My whole yard is full of medicine. Plantain a-plenty, comfrey, violets, chamomile, onions, dandelions, elderberries, rose hips, and such. Down at the stream the offerings are burdock, dock, black walnut, watercress, jewelweed, and stinging nettle. Useful herbs for making tinctures, compresses, healthy salads, teas, and salves; they abound everywhere, naturally. Unless you blast your yard with herbicide that is.
Then you get grass.
Unblemished wide swaths of it. Oh, and neighbor envy. And probably a good measure of pride. I get it; I have this intense urge to roll around on such lawns and enjoy their carpet-like uniformity. I would much rather play croquet there than on my own weedy turf. Less chance of getting stung by a bee as there’s no clover about. Wait…no bees? No bee food?
My yard is alive. There is a veritable ant highway across the walkway. There is the regular helicopter-like thrum of the bumblebees. The birds adore the wild patches and the plump grubs and worms. The bees delight in the clover and bee balm and you should see the spiders in the fall (shudder). The compost bin wreaks of life, earthy organic vitality being slowly wrought into rich soil. Things grow here like mad.
“You must really have God’s ear”, says Bob, our elderly neighbor as he looks out on our gardens. I laugh with him. He’s lived on this block forever and had gotten used to seeing the place looking less, um, lively.
The front lawn was a mat of zoysia grass, which I’ve heard works pretty great in Florida and could see works pretty miserably in Pennsylvania. It was green for three months out of the year and promptly turned a sad brownish-yellow for the rest of the year. Apparently a traveling salesman had come through selling a miracle grass and if you look around our town you can see who was duped by their sad, sad lawns.
Being that I’m anti-herbicide, we had to peel that zoysia grass right off with a skid loader; scalped the whole front yard. The neighbors had a good laugh when I planted two unpromising-looking sticks in the dirt. Now those elderberries are about fifteen feet high. Grapes stretch across a trellis beside them, a white nectarine tree just beyond the strawberry patch. Artichokes mingle with mints, rhubarb with the roses.
Tonight found me popping off chamomile flowers and filling a small glass jar with them. Every diaper cream had failed poor Henrik’s irritated bottom, and the chamomile that I’d raised from seed over winter was finally ready to harvest. My bees darted past as I worked and bugs crawled over my feet on their way to somewhere.
In the kitchen I poured olive oil over the flower heads and set it aside. The chamomile oil wouldn’t be ready for another two weeks, but I was glad to have it started. Some backyard medicine is fast, some slow. Comfrey is fast; so fast indeed that if you chew a leaf up and apply it to an open wound, you’d better be sure there’s no debris inside, because it will heal shut right on top of it quickly. Onions are fast. As soon as a child complains of ear pain I reach for an onion. Cutting it from roots to tip, I remove the innermost part, which is the perfect size for inserting into the ear canal without risk of it slipping in altogether. I heat the onion piece over a burner, nestled in a spoon until I can smell it’s aroma. Into the offended ear it goes, topped by a damp warm washcloth and a heating pad. Within minutes they’re fine.
My comfrey patch healed a serious muscle tear in my back within one evening of alternating cold and hot compresses of comfrey tea. My nerves have been soothed by drinking lemon balm tea which is aggressively trying to take over the tea/herb garden. Mosquito bites are attended to with a chewed plantain leaf or a dollop of lavender oil.
I’m certain my “medicine cabinet” looks a lot different that most people’s. There’s charcoal powder, essential oils of all types, homemade salves, witch hazel, glycerine, bentonite clay, a big chunk of beeswax. But most of the medicine is outside, growing and contributing to the ecosystem.
Okay. I know this won’t make you put away your herbicide/insecticide, nor will it make you forsake Neosporin and Tylenol and such. Most of you are probably quite happy buying pharmaceuticals at Kmart and keeping your lawn pristinely uniform with neonicotinoids (present in aforementioned sprays, which happen to kill honeybees and other pollinators who are absolutely essential to our very way of life…don’t you like peaches and apples after all?). Anywho, I realize my lifestyle holds as much appeal to some as eating a shoe. That said, maybe this could inspire just a few nutty types to see weeds in a new light, to see in the rattiness a bit of healing, to see in the perfection a bit of toxicity? Maybe?
No? I need some lemon balm tea…