Sage

When I think of sage, I automatically think of Thanksgiving dinner. There’s always cornbread dressing with sage, sausage, and apples at my house; my turkey is rubbed inside and out with sage; I also burn it as incense frequently in the fall, so just the smell of sage reminds me of harvest time, pumpkin carving, Halloween, and the upcoming winter.

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Sage growing in my garden during the fall.

Funny thing is, sage grows all season long in my area. It’s one of the first herbs that I can harvest and one of the last. I just cut some today and it’s still going strong. We’ve had two overnight frosts so far this year and it hasn’t hurt it one bit as evidenced in the photo with the maple leaves that have already turned and fallen onto the ground this October.

Drying sage is so easy too. I wash it after I harvest it, rubber band a bunch together then hang it upside-down from a push pin. About 7-10 days later, I can seal it up in a container to use whole, grind it in my mortar and pestle, or simply rub the leaves between my hands to make rubbed sage. Organic ground sage and organic rubbed sage runs about $4-6 for an ounce to two ounces. Add the fact that sage is a perennial in zone 5 (where I live) I bought a few live plants for under $10. Talk about cost-savings! Theses plants will last me forever given that I pay some attention to their water needs and that I’ve planted them in the a spot they’ll prosper.

Speaking of which…sage loves sunny to mostly-sunny areas in your yard. It tolerates some drought as it prefers well-drained soil, but you can’t let it get too dry. I’ve planted it next to my rosemary that requires similar conditions and they’ve done great together. Sage is an offshoot of the mint family, so it’s pretty sturdy (even if your son accidentally runs through it in the garden or your cats decide to lie down on it), but it doesn’t have the “take over the garden” aspect that mint does.

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Sage drying in my kitchen.

Sage spreads through its root system, so when I planted it, I gave it about one foot in either direction to grow out. Once your sage gets a little too crowded, it easily sets foot in another area by simply dividing it and replanting. I recommend resting the sage plant you’ve divided off and replanted for a season before you harvest it. This will allow the root system to establish itself, store energy for a winter, and then have plenty of energy stored for the following season producing a wonderful new sage plant. Also, I would recommend not dividing a plant that is less than three years-old.

I harvest only the leaves for consumption, but everything on this plant is edible. When I do harvest the plant for other purposes, I leave as much root in the ground to regrow and I use the woody stems for incense once they’ve dried thoroughly (takes about one month). However, you can harvest the whole plants, roots and all, dry it and use for various purposes like teas, tinctures, and salves.

Historically, sage has been  used medicinally in a tea for relief from diarrhea, indigestion, and anxiety. More holistic traditions have used sage for menstruation maladies like cramps, irregular periods, and to help the symptoms of menopause. That being said it is advised by most holistic practitioners not to consume large amounts of sage during pregnancy because it contains estrogen. Always seek a medical professional (CMA disclosure).

Ground sage
Grounding sage in a mortar and pestle.

Sage is a great herb to grow in the garden for teas, incense, medicinal purposes or simply to dry and hang due to its wonderful fragrance when dried. I can’t tell you how much I love this smell. Once you’re familiar with it, you’ll want to savor the scent and you’ll never forget it.

Many artsy-craftsy people make sage wreaths similar to those cinnamon wreaths you find in stores at Christmas just because the smell is so wonderful. I recommend growing it in your kitchen herb garden along with your other favorite go-to herbs, even if you’re like me and tend to use it only in the fall. Trust me, you’ll have amassed enough of a quantity by then to last you well after the holidays.

 

Native Perennial Series: Bee Balm

Bee Balm (or bergamot) is a native perennial to most of the United States and it grows very well in my area of Northwest Indiana.

It is an unusual-looking flower that has an unusual, but pleasant, scent like oranges. Bees and other natural pollinators love beebalm! This plant flowers in early summer and lasts for weeks. When the day is at its sunniest, the warmth helps exude this beautiful flower’s fragrance. A person can just walk by it and smell this sweet scent.

Traditionally, Native Americans used beebalm in a tea to help alleviate the symptoms of colds and sore throats. They then introduced this plant to the early settlers who also found it very helpful medicinally.

Whether this plant is used medicinally or simply for ornamentation, it brings a unique architectural element to anyone’s garden. It will propagate by self-seeding, unless it is dead-headed before seeds form. Bee balm grows about three feet tall and its flowers are edible! Throw them in a salad for a nice, citrus flavor.

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Beautiful blooming bee balm (say that five times fast)

Bee balm comes in different colors, as well. The ones I grow in my garden are a deep pink color (see my photos), but there are also white, purple, and scarlet bee balm varieties (click on the links to see photos).

Sometimes this plant is referenced as bergamot, oswego, wild monarda, or horsemint. Search these names as well in order to find plants or seeds to add to the garden.

Bee balm flower heads dry very nicely preserving its color and scent. This makes bee balm a very popular addition to potpourri. It’s also wonderful in aiding to scent homemade bath salts.

Gardeners won’t be disappointed with this plant. It attracts beneficial pollinators and beautiful butterflies. Since it’s a native perennial, hardly any extra care is needed as it’s disease resistant. The smell of this flower is wonderful, it cuts and dries well, it is easy to take care of, and its benefits include medicinal properties and support for the area’s pollinators.

If you’re interested in other native perennials, check out the rest of my Native Perennial Series on my Garden page. More is added all of the time. Please feel free to comment and share. Let me know if you would like me to showcase one of your favorite native perennials. Send a photo, if you have one, for me to use on my blog! ~ April

 

 

Purple Coneflower (echinacea): Beautiful and Beneficial

Purple coneflower (echinacea) is one of the easiest native perennials to grow in the midwest United States. I live in northwest Indiana and these plants have propagated like crazy. Not only is it beautiful, but it benefits our health and our environment. If you’re looking for a great starter plant to beautify your yard and benefit the local bee or butterfly population, start growing purple coneflower (echinacea).

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A ladybug rests on a purple coneflower.

 

 

Purple coneflower is a native plant to the United States, which means it was not brought here from another location. It has been on this continent for centuries. It has adapted to the soil, rainfall amounts, pests, and diseases that could make it impossible for another type of plant to survive without a large amount of expensive, chemical care. Since it is a native plant, no fertilizer or pesticide is needed to have these beautiful plants flower and propagate.

Purple coneflower is a native species. They will attract the natural pollinators of the area. Some of the beneficial insects that frequent these flowers are ladybugs, bees, and butterflies. Goldfinches will benefit as well and be a daily visitor to your yard simply by allowing purple coneflower to go to seed in the late summer. Look at the ingredients list in any store-bought goldfinch bird seed and you will see this as the ingredient. Save yourself money and grow your own! Even purple finches have stopped by my home for a visit.

 

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Purple coneflower that has gone to seed along with a grasshopper photo-op.

If you harvest the roots of echinacea, as it’s known medicinally, you can use it as an immune-booster. Again, look at the ingredients lists of some of the  homeopathic cold and flu remedies and it will be on that list. Native Americans and early settlers used the dried roots as a tea for fighting off illnesses. It has antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, and antiallergenic properties (source:  All About Herbs).

 

Purple coneflower grows approximately two to three feet tall, depending on its age, and prefers sunny areas although it will grow well in partial shade. It has a daisy-like flower and comes in many different colors. The main types of coneflower are echinacea angustifolia, echinacea pallida (these are the best grown for medicinal purposes) and echinacea purpurea.

If you’re looking for a carefree flower to add a cottage element to your yard, or simply want to attract beneficial pollinators like butterflies and bees, plant purple coneflower (echinacea). It will be attractive and help support the natural wildlife in your area.

 

Plant Native Perennials – Save Bees

Commercial pesticides are killing thousands of bees everyday. We need the bees to pollinate our plants. Without pollinators, our grasses, grains, trees, shrubs, flowers (really any vegetation) can’t grow. Pollination is the only way that the fertilization process begins in order for seeds to develop. Without seeds, we have no plants.

We need to bring back the natural pollinators. Two things need to occur in order for this to happen:

  1. We need to stop using the commercial pesticides that kill them.
  2. We have to regrow the pollinator population.

We aren’t going to turn the tide of big agriculture in a blink of an eye. One thing the average consumer can do is to buy organic, thus eventually eliminating the use of pesticides. Another very important act the average person can do is to grow native perennials from your surrounding area. Growing even one plant will make a sudden impact. Growing native perennials will give the natural pollinators a place to strive during the spring and summer months, as well as, a place to lay eggs and hibernate in the fall and winter months.

In my area in northwest Indiana, I grow purple coneflower (echinacea). I’ve seen many

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photo credit April McLeish

species of butterflies, bees, flies, moths, caterpillars, and beetles swarming around these plants. I also don’t deadhead the flowers, because the goldfinches love the seeds. They come back every year and I get to watch them from my kitchen window. We’ve even had purple finches visit a few times over the years. Also, purple coneflower will self-seed and grow new plants all on their own.

I encourage you to find your area’s local native perennials by contacting the local agriculture extension office (this is the one for my area), or do a quick search on the internet. Perennials are naturally more disease-resistant and drought resistant because they are adapted to the environment already. Not only will your flower garden be absolutely beautiful, but you will be helping to save the bees!

The Importance of Pollinators

#bringbackthebees 

Insects are an inevitable part of being outdoors and they can be a real nuisance while you’re trying to garden. I use bug spray when I’m out and about tending to my vegetables or flowers to avoid being bitten, but I never spray anything on my garden beds to eliminate insects. Why? Because they’re so very important! Here’s why.

We humans can’t survive without pollinators. Our grains, vegetables, and flowers won’t bloom without them. If there are no pollinators; there is no food. Well, there’s meat, right? Well, without grasses, vegetables, and grains, what would our meat eat? Nothing! They can’t live without them either.

Why is it important to know that the world can’t survive without pollinators? Because we’re currently killing them to grow food. Seems counter-productive, doesn’t it? It is. So, how did it come to pass that big ag farmers are using poisons that kill beneficial pollinators that ultimately help food to grow? It’s a long and terrible journey that is wrapped in greed from huge agricultural business, but don’t blame the farmers. Blame us, the consumers.

What can we do to get farmers to use more organic methods instead of pesticides? Money talks, people listen. We have a voice with our money. Buy organically grown produce when you can afford it. Buy non-GMO products. Buy from local farmer’s markets from those who grow organically. Get active with social media groups to stay informed. No one person can save the world, but every little thing a person does contributes to solving the bigger problem.

Read my blog on how you can bring back local pollinators or keep them from extinction by planting native perennials in your yard or community garden here.
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