Ravishing Rubies Red Hats

Ravishing Rubies Red Hats

We have several Red Hats groups visit the garden during the summer. Most bring sack lunches and make a morning of it. The Ravishing Rubies (aka Blue Eye Red Hats) came to visit and enjoyed a Dream Pillows workshop in the gazebo. Everyone made a dream pillow to take home and learned about the various herbs that effect dreaming. (All of the recipes for my formulas are in Making Herbal Dream Pillows, Storey Publishing).

They had cold pressed mint tea and Lemon Balm-Blueberry Cake for dessert after lunch. We gave out little envelopes with instructions to place the herbs I handed them (to smell and taste) into the envelope, put it on the dash of the car and they would have a potpourri record of the herbs they'd enjoyed. Alternatively, they could empty the packet into a pot of boiling water in which there was an couple of onion slices, a stalk of celery and a couple of pieces of chicken, and make soup!

Many of my dream pillow formulas are available on our website on the Dream Pillows pages, both as ready made pillows and as bulk blends for those who want to sew their own. We also offer Kits and individual Bulk Herbs for other projects, too.


Dancing Tea

(Baby Dancing Tea plants, left)
I've been receiving email questions regarding sources for some of the plants I've written about in my columns in The Herb Companion magazine recently. If you go to my website http://www.LongCreekHerbs.com and click on the "Looking for Plants?" button, it will take you to a page with my recommendations for sources of many of the plants I write about (and gr0w).

The dancing tea plant likes mostly shade, with filtered light. Mine is on the north side of my grape arbor and gets morning sun only and it's looking quite happy and robust. Recently 3 of us were standing near it talking and one of the people had a lot of volume to her voice. I pointed out the dancing tea was dancing up a storm every time she spoke.


Peppers in Season

Rains, 2 inches or more each week, have been hard on the peppers. Just 2 nights ago we received more than 3 inches overnight. Several of the peppers have nearly lost all of their leaves. The bell peppers and a few of the hot peppers are producing, but not a bit happy with the moisture.

The hotter varieties prefer soil on the well-drained, dry side, with weekly watering. Ours are mulched with straw, in raised beds, the method that works well each year for us. But not with constant raining. The Jamaican Scotch Bonnet (shown as the little yellow turban-shaped at the left) is a plant I over wintered with good success and it is producing small amounts of it's fruity tasting, pretty hot peppers and is less affected by the humidity and rains than some of the others.

The bhut jalokia I have written about before is doing well but not yet ready to flower, nor is the somewhat rare white habanero. Friends asked me recently, just why it is that people eat hot peppers. They were from "up north," meaning north of Missouri, and said they just do not understand why people want to suffer pain by eating peppers.

Here's what a professional chef on www.gigachef.com says about it:
"In essence, when we eat a pepper containing capsaicin, we are eating that plant's deterrent against being eaten; hence the irritating sensations it produces when we eat or even touch it. Pretty ironic that the reason we eat something is for its natural defenses against being eaten in the first place.

Psychologist Paul Rozin sites this phenomenon as an example of “constrained risk,” something that makes our body respond with warning signals, which we ignore and enjoy, much like riding a roller coaster. It is asserted by many that prolonged stimulation from capsaicin releases B-endorphins from the brain to impede and reduce pain. It is based on this idea that capsaicin has been used as a medication to aid in the alleviation of many chronic disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and viral and diabetic nerve damage. However, much like a chili-eater's tolerance increases with the frequency of his or her use, extended use of this chemical leads to desensitization, and therefore a higher dose is needed to be effective."

In other words, it's a pain-pleasure sensation that become addictive, in the same way eating your favorite flavor of ice cream is addictive. (I like candied jalapeno peppers over my ice cream, combining the best of both addictions).

Above are Vietnamese fish peppers I'm growing, hot little peppers that are used when cooking seafood dishes. Even if you don't eat these, they are highly decorative with their variegated foliage and variegated peppers, too.


Fairy Hats, Fairy Corners

There's a long standing tradition in the Ozarks for leaving a fairy corner in the garden. Tradition has it that fairies come out at night, especially in the moonlight, and tend the garden plants. They give lessons to the lady bugs on how to keep the aphids off the tomatoes; they teach the praying mantises how to protect the squash and beans from marauding pests.

It's the fairies who fluff up the tassels on the corn after a pounding rain and it's the same wee ones who are responsible for chasing the lightning bugs into the air to light the garden in the early evening.

Fairies, I am told, need a place that is safe to hid in the daytime, a place that is never disturbed year in and year out. It's the constant tilling, mulching, weed-eating and Round-Upping of the soil that is the reason people seldom see fairies any more. But in gardens that provide a place, they are still around.

I asked my grandfather, when I was about 5, why there was a corner of his garden where he didn't grow regular garden plants. He kind of blushed and said, "Oh, it's too hard to get the plow into that part." And that's all he would tell me.

Much later, as an adult, I noticed that gardens of older people in the Ozarks, all had this same quality. It is the corner where the hollyhocks grow, where the poppies and bachelor's buttons come up every year. Four o'clocks bloom there as do larkspur, the decorative alliums and in some people's gardens, foxglove.

I began asking people who had these untilled corners, just what they were and was told by several sources, "It's a fairy corner, don't you know?" The tradition has come down to us today from English folklore, and it was a customary thing in English gardens of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Last week I had a group of garden club ladies from Kimberling City, MO visiting. I was giving a tour of the garden which went past the culinary herbs, over to the myoga ginger, horseradish and on to the edible leaf hibiscus. I began to tell the ladies the story of the fairy garden, and pointing to the giant allium flower heads, said, "And here's the proof. Some of the fairies last night left their hats on top of the allium flowers."

But to my amazement, the little hats I had seen earlier, were gone. I stopped in the story and said I was surprised to see the hats had disappeared. Then one of the ladies spoke up and said, "Oh, I guess it's my fault. I saw those little tufts and thought they looked messy and I pulled them all off. Should I have not done that?

I thought it very presumptuous of her to have tidied up my garden flowers, which very well ruined my proof of the fairies existence and the reason for having a fairy corner at all. I had meant to photograph the hats earlier and decided I'd wait until the garden club was over with. So after they left, I took a couple of photos of the only fairy hats left in the garden, some old discarded and worn out hats, but this is what will have to do.

And whether you believe in the old English custom of leaving a fairy corner, the more practical purpose is to have a place where the beneficial insects hide out. The mantis' lay their eggs for next year; ladybugs winter over and have a sanctuary in the daytime when they aren't doing their work. And who knows, leave a place for them, and the fairies are likely to come to your garden to help out, too!



Adam, our summer WWOOFer and great garden helper has been exploring the usefulness of papalo, also known as "buzzard's breath." Used like cilantro in Bolivia, where mine came from, and in southern Mexico, it's easy to see (or smell) why it got dubbed buzzard's breath. Just getting near the plant you'll get a whiff of something akin to aluminum with lemony overtones with some rue and other smells thrown in. It's not an easy plant to love and Adam has been concocting recipes to find new ways to use it.

Papalo, also known as Papaloquelite (Porophyllum ruderale or Porophyllum ruderale spp macrocephalum) is used fresh somewhat like cilantro. The friend who brought seed to me a few years back also brought along pepper seed and said the indigenous people he met used the two plants together to make a kind of sauce or salsa they said had been in use since the time of the Aztecs.

Papalo is also commonly eaten raw on cemitas - also known as a cemita poblana, which is a Mexican sandwich and street food that originated in the city of Puebla. Papalo is also sometimes found in guacamole and in Mexico it is used fresh in soups and stews. In Bolivia native Quechua people call it Killi and eat it daily just torn up onto foods.

Papalo Salsa (recipe is from freshcutherbs.com and Herbalpedia)
2 roasted and seeded chopped chilies
2 roasted and seeded sweet green peppers, diced
3 small green tomatoes, diced
4 roasted garlic cloves
6 papalo leaves
½ tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 spoonfuls of minced onion
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and let sit in refrigerator for at least 1 hour
before serving.

I was pleased to find the plant in the markets in Mexico last winter when I visited Acapulco and noticed it is sold is as young, pulled seedlings instead of leaf prunings as you would basil or rosemary. It definitely has better flavor than when you let it get chest high. We've been pruning ours back and using only the newest growth.

Our WWOOFer couple from Des Moines who were here for a week 10 days ago let us know they'd had storms and trees down when they got home. Jeff, who worked hard fixing up the raised beds while he was here and went home and cut up the fallen trees to the point of exhaustion, suffered a heart attack and was in the hospital last week. We wish them well and enjoyed their company while they were here with us in the garden.