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Secrets of the Garden: 5 Mysterious Plants

| 7/28/2011 11:20:15 AM

B.WhiteBriscoe White is owner and master grower at The Growers Exchange, an all-natural online garden center that specializes in rare and traditional herbs for culinary, aromatic and medicinal use. He has been in business for over twenty years. Member of many garden and nature-related organizations including the Garden Writers Association, when not tending his greenhouse or writing for his blog, Briscoe’s Seeds For Thought, he spends what little free time he has planning his next garden and playing with his dogs on his family farm in Charles City, Virginia. 

For centuries, humans have used herbs for almost every application under the sun. We think that we know our herbs, and exactly what they do. For example, we all know aloe vera as a pain reliever, patchouli for its scent, and oregano to bring out the flavor of meats, soups and stews. However, there are also those mystery herbs, like foxglove, which can trigger fatal heart arrhythmias, or ashwaganda, the sexual stimulant known as “Indian Ginseng.” Even some plain, ordinary, everyday herbs have a peculiar use or story tied to them like, basil used to symbolize that a young woman was available, or thyme which was used to keep away bad dreams. Here are five of the weirdest herbs we’ve found that might be hiding in a garden near you.

#5 Stevia 

Stevia is a natural no calorie sweeter, which has made it a boon to diabetics, while becoming a bane to big business. Stevia makes the list of weird herbs not because of any strange properties or back story, but because artificial sweetener companies convinced the Food & Drug Administration to ban importing the plant for years. Since you can’t patent a naturally occurring plant, big business didn’t like the idea of some herb horning in on their territory. Even after the ban was lifted, the plant was classified as safe for use as a dietary supplement, not a food additive. It wasn’t until 2008 that the FDA granted approval for use of the product as a food additive in a derivative form, used in products such as Truvia and PureVia. 

7-28-11-woad#4 Woad 

Woad contains precious chemicals that have been used to treat measles, mumps, meningitis and even prevent cancer. It also contains a compound called indigotin, which is a natural source of blue dye. Woad has been used in cave drawings found in France by Ancient Egyptians to dye cloth used to wrap mummies, and infamously by Pict tribes in the British Isles to tattoo their bodies and paint faces; think Braveheart, not the fairground. Some even say the herb is magical and can be used to shape shift. Today, woad is still used to as a dye for garments, and offers a biodegradable alternative ink for inkjet printers.

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