Healing plants with plants (part 3)

Healing plants with plants – part three

 “The plants”

In this final article on the subject of healing plants with plants, I am going to be looking at some of the plants that can be used in natural cultivation to encourage growth, prevent disease and cure already manifested diseases in garden plants and crops.

To avoid boring you with an endless list of plants and their actions, I have concentrated on three key players in detail and then provided a table with some of the others. This is just a guideline, many plants can be used as treatments and those chosen will depend very much on where you live and what grows around you. Although a good basis and understanding of how plants defend themselves and the different possible forms of treatments is essential, I do believe that as with the form of herbalism that I practice a great deal of what to use and when depends on observation and intuition, observing and listening to both the plants that one is cultivating and the wild plants around that may be helpful allays in helping to create a garden or plot oozing with vital life force.

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There is no doubt as to which three plants take centre stage, in explaining their different actions you will quickly see why nettle (Ortica dioca), comfrey (Symphytum officnalis) and horsetail (Equisetum arvense) are the stars of the show. If you use no other plant preparations other than these three you will still have a very good basis for healthy plant cultivation. Their actions are often non-specific as they effect the general health and support the defence system of the plants in the plot or garden, in the same way, for example as spring or autumn cures for the emunctories help human beings retain well being and health or adaptogens at certain periods of life boost the organism’s ability to deal with stress and tiredness or probiotics re-sow intestinal flora for optimal intestinal health.

So lets begin with nettle, which already hasDSCN1698 star status due to all the uses man has for it and has had for thousands of years. It is also the plant preparation that most gardeners have heard of, so what is its role in the garden?

A fermented plant extract of nettle is what can be described as a phytostimulant, as we know all too well, nettle contains many minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulphate and iron as well as oligo-elments such as zinc and copper; it also contains a large quantity of protein matter. The fermentation process has proven to be the best way to extract these elements to the fullest. As in herbalism, where the minerals contained in nettles provide nutritive support for bones as well as a boost for a tired or convalescing organism, they constitute an important source of nutrition for plants. Fermented nettle extract improves photosynthesis, stimulates plant growth (especially leaf growth and through deterred action the flower buds also), allowing the plant to make more sugars. Once the fermented extract is pulverised onto the plants and soil, the micro flora in the soil transform the protein matter into nitrogen, easily accessible to the plant and vital to its growth. So no more need for chemical fertilizers to help plant crops grow, an application of fermented nettle extract (1litre of extract diluted in 10 litres of water) in spring at the beginning of the plant’s growth cycle and at the start of autumn will ensure healthy strong plants that are visibly bigger than those plants that have not profited from this treatment. This is a preventative treatment that aims to stimulate the plant’s growth and supply it with the minerals and oligo-elements that it needs to remain strong and resistant to disease. Bear in mind however that an already diseased plant needs its energy to fight off the disease; a fermented nettle treatment at this point would do no good at all as a plant cannot defend itself and grow at the same time. Treat the disease with specific plants and when the plant is cured, then is the time to stimulate its growth, not before.

The second plant in the star line up is comfrey, comfrey is rich in potassium, phosphor and calcium and can also be categorised as a phytostimulant, specifically a foliar and seedling stimulant (in this case I would recommend a litre of comfrey extract to 20 litres of water). Its unique action however and where it is very helpful is in stimulating the life of the soil, we looked at the importance of this in the first of these articles and the fact that so many soils are being literally killed by farmers and gardeners exploiting them rather than tending them. Comfrey helps to stimulate the soil’s micro-flora and reduce redox in the soil, what is redox I hear some of you ask, redox is an abbreviation of reduction–oxidation and refers to all chemical reactions in which atoms have their oxidation state changed, that is to say redox reactions involve the transfer of electrons between species (1). In terms of the soil, depending on the different pH and reductive or oxidising factors, it will be more or less suitable for sustaining life in the form of the micro flora and fauna that make up the soil itself and the plants that grow in it.

An acid and reductive environment is conducive to the construction of living matter.

An acid and oxidised environment represents a conservation zone or put in another way, has the capacity to maintain life.

An alkaline and oxidised environment represents a degradation zone.

An alkaline and reductive environment represents a zone where life is destroyed.

Comfrey helps encourage life in the soil by stimulating the micro-flora and fauna already in situ and re-balancing badly damaged and out of balance soils helping to develop an acid and reductive environment and thus a micro-climate that is unfavourable to the development of disease. It acts in very much the same way as probiotics do for human intestinal flora, encouraging the development of beneficial flora to create a healthy environment. Comfrey is very useful for cultivators that have just acquired a new plot that was formerly cultivated with the use of chemical fertilisers and weed killer, pulverising comfrey onto the land at each season change for the first few years at doses of 1litre of fermented extract for 10 litres of water will help bring life and balance back to damaged soils.

Comfrey’s soil stimulating action is also useful for the compost heap, it will help activate a compost heap in much the same way as it stimulates soil activity. Sprinkle the heap with diluted fermented extract or add comfrey leaves directly to the rest of the compost.

The last of the three musketeers is horsetail (Equisetum arvense), due to its high silica content (about 8%) it acts as a very good preventative against fungal attack in plants, an extremely common problem especially in hot, stagnant and humid conditions. As it works to prevent rather than cure, gardeners and farmers that know that they have conditions that make their plants susceptible to fungal attack are recommended to treat with a horsetail decoction regularly thorough out the growing season, starting at the beginning of spring, treating in May and then during the summer. Decoct 50gms of dried horsetail in 5 litres of water for 30 minutes or 1kg of fresh plant matter boiled in 10 litres of water for 30 minutes, after filtration the decoction should be diluted in water (10%) and pulverised onto the plants. The way I understand this action is that the silica channels light bringing it to down to the plants and helping to create a dry, luminous environment, the opposite of fungi’s preferred milieu. Its light-bringing action, which can be compared to the biodynamical preparation of pure silica, makes it also a possibility for use in corners of the garden or plot, that are lacking in sunlight or have overly rich, nitrogen filled soils and that need a manifestation of the light element. When wild-crafting horsetail, be particularly attentive to where you pick as it has a strong capacity to capture environmental pollutions.

So the above descriptions have concentrated on the major activity of each of the three plants, however as in the case so often in herbalism, due to the multi-molecular constitution of each plant they often have more than one action.

For example, both nettle and horsetail teas are also very efficient insecticides and interestingly enough their efficiency is optimised when they are used together, as it is when used to help heal broken bones and conjunctive tissue problems in humans. The salicylic acid contained in horsetail has a strong reaction with the proteins in the nettle thus strengthening their action against aphids, acarids and red spiders.

The following tables are based on the work of my colleague and teacher Eric Petiot (see references at the end of the article) and show a small selection of the possible plants for each action.

 

Phytostimulants – plants that stimulate the growth and vigour of other plants.

 

Plant Action Preparation
Burdock (Arctium lappa), leaves Gives structure and tonus to plants. Fermented plant extract – 20% dilution before treating.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) Leaf and seedling fertilizer

Compost activator

Redox reducer.

Fermented plant extract – 10% dilution.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) flowers, leaves and roots. Improves soil quality, regularises plant growth and due to its silica acid and potassium plays an important role in the synthesis of chlorophyll. Extracted plant extract, applied on plants and soil at a dose of 1 litre of extract for 5 litres of water.
Nettle (urtica dioica), whole plant Strengthens plants

Acts as a leaf fertilizer

Encourages photosynthesis

Compost activator

Fermented plant extract – 1kg fresh plant material for 10 litres of water – then a 10% dilution fro pulverising.

Fungicides – these plants act more often than not in a preventative way, plants containing sulphur such as garlic can replace sulphates and disulphates.

 

Plant Action Preparation
Garlic (Alium sativum) cloves Sulphur containing amino acids after maceration result in a specific fungicide (Diallyl sulphide) Bring a 100grams of chopped garlic bulbs to the boil and leave to infuse for an hour before applying.
Elder (Sambucus nigra) leaves. Very effective fungicide against numerous strains. Make a herbal tea with the dried leaves.
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) Arial parts of the sterile shoots Strong preventative action against fungal attacks. Decoction of 50 grams of dried horsetail in 5 litres of water for 30 minutes.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) leaves Its thujone and camphor constituents have a strong action on mildew. Herbal tea – 250gms of dried plant or 1kg of fresh plant, diluted at a ration of 5 litres of tea to 100 litres of water per acre.
Oregano (Origanum vulgaris), flowering tops. Strong fungicide due to carvacrol and thymol constituents. Herbal tea (see directions for sage)

 

Insecticide – An insecticide action relies on the concentration of one or several molecules that act on the insect’s digestive and central nervous systems. It is a good idea to use at least two or three plants from this section at a time as some have a repulsive action on certain insects and act as an insecticide on others. By using a blend of plants we have a larger sphere of action in the form of a safe insecticide synergy. It is advisable after a treatment of this sort to use a phytostimulant, once the plant has used its energy to defend itself, a phytostimulant will help it rebuild its strength. Do not forget either that the aim is not to obliterate all the predators but keep them at a reasonable number. It all looks a bit aggressive reading through the list of the actions below, please do bare in mind that these are for cases where insects have got out of hand, the main principal is to create an environment where the plants protect themselves and the ecological system sustains a healthy, vibrant area where the need for ‘killing’ anything is kept to a minimum (see healing plants with plants – part One)!

 

Plant Action Preparation
Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) Flowering tops Useful plant at the beginning of an infestation of aphids or cochineal insects. As above
Nettle (Urtica dioica) whole plant Strong mortality rate against acarids As above
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) arial parts of the sterile shoots. Act against aphids, psyllids and red spiders. Excellent combination with nettle. As above
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) leaves. Biocide action on aphids (esters and menthol) and on caterpillars through an indirect action on their reproduction. As above
Rue (Ruta graveolens) the young shoots contain the most active constituents. The young shoots are the most effective – strong action against aphids, beetles…Rue helps strengthen action of other plants so very useful in many of these blends. As above
Sage (Salvia officinalis) leaves. Action on caterpillars, fruit maggots… As above
Tansy (Tanectum vulgare) flowers. Wide insecticidal action (aphids, ants, sawflies, mites…) Herbal tea (see directions for sage)
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthum) leaves and flowers. Repulsive to moths and butterflies and many maggots. As above

Elicitors – When a plant perceives a danger linked to a predator, salicylic acid acts as a messenger, quickly circulating around the plant, this triggers the plant into synthesising defence metabolites. It is possible to accelerate this process by pulverising plants that contain salicylate derivatives. Said simply, when there is a risk of invasion (fungal, predators etc) this action will wake the plant up and get it ready to defend itself, once pulverised the acid salicylic can last up to three weeks depending on the plant. Our star of the show, nettle also has a signalling action due to the amino acids and polyamines that it contains, which are also thought to interact between the plant and the pathogen.

 

Plant Action Preparation
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) flowers. Elicitor

Protects flowers against spring frosts.

Herbal tea (be careful not to heat above 60° so as not to destroy salicylic acid)
Willow bark (Salix alba) Elicitor Decoction
Nettle (Urtica dioica) whole plant. Elicitor Fermented extract – twice per month at a dosage of 1.2litres for 120 litres of water per acre.

 

The above tables give a guideline to plants that have been tried and tested, some scientifically, others empirically, they are, however just a guideline, a base from which to begin one’s own experimentation.

Apart from the above, I have successfully used flower essences to support my plants and am currently experimenting with hydrosols. In France there has been a good deal of experimentation into the use of essential oils as plant treatments, although personally I believe that they only have a role here as “messengers” in tiny amounts as ecologically we cannot account for the quantities needed to produce essential oils.

In my past life as a farmer, I followed courses and learnt the basics of herbalism for plant cultivation but the reality of farm life and the need to react quickly to sudden developments in the life of what was a delicate crop (vines) forced us to learn on the go, using our intuition, using the wild plants that were growing alongside, communicating and relating with our plants…sensing our way. Often homeopathic doses of essential oils would do the trick, the message seemed to be enough to trigger the right defensive action from the plant. An example that springs to mind was a year where mildew was destroying all the surrounding crops and was beginning to touch ours, I had some as oregano essential oil but not much considering the surface we had to treat (12ml for 12 acres), we dispersed this in a herbal tea of oregano grown on site and lovingly pulverised our vines, and yes this was enough to halt the mildew in its tracks and secure our crop.

I am not saying that everything works every time, once again the comparison with herbalism for humans can be made, prevention is better than cure, lifestyle or the ecological environment is vital to health, there is no one solution set in stone, what may cure one person or one crop won’t necessary work for another, the relationship between healer and patient or cultivator and land is a major element towards the healing process and as we help others to heal and help our land to thrive, we too thrive and heal.

 

 

 

 

 

References

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redox

Principes de la biolelectronic – Vincent

Purin d’ortie et compagnie de Bernard Bertrand, Jean-Paul Collaert, Eric Petiot et Michel Lis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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