I’ve been perusing the latest addition to my collection of plant books – “Medicinal Plants, Trees, & Shrubs of Appalachia” by Bill Church, a local community member, friend and columnist for Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine. Even though I knew Bill just released this second edition, I was able to find a used copy on Amazon that arrived just like new. (The link to the Amazon listing is available at the end of this article.)
Bill has been studying herbal medicine since 1999. He has spent hours in the field, and his massive anthology includes descriptions for 105 medicinal plants with color photographs included. But then there’s even more.
I’ve noted that I collect books on gardening, herbs, plants and their uses in crafts, diet and medicine. Bill’s book is of the same quality as most in my collection, but is unique in the way that his book originated as his own personal field manual, not as a creation for public use. It’s the difference between “in theory” and “in practice.” A good field guide is created in the field, not the office – and this book was Bill’s personal field guide. Only at the urging of friends did he first self publish, and then recently release this glossy second edition of Medicinal Plants, Trees & Shrubs of Appalachia (from here on to be referred to as MPTSA).
Each plant description includes the typical information available in medicinal plant books; description, when to harvest, where typically found. But Bill’s book also includes medicinal dosages, dye colors, nutritional uses and other information for each plant, and includes a page with each plant listing for notes of your own from the field or in your own research.
There are two great features of Bill’s book that make it stand out from the others: The cross referencing and the appendix information.
THE CROSS REFERENCING:
The main thing that makes Bill’s book more valuable than the others on the shelf (besides that I actually know the author) is the way the book has been cross referenced. The contents list the plants in alphabetical order within sections including: plants, trees/shrubs/vines, annuals, biennials, perennials. Most plant books list plants in alphabetical order, but not categorized in such a manner. This helps with plant identification, but doesn’t necessarily help you match an herb to an ailment without perusing the whole book seeking the right remedy.
But on page 106, MPTSA includes a second alphabetical reference – physical symptoms of ailments in alphabetical order — and the herbs used to treat those ailments. This makes this book doubly handy. It makes it easy to research from the plant world to the ailment, AND from the ailment to the proper plant. This is the first time I have ever encountered a medicinal plant book that makes both processes so easy.
In fact, there’s actually a third way to reference the information in the book — keep reading below:
The Ailment List mentioned above is not the only gem available in the Appendix. Information following the collection of plant descriptions includes:
- Weights and Measures
- Dosage calculation rules
- How to gather and dry herbs
- Types of herbal preparations
- Plant and herbal terms
- Plant parts, types and arrangements
- A Flowering calendar (what plants bloom in which months)
- An herb gathering calendar (what herb to collect each month and what part of the plant to harvest)
The flowering calendar and herb gathering calendar are two things I have never yet encountered in my plant identification books – and both are reflections of the fact that MPTSA was created in the field. Most books list that information within each individual plant description, but the reader (we) are expected to learn and remember that information and process it into our own calendars and routines.
With these two calendars, the information is readily available for each month, and Bill has created another cross reference option for the book. You can search by plant name, by ailment, or by month for harvest. If you use MPTSA as intended, as a field guide, then the list of what you should be gathering is with you no matter when you are in the woods. No one has to rely on memory. MPTSA includes all the information you need, no matter what phase of the wildcrafting process you are in – in the field, in the kitchen, in the craft room, in the medicine cabinet, in the garden.
Had I gotten this book ten years ago, I wouldn’t have needed many of the other books I have in my collection. It’s possible I may even clean some of them out now.
Bill is a great guy – and he has created a fabulous guide to finding, identifying, harvesting, growing and using the plants that surround us in rural Appalachia. “Medicinal Plants, Trees & Shrubs of Appalachia” has the information of many books – presented with referencing keys to use whatever information you have on hand to lead you to what you need to know. It’s a must-have reference for herbalists, preppers, survivalists and homesteaders in the region.
Well, the time off from the garden has ended. We finished last year’s in early November, and with the arrival of the seed packets recently, the game is again afoot. The seed trays and potting soil have been sterilized and set out for this year’s garden.
It is early in the season yet, being winter and all. However with row covers, it won’t be long at all before we can sow lettuces, peas and more outside. Meantime, the “spare bedroom” has become the seed nursery again.
In a review of the seed collection we have, it seems that this year will be a year for cabbage. Our stock seed was getting a little too old (germination rate drops the older it gets), so it’s time to plant the old and place the new into stock.
Today we planted four trays of cabbage; two green species and a red.
I”ve mentioned my intention to re-invent the herb garden, and that process begins with two trays of chive seeds and half a tray of dill seed.
Soon I’ll plant parsley, yarrow and stevia outside in the new perennial garden location.
But not yet. Not quite yet.
Once the ground temperature reaches 40 degrees though, the rules of the game change. I can harvest the winter carrots, the horseradish, the winter garlic. I can start dividing and transplanting the herbs that need moved – Lemon balm, thyme, oregano, lavender.
But for now, we have to keep our planting reined in – don’t want to get too far ahead. Cabbage, chives and dill…
That’s a good start.
Within the seed packets that arrive in the mail, so sprout the dreams for this year’s garden.
Of course, we ordered the staples, heirloom tomatoes, sweet peas, half runner beans. The spaghetti squash were such a hit last year, we’re trying them again this year. Pumpkins, peppers, leaf lettuce — all things we’ve done before.
But this year, I’m also hoping to grow more supplemental feed for the chickens. Amaranth, sorghum, lots of sunflowers. I’m even trying peanuts, but I’m not so sure they’ll be for the chickens.
I’m revamping the herb garden this year as well. It didn’t take long for the oregano, thyme and chocolate mint to over grow the original herb garden, and now with so many chickens, rabbits and deer, the herb garden really needs moved inside the main garden fencing.
I’ve spent a small part of the winter researching ways to combine gardening and sewing, two of my favorite creative outlets. I’m planning much of the herb garden for some new aromatic projects from the sewing machine.
Most of the herbs I have established were planted for medicinal purposes – and they’ve matured enough to start some serious dividing and harvesting this year. I have thought about making tinctures, but I think mostly I will work with dried at first. This will definitely be the year to harvest Echinacea, comfrey, horseradish. I also hope to get new starts of lavender, and will attempt to start some from seed. More chives, more parsley – which I put in darn-near everything I cook now.
As for the veggies, I don’t see us trying much new. Some different beans, maybe. What we’re learning now is how much to plant for our canning purposes, and how best to grow it. We need to improve our method for corn, and would like to trellis the cucumbers somehow. More, more, more peas — not quite so many potatoes. Try eggplant – again. Perhaps three times will be the charm.
The one new thing we’re starting this year is Asparagus – to be planted and not harvested for several years to come. I never liked asparagus – until I tried fresh picked, cooked right. It was superb. Who knows what will happen? But if we don’t plant it, we’ll never have our own.
Dreams, plans – some which can’t be harvested for years. All arriving in small packets to the mail box.
Here’s a preview of my most recent installment of Reading Between Two Lanes coming to The Hur Herald:
Pardon the Plants
Since we started sprouting our own plants for our garden and don’t have a greenhouse, our home goes through a period in late winter / early spring when it is overcome by plant trays. Any flat surface near a window is likely to be covered in flat black trays of soil. Counters, shelves, tables – even the spare bed is blanketed with a heavy plastic tablecloth before being covered end to end in plastic trays of dirt.
Every morning, the trays need to be misted and watered, rotated around the light sources, and coddled. When the process first begins, this is a fairly easy process. But once we get close to 20 trays in four different locations, it becomes a rather time-consuming concept.
By the end of March, the days get warm enough to set the trays outside for some real sunlight and some exposure to outdoor elements. This extends the time consumed by these early sprouts and seeds. In addition to watering and coddling, each tray gets moved outside into the warmth in late morning, and moved back inside in early evening – one by one. In this phase, the trays consume space inside the porch door as well, moved that far inside the house, in assembly line fashion, at the end of each day.
Seed sprouts, even in such controlled conditions, are not guaranteed to survive. Dampening is a common problem, where the sprouts look healthy and fine one day, and fall over dying the next. Dampening is even more of a problem if you recycle seed trays and soil, as we do. But I learned this year that watering newly-planted seeds with strong, tepid Chamomile tea will help prevent it from happening.
In addition, without air movement to strengthen the new little stems, the sprouts can grow weak, and fall over. A fan blowing on them, and the daily rotation to face the light source a different way helps keep the stems sturdy and strong. Low levels of light will cause them to stretch high and lanky, desperate for light, which also makes them top heavy and tall also making them prone to fall over.
Some weak sprouts don’t survive the introduction to outside elements. Too much sun exposure right off the bat can shock them; too much chill can shock them as well. The little seedlings are delicate, fragile new shoots of life, and they have to be eased into the world.
On average, we manage about an 85% success rate with our seeds. It’s my fault really. After having trays all over the house and under foot for several weeks, I’m anxious to push the seedlings outside. I’ve wiped out entire trays with this one mistake. We cannot rush the growth of new life any more than we can rush the coming of spring.
Let’s hope I have the patience this year to let both happen in their own sweet time.