The Meadow as Larder and Apothecary
The meadow at FDR Park is many things to many people. It's a grassy respite for dogs and a scenic loop for their walkers. Still others use it to bird watch, commune with nature or clear their heads. But I see the meadow as a larder and apothecary.
As a forager, I've found useful plants regardless of the season. In the dead of winter, the needles from the white pine tree (Pinus strobus) can be harvested. They make a vitamin-rich tea with five times more vitamin C than lemons. All you need to do is place them in a mug, cover with boiling water, cover the cup, and allow to steep until the color of the needles begins to turn pale.
White Pine/Pinus strobus
It's a natural expectorant and decongestant with properties that serve as a natural antidepressant. Be sure to inhale deeply, as the scent can provide mental clarity, in much the same way a walk in the meadows can clear your head.
Groundsel bush/tree (Baccharis halimifolia) can also be found in winter. When other plants die back, groundsel tends to retain its leaves, drying on its branches. This plant is well know in Louisianna where it has been used as part of Traiteur medicine and called Manglier (pronounced mon-glee-ay) tea. Traiteur medicine is a folk/faith healing practice of Cajun, Creole and Acadian people of Louisiana, which blends, prayer, herbal remedies and the laying on of hands to promote healing. There was a time, when nearly every household knew which "weeds" healed what malady. Sadly, that tradition is being lost.
Groundsel tree/ Baccharis halimifolia
Groundsel leaves, as tea were taken as a remedy for symptoms of colds and flu. The tea itself is bitter, but tolerable if you steep it for just 2-3 minutes. Allowing it to steep longer results in a very bitter drink, although some insist the bitter is the medicine. And there is truth to that as bitters help promote good digestion and tonify the stomach. But to keep it more palatable, steep lightly and add lemon and honey. The tea also helps boost the immune system and can increase metabolism.
There are also a slew of spring edibles from Mustard garlic (Allaria petiolata) whose leaves can be blanched and enjoyed as a spicy green or whizzed into dips like pesto or hummus to add a spicy mustardy flavor. The grated root, can be used as a replacement for horseradish.
CAUTION: Garlic mustard does contain traces of cyanide, but don't let that caution dissuade you from eating it. You would have to eat pounds of it consistently, for it to be an issue. Even so, moderation is key.
Yellow dock /Rumex crispus
There are also fields of Dock leaves (Rumex crispus) that can be harvested and used raw or cooked for their lemony/spinachy taste. Not only is it an edible green but the seeds and root are medicinal and can be used for inflammation, to lower blood pressure, help with swelling of the nasal passages and respiratory tract, and as a laxative that can help kill parasites in the GI system. The lemony flavor is courtesy of oxalic acid which can combine with calcium to form kidney stones or cause an inflammatory response in some with rheumatoid arthritis or gout but for most, this is a free, three season green, that can be enjoyed in moderation.
In the summer, the meadow is full of edibles like Allegheny blackberries (Rubus allegheniensis) which only need to be plucked and enjoyed from the vine or cooked in a variety of desserts. Summer is also the perfect time to harvest their leaves, which can be fermented and dried to create a tasty tea to ease inflammation, staunch dysentery, and ease sore throats or used topically for skin rashes, tired eyes and oozing sores.
You can enjoy the edible petals and buds of Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) in a salad with their cooling and gelatinous texture that can help soothe sore throats and mucosal linings of the stomach. Even the invasive Mile-a-minute Persecaria perfoliatum could be controlled if we encouraged more people to consume the berries and the leaves which are high in potassium.
As summer morphs into fall, goldenrod (Solidago) and mugwort (Artemesia vulgare) shine. There are at least four varieties of goldenrod in the meadow; Giant, Canadian, Seaside and Tall, and as they flower, the trails are bordered with stands of gold flowers. Goldenrod gets a bad rap, because people often confuse it with ragweed which causes allergies. With goldenrod, that couldn't be further from the truth as the plant doesn't release pollen into the air, but requires bees and other pollinators to physically extract the pollen. And drinking goldenrod as a tea offers antihistamine and antiinflammatory benefits that may help your allergies.
In late summer mugwort, which can be collected in spring for use as an herb, is best harvested in fall for medical use. Intensified by the summer sun and heat, mugwort is used medicinally to help relieve aches and pains, whether used topically or enjoyed as a tea. It's easily identified when a gentle breeze blows through the plant twisting the tops of the green leaves to reveal their silvery undersides.
The leaves can be rubbed on skin to help deter mosquitoes or to dull the sting of a bite. Romans used to line their sandals with it to revive tired feet and legs. As a tea it can also help with stomach aches, balance women's hormones or thwart parasites or bacteria that could cause gastric problems.
The meadow offers us food, medicine and succor, if only we will stop and appreciate it as it is, in all its wonder.