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Gaultheria procumbens, Checkerberry

£1.95

All parts of the plant are aromatic, the bruised leaves having the scent of wintergreen.

Checkerberry leaves were widely used by the native North American Indians in the treatment of aches and pains and to help breathing whilst hunting or carrying heavy loads.

A good ground-cover plant for shady positions though it requires weeding for the first year or so. Forming a dense tuft-like carpet, it roots as it spreads and should be spaced about 45cm apart each way.

A very cold-hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to about -35°c. Plants can become invasive when growing in good conditions.

Prefers a moist but not boggy humus rich soil in shade or semi-shade. A peat and moisture loving species, it requires a lime-free soil. Succeeds in dry soils once it is well established and tolerates considerable drought. Grows well under the thin shade of deciduous shrubs or evergreens.

The seed requires a period of cold stratification. Pre-chill for 4 - 10 weeks and then surface sow in a lime-free compost in a shady part of the greenhouse and keep the compost moist. The seed usually germinates well, usually within 1 - 2 months at 20°c, but the seedlings are liable to damp off. It is important to water them with care and to ensure that they get plenty of ventilation. Watering them with a garlic infusion can also help to prevent damping of. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are about 25mm tall and grow them on in light shade in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out in late spring or early summer. The seedlings are susceptible to spring frosts so might need some protection for their first few years outdoors. The leaves remain very small for the first few years.

Edible uses:

Fruit - raw or cooked. Pleasant but insipid. The fruit is not at all insipid, it has a very strong spicy taste of germolene, just like being in a hospital waiting room. Best after a frost, the fruit hangs onto the plant until spring if it is not eaten by birds etc. The fruits can also be used in pies, or made into jams etc. The fruit is up to 15mm in diameter.

Young leaves - raw. A pleasant wayside nibble if used when very young. Dry and powdery according to our taste buds. A very agreeable tea is made from the fresh leaves. A stronger tea can be made by first fermenting the bright red leaves.

http://practicalplants.org/wiki/Gaultheria_procumbens

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