View from the Meeting House Deck: A Herbalist’s Perspective

By Barbara Neznek

Once we were all connected.

It was late spring the first time I looked out over the Schoharie Val­ley from the Meet­ing House deck. There were, as John­ny Cash sang about Ire­land, 40 shades of green. That the col­ors and flo­ra are so sim­i­lar is not sur­pris­ing. Two hun­dred and fifty mil­lion years ago most of the con­ti­nents were joined togeth­er. When the land mass part­ed, what had been con­nect­ed to North Amer­i­ca even­tu­al­ly became the British Isles and Ire­land. The same blue stone that is found in New York’s Catskill Moun­tains com­pos­es the Stand­ing Stones known as Stone­henge. Per­haps con­ti­nents were rest­less and need­ed to explore the world. 

Humans were once con­nect­ed too, but even­tu­al­ly they dis­persed every­where on the plan­et. As our ances­tors trav­eled, they took many species with them, includ­ing plants. Ear­ly set­tlers brought plants along for food, med­i­cine, or because they remind­ed them of home. Often the spread of plants was unin­ten­tion­al, what with seeds hid­ing inside or out­side of ships and planes. 

One plant that you can spot imme­di­ate­ly from the deck is the dan­de­lion. It is the bane of gar­den­ers every­where, unless they are herbal­ists. Dan­de­lions have been cul­ti­vat­ed for more than a thou­sand years as they are min­er­al rich and high­ly nutri­tious. They have been used as reme­dies for many ill­ness­es, includ­ing liv­er prob­lems, gas­troin­testi­nal dis­tress, and skin ail­ments. Dan­de­lions are as good a diuret­ic as many phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, with the bonus of adding rather than deplet­ing body minerals. 

Anoth­er eas­i­ly rec­og­niz­able plant is plan­tain. The leaves and the seeds have such uses as an anti­sep­tic, diuret­ic, expec­to­rant, lax­a­tive, poul­tice, and ver­mifuge. Med­ical evi­dence exists that it is an alter­na­tive med­i­cine for breath­ing and blad­der prob­lems, fever, hyper­ten­sion, rheuma­tism, and blood sug­ar con­trol. Plan­tain grows wher­ev­er colonists have set­tled and has been named the White Man’s Foot” by Native Peo­ple who quick­ly real­ized the plant’s val­ue and incor­po­rat­ed it into their own medicine. 

On the day of my vis­it, the locust trees were in full bloom and so full of hon­ey bees that the sound was clear­ly audi­ble on the deck. Black locust is con­sid­ered inva­sive,” although it is native to North Amer­i­ca. The tree just moved out of its orig­i­nal habi­tat. I am of Scotch- Irish descent, and I know that when my peo­ple start­ed to arrive, poor and sick, the Native Peo­ple no doubt thought we were inva­sive.” And so it was and is with every new species that arrives and com­petes for space, some­times sup­plant­i­ng those already here. 

From the deck, I could iden­ti­fy the inva­sive Japan­ese hon­ey­suck­le. This plant pos­sess­es antibac­te­r­i­al prop­er­ties and could become impor­tant as antibi­ot­ic resis­tant strains of bac­te­ria are becom­ing more prevalent.

Every­thing moves — peo­ple, plants, even the land itself. But we were all con­nect­ed. In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing med­i­cine, maybe the plants are try­ing to teach us. Per­haps they would like us to know that if we spend time with new indi­vid­u­als who are dif­fer­ent, we might find that they have gifts to offer – and aren’t hos­tile invaders after all. The moun­tains that we see from the deck of the Arbore­tum today might not be there in anoth­er 10,000 years, and no doubt the plants will all have changed. And where will our species be in that dis­tant future? Our fates are all intertwined.

Summer 2017

Volume 35 , Number 3

Share this

The Latest from Landis

Oct 07, 2023 | Nolan Marciniec

The Landis community mourns the loss of Anne Donnelly on October 4, 2023

Anne Donnelly was the first of the many friends I’ve made at the Arboretum and... read more

Oct 01, 2023 | Fred Breglia, Executive Director

From the Director’s Desk: Update on the Big Tree Search

Landis Arboretum has successfully kicked off its most recent Big Tree Search, and the tree... read more

Oct 01, 2023 | Erin McKenna Breglia

From the Garden: Your Autumn Garden Must Haves!

It’s certainly been a rainy summer, but the rain has helped keep our plants green... read more

Oct 01, 2023 | Nolan Marciniec

Landis Portraits: A Series About the People Behind the Plants at the Arboretum - Chuck Mueller

Chuck Mueller Volunteering, Chuck Mueller said, “is something you have to believe in . ... read more

Oct 01, 2023 | Nolan Marciniec

Volunteers Celebrate Meeting House Renovation

Shawn Bevins, Jim Paley, Craig Blevins, Fred Breglia, and Peter Bakal On a Sunday afternoon... read more

Oct 01, 2023 | Sam McClary

Apples and Man: A Book Review

Apples and Man, by Fred Lape “Apples and Man,” written by Arboretum founder Fred Lape... read more

News Archive