Notes from Regional Herb Gardeners
WOLFTOWN, Virginia—I watch “Star Trek” on television with my husband sometimes and I come away horrified that life inside such a sterile environment of steel and plastic could be the way our grandchildren will live: hours, days, and weeks in front of various computers, never digging in the earth, growing plants, or watching or listening to the birds. I can’t imagine having no blackberries to pick, no lavender to sniff and to tuck in among my lingerie, no lemon verbena to gather for tea.
I subscribe to the unoriginal idea that the Creator of all things (substitute your own words—Guided Intelligence, Great Spirit, Essence) has provided plants that serve our every need. I believe that when we respect and honor the values of these freely given gifts, we fill a spiritual as well as a physical need, and that the stress and strife in our lives increase when we are disconnected from our roots in nature. The popularity of “Star Trek” seems to indicate that we’re headed toward further disconnection.
I often use the dandelion as a metaphor for these gifts. The “lowly” dandelion, that lovely yellow-flowered lawn weed, can brighten and lift our spring spirits—if only we’d let it. Instead, we’ve been persuaded that the dandelion is a pernicious weed that should be eradicated. The vocabulary of the “killing fields”—insecticides, herbicides, nematocides and so on—is pathological; it shapes our point of view, wins our allegiance and eventually is transformed into an attitude, buried deep in our unconscious, which alters the way we see the world underfoot.
If we take a new look at the cheerful dandelion that graces our lawns and fields, we can see that it is a lovely and hardy plant. If we also consider the many ways it can feed and heal us, we might change our language (and thereby our attitude) regarding the dandelion and its many “weedy” brothers and sisters: plantain, chickweed, cleavers, chicory, dock, lamb’s-quarters, stinging nettle, St.-John’s-wort, cattails, pennyroyal and hundreds more. Even thorny horse nettle contains the powerful drug scopolamine, and poison ivy keeps the birds happy in fall and blesses us with fantastic tawny orange foliage. As my friend Doris Bankes says, “Termites are great. They eat lots of dead wood and turn it into compost. It isn’t their fault that we build our houses out of dead wood!”
Close examination will show that the dandelion is chock-full of virtues. It’s a nutritious food. Its leaves are full of vitamins A and C and are a tasty addition to bland salad greens. Its roots are one of nature’s finest diuretics, and they are rich in potassium—an element that many prescription diuretics deplete. Powdered dandelion-root tea is available commercially, and I substitute it for coffee for my after-dinner drink. The gentle dandelion is an ancient treatment for gall bladder and liver problems, and even for constipation. And well-made dandelion wine—a favorite of old-country Italians—graces the table as well as any commercial wine.
All this is free for the taking!
As I drink my dandelion wine, I raise a toast to the Intelligence that created this lowly, lofty, lovely weed, and all the other wild plants that possess healing power and feed both body and mind.
Portia Meares of Wolftown, Virginia, a long-time herbalist and author, is founder and former editor of the bimonthly magazine The Business of Herbs.
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