Take A Look At The World At Your Feet! Have You Spotted These Herbs This Summer?
Summer is finally upon us, and everywhere I look there seems to be herbs sprouting and blooming in the unlikeliest of places!
So what is an “herb” exactly? Well, I think renowned herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar put it best when she described an herb as “any plant that can be used in healing”. This includes vegetables, flowers, shrubs, trees and their fruits and berries, nuts, bark, roots, seeds, and leaves, as well as seaweed, algae, and mosses, and even non-plants like mushrooms!
Now, I DON’T recommend that you forage herbs found in parking lots, sidewalk cracks, or your neighbors’ garden for consumption, but I figured it would be a great chance to share some identification photos I took, and some historic medicinal uses.
I DO recommend collecting some of the flowers and leaves from these plants (but not your neighbors!) to press into an herb journal, because the more you study them up close and personal, the more second nature herb identification will become!
I have been making it a point to walk around my neighborhood to take in these sporadic days of nice weather, and have been stumbling upon common medicinal herbs, and I think I have a nice collection so far to show you what you are mostly likely to find as you make your way around the city this time of year!
Japanese Honeysuckle! This fragrant little flower is blooming all over the right now, and makes a sweet treat! Simply pluck the flower, sepal (the green piece holding the petals together at the base) and all, and bite it off with your teeth and suck out the drop of sweet nectar! The flowers can be brewed as a tea and are an excellent antibacterial, and antiviral bronchodilator during cold and flu season, as well as soothing to the stomach when its unsettled. Japanese Honeysuckle is an invasive species to the United States and has nestled itself into our ecosystems reeking havoc on local flora. If you see any, harvest the flowers, or if its in your yard, remove as much as possible to deter future growth!
Daisy Fleabane was believed to have a scent that deters fleas, so livestock and pets were rubbed down with their flowers. Fleabane is actually great for headaches, and is a diuretic, astringent, and digestive tonic. Native Americans used the juice to sooth insect bites and even chewed on the roots for cough and cold relief.
Milkweed is blooming right about now, and the flowers are really fascinating! Milkweed is a major source of food for the endangered Monarch butterfly, and residents are encouraged by conservationists to grow them to help the population along. They come in a variety of colors and they smell quite lovely. If you think you have encountered Milkweed, the easiest way to verify its identity is by collecting a flower or a leaf, because the end of the stem will secrete a thick, white milky sap once broken. The leaves and pods are not edible, but the shoots, and flowers are! Some foragers sautee them with a bit of butter, and a squeeze of lemon, but make sure to remove all the sap, and boil well first! Fun fact: In WWII the fluffy seeds were used as stuffing in life vests!
Echinacea purpurea is one of a variety of Echinacea flowers/roots commonly used for their immune-boosting abilities. The thing is, if you wish to exploit this positive effect when you are suffering a cold/flu, many herbalists recommend you take it within the first 12–24 hours after onset of symptoms, because taking it after that window will sometimes be useless. It is definitely seen as a “Heroic Herb” for its anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial benefits, but wildcrafting has devastated the species, which is now barely found growing in the wild. Root tincture works great as a topical antiseptic, and can be applied undiluted (might sting for a sec) to inflamed, and infected gums. It helped me tremendously after a tooth extraction resulted in painful sores.
Daylily flowers and roots have been used widely for their broad range of herbal actions. The flowers can be brewed in a tea and are antispasmodic, diuretic, and are used commonly in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an alterative (blood purifier). The roots have been used for their antimicrobial benefits, and are being studied in Asia for their ability to inhibit tumor growth.
Hydrangea decoctions were a staple remedy for the Cherokee, and early settlers, who used them as bladder tonics, diuretics, and cathartics. However, too high a dose, would result in fainting spells and trouble breathing.
Common Mallow are not as rich in mucilage as the more famous Marsh Mallow, but the flowers can be applied to minor scrapes and burns, because they are very soothing, and anti-inflammatory. The leaves and seeds are edible and can be added to vegetable mixes. Mallow seeds are actually commonly called “Cheeses”!
Did you know Begonias are edible? Petals and stems can be used in salads. Don’t use commercially sold ones however, because they most likely have been sprayed with chemicals. But if you grow your own from seed, its a great sour-citrus garnish for a summer dish! The juice is analgesic, while a poultice of the leaves is highly inflammatory and historically used by breast feeding mothers for relief. The root extracts have been known to offer relief from stomach ulcers, and have been used to treat eye infections.
Have you spotted any of these in your neighborhood?!