the acidity of the soil in early spring before they bloom. For blue blooms, add aluminum sulphate to the soil while for vivid pink blooms add lime. They prefer the coolness of shade which is why they appear to thrive on the north side of a home… and they like their feet damp. They are native to North and South America, and Japan, with the Japanese taking credit for their arrival in China. So popular is this species in Japan that it has a cult following that lauds the mystery of the flower color change with ‘nanahenge’, which means seven transformations. This feature has given the flower symbolic meaning and is said to represent a fickle and changing heart. It is because of this characteristic the hydrangea was shunned by the warrior class in the feudal period as changing colors represented shifting loyalties. Many Japanese make pilgrimages to temples where the shrub is still tenderly cultivated today. Historically in the Americas the root of this marvelous shrub has been used as a mild diuretic and to prevent and remove gallbladder and kidney stones. It is reputed to relieve rheumatism, backache, paralysis, and scurvy. The Cherokee Indians used it for urinary retention and bronchitis. The scraped bark was pounded and applied to wounds, burns, sore muscles, and chewed for stomach problems and heart trouble. And not only does the hydrangea bloom faithfully from May until frost, the flowers may be dried to create a bouquet for winter cheer. Pick when the blooms begin to fade naturally as the moisture will have begun to recede by then. Fussing is unnecessary; simply arrange in a vase and watch as they dry to interesting shades of blue with the pinks becoming a dusty burgundy. *Flowers appear on the woody growth from the previous year so do not cut back after flowering!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Through the eyes of a child...

We found a catepillar! This gorgeous spring everyone who has ever laid claim to the outdoors should beg or borrow a small child to introduce to the wonders of Nature. Perhaps it is the newness of their eyes, the sharpness of their hearing, or their fresh sense of smell… whatever the reason, watching a child explore springtime is a joyful experience. Tiny barefoot feet touching grass for the first time…crinkled, curling toes, unsure what this soft wondrous oddity may be, is always followed by a giggle. And the distinct aroma of early mowed grass is memorable for a lifetime and should be noted with a youngster in tow.
The phletoria of insects to watch once Spring arrives is beyond measure. From beetles to ants, perhaps because a child is low to the ground, no insect escapes their careful observation. The roly-poly, so detested by gardeners, is fascinating with its ability to close into a tight ball only to reopen in a moment, scurrying along on numerous gray legs. Fluttering butterflies are also truly miraculous to the open mind of a child. So special is this winged insect that Native American tribes have a lore and even a dance to celebrate the butterfly. It is said that they were a gift by the Creator to mankind to bring us joy and that prayers may be carried to heaven by butterflies. At Native Pow Wows girls dance to the drumbeat, their feet caressing Mother Earth as their brightly colored shawls gently flutter as they imitate the swaying, dipping motions of butterflies in flight. This seems the year of the butterfly as we seem to have an abnormal abundance of them on everything that is flowering. Even Mud is marvelous!
The scent of Springtime is unmistakable and it seems the early flowers are the sweetest. The lilac, currants and flowering fruit trees are followed by the flower garden. With each distinct scent a child will be amazed and impressed… and Julia smells and says ‘Ummmmm‘! An early introduction to growing vegetables from seeds will plant the seeds of a pursuit into the wonders of healthy living through gardening. Children are amazed that food actually comes from the ground and is not at all dirty, but rather delicious. Nature is a remarkable gift and introducing a child to the treasure trove outside the door is a lasting pleasure… take a walk with a child and enjoy as they discover the wonders! Mr. Frog is truly surprised!

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Rose

Photo: A Hybrid Tea Rose from my garden~ Throughout history, mankind has had a love affair with roses and they are perhaps one of the oldest flowering plants. Roses have been found in fossils dating 70 million years ago, indicating that they were growing where the dinosaurs tread. They were in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, and their image appears on Egyptian tombs. Roses were a significant part of Chinese medicine and by the Middle Ages they were used medicinally by Monks throughout Europe as well. The name of the theater where Shakespeare produced his plays was ‘The Rose’ (1567) and he often makes reference to them in this works. Apparently the rose is a rock star! Hybrid Tea Roses with their sturdy stems were discovered in a garden patch in 1864 and by 1879 were introduced by Henry Bennet as a new breed of rose. Tea Roses are familiar to everyone… they are used in flower arrangements and prized for their color and scent with large petals that slowly open to reveal perfection. The most popular rose of the 20th century was the Peace Rose developed by Francis Meilland in 1935. It remained unnamed until the April 29, 1945 fall of Berlin which was considered the end of WWII… thus the name. Although entirely worth the efforts, the lovely the Tea Rose is fussy and prone to diseases which require applications of chemicals to produce healthy flowers and foliage. Recently the extraordinary work of Mr. William Radler changed the rose world. Radler bought his first rose for 49 cents when he was nine and by age 17 had won prestigious awards at Milwaukee’s Rose show. In the seventies he began research to create a new species of disease resistant, ever blooming roses and twenty two years later his Knockout Rose was made available to an eager public. Knock Out roses are easy to grow and require no special care. And although the blooms are not as spectacular as a single Tea, they appear in abundance with a bloom cycle that will continue until first frost. They are winter hardy, heat tolerant, and grow to be the size of a shrub. Roses are available everywhere however I recommend buying one that has been sheltered from the horrific winds which have burned so many nursery plants this year. Whether a Hybrid Tea or a Knockout, a rose would make a perfect Mother’s Day gift… especially if it is planted for her.