Friday, June 22, 2012

City Herbs - Plantain

Even urban, apartment dwelling  people can see wild herbs in their daily travels. This plantain (Plantago major) grows between a brick wall and a city sidewalk. Some plants walk and grow alongside humans.

(This image was too lovely not to share. It, like all the art and photos shared on this blog, have been taken or created by me. Please contact me if you want to use any of the images. Many thanks!) 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Herb of the Week - Burdock

Burdock (Arctium lappa) Flowers
Arctium lappa
Arctium mimus 
Few plants make me think of being a kid more than burdock. As a kid I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' dairy farm. Like most old farmsteads, plants like burdock, stinging nettle, cleavers, and catnip grew with wreckless abandon. These plants were most likely unbroken links to plants that were purposely planted by farmers and their families generations ago. My siblings, younger cousins, and I were left to our own devices for long summer days. Besides simple games like hide-and-seek or freeze tag, the natural resources were a great source of amusement. Hollyhock flower fairies, willow whips (good not only for "smacking" each other but for flinging green plums over the barn roof), climbing trees, eating wild berries, and of course, playing with burdock. The gigantic leaves leaves made great fairy and "wild man" hats and clothes. The burs could be made into mats and balls. Oh....the burdock balls. Those old balls could be thrown at a sibling or cousin and they would stick - just like the Velcro-based dart tag type items today. It was all "fun and games" until someone got one of the balls in their hair and went tattling to an adult.

Arctium lappa leaves
Burdock, no stranger to my childhood memories, was once a stranger to the North American shores. Burdock was brought to North America by the Europeans who settled here. It is now naturalized in North America but its native range was originally all the temperate areas of the Old World. Given all the great qualities of burdock it is easy to see why this plant made the trip across the ocean to the New World. It grows easily from seed in a wide range of growing conditions and provides us with choice edibles as well as strong medicine.

For medicinal purposes the stems, roots, and seeds ("niu bang zi") are generally used. In Western herbal medicine burdock root is typically used internally for skin diseases and inflammatory conditions due to chronic toxicity. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the seeds are used for these similarly as well as to treat colds, pneumonia, and throat infections. [Source: The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses By Deni Bown]

In Kampo, a Japanese form of herbal medicine, burdock seed is a "cold, pungent, and sweet herb" that detoxifies tissues by encouraging the circulation of qi. The seed dispels heat, relieves swelling, and normalizes breathing. It is also used in formulas for coughs, rashes, and sore throats. [Source: Japanese Herbal Medicine: The Healing Art of Kampo by Robert Rister]

Herbalist James Green says that burdock is a "deep food and and alterative that moves the body to a state of well-nourished health." He also notes its use for a variety of skin conditions (incl. eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, boils, rheumatism, gout), aids appetite/digestion, and in poultices. [Source: The Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook by James Green]

Burdock roots and stems are also very good foods. The stems can be prepared like cardoon. The roots are popular in a wide range of Asian dishes - one of the most well-known being the Japanese dish kinpira. My personal favorite is my own version of tsukemono (Japanese quick pickles) with burdock root. Not only do I love the unique taste of these pickles, I like to make them whenever I'm feeling "low" and need a boost to my energy and vitality. Here's my recipe:

Sweet Vinegared Gobo (Burdock Root)
Gobo (burdock root)
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt (sea salt preferred)
4 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1. Wash gobo well. You can peel the root first if desired but this is not required especially for the thin-skinned cultivated roots found in Asian markets. Wild-dug roots are best peeled. Half or quarter root and cut into 1-2" sticks.
2. Boil root 2-3 minutes. While root is boiling, mix remaining ingredients.
3. Drain root and add hot to the marinade. Refrigerate and cool before eating. Best flavor if sat overnight. Keeps 3-5 days in refrigerator.

When asked about my favorite herbs, I usually tell people that my foods are my favorite herbs because I live Hippocrates' quote, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Burdock is one of those healthful herbs that can make it to my dinner plate.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Maize "Pearl" Earrings

Earring #1
We've all seen beautiful examples of jewelry made with seeds from plants that can only grow in tropical rain forest locations. We too can grow beautiful seeds to use in jewelry. The eldest of the Three Sisters, maize, is a beautiful example. It comes in a rainbow of jewel-like colors that just ask to be used as beads.

This project features earrings made using maize kernel beads. Three different styles with different materials are presented to suggest the variety of styles you might try.
All maize used in this the examples shown were grown in my garden. Earring #1 features the blue-grey kernels of "Hopi Blue Dent" and earrings #2 and #3 feature two different colored kernels (pearl white and burgundy) of the multi-hued "Painted Mountain."
Earring #1 (Silver & Turquoise)
  • 2 dried corn kernels
  • 2 size #11 crystal seed beads
  • 2 sterling silver earwires (22 gauge, fishhook w/ ball & coil)
  • 2 sterling silver 2-inch, 26 gauge headpins
  • 2 turquoise rondelles, 6x3mm


 Earring #2 (Chevron & Gold)
  • 2 dried corn kernels
  • 2 size #11 crystal seed beads
  • 2 chevron beads approx. 10x5mm
  • 2 gold-filled french hook earwires
  • 2 gold-filled 1.5-inch, 22 gauge headpins


Earring #3 (Silver & Garnet)
  • 2 dried corn kernels
  • 2 size #11 crystal seed beads
  • 2 sterling silver earwires (22 gauge, fishhook w/ ball & coil)
  • 2 sterling silver 2-inch, 26 gauge headpins
  • 4 garnet beads, 3mm
See vendor resources below for sources on where to get all the materials used.

Tools Needed
  • Jewelry pliers like round-nose pliers. Needle nose pliers will work.
  • Flush cut pliers or another tool capable of clipping fine wire
  • Hand awl or a hand drill/Dremel tool with a very fine drill bit
  • Small vise. If you do not one, a hinged clothespin will work to hold the kernels for drilling.
  • X-acto knife

  1. Select only completely dried, well-formed corn kernels. The flat-sided and hard dent or flint corns generally work best. Trim any rough spots off the end of the kernel - do not cut into the kernel.
  2. Use a small vise or clothespin to hold each kernel so it can be drilled long ways. Drill the hole. If you use a hand awl, the hole will have a larger bore and you will need to put it through the middle of the flat side of the kernel. Adjust the complementing bead sizes as needed.
  3. Carefully trim or smooth any rough spots from drilling. 
  4. String beads and corn kernel onto headpin. Bead order: Earring #1 - seed bead, kernel, turquoise rondelle;  Earring #2 - seed bead, kernel, chevron bead;  Earring #3 - garnet bead, kernel, garnet bead
  5. For small gauge wire (i.e. 26 gauge), put headpin through the loop on the fishhook earwire. Use pliers to bend and loop the wire with the top of the loop being 3-5mm above the top bead. Use pliers to pull the free end of the wire around the headpin shaft, leaving a loop at the top to work down to the top bead coiling the wire 3-4 times. Trim excess. Use pliers to pinch the trimmed end flush with the rest of the coil.
  6. For the heavier gauge wire (i.e. 22 gauge), use the pliers to bend the wire at the top bead 45 degrees to the left. Use the tip of the pliers to grip wire at the top bead. Use your fingers or other pliers to bend the wire to the right, curling it around the plier nose until it crosses the headpin shaft. Trim the excess wire beyond where it crosses the shaft. Adjust loop shape as needed. Loop onto fishhook earwire.

If you are new to wire bending for jewelry, try out your wire bending skills with a similar gauge inexpensive brass or copper wire first. It is costly to learn on precious metals! I hope you enjoy this project!

Vendor Resources

Earrings #1:

Seed bead, Delica, glass, transparent rainbow crystal, #11
Earwire, sterling silver, 18mm flat fishhook with ball and coil with open loop, 22 gauge
Headpin, sterling silver, 2-inches long, 26 gauge
Bead, turquoise (D/S), 6x3mm rondelle

Earrings #2:
Seed bead, Delica, glass, transparent rainbow crystal, #11
Bead, chevron glass, multicolored, 4x2mm-12x8mm mixed shapes
Earwire, 14Kt gold-filled, 13mm fishhook with open loop, 21 gauge
Headpin, gold-filled, 1-1/2 inches long, 22 gauge

Earring #3
Earwire, sterling silver, 18mm flat fishhook with ball and coil with open loop, 22 gauge
Headpin, sterling silver, 2-inches long, 26 gauge
Bead, garnet, 3mm round

Ears of various colors of maize can be purchased at farmers' markets in late summer through late fall. But even better, grow some maize yourself. If you don't know where to get such seed, check the the vendors listed in the 'Vegetable/Food Crop' section of a gardening article I wrote. The vegetable seed vendors listed all sell heirloom/open-pollinated varieties of maize. Try growing some in your own garden for food or for crafts. As a bonus, some of the colored maize even has colored corn husks which lend themselves beautifully to corn husk crafts.

Know Your Herbs?

Here is another entry in our herb identification feature, Know Your Herbs? Can you ID the plant pictured above? All the plants featured in Know Your Herbs have some sort of culinary, medicinal, or utilitarian use.

Think you know what it is? Check the ANSWER to see if you are right!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Garden Quotes - Plants are Like the People

While doing some research on dyeing with plants, I came across this wonderful quote. It is from North American Dye Plants by Anne Bliss - which is a wonderful and very useful book on dyeing.

Plants growing in North America are similar in many ways to the people living in North America. Some are natives; some are recent immigrants or transplants; and some, who have been around a generation or two, are naturalized. Some are gregarious and like to live close together, and some, because of habit or environment, live far apart. Some are beautiful, others not so beautiful. Some live where they are wanted; others live where they aren't. And they come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and dispositions.

Yes, our green neighbors are truly like us. Or is it that we are like them?