The Silence of the Lamb’s Ear
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.
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.
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.