Thursday, September 23, 2010

Weeds as medicine

I was reading somewhere about a woman who said that as a child growing up in South Africa, her mother never took her to a doctor, but used the local indigenous plants to medicate her and her siblings. Sadly as people move away from their cultural heritage and become drawn into the modern way, traditional medicines are used less and less. As a herbalist I make the fullest use of the weeds in my garden which have medicinal properties. I've mentioned stinging nettle before, which is a tonic as well as a cleanser of the system. Yesterday I picked a bag full and put it in the freezer to make a soup at a later stage. I also packed 25 litre drums with nettle and added water to make a nutritious tea for the summer crops later on. So stinging nettle is very welcome in my garden!! As a medicinal herb it is rich in minerals and vitamins, and helps to raise blood pressure in people who suffer from iron deficiency anaemia and have low BP. I like to give it to women who are planning a pregnancy.

Urtica urens

Another weed which I value and love to use is Plantago lanceolata or Ribwort. If I have enough I like to make a few litres of tincture from the freshly picked leaves. This herb is invaluable for drying up moisture in the ears ( doctors like to put grommets in to drain the ears), and very useful for upper and lower respiratory tract inflammation. I use it quite a lot for seasonal rhinitis and find it helpful for general catarrhal conditions. It is a herb that seems to soothe mucus membranes so I use it in GI tract inflammation as well as bladder infection.

Plantago lanceolata
Dandelion is a weed that many people despise, but again I am only too happy if it comes up in the garden. The leaves are bitter and can be added to salads. As I said before we just don't eat enough bitter leaves! A tea made from the leaves is a marvellous diuretic and a liver cleanser. A well balanced leafy green salad is so much more than nutrition - it is a tonic for the liver and kidneys too. This in turn will help skin problems. Our food is always our medicine if we eat correctly!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Working dogs and working chickens

 The dogs are very adept at catching mice and rats and keep themselves busy on the lookout. The odd dove has also succumbed!
Luckily they respect the fact that the chickens are mine and ignore them. Rocco the brown one with the long tail, is just two years old, and I don't quite trust him yet so if I go out for the day I make sure the chickens are safely locked up. The chickens of course volubly protest about this and grumble for most of the day - but then I'm not able to hear that. I hate having to keep them away from the garden - but rather safe than sorry! Now the chickens would you believe it, (and if you own chickens you will know this) also are very capable of catching mice. It is quite a sight to see the tail hanging out of the chickens beak. These chickens of mine are bantams, so a mouse is quite a struggle for them to swallow!

self seeding in action

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Eat and medicate from your garden

Have you ever wondered how you would survive if you couldn't get to any shops or if supplies ran out and there was no food available? In the area where I live there is very little to be had by the way of edible plants in the surrounding countryside. Most of it is in the form of vineyards and wheatfields. There's also very little to eat in areas where indigenous bush is, apart from guinea fowl and francolins.
If I have to play "survivor" in my garden, number one priority would be laying hens. With a few eggs and some greens you can prepare a very nice meal. I make the most of the greens in the garden that seem to thrive during the cold of winter, before the summer veg is available. Rocket and nasturtium leaves are so abundant that I don't need to buy lettuce. They are packed with vitamins and minerals and have very good antibiotic properties too.
I think the leafy greens make up for the lack of fruit in winter. I do have a lemon tree and now a kumquat tree which bears fruit, but the other citrus tree bears a very sour little orange, which is only good for marmalade.

Greens are not very filling, so it's important to have a good lot of root vegetables. What can be easier than potatoes and sweet potatoes? Another very generous root vegetable is the Jerusalem artichoke. The yellow flowers are so beautiful and striking. The leaves have slight antibiotic properties and the bulbs are very abundant.
Red cabbage does well in my garden. It's hardy and less prone to disease than white cabbage. It makes a good staple for cooked or raw meals. I make a nice meal with cabbage and mixed greens from the garden with linguini.

Quite a few weeds are perfectly edible, often having a slight bitter flavour. It's worthwhile getting a book on weeds to identify edible ones. I tend to have a nibble to see whether they are tasty or not. So far I've survived!
The bitter flavour of dandelion and chicory leaves is very healthy for the liver and adds a nice flavour to a meal as long as it's not overpowering. We westeners tend to be real sissies when it comes to bitter flavours, which is very sad because bitters are so good for health. I reckon if we were starving taste would not be so important!

It seems to me it's a real luxury to have just an ornamental garden, and I like things to self seed in amongst ornamental plants because self-seeded plants always seem so healthy and happy. I had cherry tomatoes in between shrubs of all types last year, and they produced loads of tomatoes without any disease.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

From the garden

Returning to my garden after two weeks in Europe was like being in a European garden - stinging nettles and Alexanders up to my shoulders - rather lovely. The vegetable seeds I had sown before I left had all germinated nicely and will soon be ready for planting in the veggie patch. The olive trees that I pruned so severely in July are loaded with blossoms - it will be interesting to see if they turn into olives. So far only the mission tree has ever had olives. Also the apricot tree and plum trees are in bloom. While I was in the UK, shopping in my favourite places - the garden centres, I came across plum maggot traps and codling moth traps as well as grease bands for the fruit trees. These were rather expensive when one converts the currencies, but in my pursuit of an organic fruit harvest, I bought them. This means that if I have a harvest it will be the most expensive organic fruit I've ever had. But I've found it almost impossible to grow fruit organically. I have never tried any other way because poison is banned in my garden, but all the fruit is affected by one or other grub or bug. So far I haven't found any organic traps for fruit trees here in SA, and have tried making my own with no success at all. I tied sticky fly paper around the barks and filled bottles with a molasses and vinegar mixture to trap the various moths. I used a non toxic glue around the barks as well, all in an effort to stop the coddling moth grubs from getting up to the flowers. Nothing has worked. Let's see what these latest efforts yield!!
This is the time of year where the quick growth of weeds brings a welcome lot of greenery to the compost heap. Later on it gets so dry that there is little to offer, so I make the most of this abundance. The wonderful nettles are looking extremely healthy and will be used to make smelly but nourishing nettle tea ( I just soak the fresh nettles in water for a few weeks and then use the "tea" to fertilise the vegetables), and I'll be using some in soups too. Nettles are extremely good nutrition as well as medicine.