The Heritage Herb Garden, at the Ozark Folk Center State Park, graces the grounds with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.
This time of year, observant hikers and gardeners are noticing long, slender stems with thin hirsute leaves draping across other low growing vegetation in the garden and in open places in the woods. The leaves, usually eight, occur in whorls around the stem at every node. The white flowers are not large, yet are noticeable because they are borne on short stems that grow up from the whorls of leaves. The flowers produce sticky seed pods that germinate early, every spring. The plants pull up easily, are covered with prickles and will cling to clothing like Velcro®. These herbs are called cleavers or bedstraw; the Latin name is Galium aparine.
Because these plants always populate our gardens in early spring, they are considered weeds. They came with the Europeans, probably moving across the continent in the fur of grazing animals. Early settlers used the dried stems to stuff pillows and mattresses. Herbalists tincture the tops or make infusions with the fresh stems and leaves to treat swollen glands, kidney stones, bladder infections and certain kinds of cancers. The herb is also diuretic. Only the fresh plant is used, as it is the juice that contains the active chemicals which include citric acid (Vitamin C) and asperuloside, an anti-inflammatory.
Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal suggests blending the fresh herb with pineapple juice to make a tonic smoothie. She also likes the fresh, tender greens in salads. I will give this a try, though I will mix a small amount of cleavers with chickweed, henbit, violets, wild onion and redbuds blossoms and then dress it all with olive oil and good vinegar.
I hope that you are reveling in spring and will pay the Ozark Folk Center State Park a visit real soon. The Ozark Seed Swap has been rescheduled for May 23. This is a free event that will be held in the Administration Building between 1 and 4 p.m. Bring open-pollinated heirloom seeds to trade. If you don’t have seeds, bring envelopes or other garden and seed supplies to share. Come with the intent to grow the seeds and bring some back next year.
Tickets will be available for those who want to tour the garden, visit with our craft artisans and listen to some Ozark Mountain Music. Don’t forget to come see the homegrown yarbs that we have for sale under the arbor by the Herb Shop! If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture!