Medicinal herbs topic of seminar at event
NEW BRUNSWICK — Farmers and gardeners, as well as consumers, are becoming more interested in growing and using medicinal herbs.
The attendees of the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New Jersey Winter Conference proved that by packing a large meeting room at the Cook-Douglass Student Center to hear Nate Kleinman and Patrick McDuffee discuss native medicinals. Kleinman is the founder of Experimental Farm Network in Elmer and McDuffee is the third generation of the family that owns and operates Well-Sweep Herb Farm in Mansfield Township.
Kleinman credits McDuffee’s grandfather, Cyrus Hyde, founder of Well-Sweep, with inspiring him to study and grow herbs.
The farmers brought many samples of the herbs they were explaining, passing them around the room for a sniff, or possibly a taste.
Some medicinal herbs are quite familiar. Witch Hazel is an important staple in many homes even in an era of modern medicine because its leaves, bark and twigs have known anti-inflammatory properties, used to relieve pain and swelling, eye inflammation, and address several other health issues..
Others have historical uses, such as Devil’s Walking Stick (aralia spinoza) which has been used as a field medicine through centuries of wars, McDuffee said. He noted it is now the subject of clinical trials of its efficacy on resistant wound infections.
Modern medicine has also found evidence that nettle seed can halt kidney disease, McDuffee said. And May Apples that grow on the edge of forests are used in chemotherapy. Native Americans discovered them to be useful in treating snakebites and worms and to induce vomiting.
Science is still catching up with other herbs, such as anise hyssop which is used as an anti-anxiety medicine and is being studied for anti-viral characteristics in Korea. Because hyssop is a pollinator magnet, it’s a good investment in any herb garden, Kleinman said.
McDuffee said research is also showing wild strawberry’ juice kills a specific lung cancer cell in the lab.
Coffee-drinkers may want to try a black tea made from Yaupon Holly (it’s a holly without spikes) that was a Native American caffeine source. American passion flower is not the easiest of herbs to grow in Zone 6, but with the proper micro clime and when it’s planted on the south side it can be cultivated and is also a great stimulant.
Elderberries are known as a source of Vitamin D (and as the murder weapon in “Arsenic and Old Lace) but Kleinman said it is very useful in increasing the uptake of Vitamin D.
He is an advocate for beach plums which grow from the Chesapeake Bay to the Maritime Provinces and for the chokeberry, or aronia berry, whose medicinal properties are lauded by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kleinman also advocates for the “meadow medicinals,” such as yarrow, New Jersey tea, Culver’s root, bee balm, false indigo, boneset, mountain mint and cone flower.
McDuffee cautioned about foraging, however. Noting many people are now foraging for ramps and American ginseng, he said, “if you don’t own the forest, don’t take bulbs or whole plants.”
Foraging for ramps came up as a sidebar to Jared Rosenbaum’s talk on Wild Plant Culture. He described the foragers as “guys with beards and plaid shirts” who drive to the edge of the forest and “drive seeds across the way on their Subarus to reseed a little new forest.”
Some non-native medicinals can be grown here as well.
Kleinman pointed out while climate change raises temperatures overall, it also brings in the polar vortex, so the Zone numbers can vary.
Both farmers hold open houses and give seminars about their herbs. Well-Sweep has a number of major events throughout the year.