Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Botanical Medicine Classes

Native Medicine Plant - Joe Pye Weed
My friend, Dr. Les Moore, is offering another series of his Botanical Medicine Certificate Program courses. These classes are excellent if you wish to learn more about medicinal applications of plants. Some of the plants covered are native, wild medicine plants while others are from other places and herbal traditions.

There will be six different classes will be held over a period of five weeks, September 20th – October 18th  2012. Students can elect to take the entire series or individual classes. The guided herb walk for this series will be held at Ganondagan on September 22.

Please contact Classical Formulas for details and registration - their website has full class descriptions and registration information.

Of note, Classical Formulas also now has a Facebook page that you can "like" to get news about upcoming classes, lectures, and workshops as well as daily posts by me about herbal medicine and medicine plants.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Native Orchid: Summer Coralroot

Summer Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata)

While on a recent hike I spotted an usual sight - a native orchid in bloom. I had never seen this plant before and had to ID it after the hike - good photos are always key to that! The plant was tiny and appeared to be possibly a parasitic plant since it had no leaves or green parts.

The plant I spotted was the blooming Summer Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata). This orchid's native range is much of the US and Canada, including NY State, but this is the first time I have ever spotted it. According to Wikipedia, it "is a myco-heterotroph; it lacks chlorophyll and gets food by parasitizing the mycelium of fungi in the family Russulaceae." I guess first impressions were correct!

Orchids are a special sight and one in bloom even more so.  Other than this plant and the alien orchid Epipactis helleborine, I've only seen wild, native orchids blooming in one location, Zurich Bog. I've found lady slipper plants (no blooms!) in a couple of other locations but that is it. Our native orchids are special as are the places they grow for these plants usually have very specific needs.  Poaching these plants for your own garden - very illegal given the rules of the parks and preserves they usually grow in - is unwise. Few gardens are going to meet the growing needs these plants have and the plants will die. Take only photos and leave the plants be.

Because this was such an unusual plant, I referenced my ethnobotanical sources to see if the Native peoples here used these plants. According to Moerman in Native American Ethnobotany, the local Iroquois people used this plant for:
  • Basket Medicine - Infusion of pounded root used as a basket medicine
  • Hunting Medicine - Root placed in a half cup of water and used to wash guns and clothes as a hunting medicine
  • Love Medicine - Infusion of pounded roots used as a love medicine
  • Tuberculosis Remedy - Compound infusion of roots taken for tuberculosis
  • Veterinary Aid - Infusion of whole plant added to horse's grain for heaves
  • Witchcraft Medicine - Infusion of pounded roots used as an anti-witch medicine
Looks like the Iroquois found this plant to be special as well given the number of ceremonial "medicine" uses of the plant.

For more information on this plant, see the links below. I have also included other photos below as well.

For more information:

Orchids of NY State:

Plants For a Future:


USDA Plants:

Other Images:
Entire Plant
Plant with author's hand for scale

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sedges Have Edges

Rushes, cattail, and boneset at the water's edge

I must say that identification of grasses, sedges, and rushes is not something I excel at. In fact, I'm usually pretty bad at it but I can get the right grouping for the plant without any effort -- you have to love mnemonics! Here's what I know plus a couple of variations I've heard on it:

Sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses have joints.

Sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses are hollow right up from the ground.

Sedges have edges, rushes are round and grasses have knees that bend to the ground.
 Maybe this will help you get your plant into the right grouping as well!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Know Your Poisons

Poison Hemlock (along a local hiking trail)
In a conversation once with another herbalist about poisonous plants, we agreed that those were some of the first plants we learned in our wildcrafting and harvesting endeavors. Why learn the poisonous plants right away? You need that knowledge to avoid dangerous, potentially deadly mistakes.

You need to know what dangerous look-a-likes may exist (queen anne's lace or poison hemlock?). Also, how to avoid dangerous situations (don't plant deadly monkshood next to your edible chicory). You need to know that some plants have edible parts and toxic other parts. And still others need to be harvested at specific times or need special processing to make them usable and non-toxic.

Knowledge is power. Certainly so in this case. But even more than power, this knowledge teaches you to respect the power our green friends have. They can cure us or kill us with equal ease.

(If you like this sort of info, be sure to catch my daily herb posts at the Classical Formulas Facebook page.)