Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tea time + butterflies

After four days of rain, we got a nice break yesterday and enjoyed the outdoors under gray skies.

Compost tea for plants! Sander built this brilliant compost tea brewer from scavenged materials . . . so ignore potato sacks + netting sign painted on barrel :-)
Inside barrel: mesh bag holds concoction of vermicompost + compost from our piles + seaweed + fish hydrolysate.
Sander unveils aeration system sitting atop neighboring barrel.
Sander applies compost tea to foliage in greenhouse.
Seed planting marathon continues: Tree and Alemany Farm volunteers.
Evan mah-velously manages compost piles.
Worms love our compost!
Kem joins Evan in compost corner.
Workday leader Hannah and Stanley “talk story” during break from greeting visitors at produce stand.
K took this awesome photo of butterflies at The Free Farm.

Herbal teas for people!

Last week at SF Botanical Garden, I attended a presentation by my container gardening instructor and ethnobotanist Thomas Wang on Chinese Plants for Food and Medicine ( We enjoyed Chinese snacks (preserved plums, honey loquat) and teas (dragonwell, jasmine), his illustrated talk (Mythology, Geography, Taxonomy, Language, Uses and Horticulture) and then a walkabout in the Asian plants collection with his gardener-wife Dolores and their children.
Siraitia (lu han guo) is known as longevity fruit because it’s cultivated in an area in China with many centenarians. Its sweet fruit is used to treat sore throats and congestion. We added boiled water to dried pulp for a slightly bitter tea, and dried hawthorn for vitamin C.
“Wood” character in Chinese is root word for forest, fruits, roots, village, board, cups, chess, plum, instrument. In container gardening class, I wanted to photograph everything Thomas drew on the chalkboard but contained (pun intended) myself. He never showed us his calligraphy talent so this was now a photo op :-) Chinese is spoken by 1/5th of the world’s population, but it’s very diverse so it helps to understand the common written language. (If you’re tone-deaf, you might as well be mute as Chinese is a tonal language; but if you can read/write, at least you’ll be literate.)
Thomas’ calligraphy of proverbs: “Eat and drink of diversity, make food and medicine one.” “Reconcile opposites, balance priorities, be harmonious in nature. See the whole picture.” “Ground yourself in time and space: in the middle is the heart.” “Plant flowers, grow fruits, walk in the forest. Breathe, open your heart, go out and play.”
Peony is not just an ornamental flower. In Chinese medicine, its root is used to clear blood heat and restore proper circulation. Western clinical research indicates it lowers blood pressure.
Camellia sinensis is harvested to produce white, green, oolong, pu-erh and black teas. According to one legend, Buddha, after falling asleep when he should have been praying, ripped out his eyelashes and threw them to the ground—and then sprang a caffeinated tea plant! ( But about 5,000 years ago (way before Buddha’s time), legendary Chinese Emperor Shen Nong (“Divine Farmer”) discovered tea while sitting under a tree when dried leaves fell into his cup of boiled water. Since then, people worldwide have enjoyed the medicinal and spiritual benefits of drinking tea. ( Shen Nong personally tasted hundreds of herbs to discover their medicinal value; unfortunately, he apparently died while tasting a poisonous plant.Bamboo forest: where pandas like to hang out and eat bamboo shoots, stems and leaves :-) Dolores told us that bamboo grows 1 foot per day, up to 80 feet high; and in two to three years, they’re replaced like grass. The Free Farm uses bamboo as a windbreaker.Can’t see the forest from the trees? As we look up to trees in misty afternoon . . . Thomas mentioned that he met Dolores while they were both weeding in the Asian plants collection at SF Botanical Garden! After they married, they went to the Amazon for their honeymoon. Back in SF, they produced Sebastian and Maria :-)
Thomas authored In the Garden with Blue Butterflies (, which is a fun, beautifully illustrated guide to our plant world. I’ve already found it a tremendous resource as I plan children’s walks at SF Botanical Garden . . . especially when I have to lead a PG-rated walk on sexual reproduction of plants!

In Chinese medicine, ginkgo nut (bai guo) seed is used to clear lung heat (cough, asthma). Chinese aren't known for desserts (most often just fruits), but ginkgo dessert soup (recipe above) is really yummy! In Western medicine, ginkgo extract prepared from leaves is believed to improve cognitive function. Thomas mentioned that when he once suggested ginkgo to his grandmother, she told him that she preferred playing mahjong with her friends because it’s the social interaction that’s stimulating. Very true, so I have to remind myself not to get so obsessed by the healing properties of plants because it’s also being nurtured by a supportive community that’s truly invigorating.

And The Free Farm is about growing plants and community so join us in our healing activities!

Public Service Announcement

Tues., Mar. 20, 2012 Meat Out Day + Welcome Springtime!
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a Veg Day Mondays Resolution on April 6, 2010. For details, check out The purpose is to encourage everyone to not eat meat at least one day a week. Any non-vegetarian pledging to refrain from eating meat at least one day a week will be given a one year free online Associate Membership in SF Vegetarian Society ( which includes receiving newsletters and discounts at SFVS sponsored events, at vegetarian & veg-friendly restaurants and for other services.
Contact Tracy Ewing, Membership Coordinator, to sign up:

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