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By THE HERB COMPANION
August/September 2008
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Fresh Clips items

The Great Garlic Cover-Up
Stir Things Up with ‘Curly’ Sage
Kids Dig Classroom Gardens
A Zinger for High Blood Pressure
Garlic Protects Against Arsenic Poisoning
Sage: You Must Remember This 

The Great Garlic Cover-Up

A winter blanket of plastic boosts yield and quality

Growing garlic in regions with cold winters just got easier, thanks to research conducted at Southern Illinois University Horticulture Research Center.

Researchers evaluated the quality, yield and winter hardiness of eight garlic cultivars grown over a two-year period. All of the garlics were planted in silty loam soil and deep raised beds, but some were planted in beds covered with 1.25-mil black plastic, while others were planted in uncovered soil, then mulched with 2 inches of wheat straw in spring.

The black plastic not only improved winter survival (95 percent versus 85 percent for the uncovered soil), but also increased the weight (by 50 percent, on average) and diameter size (by 23 percent) of harvested bulbs. In the plastic-covered beds, the garlic began growing earlier, allowing bulbs to grow larger.

Of the eight varieties evaluated, ‘Idaho Silverskin’ and ‘Persian Star’ performed best, with 100 percent winter survival, high yields and excellent disease resistance. Both varieties (and many other garlics) are available from Filaree Farm; see www.FilareeFarm.com. —Robin Siktberg

For more information, see HortTechnology. 18: 286-289.

Stir Things Up with ‘Curly’ Sage

Here’s one more reason to grow sage in your herb garden. Unique ‘Curly’ has the same delightfully aromatic, gray-green leaves as familiar garden sage (Salvia officinalis), but with ruffled edges, giving it a very striking appearance.

The plants grow to 2½ feet tall and bear spikes of 1-inch-long, pastel purple flowers in early summer. ‘Curly’s’ soft color and texture make a beautiful counterpoint for bright-colored perennials in full sun and well-drained soil. Use the leaves just as you would those of other culinary sages. Hardy in Zones 5-10.

‘Curly’ sage is available from Territorial Seeds; (800) 626-0866; www.TerritorialSeed.com or from Log House Plants; (541) 942-2288; www.LogHousePlants.com. —R.S.

Kids Dig Classroom Gardens

Children learn to mind their p’s and q’s in school; now, some also are learning to mind their herbs and vegetables. Many teachers and parents are finding school gardens to be a fun and effective hands-on method for teaching children about plants, soil, health and the environment.

If you’ve been thinking about starting a school garden, or already are involved with one, be sure to check out A Planning Guide for Edible School Gardens. Produced by The Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the Community Food Program of the USDA Extension Service, the guide is "intended to supply … useful tools and information for planning and implementing a successful garden project featuring edible plants."

The 58-page guide "strongly encourages methods which don’t rely on applying potentially toxic substances ... ." You’ll find garden themes, activities, a complete planning list and even a chart to help track the status of your project. Appendices provide info on less familiar topics, such as green roofs, rain barrels and permaculture gardening.

To order a CD copy of A Planning Guide for Edible School Gardens, contact editor Susie Shields at (405) 702-5166; or download it at www.deq.state.ok.us/mainlinks/ediblegardens.htm. —R.S.

A Zinger for High Blood Pressure

If you enjoy herbal tea, you’ve probably sipped Red Zinger™, the popular hibiscus tea introduced by Celestial Seasonings more than 30 years ago. A growing body of scientific research suggests hibiscus tea is more than a refreshing beverage: It also seems to lower blood pressure.

A tropical member of the mallow family, hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) imparts a deep red color and slightly tart flavor to teas, jams, jellies, syrups and other goods. Many countries also value hibiscus as a medicinal plant. In Egypt, the red calyx (seed pod covering) has been used as a diuretic, nerve tonic and treatment for heart problems; Iran and other countries use hibiscus tea to treat hypertension.

After a small clinical trial confirmed the tea’s ability to lower blood pressure, researchers in Mexico conducted a randomized controlled clinical trial, comparing hibiscus tea with captopril, an antihypertensive drug. As reported in a 2004 issue of Phytomedicine, 39 patients in the hibiscus group and 36 patients in the control group completed the study. After four weeks, both groups experienced a significant drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

In 2007, the same researchers in Mexico conducted a larger controlled clinical study involving 193 patients. Again, after four weeks, the hibiscus reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, this time by about12 percent.

Researchers believe the herb’s ability to lower blood pressure stems from its diuretic effect and inhibition of an enzyme that can cause hypertension. More studies are needed to determine the optimum dose, but it is likely to be more than an occasional cup of tea.—Steven Foster

The reference list for this article is extensive; for complete references for these and related studies, please click here.

Garlic Protects Against Arsenic Poisoning

Long revered for its ability to ward off an array of maladies, garlic now appears to hold power against another villain. New research conducted by scientists at the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology in Kolkata, India, suggests garlic might prevent arsenic poisoning.

This is especially good news for those living in parts of the Western and Southwestern United States, where arsenic concentrations in groundwater are naturally high, sometimes exceeding maximum contaminant levels set by the National Research Council. Arsenic poisoning is linked to skin cancer, internal cancers and other diseases.

In the study, rats given garlic extract after drinking arsenic-laced water showed fewer toxic effects than those given arsenic alone. The garlic reduced the amount of lipid oxidation caused by arsenic and increased the amount of antioxidant enzymes in the rats. The rats also had less arsenic in their blood and more of it in their urine, indicating that garlic helped rid their bodies of arsenic.

If you live in an area where water contains high levels of arsenic, consider adding more fresh garlic to your diet. The authors suggest eating one to three raw garlic cloves daily. —Cindy Jones, Ph.D.

For more information, see Food and Chemical Toxicology, 46: 740-751.

For complete references for this article, please click here

Sage: You Must Remember This

New evidence seems to support the words of John Gerard in The Herbal (1597), "Sage is singularly good for the head and brain, quickeneth the senses and memory."

In a 2008 issue of Psychopharmacology, Australian researchers reported that sage extract improved memory and attention in a group of 20 healthy adults older than 65. The randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical study determined that a dose of 333 mg was the most effective of four doses evaluated.

Previously, reported in a 2005 issue of Physiology and Behaviour, researchers in the United Kingdom found that Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia) essential oil significantly improved mood and cognitive performance among 24 healthy young subjects. Mood was measured as self-rated alertness, calmness and contentedness.

As researchers conduct future studies of sage, perhaps they should consider Gerard’s advice: "No man needeth to doubt of the wholesomeness of sage ale." Now there’s a palatable sage extract. —S. F.

The reference list for this article is extensive; for complete references for these and related studies, please click here.

About the authors: Robin Siktberg is horticulturist and editor for The Herb Society of America. Steven Foster is an author, photographer and consultant, specializing in medicinal plants. Cindy Jones, Ph.D., is owner of Sagescript Institute at www.sagescript.com.  


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