Walking With Plants - Herbal Update #2

Interesting landscape surrounding Dodge Park

What have I gotten my self into?

As I mentioned in the previous post,

Jim McDonald's Herbal Intensive class

is held over a series of weekends, one per month. Saturday's are for learning through lecture (and sampling a lot of great tinctures, and some that are not so great...tasting.) and Sundays are for plant walks. This sounds like a nice, leisurely Sunday activity: Strolling through beautiful shady woods and pointing a lot. Uhm, no.

We were advised to be prepared to "plant walk" no matter the weather, unless the sky was a malevolent green and there were thunder bolts being thrown to the earth. We needed gear too: Waterproof boots, long pants, rain ponchos, warm clothes in case it was chilly, enough food to survive in the wild for 6 hours, potable water, sunscreen and bug spray (which was soon to gain a top spot on my gratitude list!).

Creamy DIY bug-repellent

Spray on DIY bug repellent

Now, I feel I should say a little about the rules. You may think that we were armed with machetes and canvas bags, prepared to literally dig into the abundance. Not. As I mentioned, the focus of these walks is plant identification. Besides, it's illegal to remove live plants from state or national parks, even if they are considered weeds and are regularly mown down to keep things tidy. I could just see me with my little stash of dandelions and violets getting busted by the big bad park authority! How embarrassing would that be?

The actual gathering of herbs and plants for medicinal (or food) use from natural places is called "wildcrafting".  Plant identification is a critical part of wildcrafting! There are many green leaves out there that look like other green leaves that look kind of like some other green leaves. And some of those green leaves can make you very sick or even worse! (Yep. Let that soak in. Shit just got real, huh?)

This, by the way, is a fun game that teaches children (and adults) the different uses of many herbs, provides a visual of the herb itself, and is a cooperative game where everybody wins! It's available from 


 and no, I'm not paid to say that. I just want my posts to be vibrant and chock-full of information!

Another aspect of wildcrafting is doing so in an ethical and sustainable manner. It's not about taking it all so you will have it for your own uses, imagined or otherwise. You are only to harvest a portion so it can repopulate itself, and this takes knowing a lot about the plant you intend to collect such as growth cycles, fragility and if its a regular on the deer menu.

Enter the environmental justice aspect of herbalism. On the

United Plant Savers website

I learned, not surprisingly, a number of native medicinal species are being negatively impacted by human activity. Some of this activity is from the herbal industry itself such as over-harvesting, some from environmental dangers to native habitats such as fracking, as well as the ongoing shrinkage of natural acreage as suburban, urban, and industrial development sprawls.

One example that clearly illustrates the above is American Ginseng,

read about American Ginseng and what's happening to it


There is also a

complete list of at-risk species

and those to keep an eye on at United Plant Savers. 

So you see, wildcrafting is another whole ball of wax. One that takes years of dedication and persistence to understand and feel confident about. Right now, it's enough for me to ­concentrate on how to grow a few herbs in my yard and how to prepare those herbs as medicine. (Which will also take years of dedication and persistence.) I'm patient and I like the gentle unfolding as opposed to cramming and crash courses, I've had enough of that to last a lifetime.

Back to the walk...

Our first plant walk was at Dodge Park. We started in a leafy clearing with a continuation of Saturday's lecture where we began learning about humoral temperaments. Humoral temperaments relate to an individuals disposition. This definitely is not how "medicine" is practiced at the traditional doctor's office. What a concept! To consider how our underlying personal tendencies influence illness and subsequently suggestions for improving our health? To take into consideration a person's unique temperament (hot headed, driven and ambitious, sensitive, introverted, etc.) in order to suggest the most appropriate herbal supports?

Hmmmmm. This will have me talking and observing at lot more before I even discuss how folks are feeling physically.

The four temperaments - (L-R) choleric, melancholic, sanguine and phlegmatic - on the wall of a house at the corner of Am Dornbusch and Eschersheimer Landstraße in Dornbusch, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Artist unknown.

They all look kinda unsettling to me and don't seem to orrespond to the traits of each temperament...that third dude is supposed to be "pleasure-seeking and sociable", looks more like he's just up to something or giving the side-eye!

But if you would like to read more about the four temperaments,


has a good overview. 

 Anyway, on to the walk itself. Who knew that there are so many hidden jewels?

We take them for granted as we walk over them, spread our picnic blankets upon them, and tear out their pesky vines to make our backyards nice and neat.

Some I knew by name and enjoyed this chance to see them up close and personal. Some, I had only appreciated for their beauty but had no idea of the magic that they held tucked within their blossoms, leaves and roots. Here is just a quick skim of the surface because they all do so much more than what I have listed, but....drumroll please! The first up in Michigan's apothecary:

Chickweed, a lovely delicate little spring green with white flowers, deals with red and inflamed things like cuts, scratches, stings, and itchys.

Stinging Nettle, a mean looking weedy thing that has sharp tiny hairs on its leaves, is a nourishing food for the nervous system.

Creeping Charlie, a tenacious little creeper of the mint family, is good for head colds and makes a great ale! It's probably all over your yard!

Catnip, another member of the mint family, is calming to humans, quite the opposite of the feline reaction to the plant.

Sweet Violet, those lovely purple flowers and their leaves hold moisturizing properties that make a soothing tea and you can eat the blossoms in salads.

and periwinkle. Periwinkle can be used externally for varicose veins or hemorrhoids when prepared as an ointment or liniment.

How cool is that?

Maybe next time you are out in nature, you will look at the ground around you and recognize some of these, maybe they will pique your curiosity to learn more about them.

The herbs we identified (above) do SO much more than what I listed and it is not my intent to over simplify herbal medicine, but I kept it at a simple introduction because its also easy to get overwhelmed. I will chronicle my adventures with each herb in later posts.

AND PLEASE REMEMBER, absolute, 1000% accuracy of identification is necessary before ingesting ANY plant!!


And as always, thank you for supporting my herbal education!

Earthseed DetroitComment