My “Honey Don’t Mow There” Garden
by Liz Johnson, Herbalist
As an herbalist, I accept that most folks are not quite like me, most don’t have a wild and wooly yard in town. I don’t know what city governments would do if we all kept our yards as wild as I’ve kept mine, but I do believe that everyone should try a little of the wild and wooly.
The gifts I have received from nature as a result of my “Honey, Don’t Mow There” garden have been many and wonderful. I have roses not too far from the shore of our little lake. I have tasted amazing foods and used incredible healing herbs all because of my rather special garden. I would love for others to experience the gifts of nature, but for that to happen, everyone would need a small corner of yard that they… ignored. Just to see what comes from year to year can be a genuine treat.
From the garlic mustard greens that visit us in the spring, to the joys of a simple herb tea used whenever one of us gets a runny nose or a head cold, we reap the bounty of the easiest garden in the world. Ever wanted a bandage for a little cut or scrape and not wanted to go inside? All over the lawn, in most people’s yards, lays a terrific wound cleaning and scar reducing remedy for all splinters and minor cuts and scrapes. At least, that is what the studies and empirical knowledge tell us. What is this little gem? A green leaf from a plant called plantain, or Plantago major. It even made a superior diaper rash oil that outdid every commercial brand, natural or otherwise, that our relatives gifted to us during our son’s first few years.
Wondering about that runny nose herb? It is so common, and so universally hated, it might just seem funny. But creeping charlie, or Glechoma hederacea, that annoying creeper with the small purple flowers, can dry up a runny nose like nobody’s business. It has even been shown to be chock full of vitamin C in some assays.
What else have we used from our yard? The burdock root in our soups to keep us happier and healthier. The best thing about harvesting burdock is that the more of the root that is dug out, the less likely that it will return to flower next year. Just harvest it in the fall of its first year, the year that it doesn’t flower, and a rich, starchy root will be the reward. Clean and use fresh in a saute or stew, or chop and dry it in a dry and shady spot to add to stews and soups all winter long. What’s my favorite recipe for burdock root? Chop some burdock, onions, carrots, parsnip, and any other wonderful root veggies, then add olive oil and some favorite seasonings, and roast in the oven until cooked through and ready to eat.
Violet flowers on my birthday cake are always welcome. They can be preserved with a light egg wash and a dusting of sugar. The flower and leaf make a very nice tea as well. Of course, dandelion greens in the spring are excellent and the root can be dug up and roasted to add a little something extra to a cup of coffee. Just brew the roasted root with the coffee grounds and try a twist on an old stand by! Of course, there was the year that chicory visited us, yet another great root to roast to add to coffee.
The traditional and natural medicinal uses of these herbs are also amazing. The heal all, or Prunella vulgaris, that came up in the yard helped a friend’s mouth ulcer, and, to her surprise, her headaches!
Yarrow for colds and bruising; honeysuckle or catnip for fever and restlessness; motherwort for that friend in menopause suffering from cold flashes and palpitations; the creeping virginia helped a cough to disappear one fall; and the rhubarb root seemed to shorten someone’s digestive discomforts very quickly. With every spring comes the joy of chickweed, which helps my skin and lungs immensely; and of course, the treat of the garlic mustard greens that my family loves so much. We have tried and true friends in our yard that we have come to rely on year in and year out.
Each summer a new plant visits us in our suburban jungle, and each summer we make a new and valued friend. We’ve steeped herbs in wine, made tinctures with vodka, stewed, roasted, sugared, brewed, chopped, and just plain eaten herbs raw, right out of the yard. At first our new herb friends were pretty easy to find information on, after all, burdock root can be looked up on the Internet very easily and much of the information one might want to know about the herb can be found there. As time went on, more obscure herbs came to visit, and the adventures they led me on were wonderful. It has added to what I could find in books, and on-line with personal experiences, and the knowledge and lore of other herbalists and herbal fans. From classes taken and classes taught, conversations and conventions, each herb has made itself known, layer by layer; and each herb has offered a fascinating journey into nature and into self-discovery. After all, learning about someone or something new reveals as much about oneself as it does about the new person or thing.
From dining on cattails and morels to using the herb veronica for a cough, my rather special garden has brought a new delight each and every year we’ve been here. I cannot encourage people enough to save a small space in the yard to let nature have its way with. What grows there might be amazing, perhaps even roses, wild, sweet, delicate roses. Just give nature a chance and the rewards can be endless. So let a square of the yard go, just that little bit, and see what wants to visit you this summer.