This article was written by Tash from Avantgarden Life. Tash organises herbalism workshops around Berlin. Discover more about her next event February 22nd 2020 on Wild Fermentation Workshop: Edible Weeds and Veggie Sauerkraut in Berlin’s Biosphäre Cafe.
Local herbalism: The problem with importing unsustainable herbs, how to replace them, and the importance of learning about our local landscape.
Our local forests are full of wondrous edibles, calming trees and beautiful wildflowers. Many people are not aware how many medicinal plants and fungi are readily available in our local forests. There are plants and fungi for supporting all kind of ailments, such as mushrooms for immunity and sciatica, berries for colds and flu, roots for liver, flowers for the lymphatic system, tress for the respiratory system, mosses for wound healing, lichen for pain and a great deal more.
Sustainable regional herbalism is not just a way of using herbs; it is a whole lifestyle philosophy. We learn to work with the seasons and be in touch with nature, become friends with the plants and fungi, as well as ingesting microdoses of microorganisms that support our health. There is a great deal of regional herbs that can replace imported ones. Imports generally carry a large carbon footprint and may contribute to the slow extinction of a species. This can have an impact not only on the ecosystem of native forests, but also the communities and indigenous people that have relied on it for generations, in effect removing a part of their culture. Sustainable herbalism is about respecting as well as the culture that is intertwined with that plant medicine.
There are many reasons why we should be focusing on regional plant usage. Many edible plant species in your regional area, closest forests, even urban parks and community gardens have medicinal uses but are overlooked. Some are perceived as weeds, annoyances and are either extracted from the earth and discarded, or even worse, treated with pesticides.
The most common plants are the ones that are most frequently overlooked. Weeds, wayside plants, invasive species are never far from our front doors, growing in all those spaces in-between. Plants that grow in every nook and cranny, breaking through cracks in paths, pushing through parts of the scenery where other plants do not dare to go, such as the courageous dandelions, the warrior nettles or the mother elder tree. These are examples of more well-known regional plants that can be used for food and medicine. Much of the knowledge about wild edible and medicinal herbs has sadly been lost. Your parents may have grown up collecting wild greens in spring as well as berries and mushrooms in autumn. If not, your grandparents may have. Many of regional plants are not just great for medicine, but can also be used as medicinal healing foods. There is a reason why certain plants grow at certain times of the year, they are reaching out to us to aid us in our health.
We should be working towards recording and treasuring more of this disappearing knowledge. Teaching our children and each other how to recognise plants and how to use them, how to work with nature to avoid becoming like an invasive plant ourselves, destroying everywhere we go. We must form a relationship with nature, learning from it, allowing it to be our teacher. Not use it as a thing, but work with it like a friend. Treat it as you would like to be treated. With respect and gratitude.
There is a new interest in foraging, which refers to the collecting of wild plants for food. We have become a consumer society, even when it comes to nature, believing we can take and use from it what we want without standing back and seeing how it is affecting the surrounding life. Reaching for the next “star” health aiding plant, believing the more exotic it is, the more healing it must be.
Some herbs and spices have become “stars” or “trendy”. On one side it is great that people are opening up again to the idea of plant medicine usage and wild foods. But we need to educate ourselves on where they are coming from and how they are wild-crafted, foraged or grown, how far they need to come, and if there is a possibility to use a more regional substitute or research a more sustainable and nature-friendly source. How abundant is this plant? Is it slow-growing? Can it be cultivated? Is it on the plant extinction list?
Foraging for your food must also be done with awareness and care, remembering that the forest is not our supermarket and we must only take what we will use and never take when only little is there. We are not the only ones who use and need the plants. Other living beings may rely these plants directly or indirectly, such as insects, animals, fungi, plants and micro-organisms.
If you have access to a garden or urban gardening space, ask if you can harvest the edible or medicinal weeds. The same applies for neighbours or friends. Use your balcony or backyard to cultivate your own plants and learn how to use them for food and medicine. Ask your local gardening communities to let you know when they have an abundance of a plant or edible weed to be extracted. Making medicinal food from plants also involves such things as fermenting, pickling, jam and chutney. Picking up some life skills in this area opens up an entirely new creative field and is a gift to yourself that will keep on giving.
It is important we learn to re-connect with nature so as we can work with nature as if we are collaborating. Remember they do not need us, but we need them. Always remember that when working with the plants.
Left picture: Fermenting veggies and wild herbs made for a basic fermenting workshop by AvantGarden in December 2019. These veggies were not pretty enough to be sold, but look how pretty they became. (Credit: Avantgarden)
Right picture: A range of different medicines all collected in a 200km radius of Berlin. From left to right; Mirabelle homemade wine transformed into a white wine vinegar, pine resin for colds, flu and wounds, baby pine cone tincture, baby pine cone and needle vinegar and wild horseradish vinegar for immune support.
Tash is a herbalist, cook, artist, writer, nature protector and co-creator of AvantGardenLife an educational project which brings herbs, food and art together through herbal workshops, intuitive cooking classes, interactive food/herbs art projects and exhibitions. Her main aim is to bring herbalism and food back to it’s traditional grass roots methods.
Disclaimer: AvantGardenLife content is for educational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or a substitute for medical treatment. Please consult your medical care provider before using herbal medicine, foraged foods and
changing dietary habits. Make certain of your identification prior to harvesting any plant or mushroom as ingestion, application, or other use of some plants and mushrooms may cause illness or death.