Breathing Space Report
I visited Breathing Space on August 17 2016, and was taken around the property by Angel Ramos and Ray Rios. While walking we discussed the possibilities for the property.
The plants I identified on the property that have some potential are listed below with some notes, and then some additional thoughts at the end.
Medicinal plants growing at Breathing Space:
Jewelweed / touch me not Impatiens sp.
Useful in many topical preparations such as salves, ointments, etc. This was abundant around the old farm house and on the trail to the river.
Witch hazel Hamamelis virginiana scattered plants
Useful in salves, ointments, tinctures, infusions. There was not a lot on the property but it is possible we missed some.
Oak Quercus sp.
Oak bark is used as herbal mouth wash, topical preparations, and in small amounts in teas. Smaller trees could be harvested for inner bark by thinning out the woods without disturbing mature trees.
Blue cohosh Caulophyllum thalictroides
This herb is an over-harvested native plant, and is listed by the United Plant Savers as “at risk” so it needs to be protected. That said there was more wild blue cohosh growing at Breathing Space than I have ever seen anywhere else – enough to harvest it sustainably, and it could be propagated in the woods to maintain the population.
Goldenrod Solidago spp.
This is a common plant but there is enough here to include as a tincture, tea. etc. for wild harvesting.
Chaga Inonotus oliqua
This fungus that grows on birch trees (yellow and black birch) is used medicinally. It is not very abundant though so it would be best to use in small amounts or for educational purposes.
Hemlock Tsuga canadensis
This is the native hemlock tree, a conifer, not the poisonous hemlock which is a completely different plant. The hemlock tree’s needles can be distilled into essential oil.
Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Yarrow is a commonly used medicinal herb that can be made into tincture, tea, etc. There was a fair amount growing on the lawn by the buildings.
Solomon’s seal Polygonatum sp.
Solomon’s seal can be made into tincture or used as tea. There is not a large amount of it growing but it could be propagated in the woods.
Lobelia Lobelia inflata
Lobelia is most often used as tincture. There is a small amount growing by the river.
Black cherry Prunus serotina
Black cherry is abundant on the property, especially in the woods on top of the hill. The inner bark is used as tea or tincture. Smaller trees could be harvested for inner bark by thinning out the woods without disturbing mature trees.
Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris
Mugwort is a common roadside weedy herb; at Breathing Space it is mostly by the edge of the woods near the old farm house and in that general area. Mugwort can be dried as tea or tinctured, is used in Chinese traditional medicine as moxa and as tea, and also by local herbalists.
Sugar maple Acer saccharum
Sugar maple is fairly abundant on the property. Perhaps someone who has experience tapping trees and making maple syrup could evaluate the feasibility for Breathing Space.
Black / sweet birch Betula lenta
Black birch bark is used as a tea or can also be tinctured, or distilled into essential oil. Smaller trees could be harvested for inner bark by thinning out the woods without disturbing mature trees. The trees can also be tapped for birch water (a traditional beverage in Europe and becoming increasingly popular in NYC and the area), or made into birch syrup.
Hawthorn Crataegus sp.
There were several hawthorn trees growing in the woods on top of the hill. More could easily be planted. The leaf, flower, and fruit are all used as tea or tincture.
Black walnut Juglans nigra
We didn’t see this on our walk but Angel and Ray mentioned there is a fair amount growing in the area that they have access to. The green hulls are harvested and dried for tea or tinctured.
Thoughts and Next Steps:
The woods at Breathing Space have enough medicinal plants naturally growing for some small-scale production of remedies and educational purposes.
· Preparing herbal teas would require drying facilities. I can imagine part of the barn being converted into an effective drying facility and perhaps funding could be sought for that. There would no doubt be county or state health codes, or USDA regulations to comply with.
· Ointment, salve, cream, and/or tincture making would require some additional equipment, although to begin it would not have to be expensive. On the other hand, the FDA has oversight of tincture making so a facility would ultimately have to comply with the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices (although in reality many very small companies do not).
Growing and Harvesting:
· The open space by the buildings could potentially support a very small amount of herb growing.
· Often people separate wild crafting and growing with a strong line, but it is not always so black and white. One possibility to strongly consider in my opinion would be woodland cultivation. Garden beds can be prepared within the woods, simulating natural habitat and without much disturbing of existing trees and shrubs. In this way many of the plants listed above could also be cultivated in the woods so that the native population does not diminish. Also, many additional plants could be considered for wild-simulated propagation, such as our native American ginseng, goldenseal, black cohosh, and others. These can be valuable crops that can be grown within a natural woodland setting, and are native plants so would also be a way of repopulating the woods with important native herbs. Another use of woodland would be to grow mushrooms on logs, such as shiitake mushrooms.
· Breathing Space’s commitment to the ecological well-being of the land was very clear and impressive to me while there. Breathing Space may want to look into the Botanical Sanctuary program of United Plant Savers, an organization dedicated to preserving our native medicinal plants. This is the link to learn more: https://www.unitedplantsavers.org/botanical-sanctuary-network2
· The land could be used as a teaching space for community members to identify herbs, prepare and use remedies for affordable and natural family and self-care. Partnerships with local herbalists, herb schools, and others could facilitate this and build capacity.
· Herbal study groups for the community and for students of herbal medicine.
· On-site education including signs on the trails, brochures or pamphlets describing the plant life and how the herbs can be used.
We also discussed potentials for community partnerships with the ArborVitae student clinic.