Ananda at Plant Journeys did a post on a local plant: Dreamwort
Tansy did a post on her top 40 local herbs to focus on for the next year.
Rebecca wrote about her dooryard herbs.
Angie attempted to narrow her abundant local favorites down to a workable list.
I suspect there may be more yet to come. If so, I will update as they come in. And here’s my own emphatic rant for local herbalism!
Using local plants for me is about intimacy, connection and practicality. So some of it is rooted in the spiritual and emotional realm, but there’s a pragmatic side as well. How much more common sense can you get than using free, locally abundant plants for medicine? This as opposed to paying for expensive and often less than quality exotics. If the medicines are capable of having the same effect then why on earth would I pay for stale plants from a foreign country that have been sprayed/irradiated and god knows what else?
I’m especially wary of the exotic panaceas of the wetlands, desert or highest mountains. These are often little known plants from fragile ecosystems easily upset by overharvesting. There’s usually a great deal of corporate money behind those advertising extravaganzas in glossy health magazines. They’ll tell you how much you really NEED some of their precious and rare root from the himalayas, extracted by a patented process and specially put into capsules, and they won’t tell you how Burdock is just as nice, quite abundant and you’ve been yanking it out of the garden anyhow. Do we really believe that Sambucol is better than our hand harvested Elderberry creations? Or that we can get more nutrition out of a bottle of Noni juice than from our own homebrewed Strawberry wine? Making our own medicines and gathering our own foods is an act of profound activism in a culture of people brave enough to suck down prescription drugs but powerless every time our child gets a fever.
Now, nearly all of us have a few exceptions for extra special plants that we can’t find a local equivalent for. Kava is a good example of this, and many of us very bioregionally based herbalists will pay a pretty penny to get some high quality root. I consider this kind of like purchasing a special sauce or a rare favorite veggie from the grocery store. I do it sometimes, and I sure like the taste, but I don’t depend on it as a primary aspect of my practice. Especially with the rising cost of shipping, I can barely afford to buy Kava or Kale! But I can always afford some Skullcap from across the river, or some Lobelia from down the river.
I’ve been occasionally told that my fervent attitude about local herbs is an unreasonable approach for people who don’t live out in the sticks like me. This doesn’t make good sense to me though. I know that in some areas it’s completely illegal to pick most plants and that in other places there’s huge amounts of pollution. But really, who can’t find some Dandelions at the edge of a community garden or Plantain in an unsprayed and weedy backyard? By investing some footwork and research into the process, we can usually find a few nice weedy plots and perhaps a choice wild area to gather from. Having put in all that intent and care will make the medicine that much more potent and meaningful too.
Another viable option is a thriving garden where you can grow many of the most valued but not necessarily local to you herbs. Our European ancestors brought myriad medicinal plants with them from the Old World, and many of these plants such as our common Garden Sage and Lavender are easily grown in a yard corner, window box or pot. Even easier is to grow local weedy plants, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to claim that you’re actually growing all that Ground Ivy on PURPOSE?
We don’t have to pick a certain number of plants within a certain area, but it sure is nice to be aware of what’s growing and available right around us. Not knowing the flowers outside my door feels a little like not knowing the people I live with. Possible for sure, but definitely not a good idea. Even when I travel I try to introduce myself to the local land and plants, while I may not ever know all their names it still feels good and right to sit down, say hello and pay attention.
It all comes down to old fashioned sense for me, and when I have a fever or Rhiannon has a bellyache, it feels so good to find my medicine flowering under the juniper tree — fresh, vibrant and intimate.
If you haven’t already, you might want to read my essay The Healing Roots of Home: A Medicine Woman’s Journey into Bioregional Herbalism. It was written for my female students, but applies to everyone regardless of gender.