“What’s that plant good for?”
A curious thing I’m noticing by selling plants at the market is that people almost always have the same question, phrased in various ways.
It’s often the first thing they ask, in general about any of the plants, when they first walk into the booth. It seems to be a factor in deciding whether to buy something. Almost no one seems to want them just because they’re habitat companions, and most aren’t looking for anything specific, just browsing the booths. I suspect if their usefulness were highlighted, I’d sell more plants because my little collection of companions aren’t spectacular in any obvious way.
Granted, while not in bloom, ginseng habitat companion plants are fairly low-key. They don’t add much to a sidewalk flower bed or provide bright splashes of color anywhere, really. I love these plants just because they love the same habitat as ginseng.
Fortunately, almost all of the plants I bring are “good for something”, I just don’t necessarily highlight that information. I don’t want to get caught in the trap of dispensing medical advice. However, because I’m trying to create livelihood as well as provide value to the community, I will make up some posters to point out how the plants are currently used or were used in the past. I’ll start spotlighting their usefulness.
Herbalism was my first plant-based love. And the Ozarks hosts a host of medicinal plants. So, I decided to just write a book about the plants I use most often! I’ll begin building our nursery stock to include these plants.
I’ll start bringing more of the plants I personally use in our home herbal remedy arsenal. These aren’t usually ginseng habitat companions, but grow in more open places. I won’t offer consultations or advice on how to use these plants for your own ailments, but I will tell you how I’ve used them and provide historical/current usage information. The plants I use most often are those that grow right around the house: elderberry (berries), Spicebush (berries and twig tips), Mountain mint (flowering tops), Prunella (flowering tops), Lobelia (seeds and tops), Beebalm (flowering tops), and Echinacea (flowering tops). I do also use the goldenseal and ginseng medicinally, and will use the black cohosh when I have more of it and feel I can spare a root mass to harvest. I’d like to also grow marshmallow, but not sure if it will do well here or not. Slippery elm can be substituted, and it does grow here and I have used it in the past, but I don’t like to strip the bark from trees and will only use it if there’s a suitable limb that can be cut so I can harvest the bark from that. Wild cherries are also on the list of locally procured botanicals that I use. Mullein is a very useful and always abundant plant that grows here. So is passion flower (maypop). So this angle of showcasing “useful plants” offers a good bit of room to expand on what I offer. Ginseng habitat plants will remain the cornerstone of our nursery, though.
One of the plants I’m very interested in right now is Lousewort, or Pedicularis canadensis.
In the May Newsletter (which will be emailed to members in a few days) I have a little write-up about this plant and how it can be used. We have these growing here and I’ve been experimenting with propagating them to see how easily they take to being transplanted and potted. So far, so good. I’ll have a few of them with me at market on Tuesday. I’ll post the newsletter here on the blog next week, but members will get it on May 1. Whenever I make coupons or special offers to members, I don’t post those in the blog. This month’s subscriber special is a free $3 plant if you bring your coupon with you to the market. It will expire at the end of this market season but I’ll also honor it for a bare-root shipment on any of the plants that I’ll be shipping this fall, since many of the newsletter members aren’t local.
Since I don’t have much ginseng to sell at the market, I’ve been dividing and potting up some of the other plants that are abundant here. For the ones I find that aren’t so abundant, I’ll wait for seeds (collecting only a portion of them) or take divisions in fall while they’re dormant. Abundance usually indicates a robustness and ability to adapt, whereas scarcity seems to indicate a plant with much narrower tolerances and more difficulties in propagation. This is not always the case, though. Blue cohosh is a plant considered “Imperiled” in the state of Arkansas. This is one that, although scarce, is very easy to propagate by seed or division. This leads me to believe the reason for it’s scarcity is habitat loss. Bloodroot and goldenseal are also very easy to propagate, and yet they’re also listed as endangered in many states. I believe the reason for these plant’s statuses is over harvesting by wildcrafters, because the range of habitat conditions they require is fairly wide. They can both easily propagate by division, tolerate drier soils and more sunlight than ginseng or blue cohosh, so their demise is not likely due to habitat loss or difficulty reproducing.