November 28, 2004|by Dorry Norris

This year the days leading up to Thanksgiving were so dark and dreary that one could be forgiven for feeling she had suddenly been dropped plunk in the middle of the renowned London pea soup fog. The days keep getting shorter. Since the sun seems to have deserted us perhaps it's time to call on the moon in the form of Lunaria annua to brighten our dark days. The satiny, parchment-like divisions of the seed pods shine like tiny moons. Also called honesty, money plant or silver dollar plant, this easy-to-grow beauty was a fixture, along with peacock feathers, for Victorian parlor décor.

Although honesty is designated "annua," in reality it is a biennial - next spring, plant the seeds as early as the soil can be worked - the result will be a mound of large, round leaves. Sun or light shade is fine. The following year tall stalks rise from that mound and produce sweet-smelling white or purplish-pink flowers. Soon the flowers give way to green ovals that turn brown as they ripen. If left to their own devices the outer coverings will fall off leaving the silvery center section and the plant will self-sow in that spot.


However, to use in decoration it is best to harvest just after the pods begin to turn brown. At that point pull up the whole plant, cut off the heavy stem, and hang the remainder under cover to dry completely - this may take up to four weeks. To prepare the plant for decorative use you need to remove the papery outside sheath. If you do this indoors, spread a sheet on the floor to make cleanup easier. To "peel" the outside cover off the silvery center, hold the flat pod between your thumb and forefinger and slip your fingernail under one side of the outside nearest the stem and gently slide it off. Repeat with the other side. Suddenly you have branches tipped with silver dollars.

In the debris, along with the papery shells, you'll discover flat, black seeds. Toss the seeds in a remote corner of your yard and you'll have a permanent Lunaria bank. Money may not grow on trees but you can grow it in your garden.

For a "wow" impact, the large money plant branches can be arranged in a vase - my favorite is a huge blue glass urn - a cut glass rose bowl is nice, too. Or you can cut smaller bunches of the "dollars" and use them to decorate an evergreen wreath or tuck them into the branches of your Christmas tree. If you're feeling crafty make Estrellitas to glow during your holiday and the days beyond as we did last weekend at the Hagerstown City Farmers Market.

Estrella is the Spanish word for "star" - estrillita is "little star." And these ornaments will shine like stars wherever there is light - whether on the Christmas tree or hung in your window. Of course they could be called "lunarias" (of the moon).

To make estrillitas, you will need:

· 8 oval lunaria or money plant ovals, prepared as noted or bought in a craft store

· 8-inch length of thin gold or silver cord

· dried flowers or small Christmas prints (optional)

· white glue

Cut the ovals from the stems and carefully trim off the little tail where the pods were attached to the stems. On a piece of white paper lay ovals out in a circle the pointed ends (that weren't attached to the stem) facing out and the edge that you trimmed from the branch facing in. There will be an empty place in the center - think donut with a hole. Once upon a time I thought I'd turn this process into an assembly line so I laid out a dozen or so of the feather light sections into circles, then I sneezed.

Place a tiny dab of glue on the side of one oval and the overlap slightly with another oval, continue until you have created a circle. A toothpick or bamboo skewer is the perfect tool for applying the glue. Turn the ornament over. Cut an 8-inch piece of thin gold cord or ribbon and fold in half. Place the cut ends of the ribbon toward the center of the ornament (it shouldn't protrude into the center) and glue in place. Glue a single oval over the cut ends. Make sure you carefully lift the finished estrillita from the paper. When dry you can turn the ornament over and glue a dried flower or picture in the center of the front of the ornament.

Hang and enjoy.

Herbarist, lecturer and Hagerstown resident Dorry Baird Norris is a member-at-large of the Herb Society of America and author of "The Sage Cottage Herb Garden Cookbook." She welcomes questions about the non-medical use of herbs. Send e-mail to her at or write in care of The Herald-Mail Co.,

P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, MD 21741.

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