2012 Plant Talk 16 Year End Review and Winter Interest Too


Hello plant enthusiasts!

Happy New Year!

We made it through 2012…Chop wood, carry water, do botany... Make the most of the love in our life whatever that might be!

i have thought a lot about this class and what to include. Hard to believe the year is over already and yet i have so much it would like to share. A bit overwhelming really. i guess that just leaves more to do for this coming year! This is certainly the case in regards to the Artic, Aquatic and Desert plants. These ecosystems all represent places i have visited but have yet to fully understand. The mountain of literature to climb to present this information has been a big barrier to me in the past couple months and will apparently continue to do so for the near future. Stay tuned…


i have done my best to hand craft most of my presents for the holiday season for well over a decade. With over 40 people on the list it has kept me pretty busy over the last few weeks and even months before. Yet so many more folks i adore and wish i could ply with the crafts of yore. If you are reading this and feel like you missed out and especially if you believe in reciprocity then send a note to me and next year we shall see…

My great mentor and friend Michael Gentry and i pressed a couple hundred pounds of Scuppernong grapes (Vitis sp.) earlier last year. We primarily turned the juice into wine but i also made about a gallon of Scuppernong Jelly some of it spicy! Feels good to make use of our native grape that has a distinct and sometimes peculiar flavor. They grow  much easier here than European cultivars.

i was also inspired by my good friend and colleague Juliet Blankespoor to make truffles as part of my holiday season offerings. Her recent blog on Lavender included ideas for truffles as well as medicinal information and gorgeous photos. See link below


Juliet is currently profiling one plant per week with some detailed information, food applications and beautiful photo spreads. Do yourself a favor and check her work out if you have not already. Worth it for the aesthetic beauty alone…My truffles included three types of flavored chocolate: Lavender/Mint, Chai, and Spicy. These were then rolled in numerous toppings including Pistachios, Cranberries, Chipotle Sugar, Cinnamon Sugar, Crystalized Ginger, Sesame Seeds, Cocoa and Coconut! Can you say yum…

i was fortunate to participate in making hydrosols last year while working out west with Daniel Nicholson. Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) was the primary one i gave away though a few lucky folks received California Bay (Umbellularia californica), Spearmint (Mentha spicata) and or Mugwort (Artemisia sp.) as well. Hydrosols are a byproduct of the essential oil making process and make great air fresheners as well as being useful for aromatherapy.

i look forward every year to the Warren Wilson College (WWC) holiday sale. Items are featured from a number of campus work crews including Pottery crew, Herb crew, Wellness crew, Blacksmithing crew, Recycling crew, Textile crew and the Fine Woodworking crew! This is the place that i tend to pick up Salves, Tea, and Lip Balm for holiday presents especially because they are kind enough to give me a crew discount! Some salves made by the Herb crew include Arnica, Wonder Balm, and Hard Working Hands. Teas include Mints of the Mountains, Gypsy Cold and Flu, Focus the Mind, Deep Nourishing, Sunshine and Deep Dreams. They also offer numerous soaps and sea salt scrubs. Some miscellaneous products include Sea Salt Hair Spray, Handmade Dream Pillows, garden grown Loofahs (Luffa aegyptiaca) and the interesting Queen of Hungary Toner. All great ideas for you herbal crafters out there.

Dried flowers also make great presents this time of year and my sweetie’s mom Elaine was the lucky recipient of a bouquet in a WWC made vase. Plants included were Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia sp.) heads, River Oats (Uniola sp.), Field Penny Cress (Thlaspi sp.) and Statice (Limonium sp.).

Brew Report

My sweetie Shannon’s birthday is on 10/5 the same as my maternal grandmother. i decided to make a mead for her special day and it consisted of Asian Pear cider also pressed with Michael Gentry which was wild fermented for over a week and then paired with EC-1118 culture. We bottled on the winter solstice along with the mead made for the Hostel in the Forest Ethnobotany Intensive started a day later.

Since 5/5/5 the trinumeral has offered an opportunity to brew a special mead. Last year was the last trinumeral of most of our lifetimes as the next one will not come until January 1st 2101! Therefore I decided to go all out for the 12/12/12 mead. It  includes 12 ingredients, four fruits, four leaves and four roots, each from a different special locale and 12 types of honey! I am envisioning adding 12 more ingredients in tea form to the secondary to round out the numerology. i and my former agriculture professor from WWC racked it on 1/3/13 to keep the number connection flowing. Oh what fun rhythms of life here in Asheville we are recognizing, honoring and knowing.

The Solstices and Equinoxes are current classic dates to brew as well. For this past Winter Solstice i decided to brew an Adaptogenic Mead which includes Roseroot Stonecrop (Rhodiola rosea), He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum), Licorice (Glycyrriza sp.) and Shizandra (Shisandra chinensis). On New Years day i added in a concentrated tea of  Holy Basil (Ocimum sp.) and Ashwaganda (Withania somniferum). Adaptogens are purported to be some of the most powerful tonic medicinal plants  in the world! David Winston (2011) has a whole book on them.

            Local liqueurs from places visited kept my attention a lot last year. Some favorites include one made all with ingredients from a visit to my 50th state Alaska and another was crafted at the home of famous ethnobotanist Jim Duke. The Alaska one contains Spruce (Picea sp.) tips, Mugwort (Artemisia sp.) leaves, Cranberries (Vaccinium sp.) Manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.) fruits Willow (Salix sp.) leaves and Labrador Tea (Ledum sp.) leaves. Giving great thanks to my friend Rob Routhieaux for making the Alaska trip possible for me! Love you Robbie!!! The one from Jim Duke’s contains many plants from his garden including  Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var purpurescens), Burdock (Arctium sp.) root, Yellow Dock (Rumex obtusifolius) root, Bai Zhi (Angelica dahurica) seed, Tulsi-Holy Basil (Ocimum sp.), Bugleweed (Lycopus virginicum) leaves, Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) leaves, Anise Hyssop (Agastache sp.), Yellow Root (Xanthorhiza simplicissima), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Spearmint (Menta spicata) and finally Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) from the home of his head gardener Helen Metzman. i also started another one on the Winter Solstice as well with a mix of plants from Jeckyll Island, GA to Jim Duke’s in MD all the way out to numerous special places in the great land of California and several adaptogens from the French Broad Food Coop in Asheville.

Winter Interest

            A number of categories can provide interest in the winter. Seed heads provide the opportunity for everlasting flowers and also may serve to attract birds. This is especially the case with Asteraceae members who are beloved by the Goldfinches and others.

            Contorted forms really shine this time of year as well. Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick is a type of Filbert (Corylus avellana var. contorta) used to great effect. Many deciduous trees also have weeping forms including Cherry (Prunus spp.), Willow (Salix), Beech (Fagus), and Birch (Betula).

            Several woody plants have very showy bark which really stands out in the winter. Types of Dogwoods (Cornus spp.) and members from the Tea family (Theaceae) are exceptional in this regard. Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), Hawthorn (Crataegus) and Elm (Ulmus) are some other examples. The winter is a good time to pay attention to the bark of trees in general. If you can learn a tree by its bark and wood then identification even when cut for lumber or fire wood is possible. It is amazing how different woods burn heat and duration wise (Vivian, 1976). Therefore, this may be a good skill to have if you depend on a stove to keep warm!

            Several shrubs and small trees keep many of their showy fruits for much of the winter including Hollies (Ilex spp.), Rowan tree (Sorbus spp.), Beauty Berry (Callicarpa spp.), Hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) Sumac (Rhus spp.) and Viburnums (Viburnum spp.). These fruits may also serve to bring in birds as well as providing their own aesthetic beauty.

Winter Botanical Activities

This is the time when the seed catalogs start rolling in. My itinerant nature of the last two and a half years has led to less interest in pouring over the options offered by a large array of companies. Some of my favorites for our area include Fedco, Johnny’s, Southern Exposure, and Sow True Seeds. Others that are great in general and especially for the west coast of the US include Peaceful Valley Farm Supply and Territorial seeds. Seed Saver’s Exchange is a great place to focus on Heirlooms. The work of my dear friend and colleague Jim Veteto (2011; 2008; 2009; 2005, 2010)  is essential reading for anybody interested in such things. Much of this can be found online especially through academic library computer databases. His organization Southern Seed Legacy is another great resource as well http://anthropology.unt.edu/anthatunt-ssl.php . Of course, a number of other books have been written on the subject as well (Male, 1999; Watson, 1996; Weaver, 1997).

Cutting back perennials and pruning fruit trees are two other activities for this time of year. i am in fact going to a new property purchased by Jim and his family on Monday to work on pruning around 60 trees they have there. i will also soon be going up to the orchard at Warren Wilson that i helped renovate in 2003 as a senior project to do some pruning. Let me know if you are in the area and interested in joining us.

The practice of winter botanizing can be a humbling yet invigorating experience too. In the crisp days we have now getting outside can be stimulating all by itself. Pair that with looking at buds, leaf scars, vascular bundle scars, bark patterns, left over fruits and you have a regularly raucous good time! ;-) A small cadre of folks have gathered for over 5 years around this season to try and wrap our minds around such obscure characteristics and their corresponding dichotomous keys. If you are interested feel free to contact me! Also see a handout adapted from 7 Song under the resources section of the site here www.botanyeveryday.com/resources .

Year End Review

This year’s classes were challenging for me to implement and keep up with for a number of reasons. The biggest issue was the mind bending logistics of freelance botany work with over 50 different organizations and how much time that takes. Beyond that the loss of my computer back in May really put a crimp in my style. Add to that the many glitches with the back end website interface and multiple iterations of software which has been sometimes demoralizing for me. Hopefully, we are good to go now in that regard! Another major development in my life is the presence of a serious committed relationship for the first time in over a decade. No longer am i able or willing to dedicate countless hours of obsessive research, editing and web working. i am trying hard to balance my priorities amongst so many different entities. i hope to have less obligations work wise and focus on far fewer outlets professionally next year. The lack of input and commentary from folks here has also lessened my desire to spend hundreds of hours per year with minimal compensation in this venue. However, the main focus of this class is not feedback and money but to continue Frank Cook’s work and have an online resource ready and waiting for anybody to delve deeply into the subject matter presented here. To that end i resolve to continue to refine what is already available and offer even more next year. What are your resolutions for the next year in regards to botany? i’d love it if you wanted to share them with me! Let’s support each other and keep strong mutually…

Next Year

Classes will again start earlier in order to fit in more subject matter. The number of classes and amount of content has already been vastly extended from Frank Cook’s original offering. Nonetheless, there is so much more i would love to do. However, it is humbling how much work goes into bringing these classes to you! Your support especially financially and commentarialy will greatly help make such things possible and motivate me! A big goal for next year is to try and have a photo album for each class. The photo albums up on Facebook already have  taken a looooonnnngggg time to do! Four to five hours each in finding photos, uploading and captioning plus an equal amount of time for text is not unusual. New class offerings planned include Phytochemistry, European ethnobotany, South American ethnobotany, Artic botany, Desert botany and Wetland botany.

i have been asked by Thomas Elpel to help edit the next version of our textbook Botany In a Day. This is very exciting as the most recent edition came out in  2004 and is in need of revision due to all the current significant changes in taxonomy (Chase & Reveal, 2009; Heywood, Brummitt, Culham, & Seberg, 2007; Judd, Campbell, Kellog, Stevens, & Donahue, 2008; Raven, Evert, & Eichhorn, 2004; Spears, 2006).

i would love to have up to a total of 50 monographs for the plant families tab of the site as well. However, it will take me probably 30 hours of solid work to do this and some financial support to allow the time availability would be greatly appreciated. That said, i will plug away this winter one way or another.

Lastly, i am excited at the prospect of bringing a blog component online next year. The idea is that the classes will then focus purely on the subject matter of the title. The blog will be the place for current events such as what’s blooming, upcoming classes, brew reports and other such messages from the field.

i can’t thank enough all the people who have helped bring this project to fruition over the last three years. It feels very good that some of Frank Cook’s work lives on in me and by extension in thee. A few select people have allowed me to travel and pay my web designer in particular.

May all reading this have a safe, happy and abundant new year with a knowledge of our dependence on the botanical arts remaining manifestly clear.

Cheers, marc


Male, C. J. (1999). Smith & Hawken: 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden. Workman Publishing Company.

Veteto, J. (2008). The History and Survival of Traditional Heirloom Vegetable Varieties in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina. Agriculture and Human Values, 25(1), 121–134. doi:10.1007/s10460-007-9097-6

Veteto, J., Nabhan, G. P., Fitzsimons, R., Routson, K., & Walker, D. (Eds.). (2011). Place-Based Foods of Appalachia: From Rarity to Community Restoration and Market Recovery. Renewing America’s Food Traditions. Retrieved from www.raftalliance.org

Veteto, James R., & Skarbø, K. (2009). Sowing the Seeds: Anthropological Contributions to Agrobiodiversity Studies. Culture & Agriculture, 31(2), 73–87. doi:10.1111/j.1556-486X.2009.01022.x

Veteto, James Robert. (2005). The History and Survival of Traditional Heirloom Vegetable Varieties and Strategies for the Conservation of Crop Biodiversity in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina: A Thesis. Appalachian State University.

Veteto, James Robert. (2010, May). Seeds of persistence. Dissertation. Retrieved December 18, 2012, from http://ugakr-maint.libs.uga.edu/handle/123456789/8101?show=full

Vivian, J. (1976). Wood Heat. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press Inc.

Watson, B. (1996). Taylor’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables: A Complete Guide to the Best Historic and Ethnic Varieties. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Weaver, W. W. (1997). Heirloom Vegetable Gardening; a Master Gardener’s Guide to Planting, Growing, Seed Saving, and Cultural History. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Winston, D. (2011). David Winston, Herbalist AHG. Retrieved October 15, 2011, from http://www.herbaltherapeutics.net/


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