When I first began foraging my own food and medicine, I focused on a particular array of plentiful, generous, and nourishing plants—the wild weeds, the common flora, and the invasives. These plants are some of our most superb medicinal allies and nutrient-dense wild foods. And these feral botanicals continue to be my main squeezes: non-native, “weedy” medicinals and wild foods are the most sustainable options out there.
Each fall, all across North America, goldenrod lights up meadows and fields with a refreshing blend of ruggedness and jubilation. In addition to the sunshine it lends to the landscape, its flowers attract native pollinators and beneficial insects. Goldenrod’s piney-tasting leaves and flowers are an important medicinal remedy for the urinary, digestive, and respiratory systems. The goldenrod tribe encompasses one hundred species of late-blooming, knee- or hip-high herbaceous perennials.
Before we dive into herbs for the immune system, we’re going to start with lifestyles for the immune system. Because herbs are really and truly the icing on the cake, whereas the day-to-day choices we make for how we want to live are the cake, so to say. The same things in life that make us feel vital, happy, connected, and energetic also make our immune cells feel perky and capable.
Lady’s slipper orchids have a commanding presence—their inflated blooms are captivating to the point of heady swooning and inspiring colorful prose. The etymological root of the word orchid comes from the Greek orchis, meaning testicle. Certain species of orchid bear roots, which resemble paired testes. In pink lady’s slipper, it is the flower, and not the root, that is reminiscent of male naughty bits. Orchids typically have three petals, with one of the flower’s petals forming a pouch-like structure, aptly named the labellum. The Latin root of labellum, is little lip, or labia. In pink lady’s slipper the labellum is inflated and heavily veined. The other two petals are pink and narrow, twisting, and extending out to the side of the flower, like a dancer’s arms in mid-twirl.
I had seen pictures of the cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis, Lecythidaceae) in my tropical plant books for years, always with its large distinctive cannonball-esque fruits. But I had never seen a picture of the flowers, and so the first time I laid eyes on its gargantuan blooms at Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Florida, I was completely and utterly awed and enchanted.
The showiness of this flower does not come from its petals, but instead from its male flower parts. The filaments are the stalks of the stamens (pollen bearing structures). In this flower they are doing double duty by also attracting pollinators. This genus has diminutive petals but many of the powder puff-type legume flowers in the tropics have lost their petals and only have showy stamens.
Roll out the red carpet for pineapple sage, flaunting her cherry-red bilabiate flowers atop slender racemes. Numerous pollinators flock to her elegant flowering branches, seeking nutritious pollen, sipping nectar, and dutifully transferring pollen from anther to stigma.