It’s a drink, right? Well actually yes, it is…but also…. both dandelion and burdock are both plants. Shock horror – the drink that you’re familiar with actually used to have fermented roots of both of these plants as part of the list of ingredients.
So….would you know what burdock looks like? I’m guessing most people know a dandelion when they see one …but have you ever seen Arctium (burdock) growing in the wild?
The new ‘Plant identification’ apps that you can get for your phone are a real godsend for plant identification and it’s not as complicated as you might think. The congested beds that you will come across on road verges or beneath hedgerows look like an indecipherable mess of plants – but once you begin to understand how the dynamic works …then these beds will become interesting and informative…and dare I say precious.
Start by identifying one plant and you will then begin to notice that it often grows beside another plant. Then begin to identify groups of plants and you will see these groups repeated as you walk around. Note the flowering times and the time that seed heads that are produced. Note what eats the plant and maybe how the seeds are dispersed. See what insects thrive on the plant, are the insects eating the plant or pollinating the flowers? It’s a real eye opener to see how the relationships work.
As you take your daily walk, you will be passing a variety of vegetation. This is true whether you are based in an inner-city area, an urban area or out in the countryside. Obviously, what you see in these differing areas will vary depending upon a variety of factors – climate, soil conditions and the maintenance program of your local authority.
Many of the plants that you subconsciously dismiss as just ‘weeds’ have interesting histories that need to be understood and cherished. Their names often give clue to what they’ve been used for like ‘fireweed’ or ‘pestilence wort’ maybe you’ve got some ‘boneset’ (Eupatorium cannabinum) at the bottom of your garden. Plants have been used by apothecaries for years in the treatment of disease and to cure infections. Many are them are now recognised as being poisonous and actually harmful if used as the doctors of the past prescribed – claims for curing disease are not founded on medical evidence and have just been passed down by word of mouth.
Hemp and campion and St John’s wort – all thrive around where I live in the Peak District. Plants that have been used to ward off evil spirits and to encourage good luck or a bountiful harvest of presented to the ‘gods’ of fertility. Again, probably very little evidence to support the claims for increased crop yield – but I love the historical context that these plants have.
Many of these plants are under stress from overzealous herbicide application from farmers keen to maximalist grass yields and reduce contamination from species not useful to their crops or animals. Local authorities often strim, cut and spray areas of what they consider ‘waste ground’. Then there is the added danger of attack from ‘invasive species’. Plants like Himalayan balsam, Giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed will grow to the preclusion of all our native species. This is not a ‘natural’ event, these plants were introduced by man into areas where they have no natural enemies making it easier for them to dominate.
We need to fight back. We need to protect our native plant heritage. Once they are gone, it will be very difficult to replace the complex plant associations that have taken thousands of years to establish.
Open your eyes.
Look what’s going on in your neighbourhood.