The Heritage Herb Gardens at the Ozark Folk Center grace the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas, and help us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.
This past week, the garden has been dry, a perfect condition for harvesting important herbal crops. Many kinds of seeds, everlasting flower heads and pods and Alliums have come in.
The seeds of poppies, cilantro and love-in-a-mist (Nigella) are ripe. These are harvested by cutting the stems and inverting the seed heads into clean plastic buckets or paper sacks. The pods of the poppies and love-in-a-mist are gently tapped on the sides of the buckets or sacks. The cilantro seeds (coriander) must be gently rubbed off of the top of the stems into the container.
Even though rain is needed and greatly desired, the upside to the dry weather is that garlic, leeks, onions and shallots lift easily from the soil and will cure, dry and store nicely. Moist soil, at harvest time, would have encouraged the growth of mildew and other fungus and bacteria that shortens the shelf life of these living bulbs. These Alliums will be cured whole, with bulbs, stems and flowering tops (if they are present) intact, in dry shade for a week or more. Care must be taken to protect the bulbs from dew and rain. Just as importantly, keep the harvest out of direct sun light, as this causes the growth of a bitter, green pigment. After they have dried completely, the tops and roots will be cut from the bulbs, dry soil will be gently rubbed off of the papery husks, and they will be sorted. The largest bulbs will be selected for planting next year’s crop. We can begin planting in September.
All the rest will be put to use in the kitchen. At food preparation time, the smallest garlic bulbs, with little cloves, are best peeled and then squeezed with a garlic press. The larger ones are easier to peel and chop. This is one good reason for selecting large bulbs for planting next year’s crop. As with the garlic, the leeks, onions and shallots are ready to eat immediately and will store for months in a cool, dark place if proper procedures are practiced.
The teasel patch is being harvested, both to control the spread of the plant and to take advantage of its herbal charms. Teasel (Dipsacus spp.) is known as Fuller’s Teasel, Card Thistle, Teazle, Brushes and Combs and Church Broom, according to Maude Grieve in A Modern Herbal. Western herbalists have written mostly about using the dried flower heads for raising the nap on woolen material. These are covered with sharp prickles which curve at the tip, making a gentle hook that lifts the wool fibers. In Europe and North America, people cultivated teasel in cottage gardens to supply textile artisans and industry with these useful pods. The long, pointed leaves clasp the stem of the plant where water from rain and even heavy dew will collect. Folks believed that the water had curative and beautifying powers. The root was mentioned by Culpepper as having a cleansing action on the body. Asian species of Dipsacus have been used to treat arthritis and lower back pain. In recent times, herbalists are using the tinctured root to control Lyme disease. The dried, flowering stems are beautiful specimens in everlasting arrangements. These stems, and soon, freshly collected seed will be available in the Herb Shoppe inside the Craft Village at the Ozark Folk Center.
We are a working herb garden. Whether you are a serious student of herbology or a person who loves gardening, there is much to see and learn here. If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture!