Sunday, December 27, 2015

Annual Rituals Revived

Weather: A little rain last Tuesday, very little snow blew in last night after dark.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, garlic, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, anthemis, coreopsis, golden hairy asters, most low or buried; rose stems, June, pampas, and cheat grasses.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, pinks.

What’s red or purple: Stems on young peaches, sandbar willow.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbits.

Weekly update: My annual New Year’s ritual of paging through nursery catalogs has been emptied of its pleasures by the reduction of companies since 2008, and the coincidental drop in the number of new plants as innovators have retired and not been replaced. The last several year’s I only looked for what I knew was there.

Imagine my delight when I got a catalog filled with surprises. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds specializes in unusual vegetables. It’s one of several who have more kinds of tomatoes or corn than you could ever grow or taste.

Most seed savers are small operations and their catalogs are usually simple lists, often printed on newsprint. The brotherhood of connoisseurs, no doubt, appreciates the simple listings presented on natural materials that can be recycled in a compost heap.

Jere Gettle probably wasn’t influenced by marketing specialists who recommend glossy, photo-filled catalogs to appeal to affluent hobbyists, though that is what he’s produced. One hopes that, unlike so many such campaigns, the costs aren’t greater than the proceeds.

Like almost any nursery catalog, it features photographs of young children holding large vegetables. It also has the usual pictures of employees holding prize-sized specimens or working in the fields. And, like some, it has a few historic reproductions of old photographs and seed packet art.

What sets their catalog apart are the four photographers. Unlike most, Gettle didn’t use stock images provided by seed suppliers. From a technical point the images are clear and appear to have accurate color. Anyone who has tried to photograph a plant, a flower or produce knows the level of skill involved.

More important is the photographer’s eye - the ability to see what’s important. They don’t just show melons, they show them with slices cut out so you can see what they look like before the insides are scraped. You wonder about the beans, and they show the flowers with the pods. In a few cases, they capture the beans in their pods.

There are some that would be called art shots like three brown netted cucumbers in a pyramid or Tennessee dancing gourds arranged like dancers. The small spoon gourds are nested while the Pennsylvania Dutch crookneck squashes are intertwined.

Two Chimayo red peppers face each other with a green one in back, while an a barefoot girl holds a ristra of maroon Estaceno chile peppers grown by Jeff Martínez. There’s also a picture of three dark ears of Po’suwaegeh blue corn from Pojoaque still attached to their dried tan husks.

More important are the pages filled with images that capture the essences of plants that you notice, like the sheen on tomatoes, the pattern of massed asparagus heads, and the starburst pattern of artichokes.

They have a small section of flower seeds, with a closeup of a sunflower head without the petals and an ever closer view of a cockscomb. Rose pink hollyhock flowers are caught along a stalk. Lupine florets fall at angles.

I have no idea if their seeds are any good. The rabbits, the birds, and the ants guarantee edible seeds never survive. But the lure of the pictures makes me willing to take some risks.

Notes: Baker Creek’s web site - - has some of the same pictures, but they aren’t as magnificent as they are on the glossy, printed page.

Photographs: All taken early this morning, 27 December 2015, after a forecast storm only blew in some snow.
1. All the snow landed on the south edges of plants or shrubs.

2. A broken hose has been laying in the drive for months. I finally removed it this week. I didn’t realize it had dug small trenches in the gravel that trapped the snow.

3. What’s interesting is that the recessed imprints left the same effects as the raised hoses would have.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Peach Bark Damage

Weather: Afternoon temperatures didn’t reach 50, so last Sunday’s snow that lay in shadows didn’t melt until yesterday; then it only disappeared from plants, but not from gravel or bricks; last snow 12/13.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, columbine, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Saint John’s wort, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, tansy, anthemis, coreopsis, purple and golden hairy asters; rose stems, June, pampas, and cheat grasses; young seedlings buried under leaves.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, flax, pinks.

What’s red or purple: Stems on young peaches, sandbar willow.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, chickadees.

Weekly update: Everything you read about fruit trees tells you to keep them pruned. I’m not sure if it’s really necessary, if you’re not a commercial grower. It really may be a type of sympathetic magic that follows the form, if I do something, then nature will reciprocate.

My own experience has been, whenever I have branches cut from trees, insects problems follow. The year after I cut branches off the black locusts, trunks started falling from locust borers. Two years ago I had a branch cut from the peach that was blocking the path, and, in 2014, I dealt with bleeding wounds and aphids. A few weeks ago, I saw similar cracks with globs of reddish amber at the edges.

A tree, as mentioned in the post for 19 October 2014, has a very thin layer of living tissue on the perimeter of its wood. Beyond the current year’s active growth lies another layer of dead matter, the bark that protects it from the elements. Between the bark and the current ring is an impenetrable, narrow barrier that stops water, insects and pathogens from getting inside. It contains suberin.

Like the current ring, it is replaced each year and becomes part of the outer bark. As the tree expands in spring, it may split the bark to make room. Pieces may fall away, or fissures may appear, but the suberin layer remains in tact.

When the water barrier is broken, perhaps by an axe, the tree responds by rebuilding it. This rejuvenation is more complete when temperatures are warm. In winter, rapid changes in temperature can also damage the waxy layer. Because it’s cold, the repairs are slower and sometimes patchy with unprotected sections that stay open to attack.

These earlier cracks and wounds, while they scale over, remain weaker surfaces which can be rebroken.

Alan Biggs has determined, in ideal conditions, repairs begin immediately in the area directly under the breach. After 8 days, the boundary cells are lined with suberin. Then, within the next four days, the cells become denser with starch deposits that look like gum, and may appear red when stained.

The day I saw the resinous-looking globules was Friday, December 11 around 4:45 pm. The previous ten days had seen many morning temperatures around 15 degrees F, with afternoons rising to the mid-40s in the shade. Not the sort of days to promote cell division and defense deployment.

However, that particular day was one when a storm was coming our way. Clouds kept temperatures high - they didn’t fall below 42 in the night, rose to about 54, began falling at noon, but didn’t go below 46 that night. I suspect the unusually long number of hours of relative warmth allowed the tree to do emergency repairs.

Now, like a woman who just discovered she’s pregnant and tries to determine when from the current status of the fetus, I counted back 12 days to see if there were any weather conditions which would have injured the tree.

That took me back to the cold front with the rumbling thunder I described in the post two weeks ago. On Sunday, November 29, temperatures again warmed in the night as clouds preceded the cold air mass. Next came rain, and then, in the dark, the front. The next day’s morning temperature as in the mid-20s, but on December 1 it fell to 13.8 on my porch, the coldest yet this season. I suspect that’s when the damage occurred.

Biggs found the healing process is disrupted if the wounds are washed within 72 hours. The water removes the abscisic acid that is the hormone that plants create, in other situations, to seal the junctions between leaves and branches before the leaves fall.

It rained before the wound formed, then rain fell the day after I saw the red globs. The next day, snow filled all the crevices on the branch. When I looked this week, I saw no signs of the globules. I won’t know until spring if the damage was repaired, or if there are fine cracks in the suberin layer.

Arborists give many explanations for why sun scald and cold damage peach bark. They usually point to the fact it often appears on the southwest sides of trees to suggest the alternating temperatures that stimulate sap to flow, then freeze it in place.

Other events they mention are fertilizing or watering late in the season, which stimulates new growth that doesn’t harden off. They also mention over pruning that removes some of the canopy that protects the undergirding branches.

I suspect canopy loss was what hurt my tree. The branch that was cut in 2013 was high and on the east side of the tree. When it was gone, more light bounced off the white stucco wall and may have weakened the bark along the top of the horizontal branches below where the ladybugs appeared in 2014.

At that time, I kept washing the tree, sometimes spraying it with one of the organic soap compounds, trying to kill the invisible aphids. I also treated it with a fungicide. But that was in the spring.

Now, I can’t do anything but wait, and not let them cut any more branches than necessary. Another low growing one has become a serious barrier on the path when it’s raining. But, when the man suggested cutting other branches, I said no.

The tree was planted in 1997. Peaches rarely live more than twenty years. It may collapse anytime. I don’t expect fruit again. The last time it produced hornets flocked to the area and I had to remove everything before it ripened. The tree now lives for aesthetic reasons alone.

Biggs, A. R. "Anatomical and Physiological Responses of Bark Tissues to Mechanical Injury," in R. A. Blanchette and A. R. Biggs, Defense Mechanisms of Woody Plants Against Fungi, 1992.

Wright, R. C., W. M. Peacock, and T. M. Whiteman. Effect on Subsequent Yields of Storing Cut Seed Potatoes at Different Temperatures and Humidities, 1934.

1. Peach in snow earlier this year, 22 January 2015; chickadee at top.

2. Branches in most recent snow, 15 December 2015. You can see that all the branches are seamed from bark expansion.

3. Pealing bark, 20 December 2015. The under layer is brown and dead.

4. Globules from injuries last year, 12 May 2014.

5. Globular remains after last Sunday’s snow on open wound, 20 December 2015.

6. Ladybugs signally aphids were attacking last year, 29 May 2014.

7. Eighteen-year-old tree in full leaf, 19 September 2015. The damaged area is toward the back and near the house.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Nature Breathes

Weather: Warms afternoons before a storm that tracked south, giving us just a little rain yesterday and a little snow in the night.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, columbine, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Saint John’s wort, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, tansy, buried yarrow, anthemis, coreopsis, purple and golden hairy asters; rose stems, June, pampas, and cheat grasses; young seedlings buried under leaves.

We had so much water this past summer that trees grew. Now, the tree trimming company is backed up - four days to get an estimate, at least two weeks to get work scheduled, when the usual is next day. With Christmas, two weeks means early next year. They usually are maintaining their equipment and hoping for calls this time of year.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, flax, pinks.

What’s red or purple: Stems on young peaches, sandbar willow.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, chickadees.

Weekly update: Fog turns out to be a word like asthma that presumes to describe a specific thing, but in fact is a generic term for a common symptom arising from multiple causes. The National Weather Service gives the symptomatic definition: "Fog is water droplets suspended in the air at the Earth's surface." Wikipedia describes at least 13 different kinds.

I grew up in the lowlands of Michigan. The fogs I most remember were around Waterloo which lies on the watershed between lakes Michigan and Huron. There mist rose from the swamps when conditions were right. That is, when cold air came in contract with warm water.

When I saw mists here, I assumed the same thing was happening since they often followed arroyos and canyons that had streams in their bottoms. However, they had a density and color that was different than those I remember. Here they are solid and white; there they were wispy and nearly colorless.

When it was raining yesterday morning there were no clouds. In the top picture, the sky was a featureless gray that blocked most of the badlands across the Río Grande and all the Jémez from view.

It was only in the afternoon, after it had stopped raining here and Los Alamos was reporting fog that I saw a thick wall of white behind the badlands, with some mist rising at the base. In the second picture, the sky above was blue, with higher gray clouds undergirded by white.

The temperature and dew point were the same in Los Alamos, 33 degrees F. Wikipedia says fog forms when the two are within a few degrees of each other.

The lower mists were what I often see in the morning, heat from the ground rising into the still unheated air above. But that wall was something new to me, and concentrated toward the south. I assume it was influenced by the fact cold air and heavy water vapor had moved into the area somewhere between our 6 or 7,000' and the 22,300 miles where the observing geostationary satellite was perched.

Forty-five minutes later, the sun came out. Tchicoma began emerging from the dissipating bank with clouds swirling on its sides, and whiter mists coming from the canyons between it and the badlands.

That was about 4 pm yesterday. In another forty-five minutes, the featureless gray returned and in an hour darkness fell.

Sometime after midnight we got snow, but it had stopped by the time I looked out at 6 this morning. It was still snowing in Los Alamos where it had begun about 2:30 am. The Weather Service satellite image showed cold air was still sitting high above us, but the area to the immediate west was dry.

By 7:30, the cloud bank was back, but this time it was it front of the badlands. The smell of burning wood was strong as the moisture in the air trapped particles of smoke. It was 33 degrees F here, but in Los Alamos the temperature and dew point were both 29 degrees F.

The storm was gone. The last of the clouds swirling back from east of the Sangre de Cristo were moving farther away. The sun wasn’t out, but the atmosphere was brighter. The sky was blue, and the wall had retreated from the river to the canyons.

I happened to look east as I was coming back into house at 8:50 am. Vapor was rising from the Apache plumes near the fence. I could see the nearly transparent tendrils that diffused as they rose, but the camera could only record fuzziness and distortion when they reached the relative height of the juniper in back.

It was like the steam we make when we blow into cold winds. The warmth was immediately condensing.

Wikipedia mentions plant transpiration as a possible cause of fog. It also says "exhalation of moist warm air by herds of animals" can produce ice fog.

But this seemed a little different. Whenever I’ve watched snow melt here, I’ve noticed it disappears first from things that retain heat like the dark wood retaining wall and gravel in the drive. Organic matter also shrugs it off fairly quickly by melting it from underneath. Either they too have accumulated heat or their respirations, while very slow, are not completely dormant.

All the green matter along the mountains can’t have caused those walls of white. And yet, they are called the same thing: fog.

United States. National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration. National Weather Service. Glossary. Entry for "fog," geostationary GOES satellite images, and short range radar images available by location on Weather Service website.

Wikipedia. Entry for "Fog."

Yesterday, 12 December 2015, all looking toward Jémez
1. 9:55 am.
2. 3:14 pm.
3. 4:01 pm.

Today, 13 December 2015, first two looking toward Jémez
4. 7:29 am.
5. 8:51 am.
6. 8:51 am, looking east toward the prairie.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Cold Front

Weather: Some mornings very cold, but some afternoons warm enough, for brief periods, that I could keep my resolution to keep working outside; little rain 11/29.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on fernbush, yuccas, grape hyacinth, columbine, catmint, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Saint John’s wort, Jupiter’s beard, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, tansy, yarrow, anthemis, coreopsis, purple and golden hairy asters; rose stems, June, pampas, and cheat grasses.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, flax, pinks.

What’s red or purple: Stems on sandbar willow.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit.

Weekly update: Two cold fronts passed through this past week. You wouldn’t have known about the one yesterday if the weather service hadn’t told you. As for the one last Sunday, nothing they said would have prepared you.

Clouds began forming in mid-afternoon, with a few sprinkles an hour later. Then, it got dark, and thunder began around 5:15 pm. Not a crack, but a rumble like a truck passing over a wooden bridge coming from the east. No rain. A few minutes later, the windows a little south of the sound lit up. The two alternated for half an hour, each following its own rhythm. The room was continually illuminated.

The rolls invoked memories of my first dramatic storm. I was about nine-years old. My family was driving from Niagara Falls to Pittsburgh through some section of the Pennsylvania mountains.

The rain started. Lightening backlit black mountains. There were no towns, no places to stop. We had to keep going to find a motel. It was the mid-1950s when such things were still rare, and I suspect still are in that area.

That trip through the dark became associated with two things: coal and "Rip Van Winkle." The one must have come from school where we had been told about dinosaurs and how they had been transformed into coal. Those were the classes that sparked so many boys’ lifelong passions.

For me, it was the geology. I knew it had all happened in Pennsylvania, and there we were driving through that state. I knew coal was black, and there we were in the dark driving under darker shapes. I imagined some dramatic process. And there we were in a storm.

Geologists still think in those terms. Why else do they search for causes of a sudden extermination by impact with an asteroid?

I’m not sure if I knew about "Rip" then, or later. Another dim memory is reading a simple version in a children’s book given to me. But, was it on a train to Chicago, or was it on the plane we took from Pittsburgh a day or so later?

It wasn’t fear that imprinted that storm in my memory, but wonder. It was pure experience, unfiltered by acculturation. Images came after the fact.

As I mentioned in a post for 10 November 2013 about another unusual round of thunder, adults aren’t comfortable with visits by nature. We seek instant explanations that reduce them to the familiar, render them insignificant.

A friend asked a meteorologist about last Sunday’s storm, and was told it was cloud-to-cloud lightening, not cloud-to-ground. Something as true and irrelevant as knowing dinosaurs coexisted with ferns, and it’s the fern prints that are found in coal mines.

Most cold fronts, like the one that passed through yesterday, happen somewhere else. We might get some winds or a sudden drop in temperature, but nothing more.

Last Sunday, we must have been in the cold front. I have no idea at what altitude such cold air moves. It doesn’t matter much when you’re at sea level. But here we pass through clouds on our way from our 6,000' to Santa Fé’s 7,000' somewhere on Opera Hill.

My image is the boundary between two air masses, for that’s all a front is according to the Weather Service, was low and we were in the clouds. That lightening was passing around us, or rather just to the east of us. The thunder came from the boundary itself, not from the accompanying lightening.

And how can a boundary be a thing, if it’s a transition between two masses? It must have some mass, the same way that sudden extinction took eons. Our language obscures realities.

I wondered about "Rip Van Winkle." I hadn’t read the story since college, and wasn’t even sure my image came from it. When I went on line and googled "Washington Irving" and "Nine-pins" I saw a reference that said, "the balls of the ninepins symbolize cannon balls and the thunder is the explosion of the artillery of cannons" from some Revolutionary war battle.

Again, so many words to protect us from experience. I don’t doubt Irving was discussing changes caused by independence; he was politically conservative. But, he was doing something more.

The story’s first paragraph is about the Kaatskill Mountains. "Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains" was written by someone who’d been there.

Rip wanders high into the mountains, where "now and then heard the long rolling peals, like distant thunder, that seemed to issue out of a deep ravine, or rather cleft, between lofty rocks."

An old man carrying a keg passes and asks for help. They go through the cleft into "a small hollow, like a small amphitheatre, surrounded by perpendicular precipices" where old men are playing nine-pins. "The noise of the balls, which, whenever they were rolled, echoed along the mountains like rumbling peals of thunder"

Rip drinks from the keg, falls asleep, and wakens twenty years later.

The rest of the story parallels one’s experience of a storm so dramatic it imprints an image. One searches for a way to remember it.

We tend to go deep into the past for the words, not our own prenatal pasts, but the mythic past. I thought of coal, Irving thought of Hendrick Hudson who both explored the river flowing through the New York mountains, and was set adrift by a mutinous crew on a southern part of Hudson’s Bay never to be seen again. The grandeur of the one merged with the terror of the other, the way things do in our sub-literate minds.

The preliminary story of Rip’s nagging wife and the posthumous legend of Hudson were so much narrative dressing to make acceptable the central experience of the tale: the experience of a storm or cold front at altitudes high enough to be merged into it.

Notes: "Rip Van Winkle Essay."

Irving, Washington. "Rip Van Winkle," The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., 1819.

Photographs: Coal waste south of Madrid, 17 September 2011.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Oshá: Nature’s Ways

Weather: Snow was promised this week as a subtropical plume rode into the area on top of a cold front, only the moist air went east instead. We got two days of wintry-looking clouds, and what I call nuisance rain. On Thursday big drops started to come down when I went out to work, continued the whole time I was out, and stopped when I went in the house. Not quite Joe Btfsplk, but not enough fell in an hour to get me or the ground wet. Last snow 11/17.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on privet, fernbush, yuccas, grape hyacinth, columbine, catmint, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Saint John’s wort, Jupiter’s beard, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, tansy, yarrow, anthemis, coreopsis, purple and golden hairy asters; rose stems, June and cheat grasses.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, flax, pinks.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, goldfinches.

Weekly update: Shawn Sigstedt heard legends from Navajo around Crystal, New Mexico that bears had taught them how to use oshá. Their tales made him wonder if real live four-foot members of the Ursus genus could use plants medicinally.

He went to a zoo to give oshá to two brown bears. The male and female quarreled over the root, and the female went away with it. She chewed it, rubbed the paste on her fur with her paws, shook her head to disburse the liquid left in her mouth, then rubbed her back against a rock.

He threw another piece of root to the male. He gave it to the female, who repeated her actions. When she finished, she returned to nuzzle him.

Later, Sigstedt installed cameras above a wild patch to record any activity in its area. A black bear came in, broke off two stems, walked off camera, returned, walked behind a tree, came back, and rubbed his back against the tree.

At first, Sigstedt thought they were rubbing the liquid into their fur to kill parasites. Later, he was told the female brown bear was severely arthritic. Both were plausible explanations.

Ligusticum porteri contains a number of chemicals with medicinal properties, so many in fact, that when it’s broken, their gases escape and telegraph their presence. Any animal or person who broke a stem, crushed a leaf, or dug a root would be alerted to possibilities.

As discussed in the post for 1 November 2015, the exploitation of the possibilities varied by culture. Some applications spread from group to group, or were discovered multiple times. Others were limited to a small group, became obsolete, or were replaced when new problems arose.

The plant itself contains the possibilities. One team of scientists that included Robert Bye and Rachel Mata tested its effects on stomach ulcers. They found its diligustilide prevented "significantly the gastric injuries" and hypothesized ways it worked utilitzing "endogenous non-protein -SH groups and prostaglandins."

Many stomach infections are caused by bacteria. Recently, a team led by Sergio Andrade-Ochoa tested the essential oil against a variety of species, and found it most effective against Enterococcus faecalis, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Staphylococcus epidermidis. The second and third are associated with food poisoning. The other two are mainly found in hospital environments.

Staphylococcus aureus is particularly troublesome because it can lead to upper respiratory infections like pneumonia. Many strains have developed immunities against drugs. Another team, this one lead by Pascale Cégiéla-Carlioz, found forty-two compounds in the essential oils. The distilled oil doubled the effects of an antibiotic agent against the bacterium; the solvent extraction quadrupled its effects. The chemicals common to both were (Z)-ligustilide and Sabinyl acetate.

Mata was involved with two experiments that tested the plant’s chemicals’ effects in reducing pain. In 2005, her team established that an extract had "an antinociceptive effect." In 2014, a larger team tried to isolate the specific chemicals. They found Z-ligustilide, Z-3-butylidenephthalide and diligustilide were each effective, but worked in slightly different ways.

Bye had heard the Tarahumara were now using it to treat diabetes and tuberculosis. In 2010, he, Mata, and others isolated five chemicals from a root extract. Of those, 3-(Z)-butylidenephthalide was the most effective in reducing blood sugar levels in diabetic mice.

Two of the chemicals, Z-Ligustilide and Z-6,6',7,3'-alpha-diligustilide, have been identified as worthy for commercial development. Another team organized by Mata and Bye tested samples from this country and Mexico in 2012. It found the quantities "varied significantly among the samples."

Two years later, Guy Cullin’s laboratory introduced "new commercial formulations to analyze these essential oils further." He purchased his raw materials from a supplier in Oregon. The assays detected chemicals found in both oshá and in Ligusticum grayi. One of his reviewers suggested "this observation could be due to a mixture of plant material from the commercial supplier."

Conservationists have become concerned that publicity surrounding oshá has threatened its survival. The US Forest Service imposed a three-year moratorium on harvesting for personal or commercial use in 1999. Since, Mata and others have been working to find a ways to mass produce roots that meet pharmaceutical standards for purity and quality and that do not exploit the wild. Their efforts were discussed in the post for 8 November 2015.

Notes: In those projects that involved Mata and Bye, the name that follows theirs is the lead author. Information on bacteria is from Wikipedia. Brown bears are Ursus arctos, black are Ursus americanus.

Andrade-Ochoa, Sergio, Karen Giselle Chavez Villareal, Blanca Estela Rivera Chavira, Guadalupe Virginia Nevárez Moorillón. "Antimicrobial Activity of Essential Oil of Ligusticum porteri, Biotecnología y Bioingeniería, 2013 national congress.

Cégiéla-Carlioz, Pascale, Jean-Marie Bessière, Bruno David, Anne-Marie Mariotte, Simon Gibbons and Marie-Geneviève Dijoux-Franca. "Modulation of Multi-Drug Resistance (MDR) in Staphylococcus aureus by Osha (Ligusticum porteri L., Apiaceae) Essential Oil Compounds," Flavour and Fragrance Journal 20:671-675:2005.

Collin, Guy, Hélène Gagnon, Alexis St-Gelais, and Maxim Turcotte. "Composition of the Essential Oil and the Hydrosol of the Roots of Ligusticum porteri," American Journal of Essential Oils and Natural Products 1:4-10:2014.

Mata, Rachel, Robert Bye, Fernando Brindis, Rogelio Rodríguez-Sotres, Martin Gonzalez-Andrade, "(Z)-3-Butylidenephthalide from Ligusticum porteri, an á-Glucosidase Inhibitor á," Journal of Natural Products 74:314-320:2010.

_____, _____, Krutzkaya Juárez-Reyes, Guadalupe E. Ángeles-López, and Isabel Rivero-Cruz. "Antinociceptive Activity of Ligusticum porteri Preparations and Compounds," Pharmaceutical Biology 52:14-20:2014.

_____, _____, I. Rivero, K Juárez, and M. Zuluaga. "Quantitative HPLC Method for Determining Two of the Major Active Phthalides from Ligusticum porteri Roots," Association of Official Analytical Chemists, Journal of AOAC International 95:84-91:2012.

_____, _____, Josué A. Velázquez-Moyado, Alejandro Martínez-González, Edelmira Linares, and Andrés Navarrete. "Gastroprotective Effect of Diligustilide Isolated from Roots of Ligusticum porteri Coulter and Rose (Apiaceae) on Ethanol-induced Lesions in Rats," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, in press, 2015, available on line. Has comments on contemporary Tarahumara uses

_____, M. Deciga-Campos, E. González-Trujano, and A. Navarrete. "Antinociceptive Effect of Selected Mexican Traditional Medicinal Species," Western Pharmacology Society, Proceedings 48:70-72:2005.

Sigstedt, Shawn. "How Wild Black Bears Are Using Oshá,Ligusticum porteri, for Medicine and Helping Restore a Healthy Global Ecosystem," the Society for Economic Botany, annual meeting, 2013, up loaded to You Tube, 2 July 2013. He was in the zoo with permission to conduct his experiments.

Photographs: Oshá, purchased at local farmers market on 24 August 2015; photographed 1 November 2015. Root in first picture still has some bark, the second does not.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Oshá: New Ways

Weather: Rain Monday turned to snow late in the day and fell into a thick mass in the night. The ground wasn’t frozen yet, and the snow either evaporated or sank in by the next day. This morning’s temperature was down to 17 degrees; other days it’s been in the mid-20s. With the water now in the ground, I imagine the soil is freezing.

Trucks beginning to appear along road sides with firewood for sale.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on fernbush, yuccas, grape hyacinth, columbine, catmint, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Saint John’s wort, Jupiter’s beard, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, tansy, yarrow, coreopsis, purple and golden hairy asters; rose stems, June grass.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, flax, pinks.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, goldfinches.

Weekly update: Bands living outside the natural range of Ligusticum porteri have been reported as using it. Leonora Curtin found the Yuki of northern California used oshá "to ward off rattlesnakes" in 1957. More recently, Gregory Tilford said the Blackfeet and Bitterroot Salish of western Montana called it "bear medicine." The one was a prairie band, the other moved into Montana from the Pacific coast.

John Kartesz’s map of the plant’s distribution shows the Apia native to Colorado and New Mexico from the eastern face of the Rocky Mountains west through Utah into eastern Nevada and reaching down into north central Arizona. It’s also found in Chihuahua and Nuevo León. He considers reports from Idaho and most of Wyoming to be questionable. Nothing official has been recorded for Montana or California.

More than likely, people outside the mountain areas obtained their roots through trade or family connections. Rose Chaletsin, a Kiowa Apache in Oklahoma, told Julia Jordan that, "Way back, they get it from somewhere up north. They ain’t got it around here. They get ‘izeelk’ah from the north there, in Canada and Montana, and in them Black Hills." More recently, she said a friend gave some to her husband. They put it in the fire, like cedar, or when they were sick.

Connie May Saddleblanket told Jordan the plains Apache "get it from those Northern peoples. Get it from Cheyennes." She added, they put it in the fire and "smoke themselves with it." Her sister-in-law, Louise Saddleblanket remembered her father got medicine fat from a Mescalero friend and that he would cut a piece to "put it on the coal."

In the 1930s, Gilbert McAllister was told the same Apache group put cedar or medicine fat on the fire during the first night of mourning. "It is just like you could see the dead. They put this in the fire. You could think of him in your mind." Another tribal member, Gertrude Chalepah said they used the root when they renewed the family medicine bundle, "but they did not know how to procure more of it" in the 1960s.

Michael Moore thinks the recent diffusion of oshá to other groups has been occurring through the powwows and other pan-Indian meetings. The attraction is that it is called bear root, and the bear clan exists in a number of tribes. In many traditions, bear is associated with medicine.

In an interview with Wren Cottingham, he remembered visiting a man at Hopi named Leroy to buy corn. He took some oshá with him as a gift. The man’s wife’s family were members of the bear clan. They placed it in two woven baskets, sprinkled it with corn pollen and took it into a back room. The woman, her sisters, mother, and daughter associated it with their clan because it was called bear medicine.

Alfred Whiting did not mention oshá in 1939 in his Ethnobotany of the Hopi.

They, like many, were attempting to recover a heritage that was lost to the Spanish and then the Americans through things half-remembered or reconstructed. The irreparable break in tradition came in the nineteenth century when bands were moved onto American reservations or, in the southwest, had their Spanish land grants circumscribed. Like the Plains Apache women, they lost the ritual context for the plants they used, and lost touch with the groups who supplied them.

Many no longer could go into the mountains where bears lived. As a result, some have come to think that because they were affiliated with bears, they must have had friendly relations with them. A few might even think of bears the way born again Christians think of their Savior as a beneficent daily presence.

The last assumption is unlikely for most. Bears were predators. One reason they were adopted as totems was they were beyond human control. If anything, they were a bit like the vengeful Jehovah of the Jewish Old Testament.

Antonio Valverde led an expedition of men from the Santa Fé presidio and northern pueblos, along with warriors from the Sierra Blanca Apache, on a campaign against the Ute and Comanche in 1719. The were traveling along canyons of the eastern face of the mountains. Snow fell when they were north of the Purgatorie river in late September, and sleet drenched them above the Arkansas in early October.

Three times bears attacked or crashed into their camp in late afternoon. It took "many spear thrusts and arrows" to kill one whose "strength and size were [...] formidable." Another, larger than a donkey, grabbed a horse’s tail, "held him down and clawing viciously, tore a piece off the rump."

Moore thinks natives didn’t need to have observed bears to have made the association with them. He said he once came upon a hillside area near Taos dug up by claws. Nearby he found recent droppings with oshá roots sticking out.

He also found more likely connections between Taos, the Hopi and oshá. Leroy put chunks of the root in his corn field where the acequia dumped its water to kill cutworms. Moore said, he learned about this from relatives living in Taos pueblo. He, no doubt, got roots from them.

Notes: The connection between bear and oshá in the popular imagination may have emerged in Colorado. See William Bowen’s 1895 views quoted in the post for 25 October 2015.

Students at the University of Maryland surveyed botanists in many states in 1999 for distribution information on oshá; they had some reports of it from Idaho and Montana, along with cautions that some of the previous claims were based on misidentified specimens.

Curtin, L. S. M. Some Plants Used by the Yuki Indians of Round Valley, Northern California, 1957, cited by Dan Moerman, Native American Ethnobotany, 1998.

Jordan, Julia A. Plains Apache Ethnobotany, 2008.

Kartesz, John. "Range Map for Ligusticum porteri", Floristic Synthesis of North America, 2010.

Lewis, Orrin and Laura Redish. "Native American Bear Mythology," Native Languages of the Americas website. He’s Cherokee. The bear clan existed in the south among the Creek, and in the southwest among the Hopi, Navajo, and some pueblos. In the north, they mention the clan among the Ojibwa, Menominee, Mi’kmaq, Huron and Iroquois. Caddo and Osage lived on the prairies; Tlingit, Tsimshian, Nisgaa-Gitksan, and Salishan were in the northwest.

McAllister, J. Gilbert. "Kiowa-Apache Social Organization," in Fred Eggan, Social Anthropology of North American Tribes, 1955; quoted by Jordan.

Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants: In the Field with Michael Moore, Volume 2: Southern Colorado, filmed by Wren Cottingham, 1994; section uploaded in two parts to You Tube as "A Talk on Oshá."

Tilford, Gregory L. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, 1997.

United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. Germplasm Resources Information Network. Entry for "Ligusticum porteri J. M. Coulter and Rose" includes the Mexican locations.

University of Maryland, Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology Program. "Draft Proposal to list Ligusticum porteri in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora," December 1999.

Valverde y Cosío, Antonio. Diary of the campaign against the Ute and Comanche, 1719, translation in Alfred B. Thomas, After Coronado, 1935.

1. Black mesa at dawn, 6:30 am on 17 November 2015. The Los Alamos airport was reporting freezing fog, which may explain the mists rising from the arroyo north of the mesa.

2. Tchicoma at the same time. You can just see a band of white mist between the white badlands and the mountain behind.

3. Tchicoma at 7:50 am. It’s now light and possible to see snow on tree boughs has turned the east-facing mountainside white.

4. Tchicoma at 11:15 am. The snow is now rising in wisps of mist. Snow is about half gone from the badlands.

5. Tchicoma the next day, 18 November 2015, at 10:30 am. From a distance, snow is nearly gone. No doubt, it continues in shadows and low places. Snow is all but gone from the badlands.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Oshá: Mexican Ways

Weather: Temperature down to 16 degrees on my front porch Friday morning; last snow 11/5.

What’s still green: Tree leaves are dead, but many remain on apples, cherries, Siberian elms, and cottonwoods. Many low plants like columbine and catmint still have green leaves, even though they’ve been covered by frost several times. Apparently, the ground is still warm enough to insulate them.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Mice have been trying to get into the house.

Weekly update: John Beck thinks the Mexican word for oshá, chuchupate, was derived from an Aztec term, chichipatli. It wasn’t a direct borrowing of the plant, but a secondary application of a label to a plant with similar uses.

The Florentine Codex, written in 1577, associated two plants with the term chichic patli. Bernardino de Sahagún was told Courarea latiflora "clears, fortifies the intestines, the stomach." Guayacum arboreum roots were used "by one whose body is hot, who thinks it burns; perhaps the stomach has become unsettled" and to treat "sores, or fever."

While many species in the Ligusticum species have similar effects as porteri, neither of the Aztec drugs is in their Apia family. The first is in the coffee family, the second in the caltrop.

As mentioned in the post for 1 November 2015, Franciscans observed wasía being used by the Tarahumara in the 1770s. In the 1890s, Carl Lumholtz saw them wrap pieces of palo hediondo in cloth and tie the bundle around a child’s neck. The smell was supposed to protect against disease.

The Tarahumara still use it for colds and fever, to dress wounds, and to treat rheumatic joints with a lotion made by boiling crushed roots. Robert Bye says they chew or smell the root "to sneeze out illness."

For more intractable conditions, the Tarahumara hold curing ceremonies overseen by shamans and chanters to treat humans, animals, or crop fields. Campbell Pennington saw them add pieces to a ceremonial cross to "protect animals from lightening."

The Tarahumara, who live in the Sierra Madre, are more properly called Rarámuri. Today, Fructuoso Irigoyen-Rascón says, their yerberos collected the root to sell in Ciudad Chihuahua and Juárez. More itinerant peddlers sell chuchupaste to people living in towns. Bernard Fortana noted that, for the past hundred years, these sales have been one of their few links that tied them to México’s cash economy.

The Tarahumara speak an Uto-Aztec language somewhat related to the Pima. However, the Pima living around the Gila river in Arizona buy their jujubáádi from Yaqui peddlers. David Brown told Amadeo Rea he kept it in a baking powder can and used it for constipation and a fever.

Another herbal trade link between tribes developed with the spread of peyote. Samuel Kenoi told Morris Opler he had attended a Tonkawa peyote medicine ceremony in 1902 where, to be admitted, "you had to have different kinds of odorous herbs; you had to have oshá."

Kenoi was a Chiricahua Apache who had been born in Arizona in the mid-1870s, relocated with his family to Florida in 1886, and moved again to Fort Sill Oklahoma in 1894. He’d been sent to boarding schools, including Chilocco near Ponca City, Oklahoma.

In 1913, Kenoi returned to the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico with other Chiricahua. Twenty years later, Edward Castetter and Morris Opler said natives treated haitcide like other greens they ate raw or cooked with green chili and meat or bones. Their land lies on the eastern flank of the Sacramento mountains where oshá was reported growing in 1915.

More recently, Connie May Saddleblanket said she had seen medicine fat used in peyote meetings among the Kiowa Apache living in Oklahoma in the 1960s. Her sister-in-law, Louise Saddleblanket remembered, "It comes from New Mexico. My daddy had some. Some Mescalero friends used to sent it to us."

Notes: Connie's real name is Datose; Louise is Susagossa. The group prefers to be called Plains Apache, since they are not related to the Kiowa.

Beck, John J. and Frank R. Stermitz. "Addition of Methyl Thioglycolate and Benzylamine to (Z)-Ligustilide, a Bioactive Unsaturated Lactone Constituent of Several Herbal Medicines. An Improved Synthesis of (Z)-Ligustilide," Journal of Natural Products 58:1047-1055:1995.

Bye, Robert Arthur. Ethnoecology of the Tarahumara of Chihuahua, Mexico, 1976; quoted by Irigoyen-Rascón.

Fontana, Bernard L. Tarahumara, 1979.

Irigoyen-Rascón, Fructuoso. Tarahumara Medicine: Ethnobotany and Healing among the Rarámuri of Mexico, 2015.

Jordan, Julia A. Plains Apache Ethnobotany, 2008.

Lumholtz, Carl. Unknown Mexico, volume 1, 1902.

Opler, Morris Edward. "A Description of a Tonkawa Peyote Meeting Held in 1902," American Anthropologist 41:433-439:1939. The Tonkawa lived in central Texas where they alligned themselves with the Lipian Apache. They were moved to Oklahoma where the population shrank to 34 in 1921, according to Wikipedia.

_____ and Edward F. Castetter. The Ethnobiology of the Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache, 1936.

Pennington, Campbell W. The Tarahumar of Mexico: Their Environment and Material Culture, 1963; quoted by Irigoyen-Rascón.

Rea, Amadeo M. At the Desert's Green Edge: An Ethnobotany of the Gila River Pima, 1997.

Sahagún, Bernardino de. Historia Universal de las Cosas de Nueva España, c.1577, translated as Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain, Book XI - Earthly Things by Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O. Anderson, 1963. Courarea latiflora is now called Hintonia latiflora. More details about the codex may be found in the post for 28 September 2014.

Webster, Antony K. "Samuel E. Kenoi’s Portraits of White Men," in David Kozak, Inside Dazzling Mountains: Southwest Native Verbal Art, 2012; has biographical details.

Wooton, Elmer O. and Paul C. Standley. Flora of New Mexico, 1915, contains report of oshá in Sacramento mountains.

Photographs: Oshá, purchased at local farmers market on 24 August 2015; photographed 1 November 2015. Cross section of root.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Oshá: Old Ways

Weather: Light snow Thursday may have wet the soil that plants were insulated against temperatures in the low 20s Friday and Saturday mornings. Leaves dropping, but cottonwoods still have most of theirs.

What’s blooming: Hybrid roses, calamintha, blanket flower; can see red in the remaining pepper plants.

What’s turning yellow: Leaves on peaches, cottonwoods, catalpas, Siberian elms, grapes, globe and sandbar willows.

What’s turning red or orange: Leaves on apricots, cherries, sandcherries, Virginia creeper.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, goldfinches, chickadees.

Weekly update: Oshá is popularly believed to be a Native American medicinal plant. However, there are few specific historic references to it from bands living in areas where it grew. Leonora Curtin was told in the 1940s that people in Cochití chewed pieces the "size of a bean night and morning," then washed them down with warm water and pinches of salt "to shake a cough."

Matilda Coxe Stevenson did not mention Ligusticum porteri when she described the Ethnobotany of the Zuñi Indians in 1915, but Scott Camazine and Robert Bye did learn about it in the late 1970s. The root of kwimi dechi was crushed in cool water and drunk for a sore throat or applied to the skin to alleviate aches. The root also was chewed by a medicine man and his patient in "curing ceremonies for various illnesses."

The reason for the discrepancy between reported and perceived native uses may arise from the fact it is a high-altitude species. Anthropologists only may have asked about plants growing in their immediate areas, and not asked about ones brought from a distance or obtained in trade. They also may have overlooked a root that was harder to identify than a plant with leaves and flowers.

Between the time Jacob Krummeck began promoting oshá in Santa Fé in the 1860s and the time anthropologists visited native bands, the mountains changed. Miners moved in. Lumberman clear cut hillsides. As a side effect, environments where plants grew were destroyed.

Michael Moore talked to someone on the Navajo reservation who said, they used to get it at Lukachukai until they took down all the trees. That happened when they began mining uranium in that part of Arizona bordering western New Mexico in 1950.

It may not have grown back because more was required than a subalpine environment. Richo Cech has successfully cultivated it on volcanic soils at 1,600' around Williams, Oregon. He said he planted seeds in 2008. Although he didn’t add any nutrients, he did grow it with buckwheat to provide shade and covered the soil with coconut fibers. Since Michael Moore had said he had found the roots in rotten logs, Cech added carbon regularly to emulate its original woodland environment.

After six years, he dug up some roots with the characteristic smell and was "struck by the massive proliferation of fungal hyphae in the soil--a white netting that seemed to be coexisting with the feeder roots from the oshá." He didn’t notice any nodulation but was convinced there was some association with a mycorrhizal fungus.

Botanists have been trying to grow the plant with little success. Bennett Sondeno and Karen Panter tested commercially available inoculants and found none were effective. Neither did their three growing media have an obvious influence. Rachel Mata’s team also tried three different media and found none had any influence on germination.

The underlying geology may not matter. In New Mexico, it’s been found in the uplifted Sangre de Cristo around Taos, Las Vegas, Pecos and Santa Fé. The plant’s been reported to the west in the Tunitchas near the uplifted Chuska mountains and to the south in the uplifted Sandías. Much farther south, oshá has grown around Hillsboro and Sawyers peaks in the igneous Mimbres and in the Sacramento mountains.

The member of the Apia family also has been found on the volcanic White mountains and in the Mogollons. Sierra Grande, where it was reported before 1915, is an extinct shield volcano in the Raton-Clayton volcanic field.

Temperature does matter. It grows between 7,000' at the northern end of its range and at 10,000' at the south. The altitude by latitude gradient usually indicates climatic differences, so a lower altitude at a higher latitude may be colder in winter than a higher altitude farther south.

Bernadette Terrell and Anne Fennell tried growing seeds purchased from suppliers in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. The ones from the north required longer exposures to cold than those from the south. Mata’s team found the only ones that survived germination were those held at 1 degree C for 45 to 90 days. Half of those held at temperatures 10 degrees higher or lower germinated, but died after 12 weeks.

The group found it wasn’t simply cold that mattered. The plant hormone gibberellic acid commonly is used as a substitute. It failed to hatch any seeds.

Light matters. Kelly Kindscher’s teams surveyed north-facing stands near Cumbres Pass in the Colorado Rockies in July of 2012. They found the plants growing in open meadows had more flowering stalks and double the root masses of those in understories

Emily Mooney’s team surveyed stands a bit farther north at Crested Butte, Colorado, in the West Elk Mountains. In the same year, in the same kind of mineral bearing ranges they also found many more flowering stems in open areas than shaded ones, but no differences in their root sizes.

The second group was able to test root extracts against standard laboratory bacteria, Micrococcus luteus and Bacillus cereus. They found plants from the low-light environments were more detrimental against the second than the other. There was no difference in their effects on the other.

Water matters. Oshá likes damp, but not saturated sites. 2012 was a drought year. Kindscher’s colleagues "did not find one single seedling growing in the Forested site, while the Meadow site had many." The drought broke with heavy rains in the fall of 2013. Mooney said, they didn’t see any seedlings in either the high light or the low light areas until 2014. Then "the numbers of seedlings did not vary with light environment."

One suspects the development of medicinal stands begins with seedlings in open areas. Many, no doubt, are browsed by black tailed deer and other animals. In dry years, few seeds may be dispersed because its flowering season doesn’t overlap with the active period of the flies that pollinate it.

Over time, those seedlings that do survive create the kind of soil observed by Cech. With more time, trees invade, and the plants react by producing the valued chemicals. It’s a recovery marked in decades, not years.

Notes: Jacob Krummeck was discussed in the post for 25 October 2015.

Camazine, Scott and Robert Arthur Bye. "A Study of the Medical Ethnobotany of the Zuñi Indians of New Mexico," Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2:365-388:1980.

Chech, Richo. Entry for 12 July 2014 on Horizon Herbs’ Facebook site. He posted photographs of the roots as they came out of the ground.

Chenoweth, William L. "The Uranium Deposits of the Lukachukai Mountains, Arizona," in F. D. Trauger, Defiance, Zuni, Mt. Taylor Region (Arizona and New Mexico), 1967.

Curtin, Leonora Scott Muse. Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, 1947, republished 1997, with revisions by Michael Moore.

Kindscher, Kelly, Julia Yang, Quinn Long, Rachel Craft, and Hillary Loring. "Harvest Sustainability Study of Wild Populations of Osha, Ligusticum porteri," University of Kansas, 1 April 2013.

Mata, Rachel, Dalia Goldhaber-Pasillas, Robert Bye, and Víctor Manuel Chávez-Ávila. "In Vitro Morphogenetic Responses and Comparative Analysis of Phthalides in the Highly Valued Medicinal Plant Ligusticum porteri Coulter & Rose," Plant Growth Regulation 67:107-119:2012.

Mooney, Emily H., Andrew A. Martin, and Robert P. Blessin. "Effects of Light Environment on Recovery from Harvest and Antibacterial Properties of Oshá Ligusticum porteri (Apiaceae)," Economic Botany 69:72-82:2015. Neither test bacterium causes the sorts of problems treated by oshá.

Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants: in the Field with Michael Moore, Volume 2: Southern Colorado, filmed by Wren Cottingham, 1994; section uploaded to You Tube as "A Talk on Oshá - Part 1."

Sondeno, Bennett J. and Karen L. Panter. "Effects of Media and Mycorrhizal Inoculants on Oshá (Ligusticum porteri) Rooting," HortScience, July 2004.

Terrell, Bernadette and Anne Fennell. "Oshá (Bear Root) Ligusticum porteri J.M. Coult. & Rose var. porteri," Native Plants 10:110-118:2009.

Tilford, Gregory L. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, 1997; on altitude and range

Wooton, Elmer O. and Paul C. Standley. Flora of New Mexico, 1915; included the list of areas where it had been reported in New Mexico.

Photographs: Oshá, purchased at local farmers market on 24 August 2015; photographed 1 November 2015. Side and end of one root fragment.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Oshá: Local Ways

Weather: Temperatures flirted with freezing, then rains came after dark Thursday and lasted through the following morning.

What’s blooming: Hybrid roses, calamintha, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds, zinnias, áñil del muerto.

Local vegetable patches have been cleared, but the pepper plants have been left. More piñon was for sale this week by roadside; this must be a mast year.

What’s turning yellow: Leaves on cottonwoods, catalpas, Siberian elms, grapes, globe and sandbar willows.

What’s turning red or orange: Leaves on apricots, cherries, sandcherries, Virginia creeper.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, goldfinches, chickadees.

The ground squirrel has climbed the peach tree and bitten off twigs on a low, horizontal branch. It might have been making room for itself, since it left the debris on the ground. It’s also possible it was after insects in the crack on the upper side of the branch, or had some other motive.

Weekly update: Leonora Curtin said Ligusticum porteri was called oshá and chuchupate in New Mexico in the 1940s, but believed the latter name was more common in the southern part of the state. Urban dwellers in Chihuahua still use the term.

At this time it’s hard to know if local Spanish speakers learned about the herb when they were still in México, adopted it from local groups, or transferred knowledge from some other plant known from Spain.

John Gerard said Angelica archangelica was used "against poison, and against the plague, and all infections taken by evil and corrupt air" in 1633 in England. He also recommended it for fevers caused by malaria, stomach pain, and "witchcraft and enchantments, if a man carry the same about them." In addition, it "cureth the biting of mad dogs, and all other venomous beasts."

Angelica is an umbrel like osha and may contain similar chemicals. The similarity in external form and prescription may have made Spanish colonists open to testing the unfamiliar oshá when they moved into the silver mining areas of Chihuahua.

In the 1940s people living in northern New Mexico were chewing oshá for stomach gas and using ground roots in water for stomach aches Those were the same uses recorded among the Tarahumara in 1777 when Falcón Mariano said, they extracted "a liquid used to treat stomach pains and flatulence."

Some Tarahumara bands were living near the Parral silver mines when settlers were recruited from there for the Reconquest in 1693. Jacob Krummeck, who sold the root in Santa Fé in the 1860s, was married to a woman from a ranching area in Chihuahua.

Carolyn Dodson and William Dunmire heard Hispanic ranchers tied sprigs of chuchupate to their boots to ward off rattlesnakes. Curtin heard sheepherders or pastors and their camperos carried bits of root in their pockets as protection against snakes and powdered it to spread around their bedrolls. Tarahumara still carry pieces of root to "ward off snakes and sorcerers." They may have borrowed that usage from the colonists.

Curtin did describe one oshá use that clearly was learned from the Apache, smoking the hollow stems. She probably meant the Jicarilla who began settling in northern New Mexico in the 1720s. They were first around the Río Trampas where they may have discovered the plant growing. Today they call it ha’ich’idéé.

Spanish-speaking settlers in the valley took their knowledge of the root north when they moved into the San Luis valley of Colorado. Glenn Appelt interviewed six families in 1986 who used herbal medicines. Four had used oshá in the past two months, two for colds and two for infections. One also had used it for gas and mixed it with olive oil to rub on rheumatic joints.

The plant became so embedded in traditions of local Spanish speakers, it was used when new health problems arose. José Ortiz y Pino remembered when "Doña María knew that her husband, Don Luis, would come home feeling no pain from a night out, she would immediately prepare a piece of oshá root in a glass of whiskey" to be drunk in the morning.

Ortiz, who was born around Galisteo in 1931, said it also was used for stomach gas, colds, and chronic coughs. It was made into a tea or chewed.

Curtin reported another use that was obviously originated by the Spanish speakers themselves. She talked to Penitentes around Córdova who made a salve to treat their wounds. They used mutton tallow as a binder, turpentine as a thinner, and oshá, manzanilla and contrayerba herbs. They also added a small piece of candle wax to the mix. She didn’t note if the wax came from any particular candle, or if its use was pragmatic or symbolic.

Notes: Jacob Krummeck was discussed in the post for 25 October 2015. Curtin used the word campers; Ortiz explained a pastor was responsible for the flock, a campero for locating grazing areas.

Appelt, Glenn D. "Pharmacological Aspects of Selected Herbs Employed in Hispanic Folk Medicine in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, USA: I. L. porteri (Oshá) and Matricaria chamomilla (Manzanilla)," Journal of Ethnopharmacology 13:511-55:1985.

Curtin, Leonora Scott Muse. Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, 1947, republished 1997, with revisions by Michael Moore. She identified manzanilla as chamomile and cotrayerba as Kallstroemia brachystlis.

Dodson, Carolyn and William W. Dunmire. Mountain Wildflowers of the Southern Rockies, 2007.

Fontana, Bernard L. Tarahumara, 1979.

Gerard, John. The Herbal, 1633 edition revised and enlarged by Thomas Johnson.

Irigoyen-Rascón, Fructuoso. Tarahumara Medicine: Ethnobotany and Healing among the Rarámuri of Mexico, 2015.

Mariano, Falcón. Relación de Wawachiki, 1777; quoted by Irigoyen-Rascón.

Ortiz y Pino III, José. Don José: the Last Patrón, 1981.

Solmán, Enrique. Sharing Our Breath with Our Relatives: Rarámuri Plant Knowledge, Lexicon, and Cognition, 1999; quoted by Irigoyen-Rascón; on use against sorcerers.

Wikipedia. "Ligusticum porteri" has an unsourced reference to Jicarilla word.

Photographs: Oshá, purchased at local farmers market on 24 August 2015; photographed 1 November 2015.
1. Oshá densely packed in a small plastic bag.
2. Bag just opened revealing variety of roots.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Oshá: Popular Image

Weather: Our fall monsoon finally arrived with heavy rain Wednesday and smaller amounts Tuesday and Friday. Whatever the forces that direct the paths of winds have sent most of the moisture that developed off México this season to the west; water from Patricia went northeast through Texas and Oklahoma. Morning temperatures were so cold Friday there was frost on my neighbor’s roof, but the ground was covered with a descending fog that must have insulated plants.

What’s blooming: Hybrid roses, morning glories, calamintha, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, sweet pea, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds, zinnias, áñil del muerto.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, goldfinches, evidence of the ground squirrel.

Weekly update: I saw three people selling piñon yesterday in drives facing Riverside between the lights for Fairview and the road to Chimayó. In one place, they shared the parking lot with pickups filled with firewood.

It won’t be long before men show up with oshá. They only put out cardboard signs with the single word written with a thick magic marker. Everyone one who cares doesn’t need to know more.

When I talked to a vendor this summer at the local farmers market who had a similar sign, he gave the tersest answer to my question, what is it. A root used for coughs. All he would add was that it grew in the mountains and resembled celery. He had green peppers to sell and many of his customers knew him.

The first man to sell the root commercially was Jacob Krummeck in Santa Fé in the 1860s. He’d been born in Darmstadt in 1835, and must have migrated as soon as he was of age. Lansing Bloom said, he joined the Masons sometime between 1857 and 1864.

He must have been trained as a druggist in Hesse, because he was described as a confectioner when he married Adelaida Barron in 1863. Pharmacists in those years usually bought their raw materials locally and compounded themselves. They knew enough chemistry to test what they were offered for purity.

Krummeck had two challenges when he arrived in the territory of New Mexico: learn Spanish and English, and discover what drugs were wanted by his potential customers. Then, he had to find sources and learn how to test them. He probably got little from outside the area. The railroad didn’t arrive until 1880.

In 1866 he sent samples of oshá to the editor of the American Journal of Pharmacy for identification. William Proctor couldn’t help because "the essential portions, the fruit, flowers, and leaves were missing." In 1867, he sent another sample, this time "with the leaves attached."

The fact Krummeck only sent the root and could only describe the leaves closest to it suggests he was buying it from someone. William Bowen was told Krummeck "first learned of this remedy from the noble red man." The German said, in an accompanying letter to Proctor, that "this root is extensively used in Indian medicine."

One would guess his source was someone from Pecos, because that was the nearest pueblo to Santa Fé at the time. In addition, family genealogists have found his wife’s brother, Bonifacio, was living in Pecos county in 1870. He was baptized in Aldama, Chihuahua, in 1822. Adelaida also was born in Chihuahua.

Krummeck claimed "he was the first to introduce it to the white man." That probably was true in New Mexico. He had a physical store by 1869 when he was advertising a "selected assortment of fresh drugs, medicines," and "pure liquors for medical purpose, and a large assortment of all the leading patent medicines" in the Santa Fé Weekly Gazette.

The United States army commissioned George Wheeler to survey lands west of the 100th meridian between 1869 and 1871. No doubt when they got to Santa Fé his team spent time with members of the English speaking community.

Joseph Rothrock published the section on plants in 1878. He said oshá was a "root, so well known in and around Santa Fe, is derived from an unknown plant, probably a Peucedanum." He thought it was probably the same plant described by Oscar Loew in 1875. The latter had said it had "a strongly aromatic root, used for weakness of the system. Mr. Krummeck considers this root more effectual than that of our eastern Angelica species."

Ligusticum porteri wasn’t officially recognized until 1888, and then the description was based on a specimen collected at the "head waters of the Platte near Denver" in 1873. By then, it was much better known from the mining towns on Colorado where it had been collected. When Bowen was capitulating the history of the Apiaceae, he said it was known in Kansas where it was sold as Colorado Cough and Catarrah Root.

Most of the elements of standardized public image were in place by then: it was called oshá, it was used by native Americans, and was used for coughs. He repeated another, that the name was "said to be Indian for bear, and it was applied to this plant owing to the fact that bears are very fond of the fresh root, digging it and eating it with great gusto."

The final element of the popular lore, that it looked like celery came from outsiders. I doubt many in the Española valley have ever seen celery growing. It has very special requirements. The governor in 1903 said it was a new crop around Roswell where it flourished on saline soils watered by large springs.

However, it’s much smarter to say the plant resembles something safe and familiar than to admit it actually may be mistaken for poison hemlock.

Bloom, Lansing B. Notes to the reprint of the minutes of seventeenth regular meeting of the historical society, 24 June 1862, in New Mexico Historical Review 18:418:1943.

Bowen, William F. "A Study of the Osha Root and Its Volatile Oil," Kansas Pharmaceutical Association, Proceedings 16:72-76:1895; source for all quotes not otherwise attributed.

Coulter, John M. and J. N. Rose. Monograph on the North American Umbelliferae, 1900.

Krummeck, Jacob. Advertisement, Santa Fé Weekly Gazette, 20 March 1869.

Loew, O. "List of Plants of Medical and Technical Use" in Wheeler, v 3, Geology, 1875.

Otero, Miguel A. Report of the Governor of New Mexico to the Secretary of the Interior, 1903.

Rothrock, J. T. Wheeler, v6, Botany, 1878.

Schmal, John, and others. Notes posted on under "Barron family > MX > New Mexico 1860 to 1870s."

Wheeler, George M. Report upon Geographical and Geological Explorations and Surveys West of the One Hundred Meridian.

Photographs: Oshá vendors in a local store parking lot, between trucks selling firewood. The first is from Tuesday, 9 December 2014, the other from Sunday, 23 November 2014.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Negligent Elms

Weather: Tuesday, for the first time this season, the sun was in my eyes when I was sitting at my desk; since early morning low temperatures have fallen into the high 30s; last rain 10/5.

What’s blooming in the area: Datura, morning glories, Maximilian sunflowers, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds, zinnias.

Beyond the walls and fences: Áñil del muerto, broom senecio; empty white seed receptacles on composites catch the early morning light along the roads.

In my yard: Calamintha, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, sweet pea, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragon.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, goldfinches.

The ground squirrel reestablished its barrier the day after I removed it. This time the row of cactus bits was reinforced with tops of purple coneflowers and pieces of tomatillo capsules. I removed it again, and again it laid its line of thorns.

Weekly update: Nothing signals neglect the way a field overrun by Siberian elms does.

When you drive the same roads day after day, you become familiar with passing yards. When one that’s flashed red roses and white roses of Sharon becomes hidden behind pigweeds and elms, you wonder if someone died, became ill or moved away. You never knew the owners, but you’ve miss their spirits anyway.

I’m often been puzzled why that particular tree has that emotional affect on me. It’s not just that it meets the technical definition of a weed and grows abundantly where it’s not wanted, though it certainly does that.

Every spring, the papery round seed cases are blown into my yard, where they settle in before they show they green heads. By the time I find them, their roots are several inches deep and can only be removed when the ground is thoroughly wet. If I cut them, they come back bushier than before.

Lots of plants do the same things, including the hollyhocks growing with the Ulmus pumila sprouts in my iris bed.

It’s what happens next. They become weedy, that is they outgrow themselves and become lanky, scrawny, gawky, gangly, rangy. The synonyms multiply.

When you look carefully, you see there are two traits that create this effect. The branches diverge widely from their trunks, and their leaves are small.

When they mature, there are enough branches to fill in the spaces, like the trees in the background of the above photograph. It’s their adolescence that’s distressing.

Compare them with the self-seeded fruit trees that bloom every spring.

If you look closely, you see the branches remain closer to their trunks. Their leaves are larger, and when they emerge, they give the trees the dense canopies we learn as children characterize shade trees. Their owners may not appreciate them, but I do.

1. Siberian elms in front of a local house.
2. The same area two years before.
3. Elm and hollyhock seedlings in my iris bed.
4. Two-year-old elm tree in my yard.
5. Self-seeded fruit trees in a local yard.
6. Another two-year-old elm next to a cherry tree.

7. Elms overrunning a local field. I imagine most of the mature trees in back are all elms, although the one with bare branches is a Russian olive.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Columbian Exchange

Weather: Time to stop watering and let the garden adjust to the realities of nature. Rained before I woke up Tuesday morning and again after I went to bed Tuesday night.

What’s blooming in the area: Datura, morning glories, alfalfa, Maximilian sunflowers, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds, zinnias.

Beyond the walls and fences: Bindweed, chamisa, native sunflower, gumweed, áñil del muerto, broom senecio, golden hairy, purple and heath asters; eaves on Virginia creeper turning maroon.

In my yard: Calamintha, larkspur, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, sweet pea, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, yellow cosmos.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragon, marigold.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, goldfinches on Maximilian sunflower heads, geckos, cabbage butterfly, bumble bees on blanket flowers.

Weekly update: Every year around Columbus Day someone in the media does a piece about the effects of the Columbian Exchange on our diet. It usually focuses on the introduction of cattle and wheat into the New World, and the export of potatoes, corn, chocolate, peppers and tomatoes to Europe. It may mention the import of African foods like yams. The fourth leg, the one back to Africa is rarely mentioned. After all, the only people making that trip were slave traders.

One food, however, did make that journey, the parent of the amaranth used as a red dye by the Hopi. Amaranthus cruentus is used as a vegetable in west Africa.

As mentioned in the post for 21 Feb 2010, grain amaranths were one of the five primary foods in Aztec México. However, Spanish ships weren’t much involved in the slave trade, and the crown jealously guarded all other trade within the empire. After Spain took over the throne of Portugal in 1580, Portuguese seaman provided slaves, primarily from Angola and Gabon.

When the Bourbons ascended the throne of Spain, France was given rights to the Caribbean trade in 1703, with a proviso it continue to draw slaves from the Portuguese colonies. In 1716, France eliminated some monopolies, and allowed any ship owner from one of five ports to sell slaves so long as he paid duty in Saint-Domingue.

All this means is that the Mexican amaranth had to travel to Africa through one of the islands where French, Portuguese or English merchants were active. French began infiltrating the western part of Hispaniola in 1625 and formally gained control of Saint-Domingue in 1697. The English took Jamaica in 1655.

I haven’t found anything yet on when and how the red leafed plant moved to the Caribbean islands. It’s found on both Cuba and Hispaniola today, but is considered an introduced species. A different species, Amaranthus viridis, is associated with Jamaica. It may have come from Asia where indentured servants were recruited between 1845 and 1917. There may have been another species before, and the local term for the one may have been transferred to the other.

Ships’ registries were controlled by European treaties. The compositions of their crews were not. Both Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Pio Baroja’s The Restlessness of Shanti Andia limned groups drawn from Europe, Asia, Africa and the New World. Baroja, in particular, described a nineteenth-century slaver under French colors with a Basque captain that sailed between the Caribbean, Africa, the East Indies, and the Philippines.

Any one could have taken seed aboard as food or ballast, then left it in some African port. It’s been mentioned in former French colonies from Senegal south to the British controlled Nigeria, where it’s particularly common in the lowland south. It’s also found today in the former British Ghana, which lies west of one-time French Benin.

Once in Africa, the seed spread from group to group, much like Watermelon had in this country. It was "already present in gardens in some the remotest regions when explorers such as Livingstone, Speke and Grant, Burton, and Schweinfurth arrived."

Gérard Grubben said, it not only was used as a food, but also had been adapted for medical uses. "In Senegal the roots are boiled with honey as a laxative for infants. In Ghana the water of macerated plants is used as a wash to treat pains in the limbs."

Meanwhile, back in the Caribbean African slaves transformed the grain amaranth into a vegetable. They boiled it like any other green to produce callaloo. In Belize, a mixed African, Carib and Arawak community, the Garifuna, use the plant to "build up blood."

Notes: Many writers discussing amaranth in Africa mention many species, and don’t specify which one is found in which country. To complicate matters, amaranths in general, and this one in particular, are being promoted as food with high levels of proteins and minerals in areas where malnutrition is a problem. The initial distribution of Amaranthus cruentus could have been much wider than I’ve indicated, but I restricted myself to sources that were specific.

Watermelon was discussed in the posts for August 23 through September 6 of this year.

Acevedo-Rodriguez, Pedro and Mark T. Strong. "Amaranthus cruentus L.," in Flora of the West Indies, Smithsonian Institution, Museum of Natural History website.

Baroja y Nessi, Pio. Las Inquietudes de Shanti Andía, 1911, translated as The Restlessness of Shanti Andia by Anthony and Elaine Kerrigan, 1962.

Grubben, G. J. H. "Amaranthus cruentus L.," in G. J. H. Grubben and O. A. Denton, Vegetables/Légumes, 2004; quotation on medicinal uses.

Santos, Jeffery. A Study on the Medicinal Usage of Flora and Fauna by Ganifuna Comminity in Belize, no date.

Sauer, Jonathan D. Historical Geography of Crop Plants, 1994; quotation on explorers.

Photographs: Taken in the area on 21 August 2015.

1. Hopi Red Dye amaranth, planted for the first time by someone who nurtures native plants. The remains of a yellow mullein is at the far right in front of the road fence.

2. Hopi Red Dye amaranth, in the place it naturalized for several years; this year they destroyed most of the plants.

3. Love-Lies-Bleeding, planted by someone who has planted the Hopi Red Dye variety for several years; they may have only been able to find the right seed this year. It had both maroon (right) and gold (left) flowers.