Are You “Plant-Blind”? Botany can help!

I came across this article the other day, People are ‘blind’ to plants, and that’s bad news for conservation, and the headline rang the bell of how I felt before I started learning to identify plants. I felt a wrongness around the fact that I hardly knew anything about the plants in my backyard, in the woods, on the dunes I cross to reach the beach. I knew oak, and onion grass, white pine, and dandelion.. and not much more.

As a child, I remember watching ants’ traffic on my landlord’s peonies, snapping swollen purple and red buds from other plants along the walkway, whose names I didn’t learn – or wonder too much about – and including onion grass as a main ingredient in my mud “stew” concoctions. Later, I’d harvest a few snap peas from my dad’s vegetable garden, and I learned what maple leaves look like, but it wasn’t until I had a child of my own and realized I couldn’t teach them about plants that I recognized the depth of the void where that knowledge should be.

Through online connections with other “crunchy mamas,” I learned that plantain (Plantago spp.) leaves could be used to soothe a bee sting, which knowledge – and then experience – ignited the curiosity vapors down in that void, propelling me to find books and local teachers to teach me common plants to forage locally. I helped get a local earth skills class together so my child could learn from folks who already knew, while I got my knowledge up to speed. I took a Permaculture Design Course, made a permaculture design for my parents’ property, attended plant swaps, and started planting everything I could get my hands on, to increase the biodiversity on the land and mine and my children’s ability to closely observe different plants.

I started studying herbalism, and eventually wound up here at The Green Farmacy Garden, where I now host workshops introducing others to a variety of plants and sharing my enthusiasm and appreciation for them. I compulsively play “I Spy” whenever I’m driving, checking the changing roadsides frequently for perched or flying hawks, and exercising my plant-recognition capacity as I scan wooded edges, vine-covered highway walls, and neighbors’ gardens as driving safety permits. My teen and I are currently making our way through Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, and I keep feeling grateful and welcomed when it seems aspects of my life and experiences are aligned with some of the practices she experiences as part of “becoming indigenous to place.”

My coworkers are on their own arcs of the plant path, both with ever-developing herbal, foraging, discovering, researching, and stewarding repertoires. And from each of our vantage points, studying introductory botany with our GFG mentor and former director Helen Lowe-Metzman in a dedicated learning space remains an empowering prospect in which we’re excited to immerse.

This opportunity is appropriate for students from any angle of plant interest, whether you’re a plant beginner, permaculture student, budding or practicing herbalist, would-be forager, native plant enthusiast, gardener, or nature-lover. Whatever your reason for wanting to be able to recognize plant inhabitants of your ecosystem, you’re invited to join us for Beginner Botany Basics Saturdays in April, beginning in just a few days. “Plant-Blindness” is an experience of separation that we can outgrow.


Beginner Botany Basics

Every Saturday of April 2021, 10:30am-12:30pm

Learn how to use a field guide to identify plants in the wild.

This 4-session course will equip you to use a field guide to determine a plant’s family, genus, and usually species identification.

The first session will be devoted to learning botanical terms for plant parts, which you must learn in order to use the Newcomb’s Field Guide. During the remaining sessions, you’ll develop your proficiency applying these terms and using the guide to identify plants from a variety of families, including:

  • Amaryllidaceae (Amaryllis family)
  • Asteraceae (Aster family)
  • Berberidaceae (Barberry family)
  • Brassicaceae (Brassica family)
  • Lamiaceae (Mint family)
  • Papaveraceae (Poppy family)
  • Ranunculaceae (Buttercup family)
  • Rosaceae (Rose family)
  • Rutaceae (Citrus/ Rue family)

You’ll learn some characteristics of these families to help you not only identify, but also learn uses for the plants you encounter.

Click here for more information and registration!


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Finally, Fuki[noto]

For 2 years I’ve observed the Giant Butterbur (Petasites japonicus) flourishing in the wooded edges surrounding the garden, having migrated there (I assume) by seed from the garden specimens. I soon learned that the buds and leaf stalks are consumed in Japan, but references to pre-processing steps, combined with my lack of familiarity with Japanese cuisine, beyond sushi and miso soup, intimidated me from attempting to eat it.

Petasites at base of large tree in the Dukes’ woods

This year I finally took the time to research how to prepare the buds, which are a “mountain food” known as Fukinoto in Japan. Over the years, the Giant Butterbur has jumped out of its spots in the garden beds to colonize wooded edges of the property. The buds have been emerging since January, and within the past week new leaves have begun to sprout too.

Young Petasites japonicus leaves emerging in the garden, beyond evergreen Yaupon Holly

I had a hard time restraining myself when I finally got out to harvest, having developed momentum by researching and printing recipes, discovering the name of the bitterness-removing process (aku-nuki), and having reason to believe it may not even be necessary for the fukinoto. Harvesting from just one of the property’s several stands of the Giant Sweet Coltsfoot (another English common name for the plant), I managed to fill my basket in about half an hour, skipping the majority of buds, which were slightly more mature (though, in the shade of the woods where I harvested, most were not as mature as the fully open blooms I selected from the sunny garden bed to accent my photo) than those I took.

Fukinoto harvest

I let the photo in the recipe guide my harvesting choices, choosing buds that seemed less mature than those in the recipe’s image. I’d found a couple of versions of Fukinoto Miso and opted to try this one.

The resulting gloop has an intense combination of powerful flavors: the acrid bitterness of the Fukinoto is not muted or tamed, so much as partnered, by the pungent miso and sesame flavors, and accented by the alcohol/ vinegar’s tartness and the sugar’s sweetness. I mixed it in to a bit of rice, as suggested, and ate a small appetizer-sized portion, knowing that the total amount of the single new-to-me ingredient reached maybe a tablespoon of volume.

The whole flavor impact is too much for me or my family to consume it in vegetable-portion quantities, but because we’re working to contain the spread of a number of non-native species proliferating in the woods around the garden and the Giant Butterbur is so incredibly prolific and seems likely to continue spreading, I harvested far more than these recipes call for. I figure, even if I don’t wind up using them all, there will be fewer seeds spreading the plant deeper into our woods the more blooms I prevent.

Fukinoto in the garden bed, too mature to harvest and likely to set and spread seed

I might’ve slightly over-indulged, but I found the rear roof of my mouth tingled uncomfortably, or at least distractingly, with the metallic acridity for quite a while after finishing my first serving. After the second, smaller taste, my mouth isn’t bothering me, but my stomach’s complaining a bit (it complains no matter what I eat, though, so not really a comment on the fukinoto).

I’m considering, if I manage to undertake another experiment, pre-boiling in salted water to remove some bitterness, and then making tempura – which I’ve never done, and haven’t had stellar success with other frying attempts. It seems like it’ll be a good fit.. maybe I will try some pre-boiled, and some battered with egg, as this cook indicates the egg can help cut the bitterness too.

If you’re curious about this plant and would like to try it, there will be plenty more opportunity later in the season, when it’s in leaf and the petioles (Fuki) can be harvested. Our upcoming Investigating Invasives series will include Giant Butterbur and many other useful plants that sometimes spread beyond their welcome in local ecosystems.


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Seeking Medicine-Making Intern/s

The Green Farmacy Garden is seeking 1 or 2 part-time interns for the 2021 season to help harvest, process, and transform plants into herbal medicine for the community! The chosen applicant(s) will exchange 5 hours of work per week for mentorship and/or college internship credits.

Find more information, and the application link, at our Work With Us! page. Applications accepted until March 19, 2021.

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Signs of Spring

Helleborus orientalis, hellebore

The Hellebores have been blooming since late January, & the snowdrops not far behind bursting through the snow the first week of February.

Last week the crocuses bejeweled the grounds, more than we’ve ever been blessed with before, heralding the true coming of spring.
In the woods we were delighted to find the dazzling winter aconites brightening up the brown landscape down by the creek.

The birdsong is growing evermore as the days are lengthening. Last week the first bluebird families were spotted in the garden from the small gazebo under the Ginkgo tree.
The pond has thawed for likely the last time, & we are anxiously awaiting the return of the pond choir.

The sunlight is lengthening as the pace of the garden is quickening. Seeds are being sown, plots cleaned & mulched, and more new sprouts are welcomed back each day.

We look forward to hosting you for (socially distanced & limited capacity) tours, workshops & volunteer days, so stay tuned in the coming weeks for event listings!

May the reawakening of the Earth inspire you to explore the beauty & magic blooming all around us.

*❦A-S & the GFG team

Snowdrop sea behind the potting shed, Galanthus nivalis
Galanthus and Crocus
purple spring crocus, Crocus vernus
yellow spring crocus, Crocus luteus
half of the snowdrop circle down in the woods by the creek with Jim’s old thinking chair
the full snow drop circle visited by Annie-Sophie’s family in quiet springtime contemplation

The many faces of hellebore

hellebore holler dappled with dazzling crocus’
edible butterbur flower, Petasites japonicus
Narcissus bursting into spring through the leaf litter, daffodil shoots

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First day of 2021 Season

9 HAWKS graced my commute back to the garden this morning!! The first 4 in pairs: two playing just above the street at about overpass height, and the other two perched in neighboring trees even closer to the ground. Most of the rest were perched high in trees, or flying higher. Our resident hawk was screeching from the bamboo grove here at the garden when we visited C terrace to support the juniper, who’d dived downhill with one of the winter’s heavy snow or ice loads. Unfortunately I don’t know our Maryland species well enough to identify today’s, but every one of them makes my heart leap nonetheless. What a spectacular season opener it’s been!

Snowdrops, hellebores, and Giant Butterbur are blooming or budding all over – we’ll get you some pictures soon!

Today, I wanted to be sure to share our 2020 Annual Report with everyone. This season, you can expect more new offerings for children, an introduction to Botany by plant family series, in-depth with Invasives, and dining with (/on?!) cicadas, as our Herbal Giving, public tours, and volunteer days continue with everyone’s safety in mind. We’re opening our gates to high schoolers needing community service hours (send em our way if you’ve got em!), and you’ll also be hearing more about our initiative to diversify the traditions and lineage-keepers represented in our collection and programming.

Please reach out if you have any questions about upcoming programming, pandemic or other policies, or booking a private tour. We’re currently planning the children’s events, so if you have feedback or requests for what you’d like to see, let us know ASAP!

With warm screeching excitement, we look forward to welcoming you in the garden soon!


Download the whole report here! or below:

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Autumn Tactics

Today’s project: recycling labels for the next generation of annuals.

We’ll be experimenting this year with more fall-sowing than usual, hoping to ease a bit of the springtime crunch by getting some seeds in ahead of the winter.

After washing all the labels we’d already collected, I headed out to sweep the garden for any more. This Eastern Ratsnake and I both stopped short when our paths intersected at the path around the Cancer Plot. I ran to grab my camera and when I came back, the roughly 6ft. long snake was moving fast through Holding Plot and into Aphrodisia.

Continuing my sweep for labels, I noticed this Echinacea blooming, but with the telltale green growths on its face indicating infection with Aster Yellows — a bacterial infection that’s been plaguing our Echinacea since at least last year.

We’ve already pulled over a dozen plants this season, because plants infected with [the phytoplasma(s?) that cause] Aster Yellows do not recover.

Completing my circuit of the garden, I encountered some friends blooming: Tagetes minuta (Southern Cone Marigold, says Wikipedia) native to the southern half of South America, and Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativa), famous as the source of the sublime, expensive spice saffron (threads of which are the stigma and styles of the flower!);

the pond sitting low, due to the long dry spells of late;

and this bright orange fruit startled me into checking on the other tangerines, all of which are still quite behind this early-ripening fallen fruit!

All in all, a lovely day in the garden.

Put me in the mood for a blast from my past: here’s Chicane’s “Autumn Tactics” that I used to listen to back in grad school!

Our remaining events this month are all nearly full but you may be able to snag the last spot for this weekend’s Herbal Giving or Volunteer Day or if you act fast! (Don’t worry though, we’ve got a liiittle bit more of everything on deck for early November: check back for a public tour, Fire Cider workshop, and more Herbal Giving and Volunteer opportunities, to be published soon)

I hope you’re all enjoying this incredible day in this gift of a season!
Thanks for checking in!

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Abundance of August

from the Instagram archives: August 27, 2020
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The Green Farmacy Garden stands in solidarity

June 24, 2020
The Green Farmacy Garden stands in support and solidarity with the recent cultural uprising to defend and uplift Black life. In the weeks since the tragic and unjust killing of George Floyd, recognizing how he along with Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Rashard Brooks, and innumerable other Black Americans have suffered racist violence in this country, our organization has devoted time to discussing our personal experiences, perspectives, and goals in order to cohere an organizational stance and delineate ways to ensure that our work together serves a commitment to justice and cultural equity.
While there are rich traditions of herbal medicine historically and currently used by Black and Indigenous cultures around the world, the systemically racist culture of this country and others has sought to erase, demonize, and in some cases white-wash and re-sell the same traditions that allowed Black and Brown people to survive and thrive under violent systems of colonization and for millenia prior. Additionally, outdoor activities, access to green space, and land ownership are unequally distributed in a pattern reflective of white-dominated culture, making these activities less accessible and less safe for non-white people. Although we are a small piece of the puzzle in this community with only a few employees (who are all white), we are committed and present in our examination of the ways we have been complacent in these issues. We are working to unravel racism, white supremacy, and intersecting systems of oppression and repression within ourselves and our work. As land workers, lifelong students in the natural world, and educators with access to a rich array of resources, we claim our responsibility to share these gifts. We commit to collaboratively exploring ways the resources we steward can support needs and goals of Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and people of other marginalized, oppressed, or forcefully assimilated communities.
Dr. Jim Duke’s legacy is one of inclusion, love, and fierce respect for diverse cultures’ experience with plants, medicine, and healing. We are working towards making The Green Farmacy Garden a place for all to safely experience the joy, wisdom, and interconnection of plants, community, music, science, and nature in a sanctuary of transformational empowerment and healing. To this end, we are implementing the following action steps to instill social justice into our work here:
1. We are opening conversations with members and leaders of groups historically underrepresented in mainstream herbalism about how to better represent their ethnobotanical history at this garden, and are offering space in the garden for people wanting to represent their histories of medicine and survival in a living materia medica.
2. We are launching a spirited effort toward making educational opportunities accessible across distance and financial ability through online opportunities and transportation solutions.
3. We will donate herbs and herbal preparations and services through Mutual Aid networks that benefit marginalized communities, as our resources allow.
4. We will continue exploring and implementing creative ways to increase the revenue of the garden so that funding can be sustainably funnelled into resources and opportunities for the communities who need them.
With love,
The Green Farmacy Garden team
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Hues of June

from the Instagram archives June 26, 2020

The heat of the summer is felt as the rising sun is lengthening. Peaceful energy and organized chaos amidst harmonies of every color essential.
Natives & medicinals & ornamentals all weaving their thread into the tapestry of the garden. Nature ever entangling.
The mating hawk calls & early peppers have given way to the wood frogs & night chorus.
The coy pastels of spring have been shaded into the sultry hues of summer. Deep purples among frilly pinks and vibrant reds. Beckoning the care of pollinators below the bursting of green.
Pond life is stirring and humming, predators & prey rippling together flowing in the same stream.
The gardens and wild places are putting on their best palettes. Adorn the world with your gifts, and add your own brush stroke to the painting.
As the sun warms your soul may the cool breeze kiss your cheeks & the fresh water tickle your toes.
Breathe & Indulge in summer’s comings
with the Green Farmacy Garden team🌿

vibrant native Tradescantia virginiana: spiderwort💜
Oenothera pallida: pale evening primrose
summer pond
view up into the garden from the pond bench
Lithobates clamitans: green frog
Nymphaea, piink waterlily
Asclepia tuberosa, butterflyweed
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Dusk in the Garden

Salix, Pedasitis japonicus, Nigella damascena: varagated willow, butterbur, love-in-a-mist

Ma͏y 31, 2020

from the instagram archives

𝙳𝚞𝚜𝚔 𝚒𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝙶𝚊𝚛𝚍𝚎𝚗

The flighty breeze of spring is moving on in singsong as summer sweeps in.

Salvia officinalis, Valeriana officinalis, & Avena sativa – garden sage, valerian, & milky oats
Avena sativa & Valeriana

We are so looking forward to the bursts & blossoms of high sun summertime.

May the light kiss your shadows and the clouds cool your souls. To the season of abundance

Scutellaria barbata: barbat skullcap
Scutellaria barbata: barbat skullcap
Spigelia marilandica & Valeriana officinalis
variegated willow and mullein about to sun burst

We have been busy bees and are so looking forward to seeing you in the garden soon

Check the ‘Tours and Workshops’ tab at the top of the page for the events calendar!

Warm breeze & honey bees to you dear friends,

*❦A-S & the Green Farmacy Garden team

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