Saturday, July 22, 2006

Mary Magdalene's Flower: Agapanthus

In honor of the feast day of MaryMagdalene, I've chosen the flower associated with her:
the agapanthus umbellatus, also known as African Lily and Lily of the Nile.

The plant originates in South Africa, so it’s doubtful that Mary Magdalene ever came in contact with it, but it does have fragrance, and, of course, she has long been associated with perfume, along with other sensual pleasures. It is also blooming on her holiday.

I remember this plant fondly from my southern California childhood but it prefers warm climates and I rarely see it in Seattle.

From Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (1800). reproduced with permission from the National Agricultural Library, ARS, USDA, found at Wikipedia

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Einkorn Wheat

Today is the first day of Thermidor (from thermos meaning heat) in the French Republican calendar. The creators of the calendar sought to do away with the old religious and political associations of the calendar by assigning each day a plant, animal or tool. Today's plant is Einkorn Wheat, one of the ancestors of wheat, a wild grass that was partly responsible for the development of civilization as we know it

Here are a few of the interesting facts I learned while researching Einkorn:

  • Einkorn was the first cultivated grain.
  • The oldest evidence for the cultivation of this type of wheat comes from the slopes of a volcano in southeast Turkey, although it may have been developed in other places in the Fertile Crescent, including Syria, Palestine or Jordan.
  • Civilizations first arose in these areas where people began cultivating wheat and other crops.
  • Einkorn has more nutritional value than our modern varieties of wheat. However, it doesn't make good bread. It has the advantage of storing well (the husk is tough and prevents insect damage) but needs to be milled (to get rid of the husk) to be used in cooking.
Here are some interesting facts about wheat from an article on Wheat and Population Growth by Paul Ehrlich in the Economist:

Most wheat has six copies of each gene, where most creatures have two. Thus its 21 chromosomes contain 16 billion base pairs of DNA, 40 times as much as rice, six times as much as maize and five times as much as people.

Wheat is incapable of sowing itself and must rely on people to sow it.

All day today I've been admiring the wild wheat on my block which has sown itself quite capably and offering it praise for the many gifts it has given us. I scanned a picture of the plants I found on my morning walk.

The top picture of Einkorn Wheat comes from Thomas Springer and was released by him into the public domain. I found it in on Wikipedia

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Wild Flowers

I don’t think I realized how much this Flower of the Day plant blog has taken over my life until I went on a yoga retreat led by my yoga teacher, Denise Benitez, at this wonderful place:

We spent most of our time doing yoga and eating delicious food but in my free time I wandered around through the grounds looking at wildflowers. I was surprised by how much more vibrant the wild flowers were in their presence than the tame flowers in my garden and around my block. They seemed to call out for my attention. It reminded me of the story Stephen Harrod Buhner told in his book on Sacred Plant Medicine about how plants called out to the people who needed them.

I found a field guide published by the Audubon Society that was supposed to help me identify wildflowers but in order to use the key, I had to learn many botanical terms, like corymb, calyx, pinnate, panicles, bilaterally symmetrical. I drew pictures of the plants I found. And every time I closed my eyes, in meditation, during savasana, or when I went to sleep at night, I saw parts of flowers.

On Sunday, I found a lovely moneywort (which I featured way back on June 8) growing next to the waterfall under the lodge. I also found chia (salvia columbaria) although it’s supposed to only grow in Southwestern deserts, but it’s possible it would grow in Leavenworth where the retreat center is located because I also found a California corn lily (very poisonous, but so pretty with its creamy panicles). I also found chicory and fireweed in the area around the cabin. But I’ve yet to identify the small plant with tiny purple blossoms that smells so sweet and I’m still looking for veronica. I know I will find it eventually. I think I've found everything I've written about so far.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Contagious air engendering pestilence,
Infects not those who in their mouth have taken
Angelica, that happy Counterbane.
Sent down from heaven by some Celestial scout
As well the name and nature both avowed.

The plant for the day in the French Republican Calendar is the lovely haricot (or green bean) and I certainly applaud you if you decide to celebrate the bean. But I have chosen to focus on the flower of the day from Flora’s Dial, angelica, inspired by Stephen Harrod Buhner’s description of his relationship with this herb.

In his wonderful book, Sacred Plant Medicine, Buhner describes how he became acquainted with the herbs, by spending time with them, listening to them, and studying the way indigenous healers learned about plants. Angelica was one of the first herbs that really made a strong impression on him and is one of his major plant healers. He writes: “Coming upon angelica, I am always struck by the feeling of femaleness and strong purity of spirit that the plant emanates….In sitting meditation with the spirit of angelica is it clear that the plant sits in balance between Heaven and Earth….Many shamans have carried the stem of angelica as a staff to help them maintain balance when traveling in spirit worlds. ….The spirit of angelica is strong and may offer help to women who have an empty place within them (like angelica’s stem). Go and sit with the plant and after making relationship with it ask (with the part of you that is empty) that it come into that place and reside there as an ally.”

I was particularly moved by Buhner’s devotion to angelica because there used to be an angelica plant in my garden. It was a magnificent plant, taller than most people and situated along the main garden path. Everyone who came into the garden remarked on it or asked about it. It has been gone for almost two years but I still think of it every time I pass that spot so I know how strong the spirit of the plant is.

Now that I've learned more about the plant I realize it disappeared after two years because it is a bienniel. The first year it puts up an amzaing stalk (up to six feet high) and it has a wonderful aroma (frequently described as complex) which is quite noticeable. The second year it will produce white flowers on umbels, then go to seed and die. If you cut down the blooming stems, you can keep it going for much longer.

The common names of angelica include high angel, archangel and masterwort, all indicating its powerful spiritual qualities. Its botanical name is Angelica archangelica and several experts claim this is because it blooms on May 8, the feast day of St Michael the Archangel, but that seems unlikely as most of my sources say it blooms in June and July. It is a herb of the Umbelliferae family which includes fennel, parsley, carrots, caraway, and chervil. It resemble the very poisonous water hemlock so be certain of identification before using any part of the plant.

It has many medicinal and culinary uses. Check out this website for some fascinating recipes, including one that requires a broth made of reindeer bones:

I also found this recipe for Niort angelica a la sybarite in The New Larousse Gastronomique:

Have ready a dozen or so best quality butter brioches (kept hot), a fruit dish filled with sticks of candied angelica, a bottle of angelica cream, a carafe of iced water, a packet of Egyptian cigarettes. Light a cigarette, sip the ice water, crunch a piece of angelica with a bite of hot brioche, sip, breathe and savor a few drops of angelica liqueur and then repeat the whole process.

Austin de Croze who created this recipe also recommends spraying the room with a fresh light perfume of verbena or southernwood. I think I published it because I still miss my clove cigarettes (it's been over 14 years since I smoked). Id' substitute croissants for the brioche. And I was never one to smoke and eat at the same time, but still it sounds quite sybaritic. The angelica liqueur seems easiest to produce. Simply put some angelica stems in brandy and let it sit for a month.

Buhner, Stephen Harrod, Sacred Plant Medicine, Treasure Chest Books 1996
Montagné, Prosper, The New Larousse Gastronomique, Crown 1960
Preus, Mary, The Northwest Herb Lover’s Handbook, Sasquatch Books 2000
Simmons, Adelma Grenier, Herb Gardening in Five Seasons, Penguin 1990

Illustration is from Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal at

Saturday, July 08, 2006

the Park

My daughter took her dog to her boyfriend's apartment yesterday and so I woke up this morning for the first time without a dog in my house. Very strange, although the cat did her best to pretend she was a dog. She even rolled around and showed me her belly (but wouldn't let me pet it). Normally I am feeling the pressure of dog desires (and needs) to get outdoors and my day always starts with a walk around the block. Now I have no excuse to even go outdoors (where it is blazing hot).

In the French Republican Calendar, Messidor 20, like all days that end in 0, is associated with a tool, in this case: the park (parc). It seems like a strange concept for the French Revolutionaries to celebrate as the earliest parks were open spaces set aside by nobles for hunting. Later they came to mean spaces set aside by the public for recreation but this concept of the park was probably just beginning at the time of the development of the French Republican Calendar in late 1793.

The Parc Monceau, shown in this painting by Monet, is a case in point. It was established in 1768 by Philippe d’Orleans, Duke of Chartres, a cousin of the King, who wanted to create an English style garden in the middle of Paris. In 1793, the Duke was executed on the guillotine and the park was taken into public ownership.

Curious about my local park, Volunteer Park, I did some research online (Wikipedia was a better source than the Seattle parks department). I found out that it was named Volunteer Park for the Volunteers who fought in the Spanish-American war. I also learned something about the design philosophy of the Olmstead Brothers who designed the park in 1904-1909 (they also designed the University of Washington campus, Central Park, the White House and Capitol grounds and Yosemite, among others). Here's a photograph I took of Volunteer Park at Summer Solstice in 1998 when I was taking photographs on each of the seasonal holiday for my annual creative pledge.

I've spent a lot of time at this park with with Chester the Dog. When my daughter and I first adopted him, we promptly took him to the park for an outing and let him off his leash (this was his second leash—he had chewed through the first while we were waiting for the bus outside the animal shelter where we adopted him). Chester promptly ran over and bit a beige-colored terrier-dog walking byh with her owner. We were mortified but luckily no damage was done.

Chester was much better behaved, years later, when we started attending the Doggie Club, an informal meeting of dog owners which happened outside the Art Museum. The dogs loved to run and play with each other while their owners sat and talked. Here's a picture of the Doggie Club--I'm guessing this is around 1993. Shaw is over on the far left in a pink sweatshirt holding Chester on her lap--I'm standing behind her in a black jacket. Yes, there is a pot-bellied pig in the picture (to the left of the black dog in front).

Then an obnoxious woman who was afraid of dogs started complaining and the police started handing out $100 tickets to owners of dogs they found off-leash. A local group called COLA (Citizens for Off Leash Areas) formed and successfully lobbied to create special fenced dog areas in local parks. (

Unfortunately, once the dogs were confined in a small area, it became a muddy, unsightly mess and eventually was removed from Volunteer Park (although creative spaces were found in other parks). Unfortunately, Chester hated being confined so much that he spent all his time trying to find a way to get out of the fence instead of playing, so we had to stop taking him to the Park.

I'm going to the park this weekend to honor Messidor 20 but it will be sad to be there without Chester.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hairy Vetchling

Today in the French Republican calendar is Messidor 18 and the plant of the day is the Gesse or Hairy Vetchling. In my quest to find a way to share my love of fllower folklore with others, I’ve thought of many methods of presentation, and one is the idea of a book of Birthday Flowers. But who wants to be born on the day of the Hairy Vetchling (as a blogger whose blog I ran across while googling hairy vetchling so poignantly asks)?

The hairy vetchling seems to be a rare wild relative of the garden Sweet Pea. It seems to be much appreciated and sought after in England (I’m not sure it exists in North America). Ralph Hollins in his Nature Diary (, describes it in an entry for June 16:
"The plant is a scrambler with very distinctive pairs of erect leaves looking somewhat like Hare’s ears, and with very long stalked flowers (two or three on each stem). The leaves are about 5 or 6 cms long but narrow and folded so that the sides almost meet above the central vein (or ‘keel’). The flowers are similar in size to those of Grass Vetchling but are distinctively two tone in colour with a reddish-purple standard and creamy wings and keel. "

Other common names for the hairy vetchling include Austrian winterpea, caley pea and singletary pea. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the name vetch comes from the same root word as weak and wicker, and refers to the pliable, twining nature of the plant. Its Latin name Lathyrus, which applies to all members of the pea family, comes from an Akkadian word ladiru, which refers to a certain type of plant (presumably the pea). That’s a great pedigree.

Vetch has been grown as a food and forage crop for centuries in the Mediterranean and India, although some species (and hairy vetchling appears to be one) have a neurotoxin in their seeds which can cause paralysis in humans with heavy consumption.

The hairy vetchling reminds me a bit in looks of some of the wild sweet peas that grow in my neighborhood which are just now beginning to put forth their seed pods. I will take a closer look at them today on my way to work to see if they are hairy. According to my Northwest Weeds book, they are probably a naturalized sweet pea (lathyrus tingitanus) rather than the hairy vetchling.

The best known member of the lathyrus family is lathyrus odoratus (the sweet pea). They are just now beginning to bloom in my garden and I have some lovely old-fashioned, fragrant ones that are purple and pink. My Irish great-great-grandmother, Bridget Banks Fitzgerald, was famous for her sweet peas which grew along the fence all the way down the drive to the farmhouse in Hartland, Minnesota. I like to say that I grow my sweet peas in memory of her. They are also the quintessential summer solstice flower for me as we have used them to mark the edges of our circle for years of summer solstice bonfires at Golden Gardens.

If you can't find a hairy vetchling, or its close relative, in your neighborhood, find some sweet peas instead.

Martin, Laura C., Garden Flower Folklore, Globe Pequot Press 1987
Taylor, Ronald J, Northwest Weeds, Mountain Press Publishing Company 1990

Of hairy vetchling flower plant
Of hairy vetchling seed pod

Tuesday, July 04, 2006



The flower of the day (Messidor 16) in the French Republican calendar is Tabac (tobacco) which does seem like a quintessentially American plant to feature on the Fourth of July.

However, I’ve decided to feature the strawberry, not the bloom but the fruit, as I always associate strawberries with Fourth of July. I have a wonderful strawberry plant in my garden, given to me by a friend last summer, which has been producing incredibly delicious fruit for the past three weeks. Larousse Gastronomique says “Strawberries must be eaten freshly gathered because they do not keep.” That is true—I have not managed to get any back to my house yet.

Strawberries are members of the rose family, and belong to the genus Fragaria, from the same Latin word as fragrance, for its wonderful scent. The derivations of the common name strawberry seems fairly obvious. Mrs. Beeton says it was so called because straw was used as a mulch to keep the berries off the ground. But Mrs.M. Grieve, says it was originally the strew berry because of the way the plant grows (putting forth runners which tangle along the ground). The strawberry has an aggregate fruit, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, consisting of a red fleshy edible receptacle and numerous seed-like fruitlets (doesn’t make it sound quite so appealing, does it?)

Strawberry History
For everything you want to know about strawberry history, see this site:

Strawberry Medicine
The 17th century herbalist Culpeper says they are cool and dry when green, but cool and moist when ripe. He used them to cool the liver, blood and spleen, to calm an upset stomach and to refresh the spirit. Judging by the number of conditions for which he used them, they were associated with bright red problems, like inflamed red eyes and blisters of the skin. They could also bring rosiness back to the complexion of someone with jaundice.

Gerard, the Elizabethan herbalist says “the leaves boiled and applied in the manner of a poultice take away the burning heat in wounds.” Gerard also recommended “The distilled water drunk with white Wine” as “good against the passion of the heart, reviving the spirits and making the heart merry.” This use of strawberries coincides with that of the Naragansett Indians who called it "wuttahimneash" which translated as heart-seed berry.

According to Mrs. Grieve a cut Strawberry rubbed over the face immediately after washing will whiten the skin and remove slight sunburn. For a badly sunburnt face she recommends rubbing the juice well into the skin, leaving it on for a half hour, then washing it off with warm water to which a few drops of simple tincture of benzoin have been added; no soap should be used. This recipe may come in useful if you are out in the sun all day on Fourth of July.

Strawberry Folklore
According to Funk and Wagnalls, the strawberry was sacred to Frigga, who concealed children who died as infants in strawberries and smuggled them into heaven. Culpeper calls it a plant of Venus. It was later associated with the Virgin Mary.

I haven’t seen a reference for this bit of folklore but it makes sense to me. Sharing a double strawberry with someone else means you will fall in love. Also according to this website ( in France, newlyweds were served a soup of thinned sour cream, strawberries, borage (a European herb whose flavor is reminiscent of cucumber) and powdered sugar as an aphrodisiac.

Strawberry Recipes
Here's my favorite strawberry recipe: cut strawberries into halves (or quarters if large) and toss lightly with rosewater and a hint of sugar. Allow to marinate for two to four hours, stirring occasionally (perhaps once an hour). The rosewater adds an interesting flavor and dimension to the strawberries. I got this idea from Aroma, a wonderful resource on using essential oils in aromatherapy and cooking by Mandy Aftel and Daniel Patterson.

Aftel, Mandy, and Daniel Patterson, Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Food and Fragrance, Artisan 2004
Beeton, Mrs. Isabella, Book of Household Management, London 1861, First Edition Facsimile, Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1977
Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, edited by Maria Leach, Harper & Row 1972
Grieve, Mrs. M, Modern Herbal, 1931
Montagne, Prosper, The New Larousse Gastronomique, Crown 1977

Illustration is from Larousse Gastronomique

Monday, July 03, 2006



in honor of the abundance of ripe cherries that I got to sample at my local farmer's market yesterday, I decided to make this the day of the cherry. It also seems like a quintessential Fourth of July food. And to my surprise, I found out that my choice coincides with the National Cherry Festival held in Traverse City, Michigan on the first weekend in July.

The wild cherry originated in Persia and Armenia and provides the rootstock for most of the flowering cherries which need to be grafted. The fruits are called drupes, which is the name for any fleshy fruit with a hard stone enclosing a seed, like peaches and apricots. Here’s a web site that shows pictures of several cherry varieties:
This web site has a great history of cherries, explaining the many varieties that flourish in various parts of the United States and how they got their names:

Culpeper makes the cherry a tree of Venus. He recommends tart and sweet cherries for various medicinal purposes. According to nutritional writer, Mark Anthony, scientists are discovering that cherries are high in both antioxidants and anthocyanins, which help reduce inflammation and thus recommended for treating arthritis.

Culpeper also recommends using the gum of the tree to ease coughs. Scottish children used to chew it like chewing gum. Funk and Wagnalls says cherry gum in wine is still used for treating coughs (think Ludens Cherry-flavored cough drops). Mrs. Grieve recommends using cherry bark for treeating coughs:

The Cherry Tree Carol is a famous English ballad carol based on an Apocryphal story from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. Mary and Joseph were walking through a garden or orchard of cherry tress when Mary was pregnant and Mary asked Joseph to pluck her a cherry. He refused whereupon the unborn Christ Child in her womb bade the tree to bend down before his mother, which it did. In other European countries the same story exists but often told about other fruits, for instance, dates, figs, apples, etc., depending on the country. There is a similar story in the Kalevala about Marjatta, a maiden who notices some scarlet berries growing on a tree as she is walking out to milk the cows. The tree invites her to gather the fruit but she can’t reach it. At her command, a berry jumps down into her lap, and then into her mouth. She later became the mother of Ilmori, the Air. So it seems that cherry fruit has something to do with pregnancy. Could it be related to the idea that swallowing a cherry stone means it will sprout in your stomach?

In Switzerland, according to Funk and Wagnalls, the first fruit of a cherry tree is given to a young mother to eat, preferably one who has just given birth to her first child. This will insure an abundance of fruit. In some parts of France, cherry orchards are wassailed the way apple orchards are in England.

Anthony, Mark, “Nutrition Beyond the Trends: Pie in the Sky,”
Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, edited by Maria Leach, Harper and Row 1972
Hageneder, Fred, The Meaning of Trees, Chronicle Books 2005

And in case you’re still hungry for more, this website has everything you ever wanted to know about cherries:
including the lyrics to Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries.

The photo comes from this website:

Sunday, July 02, 2006


The flower for Messidor 14 in the French Republican calendar is Lavender, one of my favorite of all flowers. It was the plant ally I adopted many years ago during an herb course I took from EagleSong at Ravencroft garden and ever since, it has been a welcome friend. I could write about it forever and in fact, I often have. It was featured in my last newsletter

Most writers explain the name of lavender as coming from Latin, lavare, to wash, explaining that the herb was used in washing. But the American Heritage Dictionary (my favorite) derives it from Latin lividus, meaning bluish, which comes from the Indo-European root, sleia—which also shows up in sloe, slivovitz and livid. This makes more sense to me.

Lavender is a member of the Labatiae or Mint family. This was the only web site I could find that offered pictures of the various lavender varieties for which I'm so grateful I'm planning to place an order with them:

Lavender has been a popular element in cooking for centuries. On the web, I found a recipe for chicken with lavender, prepared by Anahita from a 13th century Andalusian recipe:

For more contemporary interpretations of lavender, this web site has quite a list including grilled pork chops with lavender, lavender crème brulee and lavender jelly at:

And my friend Kathy Gehrt’s blog features recipes for lavender nougat, lavender poached pears and bleu cheese and lavender honey on crackers:

For the past two weeks, I’ve been enjoying lavender vodka tonics, made from a recipe from this web site:

For instructions on making lavender wands, see the supplemental pages for my Lammas packet which can be downloaded and printed:

In the Middle Ages, lavender was considered a herb of love. Kate Greenaway in Language of the Flowers says it means distrust. But another source (from before the days when I became scrupulous about writing down bibliographic information) says it means constancy and loyalty, sweetness and undying love, "fervent but silent heart," and good luck. That's how I feel about it.

Greenaway, Kate, Language of Flowers, Averill Books

Illustration from Mrs. Grieve’s Herbal