Saturday, August 19, 2017

Native Perennials with Pharmaceutical Pasts

Image result for cone flowers and bee balm
Many common perennials grown today for their ornamental value, such as
magenta-flowered  beebalm and purple coneflower (foreground), have rich medicinal histories.
By Rita Pelczar
The American Gardener, AHS
July/August 2017

For centuries, Native Americans used a wide variety of indigenous plants to treat whatever ailed them. Early European settlers followed suit, learning medicinal uses for the unfamiliar flora they encountered either by trial and error—a risky business—or from the locals. This herbal lore passed from generation to generation until the advent of modern medicine about a century ago. 

Before then, many native plants were grown in home gardens more for their medicinal usefulness than their ornamental qualities. Several of these species still grace gardens across the country today, though many people don’t realize the significant role they played in health and healing before alternative pharmaceutical options existed.

Certain ornamental North American trees and shrubs have medicinal uses, but this article will focus on herbaceous perennials. The following are some of the most garden-worthy, widely available, and historically interesting among them (see the chart on page 31 for additional selections). Please note that how to use them as herbal remedies and their medicinal efficacy are not the focus of this article; it is intended to be informational rather than instructional. 

Commercially Marketed Herbal Natives
Among the most well known and well researched medicinal native perennials are coneflowers (Echinacea spp.). Ethnobotanical studies have revealed that numerous Native American tribes used coneflowers in a variety of herbal remedies for hundreds of years. Today, millions of people around the world use echinacea-based products to bolster their immune system or to diminish the duration and severity of a cold.
The species most commonly used for these purposes are purple coneflower (E. purpurea, USDA Hardiness Zones 3–9, AHS Heat Zones 9–1), pale purple coneflower (E. pallida, Zones 3–10, 10–1), and narrow-leaf coneflower (E. angustifolia, Zones 4–9, 9–1). Health products labeled with “echinacea” often contain extracts from at least two of these species. Studies have found that each of these plants produces various chemicals with antioxidant, antimicrobial, and immune-boosting properties.
Native across eastern and central North America, these coneflowers are easy to grow, drought-tolerant, and make lovely additions to sunny spaces. Their showy flower heads, composed of pink-purple rays surrounding distinctly raised cones, attract butterflies, bees, and seed-eating birds.
They reach between two and four feet tall, and bloom all summer long.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis, Zones 4–9, 8–4) is another widely used and well known medicinal native perennial. Historically it has been used for ailments involving mucus membranes. For example, Iroquois healers used a decoction of the root to treat whooping cough, diarrhea, stomach ailments, earache, and eye irritation. Its thick yellow rhizomes also have been used to make a dye. After early explorers exported the plant to Europe, it became popular there for medicinal purposes, too.
Because of overharvesting and habitat loss, the plant is now an endangered species across its native range from New Hampshire and Minnesota, south to Alabama and Georgia. Fortunately, many reputable nurseries now propagate and sell goldenseal for both home gardens and commercial production. It’s one of my favorite plants for a woodland garden, forming a groundcover of large, palmately lobed leaves on short stems that reach six to 12 inches tall. Small, white, tufted flowers appear in spring, followed by a showy raspberrylike fruit that appears to sit atop the leaf. Best growth occurs in a moist, moderately shady spot with slightly acidic soil.

Mint-Family Medicinals
Many native plants with herbal properties belong to the mint family (Lamiaceae). They share traits such as square stems, opposite leaves that may be aromatic, and small two-lipped flowers arranged in whorls or clusters. Those that spread with rhizomes may need a firm hand to keep them within bounds. The genus Salvia boasts quite a few North American species that are both medicinally significant and highly ornamental. From the West Coast, hummingbird or pitcher sage (S. spathacea, Zones 8–11, 10-7) inhabits the coastal hills of central and southern California.

Indigenous peoples in that region used it to treat colds and sore throats, and scientific analysis has revealed that it contains antimicrobial compounds. This plant grows about two feet tall and spreads to about three feet across. Its spikes of fruity-scented, magenta blooms begin appearing in winter in warmer regions, and continue through summer. As the common name implies, they attract hummingbirds. It prefers dappled shade, but also will adapt to full sun. Though quite drought-tolerant, a bit of irrigation helps extend the flowering season and keep the plant evergreen where winters are mild.
For more medicinal species, see full article from The American Gardener:

Reminder: Fall Board Meeting of The Garden Club of NC, Sept. 10-11

See late registration and more information:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Are Climbing Plants Really Bad for Your House?

At a Santa Barbara, California, residence by architect Marc Appleton,
family dog Sunny sits outside the ivy-covered den. Photo by Mary E. Nichols.

We've all heard the ugly rumors: Ivy and other climbing plants will ruin the façade of your home. But according to landscape architect Kim Hoyt and a 2010 report by English Heritage and the University of Oxford, that's not always the case. In reality, it depends on where your house is and what the exterior is made of. Hoyt often tells her clients that if the plant is growing on masonry where there's good sun exposure, there shouldn't be a problem. Climbing vines are more likely to cause issues on wood siding and in damp climates; plants like Boston ivy suction onto surfaces with adhesive pads, allowing them to go up and under the wood, trapping in moisture and eventually rotting the façade.

In short, it's absolutely okay to leave the magical greenery crawling up your walls alone as long as the conditions are right. And it won't just look beautiful—the English Heritage report states, "We now have strong evidence that ivy reduces the threats of freeze-thaw, heating and cooling and wetting and drying (and associated salt weathering) through its regulation of the wall surface microclimate."

Just came to the realization that your residence isn't the best spot for a climbing vine? Hoyt assures us there are other ways to achieve a similarly verdant, old-world look. Your best bet: Grow vines up a screen or metal armature placed in front of an exterior wall to fool the eye from afar.

With the case of the climbing plants closed, here are a few of our favorite exteriors brought alive with lush foliage.
View examples of climbing plants used for architectural enhancement at:

Friday, August 4, 2017

Free Late Season Classes by Durham Co. Extension Master Gardeners

Outsmarting Critters will be offered Aug. 27 at the Durham South Regional Library.

Here is a listing of late 2017  Extension Gardener Seminars. Presentations by Durham County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers ALL CLASSES FREE!  

Planting Now For a Fall Harvest 
Saturday, August 12, 10 a.m. to noon. 
Durham Garden Center
Presented by Faye McNaull and Lynne Nelson, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteers.  Now is the right time to plan your cool weather garden.  A remarkable variety of tasty vegetables (including root crops and greens) can be happy and healthy when the temperature drops and your tomatoes and squash are all but memories.
Durham Garden Center  4536 Hillsborough Rd, Durham, NC 27705.  Requires registration. RSVP by either signing up at the store, calling the store at 919-384-7526, or emailing an RSVP to:

Planning Now for a Fall Harvest
Saturday, August 26, 10 to 11:30 a.m. 
For Garden Sake Nursery
Presented by Doug Roach, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. Now is the right time to plan your cool weather garden.  A remarkable variety of tasty vegetables (including root crops and greens) can be happy and healthy when the temperature drops and your tomatoes and squash are only memories.  It's also the time to prepare for crops that will rejuvenate your soil overwinter and those that can be harvested early next summer. We will be offering tips on simple ways to extend your growing season in the Fall.
For Garden’s Sake Nursery  9197 NC Hwy 751, Durham NC, 27713. Requires registration. To register, email or call 919-484-9759. 

Outsmarting the Critters: Dealing with Deer, Rabbits, Squirrels, Moles & Voles
Sunday, August 27, 3-4 p.m.
South Regional Durham County Library
Presented by Georganne Sebastian and Darcey Martin, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteers. Come learn about the latest techniques and tips for out-smarting the critters who dine on our Durham gardens.  
Programs at the Durham County Public Library - South Regional Branch, 4505 S Alston Ave. - registration is required. Register online at the Durham County Library website Click on "Events" to find the full calendar of events.  Go to the date of the class and sign up. You can also call the Information Desk at South Regional Library to register:  919-560-7410. 

Lawn Care
Tuesday, September 12, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Presented by Charles Murphy, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.  Maintaining a beautiful lawn in our area is a challenge for many of us.  Extension Master Gardener Charles Murphy will discuss the pros and cons of cool season and warm season grasses, optimal lawn care for our Piedmont climate and soil.  He will introduce you to the best maintenance methods and untangle the confusing range of lawn care products.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St. - Requires Registration. Call 919-668-1707 or email        
Buy Healthy Plants and Plant Them Well
Tuesday, September 26, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens.
Presented by Chris Apple, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. 
Healthy plants stand a better chance of thriving in your garden. This presentation will review what you should look for when purchasing and planting plants. Chris will discuss plant sources, how to evaluate a plant, how to correctly plant a tree, shrub, groundcover or perennial and then what is necessary to establish a plant.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St. - Requires Registration. Call 919-668-1707 or email

Raised Beds – If You Build Them, the Veggies Will Come
Saturday, September 30, 10 to 11:30 a.m.
For Garden Sake Nursery
Presented by Doug Roach, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. This class will cover the advantages of raised bed gardening, including recommendations on locating, preparing, sizing and constructing the bed.  Doug will also offer helpful tips on using journals to record plant successes and failures, crop rotation, companion planting, improving your soil, protection from critters, and plant support. He will discuss such potential problems and pitfalls as contaminated beds or pest infestations.     
For Garden’s Sake Nursery  9197 NC Hwy 751, Durham NC, 27713. Requires registration. To register, email or call 919-484-9759. 

Straw Bale Gardening 
Tuesday, February 27, 2018, 6:30 to 8 p.m. 
Sarah P. Gardens
Presented by Georganne Sebastian and Darcey Martin, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteers. Growing a successful vegetable garden is challenging enough if you have terrific soil in which to plant, but with poor soils it can be virtually impossible.  Straw Bale Gardening allows anyone, even those with the worst soil conditions, to grow a terrific garden that is productive and much less labor intensive.  Let us teach you how! 
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St. - Requires Registration. Call 919-668-1707  or email

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

August Calendar of Triangle Gardening Programs

See a comprehensive listing of educational horticultural programs around the Triangle during the month of August on Triangle Gardener: