PILOT MOUNTAIN — A medicinal herb hike Saturday at Pilot Mountain State Park was more of a meditation on a decline of naturalists in forests than a dissertation on knowledge once the domain of a select few local persons before modern medicine was accessible.
“Plants have a lot of uses, with a plant sometimes being used in different ways for different results. Back then one person was relied on in communities to have an accumulated knowledge to use them correctly. If you come away from this with nothing else I hope it is an appreciation of the hidden uses of plants. There are not a lot of naturalists in forests. Science is in the lab,” said Park Superintendent Matt Windsor.
Noting many of the plants he discussed were first and foremost used to purge a person’s system, either as a laxative or to induce vomiting, he hoped he had not scared hikers. He said unpredictability is everywhere and not just in the wild and encouraged participants to not let modern distractions take them away from the natural world.
Windsor explained many National Parks in the state have 80 percent “high” coverage from trees, which was not the case in North Carolina in previous years. He offered proof of this as many medicinal plants only growing in full to partial sun and in soil similar to that along roadsides.
He said sourwood, long popular for its bloom’s contribution to honey, is like many other plants which spout back from stumps and can dominate a forest after fires or logging. He pointed out fires, in the days before organized efforts to put them out, occurred more regularly than they do today and were a major force in forest development.
Windsor explained Sweet Golden Rod, which is sometimes made into a tea, blooms at the same time as Ragweed, which bears a nondescript, green blossom. He said many who think they are allergic to golden rod are actually reacting to the ragweed pollen.
He told participants crab grass, which is native to Europe, has edible seeds and was used as a grain substitute. He pointed out sassafras can be used in different ways, including a tonic and a thickener for food. Windsor explained the composition of rocks beneath soil can also determine plant life.
Windsor pointed out other common medicinal plants of the past including horse mint and rabbit tobacco. He told them serviceberry tree, in addition to its edible fruit, was a sign in the Appalachian region the soil had thawed out enough to dig graves. He told them the plant, Liatris, has edible roots which taste similar to sweet potatoes and explained picking wildflowers stresses the slow growing plants.
He told hikers about how poaching in National Forests has all but eliminated many plants, with some varieties being taken for use as floral arrangements. He also explained how fungus and trees benefit each other with trees drawing water to the former with fungus helping provide nutrition for trees.
David Broyles may be reached at 336-415-4739 or on Twitter@MtAiryNewsDave.