As plant lovers and free spirits, Edith and Elizabeth may have come across some exotic specimens during their world travels. Who knows…they may have encountered Betel nuts (Areca catechu) in the Philippines, Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensiss) in Argentina, or Cantueso (Thymus moroderi) in Spain?
If Edith and Elizabeth were to stroll through the Gaiety Hollow Garden today, what plants might pique their interest? How about these?
Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum)
P. somniferum is a valuable ornamental plant, grown in gardens. It is also the species from which both opium and poppy seeds are derived.
The earliest reference to opium poppy cultivation and use is in 3,400 B.C. when the opium poppy was referred to as the “joy plant.” Over time, its cultivation spread along the Silk Road, from the Mediterranean through Asia and finally to China where it was the catalyst for the Opium Wars of the mid-1800s. Today, opium poppies are grown mainly by poor farmers on small plots in remote regions of the world. These farmers collect and sell the opium resin to dealers in local markets.
Ross Sutherland with the Bush House Museum recently brought some young students to tour the Gaiety Hollow Garden. The students were intrigued with the dried poppy seed heads and the tiny black seeds that fell out when shaken. This led to an interesting discussion about poppy seed muffins, can we eat these, where do you buy them, etc.
Most poppy seeds used for food come from the opium poppy. Although these seeds do have opium content, the amount used for cooking purposes is extremely small. P. somniferum can be grown legally in the United States as a seed crop or ornamental flower. However, possession of poppy seeds and cultivation of the plant are banned in Singapore, UAE, Korea, and Saudi Arabia. In the UAE, at least one man has been imprisoned for possessing poppy seeds obtained from a bread roll.
Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris)
Nicotiana sylvestris, commonly called flowering tobacco, is grown for its strong scent that attracts hummingbirds by day and hawk moths by night. Unlike its more well-known relative N. tabacum, the species commercially grown for smoking tobacco, this ornamental tobacco has showy flowers with smaller leaves. N. sylvestris was introduced from Argentina in 1899 and was popular in Victorian flower gardens. Today it is used as a tall background flower in mixed borders. N. sylvestris, the largest of over 72 species of the genus, is difficult to find as a young plant but easy to grow from seed.
As an ornamental, N. sylvestris has a strong family resemblance to N. tabacum used in cigarettes. Because of this, some brave, resourceful souls have tried to air dry and smoke its leaves. Here’s what several experimenters have to say
“I wouldn’t bother with Nicotinia sylvestris as smoking material. It certainly won’t make a decent cigar. If it doesn’t make you ill, it will surely taste awful.”
“I grew some Sylvestris two years ago, the plants and the flowers smelled really good in the garden (sweet floral/fruity smell), but the leaves are so thin that all the leaves I tried to air cure ended flash green dry, and they did not smell as good once dry. I did try to smoke some (I tried the less ugly ones), the taste and aroma were not as good as the tabacum species I tried.”
So there you have it.
Concord Grape (Vitis labrusca ‘Concord’)
‘Concord’ is the most popular grape sold in the US with most of the vineyards in Washington and New York. The cultivar was developed by Ephraim Bull of Concord Massachusetts from wild Vitis labrusca vines. It was introduced in 1843 and remains the standard of excellence for blue-black American grapes. The flowers of this woody, deciduous, climbing vine are attractive to bees and the ripe fruit is attractive to hornets and wasps.
‘Concord’ is an excellent grape for juices, wine, jams, and jellies. The traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich is made with Concord grape jelly. Its dark colored juice is served at communion services in churches as a non-alcoholic alternative to wine.
Because ‘Concord’ lacks the high amount of natural sugar found in pure Vinifera varieties, its juice is always reinforced with added sugar when making wine. Rumor has it that Edith and Elizabeth used this recipe to make their Homemade Dry Concord Grape Wine.
1 gallon water
10 lbs Concord grapes
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
1 package wine yeast
Bring water and sugar to boil in a large pot. Separate grapes from stems and place in primary fermentation container. Crush grapes and pour water into container. Let cool until room temperature. Stir in yeast nutrient and yeast. Cover and let sit for 1 day. Ferment for 3 weeks stirring once a day. Strain through mesh bag into secondary fermentation container. Let rest for 1 month. Rack and let sit for 2 months. Rack into bottles and let rest for at least 9 months before serving.
Below: Edith, Elizabeth, and friend at their Seal Rock cottage enjoying the fruits of their labor.
Happy Labor Day to you.