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The Rebel Herbalist - Wild Abundance in South Central PA

Sep 01, 2020 06:21PM ● By Erin Shrader
Here in South Central Pennsylvania, our yards, roadsides and forests are filled with wild abundance. 

Staghorn sumac with its upright, rust-colored flower cones makes a beautiful lemonade. Simply steep the whole flower cones in water (either hot water as if making tea or leave it in the sun for a bit like making sun tea). Add a little sweetener of choice for a delicious, refreshing lemonade alternative filled with vitamins and enzymes.

Purslane grows close to the ground with its plump succulent leaves. This plant has one of the highest concentrations of healthy oils of any plant in nature. It is also rich in vitamin C. The leaves can be sautéd in a bit of butter or oil, with garlic and salt added to create a delicious side dish. Or, add the leaves to egg scrambles, soups, pasta sauces, etc. They have a mild flavor and are packed with nutrition.

The giant flower stalks of mullein are gracing our roadsides this time of year. Mullein flowers are anodyne, meaning they relieve pain. They are traditionally steeped in olive oil for six weeks, and the strained oil is used to soothe earaches. Garlic can be added to this mix for additional antimicrobial benefits. The leaves of mullein, with their fuzzy soft surfaces, are dried and used as a tea or tincture for their respiratory benefits. They are also a great toilet paper substitute in times of need. The flower stalks can be dipped in wax or lard and used as a torch, giving mullein its colloquial name of Hekate’s Torch.

It is so important to be absolutely sure that you have identified the plant that you are working with correctly before eating it or using it as medicine. I start with an app on my phone (like PictureThis or PlantSnap). These apps are roughly 60 to 80 percent accurate. Once I’ve narrowed down the likely identity of the plant from the app, I go to my bookshelf to confirm my findings. Some of my favorite plant identification books include Edible Wild Plants, by Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman; Backyard Medicine, by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal (this one also has recipes); and Weeds of the Northeast, by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal and Joseph DiTomaso.

The more we engage with the plants around us, the more we are connected to the landscape which brings beauty, vitality and good health.

Erin Shrader is a registered nurse, herbalist and mystic. You can find more of her writing, as well as the herbal products she creates, at her website or by connecting with her on Facebook @RebelHerbalist or on Instagram as the_rebel_herbalist.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Check with a healthcare professional regarding the appropriate use of any treatment.