A world of plant-based wellness grows outside our doors in Southern Oregon, and local experts say it's a snap to tap that goodness.
Culinary herbs and plants often considered "weeds" do the body good, and beneficial botanicals can be incorporated into foods and beverages easily, says Jo Jenner, an Ashland naturopathic physician and herbalist.
"Learn simple things and start with a few herbs," she advises. "You'll notice changes quickly."
Hunting out your harvest is step one, and Jon Carlson, a clinical herbalist and educator in Ashland, suggests starting in your backyard. "Learn about herbs you have growing. Most people have a huge amount to work with."
Jenner recommends tulsi, or holy basil, for its mood-enhancing properties, calendula to support the immune system and counteract coughs and rose hips for their high vitamin-C content.
"Culinary herbs can often be used medicinally," she says. "Thyme can be used for coughs."
She also says oregano helps head colds and sinuses while parsley and other carrot-family members aid digestion.
Carlson recommends sage, rosemary and lemon balm. "All are wonderful herbal medicines, and they're attractive," he remarks. These plants are all easy to grow at home, so it takes little effort to augment your natural pharmacy.
Other beneficial botanicals can be foraged, says Jenner, referring to berries, rose hips, nettles, elderberries and elderberry flowers.
Carlson suggests picking fireweed, Oregon grape root and yarrow. Plantain leaf, often considered a weed, can help treat minor cuts while dandelion and chickweed make for nutritious salads.
Any plants you harvest and dry should be stored away from direct sunlight to maintain their desirable properties, according to Carlson.
Of course, natural-foods stores and holistic pharmacies offer a bevy of botanicals and ready-made products, including items that don't grow regionally.
"Fresh turmeric is a lovely antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and gentle liver stimulant, and horseradish is good for hay fever," says Carlson.
Making tea is one of the quickest preparation methods for wild herbs. Jenner brews rosehips, elderberry flowers and mint. Carlson suggests steeping flowers and leaves in hot water for a few minutes, allowing more time for soaking bark, seeds and roots.
Beneficial botanicals can be a main course, too.
"I love to teach people to eat their medicine," says Jenner. She recommends cooking fresh nettles in place of spinach. "Heat destroys their stinging needles," she notes.
She also suggests herb-infused vinegars and oils for convenient daily use. The menu for one of Jenner's recent cooking classes illustrates the diverse culinary possibilities, including herb, lentil and goat cheese strudel with medicinal vinegar chutney, rose-hip marmalade and rose-petal jam.
For those who want to delve further, numerous regional herbalists teach classes on plant-identification, wild-crafting, tincture-making and more.
Start exploring and experimenting, then savor the rewards!