Plant in Focus


Photo by Peggy Hansen

The sunflower is our Plant in Focus because it’s such an uplifting cheerful presence in the garden.

The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an annual plant native to the Americas in the family Asteraceae, with a large flowering head (inflorescence). The stem of the flower can grow as high as 3 metres tall, with the flower head reaching up to 30 cm in diameter with the “large” seeds. The term “sunflower” is also used to refer to all plants of the genus Helianthus, many of which are perennial plants.
From Wikipedia

Bees are very fond of sunflowers. There are some solitary bees that use the sunflower for a bed at night. There is even a whole project called the Great Sunflower project to monitor what bees are visiting sunflowers.
Check out the National Sunflower Association.

I love the sunflowers colors so much I painted my house with sunflowr inspired colors.
Sunflower colors inspired the Terra Nova sign as well.
Of course you can’t forget the best anti-war sign ever, inspired by the sunflower.

Description of the Sunflower

What is usually called the flower is actually a head (formally composite flower) of numerous flowers (florets) crowded together. The outer flowers are the pubic florets and can be yellow, maroon, orange, or other colors, and are sterile. The florets inside the circular head are called disc florets. The disc florets mature into what are traditionally called “sunflower seeds,” but are actually the fruit (an achene) of the plant. The true seeds are encased in an inedible husk.
The florets within this cluster are arranged spirally. Typically each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the golden angle, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. Typically, there are 34 spirals in 1 direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower you may see 89 in one direction and 144 in the other.
From Wikipedia
collengula.jpgcolengala.jpgWe made a marzapan cake and decorated it with Calendula flowers.n0flower373.jpg

This beautiful and amazing edible flower has many medicinal and cosmetic uses. Its common name is marigold, golds, garden marigold. Its botanical or Latin name is calendula officinalis. In my yard I let it volunteer every year but watch out it can be invasive. I often put the flowers in salads.
Calendula, or pot marigold, is native to the Mediterranean countries.n0flower373.jpg
It was used since a very long time ago by ancient civilizations as topical ointments and washes for wounds and ulcers. The ancient Romans used calendula to treat scorpion bites and soldiers in the American Civil War found it helped stop wounds from bleeding.
Some American physicians of the nineteenth century considered calendula helpful in treating stomach ulcers, liver complaints, conjunctivitis, and superficial wounds, sores, and burns.n0flower373.jpg
The parts used are the flower petals and the herb. Only the deep orange flowered variety is of medicinal use.
Throughout the ages, tinctures made from calendula blossoms have been used to treat headaches, toothaches and even tuberculosis. The ancient Romans used calendula to treat scorpion bites and soldiers in the American Civil War found it helped stop wounds from bleeding.
It is used as infusions, extracts, and ointments with the petals by folk medicine healers in Europe to induce menses, produce sweat during fevers, and to cure jaundice.

Used historically as “poor man’s saffron,” in different foods to give a beautiful color and a flavor. n0flower373.jpg

Calendula flower consists of the dried flower heads or the dried ligulate flowers (ray florets) of C. officinalis.

Its main constituents include an essential oil, triterpene glycosides and aglycones, as well as carotenoids pigments, calendulin, and polysaccharides.
This is an herb whose bite (read sting) is as stimulating as it’s nutitional benefits. While the sting is uncomfortable, my acupuncturist recommends using nettle to stimulate acupuncture points.
nettle-2.jpg If you don’t like this way of stimulating health then use this herb as a tea or food. I find it is great with scrambled eggs or try the delicious and healthful dish below.

Brysis Buchanan’s Nettle Casserole Recipe

2 cups Nettle greens chopped
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup mixed ground nut meat (walnut, almond)
1/2 cup leek or onion, chopped
1 cup cabbage, celery and broccoli
1/2 cup tahini or ground sesame seeds
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
pinch of basil and marjoram
pinch of sea salt

Mix all ingredients together and bake in oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

The stinging nettle has stimulating action on the kidneys and bladder. Nettle shoots, eating during spring, helps to clean the body of toxins. Stinging nettle is used to treat inflammation of the urinary tract and kidney gravel.
Stinging nettle improves the excretion of uric acid thereby reducing the symptoms of gout and arthritis.
Stinging nettle leaves have diuretic properties. Nettle root is also used for the treatment of urinary retention caused by prostate enlargement.
Lectins present in stinging nettle appear to stimulate the immune system.

Stinging nettle is very rich in chlorophyll and is used by the industry to extract pure chlorophyll for colouring purposes. Young stinging nettle shoots are edible when slightly cooked and have a nice and nutty taste. Nettle shoots contain also beta-carotene and vitamin C.

These annual or perennial native and European herbaceous plants are distinctive for many reasons, as you’d quickly discover if you ever encountered them wearing shorts. Nettles are covered with tiny, nearly invisible stinging hairs that produce an intense, stinging pain, followed redness and skin irritation. The generic name comes from the Latin word, “uro,” which means “I burn.” Nevertheless, they’re superb, non-stinging, cooked vegetables.
Nettles usually appear in the same places year after year. Look for them in rich soil, disturbed habitats, moist woodlands, thickets, along rivers, and along partially shaded trails.

They grow throughout most of the United States Here are a few of the most common species: Stinging nettle’s (Urtica dioica) rather stout, ribbed, hollow stem grows 2-4 feet tall. The somewhat oval, long-stalked, dark green, opposite leaves are a few inches long, with a rough, papery texture, and very coarse teeth. The leaf tip is pointed, and its base is heart-shaped.

This is a dioecious plant, with male and female flowers growing on separate plants. The species name, dioica, means “two households” in Greek: By late spring, some plants have clusters of tiny, green female flowers, hanging from the leaf axils in paired strands.
Feijoa sellowiana, Pineapple Guava is our Plant in Focus.dave_.jpgdon_in_phoenix.jpgpg.jpg
This is a great edible landscape plant as it is one of the most versatile shrubs around. It makes a great screen plant and is a good team member in a hedge row, it is drought tolerent with a good looking grey green leaf and it has an edible flower and a tasty fruit. The Feijoa (Feijoa sellowiana, synonym Acca sellowiana), also known as Pineapple Guava or Guavasteen, is an evergreen shrub or small tree, 1-7 m in height, originating from the highlands of southern Brazil, parts of Colombia, Uruguay and northern Argentina.
The feijoa is a slow-growing evergreen shrub that can reach 15 ft. high and 15 ft. wide. The bark is pale gray and the spreading branches are swollen at the nodes and white-hairy when young. In addition to the fruit it provides, the shrub also doubles handsomely as a landscape specimen. When planted close together, the shrubs make a nice hedge, screen, or windbreak. Feijoas can also be espaliered or trained as a small tree (20 to 25 ft. tall) with one or more trunks. The wood is dense, hard, and brittle.
Chamomile(Chamaemelum nobile)

Roman Chamomile is one of the great ground covers to go between rocks. Being a sedative herb it makes a nice bed to sleep on. Roman Chamomile is a low-growing plant with finely divided leaves, which are arranged alternately on the stem. The daisy-like flowers have a yellow central disk framed with silvery-white petals. When crushed, the plant gives off a scent akin to that of apples or bubblegum, and this trait led to the origin of the common name; ‘chamaimelon’ means ‘ground apple’.

Getting ready to plant flats. chamomile-1.jpgchamomile-2.jpgchamomile-4.jpg

Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii)
Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii) yerba-buena.jpg This plant in focus takes me back to my youth. I took a wild edible plants class from a Native American woman named Brysis Buchanan in the early 1970’s. On our plant walks she would stop and talk to a plant and then turn around and tell us everything about it. This is one of the plants she told us about and one of my favorite native ground covers. When it’s happy it can create a nice green aromatic matt. Often found growing with the native woodland strawberry. Yerba Buena, sometimes called Indian Mint, is a sprawling aromatic herb of the western and northwestern United States, western Canada and Alaska and Mexico. Another local name for this plant is Oregon tea, referring to its use as both a medicinal and refreshing tea in Oregon. Its name, an alternate form of hierba buena, which means “good herb” was given it by the Spanish priests of California.
What is now San Francisco, California was originally named Yerba Buena by its Spanish settlers in the 18th century because of the abundance of the herb in the area.
Here’s a little story I found in the book ‘The Landscaping Ideas of Jays’ by Judith Larner Lowry about this herb. Patrick Orozco, a Rumsien Ohlone in California, tells a story he learned from his grandmother.

Once a family ate acorn that was improperly prepared. The agony they experienced from the tannins remaining in the meal was so painful to their father that he left the house and went down to the creek, were he saw a bear. Returning to the house, he retrieved some of the improperly prepared acorn meal and brought it down to the creek. The bear are it and became as miserable as the people. The man continued to watch. Eventually the bear looked around until it found yerba buena (Satureja douglasii), whose roots it dug and ate. Relief was immediate. Plant lesson learned from watching the bear, who knew plant medicine.
mullein1.jpgmullein.jpgArtwork by Suzy Norris
Some people have spirit animals, I have a spirit plant and that is Mullein. I enjoy its proud nature and soft grey green leaves. The leaves make an enjoyable tobacco substitute for smoking, the flowers make a good tea for insomnia and the seeds add a nutty flavor to corn bread.

The Mulleins (Verbascum) are a genus of about 250 species of flowering plants in the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae). They are native to Europe and Asia, with the highest species diversity in the Mediterranean region.
Mullien has been a herbal favorite for respiratory ailments for thousands of years. In addition to being an effective expectorant, it sooths the throat, and helps stop the muscle spasms that trigger coughs. An oil made from mullien flowers is used for earache. Mullien is a great remedy for asthma, bronchitis, and coughs, oh, and it’s soft leaves make a good toilet paper substitute.

Minor’s Lettuce is a sweet little California native. It is the Terra Nova mascot because it spreads itself easily, it’s native, it’s useful and fits well into an edible landscape! All attributes of Terra Nova.
Miner’s Lettuce was used by pioneers and Native Americans as an herb and for salads.
It is a member of the Portulaca Family. It typically grows in shady moist areas at altitudes between 2,500 and 7,500 feet. Leaves at the ends of the stalks are green and circular (to 2″ in diameter) with a small, white flower growing from the center. Other leaves of the plant are more oblong in shape. Flowers bloom between February and May.

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