Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's Arboretum Plant Sale season! New dates & Places Added!

The gardens and arboretums around Philadelphia are about ready to start their annual plant sales.  This is a great opportunity for anyone to acquire rare and unusual plants and herbs. It's also a great chance for you to take a break, have fun and spend a few hours enjoying the gardens.

I did a quick check of the web sites for the Philadelphia area arboretums and gardens, below is a list of those that will be having plant sales within the next month.

April 30, 2011

Tyler Arboretum  -  Arbor Day Plant Sale
515 Painter Road, Media, PA 19063  -  610-566-9134

Admission to the Arboretum is free to everyone for this event.
Saturday, April 30, 9:00 am - 3:00 pm

Tyler's Arbor Day Plant Sale offers gardeners a myriad of options with our large selection of hard-to-find trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and herbs. This year's Sale also features edible plants for tasty additions to your table and deer-resistant plants that deter deer from munching.  There will be friendly, helpful experts on hand all day and ongoing activities for the kids, while you shop. 

There will also be Container Planting Clinics.  Container plants are practical, portable and perfect for small spaces!  Buy a container from Tyler or bring your own.  Experts on hand to help with selecton and design.  Not yet a member? Become a member of the Arboretum on Saturday and receive a discount on membership, a free plant and a free one-year subscription to Better Homes and Gardens Magazine.

Apr 30 – May 1, 2011

Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens  -  Annual Public Plant Sale
631 Berwyn Baptist Rd, Devon, PA 19333  -  610-647-8870

Saturday, April 30, 9am – 3pm
Sunday, May 1, 11am – 3pm

A not-to-be-misse​d annual event, this is one of the largest public garden plant sales in the area. Offered will be plants ideally suited for area gardens, including exceptional rhododendrons, azaleas, and companion plants not readily available elsewhere. Thousands of native perennials, wildflowers, ferns, and slow-growing conifers, as well as donated plants from society members’ gardens will be for sale.

May 7-8, 2011
Bartram's Garden Spring Plant Sale Weekend
5400 Lindbergh Boulevard
Phila., PA  19143  -  215-729-5281

Friday, May 6,   3pm to 7pm - Members only preview & reception
Saturday May 7-8,  10am to 4pm - Plant Sale Opening Day

Just minutes from the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the Betsy Ross House is America’s oldest living botanical garden, a pastoral 18th century homestead surrounded by the urban bustle of Philadelphia. You won’t believe you are in the city when you see the wildflower meadow, majestic trees, river trail, wetland, stone house and farm buildings overlooking the Schuylkill River, and, of course, the historic botanic garden of American native plants.

The eight-acre botanic garden was once the 18th century home of John Bartrum, Naturalist, Botanist & Explorer.  It is free and open to the public year-round except on City-observed holidays.  

The sale will be featuring heirloom veggies and Bartram Collection plants, including the rare Franklinia alatamaha!
Join as a member and receive first pick at the Plant Sale and grand opening of the new Garden Shop! Join at the door for 10% discount on purchases. Wine and cheese reception begins at 5 pm.

The May 7 public sale day will include: Food & Refreshments, Free Beer Tasting, Family Discovery Day Program 10 – 11:30 am, and a Kitchen Garden Tour 1:30 pm.   May 8 there will be a Wild Edible Plants Tour at 1:30 pm, Family Portrait Sessions, and a Scenic Schuylkill River Cruise, Music and More!

May 7, 2011

Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve - Spring Native Plant Sale
1635 River Road, New Hope PA 18938 - 215.862.2924

Sat. May 7 & Sun. May 8 through Sat. May 14 & Sun. May 15
10 a.m. – 4 p.m. each day
Plants also are available for purchase during the week.

Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve is the premier place in the Delaware Valley to buy plants native to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and surrounding states.

Over 200 species of high-quality native wildflowers, vines, ferns, shrubs and trees are offered for sale at our Spring and Fall Native Plant Sales.  All plants are nursery-propagated; none are collected from the wild.

Knowledgeable staff and volunteers at the sales can help you choose plants and answer questions. Free resource material is available, including plant lists for specific growing conditions.

May 7, 2011

Ambler Arboretum of Temple University  -  Annual Spring Plant Sale
580 Meetinghouse Road, Ambler, PA 19002  -  267-468-8001

Saturday, May 7, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Ambler Campus Greenhouse

The Ambler Arboretum of Temple University and Pi Alpha Xi, the national honor society for horticulture students, will hold a special Plant Sale on Saturday, May 7, at the Ambler Campus Greenhouse.

The plant sale — an Ambler Campus tradition dating back to the early 1900s — will feature woody plants and perennials in portable sizes, hardy trees, shrubs, and vines, native plants that are attractive to wildlife, herbs, and hanging baskets. There will also be numerous “special plants” for sale to highlight Ambler’s special anniversary year. Garden books and garden tools will also be available for sale.

Students, staff, and volunteers from the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture and the Ambler Arboretum Advisory Committee will be available to answer questions. All proceeds from the Spring Plant Sale will support the Ambler Arboretum Fund and the Pi Alpha Xi National Honor Society. Donations supporting the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University will also be graciously accepted.

May 7, 2011

Morris Arboretum - Annual Public Plant Sale
100 E. Northwestern Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118 - 215-247-5777

Consult with Morris Arboretum horticultural experts at the annual Plant Sale featuring rare and unusual plants. The 2011 Plant Sale will take place at the new Horticulture Center at Bloomfield Farm (across from the main entrance of the Morris Arboretum).

May 7-8, 2011

Brandywine Conservancy's 30th Annual Wildflower, Native Plant & Seed Sale
Brandywine River Museum, U.S. Route 1,
Chadds Ford, PA 19317 - 610-388-2700

Free admission.  9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Every year, on Mother's Day weekend, the Brandywine Conservancy's garden volunteers celebrate spring with the Wildflower, Native Plant and Seed Sale. The volunteers always present a superb selection of carefully cultivated plants for sale. None of the plants are collected from the wild. Most are propagated by the volunteers themselves, and many are difficult to find in retail garden centers. All are ready for immediate transplanting.

The sale takes place in the Brandywine River Museum's courtyard. Admission is free and all of the proceeds benefit the Conservancy's Wildflower and Native Plant Gardens. At the sale, Conservancy garden staff members and volunteers can answer questions, give planting instructions, offer horticultural advice, and provide brief tours of the gardens.

May 21-22, 2011

The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College - "Unusual Annuals and Tropicals" Plant Sale
500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081  -  610 328–8025

The Scott Arboretum will be having its first "Unusual Annuals and Tropicals" Sale on May 21-22.
For many years the Scott Arboretum has showcased interesting tropicals and annuals in containers and various gardens around the campus from May to November. The tropical plants such as: Alocasia, Colocasia, and Xanthosoma (elephant ears); Canna; Ensete, Musa, and Musella (bananas) and bromeliads create an effect that reminds you of the tropics.

These plants are often hard to find in garden centers, so the Arboretum has decided to offer you many of the more unusual selections that we have tried over the years.  We will offer limited quantities of more than150 selections ranging from the newest selections of traditional annuals such as marigolds and petunias to a complete range of tropicals for the garden.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beneficial Weeds

A beneficial weed is any of various plants not generally considered domesticated, but which nonetheless has some companion plant effect, or else is edible or somehow beneficial. Beneficial weeds include a great many wildflowers, as well as other weeds that are commonly removed or poisoned.

Although errantly assumed to compete with neighboring plants for food and moisture, some "weeds" provide the soil with nutrients, either directly or indirectly.

For example, legumes, such as white clover, add nitrogen to the soil through the process of nitrogen fixation, where bacteria symbiotically living in their roots extract nitrogen from the atmosphere, making it accessible in the soil for its host, and any nearby plants.  Clover attracts earthworms by the gazillions, and we all know how beneficial earthworms are for the health of the soil and the plants that grow in and on it.

Others use deep tap roots to bring up nutrients and moisture from beyond the range of normal plants, so that the soil improves in quality over generations of that plant's presence.

Weeds with strong, widespread roots also introduce organic matter to the earth in the form of those roots, turning hard, dense clay dirt into richer, more fertile soil.In fact, some common plants like tomatoes and corn will literally "piggyback" on nearby weeds, allowing their relatively weak root systems to go deeper than they could have alone.

Many weeds protect nearby plants from insect pests.  One way they can do this is to repel insects and other pests through their smell, as do alliums and wormwood.  Another is to entirely mask a companion's scent, or the pheromones of pest insects, as with ground ivy and wild oregano.  Some also are unpleasant to small animals, because of their spines or other features, keeping them away from an area to be protected.

Some weeds act as trap crops, distracting pests away from valued plants. Insects seeking a food plant search by smell, and then land at random on anything green in the area of the scent.  If they land on an edible "weed", they will stay there instead of going on to the intended victim. Sometimes, they actively prefer the trap crop.

Plants such as ryegrass, red clover, and white clover act as living mulches, by inhibiting the growth of any weeds that are actually harmful, and creating a humid, cooler microclimate around nearby plants, stabilizing soil moisture more than they consume it for themselves.

A common companion plant benefit from many weeds is to attract, or be inhabited by, beneficial insects or other organisms which benefit plants.  For example, wild umbellifers attract predatory wasps and flies that eat nectar, but reproduce by feeding common garden pests to their offspring.  Some weeds attract ladybugs or "good" types of nematode and provide ground cover for predatory beetles.

There is much more information on this subject and I suggest that  everyone do their own research, as the subject is very interesting and enlightening.  I have worked along side other gardeners who are quite anal about weeding, and others who are more laid back to their approach.  Both harvest lovely produce.  Personally, I'm for doing the least amount of hard labor if it gets me the same results.  Why waste time and energy when you could be doing something more constructive, like sitting back and enjoying your garden?



Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Companion Gardening - Nature Works It's Magic

Companion planting can be used to combine beauty and purpose to give you an enjoyable, healthy yard or garden. Let your imagination soar and have some fun choosing plants for your beds. Companion planting is based on the idea that certain plants can benefit others when planted in near proximity. It can be described as the establishment of two or more plant species in close proximity so that some cultural benefit (pest control, higher yield, etc.) is derived.

Many plants have natural substances in their roots, flowers, and leaves that can alternately repel or attract insects depending on your needs. In some situations they can also help enhance the growth rate and flavor of other varieties. Companion planting helps bring a balanced eco-system to your landscape, allowing nature to do its' job. Nature integrates a diversity of plants, insects, animals, and other organisms into every ecosystem so there is no waste.

By using companion planting, many gardeners find that they can discourage harmful pests without losing the beneficial allies. There are many varieties of plants that can be used, be open to experimenting and find what works for you. Some possibilities would be using certain plants as a border, backdrop or interplanting in your flower or vegetable beds where you have specific needs. Use plants that are native to your area so the insects you want to attract already know what to look for! Plants with open cup shaped flowers are the most popular with beneficial insects.

There are hundreds of web sites that give information on companion planting, but because we are concerned only with medicinal herb gardening, I will just touch on those plants that are of concern to us.

AMARANTH: Good with sweet corn, it's leaves provide shade giving the corm a rich, moist root run. Host to predatory ground beetles. Eat the young leaves in salads.

 ANISE: Good to plant with coriander, good host for predatory wasps which prey on aphids and is also said to repel aphids. Deters pests from brassicas by camouflaging their odor. Improves the vigor of any plants growing near it.

BASIL, OPAL : An annual herb said to repel hornworms! Keep away from rue and sage.

BEANS: All bean enrich the soil with nitrogen fixed form the air, improving the conditions for whatever crop you plant after the beans are finished. Summer savory deters bean beetles and improves growth and flavor. Keep beans away from the alliums (onions, garlic, leek, chive).

 BORAGE: plant near tomatoes, squash, strawberries and most plants. Deters tomato hornworms and cabbage worms. One of the best bee and wasp attracting plants. Adds trace minerals to the soil and a good addition the compost pile. Borage may benefit any plant it is growing next to via increasing resistance to pests and disease. It also makes a nice mulch for most plants. Borage and strawberries help each other and strawberry farmers always set a few plants in their beds to enhance the fruits flavor and yield. Borage flowers are edible.

CARAWAY: Good for loosening compacted soil with it's deep roots, good next to shallow rooted crops. Caraway can be tricky to establish. The flowers attract a number of beneficial insects especially the tiny parasitic wasps. Keep it away from dill and fennel.

 CATNIP: Deters flea beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants and weevils. Fresh catnip steeped in water and sprinkled on plants will drive away flea beetles.

CHAMOMILE, GERMAN: Annual. Increases oil production from herbs. Host to hoverflies and wasps. Accumulates calcium, potassium and sulfur, later returning them to the soil. Leave some flowers unpicked and German chamomile will reseed itself. Roman chamomile is a low growing perennial that will tolerate almost any soil conditions. Both like full sun.

 COMFREY: This is one amazing plant. Accumulates calcium, phosphorous and potassium. Likes wet spots to grow in. Good trap crop for slugs.

CORIANDER (Cilantro, Chinese Parsley): Repels harmful insects such as aphids, spider mites and potato beetle. A tea from this can be used as a spray for spider mites. Plant with anise, caraway, and dill.

COSTMARY: This 2-3 foot tall perennial of the chrysanthemum family helps to repel moths.

DILL: Attracts hoverflies and predatory wasps. Repels aphids and spider mites to some degree. Also may repel the dreaded squash bug! (scatter some good size dill leaves on plants that are suspect to squash bugs, like squash plants.) Dill attracts the tomato horn worm so it would be wise to plant it away from your tomato plants. Do plant dill in an appropriate spot for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars to feed on. Even their caterpillars are beautiful. Do not plant near carrots, caraway, lavendar or tomatoes.

FENNEL: Fennel is not friendly and will inhibit growth or cause them to bolt. It actually kills many plants. Dill is the only thing you can plant with fennel. Plant it alone. On a positive note the foliage and flowers attract beneficials such as ladybugs, syrphid flies, tachninid flies, beneficial parasitoid wasps and hoverflies. Fennel is also a good flea repellent. Dried fennel leaves provide additional flea repelling insurance when put inside the dog house or kennel.

 GARLIC: Repels aphids, Japanese beetles, codling moths, root maggots, snails, and carrot root fly. Accumulates sulfur, a naturally occurring fungicide which will help in the garden with disease prevention. Concentrated garlic sprays have been observed to repel and kill whiteflies, aphids and fungus gnats among others with as little as a 6-8% concentration!

HOREHOUND: (Marrubium Vulgare) like many varieties in the mint family, the many tiny flowers attract Braconid and Icheumonid wasps, and Tachnid and Syrid flies. The larval forms of these insects parasitize or otherwise consume many other insect pests. It grows where many others fail to thrive and can survive harsh winters. Blooms over a long season, attracting beneficial insects almost as long as you are likely to need them. For best results use horehound directly as a companion plant.

HYSSOP: Deters cabbage moths and flea beetles. Do not plant near radishes. Hyssop may be the number one preference among bees and some beekeepers rub the hive with it to encourage the bees to keep to their home. It is not as invasive as other members of the mint family making it safer for interplanting.

LAVENDER: Repels fleas and moths. Prolific flowering lavender nourishes many nectar feeding and beneficial insects. Lavenders can protect nearby plants from insects such as whitefly. Use dried sprigs of lavender to repel moths.

LEMON BALM: Sprinkle throughout the garden in an herbal powder mixture to deter many bugs. Lemon balm has citronella compounds that make this work: crush and rub the leaves on your skin to keep mosquitoes away! Use to ward off squash bugs!

 LOVAGE: Improves flavor and health of most plants. Good habitat for ground beetles. A large plant, use one planted as a backdrop.

MARIGOLDS: (Calendula officinalis): Given a lot of credit as a pest deterrent. Keeps soil free of bad nematodes; supposed to discourage many insects. Plant freely throughout the garden. The marigolds you choose must be a scented variety for them to work. One down side is that marigolds do attract spider mites and slugs.
French Marigold (Tagetes patula) has roots that exude a substance which spreads in their immediate vicinity killing nematodes. For nematode control you want to plant dense areas of them. There have been some studies done that proved this nematode killing effect lasted for several years after the plants died back. Whiteflies hate the smell of marigolds. Do not plant French marigolds next to bean plants.
 Mexican Marigold (Tagetes minuta) is the most powerful of the insect repelling marigolds and may also overwhelm weed roots such as bind weed! It is said to repel the Mexican bean beetle and wild bunnies! Keep away from beans and cabbage.


MARJORAM: As a companion plant it improves the flavor of vegetables and herbs. Sweet marjoram is the most commonly grown type.

NASTURTIUMS: An excellent companion for many plants deterring aphids, squash bugs, and striped pumpkin beetles, wooly aphids, whiteflies, cucumber beetles and other pests of the cucurbit family. Great at attracting predatory insects and is a trap crop for aphids. It likes poor soil with low moisture and no fertilizer. Keeping that in mind there is no reason not to set potted nasturtiums among your garden beds. Studies say it is among the best at . The leaves, flowers and seeds of nasturtiums are all edible and wonderful in salads!

OREGANO: repels cabbage butterfly and cucumber beetle.

PARSLEY: Attracts hoverflies. Use as a tea to ward off asparagus beetles. Let some go to seed to attract the tiny parasitic wasps and hoverflies. Parsley increases the fragrance of roses when planted around their base. Keep away from Mint.

PEPPERMINT: Repels white cabbage moths, aphids and flea beetles. Bees and other good guys love it.

 PENNYROYAL: Repels fleas. The leaves when crushed and rubbed onto your skin will repel chiggers, flies, gnats, mosquitoes and ticks. Warning: Pennyroyal is highly toxic to cats. It should not be planted where cats might ingest it and never rubbed onto their skin.

PETUNIAS: Repels asparagus beetle, leafhoppers, certain aphids, tomato worms, Mexican bean beetles and general garden pests. Plant it everywhere, the leaves can be used in a tea to make a potent bug spray.

PURSLANE: This edible weed makes good ground cover in the corn patch. Use the stems, leaves and seeds in stir-frys. Pickle the green seed pod for caper substitutes. If purslane is growing in your garden it means you have healthy, fertile soil!

ROSEMARY: Deters cabbage moths, bean beetles, and carrot flies.

 RUE: Deters aphids, fish moths, flea beetle, onion maggot, slugs, snails, flies and Japanese beetles in raspberries. Lavender is a good companion. Crush a few leaves to release the smell it also repels cats. You should not plant rue near cucumbers, cabbage, basil or sage.

SAGE: Deters cabbage moths, beetles, black flea beetles and carrot flies. Do not plant near cucumbers, onions or rue. Allowing sage to flower will also attract many beneficial insects and the flowers are pretty. There are some very striking varieties of sage with variegated foliage that can be used for their ornamental as well as practical qualities.

SUNFLOWERS : Aphids a problem? Plant a few sunflowers in the garden, step back and watch the ants herd the aphids onto them. The sunflowers are so tough that the aphids cause very little damage and you will have nice seed heads for the birds to enjoy. Sunflowers also attract hummingbirds which eat whiteflies.

SWEET ALYSSUM (Lobularia maritima): Alyssum flowers attract hoverflies whose larva devour aphids. Blooms draw bees. They will reseed freely and make a beautiful groundcover every year.

 TANSY : Not the most attractive of plants. Tansy is recommended as an ant repellant but may only work on sugar type ants. These are the ones that you see on peonies and marching into the kitchen. Deters flying insects, Japanese beetles, striped cucumber beetles, squash bugs, ants and mice! Tie up and hang a bunch of tansy leaves indoors as a fly repellent. Use clippings as a mulch as needed. Don't be afraid to cut the plant up as tansy will bounce back from any abuse heaped on it! It is also a helpful addition to the compost pile with its' high potassium content. Tansy Warning: You do not want to plant Tansy anywhere that livestock can feed on it as it is toxic to many animals. Do not let it go to seed as it may germinate in livestock fields.

TARRAGON : Plant throughout the garden, not many pests like this one. Recommended to enhance growth and flavor of vegetables.

THYME (Thymus vulgaris): Deters cabbage worms. Wooly thyme makes a wonderful groundcover.

White Geranium
 WHITE GERANIUMS (Geranium clarkei): Draws Japanese beetles to feast on the foliage which in turn kills them.

WORMWOOD (Artemisia absinthium): Keeps animals out of the garden when planted as a border. An excellent deterrent to most insects. Don’t plant wormwood with peas or beans. A tea made from wormwood will repel cabbage moths, slugs, snails, black flea beetles and fleas effectively. The two best varieties for making insect spray are Silver King and Powis Castle. Adversely Powis castle attracts ladybugs which in turn breed directly on the plant. Silver Mound is great as a border plant and the most toxic wormwood. Note: As wormwood actually produces a botanical poison do not use it directly on food crops.

YARROW (Achillea millefolium): Yarrow has insect repelling qualities and is an excellent natural fertilizer. A handful of yarrow leaves added to the compost pile really speeds things up. It also attracts predatory wasps and ladybugs to name just two. Increases essential oil content of herbs when planted nearby.

ZINNIA (Zinnia elegans): Pretty zinnias attract hummingbirds which eat whiteflies. Alternately the pastel varieties of zinnias can be used as a trap crop for Japanese beetles. All zinnias attract bees and other insect pollinators.



Monday, March 28, 2011

Matricaria chamomile - The 'Noble' Chamomile

Matricaria chamomile - Chamomile, also spelled Camomile, Synonyms are: Chamomilla chamomilla, Chamomilla recutita (correct name according to the Flora Europaea), Chamaemelum nobile, Anthemis nobilis and Matricaria suaveolens.

Common names for Chamomile include Earth Apple, Ground Apple, German/Roman/Hungarian Camomile, Garden Camomile, Low Camomile, Dog-Daisy, Whig Plant, Pineapple Weed, Wild Camomile, Matricaria, Anthemis, Scented Mayweed.  The word chamomile comes from Greek "chamaimÄ“lon", (chamai)", on the ground", (mÄ“lon), "apple", Earth-Apple, so called because of the apple-like scent of the plant. 

Chamomile is an erect, spindly, feathery looking annual growing up to 2 feet tall with branching stems. The leaves are very fine and linear. It has a typical composite flower, with white petals and a yellow conical center.

It usually grows near populated areas all over Europe and temperate Asia. It is widely introduced in temperate North America and Australia. As the seeds need open soil to survive, it often grows near roads, around landfills and in cultivated fields as a weed.

Chamomile is one of the most widely used flowers for herbal tea.  Chamomile Tea is so popular, it is found in most grocery stores in the tea aisle. It is used as a mild sedative, and is good for insomnia as well as many other nervous conditions.  It is nervine and sedative especially suited to teething children and those who have been in a highly emotional state over a long period of time.  Except for the small risk of allergy, Chamomile is also one of the safest herbs to use.

Chamomile flowers are used in alternative medicine as an anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, nervine, stomachic, tonic, vasodilatory.  The anti-inflammatory properties make it good for rheumatism, arthritis, and other painful swellings.

 Additional uses in herbal medicine include an antispasmodic for intestinal and menstrual cramps, relieving gas pains, and a very mild but efficient laxative.  It is splendid for kidneys, spleen, colds, bronchitis, bladder troubles, to expel worms, for dropsy and jaundice.  It makes an excellent wash for sore and weak eyes.

Applied externally as a wash or compress for skin inflammations, sunburn, burns, and added to bath for relaxing tired, achy muscles and feet, and softening the skin.  It is also good for the care of most skin-types, acne, allergies, boils eczema, inflamed skin conditions, earache, wounds, headache, insomnia, nervous tension, stress related disorders, and digestive.  It has a very low toxicity, so it is useful for children.  Milder tea in large doses is given throughout the day for fevers, sore throats, the aches and pains due to colds, flu, and allergies.

An infusion of Chamomile flowers is used as a shampoo, especially for fair hair and it can lighten hair color.  The flowers are sometimes added to cosmetics as an anti-allergenic agent or made into a salve for use on hemorrhoids and wounds.  The dried herb is made into potpourri and herb pillows, and is burned for aromatherapy. 

CAUTION:  If you suffer from ragweed allergies, it is best to avoid chamomile tea.  Consuming large amounts of highly concentrated preparations have shown to cause nausea and vomiting.

An essential oil from the whole plant is used as a flavoring and in making perfume. The dried flowers are used as an insect repellent.

The ancient Egyptians dedicated Chamomile to the sun god Ra, and valued it over all other herbs for its healing qualities as a cure for acute fever. In Spain it has been known for centuries as Mantazilla or 'Little Apple' and is used for flavouring the light sherry which bears its name. 

Chamomile was known to the ancient Romans and used for incense and in beverages.  Ironically, the name 'Roman Chamomile' by which it is sometimes known, does not stem from this time, but from a rather arbitary naming of the herb in the 19th century by a plant collector who happened to find some growing in the Colleseum in Rome! 

In the Middle Ages it was an ingredient in some love potions and used as a 'strewing' herb to improve the atmosphere at gatherings and festivals.  It was also one of the Anglo Saxon's 'Nine Sacred Herbs' and known as 'Maythen'.  In these times it was also used widely in Beer Making as a bittering ingredient.  Medieval Christians consecrated Chamomile to St. Anne, mother of the Virgin.  Its botanical name, Matricaria, was derived from "mater" and "cara" (beloved mother).  With its delicate but hardy nature, it came to stand for 'patience in adversity'.

Matricaria chamomilla is an annual herb originally from Europe which escaped to the wild and is now naturalized on almost every continent.  It can now be found growing along fence rows, roadsides, and in sunny open fields from Southern Canada to Northern U.S. west to Minnesota.  The branched stem is somewhat erect, round, hollow, and grows to about 20 inches tall.  The leaves are bipinnate, finely divided, light green and feathery.  The flowers are daisy-like about 1 inch across and bloom from May to October. 

When starting to grow sweet chamomile seedlings indoors then start about 7 weeks in advance. It should take the seeds about one to three weeks to germinate at 18 to 24 degrees Celsius. Once ready, transplant into the garden. 

Sow thinly in outdoors on soil surface at the start of spring, a light frost will help with germination.  They grow in sun or light shade, poor but well drained soil is preferred.  A plant food can be provided early in its growth.  Pinch tips and deadhead to promote bushy growth and continued blooming. They can be cut back to the ground in autumn.  Gather the above ground parts as soon as flowers bloom, dry for later herb use.

Chamomile tea can be used as a liquid feed and plant tonic and is effective against a number of plant diseases.  It is also beneficial when planted near ailing or sick plants, often aiding in a full recovery.


Alternative Nature Online Herbal:
Mother Herbs:
The English Chamomile Co.:
Plant Biology:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

John Gerard - Herbalist and Scoundrel

John Gerard (1545-1612) is the best known botanist published in English. His work has remained popular for over 400 years for its amalgamation of horticultural lore, its collection of medical "virtues" of plants, and, not least, its graceful and delightful English prose.

Gerard was born in Cheshire, England and attended a village school in Wisterson. He was apprenticed for a career of a surgeon in 1562 and achieved eminence in his profession, being elected Master of the Company of Barker-Surgeons. He traveled the Baltic coast to "Denmarke, Swevia, Poland, Livinia, and Russia."

Gerard's reputation, however, rests on horticulture. As early as 1577, he superintended several gardens and plant collections of William Cecil (Lord Burghley, the first minister of Queen Elizabeth) including his residence in the Strand and at Theobalds, Hertfordshire. In 1586 he was appointed curator of the College of Physicians physics garden. In addition, Gerard’s own garden at Holborn, between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane included "all the rare samples" and "all manners of strange trees, herbs, roots, plants, flowers and other rare things ..." 

Gerard’s list of plants in his Holborn garden published in 1596 was the first garden catalogue printed in English and included over 1,000 species including the first English mention of potato. However, Gerard’s most famous work is his Herball or General Historie of Plants, published in 1597.

Gerard was one of the most respected plant experts of his time, but he was not the primary author of his famous "The Herball of Generall Historie of Plantes" of 1597. He plagiarized a manuscript by Dr. Robert Priest that was a translation of the Flemish physician and botanist, Rembert Dodoens’ "Stirpium Historia Pemptades Sex."

Gerard was originally supposed to finish the translation after Priest died, instead he added 182 new plants, revised the arrangement, appended his own observations and claimed the entire work as his own. In a rush to publish, Gerard made a great number of errors in his first edition. However, that first edition held the field without a competitor for more than a generation.

A second edition was published in 1633, edited by Thomas Johnson, who's revision greatly improved Gerard's herbal. Johnson’s edition also used Christopher Plantin's woodblocks which were superior to the blocks in the 1597 edition.

Copies of Gerard's Herbal , The Herbal or General History of Plants, and Gerard's Herbal History of Plants can be found at Amazon. There is also a Kindle edition of Gerard's Herbal.

  • Jules Janick. 1987 Proc. Second National Herb Growing and Marketing Conference, Purdue Research foundation.
  • Wikipedia