Scientific Name: Fabaceae Baptisia australis
Common Names: Wild Indigo, indigo weed, rattle weed, horsefly weed
Growth Habit: mature plants produce mounds with flowering spires.
Height: 3-4 feet
Permaculture Designation: Nitrogen Fixer, Flowering Beneficial, Herbaceous Layer, Medicinal, Craft
I started one this spring from seed and set it out in late May. It’s still growing, but no sign of flowers. Maybe next spring. Forms a flowering mound with spires (Similar in appearance to lavender?). The root is used medicinally, and there are ample warning in all sources of toxicity in large doses.
Start from seed. Dividing is discouraged as the roots are really twisted and gnarled, and you could end up irreparably damaging the mother plant.
Preparations of the root (decoctions and tinctures) are purported to boost the immune system, and fight disease and infections. Also used as a purgative and emetic, (I’m guessing in its stronger doses as it reaches toxic levels). This is a probably not a preparation for the amateur to tackle.
As a member of the pea family, it is a nitrogen fixer. The flowers are pretty, and can be used to make a blue dye that is not quite as colorfast as indigo. The flower and pods are also used in floral arrangements.
Links to sites consulted:
Scientific Name: Onagraceae Onagroideae Onagreae Oenethera sp.
Common Names: Evening Primrose, sundrops, sun cups
perennial, biennial reseeder (depending on species)
Growth Habit: Central stalks with radiating branches.
Height: 1-10 feet (10 feet!) depending on species
Permaculture Designation: herbaceous layer, medicinal, flowering beneficial, food
The most common warning, in fact it’s near the top on most of the pages I’ve read, is that evening primrose is hard to control once established. One poster labelled it a “garden thug” as it takes over where it’s planted. The other common refrain is that evening primrose “thrives on neglect.” Fairly drought tolerant and needs light to sandy soil that drains well. Easy to grow, self-propagates, with medicinal and food uses, pretty flowers and insect attractors. Sounds like a great permaculture plant.
There are many, many species of Oenethera, so some additional research may be needed on each species as to edibility, invasiveness, etc… Most of the sources I’ve seen claim the entire plant is edible – the leaves as greens, the flowers as garnishes, and the roots as root vegetables. The medicinal property comes from the oil of the seeds. Pressing your own seeds can be challenging, as the seeds are quite small, and you will need a great volume of seeds to make the effort worth it. The seeds can be prepared culinarily (used similar to poppy seeds) and the medicinal quality made available by lightly grinding the seeds to prevent them from simply passing through the digestive system whole.
Scientific Name: asteracae Inulae Inula Helenium
Common Names: Horse heal, Elfdock, Marchalan
Growth Habit: Rosette to flowering stalk
Height: 4-5 feet
Full Sun to Partial Shade
Permaculture Designation: Flowering Beneficial, Medicinal
I’ve got some elecampane started in the front yard. It’s been a slow grower, but I’ve got 3 plants that seem well established. This plant was featured in one of Jack Spirko’s survival podcast as one of 10 essential herbal medicinals.
Elecampane is touted for it’s use in treating chest ailments including bronchitis. Losenges and small candies can be made from 2-3 year old roots. It shoots a flowering stalk with a double sunflower head (thus the Aster family).
Scientific Name: Malvaceae Althaea officinalis
Common Names: Marshmallow, Althaea, Mortification Root, Althaea and Cheeses
Growth Habit: Central Stalk with a few branches
Height: 4-5 feet
Permaculture Designation: Medicinal, Food, Flowering Beneficial
Marshmallow is a tall herb with a central stalk, and works well as a northern edge backdrop. Does not require marshy conditions as the name suggests, but does need to be well watered. As a perennial, the stalk dies back in the Fall and winter, and comes up from the roots the following season. The flowers appear late in the summer and into the fall, and give way to small round fruits that are commonly called “cheese” for their similarity to small bricks of cheese.
What I’ve got growing in the front has been kind of slow, perhaps because it was started in late spring and transplanted.