A Spring Weed Walk

Catherine F. Smith

Today (May 8, 2012) seventeen or so people gathered at the farm for the second annual “weed walk” or visit to (some of) the native plants with medicinal value that grow here.  We gathered in the barn around 9:30 on a rainy, gray day to meet each other and hear introductions by Cassie Marsh-Caldwell of PASA (the walk’s sponsor), James Lesher (leader of the walk, grounds manager here, and garden manager at nearby Rhonymede historical house and art garden), John and me (event hosts).

Wet skies and soggy ground did not dampen the enthusiastic group’s interest  in hearing James talk about native plants with healing properties.  He led us to representative plants in several locales—starting with beds created as landscaping around the house and encouraged from wild beginnings on the dry hillside across the creek; checking on wild spreads of nettles, bergamot,  and calamus along the creek, and ending at the wild spreads of cattails in the constructed vernal pools in the front field.   Identified along the way was a sampling of the diversity of medicinal plants and shrubs (roughly, 50 identified so far, although we know that’s a fraction) growing in varied habitats on this old farm.   We tasted a few of the edibles, sorrel, lovage, mints.  With his Japanese digging tool (the hori hori), James pulled up squirrel corn to show the edible and medicinal corm, leeks to show the edible bulb, wild ginger to show the edible root and strange little flower, Solomon’s seal to look for the signature ‘seal’ on the medicinal root.As he focused on plant identification to help people sharpen their recognition ability, he commented variously on a plant’s healthful properties (lavender’s volatile oils, for example) or its value for gardening (beautiful natives such as bloodroot) or for both healing and gardening (solomon’s seal or wild ginger, for example).  Brief discussion at each location ranged widely.  By a goldenseal plant rescued before destruction by road building, for example, we talked about the need for plant rescues.  In the group were several who had done  such rescuing.  While James talked about the plants' medicinal value or properties, he did not specify its traditional or current medicinal uses.   He referred the group to Jennifer Tucker, the herbalist who led last year’s walk, for that information.  (I supplemented with suggested readings in the practice of herbal healing, including several from Jennifer’s recommended reading list.)  In addition, knowledgeable group members told us about their experience with eating wild plants for their nutritional value.

Altogether, a satisfying weed walk.  We're already planning follow-ups for other seasons.

May, 2012