Using the weeds around us – food and medicine.

For about 5 years I have been studying and researching almost every plant that grows wild in my area. It all started when I attended an herb walk with Patricia Kyrsti Howell, a very well known local herbalist in the SE, up in the Appalachian mountains in NE Georgia. I have a large garden in the foot hills of the Blue Ridge so I wondered what grew further into the mountains. She took about 25 of us around the wooded area of a friend who invited us all to learn.

I was shocked because she was pointing out the plants that were medicinal and all the things that can be done with them, in just a small area. There were over 40 of them. But the real shocker was how many of them I had been pulling up in my gardening thinking they were WEEDS! Astounded me completely! I bought her book “Medicinal Herbs of the Appalachian Mountains” and have that as the anchor in a library I’ve been building on this theme.

It turns out that the Cherokee People had a pharmacopia (list of medicinal plants) listing over 1500 plants of the Appalachian Mountains and foothills. Which means that of all the plants in our area, very few don’t have medicinal value of some kind. A larger list (many the same plants) are edible for wild crafting, and in fact the wild crafted foods have a higher nutritional value than the crops I had been planting in my garden. The difference being that coming from the European heritage of my family, they were unfamiliar to me and are not as abundant as say a row in a garden. And they don’t have the familiar tastes. So, to use them it’s a whole cooking and food preparation skill which needs to be learned. But they can be incorporated in with the familiar foods quite nicely. You have to look around and find the wild plants, and be responsible in not over-harvesting.

So, I thought I’d share a link someone sent me for native medicinal herbs which are quite common from Canada down into the South of the U.S. which can be found almost anywhere. This link has good pictures and a gallery of the flowers, stems, leaves and other characteristics so they can be identified. Of course not all of these will be found anywhere, and if you live in the city, probably few of them. But if you venture out into the less populated areas, say in a fallow farm field, or along a roadside, you can find them.

What I have done with this study is not just pull up every thing that is unfamiliar (as in thinking they are weeds) in my garden and let it go to flower (easier to identify), keeping maybe one or two of something volunteering. I have had lots of great surprises. Some have been invasive and I’ve learned from that. But many were good finds. Also, as I have learned what to look for from study, I have found various plants along the road sides which I then bring back and purposefully plant in my garden, and give it a season before harvesting. I tend not to want to use a plant that could be contaminated from being too close to a road, but after a season, any toxins would have gone and I can then use them.

Some of my happy finds have been wild strawberries, which thrive in the partially shaded section of my food forest, plantain – narrow and broad leaf, lamb’s quarters, and broad leaf and yellow dock, to name a few.

Many of the older herbal books from libraries of friends and herb wild-crafters going way back in this area contain references to herbs with loads of different names depending on the area and peoples using them. So, I have learned to look for the Latin botanical names when researching them. But once I know exactly what I’m looking at, I can use them with confidence. Now I purposefully look for the odd ones which tend to be rarer and trade with friends or get seeds in seed swaps.

The bottom line on this is that if we ever are caught in the situation where normal channels of providence for food and medicine are cut off or fail, I know that at least I won’t starve and myself and my husband will survive it. I know I will be able to handle most health issues and be able to help others. I have tested this already and unless it’s a major issue like a broken bone, or the plague (even that can be handled but the herbs would have to be on-hand and already processed for quick action), at least there is some hope of being able to come out of an illness or injury. I think I could set a bone on someone else, but forget doing it on yourself! Recent experience has taught me that one. We will need to rely on a community of others if we would wish to flourish in the face of hard times.

Do your own research and open your eyes to what is around you. I think you will find how amazing nature is in your area, no matter where you live. In the tradition of the Wise Women (natural healers who are a growing group of very knowledgeable people in our area of the SE), for any health condition we find ourselves in, most likely within a very short distance from where we live we will find the herbal solution to it. But that requires being knowledgeable. If you have an interest in that area of exploration, the internet is rich with people who connect up on a regular basis, or classes, or wonderful knowledge sites.

Please forgive the lack of pictures in my last few posts. My camera gave out and I have had so little time to choose a replacement, I’m hoping you can appreciate the information and get pictures if you need them as in the above article, from other sources on the internet. Visit me on facebook – Georgia Gardenlady.

This entry was posted in Emergency Preparedness, Food Forest, Gardening, organic gardening, Permaculture, Self-Sustainability and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Using the weeds around us – food and medicine.

  1. Lorena says:

    Great info thank you. 🙂

  2. Aliya says:

    Very inspiring Dianna!

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