2016 Herb Farm in Chicago — Part 3

First, permit me to introduce our diligent Japanese farmers from 2016, the Miyazaki twins — Kouta and Keita.


They deserve most of the credit for all of the hard work evident in the photos to follow.twins-1

Next, the continuation of the 2016 herb growing season narrative…

Being a cold hardy flowering plant, 275 calendula seedlings (Calendula officinalis) could be safely planted at the same time that the Krishna Tulasi seedlings were getting started in the greenhouse. The photos below were taken on the same day as those posted yesterday.

We grew calendula for its bright orange flowers, intending to use them both in our herbal soaps as well as for their medicinal properties. The oil of calendula flowers is used by herbalists as an anti-inflammatory and a remedy for healing wounds. Calendula is also used topically as an antiseptic and for treating acne, controlling bleeding, and soothing irritated tissue.

The plants quickly took to the rich Midwestern soil and developed a bright green color.

After sprouting 700 ashwagandha plants (Withania somnifera) in the greenhouse, the Japanese farmers began planting them in the field in late May. This herb is a popular ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine, which primarily uses the root, but also the berries and leaves for topical treatment of tumors, tubercular glands, carbuncles, and ulcers. It is also used in Yemen, where the roots are used in the treatment of burns and wounds. A lot of research has been performed on this plant to confirm its active chemical constituents, some of which are found exclusively in the ashwagandha plant itself.

Here is a young ashwagandha plant in our field.

One well known Western herb is Sage (Salvia officinalis), which has been used in the Western world since antiquity. The Greeks were aware of its medicinal properties at least as early as the 4th century BCE, and Pliny of the 1st AD century refers to its use in the Roman empire. In modern herbalism, some refer to studies that have demonstrated that sage extracts can facilitate improved memory and alertness, as well as improved cognitive and behavioral function in Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Below is pictured a young Sage plant, shadowed by a thistle plant…

Another traditional Chinese medicinal plant recommended to us was Dang Shen (Codonopsis pilosula). As with many of the other herbs, it is the roots that are used as medicine, and are said to build chi and tonify the blood. (Dang Shen seedling below)

More to come…

2016 Farm in Chicago — Part 2

Last year, I was able to take photos and videos of the herb farm at different times, which by Divine Grace ended up being the key stages, resulting in a kind of visual documentation of the process. Thus, I will be sharing those images across a number of posts, to give others a sense of participation in the joy and wonder of nature’s bounty.

First of all, some of you may already know that for decades Amma has been praising the medicinal benefits of tulasi, or holy basil . Of the several varieties available, she has repeatedly emphasized that Krishna Tulasi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) has the most powerful medicinal properties. This is the type of tulasi that has deep purple stems and leaves that turn a similar deep purple when exposed to powerful sunlight.

I remember many years ago when the wife of a particular country’s head of state came to see Amma, mentioning that she had breast cancer, Amma immediately instructed her to eat fresh tulasi leaves every day. She told me to bring a tulasi plant for the First Lady, somehow intuiting that I had one in my room, I suppose! When I brought the plant, however, Amma said “Not this type, you should give her Krishna Tulasi, as it is more powerful.” Sadly, I did not have Krishna Tulasi with me at the time, but later we were able to deliver one to the First Lady, much to her joy.

After experiences like this, I knew we needed to make Krishna Tulasi the cornerstone of our herb farm. With the help of two very dedicated Japanese farmers, we were able to sprout 2700 Krishna Tulasi seedlings in our greenhouse last year.

The photos below were taken on May 27, 2016.

Thousands of tulasi seedlings…

Richo Cech, a well respected American herbalist, calls this variety “Amrita Tulasi”. He says it “has a wonderful aroma and tests very high for rosmarinic acid…. We tested this cultivar and confirmed the eugenol marker.  This is the holy basil my wife and I grow for ourselves to make into tea.  We find it very satisfying, with aroma most appealing. Traditional usage (Ayurveda): stress, anxiety, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and dementia.”

As the seedlings mature, the leaves begin to take on a wine-colored hue…

St Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is another favorite of herbalists worldwide, due to the medicinal effect of extracts and teas made from its bright yellow flowers. Mentioned in the 4th century European herbal text “Herbarium of Apuleius,” it is traditionally used as an antidepressant and to restore damaged nerve tissue and strengthen the urinary organs. We were blessed with very good germination rates, ending up with over 700 plants.

Another very successful herb was thyme (Thymus vulgaris), of which we were able to produce 1100 some odd plants. Everyone knows about the culinary application of this herb, but people are often surprised to hear that it has medicinal properties, as well. The flowers, leaves, and oil of thyme have been used to treat bed-wetting, diarrhea, stomach ache, arthritis, sore throat, cough, bronchitis, and as a diuretic.

Another medicinal plant that may come as a surprise to some is marshmallow (Althaea officinalis). Originally, the root of this plant was an ingredient of the candy that still bears its name, though no longer contains the herb. The same 4th century Herbarium of Apuleius recommends the root of the plant for sores, body stiffness, and  foot diseases, like gout. In traditional herbal medicine, the leaves, flowers and roots are used variously as an immune stimulant, for irritation of mucous membranes, and as a gargle for sore throat, as well as for ulcers of the mouth, throat and gastric system.

In a similar vein, we also have licorice! The root of the cold hardy Chinese variation (Glycyrrhiza uralensis) we are growing has been used since ancient times as a traditional Chinese medicine, throughout Asia and as far as the Middle East. Licorice is valued by herbalists around the world for the wide variety of health benefits attributed to it, such as healing digestive illnesses, boosting the immune system, pain relief, easing respiratory congestion and sore throat, reduction of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia symptoms, and prevention of heart disease.

Hyssop was considered by the ancient Celts to be the most purifying of all herbs, and was also used for religious purification in ancient Egypt. Today, many herbalists use its dark blue, fragrant flowers for their traditional application in treating the common cold. The essential oil includes the chemicals thujone and phenol, which are said to give it antiseptic properties.

Last year we tried growing this herb as an experiment, which went very well. This year we plan to expand the area to about 150 plants.

Last year, our Japanese farmers successfully sprouted over 400 astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) plants, as well. This variety has a history of use as an herbal medicine in both traditional Chinese and Persian medicine. In Chinese medicine it has been used to reinforce vital energy (qi) and protect against illness. Its extracts are often marketed for their life-prolonging effects. 

Along with licorice, one of the 50 fundamental herbs in traditional Chinese medicine is an herb known as “baical skullcap” (Scutellaria baicalensis, Huang qin)  which was recommended to us by Richo Cech. The seed sprouting efforts resulted in about 150 seedlings of this precious plant.

In Chinese medicine, baical skullcap has a broad range of applications: antiallergic, diuretic, hypotensive, antibacterial, antiviral, tranquilizing and fever-reducing, commonly used for treatment of dysentery, hepatitis, staph. It appears to be a good source for flavonoid compounds, and several chemical compounds have been isolated from the root, the major ones being baicalein, baicalin, wogonin, norwogonin, oroxylin A[3] and β-sitosterol are the major ones.

Last but not least, we also had great success with an old herbal favorite, chamomile…

Chamomile tea is one of the most famous varieties, traditionally used for a sore stomach, irritable bowel syndrome, and as a gentle sleep aid. The 700 chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla aka Matricaria recutita) seedlings that sprouted grew vigorously in the greenhouse and were soon ready for planting…

In the next post, we will see how the seedlings looked after being planted in the field…

2016 Herb Farm in Chicago — Part 1

Another project that has been keeping me very busy over the past year has been the new medicinal herb farm in Chicago.

After months of planning that began in December 2015, the 2016 growing season in Chicago began on March 27, with a seed starting bonanza in the GreenWorks building. The task ahead was quite a daunting one — creating a 2-acre medicinal herb farm with 35 different varieties of plants. As nearly 10,000 medicinal herb seedlings needed to be sprouted and planted in the field within 2 months, there was no time to waste.

With the urgency of purpose and high stakes, I knew we needed some heavy firepower, so I called in for reinforcements… AYUDH! 🙂

After watching a short instructional video on seed starting, prepared by dedicated Japanese devotees, I became the de facto subject matter expert (?!), showing everyone what to do. This day was for sowing the seeds of the less cold-hardy plants that would need more time to mature before being transplanted in the field.

The youth quickly took over and immersed themselves in the process.

Each one of the dozens of 72 cell-trays prepared was labeled with the name of the plant and the date the seeds had been sown.

In a short time, we had finished enough trays for almost 1400 plants. Not bad for a group of beginners…

In the days to follow, many more such trays were prepared, until we had all of the herbs below ready to sprout.

1 Alkanet Alkanna orientalis
2 Ashwagandha Withania somnifera
3 Astragalus Astragalus membranaceus
4 Baical Skullcap Scutellaria baicalensis
5 Calendula Calendula officinalis
6 Catnip Nepeta cataria
7 Chamomile, German Matricaria recutita
8 Chinese red sage (Dan Shen) Salvia miltiorrhiza
9 Comfrey, true Symphytum officinale var patens
10 Coriander Coriandrum sativum
11 Cornflower (Batchelor’s Buttons) Centaurea cyanus
12 Dang Shen Codonopsis pilosula
13 Echinacea Echinacea purpurea
14 Ginger Zingiber offcinale
15 Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis
16 Lavender, English Lavandula angustifolia vera
17 Lemon balm Melissa offcinalis
18 Lemon grass Cymbopogon citratus
19 Licorice, chinese Glycyrrhiza uralensis
20 Madder Root Rubia tinctorum
21 Marigold, French tagetes patula
22 Marshmallow Althea officinalis
23 Nettles Urtica dioica
24 Peppermint Mentha piperita
25 Red Clover Trifolium pratense
26 Rhubarb, Victoria Rheum rhabarbarum
27 Rose, Damask Rosa damascena
28 Rose, Rugosa Rosa rugosa
29 Sage Salvia officinalis
30 Spearmint Mentha Spicata
31 St.John’s Wort Hypericum perforatum
32 Stevia Stevia rebaudiana
33 Thyme Thymus vulgaris
34 Tulasi, Holy Basil Ocimum tenuiflorum
35 Wood Betony Stachis Officianalis