Category: Connecting with the Plant World

Invasive Plants.

This term will strike fear into any Naturalist, Gardener or Environmentalist. Many approach this concept with the same fervor that is raging on our border with Mexico over border crossings occurring there. I have known many a fine Naturalist and lover of plants to turn cold, hard and glassy-eyed at the mention of Garlic Mustard, Multiflora Rose or Japanese Knotweed.

These same people organize and participate in weekend rally’s to pull out and “fight back” against these plants that are deemed invasive. I watch them tear these plants out by the roots while cursing under their breath. After the organized rallies, I’ve even seen them erect signs over plastic bags full of torn up invasives that essentially say – let this death and destruction be a lesson to all who dare to crowd out our beloved native plants.

Somehow I felt this was out-of-place in the environmental community, which I count myself a part of. Having studied with a number of fine herbalists who feel that the plants that grow in your back yard grow for a reason, and usually because you particularly need what they have to offer, it made me particularly pleased to see at this years International Herbal Symposium, the concept presented of Invasive Plant Medicine(s), from a book of the same name from Acupunturist and Herbalist Timothy Lee Scott. I planned to attend some of his classes offered at the IHS, but made it to none, having fallen prey to the charms of  the other equally fascinating classes. So, I settled for speaking with the author personally on a break, and then buying his book,. Tim is a sweet, intelligent, and well-informed author who has studied with Stephen Harrod Buhner as well. I continue to be thrilled with their contributions to our health and understanding of plants, and feel this is an incredible concept to get out to the Naturalist/Gardener/Environmentalist (N/G/E) community.

Here is some of what I’ve learned in the past and present about the subject. Many of these plants were originally intentionally imported for a specific helpful function, and they thrived so well they began overtaking some of the “native” species. Hence the problem. However, what Mr. Lee details is how many of these maligned species are actually powerful herbal remedies for some of the pandemic diseases that have appeared around the same time as the plants. Plants appearing specifically to help the human race at just the right time. Again the concept of a plant growing naturally when and where needed. What if instead of over-harvesting some of our rarer plants for herbal medicine, we investigated harvesting these non-native invasive species for medicine and food? Accepting more of the gifts that plants offer us, perhaps it will help us as a society to give back and nourish the Green Kingdoms.  When something is healing you, you tend to want it to stick around and thrive, hopefully in concert with many other fine plant species. Look for what is growing outside your back (or front) door.  Maladies such as Lyme’s Disease that have spiraled out of control in the same areas where these invasive plants are spiraling out of control, have some relief for us in the form of herbal remedies of invasive plants.

He also points to a chemical industry that encourages environmentally minded people, who normally shun herbicides completely, to see invasive non native species as the exception and use these toxic chemicals as a hard choice solution. My feeling is that there is misleading advertising and publicizing by these mega-chemical companies to confuse the general public into buying RoundUp and other chemicals to toxify their environment and eventually themselves, ignoring the gifts of these invasive species.

People who have suffered long-term consequences with Lyme’s Disease, heavy metal toxicity, West Nile Disease, TB or the one of the numerous strains of Flu, will benefit by considering whether these plants can pick up where conventional medicine leaves off. There is convincing evidence and case histories showing tremendous relief and sometimes apparent resolution of disease, when used in the treatment of these diseases. There are other benefits, for example the potential of biomass fuel from Japanese Knotweed (also indicated in the treatment of Lyme’s disease) which is an extremely prolific plant considered a weed, a pest and an invasive alien. A solution to dependence on foreign oil?

This concept of seeing the benefit that comes from contact with different plants, learning from new forms of plant life that we were formerly unfamiliar with. Does this have a parallel in terms of our human condition, regarding tolerance, understanding and benefiting from each other’s vastly different experiences?


I just returned last night from the International Herbal Symposium. It was incredible.

To be with 700 people who think like you do, care about the same kind  of things you do, who are connected and put together like you are,  who see the world through the same lens you do, well, it’s just nourishing. There were scientists, mycologists, veterinary herbalists, botanists, shamans, and healers of all kinds. If I wanted to feel connected, I got it there. It wasn’t a specific person, although the priceless feeling of connecting with old friends, teachers, cohorts and associates was part of it.
It was the even deeper reconnection with the plant world. I was going to say “green plants” but then I remembered our keynote speaker, Paul Stamets. He is a scientist who wrote “Mycelium Running” and by the end of his presentation he had convinced me that mushrooms really are going to save the world, get us out of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

They are already curing cancer at a miraculous rate – talk to any oncologist, who apparently know all about it already. They can clean up toxic waste – although seriously, why do we keep having to find ways to clean up toxic “spills” ? I’d love to live in a world where people are smart enough to not have toxic waste that the plant world has to help us clean up – again.

But seriously the list of things that fungi do is too extensive to list here. (Don’t forget Penicillin.)That’s the thing about plants. They don’t yell,well, not with vocal cords, they don’t bite, unless you count Stinging Nettles and Multiflora Roses…well okay maybe they do have ways of communicating with us.

If only we’d listen.

Well, some people are listening and have been listening for a very long time.

And boy do I love spending time with others like me.

And my listening just got another shade deeper, more real, and more pertinent to my life, this weekend.

Nourishing and enrichening

Some of the most beneficial plants I know

Today I’d like to share a great way to nourish the plants growing in your yards.

Get to know them. Help others to get to know these plants.

17 years ago, I cultivated a plot of Stinging Nettles in my backyard. They are an incredibly nourishing perennial (weed?) and I felt lucky to be living near where they grew wild.  By cultivating a plot in my yard, I didn’t have to go all the way down to the river to get my nettles, and then I’d know for sure that they weren’t sprayed with anything. Well, that is until the one neighbor mistook them for monster Godzilla weeds taking over the town, and that was years ago now. Actually, I didn’t know how large and wide the Nettles would grow. They started out as a couple 6 or 8 inch high sprouts dug up from the waters edge one day when I realized that my perpetually wet back lawn had conditions that Nettle would like to grow in – wet soil, clay, rich from years of rainwater flowing through. I prepared the ground, went to the river and asked the plants if they would be okay with me moving them back to my yard. When I felt a “yes”, I carefully brought home a couple of plants. They grew into the huge patch you see in these pictures. I harvest them every year to brew fantastic tasting and the most nourishing tea/infusion you’ll ever find, as well as a great steamed herb. Cooking takes away the stinging part of Stinging Nettles.

At some point I want to share how to ask plants questions like is it okay to move you, but for now, how would I help passerbys to know that these fantastic plants are not weeds, and not to touch. They don’t call them “Stinging Nettles” for no reason.

I decided to make a sign.

A start!

Stinging Nettles Rock!

It’s a little bit rudimentary looking, but it gets the idea across. If people like it I’ll paint a really nice one. So how did Nettles end up here?

I’m delighted to think maybe others will start revisualizing their backyards in a new inherently beneficial way to utilize the natural beauty and richness in this good soil and air.

I've already harvested the 1st cutting

Here is the view from the little parking area next door. I do hope they like it and appreciate that while it may not win any signmaking awards, it’s an attempt to reach out and connect with the people in my neighborhood, and to spread more understanding and ideas to nourish ourselves as a community.

Now if only the loud vehicles would stop zooming by, I could get some peace and quiet here. Couldn’t the nice people with the loud trucks and motorcycles tone it down? I love the peaceful feeling of a summer’s evening, everything slowing down and a cool breeze blowing through the open windows…

Time to sit with the Nettles again.