Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dedicated to the Oklahoma Tornado Victims

It would be impossible to write this week without mention of the horrific storms and tornados that have plagued the state. The velocity of Nature’s wrath is beyond comprehension and there is a collective sadness over such loss and devastation. Although it seems impossible now, there will arise something of import from this… perhaps Memorial Gardens. Memorial Gardens are created to honor those who have passed and allow the living a place to go to seek soft solace. According to space and circumstance they may be grand or small, but each surrounds and embraces, allowing people to come and benefit from silent meditation, often finding moments to heal. For in the words of Kahlil Gibran: "Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there lies in silence." Following the events this week, many people will need a place for solace and healing.

Whether public or private a memorial garden might include some of our heirloom roses to symbolize hope. They may be seen blooming in a profusion of pink, yellow, or white clusters and their sweet scent is remarkable. Roses were wildly popular and easily affordable in the early nineteen hundreds when cemetery boards encouraged people to plant them to beautify the gravesites of loved ones. These hardy roses were also set about rural farmhouses where ladies hand watered them each wash-day Wednesday with rinse water from the family laundry.

However times change and the roses were forgotten, remaining in lost obscurity long after the farm residents departed. Trampled by cattle, overgrown by native grasses, starved for water, they managed to survive and thus they symbolize hope and survival. When we first began our garden thirty eight years ago and finances were tight, we trekked about and collected roses from creaky farmhouses where these marvelous specimens had survived the Dust Bowl… unattended! My antique roses have been a delight these many years, blooming faithfully with little fuss, surprising us with their fortitude.

Oklahoma Living Magazine contained information about these roses in an article by Allan Storjohann, who is Manager of the Myriad gardens. It seems a few dedicated people felt the ‘farmhouse roses’ needed to be saved so they collected specimens just as I did… from abandoned farmhouses and overgrown cemeteries. From their 25 year old collection, the Antique Rose Emporium propagated these roses for re-release to the public, making this extraordinary survivor available once again. They would be a lovely and fitting addition to any memorial garden.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Native Wildflowers

Oklahoma's state flower is the Painted Indian Blanket seen all across the countryside                                       

With the recent rains the Oklahoma wildflowers have begun a spectacular show this year and a drive along I-40 note will provide a glimpse into the beauty of our naturalized countryside.
The Oklahoma Native Plant Society, established in 1986, is a group dedicated to preserving our unique collection of botanical specimens and donations to their efforts may be made through the state. The lovely red and yellow Indian Blanket, seen all along the countryside, is our state wildflower.

Fossil records indicate that flowers appeared quite suddenly about 80 to 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. With the emergence of seeds, the plants needed either wind, or birds, or bees to achieve fertilization. From this necessity arose the lovely and showy flower forms we see today; the flowers needed to allure the pollinators.

Egypt was involved very early in botanical exploration. Excavations of the Nile Valley have shown remains of 25 different plants including cattails dating over 17,000 years ago. Chemical analysis on ancient Egyptian fabrics indicates dyes extracted from plants were used as long ago as 1300 BC. Flower gardens are depicted in murals painted on the bedroom walls of the chambers of Amenhotop in 1380 BC while Ramses III reported importation of hundreds of plant specimens from the travels of his soldiers.

By 300 BC the Greeks were actively involved in describing and naming species of plants. The long and difficult botanical names come directly from them and the naming process continues today in respect for their efforts. By Medieval times, monks were largely in charge of botanical discovery but little progress was made in the Western world until the 1700’s. European discoverers made their way across the planet and returned with specimens to present in court. By the 1800’s there was a global excitement over the enormity of plant species and advancements were made to classify and learn the uses of them. Lewis and Clark carefully noted the wild flora while Charles Darwin collected plants which are included in his ‘Origin of Species’ published in 1859. Gregor Mendel introduced the science of genetics in 1866 and with it began the tracing of DNA.

Royal gardens were strictly formal and the interest in wildflowers was not great until the early 19th century when American and English gardeners began to note the appeal of ‘natural’ gardens growing freely. Gertrude Jeckyll, (1843-1932) created over 400 gardens in Europe and America and her influence on wild flower gardening is to be commended. It is through her efforts in preserving ‘flowering incidents’ in woodland settings that we today recognize the importance and beauty of flowers growing in the wilderness. Take a drive and enjoy the beauty of Oklahoma in the Spring!

Thursday, May 9, 2013



Research reported in the journal Science in November of 2006 concluded that the chile pepper may be the oldest cultivated spice in the Americas. A 6,100 year old archaeological specimen, a bowl, was found intact. As scientists scraped the residue, they found it contained both chile peppers and corn. In all, seven New World sites have found chile pepper residues and also the remnants of corn. This would suggest that these two foods, still intimately paired in South American cuisine, have been used as staples since ancient times.

Additionally, the researchers believe further study may show that peppers have actually been used 1,000 years earlier than their current oldest specimen. The birthplace of agriculture has long been considered the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia. With this discovery the pepper will join the list of ancient spices cultivated there. The three oldest known spices are capers which have been found at 10,000 year old sites in Iran and Iraq; coriander found at an 8,500 year old site in Israel; and fenugreek in Syria's Tell Aswad, which is 9,000 years old.

It is not known whether the capers, fenugreek, or coriander were domesticated or wild, however it has been determined that the peppers and corn had been domesticated. To be considered domesticated, a population of plants must have their behavior, life cycle or appearance significantly altered as a result of being under the control of humans for multiple generations. Within decades of European contact, the New World plant was carried across Europe and into Africa and Asia where it was met with wild enthusiasm. Upon acceptance on these continents, it was further altered through selective breeding until today it exists in some form almost everywhere. The chile pepper is an essential cooking ingredient in Hungary, where paprika is a national symbol, in Ethiopia, with its signature spice berbere, and in China, where entire cuisines are built around its heat.

This study, conducted by a team of 15 scientists, found chile pepper residues in utensils in both the Amazon basin and on the coast of Ecuador. This is positive indication that cultivation occurred in coastal, tropical cultures, which until now were considered primitive. The peppers were important enough to be traded across the huge mountain range to the home of the sophisticated and advanced Incas. We have the foresight of our neighbors to the south to thank for this ancient and fabulous species of plant. Salsa and tacos anyone?

Pnoto credit:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


The lovely Honeysuckle arrives each spring to fill the early air with her sweet scent. The flowers are white, yellow, and sometimes red, but all are in tiny clusters that travel along the woody branches. The Honeysuckle family is large, consisting of over 180 species, originating in both the Orient and the Americas.
The Japanese and Korean Honeysuckle are a vine that is extremely hardy, will endure severe pruning and enjoys a trellis for support. In cold climates it will die back over the winter, but once out of dormancy may grow thirty feet in a year. Brought to New York in 1806 as a food source for wildlife, it was soon noted it was equally efficient at preventing land erosion, where its vigorous growing habit soon labeled it as invasive.
The American Honeysuckle may appear as either a vine or shrub, with heirloom varieties reaching tree-like proportions with a height and spread of over ten feet. Besides bringing early spring blooms to the garden, Honeysuckle has been traditionally important in both medicine and lore. For centuries the Chinese used honeysuckle for snake bites, to help remove poisons, reduce swelling, and promote healing. In Middle Ages European monks used Honeysuckle to cleanse a wound and reduce inflammation. The woody stems were pounded and eaten for arthritis, mumps, hepatitis, respiratory infections and dysentery. The delicate flowers were used to cure skin diseases, tumors, rashes and sores until the early 1900’s and the advent of ‘modern medicine’.
According to lore, it is said that bringing the blooms of Honeysuckle into the house will mean a wedding within year. In superstitious Scotland, at one time Honeysuckle vines were hung on barns to prevent cattle from being bewitched. And in the language of flowers, Honeysuckle is the symbol of love and fidelity with the fragrance said to induce dreams of passion should a bouquet be placed beside the bed.
The Honeysuckle I got from my Grandmother's home... it was at the feet of the Mother.
The name Honeysuckle comes from the drop of sweet honey-like nectar that is within each flower. As a child, I spent many hours under my grandmother’s Honeysuckle gently pulling the center stamens to allow the drop of nectar to appear. The offspring of her heirloom Honeysuckle appear in my garden and those of my children. With its tree-like porportions the early humming birds feast and nest as the bees buzz about... and the sweet nectar tastes like spring!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Comfrey... Miraculous Medicine

Comfrey in Bloom~

An often overlooked plant that thrives in partial shade is Comfrey. Besides sporting delicate cascading pink blooms, the delightfully prickly deep green foliage make this addition striking beyond compare. Easily grown if root stock is taken from a Mother plant, this steadfast guest in the garden will last twenty years or more faithfully providing a lovely focal point. Growing to the size of a large bushel basket and ever-blooming if cut back during the season, it is a welcome addition to the garden party. Although it is said that it may be planted in full sun, in fact it is a true shade lover that will thrive in a bed located under a tree.

Comfrey has been cultivated in the East since 400 BC as a healing herb. The word ‘comfrey’ is derived from the Latin meaning ‘grow together’ which reflects the early use of this lovely plant to aid in knitting broken bones. Both Greeks and Romans used it to stop heavy bleeding, treat bronchial problems, and heal wounds. Poultices were made for external wounds and a tea was consumed for internal ailments.

This handsome member of the Borge family, has also been used medicinally throughout the British Isles for centuries with the common name of Knitbone or Boneset. A tea made from boiling the root in water or wine was used for all pulmonary complaints and could stop bleeding of the lungs. Taken every two hours the concoction was said to relieve hemorrhoids as well. The pounded roots applied to fresh wounds promoted healing almost instantly making Comfrey a necessary addition to every garden.

Early in the Spring

Often when reading about plants, it is difficult to imagine exactly how they were made into medicine. Coldpepper, the famed 18th century botanist, wrote of Comfrey, that it was “so powerful to consolidate and knit together that if they (roots) be boiled together with dissevered pieces of flesh in a pot, they will join them together”. Further, he gave the recipe for making a poultice as follows, “The fresh roots of Comfrey beaten small and spread upon leather laid on any place troubled by gout presently gives ease. Applied in the same manner eases pain to joints, heals running ulcers, gangrenes, mortifications, for which hath often (through) experience been found helpful”. Although I am unsure what mortification is, it sounds quite serious and this little plant took care of it.

I have used it medicinally for years and last fall made a series of poultices for my son's big toe that he had broken in two places. I picked fresh leaves and packed them in a food processor with a bit of water and a little peanut oil to keep them tight. Once blended, I wrapped the concoction in small pieces of sheeting, making about thirty small poultices in all. He put the Comfrey on his toe for several hours twice a day and X-Rays before and after (to the doctor's amazement) showed it had healed within two weeks. 

He had another accident and broke his nose last week. We dug the root and smashed it up a bit before applying it and by the second day of use, his nose no longer hurt to the touch. The root contains a white slimy goo, much like the aloe, and it turns the same dark color natural aloe does when its root bound state has been altered. Comfrey will also cure a bicycle-skinned knee in several days time.  

With the emergence of ‘green’ as the way of the future and pharmaceuticals becoming unaffordable, perhaps traditional use of some of these valuable plants as medicine may reemerge. A trip to the garden seems far more pleasant than a trip to the doctor.


The 'concoction' lasts for months if refrigerated~