Join the Bloom & Grow Garden Club!

Let Maria slide into your inbox twice a month with planty education and inspiration created just for YOU to help you “keep blooming and keep growing” your indoor jungles and spirits (you’ll also be the first to know about upcoming events, launches and other exciting things we are working on!).

How to Forage for Healing Plants in Your Backyard with Heather Houskeeper, Ep 201



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.”


In this episode, we learn:

  • [07:14] How Heather became a botanical hiker
  • [09:30] Juliet’s Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine
  • [13:14] What does sheep’s sorrel taste like?
  • [18:54] What should you know when trying to make foraging your new hobby?
  • [16:11] How does Heather's approach to foraging align with the concept of homesteading?
  • [20:04] Where can you find the best chimes for your lawn and garden?
  • [22:15] Why is plant identification key, especially specific to region, important?
  • [25:35] Why is a magnifying loop helpful in the process of identifying plants?
  • [26:36] Tips for your first foraging adventure
  • [28:35] How to approach and communicate with a plant while foraging
  • [30:51] How does sensory experience enhance plant-human connection?
  • [31:35] What are good harvesting practices, especially if you're on public land?
  • [36:21] General guideline for harvesting plants without causing harm to the overall population
  • [37:38] What is the best way to identify plants while foraging?
  • [38:34] Why is it important to use scientific names when searching for plant information?
  • [39:47] Botanical terms and concepts that beginner foragers should understand
  • [40:09] Radial and bilateral symmetry in flowers
  • [42:33] Parts of a flower
  • [44:22] Leaf arrangement and leaf shape
  • [48:18] Herbalist terms you should know for medicinal purposes
  • [50:44] Medicinal properties and uses of common plants
  • [54:04] Healing properties of sorrel plant family
  • [55:15] Healing properties of plantains
  • [59:14] Healing properties of yarrow
  • [01:02:37] Where can you find Heather online?


Order my book!

Growing Joy: The Plant Lover's Guide to Cultivating Happiness (and Plants) by Maria Failla, Illustrated by Samantha Leung

Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast,

so you don't miss the amazing episodes we have coming up!




Why Plant Identification Matters

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.


Foraging: How to Get Started

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.


Using Plant Identification Keys

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:

  • Leaf arrangement – are leaves opposite, alternate, or whorled on the stem?
  • Leaf shape and edges – are they lobed, toothed, or smooth?
  • Flower symmetry – is the flower radially (symmetrical) or bilaterally symmetrical?
  • Flower parts – can you identify petals, sepals, stamen (male), pistil (female)?

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.


Develop an Ethical Foraging Mindset

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.


5 Healing Backyard Plants

Let’s go over some identifying features and uses of 5 beneficial backyard plants:

1. Dandelion

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.

2. Plantain

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.

3. Yarrow

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.


Safely Using Backyard Plants

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!


Mentioned in our conversation:


Thank you to our episode sponsor:

Wind River Chimes

Bring more peace, serenity, and magic into your home with chimes. Wind River is a Virginia-based company creating premium handcrafted and hand-tuned wind chimes for over 35 years. If you are looking for a new way to grow joy in your life and find a moment of peace, a Wind River chime is the perfect addition for your home or garden. Plus, it's a perfect personalized gift for your loved ones!

Visit and use code GROWINGJOY to receive free engraving on all Corinthian Bells wind chimes.


Follow Heather:

The Botanical Hiker
School of Plant and Place Connection


Follow Maria and Growing Joy:

Order my book: Growing Joy: The Plant Lover's Guide to Cultivating Happiness (and Plants) by Maria Failla, Illustrated by Samantha Leung

Join the Bloom and Grow Garden Party Community Platform & App AKA the plantiest and kindest corner of the internet! Get your FREE 2-week trial here!

Take the Plant Parent Personality Quiz (Get the perfect plants, projects and educational resources for YOUR Lifestyle)

Support Bloom and Grow Radio by becoming a Plant Friend on Patreon!

Instagram: @growingjoywithmaria

Tiktok: @growingjoywithmaria

Subscribe to the Growing Joy Youtube channel! /growingjoywithmaria


Pinterest: @growingjoywithmaria

Leave a Reply

Follow along,  plant friends!


Stop wasting money on plants that don’t fit with your lifestyle.

Take the Plant Parent Personality™ quiz, and get curated recommendations for plants, projects, and podcast episodes inspired by your lifestyle to unlock your Plant Parent Potential!

Take the Plant Parent Personality™ Quiz