Dandy Dandelions!

Dandelions are flowers that are considered weeds because of how easily they spread.

Dandelions are one of the few plants that every part can be used. It arrived in America in the mid 1600’s when settlers brought the seeds because they knew the value of the plant. Dandelions had been used for centuries for medicinal purposes and the settlers knew this. The Egyptians, Romans and Greeks all knew they improved various conditions from fevers to constipation.

As a child, I remember eating dandelion greens. I was told it would taste like spinach which I liked. I remember it being very bitter. I know it is very nutritious, but I’m not inclined to pick any leaves. I read it’s best to harvest the leaves before the flowers bloom. The internet has recipes if anyone is interested.

If you want to dig up your dandelions, consider waiting until they are finished blooming. They are a food source for bees, butterflies, moths and some birds. They are also pretty.

I was surprised to learn that dandelion wine is made from the flowers. I read a recipe for it and it sounded pretty good. Lots of sugar, but it also had lemons, oranges, and raisins. Fermentation is one to two years. Tea is made from the roots and that is what is sipped to relieve ailments. It really is a wonderful plant, but I’m a gardener, so I dig them after they bloom. In case you’re wondering, the picture is not from my yard. I only have a couple.

Hope everyone is enjoying the spring. Blossoms are every where and those with allergies are suffering. My eyes itch, but I don’t care. I can’t resist being outside in spring’s beauty.

The Happiest Faces of Spring

Pansies bring joy with their bright colors and cheerful smiles.

I can’t remember an Easter that pansies weren’t outside in pots and Easter lilies weren’t inside filling the house with fragrance. I have happily continued this tradition that my mother started.

As you know, I enjoy research and even though I knew that pansies are edible ( I wouldn’t eat them) I didn’t know that they had been used for medicinal purposes. Chinese medicine used them at one time to prevent cancerous tumors and also as a source of nutrition. The Greeks thought that anger would be reduced by munching on a pansy and the Romans believed they cured headaches and dizziness. Plants have always been used to treat ailments, so it’s not surprising.

I also learned that in Victorian England it was not proper to openly express affection, so pansy bouquets were wrapped in doilies and quietly passed to a sweetheart. Today they are considered a gift of platonic love to be given a parent or a friend. Like most flowers, the color carries a meaning. I love all the colors and this year I have orange pansies for the first time.

If you are looking for something to bring you or someone else a daily dose of happiness, fill a pot with an assortment of pansies and set it on the porch. Every day when you leave the house and return, you will be greeted with smiles!

It Looks Like a Hummingbird!

The Hummingbird Hawk Moth fools people!

The Hummingbird Hawk Moth visits my flowers every summer. It’s said to be a good omen. In fact, a swarm of them were seen crossing the English Channel on DD Day in 1944. People believed this was a sign that the allied troops would win the battle.

This large moth measures two inches which is the same size as the world’s smallest hummingbird the Bee Hummingbird. The Bee Hummingbird is native to Cuba and has a beak, is born from an egg and looks like a bird. The moth hummingbird goes through larvae stage, caterpillar, and then emerges as a moth.

I can always hear the Hummingbird Hawk Moth buzzing. It beats its wings 70 to 80 times a second, so it makes its presence known. It doesn’t have a beak, but it has a long proboscis that it uses to get nectar from the flowers. I think it’s cute, but my daughter thinks it is just creepy.

The hummingbird moths are seen all over the world, but hummingbirds are only found in the Western Hemisphere. We are so lucky! There are 340 species of hummingbirds and there are 160,000 species of moths. The United States has 11,00 moth species of moths, and I’m glad the Hummingbird Hawk Moth is one.

Batty About Bats!

These little mosquito eaters are welcome to my yard!

Every night at dusk two brown bats come to my back yard for dinner. Bats can eat 1200 insects an hour. My neighbor has a small pond, so I think that is why Bart and Bertha come to dine. Sometimes Sylvester joins them for dinner. Yes, I named the bats. Since they come every night, they deserved to be named.

I’ve learned a lot about bats. Their excrement is called guano and is a great fertilizer. Since it is high in potassium nitrate (salt peter) it was used for gun powder during the Civil War and was used up to WWI. One hundred pounds of guano was needed to make four pounds of salt peter.

Bats are important to over 500 plant species. They pollinate plants and bananas, mangoes, guava and agave depend on them. The tube-lipped bat that bananas rely on have extremely long tongues in order to reach the nectar. Their tongues are one and half times the length of the bat’s body. Amazing!

When Halloween arrives, I will hang my black bats with a lot more appreciation for them. I learned a lot about these furry, flying mammals. Perhaps Bertha and Bart should star in an educational story for children.

Lavender Deters Evil Spirits!

Lavender doesn’t just smell great!

Lavender is a favorite is my garden and it has many uses. Some people use it in baking and make a lavender sugar. When I read about cooking with lavender, I learned that it is dangerous for cats and dogs to eat. My cats don’t seem interested in it, and I just enjoy the look and smell of it.

Lavender is grown throughout Spain and Portugal and is used in celebrating holidays by spreading it on the floors of churches and homes. It is believed to cleanse the area of evil spirits and negativity. Congress might consider spreading a little lavender in order to promote harmony.

Lavender is burned in bonfires on St. John’s Day in Europe which is also called Midsummer’s Day. It is celebrated on June 24 which is John the Baptist’s birthday. Today lavender is burned in homes to cleanse the air and like with the bonfire, it carries prayers to heaven. Smudging sticks can be made with lavender to purify homes. It is said to help bring peaceful sleep when burned in the bedroom.

According to lavender folklore, a woman in childbirth should hold it in order to gain courage and strength. Growing lavender in one’s garden will bring good luck, ward off evil, and attract fairies. Since I have lavender, I invite good fortune and fairies to my garden. I also encourage it to ward off mosquitoes like it is supposed to do! Marigolds are also said to keep mosquitoes away along with allium, lemon grass and lantana. I have three of these plants, and I have mosquitoes.

Lawn Art for Everyone!

I miss the summer arts festivals!

These are two examples of lawn art in my yard. The kitty could use a fresh coat of paint, but he’s still cute. A few pieces placed among the flowers makes the yard fun. They are also good spots to leave clues for the grandkids’ treasure hunts. Of course if the clue mentions a mushroom, they have a problem because there are two in my yard.

I certainly don’t need any more items, but my husband would disagree. I know it’s unusual for the wife to tell the husband no, but that’s how it is. I do love looking and admiring the pieces. So much talent is on display at the art festivals. Pottery, glass, leather, weavings and metal are amazing creations to admire and buy.

The first art festivals were music festivals and they date back to the early 1700s in England. Athens, Greece held the first drama festival in 543 BC. Playwrights and poets competed to have their work performed. Auditoriums were created by cutting into the hillsides and 10,000 to 20,000 people could be seated.

Like most people, I love summer and this one is unlike any I have experienced. There are no outdoor concerts and no arts festivals. When they return next summer, I anticipate large crowds in attendance. I think it’s true that we don’t appreciate something until it’s gone.

Lungwort, not just a pretty plant!

Lung shaped leaves?

I don’t see it, but apparently people in the Middle Ages thought lungwort leaves looked like a lung. Under the Doctrine of Signatures, medicinal uses of plants were determined by their appearances. What is interesting is that Native Americans did the same thing and they were on a different continent!

I have enjoyed lungwort in my garden for years. It likes shade and has a long blooming time. I suspected the name meant it was used in the past to treat lung problems. I was surprised to learn it is still used. One can buy 4 ounces of lungwort extract for $35.00 to treat a variety of ailments.

The extract is used in tea to treat not only lung problems but diarrhea and hemorrhoids. I think hemorrhoid suffers would prefer using a cream. Poultices can also be made from the plant to treat burns, reduce swelling, and to treat an enlarged thyroid. Talk about being versatile!

I love my plants and a perfect day includes working outside. I find herbal medicine fascinating, and I know many women were accused of witchcraft for using these amazing concoctions. For me, I just want to enjoy their beauty.

Tulips in Turbans?

Tulips originated in Turkey

The Ottoman sultans wore a tulip in their turbans as a sign of wealth and power. In fact the Persian word tulipan means turban. The tulip became popular in the Netherlands in the 1600’s. In fact, the popularity drove the price so high in that time period that one bulb equaled the price of an expensive Amsterdam home along the canal.

The history of tulips is interesting. One surprising thing was a tulip virus caused the prized pure red tulip to have white in it. This became extremely expensive because it was different and everyone wanted it. You’ll notice in the picture I have red and yellow tulips and then the variegated ones. I have difficulty keeping any pure colors. The purple have stayed pure. That’s because they represent royalty I guess!

The tulip craze was astonishing. Some very wealthy people went broke because of their need to buy more and more tulip bulbs. It is believed that the bubonic plague may have influenced the ending of the craze. I would think so!

There are 3000 varieties of tulips. One woman wrote she has 2000 in her garden. Like the rose, the red tulip is the most popular color and it also represents love. Blue tulips have been the most challenging to cultivate. They still don’t have a pure blue, but are close. They are said to represent tranquility and peace. I am mentally sending you bouquets of tulips in all colors and hope you can all get outside to enjoy them before they are gone!

Versatile Vinegar!

Vinegar is amazing!

There aren’t many things we clean with and use in cooking, but vinegar is one and most likely the most popular. I love researching common things and vinegar is truly amazing.

The word vinegar means sour wine and was once known as the poor man’s wine. It has been found in ancient Egyptian urns and is mentioned in Babylonian scrolls that date back to 5000 B.C. The Roman soldiers were known to carry vinegar and the Bible even tells of a soldier offering Jesus vinegar.

I was surprised to learn all the things vinegar can be made from. The most unusual item was dates. White vinegar is made from grains and is the most popular. I used it last week to kill moss on the patio. I couldn’t believe how quickly it worked! The recipe was 4 cups vinegar, 1/4 cup salt, 2 tsp. dish detergent. It worked better than a product I bought last year.

I cook with apple cider vinegar. It is a great meat tenderizer and brings a nice tang to sauces. Balsamic vinegar is sweetest of all vinegar and makes a nice glaze to serve over chicken. It is made from grapes and aged in oak barrels. Like wine and olive oil it varies in price. The most expensive balsamic vinegar has been aged the longest. I just checked the price for a bottle that had been aged 25 years and it cost $179.99. That was a shock!

I am a fan of vinegar for it’s incredible versatility. I know that some people are drinking it as a way to lose weight. I don’t know if that works, but if it does, chalk that up to another attribute of vinegar!

Witch Hazel Blooms First!

Witch Hazel has Angelic Qualities!

Seeing blossoms in February is a treat, and that is what our witch hazel tree provides. If you have one, prune after it blossoms and before the leaves come out. (Little gardening advice!)

I grew up with my mom and grandmother both using witch hazel on insect bites. It burned less than alcohol and it worked as well. Until I researched witch hazel, I didn’t know it came in a bar and is recommended to help with poison ivy itching and burning. It is also used to treat acne.

Native Americans boiled the bark and used it to treat a variety of skin irritations. The colonists learned how to use herbs, bark and roots from the natives in making teas to treat many ailments.. My grandmother talked about making poultices from onions and other natural ingredients in treating pneumonia. She wanted my mother to make one for me, but my mother used Vicks instead. If you read the Vicks ingredients you’ll see eucalyptus oil is listed along with other natural ingredients.

I have a bottle of witch hazel in my cupboard and still use it on insect bites. I read some of the things people use it for and was surprised. One person claims it removed the dark circles under her eyes and another said it lightened the dark spots on her hands and face. It can also be used on hemorrhoids if you’re interested. Amazing stuff!

When our witch hazel blooms, I know it won’t be too long until spring. For you gardeners, you can now sow grass seed until mid-March. The freezing and thawing of the soil works the seed into the soil until it germinates. Apparently it works, so I’m trying it this year. I’ll let you know the results!