Herbal Haven Newsletter June 2012
Yesterday was the longest day of the year and here in North Essex it was a glorious day. Back to the usual today – lots of heavy rain in the morning and showers this afternoon. The herbs in general are thriving on it and are looking very lush. The earlier cooler weather delayed growth by up to two weeks on some herbs and the flowers on the stock plants have taken a while to bud and open. There have been fewer insects such as the butterflies – in fact it has been sad to see them appear with the odd sunny day and then be battered by wind and rain the next.
We have had to have a new path built up by the tunnels as the trolleys filled with herbs combined with the wet weather completely destroyed the grass. It was pretty grim for a while.
Last year a herbalist friend who gave me a pot full of soil with a label in saying Pleurisy root - Asclepias tuberose. A small green shoot appeared for a while and then withered and died, but I held onto it and repotted the little corm that was inside. This year the same shoot appeared but this time it grew up and has produced a fantastic orange flower, which has led me to look up information about it. Obviously it is called pleurisy root because it treats pleurisy. For those of you not too sure – and that included me – it is inflammation of the lining of the lungs and chest which leads to a sharp pain when you cough or breathe. It acts as an anti-inflammatory, anti spasmodic, diaphoretic (induces sweating), assists with expectoration (loosening and getting rid of phlegm), carminative (helps expel gas from the stomach and intestines) and cathartic (has a laxative effect). It is the root that is used and it can be bought dried in health food shops. Pleurisy root is native to North America.
We like to grow a few new varieties each year. Santolina Virens ‘Lemon Fizz’ is a fairly new type of cotton lavender. It is a golden leaved aromatic perennial evergreen shrub with thin thread like leaves and yellow pom pom flowers. A compact plant it makes an excellent edging plant for borders and grows well in pots. The leaves can be used for pot pourii and scented sachets for drawers and wardrobes. It is also a moth repellent. At the moment the petals are still tightly wrapped in the flower head, but I can’t wait to see them open.
Aztec Sweet Herb or Lippia Dulcis is native to Central America and Mexico. It is a fast and low growing ground and sends out runners much like mint. It makes a good hanging basket plant. In this country it isn’t winter hardy. It has small white flowers which appear in June. The plant contains an intensely sweet compound called hemandulcin which makes the leaves sweeter than sugar, but as they also contain a high level of camphor, some people find it gives an unappealing aftertaste. It was used to treat coughs, colds, bronchitis and colic.
Saffron has been used as both a medicine and flavouring for nearly 4000 years. There are records of Egyptian physicians using saffron in 1600 B.C. Originally from India, Persia and then China it was brought back to Europe by the early Crusaders in the eleventh century. There is a legend that says, during the reign of Edward third (1327-1377) that a bulb of saffron was brought to the town of Walden hidden in the stick of a pilgrim. Certainly, the big centres of saffron cultivation that developed were Valencia in Spain, Nuremburg in Germany and Saffron Walden in Essex. Today 70% of the world’s saffron is grown in Spain. Saffron is the world most costly spice and rivals the price of gold. It is sold by the fraction of an ounce or by the gram. It takes 150,000 plants and 400 hours of labour to produce 1kg (2.2lbs). Saffron flowers in the autumn and it is the three burnt orange stamens inside the lilac petals that are used as the spice. The flowers are open for about three weeks and each day open flowers are picked, and then carefully cut open to reveal the stamens. These are then dried over heat before being sealed in packages for sale to brokers. All the years of cultivation means true saffron is sterile - it cannot reproduce from seed, only by bulb. Each year a single saffron bulb or corm will form up to ten cormlets which need to separated from the original bulb which then dies. Of the seventy five or so varieties of crocus, only saffron produces this spice. The flowering parts of saffron have been used to improve digestion, increase perspiration and stimulate the circulation and menstruation. As flavouring it is used in many dishes such as paella, risotto, cakes, sauces and in liqueurs. As a magical herb it is added to love sachets to raise lustful feelings. An infusion drunk helps foresee the future and dispel melancholy.
Salvia greggii ‘Icing sugar’ a half hardy perennial shrub with small blackcurrant scented leaves and beautiful mauve/lilac and purple flowers. Leaves can be dried and used in pot pourii or used fresh in fruity dishes and drinks though they do tend to be a bit bitter.
Think that is all from me. Enjoy all the lovely long daylight hours.