Thursday, May 26, 2011

Zingiber officinale - Ginger

Zingiber officinale - Ginger, also know as Ginger Root, Common Ginger, Cooking Ginger, Pine Cone Plant, Canton Ginger, and Chinese Ginger.  The Latin name Zingiber is derived from the Sanskrit word, shringavera, which means "shaped like a deer's antlers."  The word Ginger evolved in English from the Latin zingiber as gingifer and gingivere.  Other sources say that the English name comes from various languages including the French gingembre, Old English gingifere, Medieval Latin: ginginer, Greek zingiberis and the Indian inji ver.

Ginger is a rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale, and has both culinary and medicinal uses.  Cultivation began thousands of years ago in South Asia and has since spread to East Africa and the Caribbean.  Fifty percent of worldwide ginger production is in India, but the best quality ginger comes from Jamaica

Ginger is a herbaceous perennial, it sends up a green reed in the spring, like a stalk with narrow lanceolate leaves, which die down annually.  The flowering stalk rises directly from the root, ending in an oblong scalloped spike.  The flower is white or yellowish-green with purple lips and cream colored blotches.  The plant gets about 4 ft  tall with leaves about 3/4 inch wide and 7 inces long. 

Ginger has been used for thousands of years for relief from arthritis, rheumatism, sprains, muscular aches and pains, catarrh, congestion, coughs, sinusitis, sore throats, diarrhea, colic, cramps, indigestion, loss of appetite, motion sickness, fever, flu, chills, and infectious disease.  Medical ginger, known as Jamaica Ginger, was classified as a stimulant and carminative and used frequently for dyspepsia, gastroparesis, slow motility symptoms, constipation, and colic.  It was also frequently employed to disguise the taste of medicines.

Ginger has been found effective in multiple studies for treating nausea caused by seasickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy. It has been medically proven to be more effective than dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®) in reducing motion sickness.  The television program Mythbusters performed an experiment using one of their staff who suffered from severe motion sickness. The staff member was placed in a moving device which, without treatment, produced severe nausea. Multiple treatments were administered. None, with the exception of the ginger and the two most common drugs, were successful. The staff member preferred the ginger due to lack of side effects.

There is a cultivar of Zingiber officinale known as 'Sunti', which comes from Java and is similar to the common cooking ginger, but forms smaller rhizomes.  It is used in the same way but is said to have better medicinal qualities.

Tea brewed from Ginger is a common folk remedy for colds.  Ginger ale and ginger beer are also drunk as stomach settlers in countries where the beverages are made.  Ginger water was also used to avoid heat cramps in the United States.
The Chinese make a dried ginger candy that is fermented in plum juice and used to suppress coughing. They also make "ginger eggs" (scrambled eggs with finely diced ginger root) as a common home remedy for coughing. A drink made with sliced ginger cooked in water with brown sugar or a cola is used as a folk medicine for the common cold.

In Burma, ginger and palm tree juice are boiled together and taken to prevent the flu. In Congo, ginger is crushed and mixed with mango tree sap to make a juice, that is considered a panacea. In India, ginger is applied as a paste to the temples to relieve headache. Ginger with lemon and black salt is also used for nausea.

CAUTIONS: Although Ginger is on the FDA's "generally recognized as safe" list, it can cause heartburn, bloating, gas, belching and nausea, particularly if taken in powdered form, and can also interact with some medications, including warfarin. Ginger is not recommended for people suffering from gallstones as it promotes the production of bile. Allergic reactions to ginger generally result in a rash, and an acute overdose of ginger can result in a state of central nervous system over-stimulation called ginger intoxication or the "ginger gitters." Unchewed fresh ginger may result in intestinal blockage, and individuals who have had ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease or blocked intestines may react badly to large quantities of fresh ginger. There are also suggestions that ginger may affect blood pressure, clotting, and heart rhythms.

Ginger root is used around the world as a spice or food additive and acts as a food preservative. It is a typical ingredient of Chinese, Japanese and many Asian cuisines for flavoring dishes such as seafood or goat meat and vegetarian cuisine. In Western cuisine, Ginger is used mainly in sweet foods such as ginger ale and gingerbread.

In China, it is often paired with savory dishes such as fish and meat when it is cooked. However, candied ginger is sometimes a component of Chinese candy boxes, and a herbal tea can also be prepared. In Japan, it is pickled or grated and used sushi, tofu, or noodles. In the traditional Korean kimchi, Ginger is finely minced and added to the ingredients of the spicy paste just before the fermenting process.

Ginger was well-known to the ancient Romans, and a very important article of trade. It was exported from India to the Roman empire 2000 years ago where it was valued more for its medicinal properties than as an ingredient in cookery. It continued to be popular in Europe despite the fall of the Roman empire, with Arab merchants controlling the trade in ginger and other spices for centuries. By medieval times, it was being imported in preserved form, to be used in sweets.

Ginger was one of the most commonly traded spices during the 13th and 14th centuries. Arabs carried the rhizomes on their voyages to East Africa to plant at coastal settlements and on Zanzibar. During this time in England, ginger was sought after, and one pound in weight of ginger was equivalent to the cost of a sheep.

The first documented instance of figure-shaped gingerbread biscuits appearing was in the court of Elizabeth I of England. She had the gingerbread figures made and presented in the likeness of some of her important guests. Ginger is also valued as an aphrodisiac due to its widespread use as a systemic tonic, hormone balancer, energy enhancer, and agent for improving the appetite and circulation.

In the Sanscrit classic Manasollasa, written in the 11th century AD ginger was mentioned as a flavouring for buttermilk drinks. In the Orient, about half of all herbal medicinal combinations include ginger. During the Middle Ages, ginger was often used as a preservative. Because baked goods made with ginger did not spoil as quickly, they were thought to be magical.

To grow Ginger, select your stock from the local grocery. Look for large root pieces that are shiny and fat and have little nubs on them. Most gingers in cultivation are sterilized cultivars, grown for the edible rhizome and the flower is rarely seen. Soak the ginger in tepid water for a few hours before planting, to wash off any growth retardant that may have been applied.

Start ginger in a 14" pot, filled three quarters full with soil. Lay pieces horizontally, placing them two or three inches apart around the center of the pot. Cover with one inch of soil. Ginger likes to grow in dappled light to light shade. While sprouting, make sure to keep the roots uniformly moist. Once you have a thriving set of shoots, place the plants in a shady spot out of doors for a few hours a day after the overnight temperature rises above 50 degrees F. Gradually increase time outside over a four day period, then place the pot in a shady permanent location.

As the root is near the surface, you will often see small nobs at the soil line of your plant that can be selectively cut for culinary use. Start harvesting about four months into the season and choose roots around the outer edge of the pot.

In the fall, bring the pot indoors and place it in a storage area where the temperature stays above freezing. Allow the tops of the plant to yellow and then trim them off. At this time you can uproot the plant and take a larger harvest if you want; then replant ginger for a future harvest. Moisten the soil once a month to keep the roots viable. In the spring, after all threat of frost has passed, place the pot in a warm shady spot and watch for a new set of shoots. Repot every couple of years.

Resources include:

The Herb Gardener
Herb Companion
Plant Cultures
A Modern Herbal

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Working the Garden....

I've been busy working the garden, put down the herbs I had on hand, waiting for an order, also some interesting tomato plants, black and white tomatoes!  I promise to put up some photos soon, I'm just very busy getting ready for the holiday weekend, like everybody else.  If I can manage an article this week, it will be done by Thursday, and then prolly no more posts until next week. 

Hope everybody has a nice weekend!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Salvia officinalis - Sage

Salvia officinalis - Sage, also know as Garden Sage, Common Sage, Kitchen Sage, True Sage, Red Sage, Culinary Sage, Dalmatian Sage, Broadleaf Sage, and Salvia salvatrix.  The name of the genus, Salvia, is derived from the Latin salvere (to save), referring to the healing properties attributed to the various Salvia species. This name was corrupted popularly to Sauja and Sauge (the French form), in Old English, 'Sawge,' which has become our present-day name of Sage. 

Salvia officinalis is a small, perennial, evergreen subshrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers.  It is native to the Mediterranean region, though it has naturalized in many places throughout the world.  Sage has a long history of medicinal, culinary and ornamental use. It has been used since ancient times for warding off evil, snakebites, increasing women's fertility, and more. The Romans likely introduced it to Europe from Egypt as a medicinal herb.

Sage grows about a foot or more high, with wiry stems. The leaves are set in pairs on the stem and are 1 1/2 to 2 inches long, stalked, oblong, rounded at the ends, finely wrinkled by a strongly-marked network of veins on both sides, greyish-green in color, softly hairy and glandular beneath. The flowers bloom in August and are in whorls, purplish and the corollas lipped.  All parts of the plant have a strong odor and a warm, bitter, astringent taste, due to the volatile oil contained in the tissues.

Sage has been cultivated for centuries in Europe for its culinary and medicinal properties, and was often described in old world herbals for the many miraculous properties attributed to it. The name, officinalis, refers to the plant's medicinal use, the officina was the traditional storeroom of a monastery where herbs and medicines were stored.

The plant had a great reputation throughout the Middle Ages, with many sayings referring to its healing properties and value. It was sometimes called Salvia salvatrix (sage the savior), and was one of the ingredients of Four Thieves Vinegar, a blend of herbs which was supposed to ward off the plague.  Dioscorides, Pliny, and Galen all recommended sage as a diuretic, hemostatic, emmenagogue, and tonic. 

Sage has been recommended at one time or another for virtually every ailment by various herbals. Modern evidence shows possible uses as an antisweating agent, antibiotic, antifungal, astringent, antispasmodic, estrogenic, hypoglycemic, and tonic. In a double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial, sage was found to be effective in the management of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.  Sage tends to have a drying effect and has even been used for excessive saliva production in those with Parkinson’s Disease.

Other medicinal uses include anxiety, asthma, blood clots, candida, colds, congestion, depression, diabetes, diarrhea, dandruff, dysmenorrhea, dyspepsia, fever, eczema, gingivitis, flatulence, flu, gray hair, insect bites, hot flashes, mouth sores, indigestion, insomnia, laryngitis, cystitis, lymphatic congestion, memory loss, menopause, migraine, night sweats, rheumatism, worms, spermatorrhea, staphylococcus, oily scalp, poison ivy, poison oak, psoriasis, and tonsillitis. 

As a kitchen herb, sage has a slight peppery flavor.  It improves the digestion of fatty foods and acts as a natural preservative.  Add Sage leaves sparingly to salads, beans, breads, stuffing, soups, stews, cheese dishes, fish and meat dishes. One can make Sage vinegar, Sage butter and Sage wine. Leaves and flowers can be candied.

In British cooking, it is used for flavoring fatty meats, Sage Derby cheese, poultry or pork stuffing, Lincolnshire sausage, and in sauces.  Sage is also used in Italian cooking, in the Balkans, and the Middle East.  Despite the common use of traditional and available herbs in French cuisine, sage never found favor there.

In 280 BC, Theophrastus wrote about two different sages, a wild undershrub he called sphakos, and a similar cultivated plant he called elelisphakos.  Pliny the Elder said the latter plant was called salvia by the Romans, and used as a diuretic, a local anesthetic for the skin, a styptic, and for other uses. 

Charlemagne recommended the plant for cultivation in the early Middle Ages, and during the Carolingian Empire it was cultivated in monastery gardens. Walafrid Strabo described it in his poem Hortulus as having a sweet scent and being useful for many human ailments, he went back to the Greek root for the name and called it lelifagus.

An old tradition recommends that Rue shall be planted among the Sage, so as to keep away noxious toads from the valued and cherished plants. Growing Sage in the Medieval garden was a sign of prosperity. It was believed that this plant would thrive or wither, just as the owner's business prospered or failed, and another tradition maintained that the wife rules the household when Sage grows vigorously in the garden.
In France, the herb is supposed to mitigate grief, and was customarily sown on churchyard graves.  A French saying states: 'Sage helps the nerves and by its powerful might, palsy is cured and fever put to flight.'  A saying from the Middle Ages states 'Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?'  And it was believed that the plant would thrive or wither, reflecting the owner's prosperity.  

Gerard said that "'Sage is singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory, strengtheneth the sinews, restoreth health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members." 

In the wild Sage is found in Spain along the Mediterranean coast up to and including the east side of the Adriatic; it grows in profusion on the mountains and hills in Croatia and Dalmatia, and on the islands of Veglia and Cherso in Quarnero Gulf. 

Though more shrubby in appearance, wild Sage has a more penetrating odor, being more spicy and astringent than the cultivated plant. The best wild Sage grows on the islands of Veglia and Cherso, near Fiume, where the surrounding district is known as the Sage region. The collection of Sage forms an important cottage industry in Dalmatia. During its blooming season, the bees gather the nectar and genuine Sage honey commands a high price, owing to its flavor.

Seeds should be sown thinly indoors or in outdoor cold frames. Transplant when plants are large enough to move, setting them at least 18 inches apart, and providing a clean growing area. As the plants often exceed 3 feet in diameter, they should be planted at least that far apart.  Sage grows best in a soil comprised of a rich clay loam with an adequate supply of available nitrogen. It will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, however, especially if they are well-draining and rich in nitrogen.

Sage is easily propagated through stem cuttings, which are easily rooted in sand and other rooting media and then planted in rows three feet apart.  Leaves should be harvested prior to blooming. Dry in a well-ventilated room on screens away from direct sunlight and then store in tight jars.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Last Arboretum plant sale this weekend

Just a reminder that there is one more plant sale coming up this weekend.  If you live in the Philly area, check it out. 

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.

The Garden....

I was finally able to get working on the garden this past weekend.  Been busting my tail trying to prep it and get some stuff in.  The rain has been off and on all week, so getting to work there is iffy at best.  I had to wait for someone to come and till the garden with a motorized tiller, (I was not going to do such a large plot by hand).  When that was done I was able to build a fence (ramshackle though it may be) and start putting down some of my plants.  I'm growing veggies as well as herbs, since I've got all that room, why not? 

It's coming along, but today it rained and I'm home catching up on my articles.  The work is physically exhausting, and if I don't lose at least 50lbs this summer, I'm gonna be pissed. 

Photos to come, not much to see, but I'm so proud of my fence, I even made a gate, it looks so rustic. :-)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ligusticum porteri - Osha

Ligusticum porteri - Osha, also known as Bear Root, Bear Medicine, Indian Parsley, Colorado Cough Root, Chuchupate, Porter's Lovage, Mountain Lovage, Love Root, Wild Parsley, Licorice Root and Mountain Ginseng. It is native to theNorth American Rocky Mountain regions above 8,000 feet in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. 

"Ligusticum" is Latin, and probably means  "from the Liguria region of Italy," where a related plant, Lovage, Levisticum officinale, grows in profusion and is widely used as a herb.  "Porteri" refers to Thomas C. Porter, a Colorado botanist who collected the plant in 1873.

Osha is a Native American word meaning "bear." It is called ha'ich'id in the Jicarilla language and the White Mountain Apache call it ha'il chii' gah.  It is referred to as "Bear Medicine" because Native Americans observed that bears would search for the plant after emerging from hibernation as well as when they were wounded or sick, and would eat it or rub it over its fur.  Rubbing the macerated root into their fur helps protect them against parasites and infections.

Osha is used ceremonially and medicinally by various Native American groups, including the Zuni, Yuki, and Chiricahua. It is valued in traditional herbalism for its powerful influence on the respiratory and bronchial systems. It supports a healthy immune system and associated mucous membranes.  It relaxes the air passages for clearer breathing, and is the ideal herbal solution for bronchial distress. 

It's appearance is typical of members of the parsley family, with hollow stems and delicate dark green divided leaves up to 24in long, which have a celery/parsley aroma.  Tiny white flowers are produced in umbels in summer.  The base of the leaf where it attaches to the root crown has a reddish tint which is unique, and the roots are fibrous, with a dark brown, wrinkled outer skin. The inner root tissue is fibrous and yellowish-white with a pleasant "spicy celery" fragrance. 

There is leaf material surrounding the root crown like a collar, which is hairlike in appearance. The roots are very astringent when fresh, and can cause blistering of the mouth and mucous membranes in humans if ingested. The dried roots do not have this astringent affect. Roots of older plants are far stronger and bitter than those of younger plants.

Osha has been clinically verified to possess anti-viral properties and is very effective for treating cold and flu systems of the upper respiratory tract, and other viral infections of the respiratory system.

The plant is also a powerful stimulant if consumed to excess. Osha root is typically chewed, then spit out after the medicinal components have been extracted by the chewing action. Osha root is also used internally in small amounts to treat fever, stomach ache, and heartburn. Osha root can be made into a poultice to treat brown recluse spider bites.  White Mountain Apaches use it as a snake and insect repellent as well as an aid in the curing of common colds, sore throats, cough, sinusitis, and other side effects of the winter season.   Like other bitter herbs, Osha also tends to improve symptoms of indigestion and increase appetite.  Chewing small root pieces is used to help break nicotine addiction.

Osha was used by the Jicarilla Apache in ceremonial smoking blends with tobacco as well as by decoction to soothe sore throats and loosen phlegm in the chest.  It was listed in the 1918 United States Dispensatory as Ligusticum filicinum and indicated for respiratory ailments. This same use has been confirmed historically in folk culture through interviews with Hispanic families in the San Luis Valley in Colorado.

A related plant from India and Nepal, Ligusticum wallichii, has a long history of use in Chinese medicine, and most of the scientific studies on Osha were actually performed on this species.

Osha root can be steeped in ethanol (whisky, vodka) for at least a month. The resulting tincture is an effective, albeit pungent, liniment for sore muscles that can be stored in a cool place indefinitely.

Osha is commonly used today by the Taos, and other Northern New Mexican Pueblo People for a variety of purposes, including placing a root in irrigation acequias (ditches) to inhibit cutworms and other larvae.  I personally witnessed a Native American woman using Osha root as a smudge.  She was cleansing a room where her grandson was about to have a high school graduation party.

 In his publication Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West,  Michael Moore states; "I have at least once been offered quantities of Osha root for purchase when the picker had mistakenly dug water hemlock roots, a deadly poison! Even the Spanish New Mexicans make mistakes, for one little valley is blithely labeled "Osha Canyon" on all maps, but is crawling with Hemlock.  If the plant is at least two or three feet tall, but the seeds have little thin bracts reflexed downward it is not Osha, but hemlock. The root is smaller with little scent, whereas Osha stinks! Poison Hemlock looks very much like Osha but never grows above 7,500 feet. Water Hemlock can grow as high as 9200 feet, but the leaves are much coarser resembling a combination of celery and marijuana."

Demand for Osha Root has been increasing and over-harvesting threatens wild stands. Ligusticum porteri is challenging to cultivate at low elevations.  It is a mountain plant, and can be found in moist soils that are rich in organic material at elevations between 9000 - 10,000 ft. in Taos County of New Mexico and other Rocky Mountain regions of the Southwest.

It is a slow-growing plant that takes up to 10 years to reach harvestable mass in the wild.  As it grows, Osha forms into a large clump over time and can get very large.  In areas of New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, it can reach heights of 6 to 7 feet and produce circular colonies with dozens of root crowns growing from a central root mass.

Simple seed stratification methods were tested to propagate plants for sustainable production. Seed germination of 3 commercial seed sources (New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado) improved when the stratification period was adjusted for origin of seeds.  An increased duration of stratification of up to ten weeks was required for the more northern sources. These results indicate that common seed stratification can be used to develop nursery plants for reestablishment and production of harvestable roots.

So, I guess it was no surprise that the Osha seedlings I ordered didn't survive.  This is one plant that will not make it into most medicinal gardens, unfortunately.  However there are several variations of this plant that might suffice, including Ligusticum wallichii, commonly know as  Szechuan lovage, and Ligusticum scoticum known as Scot's Lovage, Scotch parsley, Scottish Licorice-Root, and Sea Lovage.

Resources include: 

The Southwest School of Botanical Medicine
Southwest Colorado Wildflowers
Vascular Plants of the Gila Wilderness
US Forest Service