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Ask the Herbalist--Growing Plants

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ANSWER FROM LORYHL
QUESTION
: Hello We have seen passionflower growing on our land for the 22 years we have been here. It grows in our acre garden that was also a garden before we purchased the land. The blooms are the typical Passiflora incarnata blooms I have found in all pictures of this species. The fruit is green and often turns light yellow when very ripe. The smell of the fruit when you open it is very sweet and the exact smell of passion fruit that we have smelled in commercial juices. This year we allowed it to grow freely on a fence where it grew very large and bore quite a few fruits. I gathered branches and dried the leaves for tea. The smell when they were dried (low heat in a food dehydrator) was a sweet mild nutty smell. I just learned that there is an ornamental blue passionflower, Passiflora coerula that contains cyanide. All of my research shows the blooms have different colors except for one that bears bright orange fruit. Does the description here of the Passiflora growing in our garden fit the Passiflora incarnata? Is it true that any of the Passiflora coerula would not have the same green fruit? Before consuming the tea this winter, I would like to have some way to positively identify this is the safe Passiflora.

ANSWER: I lived in Florida, and we ate the passionfruit, as you have explained it. It is both a wonderful herb and fruit.  I suggest you contact your local Agriculture Agent, in your county, to confirm, if the other one, is safe for tea or not, this I do not  know, and would want to be 100% sure , it is safe, thus the Ag agent.  Also you could contact, www.richters.com , it is the best source I know of for this type of info. The seeds, plants, herbs they carry are just phenomenal, and very knowledgeable

COMMENT: Thank you for your quick response!! We only have one growing, the one that I described. I just learned last week that there is also an ornamental version that could be toxic and wanted to know if the ornamental could have the same green fruit or if that is a way I can positively identify what I have thought safe all these years but have not yet used as an herb. Thank you for the other contacts to inquire to. I will do that.

QUESTION: We have seen passionflower growing on our land for the 22 years we have been here. It grows in our acre garden that was also a garden before we purchased the land. The blooms are the typical Passiflora incarnata blooms I have found in all pictures of this species. The fruit is green and often turns light yellow when very ripe. The smell of the fruit when you open it is very sweet and the exact smell of passion fruit that we have smelled in commercial juices. This year we allowed it to grow freely on a fence where it grew very large and bore quite a few fruits. I gathered branches and dried the leaves for tea. The smell when they were dried (low heat in a food dehydrator) was a sweet mild nutty smell. I just learned that there is an ornamental blue passionflower, Passiflora coerula that contains cyanide. All of my research shows the blooms have different colors except for one that bears bright orange fruit. Does the description here of the Passiflora growing in our garden fit the Passiflora incarnata? Is it true that any of the Passiflora coerula would not have the same green fruit? Before consuming the tea this winter, I would like to have some way to positively identify this is the safe Passiflora.

ANSWER: I lived in Florida, and we ate the passionfruit, as you have explained it. It is both a wonderful herb and fruit. I suggest you contact your local Agriculture Agent, in your county, to confirm, if the other one, is safe for tea or not, this I do not  know, and would want to be 100% sure , it is safe, thus the Ag agent. Also you could contact, www.richters.com, it is the best source I know of for this type of info. The seeds, plants, herbs they carry are just phenomenal, and very knowledgeable

ANSWERS FROM KAREN
PUTTING IN AN HERB GARDEN

QUESTION:
I'm currently a student going to college. Since I was little I have always respected the use of herbs and there potential. Now that I am on my own was wanting to start a little herb garden. I was just
wondering what would be good ones to start with, I am aiming for a medical like garden for healing depression upset stomach etc. any names of common herbs that increase dream vividness would be great also, thanks for reading this any response would be appreciated :)

ANSWER: Most herbs have medicinal properties, so depending on where you live, your
choices are pretty much wide open.  I'd plan chamomile of course, and some mint. These are very easy to grow. The culinary herbs like thyme, sage, oregano and rosemary are a must and can be planted in a hanging basket that you can bring inside during the winter if you live up north. Lavender is always good as is calendula or pot marigold. Both are wonderful for the skin. That should be enough to get you started. Happy gardening!

QUESTION: We live in south west Nebraska and we can't seem to get herbs to grow at  all. We have tried to grow herbs in other areas of the country but we have had no avail. What is the proper soil to grow in herbs in?

ANSWER:
Actually herbs are technically weeds and will grow almost anywhere. Maybe it isn't the soil. How are you caring for them? Are they not sprouting? Some herbs are annuals and have to be replanted each year, like basil. Some need warm temperatures to survive outside, like rosemary. My suggestion is to
start with pots and get used to growing herbs. Put some boxes on the patio and start with some easy ones like chamomile or thyme. And I KNOW you have dandelions in your yard. Those are an herb! It's more temperature and water than soil. Most herbs will grow in almost any soil.


FENNEL:
QUESTION: I have had great success in growing a few herbs in my yard,  I have Fennel, and chocolate mint.  I like the smell of these  and ate some of the fennel. The herbs are about 4ft. tall . Please advise me on when I should harvest them? How long does it take for them to dry?  Is there a certain amount or size to
bundle them in? I had a stomach ache after eating the fennel and wondered if it was O.K. to
eat it off the stalk fresh.  It tasted wonderful.

ANSWER:  Fennel is one of my favorite herbs. I love the scent and the taste of it. Fennel seeds are very good for the digestive system as well as the breath.
         As for harvesting, Var. dulce is cultivated annually, while in the case of biennial varieties the mericarps should be collected at intervals in late summer, when the leaves start to fade; in order not to lose the seeds, umbels with fruit should be cut as soon as they begin to ripen, and then the fruits must be carefully destalked and thoroughly dried so that nothing goes wrong with the fermentation processes. For herbal use the leaves may be removed several times before flowers appear, while the roots, harvested in autumn, require washing and subsequent drying.
        The stomach ache may be due to fennel's effects on the digestive tract. It was probably doing a little cleaning up! It should be perfectly safe for you to eat, unless of course, it's been subject to pesticides or sprays of any sort.
         I like to hang my fennel by the stalks, bound with a rubber band to allow for shrinkage, upside down with a paper bag over the seed heads. That way when the seeds pop, then don't end up all over the place. Some place dark and warm and dry is best to retain color and properties. Not too hot, like the attic.

OREGANO
QUESTION
: I was recently given some oregano.  I need to know how to take care of it so I can use it to cook with dried.

ANSWER:
If you are keeping it in the house, make sure you keep it in a southern, sunny window. The biggest problem people have with herbs is over watering. Oregano, like many herbs comes from the Mediterranean area and likes it hot and dry. Keep it in dry, well-drained soil. I like to put my herbs in hanging baskets. That way I can just clip off some shoots when I need them and I have a lovely hanging plant the rest of the time.
         If you want to dry it. Take several stems, bind them with a rubber band and hang in a warm, not hot, dry, dark place. Fresh herbs are so much better for cooking, but remember that most of your recipes will be for the dried herbs, so use twice as much fresh. In other words, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of oregano, use 2 teaspoons, chopped.

ROSEMARY
QUESTION:
I live in the NW part of Louisiana in Shreveport and have 3 bushes of Rosemary outside in my gardens. Two of them are 3' tall and the other is about 18" to 2' tall. I normally feed them by putting egg shells around the plants and they seem to do OK, however they are beginning to get yellow in their leaves. They do not bloom as profusely as they did when I grew Rosemary in Central West Florida, in fact they hardly bloom at all. Our temp's are approaching lower to middle 90's at this time of the year and I would like to know how I can get rid of the yellow in the leaves and how I might encourage the plants to bloom more. I would appreciate any help you could give me.

ANSWER:  Boy do I envy you!! I would love to be able to grow my Rosemary outside and have it as large as a bush!  If you're seeing yellow leaves it could be a couple of things. Could be the drainage, rosemary doesn't like wet feet. Could be too much sun. Since you are so far south, it may be too intense for the plants. They naturally grow in the Mediterranean region which is much further north than you are. Lastly, it could be a problem with nutrients. I don't know if you amend your soil with anything other than egg shells, but too much calcium is not a good thing either.  I would try feeding an organic fertilizer. Your garden supply store should have some.

ALOE
QUESTION: How often should an aloe plant be watered and how much water do they need? If 1/4 inch of the tips of the leaves are brown- does that mean it is getting too much water?

ANSWER: Aloe is a succulent and what I see more often than not with the succulents is over watering.  You can let the soil go bone dry with an aloe plant. Mine sit in southern facing windows and look wonderful and I give a little water once a week.  I have a trick I use on all my cactus, bromeliads, and succulents including jade plants. When it rains in Arizona, I water the plants! Really!  Hasn't failed me yet. If the ends are brown, it's probably too much water. Cut off the ends, pull back on the watering and you should be fine.
           Succulents are great about letting you know when they need water. If you start to notice the leaves wrinkling a little, they need a drink. If they are plump and firm, they're fine!
          Keep 'em green and growing!


STEVIA:

QUESTION:  i just received my stevia plant, but there are no growing instructions. can
you tell me does it like full sun or shade. wet or dry. can you help?

ANSWER: Stevia is indigenous to the highland  regions of Paraguay. Full sun is preferred but not hot weather, making the Pacific Northwest the ideal climate. However Stevia is very adaptable to most areas of the country. In southern states, stevia will require some filtered afternoon shading. Prefers good garden soil like a cultivated vegetable garden area is best for Stevia. If soil could be "mounded up" into a "raised bed," this would be even better. Apply a layer of mulch, such as grass clippings, or bark mulch. This will help keep roots cool, preserve water, keeps the leave clean from soil (prevents dirty taste in green powder) and hold down weeds. Avoid weeding around mature stevia plants as their brittle branches are easily broken.
           Avoid overwatering after transplanting and in winter as houseplant. Keep evenly moist during summer heat. Drip or soaker hose are very effective for summer watering. To fertilize use a balanced, slow release organic fertilizer or manure, which is tilled into the soil before planting, provides the ideal nutrition. Avoid high nitrogen chemical fertilizers, as they produce large leaves with little flavor. Stevia (and most other herbs) produce limited quantities of oils or "flavor chemicals" (in the case of stevia it is glycocides) for the expanding leaves. Simply stated, large, nitrogen filled, quickly grown leaves produce a diluted sweet flavor, "spread out" over the leaf.
              The harvested dry leaves reflect is reduced sweetness as well. Stevia grows best in cooler summer weather, after and before danger of frost. Plant outside early spring in vegetable garden after danger of frost. Methods which allow a gardener to plant earlier, such as tunnels, hot caps, and such, are very beneficial. Pinch tips out about every 3-4 weeks for first 1-2 months. This will encourage side branching which will create a bushier plant, that is not spindly. With the last pinching, (about 1-2 months after planting) mulch plants with bark or straw. Water and fertilize as you would a vegetable garden.
            Harvest entire plant as flower buds appear. Harvest only in the morning for highest glycoside /sugar content, whether pinching tips or entire plants. The full harvest will occur in late September or early October. Because it is a member of the "Aster" family, once flowering has begun, not a single normal leaf will be produced. Removing flower heads is not effective. Failure to harvest plants before several flowers have opened, will allow these flowers to impart a bitter/dirty flavor to the leaves. Harvesting is done by cutting the entire plant at the base. With a rubber band, tie loose branches together and hang upside down to dry under warm, dark, drafty conditions for 2-4 days. Avoid using food dehydrators or open oven doors as this will also tend to cause a bitter flavor. "Rake" fingers through branches to remove crisp dry leaves. Remove any small branches and grind leaves into powder using an electric coffee grinder for 25-30 seconds. Food processors are not as effective because of their slow RPMs. Store green powder in "Mason" jars, "Zip-lock" baggies etc.

QUESTION:
i need a low growing acid loving herb that i can grow near my dwarf blueberry bushes.  do you have any suggestions?    

ANSWER:   I get so jealous when anyone talks about planting! Here in upstate New York, we still have 3 weeks before it's safe and I'm itching to get my hands back in the dirt. Acid soil is considered to have a PH of around 3.5. Lots of herbs like acid soil, so your choice is pretty broad. Low growing, I'd probably go with Sweet Annie, a ground or creeping chamomile, flax, old English lavender, any of the basils, creeping thyme or tansy.

MOSQUITO HERB
QUESTION:
Last year I purchased an herb bush that was lemon something or something lemon that kept mosquitoes at bay.  Do you know what the name of it may have been?

ANSWER:  
I'm guessing it's lemon Balm.  The leaves are also great for reducing skin irritation caused by inset bites simply by rubbing them directly over the bite. I have a special formulation I created for my husband and I to take to our property in Northern Michigan. It's called Bugger Off! and it even works on the North woods black flies! Totally DEET Free with a natural lemon and citronella scent. If you're interested, e-mail me with the word ORDER in the subject line for more info.
 
GROWING GINGER:
QUESTION:
W
e managed to get a nice piece of ginger from Safeway to grow and I'm curious just how tall it will grow and how long to let grow before harvest and how large a planter how much light etc

ANSWER:   I don't know that I'd trust anything I bought at the local grocery store. You have no way of knowing if it has been sprayed or treated.  The ginger plant is a perennial usually grown as an annual only in tropical regions (zone 10) with pronounced wet and dry seasons. It is propagated by dividing the roots, after which plant shoots appear 10 days later. The best soil is old forest loam, well tilled to produce good shaped rhizomes and it should be well drained. Ginger rapidly depletes the soil so it must be well fertilized , usually with manure. The most suitable climate for ginger has about 60 in of rainfall, a mean temperature of 70F and a hot dry season. It is harvested about 7-10 months after planting. For preserved ginger the rhizomes are dug up earlier, when they are less fibrous. Common ginger is probably native to South East Asia and has long been cultivated in northwest India and Pakistan. It was introduced to Jamaica by the Spanish and is now also grown in Central and South America, China, Japan, Africa and Australia. Can be grown as an indoor plant if it has plenty of warmth and light. Unless you live in the tropics, your success will probably be minimal if at all. You might be successful by trying to grow it inside in front of a nice sunny window. However, I'd look for a supplier to get your starts.

QUESTION:  I am planning on starting a herb garden and understand that certain herbs should not be planted together. Could you please give me some guidance on this subject.

ANSWER:
I'm not sure which herbs you plan to grow, so you're question is a little hard to answer. As far as being incompatible, I think the only reason that would be is because of the different needs of different herbs in the way of sun and water requirements. I have my herbs all grown together in patches like a country garden and have never had any problems. I do know you will need to be careful with the mints, as they are prolific and will take over the garden if you aren't careful. I dig a very deep hole and plant my mints in terra cotta pots in the ground so they don't spread any further than I want them to!

QUESTION: I am looking for information on how to combat a problem I have in my groin region, I am very frustrated by the way my GP has handled this situation and with the length of time I have to wait to be seen at hospital I am very concerned that it is going to get far worse by then 13th April!!.

I have enlarged lymph nodes in my groin area there are pea sized (told by one GP that this is "natural" I am not so sure about this due to research on the net), I have a thickening of my Epididymis tube and it has only last week begun to get quite uncomfortable if it starts to build up (I have had to 'empty' them every 2 days since last week. The thing I am most worried about is that now the left testicle (side where thickening is too) is now slightly larger than the right and last but not least the wind I pass is very stale.

I am very concerned that by the time the 13th of April comes I am going to need surgery. I would appreciate any advice you could give especially any herbal treatments I have recently been looking into Colloidal Silver and Graviola. Also by what I have told you could you give me some options on what could be wrong?

ANSWER: As an herbalist, I cannot diagnose or prescribe treatments. But in my opinion, you need to find another doctor, quickly. Any unexplained lumps or pain in the testicles or scrotum area should be examined at once by a medical practitioner. If you are concerned and your doctor isn't listening to you, find another doctor. This is your health we're talking about.