Fiann Ó Nualláin on how to lessen the intensity of Rose gardener’s disease from injuries while pruning
What put this article on my radar to write about, was that in recent weeks I had a letter from a reader of this column concerning a persistent wound from a pruning injury — and I met a person on a foraging expedition who had contracted a bronchial complication from a plume of wild mushroom spores. And as this is both the main foraging season, and the choice time for planting barefoot roses and pruning some established ones — I thought it pertinent.
Okay, we gardeners know that every rose has its thorns but beyond a bloody thumb or pricked finger we should be alert to other potential injuries. In particular Rose gardener’s disease aka Sporotrichosis — which is occasioned by a scrape or deeper wound infected with the dimorphic fungus Sporothrix schenckii.
Cat scratches can carry it too.
In fact, those fungal spores are not exclusive to roses and cats. They are found in hay, sphagnum moss, pine needles and wood chippings — all regular ingredients to many gardeners potting mix and all in play in this season of lifting, transplanting and refreshing of containers and hanging baskets. Sporothrix is particularly found on rose thorns which cause the wound to be infected at the same time as the prick occurs.
What happens next is as much to do with your personal immune response and any underlying condition (diabetes etc) but for most people, the disease manifests as a simple wound complication and does not progress beyond the skin — taking the wound longer to heal and some extra irritation to develop. But for some, it can becomes a more complex local lympho-cutaneous infection that develops a week or more (up to 12 days) after inoculation/thorn prick — at the wound site.
In the case of that happening, papules or nodules (pimple to boil sized) will form and may ulcerate — this is the cutaneous part — but later more nodules may arise developing and following along the proximal lymphatic route from the injury point, this is the lympho part and your system is compromised.
Complications such as Disseminated sporotrichosis can occur — this is where the infection spreads to joints and bones or into the central nervous system and the brain. So you get the seriousness of wearing gardening gloves and taking care.
If that’s not scary enough — I should note that Sporothrix schenckii may be inhaled as with any spore amongst your garden plants and soil — if so a pulmonary infection can occur. Don’t panic — this is a very rare occurrence. But you can do things to lessen the intensity of any occasion of it.
if you are concerned after a thorn scratch or splinter from the mulch then
clean the wound site with a strong antiseptic and take some supplements/foods to boost the immune system (more on that anon). That should stop it in its tracks.
If infection develops later on and becomes ulcerated boils or progresses to lymphatic stage then prescription antifungal medication will be required — often for several months. Medical advances in treating this and other infections in recent years, mean more gardeners are saved each year. Now don’t abandon the roses or fear the garden — I am gardening all my life and only stepped on a rake once — so lightening will not always strike.
The great thing about being a gardener is that the garden offers cures to what the garden might occasion. So
Echinacea tea or Echinacea cordial will support your immune system and elderberry jam or cordial will also help you better fight any infection. If you find yourself with the full-on beginnings of Rose-gardeners disease then you will require a lymphatic herb to clear and de-inflame the lymph nodes.
Red clover flower and cleaver stems are excellent as lymphatic tonics — I advise you blend with strawberries for a lymphatic tonic smoothie. The tea of each can be less effective as heat can damage some of the phytochemicals we need for lymphatic purposes. You can make both up as a tincture — which can be added to morning orange juice and also topically applied to infection nodes.
So here are some recipes from my old book, The Holistic Gardener: First aid from the garden (Mercier Press). Fingers crossed you will never need it — fingers safely inside gardening gloves and the likelihood is greatly reduced.
Rose gardeners’ draughts:
Echinacea raises white blood cell count and so increases immunity, all other ingredients are antiviral/antibacterial and/or immune-enhancing.
Quick route immunity booster:
Make a really strong pot of Echinacea tea, leave 4-5 bags in for 30mins minimum but stir in while hot, 4 heap tsps of honey, juice of one lemon. Allow to cool, decant to a tall glass and add a fizzy Vitamin C capsule to have a refreshing and immunity revitalizing cordial beverage — alternately have as iced tea — take daily for one month.
Mash the roots up in a mortar and pestle and add to a saucepan with berries and 3 cups chamomile tea, slowly bring to a boil.
Add juices and allow to simmer for 20 minutes, add extra tea if needed to keep good coverage.
Allow to rest for 20 minutes. Add honey and fizzy zinc capsule.
Bring to a boil again; keep stirring and simmer for 10 minutes to reduce.
You may strain syrup or blend all before straining to yield thicker more potent syrup/concentrate.
Will keep refrigerated for 5 days.
Use as a cordial concentrate — add to chilled water (sparkling or non-sparkling) for a daily boost.
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