When I lived in the Ozark Wilderness a small group of herbalists spent the weekend with me, this was in 2005. Fortunately, we had a videographer present, Laura Leiben, who captured one of our walks through my permaculture wilderness garden. Here’s the video and a transcript follows.
00.06 – D’Coda: Now, this garden, some years I’m able to manage the whole thing, some years I’m not. And so, I just carve out a section I can manage and let the rest of it go wild and I consider all of the wild growth, kind of like investment in the soil saving bank because it’s building up the soil. Over in that section I’m planning on growing wheat in the fall. To build that soil up I’m just letting a whole lot of stuff just grow and then I’ll chop it down and let it compost in place on the garden bed so by fall that bed should be pretty nice for planting wheat in.
And of course, a lot of those plants are medicinal anyway.
So, where are those guys? They’re getting down to business, aren’t they!
1:00 – (Steve Weber points to the vervain) D’Coda; What, the burdock? This is vervain isn’t it?
Steve Weber: I don’t know
D’Coda: This is one of my new big loves! I didn’t realize how much it did. But I want to confirm that it is Verbena officinalis. I’m pretty sure it is.
He Shou Wu
1:30 – D’Coda: This is Fo ti (He shou wu), it’s a very famous Chinese longevity herb. You use the root of it. The best roots are 50 years old so that’s why it has to be for longevity ‘cause you have to reason to live for an extra 50 years when you start it at my age. Unfortunately, the leaves, to my knowledge, can’t be used for anything. It’s turned out to do really well in this environment. I thought of it as a tropical plant that I was going to have to really take care of but it just loves it out here.
Now there’s also wild potatoes, you know, just growing in here. This whole area has got a bunch of different stuff. The trumpet vines I’m trying to take out because that’s just getting crazy.
Weber: They do down in the valley, don’t they.
D’Coda: Yeah, and the deer love it. It attracts them into the garden and they just love the trumpet vine seedlings.
Weber: Now, the root on the Fo Ti, is it like a runner?
D’Coda: No, it makes a big root…it does spread as runners in the ground but the root turns into a big root and according to Steve Foster, though, you have to process it with cooking it in fermented black beans for about 30 hours.
2:49 – (Kent Bonar in the background is hollering “where are you?” Laura Leiben [the videographer] shouts back “In the garden.”)
Weber: (referring to the He Shou Wu) so, probably any fermented product?
D’Coda: That’s one thing I want to find out from Steve, how to do that.
Weber: Yeah, there might be subtleties…That’s a beautiful looking plant and it’s so velvety, huh!
D’Coda: And if you don’t process it, all it’s good for is constipation.
3:12 – (Kent Bonar arrives, D’Coda’s dog, Leana, barks)
D’Coda: Kent, I want to confirm that this is the White Vervain, Verbena officinalis?
Kent: Yeah. Blue Vervain is a lot smaller and it isn’t that hairy.
D’Coda: I had heard that Blue Vervain was the vervain of choice but recently I’ve been learning from Peter Holmes that this one is just as good but the reason they say Blue Vervain is because the Eclectic doctors…there was a period in Western medicine when the Eclectic doctors got on to Blue Vervain…you know how things go in fads.
Kent: Waves, yeah.
4:11 (D’Coda pointing to an area) I try to grow vegetables mixed in with herbs. These are chocolate bell peppers. This is pennyroyal. And I thought it was all gone but it just came back this year all by itself.
Kent: Yup, that’s European pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium). The American pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides) isn’t even up yet. It wouldn’t be in this kind of garden, it grows out in the open…in the desert (laughs)
Steve: Well actually, in my yard, because of the chickens I guess, I have beds of it!
Kent; Yeah, well were ever there’s livestock of any kind, the chickens, the sheep, Dwayne’s got a bunch of it over on his place from his sheep. Even in places like Swane, which is like here, over all its like a jungle, but where ever you’ve got livestock in a kind of desert like condition, dried out kind of conditions, you end up with pennyroyal.
D’Coda: That’s interesting. (Referring to the European pennyroyal) Well, this is hardier than I thought because I had it going for awhile and then it died out last year and there was none of it, I didn’t do anything, it just came back.
5:25 – D’Coda: Why don’t we go down this path because there’s something down here that I have a question about.
(walking down path) …of course, here’s Jerusalem artichoke and I’ve got the Evening Primrose all over because I want to experiment with using the seed as a food for the oil.
6:11 – I’ve got a lot of purslane growing here
Hopi Red Dye Amaranth
6:25 – This is Hopi Red Dye Amaranth. Obviously, it’s a dye plant and its also a food, the seeds are edible. You can make a cereal, a flour, whatever, with that and its just started growing wild in the garden, it just decided to start growing here in a patch and I said ok, go for it.
6:47 – This is Evening Primrose and pretty soon it will send up a beautiful flower stalk of yellow blossoms and that’s going to make a nice seed for an oil food.
And down here we’ve got Orange Glow watermelon. And here we’ve got the mullein in bloom and I need to pick the flowers now and drying them or making an oil…and get some of these leaves saved. There’s purslane growing right down here, that’s a great medicinal herb. And Dayflower (Commelina spp.)
There’s Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
And do you see that purple colored flower? That’s DanShen, (Salvia miltiorrhiza), it’s a Chinese heart tonic and anti-depressive.
7:57 – And there’s a plant I’m going to ask you guys to figure out what it is because I haven’t been able to find anything on it. That beautiful silvery plant with the maroon flower. It’s too pretty for words, I have no clue what it is. It’s too pretty for words, I have no clue what it is.
8:21 – I’m so glad you guys came when stuff was in flower, it makes it so much easier. (pointing to the mystery plant…) what is that?
Holly Ferguson: It’s commonly planted in gardens. It’s at Wilson Park in Fayetteville. Isn’t it in the Caryophyllaceae family?
Steve: Rose Campion? (Silene coronaria)
(everyone agrees, Kent says it’s the Silene genus, Holly says it’s the garden variety)
D’Coda: What happened here was I ordered some Pyrethrum, and this is what grew from the seed. Obviously, the seed was mislabeled.
9:49 (skips to Wormwood) D’Coda: the first thing that comes to mind with Wormwood is how it gets rid of parasites and the digestive tract.
Kent: That’s what the name is for.
Holly: It’s a bitter.
D’Coda: It helps the liver, it’s a detoxifier. Its an antidote to poison. It’s one of the plants that supposedly cures mange.
D’Coda: Yeah, you put a wash on. Other comments?
Kent: Yeah, there’s a real scary part to Wormwood. (Everyone laughs, Steve says “There the goth comes out, yeah.”) Well, the fact is the French liquor absinthe, is made from Wormwood, and absinthe is one of the most dangerous nerve poisons of about anything that’s been invented. So much so that absinthe was outlawed in France and several other countries in Europe…
Holly: It could lead you to cut off your ear and send it to someone.
Kent: Yeah, that was part of it, but he would have done it in any case. The problem with the absinthe is that it causes irreversible nerve damage once it gets started and so you have (I forget the name of the disease) but you lapse into some kind of nervous disorder and the French had entire hospitals built for absinthe patients. And so, it was like cancer back then. And they had to have these hospices, basically, built for these people who were all dying.
D’Coda: It shows how we can get too much of a good thing. Because this is considered a medium strength herb with minimum chronic toxicity. What that means is you take for two weeks in a certain dose, you don’t exceed the dose, and then you stop for a while. Well those absinthe drinkers were obviously overdoing it, (Kent: they wouldn’t stop.) And its concentrated in the absinthe too. Its safe if you use it in the right doses for up to two weeks and you can use it as an infusion or you can make a tincture out of it. And you have to study to learn the strength of the tincture and what dosage to take. The above ground parts.
Holly: And you can use them fresh or dried as a tincture or a tea.
12:37 – D’Coda: (showing white fabric draped over fence) Now what you’re looking at here is my attempt at having at least one area of the garden that isn’t over run with turtles, rabbits and deer. Now all this stuff over here, the deer were jumping over the fence on that side. I know that white is scary (to deer) and this is definitely ugly right here and since I’ve made a white ugly factor the deer have not come in over the fence.
13:08 – Steve asks if this is Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca). D’Coda: Yes. Holly: It’s a cardiac depressant. Its good for overactive thyroid. It brings your thyroid down.
D’Coda: Its also a woman’s herb for regulating menses and for menopause.
Holly: And again, that’s the above ground parts as a fresh or dried tincture.
D’Coda: Here’s some babies that are just getting going.
13:43 – D’Coda: There’s some Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) next to it. And there’s Stinging Nettle – I used to be really worried about Stinging Nettle (overtaking the garden) but I’m not anymore.
Holly: I got bit by it a few weeks ago. Pretty bad, it just blistered up instantly, the only time ever.
D’Coda: One of the things about Stinging Nettle though, is whatever plant its growing by it enhances their medicinal value.
Kent: It helps the soil too, enriches it.
Holly: That’s fantastic, I’ve never had it fresh before! How exciting!
Steve: Well now, isn’t that something! Comes back from the root?
D’Coda: I take it inside in the winter time. The deer like it, that’s why it’s in the deer proof zone.
(everyone exclaims their excitement)
Holly: And stevia is supposed to be good for your pancreas. It doesn’t raise your blood sugar even though its sweet. It’s one of the only things I know that does that. So, it’s really good for diabetics and for people generally just watching their blood sugar to keep it from spiking up.
Steve: Well it pricks your tongue doesn’t it, it does something.
15:20 – (D’Coda show a variety of plants growing together) Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), Comfrey (Symphytum officinale), Blue Speckled Tepary Bean (Phaseolus acutifolius), Strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa), Asparagus Bean, Purple Violetto Pole Bean.
Common Ragweed & Horseweed
15:41 – Holly: There’s also Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) which is quite medicinal.
D’Coda: Yes, so I don’t mind it growing…and there’s also Horseweed (Conyza canadensis) and that’s an amazing medicinal. (Holly asks which one it is, D’Coda says its in front of the ragweed and looks like a spraying fountain.) That’s an amazing plant, it will stop hemorrhaging of the stomach and bladder, bowels and nose bleeds. And its also good for diabetes.
16:26 D’Coda asks Kent’s help in identifying a “mystery plant” which turns out to be a kind of spurge (which one not yet determined). Kent says if it has milky sap its one of the Euphorbeaceae and all he needs is one leaf to ID it.
16:53 – Kent: Ok, this is Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus), it’s a real common aster type flower with these white flowers with an orange center. It was called fleabane originally because it was used for bedding for animals because it can repel fleas and other parasites and stuff.
D’Coda: I like it in the garden because I notice its an insectary plant that helps bring in the beneficials. Plus, it’s pretty. And as I understand it, it’s also one of those common cold and flu remedies.
Holly asks if it’s the same genus as Canadian Fleabane, Kent says yes (however it was changed to another genus later) and that all these fleabanes are like miniature asters or daisies.
18:08 – D’Coda shows Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas) growing in the herbs
Ivy-Leaved Morning Glory
18:29 – D’Coda pulls out an Ivy-Leaved Morning Glory (Ipomoea hederacea) saying she loves the plant but there’s too much of it. Kent, agrees and talks about how it can overtake everything.
18:56 – D’Coda: It’s a little bit past its prime but this “poor man’s pepper” I use, also called Peppergrass, it does have medicinal qualities, however what I really like it for is a seasoning because it replaces pepper and it’s got a really nice flavor to cook with.
Holly: It’s in the Brassicaceae family. It looks a lot like Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris). It will grow very similarly but Shepherd’s Purse has a little heart-shaped seed pod.
D’Coda: If you noticed, there’s Shepherd’s Purse growing up by the house. And I was going to tincture some of that, but I changed my mind cause there’s other stuff that’s more important to tincture.
Holly: And it works really good as a tea.
Laura Leiben asks if those are the things that get stuck on your clothes.
Kent: No, that’s Beggar’s Lice (Hackelia virginiana)
Laura: Beggar’s Lice, yeah, because those look like Barbie-doll sunglasses.
20:30 – D’Coda describes how when the Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)is going to bloom, a beetle chews the head of the flower off and asks what everyone does to prevent that. Steve says he watches them die, some make it, some don’t. Kent says he starts over.
She goes on to describe how, by wrapping something around right under the flower head, the beetles won’t chew it off and askes for help pulling the stalks down enough for her to wrap before the group leaves.
Composting in Place
21:24 – D’Coda describes how she lets a bed go fallow and then piles plant material on top of it to decompose and build the soil.
21:50 – D’Coda: It antidotes poison. You can make an ointment or a lotion to rub into painful joints and stuff like that. It’s also a hormonal balancer
Holly: Yeah, I know that the Mayan used it quite a bit in traditional Mexican folk use they like it for women’s problems.
D’Coda: And this was one of the Wise Woman’s herbs from Europe that they relied on. You can get contact dermatitis from handling it, but I haven’t had that problem. The Romans used it in salads and I sometimes stick fresh leaves in a salad, it tastes pretty good. You guys ever eaten it like that?
(They taste it and Holly says its interesting and reminds her of something, D’Coda asks if they want some in a salad today)
This herb also helps with depression, as I recall, it helps with seizures.
Late Horse Gentian / Feverwort
23:13 – D’Coda shows the group Feverwort and asks if they know what it does. They all say “no” until she tells them it’s Coffee Weed (Triosteum perfoliatum), then Kent and Steve recognize it and say that they’re never seen one as large (which threw them off). They discuss where and how it grows and that a coffee substitute can be made from the berry, which D’Coda has done and describes as the most “coffee-like tasting” beverage she has tried.
25:13 – D’Coda: This is Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberosa) and its one of the plants that’s extremely helpful for any kind of deep respiratory infection. You use the root part. Its used for difficult lung conditions like pleurisy and brings down fever. Clears toxins. Its also called Butterfly Weed because it definitely attracts lots of butterflys. You guys want to talk about it?
Kent: Well you covered the basics on it. And I’ve had pleurisy myself ever since I was in the fifth grade and so I’ve used various things to try to deal with it and that works better than anything. It will clear it up and fairly fast, whereas, with pleurisy, usually within time, you’ll recover on your own but the first few hours are pretty rough.
Holly: I’ve read that some of the species in the Asclepias genus are slightly toxic so its better to boil the root.
D’Coda: And this is a medium strength herb which means you want to watch out for what size dose you’re taking and you only want to do it for up to two weeks max.
Kent: With pleurisy you only need it for one or two doses when you’re in bad shape and then usually you’ll get over it.
Holly: Do you know, shouldn’t it be boiled or dried?
Kent: Yeah, dried, the root…but on the other hand, the main thing about it is that it’s got clear sap as opposed to all your other milkweeds that have milky sap.
Kent: So even though it is a milkweed, and you can see the flowers close up have that typical milkweed shape, you know the little windmill… (Holly adds, “with the reflexed petals”) yeah, the reflexed sepals and petals.
27:25 – D’Coda: And right next to it is Catnip (Nepeta cataria). And this is another one of my real favorite plants here as an eliminating herb. It stimulates perspiration, takes down fevers, and colds and flu. It’s a tonic for the nervous system, its sedative so if you’re sick with a cold or the flu and for some reason you have some kind of emotional stress going on this is one of the better plants to be using because it will act as a sedative on your system at the same time as its dealing with the cold or flu. And traditionally this was a big herb with the Shakers. They relied on it for healing those types of respiratory infections and basically its important to drink the hot infusion at night before you go to bed.
Its used to life the spirits. It’s got some anti-depressive qualities to it. And it’s a Qi tonifier. It circulates Qi. As I recall, it tonifies the stomach Qi and intestines Qi. And it has a tropism for the brain and nervous system. I have a lot of information on this plant and a new appreciation for it. I used to think of it as “ah, lowly ol’, plain ol’ common catnip”
Kent: Its really great stuff and you can see by the way it affects the cats something’s going on.
Laura: And its good for sleep, right?
D’Coda: Yeah, it will relax you. Its just very calming and it nourishes the nerves.
Kent points out that bees are working the catnip.
29:29 – D’Coda: This is Rosa rugosa and while you can use the rose petals medicinally, what this is really used for is the rose hips for its vitamin C content. The reason this is so popular is not that it has the most vitamin C of any rose hip, because the Dog rose (Rosa canina ) has more vitamin C than this does. But when you’re using a rose hip for vitamin C you have to take the seeds out. And its really hard to do that but, however, in this plant it’s got a really large rose hip that’s pretty easy, relatively easy, to break open and get the seeds out and that makes it very useful on a practical level.
Another nice thing about it is it’s a “no-care” type of plant (Kent adds, it’s low maintenance). It doesn’t care, it’s got a life of its own, it’s very independent.
Holly: And most leaves of any Rosa species (just many in the family in general) are very astringent and make a good astringent tea for diarrhea or anything you may need it for.
Kent adds that in parts of Europe, rose hips are the main source of vitamin C, especially in the winter.
D’Coda adds that the Yellow Dock root is another source of vitamin C.
30:54 – Holly: The genus is Phytolacca, the root is the part that’s used medicinally. The leaves are used to make food, boiled I believe, two, three times?
Kent: It depends on the stage you get it at. Usually what I do is just chop the stems up like okra and fry it.
D’Coda: But just the young ones, the shoot.
Kent: Yeah, once it gets that red color to it (the stem) …whenever it starts to turn purple, then its too far gone. And the thing to do at that stage is just cut it back down to ground level and it will start to sprout back up again with fresh sprouts.
D’Coda: You can also bring a root in over winter, into your house, in a 5-gallon bucket, if you want early spring greens before they’re outdoors. And you can force it like Belgian Endive in the house. You can put a pot over it and then when you want it to start growing you take the pot off and expose it to light and you can have in your house some early spring greens that you can just keep going.
Holly: The roots, in particular, are used to move the lymph, they’re very good for the lymph system. They’re good for mumps or any condition where you need to move the circulatory system.
(A bit was edited out when D’Coda’s dog, Leanna, starts barking)
D’Coda: There are some herbalists that say you have to age the root for six months before using.
Kent: It depends on the circumstances.
Holly: Michael Moore suggests using fresh root, make it into a tincture right there, but just using a real small drop dose. And that, again, is something you don’t want to take for probably, maybe two weeks on, two weeks off.
D’Coda: And then also the berry on this thing is used for rheumatism, arthritis. There are different ways of using that. Some people say just eat one berry a day or make tea out of one berry.
Kent: There’s a lady over at the Folk Center over in Stone Canyon who makes that poke berry jelly and jam out if it.
D’Coda: You know I’ve heard they did that and the way they did it was by boiling the bejesus out of it, they would cook it for hours and hours, and change the water, and boil it some more.
Kent: That’s it, until you get something you can handle.
D’Coda: Yeah, but what is that? Food? I don’t think so.
Kent: No, but actually it was pretty good jelly
Holly: It was the sugar
Kent: Exactly. It wasn’t hardly worth the effort.
33:44 – D’Coda: This is Tick Trefoil (Desmodium genus). And the root was chewed for periodontal disease.
33:53 – D’Coda: This is Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) which is an incredible medicinal plant. It makes an eyewash (seeds), put a few grains of sea salt in the infusion you’ve made with the seed and use it as an eyewash for tired eyes and vision problems, especially if there are spots in your vision. It has a tropism for the digestive tract. But it also, you know so many of these plants cure colds and flu and bring fevers down for different reasons and this is one of them that does it and it’s a detoxifying plant. It stimulates the liver and the urinary system.
34:39 – D’Coda: Wild lettuce is right there, next door. Which kind of wild lettuce is this?
Kent: That’s probably Tall Lettuce (Latuca virosa L.)
D’Coda: I had a discovery about this. I used the milk sap on poison ivy and it works great, better than Jewelweed.
Kent: Wow, that’s almost hard to imagine because Jewelweed works great but that’s good to know that another one like that does because that’s also a pretty easy one to find.
D’Coda: And I also used that sap for a skin cancer. I softened the skin cancer first with aloe vera poultice first for a couple weeks. And then I started putting the sap of wild lettuce on and, man, it just went away. Just like that. It hardens on to make a really nice permanent little pack and it doesn’t go anywhere. I would refresh it once a day and leave it on. It didn’t cause any irritation, on me.
Kent: For poison ivy that may be similar to Calamine or something.
D’Coda: I think it may be, it smothers it or something.
Kent: Calamine makes it cakey, a crust on it.
D’Coda: One of the nice things about this compared to Calamine, you know how Calamine gets on your clothes, the way this (lettuce sap) hardens on, it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s like a Band-Aid.
The deer like it too. I find a lot of these chopped off. They eat them down.
36:53 – D’Coda: The essential oil of spearmint (Mentha spicata) is one of the few plants that will get rid of scar tissue (prevents from forming).
Laura: The essential oil in spearmint?
D’Coda: Its not the essential oil in spearmint, you have to use the essential oil OF spearmint. Use the essential oil itself and rub it into scar tissue. The other thing that’s different about spearmint from other mints is, it’s a true antipyretic. Where the other ones lower fever by stimulating perspiration, this is actually an antipyretic, it has a refrigerant quality. If you’ve got a super high fever and its dangerous and you have to get that fever down, the mint to think of is the spearmint. One of the things you can do with it besides drinking it is make a compress of strong spearmint tea and apply it to the calves and the back of the neck.
Kent: Yup. The different mints work to different degrees. Lake Lewis (Native American Medicine Man in the Ozarks) when he was running a high fever one time, he used Dittany (Cunila origanoides ) to get it down. I think spearmint’s one of the best ones. The biggest disadvantage of spearmint is it crosses so readily with apple mint and peppermint.
D’Coda and Kent talk about best distance between the mints.
38:40 – Holly asks about Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)
D’Coda: Oh, that’s European Agrimony, that’s one I used for my liver when I crushed it and it stopped the hemorrhaging.
Kent: Yup, the seeds are more “stick-tights”, they’ll stick to the dogs.
D’Coda: Traditionally, and probably still is, this was a popular beverage drink in France because it has a beautiful taste. It’s a really nice, astringent, styptic plant.
Kent: Its good for a lot of things
Holly Collects Plants for a Thyroid Tea
39:23 D’Coda suggests Holly pick leaves. Holly collects Rose Geranium leaves and asks D’Coda if she still has Gotu Kola because that’s very good for low thyroid and is one of the few plants that actually boosts thyroid.
40:30 D’Coda: One of the things about Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) is that it has compounds in it that will cure Leprosy.
Holly: Overall, its very good for the skin, just all levels, like rebuilding the skin, cartilage, tissue.
D’Coda: Its also good for the brain. Its used in Ayurvedic medicine to keep the brain young. Its good for the capillaries, its good if you have vein problems in your legs. This one I have to take indoors in the winter, however, some of it does survive over winter under leaf cover. It’s from India.
Holly: And that one is Centella asiatica but we have a native one here that is Centella erecta (Coinleaf). And what I’ve been trying to figure out is if it is similar to the asiatica. There’s also Hydrocotyle, which is a similar related genus (Pennyworts). The synonym actually for that plant is Hydrocotyle asiatica. We have about 5-10 species of Hydrocotyle in Arkansas also. So what I’m trying to figure out right now is how related they are to Gotu Kola. Kent, do you have any idea because I haven’t been able to find it in the literature.
Kent: Me neither because I think people go one way or another on it, they don’t overlay it.
Holly: Its in the Apiaceae family, the same family as Fennel. I’ve read one document that related the two and it was saying that Centella asiatica could be slightly toxic, and thus, due to the fact that Centella erecta is related, assume that’s toxic too. But I couldn’t read anything in the positive as far as medicinal characteristics.
43:02 At this point Laura starts taking still photos. D’Coda talks about the healing energy field emitted by the Elder tree, all you have to do is sit under it to initiate healing and suggests Holly get a mat and lay down there (which she does). Kent says Lilac does something like that too. Holly doesn’t know how to get out of the garden.