This is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
Many of the plants that we're looking at right here have major industries around them.
We just choose to not acknowledge them or if we acknowledge them, it's just a matter of someone saying, Hey, that's blue cohosh.
I think someone buys it for $4 a pound.
Let me get a shovel in here.
We are part of this entire ecosystem.
We're just as natural to this as there's the deer and the bear.
This forest is a garden.
You may not realize it, but it's a garden.
There's economic potential in all sorts of edibles.
Medicinals where we are now in West Virginia and Appalachia, some of the most biodiverse forests in the world.
And there's so many things to find.
Everywhere you look, there's dandelion, there's Plantain, there's chickweed that are free and very, very nutritious.
And when you're walking through the forest, especially if you walk barefoot, which I try to do as much as possible, or you're walking in the yard and you're having a relationship with those plants, it's a relationship.
And it goes deep into the mycelium of the soil.
You begin to be part of that.
You you begin to understand that you're part of nature.
We're not separate from nature.
We are part of it.
We are all connected.
Right now we have these minerals which are typically a mycorrhizal species, which have association with tree roots.
So throughout the year they help the trees get access to nutrients that the trees can't produce themselves.
So that's kind of like that symbiotic relationship.
And I saw mushrooms being symbiotic in so many ways.
Every single mushroom species has an association with some insect, with some plant, with some animal with some tree.
So all of these mushrooms need to form some sort of symbiotic relationship with whatever their organism is that they have an association with so that they can grow.
So a lot of times we'll see mushrooms producing antibiotic compounds or antiparasitic compounds to help protect the organisms in which they have associations with.
So I wanted to recreate that on, on multiple levels.
So that's why I started my goal symbiotic to help bring the fungal archetype into a more social and cultural setting.
Because I believe that human systems that are based off of natural systems will always be more resilient throughout this whole root system.
Specifically on like the small root hairs, there's a fungal attachment and there's some fungi that like wrap around the outside of the roots and then spread out and help to bring nutrients in.
And there's some fungi that like literally push themselves, make little nodules inside of the root system that just deposits nutrients that the trees can't produce themselves.
And this will connect them to other trees.
A lot of times we'll see parent trees providing nutrients to the younger trees that are underneath the canopy that can't get as much access to the sunlight.
They can totally communicate through the fungus, although their communication is probably a lot different than the way we communicate.
Like to offer gratitude.
And I like to sing to them and chat to them and their people to and generally just work with what's growing around me.
It's said that, you know, the medicine you need is right outside your door, you know, the kind of the plants kind of make themselves known to us.
So I try to pay attention to what's right with me.
So I work and working with mother wort as she appeared this year, last year, the last few years I've had a lot of St John's wort, so I was working with her a lot and and it's really reassuring just the way nature has our backs always.
Like with the Mullen this year, there's tons of Mullen at my house and we're coming up here.
All the Mullen on the hillside on Mullen is a great lung support and everybody is worried about their lungs right now.
And so, you know.
Mullins Making himself known there for us and the Japanese knotweed that's everywhere.
The that's an incredible way to support your body through Lymes disease, which is becoming, you know, more and more prevalent.
And that grows everywhere around us here.
So just awesome how nature reaches out to us if we pay attention.
I was weeding my flowerbed out front and I thought I got stung by a bee.
It was a stinging nettles plant and I really believe that the plants will show up when you need them.
So I left it and I cultivated it.
Now I have a huge patch.
I'm going to do a little urtication on my hands and say hello to the plants.
It's really healing for the kidneys and the adrenals, the urinary system.
In fact, Nettles pretty much covers everything.
It's full of minerals.
There are a lot of people that say when you harvest it, you should wear gloves because you're going to get stung by it.
But I personally feel that that is disrespectful to the plant that when I harvest, I, I'm just careful and I touch the plant gently.
I cut it where it needs to be cut.
And yes, I'll get stung a little bit, but there are times when I do it on purpose.
It's called urtication.
When you stick your hands in it or a part of your body that is sore and the chemicals in the hairs will help reduce inflammation and pain.
And I really enjoy that and I just love to plant.
I think that in our modern world it's important for us to get back to these roots and get back to the the the experience of being human.
You know, humans weren't meant to sit in a cubicle for ten, 12 hours a day.
We weren't meant to sit, you know, with an electronic device in our in our hand.
You need to be able to get out and and appreciate creation.
We're just going to see what we run into.
This was really great.
If we're lucky, we might catch the end of some Morels and we'll see what else.
Wild flax and it smells really good.
Yellow wood, sorrel.
It's got yellow flowers on.
Kind of looks like a clover.
But the leaves are heart shaped.
It's really tasty.
Wild Ginger is of no relation to the ginger that you would find in the grocery store, so you would.
You're going to use the root.
The root grows pretty close to the surface.
You can kind of follow it at really gingery smell.
So you would clean that and chop it up into little pieces, put some boiling water over it, and then you can drink that as a tea.
This is a morel, the coveted prize of foragers throughout Appalachia.
It's a delicious mushroom, one of the few choice, edible mushrooms that you'll find out in the woods.
They are this one is growing here next to this tulip poplar tree.
So usually find in my tool poplars or oaks or sycamores around here.
And they are so delicious.
That's a pretty cool fungus.
Not like a lot of other mushrooms calling mushrooms you would see.
And that the cap is really pitted.
You can see it's got all those wrinkles in it.
You can see that the stem is hollow.
And that's one of the key signs.
And this cap here is attached all the way to the stem.
No, no gaps or anything between the the stem and the cap, like some of the the false morels or the half frame or else that you might see kind of on the older side.
But you can see it's starting to get some brown spots, but we'll still take it with us.
Most of us are actually starving because we've eliminated so many important foods from our diet and the wise woman tradition teaches us that food is medicine.
So let's do that first.
And then if you have an issue, for instance, I'm an aging person and I have a few little heart things going on, so I take Hawthorn every day.
It's an adaptogen because it helps to strengthen my heart, strengthen my blood vessels and something that I know to add to my nutrition in the form of a tincture.
But I could also eat the berries.
I can make infusions from it, but that's a specific fixing that I do for my health.
It's a little bit beyond just nutrition.
You know, the women's tradition is an ancient, ancient tradition.
We were the original healers.
We give birth, we bring life into the world.
And whatever the wording, it is a very old tradition.
Yeah, well, I think, you know, what we're talking about is the broader realm of what we call in academia, Appalachian ethno botany, you know, so throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains and up here in northern Appalachia, people have developed an affinity and a knowledge about many of the plants, even if they call them different names in many cases, it's increasingly difficult in many states to find for us under stories like we're in right now that are just loaded with really slow growing site sensitive native forest plants.
And not much else.
You don't see garlic mustard here.
You don't see invasive honey circles or bar berries or anything of that nature.
And that's because it's been a while since this forest was cut.
It takes a long time to get to a stage like this.
And so it's important for people to realize that, yeah, there's a right thing and a wrong thing that you could be doing for any of these plants to manage them and to bring them to market and get a quality product that somebody can buy with pride and someone can consume with confidence.
And we don't, for example, know what's in most of these plants to begin with, because a lot of the volume that goes into the medicinal plant marketplace, which is a whole nother stories of mixed material that was harvested across the range of Appalachia.
And who knows where it comes from?
Who knows when it was harvested, who knows where it was dried?
And some years people harvest some and they'll just put it in the attic and dry it for another year until they get enough to put it in a box and ship it to a root bar.
So the constituent levels are all over the place and a lot of that material.
And that's important because that's why we're taking many of these plants.
For example, blue cohosh don't have just one type of constituent.
They have both alkaloids and keeping it that are need to be attended to.
And so these plants have largely just not been studied enough for us to really understand how we can develop this industry.
But it's there to happen and everybody wants it to happen.
It works in the world of medicinal plants because they want consistency and quality in their medicines and they're not getting it right now.
So one final thing I'll tell you about that illustrates all of this is right in front of us, which is May Apple.
Most people don't know or respect may apple enough.
There's a chemical compound in there.
It's called pedophilic toxin.
And it's found in the entire plant.
And the plant is therefore poisonous.
It's found in the cell walls of the entire plant.
The only thing that you can harvest is the mature fruit and then eat the innards of the fruit out.
But otherwise the whole plant is considered to be, at the very least, something that's going to cause you to vomit violently and have a lot of, you know, excessive diarrhea.
And if you take it at a large enough dose, it'll kill you.
And so it is well documented, unfortunately and sadly, from early back in the day as a suicide plant for Native Americans.
Most people don't know that Podophyllotoxin is actually a mitotic spindle poison.
So it stops cell division.
It interferes with cell division, right.
In this case, we're talking about cancer or warts.
And so there's a number of products that have been developed that are FDA approved that have been in the market for a while now from podophyllo toxin that are used for that sort of purpose.
And what happens is it disrupts that cell division, which is, you know, essentially what cancer is, is a growing tumor and may shrink it or get rid of it altogether.
It's often used in conjunction with chemotherapy, right.
So it's a one to kind of punch portal filler toxin comes from this plant that we see here that was developed from science and industry partnering, you know, with ethno botanists and horticulturalists and things of that nature and parts of Appalachia to, you know, do the research.
So a lot of this research has been done at the University of Mississippi, for example, their natural products lab.
So this is important because what they have found is that if you take these high yielding clones and you plant them in sunlight, you only get them to grow for a short period of time.
But they put a tremendous amount of total filler toxin into the tops because they're stressed out.
And all you have to do then is harvest the tops to get more consistent product that's sustainable, right.
And so that's the kind of research that needs to be done for all of these plants.
Like we've got a powerhouse of of plants here in this forest alone with all of these potential benefits to humanity that just have not had the effort put into them to fully study them for their chemistry and to know how, how and when they should be harvested, should they be cultivated or managed in the wild, like you see here, all these sorts of questions that would, you know, help society at large, not just the plants themselves, but, you know, society at large.
The patent laws in the United States allow for the situation we've gotten ourselves into, essentially, in the sense that, on the good hand, you're not allowed to patent natural compounds.
So you can't take that podophyllotoxin out of there and say, it's mine.
Anybody that wants to sell or do anything with Podophyllo Toxin has to pay me something, right?
That's great that we don't go in that direction.
But on the other hand, what?
That's a capitalist driven society is that unless it's work done by the good of the government or universities or industry or something of that nature is no one invests in this kind of work because there's no return on spending all of that money in R&D.
When you're going to find out all this information that somebody else can say, great, thanks for developing that.
I'm going to make some money off of that.
Now, even with many herb producing companies, they often keep a lot of this kind of when to harvest information, proprietary.
It's not published, it's not available to scientific researchers.
And so it's hard for us to actually tell the growers or the harvesters what they should be doing, because we don't know what they're seeing in their quality control.
Natural products that were used for medicinal purposes were organized into a system that included dosing.
And this kind of came out of some of the Civil War era and post-Civil War.
A lot of that set the stage for how we actually systematize our pharmaceuticals today.
And there was a period of time where we were divorced from some of our natural, you know, homeopathic nutraceutical treatments, which these plants and mushrooms can provide.
But I think in the last two or three decades, people have started to circle back to that as a complement to other types of treatments.
Most original drugs came from plants.
Digitalis from foxglove is a really good example.
And then the drug companies began to synthesize them, so they stopped using the plants altogether.
Used to be able to go right into the apothecary shop or the general store really, and buy digitalis leaves or a digitalis solution and to warn you they'd print it in red and anything in red was potentially very dangerous and you had to follow the rules as far as whatever tell you to do now, probably not the best thing at all.
But but we learned through I think it was digitalis that was probably trial and error a long time ago.
Somebody ate part of that plant, purple foxglove.
It's a beautiful purple stalk.
Flowers, I mean, it's beautiful plant, but eat that it has a direct relationship with your cardiac muscle, your heart, you know, a little bit of that, you know, you know, might have it.
Wow, what happened there?
You know, and then someone gets an idea in the future after that hearing some of these stories of people trying it, you know, there are people's hearts.
Some people have hearts that don't work quite the way they're supposed to.
And we found a way to employ the chemistry in that plant and in certain dosages to help people's hearts beat regularly like they should.
So it's a very valuable plant, but it's not one you go out and collect and try yourself.
If something happens to you physically and you can't find help in any way, you become desperate.
You're willing to try anything.
You know, there are situations you read about or you have friends or you have family who have gone through this.
They'll do anything to get well because you have a life.
And once it's gone, I mean, that's it.
That's that's what we got.
And people have done that for millennia.
And we know based on something called trial and error, people tried this, they made an error.
The other people.
You don't use that.
Now, we live in a time in history where a lot of people have done that in the past.
So we know a lot more than they did about medicines that such we don't know everything, but a lot more.
And these are native plants, bloodroot and bloodroot they're doing cancer research with.
Yeah, with the chemistry of the bloodroot right now.
And then this one is the Poke root.
I just can't believe that anybody would ever put any little bit of poke root in their body.
This is the most dangerous plant in North America, and it might not be the most poisonous, but it's the one that most young kids try.
Not so much eating the root, but eating the purple berries and the seeds inside the berries.
It takes five berries.
If they to those seeds up the little kid, they will die from that just from five of those berries.
If you swallow the seeds whole, they won't bother you.
The tumor releases a toxin and the roots even worse.
So Polk's an old Indian name from the Algonquin tribe.
That means blood.
So what we're going to do is we will look for these big old shoots, last year's poke plants, and they're real sturdy things, almost like trees.
It's hard to believe they grow for these little tiny shoots we're going to collect today from about here, down here that are going to be like this at the end of the season.
But let me cut a real small in here.
I mean, they're hidden down in here among all the other weeds.
And I don't you don't want to cut too deep because there's a danger of getting part of the root.
You don't want that.
So we don't go below the soil at all.
And I'm going to cut it right there by an inch above the ground.
There it is.
And that's a poke shoot.
And we'll be eating that a little bit later.
And I'm just cutting this little one.
And there's a real small poke shoot in the the stock and the leaves are edible, but not raw.
You never eat raw.
This thing's dangerous raw.
You have to cook it through several different cooking.
The water and discard the water in order to make it safe here.
So a little one right here.
But make no mistake, all the plants, poisons, even though we're we're going to eat some of this today, there's a special way you prepare it to get rid of poisons.
So we're going to cook the poison out.
That's basically you destroy the chemistry and some of the chemistry that's left comes out of the plant, is in the water when we cook it.
And then you discard the water because you're going to discard the poison, the chemistry that comes out of the plant.
You know, I've heard people say, well, there's a little bit more toxin than the older plant, so you have to boil more.
And most sources say two cases, you'll see three.
I think two's fine considering the way how young the plants were that we collected the two cooking and discarding the water has gotten rid of the poison and the toxins.
Well, it does taste like asparagus, but this tastes like asparagus with a zing to it.
That's pretty good.
We'll be doing this more often.
We're all here because our ancestors knew how to use plant medicine, you know?
I mean, modern medicine is so new, so not only did my ancestors use these plants, and now I can use them too.
Like, it's a forgotten language.
It's not like we need to learn something new.
We need to remember.
Like, this is, like in our bones.
I started learning how to make herbal medicine through the wise woman traditions.
It's about feeling and connecting and respecting and living in communion with nature.
And the more you follow that, the bigger it grows that could you imagine where we would be with if we had science and technology and this.
It's a generational tradition in the region.
There are scores of plants and mushrooms that are sourced and in barks and other types of what we call non timber forest products that have been harvested used in the region for millennia.
You know, dating back pre-colonial to post colonial to today.
And those markets are growing by leaps and bounds and we have a great tradition in the region to celebrate and explore how we can work within that economic context to improve livelihoods and communities in the region and continue to celebrate the tradition around those plants and do right by the forest the ecosystems that people depend upon.
It takes a little effort, and that's one of the blocks that some people have, because it can take a little bit longer to pinch off the tops of the chickweed plants than it might take to wash ahead of lettuce.
And another issue that some people have, the standard American diet has caused us to lose our taste for bitter and pungent.
We're so inundated with salt and sweet that those other flavors have become distasteful to people.
I think that we need to reorient our taste buds so you can just take a little bit, take a few things, and there are some things that are less bitter and some things that are more bitter and some things that are more pungent.
And you gradually introduce those until you start to develop that taste again.
This has been a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.