You can’t overestimate the importance of bees in a witch’s garden, for our stinging friends help to pollinate. Just behind them in usefulness in this task are butterflies, and to attract both, plant a bit of Cleome in your herb garden.
Additionally, many beekeepers love Cleome as it is an excellent source of nectar, resulting in a yummy tasting honey.
Known by various names such as Rocky Mountain Bee Plant, Rocky Mountain Bee Weed, Navajo Spinach and Spider Flower, Cleome Serrulata was originally found in the west, spreading its way east across the United States. The Native Americans found many uses for Cleome, for everything from a treatment for stomach ailments, a poultice for the eyes, a recipe for a strong voice, ceremonial blood rituals, to cooking in stews and salads and even to decorate pottery.
The Navajo call it Waa, the Pueblos used it as a vital food source, and the Zuni mixed it with corn for chili. Another Native American delicacy consisted of Cleome which has been boiled, fibers removed, then molded into think cakes and fried.
A Saudi Arabian relative of Cleome Serrulata was thought to be used raw in salads, though that’s up for scholarly debate, as it’s also known as what translates to stench weed and ostrich fart, and indeed even in America it’s known as Stinking Clover and Skunk Weed. Most Native American recipes in fact have Cleome cooked, most frequently boiled, often eaten like spinach, or the seeds, which are often eaten raw, boiled into a porridge-like mush. Seeds are also sometimes ground into a flour or meal, and has been used for bread since prehistoric times.
However, belying the names associated with foul odors, it’s also been used as a deodorant, for both the body and for shoes. If you boil it down enough, you end up with a black syrup, quite thick, which acts as a binding agent for pigments, ideal for painting on unfired pottery.
Cleome Serrulata grows up to 60 inches tall, making it one of the tallest annuals in the witch’s garden. The flowers are bizarre, spidery blooms of a pinkish or purple color, sometimes white, also putting out fruit capsule which contain a multitude of seeds, which if left unchecked can overrun the area where it’s grown, even choking out itself.
How to Grow Cleome Serrulata
Cleome is very easy to care for, emerging from a somewhat straggly start into a dazzling plant, which can bloom from early summer until the first frost. Growing from seeds might give you a somewhat later start on the blooms, though you can still expect them by the end of June.
If you do start from seed, just sprinkle them on decent garden soil, as they need light to germinate. Doing so in the fall should do the trick, as when conditions are right, the seeds will germinate.
Cleome handles drought well, and if mulched you’ll find it can withstand even the driest summers. They also are tolerant of pests, remarkably disease free, and hanging back with the fertilizer actually helps in their proper growth.
Plucking the seed pods will reduce Cleome’s tendency to reseed, and if you do want it to repopulate itself, thin the new growth to one every eighteen inches or so.
As an added bonus, in addition to butterflies and bees, Cleome attracts hummingbird moths, which looks enough like a hummingbird that you’ll need to check twice to be sure.