Frugal Herb-gathering

silversword(9A)September 25, 2010

I got my lemongrass at a local Asian market, stuck it in some water to make roots and planted it. I've found a snip of this and a snip of that at friend's houses can really bulk up my herb garden. I love lemongrass tea, and my neighbor comes over for a stalk for her daughter when she has a sore throat. I'd love some comfrey but don't want it to take over so I've resisted offers :)

What's your favorite frugal clipping and how do you use it?

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novice_2009(zone 6b)

Good thread! I haven't mastered propagation, I start my herbs from seed when I can. Don't know anyone that grows herbs!
Silversword, try bocking comfrey, also know as Russian comfrey- I think. It has to be started from a root, but it won't take over. Mine just grows big and leafy in corner of raised bed. It's great for compost, and watering plants.
You gotta make a smelly mixture with water....but it's worth it. I don't think it's as effective (medicinal) as the other kind for skin problems, I'll have to look into that some more.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2010 at 10:45AM
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I suppose it's a little easier here in 9A? A lot of herbs, if you buy them whole at the grocery store will grow roots that you can then plant.

I've heard that you can keep rooting snips of basil and have it growing year round, which I'm going to have to try since I love basil but can never keep it alive.

Thank you on the Comfrey suggestion. I love the way it looks, kind of like a Muppet :) And the flowers are simply gorgeous.

*Comfrey should not be used except under the advice of a physician. It has toxic compounds and the FDA has not approved it for use.*

    Bookmark   September 25, 2010 at 12:47PM
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Comfrey is recommended by some as a compost activator. The variety "Bocking 14" is supposedly the "least invasive".

    Bookmark   September 25, 2010 at 2:54PM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Basil is an annual - can't really do much about that. It will die relatively quickly. But I too have heard of taking cuttings and starting them to stretch its life out more. There's all manner of basil threads in the Herbs forum. Use the search utility if you want any basil growing tips.

From my experience and from what I've read, comfrey stays put *if and only if* you let it be. Don't move it and don't fiddle around by its roots. The little root bits left in the soil from digging around it or moving it will regrow and sprout. I have 2 comfrey plants. They are large but they have not spread in 5 years. And I've never had one self-seed either. I originally bought my comfrey from Richters. It was just the standard variety they sell.

My frugal gathering includes harvesting dandelion roots/leaf, yellow dock, and burdock from my vegetable and flower gardens as part of weeding. I gather plantain from the lawn. I use no chemical fertilizers or pesticides at all so that isn't a problem. I've taken nettle and motherwort from other gardeners who were clearing out large areas of it. Also the pruning back of morus alba (sang zhi & sang ye) and raspberries offer me other herbs.

I save herb seeds from my gardens for starting new plants. While it varies from year to year, I've saved dill, fennel, calendula, holy basil, basil, sage, monarda, anise, catnip, black cohosh, jack-in-the-pulpit, lemon balm, sorrel, clary sage, salad burnet, cotton, coriander, sunflower, chicory, parsley, mitsuba, shungiku, red clover, motherwort, balloon flower, feverfew, blackberry lily, meadowsweet, echinacea (multiple varieties), chives, borage, onions (various), tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, elecampane, burdock, salsify, nasturtiums, joe-pye-weed, cranesbill, etc. I've occasionally collected seeds from wild plants not at my place but I as a rule I don't do that. The key is to collect only from non-hybrid or open-pollinated varieties (echinacea being a good example of one with hybrid varieties).

I'm a rather "wild gardener" in my approach and welcome volunteers. If they are ill-placed, I move them, give them away, or harvest them into oblivion. I do not curse the self-seeders. I allow them to give me the bounty they have to offer.


    Bookmark   September 25, 2010 at 4:21PM
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mcfaroff(z5/6 NM)

I always like your postings and now I know why, you love to grow herbs, me too. We are both 5/6 zone. I am in New Mexico and have a similar list of herbs. I have not tried black cohosh, and have not succeeded with joe pye weed. any hints? what ate mitsuba and shungiku? gloria

    Bookmark   September 27, 2010 at 3:42PM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Thank you! :)

Black cohosh likes a woodland setting. Right now mine is flourishing under a very old and large crabapple on the eastern side of my house. It gets only early morning sun, lots of rich, organic material laden soil and a moisture level closely matching eastern forest levels. In other words, the soil rarely feels absolutely dry to the touch. There's always a bit of cool moisture there.

Joe pye grows any place I've put it around my place but absolutely resents the one pocket of sandy soil that exists. It more prefers my normal heavy clay soil. In the wild here you find them in wet, marshy areas. Moisture would be a key concern for them.

Mitsuba is also called "Japanese parsley." It has three leaves and, well, I guess is most similar in taste to parsley. It is used in Japanese cuisine.

Sungiku is also called "edible chrysanthemum" or garland chrysanthemum." It usually has bicolored blooms and it is used in Japanese cuisine as well. It tastes and smells very strong so while I think it is pretty, I usually don't grow for kitchen use except for maybe as a garnish. Recently I posted a picture of shungiku from my garden a few years ago on a different thread so I'll share it here as well.

I do grow many more herbs, but I have not collected seed from them and didn't mention them in my "frugal" tip. My favorite herbs to grow are the medicinal plants native to north america.


Shungiku (Edible chrysanthemum):

    Bookmark   September 27, 2010 at 7:57PM
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Hi Fata,
I've heard of Joe Pye weed my whole life, but have no clue what it is! I just googled it and it's gorgeous... somehow I thought it would be kind of ugly.... I don't know why.

Too bad my summers are so hot and dry...

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 9:19AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Perhaps it was the "weed" portion of the name.

Yes, it is quite a beautiful native plant. I took this picture at a local nature center in early August. The swamp milkweed (not in the picture but with blooms the same color) and the joe-pye were both in bloom and were quite spectacular.


    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 9:48AM
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I think it was the "Joe Pye" part :) It just sounds kind of homely to me.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 1:48PM
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I have done little effective gardening for the last several years, having been slowed down by a hip replacement, and as a result the only herbs I now have are ones suitable for naturalizing in my area, or self-seeded volunteers.

I have found that in my zone (6), feverfew is able to gently self sew here and there, as is raspberry. Blueberry will hold its own, continuing to produce leaves, at least, with little sun; ditto for gooseberry. Walnut grows well, producing many useful leaves, as does mulberry. Elderberry does more than well--seems somewhat invasive--but the birds like it, and so do I. Motherwort self seeded virulently for several years after I first planted one plant, and now is still around, but in more reasonable amounts than initially; ditto for lemon balm. I have both wild grape and cultivated grape gone wild, forsythia, and Japanese honeysuckle in abundance, as well as the poisonous bittersweet (the little wild vine with tiny purple flowers) and some other useful weeds whose names escape me at the moment.

In time of need, I feel I have at least a few herbs which could be gathered up to help me out, and to possibly work a few trades with.

Oh, one of my favorites is a little buckthorn tree (hopefully the N Carolina one) which self-sewed in my front flower border several years ago.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 12:44AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

If you don't chemically treat your lawn, it becomes a haven for all manner of herbs. My lawn is home to selfheal, dandelion, yellow dock, yarrow, plantain (p. major & p. lanceolata), violets, ajuga, strawberry, bull thistle (ouch! I dig these out), burdock, chickweed, ground ivy, and I'm sure others that are not coming to mind.

Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is one of the plants on my "search & destroy" list. It is an invasive alien plant that runs rampant here. There are native buckthorn, if I recall correctly, but don't let the alien ones get a foothold. They are as difficult to eradicate as they come and in IMHO only marginally useful at best herb-wise. There are other, better alternatives for cathartic action.


    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 10:32AM
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I've never used rhamnus cathartica, but by the sounds of it, does it cause griping in the intestines?

The Herbalist

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 3:05PM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

I've never used it either but that is my understanding. I was taught that the effects are far from pleasant and only the aging (in terms of more than a year) of the botanical materials plus if used in combination with other herbs can minimize those effects. My opinion is why use it when there are other "kinder" herbs easily available.


    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 5:54PM
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I looked it up. I guess I have used it, but not often. It's more in line with rhamnus pershiana (cascara sagrada) which I have used a lot in my business.
They have their place if all you need is a draining herb for the liver. But you're right, it can be drastic unless blended with balancing herbs such as a good carminitive (caraway, fennel, etc.) which would mellow out the action.
It really depends on the individual conditions whether it's used or not.

Charlie in Arizona
The Herbalist

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 7:44PM
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I haven't actually tried it; am fairly certain it is the Carolina buckthorn, though. It has cute little berries that, if I am remembering correctly, develop at minor branch and/or leaf axils. I assume that birds must eat the berries. I don't know if Carolina buckthorn can be used as you believe or not. Even the strongest remedies can be used in dilute form, though, unless they are extremely toxic.

I forgot to mention my serviceberry tree/bushes, which produce little dark berries as delicious as blueberries, and which the birds are very fond of.

I planted a Ginko tree out back amidst a thicket of other shrubs, and am eager to see next Spring if it survived the winter. I also have an assortment of thorny wild plums which appear to be seedlings from a cultivated Japanese plum that was cut down.

Other things pop up from time to time, years after they had disapeared and I was certain they had perished.

I wonder if some plants stay dormant some years, or if they just remain so small they are not noticeable?

I have some wild strawberry, too, which I think is from seed I scattered years ago when my children were small. Last Spring I also planted blueberries (again) in hopes that this time they might do better in richer earth with more sun. That whole area is threatened by the grape and gooseberry growth, though. The birds and chipmunks seem to like it that way, so I have been trying to decide if I should just let nature take its course, or fight for blueberry survival.


    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 12:37AM
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Keep in mind I'm no botanist, but just wondering . . . isn't the soil for grapes quite different of that needed for blueberries to grow? I was thinking that grapes require a more acid soil. Maybe not.

Charlie in Arizona
The Herbalist

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 9:17AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Blueberries require a fairly high acid soil. I've been on hikes at a local preserve that features a peat bog and a floating bog. The bog is a truly wonderful place featuring plants found in no other habitat - pitcher plants, sundews, native orchids and more. One of the plants that are the colonizers that make land in this bog setting and so in time help to destroy this fragile and beautiful ecosystem are blueberries - and there are few natural places more acidic than a peat bog. BTW, I included a picture I snapped of a pitcher plant at this preserve below.

As I understand it, grapes prefer a somewhat acid soil but nothing like what blueberries require. Even though I live in one of the best (IMHO) grape-growing and wine producing areas in the US, I've never learned much about viticulture. Although I can say my soil is alkaline and that the wild grapes grow and produce well here. So there is a variety of tolerances depending upon the exact species and varieties involved.

As with all plants, knowing the conditions they need and planting with those conditions in mind will greatly improve your planting's survival.


    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 10:53AM
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There are some pines in a neighbor's yard near my blueberries, the needles of which would tend to make the soil acid, and I did use some peat in the initial planting. I should make some amendments for all the acid loving plants we have, though; it's well past time to do that.

The grapes grow so vigorously because I raised ducks in that area years ago. They need more sun--some finally produced running along a ditch behind my other neighbor directly behind us, which gets full sun, but he destroyed the portion of the vine edging his ditch, with all the unripe grapes on it. I never got to taste even one. :o( He hates my plants, I guess. When he first moved in he put a chain link fence around his yard so he wouldn't have to walk his dog and killed the best hibiscus shrub in the neighborhood to put in an enormous shed. I swear he throws herbicide around every spring--I get allergic reactions to that so bad the membrane detaches from the whites of my eyes--but of course he denies it. His ditch edges what used to be a nice row of forsythia placed there to avoid erosion; of course, he also murdered all of that to protect and make even more visible his ugly chain link fence. Luckily I had started some Allegheny viburnums back near there a few years previously, and they obscure most of his disgustingly plain doggy lawn with the garishly colored, enormous dirty plastic toy house for his kids (which he placed in the only spot where my other shrubs wouldn't obscure it from view.

I really have begun to believe the b****** is jealous because I have a few bird feeders and a lantern hung back there, as well as a little metal gazebo. He did say he wished he had time to do more on his own property.

I don't know why people move out of the city if they don't like plants. They want the fresh air and space, but cut down all the trees (they did that too) so they don't have to rake leaves. People like that should stay in the city and choke to death on their own fumes.

I do have to admit that my growth of Motherwort was a bit alarming for a few years...

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 1:59PM
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