Friday, May 24, 2013

Know Your Herbs?

Today's Know Your Herbs is a bit different. Instead of giving you one herb to identify, I'm giving you two. More than that, I'm giving you two that look very similar when coming up in the spring. (To get a closer look at the details of these plants, be sure to click on the images for the full sized image.) I specifically took the photos where both plants were similar in size and didn't have last year's stalks in view giving you other clues as to the identification.

These plants are both medicinal herbs native to the North Eastern United States. The shoots of one of these herbs can be eaten if prepared correctly. The other is toxic and no amount of cooking will change that. This is a wonderful example of why you must be able to correctly identify not only a plant but any possible look-a-likes before ever harvesting a single leaf.

Think you know what these are? Check your answer here.

Herb #1

Herb #2

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Spring Blooms - Eastern Redbud Tree

A favorite spring tree of mine is the native eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis). It is a spring blooming small tree that creates clouds of pink pea-like blooms.  The tree has a pleasing shape with a round or flat-topped crown which lends that shape to its cloud-like appearance of pink blooms.

I urge you to consider this beautiful, care-free tree in your landscaping plans. To learn more about the tree and its needs, see one of the following:

USDA Plant Guide or USDA Fact Sheet
Missouri Botanical Garden
Wild Flower Center

And for an always fascinating read, be sure to read the Plants for a Future entry on the redbud. Did you know that the flowers are edible? (I can attest to that since I've nibbled the blooms on hikes.) And did you know, that like so many of our native plants, there are herbal uses of the redbud? Read the PFAF entry for more!

To help showcase its appeal, here are some photos of the redbud in bloom:

Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis
Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis

Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis
Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis - blooms sprout from the trunk and branches

Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, at Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic Labyrinth
The eastern redbud (seen left) is a beautiful specimen tree for your landscape. 
It is seen here in the plantings around the Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic's 
labyrinth gardens.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Just Take a Breath

Dame's Rocket  (Hesperis matronalis)
Dame's Rocket
While you can certainly use tripods in your botanical photo taking, I find that lugging the extra equipment around and then setting it up destroys the ability to capture the essence of simple beauty and the sincerity of the moment that Mother Nature presented to us. All my nature photography is done without tripods and without "gardening" or otherwise setting up the shot. I take the shots as I find them for I believe that Mother Nature has the best eye for photo composition.

But since all the shots are taken by hand, it requires more - if you'll excuse the pun - focus put into each shot otherwise the result is a fuzzy mess. To do this, isn't hard and it starts with a simple breath. Take a breath and hold it for just the moment it takes for you to snap the picture. Amazingly in that held moment, you become so mindfully aware of your body and its every motion. It is a moment of mindful meditation where you become more aware of the tiniest of details - things that are often below your threshold of awareness. And in that attentiveness, you become still and you become very focused. So with breath held, body stilled, and your attention sharpened, you look to your subject and gently press the camera's button.

Give it a try. What moments of gentle beauty can you capture?

To inspire you, I captured the shot above and the couple below on a ten minute walk this morning...

Apple blossoms (I love the blush of pink)

Banded snail on dandelions
Banded snail on dandelions

Wild grape - new foliage
New foliage and flower clusters on wild grape

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Herb of the Week: Asparagus

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
Like so many of our food plants and culinary herbs, asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is a plant that offers us something for our dinner plate as well as being an herb with medicinal uses. It is the earliest cultivated food item that I harvest each spring. Surely our ancestors appreciated that and it may be part of the reason why this plant has been harvested for more than 5,000 years.

Yesterday I harvested the first asparagus of the season. They are so good and so fresh, I always munch a few spears before I even get the bag to the house. Because this early vegetable is so tasty and so nutritious, rather than speak of the medicinal or other herbal qualities of this plant or the other species in the Asparagus genus*, I will share a simple recipe that I'm sure you will love as much as I:

Grilled Asparagus

Fresh asparagus spears
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
  1. Wash and drain asparagus well. Snap tough ends off.
  2. Preheat broiler or grill - this recipe will work with either method. I usually do them under the broiler. 
  3. Arrange on a sheet pan in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil (approx. 1-2 tbsp. for 1 lb. bunch). Roll spears around to coat evenly with oil. 
  4. Sprinkle with sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste.
  5. Put pan under the broiler or lay spears directly on your grill. Cook until bright green and done to your preference. Flip half way through cooking. 
  6. Optional: Use other seasonings for different tastes - lemon pepper, garlic salt, etc.
This recipe is naturally gluten free, lactose free, and vegan.

* There are other edible and medical members of the Asparagus genus. To learn more about them, search for "asparagus" at Plants for a Future Database.