In The Woods And In The Nursery

We just began the process of uncovering the nursery. Such a fun job after a long winter. Each time we roll back the landscape cloth we immediately inspect the condition of the plants underneath. One little Hepatica transylvanica that we’ve propagated was already in bloom. A determined little gem! It looks like most everything has come through the long winter splendidly. Always a joy and a relief to know our plants were tucked in well for the winter, undisturbed by voles, and are now ready to have their covers lifted.

Lobaria pulmonaria

While out foraging, I came across one of my favorite lichens, Lobaria pulmonaria. This lichen is an epiphytic lichen, which means it is an organism that uses another plant for structure and derives its moisture and nutrients from the rain and air but does not harm the plant it’s living on. This particular lichen is very susceptible to air pollution and will not often be found in areas where air quality is poor. Fortunately, our air quality is pretty darn good here in the woods of Maine, so I come across it quite regularly. I harvest a small amount of Lobaria for two reasons. First, for its medicinal value. I tincture this lichen for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, lingering coughs, and croup. Lobaria is an expectorant, an astringent, is an antimicrobial and a pulmonary demulcent. Having antibiotic properties it can help with bacterial infections. I tincture Lobaria and also gather a bit for drying to add along with other respiratory herbs and then use it as a tea. The other use I have for Lobaria is as a dye plant. Used fresh or dried, Lobaria gives a dark brown color to the yarn I am dying. I don’t often use a mordant ( a mordant is a substance, typically an inorganic oxide, that combines with a dye and helps to fix it to the wool), but with the most recent collection, I will see if I can shift the color a bit using some copper or iron. Aren’t these plants just the most amazing things ever? I am very careful about leaving the bulk of a lichen undisturbed. Lichens are very slow growing and such an important part of our ecosystem that I find it best to be very thoughtful when harvesting. Not much is needed for tincture, for tea, or for a dye bath, so a very small amount is actually gathered.
Tomorrow, I may take my Lobaria pulmonaria down to the coast and set up a little fire and a dye pot. Curious as to what the salt water and all its minerals will do to alter the color. We shall see and I’ll keep you all posted on the results!
Hope where ever you are, you are feeling the strength and restorative properties of the approaching spring season. So very lovely, isn’t it?

Tea Making Workshop
Still spots open for the tea making class at Fernwood! Hot or cold, tea always hits the spot!
Join us on Saturday, July 16th, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. for an afternoon of herbal tea making. Learn to craft your own tea blends using garden-grown herbs. We’ll also be including some local wild harvested plants that are easy to identify and well-known for their health benefits. Herbs are plants that are valued for their medicinal, aromatic, or savory qualities. From chamomile to mint to lemon balm, drying fresh herbs for aromatic teas is simple and gives you yet another reason to put your summer herb garden to use. The class will begin with an informative talk on selecting, growing, harvesting, and drying herbs ….we’ll be taking into consideration both taste and the specific health benefits of these plants while blending our tea.
Next, It’s time to get creative and start making tea ! Each participant will make their very own tea blend to take home, using an array of dried herbs from our gardens. At the end of the class, you will also get a selection of 3 herbs, potted, and ready to take along with you and plant in your own herb garden.
Of course, if there’s going to be tea, there will most certainly be scones! For more information check out our ‘classes and more’ page. If you’d like to sign up for this class, you can email us at or call us at 207-589-4726.

Senecio aureus

erikspictures265Senecio aureaus, ( renamed Packera aurea) is a plant we love and grow here at the nursery. Two common names for Senecio are Golden Ragwort and Liferoot, the latter referring to its long history in medicinal use. An indigenous perennial, Senecio is in the Asteraceae family and is hardy from zones 3-9. It prefers moist soil and a shady location. Here in Maine, earlier in warmer climates, it blooms in late May to early June and holds its blooms for an extended period. We find it to be a great native flower for attracting butterflies and pollinators. The deep golden yellow daisy-like flowers grow atop sparsely leafed stems that are 1-2 feet tall. At the base of these stems, lie the shiny heart-shaped evergreen leaves. This basal foliage can remain an attractive ground cover year round. It naturalizes through self-seeding and by underground roots creeping horizontally and forming a large colony. We are always surprised at how quickly this plant spreads, a great choice if you have a large area you’d like to cover. We have also used this plant in small applications, in other words, you can include it in a mixed perennial bed.
As a medicinal plant, Senecio has had an important role in Native American medicine. It has been used to treat colds, hemorrhages, and as a diuretic. Senecio is a plant that has most often been used in herbal or homeopathic preparations that can help to regulate menses and to aid in any gynecological issues….it promotes menstrual flow, helps to strengthen reproductive organs, is used to treat urinary infections, acts as a natural birth control, as well as helping to relieve pain during childbirth. Though it has longed been used in the application of natural remedies, a bit of caution should be used. I myself do not tincture this plant. It is still used in professionally prepared homeopathic remedies. Like many plants, Senecio contains a naturally occurring alkaloid called Pyrrolizidine. Pyrrolizidine has been shown to produce toxicity to the liver ( hepatotoxicity), especially in grazing mammals. Because of this, most mammals or animals avoid it. This particular alkaloid in plants is used as a defense mechanism against herbivores that may feed on it. Some insects, however, are fairly resistant to its effect and actually choose plants containing these alkaloids. By chewing on leaves that contain pyrrolizidine they ingest the chemical into their own system, thus helping to ward off their own predators. Gardners should not be alarmed by the fact that Senecio contains these alkaloids, they naturally occur in the chemical composition of many plants (like comfrey and borage) and are really no threat to the home gardener. I am fascinated by the ability indigenous people had for understanding the methods used to extract these alkaloids and resins and to incorporate them into their remedies. Pretty amazing knowledge! When coming to the nursery this spring, be sure to check out Senecio aureaus, it may be just the plant you’re looking for.