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Valerian Flower Tincture

My Valerian plant has just gone totally bonkers with flowers this season, and I wanted very much to make use of them, but wasn’t sure how. Enter trusty Google search, where I learned that Valerian flowers can be tinctured and used much in the same way as the root. Valerian is employed as a relaxant and sedative, especially for those folks who have trouble falling and/or staying asleep. (A word of caution: a percentage of people actually respond the exact OPPOSITE to Valerian, and find that it makes them jumpy and excitable.) Valerian flowers are considered effective, but milder than the root. We are mostly use California Poppy before bed in our house, but it’s nice to have a back-up plant and to mix it up now and again.

For our home remedies, I tincture almost exclusively in the folk method. I fill a jar (not jammed but nice and full) with fresh plant matter, and then cover with 80 proof vodka and seal the lid. It’s a no-fuss method but very effective. I store the jar away in the pantry, give it a shake every now and again, and then sample the medicine after waiting at least 2 weeks. (I consider 2 weeks to be the bare minimum to wait, in order to give the plant matter enough time to give itself over to the alcohol. I usually wait a month or two before using a tincture. Opinions on this vary and I’m simply offering my experience.)

This is the method I used to tincture the Valerian flowers, although this time I filled one jar with vodka and another with brandy. Using brandy is new to me, but I’ve been experimenting with making flower essences, which primarily use brandy. (The flower essences are often taken directly under the tongue, and brandy goes down a bit smoother than vodka, in my experience.) So now I have two differnt tinctures of Valerian flower to experiment with, one make with vodka and the other with brandy.



Sage Flowers


One of our sage plants flowered for the first time just the other day. Very delicate, lovely little purple blossoms than smell faintly of fresh sage. I put in some water and enjoyed a tasty glass of sweet sage elixir. It was like drinking a cup of summer sunshine.

Surprise in the Feral Garden

The feral garden can be a place of disappointment and difficulty, therefore living in it, and alongside it, is a learning experience. But sometimes, when I’m very alert and very lucky, this wild and unmanicured place gives me secret surprises. As the undomesticated mixes with the civilized, this outdoor world reflects my inner landscape, becoming home to both the contained and the uncontained. We are on a journey together, this garden and I. Digging in the earth is not so different from rooting around in one’s own heart and mind: you push down into the damp wetness to find a stubborn rock living there underground, a shard of bone left like a gift, or a decaying peanut buried and forgotten. Every object is sacred if you hold it up to the sun and squint with one eye.

The space between the containers is where the wildness really creeps in. Mostly I see what I don’t like: voracious iceplant, illmannered ivy, and uninvited creatures that steal our food. But I try to learn from what I don’t like. It is good advice in life to manage what you can manage and leave the rest up to the Gods. I try not to manage this space too much, keeping the role of watchful eye rather than constant gardener. Because sometimes in the inbetween place-the space between the containers- is the fertile soil of secret surprises.

My lettuce seedlings were devoured this winter, and I gave up planting more. Sometimes I get discouraged out here. But the garden knows when I get discouraged and sometimes it sends me a gift. I did not plant new lettuce seedlings this year, and yet look what’s growing in the inbetween place: a healthy, vibrant, almost fullgrown head. How did it get here? When did it appear?

I don’t know, but the lettuce knows.



SUCCESS: Shopping Bag Planter


I’m going to go ahead and call the Shopping Bag Planter experiment a rousing success. The swiss chard has performed remarkably well in the bag, with the added convenience of being easy to move around the yard if the need arises. The bag holds in moisture very well and seems to be in the same good shape it was in last August when I first planted the chard. This type of planting would be good for balcony gardens and anyone who rents. The bags are easy to remove, bring indoors, or relocate to a new home.

Topiary Monsters in the Neighborhood



Saw these cute topiary monster creatures on a walk this weekend. They look like puffy video game characters or some kind of japanese anime toy.

Bareroot Fruit Trees

On the recommendation of Mr. Homegrown from Root Simple, I purchased two fruit trees from Bay Laurel Nursery (based out of Atascadero, California) for our budding orchard. You may recall we started with three dwarf citrus trees (orange, lemon, and lime) and I’ve been eager to add more, but wasn’t sure what to purchase or which trees would do well in our area. After reading through their online catalog of bareroot fruit trees, I chose one Anna Apple and one Royal Lee Miniature Cherry (both are semi-dwarf.) I picked apple because we eat so many them in our house and cherry because they’re fairly expensive at the grocery store. Anna Apple is recommended for our climate here in Southern California and produces sweet, crisp fruit. The Royal Lee Miniature Cherry is recommended for small gardens and container planting.
Bay Laurel Nursery begins taking orders for their bareroot trees in September and delivers them the following January. (So trees ordered in September 2013 will be delivered January of 2014.) If you are anything like me, you will place your order in September and then forget all about the trees until they show up at your doorstep like a belated Christmas present.
Both trees are doing well so far and seem to have adapted to their new soil and containers. The cherry shows very slight green growth but not too much change since it was planted. Anna Apple, on the other hand, has already begun branching and flowering. The petite white flowers were in bloom for a couple weeks and are just now beginning to die off. I’m really hoping for some apples this year!


Spring Equinox

Happy Spring Equinox everyone! In our neck of the woods, we are spending the week planting seeds, taking pictures of wildflowers, and watching the hummingbird family that lives in our yard. I spent time yesterday weeding iceplant that invades our yard from the neighbor below, turning the compost pile, and sowing herb seeds. The garden fell into sad neglect over the winter, but with some work I’m sure we can bring it back to its former glory. I’m excited to see what Spring has in store for us!


Passion Flower

I made a tincture from the flowers, buds, and vines of a Passion Flower plant. Before I bottled it though, I was compelled to do a little photoshoot.



“Passionflower is a climbing vine native to South Texas, Mexico, and Central America. Growing to a length of 30 feet (9 meters) under ideal conditions, the vine bears three-lobed leaves, purple flowers, and yellow-to-orange egg-shaped fruit. The name of the plant comes an analogy between the plant’s ornate flower to the elements of the crucifixion of Jesus, white and purple to symbolize heaven and purity, five stamens for the five wounds he suffered, three style for the three nails used to affix him to the cross. A Spanish doctor named Nicolas Monardes was the first to document the flower used in Peru in 1569, which he then brought back to Europe with him, where its popularity spread quite rapidly as a sedative. It was later classified by Linnaeus in 1745, when he noted over 20 species. Nowadays, there are reputably over 400 different species.
Herbalists in Mexico, Central America, and Texas have used passionflower as a calmative and sleeping aid for over 200 years.”
Mountain Rose Herbs

Possibly Field Mustard?

I’m wondering if this is Field Mustard? The leaves look right, but I can’t make a positive identification on the flowers.



Rumex crispus?






The fields are aflutter with weeds. Nettles are knee high, bees are spreading their business, and the full moon is giving everyone a little extra “oopmh.”

This morning I found hearty and healthy specimens of what I believe to be Rumex crispus, curly dock. Some plants had all green leaves, while others had leaves flecked with red. Rumex crispus is an edible member of the buckwheat family. The wavy leaves are often described as sour or lemon-y tasting. Dock recipes abound on foraging/wild eating websites. Hunger and Thirst has a recipe for Dock Enchiladas that looks amazing. I’m going to have to try them.

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