Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms…And the autumn moon is bright. –Lon Chaney, The Wolfman, 1941 This famous poem from the classic film, “The Wolfman,” speaks of plants that signal a time of magical transformation. Those unfortunates attacked by a werewolf change under the light of the full moon into the very beast that bit them. A woodblock print of wolfbane from Leonard Fuchs 1541 herbal. To see this and many other high resolution woodcuts from Fuch’s Botanical go to http://info.med.yale.edu/library/historical/fuchs/ The ancient herbals are rich with instruction on how to use this infamous plant, wolfbane. It is a blue flowering perennial of Europe that ancient Roman physician Dioscorides referred to as lycotonum. This name is linked with the phenomenon lycanthropy, the turning of a human into a wolf when the moon is full. It’s derived from the Greek for lykoi or “wolf” and anthropos, “man.” What they did know is that the highly toxic juice of the wolfbane plant, now known as monkshood, Aconitum napellus, could indeed kill wolves. Arrows tipped with it or baits laced with this plant would poison the predators that once prowled Europe. Naturally it was thought Acontium would destroy the curse of a wolfman as well. A beautiful rendering of Acontium napellus from Kohlers Medizinal Plantzen. To find this and similar high resolution botanical images go to http://caliban.mpiz-koeln.mpg.de/~stueber/koehler/ Wolfbane is a great example of how to better understand old herbals and traditional names of medicinal plants. The English language herbals, originally written by hand, became far more common knowledge after 15th century invention of printing press. The two primary authors are Gerard and Culpepper, whose original herbals are still in print today. They are compendiums of accumulated plant lore and botanical cures invaluable when plants held the only medicines available. Click here to access the MoPlants.com links to old illustrated herbals online at http://www.moplants.com/digital_crafts/botanical_archives.php HAPPY HALLOWEEN FROM ALL OF US AT MoPlants.com!
In Mexico this time of year marks the season for remembering the loved ones who have gone before them in death. In a combination of Old World Catholicism and New World Aztec rites of the dead, this three day festival spanning the feasts of All Saints and All Souls south of the border is a celebration of love and remembrance. A home altar set up in a wall niche with small wild marigolds and the hybrid forms with large flowers they evolved from. Arches are typically made of sugar cane stalks. First the family will create an altar in the home and fill it with treats that the ancestors loved such as tequila, cigarettes, favored moles and candy. They will use the Aztec marigold, cempacuchil, to lure the dead home again, attracted by the flower’s distinctive fragrance. Vendors at the market place selling cempacuchil marigolds, red cockscomb, copal chunk tree resin incense and sugar cane stalks. In preparation for these special days of communion with the dead, the families will tend the graves and decorate them. Then many will spend the night in the graveyard to be there when the veil between life and death is pulled back for just a short time. There is grieving and celebrating, remembrance of past times and telling stories to the young. In Xoxocotlan graveyard, the oldest in Oaxaca, women sit all night beside the decorated family grave to greet the dead when they return.
A woodland walk, a quest for river-grapes, a mocking thrush, a wild rose or rock-living columbine, salve my worst wounds. –Emerson, Nature 1836 To live is to feel pain. Everyone, no matter how confident or powerful, has experienced pain and suffering. It is part of the human condition. Emerson salved his wounds with walks among wild rose and columbine. We, too, have salves at our fingertips. They await planting in the fertile soil of the backyard or are displayed on nursery shelves waiting for us to adopt them. There is no better, more private, or more nurturing place than the home garden, filled with trees and flowers, to soothe our every ache. If it’s inconvenient to take a walk in the countryside next time you feel the sharp barbs of life, try working in the garden instead. Nothing is more healing than working away the tears. It is as if you drain your sorrows into the newly turned earth. There you have time to pause and regain your composure, then find the courage to continue.
The Halloween pumpkin is rooted in the Celtic rites of Samhain. During Samhain, all lights in the village were extinguished, and a ritual bonfire was kindled in a sacred shrine, fed with wood of the Druid oak and ash. Each family lit their own small candle from the bonfire to bring home, using it to light the fire in their hearth with the new flame of the year. The candles were carried inside giant hollowed out turnips or a thick-stemmed cabbage to avoid burns. A form of this tradition continued in America, with the easy-to-grow and abundant New World pumpkin substituting for turnips or cabbage. On this night it is said that time ceases to exist and the doorway opens briefly to the otherworld. Samhain is also the official end of summer and the twilight of the year before the long nights of winter set in. During this time the spirits were thought to walk among us, and traditional costumed trick-or-treaters go out to meet them as they move from house to house seeking sustenance. The faces carved on pumpkins were through to scare away any of these lingering ‘haunts” that might linger too long on the doorstep. Read more spirit and garden traditions in Mo’s book: Rooted In The Spirit http://www.moplants.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=M&Product_Code=MOG002&Category_Code=Books
In the barren days of winter, wild birds seem like small miracles of life. A tiny sparrow I might not notice in other seasons becomes as outstanding as a peacock in the snow and ice. It seems impossible that those little bodies can survive outdoors when larger furred animals retreat to the warmth of their burrow. 9″ Merry Berry Seed Wreath $24.95 This holiday season, remember the birds when you shop for gifts and decorations. Plastic decorations do nothing for wildlife, and they go back into storage after the holidays. But decorations that also feed wild birds with healthy nutritious seeds and nuts will give you a double benefit. They’re attractive and beneficial to the environmentm but do note neither are squirrel proof! The seed house and fruit wreath from Gardener’s Supply (See Cool Links) makes it easy to decorate and help wildlife too. These products are less expensive because you don’t have to buy a special feeder, and rather than refilling after they’re picked over you can just toss them out. Of course refilling is always a more ecologically smart choice! Bird Seed Log Cabin $39.95 In winter, birds must work hard to find enough food to stay warm. Providing them with nitritous seeds, nuts and fruit not only keeps them healthy, you get to enjoy watching them pick and peck at your offerings. The seed house and wreath above are easy to use, just hang and forget them. Of course the best gift or to buy for yourself are decorative feeders you can reuse time and again. Gardener’s Supply offers this three ball set in bright colors for $19.00. Buy a few sets and decorate a whole tree, then sit back and enjoy the show on long winter days. And if they’ve been sent to friends and loved ones as gifts, rest assured they’l have the same feed-fest to enjoy as well! To purchase these or other cool bird feeding gifts and decorations, log on to Gardeners Supply in our Cool Links Section to shop conveniently online.
Travel across the French or Italian countryside and you’ll see them. Tall column of leaves that stand among fields and hills like sentinels. In colder regions this is the Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’), which is the traditional windbreak tree of Europe. In warmer Italy it is the Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens). Both were planted to protect vineyards and orchards from hot summer winds. While they may no longer fill these roles, the trees with their bold fastigiate forms have become signatures of these regions. Italian cypress so captured the eye of Vincent van Gough, he created many paintings with these dark columnar forms. These trees are outstanding choices, but can grow too large for smaller yards in just a few years. To get this look without the monster mature size, explore dwarf forms such as Tiny Tower that remain in scale for your lifetime. And the fields of France would be like any other without the spires of poplars dotting the flat land. While the cypress remains an excellent tree for the landscape, these poplars are not recommended for gardens. However, they remain beautiful choices for large ranches and farms where tall bold columns add interest to long range views. They are effective fast growing windbreaks or strategically placed to highlight roads, entries and dwellings. The poplar problems begin with invasive rooting and a propensity to sucker like crazy. Do not plant near sewer, septic or water lines. Since all are male clones, you can take root cuttings easily from an older tree to start new ones. However fast they begin life, it is balanced by a short life span. So whenever you use the Lombardy, be sure to plant a phase 2 tree that will take its place a decade or two down the road.
The fiery hues of autumn rival the intensity of any summer garden. They are the final flare of life before the forest goes to bed for its long winter sleep. The leaves are bright for so short a time and once fallen they are lost forever. But I have bought old garden books and found leaves pressed between their pages long ago are still bearing their color. This old practice of pressing fall leaves in books isn’t done much these days, but it’s a wonderful source of free decorating and craft materials. Pressed leaves also make excellent additions to decorated garden journals and scrapbook pages. You can even drop them into a gift book or card that when opened rains down preserved autumn color. Pressing leaves in books can, sometimes, damage a page, so I rarely use my quality books for this purpose. I do save super cheap hardcover books gleaned from thrift stores or garage sales to press both leaves and flowers. Very large coffee table style picture books are helpful if you want to press more than one leaf with stems attached, or for very large leaves. For most others my preference is for old medical books which tend to be unusually heavy because of the type of paper used. I usually press a whole bunch of leaves at one time when their color is at its peak. I slide five or ten leaves between pages of one book, then do the same for the next book until I have a stack of them filled. I put the stack out of the way in the back of a closet for a few months. Then once fully dry I’ll slide the leaves into a “keeper” book to store for craft time.