An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Posts tagged ‘native plants’

Cumberland Trail State Park Spring Festival

12961179_524800921041586_787899536318134546_o

Join me for an edible & medicinal wildflower walk at North Chick Creek near Ivy Academy, April 16th, 10:30 am. We will caravan from Ivy Academy. $5 per person/$10 per family. For more information go to Cumberland Trail’s Facebook Page and The Friends of the Cumberland Trail website.

Chattanooga Arboretum & Nature Center Fall Native Plant Sale Friday, Sept 21-Sept 23

Goldenrod, also called End-of-Summer, is traditionally used as a tea to prevent colds and flus.

Three full days of fascinating talks and native plant walks accompany the annual Fall Native Plant Sale at the beautiful Chattanooga Aroboretum & Nature Center, Reflection Riding. This weekend’s weather will be the kind that makes September feel like a deep satisfying breath. Join me in enjoying the weather at 11am on Saturday while we walk and talk about the medicinal qualities of the native plants at the Arboretum. I’ll talk about how Southeastern Indians, Appalachian settlers, and Confederate doctors used some of the plants that grow around us.

Visit the Arboretum’s website for the full weekend schedule. Talk topics include funky mushrooms, tree ID, tall grass prairies, beneficial insects, and growing tips for native plants.

Walk with Nature on Tennessee’s John Muir Trail, April 29th, 2012 with Wild South

Stunning Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica) blooming in mid-spring. Indian pinks are native wildflowers that can be planted in the garden to attract hummingbirds. And of course you can enjoy them, too.

Stunning Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica) blooming in mid-spring. Indian pinks are native wildflowers, traditionally used as medicine by regional Indian tribes that can be planted in the garden to attract hummingbirds. And of course you can enjoy them, too.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.” — John Muir

Join us on Sunday, April 29th to celebrate John Muir’s birthday month as we walk a portion of Tennessee’s John Muir Trail, a place where Muir himself hiked. I will identify native plants that are used for medicine and food, and Jeff Hunter from Wild South will read from John Muir’s writings over lunch by the Hiwassee River. We will meet at 8:30am to caravan to the trail at the Starbucks on Shallowford Road near Hamilton Place Mall in Chattanooga.

April 21st is the birthday of John Muir, a Scottish-American immigrant who devoted his life to opening America’s eyes to the beauty around us, leaving a legacy of preserved wilderness for those of us who have come a century later. In the midst of Manifest Destiny, America’s determined effort to move westward and claim Nature as a property to develop for industry’s sake, John Muir was literally a voice in the wilderness imploring United States presidents to value the richness of the wild land for the sake of its itself and for its healing qualities for a human’s soul. We are indebted to John Muir. Without his vision, writings and action, we might not have open access to our most cherished national parks, parks which have created the American identity, such as the Grand Canyon. Muir changed the national conversation regarding land use and founded the Sierra Club. He created a conversation giving voice to Nature, which helped people to understand that a tree is more than lumber, and that clearing a forest is a regrettable loss which steals from the spiritual, emotional and physical health of ourselves, our children and our grandchildren’s children.

In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

Native Medicinal Plant Walk and Talk

At the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens, GA

Saturday, March 26

10:00 am- 12:00 noon

Holli Richey, MS, MAT, Clinical Herbalist

Meet at Shade Garden Arbor

Members $15; non-members $18

On an instructional walk through the State Botanical Garden trails and gardens with clinical herbalist and plant enthusiast Holli Richey, enjoy the native spring ephemerals in bloom while hearing stories of how people have used Solomon’s seal, bloodroot, trillium, spiderwort, as well as common trees and other perennials, for food and medicine

Devil’s walking stick has many medicinal virtues

One of the Dr. Seuss-looking plants is called devil's walking stick.

The names of a plant, both common and scientific, describe something about the visual appearance or medicinal actions of the plant. Redroot and bloodroot are red. Yellowroot is yellow. Lamb’s ear and hound’s tongue resemble the anatomy of the animal, if one uses the imagination. And puke weed will, indeed, make one vomit. One has to wonder what the story is behind a plant named devil’s walking stick. The scientific species name gives a clue (Aralia spinosa), if one speaks Latin.

The reason behind the name is clear once someone tries to grab the stem. Each spring, in filtered light along the edge of woods, a quick-growing, pithy stem shoots up, punctuated in segments with very sharp spines that are hard to notice until it’s too late. At some point, someone must have exclaimed, “This must be the devil’s walking stick!”

From a distance, though, the plant belongs to the category of silly-looking Dr. Seuss plants. A single, slender stem, which can reach 20 feet tall, is topped with huge, divided leaves collectively in a diamond-like shape. At the very top, in early summer, a giant puff of yellowish-cream-colored blooms attracts hundreds of wasps and butterflies. By fall, the flowers become berries that turn from green to purple-black, weighing over the skinny, shrub stem. The stems to which the berries are attached also turn from green to magenta. In the winter, the whole plant dies back to store energy in the root and send up colony sucker shoots the next spring.

The botanical family to which devil’s walking stick belongs is Araliaceae, or the ginseng family, but devil’s walking stick hasn’t been found to have quite the vitality-enhancing qualities of ginseng.

Instead, devil’s walking stick, native to the Southeastern U.S., keeps a low profile as a remedy for toothaches – another name is toothache tree – and rheumatism.

Cherokee Indians and old-timey Southern herbalists have used the inner bark and berries as anti-inflammatory pain relievers for aching, arthritic joints and sore, decaying teeth with inflamed gums.

Eating a couple of the purple-black berries raw is OK. In order to eat more, Tommie Bass, a Southern Appalachian herbalist, recommends cooking them first, and then making them into jelly.

Their taste is a little tingly and bitter. The color of the berries indicates they are a rich source of antioxidant flavonoids. Infuse them in brandy to use as an aid for rheumatism.

Cherokees also used roots in a salve as a dermatological aid for sores and swellings, such as boils.

Since the strangely ornamental native plant is an attractor of birds and pollinating insects, one might consider adding it to a butterfly garden where it will receive afternoon shade.

To propagate devil’s walking stick, gather the berries and plant in the fall or spring. Another option is to dig up a sucker and transplant it in the spring. The plant will form a colony, so give it a space where that won’t be a problem.

Native vs. Exotic isn’t a simple argument of Good vs. Bad

Kudzu blooming in Athens, GA

When one walks among a forest of native plants, plants who have lived together for hundreds or thousands of years, there is an obvious feeling of harmony that is different from what one feels when walking among a forest covered with honeysuckle, kudzu, multiflora rose, Japanese knotweed and privet. In the forest of ancient harmony, it appears plants are each given their respectful place of existence, room to grow and breed unimpeded by aggressive competition from other plant species. The healthy balance of this forest isn’t based on the behavior of what is above, but actually, the health depends on what lies below the surface: the relatively undisturbed soil and hidden mycelium of the forest Fungi Kingdom.

The Fungi Kingdom is perhaps the oldest group of living species, which made the earth inhabitable for plants. Fungi consist of the visible fruiting bodies called mushrooms, and the threadlike mycelium network underground and throughout decomposing matter, such as fallen trees. According to mycologist Paul Stamets, roughly eight miles of mycelium is living in one cubic inch of ground. Stamets also describes underground mycelium’s neurological network like the Internet, constantly giving and receiving information. Mycelium know when we are treading on them.

Fungi, unlike plants, contain no chlorophyll, though they do use radiation-as plants use light-to convert elements into food, and their byproducts during this conversion are what makes soil by which plants can live. Rotting mushrooms feed microbes, which in turn feed the forest. The relationship of symbiosis is very important when it comes to the Fungi and the Plant Kingdom. Many native plants depend on particular mycelium species in the soil in order to live, making them difficult to transplant or propagate, and thus threatening their population status.

The symbiotic relationship makes plants sensitive to habitat destruction from farming or prior farming and development-roads, subdivisions, strip-malls, cities. Once the soil habitat for particular mycelium is disturbed, the native plants living in the symbiotic relationship will struggle to live. Plants who are not sensitive to particular mycelium species, and perhaps attracted to nitrogen-depleted soil are opportunistic, and easily become invasive when the healthy balance is disturbed.

Other opportunistic species are viruses and microbes. In our gut is approximately three-five pounds of bacteria, which provide a foundation for our immune system. A disturbance in the friendly bacterium’s habitat can allow opportunistic pathogens to thrive. As Louis Pasteur, father of the germ theory, exclaimed in epiphany, “It’s the milieu!” Germs, microbes, pathogens take advantage of a weakness in the environmental system and proliferate. This is a similar pattern of behavior in invasive plants.

When we see invasive plants, we are seeing a symptom of ecological disturbance, not the cause of ecological disturbance. The total ecology, or relationship of organisms and elements, is far-far-far more complex than people understand. It is not as simple as pulling out privet and planting native species, as if that would perpetually remain a native-only plant place.

To rid the area, no matter how small or large, of invasive plants would require toxic herbicides, causing further ecological distress, or an introduction of a predatory species– which I assert is always a short-sighted and regretful idea–and constant vigilance in tending the “natural” native garden. Birds, animal fur, clothing and wind will continue to disperse seeds, making the maintenance of a native-only plant place a constant, resource-draining effort. And underlying the whole attempt, literally, for the survival of the native plants is the necessary re-establishment of the symbiotic mycelium.

A cost-benefit analysis would help here. We need to recognize some of the phytoremediation benefits of non-native, invasive species, such as with mimosa as a nitrogen-fixer, or purslane as an absorber of PCBs, or lamb’s quarters as a re-vegetation plant for mining sites and absorber of organophosphates. Furthermore, once invasives become the predominant species, they are performing the ecological benefits of erosion control, holding up our creek banks, and converting CO2 from our atmosphere into oxygen.

My Athens Banner-Herald column has received some criticism when I write of the virtues of an exotic, or a non-native, invasive species, for instance, with mimosa and purslane. One of my graduate school teachers, the eminent Dr. Jim Duke, retired from the USDA, and author of nearly 100 books on medicinal, economic and agricultural plants, as well as ethnobotany, and who developed and maintains the valued Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database, definitely doesn’t think that the U.S. should plant more kudzu, but he does recommend that we utilize the kudzu for biodiesel, food, phytoestrogen isoflavones-important for women during menopause, and as a medicinal aid for alcoholism. We should not pollute our water through the massive, and expensive, application of herbicides, trying to eradicate kudzu, or introduce a pest which has unintended consequences.

We need to utilize the plants growing abundantly around us, and to do that, we need to know what their benefits are. Through the gained knowledge from research of invasive species, we can learn how they are medicinal substitutes for threatened native medicinal plants, for example Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is a medicinal substitute for the threatened goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). To me that sounds like sustainable practices of plant harvesting, and sustainable stewardship.

Finally, the term “native” is quite arbitrary. Humans have been trading plants since we were able. Plants provide life-saving medicine, and have inspired seed swaps and spurred the global marketplace; the need for healing bridged the divide of differences. For example, in the 8-9th century, Emperor Charlemagne developed relations with Arab Muslims, who were more medically advanced than the Roman Empire, and instructed his officers to collect medicinal plants to bring back to Christian monasteries where they were grown in physic healing gardens. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is one of those plants. In fact, it’s a custom in the old world of the Middle East to travel with a plant. Furthermore, if one looks specifically at the pre-Columbian history of America, one will see the trade of plants from east to west, north to south. Some of these plants naturalize in their new environment, essentially “going native”, and can become included in human botanical texts of native species.

Almost all plants are designed to disperse their seeds or spores through various mechanisms. It’s the compensation for being rooted to a place, the way to travel and increase one’s progeny. In untended circumstances where the human is not the gardener, the seed grows where it can.

Within a paradigm of a whole webbed universe, as in Cherokee stories, it might be said that the seed goes where it is called. For instance, poison ivy, a North American native, could be considered “invasive” today because it isn’t a desirable plant to most humans, and, being spread by birds who eat the berries, it shows up all over the eastern U.S. In Cherokee stories of natural history, there are 7 tribes of plants. One of those tribes is the warrior tribe who protects other vulnerable plant tribes from animal predators, or helps restore an area from disturbance. Poison ivy is the chief of the warrior tribe. Blackberries and smilax are also native American plants in the warrior tribe. In this perspective, poison ivy is doing its job, trying to keep humans away from more vulnerable plants, or helping a disturbed area to heal, which is why it’s so prolific in the eastern United States. Next time you see poison ivy growing, notice where you are. What disturbances have taken place? What plants might the ivy be protecting from you?

Pay attention to the plants that begin to reclaim an area that’s been developed. My mind goes to the old houses on secondary roads covered in kudzu, or the weeds coming up through the sidewalk cracks. These are called invasive, but they also demonstrate how awesome is nature’s power of reclamation and, hopefully, restoration.

To learn more about the importance of mycelium, watch Paul Stamets at the 2008 TED Conference on the vodpod video in the right sidebar.

To learn more about Dr. Jim Duke’s solutions for kudzu, visit his Green Pharmacy website.

Passionflower eases stress-related sleeplessness and anxiety

Passiflora incarnata looking like it's designed to communicate with extraterrestrials.

Passionflower is an example of how we can lose an appreciation for the familiar. The exotically beautiful, though completely native, passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnata) is one of the few Passiflora species which grows in our temperate climate, and for this we can be thankful. This backyard remedy is tremendously useful for stress-related conditions: sleeplessness, tension, muscle spasms, irritability, restlessness, teeth-grinding, headaches, high blood pressure, attention-deficit, and even for withdrawal symptoms from addictive substances.

Passionflower is a deciduous vine with three-lobed leaves that smell like peanut butter when crushed. Its highly complex flowers bloom from June-October, and look as if they’re designed to communicate with outer-space extraterrestrials – though the passionflower is actually named by imaginative 16th century Spaniards for its symbolic imagery of Christ’s passion.

Passionflower fruits of Passiflora incarnata.

Edible, sweet-tasting fruits form after the flowers are finished, and ripen from green to yellowish-orange two months after forming. The vine often crawls along the ground, and when you step on the fruits they may pop, giving passionflower its other popular name, ‘maypop’.

Although the passionflower vine will grow in clay, it is most happy sprawled out over your vegetables, taking advantage of loose, fertile soil. To introduce passionflower into your garden, prepare a sunny spot as you would for tomatoes, and plant the seeds from a dried passionflower fruit. Give it space and a trellis or fence to climb. Venturing young shoots and leaves can be eaten when boiled and then sautéed.

Medicinally, passionflower is traditionally indicated when someone cannot sleep due to repetitive, worry-filled thoughts circling all night. Passionflower stills the rambling, anxious thoughts, bringing a calm and relaxed sleep without any sleep-medication “hangover”.

Numerous pharmacological investigations have confirmed passionflower’s ability to relieve anxiety. In one clinical trial of 36 people with generalized anxiety disorder diagnosed by DSM-IV standards who were randomly given either passionflower or oxazepam, a benzodiazepine prescribed for anxiety and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, the results found that passionflower and the pharmaceutical relieved anxiety equally; however, passionflower affected the participants’ job performance far less than oxazepam. An additional difference is that passionflower is safe in moderate amounts and non-addictive.

Studies also report its efficacy in reducing drug withdrawal symptoms for nicotine, alcohol, and opiates, such as morphine by increasing the effects of GABA, a neurotransmitter which calms the body’s response to stimuli.

Surprisingly the flowers hold little medicinal value, besides looking at them. The majority of the nerve-calming qualities come from a tea or extract made from the leaves and stems, either fresh or dried. Commercial sources of the live plant are few. It’s more common to find the South American blue passionflower (Passiflora caerulea), which has five-lobed leaves, an edible fruit and is almost evergreen in Athens.

Old-timer herbalist Tommie Bass said that passionflower brings people together by helping them to relax. He suggested it for domestic partners who’ve grown annoyed with the little things over the years, losing appreciation for the familiar. Cherokee Indians similarly used passionflower as a social beverage. If fences make good neighbors, then maybe passionflower should grow along the fence.

This article appeared in the Athens Banner-Herald on July 4, 2010.

Pictures of other species of Passiflora:

Passionflower botanical (1902) Dodd, Mead & Company. This botanical print came from a book. I have it in a simple frame.

Princess Charlotte's Passionflower, Passiflora racemosa, at Druid Hill Park Victorian Conservatory, Baltimore, MD

Tag Cloud