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Hey plant friends!
I’m Maria, the "Plant Killer Turned Plant Lady" with a mission to help you care for plants successfully, grow your indoor jungles, and cultivate more joy in your life. I've got tons of content for you here on the blog, on the Bloom and Grow Radio Podcast, and Bloom and Grow Youtube Show to help you keep blooming and keep growing.
For most of us, the plants growing in our backyards and neighborhoods go overlooked. We mow them down or walk right over them without a second glance. But did you know many of these plants have been used medicinally for centuries? In this episode, we'll share fundamental tips from an expert forager, herbalist, and hiker, Heather Houskeeper. You'll learn basic plant identification skills, foraging best practices, and uses for several common medicinal “weeds.”
Growing Joy: The Plant Lover's Guide to Cultivating Happiness (and Plants) by Maria Failla, Illustrated by Samantha Leung
Before harvesting any plant, it's essential to positively identify it. Consuming misidentified plants can lead to serious illness or even death. Lookalikes abound, so don't rely on photos, common names, or incomplete information, plant friends! Learn key botanical terms and use identification guides to be 100% sure you have the correct species.
Before you head out your back door, there are a few things you need to know to forage safely:
Research which medicinal plants are endangered in your area. Make sure you do not harvest any at-risk species.
Know which public lands allow foraging in your region. National and state parks usually prohibit harvesting plants, but national forests may allow it in small quantities. When in doubt, stick to private property.
Start in your own yard first. This ensures you know the land use history and avoids any legal issues. Make sure nobody has sprayed chemicals on the lawn recently.
Plant identification keys are essential tools for accurate foraging. A key asks a series of questions about a plant's traits. Based on your answers, it narrows down the possibilities until you identify the species.
Heather recommends choosing a key covering your region. Answer questions about flower type, leaf arrangement, etc. and it will direct you to the right identification. Keys provide precision that photos or descriptions lack. Always learn about plants firsthand before consulting guides. Study species throughout the seasons to memorize traits!
Heather stresses that confident plant identification is key to safe foraging. She recommends learning some basic botanical terms including:
Having region-specific field guides and a magnifying glass also helps examine plants closely.
Don't just rely on photos – use the guides to key out plants based on unique morphology.
Foraging sustainably starts with respect for plants. Heather suggests sitting with a plant, observing it over seasons, and recognizing its intrinsic value before harvesting. When gathering, only take what you need — harvest a few leaves rather than uprooting the whole plant. Take no more than 1/3 of a stand so it can reproduce, and most importantly, avoid endangered species.
Let’s go over some identifying features and uses of 5 beneficial backyard plants:
Every part of dandelion has healing uses. The leaves act as a diuretic (helps rid your body of salt and water) and cleanse the kidneys. The roots improve digestion and liver function. The flowers provide antioxidants and nutrients.
Plantain is one of the best first aid plants. Chew leaves into a poultice to treat cuts, stings, and skin irritations. Internally, it soothes mucous membranes and heals tissues. Antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, plantain can be used both externally and internally.
A longtime medicinal plant, yarrow stops bleeding and disinfects wounds. Use leaves and flowers in poultices or tea to heal skin abrasions and treat respiratory issues. Yarrow's antimicrobial oils stimulate wound healing.
4. Sheep’s Sorrel
Sheep’s sorrel cleanses the blood, acts as a diuretic, and provides an excellent source of vitamin C. It has a tangy, lemony flavor. Use leaves in salads, tea, or infused vinegar.
5. Wood Sorrel
Wood sorrel’s clover-like leaves impart a citrusy taste. It has heart-shaped leaflets and is high in vitamin C. Different from sheep sorrel. Use leaves to help in inflammation.
Proper preparation varies by plant. Research specific uses and dosages before consuming medicine or food. Basic at-home preparations include teas, tinctures, infused oils, syrups, and poultices.
When starting out, focus on abundant non-toxic plants to safely build identification skills. Courses with experienced foragers also provide hands-on learning. Overall, backyard foraging can yield nutritious edibles and medicines with the right ethical approach.
As a foraging beginner, focus on learning a few plants at a time. Soon you'll have the skills to safely find and use nature's herbal bounty!
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