Gabriola Plant Medicine Walk

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As part of our Welcome Wagon package we were given a gift certificate for a plant walk with a herbalist on the island, and it was finally sunny enough for us to go out and explore. I took some notes and photos that I thought I would share, however I should probably ask you to please do your own research on these plants before you pick and eat them based on what I’ve written here (which is what we were told on the walk, supplemented by some internet research). I don’t want to poison anybody haha. Some of the plants are a no-brainer (mint, huckleberry) but some were new to me and I haven’t tried yet.

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Wild mint. This is an interesting type of mint, I can’t describe the smell properly you just have to smell it yourself. It was almost spicy like it was oregano but it was actually mint. Delicious! Mint obviously has a lot of uses, my favourites being tea (which helps digestion) and in food like jellies and ice cream. Also, Mojitos.

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Wild strawberries. We have a ton of these growing in the yard, in addition to the ones we have planted. Strawberries have pretty obvious uses; jam, desserts, salads, everything. Yum.

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Usnea, also known as Old Man’s Beard. This is a moss that grows on tree branches and can be used in the same way as echinacea in preventing colds. It is round, and when you pull on a piece it reveals a white elastic core underneath the green (as pictured below).

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It can be easily confused with ramalina, which looks very similar except that ramalina is flat where usnea is round. In the above photo usnea is on the left, ramalina on the right. This page has some more great information on usnea.

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Plantago lanceolata (aka narrowleaf plantain). This plant can be used to relieve wasp stings, ease out slivers and boils, and can be used to treat warts. It can also be brewed in tea to help relieve cough. When you tear the leaf the vertical cords are very strong, and apparently were used for sewing thread once upon a time. According to this website it can also be used to treat respiratory illness including asthma and bronchitis.

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Huckleberry. The lighter leaved plant is the red huckleberry (vaccinium parvifolium) I’m more familiar with, it used to grow in my backyard in Horseshoe Bay. They have little red berries that are laborious to pick but so tasty in tarts and jam. The darker leaf is an evergreen huckleberry (vaccinium ovatum), which I didn’t know existed. Both grow well in shady conditions, and they thrive in the forests of BC. The leaves can be used as an astringent, it is also apparently good for urinary tract health. Below is a picture of just the evergreen huckleberry plant (with ferns in the background)

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Gallium or cleaver (or hitchhiker plant, as we called it as kids). This is a funny plant, it’s tacky to the touch, and it’s little seeds are covered in a sticky fuzz that clings to your shoes and pants when you walk through it (hence the hitchhiker name). It can be used medicinally as a detoxifier and lymphatic (used to treat swollen glands). It is edible, and can be cooked like greens if collected before the fruit appears. Apparently it’s also in the coffee family, and the fruits can be dried and roasted and used as a coffee substitute. Neat! (The photo above is a bit of a mess, there are also some dandelions and other greens in there. A better picture of gallium can be seen here)

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Oregon grape. The root of this plant can be used as an anti-microbial to treat infections. The roots, when the bark is scratched back, are bright yellow. On the walk we learned the roots, harvested when the leaves of the plant have turned red, can be used to treat stomach flu and hangover. This page is also a good resource for uses of oregon grape.

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Western sword fern. These things are everywhere here, and they were all over the yard of the house I grew up in as well. They can be used to relieve the pain of stinging nettle rash, and fern fronds with red spores on the underside can be gathered and used in the bath to relieve muscle pain.

Herbology is interesting!

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