Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, June 5, 2014
From balsam to yarrow, medicinal plants revealed at recent IHT event
Herbalist Brighid Doherty, center, addresses an audience during a recent 2014 talk at Little Deer Isle’s Pine Hill Preserve at a talk hosted by Island Heritage Trust of Maine.
by Peter Cooperdock
In early May, Island Heritage Trust hosted a medicinal plant workshop at Pine Hill Preserve on Little Deer Isle. Facilitated by Brighid Doherty, a local herbalist, 10 participants shared knowledge about the medicinal properties of common plants.
This walk was the first of a series of four held on the first Wednesday of each month through September at various properties managed by IHT.
Leading the discussion at the parking area, Doherty, with over 20 years of experience, explained the rich heritage of the medicinal uses of plants that are found outside our doors. While modern medicine, she explained, has solved many critical health concerns, common ailments have been treated with formulations of common plants for thousands of years.
Embarking on the trail, the group stopped in a sunny location to discuss the medicinal properties of both spruce and balsam fir. The tips of the stems can be clipped and used as teas, steeped in vinegar, or added to honey to bring out their antiseptic qualities. Lively discussion ensued with multiple viewpoints explained, questions asked, and experiences shared.
Usnea, an epiphytic lichen commonly known as “Old Man’s Beard,” was found growing on many spruce and firs along the trail. Often thought to be killing the host, usnea, a combination of lichen and algae, attaches to a tree already failing, which allows more sunlight for photosynthesis. Usnea has been found to have antibiotic properties which are best utilized as a tincture steeped in alcohol.
Farther up the trail, the group entered the barrenness of an old quarry site. At first glance seemingly devoid of any useful vegetation, Doherty quickly pointed out a plethora of offerings. Yarrow can be used as an astringent formulated in vinegar or a tincture; St. John’s wort flowers are a common antiviral and can be used as a sunscreen when infused in olive oil; staghorn sumac berries are a good source of vitamin C when brewed as a tea.
Doherty next explained the medicinal qualities of the juniper, white pine, and cedar found on the rock outcrop. At the end of the talk, back in the parking area, she laid out several books which she said she found especially useful in her training. Cautioning everyone to approach the topic as a serious study, she encouraged all to embark on a journey of discovery of the usefulness of plants.
The next in the series was held at the Shore Acres Preserve on June 4.