Guide to Everlasting Herbs

| June/July 1994

Everlastings are plants that dry easily, retain their shape and color, and can be incorporated into long-lasting wreaths and arrangements. Many people know the showy dried flowers such as strawflower and statice; fewer realize that many herbs are equally attractive when dried. Their flowers, pods, bracts, and buds add ­visual appeal, and they have an historical resonance unmatched by the more familiar everlastings.

When I pick a safflower, for example, I see it as not just a green and yellow thistlelike flower, but the same flower that was woven into the garlands of Egyptian mummies, used for dyeing Egyptian cloth, grown for thousands of years, picked by ­millions of hands, and passed down by countless generations of gardeners. The notion that plants can be used symbolically in ­ceremonies and in expressing emotions is an ancient one, but herbs can reveal even more, since they also represent a living chronicle of human usage.

On the following pages are some of my favorite herbs to grow as everlastings.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

"Having been regarded, almost since the discovery of this country, as subtonic, diaphoretic, alterative, expectorant, diuretic, laxative, ­escha­rotic, carminative, anti-spasmodic, anti-pleuritic, stomachic, ­astringent, anti-rheumatic, anti-syphilitic, and what not?"
—Charles Millspaugh, Medicinal Plants, 1892

Actually, Native Americans considered butterfly weed a valuable medicinal herb even before Europeans ­arrived here. Unlike most other members of the milkweed genus, butterfly weed does not exhibit the characteristic milky white sap. Like them, however, it plays host to the caterpillars of the monarch butterfly. Its umbels of brilliant orange flowers are choice nectar sources for bees and butterflies. Covered with beating wings, it is one of the showiest of herbs.

The flowers are followed by long, pointed seedpods called follicles. Pick these after they have begun to split open on the plant. They will mature to a tan color.

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