PLATTSBURGH — One-hundred percent positive identification of a plant is the first rule of good herbalism, according to North Country Herbalists founder Jenn Allen.
Allen began studying herbalism after becoming ill. Diagnosed with adult-onset asthma, the inhalers prescribed to her made her symptoms worse, so she turned to mullein, a plant in her own backyard known for its respiratory benefits.
“I’ve been practicing and studying herbalism for a couple of years now,” Allen said.
She created North Country Herbalists, a group that meets twice per month for about an hour, as a resource for the community and as a way to share information. Allen’s ultimate goal is to spread knowledge about herbalism.
“And have fun,” she added.
Sharing information is critical to keeping herbalism alive, Allen said.
For each meeting, the members choose a topic they’re interested in studying. In the past, they’ve had discussions on ailments and possible remedies, tea tasting and workshops on how to make tinctures. During the last meeting, members learned to identify plants that they brought in.
“Sometimes we’ll focus on plants, sometimes healing and remedy,” Allen said.
Currently, the group is interested in doing herb walks, but they’re still looking for a good location.
Allen said people are often unsure of herbalism as a topic, especially if they’ve had a bad experience in the past.
“People should understand there’s an alternative out there ... if pharmaceuticals aren’t fitting the bill,” Allen said.
She said that medicines react with everyone differently, and mainstream medicine can leave people disenfranchised.
Herbal alternatives, she said, may take longer to work but often do less damage in the long run than pharmaceuticals. They are also free and globally available.
“Herbalism tries to take a holistic view of the remedy and the body,” Allen said.
She likes that herbalism takes the mental state of the person into consideration as well, as she believes a person’s mind can affect the body’s ability to heal, she said.
“It considers whether or not it meets the persons needs based on their ideology, religious beliefs, their comfort level,” Allen said.
Herbal remedies may also be more aesthetically pleasing than mainstream medicine.
“Meaning that taking a tea may become a pleasing ritual, and hopefully it tastes good, too,” she said.
In the future, Allen would like to see herbalism and mainstream medicine work together.
Allen often learns information from herbalist communities, and she said that there are many conferences and symposiums on the topic.
“The herbalist community is really eager to help each other out,” Allen said.Edible herbs Edible herbs can be found growing locally, and are sometimes mistaken for weeds despite their many beneficial properties. Most can be made into a tea or a tincture, and have more than one medicinal purpose. These are a few useful plants that grow in upstate New York, according to Allen: Mullein: The leaves are good for colds, coughs and congested lungs, among other uses. Stinging nettle: This anti-inflammatory that is chock-full of nutrients can be added to teas or soups. Motherwort: A mild sedative that doesn't make you groggy, this plant is good for cramps and menopausal symptoms. Dandelion: Every part of this highly nutritious plant can be used. Medicinally, it's used as a cleansing tonic for the liver and kidneys. Yellowdock: The root is an excellent laxative, but it has an unusual taste. Chickory: Inulin, found in the root of chickory, can be helpful in regulating blood sugar. St. John's Wort: It's thought to help with mild to moderate depression, anxiety, headaches and a variety of other issues. For more information about North Country Herbalists, visit www.meetup.com/North-Country-Herbalists/, or contact Jenn Allen at 593-4677.