It is often surprising that some useful and tasty plants that do not require special care are not often seen in our summer cottages. Moreover, many of them are very beautiful, they tolerate our climate quite easily and therefore are suitable for decorating flower beds and vegetable gardens.
Among the herbs grown in our gardens, the traditional assortment usually prevails - dill, mint, lovage, lemon balm, fennel, cilantro, basil, parsley.
Along with these already familiar fragrant plants, sometimes very rare, little-known species are found. We would like to tell you about one of such fragrant herbaceous rarities from the flora world.
It is a fragrant cephalophora (Cephalophora aromatica) from the Aster family, which in Western Europe is called pineapple grass. And its Russian popular name - strawberry grass - it received for the strong smell emanating from its leaves, and from the inflorescences, and stems, really reminiscent of the aroma of strawberries.
And although it comes from the mountainous subtropical regions of South America, it can be easily grown by gardeners not only in the south of Russia, but also in the climatic conditions of the Non-Black Earth Region, the Urals and the Russian north.
Useful properties and uses
All parts of this amazing plant contain a large amount of essential oil: in the leaves and stems about 0.1%, in the inflorescences up to 0.22% of the wet weight. Thanks to the presence of cephalophora essential oil and has such a specific aroma.
Like any strong spice, it is used in small quantities; an overdose can not only drown out the taste of other spices, but also add a cloying bitterness to the dish.
Cephalophora is a common ingredient in tea mixes and herbal teas. Various berry and fruit infusions and wines infused with her participation acquire a unique aroma. It is also added to compotes and jelly, pickles and marinades, exquisite sauces for fish and vegetable dishes. And in the perfumery industry, cephalophora is used to perfume soaps and creams.
The aromatic cephalophora is a perennial herb 40-50 cm high, grown in central Russia as an annual. Bushes strongly branch from the base and have the shape of a ball with a diameter of 30-40 cm. Numerous narrow long leaves (up to 10 cm long, about 2 cm wide), rough and dark green, sitting on stems without petioles.
Each stem ends in an apical inflorescence, so remarkable in its appearance that the plant got its name from it, which is translated from Latin as "like a head". To some, it may in appearance resemble a spherical craspedia, only smaller.
In fact, it is a yellow-green ball with a diameter of 1–1.5 cm and a perfectly regular shape. Its surface in a strict geometric order is dotted with cells that resemble a honeycomb: each cell is a flower. There are several hundred such inflorescences on one plant. Each inflorescence blooms for more than a month.
Its stem is straight, very strongly branched almost from the very base, as a result of which the plant outwardly is a dense, spherical, bright green bush slightly more than half a meter high and about the same width. The plant has a taproot that goes deep into the soil.
The cephalophora is especially interesting during flowering, which lasts about two months. At this time, the plant is strewn with hundreds of small bright yellow round balls-inflorescences with a diameter of 10-15 mm, each of which blooms for more than a month.
At the same time, small green rounded heads first appear, as they grow, they turn into beautiful and unusual yellow flowers, which brings a serious variety to the riot of colors of a summer flower garden.
And the seductive aroma of pineapple with hints of strawberry and caramel, when closely communicating with this unusual flower, is simply amazing.
Growing conditions... The aromatic cephalophora is a relatively non-capricious plant, quite resistant to unfavorable growing conditions, which has successfully taken root among gardeners. Its main requirements are sun and space, and any soil is suitable for it, but on fertile soil, the bushes look more magnificent and beautiful. It is also very wind resistant.
This subtropical plant turned out to be quite cold-resistant - it tolerates both spring and autumn low positive temperatures normally. But gentle shoots of cephalophora do not tolerate recurrent frosts, and growing plants are no longer afraid of a cold snap. After all, we must not forget that it is from the mountainous subtropics, where the climate is often quite harsh.
But it does not tolerate our winter cold, so it has to be grown as an annual plant. Moreover, the seedling method of growing it is more often recommended, although in the third decade of May, its seeds can already be sown directly into open ground.
Illumination... The experience of gardeners shows that the cephalophora is extremely unpretentious to the soil and is resistant to drought. The only thing that needs to be provided for her is space. plants are very demanding on light. In addition, the bushes of cephalophora are so thick that if they are planted more often than 40 cm later, they will intertwine so much that they will create serious problems during harvesting.
Growing a cephalophora is easy. This plant is unpretentious and drought-resistant. For its cultivation, it is better to select well-lit places. And this is important not only because the plant grows better in the light, but also because in shady conditions, few essential oils are formed in the plant. The raw materials collected will be of poor quality.
The soil... The plant is less demanding on the soil, but responsive to the fertile drained soil. Therefore, in the fall, the cephalophore site is fertilized with rotted compost, and the next summer, complex mineral fertilizers are applied.
Sowing... Seeds are usually sown in early May in a greenhouse to a depth of no more than 1 cm. Seedlings appear in 5-7 days. After 3-4 weeks, young plants can be planted in open ground. This plant practically does not require any maintenance: no weeding, no garters, since the cephalophora bushes do not bend down and grow so densely that no weeds survive in their shade. Flowering begins at the end of June, and in mid-August the cephalophora is in bloom and you can start harvesting.
Procurement of raw materials
The harvesting of raw materials from the cephalophora is carried out in the flowering phase; the entire aerial part can be harvested: inflorescences, leaves and stems. Plants are cut in clear sunny weather, after the dew has melted, because it is at this time that the content of essential oils in the plant is maximum. Dried in a warm, dark, well-ventilated place, hanging bunches of whole plants until the stems are brittle. This usually takes 2-3 sunny days. Then the dried raw materials are crushed, sorted and packed in paper bags. It must be stored, like any other dried herb, in a dry, dark place. Sorting is carried out to separate the leaves, since they contain bitterness.
Only 2-3 copies will provide your family with fragrant raw materials for the whole year. To get seeds, it is enough to leave one plant, in September it will give a lot of seeds, which will be enough for more than one year. Cephalophora seeds remain viable for 4 years.
The flower heads of the cephalophora do not crumble during drying, therefore they are perfect for use in winter bouquets. The bouquet with cephalophora is not only beautiful, but also magically fragrant!
Based on materials from the newspaper "Ural Gardener"