Sunday, August 26, 2012

Top 100: Running Herbs (Yarrow)

This is the fifth of a series of posts that will cover the "Top 100" forest garden plants taken from volume 1 of the Edible Forest Gardens books. In this post we finish our list of running herbs.

Yarrow - Achillea millefolium
Hardiness zone 3, full sun to part shade, running, 8-36 in. x indefi­nitely spreading, ground cover, dynamic accumulator, beneficial habitat, specialist nectary (image above)

This low-maintenance workhorse is one of the pre­mier multipurpose support plants for the forest garden. It forms clumps but sends out vigorous runners to form new clumps. Many assume that yarrow is in the Apiaceae, due to its umbel-shaped heads, but it is in fact a member of the aster family (Asteraceae). Regardless, it is a fine specialist nec­tary plant. It also provides foliage habitat and egg-laying sites for ladybugs, spiders, lacewings, Carabid beetles, and parasitoid insects. It dynamically accumulates phosphorus and potassium, among other nutrients, and, of course, it is a pop­ular ornamental, drought tolerant, and medicinal too! Although a bit aggressive, yarrow has much to offer as a multifunctional plant for the edible forest garden.

Pink Tickseed - Coreopsis rosea
Hardiness zone 3-9, full sun, running, 1-2 ft. x indefinitely spreading, ground cover, specialist nectary

This native wildflower is a popular and attractive ornamental and a low-maintenance, multipurpose forest-garden plant. It forms a moderately dense ground cover and spreads rapidly. This specialist nectary blooms profusely from July to September, providing much fuel for beneficial insects. Growing the wild type, rather than named cultivars, may provide the highest nectar yield for beneficials, as plant breeding for ornamental qualities often unin­tentionally decreases nectar production by flowers. Note that the related clumping Coreopsis species are also fine choices for the forest garden.

Jerusalem Artichoke - Helianthus tuberosus
Hardiness zone 2, full sun to part shade, running, 6-12 ft. x indefi­nitely spreading, edible roots (image below)

This enormous perennial sunflower relative is among our best native wild edibles. Jerusalem arti­chokes produce truly enormous quantities of tubers. They are generally somewhat smaller than potatoes and taste crisp and sweet. Jerusalem arti­choke is one of the few commercially grown peren­nial vegetables, and one of the very best low-maintenance food crops for our climate. For some people the roots can cause flatulence, partic­ularly when eaten raw. Keep trying; your body will adjust if you eat them frequently. Jerusalem arti­choke grows in dense stands. Either respect it and give it plenty of room to spread, or fence it in with rhizome barriers. Dwarf varieties may be somewhat more manageable, or at least less competitive. Annual harvesting invigorates the plants and leads to higher yields. Jerusalem artichoke has a reputa­tion for being quite persistent, even weedy, but apparently if you uproot the plants in July when they are flowering, they will not come back. At least not as much!

Daylily - Hemerocallis spp.
Hardiness zone 2 or 3, full sun to part shade, running, 1-5 ft. x indefinitely spreading, edible flowers, buds, and tubers

Daylilies certainly have a role to play in the forest garden, although contemporary landscaping clearly overuses them. The flowers and flower buds are a popular vegetable in northern Asia, and those in the know in the United States and Canada eat them, too. The tubers are also edible, and quite pro­ductive. They can cause a bit of digestive upset for those who are not accustomed to them, so use them with caution. Daylily does not fit this book's defi­nition of a ground cover (it is too tall), but it is a great ground cover nonetheless. The challenge is that daylilies are too large and vigorous to be a good companion to most herbs. Daylilies are a good low-maintenance choice for an area of your garden to which you don't want to have to pay any attention.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Mahabharata (book 1.C part 1)


The noise was deafening and shook the palace. It started suddenly and gave everyone a jolt. Santanu was examining the kingdom’s increase in goods production with his ministers when the thunderous assault on their ears began.

One servant asked timidly, "Shall I go investigate, my liege?" obviously not wanting to.

Santanu picked up his bow and said, "I’ll go." But as soon as he got outside he almost dropped it, for he immediately saw the top half of an enormous water monster rising from the river Ganges. It must have been close to a hundred feet tall. He rushed down to the river bank, while the others all hid back in the palace, praying for their lives.

At the river bank, he saw the battle that was raging. In the middle of the river, some two hundred feet from the bank, stood a handsome youth on a large rock jutting from the water. He was firing arrows in rapid succession upon the monster from an automatically replenishing quiver on his back.

Some of his arrows would hit and vaporize a part of the creature into steam, and others would explode, sending water spraying everywhere. The creature though continued to rebuild itself from the water of the river. It summoned giant waves of water to crash down on the youth, which he destroyed with his arrows, but the creature also had hundreds of water tentacle arms that lashed the youth, which he could do little against.

Santanu found the youth oddly familiar It can’t be! It had been almost two decades since Ganga had left with his son, and Santanu suddenly felt it was him!

The boy decided to try a different tactic. He drew an arrow and pointed it at the creature’s head, then closed his eyes in concentration. Giant waves from either side sped towards him amidst the constant lashing of the tentacles that were taking their toll. He let his arrow fly just as the waves came crashing down on him, flattening him to the stone.

The arrow missed, flying well over the creature’s head. The boy clung to the rock, barely conscious and able to hold on as another onslaught of waves headed in his direction. Santanu was in a panic I’ve got to do something! but he knew his ordinary arrows were useless against such a beast. Suddenly, activity in the sky caught Santanu’s attention.

The arrow that had missed, multiplied itself into millions upon millions of arrows that filled the sky. As they began their descent, they converged on each other in an interlocking manner to create a massive dam-like structure spanning the entire width of the river. It came crashing down in a thunderous splash that stopped the flow of the river completely.

Surprisingly, the water monster seemed pleased as it soon found itself washed down the river. The youth shakily got to his feet and surveyed the river bottom that now surrounded him. The roar of the water monster was heard again from the opposite side of the dam. It raised itself up to be seen, and bowed to the youth in defeat.

The youth took one more arrow and fired upon the dam, blowing apart the center section. The water rushed through and shortly broke up and washed away the rest of the dam. The water monster rapidly approached the youth again but with an expression of glee if such is possible. As it neared it began to shrink and transform. . . into Ganga!

She stepped onto the rock and gave the youth a hug, "I'm so proud of you. You've now even bested me in battle, and are most certainly the greatest warrior to ever walk the face of the earth. You are the best son a mother could ever wish for and I will miss you dearly as our time together is now almost over."

Santanu could see that they were speaking but couldn't hear what they said.

Ganga continued, "See the man standing on the bank? He is your father. It is now time for you to fulfill your role as his son and prince to the kingdom of Hastinapura."

A fountain of water appeared before the rock where they were standing, and then together they stepped out onto it and it brought them to where Santanu was standing.

Ganga now spoke to Santanu, "May I introduce Devavrata, your son."

The boy bent down to touch his father’s feet, but Santanu grabbed his shoulders and pulled him up into a tight hug. Ganga continued, "My involvement in your lives is now complete." She cupped the side of Santanu’s face with her palm and said, "You’ve done well."

"Can’t you stay and make this a happy family?", pleaded Santanu.

"I’m sorry, but my destiny lies elsewhere." She then turned to her son and hugged him again saying, "Now remember what I’ve taught you."

"I will mother, but I’ll miss you."

"Your father is now here to take my place. Love him as you’ve loved me, and you’ll do fine." She gave them both a smile, as she dematerialized from their view.

Temporarily putting Ganga out of his mind, Santanu turned to his son with a smile, "A huge celebration is in order to welcome you back and inaugurate you as heir to the throne of Hastinapura!"

Santanu threw his arm around his son's shoulders as they walked back to the palace and said, "I have so much I want to ask you that I hardly know where to begin. Perhaps you can explain how you are able to imbue your arrows with such incredible power?"

Devavrata thought for a moment before answering, "During my time in the astral realms I was initiated in the use of numerous mantras that give me that ability," then sensing his father's next question continued, "but I would be unable to effect the necessary energy transference to initiate anyone else in their use."

Santanu smiled, "That is fine, I'm just so happy to have you back." and hugged his son again.

A week later a huge celebration was held in the capital as the entire kingdom turned out to welcome back their crown prince.


1. Derived from: Adi Parva, Section C, p. 214-215.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A New We

This post is not actually about the movie "A New We", but about writer/director Stefan Wolf's vision of an ideal ecovillage.

What the film A New We shows and demonstrates is that there is not just one way to live in a community or in an eco-village, but there are many ways. Thus each of us has to find out for him or herself what the individual needs are and which eco-village model serves these needs best.

The range of the modern term "community" is big and it goes from an income-sharing commune, to a student-flat or co-housing project, all the way to a modern eco-village. All of those have community characteristics and have benefits, as well as certain disadvantages.

After seeing all of this variety of communities and eco-villages during the making of A New We, what is my personal ideal eco-village?

My personal ideal eco-village unites the advantages of the community lifestyle with the advantages of the individual private lifestyle. That means the structure of the eco-village is set up in a way that it offers a personal land for each (soul)-family of about 0,5 ha to 1 ha in size, which allows them to create a space of love* on it and to be the owner of this land.**

On the other hand there is the village center as a "community-playground" which is owned by all members (likely through an association) and where the advantages of community-life are being explored and experienced. Here you have community buildings and materials, like a common washing-machine, beamer for presentations and films, activity-hall, everything free-shop, etc. You can join common activities like yoga, presentation, etc...or just have a chat with other people. There are no fixed common shared meals (but can happen if organised by people who wish so), but rather spontanious coming togethers for food e.g. Picnic in the grass. Cars are outside of the settlement and there is an organised car-sharing-circle.

What holds the people in this eco-village together is their common shared values and bright visions and aspirations for the entire creation. Love for all is the basic principle and motivation shared by those people.

What is I think an advantage of this model is that it gives the individuals and families great freedom. Since every (soul)-family has its own space of love they do not need to spend energy to discuss about redundant things like: "Shall we put the tomatoes there or here?" And then having a discussion about it for an hour because 20 people are having a different opinion about it...

The people in my ideal settlement just agreed to a general standard of arrangements like "only organic farming, respect and care for all living beings, etc..." Thus the people enjoy great freedom and individuality, while experiencing the joy of having like-minded neighbours and friends around with whom they can share, interact and have various projects.

At your own space you can create a paradise oasis in cooperation with the diverse plants, animals and insects. A big variety of fruit and nut trees, berry-bushes, vegetables, mushrooms, herbs, flowers and other plants make your life shiny and give abundance. Everything in this space of love will serve and love you and your beloved ones, from the smallest flowers and grasses to the biggest trees thereon. It is the perfect place for your ongoing self-realization and for becoming the best you can be.

Of course there are also disadvantages in my ideal eco-village. One is that you might need more money because you will purchase/use a bigger piece of land. Another is that the sharing of resources is limited to a certain extend. E.g. it would be much more cost-efficient and environmental friendly to live in one big house as a commune and share one toilet, bathroom, kitchen, etc... however this disadvantage can be compensated due to the very simple lifestyle of the various people in this settlement. And as mentioned above there is still a significant amount of resources which can be shared in the village.

To give the shortcut for my ideal eco-village:
  • around 10 ha of land.
  • around 10 to 15 familie domains(0,5 ha - 1 ha each)
  • around 0,5 ha - 1 ha community space in the center
  • individual landownership over familie domains
  • common landownership over community center place
  • common shared values: "peacefood"***, sustainability, spiritual growth, Ahimsa, etc.
  • Every community part-taking is voluntary and is done out of free will
  • other shared values: thriving for peacefood-self-sufficiency, nature-close lifestyle, etc.
  • unschooling project for the children
  • To be inspiring to other people through our simple, happy and healthy life
  • use of sustainable energy, compost toilets, reed-wastewaterplant, etc...
  • common use of various resources like washing machine, beamer, cars, etc...
  • trial membership for newcomers for a period of time
*Space of love is a term described in the books of Vladimir Megre in the ringing cedars series. It refers to a space where a family has created a so called family-domain – a place which is a self-sufficient aiming paradise garden with a house and provides for all the needs of the adults and children thereon. It also supports them in the unfolding of the tremendous potential which lies in human beings. The space of love is the material, outer extension and expression of the internal spiritual self.

** That does not mean if they would leave the village that they could sell the land to anybody, but instead the members of the village need to agree to the new person who wants to buy the land and live there.

*** The term peace-food in this text refers to an ahimsa (non-violence) kind of food. Since it is difficult to get ahimsa food from animals due to their and our nature it refers predominantly to plant-based foods. These are easier to get in an ahimsa-way (especially fruits) and thus is contributing to the global peace-field. Peace-food does not exclude animal foods like honey, milk or eggs if they are given voluntarily and freely by the animals. However it excludes products where violence towards animals has (probably) taken place. This is in no way a disadvantage for us since our bodies are designed to live and thrive on a plant-based diet and many living examples proof that. (Dr. Will Tuttle, Storm Talifero, Dr. Douglas, etc...)

Written by
Stefan Wolf
Creator of "A New We" and Co-founder of L.O.V.E. Productions

Stefan's vision is almost identical to mine, except as I've already stated, I would purchase more land up front to allow for future growth.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Top 100: Running Herbs (Giant Solomon's Seal)

This is the fourth of a series of posts that will cover the "Top 100" forest garden plants taken from volume 1 of the Edible Forest Gardens books. In this post we start our list of running herbs.

Giant Solomon's Seal - Polygonatum biflorum var. commutatum
Hardiness zone 3, full sun to part shade, running, 3-5 ft. x indefinitely spreading, edible shoots (image above)

This beautiful, native wildflower of the lily family sends up slender 3 to 5 foot (0.9 to 1.6 m) stalks in drifts and spreads by rhizomes. It is commendable for its adaptability—giant Solomon's seal grows in full sun all the way to full shade. Cut and use its edible shoots in the spring, like asparagus; they taste quite good, though the leaf cluster at the top of the shoot may taste somewhat bitter. Giant Solomon's seal is another example of an underutilized native that is highly adapted to the forest garden model.

Ostrich Fern - Matteuccia struthiopteris
Hardiness zone 2, part to full shade, running, 4-6 ft. x indefinitely spreading, edible shoots

Each spring, markets in New England offer the strange, tightly curled shoots of ostrich fern, known as fiddleheads. This is one of the most well-known and beloved native wild edibles of the eastern forest. It is also an attractive ornamental, reaching 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m) or more and forming extensive colonies in moist soil and part to full shade. The distance between crowns leaves room for low-growing, shade-tolerant companions. Steam or boil the fiddleheads for at least ten minutes to remove toxins. They taste delicious when boiled and served with butter.

Mints - Mentha spp.
Hardiness zone 3, full sun to part shade, running, 1-3 ft. x indefinitely spreading, edible tea, culinary, aromatic

The numerous species and hybrids of mint are highly adapted for the forest garden. They were among the most prevalent understory species in Robert Hart's garden. Unfortunately, as he was quick to admit, they were among the more troublesome weeds in his garden as well. Mints tend to be vigorous runners, colonizing new areas but never staying in one area for too many years. They will outcompete many other herbs, except for large, tough, well-established dumpers. Their foliage is wonderful in teas, fresh or dried, and in small amounts in salads. The flowers are excellent generalist nectaries, attracting many beneficial insects, and the strong scent of the foliage confuses pests in their search for their favorite foods. A new cultivar called 'Marilyn's Salad Mint' is said to have milder-flavored leaves and is a promising new running perennial vegetable for partial shade.

Chinese Artichoke - Stachys affinis
Hardiness zone 5, full sun to part shade, running, 18 in. x indefinitely spreading, edible tubers

This running ground cover is in the mint family. It is native to eastern Asia, but people now grow it throughout the cold climates of the world. It produces small (1 inch/3 cm) tubers, in good quantity. The tubers are crisp, with a light mint flavor, but they are also bumpy and somewhat difficult to clean. They taste good raw in salads and can be cooked in a variety of ways. Chinese artichoke makes a moderately dense cover. Annual harvest results in higher yields. Harvest all you can find, because enough will always elude discovery to ensure a vigorous stand the following year.

NETTLES (Laportaea AND Urtica SPP.)

Wood Nettle - Laportaea canadensis
Hardiness zone 3, part to full shade, running, 1-3 ft. x indefinitely spreading, edible leaves (image below)

Stinging Nettle - Urtica dioica
Hardiness zone 4, full sun to part shade, running, 3-4 ft. x indefinitely spreading, edible leaves, dynamic accumulator

Nettles in a forest garden? Why would we welcome a plant that causes painful stings? Believe it or not, nettles are among the most beneficial plants for the forest garden. For starters, both of these closely related species produce delicious and hearty greens—when cooked (make sure to harvest with gloves on). Even a minute of steaming is enough to deactivate the sting. If you have never had them, the delightful taste of the greens will surprise you. Both plants form large colonies through seed and rhizomes. Use rhizome barriers, and be sure to locate your nettles where you will not accidentally brush against them.

Stinging nettle is one of the most nutritious leafy greens in the world, as well as being a fabulous dynamic accumulator and a wonderful compost plant. Research indicates that it increases the volatile oil content of herbs grown alongside it, making them more aromatic. Stinging nettles have naturalized in most of the United States, often in situations closely resembling forest gardens. The variety gracilis is native to North America. Our native wood nettle is also a delicious potherb and may be a dynamic accumulator like its cousin. Wood nettle grows in full shade and seems to thrive in the understory of old-growth forests.