Agastache -Herb of the year 2019

Planting for pollinators comes naturally to those who garden with herbs. Knowing where and when to gather herbs involves an intimate connection and first-hand knowledge of each plant’s natural lifecycle and reproductive habits. When observing a plant closely, you quickly become acquainted with the various insects and other wildlife that depend on the plant. Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum, a tall perennial plant with soft, anise-scented leaves and lavender-blue flower spikes appearing in late summer, is probably the agastache most familiar to herb gardeners.

Anise Hyssop

Anise Hyssop

 Native to northern regions of the United States and most of Canada, anise hyssop is most often found growing wild in dry upland forest clearings and prairies. In spite of A. foeniculum’s many common names, giant blue hyssop, fragrant giant hyssop and lavender giant hyssop—the plant does not resemble hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) or anise (Pimpinella anisum)  yet they all have an anise-like flavor or fragrance. Another common species often found growing in American gardens is the Asian native, A. rugosa. According to herbalist Getrude Foster, “A seedsman was in the Korean War and brought the seed of the handsome plant he saw growing there back to this country. He called it ‘Anise Mint’ or ‘Korean Mint’ and it has been passed around under those names.” For many years these were the only two species readily available. Today though, gardeners have many species and showy hybrids that offer scent, color, taste and splendor 

Hummingbird Mint

Hummingbird Mint

Gardeners frequently remark that native plants are messy and that they do not have the extra space to devote to them. Some native plants are quite aggressive, but others are easier to contain in the home landscape. However, few wildflowers are so well adapted to cultivation as anise hyssop. It is well behaved and decorative enough to grow among the flowers in your beds and borders. The size, shape, color, and bloom time of flowering plants all influence what types of pollinating insects will visit. Bees adore anise hyssop and prefer its nectar-rich blossoms over other plants available throughout late summer and fall. 

The Bumble Bee- A lovable Bear of A Bee

The Bumble Bee- A lovable Bear of A Bee

So it comes as no surprise that one of its more obscure common names is “wonder honey plant.” Beekeepers like to grow it near their hives because it yields nectar all through the day instead of part of the day as many flowers do. Beekeepers introduced the plant to Europe for the light, fragrant honey it produces. All the giant hyssops are popular with honey bees, bumble bees, native bees, parasitic wasps, hummingbirds, butterflies, skippers, and moths. Pollinator Gardens are a recent concept, reminiscent of the Victory Gardens promoted by the government during World War I and II, intended to help cover food only this time, for insects.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Over time, as our needs change, so do common uses of plants; as such, lists of useful plants and herbs will vary from one generation to the next. Published in 1993, Steven Foster in Herbal Renaissance, Growing, Using & Understanding Herbs in the Modern World, describes anise hyssop as a friendly neighborhood herb and tasty tea plant with great economic potential. Today this resilient native is popular with garden designers seeking to bridge the gap between nature and cultivated gardens.

Flower Fly

Flower Fly

Anise hyssop is very easy to grow from seed sown directly in the ground in spring or transplants. It thrives in full sun and well-drained soil and can tolerate some drought. Plants self-sow readily, but undesired seedlings are easy to pull or transplant. Picked fresh from the garden, the leaves make a bracing and flavorful minty-anise tea, an unusual salad green, and it’s sometimes used as a substitute for French tarragon in culinary dishes. Fresh flowers add a sweet anise taste when chopped into fruit salads and desserts.


The dried flowers and leaves provide a beautiful fragrant ingredient in potpourri recipes, and it is fantastic in fresh flower arrangements. Native Americans used different parts of this aromatic herb for a variety of household and medicinal uses: in beverages and teas, as a sweetener and medicinally for coughs, colds and heart ailments. The flower heads were included in medicine bundles. The Cheyenne used an infusion of the leaves “ to correct dispirited hearts”

Most of us have learned to garden one plant at a time. If you are looking for an easy to grow native plant, give anise hyssop a try. It is an excellent choice for pollinator gardens, children’s gardens, cottage gardens, deer-resistant plantings, and cutting gardens. Anise hyssop is easily grown in containers to provide weeks of color on a deck or patio. 

The Legend of the Corn Husk Doll

At one time the Corn Husk People had very beautiful faces. The Creator placed them on the earth to be the companions to the children. Their task was to play and entertain the little ones. After a while though, the lovely cornhusk people became obsessed with their own beauty. They forgot their appointed task and spent most of their time gazing at their own refections in calm pools of water. The children began to complain that the cornhusk people would not play with them. The Creator, greatly disturbed at this, took away the faces of the corn husk people and turned them into dolls. 


"Neighboring with Nature" A Conversation with Susan Betz

Sunday, October 22, 2017

2 pm, Matthaei Botanical GardensJoin us at 2 pm Sunday, October 22 in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens Auditorium for this informative, entertaining hour. Tickets are $20 per person; seating is limited. Pre-registration and payment information will be posted in late September. (

All proceeds from this AAF&G event will benefit the Student Internship Endowment at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Susan's new book “Neighboring with Nature” will be available for purchase.


Petticoats and Fur: Hepatica Dressed for Spring

It has been a cold spring here in southwest Michigan. I found some determined Hepatica plants pushing their way up through  dead leaves and lingering snow.The first flower of spring! Finally!

Hepatica nobilis

Hepatica nobilis

 Hepatica symbolizes confidence in the language of flowers. It is a quirky plant with a charming and self-deprecating disposition. Its delicate blue, pink and white flowers are actually sepals that look like petals.“I will teach the world that bracts are just as good to wrap around flower-buds as sepals and that sepals may be just as beautiful as petals. Since my petticoat is pretty enough for a dress why should I not wear it thus?-The Child’s Own Book Of Wild  Flowers

A perennial native herb Hepatica thrives in moist woods beneath oak, beech and maple trees across Northeastern regions of United States. The plant’s leathery leaves have three rounded lobes and are often mottled with a purplish hue. The use and shape of the leaves led to the plant’s abundant nicknames. Liver-leaf, Round Leaf Hepatica, Liverwort, Round-lobed  or Kidney Liver-leaf and Squirrel Cup.

Historically the plant was used medicinally for liver problems. It is associated with some fun plant lore. Hepatica was once thought to  remove freckles and cure crossed eyes or a twisted mouth. Native American women made love charms from the plant “to bewitch men and make them crazy by affecting their hearts.” Long ago, hepatica was a familiar and popular plant with children in and out of the classroom. Wildflowers such as hepatica, arbutus and violets growing so close at hand and readily available were used as seasonal nature study subjects.  


After the plant finishes blooming, new leaves appear and grow throughout summer. Manufacturing and storing up food in the roots  giving Hepatica the  strength and resources to spring into action during the first cool days of next spring. The leaves and furry stems also provide warmth for emerging  flower buds in early spring and hinder ants who try to sneak in and steal flower nectar. However, after thousands of years of living together in the same natural community the ants and hepatica plants became more friendly. They developed  a symbiotic relationship essential and beneficial to both of the parties involved.

 Little lessons in cooperation ! Ants prize hepatica seeds as tasty treats. They harvest and carry them back to  their nests, eat the seed’s sweet outer shell and then help plant them by discarding them in the soil beneath the ground. Now that’s what I call community spirit!  Econicity, ants and plants cultivating balanced friendly relationships supportive to the workings of the whole ecological  system. 

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Econicity-Mother Nature's Little Lessons in Cooperation

“Alone of all life forms, plants can not only catch sunlight but by a unique alchemy compound it with terrestrial ingredients to make the basic food and substance of all living things” The Power of Plants  Brendan Lehane 


The original American herb gardens were the pre-settlement native plant communities naturally existing in the fields, woods, meadows and wetlands across North America. Over the course of time, native herbs have contributed to the health and well-being of humans and wildlife alike. Historically they were valued for their medicinal, flavoring, fragrance, industrial, culinary, cosmetic and symbolic uses. David E. Moerman’s book Native American Ethnobotany documents Native American use of 4,029 kinds of plants with a total of 44,629 usages.

Native herbs give so much and ask so little of us. Plant species native to a particular area contribute to its regional econicity, natural heritage, and inherent beauty. Traditional ecological knowledge recognizes that plants, like humans, get by with a little help from their friends.Having developed and co-evolved over centuries within a biological community, native herbs are well-adapted to the regional climate and conditions. We do not always appreciate or notice how individual plants work together as part of a complex and successful ecosystem making our local landscapes unique and different.

Bumble Bee visiting with&nbsp;wild lupine in&nbsp; Hastings Lake oak savanna&nbsp;&nbsp;    

Bumble Bee visiting with wild lupine in  Hastings Lake oak savanna  


Native herbs are by nature neighborly and multi-talented beings each one, with its own individual character and curious habits. One species may provide special nutrients needed by neighboring plants or perhaps a root system that is beneficial for loosening the soil. Some plants repel insects while others emit fragrances which attract insects. Many native insects and birds rely on indigenous plant species to feed, shelter and raise their young and in return they cooperate with plant pollination and seed dispersal. Plants and wildlife naturally work together for the good of their ecological community. More to come… the Sun is shinning for the first time in days, I think I will step outside for a bit.