18 February, 2011

Before There Were Pharmacies

It seems one cannot watch television or read a magazine without being assaulted or, insulted, by ads for prescription drugs.  Anything that ails you been be controlled by some new wonder drug. Some of the ads do not even say what the symptoms are just ask your doctor if snake oil is right for you. Snake oil is right. The traveling salesman of your peddled mysterious liquids in clear bottles laying claim to kill all sort of ills. problem was there were not enough real doctors to ask if Barnacle Bill's Bone Elixir was right for you. And if it was not right for you too bad. The snake oil man never returned to fulfill the satisfaction guaranteed part of the deal. In fact his elixir was right for you for a little while at least. The many potions and elixirs often had a good dose of alcohol within to alleviate most any symptom until the next morning. 
Today major drug companies push their product direct to the consumer because they realize it is the best way to reach mass consumption quickly. Magazines and TV are happy to take the ads since cigarettes and liquor are often taboo if not illegal to advertise. These drugs are heavily regulated. What is not regulated are the dietary supplements that also lay claim to magic cures for whatever ails you. the problem with the supplement market is lack of regulation. This lack of regulation does a lot of damage to actual plant and herbal cures that do work or at least help somewhat.
Before there were  pharmacies and drug companies there were plants mostly herbs that cured the ills that ailed you. In fact the Bible is chock full of references to herbs and spices for various medical uses
Hyssop was often referred to as the herb used in purification: read PSALMS 51:7 It was also used to prevent blood from coagulating which may explain why the Jews in Egypt were told to use it at the time of the Passover: read EXODUS 12:22The medicinal use of Hyssop can be found in read JOHN 19:29-30 Hyssop called hyssopus officinalis- is native to southern Europe and not the bible lands. This is a perfect example of how plant names change over time. The Hyssop in the bible may have been something like sorghum or perhaps even marjoram.
Mint is considered by some Biblical scholars to be part of the "bitter herbs' mentioned in  Exodus 12:8 and Numbers 9:11. Along with mint the bitter herbs concoction included
endive, chicory, lettuce, watercress, sorrel, and dandelions all used as a form of digestive aid. Mint at first cools down hunger pangs but shortly after heightens appetite.
Frankincense, also called Olibanum was  used in Old Testament religious rites. It is mentioned often in the first five books of Moses. Frankincense was used for intern al and external ailments and to help with breathing problems. The oils were used to induce a calming affect. Modern herbalists suggest placing the oil in vaporizers to help induce deep slow breathing.
Comfrey often used to today as a compost starter due to it's high concentration of nitrogen in the leaves. In the times of the Bible comfrey was used to help alleviate the pains and bruising of sprains. An ointment was made from the crushed leaves of comfrey.
One could depend on drinking rosemary water to help soothe upset stomachs. In addition ginger root was chewed to achieve the same results. Today ginger ale is often suggested for easing stomach pain even though carbonated!
Headaches were treated with Sweet marjoram oil rubbed on the forehead. rosemary leaves and mint when crushed and rubbed on the forehead treated headaches in Moses time as well. In addition coriander has been used as a mouthwash and aid to digestion. coriander is the seed of today's very popular cilantro the smokey parsley like leaves used in Tex-Mex recipes.
The manna God sent to Moses and his  flock as they wandered around the desert for forty years tasted like coriander according to Old testament readings. Coriander is one of the oldest herbs used in medicinal form.
So there you have a short round up of herbs and spices used during Bible times to treat everyday maladies. In fact many of today's pharmaceuticals come from plants. Aspirin being made from the bark of willow is among the most important contributions of the plant world to modern medicine. While there is a lot of controversy over how and if herbs are useful in the medicinal world one cannot argue their importance in the old world. There usefulness today has been thwarted by highly questionable late night infomercials.
I suggest the way to look at herbs is not in their medicinal aspects but as part of your regular diet. If for instance carrots are known to be good for eyesight why can't the same be said for some herb in the garden? My point is that if herbs have beneficial properties such as anti-oxidants, oils, vitamins and minerals then treat them as food and not some holistic ritual from the Dark Ages.
Learn how to grow herbs for whatever use Saturday Feb 26th at Adams Kingston location. At 1PM on the 26th I will be lecturing on the topic of growing herbs. Learn about starting herbs from seeds, cuttings, and divisions. Also learn when to harvest and take cuttings for new plants as well. 

04 February, 2011

Seed Starting: Gettin to the Root of the Issue

Both famous ground hogs did not see their shadows last week.In facet nobody has seen their shadow since August! Punxatawny Phil and Staten Island Chuck failed to have the sun gods cast shadows of doubt upon the arrival of spring. And with the way the weather has been this winter the arrival of spring can be a glorious thing. There is another event that signifies the halfway point through winter. Seed packs have arrived in garden centers. In fact not just seed packs but peat pots, trays, seed starting soils, lights and more. It is a surprising fact that winter is the shortest season of the year at 93 days with Summer actually being  the longest season. trust me I read it on the Internet so it has to be true. 
While spring is still six weeks away regardless of what some hibernating animals tell us there are a few seeds that could, notice could, be started now in order to get them into bloom for our Hudson Valley growing season. The backs of seed packs describe the timing for sowing seeds indoors or outdoors. The usual verbiage is a determined number of weeks before the last frost date. For instance  a pack may say start indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost date. Well frost dates are different across the country. The South of course has an earlier last frost date than we do. A seed company however does not know you live when you pick up their seed pack. The last frost date in the Hudson Valley is on average May 15th. There has been however frost as late as Memorial Day with increasing occurrence in this region. A seed pack stating start seeds 8 weeks before last frost date would mean starting the seeds indoors on or around March 15th.
Do you rally have to wait until March 15th to start seeds? Well no you don't. In fact there are some seeds which must be started now if you hope to have any flowers by the start of summer. Geraniums must be started by Feb 15th in order to have the seedlings strong enough to withstand cool spring weather and bloom by summer. While they are called Patient Lucys in Great Britain they are misnamed here in the U.S. What are the misnamed bedding plants? Impatiens............they grow so slowly they need to be started 10 weeks, March 1st, to be ready for planting out around the middle of May.
Flowers are not the only seeds needing an early start. Jalapeno peppers take a while to get under way. Jalapeno could be started as late as March 15th however they are better off hitting the seed flats on the first of March Bell peppers on the other hand can wait until the first of April. I would suggest getting them in the same time as the hot peppers. An interesting fact is there are some hot weather vegetables that need extremely long seasons but cannot be started indoors with their other warm weather friends. Melons for example need very long growing seasons. It would seem to make sense to start them indoors and give them a head start. But since melons  and cantaloupe are vines the end result of starting them indoors would be you own version of Little Shop of Horrors. The vines grow very fast but the flowers and fruit lag well behind the growth spurts of the vines.
The vast majority of seeds need darkness in order to germinate. Seeds require a snug warm moist environment to begin the germination process. Air temperature is not critical at this point but will play a pivotal role in how sturdy seedlings are down the road. Soil temperature should be 70*-75* for seeds to germinate properly without rotting. Seed packs will list days to germination. Some seeds germinate very quickly others like olive seeds taking 10-16 months. It is very important to place some kind of label on the flats or containers seeds are growing in. The information on the label should be the variety of plant growing, date seed was planted and how many days to germination. The name of the plant is a no brainer. But putting the date of sowing and days to germination allows more detailed control over the crop and assist in timing should something go wrong. If a label says 10 days to germination and nothing has shown after 21 you know something is wrong. Days to germination and date of planting go hand in hand. Only listing days to germination is no good if you don't know when they were planted.
To keep the soil warm  a heat mat is a godsend. Heat mats fit perfectly under seed flats and gently warm the soil and nothing else. A clear plastic dome of two or more inches high helps to keep the humidity high and control temperature as well. A tall dome 5-7 inches tall with adjustable events is even better allowing for total control over seedlings and young plants. Keep the heat mat on until you see young shoots appearing from the soil. Shortly after their emergence remove the ehat mat.
Young seedlings now need bright light, even direct sunlight, to maintain growth. What they don't need however is high heat. High temps cause plants to respirate faster. Fast respiration requires more nutrition. Plants need sunlight to complete the nutritional cycle of photosynthesis. However in February and even April the sun is still very low in the sky and as well the strength of the sunlight is weak. Weak light combined with high temps cause plants to stretch towards the sun or light source in order to make photosynthesis happen. The way to combat spindly stems is cool temperatures say 55*-65*. Cooler temps slow down respiration in plants thus slowing their need for sunlight.
An additional strategy is to place grow lights just above the tops of young plants about 4-6 inches over the top set of leaves. This best done with florescent grow lights especially the newer T5 high output bulbs. T5s are 40% smaller than regular T8 styles and their light output is double. T5 light fixtures with adjustable heights are readily available in two and four foot lengths.
Any well drained soil will grow a great crop for you. I am partial to lightweight soiless blends that are peat moss based. These blends drain extremely well and contain a large percentage of air space for young roots to penetrate. However any soil can grow seeds if you are careful about watering. Adding compost or worm castings to any soil will aid in growth and provide some much needed nutrients.
Once seeds have sprouted they have no storage of food needed to grow. If our soil mix does not have any fertilizer mixed in you will need to begin a feeding program. I prefer to feed every time I water so that I can maintain an even supply of fertilizer in the soil. Erratic uneven feeding leads to plants with grow spurts followed by periods of little growth as the supply of nutrients in the soil dwindles. To use a continuous feed program simply reduce the amount of fertilizer recommended on the package to 1/8 recommended dose.
By mid April days will be warming and your seedlings will love being outdoors on 60* days. Just remember to bring them back indoors at night so they don't get cold or freeze.
Want to learn more about starting seeds in greater detail? Stop by Adams Fairacre Farms  Saturday, February 12th, at 1PM where I will be lecturing on the subject of seed starting.