Walk slowly, pay attention

By Tom Read

Here comes the new stinging nettle! In addition to eating the steamed leaves and stems of young nettle plants, this year I'll use nettle roots and leaves to make a vinegar-based tonic and a fertilizer "tea." The pen in the lower right is for scale; it's about 5" long. Photo taken this morning.

Today I visited Dr. Kevin Black at the Texada Health Centre in Gillies Bay for my annual physical check-up. In the course of our routine review of my cholesterol levels (normal) and blood-pressure (acceptable), we talked about the prescription drugs I use to keep my moderate hypertension “under control,” including how expensive they’re becoming. Nothing new there, but it occurred to me as I drove home that maybe I can eventually reduce my pharmaceutical intake if I start using more of the wild food and medicinal plants that grow in abundance here on Texada Island. This wasn’t a random thought, as I’ll explain in a moment.

For years now I’ve resented my dependency on a daily dose of industrially produced drugs to moderate my blood pressure. When I started using these drugs I lived in the sedentary-yet-fast-paced urban rat race, and since moving to Texada 10 years ago I had hoped that my pharma-dependency could eventually end by adopting a healthier lifestyle. Indeed, my blood pressure has decreased somewhat during my years on the island, possibly attributable to such factors as less job stress, choosing a better diet and the necessity of a more physical way of life here at Slow Farm.

Earlier this week I attended a Texada Garden Club presentation by local herbalist and healer Doreen Bonin on how to benefit one’s health using wild food and medicinal plants that grow right here on our island. Doreen’s talk gave me hope that I might gradually wean myself off the pharma-habit, but I must acknowledge that this is something I approach cautiously. Uninformed self-medication can be dangerous to one’s health, so I will seek my doctor’s advice before making any substantive changes. That said, I was fascinated by her detailed descriptions of how to find, prepare and use the likes of nettle, dock and dandelion, along with many other locally common wild and easily-cultivated plants.  I am looking forward to joining a like-minded group on Doreen’s next “nettle walk” sometime in the near future, to get hands-on plant identification practice in the field.

The place to start looking for these plants is in your own garden, according to Doreen. “I teach people to pay attention, to be like children in adopting a beginner’s mind, and to walk slowly and quietly as you look for these plants.” One example I’m already familiar with is stinging nettle, which in years past we have harvested and eaten as a vegetable in various recipes. But there’s much more to nettle. Along with dock and dandelion, it’s what Doreen calls a “broad-spectrum plant,” because its leaves and roots can create a multi-faceted tonic for people and a powerful fertilizer for plants. As of this week, the nettle on our property is about four to six inches high, and growing fast. The dandelions are also coming on strong. I am walking slowly and attentively, digging tools in hand.


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February 2010
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