We’re finally past “January” in Oregon and the vagaries of July, so we can actually find outdoor weather a little more reliable. Residents of Oregon and visitors as well, it’s time to take a hike in our beautiful countryside. Always with a cellphone, water, food, and a jacket in order to be prepared “just in case.” A good motto no matter what you are planning.
A trail map and a plant and/or animal guide is always a good idea too. While I’ve made it a point to know my animals, it’s the plants (especially herbs and weeds) that I’ve been trained in. The natural world appeals to me way more than Big Pharmacy, though there is a place for both in our modern society.
Rather than buying over-processed herbal preparations in plastic bottles from a large profit-oriented outlet, I prefer to be closer to the source and know what I’m using. Sort of like going to the farmers’ market or food co-op rather than buying processed, over packaged foods from faraway lands in a big-box store.
But if you are buying your herbs this way, what do you really know about them? United Plant Savers is a non-profit organization (802-476-6474-PO Box 400, East Barre, VT 05649) dedicated to preserving native medicinal plants. Does your herb bottle label tell you where or how or when the herb was collected? With herbs, everything can make a difference in efficacy, including location, weather, age of plant, ceremony, and even the mood of those collecting.
Common herbs you may be buying like Blue or Black Cohosh, Echinacea, Goldenseal, Wild Yam, and others, are all on the “At Risk” list for survival in the wild. Echinacea and Goldenseal from your own garden or nearby forest is fine IF you continually replant, care for the species.
Rather than over-harvesting Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis) we could substitute Oregon Grape for the same medicinal purposes. While it may seem strange, Oregon Grape is on the “To Watch” list from United Plant Savers. It is abundant in Oregon in yards, schools, and places no one cultivates, but overharvesting and habitat loss make it a plant to be aware of diminishing in others states and areas. You are not likely to find any of that out from any label, leaving you more removed from the source.
As with mushrooms, or any wild plant, you must use visual guides. Taking a class that includes hiking in the wild is even better.
There are excellent guides, from the late Euell Gibbons and Nelson Coon to more modern guides with color photographs. I like to use both the old line drawing guides as well as the newer color photos when hiking to collect plants. Remember to collect only in areas where it is allowed and be sure no sprays have been used.
Many of the more useful plants are subjected to the carcinogenic assault of herbicides like Round Up and worse. You’ve probably heard of the usefulness of plants like Dandelions (salads and coffee substitute in Europe) but there are other wild edibles you may wish to learn more about. Barks, berries, ferns, flowers, leaves, and roots are all useful for making medicines, teas, soups, stews, and even candy.
The battle to destroy so-called harmful wild plants and weeds will continue. Certainly the over-growth of non-indigenous blackberries in Oregon is an example of a species out-of-control!
Another interesting example in our society is the much-maligned Kudzu. Yet it is grown extensively in other areas of the world for food, fodder for animals, erosion control, and as a cover crop.
Previously it was a staple food crop for centuries in Asia until crops like sweet potatoes were introduced. Interestingly, Kudzu has a lower glycemic index than sweet potatoes. The plant is a ‘cousin’, and even a look-alike to jicama. The root is still used to make nutritious broth for healing digestion, inflammation, and tonifying deficiencies. In other words, a wild food that “cures what ails you.”
With a reminder to never taste, touch, or eat anything from the wild that you are not 100% sure you know, enjoy your hike around beautiful Oregon.