Alkanet or dyers’ bugloss (Alkanna tinctoria) is a plant in the borage family with a bright blue flower, with a root used to provide a red dye. Its name comes from the Spanish word alcana, from Arabic al-hena, after henna. Alkanet is grown in Mediterranean climates, but is also common all over Europe and Eastern North America. However, it is invasive in the Pacific Northwest—do not grow in this region. The root produces a red coloring which has been used as a cloth dye and is commonly used today as food coloring E103 (chrysoine resorcinol). The roots’ red dye is fat soluble, so this plant has been used to dye ointments, oils, and waxes as well.
This herb’s beautiful blue scented flowers appear in late summer, full of nectar thus very attractive to bees. Vinegar makes the root give a pinkish brown dye and the flowers give a green dye. Alum turns the roots’ dye gray-green. The roots are best harvested before the flower stalk appears.
This flower likes to grow in disturbed ground–by the side of the road, in pastures, and in cultivated fields. Sow outside in July — they will establish themselves in the fall and then flower in the spring. Plant where they will receive full sun and moist soil. Common alkanet is a short-lived perennial or biennial, depending on conditions, forming a rosette of leaves the first year and flowering the second year. It gets 1-4ft/.3-1.3m tall and is hardy down to -30F/-34C (zone 4).
There are two forms of Almond, one (white flowers) producing sweet almonds, and the other (pink flowers) producing bitter almonds. The kernel of the former contains a fixed oil and emulsion. As late as the early 20th century the oil was used internally in medicine, with the stipulation that it must not be adulterated with that of the bitter almond. It remains fairly popular in alternative medicine, particularly as a carrier oil, but has fallen out of prescription among doctors.
The bitter almond contains about 50% of the fixed oil which also occurs in sweet almonds. It also contains the enzyme which, in the presence of water, acts on a soluble glucoside, yielding glucose, cyanide and the essential oil of bitter almonds, which is nearly pure benzaldehyde. Bitter almonds may yield from 4–9 mg of hydrogen cyanide per almond. Extract of bitter almond was once used medicinally, but even in small doses effects are severe and in larger doses can be deadly; the cyanide must be removed before consumption.
Almond is thought to be perhaps among the earliest of cultivated trees, due to its propagation by seed, as opposed to cutting or grafting. It grows wild in the Levant, and was likely first cultivated there—with the tree ending up in the symbolism of the religions from the area. In Judaism, Aaron’s Rod was said to bloom sweet almond flowrs out one side if the Israelite’s were following the way of the Lord, and bitter flowers out the other side if they were not. Later, the Menorah in the Temple was modled off almond flowers. Later, Christian symbolism often uses almond branches as a symbol of the Virgin Birth of Jesus; paintings often include almonds as a symbol of Mary, placed around the Infant. In India, almonds are believed to be good for the intellect, while for the Chinese it’s a symbol of sadness and feminine beauty.
Recent studies have shown that the constituents of almond have anti-inflammatory and immunity boosting. Nuts can be processed into a milk, or a flour as alternative ingredients for low-carb, no-gluten, or no-lactose diets. The oil is good for application to the skin, because it does not become rancid. It has a pleasant scent, and is lightweight enough to be used as a substitute for olive oil.