Monday, February 29, 2016

Tasty Turnips... another miracle plant.

     Turnips originated in the Mediterranean region and spread from there to the Middle East and western Asia, with European cultivation predating the Middle Ages. They still grow wild in parts of eastern Europe and western Russia. Turnips arrived here early... they were first  cultivated in 1622 Colonial America.

     First described by Theophrastus in 400 B.C. and later by our favorite Greek, Pliny the Elder, turnip cultivation was well established by Greek and Roman times. Low in calories, high in nutrients, turnips were lauded by Pliny who described them as one of the most important vegetables, stating 'it should be spoken of immediately after corn, or the bean, for next to these two productions, there is no plant that is of more extensive use.' Besides human consumption, turnips roots and greens are healthy fodder for farm animals.

     The turnip is a close cousin of cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, argula and kale. This group of vegetables are often overlooked however they have a powerhouse of health benefits. Turnip roots are high in dietary fiber, vitamin C and B6, folate, calcium, potassium, and copper. The greens are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, as well as a good source of calcium, iron, and riboflavin, all of which are important for maximum health.

     Turnip sprouts provide high levels of glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds which protect against some forms of cancer and provide antifungal, antibacterial and anti-parasitic benefits. They also contain a category of nutrients called indoles. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, indoles in turnips may reduce the risk of lung and colorectal cancers. A tissue culture study found that brassinin, a type of indole compound, killed human colon cancer cells... turnips may be a miracle cure. *Dr. Pauling was among the first to correlate cancer with diet.

For a nagging cough or at the start of a cold, boil some turnips, strain, then drink the cooled water to eliminate it almost immediately; this drink will also stave off other viral infections. 

     Turnips keep well either harvested and stored in a cool place and they may also be left in the ground and harvested as the need arises. Gowing in uremarkable soils, they have been historically used to staved off famine in turbulent times and they have long been a staple of rural dwellers. They grow well in cool soils so plant some now and they will be ready to harvest in three months...  more may be planted in the fall for an early spring crop.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

St John's Wort... Part I

This February plan to include St. John’s Wort as a dietary supplement. The ancient Chinese have long considered it among their most important herbs however it fell out of favor in the west in the 1800’s. For centuries, St John’s Wort had been used to treat disorders from digestive problems to coughs, and it was lauded for its action as a sedative. During the 1970’s research confirmed it had a significant affect on nervous conditions and depression. In clinical studies it was proven that sixty seven percent of depressed patients drastically improved when taking this simple herb.

St. John’s Wort has an easy nature, growing in dry, gravely soils, fields, and bar ditches with no attention what so ever. The sunny yellow flowers appear on a woody base and bloom from late spring through frost. Numerous flower clusters appear at the end of the branches, each sporting five bright petals with small black dots along the margins and a single pistil in the center. The leaves have spots on them which appear to be holes. However they are translucent ’pockets’ of resin that are released when pressed and the flowers exude a crimson liquid when cut.

Early Christians named it to honor St. John the Baptist and so besides medicinal uses, St John’s Wort has mystical connections. It was said to offer protection against the devil if woven into a wreath placed upon the door and it was carried by travelers to assure their safety. During witch trials, it was stuffed into the mouth of the accused to force a confession. (Considering it was a sedative, one can only imagine what they confessed.) A sprig placed under the pillow upon retiring was said to keep one safe while sleeping and perhaps St. John himself might appear in a dream.

In capsule form, it may be readily found in the herbal section of the pharmacy… and about now gardeners can certainly appreciate the benefits of a natural ‘chill pill’ as we endure February! 

More on St. John's Wort


Since another cold snap is expected and we are not yet through February, perhaps consider adding some St. John's Wort to your supplements. It has a long and colorful history and has been considered an important plant since ancient times... there are over 400 species worldwide. From the time of the ancient Greeks down through the Middle Ages, St. John's Wort was considered to possess magical powers and was used to ward off evil and protect against disease.


Since the time of the ancient Greeks, St. John's Wort has been used to heal wounds, remedy kidney troubles, and alleviate nervous disorders, including insanity.  Early Christians named it after John the Baptist and claimed that red spots appeared on leaves on August 29, the anniversary of the saint’s beheading.


As far as magical properties are concerned, it was used for purposes from projecting longevity to testing ones chances for marriage. To predict their chances for marriage young girls would place a sprig of flowers under their pillow... if the flowers were fresh in the morning, their chances were good, if they had wilted the lady was to be disappointed in love for another year. As recently as the 1850s, St. John’s wort was used as a method to determine how long members of a family would live. Sprigs of the fresh plant would be hung from the rafters by family members and in the morning they were examined to see which ones were in varying stages of wilt, foretelling the order of death.


The tops of the plant were also considered effective for keeping away ill fortune and bringing luck. Bringing flowers of St. John’s wort into the house on a midsummer eve would protect one from the evil eye, witches, or fire. In one case in 1696, an evil spirit was terrifying occupants of a home in London until St. John’s Wort placed under pillows exorcised the apparition.

Culpeper (ca. 1650) wrote 'it is a singular healinng wound herb' and as an ointment 'it opens obstructions, dissolves swelling and closes up the lips of wounds.'  St. John’s Wort was used to cure ulcerations of the ureter and kidneys, and for jaundice, gout, and rheumatism as well as injuries to the spinal cord. Native Americans used it as a snake bite remedy and for bruises.

Recent research matches ancient thought and American herbalists still use St. John’s wort for many of the same conditions for which it was recommended throughout the ages. In Europe preparations are commonly prescribed by medical doctors for burns, ulcers, nervous disorders, and depression.

This cheery plant spreads rapidly by means of runners so I recommend putting it into a pot to contain it... it is indeed another miracle plant.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Forcing Flowering Shrubs

Suddenly it seems we have turned the corner with winter! The Sun is appearing noticeably earlier than it did just a week ago and the weekend was delightful albeit a bit windy. The tiny buds on the first flowering trees and shrubs have begun a appear so bring some inside and force them to bloom, thus giving one a grateful breath of spring. They set their flower buds last fall and once the buds have been exposed to cold for several months the branches are well suited for the process. 

'Forcing’ simply means tricking the branch into believing it is Spring by exposing it to the warmth of your home. The buds usually take several weeks to open, but watching them each day will help stave off boredom of February as we wait for full blown Spring. The easiest branches to force include Flowering Quince, Forsythia, Honeysuckle, Crabapple, Currant, and Redbud.

If you choose branches that should be pruned such as those from over lapping or crowded spots, you not only will have performed a necessary task, but the cut branches will bring you pleasure as they begin to flower. Take a bucket tepid water with you to the garden to hold your stems, look for branches with the most flower buds, and cut them from ten to fifteen inches long. *Tepid is water which is neither warm or cool to the touch of your hand. With a sharp knife cut a slit at the bottom of each cut branch about an inch up to help them absorb water through their woody stem. Remove any foliage that will be submerged in water as it may cause bacteria which will easily transfer to your branches and remember to change the water every day or so.

When they are brought to the house, place them in a small amount of warm water which will surprise them and begin the trickery of forcing blooms. Move them to a vase of cool water after several hours and place them in a chilly part of the house for several days to help them ‘settle in‘. (Finding a cool place in this old farmhouse is relatively easy.) Once they have relaxed a bit place them in a high traffic area where you can see them during the day… watching for more and more blooms is part of the fun. The new leaves will begin bursting forth and the tiny buds will swell then flower to provide a joyous Spring show while the garden is still sleeping. Pick some today!