Back Yard Herbalism
I spent a glorious day on Sunday exploring my yard and the forest and meadow that are on our property. I haven’t had a chance to just leisurely explore for quite some time. Now that it’s Fall, a lot of the growth is dying back, but there were still a couple of treasures to be found.
The first thing I did when I got outside was to go trecking through the forest (which has no trail or clear path at all) because I wanted to see if there were any Nettles growing near the stream that flows through. Halfway down to the stream, I decided that I really do not belong in an uncleared forest! When you go just a little ways in, the environment is at once quietly beautiful, peaceful, fresh and clean, and at the same time, eerie and unnerving.
Earlier this summer we had seen a huge copperhead snake in our meadow which slithered away into the forest when it saw us. You better believe that was foremost in my mind as I gingerly stepped through all the piles of fallen leaves and rotten logs. At one point I stepped on a stick that snapped and caused the leaves behind me to stir up. I nearly jumped out of my skin thinking it was a snake behind me! I did finally make it to the stream, but didn’t find any Nettles. I quickly decided this wasn’t the place for me and got myself out into the clearing as fast as I could!
Back out in the meadow I found that we have at least two species of Goldenrod on our property. Earlier this summer, during the first week of August I had harvested one of the most common varieties, Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and put it up in olive oil. I let my infused oil brew for a little over 2 months, and had just decanted it prior to my walk (it has the most heavenly aroma!).
I also discovered that I have the herb commonly known as “Self heal” (Prunella vulgaris) growing abundantly in a little patch of wildflowers near the edge of the yard! I almost feel like I discovered gold or won the lottery, that’s how excited I was to identify it.
I had seen this plant growing earlier in the summer and was attracted by the unique crown of orchid-like purple flowers it wore. Purple is my color, and anything blooming purple is sure to catch my attention, but the overall structure of it was so unique I would have likely noticed it anyway. When I first saw it I didn’t have time to figure out what it was right then, and eventually I forgot about it. The patch has mostly died back now, but there was one little sprig that was still green and flowering. I took my field guide out and sat down beside it and began thumbing through the “purple flower” section of the book. Only a few pages in and I had found and identified my friend, absolutely, positively.
I don’t know exactly how I will use her next year, but I do feel she showed up and presented herself to me for a reason. My preliminary research tells me this herb is a member of the mint family, though it doesn’t have a strong smell like most mints. It has been used by herbalist as a wound remedy, for sore throats, sores in the mouth, and as a general tonic. Recent research is showing that its anti-viral properties may be an effective cure for oral and genital Herpes. The flowers look like wide open mouths, as if to show they want to be used in the mouth and throat. Over the winter I will be learning as much as I can about this plant.