Herbal Medicine Ezine --  Wise Woman Wisdom
August 2005
Volume 5 Number 8

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What's Inside Weed Wanderings this Month...


Healing Wise ...
by Maida Silverman

by Maida Silverman

author of A City Herbal


In November 2004, this lifelong New York City resident moved to a new city. Milwaukee, Wisconsin is my new home. Moving to a new environment is, we know, a stressful event. So, as spring advanced into summer, I went looking for old friends to help me feel at home here. If, as I do, you count the wild herbs as your friends, you will never be friendless. This is especially true when you move to a new and unfamiliar city---and suburbs and countryside too. You will find the wild herbs, waiting to welcome and comfort you.

Behind my home, an abandoned railroad track stretches away for many miles. What treasures I found! The edges of the park and the abandoned tracks were a wild garden in the city--I found many wild herbs growing there. I am fortunate to live across the street from a park that borders the beautiful Milwaukee River. Fields and woodlands are very near.

I looked for old friends and found them. Spring brought dandelions, and I enjoyed picking the very young leaves for salads, and added shreds of the yellow flowers for color. I found lamb's quarters to cook with garlic and oil, and plantain and yarrow to add to a soothing bath.

queen anne's laceThere were some surprises. I found very little mugwort and no Japanese Knotweed---both are widespread in New York City. But motherwort, rare there, is plentiful here. Daisies form large beds along roadsides, mullein and sumach grow there, too.

Bittersweet is here, its vines and starry blue flowers pretty among butter-and-eggs, Queen Anne's lace and chicory. All are at home along the old rail tracks. Sweet melilot grows everywhere. The hot midwestern sun brings out its aromatic, vanilla- like fragrance.

Wild black raspberries, wild grapes and elder are three new friends I've found here, and good friends they will be. This morning I walked along the parkside, across the street from my home, to. greet them. Black raspberries grow abundantly there, ripe for the picking. So do wild grapes, draped across the shrubs and trees. Young grapes, small and green now, are a promise of fall riches.

I was delighted to renew my acquaintance with tansy and catmint. I never found them in New York City, but first encountered them in Maine. I¹ve picked large bunches of sweetly pungent, aromatic tansy, with its cheerful yellow button-like flowers, to hang up on my patio as a natural insect repellent. Tall stems of fresh-cut tansy make a dramatic indoor bouquet and sweetens the air. Dried leaves and flower sprigs are a fragrant addition to potpourri.

Catmint grows everywhere here, and is not just for cats! Of course I gathered and dried some to make treats for my daughter's and grandchildren's beloved pet. I also laid in a supply for myself. Catmint is excellent for afternoon tea. I pour not quite boiling water over two teaspoons of dried leaves and steep it for five minutes. Honey and a slice of lemon are nice to add. I'm planning to try it iced, on a hot summer day.

chicory flowerA lovely elder bush guards an entrance path to the park. The delicate white flowers are just starting to open. I will return with a basket to collect the flat white flowerheads, and make elder flower fritters for breakfast. I¹ll add some elder flowers to witch hazel from the drugstore, for an excellent skin tonic that¹s also soothing for insect bites.

I've found dock, a favorite of mine--a wild herb of so many uses. But the biggest surprise was Burdock. It is very common here and grows at the edges of parks, fields and woods, where its large, ruffle-edged leaves are quite decorative. Right now, the branched, flowering stalks are rising up, tall and dramatic. Looking carefully, I was able to find very small young burdock plants, and I dug out the still slender (and easy to remove) edible roots.

I have to be careful, though. Poison Ivy--not a friend!-- grows here, too, and it's more dangerous here than in New York City. There, poison ivy almost always has very shiny leaves, and this makes them conspicuous. Here, poison ivy leaves are just plain green. They blend well with other leafy plants and are very easy to overlook.So I always make a point of looking carefully for it when I forage for wild herbs and berries.

Field and nodding thistle are common in fields here and must be treated with respect. The needle- sharp points on leaves and stems make for very painful encounters when foraging. This is particularly true of the small first-year rosettes that lurk in the grass. Long pants, sturdy shoes and thick socks are a must!

I'll be able to gather wild black raspberries for another week or so.I'll pick the tender leaves from the tips of the branches and dry them. Raspberry leaves will make a welcome tea to ease a winter cold or sore throat. In a few weeks, I'll harvest the winy, purple Elderberries and prepare Elderberry syrup: A few spoonfuls added to a pitcher of ice water makes a refreshing summer drink. Of course, I'll ask permission of the Elder Tree Mother to gather her bounty, and I'll thank her.

copyright© by Maida Silverman, 2005

Maida Silverman is author/illustrator of  "A City Herbal" reprinted by Wise Woman Bookshop. It can be ordered by at our Bookshop. Lore, legends, uses and recipes for many of the wild herbs mentioned in this article can be found in her book.

A City Herbal
Author: Maida Silverman. The wild plants of the city are potent herbal medicines and nutritious wild edibles, as well as sources of comfort, fiber, and dyes. Learn to recognize and use 34 of them. 192 pages, index, illustrations. Retails for $13.95

Read an article: Mullein from "A City Herbal"

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