Medicinal Perennials to Know and Grow

By Dan Jason and Rupert Adams, with illustrations by Lyn Alice

Even if many places in Canada are still experiencing wintry weather, all of us at least have the luxury of more light these days. And it’s that nudge of more light that helps me remember that spring can’t be all that far away.

Some of us may have already started seedlings, in hopes that their leggy selves will bring a head start to when we can put them outside in the garden. Others may be turning the pages of seed catalogues, still only dreaming of sunlight and flowers.

Some of my musings of late have been inspired by this rather practical little book which reminds us that flowers aren’t only there to be beautiful. Many of them offer health benefits and — best of all, as far as the lazy gardener in me insists — the flowers in these pages, perennials, keep coming up on their own, year after year.

The illustrations — not photographs as is so often the case in nature identification manuals — are delicate watercolour illustrations, each of them lovely enough to want to hang on the wall. And while they may not always serve as a guide if you’re out in the bush, each one enhances some aspect mentioned in the short text that accompanies the description of each plant.

But the text provides much more than mere description, as in this information about Hawthorn, said to provide relief from a number of ailments: “Studies have supported the use of Hawthorn extracts for high blood pressure, angina pectoris and arteriosclerosis.” Yet to complete this quote, I must include the wise addition they’ve added: “People with heart conditions should use hawthorn only with a doctor’s guidance.

The two authors have an impressive amount of experience working with seeds and herbs, so I have confidence in the range of advice they offer here. They not only suggest those medicinal uses indicated in the book’s title, they recommend how best to start new plants from seed or cuttings and what sort of conditions best suit each plant. But they go well beyond gardening tips, with enlightening additions regarding plants many of us might already be familiar with, such as catnip. Although they note it is “justly famous for the conniptions it puts some cats through” they mention several uses nicely applicable to humans, and even include instructions on how best to dry and prepare it for making tea.  

I was pleased to find the common nettle among the plants he presents, as it’s become a springtime tradition for my partner and me to head out (with leather gloves) to pick the early green shoots. Owing to the insidious fine thorns that adorn them, they’re no good raw (even the thought makes me wince), but with just a bit of steaming, they’re a very reasonable substitute for spinach. Die-hard that I am, I always freeze small batches of pre-steamed nettles for use throughout the winter in lasagna or a dish I call ‘nettle-kopita’. Among the benefits of nettles the authors list (beyond eating) is the notion that “Applying fresh Nettles (i.e., deliberately stinging yourself) will bring great relief from many kinds of skin rash and from rheumatism: the stings stimulate the body’s blood flow and cortisone production.” While I’m not sure I want to test this theory, I’ve no reason to doubt it, as it seems similar to the treatments I’ve known people to do when they use bees to sting themselves for the relief of painful joints.

And oh, I would be totally remiss if I failed to mention the praise the authors heap upon the humble dandelion. They list ways to use pretty much all parts of the dandelion plant, from its flowers and leaves down through the roots, and support these suggestions by listing the many vitamins this familiar little plant contains. Their praise for it, which seems to know no bounds, ends with “Aside from nutrition and medicine, the beauty of Dandelion flowers should also be more appreciated, perfect little puffs of sunshine that they are!” While those still in love with keeping a perfect lawn are bound to disagree, I admit to a certain fondness for them, as they’re the flowers my children used to gather, thinking they were offering the greatest bouquets — which, of course, in my mind, they certainly were.

Dan Jason lives on Salt Spring Island, BC, where he founded the mail-order seed company Salt Spring Seeds. He has written many bestselling books about growing and preparing food sustainably, including The Whole Organic Food Book (Raincoast Books, 2001) and Saving Seeds as if Our Lives Depended on It (Salt Spring Seeds, 2006).

Lyn Alice studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and at the Denver Botanic Gardens School of Botanical Art & Illustration. She did extensive studies in Rome, Florence and Venice. Her passion for illustration developed through years of experience in the commercial and fine arts. Striving to create beauty in all she does, her work reflects an expressive painterly approach in lifestyle and botanical illustration. Medicinal Perennials to Know and Grow is her second book with Dan Jason and Salt Spring Seeds; Changing the Climate with the Seeds We Sow is still a bestseller. She loves collaborating with others in the industry. She lives in southern Georgia with her dog and horse, Obi and Moses. “My Life is Art!” Her diverse portfolio can be seen at lynalice.com, and you can order fine art prints of her illustrations. Her email is mail@lynalice.com.

Rupert Adams specializes in growing medicinal herbs and runs his own medicinal herb and tincture business, Kairos Botanicals. Adams worked for three years as a coordinator and advisor to the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. He currently resides and grows at Abundance Community Farm in Agassiz, BC.

Publisher: Harbour Publishing (September 2, 2023)
Paperback 5.5 ” x 8.5″ | 120 pages
ISBN: 9781990776465

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Heidi Greco lives and writes in Surrey, BC on the territory of the Semiahmoo Nation and land that remembers the now-extinct Nicomekl People. Her most recent book, Glorious Birds (from Vancouver's Anvil Press) is an extended homage to one of her favourite films, Harold and Maude, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021. More info at her website, heidigreco.ca

(Photo credit: George Omorean)