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Medicinals in a Forest Garden

 
Chris Watson
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Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
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I am considering growing medicinal plants to sell for profit. I'm wondering if I should include them in my forest garden or place them in a separate system. Most medicinals (e.g. ginseng, goldenseal, lemon balm) are no problem. However, there are some medicinal plants that can be converted into pharmaceuticals, and are quite toxic in their natural state (e.g. digitalis lanata, belladonna). Is it safe to grow these alongside edibles?
 
dj niels
Posts: 181
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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I guess it would depend on who (or what) is wandering around out there, and learning to recognize what is safe. It is common to plant daffodils, rhubarb, tomatoes, apples, and other plants with some parts that are considered toxic in our forest gardens, so why would medicinal herbs be that much different? I think it would be difficult to find a landscaped area that didn't include some plants that might not be safe to eat. Still, since we are growing edible landscapes, it might be a good idea to have a separate are for any plants that might get confused with an edible plant, so they don't get mixed into a salad accidentally.

Lots of people in Seattle grow azaleas and rhododendrons in their yards, and people in Southern Utah and elsewhere, have oleanders, and both those are very toxic. But if you have little children who don't know better than to eat toxic plants, it might be wise to enclose them in a secure fence (the plants, not the children) At the same time, I think most folks would want to teach the kids to know they can only eat something if mom or dad says it is ok.
 
Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I wouldn't discount fencing in the children so soon, dj. It might be the safest way for the rest of the system until they're old enough to watch sheep or something.

Chris, I think you should be able to incorporate all medicinals in with your forest garden. Just don't intercrop the food with the poison that looks like food and you should be fine.

-CK
 
Chris Watson
Posts: 85
Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
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My biggest fear is the grecian foxglove (digitalis lanata). There's no part of it that doesn't contain digitalis, which can stop the heart in seconds. And yes, I do have small children. I think I will grow the foxglove in seperate, raised beds.

And fencing in the kids isn't a bad idea. But the four-year-old likes to climb…
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Skeeter Pilarski grows his medicinals in the young food forest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-o2kVOyE5Ww
 
Jordan Lowery
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I grow many medicinal plants in my polyculture, the more the better IMO
 
Sean Banks
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Where do you sell the medicinals you grow? I have always considered growing ginseng and such but I don't know how to sell them.....
 
Chris Watson
Posts: 85
Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
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I don't know where to sell panex ginseng (a.k.a. plain, old, regular ginseng.) As I understand it, there's one hydroponic grower in the eastern States (I want to say Pennsylvania?) who supplies about 90% of the market. I have a line on where to sell American ginseng, which is used in traditional Chinese herbalism and isn't economically feasable to grow on a large scale – the active part is the root, and it takes 5+ years to grow a marketable one.

Most drug manufacturers will buy foxglove, because digitalis is one of the most common heart medications. That's the one I'm most worried about growing alongside food. Every part of the plant is capable of stopping your heart.
 
Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I guess you could think about planting your digitalis in such a way that it's surrounded by natural warning signs. I wonder if stinging nettles would grow beside them? Many berries grow on canes that can grow into impenetrable thickets if left untended, so I'm pretty sure you could use them as a physical barrier. Hawthorn has been used for hedgerows, and you can graft pear scion wood onto it to grow pears. I wouldn't scoff at neat, orderly rows all in a group and easy to distinguish from everything else and one another if they could all potentially kill me if I mistake something for something else and relax a bit too much with a nice, hot digitalis tea. I'm also thinking that it might, in some cases, be possible to have, say, all the digitalis in one area, and kept separate from everything else only in that it would be the only plant on its level/stratus of that area of the forest. If the only thing from three to five feet tall in one spot was digitalis, it's much harder to confuse with something else. I think the easiest guideline to follow in looking for your whole solution is to keep your potentially lethal medicinals away from the other medicinals and food plants that look like them and grow at the same level. That might also eliminate problems with plants that could out-compete as well.

-CK
 
Chris Watson
Posts: 85
Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
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I think I'll grow the digitalis seperate from everything else in some sort of raised keyhole or mandala beds.They're somewhat shade-tolerant, so I could surround the area with a fence and post warning signs. Everything else can grow in amongst my food forest.
 
Kota Dubois
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Chris I really think you're being too fearful of foxglove. I have them growing everywhere. They are biennials and self seed readily so if they come up in a place where they don't get in the way of some defined project I just leave them. They are beautiful and the bubble bees just love them.

I have handled them in every way possible (I rarely use gloves) and never even noticed the slightest heart palpitations. As for accidentally making tea from them, they are very distinctive and once you know what they look like you'll never mistake them for something else. I'm hard pressed to think of any other plant that resembles them -- maybe a mullein but their leaves are flat and foxgloves are very crinkly.

Once in early spring deer went through and ate everything that was green, including the foxgloves. I didn't see any carcasses lying around afterward. The foxgloves came back from the leafless crowns of the plant.

Just my observations.
 
Chris Watson
Posts: 85
Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
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It's possible that I am being a little paranoid. But then, I used to be a paramedic and I know that digitalis poisoning is a nightmare - even in a fully-stocked ER. The type of foxglove I'm thinking of growing is a european species that has more digitalis than the wild strains to be found.

Also, I have two children who aren't quite old enough to know which plants to eat and to avoid – and I have a heart condition of my own. So a little paranoia seems prodent.
 
Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Kid-proofing a site where they will be encouraged to pick their own food is common sense in my books. I would probably be careful, too. It's not worth losing sleep over, either way, though.

Best of luck,

-CK
 
Clifford Reinke
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Location: Puget Sound
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Kota Dubois wrote:Chris I really think you're being too fearful of foxglove. I have them growing everywhere. They are biennials and self seed readily so if they come up in a place where they don't get in the way of some defined project I just leave them. They are beautiful and the bubble bees just love them.

I have handled them in every way possible (I rarely use gloves) and never even noticed the slightest heart palpitations. As for accidentally making tea from them, they are very distinctive and once you know what they look like you'll never mistake them for something else. I'm hard pressed to think of any other plant that resembles them -- maybe a mullein but their leaves are flat and foxgloves are very crinkly.

Once in early spring deer went through and ate everything that was green, including the foxgloves. I didn't see any carcasses lying around afterward. The foxgloves came back from the leafless crowns of the plant.

Just my observations.


I have to agree with this, we also have Foxglove all over the property. It comes in quickly as a pioneer plant, and I would never be able to control them, even if I had an inclination to. Besides, they are pretty and my bees like them.
 
Angela Baker
Posts: 14
Location: Portland, OR
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Chris, I totally understand your concern - i have four young children, and my yard is constantly full of neighborhood kids as well. I love foxgloves, loved them since my mom grew them all over when I was a kid. I simply planted a patch in an out of the way shady corner and clearly explained to all the children what the plant is and how it can hurt you. End of problem. No one has touched it.

Same goes for elderberry stems and leaves. All neighborhood kids were warned not to handle them or use the hollow woody stems as pea shooters bc they can cause hallucinations and severe intestinal distress.

I do like the earlier comment that if you are worried, you could plant them around the base of a prickly salmon berry plant, or behind some gooseberries. I don't necessarily recommend nettle (I love it, but get it from a friend's garden) bc I do not want to deal with the aftermath of my toddler accidentally stumbling into a patch of it. I will put some in when the kids are older.

Best of luck!
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 1925
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Like Angela,
I am also from Portland, where digitalis is native and abundant. You don't have to try to grow it. You have to kill it on purpose. Despite its abundance here, I have never heard of anyone being concerned about it. I have two kids and a dog. I am not concerned at all. My two cents.
John S
PDX OR
 
Angela Baker
Posts: 14
Location: Portland, OR
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John,
Yes, I agree, it's not much to worry about. Chris seemed concerned, though. But since so much else is edible in our yard, I especially like to make a point of letting kiddos know what few things should NOT be eaten. If you want to eat the hollyhock blossoms and day lilies, go for it kids, but leave the digitalis alone.

However, despite my warnings, last summer a neighborhood kid ate two handfuls of raw elderberries from one of our plants and got quite sick to his stomach. Kids can be so impulsive...

I had foxgloves volunteer where I didn't want them, and so moved them to a shady out of the way place. Didn't buy them or anything. I do love how prolific they are along the roadsides in Oregon.

Good to know another Portlander. Your name sounds familiar. Are you an HOS member?
 
John Saltveit
gardener
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I am. I'm all over the HOS forum and I usually write an article in the Pome News. I hope to see you at one of the tours this summer.
Thanks
John
 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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We have foxgloves all over the property,I'mnot sure what kind but we are in Europe. It makes me a littler nervous but it's not feasible to eradicate it. I have a 5.5 yr old son who has been foraging and gardening since he was a year a half old.He has always been sensible, and checked with us before trying anything, and can identify remarkable numbers of plants. THe problem we are seeing now, is that he is so confident. Thus far this has only happened with wild garlic, nettles, and dock - the wild garlic beingthe only oneI'm worried about, because there are a few poisonous plants that *could* potentially be near it. It was the first time he had picked and eaten something without checking with me, and I freaked out a bit, but his reasoning was that he was sure it was garlic so he didn't see a problem. Hard to arguewith the logic when of course he was right, but I've tried to explain that he *could* have been wrong.
Ultimately the safest thing to do with children is to ensure they know how to be safe (ID plants, stay away from what you don't know).... but of course there's always that one time....
If you're thinking of planting foxglove rather than dealing with self-seeding plants, I would definitely try to plant them separately behind some sort of fence (fence or thorny plants)
 
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