The Silence of the Lamb’s Ear

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Whoever talks about Lamb’s ear?  It seems to be a gardener’s best kept secret.  Stachys byzantine, or Lamb’s Ear, is an unobtrusive silver-white, suede-like leaved herb plant with tiny pink flowers, a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae).  In 1753 Linnaeus derived the name of the plant from the Greek words “stachys” meaning “an ear of grain” in reference to the spikey flower stalk and “byzantine” for the plant’s origin in the middle Eastern region of Turkey, Armenia, and Iran.untitledlamb's ear flower

I was sitting on my back porch at 6:00 a.m. drinking a cup of coffee and enjoying the action at the bird feeder.  Yesterday I had put a wad of Vaseline on a paper towel and rubbed it on the pole that holds the bird feeder. My goal was to deter the squirrels from climbing the pole and eating all of the seed. I did not see the squirrel’s attempt to climb the pole, but did see it busily eating the seed on the ground this morning while the house finches and cardinals had the feeder unmolested. I feel slightly guilty about upsetting nature by feeding the birds while they can still forage for themselves and for thwarting the squirrel’s attempts. I had recently put the “Chickadee blend” of seed in the feeder in the hopes of seeing the return of my favorite little black-capped bird.  Approximately twelve years ago the friendly little black-capped chickadees would eat out of the hand of my six year old granddaughter as well as scold me if the feeder was empty.  Rachelle was so delighted with the birds that she took a picture of the chickadee to school for Show and Tell. She is still and animal lover; perhaps I helped instill that affection in some small way.

While I was reminiscing about the adventures with my granddaughter, I started thinking about the things I learned from my Grandmother when I was young.  In the “old days” my grandparents, who lived in northern Wisconsin, had a privy – you may have heard the term “outhouse” – which was a small building away from the house. My grandmother always had Lamb’s ear planted around the privy.  She said that in an emergency you can always use Lamb’s ear for toilet paper, and that it was much preferred to the Sears catalog pages. (The catalogs were stacked inside the privy.) Being a child from the city, that information was met with “EWE.”  Of course I liked the feel of the soft, furry leaves and thought of a stuffed bunny. Lamb’s ear is a wonderful plant for a children’s garden, by the way.

Today I still enjoy Lamb’s ear as a lovely silver-gray edging to purple flowers in my yard.  Like most plants in my garden, it is an easy-care, drought-tolerant perennial herb that I grow for the leaves more so than the flower.  Although bees and butterflies like the flower, deer and rabbits do not partake.  Every three or four years I thin the spreading plant by using a spade through the crown and replanting or giving away the smaller root bunches to other gardeners.

I had never considered using Lamb’s ear for floral arrangements, potpourri, or wreaths until today. It was too hot and humid to work outside so I was looking online for instructions to make a lavender wreath.  While I don’t have enough lavender to make a wreath, I did see instructions for making beautiful combination Lamb’s ear/ lavender as well as Lamb’s ear flower/ leaf wreaths on Pinterest.

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Most plants can be dried for craft use by wrapping a rubber band around a handful of stems, straightening a paper clip to use as a hook and hanging the bundle upside down in a dry, dark place.  The darkness helps retain the color and upside down helps retain the blossoms shape. Let the plant dry for about a week and check until there is no moisture remaining in the center of the bundle.  You can use various other methods to dry flowers or stems and leaves for bouquets, sachets, or potpourris.   Other methods of drying plants include drying blossoms between the pages of a phone book or using a desiccant such as silica gel in a closed container or the recipe I have included here from www.ehow.com:

Place in a bowl and mix:

2 cups of borax; 2 cups of white corn meal; 2 tablespoons of non-iodized salt

Pour half the borax mixture in a shoe box large enough to hold Lamb’s ear.

Carefully arrange the plant in the shape you want it to dry.  Cover the plant with the rest of the borax mix. Let the mix sit uncovered for two days and begin checking to see if the plant is brittle to the touch. If not dry, recover and check again in 24 hours.  Remove the Lamb’s ear with a spatula and lay on newspapers for arranging.

Other uses for Lamb’s ear (perhaps if you travel back in time and are stranded in Scotland?):

Historically Lamb’s ear was used as absorbent bandages for soldiers’ wounds and was known as “woundwort;” for women’s comfort for menstrual flow, hemorrhoids, and birthing; for bee stings to reduce swelling; and as already mentioned, toilet paper.

Lamb’s ear was also used as a dye per http:Chippewa.com/. Leaves placed in boiling water with a mordant brought out a yellow beige color or with the flower bract alone it made a light mauve.

Marilyn Moore and I talk about herbs and our planned garden patch in our morning walks.  There are supposedly 55 essential herb plants.  Neither of us has that much available space so we will continue on with the study of herbs to bring the choices down to a workable amount.  Perhaps you will share with us the names of your favorite garden herbs and their uses.

Lavender Obsession Lately – LOL

 

Munstead lavender
Munstead lavender

My recent obsession with lavender started with a lovely pitcher of lavender lemonade I saw in a post on Facebook.  In the interest of my readers and my research, I procured the ingredients and made two quarts of the lavender lemonade. The recipe called for a cup of raw honey, a cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice, one tablespoon of organic, culinary* lavender and “pure” water.  (Does that mean without fluoride?  I wonder.) This little concoction tasted refreshing but cost the equivalent of about eight cups of Starbucks coffee.  On the plus side, the lemonade has the nutrients and antibacterial benefits of honey and herbs that boost the immune system. Alas the beautiful lavender color in the picture was from the container holding the lemonade and not the drink itself.

*Note that culinary lavender is not grown or packaged using any chemicals to preserve its color.  In other words you do not ingest lavender bought at the craft store.  I did not have a crop of lavender flowers available from my garden so I purchased a four ounce bag of organic culinary lavender on line for $10.50.

Further research on lavender took me to Oak Park library where I learned that I had to renew my library card and learn how to check out the books electronically.  More importantly I learned that chemical-free lavender is safe to use in the home for everything from flavoring food and beverages to making potpourri and soap. Outside, lavender’s sweet scent attracts butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects—and it is heat and drought tolerant too.  All lavenders belong to the genus Lavendula and the family Lamiaceae, which includes other herbs such as mint, rosemary, thyme, and sage.  There are approximately 29 species of lavender including hybrids. (Family/genus/species). The most widely propagated is: Lavandula angustifolia or English lavender, sometimes referred to as true lavender in reference to its fragrance.

Per the Chicago Botanic Gardens, the hardiest varieties for USDA Zone 5 are the English lavender, Lavendula angustifolia:  Munstead,  Hidcote and Jean Davis. These varieties are the slightly sweeter, less camphor smelling of the lavenders.  The second type of lavender to grow in zone 5 is French Lavandin X, a hybrid of Lavendula angustifolia and the less hardy Lavandula spicata.

 Hidcote and Munstead have dark violet flowers. Jean Davis has pink flowers . Munstead was  the home of the famous gardener, Gertrude Jekyll, who edged her paths with the low-growing, compact lavender.

 Lavenders were native to the Mediterranean region and prefer full sun, and well-drained, gravelly soil.  Once established, lavenders are hardy and draught resistant.  Dampness more than cold will kill this plant by winter killing the crown and/or causing root rot.  In well-drained soil, roots can withstand heavy rainfalls and snow melt.  Increasing the organic content of the soil with the addition of compost or organic mulches improves the drainage ability of the soil.  A protected south facing site is best.  A mulch should be provided after the ground freezes in late fall.  Depending on the variety, lavender plants range in color from white to dark purple and from twelve inches to as high as four feet.   Lavender can be left to add interest to the winter landscape and then cut the clump down to six inches in height in the spring before the new growth begins.

There is a history of lavender use for several thousand years.  The Egyptians used lavender for mummification and fragrance for perfumes.  The Romans used Lavender in their baths and named the herb from the Latin verb “lavare,” to wash.   Roman soldiers used lavender to dress war wounds.  The Greeks called it Naardus from the City in Syria.  In the gospel of Luke there is reference to Mary washing the feet of Jesus with “spikenard” a costly ointment.  In Medieval Europe during the seventh to tenth centuries washer women were known as “lavenders” and the laundry was laid across lavender bushes to absorb the scent while it dried. The English lavenders were becoming known to England and the Americas during the sixteenth century.  The Pilgrims were known to have brought it to America during that time period.  It was the Shakers that first grew lavender commercially and sold it as herbs and medicines.  In the 18th century Empress Josephine was supposed to have given Napoleon Bonaparte a nightcap of hot chocolate flavored with lavender and he was supposed to have used sixty bottles of lavender a month during his bath.  www.millbrooklavenderfarm.com/lavender/history

For those old enough to remember the weekly ritual of ironing, lavender linen water was sprinkled on linen, (especially for the guest room) clothes, and handkerchiefs.  Today we can make lavender linen spray with commercially made lavender essential oil.  (I assume one could spray it on permapress with no ironing needed?)  Here is a recipe I found on www.joys-of-lavender.com/lavender-linen-spray.html:

Lavender Spray

2 drops of vodka* or witch hazel

40 drops of Lavender essential oil

4 ounces of distilled water

Spray bottle

          Mix the vodka with the essential oil and let sit for a few minutes.  Add the water. Shake before use. Note: “ not safe to drink!”

*You can make it with or without vodka.  Alcohol helps extend the shelf life and helps to disperse the oil better in the water.

  I think I will be making some sachets to be used as moth repellent.

Martha Stewart Living, March 2012:

As your sweaters and other cold-weather items go into hibernation for the summer, use this trick to make sure they stay odor- and moth-free. Cotton muslin bags, commonly used to mull spices, can be used to make sachets. Fill a bag with fragrant dry ingredients, such as lavender,  thyme, cloves,, mint, or cedar, which are all thought to be natural moth repellents. Tie the bags shut, and pop them in closets and dresser drawers. Next fall, you’ll smell the sweetness of wardrobe-keeping success.

Organic lavender flowers; organic thyme; organic cloves; organic spearmint; and small cotton muslin bags; mountainroseherbs.com. Red cedar shavings, frontiercoop.com.

 I know many of you have been growing and using lavender for years.  Please share your experience with us.

Linda Zwierz

August Opportunities

Two news items of possible interest to Garden Club members and others interested in gardening, but you must act quickly:

1. Green Community Connections, who brought us the One Earth Film Festival, is seeking private and public gardens to participate in a local native plant garden tour on Sunday, September 7, 2014. A variety of gardens are welcome, and need not display only native plant types.  Please see details here.  If you might be interested or would like more information, please contact Christiane by MONDAY, AUGUST 4 at christiane@greencommunityconnections.org .

2 .  National Garden Clubs is sponsoring Course 2 of the Gardening Study School in Elmhurst on September 24-25.  The NGC Gardening Study Courses are designed to provide information on topics of interest to those especially interested in gardening, horticulture and related topics. The program consists of a series of four courses, which may be taken in any order.  Course 2 topics for the current series have not been finalized, but are likely to include plant diseases and pests, vegetable gardening, lawns and lawn alternatives, and other topics. There will be a modest fee for the course.  For more information, please see the National Garden Clubs website.