Happy Solstice!

photo of sunflower
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Are you doing anything special to mark the longest (or shortest, if you’re in the southern hemisphere) day of the year?

If you need some ideas, here are a few to get you started…

 

Make Sun Tea

clear glass bowl beside yellow flower
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Make a Flower Crown

man with pink floral headdress
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Do some cooking, or bake Solstice cookies or cake.

slices of lemon on white plate
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Wishing you a Happy Solstice…
Aspasía S. Bissas

Vampire’s Garden: Dock

yellow dock

Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism, she still has a garden and studies plants. This post is fifth in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.

Botanical Name: Rumex crispus

Common Names: Yellow Dock, Curly Dock, Curled Dock, Narrow Dock, Rumex

History: Native to Europe and western Asia, dock gets the common name “yellow dock” from its large root, which is bright yellow when cut, and the name “curly dock” from its slightly ruffled leaves. Traditionally the leaves and seeds were eaten, while the leaves and roots were used medicinally as a general health tonic and to improve digestion, as well as to treat jaundice, skin diseases, and scurvy. Although naturalized in temperate areas, it’s considered an invasive species in the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand, and an “injurious weed” in the UK.

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Patience

Cultivation: Perennial in zones 4 to 7. Plants can grow to 1.5 m (about 5 ft) tall. Because it can be easily found growing wild (including in waste areas, roadsides, fields, and along shorelines) and is invasive in many areas, consider foraging for dock rather than cultivating it. If you’d still like to grow it (after checking to make sure it isn’t invasive where you live), scatter seed over prepared soil in spring, summer, or fall. Dock prefers full sun to part shade and moist soil (but will tolerate most conditions). Dock will self-seed and can also re-grow from a piece of root left behind. Harvest leaves before the plant flowers, roots in autumn, and seeds after they turn brown.

Uses:

Medicinal: The root is high in iron and is used to treat anemia, often in combination with stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). The root is also mildly laxative, although it isn’t always effective. Taken internally or applied externally, the leaves may be helpful for skin conditions such as itching, rashes (including the stings from nettles), and sores. It’s also used to ease pain and inflammation in nasal passages and the respiratory tract. It can be applied to the skin to stop bleeding.

Culinary: Leaves are high in vitamins C and A, iron, and potassium, but are also high in oxalic acid, which can cause kidney stones and blood mineral imbalances. Young leaves should be boiled in several changes of water to reduce the oxalic acid (although that will also reduce nutrients). Serve leaves like spinach (after boiling, drain, and heat with olive oil or butter and garlic, or add to any dish you would use spinach in). They can also be eaten raw in small amounts. Older leaves are too bitter to be palatable. Once seeds have turned brown they can be eaten raw or cooked. The seeds can also be roasted and used as a coffee substitute.

Host Plant: Dock is an ideal host plant for some species of moth, which lay their eggs on the curled leaves.

Caution: Leaves are high in oxalic acid, which can irritate the urinary tract and cause kidney stones. Dock should not be used by people taking anti-coagulants or drugs that decrease blood calcium, like diuretics. Avoid if you have bladder, liver, or kidney problems, or ulcers; otherwise, consume in moderation. Limit or avoid using while pregnant and breastfeeding, as dock can have a laxative effect (which gets passed through breast milk). Those allergic to ragweed may also be allergic to dock.

Caution 2: The oxalic acid in dock makes it toxic to dogs (I’m assuming to cats too). Do not let your pets eat or chew on dock.

Possible Side Effects: The leaves and root may cause intestinal discomfort and skin irritation. Taking too much can result in low blood levels of calcium and potassium–a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Mara’s Uses: Mara uses dock in tinctures and capsules (along with other herbs) as an iron-rich tonic for bloodletters (human blood donors used by vampires). Dock is among the herbs she experiments with for her blood substitute.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia

Language of Flowers

The Health Benefits of Yellow Dock

WebMD

Identify That Plant

Edible Wild Food

Herb Lore: Yellow Dock Root

Tips on Growing

The Spruce: Nettle Rash Treatment

Yellow Dock: An Iron Rich Tea

 

-Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Vampire’s Garden: Lavender

close up photo of lavender growing on field
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Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism, she still has a garden and studies plants. This post is third in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself.

Latin Name: Lavandula (Species include angustifolia, stoechas, latifolia, and dentata)

Common Names: Lavender, English Lavender, French Lavender, Spanish Lavender, nard

History: Part of the mint family, Lavender is native to Europe, northern and eastern Africa, and large parts of Asia. Its use goes back at least to Ancient Egypt, where the oil was used in mummification. The Greeks and Romans used the plant in their public baths. In the Middle Ages lavender was used as a strewing herb, where it was sprinkled on floors to repel insects and sweeten the air with its scent. The word lavender comes from the French, “lavendre” meaning “to wash,” which itself comes from the Latin name Lavandula, from the verb lavare, “to wash.”

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Loyalty, love, devotion

Cultivation: Perennial (although in less ideal conditions, it should be considered an annual). Cold hardiness depends on variety–English lavender (L. angustifolia) tolerates zones 5 to 8; French lavender (L. dentata and L. stoechas) is suited to zones 8 to 11. Lavender likes full sun and dry sandy or rocky soil. If you live in an area with heavy clay soils, try growing lavender in containers or raised beds. The plants need good air circulation, so don’t crowd them. Lavender generally doesn’t need to be fertilized. Avoid organic mulches in areas with high humidity (gravel or rock mulches should be okay). Plants generally bloom from June until August, and you can extend blooming time by planting a variety of types. Flowers range in colour from white to pink, light purple to deep blue-purple, and yellow, depending on variety. Lavender is difficult to start from seed–it’s best to purchase plants. Water seedlings consistently until they’re established. Prune plants in spring. Deadhead spent flowers throughout the season to encourage more blooms. Harvest just before the flowers are fully open.

Lavender has become invasive and/or weedy in parts of Australia and Spain. Check with your local authorities before growing it in those areas.

Bonus: Bees and butterflies love lavender.

Uses:

Medicinal: Lavender may help calm anxiety and ease insomnia. It’s also been traditionally used to treat intestinal disorders and cardiovascular diseases, and has been found effective in fighting fungal infections.

Essential Oil: Lavender essential oil is distilled from the flowers and is used in perfumes, soaps, bath products, and in aromatherapy. The oil is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, making it useful for treating minor burns (including sunburn), wounds, and stings. It also repels mosquitoes. Generally a drop or two of the oil can go directly onto skin, but if you have sensitive or allergy-prone skin you might want to dilute the lavender oil in a carrier oil (like sweet almond or olive) before applying to skin. Lavender oil, when combined with essential oils of rosemary, thyme, and cedarwood, has been found to be effective in combatting hair loss.

Cautions: While lavender is generally safe, the NIH recommends that boys avoid lavender essential oil as it may cause hormonal effects leading to gynecomastia. Lavender oil can irritate the skin in some people (use with a carrier oil–see above) and can cause photo-sensitivity, so avoid sun exposure if you’ve used lavender essential oil on your skin. The NIH also says people who take sleep medication or blood pressure-lowering medication should use caution when combining lavender with these drugs. Lavender oil can be poisonous if taken internally.

In addition, Essential oils are toxic to pets: never use to treat pets. Do not diffuse essential oils in an enclosed space when pets are present. Do not apply oils externally to pets. Never let pets or children ingest essential oils.

Crafts: Add dried flowers to pot pourri mixtures, or sew them into sachets and dream pillows. The stems with flowers attached can be made into lavender wands or bottles. Dried flowers can be added to homemade soap. Make a lavender wreath or linen spray. Use fresh or dried in flower arrangements and centrepieces.

Culinary: English lavender is the most commonly used kind in cooking. Lavender is usually included in “Herbes de Provence” mixes. Lavender flowers can be incorporated into baking, drinks, stews, and salads. Lavender pairs well with berries, sheep’s milk- and goat’s milk-cheeses, “spring mix” type salad greens, beef, honey, lemons, and custard. Lavender leaves can replace (or be used with) rosemary in savoury foods and breads. The dried mature stems can be used as skewers. Remember to use the dried flowers sparingly to avoid a soapy or perfumey taste

Place about a teaspoon of dried flowers into a cup of superfine sugar and let the mixture sit for 2 weeks. Use the lavender-flavoured sugar in place of regular sugar in desserts and drinks. It’s particularly good sprinkled on berries or in lemonade.

Flower buds and lavender leaves are infused to make tea.

Lavender syrup (homemade or commercial) can be used in drinks, desserts, ice creams, or candy making.

Lavender honey can be used like regular honey and has a subtle lavender scent and flavour.

Other: Tie a bundle of lavender and eucalyptus to your shower for a relaxing, spa-like bathing experience.

Mara’s Uses: Mara uses lavender to soothe herself by brushing her hand over the plant and inhaling the scent. Lavender is also part of her apothecary business, in teas, tinctures, and salves.

Further Reading:

Flower Meanings

Health Benefits and Risks of Lavender

The Fundamentals of Growing Lavender

How to Use Lavender

30 Ways to Use Lavender

WebMD

Wikipedia

Vampire’s Garden: Love-Lies-Bleeding

Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth
Photo from http://www.adaptiveseeds.com

If you’ve read Love Lies Bleeding, you’ll know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism, she still has a garden and studies plants. This post will be the first in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you  interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for historical interest only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself.

Latin name: Amaranthus caudatus

Common names: Love-Lies-Bleeding, Pendant Amaranth, Tassel Flower, Velvet Flower, Foxtail Amaranth

History: Native to South America, this and other varieties of Amaranthus were grown for their edible, protein-rich seeds. The Aztecs also used it in religious ceremonies, which led to the Spanish conquerors making its cultivation a capital offense (they still never managed to wipe it out). Some varieties were used to make a red dye, and betacyanins, which give Amaranthus their red colour, are still used to produce non-toxic food dyes. Medicinally, it has been used to treat swelling, ulcers, and diarrhea.

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: hopeless love or hopelessness

Cultivation: Annual. Easy to grow from seed, Love-Lies-Bleeding prefers full sun and is both drought and moisture tolerant. It grows to be 3 to 8 feet (1 to 2.5 metres) tall. Seeds can be started indoors and transplanted outside after the last frost (start in April to transplant in May). Sow or thin to 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm). Can self sow but generally isn’t weedy.

Uses: Ornamental, cut flowers, edible (seeds and leaves).

Wildlife: Birds love the seeds–leave plants in the garden over winter for the birds.

Mara’s Uses: Following the Doctrine of Signatures, Mara considers Love-Lies-Bleeding to be a potential ingredient in her theoretical blood substitute.

Bonus: Mara’s full name is Amarantha, which shares a root and meaning with Amaranthus: “unwilting” or “unfading.”

Further Reading:

Adaptive Seeds

The Sacramento Bee

Wikipedia

WebMD

Inhabitat