Sunday, March 30, 2014

Preventing Scurvy with Watercress

" 'What are you doing, Mr. Fraser?' Grey asked, in some bewilderment.
Fraser looked up, mildly surprised, but not embarrassed in the slightest.  'I am picking watercress, Major.'
'I see that,' Grey said testily. 'What for?'
'To eat, Major,' Fraser replied evenly. He took the stained cloth bag from his belt and dropped the dripping green mass into it...
'I only meant, Major, that eating green plants will stop ye getting scurvy and loose teeth. My men eat such greens as I take them, and cress is better-tasting than most things I can pick on the moor.'
Grey felt his brows shoot up. 'Green plants stop scurvy?' he blurted. 'Wherever did you get that notion?'
'From my wife!' Fraser snapped." -- From  "Voyager," by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 9

Ah, the benefits of having a time-traveling spouse to bring helpful knowledge from the future into one's present. We all should be so fortunate!

For myself, I have to say that I am glad to live in a time and place where I can choose other foods to meet my dietary needs. I could eat watercress if necessary to survive, but its strong, peppery, radish-like flavor assures that, outside of buying a bunch to take the photo at the top of this page, I won't be adding it to my shopping list again any time soon. 


Botanical Information

Family: Brassicaceae
Genus: Nasturtium
Species: Nasturtium officiale


A member of the Brassicaceae family, watercress is related to cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. In spite of its genus name, Nasturium, it is not closely related to the flower of that name.


Origin

Watercress is native to Europe and Asia. True to its common name, it is semi-aquatic and can be found growing in and along the edge of water.


Nutritional Value

Claire was right. In the late 16th century, the English military surgeon, John Woodall, recommended eating it for the prevention of scurvy. 

Native Americans apparently understood the value of eating their greens and used watercress as a vegetable in winter. According to A Druid's Herbalthey kept track of the location of watercress beds so that when streams were covered with ice, they knew where to break through and find these vitamin-rich plants.

Today, the humble watercress plant has its own website, where you can read more about how it is proving useful in the prevention and treatment of cancer, among other things. It is rich in nutrients like Vitamins A and C (C protects against scurvy), folate, iron and potassium.

Cultivation

Some people consider watercress to be a weed and therefore unworthy of cultivation. 

Those who do produce it commercially have to find either a slightly alkaline fresh water environment for growing it or grow it hydroponically. 

Watercress is a plant that needs to be consumed fresh. It can only last a couple of days in refrigerated storage. 

If you would like to try growing your own watercress, heirloom seeds are available at Botanical Interests.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Strawberries and The Clan Fraser

"As with many of the ancient families, scribblers down through the centuries have been ever ready to establish invented or speculative origins for the Frasers. Some have stated categorically that the Scottish Frasers have derived their name from La Fresiliere in Anjou, France, while others have insisted that the name was accorded on a hot summer day when the King of France, thirsty from a day of hunting, was presented with a plate of succulent strawberries by one of his companions, who was immediately awarded with a coat of arms bearing three fraises and the command to take the name of Fraser as a surname." --  "The Outlandish Companion" by Diana Gabaldon, page 208
Of these possibilities, I believe the first one sounds most likely. However, a different, and perhaps more plausible, version of the strawberry story can be found on the Frizelle Family Tree website. However the name was derived, it isn't much of a stretch to see a similarity between the name Fraser and the French word for strawberry, "fraise." And a quick internet search for "Fraser coat of arms," will bring up numerous images that contain five-petaled strawberry flowers.

In Drums of Autumn, Jamie tells Claire this story, "Strawberries ha' always been the emblem of the clan - it's what the name meant, to start with, when a Monsieur Fresiliere came across from France wi' King William that was - and took hold of land in the Scottish mountains for his trouble."


Botanical Information

Family: Rosaceae
Genus: Fragaria
Species: F. x ananassa cultivars are grown for their fruit;
F. chiloensis (beach strawberry) F. 'Lipstick',  F. 'Pink Panda' and F. vesca (alpine strawberry) are primarily ornamental, used as ground cover.

Strawberries are not true berries; botanically speaking, they are aggregate accessory fruits.


Origin

From Wikipedia:
"The garden strawberry was first bred in Brittany, France, in the 1750s via a cross of Fragaria virginiana from eastern North America and Fragaria chiloensis, which was brought from Chile by Amedee-Francois Frezier in 1714. Cultivars of Fragaria x ananassa have replaced, in commercial production, the woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca), which was the first strawberry species cultivated in the early 17th century."
Once I read this, I had to find out the origins of M. Frezier's name and sure enough, there's a strawberry connection! (And a little different version of the Fraser family history than the one Jamie told Claire). Amedee-Francois Frezier was not a plantsman, he was a military officer, with education in mathematics, architecture and engineering. In the course of his military career, he was an explorer and a spy. He had a life of intrigue and adventure - but he is best known for bringing 5 strawberry plants from South America to France. Perhaps with a name like Frezier, that was his destiny.

Cultivation


Strawberries like well drained, yet evenly moist, slightly acidic soil.

If you plan to grow F. x ananassa varieties, buy bare root plants in early spring. If you have sandy soil and good drainage, install plants in level rows. If the drainage is not good, mound the planting rows and plant the strawberries on top - the reason for this is that the plants are susceptible to crown rot if they get too wet.

Fertilize June-bearing plants twice a season. First when new growth appears in spring and then after harvest to help the plant renew itself. Everbearing varieties appreciate light feeding throughout their growth and production cycles.

Renew your strawberry beds by cultivating the runners that are produced each year. Let those new plants replace the older ones, which should be removed after the third season. Like most plants, strawberries will not produce well if they are too crowded.

If you are interested in planting the ground cover varieties, you will find that they do well in sandy soils. They don't need a lot of care if they are happy.

Enjoy your strawberries. I know that from now on, when you see these luscious bright red fruits, you will think of our favorite red-headed hero, Jamie Fraser.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Guide to the Plants in the Outlander Series

I'm not sure why this idea didn't occur to me before now. I have been a fan of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series of books for years. I feel as though I know Claire, Jamie and the array of characters I've met by reading thousands of pages about their lives and adventures. I particularly identify with Claire because I was once a young nursing student, working in various hospitals and nursing homes, until I decided on a different career. All these years later, I still have an avid interest in anatomy, physiology and healing.

I have also had a life-long fascination with plants. I have been a gardener since my early 20s. I went back to school for a degree in environmental horticulture and landscape design in midlife. And I have always been interested in herbal remedies. No one in my family gives a hoot about these things and I wondered why they were so important to me, until I started doing some genealogy. I found out that my 4th great-grandmother was a midwife and what was called a "yarb woman" - yarb being an old pronunciation of the word "herb." She was the woman that folks in her area called on when a baby was ready to be born or someone was sick.

Perhaps my affinity for botanical medicine has been, in its own way, a sort of time traveler, passing through the genes, through the generations, from Grandma Maggie to me. 

I have been a writer, both professionally and as a blogger for many years. (My other blogs are Where I Am Now and Seattle Garden Ideas.) It is only natural for me to write about the plants found in the Outlander books, but these posts don't seem to fit the websites I already have. So it makes sense to create this separate blog and give these posts their own home. 

My intention for this blog is that it be a companion for readers of the Outlander series who also have an interest in plants and gardening. I know that when I see the name of a plant I am not familiar with or that I can't remember much about, I want to know more. Sometimes I wonder if that plant will grow in my part of the country. Or if it is related to a plant I think is similar. If the plant has a place in traditional medicine, I would like to know about that. I am also entertained by bits of folklore that surround these trees, shrubs and flowers. I don't plan to write only about plants with medicinal uses, although there will be quite a few of those I am sure. 

As the list of posts grow, I hope you will find something of interest and answers to some of your questions.