Sedges Have Edges
December 17 2020
Sedges have edges, Rushes are round, Grasses are hollow, Right up from the ground
There you go! You will forever know the difference between those three plant families. Slice a little cross-section of each and you will see. (An alternate ending to the poem is “grasses have knees- that bend to the ground) Plant shapes are of course key to their identification, shape of leaves, stems, flowers, and roots are all hints.
There is an interesting idea from the 1500’s called the Doctrine of Signatures that says that plants will cure the part of the body they look like. Lungwort, for example, has lung shaped leaves with spots, thought to mimic diseased lungs and is used to treat lung ailments. I don’t know how scientifically valid that idea is, but I do know that if you learn a few plant characteristic shapes, it makes identifying plants much easier. Members of the mint family (lamiaceae), for instance, have square stems, opposite leaves, tiny flowers, and scented oils in their leaves and stems. Many culinary herbs besides mint are members of the mint family-basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, marjoram, beebalm, lavender, and lemon balm. Ornamental garden plants with tell-tale square stems include salvias, bugleweed, lamb’s ears, coleus, and Russian sage. Get yourself a little hand lens and look closely at a cross section of a stem-pretty cool!
An added benefit to plants in the mint family is that they are important source of pollen and nectar for pollinators. One of my favorites, lemon balm, has the Latin name ‘Melissa” which is Greek for bee or honeybee. Apparently, lemon balm has many of the same chemicals as bee pheromones so beekeepers crush it’s leaves to attract bees to a new hive; though I can’t imagine commercial beekeepers would go to this trouble, it’s worth a try should you keep bees. We could also draw bees to our vegetable gardens by planting lemon balm around it-I haven’t tried it, but it’s a nice idea and it would be lovely to have a lemon scented plant in the garden.
Medicinally, lemon balm is calming , good for stress and anxiety and also for digestive upsets. You can simply simmer a handful of leaves for a cup of tea, or I stuff a jar with lemon balm and mint leaves and make sun tea. You can also use it in place of basil to make pesto.
If lemon balm has a drawback, it’s that it may seed itself around a bit much. I’m willing to accept that for the pleasure of plucking a leaf or two just for the scent alone. It’s kind of cheering as I go about the endless watering and weeding in my summertime garden.
Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis