Back Yard Herbalism

My husband and I live on an acre plus a smidge. I’m surprised nearly every day by the diversity of plant and animal life we share the land with. Of course I planted my herb beds with all the standards–rosemary, lavender, mugwort, garden sage, marshmallow, etc. But I’ve met so many valuable plants that were planted by mother nature, if I never planted anything I could still have a cabinet full of home grown healing.

So just for the fun of it, here’s a list of the wild (or at least not planted by us on purpose) edible and/or medicinal plants I’ve managed to identify on my little acre in Western Oregon

Bitter Cress (yum), Blackberry, Cleavers, Dandelion, Hazelnut, Hawthorn, Horsetail, Mallow (Malva neglecta), Oregon Grape, Pine (a few different varieties), Plantain, Queen Anne’s Lace, Red Clover, Wild Rose (not sure of the variety), Violet, Yellow Dock, Western Redcedar

And my neighbor across the way is delighted to allow my stepson to bring me all the Stinging Nettle he can cut.

There are, of course, many plants that I haven’t identified, and I keep working on it. Today I think I discovered the identity of this beauty:


I’m pretty sure it’s Indian Plum, or Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis). Of course I have no idea of how one might use it, but it’s beautiful and I think it’s native to my region. Reason enough to celebrate finding it.

All of this abundance has got me thinking about all the things that have happened since herbalism started gaining in popularity. One “miracle cure” after another brought to the market from far off places, turned in to pills, and found to not be so miraculous after all when people started getting sick from taking the encapsulated herbs. There are many forces at work here, but one of the most significant in my humble opinion is the way our culture has tried to make herbs in to, as Susun Weed puts it, drugs with green coats. I’m delighted with the rising prevalence of herbal knowledge, because I’ve wanted to know about herbs all my life and had no one to teach me until recently. But I’m troubled by the way so many people try to use herbs the same way they use aspirin–a quick fix that doesn’t involve more than putting something in their mouths and swallowing. Indeed, it seems to me that in our culture we’re willing to swallow an awful lot and not ask too many questions, and I can’t believe that this makes for true vitality in any way.

My dearest dream is to see the return of what I like to call back yard herbalism–the kind of herbalism that involves working first and foremost with the plants growing outside your door. I can’t take credit for the idea that the plants nearest and most plentiful should be our first choice for building and restoring health. I’m sure this understanding has been around for centuries. But it makes perfect sense to me. There are many herbalists who are saying that herbalism is about relationships with the plants, and that really feels right.

So I’ve set myself a challenge of sorts, to learn the virtues of the plants growing close to home, and to see how many ways I can relate to them as food and medicine. This ties in with–or perhaps expands upon–one of the projects in a correspondence course I’m taking. I’m not going to stress about it. I’m just curious about what I can learn, and I want to enjoy myself while I do it.

I’ve created a new post category–“Back Yard Herbalism” to help me keep track of the things I do with the wild plants from around my home. I’d love it if someone else wanted to join me in this very informal challenge. No rules except the plants should come from close to home, lets say no more than 5 miles away. I think it would be fun–anyone else want to play? Let me know if you do, and if you want to label your relevant posts with “back yard herbalism” either as a category or part of the title, that would be really cool too. But like I said–no real rules, except the five mile radius. And if no one else wants to play . . . well, I’m used to entertaining myself.


3 thoughts on “Back Yard Herbalism

  1. Wow, that Osoberry is beautiful! Does it have a smell? For some reason, I imagine it smelling like jasmine 🙂

    I hear you with the ‘drugs with green coats’ thing. One of the hardest things in my practice is helping people to understand that using herbs should be a part of a healing process and not another quick fix pill. In a few months, I will be moving my clinic to my land which makes me very excited! Then my clients can walk in the woods and get to know the plants that they are working with, and learn more about the herbs that grow near them. I think that will be extremely beneficial to the healing!

  2. well, we can’t have you playing all by yourself, can we? Count me in!

    I agree very strongly with the sentiments expressed in your post 🙂

    For me, living in a very ‘gritty urban’ environment, it isn’t always appropriate to consume the weeds that literally grow outside the backdoor .. but I’m increasingly gathering from suitable sites locally, especially as this is a wonderful way to mark the passing seasons, as one plant comes into flower or fruit after another.

    I’ve also always been drawn to growing and/or using herbs which are native or characteristic of the region … it seems logical that these would be the plants raised on the same air and water and weather as me, subject to and responding to the same conditions .. I think we are given what we need.

    So I will always reject an exotic latest-craze remedy in favour of good old nettles or dandelions, for example.

    Good challenge .. I’m looking forward to it!

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