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The Container Victory Garden

If you’re new to container gardening, especially edible gardens, start with this book. Maggie Stuckey clearly had a mission in mind when writing this book: to invite people to explore how they can start growing tasty food and to provide them with a resource that is useful, easy to follow, and clearly written.

The crux of The Container Victory Garden is an introduction to taking advantage of small spaces—balconies, patios, or a few steps—and reimaging those spaces as gardens where you can grow and harvest food you like. Stuckey does not assume prior knowledge, gently walking readers through the necessities for container gardens: considering sun and water supply; tools that are especially useful; and advantages and disadvantages to different kinds of containers. She even includes some creative inspiration for reusing furniture or thrift goods to create a container garden that has more personality or better function. She goes through the process of figuring out what kinds of plants to grow with several whole chapters digging more substantially into what’s helpful to know about carrots or tomatoes or basil or pansies.

Janice Minjin Yang and Lee Johnston have also done an excellent job using art to increase the book’s impact. There are three kinds of art used in the book. The first kind is photographs that show readers what the plants look like. The second kind is black-and-white line sketches that illustrate concepts and ideas, making it easier to understand different trellis options or what a root ball looks like. The third kind is paintings depicting scenes of people enjoying their container gardens. I particularly enjoy the last because the paintings help show a wide array of styles when it comes to setting up container gardens and they make it easier for a reader to envision what they might want their garden to be like.

Woven throughout this book are threads about the history of victory gardens. Common during times of war or pandemic, victory gardens have come to occupy a strong space in our cultural imagination for the idea that we can do something to take care of us and those around us in times of profound stress by growing our own tasty, healthy food. As a historian of food and cultural ideas about what we eat, I really enjoyed these threads in Stuckey’s book. She includes historical information, documents and photographs, and recollections from about 20 individuals about their experiences with victory gardens. I feel this dimension of the book helps support the mission of inviting new people into the world of gardening by showing them how they can be part of this bigger, fascinating picture.

While this book is substantial and very helpful, it is not intended to be comprehensive. For readers wanting a more comprehensive book on container gardening, I couldn’t do better than to recommend McGee & Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container, by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey. But for an introductory book on the subject, Stuckey’s The Container Victory Garden is definitely top-notch.

Reviewed by Nick Williams in The Leaflet, Volume 10, Issue 9, September 2023

are carnations and pinks edible?

Are carnation and pink flowers edible? I read (in a novel) about a 17th century beverage called “Water of Venus” that included carnations and cinnamon.


I could not find any information about a beverage of that name, which may be the author’s invention.  As long as the plants are grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, it should be safe to use spicy, clove-flavored Dianthus petals in drinks and edible concoctions, from cake and salad decoration to flavoring oils and vinegars. According to Edible Flowers: A Global History by Constance L. Kirker and Mary Newman (Reaktion Books, 2016), ancient Greeks and Romans used the petals in various dishes. The genus name is from Greek dios (god) and anthos (flower). The Romans called carnations Jupiter’s flower, to honor the god.

John Gerard’s 1597 Herball mentions that “a water distilled from Pinks has been commended as excellent for curing epilepsy,” and more generally, “a conserve made of the flowers with sugar is exceeding cordial, and wonderfully above measure doth comfort the heart, being eaten now and then.” In Carnation (Reaktion Books, 2016), author Twigs Way lists varieties of intensely fragrant pinks that are ideal for adding to food and drink: ‘Mrs. Sinkins,’ ‘Doris,’ Whatfield Can-can,’ ‘Betty Norton,’ as well as ‘Giant Chabaud’ carnations.

The article “History and Legend of Carnation to 1800” by W. D. Holley (editor for the Colorado Flower Grower’s Association) gives an idea of the wide-ranging presence of the plant, including its use in Elizabethan times for spicing wine and ale, called sop-in-wine or wine-sop.

Garden author Gayla Trail offers a recipe for Dianthus-infused vodka on her You Grow Girl blog. There are more recipes in the Herb Society of America‘s guide for using clove pinks, including instructions on how to prepare the flowers (discard the white base of the petals as well as the sepals and styles which can be bitter).

For more extensive historical information, Mary MacNicol’s Flower Cookery (Collier Books, 1972) is an excellent resource, with recipes from the 1600s to the 1900s. There is one recipe for Ratafia d’Oeillets from The Art of French Cookery (1814) by Antoine Beauvilliers. It calls for 24 pints of brandy and a pound of ratafia pinks (i.e., carnation flowers): “take nothing but the red of the flowers which is put into the brandy, with a drachm of bruised cloves; […] leave them a month in infusion; drain, and press the flowers well; dissolve two pounds of sugar in eight pints of water; mix it well with it; strain and bottle.” There is a second ratafia recipe using pinks with stamens removed, cinnamon sticks, saffron, strawberry juice, sugar, and brandy. Perhaps these beverages inspired the novelist’s Water of Venus.


what is manna?

What is the manna mentioned in the bible—animal, vegetable, or mineral??


In brief, all three: the substance called manna is the result of a insect-plant collaboration, and it’s possible the substance has mineral content. In Exodus Chapter 16, while the Israelites are traversing the desert after fleeing Egypt, God speaks to Moses of a substance that is revealed after the morning dew evaporates: “a fine, scale-like thing, fine as the hoar-frost on the ground” which is to be consumed like bread. The Israelites called it man (derived from the word ‘what,’ or ‘what is it’), “and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” According to the text, the manna sustained them for their forty years of dwelling in the desert. In Numbers Chapter 11, manna resembles coriander seed but also bdellium [b’dolach], which may or may not refer to an aromatic resin emitted by Commiphora [myrrh tree]. “The people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and seethed it in pots, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil.”

Theories of manna’s identity have ranged from the improbable—a type of lichen not found in the Sinai Desert—to the plausible: a sweet exudation from a plant, caused by scale insects or aphids feeding on it. Possible plant sources include Anabasis setifera, Gomphocarpus sinaicus, Tamarix nilotica, Acacia raddiana, Capparis cartilaginea and C. spinosa v. aravensis, Pyrethrum santolinoides, and especially Haloxylon salicornicum, which grows commonly in the southern Sinai. The latter plant is called ‘man rimth’ by Bedouins, who collect the sweet resin from the stems in summer. According to Israeli botanist Avinoam Danin, Haloxylon (formerly called Hammada) is probably the most plentiful source of this sweet substance, but other less common plants in the Sinai may also be sources. Therefore, manna refers to the sweet white substance exuded by some or all of these plants.

The term manna has since been used in other parts of the world to refer to any sweet substance exuding from plants. In Northern Iraq, the sweet substance, possibly caused by insects feeding on the plants, is harvested from ash trees [Fraxinus ornus]. According to the authors of “Identification of Sugars in the Manna of Northern Iraq,” the substance “usually accumulates on the leaves until they fall to the ground. The sugars are extracted from the raw material with boiling water and mixed with eggs to make a popular dessert.” The nougat-like treat is called mann al-sama (manna of the heavens). There is a similar sweet in Iran called gaz, made with honeydew or resin from plants like Tamarix gallica and Astragalus adscendens. Plants upon which psyllid insects have been feeding exude this substance. The insects place their eggs “alongside the main vein of fully-grown leaves, which then curl up around the vein. The nymphs begin feeding inside the rolled-up leaves before they are scattered over the plant during flowering. They can be seen between the sepals and petals, but not inside the corolla. The white, sticky, segmented strings of gaz are mostly secreted in the last instar stage. The segments indicate multiple excretions. The soft exudates harden, eventually detach from the nymph’s body, and remain in the foliage, mixed with the nymphs and often with the plant debris as well.”

Ancient Greek scholar Pliny the Elder, describes manna in his Natural History: “Honey comes out of the air, and is chiefly formed at the rising of the stars, and especially when the Dogstar itself shines forth […] at early dawn the leaves of trees are found bedewed with honey, and any persons who have been out under the morning sky feel their clothes smeared with damp and their hair stuck together, whether this is the perspiration of the sky or a sort of saliva of the stars or the moisture of the air purging itself.” According to Edward Parker in his book Ash (Reaktion Books, 2021), Greco-Roman tradition called the exudate from ash trees manna, and the practice of giving it to infants as a first food spread to Europe.

Sicily also has a long history of  extracting manna from ash trees [Fraxinus ornus and F. angustifolia, primarily] for edible, medicinal, and cosmetic uses. There are ash plantations in the towns of Castelbuono, Pollina, and Cefalu. The tree bark is scored with a knife to harvest the liquid exudate, usually in summer to early autumn. The liquid solidifies rapidly when exposed to hot sun.



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Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food

When I first heard the phrase “food security” I thought of barriers due to poverty or living in inner city food deserts without grocery stores. After a particularly wet November one year when floods closed the I-5 freeway for a few days I heard the concept also applied to the danger of our region being cut off from the food supply because trucks bearing produce from the south couldn’t get through. Lenore Newman is director of the Food and Agriculture Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada. Her book Lost Feast introduces another aspect of food security – the plants and animals people consume going extinct. Newman reports humanity has lost over 90% of named vegetable cultivars, and 87% of pear cultivars: “Think of a great library of flavors. For the last century we have been burning all of the books.”

In America, the long-extinct passenger pigeon once flew in flocks so numerous that the sky could be obscured for days at a time. The birds were a symbol of the boundless abundance the new world represented and a reliable food source for Native people and for the waves of poor immigrants that poured in from abroad. But by the second half of the nineteenth century the flocks had grown so scarce that the bird was reserved for the very wealthy at fancy New York restaurants, such as Delmonico’s.

Each chapter starts and ends with an extinction dinner prepared by a friend who has a talent for cooking and a fondness for animals succeeding in human environments, like seagulls and rats. In the chapter that covers cultivated plants such as apples and pears they decide to prepare the ancient Roman dish “pears patina,” which included grated Bosc pears, cumin, pepper, and honey baked with eggs. The author insisted her friend not include “garum,” a fermented liquid fish ingredient the Romans would have added for some tasty funk or as Newman described it, “an essence of low tide.”

In Lost Feast we visit Hawaii, Kazakhstan, British Columbia, Iceland, Alaska, New Zealand and many more regions of the world to explore how plants and animals evolved over millennia to the cuisines we know today.

Most of us know by now that honeybees and myriad other pollinating insects are essential for most all of our favorite fruits and vegetables. Newman details the history of the human-honeybee intertwined relationship and documents why the insects are so crucial for food production. Bees are under threat from pesticides, parasites, and habitat loss – if the bees disappear so will affordable fruit.

Lenore Newman has a passion for regional cuisine, love of food, and an academic’s dedication to thorough research. The historic details she uncovers are never tedious or dry and the reader can trust her as an authority in food history. Her writing style is witty but also serious, as she draws the reader in with personal stories of her research journey followed with deep background information and lamentations on how much food culture has been lost already. To counter the depressing reality of food extinction Newman leaves us with the Zen Buddhist concept of wabi-sabi: “… we should love life while balancing that love against the sense of serene sadness that is life’s inevitable passing.”

Published in the Leaflet, Volume 9, Issue 1, January 2022

The Food Explorer: the True Adventures of a Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats

[The Food Explorer] cover

The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats by Daniel Stone focuses on David Fairchild, an American who lived from 1869 to 1954. Mangoes, avocados, dates, nectarines, superior hops, seedless grapes and even kale are a few of the food plants he introduced.

David Fairchild founded the USDA’s Office of Seed and Plant Introduction in 1898 on a shoestring budget and an obsession with finding novel or better plants for American farmers. He traveled by steamship to ports around the world seeking interesting food plants. His expedition benefactor, travel companion and lifelong—if prickly—friend Barbour Lathrop encouraged and funded the early years of exploration. Lathrop was generally restless and always wanted to keep moving. That meant young David would only have a day or two in a given tropical locale to convince locals to show him unusual fruit and allow him to take a few cuttings. Occasionally he spirited away a cutting without permission.

We learn how Fairchild was introduced to Alexander Graham Bell through exclusive events held by the National Geographic Society. Bell then invited Fairchild to a private dinner to introduce his daughter, Mabel. The two later married, had children and established a home with property outside of Washington, D.C. where Fairchild could show off some of the beautiful ornamental cherries he had acquired in Japan. According to Stone, it was Fairchild’s encouragement that eventually led to the 1912 gift of cherry trees from the mayor of Tokyo to the American people. These are the flowering cherries that famously grow along the Tidal Basin today.

The First World War made exploration difficult and even more dangerous. It also coincided with the growth of isolationist sentiment in American politics. Fairchild’s childhood neighbor and later nemesis, Charles Marlatt, was an entomologist also working for the USDA who sounded the alarm over potentially damaging insect pests hitching a ride on exotic imported plants. Marlatt may have exaggerated the threat, but he made a convincing argument that all imported plants must be sent directly to Washington, D.C. for inspection. Congress agreed and passed a law that required inspections, causing new introductions to slow to a trickle. Fairchild was baffled and saddened at this development, but was proud of the foods he introduced, even if not all of them were embraced by American eaters, including his favorite fruit —the mangosteen.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, the garden that bears his name in Coral Gables, Florida, was a retirement passion project where he was a primary contributor of tropical trees and plants.

Journalist Daniel Stone’s accessible writing interweaves stories of relationships, travel, plant introduction, and governmental bureaucracy. Readers who enjoy biographies with elements of botanical exploration and the history of food will find this book interesting.

Published in Leaflet for Scholars, Volume 8, Issue 7, July 2021.

Water chestnuts and edible tubers

What is the botanical name for water chestnut? Will it grow here? Are there other water plants that have edible tubers which will thrive in the Pacific Northwest? What about edible lotus root, from Chinese lotus?


Chinese or Sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is hardy in zones 4-10 and is considered invasive in some parts of parts of the midwestern and southeastern U.S. This article in The Guardian by Mark Griffiths, author of The Lotus Quest, suggests growing it in a container in a conservatory or on a sunny deck. However, you may not want to harvest tubers from a lotus grown in a relatively small container, as the plant needs to be large enough to have a substantial system of linear growth in order to sacrifice some of its tubers for human consumption. According to the Colorado Water Garden Society, “Lotus grow in a linear fashion, with a sequence of a tuber producing a leaf and perhaps a flower, then beginning another tuber to repeat the cycle . . . Tuber, leaf, flower, tuber, leaf, flower, etc. Each terminal point produces a single leaf and flower and then sends out the next, new growth. Beneath the soil, lotus growth takes on one of two forms: runners and tubers. The Summer “runner” growth is thin and long (to 24″+).”

American yellow lotus (Nelumbo lutea) also has edible tubers, but it can be an aggressive grower. If you are seeking out plants, be aware that there is sometimes identity confusion among Nelumbo, Nymphaea, Nymphoides, and Nuphar. In King County, there are two common invasive water lilies that are sometimes mistaken for lotuses, Nymphaea odorata and Nymphoides peltata. While some of these water lilies have tubers that have been considered edible in times of famine, they are not a desirable food source.

The common name ‘water chestnut’ may refer to the edible corms of the Chinese water chestnut familiar from Asian cuisine (Eleocharis dulcis), which is in the sedge family (Cyperaceae), or to European water chestnut (Trapa natans), which is in the loosestrife family (Lythraceae). Eleocharis is not winter-hardy in our area (it requires zones 9-11). Trapa natans is a noxious weed in Oregon and is on the Washington State Noxious Weed quarantine list, so it is not a good choice if you are planning to grow your own aquatic plants. Green Deane’s Eat the Weeds webpage describes the differences between these plants.

One commonly grown native plant with edible tubers is Sagittaria latifolia (common arrowhead, wapato, duck potato). It is an attractive ornamental in a water garden. According to Missouri Botanical Garden, the starchy golf-ball sized tubers that develop at the ends of the rhizomes (underground runners) “are edible, and may be boiled or baked and eaten as a potato-like food. Native Americans harvested and consumed these tubers, which in some areas were known as wapato. The tubers are also an important food source for waterfowl, hence the name duck potato.” According to Eat the Weeds, only Sagittaria latifolia is of edible interest to humans because the size of the tubers or corms is more significant than in other species. Generally, the larger the leaf size, the larger the edible tuber. In any case, avoid planting the two species of Sagittaria on the Washington State Noxious Weed list: S. platyphylla (quarantine list) and S. graminea (class B).

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Growing hawthorn in the Pacific Northwest

Hawthorn fruit is valued in traditional Chinese medicine for digestion, circulation, blood pressure, and anything to do with the heart. What types of hawthorn could I grow here in the Pacific Northwest that share the same medicinal properties as the ones used in China? I found some fruit on a tree in my neighborhood that reminds me of the dried hawthorn fruit we used, but someone told me this was a strawberry tree, not a hawthorn.


Strawberry tree is the common name for Arbutus unedo. Its very bumpy fruit is edible but not especially tasty (the species name means ‘I eat one,’ because one would be enough to convince the eater to seek a better food source!). Unlike deciduous hawthorns, Arbutus is evergreen. I can imagine, if you have only seen medicinal hawthorn fruit in dried form, it would be easy to mistake it for the strawberry tree’s fruit. Chinese hawthorn fruit has a comparatively smooth surface, though it is dotted with lenticels (that allow for exchange of gases between the outside world and the fruit’s interior).

We are not medical professionals, so we cannot address the medicinal benefits of any plant. However, there are several species of Crataegus (hawthorn) that are native to China, and some of these have fruit considered useful for the medicinal purposes you mention. The species that come up most often are Crataegus pinnatifida (shan zha) and Crataegus hupehensis. In the article “Hawthorn (Crataegus) Resources in China” (Taijun Guo and Peijuan Jiao, HortScience, Vol. 30(6), October 1995), there is a list of all the species that grow in various regions of China. The most useful ones are likely those that have sizeable fruit. There are also quite a few cultivated varieties, especially of C. pinnatifida, C. scabrifolia, and C. hupehensis. There is some history of hawthorn’s medicinal use in Europe as well, but with different species (mainly Crataegus monogyna–an unregulated noxious weed in King County– and Crataegus laevigata, previously called C. oxyacantha).

If you search online nursery inventory for the Chinese hawthorn species mentioned above, you will see that a cultivar of Crataegus pinnatifida called ‘Red Sun’ is available from Raintree Nursery in Washington, and One Green World in Oregon. You could certainly try growing it here, provided you have the right space for a 15-foot tree that needs full sun. When the fruits ripen (in the fall here), you could even scoop out the seeds, fill them with red bean paste, skewer them, and dip them in sugar syrup to make tanghulu, a treat for Chinese New Year.

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Sahlab and other edible orchids

When I lived in the Middle East, there was a warm drink we enjoyed called sahlab (spelled with variations in different countries, such as salep in Turkey) that is made from dried powdered orchid roots and milk. It can be sweetened, flavored with rosewater and sprinkled with cinnamon and finely chopped pistachios. The powder made from the roots was ubiquitous in markets in my country, but is hard to find here. I don’t know which kinds of orchids are used traditionally. Do all orchids have tubers that are edible (or drinkable)? Are there Pacific Northwest native orchids that could substitute for the wild orchids used in Middle Eastern sahlab?


The use of orchid tubers, whose stored starches are nourishing both to the orchid plant and to humans, goes back many centuries, and over time, sahlab/salep in one form or another migrated across Europe. In the Middle East, people typically use tubers from wild native orchids. In Israel, the family Orchidaceae is referred to as Sahlavim [plural], and the genus Orchis is called Sahlav. In Greece and Turkey, the drink is often made from the tubers of Orchis mascula, Orchis militaris and Anacamptis morio. Other sources include Dactylorhiza and Ophrys species. By the 18th century England, salep or ‘saloop’ was made from Orchis mascula, and was sold by street vendors as a lower cost alternative to tea and coffee. It also went by the name ‘dogstones’ because of the tubers’ resemblance to testicles. In his 1640 book Theatrum Botanicum, John Parkinson lamented that “our pharmacists are wont to adjudge every sort of orchid root an aphrodisiac,” possibly a throwback to the notion that a plant’s appearance indicates its medicinal uses (the Doctrine of Signatures).

An important consideration is the conservation status of some orchids, including species which have been harvested for making sahlab. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, restricts importing all orchids, because of the difficulty in distinguishing one from another, especially by looking at tubers alone. This may account for the scarcity of sahlab powder.

Many orchids have edible properties–just think of vanilla, made from the pods of Vanilla planifolia. It is hard to say which locally native orchids have tubers best suited to making sahlab, and harvesting wild orchids is problematic from a conservation standpoint. For clues about edible uses of orchids in this country, I
searched the Native American Ethnobotany Database. Numerous tribes (including some in the Pacific Northwest) have used a wide variety of orchid species for edible, medicinal, and spiritual purposes. Those which grow here include: Corallorhiza maculata, Goodyera oblongifolia, Platanthera dilatata, Platanthera stricta, and Spiranthes species. Goodyera, for example, is mentioned in Erna Gunther’s Ethnobotany of Western Washington as a tonic among the Cowlitz.

Rather than try to find or grow and harvest orchids to make your own sahlab, the best thing would be to look for prepared sahlab powder that is made from sustainable sources.
Excerpt: “Salep can be produced sustainably, and the species of orchids that yield the best salep (Orchis mascula, Orchis militaris and Anacamptis morio) can be cultivated. Local propagation and sustainable cultivation alleviate harvesting pressure on wild orchids but subsequent trade poses challenges in the context of national and international legislation, such as CITES.”


Seeds and food stamp benefits

I receive a food stamp benefit, and I’ve been able to use it to buy food plants to grow in my garden, but I would like to be able to grow food from seed. Do you know if the benefit covers seeds for food crops?

Thanks for pointing out that food stamp benefits can be used for food plants! I consulted with legal experts at Seattle’s Solid Ground and found out that the benefit does include seeds. Here is the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program web-site where this is stated:

“Households CAN use SNAP benefits to buy: Seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.”

According to the historical information on the website of SNAP Gardens, this benefit has existed since 1973, when the Food Stamp Act was amended to include “seeds and plants for use in gardens to produce food for the personal consumption of the eligible household.” You would still need to obtain the seeds from an existing vendor who accepts the food stamp benefit.

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the fragrant beverage-producing willow

There’s a type of willow used traditionally in Iran to make a fragrant beverage. In Farsi, it’s called bid, and I think it’s also known as musk willow. I need to know what the species is, and I wonder if it will grow in the Seattle area.


Most sources I consulted confirm that musk willow or bid is Salix aegyptiaca. Encyclopaedia Iranica says “bid” is a general term for the genus Salix, but does identify “musk willow” as Salix aegyptiaca. The online version of W.J. Bean’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs: Temperate Woody Plants in Cultivation says the following:
“Native of S.E. Anatolia, S.E. Transcaucasia and N. Persia; introduced to the Botanic Garden at Innsbruck in 1874 by Dr Polak, doctor to the Shah of Persia, and in cultivation at Kew five years later. At one time a perfumed drink was made in Moslem lands from its male catkins, which were also sugared and eaten as a sweetmeat, and used for perfuming linen. For these it was cultivated from Egypt to Kashmir and central Asia, so the epithet aegyptiaca is not so inappropriate as it would otherwise seem to be.”

Salix aegyptiaca is featured in the February 2016 issue of the Royal Horticultural Society’s publication, The Garden in an article entitled “Willow the wish” by David Jewell. Since the article recommends it for gardens in England, where the climate is similar to ours here in the Pacific Northwest, it will probably thrive here in Seattle as well.