Since I was a young child, Mother Nature has been like a mother to me. My biological mother had little interest in my whimsical ways and so many a day would find me dangling my feet in a rippling stream or laying in a buttercup meadow with only the wild things as my companions.
I could so easily have been lonely but instead found such richness and pleasure in the dragonflies and sticklebacks, swallows and natterjacks that every day spent in Nature was like a new adventure for me. This love and closeness to Nature has never left me. It still fills my life and has formed the basis of my work with others, which is sharing the wonders of the natural world and ways to deepen our connections to it.
There is no such thing as a weed!
I was shown very early on that there was no such thing as a weed; just human ignorance of their presence and purpose. Over time I came to define Nature’s Garden as basically falling into four categories:
1. very human friendly
2. human friendly when available
3. useable if necessary
4. poisonous to humans
In the ‘very human-friendly’ category are some common plants like nettles and dandelions. The ‘very human-friendly’ category is common in almost every part of the world and most often these are the plants that are called ‘weeds’. How ignorant some people are of the common weed! They are in fact master healers, termed common simply because they are so abundant and potentially helpful to us and yet for the most part many humans choose to neither eat them or make tonics from them but instead do all they can to destroy them! Dandelions are excellent for the digestive system, kidneys and liver. Nettles cleanse the blood. Other common ‘weeds’ are equally as valuable such as mallow, plantain and bramble. Right beside us growing along our human pathways are some very helpful plant allies; beneath our feet are amazing healthful friends, making themselves available to us whenever we wish.
Human-friendly when available
In the ‘human-friendly when available’ category I place the seasonal varieties of fruits, berries, herbs, leaves and flowers such as sweet violets, lime flowers, meadowsweet and various nuts. Traveling through the year, a Wild Walker comes to understand that each season has specific plants available; each habitat also. In the desert, for example, we find plants adapted to drought and scorching heat like Aloe Vera, which is commonly used for burns and ‘hot’ conditions like inflammation. I sometimes take notes so that I can remember, for example, where I discovered a sweet chestnut or a field maple – so that I can return there later in the year should I need to.
Useable if necessary
In the ‘useable if necessary’ category I include varieties either because they are only found in rarer habitats or they have contra-indications of some kind, such as guelder rose – used by our ancestors for coughs and cramps. The berries should not be eaten raw, nor should this plant be used by pregnant women or anyone with low blood pressure, as it is a muscle relaxant. It also has a strange, lingering aftertaste to it. There are other plants more commonly found for coughs, like honeysuckle, that are much more human-friendly and also taste more palatable, but one should only ever use its flowers and leaves; the berries are poisonous!
Poisonous to humans
The ‘poisonous to humans’ category is self-explanatory, and should never be underestimated when harvesting things from the wild! There are several species that can kill a human in minutes such as Hemlock Water Dropwort. Many others can be fatal too, especially from the fungi family and others such as Deadly Nightshade also known as Belladonna (beautiful lady). It was named this because it dilated the eyes of those that took it, but is actually highly toxic and not in common use today. The wild world needs to be treated with a great deal of respect because in it is things that can “kill as well as cure”! The wild is a wonderful, magical, abundant vibrant garden when one has the right knowledge and understanding of it, but self education is an absolute necessity before going out a-gathering.
Wild walking through the seasons, in an ancient woodland or along a winding track, or following a river or valley, one will always find something that is an herb or spice, a medicinal flower or edible leaf. In the Northern hemisphere spring and autumn are the most abundant and winter the least but there are still things available – especially from the trees. From smudge sticks to massage oils, to super greens and floral syrups, Mother Nature is a beautifully crafted gift of creation – for me there is no doubt she is our Garden of Eden.