Last weekend we had a women's outing to United Plant Savers, located on 340 acres in the county south of us. UPS was founded by some world-renowned herbalists (Paul Strauss, of Equinox Botanicals and Rosemary Gladstar among them) to preserve native medicinal plants of the United States and Canada. The sanctuary we visited is used as an educational site, hosting interns from all over the world who come to camp and work on the sanctuary, steeping in herbal knowledge and getting to know the plants themselves.
A friend of mine is an herbal scholar and interned there last year, and after enduring hundreds of questions from me, offered to take me there herself. I quick grabbed my cousin Jessica and my friend Erin, dropped the girls off to play all day in the woods with their best friend Esme (Erin's daughter), and we were off.
It was a hot and sticky day, but the woods were cool for the most part, and the path she chose led us past well-marked patches of familiar herbs. Have you used Goldenseal to ward off a winter cold? It was everywhere here, and became familiar enough to spot by the end of the hike.
It is the root of the Goldenseal that is used as an immune-booster; here Sacha finds a small rootlet for us to taste. It is recognizably bitter!
Sacha confirmed something that I had thought I'd heard before: there is a 200-mile area west of Charleston, WV, of which this woods is a part, that boasts the most botanically diverse deciduous forests in the world. (whew - did I say that right???) Ginseng is one of the plants that is abundant here. I've never felt confident in identifying this plant, but after comparing its five leaves to the common Mayapple and the ubiquitous Virginia Creeper, I think I've got it.
It helped that at this time of year we could often find a small little seed ball in the midst of the leaves. Sacha took us off trail to find a ring of ginseng she had planted during her internship two seasons ago. It took a while to find the small plants, but with the help of a fern she called the "seng pointer" - apparently it often grows in close proximity to ginseng, offering a clue to its whereabouts - we found it.
The new ginseng plant is the darker green on the left of the photo above - the light green fern on the far right is the "seng pointer" fern - I can't remember its proper name. There is great demand for ginseng, which is hunted by poachers who sell the roots on the Chinese market. Apparently the ginseng we buy here is harvested in Korea. Go figure. To help protect the ginseng that grows in this sanctuary, the interns watch for the leaves to yellow in the fall, collect the red seeds to plant elsewhere, and remove the leaves so poachers will not be able to easily find the valuable roots.
The woods were so beautiful, filled with the song of the thrush...I wasn't satisfied with the photos I got of it, but I couldn't believe the intricate design on this wild ginger leaf. It looks like a lotus, imprinted on the leaf.
The trail took us up along a ridge, where the land is slowing being "reclaimed" from its life as a strip mine. It was muddy, the mosquitos were abundant, and we found this turtle seeking refuge in the leaves and mud - what a good idea! We had something similar in store for us - a cooling dip in a pond at the end of the trail...
Heart Pond and someone's skull, sitting on a rock
Preservation of our own kind -
Jessica helped several turtles out of the road
on our way to and from the Sanctuary
The day inspired us, relaxed us - thanks to the plants, the company, the conversation, the cool water, the time to refill and reconnect.
(note - the girls also had a great day - they spent much of it in the outhouse, taking turns holding a large flashlight and watching a large female black widow dance around two smaller males - very very exciting.)