Herbs & Plants

Dwarf Birch (Betula nana )

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Botanical Name :Betula nana
Family : Betulaceae
Genus : Betula
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Fagales
Suenusbg: Chamaebetula
Species: B. nana
Synonyms: Betula exilis; Betula glandulosa; Betula glandulosa var. hallii; Betula glandulosa var. sibirica; Betula michauxii; Betula nana ssp. exilis; Betula nana var. sibirica; Betula terrae-novae Fern.
Other Names: : Bog birch; Scrub birch; Dwarf birch
Habitat : B. nana is native to arctic and cool temperate regions of northern Europe, including Britain, east to Siberia, northern Asia and northern North America and it will grow in a variety of conditions.It can be found in Greenland. Outside of far northern areas, it is usually found only growing in mountains above 300 m, up to 835 m in Scotland and 2200 m in the Alps. Its eastern range limit is on Svalbard, where it is confined to warm sites.

It is a decidious shrub growing to 1-1.2 m high. The bark is non-peeling and shiny red-copper colored. The leaves are rounded, 6-20 mm diameter, with a bluntly toothed margin. The fruiting catkins are erect, 5-15 mm long and 4-10 mm broad.
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It is hardy to zone 2 and is frost tender. It is in flower in May, and the seeds ripen in July. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Wind.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, requires well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

There are two subspecies:-

1.Betula nana subsp. nana. Canada (Baffin Island), Greenland, northern Europe (south to the Alps at high altitudes), northwestern Asia. Young twigs hairy, but without resin; leaves longer (to 20 mm), usually as long as broad.

2.Betula nana subsp. exilis
. Northeastern Asia, northern North America (Alaska, Canada east to Nunavut). Young twigs hairless or only with scattered hairs, but coated in resin; leaves shorter (not over 12 mm long), often broader than long.


Succeeds in a well-drained loamy soil in a sheltered position. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Grows well in moist places or the heath garden. Shade tolerant. This species is native to areas with very cold winters and often does not do well in milder zones. It can be excited into premature growth in mild winters and this new growth is susceptible to frost damage. Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus. Trees are notably susceptible to honey fungus.


Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a light position in a cold frame. Only just cover the seed and place the pot in a sunny position. Spring sown seed should be surface sown in a sunny position in a cold frame. If the germination is poor, raising the temperature by covering the seed with glass can help. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. If you have sufficient seed, it can be sown in an outdoor seedbed, either as soon as it is ripe or in the early spring – do not cover the spring sown seed. Grow the plants on in the seedbed for 2 years before planting them out into their permanent positions in the winter.

Edible Uses:
Edible Parts: Flowers; Leaves.

Edible Uses: Condiment.

Young leaves and catkins – raw. The buds and twigs are used as a flavouring in stews.

Medicinal  Actions & Uses
Antirheumatic; Astringent; Lithontripic; Miscellany; Salve; Sedative; Stomachic.

The bark is antirheumatic, astringent, lithontripic, salve and sedative. Moxa is prepared from the plant and is regarded as an effective remedy in all painful diseases. No more details are given, but it is likely that the moxa is prepared from yellow fungous excretions of the wood, since the same report gives this description when talking about other members of the genus. A compound decoction of the leaves has been used in the treatment of stomach ache and intestinal discomfort.

Other Uses

Dye; Ground cover; Hair; Tinder.

Plants can be used for ground cover, forming a spreading hummock up to 1.2 metres across. An infusion of the plant is used as a hair conditioner and dandruff treatment. A yellow dye is obtained from the leaves. The plant has been used as a tinder, even when wet, and for cooking fires when there is a lack of larger wood. It is likely that the bark was used for tinder.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


Herbs & Plants

Shortawn Foxtail(Alopecurus aequalis)

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BotanicalName: Alopecurus aequalis
Family : Gramineae
Subfamily: Pooideae
Genus : Alopecurus

Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Poales
Species: A. aequalis

Synonyms : Alopecurus fulvus – Sm.

Common names: Short Awned Foxtail, Sonoma Alopecurus, Water Foxtail, short awn foxtail, shortawn foxtail

Habitat :  It is native to much of the temperate Northern Hemisphere from Eurasia to North America, where it can be found in many types of habitat.   Much of Europe, including Britain, to N. Asia. Wet meadows and the edges of ponds and ditches .Meadow; Bog Garden;


Alopecurus aequalis, a monocot, is a perennial herb . It produces bunches of erect stems between 10 and about 70 centimeters in height. The leaves are short, rarely exceeding 10 centimeters long. The cylindrical inflorescence is a few centimeters long and blooms with white to yellow to bright orange anthers.
It is hardy to zone 0. It is in flower from May to June. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Wind.
The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist or wet soil.

Cultivation :
See the plants native habitat for ideas on its cultivation needs. This species is a weed of cultivated cereals and can harbour pests common to cultivated crops.

Seed – we have no details for this species but suggest sowing the seed in situ in April and only just covering it.

Edible Uses
Edible Parts: Seed.

Seed – cooked. It can be used whole like millet, but is more usually ground into a flour and used with other cereals in making bread etc. The seed is small and fiddly, it is very much a famine food.

Medicinal Actions &  Uses
Antiphlogistic; Depurative; Diuretic.

The whole plant is antiphlogistic, depurative and diuretic. It is used in the treatment of oedema, chickenpox and snakebites.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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Herbs & Plants

Green Alder

Botanical Name : Alnus crispa
Family: Betulaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Fagales
Genus: Alnus

Common Names: The common name alder is derived from an old Germanic root. Also found to be the translation of the Old French “verne” for alder or copse of alders. The botanic name Alnus is the equivalent Latin name. Both the Latin and the Germanic words derive from the Proto-Indo-European root el-, meaning “red” or “brown”, which is also a root for the English words elk and another tree: elm, a tree distantly related to the alders. In celtic mythology, Bran the Blessed is associated with the alder tree “The Alder deity is considered to be Bran the Blessed, God of the Underworld. He was also known as the God of Prophecy, Arts, War and Writing. With the size of a giant, it was impossible for Bran to fit in a house or in a boat. According to medieval Christian writings, Bran the Blessed is considered to be the first British man.”

Habitat :The genus comprises about 30 species of monoecious trees and shrubs, few reaching large size, distributed throughout the North Temperate Zone and in the Americas also along the Andes southwards to Argentina. Well-drained, moist soils along streams, in ravines and on moist hillsides in eastern forests; common on recently cut-over forest land; from lake country of Manitoba to eastern Saskatchewan and NW Ontario.

Alder leaves are deciduous (not evergreen), alternate, simple, and serrated. The flowers are catkins with elongate male catkins on the same plant as shorter female catkins, often before leaves appear; they are mainly wind-pollinated, but also visited by bees to a small extent. They differ from the birches (Betula, the other genus in the family) in that the female catkins are woody and do not disintegrate at maturity, opening to release the seeds in a similar manner to many conifer cones.

The largest species are Red Alder (A. rubra) on the west coast of North America and Black Alder (A. glutinosa), native to most of Europe and widely introduced elsewhere, both reaching over 30 m. By contrast, the widespread Green Alder (A. viridis) is rarely more than a 5 m tall shrub.

A tall and spreading shrub, 3 – 8 m tall; bark thin, dull, reddish to greyish brown, smooth or slightly grooved; twigs slender, yellowish green to reddish brown, coated with very short grey hairs; buds slender, stalked, covered with grey hairs.

Opposite, simple, 6 – 8 cm wide, 3-lobed, end lobe triangular; coarsely and irregularly single-toothed; yellowish green above, with soft, whitish hairs below; stalk slender, reddish, usually longer than blade.
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Flowers – : In dense upright clusters at branchlet tips; sexes in separate flowers usually in same flower cluster; flowers are small, pale yellowish green; appear after leaves in late May to early June.
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Fruit Samaras, often brilliant red; wings 2 -3 cm long, with acute angle (less than 90 degrees) between them; seed portion indented on 1 side; mature in late summer.

Can sometimes be confused with the Speckled Alder and shrub occurrences of the Paper Birch. The stalked cones of the Green Alder stand it apart from these species; the leaf margins with fine, regularly spaced teeth contrast with the coarsely, double-toothed leaf margins of the Speckled Alder and the leaves are less taper-pointed than those of the Paper Birch.

Medicinal Actions & Uses;

promotes clarity of perception on all levels; helps us integrate seeing with  knowing so that we can recognize our highest truth in each life experience.

Alder bark contains the anti-inflammatory salicin which is metabolized into salicylic acid in the body. Native Americans used Red Alder bark (Alnus rubra) to treat poison oak, insect bites, and skin irritations. Blackfeet Indians used an infusion made from the bark of Red Alder to treat lymphatic disorders and tuberculosis. Recent clinical studies have verified that red alder contains betulin and lupeol, compounds shown to be effective against a variety of tumors

Other Uses:
Nitrogen fixation:
Alder is particularly noted for its important symbiotic relationship with Frankia alni, actinomycete filamentous nitrogen-fixing bacterium. This bacterium is found in root nodules which may be as large as a human fist, with many small lobes and light brown in appearance. The bacterium absorbs nitrogen from the air and makes it available to the tree. Alder, in turn, provides the bacterium with carbon, which it produces through photosynthesis. As a result of this mutually-beneficial relationship, alder improves the fertility of the soils where it grows, and as a pioneer species, it helps provide additional nitrogen for the successional species which follow.

Alder catkins are edible and high in protein. Although they are reported to have a bitter and unpleasant taste, they are best remembered for survival purposes. Alder wood is also commonly used to smoke various food items.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.