For the last month or so I’ve been working on an “Earth healing circle”, you can check out the project here. For those of who you don’t like watching videos I’ll explain it briefly here.
Basically it is a circle of mulch (dry organic matter stacked up to prevent water evaporation), where everything is covered, even the walking paths. Since the circle expands in “ripples”, I will be alternating one ripple for planting food and the next one for allowing the Earth to do whatever it wants. Then another for food and then another where anything goes.
The goal of this is to create a sort of oasis as there is much drought where I live. I bring water I extract illegally from a plantation watering canal and ration it through drip irrigation. With time I hope to start seeing native trees sprout in place and at some point, they will be in charge of regulating the moisture and keep the “oasis” thriving.
So what does that have to do with the plant I want to show you? The center of the circle has been receiving water from the very beginning and was quickly covered by one type of plant. Part of the “healing circle” project is to learn about the wild plants that begin to grow in it so I searched, and searched… and searched. Until I found it!
This is echium plantagineum in its early stage. Look how well it covers the soil! A marvelous protector of the soil from the scorching sun!
The leaves match with echium plantagineum a highly resistant and invasive plant that “costs the Australian sheep and cattle industry approximately $250 million annually due to pasture land degradation, associated management costs, and contamination of wool by seeds”. Source.
I tend to love plants that farmers hate. I feel they are Mother Nature’s freedom fighters, the healers of the soil and they carry the message: “no matter how much you poison us, no matter how much you burn us, no matter how much money you lose because of us, we will come back once and a million times to do our job, to see life prevail”.
It is such a problem for these farmers that it is called “Patterson’s Curse”. The name has its origins in a Patterson family garden where they used the plant ornamentally but it spread out into the neighboring pastures, getting out of control. Other common names include: Salvation Jane, Riverina bluebell, Lady Campbell weed, purple viper’s bugloss, viper’s bugloss.
Now, don’t get things wrong. When they mention “pasture land degradation” it refers to the loss of value for raising livestock, as its overconsumption can lead to poisoning. However, this is a plant with high nutritional value, especially the seeds that are high in omega-3 fatty acid and omega-6 linoleic acid.
This plant is almost dried up but you can still appreciate a bit of how it looks when flowering. After it's dry you just rub it a bit and the seeds easily fall off.
Although this is a plant with a pretty low oil yield, I think it should be considered that it requires no effort or care whatsoever to cultivate. It will take over an entire patch of land, especially if the soil is infertile and deficient in calcium, reducing the economic and ecosystemic impact.
Besides, this plant is doing in a very fast way a job that others might take a lot longer to do. In less than a month it has effectively covered the soil from the sunlight. Using it’s big, wide and fast-growing leaves, they created a very protective patch, which is exactly what I wanted to happen.
Their roots can go up to a meter underground searching for water and nutrients. A perfect plant for places where the top layer of the soil has been damaged!
Can’t forget to mention that bees love it! There was some information about the honey produced by bees that depend almost exclusively on echium producing some allergies when consumed by humans. Look it up yourself, or get allergies… better if you didn’t steal the bee’s hard work at all. Anyway, look at the bees enjoying this!
Can you eat echium plantagineum?
The basal leaves have been used to prepare salads by many cultures although it’s best to use them in early stages as they will develop a layer of fine hairs that produce irritation and - in some cases - allergy. Once they become hairy you can still use them in the kitchen cooked in stews, soups or stir-fried.
Historical medicinal uses
Due to the similarities of the flower stems with a viper’s head it was used to treat snake poisoning, as well as from scorpions. It has also been used to treat colds, coughs, fever, headache, water retention, kidney stones, inflammation, skin boils, pain relief and wound healing (Klemow et al, 2002)
Benefits of echium oil
Naturally rich in SDA or steriadonic acid (12-15%) which has the following benefits:
- Inhibits tumoral growth. Recent studies have proven effectiveness in fighting breast cancer. Source
- Reduces COX2 enzime activity that is responsible for causing inflammation in pacients with arthritis. Source.
- Reduces dermatitis and acne when used externally over the skin. Source
Most benefits of omega-3 and omega-6 have been widely talked about so I won’t expand this unnecessarily. If you want to read on this check out this link.
How to distinguish echium plantagineum from echium vulgare
If you look closely into the picture you will see that the leaves are rounder for echium plantagineum. As they grow they resemble the leaves of plantago major, being very broad though with more hairs.
I have seen this plant in many places growing abundantly when no other plant would. As water becomes less available and the soil loses nutrients due to intensive farming it is important that we began learning of the different gifts Mother Nature always had for us but we ignored because we were to busy getting fat on white flour.
As soon as I have enough seeds available I will experiment doing some oil. If this fails I will experiment roasting the seeds as you would do with sesame or flax seeds and see what happens.
I thank the Earth’s generosity as no matter how much we screw things up, she’s always giving us another chance to learn and thrive.
Did you know about echium plantagineum? Do you let it grow or do you weed it out? Hope this was useful for you!