Friday, October 8, 2010

Foraging for Wild Medicinal Herbs

Spring is the time of year when plants begin to poke their little leaves and shoots up above the ground to absorb the sun’s warming rays.  Unseen to us, as we’ve been cooped up inside during the last cold days of late winter and the rainy days of early spring,  there’s been a lot going on under the ground already!
                                                    Yarrow                                      Wild Ginger
The ground has been thawing and warming, allowing the roots to ever-so-gently be awakened as they respond to the warming soil around them.  Energy from the sun has permeated the earth’s surface and stirred the slumber of the plants and they readily absorb this energy.
                                                                        Young Ground Ivy
The cycle of life is renewed and as the roots fill to bursting with new life, they must express their fullness by sending forth new signs of the life that is within.  New little sprouts of differing shades of green can be seen poking their leaves up to renew this world that has been waiting for their appearance.
                                                         Lemon Balm                           Herb Robert
While we have been inside, longing for the clouds to clear, the sun to come out and the rain to stop, the plants have been long awakening and when we finally emerge from our warm homes on that long-awaited first day of balmy spring weather, we can see signs of the plant life that has preceded us in our foray into the warmth, for them it has been warm for weeks.

             Speedwell                                Maidenfern

 Early April is the perfect time to take a walk to explore the plant life that’s been busy for the past month or so.  You’ll be able to spot clumps of day-lilies, which are edible from their first sprouting leaves to the buds & flowers.  

You might also see “Cleavers” (Galium aparine).
This plant emerges nice and early and has been used since time immemorial for a myriad of specifics, including early spring fresh cleansing tea or as an addition to a fresh-picked, wild salad (for images of this and other herbs, visit; they usually have wonderful descriptions and pictures).  Cleavers herb was known in ancient times as a “strewing herb”.  Because it helped repel insects, it was used in mattresses, in thatched roofs and strewn on the floors of homes.  Valued for its multitude of uses, it was brought to America by early settlers.  Medicinally it is considered an “alterative” herb, meaning that it brings cleansing to the body and an over-all strengthening to the system.  It is a specific for cleansing the glands.

“Coltsfoot” (Tussilago farfara) is one of the earliest flowers to appear in spring.  A specific, long used to alleviate coughs (hence the Latin name “Tussilago”, which means “cough”), the little, low-growing yellow flower is often mistaken for a dandelion.  Both the flowers (which appear before the leaves) and the leaves can be used to make herbal medicine.
Wild Garlic, also called Wild Leeks or Ramps, are in abundance in the Berkshire woodlands and a wonderful cleansing herb.
We would be remiss not to mention the humble violet, emerging in her own quietness, soon to cover our lawns with her simple, aromatic blooms.  Gather a few of these leaves and make them into a fresh tea.  The leaves and flowers of violets have been known to reduce cysts, especially of the ovarian type.
On The Gathering of Wild Herbs: 
Please always be very cautious when using wild herbs.  It is of the utmost importance to be sure the plant is really what you think it is.  Double-check your sources by having a book with numerous colored pictures with you.  Peterson’s Field Guides are easy to use and contain fairly good pictures for most of the species they cover.  If you can obtain a copy of the Reader’s Digest Guide to Plants and Flowers, that is even better, although it is in hardcover, which is cumbersome to carry along on a walk in the wild!

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