Podcast 169: Herbalism & Climate Change: The Plants!

Climate change affects everyone, and that includes the plants. Medicinal herbs and food plants growing across the world are changing, moving – and sometimes, struggling or dying – as a result of the changing climate. As herbalists, and as stewards of medicinal plants, we need to recognize these shifts and respond in ways that will help protect & sustain our herbal allies as much as possible.

Three steps any herbalist can take in this effort include:

  1. Observe & recognize the changes in the local wild plant populations, and stop wild harvesting early when you see signs of stress.
  2. Cultivate & steward the plants you depend on, so that you can harvest without impacting the wild populations.
  3. Work with the new plants – often designated as “invasive” – who are coming in with the changing climate. Many of these are potent medicinals, and they’re so abundant that it’s safe to harvest them freely without worrying about damaging the population.

Changing our habits – of harvesting behavior, and even of perception – is difficult. But it’s incumbent on us as humans to interact with our environments in a responsible way. Every member of an ecosystem plays a role in it, and this is ours!

Mentioned in this episode:

Herbs discussed include: self-heal, st john’s wort, mugwort, calendula, solomon’s seal, fleabane, evening primrose.

Community Herbalist

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

This episode was sponsored by Mountain Rose Herbs. We thank them for their support!


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:16):
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:19):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. Yeah. So, this week we’re continuing our series on herbalism and climate change. And I’m really excited about this one, because this is going to be a bit different from the last few, you know, where we were talking about flooding and wildfires and smoke and heat, and really focusing on humans and our suffering.

Katja (00:44):
Yes, yes, yes. That’s the right way to say it. Humans and our suffering. And sort of how can we relieve our discomfort and also the injury that happens from those. But today we’re going to talk from the other perspective. We’re going to talk about the plants. Because as the climate changes, the plants change. And the plants that we used to depend on and we’re able to find regularly around us in our region may not continue to be as abundant as the climate shifts. And new plants may come in. So, we have some approaches here, in terms of how we work with plants, as we get through these times.

Ryn (01:29):
Yeah. And some things to think about or keep in mind are well, okay. So, one of them is going to be that we want to recognize the changes in our local wild plant populations. And we want to stop wild harvesting them early when you see signs of stress. Yeah. So we’ll discuss that. Number two…

Katja (01:46):
Yeah, we want to learn to cultivate the plants that we depend on so that we can harvest them without impacting the wild populations. Just because it’s a wild plant doesn’t mean that it… like it might not be able to be gardened exactly, but it can definitely be stewarded. So we’ll talk about ways to do that.

Ryn (02:05):
Yeah. And then number three, we can learn to work with new plants. New to your area, right, not new on the planet. But these are plants that are often designated as invasives, plants that are coming in along with the changing of the climate. A lot of these are really potent plants, potent medicines. And they’re so abundant that it’s safe to harvest them freely without worrying about damaging that population. So, those are going to be the three kind of windows that we take onto this topic. But before we get started, we just want to share our reclaimer.

Katja (02:37):
We are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Ryn (02:41):
Ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the US, and these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Katja (02:51):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs and experiences and goals. So, we’re not trying to present some kind of dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Ryn (03:08):
Everyone’s body is different. So, the things we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But they will give you some information to think about, and some ideas to research further.

Katja (03:16):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and also your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean that you’re alone on the journey. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours to make.

Ryn (03:34):
And I also wanted to add that we’re excited to say that Mountain Rose Herbs is sponsoring this episode of the Holistic Herbalism podcast.

Katja (03:42):
Yay, thank you!

Ryn (03:43):
Yeah. We really appreciate it. You know, as we’re talking about plants, about climate change, and about sustainability today we would just want to encourage you the next time you’re on the Mountain Rose Herbs website…

Katja (03:54):
Which I need to be real soon like today, because you’re not going to believe this, but we ran out of chamomile. It is time to make an order. So, I will be on the Mountain Rose website today.

Ryn (04:07):
Gasp! Yeah. Well, when you’re there, make sure to click on the who we are link at the top, and then click on sustainability from there.

Katja (04:15):
Yeah. You know, when mountain rose herbs sources their herbs, they’re not just buying a product to sell to you. They build sustainability into their business relationships. So, what does that even mean? That sounds like some buzz words. But they work with farmers to actively rebuild healthy soil and to rebuild and protect watersheds. And soil and water are really precious parts of our environment. You know, we’ve been hearing more and more about water over the last few years, and as people have been taking a stand to protect our water. And that’s good. We need to be focusing there. And also you might not realize that as the climate changes our soil is tremendously at risk as well. And if you didn’t know about that, then…

Ryn (05:01):
Now you know.

Katja (05:02):
Now you know, and it’s kind of horrifying. So, just as much as the issues around water are kind of, you know, impending maybe we say, the issues around soil are too. So, because these two endeavors are so critical, I find it really exciting that Mountain Rose Herbs focuses on these when they make relationships with the farms that they buy from.

Ryn (05:29):
Yeah. You know, we hear so much about how we should, each of us, vote with our dollars and make sure that we’re supporting companies who are environmentally responsible. But you know, businesses themselves can do that as well. And we really love to see that Mountain Rose is choosing their producer relationships based on regenerative soil and water practices.

Katja (05:47):
Yes. So anyway, definitely check out that page on their website. It will get you really inspired. Because the herbs that you’re buying are not just good for you, but they’re actively creating more sustainable regenerative practices on farms across this country and also across the world. And that is work that needs to be done.

Ryn (06:07):
Yeah. So check them out at mountainroseherbs.com. Okay. So, let’s dig into those three points we had around what’s happening for the plants themselves in the time of climate change and what we can do to help.

Recognizing Changes in Local Wild Plant Populations

Katja (06:21):
So, the first one was we want to recognize the changes in the local wild plant populations and to take action on what we’re seeing. And so the action that I want to call out here is to stop wild harvesting early, really early, as soon as you start to see signs of stress. There’s certainly other actions that we can take based on our observations. But because humans tend to take, take, take – or at least humans in this culture – then for me, that is one of the actions that needs to be right at the top of our mind when we are observing the local wild plant populations.

Ryn (07:02):
You know, we had an episode a little while back about wild harvesting. And there we were suggesting that maybe it’s a little bit better not to wild harvest too much anymore, you know?

Katja (07:11):
Yeah, which can sound appalling. Like wait, we’re herbalists. Aren’t we supposed to… Yeah, well, as the climate changes it’s more and more important for us to be very observant of those plant populations and to be cataloging their health over time. Not just over one season, but over years. And honestly, actually this activity is not new. People have been keeping these kinds of records throughout history. In fact, that’s how the Farmer’s Almanac got started. So, you know, there’s maybe a few generations where we lost this practice. But the idea of being in relationship with a community of plants, and constantly observing the health and welfare of that community and then making our decisions about our actions based on those observations, that actually is a thing that humans have been doing for a really long time.

Ryn (08:10):
Yeah. And having the eyes open is really the first step here. And paying attention to the plants and observing them through time is really where you get to start to see these shifts. So, you know, this year, for example, where we are, there are some plants who are really taking off. They’re really having a great year. It’s been an amazing year for self heal. You know, we’ve been…

Katja (08:32):
There’s been so much.

New Speaker (08:33):
Yeah. We’ve been taking a lot of hikes lately. And a lot of our favorite hiking trails are just covered in self heal, which has been lovely to see. It’s been a great year for St. John’s wort this year as well.

Katja (08:44):
I have seen more St. John’s wort this year, I think, than I’ve seen in the last three years combined.

Ryn (08:50):
Yeah. And our mugwort is going wild. Well, the wild ones are wild and the cultivated ones are, I don’t know, feral. But yeah, there’s just been a lot of mugwort growing right now. And this is localized, right? So last year where we are, it was really hard for those three plants. But last year calendula was doing great. We had an amazing harvest of calendula out of our garden. But this year not so much. The calendula is really struggling. Today I finally saw more than four flowers in the patch, which hasn’t happened this year yet.

Katja (09:28):
And this is really because of the weather conditions or the climate conditions. So, this year has been a much wetter year, which on one hand is good. We need the rain. We’ve had years of drought. So, I’m grateful for the rain. But it’s been too much for the calendula to really handle. So, as we see these shifts, observing how that impacts each type of plant can help us make our decisions about how we’re going to work with those plants.

Ryn (10:05):
Yeah. So, for this year, you know, we’re just not going to harvest any of the calendula. We’re going to let it go to seed. Last year we didn’t harvest any mugwort. We let that go to seed, and then we actively spread the seeds. So, with the idea that maybe this year it would be stronger or that we could help out the plant and that stand. And you don’t expect to actually have to make some effort to try to help the mugwort seed. You know, it’ usually just grows so readily. But last year, based on what we saw, that’s what we had in mind.

Katja (10:35):
Yeah. Really like actively spreading the seeds. And not just sort of letting them fall all right at the base of the plant, but trying to spread them out over space to give them the best chance to repopulate. And then this year we can definitely afford to harvest mugwort, right? The populations are really strong. Not just on the land that I can harvest from where I did that seeding, but also throughout the whole region. I want to be looking at both of those things. It’s one thing to be cultivating or stewarding a wild plant on land that I have access to. And that can make it more available for harvesting. But I also want to be looking at the wild stands and make sure that if the wild mugwort in places that I can’t steward, in land that isn’t accessible to me, is struggling, then maybe I want to be careful about what I harvest of the mugwort that I seeded intentionally.

Ryn (11:40):
Yeah. So, you know, if you can I guess travel around a little bit and see different areas near where you live, and see how things are going in definitely more than one patch. This is kind of what we’re getting at. Another way to get that kind of impression is to look at foraging groups or gardening groups or herbal wildcrafting groups. And check in with people who are in kind of the same region as you, but a little further afield. And say like all right, what are you all seeing? This is what I’ve been observing with this plant in my area. Is that the same in the larger region or across the country. And get a sense of what the bigger picture looks like. We can’t base all of our decisions on a single stand of plants or a single garden, because it can be misleading. There can be a little micro climate or a little shift in water flow from year to year in a single spot. So, we are trying to get a little broader data set to work from there.

Katja (12:36):
And then when we have that observational data, then we can plan how we’re going to work with a particular plant. So, in the example of mugwort this year, I will definitely harvest in such a way that I have enough for this year and also some for next year, just in case next year might be hard for mugwort. I’m not going to assume that mugwort is going to have a great year again next year. But also I can make some plans about how I process what I harvest. Because different types of processing requires different amounts of plant matter. So, for plants that have been struggling recently but now are doing all right, I might consider to make more tincture than I normally would. Because tincture is a more efficient way to work with plant matter than tea. What I mean by that is you can make more doses of medicine with less plant matter when you’re making tincture. If you’re going to make the same number of doses of tea, it’s going to take more plants to dry and make into all of that tea. So, if you are thinking ahead and you’re thinking okay. Mugwort is really important to the way that I practice. And I want to make sure that I have enough. This year mugwort is very strong and can handle it if I harvest some. Okay, I’m going to harvest what I need for tea, but also I better make some tincture ahead just in case the following year I don’t have access to mugwort. And sort of all of that, while still making sure that you are planning to seed as well. Like even wild seeding, you don’t have to buy the seeds. You can be seeding the plants in your own area. And in fact that’s great, because those plants are adapting to your like super local microclimate

Ryn (14:33):
Conditions. Yeah. Building this kind of thinking is really important, so that we’re building this awareness of plant populations over time, and we’re planning our own harvest across more than just that one year. Planning what we harvest based on what can sustain being harvested, and actively choosing to not harvest at all when plant populations are struggling. Because it can just be so tempting to say oh, this plant is having a hard year. Yeah. Well, I’ll just take a little. I’ll just take a little. And it’s so important to remember that you’re not the only one who may visit that stand. Not the only human, not the only mammal, not the only form of life that may be looking in that direction. And so we need to, I think, change this to I’m just going to not harvest. I’m going to observe. I’m going to steward this plant. I’m going to see what I could contribute to this plant to try to make it a little stronger, so that perhaps next year or future years are going to be better.

Katja (15:35):
You know, you were saying about I’m not the only human, I’m not the only mammal. I’m not the only form of life in relationship with this plant. And what popped into my head when you said that was the plant is a form of life, right? We live from year to year to year, and we live however many years we live. But we have our own continuity within our own sort of lifespan. But plants, you know, they get that continuity by seeding the next year. Some of them are perennial. They come back again. The same plant will come back again next year. But some plants are not. And those plants continue their existence into the next generation. And so, it’s also our responsibility to help that plant continue its own existence into the next year. And so even just thinking about oh, well, some animals might need this for food. But we can also think about oh, well this plant needs it for this plant, you know?

Learning to Cultivate/Steward the Plants

Ryn (16:43):
Yeah. And we do have to kind of observe the different timescales that plants work at. You know, you could have a perennial plant that grows one year. It has to do its whole life cycle. It has to, you know, grow from seed, develop into maturity, produce its own seeds, and then it’s done and it dies back. So, that’s kind of a short scale. And then you have trees that can live for hundreds of years. And they’re on a really different timescale from us as well. So, in either direction we kind of need to expand our perceptions there a little bit. But one thing that we want to make clear here is that we’re not trying to create a false binary. Like either the plant is super abundantly available for wild harvesting, or else you can never touch it. You can never have any. So, to break that down a little bit we can go to number two on our list here, which is to learn to cultivate the plants you depend on so that you can harvest them without impacting the wild populations.

Katja (17:44):
This is my favorite thing. I like to call this wild gardening, because here’s the thing. You don’t only have to garden things in your own yard with seeds that you bought or seedlings that you bought. That is great. And you should definitely do it. Especially if you’ve never done it before, you should definitely do it. You should definitely try it. Start to build those kinds of relationships with domesticated seed plants.

Ryn (18:10):
Yeah. And you know, you can also bring wild seeds home. Like when we look around where we live, like our home area, right? Our mugwort, and our Solomon’s seal, our fleabane our evening primrose plants in the garden, in the buckets, in the yard, they’re all from wild or feral plant seeds that we brought home with us. And now they’re, you know, they’re not domesticated yet per se, but they’re homey.

Katja (18:37):
There homey. Yeah, exactly.

Ryn (18:40):
Yeah. So, that’s a really great option, and especially for plants that maybe produce a lot of seeds, but not every single one of them is going to germinate out in that wild area. If you can create ideal seeding conditions in some land or in a bucket, then you can help that plant to grow, and maybe it wouldn’t have otherwise.

Katja (19:03):
Yes, yes. So active stewardship of wild plant populations. Whether you are actively stewarding them home to your garden or whether you are actively stewarding them in the place where they live and you have access to, that is going to give these plants a better chance of surviving as the climate changes. So, look around your region and look at the plants that you depend on, the plants that you know. And then look closer and say well, how is their water? And if it’s a hard year for water, could you be watering that wild plant population somewhere? I mean like okay, you can’t just go through your whole region everywhere and water every single goldenrod plant or whatever. But if there’s land that you have access to with a wild plant population, it’s okay to water those plants if they need it. It’s not only okay, it’s fantastic. You could be the one who brings those plants through drought conditions, and that protects the continuity of that plant community. If a plant – especially an annual plant where they have to create their seeds and grow fresh next year – if that plant community is heavily impacted by drought before it has a chance to set seeds, you may lose that plant community. It may not come back at all next year. So, even though it sounds kind of maybe like an unusual thing to think about -to like go to some wild land with a bucket of water and water those plants – it literally could be the difference between that stand of whatever the plant is that you are thinking about or that you’re in relationship with surviving into the next year or dying out. So, carry water.

Ryn (21:05):
Yeah. You know, and as heat becomes more of an issue , another thing that you might do is to put up some sunshade. There are these excellent tarps that you can find that are made of a kind of a mesh. And they reduce sunlight, but they don’t totally block it out. They reduce it by a percentage, right? Like you can get, you know, 10% reduction or…

Katja (21:27):
Yeah, like 30%, 40%. You actually can even get 70% for like shades that are understory plants. And that might be really reasonable if an area was recently cut, and now the understory plants are really suffering.

Ryn (21:42):
Yeah. They’re suddenly exposed.

Katja (21:43):
But you can get like 20, 30% mesh. And that’s pretty cool, because that reduction of sunlight might be just enough of what the plant needed to get through the heat.

Ryn (21:58):
Yeah. So again, same basic idea, right? You can’t shade the whole area. But if there is a particular plant community that you’re trying to support or protect on some land you have access to and it’s getting sun scorched, then you can put up a shade during the hot parts of the summer. And like you said, it could just be like 30% less direct sun is all that makes that difference for that plant to survive.

Katja (22:21):
Yeah. And it’s really about setting seed, right? Like getting that plant through to a place where it can make seeds and have those for next year.

Ryn (22:31):
Right. You might be able to move plants around also. Maybe it’s a really wet soggy year where you’re living. And if that’s true, maybe you could transplant some of a plant that you depend on into some soil you can control a little bit better. You can create some better drainage for it, and it will feel happier there. It’s not feasible or even advisable to uproot an entire plant community, because doing that would prevent them from adapting. But if it is some plants that you depend on or you care a lot about, maybe you could dig up a little bit carefully from around the edge. And then replant it somewhere that’s really ideal for it. It’s kind of like an insurance policy. If the main plant community there doesn’t handle the soggy wet conditions, you’ll still have some of that plant that you’ve saved. And you can go back, and then you can spread those seeds later on. Some of them in that new space where you transplanted to, and then also some in that old space in hopes that next year will be a little easier, and they can re-establish.

Katja (23:28):
Yeah. In these ways we can protect plants from the climate. But we can also protect plants from pressure, from animals who might be munching in places that they didn’t use to munch. Again, because the climate is changing, so we’re finding animals in places we didn’t use to find them too. Or even more because the habitat is changing, and habitat loss is pushing animals into places that they didn’t maybe use to eat in, or it is creating shortages. And so the impact of their munching is harder on the plants. So, on one hand you can spread seeds to intentionally help a plant population expand. And spread that seed maybe further than where it might’ve carried on its own. But you can also you know, put like some chicken wire or some fencing around some populations, so that you can protect them from animals who are nibbling. And you don’t necessarily want to take away all the food from the animals. But if you can isolate a few plants so that you know that some of those plants will come all the way to maturity, make their seeds, and then they can repopulate for that stand. Then you’re sort of helping to establish a little bit of balance between the animals who need the food to survive and the plants who need to live long enough to make their seeds.

Ryn (25:02):
Yeah. Yeah. So, between all these suggestions you can see there’s really a lot of different things we could do to give the wild plants around us a boost when conditions are tough for them. Yeah.

Getting to Know New Plants Around You

Katja (25:13):
And then the last thing here in this list – and this is not obviously an exhaustive list, but it’s stuff that is important to us – is to really get to know the plants, and to get to know new plants specifically. So that was our third thing on the list. Learn to work with the new plants, which are often designated as invasive, that are coming in with the changing climate, because so many of these plants are really potent medicinals. They’re really actually amazing plants to work with. And on top of it, when they come in better suited to the new environmental conditions, and so they’re kind of taking over spaces where plants that used to live there who are not well suited to the new conditions are dying off. Then there’s just such an abundance of these newcomer plants, that we can harvest them safely. We can harvest them freely without worrying about damaging the population. And even harvesting them freely kind of helps whatever of the previous population is able to adapt to still maintain space for itself.

Ryn (26:32):
Yeah. We always need to be trying to think about the whole system, you know. That’s why we call it holistic herbalism. Trying to try to see the big picture, because it’s so easy as humans to just think about what we need. And even if we’re thinking in terms of the future, we’re often still thinking only about the future of humans. But listen, when the plants in your region change, that impacts not just your choices about what herbs you can work with, but also critical food supplies and habitat for insects, birds, other animals in your area. You know, it’s up to us to make sure that our actions are sustainable, not just for humans, but for the whole ecosystem.

Katja (27:11):
Yeah. Sometimes there are plant populations that we just can’t save, because they can’t thrive in the new climate. And that’s going to start happening more and more, but honestly it’s already noticeable. And when this happens, we need to make smart choices about what to do in their absence. So, here’s an example. In central Massachusetts, purple loosestrife was designated as invasive. It’s a plant that came in to fill some gaps where other plants couldn’t thrive anymore. And so in some areas it got that designation as invasive, because there was space for it, and it was doing well. It’s well suited to that space and the change in the climate. So, in some areas they were trying to eradicate it. And whether or not that’s a good idea is a topic that we talked about in a previous pod episode, number 90. It was called three medicinal invasive plants. But for right now, what I want to talk about is this particular example in terms of maybe changing the way we think about invasives. So here when they did that eradication project, what they didn’t realize was that the bee populations were depending on it. And when they removed the loosestrife, another invasive took its place, and that was phragmites. But phragmites is air pollinated. So, it provided no food for the pollinator populations. And there was a huge crash in the honeybee populations throughout central Massachusetts. So, in a case like this, it might be better for us to leave the loosestrife, even though it’s invasive and we think about oh, the native plants and whatever. The purple loosestrife in this case was a boon to pollinators. And it also has very impressive abilities to clean up toxins in the environment. And for that matter, it’s also a potent medicinal. So, even though it looks invasive in an area, and there was native plant loss that was sort of replaced by the loosestrife. The loosestrife didn’t kill the native plants, but it did take their place. We might need to think a little differently and think like huh. Is this plant a guest that we should maybe keep around? Is it serving a need in the ecosystem?

Ryn (29:37):
Yeah. We’re kind of programmed to think about new plants and invasive species as things that need to be removed as soon as possible. But as the climate changes, we need to recognize that the plants are going to change. And we can’t necessarily keep the plant populations static around us. In fact, they never have been, right? The ecosystems have always been evolving and changing as new plants are introduced. Both by human patterns, absolutely and most dramatically, right? But also by natural forces, you know? But also we don’t necessarily have to keep the plant population static. We can look at the whole system. We can see plants coming in who are not native. And it’s worth taking some time then to study them and to determine, you know, who they are. Who are you in this world? Who are you in this place now? And determine whether they have some benefit, again not just for humans, but for the whole system at large.

Katja (30:36):
You know, we can think about this the same way we think about groups of people, right? Anytime you get a group of people together, there are some roles that need to be filled, right? There’s like a leader, there’s a nurturer, there’s an agitator,. And honestly agitators, we could call them catalysts. Sometimes they really stir things up and that can be annoying. But sometimes they stir things up and get things done, you know. So, we can look at these roles in human groups, and we see that they repeat over and over again. The ecosystems have these rules too. And, you know, the original native plants that filled those roles are not necessarily the only plants who can do it. So, if a new plant comes in and it is filling a sustaining role, it might be worth keeping, especially if the conditions have changed such that the native plants who used to fill that role really can’t survive in the changed climate of that region anymore.

Ryn (31:37):
It almost makes me think of in this moment when we’re putting an herbal formula together. Our focus isn’t on these specific species, right? I have to have these exact plants in order for this to do the job that I’m hoping for my remedy to accomplish. It’s the actions, right, the herbal actions. So, I guess these sort of ecosystem actions you could see in a similar way.

Katja (32:01):
Yeah. It’s like what we learn when we learn herbalism through the perspective of energetics and herbal actions. But we can think about that in the ecosystem as well. Like, can we look at our ecosystem from a perspective of energetics and ecological actions.

Ryn (32:17):
Yeah. And, you know, we always look to highlight when there are connections between the way a plant lives and inhabits its niche in the natural world, and the way that it impacts our bodies in a medicinal way, right? So, like with loosestrife, for instance, it’s one of those aquatic plants or semi-aquatic plants. And it has that fascinating combination of both being a little bit demulcent and a little bit astringent. That helps it survive in that kind of environment where it likes to grow, but it also shapes the kind of medicinal activities that we can get out of it. And you know, so frequently we find that these invasives have a lot to offer us medicinally. They usually can handle the stress of harvesting better, because the climate is more to their liking. And also because they’re, you know, vigorous. A lot of plants end up with that invasive designation because they’re like I’m going to make 10 million seeds this year. I’m ready to go. So, you know, we can be learning to work with these new plants while we’re doing what we can to steward and to save the plants who are here already and are struggling to adapt.

Katja (33:21):
And I don’t want to say that like every single invasive species is also a potent medicinal that we should work with as herbalists. Just ask me about phragmites. I don’t love it. You know, there are some plants that don’t have any medicinal actions, and there are plants that I struggle with. I’m like ah, phragmites. You’re not helping anyone.

Ryn (33:46):
Although I have recently come across a few different references for phragmites having medicinal activity too.

Katja (33:50):
Are you serious?

Ryn (33:51):
Yeah. I think some things emerging from traditional Chinese medicine.

Katja (33:55):
Wow. Okay. Well, so my thing here is don’t assume. We are not saying that every single invasive species is medicine and you should go put it in your mouth. We’re not saying that. But also what I do want to say is that we should think open-mindedly. That we should do research and get to know these plants. And I guess I need to think more open-mindedly about phragmites. Yeah. All of this is going to require more active participation in our plant communities, like our active participation in the plant communities. And that’s going to take time. But we have some tips for you. Some ways where you can get started with this kind of work.

Starting with Observation & Getting Involved

Ryn (34:39):
Yeah. Yeah. So as we’ve been emphasizing here, it really all starts with observation, you know, opening the eyes and opening the eyes again. And specifically observation of the same plants in the same places over time. So, if you go for a walk, then choose your route with some intention. Make sure that it brings you up next to some green spaces, including vacant lots. Remember that those counts. And when you’re walking, maybe this isn’t the time to put on your politics podcast. Maybe we don’t have some media in the ears so that you’re really able to focus all your senses, not just on the plants that you see, but also on the whole environment. Like what’s going on with water conditions in this area right now? What’s going on with the soil? Does it feel the same under your feet today as it did yesterday or last year? And you might be saying, I don’t know. I don’t pay attention. Well, that’s what we’re talking about, right? What’s going on with sunlight exposure? I mean, even things like has a new building gone up on this block lately.

Katja (35:39):
Yes, that totally changed the amount of sun that the plants are getting. Yeah.

Ryn (35:42):
Yeah. So yeah. How did the plants look, but also how is the environment around the plants. Even if you can start to say oh wow. Suddenly there’s like a billion more ants on this corner. What’s going on with that, right? So, all these kinds of little small observations can stack up and help you to get a better sense of what’s going on. It might make your walk a little bit less efficient, you know, but that’s okay. That’s all right.

Katja (36:03):
You know, you might be thinking yeah, but I don’t really know what I’m looking at. Or I’ll never be able to identify all those plants just by noticing them or whatever. And that’s a really common response. I think people are pretty nervous around plant identification. And the thing is that you don’t have to do this for plant identification purposes. That will come naturally actually on its own. All you’re trying to do is observe. Does this plant look happy. Does it look like it’s getting enough water? And as we’re recording this podcast, I’m holding a remote in my hand, and it has braille on it. You know, it has like the on and off switch labeled in print, but then it has braille for on and off underneath that and the different options on this remote control. And sort of as we’re talking I’m kind of moving my thumb back and forth on the braille, and kind of in the back of my mind thinking like I can’t differentiate these dots. How could I ever? How could anybody ever learn to read this? And yet they do. People do learn to read this. And it is exactly the same thing. If I spent the time to learn how these dots feel under my thumb, then eventually I will in fact make sense of it. And it really is just putting in the time and the noticing, the observation of what does this look like? What does it smell? What’s the water like around here? Just what is. And so if you are feeling like that is challenging, then just kind of take the pressure off yourself to do it in any particular kind of way. And instead simply say I don’t have to know the name of this plant. I don’t have to know all of its medicinal actions. I just need to see it. I just need to observe it. I just need to be aware and watch for change over time.

Ryn (38:08):
Yeah. You know, we also think that research and experimentation are important also. A really great resource for the medicinal actions of common invasive plants is a book by Timothy Scott called Invasive Plant Medicine. We’ve referenced that before a few times, because we really love it. But that can be an excellent place to start learning about which plants we can work with, and the roles that they play in the ecosystem. And that can help our decision making as we move deeper into climate change.

Katja (38:38):
Yeah. And also getting more active in the public sphere, right? Finding out what your town’s policies are about public land and about invasive plants. And finding out who is making those decisions and what data they’re using to make them. A lot of these policies really haven’t changed over the years. But as climate change speeds up, we might need to reevaluate some of them. And that’s only going to happen if you get involved personally, which is not always fun. It can be contentious. But if you go into it with a kind of oh, like an audit kind of mentality, or honestly the same sort of observational kind of ideas that you would approach the plants with. Just sort of from the perspective of let’s look at what we’re doing, and see if these things still make sense given the changes that are happening. And maybe they do, but maybe they don’t. And we won’t know until we ask the questions. And then just, you know, learn, learn, learn and research, and sort of ask those questions in a curious and interested kind of way. Not necessarily with an agenda. Just the agenda of let’s be aware of what’s happening and make sure that we’re making good decisions about it, right? That can be a less contentious way to navigate the process of getting more active in the public sphere and town government.

Ryn (40:08):
Yeah. And of course getting more active in things like where your food comes from, where the herbs you buy come from, what the practices are, where those things are grown. All of that kind of stuff is, is, you know, content or ideas that a lot of folks really haven’t thought about too much before, but are starting to now or should. I feel comfortable saying that. Yeah, we should.

Katja (40:35):
Yeah. We need to be making sure that we are supporting regenerative practices. That the way that we are living is contributing as much as possible to the solutions. And there are some things that are harder to change. Like maybe you have to commute to go to work. And maybe you have to do that job to pay your bills. So, that might be a larger challenge. You know, maybe there isn’t public transportation where you are or whatever else. But we can make choices to support farms who are actively pursuing regenerative practices, both in when we purchase the food that we eat and also the herbs that we make into medicine. And that can be an important part of the solutions that we need to build to get through the next decades.

Ryn (41:31):
Yeah. All right. Well, hope you this inspiring. And that it makes you feel like you want to get outside and take a closer look at some plants that you love and you want to care for. We’d also love to hear any of your ideas or things that you’re already doing in this kind of an effort. So, feel free to reach out to us. You can always contact us through our website, commonwealthherbs.com. And while you’re there, you might want to poke around a little bit. Check out some of our free resources. Look at our podcasts review. We’ve got transcripts for almost all of them posted on there now. So, if you’re into reading, then you can check that out. And of course we have online herbalism courses for you. Everything from our Four Keys to Holistic Herbalism free course that you can just jump right into and learn some of our most foundational, most important concepts and ideas about how we approach this whole thing. All the way through to longer training programs that can get you on the path to becoming a professional herbalist. Yeah.

Katja (42:29):
So, you can find all of that at commonwealthherbs.com. And if you do want to take courses with us, you can use the coupon code PODCAST to save $50 on any course that you sign up for. So do that. You do that. I’m going to go jump on the Mountain Rose Herbs website and get myself some chamomile, because I’m out. And we’ll see you next time.

Ryn (42:58):
Yeah, we’ll be back later with some more Holistic Herbals podcast. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (43:05):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (43:08):
And open those eyes. Bye.

Katja (43:12):
Bye bye.

Katja (43:41):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (43:42):
And I’m Steve Rogers. And I’m here to tell you that you need to take herbs for America.

Katja (43:48):

Ryn (43:51):
Sorry. Is that, is that not right?

Katja (43:52):
That’s funny.

Ryn (43:53):
Oh, okay. Let’s try again.


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