With its citrusy aroma and quilted lime-green leaves, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) brightens our gardens and kitchens alike. This mint family medicinal is known as the “gladdening herb” for the uplifting qualities it brings to the spirit. Children have a particular fondness for its sunny aroma and sour flavor. Bees are equally fond of the herb—so much so that the Greek word for bee, melissa, is another name for the plant.
When we think of healing plants, our minds gravitate toward the plants growing at our feet – the garden herbs, weeds, and woodland plants of the forest floor – but there’s a veritable treasure trove of healing remedies towering above. Humans have been harvesting and using medicine from trees for millennia, and medicinal trees and shrubs probably already grow near where you live.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana, Hamamelidaceae) is our kinky, golden-star flower shrub or small tree that blooms in cold weather, when all other flowers are absent from the landscape.
The homegrown benefits of witch hazel are easy to overlook as an herbalist, as witch hazel is not traditionally something you think of planting in the garden or making medicine with for your apothecary—drugstore brands are what most people associate with witch hazel.
There are over one hundred species of pine worldwide, and most have recorded medicinal uses. Cultures around the globe have used the needles, inner bark, and resin for similar ailments.
Among herbal wildflowers, goldenrod (Solidago spp.) has grown itself a special place in our hearts. Lighting up the late summer landscape with a warm glow, this native North American herb has an endearing repertoire of gifts: it’s a natural dye plant, an edible and medicinal herb, and a nectary flower for pollinators.
Aromatic plant smoke holds an ancient and familiar allure. The alchemy of transforming dried plants into fragrant smoke has a profound effect on the feeling—or energy—of a space or person.
Fresh herbs will change the way you eat. They are the edible garden’s big bang for your buck. These plants have short “fresh” shelf lives, so what’s offered in a grocery store is often not only expensive but also less flavorful.
Foraging seasonal wild foods is an exciting and nourishing way to celebrate the turnings of the year—one that connects us to our ancestral stories of sustenance. Each season offers something unique, perfectly timed to nourish the cycles of life.
All crafters have a cache of special tools—and foragers are no exception. I’ve been gathering food and medicine from wild places for nearly three decades and these are my tried-and-true tools of choice. As a bonus, every single one pulls double duty in the garden and around the yard.