CLEARWATER – Willow Lamont, folk herbalist and proprietor of an organic nursery and garden in Valrico, was the guest speaker for the Sept. 17 gathering of the Florida Herb Society. She inherited her knowledge through generations of plant women and feels an obligation to pass it on.
“Folk means people — it’s the people’s knowledge, the people’s medicine,” she explained.
Using herbs in the traditional way, the way ancestors used them, might begin with prevention; people can grow, eat or apply these natural remedies before they get sick.
“The ability to hear stuff and remember is the key to our survival,” Lamont said. People in past generations depended on what they grew and didn’t waste time on what didn’t work. “Our herbs don’t need us to know their DNA for them to work.”
She decried the pharmaceutical approach as well as the disclaimer that’s so prevalent in labeling herbal supplements. If it says that studies haven’t shown a supplement to be effective, it’s likely because no studies have been done yet, she assured.
Today, herbs often are sold in pill form — not the way the Chinese have used them for thousands of years, she said. Extracting or multiplying the herb’s effective ingredient, then selling it back to the customer, isn’t an effective practice and is very expensive. And such products may be old or adulterated.
Demonstrating by placing her own hand for comparison against those of various attendees, Lamont taught about “the measure of a handful.” She explained that the use of herbs goes by body weight, so each person’s handful is the right size for them.
Displaying a family heirloom, a simple and worn wood mortar, Lamont recalled how vigorously her mother used it to pulverize herbs for seasoning, releasing all the potent aromas. Sage and garlic for roast pork, fennel in sausage, as well as lots of greens, such as endive and escarole, were consumed. Good for digestion and the liver, the dearth of such bitters in American diets may contribute to the common malady of acid reflux, the herbalist said.
Lamont spoke of her tradition of making herbal teas for others in distress. To her amazement, she has found that when she prepares the same concoction for her own use, the effect is less intense. She attributed the efficacy in part to “all the loving and giving” that surrounds the aids she gives away.
A cutting from the spinach-like dawn dewa was available for anyone wanting to home-grow that powerhouse of a plant.
The multipurpose Gynura procumbens vine is said to be full of antioxidants, is antiviral and anti-inflammatory, and has been used to treat high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol, as well as for detoxification. Lamont suggested eating the leaves raw, perhaps in a salad, or cooking them. The plant will grow in sun or shade.
Another prolific plant often found in the home landscape is the nasturtium, the society’s featured herb of the month for September. The whole plant is edible, the bright blossoms as well as the pretty leaves, and the seeds can be pickled like capers.
Lamont said the peppery tasting annual shares some of the same properties as immune system-boosting Echinacea and is easy to grow. It’s self-seeding and, as the saying goes, once a yard has nasturtiums, it always will have nasturtiums. Bold blooms in red, orange and yellow are common, but the speaker offered a rarer white version among the organically grown herbs she brought for sale.
Other herbs will be available at the Oct. 15 meeting of the Florida Herb Society, when herbalist and acupuncturist Linda Nash Stevenson will present a program on making teas. Complimentary, member-provided refreshments will be served beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Clearwater Garden Club, at the corner of Seminole Street and Fort Harrison Avenue.
For more information, visit www.floridaherbsociety.org.