THE WILD HERBS OF
MY NEW CITY
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.
There 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. I've 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 daughter¹s 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.
A 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. I'll 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 it¹s 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 www.wisewomanbookshop.com .
It can be ordered by at our Bookshophttp://www.wisewomanbookshop.com
Lore, legends, uses and recipes for many of the wild herbs
mentioned in this article can be found in her book.
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
from "A City Herbal