Thursday, June 29, 2017

Backyard weed walk

Daylily, Mint, and Lemon Balm

Our backyards are filled with wild plants that can be consumed for food and medicine.  A common Cherokee belief is that when we respect the plants, they will give us medicine to cure any illness. By observing and understanding plants, we reconnect with Mother Nature and our body’s natural ability to heal. This is also how we empower ourselves and resist oppression. 

Purple and Holy Basil "The King" of Herbs

This weekend I held a weed walk in my backyard.  While it's a relatively small space - just a quarter acre - it's amazing to discover the wide variety of plants growing there.  

The weed walk included hands-on instruction in plant identification, habitat analysis, medicinal properties, and folklore of over 25 common plants found in the suburban landscape.  I shared what I've learned over the past 20 years as a gardener, forager, and herb enthusiast, learning from such luminaries as Widman Steve Brill, David Winston, Jim McDonald, and Rosemary Gladstar. 

We followed the walk by sipping some mint and lemon balm sun tea and munching on fresh snow peas from my garden dipped in an oregano and garlic scape pesto. 

Snow Peas with Oregano and Garlic Scape Pesto

I love these words of inspiration from Michigan herbalist, Jim McDonald, about his first forays into wild plant foraging:
"In 1994, while living in an old, overgrown farmhouse in Okemos, Michigan, I discovered a tattered, purple herb book, left out haphazardly on the kitchen counter by one of my roommates. I began flipping through the book, and within a few weeks had begun foraging through the abundant weeds that covered the property and brewing them into strange tasting teas. Till then, I had little interest in either herbs or health, and so my sudden and growing passion with them was perhaps unusual. In hindsight, I think something in those first sips of strange tea woke in me my passion for plants and their medicine. From those first curious experiences, my hunger to both learn from and serve my green friends has been without end."
My experience began in a similarly innocuous way in 1995 when I was visiting my in-laws and began flipping through the pages of Culpeper's Color Herbal sitting on their coffee table. The book was filled with beautiful color illustrations of plants I had never before taken the time to notice, and I was fascinated by the historical context that extended hundreds, even thousands, of years, and included medicinal properties, food and nutrition information, and folklore. My eyes were opened, and I began to notice these incredible living things everywhere. 

Feverfew growing in abundance on my brick patio

I recommend going on a weed walk whenever you can -- in your own yard, in a field, or deep in the woods. Identify what you know, learn the basic properties, ignite your passion for plants, and share your knowledge with others. Connecting with the wisdom of plants develops our bond with Mother Nature and establishes a pact of protection. If we honor and respect her gifts, use them wisely, and reciprocate with environmental practices that nurture the ecosystem, we can have what Robin Wall Kimmerer calls an "honorable harvest," a truly sustainable environment that supports us all.  

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea)

Garlic Scapes

Plantain (Plantago Major) also known as "White Man's Footprint"

Catnip (Nepeta Cataria) and Lavender (Lavendula Agustafloria)

Tofu with Garlic Scape Pesto

Minto, Cilantro, and Thai Basil Coconut Curry 

Fresh Mesclun Green Salad with Garlic Scape Vinaigrette

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