Your Medicinal Herb Garden

One of the questions I get asked frequently is what herbs would I recommend for a small medicinal herb garden or for someone just starting out so they don’t get overwhelmed. So that’s what I’m going to cover today. Of course, I don’t know everyone’s specifics. I will have to make a few assumptions – there will be plenty of sun, access to water, and the soil is healthy. One other important point is that these are herbs I believe allow for a beginner herbalist to begin treating their family with, they are also good for more advanced herbalists (for instance, I use chamomile in many preparations because it’s good for so many things). I’m hoping this will enable more and more individuals to grow their own “farmacy”!

chamomile plantMatricaria recutita – Chamomile

Like I mentioned before, I believe Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)  to be one of the most important herbs in our home. I use it for upset stomach, trouble sleeping, calming skin irritations, colic, teething issues, anxiety, and more. It is one of those herbs that I could not do without. Once it is growing (seed germination can be difficult) it can thrive in almost any type soil as long as it is well-draining, high clay content or shallow hard pan soil would not work here. It does require full sun, so don’t try to hide this in a corner! It’s PH requirement is also quite flexible growing well in the soil as low as 5.6 up to 7.5. Sadly this is not a perennial plant which requires replanting each year. I left much of my flowers and allowed them to go to seed last fall hoping to see some new sprouts this year.

Uses: upset stomach, gripping pain, IBS, calming skin irritations and reducing infection, colic, teething, hair rinse, anxiety, sleep aid

Soil:  Well-drained

Sun: Full sun but will tolerate a little shade

Annual

Echinacea02Echinacea purpurea– Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)

I’ve always been fond of “Daisy” like flowers and Echinacea is no exception. Echinacea is not only beautiful to us but attractive to pollinators. So if you’re looking to attract more pollinators to your garden, this is an herb you want to consider. Being a perennial, as long as you are giving it space to grow it will grace your garden year after year. It does not do well with “wet feet” but, once established it will tolerate drought and heat due to its deep tap root. The best way to propagate is by root cuttings in Autumn.

For medicinal purposes, Echinacea flower can be used but will not be as strong as a preparation made from the root. If you are harvesting the flowers do it when the flowers are just starting to bloom, for the root harvest in the fall when all the energy has moved down (preferably after a frost or two). Don’t dig up the entire root, make sure to leave some to grow back in the spring. I left mine alone last year (besides clipping a few flowers) to allow it to propagate naturally.

In order for Echinacea to be helpful take it at the first sign of a cold, this is not a recommended herb to be used as a tonic. For internal use, I recommend three preparations: infusion or tincture (flowers) or decoction (root). Make sure to follow directions for preserving herbs if you want to use it over the winter./p>

Uses: Boost immunity

Soil:  Well-drained

Sun: Full sun but will tolerate a little shade

Water: water well until established, after that it will tolerate very dry

lemon balm flowersMelissa officinalis – Lemon Balm

First, a word of warning…lemon balm likes to grow and will expand in your garden if you do not keep it under control. This should not stop you from growing it, just understand you’ll need to cut it back and ‘tame’ it!

Lemon balm is my go to for two specific issues: anxiety and cold sores because of its anti-viral properties, but it is good for many other things as well: eczema, headache, insect bites, and wounds to name a few.  As a culinary herb, it adds a wonderfully fresh, lemony-mint taste to any dish, (it’s especially good in a fruit salad) and brews into a refreshing iced tea!

In my garden, it is one of the fastest growing plants I have. If I see it getting a little sad looking, I simply cut it down and it magically rejuvenates it – basically, It is another easy plant to grow and will grow prolifically if left alone! One way to control it is to clip it back several times in the summer and early fall to keep seeds from forming. Unlike mint, it does not grow underground “runners” so it makes it easy to pull any unwanted plants that might get away from you. On a side note, this makes amazing fodder for your chickens and goats. When our chickens got into my herb garden they decimated my lemon balm, of course, it grew back in a few weeks, but I was amazed at how much the chickens liked it. When I thin I just throw it over my fence and the chickens and goats fight for it!

Uses: Cold sores, anxiety, sleep aid, eczema, headaches, insect bites, wounds, colic, can help with ADHD

Soil:  moist, rich and Well drained

Sun: Full sun

Water: does not tolerate drought very well

These are three great starter herbs if you are wanting to step into growing your own medicinal herb garden.

I need to mention here that my assumption, again, is that you’ve done your research and have prepared your soil for planting. So many problems with plants can be avoided by feeding your soil and ensuring drainage is adequate and biological soil life is thriving!

Truthfully I have a really tough time narrowing it down to just 9 because so many plants are useful to have in your medicinal arsenal. However, one of the criteria I am looking for is ease of growing, which does slim down the list, and the ones I believe are most helpful for family medical care.

Last time I covered Lemon Balm, Chamomile, and Echinacea. This time I will cover calendula, Garlic, and Arnica. Three very different plants but all great for a home medical kit.

calendula-officinalisCalendula officinalis (Pot Marigold)

This sunny, happy, orange or yellow flowered plant is part of the Asteraceae family. Not to be mistaken for the marigold in the

Tagetes family. Sadly, it is an annual (I always prefer perennials), but with all its many benefits I still think it earns a place in every medicinal garden.

Propagate

Calendula does best when directly sown into the soil once the last chance of frost has passed. You can start them inside and transplant but there is more chance of harming the taproot. Make sure your soil allows for adequate drainage and oxygen, especially during the beginning stages, to avoid “damping off.”Calendula will tolerate a wide range of soils but prefers full sun.

A little tip

If you pick the mature flowers regularly in the spring and summer it may continue producing more flowers, even into the fall. Picking flowers also reduce the chance of pests (blister beetles, cucumber beetles, and aphids). Never let the flowers go to seed or you will greatly decrease your harvest.

Harvesting

The best time to pick is in the heat of the day when the water content is the lowest. Dry the flowers as soon as possible. The petals dry quickly but the receptacle does not so you can expect a total drying time of 10 days or more at 90 degrees or so. Let them cool and sort them carefully when they finish drying, as they reabsorb moisture readily.

Uses

Calendula is a wonderful anti-inflammatory for the skin and is used in many lotions, creams, and salves. Apply topically for skin irritation: dry skin cracked nipples, eczema, wounds.

Taken internally it will help the digestive system: colitis, peptic ulcers, gastritis (infusion) and is cleansing for the liver and gall bladder (tincture). It also helps reduce menstrual pain and regulate bleeding (infusion).

Preparations: tincture, infusion, salve, cream, compress

TYPE: Annual

SOIL: Well-drained, aerated soil

SUN: Prefers full sun, will tolerate partial shade

WATER: Water well 1-2 times a week

alluimAllium (garlic)

You can’t go wrong with garlic. It adds a wonderful, flavorful explosion to any fare and, if used correctly, can add nutritional benefits. Garlic is also a wonderful addition to your garden as a pest repellant.

Propagate

Garlic can be planted in the spring but you will likely deal with smaller bulbs when harvesting. I recommend planting in the fall, so put this on your list as something to do as you move into fall. You’ll want to plant garlic about a month before frost hits. Simply break apart the bulb a few days before planting but keep the husk on the individual cloves. Plant them with the pointy end up about 2” deep and 4” apart. Heavily cover with mulch. In the spring green shoots will begin emerging. As the threat of frost is gone, feel free to remove the mulch.

A little tip

Do NOT use garlic bought at the store, use garlic from a previous harvest or buy them from a local garden shop. Be aware that you need to pick a variety that is good for your zone. Garlic flowers are lovely but if you are looking for larger bulbs, clip back any flower shoots. Because garlic likes extra nitrogen fertilizing with rabbit manure or manure tea would give it that added boost. Water well about every 3-5 days during the drier season.

Harvesting

Harvest when you see the tops begin to yellow and get droopy (usually late summer in my area). Pull them from the soil gently, using a spade, brush off the dirt and hang in a shady spot with plenty of air flow. You can bunch them together but make sure every side gets air. It is ready to use when the wrappers are dry and papery. You can either “braid” them (yes, even hard neck garlic which is what grows best here) or clip off the tops and store in a dry, cool area.

Uses

Garlic is one of those things that mainstream medicine has recognized. There’s really no way you can go wrong adding garlic to your life on a daily basis.

• Reduce risk of certain cancers
• Positive effects on the cardiovascular system
• Lower cholesterol
• Antibacterial
• Antimicrobial
• Antiviral
• Antifungal

The key to achieving the highest health benefits from this powerhouse is to make sure you don’t cook it, yes, add it to dishes, but try to add it near the end of cooking, it will provide the most intense flavor and won’t destroy all the enzymes (allicin). Press the garlic through a garlic press and let it stand for 5-10 minutes, this activates the allicin. At this point, you can add it to your dish, blend it with some honey and spread it on toast, add it to a batch of elderberry syrup (already prepared) for an extra immune boost, or, get crazy and just eat it straight up. Warning – you will have garlic breath J

Preparations: capsules, food, infused oil, powder

TYPE: Annual

SOIL: Well-drained, aerated soil

SUN: Prefers full sun

WATER: Water well every 3-5 days during the hot, dry months

Warning

Because garlic is such a warming food, it can be aggravating to people with a warm constitution. In high doses, it may irritate the digestive system, causing gas, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and burning of the mouth. In normal and moderate doses garlic acts as a pre-biotic, food for the good microflora in the gut. People with a known allergy to Allium plants should avoid garlic.

arnica1Arnica

 

A daisy-like flower with a happy, sunny disposition also part of the Asteraceae family. This is a beautiful and helpful addition to any medicinal herb garden.

Propagate

If you are fortunate enough to know someone that has arnica in their garden, ask if you can have a cutting or if they are ready to divide their plant. If not, starting with seeds isn’t that difficult but germination can be tricky taking one month up to two years so patience will come into play here! Sprinkle the seeds and lightly cover with soil. Keep moist. The other option is to start them indoors with plenty of light (preferably a grow light) you can transplant these in the spring after the threat of frost is gone.

Uses

• anti-inflammatory
• analgesic (reduces pain)
• vulnerary (wound-healing: fractures, sprains, contusions, muscular pain, varicose veins)
• rubefacient (increases blood flow to an area helping speed healing)

Arnica should only be used topically on the unbroken skin. It is quite effective when used as a poultice, in a carrier oil or salve.

Harvesting

Harvest blooming flower heads in summer, June through August.

Preparations: poultice, salve, infused oil, wash ( Steep 2 teaspoons arnica in 1 cup boiling water, let cool and use)

TYPE: Perennial

SOIL: Prefers sandy, slightly alkaline

SUN: Prefers full sun, will tolerate shade in very hot areas

WATER: Not drought tolerant until established, keep the soil moist but not soaked – a good weekly watering should suffice except during very dry, hot months.

nettleI love nettles, the leaves are filled with a plethora of vitamins (high levels of Vitamin A, C, E & K), protein, chlorophyll, and minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium) making it quite useful as a vitamin drink. Juicing fresh nettle, preparing a nourishing herbal infusion, creating a “pesto”, or even using it as the spinach in a vegetable lasagna are all great ways to enjoy this herb while benefitting from its nutritive power.

I am fully aware that nettle is available to anyone who wildcrafts, so why do I recommend growing it in your herb garden? Because you know how it’s been grown and where it’s been grown. You have worked to create healthy soil and you aren’t spraying it with harmful chemicals. Furthermore, it’s growing right outside your door making it quick and easy to harvest, whether you are harvesting enough to make herbal preparations or even if you just want a little for your dinner preparations. To me, keeping things simple is key.

But what about the sting? Well, it’s a small price to pay, and honestly, if you harvest them correctly (wear gloves here) and either dry or saute/steam them, the sting is no longer a threat. Interestingly, nettle actually contains juices in its leaves that can stop the pain of a nettle “sting”. I was out yesterday looking at some nettle, I wasn’t wearing gloves and just decided to grab a leaf, roll it up, and eat it. I didn’t get stung, I decided to do an experiment and just brushed my hand against the nettles, sure enough, I was stung. I immediately grabbed another leaf, worked it between my fingers until the juices were released and rubbed it on the sting. The intensity of the pain greatly decreased, I wasn’t that bothered by it so I didn’t keep the leaf on for long. A few minutes later, the sting seemed to begin intensifying again so I grabbed a plantain leaf, crushed it and applied it with total relief in a short time. The moral of the story here is grab it like you own it – nettles sense fear J

Nettle prefers rich, moist soil and full sun but will grow in shadier areas, the difference being that the plant in shade will produce less seed which can be harvested and used as well. Seeds are great for overwrought adrenals. The seed can be a little stimulating, if you dry it first this will decrease the effect.

As a nourishing herbal infusion, it can help with fatigue, building and purify the blood, and detoxify (it has a diuretic property). This is also a wonderful herb to include in your diet and herb regimen if you are prone to allergies.

Preparations: Infusion, Nourishing Herbal Infusion, Poultice, Tincture, Juiced, Food

Growing

TYPE: Perennial
SOIL: Moist, rich
SUN: Prefers full sun will grow in shade
WATER: water well until established
Propagation: Cuttings, Root transplant, seed

lavender farmers marketLavender (Lavendula)

Lavender is a beautiful, highly aromatic plant that is not too difficult to grow in the right conditions. It is one of those herbs that almost everyone recognizes by sight and smell. Who hasn’t enjoyed the scent of lavender in soap, lotion, or even in a room or body spray? Lavender is an antimicrobial which makes it a great choice for a room deodorizer with germ-killing capabilities. It is a calming herb that can easily be added to infusions and baths to help reduce stress and irritability and induce sleep. It also has wonderful anti-inflammatory properties making it a perfect herb when treating burns and bug bites. The essential oil has been used for many years to treat burns, eczema, reduce scar tissue and aid in healing infections (including fungal).

I don’t think you can have enough lavender growing so I choose a sunny spot that has soil that is well-drained. It doesn’t like to have “wet feet” so it really doesn’t require that much input. Watering once a week is generally sufficient during the driest months. Don’t put it in with something that prefers moist soil, it will not thrive and may not even survive.

Harvest the flowers when they are dry and make sure to dry them immediately to reduce the loss of the essential oils. The leaves can also be used but are not nearly as high in medicinal properties as the flowers.

Preparations: Get creative when deciding how to use this herb: floral bath, steam inhalation, infusion, oil, pillow, sachet for drawers, tincture, poultice, salves, lotions, & hydrosol (maybe you have a friend or know someone who makes essential oils like I do which gives me a great supply for hydrosols)!

Growing

Type: Perennial
Soil: Rich, drier
Sun: Full Sun
Water: Water well once a week or so, let soil dry between waterings
Propagation: Seed, Cuttings, Layering

comfrey-true-deep-purple-flowers 002-400Comfrey (Symphytum spp.)

Many people cringe when I recommend growing comfrey. They see it as an invasive plant that will eventually choke out the rest of the herbs in their garden. Though this can be true, with a little management you can keep this from happening while benefiting from the diverse offerings of this plant!

First, I want to mention the few obvious things that are not medicine related: comfrey leaves are wonderful mulch makers and, because of their large leaf growth, will shade out competitors like any unwanted weeds that may pop up in your garden. Because they are deep-rooted they pull up the minerals found in the soil and bring it up to the leaf. Chopping and dropping these mineral-rich leaves puts those minerals back into the soil and adds organic matter (thus aeration) to your soil profile. Additionally, bees and other pollinators love the flower and if you grow a blocking variety you won’t deal with it reseeding itself.

As far as medicinal use, there is virtually no competing herb that can heal skin the way comfrey can. As a matter of fact, it can heal so well and quickly that you need to make sure the wound is fully cleansed and there is no sign of infection, it could get closed up inside. Comfrey is also well-known for its ability to treat sprains, swelling, bruises and historically even mend broken bones! It can also help alleviate osteoarthritis and other arthritic type pain.  Comfrey contains allantoin which stimulates tissue repair and cell proliferation. Which means it is also great in salves to use on areas that are troubled by irritation or rash.

Comfrey is a pretty flexible plant and can grow almost anywhere. However, it does prefer moist, rich, loamy soil and dappled sunlight. We have found that once it is established it grows really well, even in imperfect conditions. If you are wanting to control the spread I would suggest two things: do not disturb the roots. Every small root piece will grow into another plant. Make sure you are going to keep it where you plant it and don’t till the soil. Second, reduce its growth by chopping the leaves at least twice in a growing season, and dead head any flowers that appear. If it is growing in an area that you don’t want it, the best way to get rid of it is to keep its leaves so low that it loses all ability to continue growing. Do not go pulling the roots because you will likely not be able to get the entire root system out.

Preparations: Poultice, salve, infused oil, infusion

Growing

Type: Perennial
Soil: Moist, Rich, loamy
Sun: dappled sunlight
Water: occasionally, once it’s established it can tolerate drought much better because if its deep roots.

Homemade Medicine

Guide to make your own simple, effective herbal remedies

Making our own herbal medicines and body care products can save money and improve our health, and it’s much easier than you may think. If you already make herbal teas, then making infusions, decoctions, tinctures, salves and poultices can quickly become part of your repertoire, too. Don’t worry if they sound confusing; you’ll soon discover how to prepare a variety of plants to make a range of simple but effective herbal medicines.

One very important note before you begin making herbal medicines: Always make sure you are using the correct plant (check the Latin name) and the correct part of the plant (flower, leaf, roots), as some parts may be toxic if used internally.

Internal Medicines

Tea Time

Making herbal tea may seem fairly straightforward, but to reap the greatest medicinal value from herbs, we need to do more than dunk a tea bag in hot water. There are two main forms of herbal tea: infusions and decoctions.

Infusions: Infusions are the commonly known form of herbal tea, in which herbs are literally infused in hot water, usually one heaping teaspoon of dried herb (or one teabag) per cup of hot water for 10 to 20 minutes. This is the ideal method for extracting the medicinal compounds in most berries, flowers, and leaves. You can also use fresh herbs, but because of their higher water content, you usually need to double the amount of herbal matter per cup of water (two teaspoons per cup of water instead of one).

Decoctions: To extract the medicinal compounds from seeds, roots or stems, you’ll want to make a decoction, which involves boiling the herbs and allowing them to simmer for about an hour, usually allowing one heaping teaspoon of dried herb per cup of water. Note that this method is less suitable for berries, flowers, and leaves because it tends to destroy many of the delicate medicinal compounds they contain. As with infusions, you can use fresh herbs, but you typically need to double the amount of herb matter per cup of water.

What if you want to make a tea from some combination of roots, berries, seeds, stems, flowers and leaves? Start by making a decoction with the roots, seeds or stems. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer to continue brewing for an hour. Turn off the heat and add any berries, flowers, and leaves. Allow the mixture to steep for an additional 10 to 20 minutes. Now you’ve extracted the best medicinal compounds from all of the herbal components you’re using.

Tinctures

Tinctures are alcohol extracts of fresh or dried herbs. They’re highly effective at preserving a plant’s active constituents. You can make a tincture from roots, leaves, seeds, stems or flowers.

To make an herbal tincture, finely chop the fresh, clean herb you are using. You can also use dried herbs. Either way, the idea is to chop the herb as much as possible, to give the alcohol as much surface area to act upon as you can. Some herbalists recommend grinding dried herbs in a coffee/spice grinder before making a tincture.

Place the chopped or ground herb in a half-quart or quart-sized glass jar. Fill the jar with as much plant matter as possible to ensure the medicinal value of your tincture, keeping in mind that you’ll need enough alcohol to completely submerge the herbal matter. Top with vodka or pure grain alcohol, making sure all of the plant matter is submerged in the alcohol to prevent mold growth. Note that different kinds of alcohol will produce different kinds of tinctures. Visit Mountain Rose Herbs for more information. Date and label the jar, and allow the mixture to sit for two weeks, shaking daily to encourage extraction. After two weeks, strain the contents through a cheesecloth-lined sieve. After most of the liquid has gone through the sieve, pull up the corners of the cheesecloth and, using clean hands, carefully wring out any remaining liquid. Store the herbal tincture in a dark glass jar or dropper bottle away from heat or sunlight to preserve its healing properties. Tinctures will usually keep for a few years. You can make an herbal tincture out of any medicinal or culinary herb that can be used internally. A typical tincture dose is 30 drops (about one dropper full) three times daily, but we recommend looking up specific dosage recommendations for the herbs you use. Avoid tinctures if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you have liver disease, diabetes or alcoholism.

Skin-Healing Medicines

Infused Oils

Infused oils are made by infusing herbs in oil, rather than alcohol as in tinctures. The infusion technique works to transfer the healing properties of herbs to oils. Infused oils are excellent for massage; as skin or bath oils; or as a basis for balms and salves, which I’ll explain in the next section. Never ingest these oils.

Infused oils are easy to make. Choose any type of vegetable or carrier oil, other than petrochemical-based oils such as baby oil or mineral oil. It is also best to avoid oils that break down quickly when exposed to heat, such as flaxseed oil. I prefer olive oil or sweet almond oil, which can be warmed to encourage the transfer of healing compounds from the herb matter to the oil.

You can make many types of infused oils, but two of the most common are St. John’s wort and calendula oils. St. John’s wort oil, made from the flowers of the plant, can be used for treating bruises, swellings, hemorrhoids, scars and sprains. It is also recommended as a topical treatment for eczema. Avoid sun exposure for a few hours after using this oil on your skin as it can cause photosensitivity. Calendula oil, also made from the flowers of the plant, aids wound healing and alleviate various skin conditions.

Making herbal infused oils is particularly suited for the delicate flowers and leaves of plants. Simply add fresh flowers or leaves to a jar and fill it with oil, such as sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, almond oil or olive oil. You’ll want enough plant matter to ensure the medicinal value of the infused oil, but not packed so tightly that the oil cannot penetrate the plant material. The plant material must be completely submerged in the oil to prevent mold from forming. Label and date the jar, including the herb and the oil used. Allow the infusion to rest for two weeks, shaking the bottle periodically to encourage the infusion process. After two weeks, strain the herbs from the oil, squeezing out any remaining oil with clean hands. Cap and label the jar, and store away from light and heat.

Salves

Salves are basically herbal balms or ointments made by thickening herbal oil infusions with melted beeswax. Most health-food stores sell plain beeswax, which can be shaved with a potato peeler or grated with a cheese grater and then melted over low heat. You can also buy beeswax pastilles, which are ready to melt. Be sure to avoid other types of wax, as they are made of petroleum byproducts.

Allow two tablespoons of shaved, melted beeswax to one cup of infused oil after the herbal material has been strained off. Melt the oil and beeswax over low heat, preferably in a double-boiler, to prevent overheating. Stir regularly. Remove from the heat as soon as the beeswax is melted and well-incorporated into the oil. Immediately pour into small, shallow jars, tins or lip balm containers. Let cool undisturbed to allow the ointment to set. Use for skin irritations and other skin conditions, and for dry or chapped lips. Similar to herbal infusions, calendula, and St. John’s wort is excellent choices to use in salves.

Poultices

A poultice is a paste made with herbs that are applied to the skin. It is typically applied while hot or warm, except when made with herbs that are naturally chemically hot, such as chilies or ginger. To make a poultice, fill a natural-fiber cloth bag with powdered or chopped fresh herb matter. Tie it closed, and then place it in a bowl of hot water just long enough to soak and heat the herb. Remove it from the water, and apply to the affected area until the poultice has cooled and until you experience some relief. Reheat and reapply the poultice. It is best to use a fresh poultice each day.

Poultices are particularly effective in soothing aching or painful joints or muscles, as is the case with ginger. Calendula helps bruises and damaged skin, while echinacea boosts the immune system to help heal long-lasting wounds.

Some of My Favorite Healing Herbs

All of the herbs listed here are safe and effective. However, before making specific remedies of your own, make sure to research the herb you plan to use to ensure you’re using the right parts and amounts, as well as contraindications that may apply specifically to you and your circumstances.

• Calendula (Flowers): Skin healer extraordinaire
• Chamomile (Flowers): Relaxant and dental antimicrobial (use tea as a mouthwash)
• Dandelion (Roots or Leaves): Osteoporosis preventer and anticancer powerhouse
• Echinacea (Roots): Immune booster
• Feverfew (Flowers and Leaves): A headache and migraine alleviator
• Garlic (Cloves) Amazing germ buster
• Ginger: (Root): Muscle and joint pain healer
• Horsetail (Leaves): Nail, teeth and bone builder
• Juniper (Berries): Urinary tract antimicrobial
• Lavender (Flowers): Anxiety and depression alleviator
• Licorice (Root): Chronic fatigue syndrome solution
• Nettles (Leaves): Allergy remedy
• Oregano (Leaves): Antimicrobial antidote
• Peppermint (Leaves): Headache remedy and sinusitis aid
• Red Clover (Flowers): Relieves menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes
• Rosemary (Leaves): Memory booster
• St. John’s Wort (Flowers): Anxiety antidote and anticancer therapy; skin healer
• Thyme (Leaves): Cough and antibacterial medicine

Seven Herbs and Supplements for Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is a widespread disorder affecting the blood sugar and insulin levels in the body. Managing the long-term consequences and complications of diabetes are as much of a challenge as the disease itself.

There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is where the pancreas produces no insulin. Type 2 diabetes is more common. With type 2, the body either does not produce enough insulin or produces insulin that the body does not use properly.

There are many treatment options for people with type 2 diabetes. Growing research suggests that some herbs and supplements may help with the condition.

Useful herbs may be great to combine with more traditional methods to find relief from many type 2 diabetes symptoms.

Seven herbs and supplements

Here are seven herbs and supplements that may be of benefit to people with type 2 diabetes.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera
Studies suggest an antidiabetic potential for aloe that may lower blood sugar levels.

Aloe vera is a common plant with many different uses. Most people are aware of the plant being used to coat the skin and protect it from damage caused by too much sun exposure.

However, the plant has many lesser-known benefits as well. These range from helping digestive issues to possibly even relieving type 2 diabetes symptoms.

One review analyzed many studies using aloe vera to treat symptoms of diabetes. Their results strongly suggested an antidiabetic potential for aloe. Subjects given aloe showed lower blood sugar levels and higher insulin levels.

Further tests showed that aloe helps to increase how much insulin is produced by the pancreas. This could mean that aloe helps to restore bodies with type 2 diabetes or protect them from further damage. The researchers called for more studies to be done on aloe and its extracts to be certain of these effects.

There are many ways to take aloe. The juice pulp is sold in many markets and added to drinks, and extracts are put into capsules to be taken as supplements.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a fragrant herb created from the bark of a tree and is commonly found in kitchens. It has a sweet and spicy fragrance and taste that can add sweetness without any additional sugar. It is popular with people with type 2 diabetes for this reason alone, but there is much more to cinnamon than just flavor.

A review found that subjects with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes who were given cinnamon showed positive results in many different areas such as:

  • blood sugar levels
  • insulin levels
  • insulin sensitivity
  • blood fat levels
  • antioxidant levels
  • blood pressure
  • body mass
  • time to process food

These are important markers for people with diabetes. From this research, it may be said that cinnamon is important for everyone with type 2 diabetes to take.

The researchers did note that the type of cinnamon and the amount taken does have an effect on the results, however. Only the highest quality cinnamon or cinnamon extracts in capsule form should be used as a complementary treatment method.

An experienced health care practitioner should always be consulted before starting to use cinnamon heavily as a supplement.

Bitter melon

bitter melon
Bitter melon is a traditional Chinese and Indian medicinal fruit. Research suggests that the seeds may help to reduce blood sugar levels.

Momordica charantia, also known as bitter melon, is a medicinal fruit. It has been used for centuries in the traditional medicine of China and India. The bitter fruit itself is cooked into many dishes, and the plant’s medicinal properties are still being discovered.

One discovery being backed by science is that bitter melon may help with symptoms of diabetes. One review noted that many parts of the plant have been used to help treat diabetes patients.

Bitter melon seeds were given to both people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes to reduce their blood sugar levels. Blended vegetable pulp mixed with water also lowered blood sugar levels in 86 percent of the type 2 diabetes patients tested. The fruit juice of the bitter melon also helped to improved blood sugar tolerance in many cases.

Eating or drinking the bitter melon can be an acquired taste. Luckily, similar effects were noted with extracts of the fruit taken as supplements as well.

There is not enough evidence to suggest that bitter melon could be used instead of insulin or medication for diabetes. However, it may help patients to rely less on those medications or lower their dosages.

Milk thistle

Milk thistle is a herb that has been used since ancient times for many different ailments and is considered a tonic for the liver. The most studied extract from milk thistle is called silymarin, which is a compound that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is these properties that may make milk thistle a great herb for people with diabetes.

A review notes that many of the studies on silymarin are promising, but the research is not strong enough to begin recommending the herb or extract alone for diabetes care.

Many people may still find that it is an important part of a care routine, especially since the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can help protect against further damage caused by diabetes. Milk thistle is most often taken as a supplement.

Fenugreek

Fenugreek is another seed with the potential to lower blood sugar levels. The seeds contain fibers and chemicals that help to slow down the digestion of carbohydrates like sugar. The seeds may also help delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

A recent study found that people with prediabetes were less likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes while taking powdered fenugreek seed. This was caused by the seed increasing the levels of insulin in the body, which also reduced the sugar in the blood.

Researchers found that the seed helped to lower cholesterol levels in patients as well.

Fenugreek can be cooked into certain dishes, added to warm water, or ground into a powder. It can also be added to a capsule to be swallowed as a supplement.

Gymnema

Gymnema is a relatively new herb on the Western market. In the plant’s native home of India, its name means “sugar destroyer.” A recent review noted that both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients given Gymnema have shown signs of improvement.

In people with type 1 diabetes who were given the leaf extract over a period of 18 months, fasting blood sugar levels were lowered significantly when compared to a group that received only insulin.

Other tests using Gymnema found that people with type 2 diabetes responded well to taking both the leaf and its extract over various periods of time. Using Gymnema lowered blood sugar levels and increased insulin levels in the body of some patients.

Using either the ground leaf or leaf extract may be beneficial for many people with diabetes.

Ginger

ginger sliced
Ginger has been used for many years to treat digestive and inflammatory issues. Recent research suggests that it may reduce insulin resistance.

Ginger is another herb that science is just discovering more about. It has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine systems.

Ginger is often used to help treat digestive and inflammatory issues. However, a recent review posted to shows that it may be helpful in treating diabetes symptoms as well.

In their review, researchers found that supplementing with ginger lowered blood sugar levels, but did not lower blood insulin levels. Because of this, they suggest that ginger may reduce insulin resistance in the body for type 2 diabetes.

It is important to note that the researchers were uncertain as to how ginger does this. More research is being called for to make the claims more certain.

Ginger is often added to food raw or as a powdered herb, brewed into tea, or added to capsules as an oral supplement.

Important considerations for people with diabetes

It is always best to work with a healthcare professional before taking any new herb or supplement. Doctors usually have patients start out on a lower dose and gradually increase it until a comfortable dose is found.

Some herbs can interact with other medications that do the same job, such as blood thinners and high blood pressure medications. It is very important to be aware of any interactions before starting a new supplement.

It is also important for people to get herbs from a high-quality source. Herbs are not monitored by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Products may contain different herbs and fillers, recommend an incorrect dose, or even be contaminated with pesticides.

Herbs and supplements should be seen as a complementary treatment option, and should not replace medications.

Working closely with a knowledgeable healthcare professional, herbs can be a great addition to many care programs for diabetes.

Let’s Plant Some Herbs – Explaining Propagation Terminology

Seed-starting is one of the easiest and enjoyable parts of herbal gardening, but some seeds require special consideration and procedures to ensure germination.

Cotyledon: The first leaf or one of the first pair of leaves to unfold as a seed germinates. Cotyledons generally do not resemble the plant’s actual leaves.

Damping Off: A fungal disease that causes seedling stems from shriveling and collapsing at the soil level.

Dark-dependent germination: Seeds that need a light barrier in order to germinate. Most times, if there’s not quite enough darkness, the germination level may be reduced, but many seeds will still germinate.

Germination: The initial growth of a seed.

Inoculant: A bacterial microbe, usually found in powder or liquid form, that is applied directly to seeds in the Fabaceae {legume} family to improve germination.

Light-dependent germination: Seeds that require light to germinate. These seeds are pressed onto the surface of the soil and kept moist until germination occurs.

Multi-cycle germination: Seeds that require a warm cycle, a cold cycle, and another warm cycle before they germinate. This can sometimes require more than a year for germination.

Rooting hormone: A synthetic version of a natural plant hormone that can encourage root formation on stem cuttings. Commercial rooting hormones are available in garden centers and online in powder form, but they are not approved for organic use.

Scarification: The process of abrading the seed surface to make it more permeable. Some seeds have hard seed coats that need to be broken down so that they can germinate. In nature, this happens when they pass through the digestive tract of an animal or are exposed to rough, changeable weather conditions. You can mimic this process by gently rubbing the seeds with sandpaper, nicking them with a sharp knife {if they are large enough} or dropping them in boiling water and then letting them cool to room temperature.

Seed: A plant embryo and its supply of nutrients, often surrounded by a protective seed coat.

Seedling: A young plant grown from a seed.

Stratification: Exposing seeds to a period of cold to break dormancy. Cold stratification helps germinate seeds that would naturally go through freezing temperatures in the winter. You can either sow in the fall and leave the flat outdoors, where it will experience the natural rise and fall of the seasonal temperatures, or, if your winter is not frigid, you can artificially create those cool conditions: In a plastic bag, mix the seed with moist sand or vermiculite, label the bag, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 3 to 4 weeks. You can also place the bag in the freezer occasionally to simulate winter weather.

Growing An Aromatic Herb Garden

The first or original aromatic herb gardens were developed by the Persians sometimes over 2,000 years back in the courtyards of their residences. Generally, these herb gardens were of square or rectangular shape and usually they were separated into four by streams that originated from a centrally located fountain. These enclosed scented herb gardens were called pairidaeza, which was derived from the word ‘paradise’. The Persians are known to be outstanding gardeners and their ‘paradise’ essentially included three major features – running water, aroma, and shade.

In fact, the Byzantine church was mainly instrumental in making the concept of such scented herb garden popular in the western regions of Europe, earlier in the structure of cloister gardens, which were soon found in all monasteries in the region. The concept of a walled, scented garden was readily accepted by the traditional Christianity during the medieval times. In effect, it was something familiar to observing the entire creation in a representational term. By now, the references in the Bible, since the Garden of Eden to the Song of Songs, had corroborated gardens like these in the form of illustrations of the Paradise itself.

Way back in 1260, a Dominican monk Albertus Magnus spelled out the prerequisites for developing ideal pleasure gardens. He specified that the scented herb gardens ought to have a fountain plus a lawn, comprising all perfumed herbs, for instance, sage, rue and basil and similarly, include every type of flowers, counting lily, violet, rose, columbine, iris and those similar to these blooms. In addition, Albertus also recommended that there ought to be a vast assortment of aromatic and therapeutic herbs at the back of the lawn. At the same time, he emphasized that the flowers should not be there just to please the sense of smell by their fragrance, but also to enliven the sense of sight by their color and beauty.

The crusaders had already introduced the rose into the western regions of Europe. Actually, the original connotation of the term rosary is said to be an encircling rose garden that is devoted to the Virgin Mary. While the initial rosaries were developed on the sacred or hallowed ground, paintings from the 16th century depict that the pattern was espoused in gardens owned privately, wherein the rose gardens, as well as arbors (retreats), were developed by the rich and royals.

Lilium candidum (Madonna lily), attractive and extremely perfumed, was among the other blessed flowers that were grown by the Christian church in the earliest times. On the other hand, in the gardens of the monastery, lilies and roses were grown in concert along with particularly fragrant herbs like rosemary and lavender. Historians who specialized on gardens are of the view that the medieval romance garden, as well as the Renaissance love garden, were mainly rose plus herb gardens, which were held in high esteem both for their visual features as well as their efficacy.

The era of Queen Elizabeth I’s sovereignty is considered to be the prime of such scented herb gardens. During this period, people took delight in pleasantly aromatic food, clothes, and rooms. It is documented that the mistress of one manor house during the Elizabethan reign cultivated aromatic flowers as well as fragrant plants in a private formal garden generally fenced by rose briers plus fruit trees for enjoying a walk as well as sitting in the garden. In addition, the aromatic herb garden was also utilized to supply the ingredients for the mistress’ still room. In her still room, the mistress made ‘sweet waters’ using rose petals and flowers of rosemary as well as curative lotions using the stems of the spikes of lavender and the Madonna lily. Scented herbs, such as rue and hyssop, were cultivated to cover the floors of rooms with a view to disinfect the air, while they’re dried up flowers were packed into pillows and cushions to support sound sleep.

A contemporary herb garden also comprises herbal plants, which are esteemed for their fragrant attributes. In fact, a scented herb garden is a place which you may possibly want to visit to relax yourself following a hectic day. Such a garden may perhaps be made up of a small number of pleasingly aromatic herbs grown in containers and placed in one corner of the porch, a vast garden having sitting area, or simply comprise numerous aromatic herbs grown along a preferred pathway in your courtyard.

It may be noted that the majority of the aromatic herbs usually emit their fragrance more when someone brushes against them or touches them. In addition, a pleasant waft will also transport the fragrant scent of the herb throughout the yard and to you. Remember this aspect when you are deciding on the place where you desire to have your scented herb garden. It would surely be an excellent idea to have it close to your home.

When we are talking about aromatic herbs, you may choose from a wide variety of them. Take into account that simply for the reason that a herb is aromatic, it does not imply that you will alone take delight in its fragrance. Prior to selecting as well as planting your desired scented herb garden, you need to take the aroma of every plant with a view to ensure that its scent gives you pleasure.

Fragrant Herbs for the Garden

As mentioned above, there are assortments of aromatic herbs from which you may choose for your scented herb garden. Below is a list of such scented herbs which most people believe have a delightful fragrance. However, this list should never be considered to be a complete or final catalog of scented herbs, as there are a great many amazingly aromatic herbs which may be compiled in a list in this article. It is advisable that before you purchase any herb, you should personally examine every herb by rubbing a leaf of the plant and inhaling its aroma to ensure that it releases an aroma that you may find to be delightful. The fact remains that the same aroma is not preferred by everyone and this is something which makes the world revolve.

Generally, people consider basil to be a herb that is mostly used for cooking. However, the irrefutable fragrance of this herb is pleasing as well as comforting. Catnip is another herb which emits a pleasant aroma, you ought to be conscious that the kitties in your neighborhood would also get pleasure from this plant and may perhaps result in some kind of a untidiness in your desired scented herb garden.

Cultivating catmint has a special reward and that is the loaded scent of cinnamon. This herb is really an attractive addition to any scented garden. While Nepeta Grandiflora comes to flower first and is generally incorporated in early collections, Nepeta siberica flowers during the later part of summer and is generally incorporated in the later classifications. Following the blooming of both these herbs, cut them to a height of a couple of inches, as this will encourage fresh growth as well as flowering for a second time. Several beneficial butterflies and insects visit these plants, which are frequently used in the form of an under planting for white as well as pink roses.

While most people usually think that the herb chamomile is used for preparing tea, it may be noted that this herb is also attractive and the flowers, as well as foliage, have a marvelous scent enlivening your garden.

Special mention needs to be made regarding Roman chamomile, which is among the small plants that are loaded with the aroma. Having the aroma that has a resemblance to a Jolly Rancher bitter apple candy, Roman chamomile makes a fragrant vivid green cover for the ground in places having cool summer climatic conditions. In England, this herb is frequently used to jam the fissures between the blocks of the pavement. In addition, Roman chamomile, which is also known as the English chamomile, is also used in the form of a path cover or maybe in the form of a soft cover for a bench.

In addition, you may also use Roman Chamomile to prepare an aromatic alleyway or a pleasant scented amaze grown among other plants in the garden. In case the herb is able to push its way against other plants in its vicinity, Roman Chamomile may even grow up to a height of a foot when it is in bloom.

Feverfew is another herb that has gorgeous flowers, but the majority of the plant’s aroma is released by means of its foliage and making it a pleasant inclusion in any scented herb garden. On the other hand, lavender has always been a preferred herb for gardeners growing scented herbs. The leaves, as well as the flowers of lavender, give off a potent, but comforting aroma.

The herb lemon balm derives its name from the plant’s leaves, which possess an aroma similar to that of lemons. Numerous herbal gardeners actually admire the fresh fragrance of this plant. Recognize the value of the fact that lemon balm multiplies very fast and has the aptitude to invade your garden rapidly provided its growth is not kept under control.

Mint is also an aromatic herb which may be somewhat invasive, but still, it is favored for its fresh fragrance. There are various species of mint and you may choose from spearmint, peppermint, orange mint or chocolate peppermint for growing in your scented herbal garden. Provided you restrict the growth of the different species of mint in different areas of your herbal garden, each species will be capable of releasing its distinct aroma.

Scented geraniums do not blossom very frequently nor are they eye-catching like their cousins, which are just known as geraniums. However, they emit an amazing fragrance which makes this species among the most excellent plants to be grown in any scented herbal garden. In fact, there is an assortment of scented geraniums for you to choose from for your garden. The wide variety of scented geraniums comprises cinnamon, apricot, lemon, apple, ginger, orange, nutmeg, rose, strawberry, and peppermint are only among a few of them. One needs to touch the leaves of this plant for them to emit their rich fragrance, therefore ensure that you grow these scented plants close to the boundary of your scented herbal garden. It may be noted that scented geraniums are subtle plants and in most places, they would require moving indoors during the winter months.

Anise hyssop is neither a mint nor a genuine licorice, but this herb certainly enhances the fragrance of licorice candy to your scented herbal garden. In addition, licorice mint (anise hyssop) is a wonderful culinary herb and may be used for cooking or dried up to prepare a tea. You may try to infuse some amount of this herb in milk and freeze it to prepare an ice cream. Usually, shear licorice mint returns to the ground following flowering during mid spring and again appears in the form of a small green hedge for the remaining growing season. Alternately, you may allow the plant to provide for little birds and disperse the seeds of the plant for a crop of seedlings to appear voluntarily during the subsequent spring. Whatever you may do, this plant will keep on enhancing the aroma of the herbal garden till frosting. Generally, the plants wither away and return to the ground when it frosts. Ensure that you mark the place where you are growing this plant so that it is not removed prior to its re-emergence during the next spring.

This list is likely to help you to start work on your scented herbal garden. However, always bear in mind to spend some time to personally inhale the smell of the entire herbs that are obtainable from your neighborhood gardening center prior to deciding on the specific herbs you would like to grow in your personal scented herbal garden. In fact, it will not be a very easy task choosing the herbs you would prefer to grow because there are far too many varieties available.

The Disorders Of Herbs {Pests and Diseases}

Herbs that are used to treat numerous health conditions are themselves susceptible to the plant diseases that inflict many other garden plants. While some care is required to grow garden plants to keep them healthy, it is essential to take special care while growing herbs since they are primarily cultivated for culinary or remedial reasons. When herbs are grown under glass, ventilation and hygiene are especially vital while cultivating herbs. In addition, you may help the herbs to avoid fungal infections by getting rid of the dead leaves and flowers as well as by using gummy traps to catch flying pests prior to the temperatures becoming extremely high to take initiatives for biological controls. At times it may be necessary to spray insecticides and in such instances ensure that you only use those insecticides that are safe and suggested by those who supply biological controls. In addition, while spraying insecticides, it is also important to follow the instructions meticulously. It is also advisable that you immerse the pots that have been brought under glass in biological solutions with a view to eliminating any slug or snail that may be present.

Aphids

Aphids are known to be one of the most disparaging pests that invade the cultivated plants in the temperate climatic regions. In effect, they have turned out to be the enemies of the farmers as well as gardeners across the world for the extent of the damage done by them to the cultivated plants. However, when you look at aphids from the zoological viewpoint, you will find them to be among the most successful groups of organisms. Partially, their success is owing to some of their species’ ability to reproduce asexually.

Plants that have been damaged by aphids may have an assortment of symptoms, for instance, lower growth rates, spotted leaves, undersized development, yellowing, coiled leaves, drooping, burrowing, low yields and even untimely deaths. Taking away the plant’s sap results in absence of vitality in the diseased plant. Also, the saliva of aphids is noxious to the plants. In effect, it has been found that often aphids pass on organisms that cause diseases to the plants, such as viruses to the plants which they inhabit. Especially, the green peach aphid (biological name, Myzus persicae) is known to be a vector or carrier for over 100 plant viruses. Similarly, the cotton aphids (botanical name, Aphis gossypii) generally taint the papaya, sugarcane, and peanuts with viruses. It may be noted that aphids have been responsible for spreading late blight (scientific name, Phytophthora infestans) amongst potatoes during the Irish potato famine that occurred in the 1840’s.

On the other hand, the black cherry aphid or the cherry aphid (biological name, Myzus cerasi) is liable for various leaves curling of the cherry trees. This symptom can be easily differentiated from ‘leaf curling’ caused by the species of Taphrina fungus owing to the presence of aphids underneath the leaves.

It may be noted that the harm or diseases caused to the plants, especially the commercial crops, have led to the spending of huge amounts as well as great efforts in trying to control the actions of aphids. Therefore, it is advisable that you control the growth, spread as well as destruction using insecticidal soft soaps, or direct a potent, fine stream of water onto the part swarming with the pests to knock off the aphids from the plants.

Gray mold (Botrytis)

Gray mold, also known as Botrytis blight, is known to be a gardener’s nightmare. In fact, this is a widespread plant ailment, particularly non-woody plants that are grown under humid conditions. Gray mold may be a major problem in the greenhouses, especially when the dampness is high, while the temperatures are reasonable. This disease generally infects tomatoes and, sometimes, cucumbers too. At times, this disease is also a problem on decorative plants, especially the African violets.

It has been detected that Botrytis blight distresses the plants in several ways. This disease may result in the collapse and can weaken the seedlings, cause disfigurement or blotched to blossoms, lead to the rotting of the fruits, stem and the plant crown as well as afflict the shoots. The first symptom of this common plant disease is generally a water-soaked spot on the plant that subsequently makes the tissue soft and watered-down. The inflicted parts of the plant gradually droop and collapse. In case the humidity level stays high, you will notice that a greyish-brown outside layer or mesh of mycelium of fungus threads as well as spores developing over the surface of the bowed tissue.

The infected parts of the plant develop numerous spores that are easily blown or splattered on top of the healthy foliage. In case there is a thin layer of moisture and other conditions are encouraging, germination of the microorganisms as well as contagion may occur only within a few hours’ time. In addition, sclerotia (a vegetative, resting food-storage body in specific higher fungi, made up of a dense mass of toughened mycelia) may develop on the plump parts of the stems and fruits. The sclerotia are the hard-wearing resting structure that allows the fungus to stay alive at times when the conditions are not conducive for its growth. The sizes of the sclerotia differ and may be up to one-fourth of an inch and are generally black and evened out. In fact, sclerotia are always not noticeable but may be entrenched in decomposed tissue or covered with soil and other wreckage or plant remains.

The film or thin covering of moisture is essential for the germination of the spores and infecting the plants. Hence, gray mold normally has a preference for humid and comparatively cool climatic conditions. It is possible to bring down the levels of humidity by opening up plantings while cultivation, by leaving greater spaces between the rows and plants or by means of pruning. This helps the more free movement of air through the plants and reduces humidity. When plants are grown in greenhouses, gray mold can be brought under control by making provisions for excellent ventilation. It may be noted that the gray mold fungus flourishes on plant remain.

In addition to proper ventilation, sanitation is another vital aspect for controlling the germination and growth of gray mold. Therefore, it is important to get rid of the fallen leaves and dead plants from the greenhouses and set ablaze, buried or leave them at some place where they will dry quickly. By doing this, you will be able to lessen a number of contagious substances in the area.

Leaf miners

Generally, leafminers feed in the leaves or needles that result in tunneling or digging injuries on the leaves. In effect, numerous types of insects, as well as the larvae of moths (Lepidoptera), sawflies (Hymenoptera), beetles (Coleoptera) and flies (Diptera), have assumed this habit for their survival. The majority of these insects spend their entire larval period feeding in the leaves. While a number of them also develop from the larva stage to pupa (pupate) in the leaf mine feeding on the leaves, there are others whose larvae, when full grown, cut their way out of the leaves and drop on the soil to develop into a pupa.

In fact, occasionally the leaf miners are categorized depending on the type of mines they create in the leaves. For instance, the serpentine leaf mines meander like a snake across the leaf slowly broadening while the insect grows. Blotch leaf miners are more widespread and they are normally erratically curved. The tentiform leaf miner is a sub-group of the insects that create the swelling stained type of mines that bend upwards something akin to a tent as the tissue of the damaged leaf dries up. Usually, the mining prototypes are generally a mishmash of what has been described above. For instance, the insect species initially create serpentine mines, but in the end, they enlarge the leaf cavity of a splotched mine.

Normally, the areas of the leaves that the insects have mined gradually dry out and die. While the damages caused by the leaf mining insects may appear to be ugly, these insects are seldom known to affect the health of the entire plant. In addition, the majority of the leaf miners have significant natural controls that usually put a check on their population prior to any excessive damage is done to the plants.

Damages done by insects that engage in leaf and needle mining may sometimes apparently look like the symptoms caused by leaf spotting fungi or different abiotic problems. These can be differentiated by separating the mottled part. In case the leaves have been harmed by insects, there will be a hollow area in the leaf or the needle, which may reveal the insect and/ or its droppings. On the other hand, the leaf spotting fungi result in the collapse of the affected areas and there is no tunneling whatsoever.

Before concluding, it may be mentioned that the larvae of an assortment of moths, flies, and beetles survive by mining through leaves of various plants. In order to check this menace, it is advisable to get rid of the affected leaves and destroy them immediately. In addition, you should spray the herbs regularly with water to keep these insects away.

Spider mites

Spider mites belong to the Acari mite family Tetranychidae and include as many as 1600 species. In fact, spider mites are quite widespread pest problems affecting several plants grown in the yards and gardens. These mites damage the plants by feeding on the plants, especially ingesting the sap, with their mouthparts that resemble whips causing bruised cells. Generally, the damaged parts of the plants are noticeable as they are marked with several minutes, pale spots making the plant appear speckled to some extent.

The leaves are discolored when there is an acute swarming of the insects, making the plant look deep gray or bronze. Eventually, the leaves, as well as the needles, may turn out to be seared and drop from the plant. Very often, spider mites kill the plants they invade or inflict grave stress on them.

Spider mites are included in the class of arachnid, closely related to insects, including spiders, scorpions, ticks and daddy-longlegs. The spider mites are so minute that it is normally difficult to see them with the naked eye. Depending on the species of the spider mites as well as the seasonal changes in their look, the colors of the spider mites vary from red and brown to yellow and green.

Several species of spider mites create webs, especially when their population is very high. Such webbings provide the spider mites as well as their eggs with protection from their natural enemies as well as the changes in the environment.

Hot and dry climatic conditions are ideal for the spider mites to thrive. In order to control the menace caused by spider mites, it is advisable to get rid of the webs created by them on the leaves as soon as you notice them. In addition, you also need to spray the plants with insecticidal soap and water or, alternately, use biological control by introducing a predatory mite called Phytoseiulus.

Rusts

Rusts are basically a type of plant disease spread by disease-bearing fungi belonging to the class of Pucciniales. Thus far, as may as 7,800 different species of such fungi have been identified. In fact, rusts have the ability to damage an assortment of plants, including their stems, leaves, fruits and even seeds. When any plant is affected by rusts, it can be seen as a colored powder made up of minute aeciospores that land on vegetation pustules or uredia that develop on the surfaces underneath. Yellowish-orange or brownish bristles or ligulate formations are known as telia grow on the leaves or surface from the bark of woody hosts, for instance, the Juniperus species, during the later part of spring or in the early part of summer. These telia result in the development of teliospores that subsequently germinate into aerial basidiospores, which spread all over the plant infecting it further.

When the humidity level is high and the air circulation is poor, blotches of rust appear on the affected parts. In order to control this problem, it is essential to provide the herbs with adequate space and sufficient ventilation. At the same time, remove the herbs that have already been infected and never replant the same species for a while.

Whitefly

Whiteflies are basically tiny hemipterans that are the only member of the family Aleyrodidae. Thus far, over 1,550 species of whiteflies have been identified. These small insects generally feed on the underneath of the plant leaves.

In greenhouses, whiteflies can be controlled best by making use of biological control – i.e. utilizing another insect that eliminates them and, thereby, does the job for you. In addition, if the temperatures are low, it is advisable to enhance the circulation of air, dangle sticky traps and also spray the plants with insecticidal soap. When the plants grown under glass are affected by whiteflies, use a biological control by introducing a parasitic wasp called encarsia.

It may be noted that encarsia is a tiny parasitic wasp that lays its eggs in the deposits of whiteflies where the larvae develop and, thereby, eliminates the invading insects. The larvae grow into adults that find additional scales to parasitise. It is interesting to note that when the larvae have done their work (in other words, eliminated the whiteflies) there is no food left for them and, hence, their life cycle ends. In case the invasion of whiteflies reoccurs, you will be required to introduce encarsia once again to combat the menace.

It is an excellent plan to once again use some covering over the ventilators and doors if you wish to keep the whitefly eliminator (encarsia) unharmed inside the greenhouse where they will continue to deal with the whitefly menace. In addition, you may also use insecticides even when the biological controls are in place. However, it is advisable that you use the soft insecticidal soap prior to introducing the biological controls, for they too are harmed by the insecticides.

Propagating Herbs

Plants can be propagated by four fundamental means. They can be propagated by their seeds, grown from root divisions, stem cuttings as well as layering. In order to undertake any of these techniques successfully, it would be prudent if you start by studying the attributes as well as the growth patterns of the particular plant you wish to proliferate. Gaining more and more knowledge about the habits of a plant will help you to propagate the plant more easily.

Growing from seed

Plants produce copious seeds that are vigorous and live for a long period. Naturally, the seeds are driven out of the plants by the force generated when the seedpods split open. Subsequently, they are transported far and wide by sticking to the hairs on the animal hide or under the bellies of birds or by the wind and they land in a new place far away from their original home. In fact, it is possible to sow a number of seeds immediately when they are collected from the fruits enclosing them. On the other hand, some seeds remain dormant for a while prior to becoming feasible as well as ready for germination.

Again there are other seeds that require stratification to facilitate maturing and become feasible for sowing and germination. In fact, when seeds are stratified, they are kept in cold temperatures which they would generally go through in nature during their dormant period in the winter months. Seeds that need to be stratified should be cleaned of dust, soil, and impurities and drenched in water for anything between 24 hours and 49 hours. Subsequently, they need to be packed in any damp medium like sphagnum or sawdust and stored in the refrigerator for a period roughly between one and four months, subject to the species. There are a number of seeds that have further complicated dormancy prerequisites and simply keeping them in cold temperature for any period of time is not sufficient. They require being alternately kept in warm, cold and again warm temperatures.

There is a third type of seeds that are dormant for a considerable period owing to their tough seed coat, which stops moisture from going through till they are notched or lacerated. A section of horticulturists employs a little file to make scratches on the seed coat or to put these seeds in simmering water with a view to make them soft. Soaking seeds in warm water actually make them livelier and makes them ready for germination.

It has been seen that the majority types of seeds germinate most excellently when sown in a neutral soil medium that is porous in nature. However, some plants, for instance, rhododendrons have a preference for acidic soil for germinating, but these types of plants are certainly among the exceptions. Several substances including sand, perlite (a product from volcanoes), sphagnum moss (obtained from swamps), vermiculite (also called expanded mica), pounded granite as well as uncontaminated soil are utilized in the form of germination mediums. You should ensure that the medium is not very weighty and, at the same time, sufficiently substantial to enable the seedlings to grow up straight, while their roots hold on to the soil steadfastly. Using a mixture of equal proportions of crushed granite and sphagnum moss is an excellent medium to start with. In fact, many people prefer to use sphagnum moss as a starting mix, as this substance is extremely resilient to invasion by fungi, which generally weaken and deteriorate the seeds as well as the cuttings. Ideally, you ought to sow the seeds in rows maintaining a space of no less than one inch between them. A common guideline to decide on how deep the seeds need to be sown in the soil says that usually the seeds should be sown up to a depth that is equivalent to their vertical measurement.

Much before you sow the seeds, you need to keep watering the growing medium. Keep the flat in a temperate place, about 70°F. You should keep spraying the seeds many times every day till they begin to germinate. When they start germinating, examine the seedlings closely to detect if there are any fungal diseases. In case you find that the plants have been damaged, prick them out cautiously and annihilate them. Generally, biodynamic gardeners (people who grow plants organically) mist chamomile tea on the germinating plants with a view to avoiding damping off. This herbal tea is prepared by infusing the herb chamomile in water for a couple of days or even more. It is advisable that you apply the spray in the form of a mist with a view to preventing any further damage to the seedlings.

Besides developing damping-off fungus, the major threats to the germinating seeds include allowing the growing medium to become parched and not maintaining a sufficiently warm temperature. Provided you are watchful and succeed in preventing the occurrence of these conditions, you will be able to produce several healthy seedlings, thereby helping nature.

It is worth mentioning here that biodynamic gardeners often bathe the seeds with special preparations based on herbs. People who advocate this method say that when you spray the seeds with diluted solutions prepared with a variety of preparations containing biodynamic compost, it accelerates the pace of germination, makes the seedlings vigorous and also prevent the occurrence of fungal diseases. In addition, biodynamic gardeners support using rainwater for watering the seeds as well as seedlings, as rainwater contains dashes of nitrogen, which is collected when the water from the cloud falls all the way through the atmosphere. According to biodynamic experts, the seedlings are able to absorb the nitrogen easily. However, using rainwater may not be a good thing to do in polluted areas or nearby places where the wind is flowing from the polluted areas.

It may also be noted that the moon affects the sowing pattern by biodynamic gardeners. Substantiating their process, they reveal that the level of underground moisture rises to the surface of the soil during the lunar fortnight when the moon is visible at night (also called ‘waxing of the moon’). The gravitational pull exerted by the moon brings up the maximum amount of subterranean moisture in the soil during the full moon phase. Hence, seeds that are very slow in germinating are generally sown during a full moon and a week following it. On the other hand, seeds that sprout very rapidly, in addition to the seeds that germinate very slowly, are sown two days prior to the new moon and during the following seven days.

When the seeds have sprouted and produced numerous leaves, the seedlings are all set to be transplanted into small, separate containers. In case you want to transplant the seedlings into beds outdoors, make sure that you plant the seedlings no less than 1.25 inches apart. Also be careful while handling the small plants, ensuring that you do not cause any harm to their tender stems as well as roots. You may prepare an excellent potting soil by blending compost, loamy topsoil and sharp sand in equal proportions. Allow the seedling to nurture in the pots for many more weeks with a view to enabling the tender plants to expand their root system as well as produce more new leaves. Once the plants have established their roots and produced numerous leaves, they are all set to be transplanted into their permanent positions outdoors.

Division

Often, perennial plants are propagated by dividing their crown – a procedure involving dividing a large cluster of plants into smaller clumps and replanting them. Generally, the crown division is undertaken during the fall when the plants are in a dormant state. However, some types of plants are also dividing in the early part of spring, prior to the beginning of the new season’s growth. In order to undertake crown division, you need to unearth the clumps carefully and cleanse the soil sticking to the roots using a brush with a view to seeing what you will be doing. Subsequently, separate the plants by pulling them apart or cut the clumps all the way through the top growth using a sharp knife or spade with a view to dividing them into many smaller clusters. Some of the plants that can be propagated well by dividing their clumps with a knife include mugwort, oregano, hyssop, and tarragon. On the other hand, it is better to separate the clumps of garlic, onion, mints and German chamomileusing a spading fork after you have evacuated them from the soil.

It is advisable that you should be very cautious while dividing the plants, because even the slightest damage to their roots may render them unviable for propagation. Be careful while separating the roots and ensure that every plant has its stem/ shoot and roots intact. Once you replant them, you need to water them carefully. In case you are undertaking the crown division during the fall, you also need to provide mulch to the clumps that have been replanted with a view to shield the roots during the harsh winter months.

While handling plants that are very tender or having elongated taproots, you should opt for their propagation by root division. When you undertake propagation by means of root division, you actually chop the plants’ roots into several pieces, each of them having a bud. As new shoots will develop from the buds, you should ensure that each root division has at least one bud attached to it. In addition, root division may also entail separating/ dividing the offshoots developed from subterranean corms, bulbs or tubers, provided these offshoots have the potential to grow into new plants.

Cuttings

Cuttings are of many dissimilar types, including leaf and bud cuttings; stem, root and leaf cuttings; softwood cuttings as well as hardwood cuttings. To ensure that the cuttings thrive and grow into new plants, you need to take them from vigorous plants and at the appropriate time; be cautious while setting the cuttings into a good quality rooting medium; and ensure that you keep the cuttings moist as well as warm till they give out roots.

However, hardwood cuttings are exceptional. Generally, these cuttings are made from the latest growth of deciduous trees and only when the trees have shed all their leaves. Actually, hardwood cuttings are an excellent way to produce sufficient plants to serve as windbreaks and hedges. Each hardwood cutting ought to be roughly between 6 inches and 8 inches having at least three to four nodules or nodes. The node at the uppermost of the cutting should be just roughly one inch from the top. Tie up the hardwood cuttings and put the bundle in somewhat damp sand and keep them in a refrigerator at roughly 50°F for about a month. Subsequently, keep the cutting in further cold temperature, just higher than the freezing temperature, till the spring thaw. When the last spring frost is over, plant these cuttings in a furrow with just their topmost node (bud) remaining above the soil. Water these cuttings every day and keep a careful eye on them till they begin to develop new shoots. Here is a word of caution: ensure that you do not store the cuttings in the refrigerator for an extended period or else they may possibly sprout even before you plant them outdoors.

Softwood cutting are also referred to as greenwood cuttings, which are made by cutting majority of the plants, counting those whose wood is tough. Usually, the new growths of healthy deciduous plants are used for greenwood cuttings. In fact, the stem that would be used as the cutting should split with crack when it is bent. However, if you are able to crush the stem between your fingers, it is considered to tender to be used for cuttings. On the other hand, if the stem just bends somewhat between your fingers, it is considered to be too mature for softwood cuttings. In fact, this is best way to test as well as know whether the plant is sufficiently mature to tolerate cutting, but yet quite young to produce an excellent cutting. Ideally, softwood cuttings should be done either in the latter part of spring or the early part of summer. However, the timings for making softwood cutting differ depending on the type of plant.

Usually, the length of the cutting differs from two inches to six inches. Ideally, you need to cut the stem at about 45° angle and roughly half an inch away from the bud (node) to separate the cutting from the original stem. Softwood cuttings are usually made from the branch terminals and, hence, often they are also referred to as terminal cuttings. Immediately after making the cutting, cover its base with a moist cloth or paper towel and put it in a plastic bag. Examine the shape of the cutting and carefully get rid of nearly all the leaves. It may be noted that having lots of leaves will diminish the prospects of the cutting taking roots.

Remove the cloth or the damp paper towel just before planting the cutting into a bed prepared with moist sand and tiny gravels. Make sure that the cutting stands straight and is properly supported by the medium in which it will take roots. If cuttings have been made in the latter part of the spring or early part of summer they should develop enough and healthy roots by autumn. However, if the cuttings have been made from plants resilient to winter, you may plant them outdoors with a view to allow them to become firm and also let them experience their first winter outdoors after you have relocated them into a medium prepared by mixing equal proportions of topsoil and sharp sand and fertilized by adding little quantities of compost. However, if you are growing the rooted cuttings in containers or pots, you need to keep them under careful observation all through the cold spells, because the soil in the pots freezes much more rapidly compared to the soil in the gardens.

Layering

The traditional method of producing a new plant from a plant that already exists is known as layering. This process is employed very frequently for propagating shrubs whose roots are very difficult to cut or separate. Different from cuttings, wherein a part of the plant (especially the stem with nodes) is cut from the mother plant, layering involves encouraging a branch to give out roots by bending it down into the soil and keeping it in that position for a period of time by means of putting a weight (usually a rock) on it. In fact, the process involved in propagation through layering is a very secure one, as it can be undertaken without causing any damage either to the parent or new plant. However, the downside of layering is that it takes much more time to propagate a plant by this method compared to root division and cuttings.

Ideally, layering should be taken up during spring prior to the bud of the plant you have selected open up. First, you need to select a good and sturdy branch, which is long as well as sufficiently flexible so that it can be curved to the ground without much difficulty. Next, you bend the branch to the ground and make a marking at the place where you want it to develop new roots. Remove a small portion of the bark from the place which will be buried into the ground for rooting. Ensure that while cutting the bark you do not cause any damage to the plant tissue just under the layer of the bark. Put in some sand, sphagnum and peat moss to the soil at the portion of the branch where you have removed the bark and set the layered part of the branch into the ground for rooting using a forked stick or a small rock. You may also use a hairpin to hold a slender branch in its place into the ground. Make sure that the top part of the branch that you have layered sticks out from the ground – the tip should never be buried under the soil. At times, gardeners keep the tip of the layered branch out of the soil by fastening it with a stick or by bracing the branch.

By the next spring, it will be time to unearth the layered branch. In order to grow the new plant, unearth it cautiously with a view to protect the new roots and then cut the original branch at a place a little lower than where the new roots have developed. Subsequently, plant this rooted branch in the same manner as you would plant a cutting. This method of propagating plants is known as simple layering. Tip layering is another way you can propagate plants and it is actually a more rapid method of proliferating plants. This method involves only burying the tip of a plant, not the stem, during spring. When you undertake tip layering you can unearth and start growing the new plant in the next fall.

Growing Herbs In Containers

Having a garden where herbs are grown in containers simply appears very pleasant and is also extremely expedient. In addition, a container herb garden also possesses the immense charisma of being formed all of a sudden. When you have successfully put the containers as well as your choice of herbs together, it is simple and also pleasurable to pot the most companionable partners.

The awareness regarding growing herbs has actually persuaded nurseries, garden centers as well as potters to make their assortment of attractive pots and containers available. Hence, in case your finances do not permit you to establish a garden comprising gorgeous and traditional jardinières, still reasonably priced tubs made of wood and terracotta are extensively available in the market. You may also procure inexpensive plastic containers which may be made to look more attractive by including a shallow layer of mortar or domestic filler painted green or gray.

A number of gardeners who deal with herbs have a preference for limited formalism of plant being pruned to give them a decorative appearance, for instance, growing concise bay trees in containers and placed near the entrance of their townhouse. It is also possible to prepare as well as prune additional timbered herbs like lavender and rosemary into the form of a mop-head. If the location is very breezy, it is advisable to envelop the growing means using heavy pebbles or gravel with a view to load down the tub or pot. If you use harmonizing pots that have been properly planted and craftily placed may help to attain a spectacular as well as eye-catching impact. In addition, containers having herbs that grow tall may be used in as a nice-looking and casual partition in your garden.

Herbs grown in pots thrive well when they are planted in compost as well as a sterile medium comprising peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite along with a fertilizer that is quick as well as slow releasing. It may be noted here that compost is sluggishly releasing. In the case of every pot, add sufficient compost to permit space to add a sterile medium of additional six inches depth. The medium should be carefully blended with polymers that soak up water since they reduce the requirement for watering by making the optimum use of the moisture available.

It may be noted that majority of the herbs, whether grown in pots or in an outdoor garden, require total sunlight – a minimum of six hours every day. Having said this, it needs to be mentioned that on a very hot day, containers can actually swelter. Hence, if you are living at any place where the temperatures rise rapidly, it may be necessary to place your herb garden in a shady place when the temperature is hottest during the day.

It is advised that you should exercise caution to ensure that you do not use excessive fertilizers while growing herbs in containers. A majority of the herbs loathe growing in too much fertilizer, while a number of herbs are likely to be susceptible to squawk provided they are bothered and fed with excessive fertilizers. Applying fertilizers in profuse amounts is also likely to make the plants have out-sized growth, while their essential oils that are responsible for their essence and fragrance would also be lessened significantly. A number of herbs, such as thyme and oregano subsist on inattention and they would not be as flavored if excessive attention, food or water is provided to these plants.

Interestingly enough, nearly all things may be used as containers for growing herbs. However, while choosing anything to serve as a herb container, you ought to ensure that it has a suitable drainage. Since a majority of the herbs do not have huge roots, you may do well even with little containers. This is all the more true in the case of herbs which do not have problems even if they dry up between two watering. Moreover, when you are using a smaller container, you require a lesser amount of soil and, therefore the error margin while watering the plants is also relatively small.

On the other hand, a number of herbs flourish well in containers that are self-watering, as they prefer a steady moisture level. In fact, herbs, such as parsley, chives, marjoram as well mint would do well provided they are grown in self-watering containers. Other different herbs, such as thyme, oregano, basil, and rosemary have a preference to shrivel up between watering and, hence, it would not be good for them to be grown in self-watering containers.

It is possible for you to grow several different varieties of herbs in a single container as you may wish, provided you ensure that all the herbs are grown in one pot share the same amount of sunlight, water as well as soil inclination. For instance, rosemary has a preference for a hot and dry environment, while parsley requires constant moisture. Growing these two plants having a diverse preference in one pot would never be a good idea.

In case you are using a large container to grow herbs, it is advisable that you place vertically some length of punctured hose pipe in the middle of the container to enable to water the plants using this hose pipe. You should use the growing medium in a way that it encircles the pipe and then plant the herbs. You may use a strawberry tub or pot that appears delightful when planted with dissimilar selections of thyme. In this case, it is best to plant the herbs once you have filled the pot with a soil blend. Prepare a stratum of rock at the bottom of the container and fix in place a length of punctured hose pipe in a vertical position and subsequently coat the rocks using soil till it comes to same the plane as that of the first opening at the side of the container. Put the herb on the soil and subsequently push out the plant’s leaves gently through the opening. Subsequently, outstretch the herb’s roots and cover them with soil, pushing them downwards gently to keep the herb in the correct position. Following this, put in more soil using a trowel till it is on the same plane with the next opening and then plant a new herb following the same procedure.

If you are growing herbs in hanging baskets, it is best if you line them using sphagnum moss with a view to making drainage easier as well as to reduce the weight of the baskets. In order to pack up, a basket made from wire, put some pieces of damp moss together with their greenish tufts leveled against the wire. Subsequently, fill up half of the basket with the growing medium, put the herbs in the desired position and bed the plants properly using additional growing medium. In case the soil planted in a container newly appears to be too uncovered, you may try to cover it using gravel or chippings of bark. Alternately you may also sow some cress and mustard that germinates rapidly and supplies a green fit to be eaten grass that may be harvested, while the primary herbs develop and increase.

It is essential to water the herbs as per their requirement keeping in mind that all flesh and leafy herbs, for instance, basil, have a preference for moist soil, while the herbs having their origin in the Mediterranean region like rosemary prefer somewhat dry conditions. Remember to give the herbs a good dousing each time you water them. In effect, hanging baskets have a propensity to lose humidity faster compared to the herbs grown in other containers. It is advisable that you provide the fast-growing herbs with liquid organic nourishments sometimes during the hot summer months. The woody or timbered herbs, such as rosemary, hyssop, and lavender, ought to be clipped following their flowering season with a view to making certain that they have a healthier growth during the next year. Also, spruce the herbs grown in containers on a regular basis with a view to maintaining their shape and, if required, you also need to winter or provide warmth to the gentle herbs that grow perennially, for instance, chives and tarragon, below the cover in a place that has light and is frost-free.

You should never feel reticent as far as using the herbs as ornamental components in any container garden are concerned. You should know that the herbs in a container garden may appear to be out of this world as well as offer an immense quality and aroma when they are blended with perennials or annuals. Then again, always remember to grow the herbs having similar water and light requirements in the same pot or container.

You may grow various types of herbs in a container garden – what you consume or what you believe is good-looking/ attractive. Several people have been growing plenty of basil for culinary purposes. In addition, they like growing enough of the herb to enable them to prepare sufficient pesto that they can freeze and make use of all through the winter months. Remember, the common practice is that the more you harvest, you will get more. In addition, you ought to tweak back a majority of the herbs to help them to turn bushier as well as properly shaped.

Before concluding, it needs to be mentioned that it is possible for you to grow nearly all herbs in a container garden and growing majority of them is extremely trouble-free. Nevertheless, different herbs may have dissimilar requirements for water and a number of them are additionally fussy compared to others. Hence, ensure that you place the herbs requiring comparable concern in the same container.

Improving Garden Soils For Herbs

Improving the quality of soil makes you feel deeply satisfied and there are definitely several reasons for such a fulfilling feeling. In fact, the soil is among the most valuable resources we have. As the soil preferences of different herbs are so varied, it is perhaps impossible to provide any guideline on ways to develop a soil that will be excellent for growing all types of herbs.

How do you describe a good soil? Well, a soil having outstanding texture, constitution and permeability are considered to be a good soil. In addition, a good soil will also have a wonderful smell. It will also be absorbent, brittle, aerated and finely textured. A good soil is complete with valuable soil life and its health works to put off all toxic organisms from populating it – something very similar to a fit and fine human body naturally fending off all pathogens that are responsible for various diseases. A nourishing or beneficial soil is vigorously inhabited by earthworms as well as microscopic organisms like bacteria. In addition, it also contains certain growths like algae, actinomycetes, protozoa and fungi, which have a complicated interrelationship among them. When all these organisms are present in a soil, it is not only healthy and living but becomes an altogether different world by itself. Each of the organisms mentioned here and some more play a vital role in decaying organic substances present in the soil and thereby, makes it richer.

It is worth mentioning here that clay, as well as sandy soils, are not considered to be the most excellent soil types, as they characterize a disparity of the perfect soil ecology. In fact, not many gardeners get a good soil when they start gardening on a small plot for the first time. Thus, they need to work with the different not so good soil types – either clay or sandy soils and enhance their quality. It has been found that in nearly all instances, clay soils enclose a remarkable range as well as the quantity of mineral nutrients. However, it becomes problematic for the plants to make use of the nutrients present in a clay soil, as the structure of the soil is extremely dense.

You may adopt various organic methods to lighten the structure of a clay soil. Among these, gardening experts recommend that you put rice hull into clay soil and work them down up to roughly three feet in depth. There are other experts who suggest that you use adequate rice hulls making the soil look like rice hulls with bits of clay sticking on them. Subsequently, they recommend that you continue to change the soil by adding organic substances till the soil contains 50 percent original modified clay and 50 percent organic material.

You can speed up the decomposition of the soil by means of scattering the modified soil along with a tea prepared from stinging nettles and manure soaked in unpolluted water for roughly a week or little more over the soil. Before scattering the tea, you should ensure that it has been watered down such that its color turns pale. Alternatively, you may also use bacterial cultures that are prepared commercially for the purpose. Till the land once more in the subsequent year and plant a leguminous cover crop with a view to improving the soil by nitrogen fixation. In case, the cover crop you have planted is deep-rooted, it will bring up nutrients from the subsoil by means of its elongated roots.

On the other hand, unlike clay soil, sandy soil does not contain nutrients. While a clay soil contains nutrients in large variety and amount, it is not permeable and hence, the plants are unable to assimilate those. In contrast, sandy soils do not contain much nutriment but are extremely pervious. You can only use one method to improve the quality of sandy soils. What you need to do is continuously add organic substances like leaves, kitchen wastes, manure, and green manure to the sandy soil. If you continue doing this for about two to three years, these organic substances will work wonders. Well, it is definitely plenty of hard work, but if a gardener is committed, he will agree that the end product is worth undertaking the labor. After three years, when he collects a handful of soil from his garden, he will notice that the soil that was once just sand, has turned out to be alive, sweet-smelling, and spongy making it a good soil.

Cultivation

Like there are several perceptions regarding the different gardening systems, the notions about soil cultivation are also varied. While numerous gardeners employ farm machinery for cultivation, biodynamic gardeners are of the view that machines are extremely heavy and make the soil more compact. Therefore, they like to plow using their hand with a view to maintaining the aeration of the soil.

In fact, a biodynamic gardener will usually engage in ‘double-digging’ his garden’s soil and during the process, separate the subsoil from the topsoil carefully. The concept of double-digging is not a new one. About 2,000 years back, the primeval Greeks were aware of the fact that plants thrive excellently in the earth that has been moved due to landslides. It has been found that these types of soils are loose, excellently aerated, and can also absorb moisture, warmth, and nutrients without any difficulty.

If you are following the biodynamic method of cultivation, the ability to breathe is vital. In fact, when you engage in ‘double-digging’ your purpose is to undertake deep cultivation – for instance, digging up to two spades or roughly 24 inches is believed to be fine. Double-digging also aims to split the hard layers below the soil and enable the moisture as well as the gasses underneath the ground to come upwards, while facilitating the movement of gasses and moisture from the atmosphere downward.

Testing your soil for nutrients and pH

You can save plenty of money if you test the soil of your garden for its nitrogen, phosphorus and potash content with a view to determining the pH level of the soil.

In case you find that the pH level of the soil in your garden is very elevated, you may add a stratum of decayed pine needles, acid peat moss or oak leaf mold. On the other hand, if you want to increase the pH level of the soil you need to include some dolomitic lime in the soil. Properly prepared compost is considered to be the best-balanced material that can be incorporated into the soil. In fact, methodically aged compost naturally aids in rectifying alkaline as well as acidic soil conditions. When you add enough organic substances to the soil, the plants generally have a propensity to endure a wider assortment of alkaline or acidic soil conditions and yet be in excellent health.

Trace elements and soil deficiencies

Humus naturally contains trace elements and they are also necessary for any good soil, which is healthy too. Today, there are many soils that are dangerously imbalanced owing to excessive use of chemical and artificially manufactured fertilizers as well as the use of various other inappropriate farming methods. In addition, some types of soils naturally contain very less amount of specific trace elements. Hence, it would be a fine ‘health insurance’ for your garden’s soil if you ensure that the soil in your garden is loaded with all trace elements, which are vital for the plants to flourish.

Organic gardeners usually employ various techniques, for instance, mulching, composting and adding soil amendments such as fish fertilizers and seaweed. All these techniques aid in sustaining the vital trace elements in your soil. In addition, there are certain plants that work to accumulate the trace elements. When gardeners grow these ‘weeds’ between cultivating different crops, compost them or utilize them in the form of green manure, they are particularly helpful in redeveloping or renewing the soil. For example, stinging nettle is one plant that helps to accumulate trace elements like calcium, potassium, sulfur and iron. Similarly, chamomile helps to concentrate sulfur, calcium, nd potash inside the plant’s tissues. Another plant that concentrates trace elements zinc and potash is dandelion. Similarly, valerian improves the content of potash in the soil as well as the adjoining areas where it grows. Gardeners in China grow these plants on the soil directly for fertilizing their crops organically.

Composting

Omitting compost from this article would leave the discussion on soil regeneration or redevelopment incomplete. Precisely speaking, compost is garbage that gets a rebirth in the form of humus. Several organic materials, including weeds, grass cuttings, kitchen scraps (excluding bones and meat), garden residues like stalks and vines, nut shells, leaves, hay, saw dust, manure, sewage sludge form excellent compost. In addition, various organic waste materials like vegetable pulp discarded by juice companies, coffee wastes, leather dust, and wastes from breweries are also good for being used as compost.

Basically, there are two major compost types – aerobic compost (with air) and anaerobic compost (devoid of air). Among the two, aerobic composting is used more often, as it is faster. Below, we will briefly discuss three different aerobic methods.

Indore compost: This aerobic method was developed by Sir Albert Howard, who undertook valuable agricultural research in Indore, a central Indian town. In fact, Sir Howard’s findings laid the foundation for the movement of organic gardening. This compost method is also considered to be the most traditional aerobic practice. This compost method entails making compost in open piles or inside bins. The piles are made such that they usually measure anything between 10 to 30 feet in length, 6 feet in width and about 3 feet to 5 feet in height. The foundation of the pile is made by laying a plant waste layer measuring 6 inches in height and covering the total area on which the pile is supposed to be built. The plant waste layer may comprise several organic matters like saw dust, leaves, straw, hay, garden residue or wood chips. Subsequently, this method involves adding two layers of manure as well as animal bedding to the pile.

Then, you add a thin layer of topsoil measuring about 1/8 inch in thickness to the pile. After that, you may spread phosphate rock, lime, wood ashes or granite dust over the layer of earth. As the height of the pile increases, you need to water it at every stage and repeat the layers in the same order till the height of the pile is about three to five feet. At the same time, it is important that you ensure that the pile maintains its aerating characteristic. In order to keep the pile properly ventilated, you need to make several tubes with wire netting pieces and place them vertically in the middle of the pile, at a distance of roughly 3.5 feet from each other.

After several days of its completion, the pile will heat up and start decaying. Once completed, you can use a pitchfork to turn the heap after two to three weeks and once again after five weeks from its completion. When you follow this procedure thoroughly, within three months the compost or peat will be ready for use.

Compost in 14 days: Another way of making aerobic compost is to follow the method known as compost in 14 days. Compost prepared following this method decays sufficiently and is ready for application in the garden within just 12 days to 14 days. This method entails proper shredding of all organic materials that would be used for making the compost. Unless this is done, this method will not work satisfactorily. Subsequently, the shredded organic substances are blended together and heaped into a pile that is roughly five feet in height and no higher. You need to turn the pile once in two to three days using a pitchfork till the compost is fully prepared.

Biodynamic compost: This method involves using six different herbs, such as chamomile blossoms, dandelion flowers, oak bark, stinging nettle, yarrow blossoms and valerian flowers. These herbs are mixed and put into the compost heap with a view to facilitate the ripening of the compost as well as enhance its aptitude to preserve nutriments. One teaspoon of the biodynamic preparations made appropriately is placed inside a hole measuring about 20 inches in depth and angled downwards into the compost heap. It is important to note that the biodynamic compost preparation with stinging nettle needs to be made in amount of four to five teaspoonfuls, but the preparations with the other herbs should be made in amount of just the level of a teaspoon and not heaped. Subsequently, the holes are filled up with the herbal preparations and closed.

Generally, people engaged in biodynamic gardening prefer locating their compost heaps close to oak trees, as the oak tree offers a favourable environment beneath its branches, enabling the development of good soil in the surrounding area. The compost piles are situated no less than six feet away from the tree trunk with a view to prevent the development of any disease in the oak tree.

Nitrogen fixing

It is important to note that three key elements are necessary for the health of the soil and among these elements nitrogen affects the growth of plants most significantly. Unlike humans, plants do not have the ability to absorb nitrogen mixed with oxygen and other gases directly from the atmosphere. As an alternative, they have to rely on bacteria that fix nitrogen in the soil to obtain this essential element.

It is interesting to note that lightning flashes have an incredible power, possess the aptitude for nitrogen fixation in the soil. A number of scientists are of the view that in fact such type of contact between the soil and lightning enabled the development of first life on our planet. Nevertheless, the bacteria present in the soil are more reliable as well as a common means for nitrogen. This way, these nitrogen-fixing bacteria help to enrich the quality of soils that have low nitrogen content. It has been found that the nitrogen-fixing bacteria thrive on the roots of numerous leguminous plants – precisely speaking, more than 1,350 species. Such plants include alfalfa, beans, clover, peas and vetch. In addition, it has been found that a number of trees also possess the ability to fix essential element in the soil, for instance acacia, autumn olive and red alder. Some shrubs also help in fixing nitrogen and these can be used as hedge plants around a garden as well as orchards to enhance the fertility of the soil.

A number of cover crops like alfalfa and clover are usually cut and put into the earth prior to their blossoming. During this stage, these cover crops release plenty of nitrogen within a period of just a few weeks. This is considered to be an ancient way of green manuring and several cultures around the world have used it over the ages. Occasionally, some gardeners use such nitrogen-rich plants for mulching, instead of cutting and putting them into the soil to decompose and release the essential element. In addition, some gardeners also cut these plants and include them in their compost pile. Irrespective of the manner these nitrogen-rich plants may be used by the gardeners, eventually they yield the same result – provide additional nitrogen to the earth.

A number of legumes are fit for sowing during the later part of summer and they grow all through the winter months provided the temperatures do not drop below freezing point. Such legumes include Austrian winter pea, bur clover, crimson clover, sour clover, rough pea, fenugreek and winter vetch. There are other legumes that grow well during the summer and one of the most common summer legumes is alfalfa. In addition, crotalaria is one legume that can even thrive well in infertile sandy soils found in the southern climates. On the other hand, red clover grows excellently in places having cool temperate climatic conditions. Lots of people inhabiting the southern climates grow plenty of a legume called lespedeza. Sweet pea and cowpea are two legumes that have the aptitude to flourish in nearly all types of soils and everywhere.

Mulching

Mulching the soil has multiple benefits. For instance, when you spread mulch on top of the soil in your garden, it not only safeguards the plants from excessive heat during summer and extreme cold conditions during the winter months, but also enriches the soil, helps to preserve moisture and prevents growth of weeds. In fact, a number of gardeners have turned mulching into a genuine art. Majority of the gardeners are of the view that when the soil in their garden has been drained out they need to develop it again by means of covering it with compost prior to starting the no-digging mulch method.

You can make good mulch using almost all organic substances, for instance, rice hulls, a mixture of saw dust and soybean meal, straw mixed with grated leaves, cocoa hulls, buckwheat hulls, grass clippings, shredded corncobs, cornstalks, pine needles and alfalfa hay. You can used mulch to good advantage in the flower, vegetable and herb gardens; in orchard as well as in the fields. In addition, several gardeners grow different cover crops like millet, soybeans, vetch, rye, clover, alfalfa and buckwheat and cut these plants for using them in the form of mulch. A number of gardeners also include a thin stratum of kelp or seaweed in their mulch, because these plants are loaded with various valuable minerals.

It is very important to consider the quality of nutriments contained by the materials that you are use for mulching. Organic substances like corn cobs, straw and saw dust contain very low levels of nitrogen and hence it would prove to be beneficial if you mix them with leguminous mulch. On the other hand, pine needles are known to be acidic like the oak leaves and therefore they are not very useful for mulching plants requiring an alkaline or neutral soil. However, you may use them for mulching if you are growing strawberries or other plants like azaleas, bearberry, rhododendrons and trailing arbutus.

Sleep-Inducing Herb? Ashwagandha

Can’t sleep? Your sleep problems may be improved if you try an Indian herb, Ashwagandha. Researchers in the sleep institute in Japan found that an active component of Ashwagandha leaves significantly induces sleep.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a central herb in Ayurveda, the traditional home medicine native to India. As signified by its Latin name somnifera, meaning sleep-inducing, it has been recommended for sound sleep through centuries. Even though scientific studies also support that crude powder of Ashwagandha promotes sleep, the active component with sleep-inducing property remains unknown.

The research group led by Mahesh K. Kaushik and Yoshihiro Urade of the International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine (WPI-IIIS), University of Tsukuba, investigated the effect of various components of Ashwagandha on sleep in mice by recording electroencephalogram and electromyography. The water extract of Ashwagandha leaf containing rich in triethylene glycol (TEG) promoted non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep significantly and changed rapid eye movement (REM) sleep slightly, while the alcoholic extract containing active withanolides showed no effect on sleep. The sleep induced by TEG was similar to normal sleep. Furthermore, commercially available TEG also increased the amount of NREM sleep. They thus concluded that TEG is the active component that induces physiologically sound sleep.

Sleeplessness and other sleep disorder such as restless leg syndrome are common complaints among the middle-aged population. Insomnia is one of the most common neuropsychiatric disorders, with an estimated incident of 10-15% in general population and 30-60% of the elderly population. It is closely linked with certain other diseases including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, depression, anxiety, mania deficits etc. Currently available synthetic drugs often show severe side effects. On the other hand, Ashwagandha crude powder including the significant amount of TEG can be consumed for better sleep without any side effects. The findings in this study could revolutionize the natural plant-based therapies for insomnia and sleep-related disorders.

However, the clinical application of TEG to treat insomnia is still in the immature status, because the TEG is primarily used for industrial purpose and very little is known about its applicability and toxicity to the biological systems. Further studies will thus be needed to confirm the safety of TEG.

According to the authors, they are currently evaluating the effect of TEG administration on stress, because Ashwagandha is believed to mitigate stress and correct imbalance of various nervous systems. Future studies also include the identification of target brain area of TEG, its BBB permeability and the mechanism through which TEG induces sleep.

This study was conducted in collaboration with Renu Wadhwa and Sunil Kaul of National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Japan.

Article: Triethylene glycol, an active component of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) leaves, is responsible for sleep induction, Mahesh K. Kaushik, Sunil C. Kaul, Renu Wadhwa, Masashi Yanagisawa, Yoshihiro Urade, PLOS One, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172508, published 16 February 2017.