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Tag Archives | Jill Henderson

Onions for the Garden & Good Health

Of all the vegetables, herbs and spices that are used to season food and heal the body, the unassuming onion is rarely given its proper due. For a plant that serves so many needs and desires in our kitchens, gardens and herbal pantries, the savory spicy-sweet goodness of onions in all their forms should be elevated.

Egyptian Walking onion plant in bloom

The flowers of Egyptian Walking onions will soon be transformed into bulbs.

Onions and all of their onion-like relatives have long been classified as belonging to the Lilly (Lilliaceae) fam­ily, but in 2009 botanists began using a scientific system known as phylogenet­ics to reorganize many plant families based on genetic testing.

The entire Allium genus was reclassified as being a part of the Amaryllis (Amaryllida­ceae) family of plants, which includes the lovely and highly regarded flow­ering perennials of the same name. Even so, botanists are still studying and debating the order of the genera Allium, which contains 15 subgenera and nearly 1,000 species!

Great Eats

Obviously, the most well-known onion is the common bulb onion, known to us botanical nuts as Allium cepa. Botanically speaking, cepa onions are all the same. The only comparable differences are in their shapes, colors and sizes, the day-length needed to grow them and their flavor and stor­ability. In general, cepa onions are most often categorized as “cooking,” “sweet” or “storage” types. Continue Reading →

Meet The Sioux Chef: Revitalizing Native Foodways

From the plains of the Midwest, a new and surprising trend in the world of healthy local food is gaining ground thanks to Sean Sherman, an Oglala Lakota Sioux and founder of The Sioux Chef, a nonprofit organization aiming to revive the traditional Native American diet through hands-on education and the use of indigenous ingredients.

Worlds of Flavors at the Culinary Institute of America-Greystone.

I first heard Sherman speak at the Missouri Organic Association conference where he was keynoting at the event’s locally produced organic dinner. He took the stage and held 600 people rapt with attention as he spoke with passion and wisdom about Native American history and their foodways and the need to rediscover the indigenous foods that nourished native peoples around the world for hundreds of thousands of years.

A Different Path

Sherman grew up on and around the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This vast, almost wild stretch of American High Plains is located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota. The reservation is flanked to the north by the stark beauty of the Badlands and to the northwest by the ponderosa-topped Paha Sapa (Black Hills).

As a child, Sherman ate what everyone around him ate — a standard fare prepared with government commodity rations handed out monthly to those living on the reservation as part of a food allotment program going back to the mid-1800s. Sherman points out that while the variety of foods in the commodity allotments are a little better today than they were when he was growing up, they never contain fresh fruits, vegetables or meats and were never meant to be a “nutritional program,” but rather an emergency ration. Continue Reading →

Discover the Possibilities of Pokeweed

For those who like to eat on the wild side, one should become well acquainted with a plethora of wild greens such as black mustard, dock, chickweed, henbit, lambs quarters and pokeweed. The latter, better known simply as poke, is a favorite spring green here in the Ozarks.

Wash and sort poke leaves before cooking.

The fresh, young leaves are gathered in spring soon after they emerge and are gently simmered in two changes of water until tender. The finished product resembles cooked spinach, but the texture is incomparably creamy and the flavor is richly reminiscent of asparagus. This quaint country dish was once known as poke salat, which is slang. It is so good that, at our house, this leafy perennial ranks right up there with other high-caliber spring edibles.

Know Your Poke

Pokeweed belongs to the Phytolaccaceae family, which contains 16 genera and hundreds of species. Some of these species have colorful and descriptive names such as Inkberry, Redweed and Red Ink Plant, to name a few. Continue Reading →

America’s Native Bamboo

Mention the word “bamboo” and visions of China, panda bears and exotic jungles readily come to mind for most of us living in the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, the majority of the 1,450 species of true bamboo found throughout the world originate in Southern and Southeastern Asian countries, with a few scattered species found in Africa and the beech forests of Chile in South America.

River or giant cane is the largest and most noticeable of the three native types of bamboo.

Some bamboo species grow more densely than any forest you can imagine and produce giant canes as big around as a small tree, while others are as diminutive as a clump of native big bluestem prairie grass to which all bamboo is related. In fact, bamboo belongs to the true grass family Poaceae which contains some 10,000 recognized species and represents the fifth-largest plant family on Earth.

The United States is home to three very distinct native species of bamboo, which are collectively known as cane.

Native Bamboo: Cane History & Ecology

When the first Europeans set out to explore the New World they encountered massive canebrakes so dense they were nearly impenetrable. These natural obstacles were so massive that explorers had to navigate around them, sometimes for miles. While cane was present in much of the southern and southeastern half of the United States, the largest canebrakes in North America were found along the edges and floodplains of major rivers such as the Mississippi and its tributaries. Continue Reading →

Edible Landscaping with Elderberry

To harvest elderberries, cut the stem several inches below the cluster using a small pair of hand shears.

Elderberries have recently been dubbed a superfood, yet these big, beautiful plants with tiny dark berries have long been renowned for their versatility and flavor. Today, new elderberry cultivars are being bred from their wilder cousins to produce plants with improved disease resistance and higher production rates; a perfect combination for anyone wanting to add these luscious fruits to their edible landscape.

Recognizing Your Elders

Elders and elderberries belong to the Adoxaceae family of plants. Within this family is the elderberry genus known as Sambucus. This large genus contains more than 30 diverse species of shrubs and small trees. However, the two most common edible species of Sambucus in the United States are the relatively small native American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and the larger, more widely cultivated European elderberry (Sambucus nigra). These two species have been used to breed a wide array of commercial and ornamental cultivars that are often referred to as Common elderberry (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis).

These three elderberry species have very similar growth habits. All are perennial multi-stemmed shrubs characterized by their upright, bushy appearance and a tendency to grow in large colonies if not kept in check. Continue Reading →

Hügelkultur Gardening

Hügelkultur (pronounced “hoogle-culture”) is German for “hill culture.” Hügelkultur entails growing crops on a raised, earthen mound that consists of a foundation of fresh or rotting logs and branches covered in layers of manure, compostable materials and soil.

Hügelkultur (pronounced "hoogle-culture") is German for "hill culture."

Planting potatoes in a hügel bed.

Hügelkultur (pronounced “hoogle-culture”) is German for “hill culture.” Hügelkultur entails growing crops on a raised, earthen mound that consists of a foundation of fresh or rotting logs and branches covered in layers of manure, compostable materials and soil.

Hügelkultur Construction

  • Hügel beds can be made to any length, width or height desired. The average hügelkultur bed is three to five feet tall and can be rectangular, square, round or horseshoe-shaped (keyhole).
  • Beds are typically built on top of the ground and sometimes in 12- to 15-inch deep trenches.
  • Beds are generally free-standing, without any physical support or enclosure, but can be framed at the base with blocks, untreated lumber, logs or hay bales as desired.
  • A mixture of soft (faster-rotting) and hard (longer-lasting) woody base materials usually includes freshly dead or rotting firewood rounds, stumps, branches, brush and twigs.
  • Avoid wood from allelopathic trees like black walnut (for its juglone toxicity); high-resin trees like pine, spruce, yew, juniper and cedar; and hard, rot-resistant woods such as black locust, Osage orange and redwood. Any type of wood with sprouting potential (such as willow) should be completely dead before using.
  • Small branches, twigs, sawdust and coarse woodchips are used to fill voids in the woody base before construction is complete and periodically as the bed breaks down.
  • A simple hügel is covered with three to five inches of rotted manure or compost, followed by another three to five inches of garden soil or topsoil, but this can also include multiple layers of various organic materials in the fashion of a “lasagna-style” garden bed.
  • Hügel beds are ready for planting immediately after construction.

Continue Reading →