About this blog

This blog is my homework assignments for my herbal course Thirteen Moons Kitchen Herbcraft. My teacher is Herbalist Claire MacKay and her website is Herbal Heritage Scotland.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Asclepiadaceae – Meet the Milkweed Family

I have a serious love for milkweed. Gorgeous flowers and plants that can withstand about anything our crazy weather can dish out in a season. I am frequently found with my face right in a common milkweed flower head or in the flowers of honeyvine. They smell that darn good. And pleurisy root, don’t get me started on how darn pretty they are. I am not the only one who likes them though, butterflies adore Milkweed. The Monarch Butterfly depends on Milkweed for it’s very survival.. the female Monarch lays her eggs on Milkweed’s and then the larvae consume the leaves. The adults feed on her nectar. Read more about these gorgeous butterflies and their dependency on Milkweed at this site. This photo is from the Monarch Butterfly Site also.

The Milkweeds key words would be plants with opposite (sometimes whorled) leaves, acrid milky juice and big pods with irregular crown like flowers. They are perennial shrubs, herbs and rarely trees.  The flowers are usually grouped in clusters, and are bisexual and regular. They have 5 separate sepals and 5 united petals, plus in some species a corona that looks like an extra set of petals. The corona faces the center of the flower and is made up of 5 hood like forms. Inside the corona are 5 stems fused to the ovary, which is positioned superior. It has 2 mostly separated carpels. Each carpel matures as a separate follicle, which is a pod like fruit with a seam down one side.
In the fall, the grandchildren and I look for the split open pods and release what seeds are left into the wind and use the dried pods to make crafts:) Common milkweed immature pods are delicious too! Just make sure and save some so they seed more plants:) Even the silk is edible, read about it in the article by Samuel Thayer .
milkweed pod                                                (from WikiMedia Commons)

-common milkweed                         (Common Milkweed from WikiMedia Commons)
Common Milkweed, Asclepia syriace grows up to 5 foot tall, has a stout stem, large leaves, and large flower cluster. (Did I mention it smells like heaven?) Unbranched set with fine hairs and milky sap. Found in pastures, old fields, prairie and roadsides, common everywhere around here. I deliberately grown them in the garden. Native American Indians used a root tea as a diuretic and laxative. the milky latex sap can be applied to warts, and ringworm. The early American physicians used it for treating asthma and rheumatism. I have already mentioned about the edible parts and the butterflies :)
butterfly weed
Butterfly Weed or Pleurisy Root, Asclepias tuberosa . Several stems might arise from a common base giving it a bushy appearance. Up to 2 1/2 foot tall. They lack the milky latex say common to this family. Fond in prairies, dry open woods, roadside, old fields and are common around here. I grow them in the garden.  Called Pleurisy Root because it is wonderful for treating pleurisy. I can sure vouch for that as my husband is prone to it and this fixes him right up. I use this plant a lot in formulas for lung and cough complaints. Don’t use large doses as it can be emetic. Native Americans revered this plant as a healer. the mashed the roots to use externally on bruises, swelling, and wounds. The leaves were used to induce vomiting and the roots for treating dysentery, diarrhea, constipation, lung infections, rheumatism, fever, and pneumonia. Another monarch plant too!
honeyvine                                   ( Honeyvine courtesy WikiMedia Commons)
Honeyvine -Cynanchum laeve is considered a noxious vine in most places.. I can’t help it, I love this plant. Yes, it does smell like honey and that smell delicately scents the wind when it is in bloom.. drawing in me as well as butterflies and bees .. Yes, it is a nuisance to have to go and pull her down off of my Joe Pye Weed, Elder trees, and my Common Milkweeds, plus all the other tallish plants in the gardens, but in my opinion, it’s worth it:) It grows in most any disturbed place.. so it is EVERYWHERE!!! Another case where if a species is successful, well it is considered a nuisance because of its abundance, I guess… I know of no medicinal uses or edible parts.. it is enough it is a Monarch host plant, other butterflies and bees love it.. and I do too. Long rather heart shaped leaves will help distinguish it from bindweed, morning glories and other vines, as well as its small  flowers that smell like…. honey! 

This blog post is for module 1 exercise 2
Herbal and Honey Hugs to all who visit

resources used:
Thomas Epel’s Botany in a Day
Don Kurz’s Illinois Wildflowers

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ranunculaceae – Meet the Buttercup Family

The Buttercup family is in the Magnolia subclass. The Buttercups are considered “simple” because all of the flower parts are all indefinite in number and separate. The pistils, stamens, sepals, and petals all being distinctly separate parts. The stamens and pistils are spirally inserted in a cone –like receptacle. More advanced plant families have reduced and more specific floral parts which are often fused together.
The lack of pattern is the most common pattern of this family! Buttercups may have regular or irregular flowers. These flowers can have between 3- 15 sepals, often the same color as the petals, and 0 – 23 petals. There might be numerous stamens, and 3 – many simple pistils (apocarpous). The floral parts are all attached below a superior ovary, independently. Most have bisexual flowers. There are 23 genera here in North America.
The most accurate pattern to look for is the multiple simple pistils at the center of the flower. More advanced flowers usually have just one. So if you have a flower with multiple pistils, you might have a Buttercup, but, it could be confused with a member of the Rose subfamily of the Rose family. You might look for a hook at the end of the pistil as a means of identifying. Unfortunately, the most assured way of knowing if you have a Buttercup family plant is to taste it. Most of this species is labeled as poisonous, but most are safe to taste, and then spit out. They taste biting and acrid due to protoanemonin glycoside oil. Medicinally this acrid quality makes them usefully medicinally, like you would a mustard plaster.. just don’t leave them on too long as they can burn you. Please don’t experiment with the Buttercup family unless you have some knowledge and aptitude folks! Warning: Aconitum and Delphinium have concentrations of toxic terpenoid alkaloids! These alkaloids depress the central nervous system. Useful in nervous disorder, antispasmodics and sedatives, but only by professionals! hydrastisGoldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis is a local example of the Buttercup Family in my area.  Occasionally found in our woods in the moist spots, an understory plant where light can just be dappled. Sometimes, I find them in largish colonies.. I have a colony started in my own gardens as this plant has been overharvested in the wild and is at risk..Interestingly, there are no petals to the flower. The white stamens are what give it the color you see in the photo. The fruit looks like a red raspberry :)
Antiseptic, astringent, diuretic and laxative are some of it’s medicinal applications. I like to decoct a tiny amount and add it to my neti pot when faced with sinus troubles that may lead into infection. Makes a great throat gargle too when your throat is sore. Not a plant to use daily as excess use can over stimulate your nervous system. Overuse can cause excessive build up of white corpuscles, miscarriage, and convulsions. Use it during your acute need but not for chronic conditions folks.

black cohosh 
Black Cohosh, Cimicifuga racemosa is another occasional in our woods, so I grow it my gardens. It likes the same environment as the Goldenseal and like it, the flower has no petals. The white is from the tight cluster of 50 - 100+ long stamens surrounding a white stigma. Flies are greatly attracted to it because the flowers smell pretty foetid. Don’t go put your nose on them expecting something sweet smelling! But the plant is gorgeous and looks stunning in the garden. Medicinally the leaves and roots have some sedating qualities, are antispasmodic (good for cramps, ladies), anti-inflammatory and are peripheral vasodilators. The roots have found fame as helpful during menopause to help with hot flashes related to the luteinizing hormone surges.
Autumn Clematis, Clematis terniflora is one plant I especially look forward to the flowering of.. as do my bees! I still remember the first time I noticed their scent.. and had to follow my nose to discover this plant.. heavenly, sweet, a bit of honey scent.. just absolutely intoxicating! A perennial vine that can reach 30 foot tall.. The long petiols of the leaves reach out and grab onto anything to climb, sometimes just enveloping trees next to where it grows. It has been used for centuries in Japan as a diuretic and to treat gout. It has properties that could be beneficial in treating skin infections and cataracts. The flowers and leaves are said to be edible. I confess to have never eaten nor used this plant medicinally.. another for the list to explore further as it is naturalized in my area, and I started one in my daughter’s gardens for her.
Herbal and Honey Hugs to all who visit!
this post is part of my Lesson One exercise two of my class assignment.

resources used:
Tom Elpel’s Botany in a Day
Don Kurz’s Illinois Wildflowers
WikiMedia photos of goldenseal and black cohosh
Illinois Wildflower website for the clematis photo

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Meet Malvaceae – Mallow Family

Oh how my honeybees love Malvaceae! As do many others :) Their distinct funnel – shaped flower just are an invitation for a little pollinator! They have regular flowers, with 3 – 5 partially united sepals and 5 separate petals, often surrounded by several bracts. They have many stamen that are united in a distinctive column around the pistil. The ovary is consisted of 5 or more united carpels (syncarpous) and it is positioned superior. (If you are looking into a mallow flower, the ovary is the round shape at the bottom of the flower head, with the the pistil and stamens coming out of it.) There are partitioned walls between the carpels, forming an equal number of chambers. This matures as a capsule, the famous “cheese” of the mallows, properly called a schizocarp. Rarely they mature as a winged seed or berry. The Mallow leaves are alternate, and usually palmately lobed.
In my own gardens, Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus is an example of a mallow… When I can bear to harvest her flowers, thus robbing the big bumblebees, they are delicious in hot or cold tea. Mucilaginous, demulcent and beautifully colored tea :) They are a quite common garden plant in my area and seem to thrive in most garden soils in full sun, to part shade. A very easy plant to cultivate! I have the lavender, the rose, and the light pink colored ones.
rose of sharon
I also grow Marsh Mallow, Althea officinalis. who prefers a wetter spot, but still grows during droughts, with only a reduction of flower production during it.  Demulcent, cooling, moistening, perfect for hot, dry conditions. She soothes mucous membranes as just one of her many gifts. The roots are primarily used, but the flowers have these same gifts in a lesser degree. Cold infusion is the best way to extract her demulcent qualities. This infusion can be added to soups, or made into a delicious syrup for those who find the slimy, slippery texture doesn’t suit!

altheaHollyhocks, Althaea roseas, is another Mallow I grow in my gardens. As you can tell from this post, these are not plants I commonly can harvest in the wild, so I cultivate them. Mine are particularly dear to me as I purchased the seeds while on vacation once, at a wonderful heritage garden. Her flowers and leaves can be used in salads, or as pot herbs. A tea is used for urinary tract infections. Herbalist Michael Moore suggested using her powdered root or leaves to help heal infected wounds. I haven’t tried this yet, but will the next infected would I encounter! She is slightly diuretic too. Like the other Mallows in my gardens, she does fine in sun to part shade and isn’t picky about her soil.
hollyhock  Key Words for the Malvaceae Family are mucilaginous plants and flowers with numerous stamens fused into a central column!
Herbal and Honey Hugs to all who visit here!
this blog post is part of my assignment for module 1 exercise 2

resources used:
Tom Elpel’s Botany in a Day
WikiMedia Commons for the photos ( I recently had to dump my photos off my computer, darn it as I of course, had all these photos from my gardens!)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Meet Asteraceae! The Aster Family

Asteraceae family  Aster or Sunflower Family also know as the Composite family : Compositae
When first seen, the flowers of the plants in this family might first appear to be one single flower. They are actually a composite of many smaller flowers. The aster family has a different floral pattern from most other plant families. The sepals are actually bracts, which are often times in multiple layers. Each of the little tiny flowers that make up what appears to big one big flower, have their own little sepals, petals, pistils, and stamens. These little flowers are called disk flowers. The big “petals” are flowers, often infertile without pistil or stamen. Their proper name is ray flowers. Aster family plants have ray flowers, disk flowers, or both. One of the best clues for this family is to look for multiple layers of bracts under the flowers. There are frequently two or more layers. That and the presence of the presence of many tiny flowers inside what seems to be one flower are clues. Each seed is produced by a single tiny flower! Is it any wonder bees love the Aster family :)
The most distinct sub grouping of the Aster family is the Dandelion subfamily. Distinguishing features include a strap-shaped petal instead of the tapered edge like other flowers. These ray flowers often overlap all the way to the center of the flower. Most of the members of the Dandelion subfamily are edible, with a bitter milky juice that can be beneficial for digestion.
In my area examples would be, of course the dandelion Taraxacum officinale  Tonic, diuretic, and a bit aperient. Especially beneficial for the urinary organs, especially liver and kidney. Young leaves delicious prepared all sorts of ways. I like to fry up the flowers as a side dish and make jelly from them:)

beedandelion  Chicory – Cichorium intybus (note the two rows of bracts in the WikiMedia photo) Frequently found in disturbed soil, roadsides, fields, pastures. Native to Europe but it is widespread here also. Chicory flowers are lovely in salads and the ground roots can be used as a coffee substitute. These ground roots are a gentle bitter tonic, which increases bile production.
chicoryWild Lettuce – Lactuca serriola  note the dandelion like flowers in this WikiMedia photo. Another plant frequently found in disturbed, rocky spots. Also native to Europe. Lactuca canadensis is common here also. Native American Indians used the root for tea to treat heart and lung ailments, diarrhea, nausea and hemorrhaging, besides for pain relief. The bruised leaves were used to treat insect stings. A leaf tea was used to hasten milk flow after childbirth. These particular Lactuca’s don’t seem as strong in pain relieving qualities as the L. virosa I have tried. I frequently do a double strength tincture. straining the first go around and re-infusing with fresh plant material.
wild lettuce
The Artichoke Tribe is of the Aster subfamily. If you have identified a plant as belonging to the Aster family, and its head is inside a tight wrapping of bracts, (like an artichoke), then you have a member of the Artichoke Tribe! These plants usually have prickly parts, particularly the bracts around the flower heads. Often found in bitter formulas to stimulate digestion. An example around here would be Burdock – Arctium minus, one of the best blood purifiers. Look closely at this WikiMedia photo. See the prickly bracts wrapped tightly around the flower head?
burdock The next Tribe in the Aster subclass is the Ragweed Tribe. Ragweed flowers usually have male and female flowers appearing separately on the same plant, unisexual or monoecious.  Something unusual in the Aster family, making some of them easily confused with the Goosefoot family. The anthers are mostly separated from one another, instead of fused together like they are in other members of this family. Cocklebur - Xanthium strumarium canadense is an example in my area. Full to part sun, disturbed poorly drained soils are its favorite locales. Native Americans used the leaf tea as a blood tonic, in cases of diarrhea, kidney disease, arthritis, TB, and rheumatism, similar to uses found in TCM medicine. I have not myself used this plant.. maybe it is time to explore it further:) Note the separate male and female heads and the fused anthers in this photo from the Illinois Wildflower webpage.
common cocklebur
The Mutisia Tribe is not represented in my state. From the book Botany in a Day I find this description : “ The most distinctive feature of the Mutisia tribe of the Aster subfamily is that the disk flowers are irregular. Look closely and you will see a two-lipped flower with 2 petal lobes up and 3 petal lobes down. Also, the blossoms have no outer ring of petals (the ray flowers).”
the Everlasting Tribe -  If you have determined a plant belongs in the Aster family and it has papery, sometimes colored, bracts surrounding a flower with disk flowers, but no ray flowers, and this plant has grayish vegetation, you probably have a member of the Everlasting tribe. Inula is the only one of this tribe that has ray flowers. The bracts around the flowers are dry, translucent and thin, this is termed scarious. An example in my area would be Sweet Everlasting, Gnaphalium obtusifolium, aka Rabbit Tobacco. Common to open woods, prairies, fields and pasture throughout Illinois. Useful in colds and fevers and to quiet coughs.  The crushed leaves smell like maple syrup! Note the papery bracts in this WikiMedia photo
pearly everlasting
The Chamomile Tribe – The  plants in this tribe of the Aster family also have bracts around the flower base which are scarious, but less so than in the Everlasting Tribe. The main way to tell the difference is the Chamomile Tribe are aromatic. So if you have a plant you have determined is in the Aster family, it has scarious, translucent bracts and is aromatic, it is a member of the Chamomile Tribe/  Yarrow , Acnillea millefolium is an example in my area. Some of the ways it is used is for cold and fever.  It is a stimulant, astringent, diaphoretic, tonic, antiseptic, painkiller and a historical wound healer. Commonly found in disturbed sites, roadsides, pastures and fields. Native to Eurasia.
yarrowThe Boneset Tribe is our next tribe in the Aster subclass of the Aster Order. Their stigmas which are thickened at the end like a baseball bat, distinguish them from other composites. None of their blossoms are pure yellow, and they have no ray flowers, the petals that ring the flowers. Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, a native plant. It is found in moist to wet ground, marshes, prairies, and along streams.  Native Americans considered it a panacea for all ills, so early settles called it “Indian Sage”. Boneset is a reference to the terribly painful, (I have had it with pneumonia), body aches that come with the flu, or in my case, pneumonia. It really does feel as if someone is taking a baseball bat to your leg bones, in my case!
boneset                                          ( Boneset from WikiMedia Commons)
The Ironweed Tribe plants look a lot like the Bonesets. You have to look at the shape of their stigmas, which are thread-like, long and hairy. None of the blossoms are yellow and they have no ray flowers, just like with Boneset. So you have to look at the stigmas to tell these two tribes apart, folks! Missouri Ironweed, Veronica missurica is common in our area. This showy purple flowered plant is commonly found in open woods, fields, prairies and road sides. I know of no medicinal uses..
ironweed                                       ( Ironweed courtesy of Purdue Education )
The Groundsel Tribe is our next one. They are distinguished from other members of the Aster family by the silky, soft quality of the pappus hair, the tuft of white hair that is around each little flower. This pappus, hair, is usually very abundant and very white. I have no groundsel tribe members in my area, but Coltsfoot would be an example, a plant I am trying to propagate…
The Sunflower, Aster and Sneezeweed Tribes. These tribes have many showy plants and can be hard to distinguish from one another. Pulling apart the flower head will show small bracts attached at the base of each disk flower in the Sunflower tribe. The other tribes here don’t have them. To distinguish Asters from Sneezeweeds you compare the layers of bracts surrounding the flower head. The Sneezeweeds have only one row of bracts, and definitely never more than three rows. Aster tribe plans have multiple layers of bracts of unequal length. Sneezeweeds often have glands or dots of resin on the leaves.
Sunflower tribe members are noticeably resinous. Echinacea purpurea is an example native to my area. It likes moist areas in prairies, open woods, floodplains that our wooded. Besides the usual of being known for stimulating the immune system for preventing and curing viral infections, the Plains Indians used the root to treat stomach cramps, toothaches, sore throats, distemper in their horses, snake bites and bee stings and headaches. Interestingly, some tribes discovered that Echinacea worked like a burn preventative, enabling the body to endure extreme heat. A close up of an Echinacea from WikiMedia…

The Sneezeweed Tribe, as was previously mentioned, mainly have only one layer of bracts, but never more than three, and often have resinous glands on their leaves. Sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale, is very common around here. Found in woods openings, fens, marshes, along streams, moist even wet ground in prairie. Some Native Americans dried the heads, crushed and inhaled to relieve colds. Others soaked the stems in water and then used this water to bathe a feverish patient.
sneezeweed                                           (Sneezeweed courtesy WikiMedia Commons )
The Aster Tribe is our next one. Goldenrod, Solidago ssp. is the most common example around here. Prairies, disturbed soil, open woods are just some of the places this plant will show up! In the not so long ago past, goldenrods were blamed by many allergy sufferers for their woes.. not true! It’s pollen isn’t wind blown, in fact, it is great for helping with allergy season symptoms! Some other uses for some of the different species found around here are Native American used a tea made from Tall Goldenrod for treating kidney problems, while chewing the crushed flowers was a treatment for sore throats.
 Now to work on four more families to complete this exercise!
Honey and Herbal Blessings to all who visit!

this blog post is for part of my assignment module 1 exercise 2

resources used:
Botany in a Day by Thomas Elpel
Illinois Wildflowers by Don Kurz