How Healthy is our Environment? Winter Musings

I recently attended a Tree Croppers field trip to Puketoki Reserve on Whakamarama Road, Bay of Plenty.  We were treated to a wonderful talk by Colin Hewens who is the spokesman for the team of volunteers who have done an epic job of controlling the rats, stoats and possoms.  We were then further treated to an inspiring talk by Rob McGowan, a local bush medicine (Rongoa) expert and bush conservationist.  He said some things I’d like to share and discuss here.  It was very evident that this patch of bush is in excellent health – the tops of the trees are not eaten out and the undergrowth is thick with abundant seedlings.  This means the rain falling is slowed, spread, soaks into the leaf litter and stored there rather than running straight off causing erosion and filling up the estuary. We learned that the medicinal benefits of the plants are directly related to the health of the bush.

Now you may be wondering what has all this got to do with my love for weeds and their healing benefits.  Well it’s about my concern for our obsession with tidiness and controlling nature through the use of toxic poison.  If we want our environment which we cleared of bush to be healthy for us to live in we need to be learning from nature not fighting it.  For example, I recently drove to Auckland and cannot believe that

Wild flowers on the roadside – King Country

farmers are spraying roundup along boundary fence lines.  These dead brown stripes, expose soil (nature loves to cover soil to protect it from erosion) and put poison in the earth and deplete habitat for all kinds of life and pollinating insects.  The vegetation on roadsides is often the only ‘uncontrolled’ places nature has for wild flowers which insects need to survive.  And don’t they look gorgeous in the photo all along the roadside.  I had to stop and take a photo.

Friends from Holland tell me that the Dutch people have stopped spraying roadsides because of the massive loss of insects and butterflies.  Why are we so slow to follow suite?

We sadly haven’t connected using all these toxins with our own health and just look around how many people are ill. We are exposed to so many more toxins than

Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale

we were decades ago.  I hear you say “What about DDT”. Yes, and now there are even more toxins in the food, air, and water.  My positive note is that the wild plants can help us cope with the build-up of toxins in our bodies.  The bitter weeds like dandelion, hawksbeard, chicory, plantain among others, stimulate the liver to detox our bodies, if eaten regularly, which for me is daily. These plants are right around us almost under our feet if you look for them.  They are like forgotten secrets. I love this poem which is a good summary:

Gerard Manly Hopkins (Born 1844- Died 1889)

“What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Complete Poems

I’ve been making wild edible salads using handfuls of chickweed as the base.  You can then add bitter cress,

Wild winter salad

mizuna, landcress, few dandelion leaves, speedwell, onion weed, nasturtium leaves garnished with red clover flowers, onion weed flowers, violet flowers and oxeye daisy petals.

Salad Dressing Recipe
1 tablespoon tahini, 1/2 tsp of mustard, 1 tsp tamari,
1 tablespoon cider vinegar or a lemon squeezed, 1/2 cup olive oil.   Mix it all together well.

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