The day was warm and humid, the hot wind tugging at my skirts as I strapped my toddling son into his stroller and set off down the street. We live two blocks from the grocery store and it is a quick trek. As we turned off our street onto the main road, I stopped my trudging through the grass and peered over at a tiny clump of umbrella-shaped white flower clusters a dozen feet back into the field. My son started gesturing towards them, so we went over. What I had thought was possibly a patch of yarrow in my drive by’s the last week or so, was just a patch of very short-statured Queen Anne’s Lace. I asked if my son would like a flower, and after seeing him nodding vehemently I smiled and plucked one for him, the prickly hairs poking my fingertips. He grasped it with wonder and we continued on our walk. Not thirty seconds later, I spotted some tall spindling plants topped with tiny purple flowers. I had seen a picture that resembled them a week before and plucked one to try and identify it once we got home, my guess was vervain. A few feet after that was a patch of tiny white-petaled, yellow-centered daisies. Again my son reaches for them begging for a flower. So I plucked one for him and he traded the Queen Anne’s Lace flower for the daisy. And just after the daisies was a tiny patch of red clover– the first I have seen in the area. For my own enjoyment I picked two and tucked them into the stroller. On we went, and at the turn to the grocery store stood the very large grouping of Queen Anne’s Lace flowers that had been there the last month or two by now, half of which had gone to seed, their umbels drying and curling up towards the sky like little cups full of fuzzy brown seeds. These are the seeds that have kept my womb empty of child the last few months. I plucked one seed-head for my altar and another flower to take home. Interestingly enough, none of either group of QAL flowers had any, that I could discern, with a red dot in the middle of the umbels like the plants that I had seen on the roadside in the larger town 20 miles away. Past the QAL towards the grocery store were more of the spindly purple-topped plants.
Once we got home, I pulled out our region-specific plant field guide and began looking up the plants we had found.
Queen Anne’s Lace (which by now I know well)
And, all of them are medicinal. Of course, it is never recommended to ingest or otherwise use medicinally plants wildcrafted from roadsides. But it just goes to show you that there can be a treasure trove of wild medicinal and edible plants right in your own backyard, neighborhood, fields, and wild places. You just need to know how to look, and take the time to forage. It is vital to know how to properly identify the various medicinal and edible plants and fungi in order to discern them from their poisonous look-alikes (or just to know what is poisonous and what isn’t in general), especially in your area or region. A perfect example is Queen Anne’s Lace, which has a few very deadly look-alikes. Proper identification is imperative. You don’t want to go around picking poison hemlock or water hemlock (both are deadly), which can be mistaken for QAL by amateur foragers. Be sure to pick up a region-specific field guide with color photos, and/or books on medicinals and edibles and their identification for your region. Take it with you on a walk and see how many plants (and fungi) you can identify and find out which ones are edible and/or medicinal near your home, in a local park (beware of pesticides!) or nature preserve. Learn the different identification notes– hairy or smooth stem, shape of the leaves, flower differences, inner sap consistencies, etc. Believe it or not, a smooth or hairy stem can be a very important identification! REMEMBER: Queen Anne has hairy legs! (The hemlocks have smooth stems that are often mottled in color). Don’t forget about berries and trees too. Wildcrafting herbs and foraging for food are wonderful ways to get in touch with your local spirits (or Genius Loci), learn your native plant species, and get a nutritious wild-harvested meal for you and your family. And, speaking of Spirits, don’t forget to take some offerings with you to leave if you harvest anything in your adventures, or even just as a “thank you” for allowing you to come to this place and study and learn about the plants that are under Its care. Who knows, maybe they’ll take a liking to you and teach you a thing or two.