Wednesday, June 30, 2010
It's like a treasure hunt!
I travelled the length of the sidewalk, twice. Nowhere could I see a plant growing in the grass alongside that fit my mother’s description; round-ish leaves with a pink flower. I walked back to the car with two pitiful examples of wildflower, even though I knew those weren’t the ones she had described. She remembered it growing right there about fifteen years ago, walking past it many times with her good friend as they went to the Op shop at a church. But the mixed grasses from back then had turned into a neatly trimmed lawn now and the Common Mallow does not hold up to repeated mowing. Needless to say, she was disappointed.
I can’t remember exactly how our wildflower safari began but there was a conversation one day where she started talking about a plant that my paternal grandmother (her mother-in-law) would use to make a mixture in case anyone would fall ill. The plant would be hung by the roots to dry, then boiled with “whatever fruits you had on hand”, strained, and the liquid saved. The flowers were small and pink, the leaves were round. That was the only description she could give me. So after my failed attempt to locate this plant we went to the town library, where we could not find a picture that resembled the plant she was looking for.
A few days later I borrowed three books from another library and left them with her, to browse through at her leisure. When I called her afterwards, she happily spelled out the name so I could check it on the internet. The Common Mallow (known as “Cheeses”) was brought to the U.S. by European immigrants, which is probably why my Italian grandmother was familiar with it. It was valuable enough to her that it had a spot in her garden. The information in the book stated its use for stomach disorders, but my mother remembers it being used for colds. None the less, we had verified a piece of her history.
Now we need to find a specimen. This is proving to be difficult, since the old neighborhoods are either (a) built up and paved over, or (b) un-walkable, as in heavily trafficked road. Over the next two weeks we’ll be out there, looking.
She has remembered a few other bits, too, which we are working on. Those will come later, when our homework is complete.
Note 1: This information is for entertainment only, and is by no means an endorsement of homemade medicine. Do not ingest any plant unless you are absolutely sure it is harmless.
Note 2: These are the books that I borrowed. They have wonderful information about the uses of wild plants by early Native Americans. I firmly believe that the Earth and Nature was designed to take care of us and that the folks who lived here before us knew the properties of these plants, a knowledge that is very quickly being lost.
Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Steven Foster and James A. Duke
Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants by Bradford Angier
Foraging New England by Tom Seymour
Have a wonderful day and, if you have a chance, learn something new!