Chestnut Herbal School



Text and Photographs by Juliet Blankespoor

Warning: This post is personal and philosophical, and not especially informational. If you were hoping to read about staminodes or involucres, or even how to eat your lawn, you will have to wait until my next post.

Spring has arrived in sputters this year: sunshine flirting with frost, the first sprays of color a bright balm to the winter gray. Spring is the one season I can never keep up with. No matter how closely my eyes are pressed to the forest floor with eager anticipation of the first bloodroot, trillium or spring beauty, I can never soak it all up. I have a deep thirst for the drama of unfolding life. Freshly arrived flocks of red winged blackbirds with their raucous calls and flashes of crimson, spring peepers absconding with winter’s silent nights. I would like one year to walk the field and forest all day, with the goal of witnessing and savoring the endless miracles of birth and rebirth, but, even then, I know my thirst would never be quenched.

Personally, our spring endeavors are different this year than usual. For the fist time in many years we are not growing an herbal nursery, nor planting in our gardens, as we are moving this summer! Tom, my partner, is building us a little passive solar cabin in Barnardsville, NC on our land. We’re moving because we’ve been seeking more community in our lives (we have great neighbors there) and we’ll have more land to grow medicine, food and beauty. For the past ten years we have fit our school, terraced gardens, home, nursery and yurt in only one acre and a half—we are literally bursting at the seams!

I am sharing some of my favorite photos of this spring's flowers, hope you enjoy!

Emerging blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides, Berberidaceae)

Viewing the first blooming of the rare wildflower, Oconee Bells, is one of my personal rites of spring.  I haul my daughter and partner off to the local botanical gardens to check its progress every few days when the flower buds are close to opening. The usage of the word haulis not incidental; they come willingly, but not without a little coercion. My plant obsession is hard to match. Pictured below is the beautiful bud (a treat itself) and first opened Oconee bell.

Oconee Bells flower bud (Shortia galacifolia, Diapensiaceae)

My mother has been patiently accompanying me to botanical gardens and trailside wildflower rambles for over two decades. Here she is with my daughter, who shares her love of glamour. She is turning 70 this year, and doesn’t she look great?!—Her secret: years of yoga, swimming, and an engaged mind and healthy eating.

Another one of my yearly spring pilgrimages is to Pearson's Falls – a wildflower and bird sanctuary in western North Carolina. This is a wonderful destination for wildflower enthusiasts; it is a couple weeks ahead of the Asheville area flowering season, as it is down the Saluda grade. Bloodroot, hepatica, starry chickweed, spicebush, sweet betsy trillium, and red maple are flowering there now! This is one of my first attempts at tripod waterfall photography (I’m usually too preoccupied with the plants) and I feel inspired to try my hand at it some more.

Pearson's Falls. Saluda, NC

One of spring’s earliest treats is the flowering willow. Many species of willow have especially showy male catkins (flower clusters)—when the flowers are young, their hairy cuteness is reminiscent of felines; hence the name pussy willow. In this photo, the catkin is unfurling its stamens (pollen-producing organs)–- one might say the pussy is becoming a lion. Willows (Salix spp., Salicaceae) are dioecious, meaning they have separate male and female plants.

Pussy willow - Staminate catkin (male flower cluster) of Salix sp., Salicaceae

How can I have made it through four decades without ever seeing black pussy willows? I am excited to plant some of these on our new land! Pictured below on the right is the black pussy willow -Salix gracilistyla 'melanostachys'

One of the first fresh herb teas of the year. Ruby helped to formulate and pick all the herbs: dandelion, heartsease and violet flowers, stinging and purple dead nettles, violet leaves, apple mint and chickweed. Yummm!

Finally, I am honored to share an excerpt from Jesse Wolf Hardin’s interview with me. To read it, click on the photo below or  this link:                                                                                  The full interview is published in the book of herbalist interviews— 21st Century Herbalists, available from Plant Healer Magazine.

Hope to see you at an herbal gathering or on the trail! Spring blessings aplenty......


One thought on “Sprung

  1. Pamela Torres says:

    Thank-you for this post… it made my heart sing. Eye to the forest floor, spoke loudly. I am going out to look at my pussy-willow to see if the lion is lurking in the mist.
    Blessings to you and yours

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