February 2016
The Herb Farm

Birds, Berries and Rose Buds?

It has been a weird winter. Or, has it really?

There were irises blooming in January, along with calibrachoa, portulaca, petunias and even roses. Yes. Roses! We have had temperatures that dropped well into the 20s for several nights in a row, but the killing just hasn’t been complete.

Fatsia japonica seeds ripening  

It sure is nice to read the National Weather Service forecast and discover that for two or three days I can open the doors and windows, and let some fresh air into the house. It keeps the utility bills down as well.

Happy Groundhog Day! Thought I’d throw that in as I speak of what’s growing here on the farm.

Groundhog Day is the day I usually start seeds in the greenhouse for spring-planted vegetable plants like tomatoes, chili peppers, eggplants and such. But this year I have a bustling crop of fatsia (Fatsia japonica) seeds, I think I’ll spend the day preparing them for planting.

You see, fatsia seeds must be ripe before planting for the best results. Also, the outer membrane and fruit pith should be removed, as it contains a chemical that retards germination.

Just spread the seeds onto an eighth-inch mesh (or smaller), wash and mash. When you’ve successfully removed the gooey chaff, all that’s left are the seeds. Let them dry before planting in 72-cell, deep-well plug flats. They will usually begin germination in about 10 days with bottom heat.

The herb plantain (Plantago major) is plentiful this year. There’s a large patch I let grow wild without cutting. It makes a nice green groundcover for the wintertime. Plantain is my go-to herb for most skin conditions such as poison ivy, chlorophyll irritation, bug bites, bee stings, cuts, scrapes, skinned knees and such.

  Plantain – one of the most useful herbs around.

I keep a large jar of dried plantain leaves for making poultices. When it’s fresh, though, it is just as easy to pick some leaves, chop them up and apply to the ailing area. Or you can pick a leaf or two, pop them into your mouth and chew them into a cud to make a pack (poultice) for the wound. All parts of the plant are useable. Seeds can be ground into flour. Plantain leaves are edible as well. Use the tender young leaves in salads. Older leaves can be chopped and used in stews and soups. Plantain is a good source of calcium and vitamin A.

Weird winter weather? Some of my stonecrop sedums are beginning their spring emergence. I hope they hang on for another six weeks.

Weeping yaupon berries are popular with most songbirds.  

There are lots of things for the birds to eat here on the farm. American Goldfinches are enjoying the dried flowers of zinnias, basil and echinacea while the bluebirds and mockingbirds are feasting on the intense-red berries on the weeping yaupons (Ilex vomitoria Folsom Weeping). Note: I enjoy the parched leaves of this cultivar for making black tea.

The elaeagnus (Elaeagnus pungens fruitlandii) produced a ton of fruits this year! Well, maybe not a ton, but at least enough for me to enjoy snacking on. There just isn’t enough to make jelly, though.

Of course, wintertime just wouldn’t be so colorful without the bright red berries on the evergreen bushes known as nandina. Nandina (Nandina domestica) is one of those plants I have a love/hate relationship with. It is an old-fashioned plant used in landscapes in the South from about the late 1920s until it was deemed invasive in the latter part of the 20th century. It is drought-tolerant and naturalized in many areas due to birds dropping the seeds.

  Colorful nandina, but don’t eat it!

Although all parts of the nandina are poisonous (producing hydrogen cyanide), birds are able to tolerate a scant amount of the berries without dying. Nandina is particularly poisonous to felines and grazing animals.

Well, folks, that’s all I have time for this month. I am sorry I don’t have a new recipe for you. I guess you’ll just have to get some turkey soup out of the freezer and make a grilled cheese sandwich. Add a little Alabama Sunshine Jalanero hot sauce to the soup for a little extra spice. Oh! And don’t forget the pickle for the grilled cheese!

It is so nice to look outside my western windows at 5:15 p.m. and see the sun! The days are getting longer and next month we get spring! Enjoy your February and get busy sowing seeds.

Until next time, remember to watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water, and breathe in and out!

Thanks for reading!

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As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.