Not All Wild Mushrooms Should Be Eaten

The title should go without saying, but it is amazing what some people will eat. There are many wonderful tasting wild mushrooms in the world and there are relatively few deadly ones. However, even discounting the deadly mushrooms, not all mushrooms are truly suitable for eating, even when they are in some cultures. Such is the case of a mushroom with the scientific name of Amanita muscaria. This mushroom, also known as fly agaric, is quite common in forested areas of the temperate northern hemisphere, both in the old world and in the new world. It has also been introduced to some areas in the southern hemisphere, including South America, Africa and Australia. Images and depictions of this mushroom are also probably the most used in folk tales, fairy tales and the like. This is the classic “toadstool”, though it has little to do with toads and it is unlikely that toads use these mushrooms to sit upon except in artist depictions. Muscaria is classed as a poisonous mushroom, though it isn’t considered a deadly one and poisoning from this kind of mushroom is rare. This is partly due to the fact that cooking this mushroom destroys much of the toxins it contains. However, it is a hallucinogenic mushroom and some cultures have used it in religious ceremonies. The hallucinogenic substance it contains is muscimol, which also breaks down as it is heated. Fly agaric is easily recognizable. The cap ranges from red to orange, brown, yellow or pink and Continue Reading →


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Food and Medicinal Value of Sarsaparilla

Sarsaparilla is a plant that was used at one time to make a very popular non-alcoholic drink, particularly in the southern United States. The part of the plant that was normally used was the root. This was added to sugar and water, with the beverage being bottled and capped before full fermentation could take place. Since it was the root that was used and the process for making it wasn’t dissimilar to making beer, the drink was dubbed “root beer”. Modern day rootbeer is often made using flavorings, however ‘old fashioned rootbeer’ is still sometimes made with sarsaparilla roots. It is from this that most people are acquainted with sarsaparilla, though perhaps not the plant itself. It should be noted that the reference to sarsaparilla is being used here for the plant with a scientific name of Smilax ornata and closely related plants (Smilax aristolochiifolia, Smilax febrifuga, Smilax regelii and Smilax officinalis). This distinction is important because another plant that is commonly called wild sarsaparilla is Aralia nudicaulis. This is an entirely different genus. Although the flavor is quite similar to sarsaparilla and many of the uses are the same, wild sarsaparilla is an unrelated plant of the ginseng family. True sarsaparilla is a member of the lily family. Additionally, wild sarsaparilla is native to the northern US and Canada while true sarsparilla (alternate spelling; sarsparilla) is tropical to semi-tropical. Sarsaparilla is a perennial vine that is native to Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. The vines have Continue Reading →


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The Interesting Allium Family

A lot of people might not recognize the name; Allium. This is a family of well over 750 species and people are more apt to recognize just a few members of the family. For instance, most people probably know what onions, garlic, chives, leek and shallots are. These are all alliums and this is the onion family. What fewer people know is that many alliums can be grown as decorative ornamental plants. Some of them are quite gorgeous and many are unusual. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has grown garlic chives, which have lovely deep purple early spring blossoms. Many people grow chives in their flowerbeds because of the pretty flowers, in fact. However, many alliums are even more showy. A great example is Schubert allium (Allium schubertii). This plant normally grows less than two feet tall, but it has huge flowers that have a form that rather reminds a person of a fourth of July display of fireworks. Sometimes called the tumbleweed onion, this plant grows from a bulb and it is quite drought resistant. In fact, it prefers dry soil and doesn’t do well in damp areas. The bulbs can be separated yearly and it also seeds itself if the flowers aren’t dead-headed. The flower is usually pinkish purple, though cultivars have been developed that have different colored flowers. This one flowers in the late spring. Another showy allium is Allium aflatunense, usually called Purple Sensation. This species is from Asia and it Continue Reading →


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How to Grow Big Cabbages

Cabbage is a vegetable that is eaten around the world, in many dishes. It isn’t particularly difficult to grow, however, if you want the biggest heads of cabbage that you can get, there are some gardening tips that can help you along. Choosing a cultivar Not all cabbages are types that grow large heads. This should be obvious to people who buy cabbage in the store, where the heads are rarely over nine inches in diameter. Thus, if you want to have large heads of cabbage, the first step is to select cultivars that are likely to produce the largest heads. It is difficult to recommend specific kinds of cabbage since different plant nurseries are likely to use their own general name. However, many will have ‘giant’, ‘mammoth’ or similar descriptive words in the name. Start with seedlings Cabbage seeds can be directly sowed into the garden. However, for the largest heads, it is worthwhile to start with healthy seedlings. Brassica plants, the cabbage family that includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, kale, and collards, are among the vegetables that don’t mind being transplanted. Starting the plants as seedlings can give them an early boost and since cabbage is a cold-hardy plant, they can be among the first to go into the garden. Soil preparation The soil should be prepared to a depth of about two feet. The root structure of cabbage normally only reaches about a foot, however by preparing the soil to twice this depth, you allow for Continue Reading →


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How to Prevent Mint From Spreading and Taking Over

Peppermint, spearmint, lemon mint (lemon balm), chocolate mint, horse mint, catmint and similar kinds of mint are easy to grow and are very good aromatic additions to the garden or flowerbeds. They do have a drawback, however. Mints tend to be invasive. If steps aren’t taken to prevent it from happening, mint can take over the flowerbed or¬†garden. These plants can be grown in pots, however there is also a way to keep it from spreading out and taking over when it is planted outside. Perhaps no mint is better known for its propensity to spread than peppermint. However, all members of the mint family will spread if the conditions are right. Some species, such as sage, thyme, basil and anise sage spread primarily by seeding themselves. To keep these from spreading, simply remove the blossoms before the seeds have a chance to form. Peppermint, spearmint, lemon mint, catmint and others spread primarily in a different way, however. We’ll use peppermint as a representative example. Mint rhizomes As a peppermint plant grows, it begins to put out underground rhizomes. These roots are usually one to three inches deep and run generally parallel to the surface. They can also grow over two feet in length. From the rhizome, new plants can emerge periodically and once they break the surface, they become self-sufficient plants, which can in turn produce more rhizomes. Many people with lawns are aware of this principle because this is exactly how crab-grass spreads. The rhizomes are actually a Continue Reading →


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How to Plant a Robust Chard Crop from Seed

Swiss chard is a vegetable that isn’t hard to grow and to many people, the leaves are superior to spinach in flavor. Chard is also higher in minerals and vitamins than spinach. This is also true of beet root, because beets and chard are the same species of plant; Beta vulgaris. Chard is quite high in vitamins K, A, E and C and is a very good source of magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, iron and calcium. It is high in fiber, as well. It is great for dieters, too. A cup of boiled chard contains only 35 calories. Here is how you can have a robust chard crop, starting with seeds. Getting started Chard is considered to be a cool weather crop, but don’t let this fool you. This vegetable is frost hardy, however it tolerates hot weather, as long as it gets plenty of water and the soil drains well. Chard will even grow in partial shade, although it loves sunshine. In fact, in summertime heat, it does well if it is shaded from the afternoon sun. For instance, it can be planted on the east side of taller vegetables, such as corn or zucchini. By the time the corn or zucchini is tall enough, the heat of the summer becomes an issue and those plants give the chard a sun screen against the afternoon sun. When to plant chard Since chard is frost tolerant, the seeds can be planted two or three weeks before the last frost. There Continue Reading →


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Tricks to Planting a Successful Leaf Lettuce Crop

Leaf lettuce isn’t a difficult vegetable to grow, by any means. However, for the best results, there are some tricks that can be used to plant the lettuce. These aren’t particularly difficult, but they do seem to be almost counter-intuitive, so many people don’t know about them. Light The biggest tip is probably that for lettuce seeds to germinate, they need sunlight as well as water. With most vegetables, the seeds are planted a quarter of an inch to a half an inch deep and sometimes deeper. However, this doesn’t work very well with leaf lettuce. The method that yields great results is to prepare the row for the lettuce, then moisten the row well. Lay down the lettuce seeds, press them firmly into the dampened soil, then water them well, using a fine mist so the seeds don’t get washed away. Clear plastic, such as the plastic wrap used in the kitchen, can be laid down over the top of the seeds to retain moisture while also letting the sunlight through. This isn’t necessary though, as long as the seeds are kept quite moist until they germinate. If the conditions and temperatures are right, germination usually takes place within two days, provided that the seeds are reasonably fresh. (Lettuce seed starts losing its viability in a year or so.) Temperature Lettuce is a cool-weather crop and grows best when the temperatures are 55 F to 65 F. Despite this, the best germination of the seed occurs when the temperatures Continue Reading →


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Successfully Growing Carrots in the Home Garden

Carrots can and should be part of a healthy diet and they can be used in many dishes; from salad to stew. This is a vegetable that is also quite easy to grow in a home garden and most varieties grow well in cool climates. If you know how to grow carrots, you will most likely be successful with a minimum of effort. Knowing how to grow them also isn’t very hard to learn. This humble vegetable can be traced back to its origins in Afghanistan, though it has been grown in home gardens throughout Europe and the world starting about 600 years ago. Soil Like many root crops, carrots grow best in loose soil that doesn’t compact easily, but which drains easily. If your dirt is clay, it should be amended by tilling in a large¬†quantity of finished compost and/or well-rotted manure. This gives the carrots plenty of food during growth while also improving the tilth of the ground. Sunlight Carrots are sun-loving plants. However, they struggle when temperatures get high. If you have summers that get extremely hot, it can be helpful to these plants if they are furnished with some shade late in the afternoon and evening, when temperatures tend to be at their highest and the sun is the most intense. This can often be accomplished by planting heat-loving plants that grow taller than carrots, on the west side of the row of carrots. The taller plants function as a sun break against the afternoon and Continue Reading →


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