From time to time, I get a mild ear infection. An itching sensation in the right ear, like ants, crawling about inside and a deep swelling feeling like a softball is trying to grow its way out of the side of my head. The ear, nose and throat doctor suggested a drop of olive oil from time to time, but for the most part, these things are supposed to clear up on their own. The olive oil helps a bit, but the sensation never really goes away. I started looking for other solutions.
One day I found this ginormous plant growing in my field. It had big fuzzy leaves and a five-foot-tall flower stock. Could this be mullein?
Meet mullein, a plant with many uses. The leaves are dried for tea to treat respiratory distress or used fresh as cowboy toilet paper (but not both). Parts of the plants are transformed into tinctures for addressing various issues, but in my case, I'm after the oil.
To make mullein blossom oil, we pluck the ripe flowers from the stock. Place them in a jar and cover the flowers with olive oil then seal the jar with a lid. I put the jar on my desk where I will see it, but out of the direct sun, and shake it at least twice a day. After a week or two (depending on how many flowers I put in it), it's ready. I strain the flowers and whenever my ear hurts, I put a drop or two in my ear.
Mullein oil works wonders for the pain and itch. I've also tried it on eczema and is quick to sooth the swelling.
I'm glad to have mullein flowers again this year. It's a biannual so I've only been getting blossom every other year. I'll probably make an extra batch later in the summer to get me through next year.
George is one of my silkworms. These greedy-samas (sama is the Japanese honorific title added at the end of the name, like 'san' but with more respect) are going to help me transform leaves into cloth.
These are my very first silkworms and I want to give a shout out to Peggy at Flourishing Filaments who helped me with the research and found a way to send silkmoth eggs to Canada. At the time of writing, it is legal to import Bombyx mori into Canada and to export from the USA without a fancy certificate (but check with the government before attempting it for yourself because things change).
While researching silkworms online, I noticed that a lot of people name their worms. They grow attached to these little guys. I didn't want to feel left out, so I named them. I named all 200 of them George except for the big one, his name is Harold.
Over the last nine years, we've planted a couple of dozen mulberries on the farm. These are marvellous trees, willing to grow without irrigation (but they do grow better with), on land that wouldn't grow anything else. These perennials are willing to be bush or tree, have deep roots to combat erosion, leaves that feed all manner of livestock, including silkworms, produce a paper or cloth from their bark and are an excellent investment for timber. Oh, and they make tasty berries which are shaping up to become the next superfood in about five years.
Moriculture - the growing of mulberries - is as old as silk. We have five thousand years of history interacting with this plant. Unlike the silkworm who is wholly domesticated and dependant on humans to survive, the mulberry tree is delightfully wild. It has to be because any chemical aid we may apply to give it a boost or protect it from leaf munchers destroys the silk crop. Pesticides kill caterpillars. Silkworms are caterpillars.
Being domestic, silkworms are hugely sensitive to any changes in their diet. Even dusty or damp leaves can kill them, and the residue from car exhaust along a busy street is enough to give them the trots. Just about anything and everything in the modern world is out to kill silkworms.
Growing mulberry trees was never just about the trees. Mulberries do best when they are intercropped with other plants. Two rows of mulberry trees, a wide swath of annual plants like beans or a mulch crop, another two rows of mulberries. Tilling between the mulberries loosens the soil and allows the moisture and air to penetrate to the roots. But tilling is a lot of effort just for trees, so plant something in the freshly turned earth. The trees protect the annual crop by preventing erosion and providing shelter for helpful wildlife like pollinators and pest-eating birds.
To learn more about how to grow silkworms, check out Wormspit's article on Bombyx mori
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