I have bought several packets of new seed, as seen in the photo above. Last year I used up some of my seed for staple crops, such as peas, radishes and carrots; all these vegetables were brought to the American Continent via Europe, originally from Asia and the Middle East. I became infatuated with the plethora of possibilities in my seed catalogues, and ordered some of each, with carrots and radishes in playful shades of yellow and purple. As for the peas, I am trying “Little Marvel” a dwarf bush variety, which hopefully will bring high yields for my small backyard plot.
I used to have a perennial patch of Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), a native of North America, but the plants did not survive last winter and especially the crazy spring that followed, so I will have to start from square one from seed this year. In addition, I needed summer squash, a native of Mexico, choosing a dark variety of zucchini, and also managed to score two other seed packets, for plants with strong Mexican connexions:
1) Mexican Tarragon (Tagetes lucida)- Although botanically closer to marigolds, the leafy part of this plant is used in modern kitchens as a substitute for French tarragon (hence the name), because of its similarity in terms of scent and anise-like flavour; in herbal medicine, it is valued as an analgesic and antibacterial. It grows in full sun, in pots or as an annual in temperate regions, and as a perennial in warm climates, and it successfully self-seeds in most growing areas; its bright yellow flowers keep blooming until the beginning of the fall season, and are edible.
A native of Mexico, it is known as Yautli, orYauhtli, in Náhuatl language, and Pericón, in Spanish. Yautli was used in ancient Maya and Mexica (Aztec) ceremonies as a type of incense, applied to their medicine and cuisine, or ingested as a mild hallucinogenic. Later on, during Spanish colonial times, the bright yellow flowers of pericón were used in arrangements for church, and often shaped as crosses, to protect houses from evil. According to the Bible, in the Book of Revelation, Archangel Michael leads the heavenly army against “the dragon” (Satan), ultimately prevailing over evil; the devil is then thrown down to earth with his forces (the fallen angels); to this date, in some regions in Mexico, crosses made of Yautli are hung on front doors in early fall, when the plants are in full bloom, and specifically on September 29, the Feast Day of St. Michael, following the belief that the fallen devil is still lurking around on Earth.
2) Dahlia (Dahlia sp.) – This is a genus of bushy, tuberous plants, native to Mexico and Central America, in the same family as daisies, sunflowers and chrysanthemums. It grows in full sun, as an annual in temperate climates, although the tubers may be dug in the fall and kept in a cool spot above freezing temperatures, to overwinter, and then, replanted in spring. In addition to the beauty of these flowers, dahlia tubers are edible, and some medicinal applications have been explored, such as treatment for diabetes, and renal functionality.
Spanish explorers reported finding the plants growing in Mexico as early as 1525, with one of the first botanical descriptions dating from 1552, in the “Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis” – “Little Book of the Medicinal Herbs of the Indians”, a translation into Latin of a Mexica treaty of plants written in Nahuatl, also known as the “Badianus Manuscript” in honour of translator Juan Badiano. Although the plants appear to be misnamed in the original work, and the entry should maybe be marked with an obelus, it becomes clear that it corresponds to dahlias, as the author expatiates upon the description, along with clear illustrations of the flowers and other plant parts. Dahlia tubers are edible, and have been used in Mexico as a food source since pre-Hispanic times, both from gatherings in the wild, and from cultivated fields. The Mexica (Aztec) also used the hollow stems as water pipes, probably the reason for their Nahuatl name Cocoxochitl – Cane flower.
Dahlias were not introduced to the old world until towards the end of the 18th century, first via Madrid, then extending all over the continent with great success; they were named after Anders Dahl, a Swedish botanist and student of Carl Linnaeus. In 1963, the dahlia was declared as the National Flower of Mexico, and at the turn of the Millennium, in the year 2000, a national program of collection, conservation and exploitation of dahlia species was started. Currently, there are dozens of species of dahlia, accounting for thousands of different varieties, ranging in height (1-6 feet, 30-180cm), single, semi-double or double flowers, and a myriad of colours, from pure white and yellow, to dark purples and reds, brindle and variegated shades.
My packet contains a mix of semi-double and double flower dwarf cultivars, as seen in a photo from the seed catalogue:
I will be starting some seed from all my new packets very soon, some directly outside, and others indoors, and of course, will come back to each crop as they develop, and at harvest time.