Gardening season is upon us in northern New England. After a series of late winter snow, freezes and thaws, spring seems like it is finally here to stay. When considering plants to enrich our landscape, the array of species at our fingertips is staggering. A trip to the local nursery will reveal an impressive array of glossy-leaved, long-flowering, insect-resistant plants from all over the world. Many of these plants are hybrids, a cross between two different species. Some are genetic anomalies, with double flowers or leaves and flowers that are a different color than either of the straight (parent) species. The hybrids and anomalies may have an altered growth habit, with some or all of the plant growing much bigger or small than the natural plant. Sometimes the nectar and pollen producing parts (the pistils and stamen) are replaced with much showier petals. For example, breeders have developed a sterile double-flowering bloodroot, a lime-colored Echinacea, and a sumac with purple leaves. These are indeed flashy, but from an ecological standpoint, most of these plants are dead weight in the garden, as they contribute very little to the ecosystem.
(Left) Double flowered ‘multiplex’ bloodroot. This cultivar is useless to hungry spring pollinators since its pollen- and nectar-producing parts are no longer present.
(Right) Echinacea ‘green jewel.’ It is less likely that pollinators will be attracted to a flower that differs radically from the straight species.
Despite all the eye candy available to us, many gardeners are starting to think more broadly when we plan our gardens and landscapes, beyond just aesthetics. Alongside our personal needs for food, medicine and beauty, the plants […]
If you ask an herbalist, they will be sure to tell you that what you put into your body matters, and that digestion is the root of great health. Research suggests that there are over 100 trillion living bacteria organisms, making up a whole ecosystem within our body called the microbiome. We are in some sense more microbiome than we are human, which is to say, we have a greater number of microbes living inside us than we have human genes. Only recently have researchers turned their attention to the intricate microbial relationships at play in our bodies and how our microbiomes affect our moods, skin, and overall health.
A healthy gut has always been one of traditional medicine’s top priorities and is the foundation for great digestion, glowing skin, and a strong, healthy immune system.
Today, having digestive upset or an unbalanced gut is considered almost normal, and is often overlooked. A lack of education within our food system and lack of access to nutritional advice leads to years of diets containing processed foods and loads of sugar; there is also the over-prescription of antibiotics (which kill harmful bacteria, but also the good) to contend with. These recurring situations leave us with all sorts of imbalances in our bodies and show up in ways other than just digestive upset.
Science is also beginning to study the unique relationship that our gut has with neurotransmitters—the chemical messages in the brain like GABA, serotonin, or dopamine—that can influence anxiety and depression.
Feeding and supporting the gut and its bacteria is age-old knowledge that now has the backing of science, and should be at the forefront of our […]
Founder Jovial King in her garden (photo from DIY Bitters)
We have all heard that our moods (and even our thoughts) don’t live in our heads. For example, we’ve known for a while that serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that regulates mood, is found in abundance in the GI tract. Its role there includes managing mucus production and acid production, as well as – possibly – helping to regulate mood. Serotonin-producing cells in the GI tract, furthermore, seem to need the right signals from our gut flora (the beneficial bacteria that live in our intestines) to function properly, which lends additional credence to the notion that our moods are intimately connected to our internal ecologies.
But what of our external ecologies? Is there any evidence that being outside might positively impact our moods? We are, in fact, exploring this connection more and more: from “forest-bathing”, which consistently seems to reduce stress and anxiety, to Dr. Andrea Taylor’s work on relieving symptoms of attention deficit by walking in nature
Every spring, I dig up dandelions. When I started my first garden, this was an act of fear: “If I don’t get them out now,” I used to think, “they’ll dump seed everywhere!” These days, I still pull dandelions from our small garden in the spring. But I don’t discard them anymore – every part gets used. The roots, bitter and sour, get finely chopped and roasted in a cast iron pan until they set loose an enticing, nutty aroma. After they cool, they’re ready to mix with coffee in the French press (recipe below.) The greens, juicy and salty, go right into a big salad. And we make fritters from any early flowers we find.
If you’re gathering dandelion, either from your garden or on a foraging trip, take the root too, and bring it into your kitchen. Don’t clean that root off too much: a gentle rinse before use will spare the bitter root bark, a reminder of where our medicine comes from. Isn’t it incredible to get back outside after winter, dig into the soil, and interact with raw, living herbs again? The intimacy of working with plants is a tonic in its own right, but it also reveals how close and connected our medicine can be: we need not seek it out in wild, remote places, nor trust only that which is expensive, refined, and manufactured. The dandelion is right there, waiting. It is a safe, simple and powerful way to bring herbalism into the lives of those […]