In the Garden with Jillian in July
It is mid-July and there is so much happening in the garden. Join me here for a virtual tour of a few of the highlights.
As you can see below, borage has flowers that are a striking blue/purple color. They nearly glow. Just seeing the plant in flower makes me smile. That is why I found it interesting to learn that a popular traditional European use for borage was for melancholy. This use dates back to at least as far as the first century when Pliny the Elder is quoted by Gerard (a popular 16th century herbalist) as having said that borage "maketh a man merry and joyful."
I am especially happy about my borage plants this year. This is not my first time having borage in the garden, but this is the first time that I have started it from seed myself. I have read that it can establish itself into a large patch through self-seeding, but so far the few plants I've had in the past have not resulted in that. I'm hoping this year to get a patch established.
Botanically, borage is in the boraginaceae family. This is the same family as comfrey. Many people know that comfrey has excellent skin healing properties and is highly mucilagenous. Borage is milder in this regard, but still a plant that contains mucilage and that can be used to heal skin irritations. It can be chewed up and used on bug bites and stings, the same way you would use plantain. For a thorough compilation of ways to use fresh borage out of the garden, check out this article called 15 ways to use borage.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
St. John's Wort
St. John's Wort is another plant that I am working to get established in my garden. Right now, this one plant pictured below is the only plant that I have in the garden, not including some ornamental St. John's Wort that came with the property.
When I was first getting interested in herbal medicine in the late 1990's, I had a friend who knew a lot about wild plants. one day I was meeting him in the hospital courtyard where we both worked. I must have been reading about St. John's Wort at the time because I asked him, "do you know what St. John's Wort looks like?" He looked at me kind of funny and said, "it's right here." We were literally surrounded by nothing but ornamental St. John's Wort. Ornamental St. John's Wort is a beautiful landscaping plant, and I think it is a happy addition to a hospital setting which needs uplifting, though it is not considered a medicinal plant.
The medicinal species, shown below, has a much smaller and less showy flower, but is an extraordinary medicine for the nervous system and mood. A 2016 meta analysis looked at 27 studies with a total of 3126 patients and found that St. John's Wort is as effective as SSRIs in treating mild to moderate depression, but is superior to the pharmaceutical SSRIs due to having significantly lower adverse effects.
St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Yarrow is one of those herbs with so many uses that I've always struggled to fully grasp it's power. That said, I love having it in my garden, and I always harvest it for personal use. The main way that I use yarrow is as part of a fever modulation tea where I combine yarrow, elder flower, and peppermint to drink as a hot tea during colds and flus. This is a traditional combination and is said to have saved lives.
One of the ways that yarrow works to support the body during a fever is to induce sweating. It is what's called a diaphoretic. I find it especially useful during the hot phase of a fever when you can't get comfortable because you are so hot. It helps the pores on the skin open up and let out a bit of the heat, but it doesn't suppress the fever the way medications like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen do. This is a good thing because the body needs that fever to fight the infection.
The official yarrow species, Achillea millefolium, usually has white flowers, and the white flowering plants in my garden are the ones I started myself from seed. I believe the pink ones came from some plants I purchased last year at a sale. This is not the first time that I've had pink yarrow in my garden, and although there are cultivars that I would not use medicinally, I feel fine about using this pink yarrow because I've used it before and it tasted, smelled, and acted the same as the white flowering variety.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), bundled and drying
I usually use my dehydrator to dry my herbs, but when I harvested this yarrow, I decided to bundle it and dry it this way. If you dry herbs this way, it is best to do so in a dark, dry environment, such as in an attic, or rafters in a barn.
Black Cohosh / Doll's Eyes Comparison
Earlier this spring, I watched my established black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) come to life with new leaves. At the same time, I observed a new plant that was sold to me as black cohosh the previous summer, come to life with new leaves and a flower spike. I realized quickly from the flower spike that the new plant was not in fact black cohosh, but a different species of Actaea. Originally, I had thought the plant was red baneberry (Actaea rubra), but now that the berries have formed more fully, it is obviously a different species of Actaea known as doll's eyes (Actaea pachypoda). The berries eventually turn white with a black dot in the center which makes them look like the eyes of a doll, but kind of creepy!
You can see from the pictures below how different the flowering parts of these plants look. But when the plant is not in flower, the leaves look nearly identical. This is a problem for wild harvested black cohosh, which may get adulterated with other species of Actaea which have some toxicity. To read more about this, you can go to my post earlier this spring, Black Cohosh: A case of mistaken identity.
Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
Doll's Eyes (Actaea pachypoda)
Adamant, A. (2021, April 5). 15 ways to use borage. Practical Self Reliance. https://practicalselfreliance.com/borage-uses/.
Grieves, M. (1931). A Modern Herbal. Retrieved from https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/b/borage66.html.
Cui YH, Zheng Y. A meta-analysis on the efficacy and safety of St John's wort extract in depression therapy in comparison with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in adults. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2016 Jul 11;12:1715-23. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S106752. PMID: 27468236; PMCID: PMC4946846.