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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Plant Study: Alfalfa , Lucerne,or Medicago sativa

This is a short video I did of a plant I passed when running every day.   

As my grandfather raised horses and sold feed to the state fairgrounds and the thoroughbred racing circuit at the county fairs for years and years, I knew alfalfa mostly as heavy bales to move into barns once we sold them.  I was a delivery boy, basically, but it was fun doing the work and loading or unloading the trucks.

But alfalfa has been cultivated for fodder for cows, sheep, horses, mules, donkeys and goats, for thousands of years.  The ancient Greeks and Romans used it and wrote about it thousands of years ago.   The root system on this pea family plant can reach 15 meters, (over 40 feet!) so it's good in dry areas.   It is an amazing plant.   It harbors many insects and bees, and is known among agricultural plants as an 'insectory'!  That's good news for bees and lots of other beneficial bugs.   It's best to mow strips in the alfalfa rather than the whole field, because it keeps those insects from being completely without habitat, so that is a great practice that some farmers use to maintain their crops AND keep those helpful insects going on the farm.

The interesting thing about this flower has to do with how it gets pollinated.  The part of the flower that has the pollen is called the 'keel', (like the bottom of a ship) and evidently it hits the bee in the head when it comes inside to sip nectar.  The blow spreads the pollen onto the bee which then carries it flower to flower.  However, the western honey bee doesn't like getting hit in the head, so as it gets older and smarter, it starts to sip nectar on the side, and avoids getting hit.  So in big alfalfa areas, the pollinators are usually the younger bees, or some different bees that don't mind getting hit.   Which is pretty cool.  Many alfalfa farmers offer special habitat for those bees, too, to encourage their presence in their fields...

There is a lot of different things that I have learned about this plant that you can find, but one of the most interesting is about how some Jain Veganism people can't eat any mushrooms, so they use alfalfa sprouts to get their Vitamin D, which they say is present in alfalfa sprouts, although that hasn't been determined yet....

Anyway, the field I run by got cut before I could take a lot of pictures, but I totally love this plant and how it feeds so many animals in our world...  

And I love bees!

Plant Study: Toad Flax or Butter and Eggs or Linaria vulgaris

Some call this Butter and Eggs. Others call it Toadflax.

Linaria vulgaris is found in poor soils around pastures, and is often grown in flower gardens as a sort of 'local snapdragon' flower. It is considered an invasive pasture weed in North American, where it is not native. It is native and widespread throughout Europe, Asia, Russia and beyond... It really gets around!

It's not exactly a huge medicinal plant with a lot of history that I could find, but it could be used as a skin/infection/sores/ulcerous conditions, if you chop up the whole plant and then boil it in lard until you get a green ointment. They say that the flowers, when soaked in milk, makes a great fly poison.

I mean, I think warm milk might just attract and drown flies on it's own, but maybe the flowers help?
(I don't think this was tested on some sort of double blind study! ha ha!)

Evidently the Germans used it for a yellow dye.

Also, it is considered toxic and cows and sheep and horses avoid it, thus it spreads throughout a pasture area and competes with other beneficial or preferred browse, so it creates problems in that respect.

To my, however, by far the coolest thing about this plant is the fact that the bright yellow 'egg yolk' attracts the larger bees, like wood or carpenter bees, or bumblebees, and only they are big enough to push into the flower's inner sanctum to get to the nectar, and the pollen coats the bee's back and sides as it drinks the nectar, thus insuring pollination of all the remaining flowers. Pretty crazy!

Plant Study: Horsetail, or Equisetum arvense

One of the oldest plant families on the planet. Silica based, used in sanding wood by native peoples, also known as 'scouring rush' by settlers because it was great and cleaning pots and pans by the river, and the only plant that reproduces using spores, not seeds.

It is known as a living fossil, as it is the only living species of it's family, which thrived in the Paleozoic Era, where some species grew up to 30 meters tall! Very, very ancient! It was established on all continents except Antarctica, over 400 million years ago! Whoa! Settle down, old fella!

It is drunk as tea and has been known as a bleeding reducer, diuretic, and a few other medicinal uses that are unverified by some sources. It loves acidic and clay soils along damp areas, and can be a big nuisance plant by some countries and states for grazing plant competition.

In Russia, recent research seems to have indicated that drinking the tea seems to help with Lead Removal from the body. Not sure how that works or whatever, but that seems valuable for all those paint chip eating people!

Yep, this is Horsetail, (Equisetum arvense) and it's a cool plant! Also known as Horse Willow, Pewterwort, or Toad Pipes

(I did know this before, but I wanted to research it further and it's also just very beautiful and interesting...)

Plant Study: Pearly Everlasting or Anaphalis margaritacea

Okay, my challenge for today was harder than I thought it was going to be. I guess I actually know a lot more plants than I thought I did! I had to wander quite a bit to find some plants that I didn't know.

Even this plant is one that I have seen and looked up before, and I realized that I remembered the name of it from back in the day when I got home.

It's Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) and I guess it was used medicinally. It is native to North America, so it's not a European import like so many other pasture plants.

It is known as Rabbit Tobacco by many native peoples, and it is said that because it lasted so long after it died, it was a plant that helped people 'walk between the worlds'. People grow it as part of butterfly gardens, and it is used in dried flower arrangements and it's sweet smell is said to be amazing in dried herb mixtures, or in special pillows, etc.

It's also been used in early homeopathic remedies as well as for childhood asthma sufferers, as well as dysentery, colds, sore muscles and even 'cud-substitute' for cows and some of their problems such as mastitis.

Haven't actually used it for anything yet, but I plant to pick some and bring them into the house to see how they look and feel in the house.

They are also said to be very sensitive, and that plants will pick up a very negative energy easily, and so can be 'ruined' in terms of their effect if around the wrong kind of people who are in a negative or highly fearful state.

Not sure what to do with it, but I am glad I learned about this plant!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Plant Study: Velvetleaf. Abutilon theophrasti.

Velvet Leaf:  Abutilon theophrasti
 This is Velvetleaf. Abutilon theophrasti. In the Maldives, it is known as maalbulha, and it's leaves are eaten in vegetable dishes traditionally. It's also known in Asia as China Jute, because of it's very, very strong fibers.

This plant has been growing in my compost pile/manure pile in our yard, and it's really starting to take off. I used velvet leaf in the last challenge to make some great cordage, so I thought I would share this with you all for those of you who aren't familiar with it!

I never knew it was edible, and that it was a fiber plant in China, etc. And it's also considered a very, very noxious weed in the American midwest, because of how it sucks nutrients and moisture from corn crops... It loves rich, loamy, overturned soils.

Anyway, this plant was hanging out and a big thunderstorm was rolling in, and it was really cool to feel like this plant was just waiting for that rain. I really got the distinct feeling it was very thirsty!

Velvet Leaf:  Abutilon theophrasti
I used the fibers from velvetleaf in my cordage display back in June, and it is a coarse fiber, but it's very strong and serviceable!   So, it's good to have around and it makes me happy when I see it growing, even if it is invasive in our gardens or whatever.
Velvet Leaf:  Abutilon theophrasti