Monday, March 2, 2015

The Plants - Florida Herbal Conference Part II

As I mentioned in Part I, the plants in Florida are much different than our New England plants.  Even across Florida there is quite a variety.  Florida is a large state, and ranges from Zone 8, where I live in the winter, to Zone 10 in southern Florida.  And there are coastal areas and inland areas, all having different micro climates.  So when talking about what grows, and how to grow, in Florida there is wide range of information.

The conference was in DeLeon Springs, which is north of Orlando and east of Ocala, just east of the Ocala National Forest.   The Ocala National Forest is the second largest nationally protected forest in the United States and covers 607 square miles of Central Florida.   It is the southernmost national forest in the US and protects the world’s largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest.  We drove through it to get to the conference and it is a beautiful and amazing place. 

In central Florida, we were able to see many blooming and growing plants at the end of February.  Some that I found interesting were:

Usnea – this is a picture of usnea growing on a broken limb hanging in a wild cherry tree and another of Jeanine holding it growing on a branch.   Usnea is a lichen and can be identified by the white thread that grows through it.  In central Florida, it grows most often on oak trees.   I have used dried usnea for urinary tract infections and it is also an immune tonic herb and high in Vitamin C.   I don’t recall ever seeing usnea growing in such profusion at home, it seemed to be just everywhere here!

Spanish Needle (Bidens Alba) – this is a common weed in Florida and in bloom in February.  The flowers and young leaves are edible and it is a great salad herb.  It can be used medicinally for colds and flu, inflammation and urinary tract infections.  I thought the cheery little flower was a wonderful sight and bidens is also the 3rd largest source of nectar for honeybees in Florida (behind saw palmetto and citrus fruit).

Gotu Kola (Centella erecta), sometimes called Pennywort – a cousin of Centella asiatica, these are so close that according to Green Deane only geneticists can tell the difference between the 2 species.  The picture is it growing right outside our tent by the lake, the gotu kola has the heart-shaped leaves.  While not native to North America, it is found in the southern part of the US and is thought to have been here for thousands of years.  In folklore, pennywort supposedly helped one Chinese master live to 256 years old.  Gotu kola is commonly used in Asian cooking and can be added to salads as well.  Medicinally, gotu kola increases memory and concentration, revitalizing nerve and brain cells.  It is also considered an adaptogen and is also antibacterial and antifungal.

Of course there were many more, some old familiars like plantain and elder and other new ones.  So many plants, so little time :-)

Florida Herbal Conference 2014 - Part I

I just returned from the Florida Herbal Conference held in DeLeon Springs this past weekend.   I had met Emily Ruff of the Florida School of Holistic living (who hosted the conference) at the NE Women’s Herbal Conference last summer and she talked about the Florida Conference and what’s better for someone from New England than to go to an herbal conference in February?   This is a fairly new conference - it was just their 4th year and they did a great job and it was a wonderful gathering.  I went with my daughter Jeanine and it was her first herbal conference so that made it even more special.

The conference was at Camp Winona, a Y camp on Lake Winona.  We pitched our tent next to the lake, and were treated by gotu kola growing wild right outside our tent door.  We ate a few leaves every morning to help with all the new things we were learning!  

I really enjoyed the weed walks as the plants in central Florida are very different than what we see in New England.  I went on a Medicinal and Edible walk with Juliet Blankespoor, who also gave an inspiring talk about bio-regional herbalism on Friday evening.  I had never seen usnea growing wild, or a long needle pine, or Spanish Needle (Bidens alba) to name a few.

On Sunday I went on an Eat the Weeds walk with Deane Jordan (Green Deane) and learned more about the differences in the plants in Florida from those in the Northeast.  Deane talked about the strength of stinging nettle in the south versus the northeast (MUCH stronger in the south) and that only the black (Sambucus nigra) elder grows naturally in Florida so no worries about toxic seeds.     Here's Deane holding up a stinging nettle with one of the thickest stems I have ever seen.

See more about the plants in Part II of the blog, Herbs at the Conference. 

On Saturday evening Stephen Foster was the keynote speaker and wove a wonderful story of the recent history of herbalism through his life experiences, from working at Sabathday Lake in Maine with the Shakers to his work with the Peterson Field Guides, all the books he has written and his work with the American Botanical Council.  It was interesting to reflect on how herbalism has grown and changed in the last 50 years and what our current challenges and opportunities are.   

And what is an herbal conference without Mz Imani drumming?  Even with pouring rain, the party with Mz Imani Saturday night had everyone dancing!  And she joined with Beautiful Chorus to make some amazing music during the entire weekend.

We enjoyed great food, wonderful teachers and workshops, friendly herbalists from all over Florida and the community that only a group of herb lovers can create over a few days.

And you know you've been to an herbal conference when the top of cars are used to hold plants.

Next year’s conference is February 26-28 with special guests Paul Stamets and Kathleen Maier.  Jeanine and I plan to attend, take a winter break and join us.