The weather has been so rainy in Ohio that we haven’t been able to plant any of the vegetables I started from seed many weeks ago. They are growing weak and pale with impatience. The perennials, however, haven’t minded at all and seem more vigorous than usual. The herbs, in particular, are very happy. I’d like to share with you two of my favorite herbs that may not be familiar to you:
Bee enjoying a comfrey flower
Meet comfrey. It is a prolific, hardy, beautiful plant with a controversial history. It’s medicinal value has been known for centuries for mending broken bones, healing wounds, and lessening bruising. Its value has been scientifically proven as an anti-inflammatory and cell restorer, the chemical being allantoin. The other side of the story is that another chemical pyrrolizidine alkaloid is highly toxic to the liver, so it has been banned from alternative medicines in the US. The bees, hummingbirds and I just love it for the sprays of blue and pink bell flowers that bloom from now through much of the summer.
Another favorite herb is rue.
Common rue in my herb garden
Rue has bluish leaves and grows yellow flowers that are just beginning to bud. The fragrance is unusual and pleasant, kind of clean and soapy. It is controversial, too. One day a couple of Mexican men were here working and excitedly asked me if they could take some of it home to their wives, who make it into a paste for medicinal use. It is used on the skin for gout, arthritis, aches and pains. There are also records as old as Roman times that it induces abortion. If that is not controversial enough for you, it causes gastric problems in many people if ingested and is very bitter; some people also get skin blisters from contact with rue. Nevertheless, some cultures use small amounts of it in food.
Other wild things are enjoying all the rain:
“He loves me, he loves me not.”
And, not a wild thing in the same sense because it is one we planted: Horseradish. The taste of the root, however, is wild indeed!
Horseradish flowers -- delicately sweet
Shakespeare referred often to flowers, particularly herbs. My favorite is in Hamlet where Ophelia, in her madness, speaks of rue and daisies:
There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue
for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it
herb-grace o’ Sundays: O you must wear your rue with
a difference. There’s a daisy: I would give you
some violets, but they withered all when my father
died: they say he made a good end,–
Let’s hope the rain ends so the vegetables can have a happier June.